Tag Archives: teaching

10,000 Hours . . . or Not?

There is bandied about a much touted “rule” that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world class in, well, anything. So, what do you think? Does this apply to archery?

I think this idea has been quite debunked. I personally am always suspicious of rules that include round numbers (why not 10,256 or 9,522?) and which supposedly apply to everyone equally.

I have stated often enough that there is no such thing as a talent for archery. What there is, I believe, are sets of fundamental physical and mental skills and attributes that make your efforts more or less productive. For example, if you are over 7 feet tall (2.15 m), I think you can forget about becoming a world-class archer, and it isn’t just because you’ll have a devil of a time finding equipment to fit (e.g. long draw lengths require long arrows and long arrows are heavier than shorter arrows, which therefore requires more driving force to get them to a distant target). Also for example, if you are not easily bored and can tolerate long periods of dull drills and practices, you will have an advantages over those who do not possess such mental attributes.

So, a general rule that doesn’t include one’s advantages and disadvantages and the number is clearly made up (is that 10,000 plus or minus 1000, or 10,000 plus or minus 1?) . . . not buying it.

In addition I have seen archers succeed spectacularly without being close to that many years of deliberate practice and, basically I doubt their practice was all that deliberate (in Erikson’s sense).

Now, if archery were a sport as popular as golf or tennis, I think those 10,000 hours may not even get you close. This is another weakness of this rule: “world class” or “elite” means quite a few things depending upon how old a sport is and how much money is paid to professional practitioners. Tennis players and golfers get paid so much money at the top that competition is fierce. Minor sports, like archery, have few well-paid professionals and so those sports are dominated by amateurs whose time and effort are divided between family, jobs, and the sport. For example, do you hear much from the spouses of top paid professional sports practitioners about how much time their spouses spend at work? No? When your wife or husband is pulling in millions of dollars per year there isn’t much to complain about. (I made $2 million in my entire career as a college professor, $4-5 million if you correct for inflation, and today’s athletes can make that with two game checks (American football) or a month of sitting the bench in major league baseball.)

So, the competition to get “elite” or “world-class” status is sports varies widely.

So, what do you think? Is the “10,000 Hour Rule” useful or a waste of breath to discuss?


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How “Tight” Should Your “Tight Groups” Be?

There is a de facto standard as to how tight you want your groups to be: and that is you want all of your arrows to fit into the highest scoring zone of your target.

Fo example, let’s use an X-ring as the highest scoring ring of a paper target. (This way we avoid having to cover 10-rings, 5-rings, 11-rings, 12-rings, etc.) The largest group we could shoot and have all of our arrows “in” the X-ring would be this:

Six arrows, all scoring an X just barely from the “outside in.”

Actually this is an extreme case and not a reasonable goal because each of those arrow holes is subject to variation and if any were just a fraction of a millimeter farther out, it would be “out” rather than “in.”

This would be a more reasonable description of a desired group size.

The oft-stated goal of “all of your arrows in the same hole,” is just playing with words. Some compound archers are capable of doing this. I have seen Vegas targets with a single hole centered in each of the three X-rings. Of course, if they hadn’t used a multi-spot target face, they would have destroyed quite a few arrows. So, the saying “all of your arrows in the same hole” may be fun to say, but it isn’t an actual goal. Now this group has some “give” in it, that if one or more of those shots was a bit farther out, they would still count as an X.

I can remember getting proficient enough at Compound-Release shooting, that I would aim at a 15-yard target face on our field range and place my four arrows in the X-ring (first the 5-spot, then later the X-ring after a lot more training): upper left, upper right, lower left, and lower right. Yes, I aimed them to land in those spots and they did. (It probably involved a good measure of luck as I was never all that good on an ongoing basis. I had good patches and not-so-good patches, a sure sign of someone still learning their craft.

So, if your students or friends ask you “how tight do my groups need to be” you can answer them with “you want all of your arrows to be able to fit inside the highest scoring zone.”

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On Rhythm

Part of the AER Training for Coaches from the 19-3 Issue of Archery Focus magazine

Often the last thing competitive archers address in their form and execution is shooting rhythm. Possibly they would be better off if they would be aware of it earlier on.

Beginning Archer’s Rhythm If there is a phrase to characterize the shooting rhythm of beginners, especially youthful beginners, it is “too fast!” They seem to want to erase the previous arrow from memory and replace it with one that hits closer to the center and the sooner the better. (Archers reaching for the next arrow before the last has hit the target are not unknown.) In trying to get them to slow down, the most important point in their shot sequence is after they have achieved anchor position. Several seconds have to elapse for the archer’s mind to determine that they have become still and, once still, do the necessary trigonometry to aim (remember beginners aren’t using a sighting system). Otherwise the “calculations” (whatever goes on subconsciously to get the arrow directed) will be based upon . . . what? Shooting while moving is often described as “drive-by shooting.” It can be done, but if you are competing against an archer of the same skill level allowed enough time to be still, you will lose.

