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BB and BBB – A method for practice

Let’s consider aiming at a target.

When the human brain’s optical system is employed, there are specific, well-identified regions of the brain that work in specific groupings – one group of neurons is used to process colors.  Another, for shapes.  Yet another for Text (shapes with refined meanins).  And, these different areas that are interconnected.  Your eyes and brain also filter images needed for say, less than 30 seconds.  For more than 30 seconds. Different areas….different roles. An incredible number of separate nuclei that are simply refined for special needs – and the plastic brain is ALWAYS building on, creating new, clusters of neurons to match the demands the athlete creates anew.

The frontal cortex has mirror neurons, that very likely is a profound part of consciousness – a real-time facility for learning and data acquisition that replaces “instinctual behavior” to a degree.  To learn about mirror neurons, there is no one better at explaining them than Dr. Rama’s TED talk. Any coach interested in teaching needs to understand this critical aspect of human learning. (present as well to a differing degree in other higher primates)

Think of the thinking/learning/action brain and the information-acquisition brain & eyes system as two similar computers that each operate at 1 megahertz. (ok, that’s not all that’s needed to express computing power, but just go with the example for now).  So if you combine the two, the net throughput is not 1 + 1 = 2 megahertz.  It’s more like, 1.5 megahertz – the speed is less.  BUT, the bandwidth, the total data density, is up at (in this crude example) 4 or 5 megahertz!

One picture worth a thousand bytes…so to speak.  But the brain can only route & re-route a limited amount of data, and when your brain’s datapipe is processing at a maximum, you can’t deal well with more.

Also, the “action-reaction” portion of the frontal cortex is like the RAM of a computer – It’s a finite, limited, gigabyte of memory “stack”, where it can create a reality of a certain number of items at one time.  BUT. When you ask it to take on a new item, your brain readily dumps some item from RAM to deal with the new request.  And the item being viewed, sent into the RAM, then goes on to other areas for actions, like shooting an arrow, or aiming a bow (two different things!)  Evolutionary pressures dictate that our brain has a switch for what must be retained in these conditions, to hang on to what might be needed “next time” in order to survive.

THIS, this, is why when a student exercises sufficiently to raise the physical body into the “flight or fight” adrenalin level, he will RETAIN what he then learns far better, than if he was sedentary before the learning event.  Reasoning is, you might need to retain that event in order to survive
next time.  No matter what you are learning, whether it is a chemical formula or a method for an outer foot sweep against your opponent. (or using your lower scapula to achieve that last bit of transfer to get to the true holding of the drawn bow).  Read John Ratey’s “Spark” for the reasons why.  ALso, I have promoted this subject somewhat into the ground in the past.

I just wanted to seed the ground, err,  lay the groundwork, for why it is better some times to practice shooting a bow without requiring the brain to deal with the aiming portion.  IN PART, the neuronal path for shooting a bow is different than the neuronal path used for aiming an arrow.  So if you separate the two, and only imprint one path, the notion is that you get more intensity on that path, and you can bring to bear on the activity MORE brainpower!  Dis-engaging the very big neuronal pathways tieing the eyes’ inputs to the brain’s refined/precision action clusters allows the focus to be on the muscle sensorium instead.  If you don’t care about what you hit, you can care more (sensate more) about how your body functions.

If you have some kind of cross-wired complication that is preventing you from succeeding in both shooting and aiming such as hesitation or “shot-choke”, then doing just the shooting allows you the chance to improve muscle-memory pathways to have a more dominant role in the shot cycle.

 HOW TO:
Blank Bale practice should be performed at a close-enough distance that missing the bale is not a factor.  So it will vary based on the ability of the archer.

There should not be a typical target on the bale.  There should not be any colors that resemble the FITA target, nor any geometry beyond the Whitetail replaceable core.  IF THE ARCHER is really struggling, placing either white butcher paper or a heavy paper 122cm target reversed on the bale may be called for to eliminate even the 2-foot large circle on the whitetail or Stanley Hipps targets.

