Tag Archives: Trouble Shooting

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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An Archer’s Quandary: Reading Targets and Arrow Scores (Part 2)

(Be sure to read Part 1 first. Steve)

I will now answer the question about how to teach your students to address the scores of their arrows as they shoot them. It requires you to understand some more about typical patterns. The critical issue is to distinguish normal shot outcomes (which need no correction) from abnormal shot outcomes (which do).

For rank beginners, there is no problem as their arrows are all over the place. The first goal is to shoot a round in which all arrows score. Then the task is getting them to shoot “round groups” centered on the target center. (This needs to be checked and addressed. I have students divided target faces in quarters and count how many holes in each quarter. They should be roughly equal (this assumes a left-right and up-down balance equals “round”). You can also have them count how many arrows are in each ring.)

Once these have been achieved, then your students will start to “see” patterns in their arrow scores. Some will require action, others not. If your archer mistakes one kind of arrow score as indicating a problem and it is not or vice-versa, his/her score will suffer, largely because their mental state was not adjusted to correspond to reality.

Now Consider the following table:

Table of Scores vs. “Holding Ring”
(Normal Distribution)

Holding
Ring
RR
Score
360 Round
Score
300
Round
Score
10 717 359 299
9 692 345 288
8 664 332 277
7 637 318 265
6 610 305 254
5 583 291 243
4 556 278 232
3 529 265 220
2 502 251 209
1 475 238 198

This is an attempt on my part to define what “holding the Y-ring” stands for. To say an archer is “holding the 8-ring” is to imply that all of his/her arrows are 8s, 9s, or 10s, but this definition doesn’t correspond to reality. So, I defined the term to mean that three standard deviations of the arrow positions are scores corresponding to the rings implied. If you don’t know what that means, it means that 95-96% of all arrows shot will have scores of that ring or higher. So, out of every 100 arrows 4-5 will be out of that zone. For a 300 Round (10 point scoring, 30 arrows, like a Vegas Round—see column at the right in the table) it means that 1-2 arrows will be outside of that zone.40cm_3_spot_vertical

So, as an example, let’s take someone who is “holding the 8-ring.” In a 30 arrow round, 1-2 would be outside of that zone (8-, 9-, and 10-rings), presumably they would be 7s. I assume that this collection of shots includes no “fliers,” that is obvious “oops shots.”

Here is how you use this information. If your archer is shooting round groups, centered on the target (required for max scores), then you can use their average round score to tell what their “holding ring” is. If they shoot scores are in the mid-270’s, they are “holding the 8-ring.” If they shoot scores in the mid-240’s, they are “holding the 5-ring.” Just look for their score in the right-hand column and slide over to the left hand column of that row.

Holding the 8-ring means that one or two 7s will be “normal” for them. A round in which there are no 7s is possible and a round in which there are 3-4 or more 7s is possible. But an arrow outside of the 7-ring is a strong indicator of a mistake having been made and some adjustment needs to be made, and they should run their routine used to analyze bad shots when such shots occur. But, if they try to adjust something because they shot eight ends without shooting a 7, then they shot two in one end, they would be making a mistake. Two 7s in one round is “normal.” The fact that they occurred one after the other is a small, very small data set (two arrows) and no conclusions can be drawn from them nor should there be.

Now if this archer shoots a five, there is definitely a problem (especially on the Vegas target which has no five ring unless you are shooting a one-spot version of their target face).

If your archer improves so that they are shooting scores in the high 280s commonly, then they are “holding the 9-ring” and 1-2 8s in a 300 Round are “normal” and 7s, 6s, 5s, etc. become arrows that need to be labeled as shots needing some sort of correction. I repeat, you can’t know for certain, as these are based upon probabilities, but each archer really needs to know what “normal” scoring is for them.

A Caveat
Now, having said all of that, you must reinforce that we are not robots. Consistency is not something easily achieved or demonstrated and should not be expected, at least at a high level, from any but the very, very, very best archers. All of us have good days and bad days and once an archer achieves some ability, their scores are much closer to perfect than to awful, which means there is a lot farther one can drop from one’s average than one can exceed one’s average score. If your archer has a 280 average on this round, he/she can only exceed his/her average by 20 points, but can fall below that average by many times that 20 points.

Even Brady Ellison, who has shot indoor 600 Round world records of 598/600 and 599/600 recently is going to shoot an 8, one day soon. And, in practice, he may have a really horrid day and shoot a 294/300. The difference between elite archers and the rest of us is their high and low scores are much closer together while also being, of course, much closer to perfect.

