Tag Archives: Trouble Shooting

Now What Do You Do?

I often write to you as archers and not coaches, because I want to put you in the position your students are in, to think and feel as they do, so you will be able to help them when they are in that situation.

I just got off the phone with an author with whom I was discussing what you do when you get into a shoot-off or other situation where winning is close enough to be tasted. This author prefers not to use the word “pressure” as in “competition pressure,” instead he uses the phrase “moments of high personal value.” We, of course, as archers and coaches talk about competition pressure, which is not a helpful term at all, being almost entirely negative in connotation. (When you think of pressure, is there anything positive, happy, whatever that comes to mind? No?) So . . .

Here’s the scenario: you are in a shoot-off for a medal/award at a competition you have always wanted to “win.” So, as you step to the shooting line, what is your plan?

I have read and heard all kinds of positions regarding this situation, most of them focused on how to adapt to a “high pressure” situation. And, most of them, I think, are misleading if not outright mistaken.

Think about this. (Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

What I and others have come up with is this thinking: I got into this situation by . . . what? . . . by focusing on making shots one arrow at a time, by executing my shot process as consistently as I know how.

So, should I do something differently now?

What, are you crazy? Shoot arrows in a process you just made up or you haven’t practiced or used throughout the tournament? No!

You need, as the adage goes, to “trust your shot” or “shoot your shot.” The question, therefore, becomes “how do I do that, now that the situation has changed?”

You were shooting along, not paying any attention to your score per se, immersed in your process, and now you are in a shoot-off for an award. What has changed? Well, for one, your score is now known to you and everybody else! In a one-arrow shoot-off, if you shoot second, you will also know what arrow score you need to get.

The very first time I was in a one arrow shoot-off was a simulation put on in a training program. So, the two of us came to the shooting line and in my head I was saying “I don’t care, or even care to know, what he shoots. I will just shoot my shot.” Then the other guy shoots his shot and the supervising coach shouts out “It is a 6!” And the thought jumps into my head “All I need is a seven or higher!” What the heck! Where did that thought come from? I specifically indicated I didn’t want to know and just wanted to shoot my shot and yet, my ears still worked and my brain still processed the information and my imagination (whose job it is to prepare us for possible future actions) tells me all I need is a 7 or greater. Mentally I struggled to get my shot off as I desired.

So, what do you do?

This is what I recommend: Know yourself! You need to pay attention to how you behave in such situations and allow for that and accept that as “normal.” In those situations I, for example, tend to shake more so there is more apparent movement in my sight’s aperture. I also tend to shoot faster. By noting what happens I know that the increased motion of my aperture doesn’t affect my scoring ability (much or at all), so I can accept that as being “normal.” To avoid rushing my shots, which means shooting at a different tempo, I will take a couple of deep breaths (Please, no Zen breaths, if such things even exist.) and let them out just before shooting. This tends to moderate my tendency to go faster. Then I just try to shoot my normal shot.

On top of all that, if I can’t get off my shot in good order and have to let down, I experience big-time “fear of failure” symptoms. To compensate, I try to avoid any possibility of not getting my shot off by relaxing as much as possible (tensing up, shortens muscles, and makes things feel different).

The only way you, as archer, or you, as coach, can find out such things is to make it important to note them. Writing down one’s responses to such situations makes them easier to recall the next time that situation occurs. The absolute key is: okay, the situation is different, it is a moment of “high personal value,” but the solution is to focus on shooting the shot(s) that got you into this situation in the first place, not changing your attitude (You gotta be aggressive, man!) or, gasp, modifying your shot on the fly, a recipe for losing if there ever was one.

Get your archers to keep such notes and keep them yourself if you haven’t been. Also, it is important to note how many times you did this successfully. If you just paint the scenario as being fraught with anticipation, it never becomes something that you are confident that you can do. You need to be looking for a “been here, done that” feeling, which can be created over time, but not if you cannot remember all of those occasions.

If you experienced archers have anything to add, please make a comment to share that with your fellows.

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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.

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A Source of Poor Line

Note I have not been posting much lately because I have been very busy and also caught the danged flu, the one that hangs on for weeks and weeks. I hope to be posting more frequently again. If you have questions you need answered, please send them to me either through a comment or via email. Steve

A fundamental of good archery form is to have good alignment, often referred to as having “good line.” A simple glance at the shooting line at any local archery tournament will show you that good line is not easy to find. There are a number of reasons for this but I want to focus on one major cause of poor line.

When shooting a recurve bow, the optimal posture at full draw is described by the Archer’s Triangle. Looking down on the archer’s head, we would see the archer’s drawing forearm in “line” with the arrow, the two forming one side of the triangle. The archer’s draw side upper arm forms another side and then the archer’s shoulders and bow arm make the third, easy peasey. The key visible aspect of this body position is the archer’s shoulder line and bow arm point to the bow. Coaches are taught to sight along that line (from away from the target and archer) to check the archer’s alignment/“line.” (Compounders are somewhat different, see below.)