If you have ever practiced looking at “Magic Eye” images then you know how you should tell your athlete to control the eyes during blank bale (BB from here on out during this article).  When you try it first, you should de-focus your eyes, and instead turn awareness inward to other elements of sensations, such as muscle strength, bone alignment and positioning, for example.  The archer simply shoots arrows towards the bale with no intent of aiming.  With a little practice, the athlete will learn a meditative means to the exercise, which is to be encouraged.   It is critical that all elements of the NTS (other than the aiming) be diligently practiced by the athlete and enforced by the coach.

This is superb for warming up.  The archer must be taught that there is *nothing* about blank bale to be judged, other than the arrow must leave the bow and hit the foam (anywhere).

This is where the most important thing the coach can do, is insure form is retained, and most especially, ask, “How did that feel” ?  Promote awareness in the athlete about the link between how the motion feels and the efforts expended.  The athlete MUST judge the shot’s feeling, not the arrow’s position.  Coach, look for the sudden smile that will appear when she “gets it”.

Now for BBB: BLIND Blank Bale.  Just as the athlete gains enhanced tactile knowledge from the BB, the more advanced archer will be able to continue the learning path ever upwards by closing her eyes during the shot cycle.  At first, closing eyes during transfer until after follow through.  As confidence grows, instruct the athlete to move earlier in the cycle with the closing of eyes.  Do not move so early that the archer cannot stay near “on-center” with the arrow!  This is a gradual process.

As the archer becomes more adept, you can move him back further from the bale so that the sound of impact is separate from the sound of the bow at release, carefully and gradually.  The intent is to hone the body image, the muscle control, and the mental confidence and to more closely resemble audibly the real-life shot cycle.  But you must not allow a single miss to happen.  Remember, this is a confidence builder, not a show-off opportunity.

Also, taking a cue from the coaches at the OTC, putting the bale’s stand up on stilts allows the athlete to retain the same posture for up-close BB shooting as if for shooting out to 70 meters (for example).

I have found it useful to have the athlete “shuffle” the stance between arrows, so that there is a minute change from side to side to reduce nock damage (You do use pin nocks, so that “robin-hooding” is impossible, right?!?)….  Do not allow the archer to AIM at the previous arrows!

The absence of the target allows a portion of the brain to be left out of the shot cycle, but in a good way.  In particular this can be excellent for someone with a choke syndrome, but any archer can and will benefit from BB exercises if you coach them correctly.

BBB and BB are both very useful exercises – the coach must decide just how much of either is useful to the training of the athlete.

And, I rush to say, coaching the athlete to purposeful aiming is incredibly important as well – string position, alignment, pitch/yaw/roll of the cranium (head<G>), these things must not be left to chance either.  Just not harped upon, strictly enforced, ALL the time.

BB and BBB are surprisingly effective exercises when done correctly.

It’s Cold Outside…

SEASONAL ARCHERY:

When the temperatures begin to drop, and the last outdoor tournament has been shot, there becomes a divide of archers into two groups. Many archers change the entire tune/set-up including buying arrows as big around as your thumb, to shoot indoors while others well, don’t change a thing.  There is a separate, somewhat more clever, sub-grouping who have a complete “indoor setup” that sits idle most of the outdoor season, which I’ll muse on later…

FIRST:

Why change?  For many, the motivation is to shoot the highest score.  Not a personal best score, but the highest.  The target archery rule on scoring dictates the underlying scheme – if the shaft of an arrow comes to rest across the line dividing two scores, the archer shall have the higher score.  Therefore, popular logic is, shooting a fat arrow increases the percentage, the odds, that the archer gets an scoring advantage.

PROVIDED THE ARCHER CAN TUNE THE BOW TO THE ARROW AND SHOOT THE SAME AS S/HE WAS, WITH THE SKINNY ARROW/SETUP.  Remember that fat arrows get blown about by the weather elements (wind and rain) much more than skinny arrows – neither of which is a factor at MOST indoor facilities.  I have it on good authority that lots of indoor events in Arizona are very breezy, however.  (kidding here – Arizona does have nice indoor venues)

There are a *lot* of biases to consider – bias meaning a particular view of “influence” both pro and con:

