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.