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An Archer’s Quandary: Reading Targets and Arrow Scores (Part 1)

This is a quandary all archers face when they are approaching a high level of expertise. It actually occurs all of the time, although when groups are larger it is harder to see and often goes unnoticed. Here is an example:

You are shooting a 300 round indoors (10-0 scoring a la Vegas) and you have shot 10s and 9s only for the first eight ends. Then in the ninth end, you shoot a ten and then two 8s. Is something wrong?”

Well, what do you think?

If you think there is a problem, well, you are wrong.

If you think it is not a problem, you are also wrong.

I did not give you enough information to tell which it was.dual_vegas_fnt

You see, it depends on who is shooting and what is “normal” for them. If that were me, then I could tell you eights are normal … for me … and that seven ends of all 9s and 10s was not normal. But I have known archers for whom this would have indicated a problem of some sort. One of my archery club colleagues in California kept shooting perfect 300 scores on the NFAA five-spot target. (I noticed that because I was trying to shoot my first such score.) I asked him when was the last time he didn’t shoot a 300 score, and he couldn’t remember. It had been years, he said. The 5-ring on that target is equivalent in size to the 9-ring on the 40 cm indoor target, so shooting all 10s and 9s on that target was “normal” for him. (It was not normal for me.)

Also, what your thinking would have been if I had told you one of those 8s came in the fourth end and the other in the eighth end? If you thought the two eights were a problem in the first scenario, are they indicative of a problem when spread out, too? Most would say “no.”

We all seem to think that a string of good shots should continue, but this is an illusion, one of the so-called “gambler’s illusions” which includes winning streaks, basketball players “hot hands,” and many other phenomena.

When Brady Ellison shot his most recent world record for an indoor 600 Round, he shot is lone 9 in an otherwise perfect round (599/600) on his thirtieth arrow (out of 60). How would you feel if he had shot his nine on the first arrow? Or his last arrow? (Oh, he came so close!) The score would be the same, but the feelings are different. In one scenario we think he made a good recovery and a strong comeback. In another, we can tell stories of how the pressure got to him and he crumpled on his last shot. In all three, same score, same WR.

What we have to be aware of is our own propensity to see patterns, whether they do or do not exist. Consider the idea of “streaks.” These go against what we are taught is the “law of averages” which is properly named the “law of large numbers.” We are told that if we are gambling, winning more than a few hands in a row is not normal. We think that wins and loses should be mixed evenly. None of these are true.

We are told and believe that if you flip a coin often enough you will end up with half  of the flips being “heads” and half “tails.” People have actually undertaken experiments in which they flipped coins 10,000 times or more to check this “law.” To the contrary I remember reading an article in Scientific American magazine a very long time ago described an experiment in which a computer was programmed to simulate flipping a coin. They expected the law of large numbers/averages to show a 50:50 distribution of heads and tails in short order and then stay that way forever. Contrary to ordinary thinking, starting with ten heads or ten tails in a row is not at all impossible, but however it began, the totals would rapidly approach a 50:50 distribution and then stay there. But this is not what they saw. They saw a 50:50 distribution of heads and tails in short order and then they had a long streak in which heads flips dominated creating a number of head flips greater than the number of tail flips, then this “streak” was followed by a long stretch of 50:50 flips, but then there was a longish streak of tails creating a number of tail flips greater than the number of head flips, followed by a 50:50 stretch. This continued, as far as they could tell, forever.

The length of the 50:50 stretches was, in total, the vast majority of the tosses. But the long stretches of mostly heads or mostly tails (winning streaks?) resulted in almost no time being spent at exactly 50:50. This behavior is not governed by luck as a computer does not operate via luck, it is the ordinary nature of random events. All of these things are “streaky” by nature and not consistent as we would expect.  (BTW, the 10,000 coin toss experiment came out 5,067 heads, 4,933 tails.)

Now, clusters of archery shots are not random events, but if one were to shoot a long stretch of all 10s and 9s, and then shoot two 8s, would that be a sign of something going wrong or not? We are conditioned to see patterns, especially if they are negative. (I can’t tell you how often I have had the thought “Here we go again” while shooting, but it is not a small number.) The problem is you can’t tell, because the stretches are not predictive.

But wait, “What do we do? You haven’t said!”

Look for my next post.

 

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Are You or Your Students Suffering from the Instant Gratification Cycle?