To illustrate a major source of the inability to adopt this full draw position I offer the following book cover:

As such covers go, the participants in the photo are shown as having a great deal of fun. (What the young man is looking at is beyond me.) In any case, you can see one of the results of poor line is the “flying elbow” of the young lady, a draw elbow that is pointed off to the side rather than straight back. The reason we want the elbow to be pointing straight back (at the loose) is so that the force on the bowstring is directly away from the bow. This cause the bowstring, when released, to move back toward the bow in as straight a line as possible. If we are pulling off to the side, then the path the bowstring makes back to the bow is more circuitous and less consistent. For the physics buffs, to get the string against the face at anchor with the elbow out there, the string hand must be pulled in toward the face, giving a force vector toward the archer to be added of that toward the bow. (Compounding these forces is the tendency of the string hand to move away from the face during the loose (a pluck!) as the force into the archer’s face is no longer needed. The coach’s shortcut you may know is “a flying elbow leads to plucking the bowstring.”)

Now, the source of the poor line? The bow shoulder. Most coaches think poor line stems from the archer not having swung the draw shoulder around far enough, but simply put, if the bow shoulder is not open far enough (to approximately 180°) the rear shoulder cannot possible compensate. If the young lady were standing more to the side (facing down the line, less open), her front shoulder would be more open and the rear shoulder would have a chance of forming up on a line pointing to the bow.

A common source of that open bow shoulder is the ideological adoption of an open stance. (I say ideological as there is no physical reason for it.) Beginning archers are taught an open stance as a matter of course, which I believe is a mistake. An open stance is an advanced bit of archery form that shouldn’t be taught until later. When I see an archer with poor line, the first thing I do is I close up their stance until they are back to square (feet and chest pointing down the shooting line at full draw) or past that to a closed stance (feet and chest pointing slightly behind the shooting line at full draw). After all, the Archer’s Triangle has the archer’s shoulders pointing at the bow on a line which is 10-12° closed to the line to the target (the arrow has to point at the target if you want to hit it). The strongest biomechanical body position (to resist gravity, the only other force present) would be to have the hips, knees, and feet directly under the shoulders, which would place the feet 10-12° closed to the shooting line. This is a neutral body position, without special positioning, which the square stance is not and an open stance is certainly not.

So, if you have a student struggling to get “in line” or who has a “flying elbow” focus on getting the front shoulder, the bow shoulder, fully opened. (The archer will feel his/her bow side chest muscles stretch is a good guide.) A lever to help get there is to move the archer’s stance toward being square or even past that. I will close an archer’s stance as far as needed until they get in line, then ask them to shoot that way until being in line feels “normal.” Then other stances can be experimented with, with the prime consideration of always keeping that good line.

A Note on Compound Form While recurve and longbow archers have prescribed to them that their shoulder line point to their bow, compound archer’s standard form has their shoulder line parallel to the arrow, so they have an Archer’s Trapezoid rather than an Archer’s Triangle. This means their front shoulder will be slightly open when in this position. This is more comfortable for the archer and can be gotten away with because the holding weight of the compound bow is only a third or so of the peak weight, so less bracing is needed at full draw. If a release aid is used or not, the archer still wants to be pulling directly away from the bow at the moment of release to line of the force vectors behind the arrow and not to the side. And, an open stance works against this upper body position.

 

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Another Barebow Question! (This Time: Draw Length Control)

Here’s the question:

I have switched back to Barebow shooting from Olympic style. I also switched to a three fingers under (3FU) string grip. I am having some difficulty in determining how far to draw back and how high. I am trying to eliminate string slap to my face. I haven’t come across anyone yet who can help me but of course I have just started on this endeavour.”

* * *

Wonderful question. Barebow, in this case it is Recurve Barebow, is so much simpler than other styles, which is why it is so hard! Compared to Olympic Recurve, you don’t have help from a clicker or long rod stabilizers, or side rods, or bow sights. The clicker is what the Olympians use to give them excellent draw length control. In Barebow, we don’t get one … but that doesn’t mean you can’t use one in practice!

Draw length control is critical in Barebow. This is because we are “shooting off of the point,” that is using the arrow point to aim with. Starting from the fact that the arrow is anchored under our aiming eye (critical for windage control) and slants upward to the point which we sight across to our point of aim (POA), if we underdraw the bow, the arrow will protrude outward from the rest more (outward and upward), resulting in us lowering our bow to get it onto our sight line to the POA. But short drawing weakens the bow making our arrows hit lower, and so does lowering the bow! In the reverse situation, overdrawing the bow, causes the arrow to protrude outward from the rest less (less forward means downward also), resulting in us raising our bow to get it onto our sight line to the POA. Double whammy again. Both of these things cause the arrows to fly high.

Conclusion: Barebow is particularly sensitive to draw length.

Now, is this a problem. But your targets can answer that question. If your groups are round, your draw length is well controlled. If it were a problem you would have extra high and low impact points, making your groups elongated up-down.