Intermediate Archer’s Rhythm Intermediate archers are using a sighting system, from simple off-of-the-point aiming, to gap shooting or string walking up to using a pin or target sight. Often the rhythm of these archers is erratic at best. Sometimes they shoot slowly other times quickly. Again, the most important point in their shot sequences to ensure sufficient time is after achieving anchor position and while aiming. Seconds are needed to see one’s arrow point or sight aperture to stop moving (transitioning from larger scale movements to very small scale movements, they don’t “stop” per se) and once stillness has been achieved, alignment of the point/aperture with the point of aim is needed. Many people line up the point/aperture first and then wait for stillness. Others do it in reverse. Both approaches have their merits.

Advanced Archer’s Rhythm Here rhythm rises to higher importance. Not only does enough time need to be taken to achieve each phase in the shooting sequence, but this must occur regularly, that is in about the same amount of time, shot after shot.

If your archer does not feel shooting rhythm naturally, a number of things have to be done. One is the archer’s awareness has to be extended to include shooting rhythm and feedback must be given to the archer on this topic. A coach’s primary job is always to provide feedback to his student. This must be in a form that the archer can understand and accept, of course.

Timing Shots In order to create an awareness of one’s shooting rhythm it is suggested that you time some shots, to establish a baseline for further thought. A reasonable way to do this is to have someone (it doesn’t have to be you) use a stop watch to time how long it takes from bow raise to release of the arrow. This can be anywhere from as few as three seconds (machine-gun like) to close to 15 seconds (a watching-paint-dry pace). All that is necessary now is to see what the shot timings are and whether they are consistent.

So, what would be consistent? Assuming your archer has warmed up, an advanced archer could have all of their shots go off in a two-second range. That would be a very good day. On another day, the same archer might have a five second range (from fastest to slowest in a 5-6 arrow end). Some elite archers have almost metronome-like shooting consistency. But that only comes from practicing perfect shots for many tens of thousands of repetitions. Do not have high expectations here. It is important for your archer to feel “normal.”

The hard part for the coach is seeing when the differences are. When your archer shoots faster, are they “saving” time at full draw or in getting there? These are the two main divisions of this “slice of time:” at full draw and getting to full draw, of course we are only talking about from when the bow is raised to when the arrow is loosed. You can learn something by asking your archer to “speed up slightly” or to “slow down slightly.” If the time it takes them to get to full draw stays about the same, then they are inclined to make adjustments at full draw. If the time at full draw stays roughly constant, they are inclined to making adjustments on the way to full draw. Ideally, when an athlete must speed up a little or slow down a little it should happen evenly, but how is one to learn to do that without good feedback?

Why would an archer need to adjust their rhythm? This is a good question. Archery is all about normal variations (described mathematically by the iconic Bell Curve). An archer’s positions in both time and space vary. None of us are robots, so we will not have robot-like precision. Everything we do with bow and arrow will differ from the average. No matter how carefully we craft our arrows in any set one arrow will be the heaviest and one the lightest. Our criterion for a high quality set of competition arrows is that the weight difference between those two arrows is negligible (as are the spine differences, FOC differences, straightness, fletching differences, etc). Similarly, there will be a range of times taken to launch arrows. One’s “normal range” from fastest to slowest must be found to have negligible effects on our scores (otherwise we would change it). Nobody who has a very wide range of shot timings has been all that successful, so most archers want a quite small range of variation. But on occasion, we drift out of that range going slower and slower or faster and faster. If we have trained properly a subconscious alarm bell rings and it is brought to our attention that we have been shooting “too slowly” or “too quickly” and we have to speed up or slow down to get back to our normal rhythm. That’s why we need to be able to change rhythm.

One of the most difficult skills to master is shooting in the wind. Shooting in significant wind almost always requires shots to be slower and finding a new rhythm, a rhythm one can stick to, is the hardest part of adjusting to the conditions. Just getting used to the fact that one’s range of shot times will also go up because of the wind can be hard to do.

Coaches are not violating the coaching dictum “never tell them what they are doing wrong, tell them how to do it right” by doing this you are supplying information that the archer needs to be able to get a clear picture of what he or he needs to do.

You can see why the fine points of an archer’s rhythm tend to get left to the stage in which an archer is described as an “advanced-elite” archer. Addressing it can be quite complicated.