One of my colleagues dropped a student he was working with because in between coaching sessions, his student would either solicit or accept coaching direction from other archers and when they got back together he had done none of what they agreed upon he needed to do to get better. Instead the student would want to discuss a long list of things he had been trying suggested by fellow archers. Requests to have the student check in with the coach before just trying things, but that did not happen.

This student was suffering from a malady common in amateur athletic circles. Desiring instant results, if something appears to not be working, they would try something else. The “something else” may be something they just made up or something suggested by another archer.

As archers we are often in the advice business for myriad reasons: archery is a social sport, we all want to encourage newbies and those struggling so they will get better and stay in the game, etc. (As coaches, we are not supposed to offer advice unless asked!) In fact, there is such an established pattern of giving advice, especially older archers to younger archers, that we equip our younger archers with a canned response. If someone offers them advice, we suggest they say “Gee, thanks, mister, I’ll tell my coach the next time I see her/him.” If a young archer merely brushes off such attempts to “help” them, they can get a reputation for being aloof or “stuck up” or worse.

When an archer is trying to get better, they are trying to do things differently from what they had been doing which is always awkward. Whether or not those changes are successful can’t be determined until the “new moves” are practiced until they become “normal.” This means that serious archers need to be patient. Coaches need to explain what “being patient” means in terms of practice time and clock time so there are no misunderstandings. Coaches need to explain to archers that if they flit from one tip to another like a bee harvesting pollen, they will end up with a whole mess of nothing.

Archers need to know what to do with such tips when they are offered. In addition to the above canned response we teach to younger archers, we suggest that they write down such tips so they can discuss them with us via text/email or in person. Sometimes something valuable is suggested. Knowing that Coach is open to suggestions helps build trust in the coach-athlete relationship.

Whatever happens on the relationship front, an archer has to avoid like the plague the Instant Gratification Cycle:

a problem occurs → something new is tried → something works somewhat better  → another problem pops up → etc.

A basic fact of human behavior is the Hawthorne Effect: which is that when something new is tried, things tend to get better … for a short time. The first time this effect was described it was used to explain an experiment done on office workers. The office workers were told that if the lighting were slightly better, it would help their work and when it was brightened a bit  office productivity increased. Then they were told that if it were made even brighter, etc. … and their productivity increased again. Then they were told that the optimal amount of lighting had been determined and the lighting was changed once again, and productivity went up again. The final change was to lighting exactly as it was when the experiment first began. But, after some weeks, the measured productivity dropped back to what it had been before the experiments began.

Some say that the Hawthorne Effect is just a result of expectations on the part of the participants: if you expect to do better (reasonably, not magically, there needs to be a reason) you tend to do better. But the “improvements” are short-lived. This has ramifications when archers are looking at form changes and equipment changes, etc. First impressions are not always valid as they tend to be better than one will get in the long term. So, patience is required to make rapid progress in archery form or in one’s equipment/equipment setup. (Yes, you have to slow down to speed up.) The sure way to slow down someone’s progress is to work on something for only a short time and then switch to another thing, and another,…

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How Many Things Can I Work On at a Time?

QandA logoI got a query from one of my students which asked:

That leads me to something I meant to ask in the last email … what happens when you have a list of things to work on? I know from our lessons you can only effectively work on one thing at a time. So how do you choose what? The thing that is most wrong? The thing that is earliest in your shot sequence? The thing you think will give you the most bang for your buck (or time spent working on it). There are so many aspects to a shot sequence it seems inevitable that you will end up with a list of things. Oh, and, of course, each step builds on the previous, so if there is something you are working on early in your shot sequence it has to be there, done the new/different/correct way in order to practise something else.

* * *

I have the most wonderful students! (Good students ask good questions, that’s one of the ways you can tell which are the good ones.)

There is a common misconception that equates “work on only one thing at a time” into “work on only one thing until it is better before you tackle another,” which is wrong. You can work on many things at once, just not two at once. It has to do with feedback.

If you try to work on your bow arm and release at the same time and a group of arrows is better than before, was it due to an improvement in your bow arm or release or both? A potentially awful outcome is that one of those changes made it better and the other made it worse but not enough to not make the whole group better. In this latter case, you are getting a mixed message. When we do something differently we only have a “better” or “worse” outcome to judge whether the change we are exploring is a good one or not. We want to be able to attach those “better or worse” judgments to just one thing. This is my definition of getting good feedback.

So “work on only one thing at a time” limits how many things you can work on simultaneously but not how any things you can work on concurrently. (Sorry for the big words, but being accurate sometimes requires them.)

