Tag Archives: teaching

Why Archers Need to Absolutely Positively Write Things Down

Note This is a follow-up to “The Post Tournament Review Process”

I have to begin by saying that I have known a great many archers who were far better archers than I was who did not follow this advice. They kept everything in their heads (well, part of it; there is way too much info to memorize it all). So, I am not saying that if you do not keep written records that you will not be able to be come very, very good. What I am saying is that it is highly likely that you will not become as good as you could have become if you forgo keeping written records. This I will attempt to convince you of.

In the book Thinking Fast and Slow, the author (the brilliant Daniel Kahneman) points out that there seem to be two systems that we use to “think:”

System 1 This system is effortless, automatic, associative, rapid, parallel process, opaque (in that we are unaware of its workings), emotional, concrete, specific, social, and personalized.

System 2 This system is effortful, controlled, deductive, slow, serial, self-aware, neutral, abstract, asocial, and depersonalized.

Playing a hunch is an example of System 1 thinking; math homework an example of System 2. Setting aside whether these characterizations are true and correct, I think there is enough truth in them to address the recommendation at the top of this post.

It seems the vast bulk of our thinking falls under System 1 and it is that system that values “stories” or as the news people say, “narratives.” When I taught professionally I argued that we are primed to learn through stories. Stories hold things together. They make sense of why things happen. They make it clear why Action B followed Action A, etc. Children are told stories that have morals behind them (“And the moral to the story, children, is …”). Unfortunately we tend to, uh, well, embellish stories. We tend to make the story come out as we want it to rather than just as it did. There is even an adage that says “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

How does this affect archers, you ask? Allow me to answer you via a story.

* * *

Consider the following scenario: in competition an archer shoots their first arrow which lands at 6 o’clock in the 7-ring. What should he/she do? What he/she should do, of course, depends on whether this was a “good shot” or a “poor shot.” This distinction is made absent the result of the shot. If it felt like a normal good shot, it was . . . unless . . . unless say the archer wasn’t paying full attention to their process. If this was the case, he/she might be able to discern that fact through a little analysis. So, if it felt as if it were a good shot, was the outcome a good outcome? Was that 7 “normal?” Here is where problems occur.

It is unfortunate but when we enter into a competition, we have hopes for a high score. We think that we will shoot high scoring arrows with occasional poorer scoring arrows mixed in. But when do those lower scoring arrows show up? Good question. Most likely they show up randomly; they can show up on the first arrow as likely on the twelfth arrow or the last arrow. But our expectations for a good score can result in that initial 7 to lead us to think there will be more of them, even worse scoring arrows, leading to a poor score. The disappointment associated with this may lead us to make a change in our sight setting, or execution. Our subconscious minds might translate our disappointment with that shot into changes we are not even aware of. But if the shot was “normal,” then any change is moving the archer to a less successful setup/execution with the result being a guaranteed lower score.

So what’s an archer to do?

First we must recognize that first arrows are problematic. The excitement of shooting is at a high. There is no previous good scoring shot to imprint upon (to use in a mental rehearsal), and there are those hopes and dreams for a good overall score. I remember working toward a perfect score of 300 on the NFAA indoor round (60 arrows, 5-4-3 scoring). I can’t tell you how many times I had the thought “If the first arrow isn’t a five, I’m done,” but it wasn’t just a few. But this only happens when you are chasing a perfect score. The first arrow of any competition may be your lowest or highest scoring arrow.

I ask my students to monitor what their “normal groups” are. For the sake of this story, this student, when shooting at this distance at a ten-ring target face, typically “holds the 8-ring.” This means the vast majority of his arrows score 8, 9, or 10 . . . with a rare 7 from time to time. So, was the score of that 7 just shot “normal” or not? If there is no other evidence to tell you different, shooting a 7 is normal for this student.

If you keep records, you have the opportunity to explore those records to see what reality actually looks like. You can go through a score card on which all of the arrow scores are recorded and identify your lowest scoring arrows. You can then see when they tend to occur. This gives you a number of advantages: one is an ability to distinguish between your hopes/fears and reality. Another is a recognition that lower scoring arrows happen and they probably happen less now than a couple of years ago. (Hey, I am making progress!) Another is that is there is a regular pattern, you can train for that. For example, if your low scoring arrows always happen in the last few ends, maybe your fitness level is not high enough. If they occur on the first few arrows,maybe nerves need to be addressed. Maybe there is a psychological factor.

If, on the other hand, you discard those score cards and take no notes, all you have are your stories. Here’s another example.

