Tag Archives: teaching

Using NTS for Barebow Recurve

I received an email from a reader with an interesting question:

“I was reading your blog archive on Barebow Recurve and there is a topic that would be good to address – using NTS for Barebow Recurve. I shoot Barebow Recurve and attempt to use and teach NTS, finding that it can mostly be followed except for the anchor point. What has been your experience?”

And here is my answer …

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To teach NTS or not, that is the question. (Everyone trolls Shakespeare!)

The question asks whether NTS would be appropriate for Barebow Recurve. The question, though, is not a simple one, or rather the answer is not simple.

The NTS or U.S. National Training System is misnamed as it is not a system, but a shooting technique. I think technique is very important; every archer should have one. The NTS is a technique designed for elite target archers. So, the first thing I would want to know are what are the goals of the archer. If they are a recreational archer, my answer would be no. If they were a competitive archery, but not a really serious one, the answer would also be no. If they were a serious competitive archer or asked to be taught the technique, then I would teach them, but only so long as they were making progress.

To learn any elite sport technique requires a great deal of practice, so there is a substantial commitment of time and energy necessary to even make the attempt to learn it. If that isn’t what is being committed to, why start such a task?

Secondly, I have to ask something else. Are you a Barebow Recurve archer with a primary interest in Field Archery? The NTS is designed to be shot on a flat target field. Field archers are shooting uphill, downhill, and on sidehills. The NTS focuses on a clicker to control draw length, whereas Field Archers do not get to use a clicker and even if they did, stringwalking, the most common sighting technique, would require a different clicker setting for each crawl, so it is quite impractical.

Think of cars. A Ferrari is a really cool marque. But if you needed a vehicle to haul trash to the dump, would that be your choice? Would you take a cement truck to a NASCAR race? My point is the technique chosen has to be mated to the archery “game” being attempted.

NTS is not well mated to FITA Field, plus Barebow Recurve target archery (on a flat field) is not seriously undertaken outdoors much anymore (indoors, yes). Note Barebow was in serious decline is now making a comeback, of which I heartily approve.

I wrote an article once that compared the NTS (then called the BEST method) with the best available compound technique. I found that about 40% of NTS overlapped with elite compound technique, yet I heard many people saying that the NTS should be undertaken by compound archers. In my opinion, that would have been a mistake. Those recommendations were just manifestations of enthusiasm, not well thought out points.

The technique employed has to be designed around the archery game/style to be engaged and equipment desired.

Note BTW, a Compound NTS has been drafted but not widely publicized yet. I hope to have articles on it in Archery Focus soon.

 

 

 

 

 

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Should Coaches Necessarily Be Good Archers, Too?

I was watching a golf instruction video and the coach giving the lesson demonstrated what he was talking about by hitting the shots as described. All of these coaches, even when quite old, still play very good golf. When the PGA certifies its coaches, there is a score requirement, that is coaches need to be able to shoot a very good score on a course whose difficulty has been determined (no cherry picking of a really easy course to set your mark, the easier the course, the lower the score required!).

“If you are a coach what should be expected as to level of your expertise with bow and arrow?”

In contrast to that requirement, in all of my coach certifications, and there are a good half dozen of those, I have never been asked to demonstrate my skill as an archer (or as a coach for that matter). I have only been asked to demonstrate my knowledge by passing a paper and pencil test.

And even further extreme is the professed belief of many compound archers that if a coach is not a current or former champion, they have nothing to teach them.

So, if you are a coach what should be expected as to level of your expertise with bow and arrow?

In golf, there are specialists who deal with the equipment: fitters, club makers, technicians. In archery, not so much, so coaches need to know enough about their equipment, its repair and replacement, set up, etc., to be able to help their students. Archery coaches also need to know about form and execution, competition preparation and strategies, and a lot more (training, nutrition, the mental game, etc.).

And, archery is a sport in which “feel” is important, so experience is necessary. An archery coach who has never shot a bow and arrow is at a distinct disadvantage in being able to communicate regarding how a shot feels. So, my opinion is coaches need to be able to shoot, or needed to have shot enough in their lives to address all of these issues. Further, if you want to coach, say, traditional archers, you need to have some experience shooting traditional longbows and recurves in traditional manners. Do you need to have tried every technique you might want to communicate to a student? Well, in a word, yes. Tried certainly, mastered, no. Mastery only comes from years of practice. Most coaches have a major discipline (recurve, Barebow, compound-release, traditional, etc.) and in that discipline they need to have developed a fairly high level of skill. Do, they need to be “championship level?” I do not know what that means, or rather, it means something different to different people. I have taken medals in tournaments with the word “championships” in their name, but I was hardly an elite archer, ever.