Archers often make very rapid progress near the beginning of their foray into archery, but then the rate at which they make progress slows considerably, largely because the effort needed to make increasingly difficult improvements goes way, way up.

You can give your students a leg up by helping them to become aware of shooting rhythm when they have gotten reasonable control of their shot process. Their focus has been more about space (Where did that arrow land? Where is my point-of-aim? Is my bow shoulder ‘up’?) rather than where they are in time. That is normal as is discovering that time is important, too.


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Complexity vs. Simplicity

In an exchange on my coaching blog the topic of “simpler is better” came up. This is a precept I have felt has merit for a long time. It seems intuitive . . . but is it? Is simpler really better than more complex?

Lets take as an example a Compound-Release archer and compare one to archers of the past. A longbowman had technique and equipment that needed maintenance, as well as skilled craftsmen to create. When compound-release archers came along, a great deal more complexity was injected into the sport (bowstrings and cables, and release aids, oh my!). Bow sights and bow sights with moveable apertures were invented, and then computer programs were written to ensure the most consistent sight markings possible.

Those bow sights involved bubble levels for an archer to determine whether or not his bow attitude was correct and consistent. Release aids were invented, along with D-loops, to make the release of the string smoother and more consistent. Stabilizer rods were invented to help hold the bow still for aiming and at the moment of release. Jigs were invented to make sure that these bow sights and stabilizers were optimally set up.

Compound-release archers produced higher levels of success at “hitting the target” than had previously been seen. So, was the increased complexity worth it? Apparently so, yes, if the goal is consistent accuracy. (Yes, I know traditional archers have more fun, I are one!)

I think the concept “simpler is better” is too simple. Archers are pragmatic, if nothing else. If additional complexity is warranted will be determined by whether results are affected positively and, really, nothing else. Compound-release archers may want to trim their shot routines to be as simple as possible (which is what I recommend . . . as a starting point) but if adding a little something here or there results in better scores, then “more complex is better.”

I think “simple” is easier to master and it is how we start archers off. We teach a standard, simple form . . . and, if the archer blossoms, we start the process of making their shot routine their own and certainly making it more complicated. (Have I mention mental programs?) Simple is a good place to start from, but not necessarily a good goal.

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Blogging About Target Panic

I was reading a commercial blog on “how to beat target panic” which consisted of personal testimony from an individual claiming he did. Here is part of what he wrote:

How I Beat Target Panic
I ultimately beat target panic by putting all the information together from the articles that I read and the people I talked with and formulated the best plan for me. I started by shooting at a big target up close. I shot until I couldn’t miss. At that point, I moved the target back a few yards and shot at that distance until I couldn’t miss. I did this again and then repeated it until I no longer had a fear of holding my pin in the middle and could make a good clean shot every time.

No matter which path you choose, just know that target panic will take a lot of determination and practice to overcome, but it is possible.

Target Panic Just Happened
For me, I don’t remember when my target panic started; it just happened. I didn’t realize what it was and suffered through it for a few years. It wasn’t until I heard people in the industry talking about it that I put two and two together and realized that I had it.

His cure “I started by shooting at a big target up close and so on . . .” is what is called a bridge program which I contend must be part of any effort to contain target panic, but it is just one of six steps I recommend to address in a TP treatment.

I appreciate the author’s effort, but to distill a TP treatment regimen down to a bridge program is what I would call really bad advice. And, the problem is that the information available to archers is larded with these kinds of things. When I did my extensive search for information on TP (hundreds of books, dozens of magazine articles, dozens of videos, etc.) I estimated that over 90% of what I found to be useless. Here’s a small sample:
•  “Lots of good advice for you here, Try it all and see if it works.”
•  “There are many ways to fix this form slump: #1 don’t panic and #2 just shoot the bloody thing.”
•  “Try a “pull back” triggerless release like the Carter Evolution.”

We still do not know what causes target panic, but that doesn’t stop people from stating their opinions (including me):

“In my opinion, no matter how you experience target panic, it all stems back to a fear of missing the target that just got out of hand.”

This is the opinion of the blogger above. And, I repeat, “We still do not know what causes target panic.”

I have been hammering away for years trying to get our archery  organizations to use their standings with colleges and universities to take up questions such as these, e.g. ‘What causes target panic?” and “What is target panic?” and “How should target panic be treated?” to see if we could get some definitive answers, instead of just a series of opinions (over and over and over . . . ).

If you get a chance to add your voice to the call for such research studies, we will all benefit if they are answered.


