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Paralysis by Analysis

You may know I use golf coaching and golf training literature as templates for their archery equivalents. Golf and archery, field archery especially, have many commonalities. And the world of archery is far behind golf in its coaching literature and supports.

One of the coaching commonalities seems to be that we have dissected our motions into tiny little bits and then exposed those bits to the wrong audience. Dissecting an archery shot into tiny bits for analysis is perfectly suitable, in fact desirable, for coaches. It is a source of misery and confusion for archers. We can see this most clearly in golf.

Note that the archers arms are pointing up and to the left, while the club is pointing to the right. The angle thus created is referred to as “lag.”

I just saw an advertisement for a book entitled “The Release: Golf’s Moment of Truth” by Jim Hardy. In a golf swing the “release” refers to the practice of releasing the wrist cock created by the golfer on the back swing. At address a golfer’s club shaft is aligned with his/her arms. When the club is swung back overhead, the wrists “cock” the club so the club head is farther back than the golfer’s hands. Once the downswing has begun, the club head lags behind the golfer’s hands, substantially, and golfer’s are taught to preserve this “lag” until the last possible moment, because when this “lag” is released, a great whipping action is created, delivering more force to the golf ball, causing it to fly farther (if struck correctly). This releasing of the “lag” is called, most sensibly, “the release.”

All of this occurs in a small fraction of a second, of course, so this information is of no use to a golfer—coaches yes, golfers no. The authors have apparently created a system described by the acronyms LOP and RIT to help golfers break this tiny moment in time into even smaller units. LOP stands for “Left arm, Outward, Pull” while RIT stands for “Right arm, Inward, Throw” apparently a recipe for a good release of the lag in a swing.

All of this information may be good information for coaches, but in a golfer’s mind, they can only lead to confusion.

If you coach Olympic Recurve archers I strongly recommend you read this book. I recommend you don’t recommend this to your students.

We do the same in archery. I have found USA Archery National Coach Kisik Lee’s two books fascinating (and am eagerly awaiting the promised third book on coaching) … but I never recommend them to archers. Why? They contain too much information they can do nothing about. I cringe when I hear archer’s talking about LAN2, scapulae, 60:40 weight distributions, and the distribution of finger pressures on the string. An archer is looking for subconscious competence. When he/she is shooting, there are no conscious thoughts attached to making the actual shot. They are consciously aware of shooting, but they are not thinking about shooting, certainly they cannot be thinking about the details of making the shot. That leads to “paralysis by analysis.” This term was invented around 1956 (I think) but shows up in works going back to Aesop’s fables. In general it refers to overthinking a problem.

A coaches job is to take concrete knowledge (and even hunches) and turn them into actionable things archers can do. Archers then judge those actions by how they feel and how they affect their results. Supplying the background information is usually a mistake. (Some archers, typical those described as being Type As, want their coaches to demonstrate this knowledge, but usually just to check to make sure the coach knows whereof he/she speaks, not because they need that information.)

In golf there are golfers tying themselves in knots trying to increase their smash factors, change their launch trajectories, decrease or increase their spin rates, and create more lag and a better release. If the golfer is a professional, literally steeped in golf for a living, this might be helpful. For an amateur, this is the road to paralysis by analysis. Same is true in archery.

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An Archery Lesson from Last Night’s World Series Game 7

The 2017 championship for American professional baseball was on the line last night as the seventh game of a seven game series was played. Both teams were exhibiting signs of fatigue, both mental and physical.

The Major League Baseball season is very long, about seven months. The players play about 20 games to get into shape in “spring training,” then they play 162 games in the “regular season.” If they make the playoffs, a couple of teams in each league have a one game playoff (win or go home) to determine whether they can continue. Then teams play a best of five series (minimum three games, maximum five) in a first level playoff. If they win, they play a seven game series (minimum four games, maximum seven) in a second level playoff. And then, if they win that series, they play in the World Series in another best of seven series (minimum four games, maximum seven) to determine the champion for the entire year. That is a lot of games and a lot of focus required.

These are professional athletes, paid millions of dollars per year to perform for their fans. Surely the mental and physical pressures are something they are almost born to handle, no?

