Tag Archives: teaching

Our Suggestion Culture

In archery, beginners attract a fair amount of attention from well-meaning experienced archers. This is part of the target archery culture and is, by-and-large, a good thing, but . . . it isn’t a way forward. Well-meaning experienced archers want to share things that worked for them in the hopes that it will improve the newbie’s game, which is even more fun, and the newbie will stick with the sport. Tada!

Except it doesn’t work.

Sure, ask any archer and they will have a story of when “so-and-so suggested that I do such-and-such and it really improved my game.” If it involved a famous archer, the better the story. Except what they can’t remember is all of the cases when such tips were a complete waste of time and energy, of which there were a great many more.

Well, I am “Mr. So Why Is That So?” . . . so, why is that?

In most cases, the tip giver hasn’t watched you shoot for very long and doesn’t know what you are working on or what you have worked on, so if one does watch you shoot, and does ask “what are you working on,” and then asks “Do you mind if I make a suggestion?,” I’d say “Yes!” Because that might be the only time in your entire life where that happens. And the suggestion may actually be helpful . . . but think it though first, don’t just try it. Talk it over with a shooting partner or, better, with your coach.

More often than not, while you are practicing somebody will just start blathering away without even saying hello. I saw one guy lecture a pre-teen newbie compound archer about back tension . . . really! . . . as if that were going to help the youngster.

Most advice givers are untrained regarding giving advice and their advice is completely out of context. They don’t know what you are working on and possibly don’t care. It is an axiom that, when you focus on one aspect of your shot, one shot element as it were, the rest of your shot goes south a bit. Often our advice givers are commenting on these shaky bits in your shot which are only shaky because you are devoting too much attention to the thing you are working on (a necessary condition to get better).

So, if you are approached by one of these advice givers, what should you do? Well, if it is not something you are working on at the moment, listen intently to see if you understand the advice. Ask for clarification if you need it. Thank them for their advice. A good thing to do is whip out your notebook and write the tip down. If you want to flatter the person giving the tip, ask their name and record that, too. Then go back to what you were working on.

Because adults believe that children should attend to what they say, there is this assumption that if an “elder” archer gives a young newbie some advice that they should try to implement that advice right away. So we teach our young archers to say, in these circumstances, “Gee, thanks, I will tell my coach the next time I see him/her.” This is a magical incantation that tells everyone that there is an older, wiser adult already teaching this youth and so it is okay for them to not immediately implement those suggestions.

This phrase works for adult newbies, too.

Talk to your serious students about this syndrome, otherwise you could be in a situation on making two steps forward in lessons and making one step backward when they practice between sessions, or worse, two steps forward and three steps backward.

If you have never asked a student where they got a new shot bit and have them tell you that it was “a tip I got at the range” . . . you will, you will. This is a major source of exasperation for coaches and confusion for archers as they are often told contradictory things.

Addendum Helpful things advice givers could do instead of giving shooting advice: encourage newbies to listen to their coach, encourage them to work hard, suggest that you might shoot a practice round with them, explain that there is a lot to learn, and that that it will take some time, but if they stick with it, they too can become an expert archer. And wait for questions to be asked before advice is given.

Second Addendum Since archery is a social sport, gossip plays a serious role. Gossip is not a negative thing you should never do. This is how parents discover, for example, who the boys are they don’t want their daughters hanging around with. Gossip is the transmitting of social information. What you and your students want to avoid is negative gossip. For example, youths who do not immediately take the advice of their elders can be described as being “stuck up” or “full of themselves.” This is why that magic phrase is so effective. It blocks off any negative gossip.

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The Value of the Personal Best System

I was reading a book last night (What’s It All About?: Philosophy & the Meaning of Life, by Julian Baggini. Granta Books. Kindle Edition . . . don’t judge me, I am a philosophy buff) and a couple of excerpts literally jumped off the page for me as they apply to archery. (So there, judgers, something good came from my weird reading habits!)