Some times the best coaches come from the cadre of those who were “less successful” but tried everything to become more successful and, hence, are more knowledgeable. I consider myself one of those.

Nobody “knows it all.” So, if you find yourself in the position I found myself, where there were many students seeking help in a discipline that was not your forté, then take some lessons in that discipline, acquire (borrow, buy, rent, whatever) the required equipment and give it a try. Sign up for a tournament in your new style to put some pressure on the pace of your learning. My specialty is compound but I have had more fun competing in recurve and longbow events (possibly because there was no pressure to try to win) and I certainly learned a great deal from those experiences. I got such a baptism, from a bloke who was encouraging me to learn traditional styles by him getting me to sign up to participate in USA Archer’s Traditional Nationals. He even made me a longbow to compete with. I was not in good physical shooting shape at the time and it was a long two days (York, American, and Clout Rounds) so I got very tired, but I had a blast … and I learned a great deal.

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Paying Attention to Hands

If you have read this blog at all you probably know that I follow golf coaches a lot, mostly because there are few archery blogs of any value (which is changing … slowly). The similarities between golf and archery are many, the primary difference is in golf, the golfer supplies the energy to the ball whereas in archery the bow does that work on the arrows (after being loaded up by an archer). But a comment by one of my favorite golf coaches, Darrell Klassen, really struck a bell:

… your hands are the body part designed to start almost every motion. Doesn’t matter the sport. Baseball, hockey, golf, tennis, football. You start every action with your hands. You don’t even have to think about it. Next thing you know, all the other parts come into play. Feet, legs, hips, shoulders…they all do their bit.

“The kicker is this (and this is where most of the mags just don’t understand). You can’t manipulate the sequence. Thinking about a part (like you shoulder turn) screws up the whole darn thing. There is however, one part of the sequence you can (and should) manipulate. Guess what that is? Yep, your hands. Thinking about changing what they will do (like their speed, direction, angle, start position etc) will change the whole sequence.

“Manipulate your hands, and you can create any shot you want. And your body will just follow.

In archery, our shot sequences have a step called “set your hands” which we often gloss over, but this step is critical to consistent accuracy. If the angle your bow hand makes on the bow differs, or the angle stays the same, but the position shifts left or right, the effect on the shot is significant. If the fingers on the string or release aid, change position or shift in the amounts of force each finger delivers, the effect on the shot is significant.

I work with quite a few Barebow archers who walk the string. A crawl that varies by as little as 1/16th of an inch will change the distance allowed for by 2-4 yards, all other things being perfect.

The positions of the hands on the bow and string/release are critical aspects of archery shots.

The key thing to realize here is seen in Coach Klassen’s comment “Manipulate your hands…. And your body will just follow.” If your hands aren’t quite right, there is a cascade of adjustments your body makes to make the whole movement conform to the desired outcome (the one you are envisioning in your mind).

Our hands contain many, many sensory nerve endings. The diagram (right), common to biology textbooks, is an attempt to show the relative concentrations of these sensory nerve endings. Note that our faces and hands have out-sized concentrations of the ability to feel temperature, pain, and pressure (the only three kinds of sensory nerves). The nerves we use in archery, of course, are pressure nerves. Because so much neural processing is dedicated to the data coming from out hands, a great deal of life energy is allotted to dealing with that information. So, if our hands are not quite right, we will squirm, inch, nudge, jiggle, or flat out shove other body parts to make them right. All of which are disastrous when looking for consistent accuracy with a bow and arrows.

So, if you have a student struggling with consistency, look to their hands; spend some time on their routines of placement, refine these if necessary. More than a few Olympic recurve archers have made a tattoo mark on their bow hand to aid them in lining their bow with that hand. Yes, it is that important.

 

 

 

 

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How Many Things Can I Work On at a Time?

QandA logoI got a query from one of my students which asked:

That leads me to something I meant to ask in the last email … what happens when you have a list of things to work on? I know from our lessons you can only effectively work on one thing at a time. So how do you choose what? The thing that is most wrong? The thing that is earliest in your shot sequence? The thing you think will give you the most bang for your buck (or time spent working on it). There are so many aspects to a shot sequence it seems inevitable that you will end up with a list of things. Oh, and, of course, each step builds on the previous, so if there is something you are working on early in your shot sequence it has to be there, done the new/different/correct way in order to practise something else.

* * *

I have the most wonderful students! (Good students ask good questions, that’s one of the ways you can tell which are the good ones.)