Last night, both teams wanted their starting pitchers to last at least five of the nine innings, six or seven innings would be wonderful. The other team could score runs, but only a few. This would take the burden of pitching off of the relief pitchers, specialist pitchers who pitch quite frequently, but don’t see many innings or batters, all of whom have been showing signs of ineffectiveness.

That was the plan.

The Dodger’s pitcher was substituted for in the second inning and the Astro’s pitcher was substituted for in the third inning.

Oops.

The reasons? Both pitchers were so focussed on the outcome of each pitch that they lost control of the process of making it.

This is exactly what happens to archers who “lose their shot” during competitions. It can happen to anyone, but the elites manage to get it back after one or two “bad shots,” but because they are competing against other elites, that can still lose them the competition. Ordinary archers can lose their shot and not get it back for days, if ever.

In archery, we need to be able to focus on our process, a process that we have proved to ourselves will result in high scoring, small groups of arrows in the target, each end. Once an arrow is shot, it is away and we can’t care about it. If we care about it so much we start worrying about how we are going to score well, we lose touch with our process. If we worry about past arrows or future arrows or our score or … anything other than executing our shooting process, we will “lose our shot.”

Our shot process is like a plan. We must train to execute the plan, then we need to commit to the plan, and execute the plan over and over and over. Once we lose focus on our plan, we will always tend to improvise and the improvised plans cannot be as good as the practiced plan and our score suffers.

Realize that these improvisations are not true improvisations, they are rather pieces of older shots we keep “on the shelf” to pull off in cases of emergency. Since we learned those older versions of our current shot, they are the most likely substitute when an improvisation occurs, no?

This is why we never, ever want to practice doing a shot incorrectly: it essentially tells our subconscious minds that variations from “the process” are acceptable and it creates another “off the shelf” option our subconscious may switch to when we become dismayed that our current process isn’t working, an option that is nowhere near as good.

In the case of the starting pitchers in last night’s game, the Dodger starter lost control over his curveball by allowing his fingers to be on the side of the ball, rather than the top. This results in a curveball that breaks from side-to-side more than up-to-down. The up-down breaking pitch is in the plane of the batter’s swing a very, very short time. The side-to-side breaking pitch is in that plane for a much longer time, increasing the probability of the bat striking the ball … and struck they were. The Astro’s pitcher lost control of the angle his arm was making with the ground, which changes the point in space the ball is released from which resulted in a loss of control of where his fastball was going. He walked several batters and hit batters (one twice) that increased greatly the likelihood that some of those batters will come around to home plate and score.

The bottom line? All competition pressure is created on a five inch playing field: the one between your ears. It is not created by external sources, you create it yourself. It is created by considering the future: what if we lose the game? What if I miss with this pitch? What if I get a nine on this shot and win the tournament? It is created when we dwell on past shots and lose contact with our current process.

There are players/archers who seem to thrive in such situations and we say they are “immune to the pressure.” Actually for those players, the pressure doesn’t exist because they do not create it. This is done by baseball pitchers throwing one quality pitch at a time with the attitude that if it gets hit, it gets hit. They can only control their own process and not the batter’s.

The same is true for archers. If you are immersed in your process, focussed on what is happening now, unaccepting of any deviation of your “plan,” you will feel little pressure to perform. If you do feel pressure, then know that your are not in the “now” and in order to get away from that feeling of pressure, you need to refocus on what you are doing when you shoot. (Focussed on, not trying to control.)

Coaches cannot teach anything more valuable to their competitive charges than this.

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Do Your Students Have Balance Problems?

A key element of consistent accuracy is being still while executing shots and a key part of being still is maintaining good balance. Let’s explore this.

Do Your Students Have Balance Issues?
Rank beginners often adopt some interesting body moves at full draw: shuffling their feet, swaying back and forth, etc. Sometimes this is due to simplistic thinking, e.g. “Hmm, I am aimed off to the left so I will move over to the right … shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.” More often it is due to balance issues. The bow is a heavy object for a young child and holding it out at arm’s length is challenging. Most archers who stick with it some develop relatively stable form and we stop thinking about the role of balance in their shooting. This may be a mistake.