What if that is what I have?

So, you need to get your draw length under control. There are two factors: full draw position and practice. The standard descriptions of full draw position describe an archer very, very close to the end of the range of motion of what we call “the draw.” Any time you get near the end of the range of motion of any of your body parts you will feel muscles tensing. (Open you arm as far as it will go, push it a little. Feel any thing? Turn your head as far to the right as it will go. Feel any muscle tension? That.) The tension you feel when you are at the end of “the draw” motion, we call “back tension.” The existence of the muscle tension you feel in your upper mid back tells you two things: a) you are using the right muscles, and b) you are near the end of the range of motion. If you don’t feel that tension, then at least one of the two is missing.

So, believe it or not, a clicker installed on your bow … for practice … can help you with both of these things.

With OR archers we do something called a Clicker Check. We ask you to draw through your clicker, but instead of loosing the shot we ask you to keep expanding with your best possible form and then let down. What coach is looking for is how far you can get past the rear edge of your clicker. What we want to see is about a quarter inch (5-7 mm) past. (The last archer I tested was at two inches past, nowhere near full draw.) We do not want to be all the way to the farthest extent of the range of motion in the draw but really close. (We need to allow for day-to-day differences in your energy level.)

So, installing a clicker temporarily allows you to check whether your full draw position is a good one. Then, practice shooting with the clicker focusing on the feel in your back. That feel is something you are going to focus on while shooting. (I recommend you pause 2-3 seconds after the clicker clicks (all the time feeling the feel) so as to not create a dependence of the clicker when shooting Barebow.)

Last, there is something the old guys have to contribute and by ‘old” I mean at least five centuries. In olden days, arrows were draw to the back of the longbow/composite bow, whatever, as a matter of course. It was noticed that the arrow point/pile had a distinctive shape (or feel) when in the full draw position. In medieval times and later with the use of target points, the shape of the “head” was likened to a full moon sitting on the horizon. In any case, when you are at full draw, you are looking at your arrow head in any case as it is your bow sight. When you are shooting well, shoot arrows while focused on the appearance the arrow head makes sitting on your arrow rest. Looking for this shape, once part of your shooting routine will add some credence to the “back tension feeling” telling you that you are at full draw. (This is not as sensitive as in the old days when we “shot off of the knuckle.” The arrow made a dent in the flesh of your hand and the “full moon shape” had a natural horizon. Elevated arrow rests make this less definitive (IMHO, of course).

Getting symmetrical arrow groups tells you when you have it down.

Getting small, symmetrical groups is another task.

Hope this helps!

Oh, and if you are getting string rubs on your face, either you are drawing too deep along your face or you are not turning your head far enough. The draw can go back no farther than the “corner” of the chin in this style although I have seen a recent appeal to a much, much longer draw which I cannot recommend as I have no experience with it nor do I know anyone who does. My experience is that deep draws that cause “chin rubs” are generally caused by the bow shoulder, not by not getting your draw shoulder around far enough. If your bow arm isn’t at 180° to your chest at the shoulder (that is in the same plane), there is no way your rear shoulder can compensate.

As to how high to anchor, having more than one anchor is common in Barebow but many try mightily to use only one. If you are shooting long distances, then the low anchor is recommended. If shorter as in Field Archery under WA, then a higher anchor is probably wise.

As I said, I hope this helps!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Working on “The Real Problem”

I had a fairly full day of lessons yesterday and a couple of things came up that were instructive that I will share with you.

In one case I had a very frustrated Recurve student who has been shooting well of late, but recently has had a problem with fliers, even clusters of fliers. By this I mean while putting most of his arrows in the gold, suddenly putting an arrow in the blue or black. Sometimes as many as three arrows in a six arrow end were such “fliers.”

“What am I doing wrong?” he wanted to know.

We talked a bit to find out how his shots felt and he said they all felt the same. He also said his tune was “good” and that the environments he had been shooting in were not the cause (wind, etc.). So, I asked “What do you think you were doing differently on the ‘bad shots’?” and he said “Nothing.”

I agreed.

So, before I continue, put on your coaching hat and think on what you think was wrong. I’ll wait.

* * *

Got it figured out?

Here are my thoughts. Please note that I am never sure of any diagnosis. I consider each situation a trail I am trying to sniff out, just finding a direction to go in first, all the while looking for confirmation or at least some response to the changes I recommend be made. (As a former college teacher, I used to joke with colleagues that we were being paid to look and sound like we knew what we were talking about. I do not want to give you the impression that I am some sort of tuning guru.)

Part of my diagnosis was due to knowing my student well enough to know that he was a “blame himself first” person. He took responsibility for everything. Taking responsibility is good but with regard to missed shots, there are three potential clusters of reasons: the environment (wind, twigs in the flight path of your arrow (field archery), hummingbirds (it happens), etc.), your equipment, and you. The key point is that if you do not find the right cause of the problem, anything you do will not only not solve the problem, it will probably make it worse. For example, if you have a form problem and you keep buying new equipment to solve it, well you ain’t gonna solve it.

