Tag Archives: Working with Youths

Getting Serious: Trying Remote Coaching

This is the latest Archery Education Resources column from Archery Focus magazine, from an issue that had a special emphasis: “Archery in a Time of Pandemic.”

* * *

Okay, since your indoor and outdoor ranges are closed for the duration, so . . . what are you going to do? Here are some suggestions.

Keep in Contact
Whether by text message or email or any other means, keeping in touch with your student-archers will help them, some of them in any case.

Encourage Rainy Day Activities
So, it is raining and they can’t go outside to do archery, so what can they do. There are long lists of things that can be done to organize and maintain their archery gear. They can start by sorting their arrows into three piles: (1) Competition Ready, (2) Okay for Practice, and (3) In Need of Repair or Replacement. If they have been learning “archery crafts,” specifically arrow repair, maybe now would be a good time to practice those skills on the arrows in Group 3.

Reading About Archery If your students have books about archery, those can help fill the “archery hole” the pandemic is leaving. Archery Focus magazine is proud that they allow you to send individual articles to your students if you think one of those will help. Just download the issue with the article and then use a PDF program to separate out the article from the whole issue and then attach it to an email or a text and voila. (PDF “editing” programs are available for free). They ask that you do not send whole issues this way as they would like to make money from subscriptions.

Internet Archery There are a number of websites devoted to helping beginners, NuSensei comes to mind. We do not recommend random, unvetted Internet archery excursions (at least until they know what is up) so your job is to “approve” of some of those sites and provide links.

Doing Drills Any drills that do not involve actual shooting can be done and, if they are able to shoot at home in a basement or garage, they can even do shooting drills. Your job, of course, is to provide the drills. Just setting them loose on YouTube may be not the best advice.

Try Remote Coaching
With the advent of the communication tools embedded in the Internet, remote coaching has become a “thing” in archery. Clearly there are not enough good coaches available, so some archers are stuck trying to get coached from afar. People use the telephone, email, text messaging, video communication tools like Skype, and even more specialized tools to allow coaches and archers to have back-and-forth exchanges. Our experience is with email (mostly) and attached still photos and video clips. Many younger archers prefer text messaging and whatnot. The advantage of email is you can “nest” the emails exchanged and keep them in a folder for each student, thus you have a running log of your exchanges.

Helping Them Take Photos This can be done as simply as asking a sibling or parent to take photos using a smartphone and then emailing them from the phone. Or a camera and tripod can be sued and if a brother or sister or parent isn’t available, many camera s come with remote shutters (or you can buy them cheaply enough Bluetooth enabled. Where you are needed is to help them take the photos that will help you help them.

We are working on a “handout” that shows what pictures to take from where and listing what they show but we haven’t finished that yet, look for it soon.

Conclusion
I just noticed that Mental Management Systems is offering online trainings now. I haven’t checked out the details, but if one of their seminars has been on your “to-do list,” you might want to check those out.

Which brings to mind the fact that we have been totally concentrating on how you can help your students, and we have left helping you out. One of our favorite sayings is “you can’t give what you don’t have.” So, you may need to do many of the above yourself. Your batteries may be charged up with nothing to do, so think about enhancing your knowledge and skills in support of your own archery, which on the come around, will help all of your students in the future.

And, bottom line, if it stops being fun, most people stop, so keep investing in what makes archery fun for you!

Postscript We make a standard recommendation that you not “authorize” shooting at home. If enterprising archery students or their parents set up a practice station in their home or backyard that allows shooting . . . safely . . . then that is, we think, a good thing. On the other hand if you supply recommendations or instructions as to shooting at home and an accident occurs or an unsafe practice results in an injury, you may have legal liability. Even if you were to inspect the site and find nothing unsafe about it doesn’t mean that the people using it will use safe practices. Think about a young archer who has a friend over while his parents are at work. We suggest a ten foot pole with a ten foot extension on it is still too short to touch this topic.

 

 

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Coach Lessons

About a week and a half ago, I had a number of coaching lessons scheduled, probably the last face-to-face lessons I will be giving for several months due to the pandemic, and I had a bit of an epiphany. I had finished my last lesson and was packing up to go and I struck up a conversation with another archer, as we archers so often do. This gentleman has had a couple of coaching sessions with me recently so we were acquainted. He was at our indoor range trying to get a new bow set up and tuned for his 16-year old son.