I do not have any good science to back up my recommendations but here is what I recommend: keep a list of things you think need work but limit those you are working on currently to three. I also recommend that before you shoot an arrow during any practice or competition session that you read that list, the whole list. When you are “warming up” you want to pay special attention to the three items you are trying to change at the moment. If you do not do this and just “warm up,” you will end up gravitating back to the shot you have practiced the most, what I call your “old normal” shot and you will then be send this message to your subconscious mind “it is normal that sometimes we shoot the ‘new shot’ and sometimes we shoot the ‘old shot’.” We want, rather, the message to be “we are committed to the ‘new shot” and no longer shoot the ‘old shot’.” So, read the list with special attention to doing the top three the new way … do it … do it every time you shoot.

As soon as you are warm, the best time to spend working on your top three items is right away. This will lay a foundation for the rest of the practice session being based upon your new shot and not your old one.

Now, as to what order to take on these changes in your shot, you have some choices to make. There is logic and some science behind each of these and I haven’t been able to determine which is better, so my default position is “whichever feels better to you.” My thinking is if you think something is the right way to proceed, you will make better progress than if you are not sure, certainly better than if you are convinced you are going about it the wrong way.

Here are the two approaches that seem wise to me.

Tackle the Changes from Greatest to Least Effect If we could put a score impact rating on any prospective change, under this rule, you would tackle the issue that would have the greatest positive effect on your score first. So, if Change A would improve your score by 7%, it is more worth your time than Change B that might only improve your score by 1%. What this means practically, is that the effect of Change A would also be easier to see while it was happening and that improvement would strongly guide the process and supply motivation. Something with a tiny 1% improvement potential would be hard to see in the first place and would provide little motivation.

This plays out, interestingly, in the history of each and every serious archer. When they first begin, their scores are quite low and they make progress as they learn in leaps and bounds. As they get better, though, it becomes harder and harder to improve and each improvement requires more and more effort. This is, in general, why there are so many really good archers, but few great ones.

The hard part if you adopt this order of making changes is how to assign a scoring improvement potential to each potential change. If you figure out how to do this, please, please let me know!

Tackle the Changes in the Order of Your Shot Sequence This option, I think, benefits archers who most recently have chosen to become serious archers. The previous procedure, I think, benefits archers who have established their shot and are making smaller changes therein. The reason I believe this is twofold: for one you will be making improvements in your scores that are substantial as you work anyway; for another since you don’t have a settled shot yet, you do not want to be practicing a later aspect of your shot that will be changed when an earlier step is modified.

This approach, of course, makes it much easier to identify which you do first, second, third, etc.

When I work with a new Recurve student (my questioner is an Olympic Recurve archer) I work from what I call the “Three Pillars.” The three foundations (aka pillars of support) for consistent accuracy are a relaxed bow hand, a relaxed string hand, and good full draw body alignment (in this case delineated by the archer’s triangle—see illustration). So, the thing I most often address with a Recurve archer first is his/her … stance. It seems that most beginning Recurve archers have been told that an open stance is somehow required. But rotation your feet counterclockwise when your shoulders need to rotate clockwise to get into good FDP is working against what you want. A closed stance, at least to start with, doesn’t result in an archer’s shoulders fighting with his/her stance to get into position. So, I work to get their hands relaxed, and their body in position. (The same is true for compound archers, with a few details being different).force-triangle-finished

If  that archer is still building his/her shot, I then work through the shot sequence, helping them find their form as they go.

Conclusion
So, you have to decide which route you want to take and commit to it … and … (you knew there would be an “and” didn’t you) I think the best way to proceed is to make an improvement and then move on from each thing on your list. You do not need to make something perfect. If you think you do, you will be spending a great deal of time working on just a few things and you will feel as if no progress is being made.

Make an improvement and then move on. Your shot is an organic whole; you cannot change part of it in isolation and like a chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link, so think of the changes you are making as being on an upward spiral. You will go around and around, through your shot, paying extra attention to each part over and over. But you will feel the progress being made (the list of items you have crossed off as having improved should not be discarded; it is an indicator of progress made). And, each time you come back to the same item (e.g. I need to improve the solidity of my anchor.) it is not an admission that you didn’t fix it before but that you have made sufficient improvements that your improved anchor is no longer quite good enough (Hooray!). Having to work on items again are indicators that you have reached another level.