Here is the first:

“As psychologists have observed, our own sense of self-esteem is largely generated by how we compare ourselves to our peers. Yet we tend to compare ourselves to those apparently doing better than we are, discounting those who are less fortunate. That fosters discontent, since no matter how well placed we are in relation to the population as a whole, we only attend to that portion of it in comparison to whom we are losers. (emphasis added)”

Wow! I have been emphasizing that we are only competing against ourselves and . . . yada, yada, yada, and, of course, my younger students, at the very least, ignore all of this as clueless adult sayings they usually hear from parents. Of course they are comparing themselves to their peers.

I think the natural tendency to discount those “you are ahead of” is a bit overstated, kids seem to know all about social pecking orders, so I would be shocked that they didn’t know where they stood regarding their archery cohort, the whole cohort. Still if one is ambitious one does tend to focus on those ahead of them.

The author went on in a follow-up to say:

“However, putting this straight is not simply a matter of saying we can all achieve relative success and be happy with that. This kind of thinking is what motivated the idea that in education ‘all must have prizes’. Children are to be thought of as having different abilities, and success should be simply developing those abilities as best they can, even if their successes compare poorly with other people’s. But this too has its problems. The philosopher Gilbert Ryle, writing on a rather different topic, pointed out that the concept of counterfeit coins only makes sense if there are real coins to contrast them with. Likewise, the concept of success only makes sense if there is something that would count as failure. This doesn’t mean that there has to be actual failure. There can be a test, for example, with a pass mark of 50 per cent which everyone happens to pass. The point is rather that there must be a genuine possibility of failure, or else success isn’t success at all.”

I have always hated the “everyone gets a trophy” movement, if for no other reason is that discarded trophies are filling our garages and landfills.

Hey, What About Personal Bests?
Yeah, I roped you in with this topic, didn’t I? I think the PB System is still a good one and valid. Having a goal to shoot a personal best is one of the very best outcome goals because it doesn’t depend upon who else shows up. If your student is all geared up to shoot a better score than Billy, Jamal, and Andrew, what happens if none of those kids show up? The competition becomes like shooting at a target with no target face posted on it.

By targeting yourself, you have a known target and a known score and you will know if you are confident or not that you can beat it. Then, if you do, you may also beat a lot of other competitors or you may not. But if you can’t beat yourself . . . well . . . ? Setting new PBs are the very best signs of progress. You are learning to score better, whatever it is that you are doing. And better is better, no? If your major competition doesn’t show up and you win with a mediocre score, a score you knew those guys could easily beat, how do you feel?

Well, I still am recommending PBs as kind of the only useful outcome goal. If the competition is fierce, you are going to need such a score to contend. If the competition is not so fierce, it will show that you are making progress. And, you will be learning about yourself.

Part of the preparation in going for a new personal best score is demonstrating that you can do that in practice. This leads to confidence that you can do it in competition. (Going to a competition with no such evidence is “hoping” to set a new PB and there are many adages that attest to the value of such hopes . . . and they aren’t flattering.)


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Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood . . .

I have written a number of times now that we, as archery coaches, should not be teaching ways to shoot bows as “right ways” and “wrong ways.” This tendency is a natural consequence of teaching beginners, who even if we do not use the terms “right” and “wrong” interpret things that way.

But we, ourselves, have carried the idea of there being a right way to shoot arrows from a bow to extremes, possibly as a way to sell what we are peddling (knowledge/competence, books, training programs, etc.).

Now, please realize that because I do not think we should be teaching “right ways” and “wrong ways” of shooting, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t right ways and wrong ways of shooting for you.

A shooting technique is something an archer builds. Because of the equipment, the laws of physics, and the task, everyone ends up looking quite similar but, as Coach Kim of Korea says “Everyone same, everyone different.”

Once an archer has built their technique (through quality shooting) and then memorized it (through quantity shooting) then shooting their way is the “right way.” If they deviate from their technique, then they are shooting the “wrong way.” We each get to define what is the right and wrong ways to shoot and they apply just to us and no one else.

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

Bonus points if you recognize the song lyric in the title and can name the group that made that song a hit.


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Why Can’t We Get Nocking Points Right?

I am busy getting another issue of Archery Focus magazine ready for posting and I ran across this image:

This may be a pet peeve of mine, but still . .  sheesh. The line is pointing to the nocking point locator. The “nocking point” is the point on the bow string where the arrow attaches, so in this diagram it is the section of the string under the orange-red nock of the arrow.