  1. Fat arrows at typical USAA events cannot be larger than a 2315 Easton Shaft-there is such as thing as “too fat”.
  2. Cross winds, as mentioned, have a lot more effect on a fatter, lighter aluminum shaft than on a denser, smaller carbon/aluminum shaft.
  3. In rain, the arrow drop from bow to target can be more pronounced due to the ratios of shaft mass to raindrop mass.
  4. Air drag effect is magnified as well for the big shafts, which is less a factor at 18 meters than at 50 or 70 meters.
  5. The 10 ring of a 40cm target is very small and even if perfectly arranged, the three arrows of the largest legal shaft will barely fit inside.
  6. The larger the shaft is, the greater the chance of an arrow deflection, and not always in an obvious way.  Damaged nocks are a good telltale, but an arrow NOT in the gold might not be due to the archer’s aim.
  7. Making a change from a skinny to a large involves a huge number of considerations, which is both a good learning experience as well as a set of difficulties which many archers fail to overcome.
  8. The size of the shaft actually can change the way the string – fingers interact, interfering with a clean sharp release.
  9. Added cost for different vanes/fletches, arrows, and points.
  10. Time to tune up both at the beginning of the season and at the end where you change back to outdoor setup.
  11. You can probably come up with yet another bias beyond these. ?

Point is, what you do matters a lot.

Ask yourself: “why am I shooting indoors?”   If you want to make a particular team, it’s important.  If you want to just stay strong in your skills until you can once again fling a shaft 70 meters, maybe not so much.  If you are in the sport for fun, you might keep a separate bowkit for indoors and glory in shooting a 20 pound bow!

I have to muddy the waters of what up until now has been an “either-or” proposition.

In the mid ‘aughts, around 2003 or 4, at the NAA National Indoors in College Station, I witnessed a truly great coaching moment.  A Canadian female cub archer and her father-coach (This will be a topic here, soon) ventured from Quebec down to the warmer Yew Ess south to shoot.

First thing, I realized she was holding for a longggg time.  I had seen her shoot at several outdoor events and that was not normally her way.  Yet her shot cycle was slow motion from anchor to loose, and I could not understand how she could maintain the hold with what I knew to be 35+ pounds.  At that point Denis (the father/national level coach) explained with a bemused smile:  “She is shooting only 20 pounds. (“!” goes I)  He said, “For 18 meters, why would anyone shoot more?”  (Now, it might have been 24 pounds – I can’t remember for sure).  Point was, DUH, she only needed a small weight to accurately break paper at 18 meters, why use twice as much draw weight as what is needed????  light-bulb!

She went on that evening to shoot a FITA WORLD CUB RECORD with her superb form (NOT an NTS form, but that is not relevant here) with a well-tuned bow requiring 1/2 or so of the draw weight needed to complete the shot.

Due to the fallacy of “common sense”, I had to that point presumed that an athlete needed to always spiral upwards in draw weight, never purposely dropping down dramatically, if even only for a couple of months.  (not talking about injury & recovery, of which I have more coaching experience than any 5 coaches).

There are several “take-aways” from this for those willing to consider.

A young (adolescent) athlete is undergoing radical evolutions in body – strength, leverages as bone lengths change, hormonal influences are causing super-human changes, balance, emotion, you name it, it’s changing.  So what negatives does a coach risk by DROPPING the demand on the muscle groups for a short period, before re-challenging ?

Are you familiar with periodization?  HELLO, RON!  This became a “DUH” moment for me when I was first introduced to periodization at the Colorado OTC, and I put two and two together.  Wow.  I don’t know if Denis was practicing periodization on purpose, but he was doing it.  Wow.  Talk about a wake-up slap to the face!

The more important take-away to me:  A coach that forces an archer always to shoot the maximum poundage possible is not using every arrow in his quiver.  Can you not for a moment imagine how it feels to go down by 20 or 30 pounds, in a well-tuned system, and still lambast the hell out of the ten ring (in a 40cm target at 18 meters)???  There is mental training of all sorts, and rewarding the archer for a couple of months by allowing a coasting of muscles results in a blossoming of mental strength and positive feedback.  Frankly, the coach that ignores positive mental reinforcement isn’t much of a coach.

Hey.  Would that not be a great “vacation” mentally during the off-months indoors?  Sure, it would likely require the coach to implement a strength re-acquisition program leading into the outdoor season.  But I would feel certain that’s NO biggie for a coach to handle (aka: periodization), and for an adolescent athlete, such challenges are part and parcel of leading to super-compensation.  Coming away from the winter with a positive attitude of “can-do” is priceless!