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Speeding Up and Slowing Down

I read this recently: “During piano lessons, my teacher pushed me to my ceiling on speed, then slowed the piece down and we practiced the isolated parts I stumbled over. Then, we incrementally sped up.”

This seems to be a teaching technique we could apply to our student-archers. Asking them to shoot faster than they are accustomed to (Faster! Faster!) will cause them to stumble where their technique is weak, no?

What do you think?


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Under the Chin or Side of the Face?

There is a healthy debate going on in UK coaching circles as to the “best way” to start beginners, often focused upon which anchor to use, a high anchor (side of the face, corner of the mouth) or a low anchor (under the chin).

Most of these debates are characterized by program coaches claiming they have the “best success” using one or the other. What seems to be left out are the mechanics of the situation.

Here is my take on this question.

The low or under chin anchor presupposes the archer will be using a bow sight. Bow sights are problematic for beginnings because they are using “borrowed” program bows. Until they get their own equipment that they can sight in, there is no use in introducing bow sights. (And don’t think we didn’t try.)

Our approach is to teach Barebow, then introduce other accessories, such as stabilizers and bow sights, in stages and by so doing introduce archers to many of the different styles of shooting that are available to them.

On top of that, beginners are started on large target faces at short distances. The strategy here was summed up by a catch phrase used in USA Archery: “Early participation, early success.” This is no longer used but I think it shows some wisdom. In our programs we even deleted the “safety lecture” to create a system in which participation, aka shooting, occurred as early in the first lesson as possible.

Note Before you freak out about the safety lecture being dumped, please realize we did our research. For one, after having observed quite a number of these safety lectures, we realized that a sizable fraction of the students were not paying attention. In addition, the lecturers were also not paying attention; it takes work to keep your audience engaged and seeing large numbers of your audience tuned out should ring alarm bells. And, finally, we learned that safety rules are best learned in context. We often stop our lessons to point out a safety rule. We ask the assembled students to repeat rules back to us. And we repeat as often as necessary. (We also post range rules and point to them as we explain why things are done the way they are.) In addition, we point out when students do things correctly, by name, to make sure that we don’t come off as always being negative, only pointing out things that are wrong.

Back to the Anchor Point Discussion: When targets are at short distances, a high anchor is (a) a better technique as the points of aim are closer to where the archers are looking, (b) a safer approach as arrows tend to land short of the target butt or on the target butt, and rarely over the target butt, which makes finding all of the shot arrows easier, lending to more shooting per lesson. When teaching aiming, we teach aiming first and then sighting later. Since sights on program bows are way more trouble than they are worth, aiming “off of the point” is an easy aiming technique to teach. (We developed protocols for teaching both.) With a high anchor, points of aim are often on the target face and so easier to teach (we use the target clock face).

Once point of aim is learned, transitioning to a bow sight (if they own one) is an easy process (and yes, we wrote a protocol for it—coaches are too often left on their own without even an example of a technique for teaching something).

And, the under chin anchor gets taught when it is necessary to “make distance,” that is to reach farther targets with reasonable POAs/sight aperture pictures. By then student-archers understand that lowering the nock end of the arrow gives greater cast from the same bow position.

We try to have reasons why we do the things we do and if we find a better way, we adopt that way as soon as possible. And arguments of “we have success in our classes” are weak arguments. If you did half of your classes one way and half the other way and then saw that one of the ways worked better, I would buy it, but just to say “we have success in our classes” is not being compared to the other method. (This is like people recommending their bow or whatnot as being the “best” of its kind because it works for them. But they haven’t tried all of the others, so on what is their opinion based? Answer: not much.)

You will find an earlier post describing how we introduce bow sights using foam tape and ball-headed pins. This is to show students what a sight does and is designed to help them decide whether they want to invest in a bow sight,


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Hydrating While Competing

It is the warmest part of the year, much too warm in certain parts of the country, so what is the best strategy regarding being properly hydrated during a competition?

Eight Glasses of Water Per Day
Let us start by dismissing this rather silly bit of “common wisdom.” (It has been so thoroughly debunked that it was admitted by Oprah Winfrey.)

This bit of synthetic wisdom was made up out of whole cloth by a conference participant and there has been no evidence to back it up, even though it spread like wildfire. The first inkling I got that this was bogus is that there is no range based upon body size or age. So, an 85-pound youth is supposed to quaff down 64 ounces of water, as do I, a near 300-pound adult? And next I thought, but we evolved on the African savannah; how the heck are we supposed to drink that much water when we might encounter a water hole once a day or even less frequently?

Getting Thirsty
We have this bodily function called thirst. Is it not dependable? (Yes and no, as usual.)

For most purposes we can trust our thirst to keep us from being dehydrated. If you feel thirsty, drink something. Simple, but. . . .