Part of the miscommunication is that we are a bit loose with our terminology. The word “nock” means “notch” in essence. The limb tips of recurve bows, for example, have limb tip nocks or limb tip notches. They are what the bowstring loop slides into when the bow is braced/strung.

Arrows have nocks, which began as a simple notch cut into the back end of the arrow shaft. And designated nocking points on bowstrings began, I believe, as a dyed spot on the string. Bowyers dyed a spot on the bowstring to give archers a guide as to where to place the arrow when shooting. This isn’t particularly precise, but remember the bows in question didn’t have grips, just a roughly tubular segment in the middle where archers grabbed the bow. The nocking point just needed to be slightly above the “arrow rest” which was the bow hand.

Other forms of nocking point locators were little pieces of string of a contrasting color tied onto the bowstring. Later when a more defined bow grip was built into bows was a more refined nocking point location more desirable.

Today, of course, we use “positive” nocking point locators that hold the arrow in a defined place.

The looseness of the term is amplified by people calling brass, clamp-on nocking point locators “nocks,” along with those on the arrows, so we end up placing a nock (arrow nock) next to a nock (nocking point locator). No wonder beginners get confused.

Now, it is not necessary to use long terms like “nocking point locator” but clearly referring to the section of bowstring the arrow attaches to as the “nocking point” of the arrow on the string will certainly clear up a lot of confusion. This is the implied meaning, the point on the bowstring where the arrow nock is placed.

Of course, “getting the memo out,” is always problematic in archery.


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What’s the Best Way to Start Beginners?

To begin with I am not at all sure that there is a best way to start beginners but it seems like a conversation we should have fairly often, if for no other reason but for newer coaches to hear the thinking of more experienced coaches and more

experienced coaches to review their own procedures.

And, since I started with a caveat, here’s another: the answer to this question really depends upon the goal of the training. For example, when the Koreans started sharing how they trained such a large cadre of world-class archery champions, people here in the U.S. were scurrying around wondering how we could adopt their practices. This was mistaken because there is a big difference in audiences of such trainings. There is a big difference between “beginning archers” in Korea and “beginning archers” in the U.S. In Korea they are training champion archers. There is no recreational archery per se in Korea, so their trainings are basically Olympic Development Training Programs. In the U.S., the vast majority of children introduced to archery are participating in a recreation program, a summer camp, scouting, or some other such recreational activity.

And as we have claimed quite a bit: training a serious competitive archer is quite different from training a recreational archer. Our definition of a recreational archer is one who is motivated solely by having fun. Since the number of these here is the U.S. massively outnumber the few who start training to become winners from the get-go, the focus of this article will be upon beginning recreational archers.

What Do We Do Now?
I wish I knew the answer to this question. I have a rough idea as I have worked with and taught myriad camp and recreational archery instructors, Girl and Boy Scout instructors, etc.

Our goals for such programs and sessions are that the participants: #1 Be safe!, #2 Have fun!, and #3 Maybe learn something about archery. This, I hope is obvious, but running a safe program is at its root a societal obligation, having fun is a high goal because as recreational archers if they do not have fun, they aren’t coming back, and teaching them archery has to take a back seat to #1 and #2 therefore.

My take on the components of the beginner experience are (in no order): bows they can handle, arrows that are too long, target faces that are too big at distances that are too close, also anchors are high to compensate for such an environment. Let me address each of these in turn.

Bows They Can Handle In order for beginners, with skills that are unknown, to benefit from instruction, they need to be able to shoot arrows in some semblance of good form. So the bows are light drawing, they are also light weight (youths don’t develop the necessary muscles to hold up a heavy bow until late adolescence), and the bows cannot be too long as they are hard to manipulate by smaller young ones.

To us this means recurve bows with plastic or wooden handles. We prefer three-piece bows because of the cost factors and the ability to swap parts around as they get broken, which are economic factors, not teaching factors. The Genesis bows are wonderful but only for older stronger beginners. The youngest kids struggle to hold them up.

What we see is that in compound country, compound bows abound in youth programs and in recurve country, recurve bows abound. Pleasing parents and kids by providing bows like they see around and about is for marketing purposes, not teaching. I would love to see the Genesis bow have a plastic riser option, creating a lightweight compound bow, perfect for starting beginners.