There was clearly something not working as he seemed frustrated. The conversation naturally gravitated to the issue: his son and he, both Recurve archers, had been recommended the same arrows over the phone. This rang an alarm for me, not because of the phone conversation, the dealer referenced was quite reputable, but because of the situation. The son looked a couple of inches shorter than the dad and when asked, that was confirmed along with the fact that dad’s draw weight was seven pounds higher than the son’s. I asked about their draw lengths and he said, “they are the same.” To my eye, and brain, they should have had about two spine groups difference between their shafts.

Now, I say “about two spine groups difference” because arrows are very sensitive to “cut length.” The rule of thumb is there is a one inch difference between spine groups. (Go ahead and look at any spine chart and that is about how they work out.) So, an arrow two spine groups too stiff could be made shootable by cutting them two inches “too long,” too long being longer than the recommended cut length.

So, the son is shooting bare shafts to set up these arrows and, again, my eye immediately told me the problem. Being two inches shorter than his dad, the son’s draw length should have been one inch shorter, but it was not. It was clear, to my mind, why it was not in that the youth was leaning away from the target, which results in a raised bow shoulder. So, I asked the dad about this. “Was this a new adaption to his shot or had it been there for some time?” This leaning away from the target is a time honored adaption youths make to deal with a bow that is just too heavy (the shoulder muscles responsible for holding the bow up against gravity, the deltoids, develop rather late). But, this may have been a habit developed when the youth was younger or recently adopted and I wanted to know which it was. It seems to have been around for some time, so I explained what was going on. The net result is that a high bow shoulder leads to an overly long draw length.

So, we did a test to see if he could handle the physical mass of his new bow. The test is simply to hold the bow with one arm in full draw position (we had to adjust his posture a touch) and count . . . slowly . . . one thousand one, one thousand two, . . . etc. If you cant make it to “five” before the bow starts to descend, the bow is definitely too heavy. If the bow begins to drop after five, it is probably too heavy. If you can get to 10 without the bow dropping, then it is probably not too heavy and if you can keep going past ten, you are as strong as you need to be. The young man passed the test which means he no longer had a need to lean away from the target.

So we got him “plumb” and raising the bow without raising his bow shoulder and checked his draw length. It was now roughly an inch shorter than his dad’s. The dad asked me what else they needed to do and I responded, without thinking, “Nothing, everything will just cascade down because of that one correction,” and it seem to do just that.

I said my goodbyes with the hope that their tuning session would go well from that point onward.

On the drive home, I realized that I hadn’t really thought things through . . . consciously. I just “looked” and “saw” and spoke. I spent a little time figuring out the “whys” involved on the way home, for example when you lean away from the target, if you think of the bow arm as being just part of your reference system, the leaning of the upper body moves the head, and your anchor point, farther away from your bow hand (and the bow). This is what causes the “too long” draw length. When the archer stands plumb (straight up and down) the rear elbow is elevated, the angle the fingers make on the bowstring becomes square, for all of the reasons that we adopt that form, those postures, in the first place, so if you remove the lean, everything else just falls into place.

The young man involved sucked all of this up and made the corrections needed in just a shot or three. (He learns fast as many of the young do.)

But the lesson for me, and possibly for you, is to accept that your intuition is a very useful tool. I didn’t think all of this through, I just reacted to the situation. This can lead to chasing one’s tail, as I have done many times before, but that chasing is probably also part of the learning process. And if my intuition doesn’t work, and sometimes it does not, then thinking through everything consciously is necessary.

And, I have been working on a book project lately which is how to coach archery from physical principles. I hope this will lead to me having a better understanding of what is going on and by sharing that will help you diagnose the technical problems you encounter. Maybe this story will become a “case study” for that book.

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Your Kids’ Coach Is Probably Doing It Wrong

The New York Times ran an article with exactly the title you see above (dated March 11, 2020). The subtitle might be even worse “Woefully underprepared instructors are contributing to a shockingly high dropout rate among young athletes.”

Here are some excerpts:

“I have played for, coached with and watched great coaches. At every level, there are capable sports instructors providing positive experiences for our children. The problem is, such coaches are greatly outnumbered by those who don’t seem to know what they are doing. This is true of programs both inside and outside of schools.”