There is a common misconception that equates “work on only one thing at a time” into “work on only one thing until it is better before you tackle another,” which is wrong. You can work on many things at once, just not two at once. It has to do with feedback.

If you try to work on your bow arm and release at the same time and a group of arrows is better than before, was it due to an improvement in your bow arm or release or both? A potentially awful outcome is that one of those changes made it better and the other made it worse but not enough to not make the whole group better. In this latter case, you are getting a mixed message. When we do something differently we only have a “better” or “worse” outcome to judge whether the change we are exploring is a good one or not. We want to be able to attach those “better or worse” judgments to just one thing. This is my definition of getting good feedback.

So “work on only one thing at a time” limits how many things you can work on simultaneously but not how any things you can work on concurrently. (Sorry for the big words, but being accurate sometimes requires them.)

I do not have any good science to back up my recommendations but here is what I recommend: keep a list of things you think need work but limit those you are working on currently to three. I also recommend that before you shoot an arrow during any practice or competition session that you read that list, the whole list. When you are “warming up” you want to pay special attention to the three items you are trying to change at the moment. If you do not do this and just “warm up,” you will end up gravitating back to the shot you have practiced the most, what I call your “old normal” shot and you will then be send this message to your subconscious mind “it is normal that sometimes we shoot the ‘new shot’ and sometimes we shoot the ‘old shot’.” We want, rather, the message to be “we are committed to the ‘new shot” and no longer shoot the ‘old shot’.” So, read the list with special attention to doing the top three the new way … do it … do it every time you shoot.

As soon as you are warm, the best time to spend working on your top three items is right away. This will lay a foundation for the rest of the practice session being based upon your new shot and not your old one.

Now, as to what order to take on these changes in your shot, you have some choices to make. There is logic and some science behind each of these and I haven’t been able to determine which is better, so my default position is “whichever feels better to you.” My thinking is if you think something is the right way to proceed, you will make better progress than if you are not sure, certainly better than if you are convinced you are going about it the wrong way.

Here are the two approaches that seem wise to me.

Tackle the Changes from Greatest to Least Effect If we could put a score impact rating on any prospective change, under this rule, you would tackle the issue that would have the greatest positive effect on your score first. So, if Change A would improve your score by 7%, it is more worth your time than Change B that might only improve your score by 1%. What this means practically, is that the effect of Change A would also be easier to see while it was happening and that improvement would strongly guide the process and supply motivation. Something with a tiny 1% improvement potential would be hard to see in the first place and would provide little motivation.

This plays out, interestingly, in the history of each and every serious archer. When they first begin, their scores are quite low and they make progress as they learn in leaps and bounds. As they get better, though, it becomes harder and harder to improve and each improvement requires more and more effort. This is, in general, why there are so many really good archers, but few great ones.

The hard part if you adopt this order of making changes is how to assign a scoring improvement potential to each potential change. If you figure out how to do this, please, please let me know!

Tackle the Changes in the Order of Your Shot Sequence This option, I think, benefits archers who most recently have chosen to become serious archers. The previous procedure, I think, benefits archers who have established their shot and are making smaller changes therein. The reason I believe this is twofold: for one you will be making improvements in your scores that are substantial as you work anyway; for another since you don’t have a settled shot yet, you do not want to be practicing a later aspect of your shot that will be changed when an earlier step is modified.

This approach, of course, makes it much easier to identify which you do first, second, third, etc.

When I work with a new Recurve student (my questioner is an Olympic Recurve archer) I work from what I call the “Three Pillars.” The three foundations (aka pillars of support) for consistent accuracy are a relaxed bow hand, a relaxed string hand, and good full draw body alignment (in this case delineated by the archer’s triangle—see illustration). So, the thing I most often address with a Recurve archer first is his/her … stance. It seems that most beginning Recurve archers have been told that an open stance is somehow required. But rotation your feet counterclockwise when your shoulders need to rotate clockwise to get into good FDP is working against what you want. A closed stance, at least to start with, doesn’t result in an archer’s shoulders fighting with his/her stance to get into position. So, I work to get their hands relaxed, and their body in position. (The same is true for compound archers, with a few details being different).force-triangle-finished

If  that archer is still building his/her shot, I then work through the shot sequence, helping them find their form as they go.

Conclusion
So, you have to decide which route you want to take and commit to it … and … (you knew there would be an “and” didn’t you) I think the best way to proceed is to make an improvement and then move on from each thing on your list. You do not need to make something perfect. If you think you do, you will be spending a great deal of time working on just a few things and you will feel as if no progress is being made.