* * *

You are in a tight shoot-off with a fellow competitor and you get to the last arrow with the score tied. On the last arrow, you shoot an 8 and he shoots a … 9! Most people automatically blame the loss on that last arrow. “If I had just shot a 10 or even a 9,” we think. But if you go back to the scorecard you probably get a different picture. In this case (I am making up this story), our losing archer had a three point lead that was steadily eroded as the shoot-off continued. What about the arrow scores that caused him the loss of his lead? Had he been leading by three points and both had the same last arrows, he would have won by two points.

This is typical of System 1 thinking. We have oodles of biases built into our System 1 thinking, one of those is we tend to overvalue the most recent events and devalue earlier ones. These biases developed over very long periods of time and are actually useful in many cases, so they are not to be disparaged, but they also can be problematic.

Writing’s Long List of Strengths
I have more than a few thoroughly modern students who, went I ask them to take a note whip out their smart phones and start typing. They do not know they are making a mistake by choosing a poor form of writing. Smart phones are problematic because there is too much information on them and one’s notes can be buried (amongst other things). By having a notebook dedicated to archery, all of your archery notes are in one place, you do not have to look elsewhere, nor do you have to wade through piles of irrelevant stuff to find your archery notes. I like segmented notebooks and put info of one kind or another in specific locations, making it even easier to find.

Conclusion
I am not advocating that you favor System 2 thinking over System 1 thinking, far from it. System 2 thinking is slow and laborious, again think math homework. But some System 2 thinking mixed in can make you a better archer or coach. Doing some System 2 thinking when you have the time to wade through a scorecard or analyze your groupings (in an attempt to answer the question: what is normal for me now?). This can reduce the impulsive nature that is normal for us most of the time. Writing those things down, makes them much easier to remember.

Just being able to tell the difference between a normal shot and a faulty shot is key to making the corrections that are required to shoot good scores. Leaving this up to a “gut feeling” can lead you or your students astray over and over. (The mistake that keeps on giving!)

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The Most Basic Value of a Normal Shot Routine

Often overlooked is the basic value of a normal shot routine for making archery shots. As coaches we do use a shot routine as a framework for teaching the fine points of the physical shot. I argue that the shot routine is a framework for an archer’s mental program. But there is a fundamental benefit to an archer in having his/her own shot routine, not a routine that their coach uses or some other archer uses. This, of course, involves the archer being committed to using an ordinary routine which involves convincing them it is worth the effort to practice and learn it.

We can use arguments like “Archer X uses hers” and “Archer Y uses his,” and golfers have normal shot routines, as do pool players, and tennis servers, and rifle shooters, etc.

There is a concrete benefit from such a routine that can be demonstrated with a shoelace. If one begins to tie one’s shoe, the process continues automatically. In fact, it takes an effort to stop midway. Why is this? Well, it is a simple matter of “one thing leads to another,” but it doesn’t unless a chain of things is created such that B follows A and C follows B, etc. This used to be easier to explain when we listened to phonograph records and CDs. We would just let them play and then shortly after several such plays, we would know the order in which the “cuts” occurred on the album. Interestingly, if the second track had just begun, you would find it more difficult to come up with the name of the next song on the record than if it was nearing its end. This is because we associated the start of Track 3 with the end of Track 2 and so the automatic connection isn’t made until we neared the end of Track 2.

So, an archer’s shot routine essentially drags the archer from the beginning of the shot to its end. They don’t have to go “Okay, I have finished the draw, what should I do next?” Nor do they have to worry about skipping steps or doing them out of order. (These things do happen when we get under pressure and such things indicate flaws in our routines.) This is why golfers who are playing for purses of millions of dollars always talk about focusing on their routines as the pressure mounts. (Would that archers had such problems.)

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Follow-up on “Committing to the Shot”

In a recent post (Committing to the Shot) I made the point that at some point or other, an archer (as well as golfers, baseball players, etc.) needs to commit to what they have planned to do in every shot. In the absence of such a commitment, our subconscious minds may come up with their own ideas on how to achieve the goal. What I did not do in that former post was indicate where this commitment needs to take place.

Golfers have more variables than we do: putts take different tracks at different speeds, the ball can be made to curve left or curve right, as well as go straight, shots can be hoisted up high where the wind will affect them more are shot down low where the wind will affect them less, the turf itself has different textures which affect the roll of the ball (the “fair way” vs. the “rough way”—those are the original terms), etc. In archery, we may have wind to contend with, and a shot clock, but little else, so the physical choices are fewer. Unfortunately, though, some of our choices include previously learned shot techniques, that have been shelved but can be called upon subconsciously.