Arrows that Are Too Long This is a safety requirement, an absolute one. Beginners have no control over their draw lengths and recurve bows and Genesis compounds have no limitations on draw length built in (at least within the drawing ability of a youth). Arrows that are the “right length” can easily be drawn off of the bow by a child drawing to their ear (they will experiment; it doesn’t matter what you say).

Target Faces that Are Too Big at Distances that are Too Close Often this means a 122cm / 4 ft target face at five to ten paces of distance. This has two justifications. One is safety. That big of a target butt that close is an effective arrow stop. Arrows that miss the target can cause damage to the surroundings and can be damaged when they hit something not designed to receive the arrows. These are pragmatic reasons. Beginners want to hit the target. When they do so, it encourages them to hit it again, but closer to the center. This is the teaching purpose. This was summarized with the phrase “Early participation, early success.” Which meant get them shooting quickly and hitting the target quickly.

Anchors Are High A high anchor is taught because it elevates the rear end of the arrow, making high misses less likely (striking the ground in front of the target is a lesser sin than flying over the top). The common claim is that it is easier to teach . . . it is not. Nor is it easier to learn or easier do. (I wish people would stop repeating these claims.) It is just a factor that makes hitting a very close target more likely.

Other Things We started out in our programs requiring an arm guard and a finger tab. We ended up requiring just an arm guard. This is because an affordable tab for youths that would fit and not get in the way has not been invented yet. For our adult programs, we provided a range of sizes of soft tabs (Wilson Brothers Black Widow tabs being our favorite).

We also didn’t provide quivers to beginners and usually pulled their arrows for them for the first lesson or two. After that we taught arrow pulling and arrow carrying (points in hand, one hand only) but kept the arrows on the shooting line. This was for safety as we wanted the only time the beginner, a bow, and an arrow to come together would be on the shooting line. Secondarily this allowed more than one archer to share a set of arrows.

How We Did It . . . In Addition
At the first session of a series, or a beginners one-off class, we had a procedure we called The First Three Arrows. We took each beginner, child or adult, and walked them through the process of shooting an arrow. (This was much like what we did at fun shoots.) By the third arrow we hoped that they could get through the process on their own. If so, we taught them all how to shoot on a line with others, including whistle commands, and they were off and shooting. (There was a lot of reinforcement . . . a lot . . . this is always the case and will never be not the case, so reinforce away!)

What we were really doing was seeing whether this person could follow directions. We didn’t know this person and had no knowledge of their abilities, so this is the equivalent of an interview. During the first three arrows we give over a dozen instructions and we are seeing whether the student-archer can follow such directions. Children who were too unfocussed or adolescents and adults who had just gone off of their meds, were routed over to another station, where another coach would walk them through the process again. Some passed at that point but rarely, but it did happen, some youths were deemed too young (not the real reason) or whatever to participate. (We refunded their class fees.) In a class of 20 or so beginners, we would get 0-3 that had to go through a second loop of The First three Arrows to be allowed to shoot on the line.

You need extra coaches to do this, but only for the first class in a series (of six or eight lessons) and we almost never had problems scraping up those coaches. We also avoid many problems that could have been serious.

All of the above is a viable way to start beginners . . . but, I assume, not the only way. I would love to hear from you about other ways to do this. Let’s start a conversation.

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Less is More . . . More or Less

A question asked of coaches often enough is “How much should I practice?” and “How many arrows should I shoot?” If you work with youths (I recommend this as it keeps you fresh and immersed in the fundamentals if nothing else) you often find yourself just encouraging them to practice more. So many kids will attend a group lesson, say, once a week and that’s it. But this is not what I am addressing here. Here I am addressing this question as if it were coming from a serious archer, one who is going to try whatever you recommend. In my parlance, a serious archer is one training to win.

An Aside—If you aren’t sure what kind of archer you are working with, give them an extensive, preferably boring, drill to do. If they don’t do it, they are a recreational archer (who only shoot for fun and drills aren’t fun). If they do do it, they are a competitive archer. If they email/text you between coaching sessions asking for what else they can do, they are probably a serious competitive archer.