Make an improvement and then move on. Your shot is an organic whole; you cannot change part of it in isolation and like a chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link, so think of the changes you are making as being on an upward spiral. You will go around and around, through your shot, paying extra attention to each part over and over. But you will feel the progress being made (the list of items you have crossed off as having improved should not be discarded; it is an indicator of progress made). And, each time you come back to the same item (e.g. I need to improve the solidity of my anchor.) it is not an admission that you didn’t fix it before but that you have made sufficient improvements that your improved anchor is no longer quite good enough (Hooray!). Having to work on items again are indicators that you have reached another level.

In order to tell whether you have reached another level or are just going “round and round getting nowhere” you have practice and competition round scores. If they are getting higher or more consistent where they are, you are making progress.

I hope this helps!

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Archery’s Grumpy Old Man?

My recent post on the recommending of archery instructional videos to those we coach seems to be foundational in establishing me as archery’s grumpy old man. I gathered from some of you a sense that video is the wave of the future and I was not embracing it, along with “it is the preferred avenue of learning of young people and you are old, so….” Some of this is probably true, but I do myself no good if that is the only message that you got. My points are simple: it takes a lot of work to make a good instructional video (I don’t think anyone will disagree with this); and the tools for making and publishing a video have become very, very inexpensive, so they are within the reach of millions of people that were formerly blocked out. A consequence is that videos are often produced by an individual, with no support or help from a team.youtube-logo-full_color

All forms of communication have their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes a strength is also a weakness. Text has a strength in that it can easily be skimmed and highlighted (more so on paper and increasingly so electronically). On the other hand a 20 minute video takes at least 20 minutes to digest and is hard to highlight. A comparable text can be digested in much less time, so video is inefficient for that reason. Video has a strength that dynamic processes can be shown (both speeded up and slowed down, too) that cannot be matched by text.

There are many misconceptions about how we learn best. We may have addicted entire generations of American kids to whiz-bang presentations by creating an expectation that education should be entertaining. (Why we did this is beyond me; I think it was an attempt to keep kids in school.) So, there is a constant push for musical backgrounds, more color, more animation, etc. in instructional presentations, but are these effective? In an attempt to answer this question (in small part) the U.S. Navy did a study to determine the best way to teach prospective Navy Corpsmen human anatomy (Corpsmen are battlefield medics). They provided students with either color photos of human internal organs, black and white versions of the same photos, or black and white line drawings. Most people would expect the color photos to teach best as they are the most realistic. Turns out color photos came in dead last. Black and while line drawings came in first. It turns out that humans learn about the shapes of things by identifying their outlines first, and color often supplies a great deal of information that is superfluous.

So, in archery instruction videos have their place and, I still insist, making good ones is quite difficult. I also still suggest that if you are going to suggest videos to students that you first view them completely yourself and note any things you may want to emphasize or comment on or correct.

So that you don’t think I am the equivalent of an old man standing out on his porch shouting at the neighbor kids to get off of his lawn, here are some videos I find quite instructive for coaches: https://www.youtube.com/user/ArcheryWinchester/videos. And, yes, I find there are points that are weak and things that could have been done better … and they are still done well enough to get their points across. (I found the videos in #2 most informative.)

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Over and Over and Over . . .

I am working remotely with three students now and one of them commented “By the way, your tip of rotating my left foot more to the right was a gem. I think it is helping with the problem of opening my hips.” What he is talking about is closing his stance. And this is almost always something I ask of Recurve archers … out of necessity.

Having an open stance has become dogma, that is no one questions it. It is taught, recommended, etc. as “standard form.” The unfortunate thing is this: in order to get into acceptable Recurve full draw position, one’s shoulders must point at the bow, this is a position that is 12°-13° closed to the target lane. Having a 20°-30° open stance places the feet 30°-40° away from the orientation of the shoulders. What this causes in most recurve archers showed up in a video of another of my remotely coached students. His feet were open, knees were open, hips were slightly less open, shoulders were even less open but they weren’t even close to being pointed at the bow. The problem with open shoulders is that you are unbraced and unstable at full draw.

The Cure As a fix for this tendency, I ask almost all of my Recurve students to close their stance up. If they were to adopt a foot position in which their toe line was 12°-13° closed, then their shoulders, hips, knees, and feet would be aligned vertically and in a very strong position (vertically). Because of the rule of coaching which says “If you want an inch, ask for a mile.” I ask them to close up their stance 20°-30°. A general tendency in any such changes is to drift back toward where you started (through end after end of shooting), so you want to start them past where you want them to end up.