In this case, I felt the most likely cause of the problem was that he had a “critical tune.” This is a bit of jargon that isn’t easy to explain (but I will try). Consider the variable of bow draw weight. For a given arrow, if you start at a “too low” draw weight you will get poor results, indicated by group sizes or positions, say. If you then incrementally increase the draw weight in steps of a pound or two, and continue to test for group size, you will get better results, better results, better results, and eventually poorer results, then even poorer results. If you were to graph these results you would see a line in the profile of a hill. The line would go up, up, up, then flatten out somewhat and then go down, down, down. At the middle of the top of the mesa just described, you will have the optimum draw weight for this combination of bow-arrow-archer. We call that a spine match (changing the power of the bow to match the spine of the arrow). Tune charts suggest that the top of the plateau of the draw weight “hill” is about five pounds wide (approximately!).

A tuning space graph, this one for brace height. In any tuning space variable, you may have more than one “peak” you can tune onto. To get to the highest peak (best performance) it is important to always start tuning from a well set up bow (set everything back to manufacturer’s specifications).

Now there are a lot more variables in the tune of a recurve bow than just draw weight. If you combine all of the variables into one graph (what I call a “tuning space” graph) what we want is a hill with a flat spot on top and we want a tune that is right in the middle of that flat spot. This provides the most “forgiving” tune we can make. The term forgiving refers to your setup’s ability to tolerate variations in your shot and still produce good results. We are not talking about “mistakes” here, mistakes are things done wrong that you could have done right. The variations involved in normal shooting are the quite small differences from shot to shot, simply because we are not robots. Even if you shoot an excellent group, in that group some of the arrows are higher that others, some are more to the left, right, down, etc. If you shot them all the exact same way and the arrows were perfectly matched, each shot would have broken the arrow of the previous shot and archery would be very, very expensive. We all make shots that are almost the same but not quite the same. The range of the variations starts out large when we are beginners and gets smaller as we become more expert, but they never disappear into some form of perfection.

A “critical tune” is a tune where you are not in the middle of the flat spot of the hill in your tuning space graph, but when you are right on the edge of the flat spot. With this tune if you make a variation that pushes you back toward the middle of the flat spot, well, no harm, no foul. But if you make a mistake the other way, a flier is the result. Think of this as walking along the edge of a cliff. If you trip and fall away from the edge, there is no problem, If you trip and fall over the edge … ahhhhhhh!

So, if this student had a critical tune, what does one do?

Well, you could start by cutting arrows shorter or other drastic things, but I prefer to start with adjustments that can be put back and with small adjustments first, large adjustments later. The procedure is to make an adjustment to see if there is an affect.

My recommendation was for this student to shoot a ten arrow group and count the fliers/note the size of the group. Then I asked him to put a full turn onto his plunger/pressure button and test again, then another full turn, etc. What we were looking for was an effect, a change in group size, number of fliers. So, one turn on—no effect, two turns on—no effect, three turns on—no effect. So the button pressure was set back to where it was. (Because you often have to do something like this and then set it back, take notes!) Next he took a full turn off from his original setting and voila, better group, no fliers. He asked “What do we do now? Were we done?” I suggested that that whole turn (a large change, by the way—start with large changes and only go to smaller ones to refine a fairly good setting) that created better test results might be right next to another setting that would create even better results. One more turn and test, one more turn, etc. The idea was to find the flat spot in button pressure tuning space and try to get in the middle of it.

So, we found that spot and I told him he needed to shoot a bit at that setting before doing anything else. My student wanted to know what would be next if more “correction” was need. I suggested brace height tuning. The plunger button is probably the finest tuning adjustment you can make (I did check that the button was neither too weak or too strong, just but pushing on it several times with a finger). I have learned recently that brace height tuning is a great deal more useful than I thought. I was asked how to do that tuning and I told him that it was done the same way as with the button, shoot for a benchmark group and then add 8-10 twists to the bowstring and test again, then repeat. You are looking for a response. If things get worse, go back to where you started (take out all the twists put in) and then take out twists, test, repeat. Again, you are looking for that plateau or range of brace heights that give you the best results and then you want to be close to the middle of that “flat spot.” Once you find that happy middle ground, you can refine your brace height (or whatever) with smaller increments of change.

Happy student, happy coach!

At the core of this problem, though, was that this archer didn’t trust his assessment regarding his shooting. Everything felt well, but since the arrows hit in the wrong place, he must have done something wrong. He was not making mistakes! Just a subset of his normal variations were causing those shots to fall off the cliff of his tuning space hill. This, of course, gets compounded when you think it was because of something you did, so you begin trying slightly different approaches, which makes for greater variation, not less (you haven’t practiced your improvised new shot) and this results in more fliers and more frustration.