If you can afford a library of limbs so that the archer can bump a continuous pound-a-week or so, such a cycle makes great sense.   Just sayin…

Thanks, Denis, for teaching me a lesson that took me several years to fully understand.

Oh, by the way….that archer, Marie Pier, did NOT change her arrows from X10s to guppies.  In that, I was pretty much always on the same page – elite recurve archers can probably benefit more from the same size arrows year-round and learning to tune into better 18-meter grouping behavior than from switching to shooting logs.  The technique of release is highly underappreciated, and staying with one thickness of shaft gives much more benefit than the tenuous-at-best linecutter notions, when the relevant events are all happening outdoors for that athlete as well.  

If your goal is only the national indoors, then guppy away.  If you aim for the USAT / Jr.USAT / PARA USAT, then you *have* to perform at 70 meters (or 50) and only using carbon/aluminum shafts such as ACEs or X10s will optimize your release.  This dictates what you should be shooting indoors! <hint>

So it’s cold outside.  Unless you are Aya (see photo), Whut Are Yew Gonna Do ?CalendarGirl

Dedicated

 

 

As a coach, you must decide what to do, based on the goals of your athlete.  Your goals must be harmonious with your philosophy as a coach, and with your respect for your athlete.

A final thought – For most youth, the winter months are the time of “school”, where academics are weighted more heavily by both the parents and the athlete in the scheme of things compared to the spring/summer months.  Taking it easier on the athletic aspect of training during this period could be a smart thing for more reasons than are obvious at first.

Goallllllllllllllll !

In some countries, the announcement of a soccer goal is a very overblown undertaking.  Well, maybe you have to be “other-than-American” to NOT feel that way about pushing a round ball into a square opening with your feet.

The topic is what a coach should do, to motivate their athlete especially when the athlete is a youth archer.

The biggest problem is the parent.  Every child will nominally take their cue, frame their perceptions, from the alpha parent.  In sports that is usually the father or alpha “male” if a single-gender pair.  If the parent has experience with team sports like baseball, T-ball, football, Pop Warner, Soccer, etc. then they inevitably mark progress and count coup by wins, trophies, and vanquished foes.

This will lead to failure in archery.  Or at least, a pre-disposition to frustration.  Why?  Unless you want to set up a match where you are shooting AT your opponent, there are many complications to only judging excellence by whether you end up on the top step of the podium at your JOAD, your local, your state. your regional, or your national event.  Winning 1st at one of these events is certainly great, but NOT an endorsement of being the best “you can be”.

On the other hand, teaching the athlete that generating a consistent trail of “personal bests” is the best if not the only real assay of “gold” material.

Parents want to make a big deal of tangible assets like a trophy, naturally. It is a fun thing to hold!  And don’t deny that a trophy can form a positive element – but try to steer the parents (and thence the athlete) to valuing progress in personal bests over the singular momentary luck of the event.

Why?  ON ANY GIVEN DAY, any one of a large group of athletes MAY end up on the top step.  Just use Michele Frangilli, a truly world-class, record-holding archer for more than a decade or two, who went to the Olympics for Italy on numerous occasions, and finally prevailed to a team gold medal in London 2012.  On any given day Michele with his unique style can clean the clock of *any* competitor, but as with every other elite, can on any given day lose by as little as a millimeter distant to the center.  That is one element that makes olympic-style archery such a greatly exciting competitive sport.  And as London demonstrated, given just a little attention by the media, the public is captivated by the nature of the single athlete standing alone on the line to perform wonders. (or, ok, else a team of THREE doing the same :) ).

Back on track – If a parent is allowed to fixate an archer’s self-esteem to a piece of plastic trophy, then the archer will likely not achieve potential, nor retain the sportsmanship character that is so uniquely a part of target archery in this present-day reality.  The path to the top step involves many things, not the least of which is proper metrics for understanding self-excellence.  When was the last time you improved your personal best?  Remember how good that felt?  Help your athlete feel THAT.

Coach, keep it real.

Know The Bow. Teach The Bow. Tune The Bow.

If you want to really get to know a new bow well, or perhaps just learn more about the influence a given part of the modern recurve/Olympic bow has on the system then you might consider following the example of the military.