In order to tell whether you have reached another level or are just going “round and round getting nowhere” you have practice and competition round scores. If they are getting higher or more consistent where they are, you are making progress.

I hope this helps!

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Olympic Recurve Alignment

I have a right-handed Olympic Recurve student I am coaching remotely and he sent me a couple of videos and a question:

I’ve sent You two videos to your Dropbox; in the video that the camera is between me and the target you can see that after the release my string hand goes out to my right side instead of just going back. It means that I’m doing something wrong, right? Have you seen this happening before?

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Yes, it is called a “pluck” as one would pluck a string of a guitar or other stringed instrument. (The bow was probably the inspiration for stringed musical instruments.) At some time or other, every “fingers” archer (non-mechanical release archer) has to deal with this issue. If you are asking “have I noticed you doing this before?” as opposed to “have I ever noticed anyone doing this before?” the answer is yes in both cases. In your case, we have been working on other things and, in general, beginning archers are often “all over the place” meaning that they lack enough consistency to identify which things they are doing often enough to suggest correction.

The cause of plucking? If you would look at the video taken from in front (I say “toward” as in “toward the target”) and look at your rear elbow. It is sticking out to your right. Ideally placed it would be right behind the arrow in the central plane of the bow (the one with the arrow in it) or slightly past that position (around toward your back—see the diagram). Because your elbow is out to the right, the pull on the string is slightly out to the right also, but most importantly, your subconscious mind knows that just relaxing your string fingers from this position will not get your fingers enough out of the way of the string, so it tries to “help” by opening your hand slightly. (Your fingers can move in toward your palm much farther than they can move back away from being straight. In order to avoid the string, your fingers need to be “out of the way” and your subconscious mind evaluates how successful that process will be.) Since this hand opening must be done quickly, your subconscious mind overdoes this motion and your hand moves out away from your face. Unfortunately, the string follows this motion of your hand, to some extent, taking the rear end of the arrow out to the right, resulting in shots that go to the left of where you aimed. (Target Cue: if your arrows start hitting left of where they formerly did, plucking the string is a common cause. Learning to read targets is a skill necessary for progress and making corrections while competing.)

the-lines-of-archery-lo-res

In the right hand photo, the shoulder line of this Olympic Recurve archer can clearly be seen.

To fix this problem, your shoulders must adopt a slightly different position. We want a line across the top of your shoulder (called the shoulder line—see “The Lines of Archery”) to point at the bow. Currently, yours are pointing to the left of the bow. (Your rear shoulder cannot rotate your rear arm around to be pointing at the bow if your front shoulder does not have your bow arm lined up with your torso. Many times I find that these problems originate in the front shoulder more so than the rear.) Try turning your torso/front shoulder in toward the bow … slightly, and rotating your rear shoulder around toward your back more. This has the effect of lengthening your draw, so your current clicker position will have to be adjusted inward. But before you do adjust it, you can use your “old” clicker position for training. Stand up close to your target butt, and draw and shoot with your clicker on and your eyes closed. The goal is to slide through the clicker before you are ready to shoot by doing as instructed above. (Don’t shoot until you are ready; since the clicker is too far out, its “click” is not a correct signal to shoot.) When you can do this several times in a row, you can adjust your clicker … inward … and see if you can get your shot timing back. (Having someone watch how far your arrow point gets behind the clicker’s edge will help you figure out how far to adjust it, but you can do it a bit at a time with trial and error testing.) The clicker should only go off when you are in position … preferably a correct position.

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The “archer’s triangle”

What you are working on is the “alignment” of your upper body to the bow and when you get where you want to be, people will say you have “good line.” This is also what people are talking about when they mention “the archer’s triangle.” One side of the triangle (viewed from overhead) starting at the bow goes across both shoulders and is straight, thus your shoulders point to the bow.) Having “good line” is a prerequisite for consistent accuracy in Olympic Recurve because it means you are pulling directly away from the target (rather than away and out to the right as you currently are) and when you loose the string the string will go straight toward the bow and your hand will fly straight back along your face because that was the direction it was pulling, but only a small amount because your shoulders were in an extreme position. Monitoring where your hand moves upon release (it moves on its own, you don’t move it) is a way of affirming you had good full draw position/alignment. Since your position at full draw is very close to the limit of your range of motion in that situation, there is a very uncomfortable feeling in your back muscles just before release. This uncomfortable feeling is another part of “the feel of your shot” which helps you recognize the difference between doing it correctly and doing it incorrectly.