“The youth sports industry is heavily dependent on the services of volunteers, typically parents or teachers. While these coaches may have wonderful intentions and enthusiasm for the game, that doesn’t mean they have the skills to provide useful instruction. The National Council for Accreditation of Coaching Education reports that in the United States, approximately 4 million out of 7.5 million youth and school coaches are volunteers. Fewer than 5 percent of youth sport coaches have relevant training; among middle-school and high school coaches, only 25 percent to 30 percent do.”

“Please, coaches: Take a moment to consider how your behavior affects the athletes. Don’t make my children hate the sports they once loved. Don’t make them switch disciplines every season in a desperate search for a coach who knows how to be a coach.”

“If you are fortunate enough to be called “Coach,” carry that moniker with pride. Seek out education and mentoring and do everything in your power to make sure that my child, and every child, has fun playing the sport with you because they feel valued and accomplished while learning to be competitive.”

Jennifer L. Etnier is a distinguished professor of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and the author of “Coaching for the Love of the Game: A Practical Guide for Working With Young Athletes.”

Arrogance on display aside (“Please, coaches: Take a moment to consider how your behavior affects the athletes.” So, she assumes coaches haven’t done this because if they had . . . ?) could this be a valid criticism of archery coaches? Possibly. But most academic researchers and writers on this topic focus almost exclusively on team sports. I have stopped buying and reading “how to coach youths” books and articles because of this focus, e.g. Chapter 1 How to Build Teamwork, etc.

Okay, I have a radical idea that is absolutely part of a solution for this “problem.”

Pay the damned coaches!

Archery organizations (primarily USA Archery) are notorious for adding additional requirements to acquire or keep a coach certification (and usually charging for the process, but not always). I resigned my Level 4 coaching certificate and USAA membership basically because they were charging me to provide them services. (Even though I have run JOAD programs in the past, I can no longer coach in them because I do not have a current (L2) certificate . . . not even as a guest coach.)

At a bare minimum, how about if you, coach, make it through an entire JOAD season as Head Coach, that they waive your membership fees for the next year? Or that they establish a fee structure for JOAD classes and how much of that income goes to pay the coaches. (We did this while in a community not exactly “rich” . . . we had waivers for student-archers who didn’t have the means to pony up for lessons. Otherwise you come across as saying “I am not going to pay you for your work but I am going to tell you how to do it,” and that doesn’t sit well with Americans, or really anyone.

When someone is being paid for their service the payer is in a better place to make demands upon those people regarding their service, training, and preparation.

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Eye Dominance Approaches: Signs and Fixes

I had an exchange with a coach in dealing with eye dominance and I felt that maybe I should share with you what we did in our beginner classes.

Our Basic Approach
We did not test for eye dominance, although in our coach trainings we cover just how to do that because many coaches like to do it. Our alternative was to go with their hand dominance (if they were right-handed, we gave them a right handed bow, etc.) and then if they showed signs of struggling with this setup, we would address an eye dominance issue with those archers who showed one of the signs.

Show Me a Sign!
A beginner struggling with eye dominance will show obvious signs because of the light drawing bows they are giving. (Stouter bows would not allow much of the mishandling described below).
One sure sign is trying to draw the bow to the other side of their face. (Yes, it does happen.) Another sign is them cocking their head at an extreme angle to get their dominant eye over the arrow. The sign everybody knows is shooting off to the side (for a right-handed archer, the arrow lands feet to the left, even at short range). Because archers just beginning are often wildly inconsistent, this does not always get noticed. We have even seen young archers shooting right-handed close their right eye to “see better!”

If we see any of these signs we deal with them one-on-one. Now we have an advantage in that each beginner shoots his or her First Three Arrows under the tutelage of a single coach. And, of course, we train our coaches as to what to look for.

The Fixes, Boss, the Fixes!
You probably know many of the “fixes” for being cross dominant (eye and hand dominance opposed). These used to be a more serious consideration until the Koreans admitted they took a cross-dominant archer to the Olympic Games. In the “old days” coaches were told to assign bows based upon eye dominance and that was that.

Switch which side of the bow the archer stands upon does fix this issue and if they are going to do that, doing it sooner is better than doing it later. But, we always ask the archer what their preference is and we always go with what the archer wants. (We assume all archers are recreational Archers until proven otherwise.) we do encourage them to try the other kind of bow, but some do not even want to try and that is okay.