What happens when Recurve archers close their stances is twofold: for one they get into much better full draw alignment (better “line” in archery jargon) and, two, their draw length goes up (so clickers need to be reset). Both of these things are “good” things. I tell my students that once they get used to shooting from good upper body alignment (called the Archer’s Triangle or Wedge) then they can explore other stances should they want to.

Open Stances There are benefits to open stances, the primary one being that the archer’s lower body becomes a more stable platform supporting the job the upper body is trying to do. But this requires a twist, a substantial twist, to occur in the archer’s torso. If this isn’t achieved the loss of good line is catastrophic to the chances of learning to shoot consistently well. So, I leave open stances for advanced archers, but only if they can achieve good (or great!) line with one.

A Fine Point I hear all the time from archers talking about their stance as something to do with their feet (“rotate my left foot,” etc.). It is not, it is a reorientation of their entire body. I wish I had a large Lazy Susan (rotating platform) that I could have students stand and shoot on. Set them up with a nice “square” or even stance (toe line pointing at target center) and then be able to rotate their entire body to new angles. The feet should always stay at the “normal” and comfortable angle to the leg that you are accustomed to. The problem with rotating the feet is if there is any rotation above them (and there often is) one leg ends up being “tightened” (more twisted) while the other is loosened” (less twisted). (Stand up and play with is concept, concentrate on how your legs feel as you rotate your upper body with your feet in various orientations. Notice how these things affect your balance (good balance is a requirement for successful archery). You can learn a lot about your own body and your student’s doing this.

So, the recommendation to the original student was to pick up both feet and point them in a different direction, it was not “rotate your left foot.” But in doing so, the student did rotate his feet, so I had to give him directions to get his feet back to their normal orientation … and that is how miscommunications occur. If you adopt the attitude that what your students hear and understand is your responsibility, not just what you say, you are on the right path.

In Passing While watching a student shoot from an even stance, lay an arrow or alignment rod across their toes. It should be pointing to target center. Then observe where the archer’s arrows are at full draw. You should see that the arrow and the alignment rod are in the same plane (with the target center, too). The arrow being in the same plane as the target center is a basic condition for accuracy. (The arrow moves up and down due to the angle of the arrow and gravity, but there are no sideways forces that will throw it off line.)

Most people say the square or even stance is taught first because it is “easy to teach” or “easy to remember.” Rather it is taught first as a basic component of aiming. Any archer in a square stance, using even modest form and execution will have no windage (or left-right) issues. This starts from the ground.

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Letting Down

I can remember little conversations I had with myself at full draw, conversations that were more like arguments: one part of me wanted to let down the shot, another wanted me to “finish the job.”

The let down has a long and varied history. For most of my archery life it has been a critical part of an archer’s process. It is so critical that I created a principle based upon it, which I called the Rule of Discipline.” This “rule” says: “If anything, anything at all—mental or physical—intrudes from a prior step or from the environment, you must let down and start over. I learned this the hard way, as I learned so much about archery. I saw professional archers doing this over and over but I still had debates in my mind at full draw as to whether it is desirable. If you, too, have such debates, I suggest that if the topic of a let down comes up in you mind, the only thing to do is to let down because you are no longer thinking in the “now,” that is thinking about what you are doing in the present moment. You are thinking about what you might do in the future.

This role that a let down plays is not new, it has been around for a very long time.

I have heard that when one thinks he has gone too far, he will not have erred.
This sort of rule should not be forgotten.

Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure

To break my debate habit, I decided that if the idea of a let down occurred to me I would let down 100% of the time. (I like making rules.) Of course, I violated that rule in my first practice session post adopting it. So, I did a drill that I later used to treat a case of target panic I had, I went around a 14-target field course, and from each shooting position, I executed my entire shooting sequence up to aiming, and then I let down and returned the arrow to my quiver. So, I drew my bow 56 times and let down 56 times. It was the only way I thought I could establish in my minds (conscious and subconscious) that a let down was a normal thing, an acceptable thing.

Later as a spectator at a Pacific Coast Championships tournament, I marveled at Rick McKinney and a couple of other archers who let down after their clickers clicked. So, the let down became an interest of mine.

The whole purpose of letting down a drawn bow is that the odds of a good outcome when a shot has “gone astray” are very low. We teach archers to “never shot a shot you know is bad.” Why would you do such a thing? Not only is the score of that arrow likely to be low, archery is a repetition sport and repeating an action you have just done is easier than doing it from scratch. So, you just shot a poor shot and, even if you got lucky and it scored well, it is easier to do that bad shot over than to do “your shot” next. (This is why we incorporate a visualization of a perfect shot into our shot sequences, so we have something to follow.) So, archers are trained to let down, to break off any shot that seems to be heading in the wrong direction (sorry, bad pun).