Oh, and please note that we are all tinkers and we will, with nary a thought, make adjustments on our bows: we change the plunger button setting, clicker position, we tweak the position of the peep site in our bowstring (compounders), we rotate the nocks on our arrows “by eye.” Often these usually unrecorded “tweaks” accumulate to being a quite different tune from the one you created so carefully during you tuning sessions. People even change arrows, thinking their tune “will hold.” It won’t.

If you need a resource for tuning procedures consider Modern Recurve Tuning, Second Ed.

* * *

Another student reminded me that archer form is a kind of closed system. Any change you make, has consequences elsewhere. In this Recurve student’s case, he had opened his stance a bit to get some of the tension out of his neck. He reported feeling more comfortable while shooting as a consequence.

The problem that comes from such changes is that anything you do with your stance should not have any effect on the arrangement of your shoulders, neck and head. If it does, you changed something else, too. In the case of the stance, when you open your stance, you are rotating your feet in the opposite direction you need to rotate your shoulders to get into good full draw position. The fact that the archer reported less neck strain simply meant that he wasn’t rotating his shoulders as far as he was previously, ergo his line was poorer (and his groups spread left-right accordingly).

If your feet are open and your shoulders need to be closed (10-12 degrees by my reckoning) then everything in between is pulling the shoulders the wrong way. To get a benefit from an open stance, a great deal of flexibility is needed.

Neck strain is a common complaint of Recurve archers. It is caused by having maximum draw force on your body at full draw, which means you benefit from the bracing that standard full draw position provides (which directs the forces involved down the lengths of basically incompressible bones). But this means we must get very close to our bows and therefore we need to turn our head farther than if we were shooting a compound bow, for instance.

The only solution of the neck strain problem is to create more range of motion (in both directions!) for the turning of your head. Since this involves neck vertebrae which are quite delicate, you should seek professional help regarding the stretching routines needed to accomplish this.

* * *

Both of these students are “of an age” and I am very impressed when older folks want to continue in the Olympic Recurve discipline. Of all of the archery disciplines it is the most physically demanding, requiring the greatest strength, stamina, and flexibility. Light weight, stiff carbon arrows really help. Dropping down from the draw weight shot as a youth, helps, but nobody beats Father Time. As we age we get weaker, have less stamina, and are less flexible. That so many older archers are still shooting this way is very impressive to me.

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The Never Ending Story: Getting Through the Clicker

I have an Olympic Recurve student who is working through some issues and he wrote recently to ask (in part):

I struggle to get through the clicker. Are there drills to work on to better expand through the clicker? I am interested in something physical to do.

* * *

The first step in getting through the clicker is to have the clicker in the right place. So, having a helper allows you to do a clicker check. You simply draw through the clicker but instead of shooting, you continue to expand (until you can’t expand no more—Popeye) and the helper notes how far behind the trailing edge of the clicker your arrow point gets. (You must maintain good form and not allow your string hand, for example, to slide back on your face, or anything else that will get the arrow back farther: dropping your draw elbow, etc.) Your helper should see only a 1/4 inch (6 mm) gap between the clicker rear edge and the tip of the arrow point. If that gap is too narrow, the clicker needs to be adjusted outward. If too wide, adjusted inward. We are looking for a 1/4 in (6 mm) distance between the two. This is basically a measure of how close you are to the end of the range of motion of the back muscles you are using at full draw. (It is also, like all other measures of this type, an approximation.)

The key to getting through the clicker is relaxation. Tension shortens muscles, shortens the draw and makes it harder to get through the clicker. (This is why so many intermediate archers struggle when a competition gets hot.) So try this: set up to shoot, but let down after ever rep. Then with your eyes closed draw through your clicker and evaluate how relaxed you are when getting through the clicker. You are simply surveying your state of relaxation. Try relaxing your string hand. Try relaxing your torso. See if any of these attempts to relax non-critical parts of your shot have an effect on how easily you get through the clicker. If relaxation helps, then unwanted muscle tension is your issue. As you are doing this you are training your subconscious mind on the goal (getting through the clicker) and the map to the goal (relaxation).

You have to be on the lookout for any of the many subconscious “clicker cheats.” These will get you though the clicker but not with good form. If you struggle getting through your clicker the disappointment triggers subconscious “experiments” to get you through. One common example of such a cheat is the curling up of the string fingers, so if you notice extra tension in your string hand, that is an area to relax. Another common cheating response is to over extend on the bow side (which will spread your groups out L-R).

If in your most relaxed state, you do not get through your clicker easily, then the clicker probably needs to be moved out a very, very little. If you have the help of someone, have them watch several reps of the drill above (without reporting what they see each time). Then have them tell you where your clicker is after the draw, typically. If your draw is short, you will be asking the expansion to move the point too far and a struggle ensues. Ideally when the draw is finished and you hit anchor, the rear edge of the clicker blade should be on the point. The old guys referred to this as the clicker “hanging on the point.” If your draw doesn’t get you there, then the problem is not with your expansion, but with your draw.