Sorry for the length of this response, but if you had focused on just keeping your hand close to your face, you would unlikely to be working on the correct source of the issue (your shoulder alignment).

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How Fast Should You Shoot?

I came up through field archery and didn’t shoot with a clock running until I had been shooting quite a few years. Boy, the first time I did it made me very nervous. (I am one of those people who shows up early for everything; you know the type.)

So, after ending up a nervous wreck from my first exposure to a shot clock, I felt I had to do something about it, so I did.

Most youths who grow up with a clock running don’t have my problems, in fact the clock almost never affects them, because they shoot like Machine Gun Kelly, rat-a-tat-tat; a 3-arrow end takes 24 seconds, a 6-arrow end is done in a minute and a half.

Since archery is a repetition sport, tempo is a key factor in how consistent we can be. If one shoots too quickly or too slowly (than your optimal tempo) your scores will go down. So, a scoring strategy must not interfere with keeping a consistent shot tempo. For example, some recommend a 6-arrow end be broken into two 3-arrow ends with a short rest in between to recover the energy lost from shooting the first three. But, if after shooting three arrows quickly, one takes a break and then shoots the other three arrows quickly, one ends up shooting the first arrow of an end twice and the first arrow does not have a very recent shot to imprint upon. The natural timing of a shot generally sets the second arrow to be shot within 30 seconds of the first because there are limitations to how long you can hold a feeling or thought in memory (and I think, but cannot prove, that 30 seconds is pushing it). If you cannot use the last shot as an example for a pre-shot visualization, you are left with using something you’ve cobbled together from long-tem memory, which is generally considered to be less accurate and therefore less helpful. Because of this limitation, most elite archers shoot each arrow the same way in the same time and one after the other until done with the end.

Most young archers do tend to shoot too quickly but that is a relatively simple problem that involves no particular strategy (like shoot three, rest and then three more). To help deal with time pressure, it helps all archers to know how much time a let down costs. A let down takes about as much time as a shot, so if a three-arrow end (2 minutes allowed) takes 60 seconds to shoot your three arrows, for example, you have enough time to execute three letdowns, but not a fourth before time will run out. I can remember feeling that letdowns cost way more time than they did and I started to feel time pressure very early in the end (clocks are not always visible, especially if one is left-handed). For this reason I measured how much time it took me to shoot three and six arrow ends and then figured out how many let downs I could safely make without fear of running out of time. (For me it was one and two, respectively. If I made two let downs in a 3-arrow end, I had better hustle on that last arrow and it … must … be … shot.) I also taped a count down timer to my spotting scope tripod which I triggered as soon as the “shoot” signal was given. That way I would know how much time I really had.

With regard to actual shot tempo, there is a way to find out if you are shooting too quickly and if it is affecting your scoring. Label a set of arrows (1, 2, 3 …) and then shoot them in a practice round in that order. Record the score of arrow #1 of each end in the first box on the score card, arrow #2’s score goes in the second box, etc. (Not from highest score to lowest, just in the order they were shot.) When done with the practice round, average all of the box’s scores giving you an average score for your first arrow, your second arrow shot, etc. If the scores steadily decline, you are shooting too fast, consuming too much energy that is not being replenished before you shoot another, digging yourself an energy hole that guarantees poor scores later in the round.dual_vegas_fntdual_vegas_fnt

We are not robots, so you might have to do this drill several times to see if you are being consistent. Of course, one must also avoid other sources of score variations while doing this (pressing to get better scoring arrows, struggling with the clicker, etc.).

It is not a simple prospect, changing your shooting tempo. The reason for this is that tempo is one of the last things addressed when building a high quality shot. (Who cares how fast you are shooting
if you are shooting incorrectly in the first place?) So, by the time most archers get around to addressing tempo they have shot many thousands of arrows and have constructed a shot with a “normal tempo” that is based on who know what. The simplest approach to making a temp change is through feedback. If your normal shots take 10 seconds, for example, from release to release but you now have evidence that is too fast, pick a new time frame, say 15 seconds, but give yourself a range instead, like 15-20 seconds (or 13-17, etc.). Any shot made within that framework is considered “good” during this exercise (we are not robots). Have somebody time you. If you shoot in less than 15 seconds, your timer tells you “too soon.” If you reach 20 seconds, your timer tells you “let down” and you must let down. Don’t try to “do” anything, just take the feedback and let your subconscious mind do all the work. All you need do is be disappointed when you shoot too soon or not soon enough, do not try to do anything
else. (Try? There is no “try.” Do or do not. Yoda)

Obviously the time frame you choose can be too small or two large and you may need to refine it. This is how that is done: the above exercise is probably best done blank bale because the arrow scores are not really the point. But when you have achieved some consistency there are still two questions: “Am I still shooting too fast?” and “Is this my optimal shot timing?” For the first question you have the practice round drill above, for the second, that requires a target. I will use the example of 6-arrow ends and since it is indoor season, we will shoot indoors. You can obviously adjust this drill for any distance you prefer.