Imagine when you’re thirsty and you drink a glass of water. The water takes 75 minutes to completely reach your bloodstream, but you feel less thirsty within seconds. What relieves your thirst so fast? Your brain. It’s learned from past experience that water is a deposit to your body that hydrates you, so your brain dismisses your thirst before the water has entered your bloodstream. And, your brain prompts you with thirst well before there are any possible affects to allow for the lack of readily available potable water.

But. . . .

If you are really focused in on something, like being in competition, competing for a highly prized championship, you can shunt those feelings aside as being irrelevant. Thus you can become near dehydrated with no clear signal that you or your performance is in danger. You brain controls your thirst, and you are heavily engaged in controlling your brain, focused intently upon your task.

Dehydration Signs
If you feel the urge to urinate but cannot produce any urine, you are likely in the throes of dehydration. You can also feel weak, dizzy, and dozens of other symptoms (dry mouth, confusion, etc.). Clearly these are not helpful to an archery performance so, how are we to avoid dehydration?

My Hydration Strategy
I dress appropriately to the weather. Since I am very fair skinned I also have to restrict my sun exposure as well and something helpful for both is a wide brimmed hat (soft brim so as to not interfere with my bow). Clothing that allow breezes to evaporate sweat are cooling and so are also helpful.

I drink a mixture of 50% water and 50% sports drink, like Gatorade. The sports drink has a bit of sugar (too much actually) and minerals to replace those lost in sweat. According to my fitness trained son, the dilution of the drink allows for faster absorption. I sip this mixture all day long. Basically I have a routine of sipping this between ends, with lunch, etc. In this way, I eliminate any possibility of dehydration and I don’t have to think about it.

Competing out in the hot sun can result in dehydration because intense concentration on the task of shooting can shunt thirst signals into the background. To eliminate any chance of dehydration, I sip on a diluted sports beverage (your choice, just avoid energy drinks that are loaded with large amounts of caffeine) according to a simple schedule.

Dehydration is a dangerous syndrome, not to be ignored. We learn this lesson over and over every fall when a high school football player, driven by a need to success and overzealous coaches, collapses and dies. Or maybe we don’t learn the lesson as this seems to happen at least once every fall in the hotter areas of the country, which are even hotter now than before.


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Coaching Tools—An Arrow Saw

There are many tools that archers have available to them that also serve coaches. One of the most useful is an arrow saw.

The reason an arrow saw is one of the most useful tools to a coach is that we often find ourselves in the position of helping archers tune their arrows. And the absolute best way to tune a new arrow is to take a tuning set of five of them (never work on a whole dozen until you have nailed down the parameters for your arrows) and test them when full length (I use bare shaft testing). (Always order your shafts and arrows uncut if you have your own saw.) They should test “weak” at full length, so then you cut a little at a time, testing as you go until they test just right. (By making small cuts and bare shaft testing them as you go, you can get a feel for how much to cut each time (each cut will move the bare shafts closer to the fletched group.) Generally the cuts get smaller and smaller as you “inch” closer to the correct cut length for your system. When you find it. Shoot the test set until you are comfortable with them and then cut the remaining arrows/shafts to that same length.

The first photo is of a Decut Minicut arrows saw which I saw an ad for at US $200. My saw is an old Apple Arrow Saw (mine doesn’t have the dust collection system like the one in the second photo), and there are modular ones that snap together, professional ones (professional arrow cutting?), etc.

Once you acquire one of these, you’ll wonder how you got along with it.

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Load Another Arrow Quickly?

We have all seen rank beginners shoot arrows (heck, we have all been rank beginners), be disappointed, then shoot another, then another, etc. making no changes in form or equipment. “Shootin’ and hopin’” is typical of beginners.

If you work with beginners at all, you will see this behavior. Your beginner fires off an arrow that could be instructive if they took the time to study it and figure out what changes in their approach are needed. But what do they actually do?

Quick as a bunny, they grab another arrow and shoot it. And another . . . and another. . . . Beginners want to shoot another arrow to see where it lands. Expert archers, on the other hand, know where it is going to land. Beginners seem to think that if they actually land an arrow or two in target center, then shot after shot will go their, too. They just need to figure it out and then they will be really good at this. And “figuring it out” means flinging arrows until they land where they are supposed to.

This “belief” of beginners is not at all rare. You will see it in other sports. Just blind repetition of what clearly isn’t working with no attempt whatsoever to figure out how to do it.

Fascinatingly, there are some seasoned archers who never grew out of this phase. So, my question to you is “What will you do if you identify one of your students as having this “syndrome?”


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