The reason I comment on your faster shots looking smooth and strong is that when we become deliberate we almost always become short. Beginners often do this because their draw is still not as consistent as they want and since they don’t want to draw through the clicker when they are not ready, they draw cautiously and therefore draw short. The short draw then sets them up for a struggle to get through the clicker and a new set of issue ensues.

Let me know what happens if you try this.

 

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The Problem with Monkey See-Monkey Do Archery

Currently archers and archery instructors are engaging in what I call “monkey see-monkey do” personal improvement planning. If we see a recent champion doing something different, we attribute their success to that new “move,” because, well, no one else is doing that and everything else the winner did was just like what everyone else was doing, so their success surely must be due to what they did that was different and new.

Brilliant logic … just wrong and I mean “Flat Earth wrong,” not just incorrect.

The classic example of this thinking being wrong was a winner of the Vegas Shoot one year did so wearing a glove on his bow hand. The reason was he had a hand aliment that contact with the bow aggravated. This didn’t stop quite a number of people who showed up at the next Vegas Shoot wearing gloves on their bow hands.

There are a number of things operating here that need to be taken into account.

Survivorship Bias
So, you notice that a winner had a different, maybe a new, move. So is the success rate 100%? Did all of the archers who tried the new move experience success? What if I told you that of the ten archers who had incorporated this new form element into their shots, nine of the ten had achieved success, meaning podium-level making success? Okay, now we are talking! Nine out of ten, surely that proves this is the magic move!

Uh, no.

Just as the winners write the history, only the survivors are even present to tell their story. What if 100 archers had incorporated this new form element into their shots, and of the 100, nine experienced great success, one experienced a bit of success and 90 got so frustrated with their inability to shoot well that they gave up the sport and are doing different things now? Different, no?

The problem with this MSMD approach is we only have the winners (aka survivors) to examine in any detail. The losers aren’t around to be evaluated.

Random Winners
Another problem we have is random winners. I remember seeing the scores shot in a North American IFAA Championship shoot, held in Florida one year. About 50% of the entrants and winners came from Florida. Like most archery championship shoots, this one was open to anyone willing to pay the entrance fee, but the farther away you live the less likely it is you will attend. That is just a matter of fact. And don’t you USAA/WA fans look smug at this, one of the first world championship shoots put on by the newly created FITA organization (now World Archery) was held in Sweden. The vast majority of the entrants were from Scandinavia.

So, there are some basic qualities winners need to have: they need to show up, they need to have archers better than them not show up, … do you see where this is going?

An oft quoted statistic is that 95% of competitions are won by 5% of the archers. I have no idea whether this is true, but I suspect the core of it is: people who win often or consistently are quite few. And they win a lot. The only times these things happen is when there is a truly transcendent player in the mix, like Tiger Woods was to golf, or when the competition is just not that great. I suspect, in archery’s case, it is the latter. In Olympic circles, the U.S. was dominant from archery’s reintroduction into the Olympic Games, but when they faltered, Korea became dominant (at least on the women’s side). Now Korea’s dominance is slipping and I suspect that winner’s circles will become more egalitarian as the quality of “the competition” goes up.

And The Solution Is …?
Gosh, danged if I know, but there must be more reality and science in archery if we are do get away from just mimicry as the mainstream of archery instruction. We need to acknowledge that there are as many “techniques” as there are archers and there is no “magic” in technique. We need to know why things work the way they do. We need to know more about the application of corrections. We need to know more about the mental game, particularly as to its application.

I am looking forward with much anticipation to finding these things out. It sounds like fun!

 

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You Get What You Pay For

I get a “newsletter” from ArcheryTalk.com and occasionally drop in there to see if anything of value is being discussed and occasionally there is. Unfortunately there is an ocean of other “stuff” one needs to sift through to find it.

The topic that drew my eye was entitled “Critique me” which consisted of a still photo of the archer at full draw shot from up the line, accompanied by this text: Just got a new <name of bow> and I was wondering what you guys thought of my form with the new setup. I’m always looking to improve and I appreciate any suggestions! I’m 6´3˝ and shooting a 29.5 inch draw length currently.

That was it.

I wonder what the gentleman in question hoped for in the way of feedback. The audience in question is united by at least one thing: they all have opinions. The problem is how would one evaluate the opinions. As you might expect I don’t think “crowd sourcing” of archer feedback is a good idea. Plus, one photo … really?

I read a few of the comments and a number of commenters said that his “draw length” looked right. Hello? If you wanted to evaluate his draw length you need a shot from above (ceiling downward) or from what I call “away,” that is on the far side of the archer. I also am 6´3˝ and shooting a similar bow in a similar fashion, my draw length is just under 32˝ so I have to be at least a bit suspicious that his draw length is a tad short. (One also doesn’t know if it was measured correctly.)

I hope that any coach asked for input in this situation would respond with “Sorry, no can do.”