So, how do we check to see if they are struggling with balance? I’m glad you asked.

The simplest way is to watch them shoot. Pick out a spot near their head and line it up with a point in their visual background. If they are swaying of moving substantially at full draw, then you will see that pint on their cap (or whatever) moving. Also look for an inability to hold good, erect, full draw posture. If they are constantly shift their weight on their legs or front to back, then they are having problems. For a more sensitive “tell” you can watch the tip of their long stabilizer (if they use one) if it doesn’t settle into a single spot, with slight movements around a center of motion), there may be a balance problem. If they shoot Barebow recurve, the top limb tip can serve for this check.

What to Do About It
For young archers, serious drills are probably not the answer. Often their balance problems are rooted in holding a relatively heavy bow up at arm’s length. If they seem relatively still at full draw, but when the string is loosed either their bow drops like a rock or they tend to tip a great deal to control it, they have a common problem. An adult holding up a six-pound weight at arm’s length is no hard task, but for a 10-year old, holding up a four pound weight at arm’s length is quite difficult. The deltoid arm muscles responsible for holding their arm up haven’t developed much by that time. A partial solution is to have them spread their feet out a bit more. We can’t be specific because we don’t know if their stance was already somewhat wide or quite narrow. If their stance is quite narrow, have them open the width of their stance until their heels (not toes) are as far apart as their shoulders.

A commercial balance board, many of which are available.

In the companion article for archers in this issue, we describe self-exploratory activities based upon balance and stance. One option to address these issues is to lead them through these exercises.

Drilling for Balance There are all kinds of balance training gear available at reasonable costs. These can be as simple as a round disk of plywood with a board or half sphere attached to the bottom to more complicate devices involving inflatable disks. If you are a DIY person, you can make such things yourself. A piece of 3/4˝ plywood large enough to take their stance on, with a small piece of 1˝x 1˝ or 2˝x 2˝ wood running down the center of the short distance (across the stance line) makes a good “wobble board.” Kids have a great deal of fun shooting while standing on such a rig.

An even less expensive piece of drilling equipment can be made from swim noodles (see photo below left). Cut a couple of eight inch pieces of a swim noodle and place one piece cross ways under each of your archer’s feet. Then they shoot while trying to keep their balance standing that way.

All of these pieces of rehab/training equipment work by requiring extra effort to create and retain balance.

Regular drills and scoring games can be used to keep this kind of practice from becoming boring.

Practicing and Assessing by Themselves
There are things archers can do to improve their balance by themselves, even when they are not at the range.

They can take a couple of minutes when they are at the range and while shooting at a close butt. Simply shoot a number of arrows while sighting across a bow hand knuckle. If they are used to shooting off of their arrow’s point or using a sight, they need to shoot a number of arrows to get used to the correct height to hold the bow or they could line up their aperture/arrow point with their point of aim and then switch to looking at their knuckle. The object is to shoot and have the knuckle stay relatively lined up with the mark chosen before, during, and after the shot. Doing five or more shots this way at each practice session will lead to an appreciation for how steady they are and whether progress is being made to becoming more steady. If they are more steady, they are probably more balanced.

Similarly they can play balance games, while waiting for a bus or even watching TV. Simply pick up one foot and count how many seconds they can manage to keep it off of the ground (one thousand one, one thousand, two, . . .). Obviously they need to switch feet so both legs get worked out.

Back at the range or even at home they can draw on a target POA, close their eyes, count to a number (start at three, then move up when that become easy), then open their eyes to see if they are still lined up. If this is done at home, unless there is a home shooting station, this is best done with no arrow on the bow. This can be a game of “how long can you hold still at full draw.” It is a balance workout as well as an archery stamina workout.

 

Conclusion
Balance and stillness can be trained for. For your youngest charges, simple stance adjustments are suggested but not much more. With serious archers, more complicated training can be done with inexpensive or DIY training aids.

Do realize that balance is something that is invisible until you look for it and just because it is out of sight, it should not be out of a coach’s mind.

 

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For the Coach? For the Archer?