There are some discussions available in the literature regarding arrow counts and training loads. Archers are encouraged, for example, to vary their shooting loads (aka number of arrows shot per day) in “high, medium, and low” sessions. I use as a rule of thumb that a high load day is at least twice as many arrows as you would shoot in one day of the competitive rounds that are current. But there is a large scheme at work here. Consider the three phases of learning archery:

Phase One—Creating Your Shot
One could get the impression form all of the how to shoot books that an archery shot is like a suit of clothes. You find one that fits your needs and then you try it on and wear it. In reality, you have to make your own suit. An archery shot is personal. And, while there are many, many similarities in archer’s shots (created by the use of common equipment and the laws of physics) everyone’s shot is unique to them (some being uniquer than others).

So, Phase One is always the creation of a shot. This is best done using dedicated practice techniques involving low volumes of shots but high intensity of focus. Errors are corrected immediately. Drills are often done for extensive periods. (If a coach is to be employed at all, this is the best time.)

Phase Two—Memorizing Your Shot
Once you have created a consistently accurate shot (a sign of which is shooting consistently good groups) it is time to memorize your shot, that is learning it to the bone. In this phase you will shoot “your shot” so often that it becomes second nature. I should be able to wake you up at 3 AM and shove your bow into your hands and you should be executing good shots immediately because it is “normal” for you to shoot that way.

This memorization process involves shooting high volumes of shots. This is the first time high volumes of shots are to be attempted. Important Point—If volume shooting is a memorization technique, why would you do this before your shot is built? You would just be memorizing something you will be changing shortly.

This is not the mindless flinging of arrows so often mention as something to avoid (rather, one should never do this) but shots with full focus. How many shots per session is a variable to be winkled out. There are no tables to consult here! Archers are too variable in size, strength, ability to focus, etc. Arrow counts might stay low while the archer does physical training to increase strength or stamina. One has to feel one’s way along here. Archer’s need to learn to monitor muscle soreness; it’s location and intensity. (The wrong muscles being sore indicates the wrong muscles are being used!)

Phase Three—Maintaining Your Shot
Shooting high arrow counts is not done forever. Once an archer’s foundation is built (this often takes years, estimates I have seen being in multiples of 10,000 shots) the arrow volumes are cut back. First, there is no need for memorization and second, you risk repetitive stress injuries from over work. Occasionally, in preparing for major events, high arrow counts may be brought back as stamina tests and to reassure the archer that they still have it, that is the ability to function consistently during a long competition.

And . . .
Throughout all of this there are minor technique tweaks, often significant equipment changes, and injuries to work around, but these are all performed in the context of “your shot.”

You have probably heard the admonition to “Shoot your shot.” This is a warning to young archers to avoid improvising, to shoot the shot they have practiced. For a serious competitive archer, we try to help them make “not shooting their shot” difficult, abnormal, awkward, etc. And this does not necessarily involve high volume arrow shooting, which is only done when it is appropriate and is not a virtue in itself. (Yes, I am talking to you, Macho Man Archer.)

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Kids! Teach Your Parents Well!

Back when we were running youth archery programs a regular staple of our programs was a “Parent’s Day” in which the parents/guardians got to shoot some arrows. A key element of these sessions was, if at all possible, to have the kids teach their parents.

This was a deliberate attempt at some role reversal (usually it is the parents teaching the kids) but also it was part of our recognition that archery was one of the few sports that kids, especially teenagers (Gasp!), willingly did with their parents. If the parents could get hooked on archery, there would be a new born family activity. My tag line to the parents was “We can’t let the kids have all of the fun.”

And, of course, teaching something is a sure way to reinforce the fundamentals in the kids.

Sometimes this practice bore strange fruit. There was a lovely family that was coming to our 4-H archery Saturdays. Claudia, my partner, taught the two boys their first arrows and they loved the sport. Soon, both parents were shooting also. After about a year or so of shooting, the “mom” of the family was approached by a member of our club suggesting to her that if she were to switch to Recurve Barebow, she had a chance of making a national team. Less than a year later she was in Croatia representing the U.S. in the World Field Championships. Just a few years later, she was World Barebow (Field) Champion. Not bad for a mother of two, pushing 50 years old.