So, set up two three spot target faces, so you have six spots, one for each arrow. Have your “timer” play the same role as in the previous drill except this time he/she must keep track of three categories: shots that are “too quick,” shots that are “too slow,” and shots that are “just right,” no “let down” commands are given. These ratings can be coded on a score card by your helper. Record the arrow scores for each arrow so that you know what the shot timing was as well as the arrow scores. Then you must compile the average arrow score for each of those three categories. If “too quick” and “too slow” got significantly lower score averages than “just right,” then “just right” is probably about right. If “just right” timing got the highest average but “too fast” was almost as good and “too slow” was way behind, then maybe you would benefit from speeding up a tad. There are far too many possible outcomes for me to go through all of them but I hope these examples are enough to give you an idea of how to proceed.

I hope you realize that you have to shoot fairly well to address the topic of shot tempo. If you do not shoot relatively small groups, adding a concern about shot timing may cause your groups to degrade until the results of these exercises are all by meaningless. In the drill just described, compare your group sizes with your normal group sizes (or score the first 30 arrows, or …) to see if they are roughly the same. If so, then you know that the focus of the drill/exercise isn’t adversely affecting your shooting.

A basic aspect of “getting good” at archer is that it takes more and more time to do less and less for your shot. Progress gets made in leaps and bounds when you first start shooting, but the rate of progress slows to a crawl as you reach a high level of proficiency. One example of that is the amount of practice needed to move you from a score of 100 to 110 in a 300 round compared to the amount of time need to move from a score of 280 to 290 in a 300 round. Both changes are just ten points, but the first challenge is blown through, while the latter one defeats some archers altogether.

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Another Example of Archers Getting Screwed

I received an urgent email from one of my students who discovered that one of the locking screws from the rear of the limb bolt on his recurve bow was missing. He didn’t know how long it had been missing and he had been shooting a great deal so his concerns were twofold: was it safe to continue shooting with that screw missing and how was he to find a replacement?

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Top Limb Bolt showing missing locking screw (top), Bottom Limb Bolt (bottom)

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For those of you who do not shoot modern recurve bows, the screw being referred to is a common part on “adjustable limb pocket bows.” Compound people know that turning the limb bolts in or out creates more or less draw weight, respectively. It has only been recently that this feature has been added to recurve bows. A common mechanism designed to accomplish this involved taking the limb bolt and drilling a hole in the very end and tapping it to accept another, slightly oversized, screw. The drilled and tapped end of the limb bolt has several saw cuts made into it and then it is inserted into the bow. Through a hole in the other side of the riser, the “locking screw” is screwed into the newly tapped hole, causing the end of the limb bolt to spread out in its hole, effectively locking it into place.

Compound people don’t have locking screws of this nature (although some models have used a kind of locking mechanism). Because three-piece recurve bows are typically dismantled after every use, they need some sort of locking mechanism, otherwise the limb bolts could move around while the bow was being jostled while traveling in your car. Compound bows are not dismantled after each use and the tension on the limbs tends to keep the limb bolts in place (although it is wise to index then with marks on the bolt heads to show whether they have turned or not).

So, the residual vibration from shooting this recurve bow caused the “locking screw” to wiggle its way out and fall to Earth. (I keep a strong magnet available to find small iron-based parts in the grass. Sliding such a magnet around where one shoots frequently might turn up the missing part.)

Is it safe to shoot without the locking screw? Yes and no. Those limb bolts are often quite tight all by themselves. But if the vibration left over from shots causes the limb bolt to turn, you are changing the tiller setting of your bow which will effect the size of your groups, etc. Nobody wants their bow to give them poorer feedback on how well they are shooting, so, clearly, it is in any archer’s best interest to replace that screw.

Here is where archers have been screwed in the past. It was almost impossible to obtain replacement parts for bows. Local vendors didn’t stock them and even their manufacturers didn’t always stock them. Once a manufacturer has made a “new, improved” model that doesn’t contain that part, they don’t have an incentive to maintain an obsolete parts inventory. When you sell millions and millions of units, you can have a thriving parts industry serving it, consider auto parts stores and restoration auto parts companies as examples. But if you don’t sell millions. . . .