Easier fixes usually involve disadvantaging the dominant eye. You probably know about the “eye patch” solution. We kid archers who take this option that they are doing “Pirate Archery! Arrgh!” Well, the boys anyway (they seem to be genetically disposed to thinking pirates are cool, don’t ask me why). If the student wears eye glasses, you can also just put a strip of transparent tape across their off eye lens. The transparent tape allows light to come in, so it doesn’t affect the dilation of the pupil and therefore doesn’t obstruct light sensitivity in the other eye. Some archers take a pair of clip on sunglasses and break off the aiming eye lens. Then the aiming eye sees better than the off eye.

We have seen more than a few approaches to this “issue” and we don’t think there are any “bad ones” per se. The weaker ones are those that take a lot of time away from shooting or make shooting more complicated/frustrating because recreational archers are defined (in our book) as being motivated by having fun (and little else).

Addendum There are nuances to this discussion. For example, some people have no particular eye dominance, which is the worst case scenario because that archer’s brain has been trained to switch eyes at the drop of a hat.

Also, students with weak eye dominance may find which eye is dominant depends on the state of their fatigue, that is when they get tired, they often switch eye dominance. (I do not know why, if anyone does I would like to know.)

Interestingly, if your eyeglass prescription shows one eye to be much stronger than the other, that will almost always be your dominant eye. If the prescriptions are closer, not necessarily close, together either eye may be dominant, which means it is not determined by the strength of your eyes currently.

And if we ever get together over a beer, I will tell you the story about the time I checked the eye dominance of a guy who had a glass eye. (When I told him his eye dominance, he said “I know,” which few people do, because in his case….)

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Getting Serious: Helping Them with New Arrows, Part 3

Helping Them with More Advanced Tuning

When your archers have mastered basic tuning, they often are curious about more advanced tuning. Let’s jump to the end of the line to look at the Cadillac, no the Rolls-Royce, of tuning: group tuning.

Preliminaries to Group Tuning
This is something an archer shouldn’t undertake unless they have reached a stage where they are consistently grouping well at all distances they are competing in. Since this process is quite laborious, to attempt it before the preliminaries are in place will be a great waste of time. So, this is not for beginners or even intermediate archers.

What Group Tuning Accomplishes
There is a short list of things that group tuning accomplishes. In the early stages it confirms the quality of the tune at all of the competing distances. Later, it is used to expose very small improvements that can be extracted from an archer’s equipment.

Getting Started—Proportional Group Sizes
If a your or your student’s bow and your arrows are tuned well, then consistent groups should be possible and observed. And because arrows are fairly simple projectiles they should show some consistent behavior, one of which is that the sizes of the groups should be proportional to the distances shot.

For example, if your archer shoots three dozen arrows at 30 meters and the diameter of the group is 20 centimeters. If that process were to be shot at double the distance, 60 meters, the diameter of the group should also double, so the group should be 40 centimeters across/high. At triple the distance, you should get groups three times as large, etc. Of course, this is on a windless day with no other influences upon the archer.

So, other than the archer, why might one not get proportional groups? Two common problems are excessive drag and clearance issues. If the arrows themselves have excessive drag associated with them (often this is attributed to poor fletching but it would have to be really, really poor to be the main cause because the drag associated with the shaft is far, far greater than of the fletches), the excessive drag will slow the arrows rapidly and as their speed is lost, the arrows become less stable and groups expand. If this is the case, the grouping at longer distances will be larger than expected. Clearance issues are issues in which the arrow, as it is leaving the bow, strikes something on its way out. That something can be a fletch or even the arrow itself. The thing it hits can be the riser or the arrow rest. It can even be the string dragging on the archer’s chin as the shot is loosed. These issues cause unstable arrow flight from the beginning, which the fletches can damp out over time. This results in groups at the closer distance being bigger than expected when compared with the sizes of the groups at longer distances.

Testing for Proportional Group Sizes A perfect place to do this is the practice butts of a field range because there are almost always a wide choice of target distances already set up. If you are at a target range, you will have to set up targets at the distances your student will be shooting. You will need three, better four, target distances and it makes things simpler if you choose easy multiples of the smaller distance, e.g. 20, 40, 60, 80 yards/meters or 15, 30, 45, 60 yards/meters. You can do it at any four distances, but then you will have to do some math. It is also easier if you use the same size target face.