There are modern trends away from this signpost of a well-trained shot, though. The decision to cut the time for each shot in the head-to-head competitions under World Archery (in the Olympics, World Championships, etc.) has had consequences. The head-to-head format was adopted to make our sport more telegenic and therefore audience attracting and the amount of time given to shoot each arrow has been cut from 40 seconds, to 30 seconds, and most recently to 20 seconds for the same reason. But there is an inherent conflict in this rule change. One of the reasons to call of a shot is timing. If a shot is taking too long, it is conceivable that it could take up more than half of the time given to complete the shot. This does not leave enough time to execute the let down and shot the shot in good order. So, we saw archers in the 2012 Olympics (London) shoot a 10 followed by a 6. A replay of the video showed that the archer was taking too long on the second shot and muscled their way to finish the shot. After a bad score is better than no score.

I don’t know if this is good for archery. I suspect not as archery is a precision and repetition sport. Time constraints, especially unreasonable ones, affect both of those.

So, do we teach letting down or do we try to learn some new way to fight through an ill-timed shot?

What do you think?

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Helping Shape Archery Attitudes

Note If you are serious about coaching archery, please go to http://www.archerycoachesguild.org and consider joining The Archery Coaches Guild. We are days away from a formal launch of the website, but most of it is already there. We are creating a space in which coaches can interact with other coaches to help solve problems and grow as coaches. Come join us.  Steve

Helping Shape Archery Attitudes

If you have been coaching for some length of time it is almost guaranteed that you have encountered student-archers who had “bad attitudes.” Since your standing with those archers is not very high, there doesn’t seem that there is much you do to shape better attitudes. Let’s talk about this.

It probably is not helpful to tell your charge “you’ve got an attitude,” for that is shorthand for “you’ve got a bad attitude,” and it may not hit home. It may rather say “I don’t like you” and the response may be dislike in return.

Just so we are talking about the same thing, the “attitude” we are talking about here is “a mental position with regard to a fact or state; for example a helpful attitude, meaning a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state.” If that doesn’t help, we are talking about “how” people achieve their goals. Maybe their goal is they just want to shoot a good score or a score good enough to win a local competition. Important questions regarding achieving those goals are: what is their opinion regarding, say, “practice” with regard to achieving their goal? What about “talent?”

Is your student someone who people say is “talented” when it comes to archery? If so, do they believe those claims? And what does that mean to them? There is a trap in believing you have a “talent for archery” (we recommend that they don’t believe that as there seems to be no basis in fact for such a thing) and that trap is the fact that a talent is . . . what? Is it anything they can do anything with? Or is it just what it is, something fixed in them that they have no control over? If they believe the latter, studies have shown that people who believe they have an innate talent in them are often afraid to challenge themselves because if they fail, what does that mean about their “talent?” Did they run out of talent? Did it fail them? These are pretty scary situations because they mean something about, well, them. And they have no idea whatsoever what their talent is.

You can also easily see backhanded criticism of professional athletes, by endowing them with “natural talent” (“he has prodigious gifts” or “he is a huge talent”) as a way of saying “it is not him, it is a gift he was given; he didn’t earn it, it was a gift”). This statement ignores the amount of hard work needed to acquire any skill, implying they just naturally knew how to do those things instead of earning them through hard work. Conversely other athletes are described as “hard working” and “the first to come to practice and the last to leave,” implying that they “earned” their skills and weren’t just gifted them.

Some interesting studies about talent addressed student’s attitudes toward learning math. It seems to be true that everyone can learn math and that some learn it more easily than others. But many young people experience the following when they first begin to struggle: a parent or other adult says something like “That’s okay, kiddo, I didn’t have a talent for math, either.” This seemingly consoling statement is, presumably, meant to relieve the young student’s anxiety. Basically, they are saying “it is not your fault, it is because of nature or something (genetics); some people just don’t have what it takes to learn math.”

The problem with this “attitude” is that it offloads responsibility for performance onto something that probably does not exist. In other cultures, when a student struggles the parent/other adult reassures them by saying “you will just have to work harder, but I know you will succeed; you can do it.” Which of these two attitudes is more likely to result in a better outcome, do you think? And shouldn’t the same be true for archers?

Does practice help?