Because of various factors, I suggest that the commitment needs to go after the shot visualization just before the raising of the bow. The visualization is a plan for the shot transmitted to the subconscious mind. The commitment is the command to the subconscious mind to “stick to the plan” and don’t consider other options (equal to a “Do Not Improvise” command). Either you commit to your shot at that point, with the sight, sound, and feel of such a shot just vividly imagined, or you need to change your plan and start over.

There is an aspect of timing involved here. From the visualization, there are just a few seconds before that “image” fades from short term memory, so it is “commit and go” time right after it.

Training This I do not recommend dumping all of this on an archer from the first moment they think they are serious about archery. I recommend that the shot sequence be taught as a series of physical steps first. When it has been learned then you can spring upon your students that the shot sequence is also the framework for all of the mental activities involved in shooting.

Shot Sequences The shot sequence or shot routine is basically a guide as to where we need to place our attention, not to micro-manage each step of the process but to be there to observe whether anything is going wrong. If you are looking at your arrow’s nock when it is being attached at the nocking point (in the context of a shot, of course), but your mind is on “going to MacDonald’s after practice because boy, are you hungry,” you are ever more likely to attach the arrow in the wrong place or with the index vane in the wrong orientation or…. You just need to be “there” and “paying attention.”

An Aside The phrase “paying attention” is indicative of the feeling we all have that our supply of attention is finite. Our supplies of other mental properties seems not so bounded, e.g. love, hate, finding things humorous, etc. I tend to agree with this as our attention has been woven into our mental processes very deeply. For example, much of the information that comes into our eyes that results in neural pathways being activated is just jettisoned in our brains. The small cone of focus of our eyes that we can control, acquires information that is much less likely to be jettisoned. If one is focused on what one is observing and one is “paying attention” that is attending to that task, the information is even more likely to get into short term memory which is the only pathway to long term memory and from which we can “re-play” events that go wrong for us. If we are not “paying attention,” the information involved is much less likely to be kept. (If you are interested in these phenomena, I recommend the book The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size by Tor Norretranders to you.)

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Emulating Others … and Trying, Just Trying

In the U.S. we have a hard time emulating other countries and I think that trickles down to our organizations emulating other organizations.

I just noticed that USA Baseball has a comprehensive Athlete Development Plan along with an Online Education website that has training videos for coaches, parents, players, “SafeSport Trained,” and Umpires. The catalog of courses for Coaches has 21 courses in it.

Wouldn’t it be nice …

Having a plan is one thing, implementing it is another. The reason I saw this was USAB had a TV add encouraging parents to enroll their children in USAB youth programs where they would be sure to receive proper instruction.

Wouldn’t it be nice …

I also noticed that:

UK Coaching has confirmed that 2018 will see the inaugural Coaching Week launched. Taking place from 4-10 June, Coaching Week will see a week-long celebration of great coaching take place across the nation.
To mark Coaching Week, UK Coaching is inviting people across the UK to share when and where they have experienced great coaching. To help people know what they are looking for, UK Coaching is currently working with agencies to develop the 10 Principles of Great Coaching, aimed to help define great coaching. These principles will help people recognise and understand great coaching.
Coaching Week will see great coaching celebrated across the nation, with UK Coaching working alongside a range of partners and national governing bodies of sport.

Apparently some people are trying to advance coaching.

Wouldn’t it be nice …

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Should Your Students Have a Score Goal for a Competition?

If you have never had a student going into a competition with a score he/she wanted to shoot, you haven’t been coaching long. The question addressed here is: Is this a good idea? I hope to convince you that it is not.

The first problem with shooting a specific score is that it doesn’t help you achieve that end. Note I am not saying one shouldn’t hope for a good outcome, just not have a goal for that outcome. A score outcome is what is known as an Outcome Goal, sensibly so. Outcome goals are incredibly useful … except in producing outcomes. Basically this is because the harder you focus on such a goal, the harder it is to achieve it.

Another drawback to outcome goals is they are future directed. When you are talking about hitting a particular score, you are talking about when the competition is over and that doesn’t happen until you have no further options at improving your score. And anything that distracts you from present-moment thinking while you are shooting is a distraction, not an aid.