For one, it takes a lot of training to be able to develop the skill of analyzing someone’s shot and that means you should probably get paid for the task. (Alright, I tend to try to help people who write in with their problems, simply because there is so little help available and I don’t charge for that service. But I don’t respond to cattle calls, like the one above.) A second problem is the archer hasn’t supplied anywhere near enough information.

I had an archer who wrote me and ask why his arrows hit to the left of the target. Well, there is a long list of reasons for this, the primary one being that is where he was aiming, but a common source of lefts or rights for “fingers” archers is having the wrong arrow spine. The problem is if the archers is right-handed, his/her arrows will fly to the left if too stiff for the bow and the right if too weak. But if the archer is left-handed, then the reverse is seen (arrows hit right if they are too stiff, etc.).

So, the information that is needed to ask any question is somewhat large.

I saw another AT question that asked: if you were just considering axle-to-axle length of a compound bow, what would you buy? Again, the question lacks enough information to provide an answer. You need to know what the bow is being used for to answer this question. Bowhunters favor shorter bows as they tend to shoot from cramped positions or have to walk through brush and can’t afford to snag their gear along the way. Target archers prefer longer bows as they are easier to hold still (the largest stabilizing force in a compound bow is the mass of the riser and how far it is distributed out from where the grip is (same principle as what makes a long rod work, just a lot more mass involved). And they have plenty of space to wield such bows.

So, please do send in your questions … and if you want a good answer, consider all of the information that might be needed to answer them, then include some of that. And, I strongly recommend you not ask “the universe” to answer your question. You will get too many answers that you cannot evaluate the quality of.

 

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Paying Attention to Hands

If you have read this blog at all you probably know that I follow golf coaches a lot, mostly because there are few archery blogs of any value (which is changing … slowly). The similarities between golf and archery are many, the primary difference is in golf, the golfer supplies the energy to the ball whereas in archery the bow does that work on the arrows (after being loaded up by an archer). But a comment by one of my favorite golf coaches, Darrell Klassen, really struck a bell:

… your hands are the body part designed to start almost every motion. Doesn’t matter the sport. Baseball, hockey, golf, tennis, football. You start every action with your hands. You don’t even have to think about it. Next thing you know, all the other parts come into play. Feet, legs, hips, shoulders…they all do their bit.

“The kicker is this (and this is where most of the mags just don’t understand). You can’t manipulate the sequence. Thinking about a part (like you shoulder turn) screws up the whole darn thing. There is however, one part of the sequence you can (and should) manipulate. Guess what that is? Yep, your hands. Thinking about changing what they will do (like their speed, direction, angle, start position etc) will change the whole sequence.

“Manipulate your hands, and you can create any shot you want. And your body will just follow.

In archery, our shot sequences have a step called “set your hands” which we often gloss over, but this step is critical to consistent accuracy. If the angle your bow hand makes on the bow differs, or the angle stays the same, but the position shifts left or right, the effect on the shot is significant. If the fingers on the string or release aid, change position or shift in the amounts of force each finger delivers, the effect on the shot is significant.

I work with quite a few Barebow archers who walk the string. A crawl that varies by as little as 1/16th of an inch will change the distance allowed for by 2-4 yards, all other things being perfect.

The positions of the hands on the bow and string/release are critical aspects of archery shots.

The key thing to realize here is seen in Coach Klassen’s comment “Manipulate your hands…. And your body will just follow.” If your hands aren’t quite right, there is a cascade of adjustments your body makes to make the whole movement conform to the desired outcome (the one you are envisioning in your mind).

Our hands contain many, many sensory nerve endings. The diagram (right), common to biology textbooks, is an attempt to show the relative concentrations of these sensory nerve endings. Note that our faces and hands have out-sized concentrations of the ability to feel temperature, pain, and pressure (the only three kinds of sensory nerves). The nerves we use in archery, of course, are pressure nerves. Because so much neural processing is dedicated to the data coming from out hands, a great deal of life energy is allotted to dealing with that information. So, if our hands are not quite right, we will squirm, inch, nudge, jiggle, or flat out shove other body parts to make them right. All of which are disastrous when looking for consistent accuracy with a bow and arrows.

So, if you have a student struggling with consistency, look to their hands; spend some time on their routines of placement, refine these if necessary. More than a few Olympic recurve archers have made a tattoo mark on their bow hand to aid them in lining their bow with that hand. Yes, it is that important.

 

 

 

 

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Is it My Equipment, the Environment, or Me?

When experiencing problems in archery, the key question for archers is: is it my equipment, the environment (wind, rain, etc.) or me responsible for my misses. Since you cannot solve a problem you do not know you have, this is something coaches have to help with as often as not. Believing one has an equipment problem when it is really form/execution is to road to nowhere.

Consider the following story from my friend Tom Dorigatti, a compound bow guru:

Do you remember me telling you that a careless person in the range went running (and I do mean running) past my bow and knocked it flying some 15 feet onto the hard concrete floor? Do you also remember me telling you that the silly thing was just not shooting well, or holding well, and was tossing flyers at will high and/or low out of nowhere?