One of the boys went on to become a collegiate archer and both “boys” are now fabulously well employed and successful. This could be one of those “see what you get of you practice” stories but it is rather a “you never know what might happen” stories.

Our intention then as now was to encourage a whole family to participate in our sport. We think it helps the sport . . . and the families, and we encourage you to do the same.

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“So-Called Mental Skills Coaches”

I was reading an article about the 2019 U.S. women’s national soccer team and encountered this: “The US have often employed sports psychologists and so-called mental skills coaches over the years, although there is not currently a full-time staff member working in either of those roles.”

“So-called” mental skills coaches . . . hmm.

Why not “The US have often employed sports psychologists and mental skills coaches over the years, . . .”? Why “so-called”?

Sports coaching seems to be an established field, but I suspect that is because there are coaches who make a great deal of money doing that as a job, rather than there being standard (or non-standard) criteria that qualifies you to do it, such as doctors and lawyers and beauticians have.

What is it that qualifies one as a “mental skills coach”? When I look at my favorite mental skills coach, Lanny Bassham, he not only invented himself and his business as a mental skills coach, he invented his curriculum, too! There are now education programs just coming into existence that are certification programs, so “certified mental skills coach” is a phrase now coming into being. (Lanny’s company, Mental Mangement Systems is offering some of these.)

Note As an aside, it took me a long time to realize that a certification program was one that had a certificate at the end. What the certificate establishes is that you completed the program in good order, nothing more, nothing less. Basically it is just a “certificate of completion” for a course of study. The value of the certificate is derived only from the value of the program, or it should, although some programs seem to limp along, harvesting their former reputations along the way.

So, what is it that qualifies one as an “archery coach,” then?

In the infancy of archery coaching in this country, which was not that long ago, what qualified you as an archery coach was the fact that you coached archers. There were few of them and no, count them—zero, zilch, nada—archery coach training programs.

What qualifies one to coach archery is still evolving, although evolving chaotically in my opinion. There are a number of things that are needed to make “archery coach” a more recognizable position, far from being a “so-called archery coach,” and they do not involve getting a high paying job with a professional team or major university. One of the things I found missing when I first got a coaching certificate (a Level 2 certificate from the then National Archery Association, now USA Archery) and that is any kind of professional literature for archery coaches. I searched and searched and searched and found exactly two books on coaching archery, both of which were on how to teach a college archery classes (and one of them was published in 1935).

I can’t remember exactly when it was I took on the task, the mid-2000’s I think, but I decided to make the attempt to create a professional literature for archery coaches. (No shrinking violet I.) I went about and used my position as editor of Archery Focus magazine to ask every coach I knew to write books about coaching . . . and got turned down every . . . single . . . time. So, I wrote one book myself (Coaching Archery, WAF 2009) to get the ball rolling. The project got turned down by traditional publishers, so we formed our own publishing company, Watching Arrows Fly, which now has about a dozen titles on coaching (and many more on other archery topics, all available on Amazon.com) and a half dozen more coaching books are on the drawing boards. (I am editing, designing, and laying out one such currently—Bob Ryder on Coaching Collegiate Archery).

It is a start.

We made an abortive attempt to create a community for archery coaches. We called it The Archery Coaches’ Guild. The effort is on hiatus because we just didn’t have the resources to pull it off. We spent many hundreds of hours and a fair amount of money on it only to end up back on the proverbial “square one.” It is doable as we designed it as a virtual community (around a web site) but we just couldn’t get it done.

At some point or other, when I am brave enough, I will take a shot at writing an outline of archery coaching knowledge. Part of that “tree” will be a branch, a stout branch, labeled “Mental Skills” or the “Mental Game of Archery.” (So-called metal skills coaches, my ass!) Other branches will include archery equipment knowledge, the role of technique and how to teach it, how to develop archery skills, how to compete successfully, how to operate a recreational program, the science of archery, etc. My thought is if I create such an outline and share it widely, it will stimulate people to write about these topics. If we can accumulate the coaching wisdom of current coaches then future coaches will not have to “start from scratch,” as it were, developing their coaching kit. And, if they add their acquired wisdom on top of ours, well, maybe we will have something of great value to coaches going forward and, through them, to all archers.