I was discussing a topic with a student and NTS came up. I generally do not teach the NTS, but elements of it are offered as options for archers exploring how to bolster particular form elements. In case you are unaware, NTS stands for National Training System. The nation is the U.S. and it is somewhat of a misnomer. I tend to think of it as the National Teaching System, because little in the way of “training” has been formalized. In any case, the NTS is all the rage in the U.S.

In this particular case, the student responded that he had read the reference I suggested but he said that often he was more confused rather than enlightened by the reading. This is not an uncommon result, as I find the NTS publications are mostly for coaches and not so much for archers. This is not confined to just the NTS but to many such writings.

I write mostly for coaches, but I do write for archers, too (Winning Archery, Shooting Arrows, etc.) and when I do I feel compelled to explain why certain things are recommended, that is I include the “why,” with the “what and how.” Otherwise one sounds just a little dictatorial: do this, do that, just shut up and do what you are told and I have never liked an authoritarian approach.

Coaches, serious coaches anyway, need to know the “why” behind all of the form, posture, and execution steps they teach. In acquiring this knowledge, a system of the shot is built in our heads which allows us to just look at an archer and “see” what seems to need work the most, for example. If we do not know the “whys” behind the “whats and hows,” we are left in the position of teaching archers the right way to do things based upon other peoples’ descriptions of “the right way to do things.” I am more and more convinced that there is no “right technique” or “correct technique,” that each archer must claim or build their own.

So, I am writing this to see if I can help you differentiate between “what the coach needs to know” from “what the archer needs to know.” Archers who are fed a bunch of “what the coach needs to know” may only be confused (the good outcome) but also may become discombobulated (the bad outcome), trying to do things that they should not and getting more mixed up than they were. The following may be oversimplified, but this is just my best first effort at making this distinction.

The What and the How
Archers are athletes. In general they need to know what they need to do and how they need to do it. The “why” is not going to be helpful as it confuses things and, in general, athletes need to keep things simple.

Usually a coach can get an athlete to try something different based upon their reputation as a “Quarterback Whisperer, or Pitching Guru, or Hitting Instructor, or Famous Coach, etc.” or based upon having a good relationship with the archer (they have worked together for some time, to the benefit of the archer). Once an archer agrees to try something different (it is their sport, I only ask, never demand), the only things they need to be focussed upon are “what am I to do” and “how am I to do it.” Then, they need to evaluate whether that change was correctly made and whether or not is was effective, as in “Oh, my groups are tighter.” or “My practice scores went up.” If the new form element works, they shouldn’t give a flying fart as to why it worked. (Why should they?)

The Why
Coaches, though, are better equipped to do our job if we know why something is preferable. For someone who, for instance, draws quite slowly, they might benefit from drawing more quickly. Drawing too slowly wastes energy, causes strain, and lessens the time an archer might have at full draw to do necessary things. Note If you don’t understand this, this is where people like me need to get better. To understand this, imagine being at full draw (compound or recurve, whatever). If you just wait, you will notice that it seems to get harder and harder to keep your bow drawn; it is not, the same number of pounds of draw force that are needed to stay at full draw doesn’t change (the bow is a mechanical object). But the energy supply of the muscles working to keep contracted to stay at full draw are running out rapidly, and the “it feels harder” is the signal that you are running out of time before those muscles stop working.

How much faster to draw the bow, if the archer agrees to try this, is not something that is dictated, it is something to be discovered. I generally ask the archer to try drawing too quickly and work back from there as it is normal to drift back to the status quo and if you only move up a little in draw speed, you’ll soon find yourself back where you were. So, the archer needs to experiment and try and test and feel his/her way to something new.