The process is to shoot enough arrows to establish a reliable group size (you can disregard obvious mistakes). You can determine the group sizes either from the rings on the target (use decimal scoring) or by wrapping a string around the arrows and measuring the length of the wrapping string (a rough circumference of the group). Obviously if you don’t have many arrows, you will need to shoot a number of ends and the string technique is a bit messy (if you have four groups of six arrows, you will have four circumferences and you can just average those). The circumference or diameter (width/height) of round groups are direct measures of “group size.”

It is best if all of the arrows are shot on the same day so that the same conditions exist as well as the archer being whatever they were on that day (no day-to-day variations in mood or physical ability).

Making the Comparisons If you were able to pick four easy distances (20, 40, 60, 80 yards or meters) then the groups sizes should line up as well. The smallest one should be able to be multiplied by 2X, 3X, and 4X to get the other three (or close enough). Do not expect these to be exact. The 40 group size might be exactly half of the 80 with the 60 exactly half way in between, but the 20 group size is off. If so, this means that either the test was a bit iffy (you can just repeat that distance to confirm the number) or you may have a clearance problem.

You may have to do this a number of times to get a set of group sizes you feel good about and are “believable” as to what they are telling you. But when you have done this, you will feel that you have a good idea of what your expected group sizes are at those distances (you will know what is “normal” for you).

And That Was the Easy Part
The basic group testing is to make sure that there aren’t any glaring problems with your setup or tune. Once that is done we can get into fine tuning.

To fine tune your bow-arrow system by group testing, the procedure is the same for nocking point height adjustments and centershot adjustments, even button pressure adjustments. You establish a repeatable group size at one of the longer distances in your “suite.” Then you make a minute change in one of the variables, for example, a 1/32ʺ (0.5 mm) change in nocking point position, and then you check the group size again. Another little change, another test, and so on. You are looking for the group size to shrink when it hits a sweet spot. Obviously you need to test changes both up and down in the nocking point, testing each change. After, say, making four 1/32ʺ downward changes in your nocking point, you need to go back to normal and try making upward changes. Ideally we would see the group sizes shrink and then go back up in size around the “sweet spot.” But we don’t know exactly where we are in that scenario, so we have to feel our way along. And, “ideally” doesn’t come around very often, so we take the best we can get.

Clearly this is laborious and should only be undertaken when your archer has settled form and a settled draw weight and a settled draw length. If your student is still growing, don’t do it. If they are thinking about changing bows, don’t do it.

There Just Has to Be Something Easier!
There are quite a number of intermediate tests that are substantially easier to perform, but are not as fine. We will cover a couple of these next time: Shooting at Vertical and Horizontal Tapes and French or “Walk-Back” Tuning.

 

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Getting Serious: Helping Them with New Arrows

I have been very busy getting out some new books (more on those later), so I kind of fell behind in my posting, so this is the first of a series of three posts on the same topic, in an effort to catch up. Steve

Of all of the minefields in archery equipment, the absolute worst is arrows. Many archers with decades of experience seem not to know the basics of arrow selection and tuning. This is why you will be called upon, often, to help serious new archers in getting new arrows.

New Arrows
When archers become serious about the sport, they are often improving at a rapid pace. Part of that improvement involves draw weight increases and also draw length changes, even if they are not still growing (developing form generally leads to a different draw length). All of these changes will eventually require a different arrow, how different depends on a great many things, things like the student’s budget for archery gear, the student’s competition venues (indoor and outdoor archery have different requirements as do 3-D and target).

When changing from one type of arrow (say aluminum shafted ones) to another type (all carbon or aluminum-carbon) is basically like starting from scratch. There is a long list of information needed to make any arrow purchase. Here’s a list:

  • What kind of bow do you shoot (recurve, compound, longbow)? If it is a compound, what kind of eccentrics are on the bow (high, medium, or low energy)?
  • What is the draw weight of your bow at your draw length? If it is a compound, they want to know the “peak weight.”
  • What is your draw length?
  • What shaft manufacturer do you want your shafts from?
  • What size shaft?
  • What “cut length” for those shafts (how long do you want them to be)?
  • What kind of arrow points do you want installed?
  • What weight of arrow points do you want?
  • What kind and size of nocks do you want?
  • What color nocks do you want?
  • What manufacturer and kind of fletches do you want?
  • What size and color of fletches do you want?

And, if you order wrong, the sellers are under no obligation to take them back. The error is yours, not theirs. This is not an impossible task, but you will need help. Everyone needs help from time to time, even us.