To create a high score, a personal best, say, what one needs are Process Goals. These are things, which if they are done, increase the score you will shoot. They are based on improving the process of shooting the arrows. I learned a lot as a schoolchild in my short stint in boxing programs (through high school). The minute the competition starts, all thoughts of goals rush out of your thoughts (very, very quickly when you are being punched in the face). Your corner men are there to remind you, which they do by shouting at you (Jab, jab, jab, stick him, etc.). So, some reminder is needed for even a process goal to have any effect during a competition. And having a coach yell at an archer while they are shooting is not advised and may be against the rules.

To use this ability of ours a goal needs to be selected, preferably something you/they are working on to improve your/their scoring and a process of tracking progress and reminding is needed. I recommend a simple score card for the latter. Here’s an example. You have decided that having a strong mental program really improves your shooting, but you often forget to do it. So, your process goal is “I …” (Always I and always in the archer’s handwriting!) “I will use my full mental program on 85% of my shots.” This level of execution, the 85%, has to be high enough to be a challenge but not so high as to depress your archer at the end if they fail to hit it.

This goal is written at the top of a page of a small notebook (that fits in the archer’s quiver). Down the left edge, the ends are numbered (1-10, 1-12, whatever). To keep track of whether or not the archer’s full mental program was used, while walking to the target or waiting for a second line to shoot, he mentally recalls the end just shot and then writes hash mark for each correct execution ( | | | ). Then the goal at the top of the page is read again to reinforce that it is in play. If the archer can’t remember whether he used his full mental program (or whatever the goal is about) on a shot then it is a miss, not a hit. (Based upon the need to reinforce the ability to remember and focus on that thing.)

At the end of the shoot, the number of hash marks is added up and the percent calculated. If the goal was blown through, a much higher % is chosen next time. If your archer falls way short of the mark, chose a smaller number. You want numbers which are challenging, but doable. Success breeds motivation (believe it or not). Feedback needs to be on the thing being worked on and not superfluous things, so the first thing you want to do is discuss this outcome with your archer. Ask questions like “Did this work?” or “Do you think this helped you stay on your plan?”

Do not get ambitious and lay out four process goals for a competition or practice session. This is like giving a dog too many tennis balls to hold in his mouth. He will drop one, and then another, and then become obsessed in fitting them all in and lose tract of what he was doing before. I recommend one goal at a time. If you think your student can handle more, try two … but only in a practice round or practice session. Let me know if that worked for you and them.

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How To Start Archers in the Mental Game

This is such a great question! I asked the questioner if I could blog on it to give the best possible answer I could. Here’s the question:

Good afternoon Steve,
My friend suggested I reach out to you for help regarding being able to coach my NASP kids about the psychological aspects of archery, and how I can help them overcome certain struggles. I started with the NASP program in September, but it was only volunteering in a P.E. class at a couple of the high schools where I live. The kids loved it so much, so they took it to the school board, and we are now in the second week of having a competitive archery team. I’ve been shooting for just over two years, and have found recently that their questions are difficult to answer because I struggle with the mental side of archery myself. (Really, who doesn’t? It’s such a mental game, yet we love it so much!) So, my question to you is, how do I coach them effectively when their struggles are also my own? Any advice would be much appreciated.
Thank you!

* * *

I asked this very same question when I first started working with Lanny Bassham of Mental Management Systems: “where do you start on the Mental Game?” And at the time both he and his son Troy answered simultaneously “You start with the parents!” Lanny has a new book out on this very topic I am reading and will review in Archery Focus soon.

Since I do not think you have this option as a NASP (National Archery in the (U.S.) Schools Program) Coach, I will respond differently. :o)

The first thing you need to do is educate yourself. I am working on a book covering all of the mental skills available to archers and coaches, but I don’t recommend you wait for that as right now I am beginning to suspect I might be dead before it gets finished. A very good place to start is with Lanny’s first book “With Winning in Mind.” Another good starting point is Troy Bassham’s “Attainment.” Both are available on Amazon.com and some bookstores. Both of these worthy gentlemen were very highly decorated rifle shooters, so these books are not tailored for archers, which I think is a good thing. They do have some archery specific materials they created based upon the work they did with us and quite a few good archers, including Brady Ellison. (They have some good YouTube videos posted, too.)

This will get you started and then, with practice and further study you will have more to share with your students. (A maxim we favor is: you can’t give what you do not have.)

To get your students started right I suggest three things: monitoring self-talk and the Rule of Discipline for them and for you: distinguishing between things to be done in an archery shot and things that just happen.

Monitoring Self-Talk
I am not going to be going on at length on this topic. I will just hit the highlights. (Try clicking “Mental Training” on the word cloud (over in the right margin) and that will bring up all previous posts with that tag; you may find some of immediate use.)