Telling the Difference
So, if you are reading an archery resource (article, book, web site, etc.), how can you tell if what it is that you are reading was meant for you or not? Here’s my best advice:

  • If muscles are mentioned, or physics, or the word “why” is used, then that information is for coaches. If terms like: scapulae, LAN2, vector, rotator cuff, or other scientific or context-specific terms are being used, terms that you may not understand, then that information is for coaches.
  • If what to do or how to do it is being described, then this is for archers. If a drill or a practice technique is being described, then this is for archers. So, if an article is describing the benefits of having a higher draw elbow is encountered, and suggestions are given as to “how to give it a try,” it is for archers. If they start going on about shoulder joints and rotator cuffs, then they are speaking to coaches.
  • Now, in my opinion, coaches need to read all of this, the stuff for the coaches and the stuff for the archers. Since our job is to get both an inside and outside view of what is going on in an archer, we need it all. But archers are probably better off without all of the coaching stuff, cluttering their minds. Just skip over it. And, coaches shouldn’t spend much time explaining the “whys” to their students. The first rule of communication is: know your audience.

A Wish
I hope in the future that archery authors make the distinction better between what is directed at coaches and what is directed at archers. This will help everyone.

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The “Talent” Question

I posted my opinions on talent recently (Do You Believe in … on July 8) and have been engaged in a lively debate with a number of you regarding that claim. There seems to be some misunderstanding. I was specifically addressing the existence, or rather the nonexistence, of specific talents, such as a talent for archery, or a talent for chess, or the violin. There is no doubt that people have advantages of the body and mind over others when it comes to any particular sport. In fact, I will be so bold to say that participation levels are high enough that at the elite level we see specific body types and mentalities being selected out. If you have, say, genetic physical advantages and you participate, you will experience more success, which can create greater encouragement, which can lead to higher levels of accomplishment. Fifty years ago, no college football offense linemen were over 300 pounds in weight. Now it seems they all are. This did not happen by chance.

As another example, when I was interested in swimming, most swimmers were of middle height. Today, you will find successful swimmers who are much taller and thus benefit from a longer power stroke. If one seriously considers the physiological advantages of a swimmer like Michael Phelps, you can see huge advantages built into his body. Now, if he had been born on a desert planet (Arrakis?), he would have never developed that “talent,” which is my point: what we call generally call talents are actually just high levels of accomplishment.

There is something called the relative age effect. I have written about this with regard to the age groupings of youth sports, including archery. If you break youth competitive groups down into two-year groups, for example, you will soon discover that kids who were born slightly after the start date have an advantage. Let’s say the starting date for the age groups is July 1. If a youth were born on June 30th, he/she would be one day into his/her twelfth year during their first year of any cycle. If they were born on July second, they would be considered to be almost one whole year younger than they really are for that whole year. (They would be an eleven-year old on July 1 and for the rest of the year.) This is a tremendous advantage. Twelve year olds that are twelve plus one day would be competing against kids who were twelve plus 364 days, essentially a thirteen-year old.

This played out in a study of European professional soccer clubs. All or virtually all of the players on the teams at the time of the study benefited from the relative age effect. Since they were older and stronger than their competitors in their age groups, they got more playing time, more encouragement, and experienced more success, or so the story goes.

These are not kids who have more talent, these are kids who are stronger and faster and better because they are older. A 13-year old is 9% older than a twelve-year old in the extreme. These athletes are parlaying their natural “gifts” into success on the playing field, and these successes can play out long term.

So, an athlete’s physical and mental attributes play a role, a role so large that we are seeing elite performances being made by people with advantageous body types, but who also are almost (or actually) obsessed with their sports. I can remember a time when a farm kid or high school kid could take some special training and end up on an Olympic team, even winning a medal. I can remember when female gymnastics were grown women. These situations do not occur any more because of the artificial selection process. Female gymnasts got shorter and shorter and lighter and lighter which were all advantages in their sport. To get the lightest, fittest athletes, they had to be younger and younger, to the point that officials finally put an age minimum on competitors.

You can’t put a limit on effort, however, so the obsessed athletes are putting up numbers that in order to be competitive with them must be matched by equal levels of obsession by the others in their sport. Athletes train year-round for their sport, their countries support them while doing this, so if you want to compete, you, too, have to train year around.

This is artificial selection, not natural selection. What is being selected are genetic benefits and mental abilities, and not inborn or god-given abilities to perform a certain sport or other activity. If you want to learn more about this I recommend the book The Sports Gene (highly readable).

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Do You Believe In … ?