“Gee, I go to archery practice every week, I wonder why the others are getting better and I am not. Maybe I need better equipment.” We hear this from too many young archers. Just showing up is not “practice.” Showing up is a requirement for practice to occur, a minimal requirement. If they don’t show up when a range is made available for them to shoot on and you are also available to coach them, it will be much harder to get better. But there is no guarantee that if they do show up, things will get better, either. Practice, rather, is what you do to get better. If they are not getting better, then they are not really getting any practice, or certainly not any effective practice.

To become better, they must do things that make their scores better. If they adopt the attitude that “practice is what you do to get better,” and you have the goal of getting better, then there are some consequences. First they have to have some indicator of what “getting better” means. If they have a fair number of competitions where they are, they might be able to use their competition scores. If not, they might use scores on practice rounds. Whatever they choose to indicate their progress, they will have to keep track of those numbers. (Having a notebook and using it well is an absolute necessity for serious archers.)

You, as coach, can be helpful in determining things they can do to get better. But you can only make suggestions; we do not recommend making demands. Practice is not just showing up, but showing up, doing things differently, and noting which things work better and which don’t. This is why it is strongly recommended that each archer keep a list of the things they are trying and always (Always!) read that list before they start shooting, otherwise they could easily fall back into their “old normal” shooting and lose any progress they might have been making. You can help, by recommending the list, asking if they have read it (over and over and over—hey, it is a repetition sport!). We even go so far as to give out small spiral bound notebooks that students can keep in their quivers.

Coaches can also provide drills, with each drill described and a plan made, for example: “do this for two weeks and then we’ll check to see if you are better.” This drill then becomes a part of what they do when they attend your lessons (and hopefully if they are able to practice between lessons). Whether that drill is kept in their practice routine depends on whether it makes them better. You have the capacity to show them how those tests are made and whether or not their work is being directed correctly.

Don’t confuse an unwillingness to do the drills you recommend as a sign of a bad attitude, it may be a sign of a recreational archer. If the program they are in is only for serious competitive archers, then maybe they are in the wrong program. Shooting for fun is not a mistake, it is what the vast majority of archers do and drills aren’t fun. And recreational archers tend not to do things that are not fun (drills fall into this category).

Attitude is an important factor in archery. Successful archers tend to have an attitude directing them to work harder and smarter, from which they get better. They are willing to let their performance dictate what they should be doing in “practice.” They don’t worry that they are running out of talent, because there is no such thing. Coaches can help shape these attitudes by recognizing the differences between “recreational” and “competitive” archers (AER terms) and making suggestions accordingly.

The first rule of getting out of a hole you dug yourself is to stop digging.
Anonymous

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An Indisputable Relationship

I was watching the 2015 U.S. Open Golf Championship this past weekend and something unusual happened: quite a few players criticized the putting greens. Basically they complained that the balls were not rolling true. This was observable even on TV. And, yes, they were all playing the “same” course so the competition was “fair,” that is not what their complaints were based on; their complaints were that the scores weren’t meaningful, that is they were not reflective of how well a golfer played.

Putting is a very complicated task. A golfer must judge the path to the hole. Is it flat or is it sloped? Are there multiple slopes? Does the grain face toward or away from the golfer (this affects the speed of the roll). Is it uphill or downhill? Then the golfer has to visualize a path the ball might take to the target, a path which is speed dependent. (I once saw a golfer sink four putts from the exact same point using four different ball speeds on four different paths (faster putts are straighter). And this is complicated by the fact that as the ball slows down (as it does the entire way to the hole) it “takes the break” more and more.

The course being played was a new course and the golfers had very little prior information. Golfers take copious notes of green conditions in their “yardage books.” Now they are even given “green guides,” that golfers of old would have loved to have, guides that graphically show the slopes on the greens, but sometimes greens don’t “read right.” Golfers see the path breaking to the left and their ball rolls to the right. These inconsistencies are the subject of notes as they gain experience. These, of course, were lacking in a course new to them.

So, what were they bitching about? They were bitching about the fact that the balls were not rolling true, meaning the ball would roll along a well-read path, at the right speed, and then take a slight jog off line for no reason visible to caddy or golfer. This, in effect, takes some of the putting (roughly half of the strokes in a round) out of the area of skill and puts it into the realm of chance.

You are by now wondering what this has to do with archery. We have little that is similar to these complaints (although we do complain enough to keep up) especially since archery golf seems no longer to be played. Possibly the closest we have to golfing situations is field archery. And the only thing comparable to putting surface conditions we have is wind. Irregular winds can wreak havoc with a round score. And, such do inject chance in the place of skill.