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Teach Your Students to Not Take the Advice of Others

Archery is a social sport and we all want to be helpful so archers are famous (infamous?) for giving advice freely. On the flip side of that archery coaches are trained to “not give advice unless asked.” It is permissible for a coach to ask an archer if they are open to comments, but if the archer says no, then we are to walk away with no prejudice.

So, the people who are trained as to how to give advice to archers are trained not to and those who are not trained, give it freely. This is another way in which archery and golf are similar. Same thing happens to golfers.

In order to be an effective coach, you need to work with a student and discuss things with them so that when you ask them to try new things, you and they know what the context is and also why you are asking for that change. Hopefully your archer understands your position, too. A random club member shooting at the practice butts has no such training or understanding of your student.

I used the example recently of the advice to “don’t grab your bow.” This instruction is not at all helpful as it doesn’t indicate what you are to do, just what you are not to do and that is how we get this:


This “solves” the “don’t grab the bow” problem, but creates a new one.

Do you know why?

I will start from bow hand basics to answer my own question. An archer’s bow hand (when shooting a bow with a grip section) is positioned at full draw with the palm vertical (roughly) and facing the target. The bow is nestled in against the muscle which makes the pad of the thumb (the thenar eminence), with the grip not in contact with any part of the palm to the outside of the “lifeline.” The hand is relaxed and the wrist is relaxed. The fingers softly curl because that is what fingers do. (Some archers who have had overactive fingers, gently curl the bottom three fingers alongside the bow to keep them under control. This is also acceptable.

So, why is this this way? Why not just grab the bow as if it were a pistol? If this is done, then the bow is resting on two muscles/groups: the thenar eminence and the hypothenar eminence. We all know that when we get tired or under pressure muscles can tense arbitrarily. In the “pistol grip” if the upper muscles tense more than the lower, then the bow will react (essential bounce) harder off of the upper muscles causing the bow to rotate downward. If the lower muscle is more tense than the upper, the bow will bounce “up.” Not much, but a rotation of the bow that elevates the rest an eighth of an inch (3 mm) before the arrow leaves will not score as well (as you just changed your aim substantially). And if the muscle tension jumps around (at does) you can be getting highs and lows for no apparent reason.

So, we isolate the bow on just one of those muscles, so that if tension creeps in, as it will, the direction of the bow reaction will not change. We also work at keeping the bow hand relaxed. Why? Because “Relaxed is Repeatable.” (A state of 23.5% of maximum tension is not repeatable.)

It is best that coaches know these “whys” as it helps build a coherent picture of what is happening and why in our minds. This enables us to troubleshoot better.

Is there any benefit to archers knowing all of these details?

No, they need to know things like “Relaxed is Repeatable.” This gives them something to do and a “reason” to do it but doesn’t involve ideas that draw them away from what they are doing.

So when an archery student is “grabbing the bow” what do you say? You do not (not, not, not!) say “Don’t grab the bow!” You might say, “Let’s work on your bow hand.” If they ask why, the reason is that the critical time in any archery shot is from when the string is loosed to when the arrow leaves the bowstring. The only contact you have with the bow during this period is through your bow hand.

The key principles are the bow contacts only the pad at the base of the thumb (Why? To minimize muscle contact with the bow.) and the bow hand and bow wrist are relaxed. (Why? Relaxed is Repeatable. The relaxed wrist makes sure that the relationship of grip to hand is consistent (a relaxed wrist automatically adopts the angle of the grip). Note The wrist will stiffen automatically when the draw begins (this was noted in Horace Ford’s book in the mid-1800’s), so you don’t need to do that. And, if you do, you might be setting the wrong angle which changes the contact point of bow with bow hand.

So, do you now know why outstretched fingers are not a good idea? Hint Make the fingers on your bow hand stiff. Feel your palm. Is it relaxed? (No.) Can you stiffen your fingers while keeping your palm relaxed? (No.) End of story.