So, I would recommend that archers remove the back screw from the other limb (remember to hold the front screw in place while doing so) and take it down to a good hardware shop to see if they could get a replacement (or two or three if they are cheap). The store should be able to check the threads to see whether they are metric or Imperial/Standard/English/SAE. The bow companies almost never sold spare parts but you may be able to get on the phone with customer service of said manufacturer and talk them out of one. If you had a good relationship with them, you might just get what you want.

In this case it turns out that Lancaster Archery Supply carries the needed part! They also carry replacement limb bolts for Hoyt and Win&Win bows. They aren’t cheap ($49.99 for a pair of limb bolts!) but at least they are available.

Addendum For you history buffs, before the adjustable limb bolt bows were available, people did adjust their bow’s draw weight and tiller but it was a clunkier process. Since limb bolts were just plain bolts, archers would back the limb bolt out (or nor screw it in as far) and then slip tiny wedges, also called “shims,” between the limb butt and the pocket, then tighten down the limb bolt. If you shimmed both sides of the limb butt equally, you adjusted the draw weight of the bow (downward, slightly). If you shimmed the top limb differently from the bottom limb, you were adjusting the bow’s tiller. If you had a larger shim on one side of the limb bolts than the other, you were actually rotating the limb (slightly) which could be enough to compensate for a slight twist in the limbs.

One can argue that the advent of the adjustable limb pocket systems currently available were the result of too many bows being returned to manufacturers when initially bought due to very slight limb twists and tillers being out of spec. With the adjustable limb pockets this small issues could be adjusted out as a matter of course. I suspect that the “spare parts” available in Lancaster’s catalog (Bless LAS!) are there because of so many of them either wearing, or falling, out.

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Drawing Lessons

One of my Recurve students was struggling a bit with the NTS draw, specifically the ending of it. In that draw, the string is drawn until it contacts the “corner” of the chin, with the string fingers an inch or so under the jaw, then the string hand is raised into position under the jaw (+ detail, detail, detail, etc.).

If that gap is a bit large as many people concluded it should be from Kisik Lee’s first book, especially the pictures, there is a problem. The unstated aspect of this issue is if the archer’s chin is “down,” his chin blocks the draw by interfering with the string fingers on their way back. Recurve archers who shoot from a “high anchor” (corner of the mouth) have no such problem; there is nothing in the way of the string finger’s landing zone. But Recurve archers using a “low anchor” need to be taught to position their chins higher than archers who use a side anchor. Our jaw lines generally slope from the rear downward toward the front, so to get the hand under the jaw, you have to kind of “go around” the point of the chin.

If, though, in the NTS approach the draw was a bit too low, it encourages moving the head farther than if it were closer at the end of the draw. Your head moving down (the part where your nose touches the string) and your hand moving up have to negotiate a meeting place in the middle, which is a significant source of variation because very small changes in the position of the rear end of the arrow result in large differences in hit points. By raising your head the bare minimum, then drawing to a very short distance below your jaw, you can minimize this source of variation.

In the old days it was “set your head” and “draw to anchor.” Kisik Lee designed his approach in reaction to this instruction, which has the drawback of the archer’s chin possibly blocking the path of the draw fingers into position.

Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. The basic task is to get a good head position while getting into good full draw position (including an anchor point with a large amount of contact with the jaw to enhance the “feel” of being in the right place). Both of the described approaches are imperfect, so I suggested my student give the first one a try (the old school approach). In this I am definitely becoming “new school”! I think that if we tinker a bit our autonomic and subconscious processes will adapt whatever approach is chosen into one that works … if we know what works. Obviously bumping your chin while trying to anchor is not acceptable, but both of the above approaches will work if archers allow them to be tweaked by the wisdom inherent in their bodies.

The bow and arrow will teach us everything we need to know … if we can learn to listen and to hear them and if we do not assume we know what is right and wrong. Too often entrenched ideas of what is correct and incorrect dominate the teaching and learning of archery. Instructional books have diagrams showing “Correct” and “Incorrect” forms, for example. This then uses our worst tool (our conscious minds) to dictate the workings of our bodies. We try to force our bodies to comply to the conscious dictates of some form master. I am coming to realize that if we share with archers what they are trying to accomplish and then have them train their subconscious functions along those lines we will end up at a very good place faster and with less effort.

 

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