If you have a high quality archery shop in your neighborhood to send your students to, they can solve most of these things for you. They can show them all of their choices and then can build the arrows you need. Be sure to have them take their bow along because some things need to be measured.

They Will Need Help
Even if there is a quality shop nearby, there are still myriad problems. Have you seen how many arrow shaft makers there are? How familiar are you with them?

We have a base set of manufacturers we recommend as we have experience in working with those shafts and can thereby help more effectively. Of course, if a special deal shows up on another brand, those are always worth considering but caution is always needed in that case.

We have an entire process when fitting students for a new bow (Bowfitting) or new arrows (Arrowfitting) which we have written about before. We use a form and fill in all of the information above as we go (not necessarily the colors). This involves measuring their draw length and draw weight, and determining whether these are going to change in the future and by how much.

We do this and encourage our students to get archery catalogs from online retailers, like Lancaster Archery Supply, so they can look things up and educate themselves. They can also go online and check out the retailers there. If you do have a good local shop, we urge you to recommend them, even if they do not have the best prices your students can find scouring the Internet. They have something to offset the best price and that is personal service. You get very little of that, or none, when buying remotely. And, basically, if enough of you do not support your local shop, it will cease to exist and you will not have that option any more. Of course, if they provide poor service and outrageous pricing, they do not deserve your student’s patronage. As coaches when we refer students to shops, we follow up and ask if they felt they were well-served. If not, we stop making recommendations of that shop. We also suggest you go to the shop, if you haven’t already, and introduce yourself and see what they can offer your students. Some shops specialize in serving bowhunters, many fewer specialize in serving target archers, a few try to do both. Many owners are quite cooperative and will work with you to stock a few things commonly needed or to make things easier to order for your students. Some even have specialist employees that you can direct your students to when they visit the shop.

If they cannot manage to get arrows custom made, someone will have to assemble them. You will probably be called upon to do this many times for many students, if you have the skills involved, but we suggest you also teach them how to do this for themselves. It doesn’t require much equipment or skill, just some practice and a few supplies and tools. And they will be able to do repairs for themselves and possibly make their own “new” arrows in the future.

Tuning Them In
Tuning arrows to an archer and his/her bow is making minute adjustments to the arrows so that they perform as well as can be. This is where being able to assemble arrows, at least in part, is very valuable. The most important tuning parameter for any arrows is shaft length. The basic tuning procedure for new arrows involves buying the arrows or shafts full length and then cutting them in stages until they perform as well as can be. We will address that in the next issue.

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Kids! Teach Your Parents Well!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We Should Work Them Like Rented Mules . . . Not!

The general approach to youth sports with the goal of creating adult champions and elite athletes is to engage kids in serious training at a young age and make sure they specialize in that sport because there are many, many hours of training needed. We have espoused the contrary opinion that children should not specialize in archery at an early age, that they should explore other sports and participate in a variety of them. Many of the things they get out of participation in other sports are beneficial to their archery in any case.

Two recent “articles” highlight these points. Here’s an excerpt from one:

The 10,000-Hour Rule For Sporting Success Is Largely A Myth, So Let Kids Dabble by Sean Ingle

A Danish study, which looked at the differences between 148 elite stars in multiple sports – including canoeing, cycling, rowing, sailing, skiing, swimming, track and field and triathlon – compared with 95 near-elite athletes in the same disciplines, found a similarly surprising picture.

As the academics noted, the near-elite athletes accumulated “significantly more training hours as early as age nine and continued to complete more hours through early adolescence until age 15” compared with elites. The elites also had their first national and international competitions at an older age. It did not matter. The elites intensified their training regime during late adolescence and went past them.

Epstein notes that the research points a similar way in most sports. “Eventual elites typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in which they will eventually become experts,” he writes. “Instead they tend to ‘sample’ a wide number of sports in an unstructured or lightly unstructured environment” before specialising only later.

Why might this be? Part of it is that early specialisation and highly structured training can lead to lower motivation, burnout and potentially increased injury rates. But there is a more fundamental point that Epstein wants to make: acquiring skills in multiple sports, often via unstructured play, helps develop creativity and equips people better to handle fresh challenges later in their sporting life.