Do you believe that there is a perfect shooting technique out there? And, if you mastered that technique you would automatically become a very, very good archer? There seems to be a fair number of archers and coaches who seem to believe this.

As a sport, and maybe representative of the wider culture, we also tend to believe in “talent,” that some people are born with a hard-wired ability to do . . . something. Otherwise, how do we explain young people who have abilities far beyond their years. While we do not deny that people have various physical and mental abilities, there is no evidence for this opinion that stands up to scrutiny. I tend to think it is a manifestation of our own ego protection at work. If that athlete just beat the stuffing out of me, it must be because he has a “natural gift” I was not given (aka It was not my fault!). It is harder to admit the truth: the other athlete prepared better, worked harder, or was just at a higher level of performance that you are currently.

This is the pernicious aspect of a belief in talent, if you believe you either have “it” or you don’t, what becomes of striving to get better?

A belief that there is some magical technique, is also akin to a belief in talent. It is not helpful and it is not based upon any evidence. If you believe that there is some essentially correct technique, the farther from which you get the poorer your performance as an archer will be, you are on the wrong path.

Ask yourself:

  • Is there any other sport in which this is the case?
  • If there were such a technique, should we not have found it by now? (People still argue about the “right” and “wrong” ways to do things.)
  • Do champions show a conformity of technique? Since they are performing the best, they must have technique closest to the ideal.

What I Suggest
Al Henderson, one of the U.S.’s greatest coaches, is reported to have told archers that “the key is to do it wrong over and over again exactly the same way.” I do not recommend one deliberately seek out how to “do it wrong,” but I do believe there is a process and it doesn’t involve a quest for “doing it right.”

Technique is Important, Everybody Needs One An archer’s technique is something he/she develops over time. It is never exactly the same as anyone else’s.

The Farther You Are from Your True Technique, the Harder It Is to Learn It If you insist on a form element or an execution step that is suboptimal for you, you will incur a training penalty in that it will take more effort and time to learn. Once this step is learned, though, there is no evidence that it is any less effective than some other step. There could be a score penalty for doing things that are far from optimal, but experience tells us that many archers can succeed having quite unusual form, so this has not been demonstrated in fact.

Learn Your Shot and Then Own It So, a budding serious competitive archer needs to find a shot, specifically his/her shot. Then, through repetition, they have to own that shot. Once they have gotten that far, there is a continuous improvement stage in which minor adjustments are made from time to time: in equipment, execution, and form, but these are small compared to the initial effort to learn and own a shot.

Technique, Like Talent, Is Not Given, It Is Learned The process is one of exploration to find what works and doesn’t work. Clearly what works is something close to what everyone else is doing, hence the idea of “standard” or “textbook” form. But occasionally, what everyone else is doing turns out to be suboptimal. The example of high jumping technique comes to mind. Everyone used to jump looking at the bar. Now everyone jumps looking up away from the bar.

Finally
In an article about David Vincent, an prodigious baseball statistics creator, especially with regard to home runs, an observer commented “Like many so-called stat geeks, Mr. Vincent was obsessed. His computer skills were a necessary entry point, but unless this subject drives you, you won’t spend time doing it.”

Bingo. Young archers who demonstrate talent are driven, by love of the sport, or love of the attention it creates, or. . . . Part of this drive surely is rooted in success. If one tries, and fails repeatedly, enthusiasm rarely survives.

This was so important that an early motto for youth archery programs was “early participation, early success.” What this meant was to get a bow into a prospective archer’s hands, then shooting at large targets set at short distances to ensure some measure of early success. A new archer having to shoot at 20 yd/m or longer will probably do well to hit the ground with his/her arrows and more than likely not be inclined to come back. (“I tried that but I was not good at it.”) Such a “conclusion” comes well before any skill has been achieved that could be the basis for success on “normal” ranges, so “big targets, up close” became the watchword for beginning archery programs.

The phrase “unless this subject drives you, you won’t spend time doing it” is key. Talent is built, not something one possess. This takes time, time on task. Something about the sport has to supply the energy needed to come back for more. Channeling that energy into some ballet-like search for perfect technique is counterproductive.

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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 …

* * *

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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