Self-talk is “what you say to yourself about yourself,” usually in the privacy of your own mind. We often say rather nasty things in this mode: “I am so stupid!” or “I always score poorly on the last end.” Unfortunately these can be interpreted by our subconscious minds as suggestions or commands! Gulp! Such comments are usually made out of frustration and are rarely true.

Here is an example I use often:

At a competition it starts to rain: Archer A thinks “Oh no, there goes my chance for a personal best score! I hate shooting in the rain!” while Archer B thinks “Oh-oh, here comes the rain. I am glad I brought my rain suit. My score will suffer but so will theirs and if they get bent out of shape, they’ll do even worse. I could win this thing!” Which do you think will do better from then on in this tournament, A or B? It should be obvious.

This is not a form of self-delusion or hypnosis. It is just a “looking on the bright side of life” approach to archery. Out on a field range, you approach a target that has challenged you in the past, should you dread it or think “I’ve been working really hard recently and today I might just set a new personal best on this target. Let’s see!” It works. Do not allow yourself the all too ordinary negativity we are accustomed to think about but look forward to new opportunities to test and prove your skill.

The Rule of Discipline
Archery is all about training your subconscious mind to perform under the gaze of your conscious mind. If your students follow this rule, they will learn faster than anything else they can do, because basically this rule says “don’t shoot shots you know are wrong.” If you go ahead and shoot shots you know are not right, you are telling your subconscious mind it is “okay to not follow the plan,” it is “okay to improvise” and this we do not want. Here the rule is in all of its glory:

If anything, anything at all—mental or physical—intrudes from a prior step or from the environment, you must let down and start over.

If their conscious mind doesn’t focus on what they are doing “now” the shot will be bad. But it is the subconscious mind that is in control of all of your muscles, so it needs to be trained as do exactly what needs to be done and to not deviate from the plan. A deviation from the plan results in a letdown and a loss in energy; this your subconscious mind interprets as a bad thing and so is corrected. The conscious mind often does little else but insist on a letdown when something seems wrong.

The Difference Between Things To Be Done In an Archery Shot and Things That Just Happen
Beginning archers often confuse things that happen naturally in the course of an archery shot with things that are to be done. They end up trying to do something they should not and it produces poor results and frustration.

A good example of this is the finger release of the string. This is not something that is done, this is something that happens because of previous things that were done. The bowstring is pulling the archer’s fingers back toward the bow itself. This is because the archer pulled the string away from the bow and the bow is designed to resist that. When the archer wants the arrow to fly, what he does is he stops holding the string and the string leaves of its own accord, flicking those pesky fingers out of the way.

The muscles used to make a hook of fingers that wrap around the string are in the forearm near the elbow. When they relax, off the string goes. The rest of the forearm and hand need to be as relaxed as possible. This is so the string can easily flick those fingers out of the way. If the muscles in the hand are flexed, the fingers are stiffened and will resist that clean movement which will make the release of the string sloppy and the shots done that way poor scoring (they will tend to be low and left of where they are wanted on the target).

Yes, that is me and yes, I am posing.

If the archer tries to do something like move his/her fingers really fast away from the string, bad shots occur because the fingers are stiffened and the archer is not fast enough to move the fingers that far so you get the same result as above, a bad one. (A Coach’s Tell for this is the fingers will spread as the string hand moves out and away from the archer’s body rather than straight back away from the target (see photo).)

The loose of the string starts a cascade of things that mostly just happen. The archer only needs to keep his/her arms raised. The rest happens by itself.

I saw a proposed NASP curriculum that had archers touching their string shoulder with their string hand at the end of the shot. This is a bad idea because this is something that is done. And most people can only touch their shoulder with the fingers on the same side by dropping their elbow toward the floor. Since we do not want this to happen during the shot, it can’t happen until after the shot, so it has no affect on the shot. But, if that elbow drop creeps backward in time into the shot, it will result in high to very high shots. It is something I abhor; it is a useless motion that masks what we really need to pay attention to. We can do a shoulder touch really well and think we made a good shot because of that, but since it doesn’t affect the shot, that is an illusion which is not at all helpful.

Confusing “something that happens” with “something to do” results in bad shots. Bad shots result in discouragement. Understanding what is needed to make a good shot, what to do and what happens because of that, is partly a mental skill for coaches: you need to instruct them so.

There is lots to learn here, so if you have questions … any of you … fire away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 golfer’s 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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