Also, on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel recently there was a segment called The Norwegian Way (Season 25, Episode 5, Air date: May 21, 2019). This segment focused on Norway’s youth sports programs, which basically focus on inclusion and fun and not winning and losing. Races are run but lists of finishers aren’t produced. Soccer/football matches are had but the score is not kept. Competitions are had but as far as possible kept local so as to not create traveling expenses for parents. Participation is key and participation fees are low . . . and if the fee cannot be afforded by a child’s family, the children are allowed to participate anyway. Coaching is egalitarian, not focused on finding the “talented” athletes. This is for kids from 6 to 12 years of age. If a child after that point wants to participate more significantly, then focused training and all of the rest kicks in. By the way, Norway’s traditional sports are winter sports and Norway took more medals than any other country in the last Winter Olympics. Apparently their youth programs haven’t undermined their success.

Also interesting is how they pay of all of their youth sports programs and elite training facilities: sports betting. The government runs the sports betting programs in country and skims their sport program funding off the top.

The takeaway for archery is important here: focus upon participation and coaching and fun, not upon “talent development.” Shoving kids into competitions with medals and trophies is unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. We are, of course, the country which has decided more often than not to give identical trophies to one and all participants in a youth sport. It would be less expensive and create less trash to give none.

Another takeaway is that competitive youth sports are dominated by the relative age effect. To make competitions “fair,” youths are put into age groups. But studies have shown that the kids at the “older” end of each of these age brackets dominate and as a result receive special attention, so they dominate even more. This biases such competitions in favor of more physical mature youths, not necessarily more talented. Just forgoing the “judging” aspects of the youth programs would solve this problem.

Let me know what you think.

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If Self-Image Determines Performance, Then …

I just read a wonderful piece on self-image by Lanny Bassham over at the Mental Management website (“Nutrients of Self-Image”) which I recommend you go read. What I want to comment on in this post is the role of the coach in all of this. Lanny’s main points (said and unsaid) are 1) that self-image determines performance, and 2) that to grow or boost one’s self-image, one needs praise from others as well as from one’s self.

Now you can’t magically become a winner by hypnotizing yourself to believe that you are a great archer, magically creating a non-existent self-image and equally non-existent expert archer. The way to the winner’s circle is not through dedicated bullshit. One’s self-image needs to be rooted in reality. If you regularly shoot in the 270’s on indoor 300 rounds, there is no way to develop a self-image of being a 300-shooter without actually becoming one. But the path to that state is hindered greatly if all you or your student gets is criticism. Praise is positive reinforcement and studies show that works better. It motivates people to work harder and that gets them closer to their goal.

Praise is Positive Reinforcement
So, what should you, as coach, do to supply praise? The keys to me are to praise effort first and foremost. And all praise needs to be rooted in reality. If you have a student who seems to be allergic to practice, praising them on how hard they work is not going to change their behavior, plus onlookers will think you are a bullshit artist or incompetent or both. All praise must be delivered based upon reality. And the important reality is on good work performed. (If they are doing all of the wrong things, they need advice, not praise.) It is up to the athlete to determine if the amount of effort they are putting out justifies itself. Most people “get off of the bus” when they realize that the amount of effort needed to reach their goals is not within them. The ones who stay on the bus are those that see that their efforts will get them to or near their goals.

Business people will tell you that you praise in public, but criticize in private. Hearing another athlete get praised for working hard delivers a message to others nearby. Hearing someone getting hammered by their coach may encourage some others, but it is more likely to discourage more. I think this is wise advice.

In a recent coaching website I saw an article entitled, “How to Deal with Athletes Who Do Not Take Advice.” (That may be inaccurate as I am working from memory but the gist is correct.) I have no problem with these athletes. Bo Jackson was criticized as being an athlete who didn’t take coaching advice. He did okay, don’t you think? (In American football and baseball.) Some athletes are self-directed almost completely and need very little from outside of themselves. The question itself brings up in my mind coaches whose reputation or remuneration is based on whether his team wins or loses and so this seems to be a question for the coach and not the athlete. If an athlete doesn’t want advice, I don’t give them any. Simple. Archery is an individual sport, so pressure from teammates to perform will not be much and the athlete is left to him-/her-self to determine if the effort they are putting out is worth what they are getting back.

I learned this in my teaching days. I made a rule I shared with my students that “I would work as hard for you as you do for yourself.” I did this to save my sanity because I had spent a lot of hours working for students who didn’t give a damn. Do I praise such students on their effort? Of course I did, and still do; it’s my job.

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Do You Believe In … ?

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

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

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

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

Ask yourself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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