I put on a new Hamskea arrow rest (taken off my Merlin bow), I checked axles and cams for straightness/cracks, misalignment. I rechecked and checked my measurements again. I found nothing that should be causing this. I do not miss by 12˝ or more at 20 yards, period.

“Well, I went a step farther and took a large magnifying glass and went over that bow from stem to stern looking for anything that may be a crack, or break in the limbs and/or the riser. I found nothing.

I have no way of checking for a twisted riser, however. So, we were down to either a twisted riser or a failure somewhere on the bow that we/I couldn’t detect. I called up Darton and explained what exactly had happened to the bow. I explained how it wasn’t shooting for crap, and that I would like to send it in for them to check out for a twisted or cracked riser. I got an RA Number sent immediately.

From the time I sent the bow in until the time I got it back was 10 days. They had asked for an arrow that I was using out of the bow and how I set the bow for its paper tune. Of course, I tune a slight nock high right tear because bullet holes for me doesn’t cut it.

I called them back after about a week and asked if they’d found the problem. They had. That idiot who knocked the bow flying had splintered (not visibly) all four limbs on the bow! What was happening is the splinters were opening and closing at their will and state, and not consistent because they were failing worse as time went on.

“What is important for coaches to do is to listen to these stories.”

The riser was checked and it wasn’t bent or twisted. Darton replaced all four limbs on the bow, and set it back up to factory specifications, which so happens to be exactly where I had it set anyway! Of course, I checked all settings before even trying to shoot the bow, and I guess it was right by them, since they told me they checked the tune after they’d rebuilt the bow.

Now the thing shoots like it is supposed to and I’m not fighting the nose-dives and wild arrows. It is shooting as tightly (or a touch tighter) than I am able to hold, so I don’t have any complaints.

In spite of the fact that the bow had been “abused” (not my me, though), Darton replaced all four limbs, reset things, and sent it back at absolutely no charge to me.

I now have a bow that holds steady now, after months of fighting it and blaming myself. because of the “shake,” when all the while most all of it was broken/failing limbs. I was lucky … because those four limbs could have broken all at once at full draw and … that is not nice to think about!

My sight movement since I started shooting has always been an up and down movement. Rarely do I ever have a side to side swim of my sight. I don’t have very many left and right misses either. So, I should have known that there was something really out of kilter with the bow when it kept getting worse and worse as time went on. But, I blamed form, and that shake because I went through all the measurements of the bow and they were spot on.

My suspicions really arose when it got to the point I couldn’t find anything else. I knew I was fighting the bow constantly. I had a friend shoot the bow and he said he struggled to keep the bow up close to center; it was like he had to fight the bow to keep it from having the sight drop out the bottom, too.

Another thing that put me onto the bow being screwed up was paper testing. I always shoot six different arrows when paper testing, not just a single shaft. Who the heck knows, you could pick a good one or you could pick a bad one, but when all your arrows give the same tear, you know things are good. With the “broken” bow, I was getting several tears per my tune, then a wild nock right tear of 2-3˝, then back to a “normal tear” for a couple, then a another wild tear. And it wasn’t the same arrow each time. Sometimes I could get three or four in a row, and rarely five or all six. That finally convinced me that something on that bow was moving around or changing as the bow was being shot.

“So, coaches, keep your ears open. Ask questions of the story tellers. Keep mental notes.”

The reason I am sharing this long story with you is because it was a long story. Here was a very, very careful archer, an archer who documents his equipment very carefully, an archer who is very cognizant of his own shot details, and an archery who has loads of experience and it still took him a great while to finally come to grips with the real problem.

When recurve limbs have interior defects, they eventually show up as limbs that look deformed, but compound limbs are shorter and typically solid fiberglass and do not necessarily show signs of internal damage.

What is important for coaches to do is to listen to these stories. From them you can glean knowledge but also they can give you an appreciation of how hard it is to diagnose some equipment problems. Because Tom is such an experienced bow mechanic, it took him longer to eventually send it back to the manufacturer with a note “It’s broke, can you fix it?” It is a matter of pride for both Tom and I that we can fix almost anything that goes wrong with our gear and it can cost us time and money and effort to overcome this belief.

It is also important to listen to these stories for examples of good and bad behavior on the part of the manufacturers. Darton showed itself to be a quality company. I have had equally good service from other manufacturers. But when an archer has a bad experience with a seller or manufacturer, he then tells that story repeatedly for the rest of his life! This contributes a lot to a feeling of negativity floating around archery and it is nice to be able to note times in which a positive result happens.

So, coaches, keep your ears open. Ask questions of the story tellers. Keep mental notes. The deeper you get into coaching, the less obvious equipment problems become (the easy ones are detected and fixed easily). There aren’t any textbooks or training programs on how to help your student-archers with equipment problems … yet, so you have to find ways to educate yourself otherwise.

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