Postscript I have mentioned before but will repeat that all advice given should be acknowledged. We suggest to our archers the phrase “Thanks for the advice! I will mention it to my coach at our next session.” This gets them off the hook from the expectation that they immediately try out the advice given. (Yes, they expect you to accept their wisdom and implement it immediately.) It may even be good advice, but how would your student know that? If it is bad advice (Gosh, what are the odds?!) implementing it may set back gains that had been made. (This is part of my argument that archery coaches should charge for their services. When a student takes the advice of some random archer and retards their progress because of that, you can ask “How much did they charge you for this advice?” and when they tell you there was no charge, you can respond with “And it was worth every cent.” Sometimes the economics of the situation can make a point you cannot otherwise.)

And they should bring such advice back to discuss, some of it may be good and if not, it gives you a chance to explain why.


Filed under For All Coaches

Helping with Plateaus

In Archery Focus magazine we run regular columns for coaches and students, elucidating our programs and the way we teach. Recently we have prefaced the titles of these columns with the header “Getting Serious,” because we have covered the basics over and over and, well, that drum has been beat. (Note Subscribers have access to all of the back issues, back to the beginning, so they can search for any topic they need help on.) So, we are now addressing how coaches work with serious archers and how archers can get serious about their archery.

One of the things that beginning serious archers have to deal with is plateaus in their performances, aka getting stuck on a score. When they first became serious, they improved in leaps and bounds, now they are stuck. This also occurred when they first took up the sport. Some of this perception is illusory. For example, we used a scoring system in our first classes to define levels of accomplishment. We used a modified indoor round outdoors with a perfect score being 300 points. The first plateau was 50 points. Then there were others. Many archers jumped past 50 points in their first testing. Some would make 50 point improvements in sequential scores. Progress in scoring was often made fast. But progress of this kind always slows. This is because the first 50 points is easy, the last 50 points, getting from a score of 250/300 to 300/300 is very difficult. You start with just a few good arrow scores taking you to score you wanted to a few poor arrow scores making that score impossible. So the perception of progress is biased toward the “fast” end of the spectrum at first and the “slow” end later.

Our serious archers, though, get used to a certain level of performance and establish a comfort zone, then find themselves stuck on a performance plateau. Often you can hear archers in this state say things like “No matter what I do I score thus and so.” So, coach, what do you do to help?

Helping with Plateaus
Almost always newly serious archers have no perspective as to how much effort is needed to make progress (nor do they understand that progress is harder and harder to make at their end of the scoring range). So, the first thing you need to do is sit down with them and list out all they are doing. For some, the answer is clear why progress is lacking; it is due to lack of effort. Kids are somewhat notorious for attending classes or JOAD sessions once a week and expecting that to be sufficient “practice.” Adding a practice session or two between classes will help a great deal. They, of course, will need help planning what they need to do at those sessions and you should help with that.

For student-archers who are “putting in the time,” the enemy is usually the definition of insanity often ascribed to Albert Einstein, which is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

The weapon needed to conquer this problem is the lowly notebook. More than a few archers spend their practice sessions socializing and not working on their shot or whatnot. Like the dieters asked to keep a log of what they eat, asking archers to keep a log of what they do during “practice” can help identify if a) they are doing enough and b) are they doing the right things.

If you yourself spend any idle time at a range, observe what people do for “practice.” You will see a great many people “just shooting” and others “shooting for score” (a practice round). Neither of these are effective practice. Their benefits are few. One such is they are developing some shooting stamina and another is they are benchmarking their scoring ability (practice rounds are tests, not homework). But there are better ways to develop stamina than just shooting, for example. For recurve archers, instead of just shooting, could do Double Draws or Reversals to build shooting stamina. Double Draws are just that, you draw to anchor, let down to your predraw position, draw again and loose. Reversals are drawing and holding for much longer than ordinary times (done in sets like weight lifting because they are weight lifting). Note Reversals should not involve shooting at the end unless you are very close to the butt. The fatigue they create is substantial and can create wild looses.

Real practice involves working on your shot to get better, so the big question is: what needs to be improved? This is where introspection and notebooks are absolutely necessary. Archers need to become cognizant of where they fail to perform and, if they can, why they fail. Do the poorly scoring arrows come at first or toward the end when a good score is on the horizon? Or do they come in the middle of rounds due to a loss of focus? Serious archers, to be really serious, need to study themselves and their sport to improve their own performances and their own equipment. Keeping notes on what is and isn’t working, another use for the lowly notebook, is very, very helpful. Seriously.


Filed under For All Coaches