“My point is it is a fundamental principle of coaching that our most important job is to create ‘an indisputable relationship between an archer’s expertise and his results.’”

But this is not the point. My point is that a critical concept for archery coaches is displayed by this: that, as John Holden put it in his book on archery equipment (Shooting Straight, 1987), there needs to be an “an indisputable relationship between an archer’s expertise and his results.” Putting, like shooting arrows, is a largely subconscious effort. Like archery, golf does a lot of conscious planning (golf more so) but when it comes time to shoot, it is a matter of “feel” and this is the realm of the subconscious mind. We ask our subconscious minds to block out irrelevant information but to suck up relevant information. So, we spend time on the practice facilities judging the “speed of the greens” or the “wind at the targets.” And how do we do that? Golfers putt and seeing the result of a putt, putt again, and again trying to accommodate their putting stroke to this week’s surface, be it fast or slow. Archers do the same thing. They shoot and then aim off and shoot again. For golfers and often archers, everything is different about this venue from last week’s venue, but the variations in wind and light are the ones archers focus on. We don’t, for example, usually have to worry about the size of the targets as they have been made standard, just as golfers always are putting toward a standard 4.25˝ cup.

My point is it is a fundamental principle of coaching that our most important job is to create “an indisputable relationship between an archer’s expertise and his results.” If a student shoots an arrow correctly, but the arrow is bent, the result is not a consequence of their execution. What can that archer’s subconscious learn from that? Answer: nothing good.

The bow and arrows teach the archer. We, for example, spend very little time observing any student- archer’s performance. I coach a team of about 12 archers. In a two-hour practice that means that I spend an average of 10 minutes observing each archer. But their subconscious minds are observing 100% of their shots. Even if you coach an individual, they spend many hours in individual practice between lessons, no? (I am convinced that a part of Korea’s success in international archery competitions stems from the fact that each archer is being observed to a much greater extent than ours are.)

By focusing on creating “an indisputable relationship between an archer’s expertise and his results” for our archers, we are ensuring that when our student-archers do something, the arrow and target are giving them “good feedback,” accurate feedback from which they are learning to correct and/or minimize their mistakes. Just like golfers who want greens that give their subconscious minds “good feedback,” archers want the same from their venues and their equipment. It is a coach’s primary job to get our archers into adequate form and execution with equipment set up so that the feedback it provides from shooting reinforces positive improvements and not confusion.

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Exploring Balance

Many students, especially younger ones, do not appreciate how important balance is in making quality archery shots. I see this most often in young archers muscling around compound bows that are too heavy. Combine that with a bit too much draw weight and getting to full draw becomes a dance routine.

To help students with their balance, the first task is to expand their awareness. Archers focussed intently upon their targets aren’t getting the messages sent in by their balance system. Here are a couple of things for them to try:

  • Start by having them shoot with their feet together. If they do anything that makes them lose their balance, it will need to be adjusted. (For some skeptical students you may have to demonstrate you can do it.)
  • Have them take their normal stance and then pick up their “away” foot (also known as the back foot) and touch it down on its tip. Basically you are asking your student to shoot off of one foot (with but slight assistance from the other). Again, if they do anything that makes them lose their balance, it will need to be adjusted.
  • Or have them take their “toward” foot (also known as their front foot) and swing it around to the other side of their away foot and set it down. Then shoot again.

Each of these is a variation of the others (so you will probably need only one of these drills;; the others are for the case that one approach doesn’t work: the archer can’t do it, the result is not achieved, etc.). The idea is to make obvious the things the archer is doing that cause loss of balance. The goal is the make the archer aware of the balance issue.

The issue is important because the draw is a large scale movement of the body and the bow. Following those movements it takes some few seconds to resume a still state. (Shots taken while not still have been classified as “drive by shootings.”) The time required to become still is affected by how well balanced the archer is. Obviously, spending a greater amount of time under the stress of the bow because of a jerky or wobbly draw will lead to fatigue more quickly and scores will suffer.

The obvious solution to many young archers is to draw very slowly. This is not a good solution because a very slow draw lengthens the time the archer is under the stress of the draw, just what we are trying to avoid. The best solution is a smooth, strong draw, one that involves a minimum amount of movement getting to full-draw-position and which results in a sense of stillness in very short order. Being balanced throughout the shot gives your archer the best platform from which to perform this action.

But … if they still doubt that balance is important, have them shoot from tiptoes. That will convince them balance is important. (Be sure they are shooting close up because the arrows often go very far afield which is why this drill is not #1.)

 

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