Most will know that the typical soldier is taught to completely dismantle and then properly reassemble a weapon, so often that they will dream about it and even do it blindfolded.  NOT suggesting anything quite so drastic for you or your archer, but as a coach you should do what I am about to suggest.  Once you have done it you may see the value in having your students do this, particularly those that are showing promise of becoming dedicated to the sport.  As I well know, the coach does not get to be there at the most important matches and it is coach’s duty to prepare the archer for those moments.  Knowing the bow and ALL of the components and how/why/when to change them effectively is crucial to reaching the top step.

Start with:  riser, limbs, served bowstring, arrow rest properly attached relative to the thickness of the arrow shafts, arrow shafts with nocks/points(no fletching), clicker if you will use one, and plunger.

Set the plunger to have no give, using Rick Stonebraker’s matchstick method, or else if it is a Beiter you can probably just tighten the spring down till it doesn’t move.  We want raw influence, no “buffering” by the spring that might lessen visual evidence.  Set the depth of the plunger to the skinny/shallow side, where it is just barely touching the side of the arrow shaft.  Set the brace height to a middle-of-the-mfr-spec, and set the tiller to zero.  Put the nocking point(s) to zero with a bow square.  These settings are going to wrong to some degree (we want that!), and you are going to set them right by shooting bare shafts (only) close enough to the bale to not miss it, but far enough away to allow the arrows to be in the air as long as possible.  You will want to pay attention to the symptoms, that is the way the arrows fly.  Minnowing up and down, porpoising left and right, wobbling because of excessive weakness, flailing because of a grossly high angle of attack from a really wrong nocking point, skewing due to the hugely wrong centershot, are the clues you want to see, and ultimately eliminate on your way to perfection.

Also you want to note the angle of the arrow in the target.  It will be off perpendicular, but with tuning you can make it less of an angle, and if you play your cards right, they will look just like fletching arrows!  With X10 arrows, the barreling causes enough aerodynamic influences that even at 70 meters an elite archer will find his way to the gold routinely, regardless of whether there are vanes on the shafts.

Let’s start with the premise, that a perfect tune for the archer’s technique will result in the energy from the bow pushing through the center mass of the arrow completely, yes, well, “perfectly”.  When it does that, it is a joy to witness, a knowledge of perfection for a brief moment.  The feeling every archer strives for, “YEAH, I did that…”.  When a bare shaft arrow porpoises, when it fish-tails, flails about, energy is being lost because it was injected off-center.  So tuning is bringing the elements to balance, to harmony, to reduce the energy wasted outside of the center axis of the arrow.   “Tuned”, the arrow behaves like a dart, and its flight is a beautiful thing of purity to behold.

SO!  With the plunger “off” and the tension on the spring 100% so it doesn’t give, the center shot off, the arrow will minnow left/right.  With the nocking point wrong, the arrow shaft will porpoise, up and down.  Fix the nocking point first because it is simplest.  For this exercise, use a tied-on floss nock, with sufficient tension so it can be rotated/screwed up and down the serving but stay set between shots.   Shoot, adjust, shoot, till the arrow no longer porpoises up and down, or at least, does so as little as possible.

Next, change the center shot gradually by moving the plunger deeper into the riser and pushing the arrow further from the riser.  As with the nocking point, you are learning the impact on the flight of the arrow this device has.  And as the minnowing decreases you know you are getting closer to the better center shot setting.  As it re-increases you know you have probably passed that point.

Through all of this you must decide each shot whether your release messed with the arrow too much and caused an energy diversion, or whether your release was as good as the tune at that point.  Do you see truth or artifact?  When you minimize minnowing, you might re-visit the nocking point position.

I was taught by the greatest coach I have ever met that tuning is like kneading dough.  Adjusting the nocking point in the right direction is like pushing a ball of dough down, which makes it (the arrow pattern) squeeze wider.  So you adjust the plunger, squeezing the ball taller, more vertical (the arrow pattern).  Working in the right direction you gradually end up with a round ball of dough (the arrow pattern) that is smaller than when you began.    The size of the ball at the end depends also on the spine of the shaft – a just-right spine’s doughball will be smaller than that of an arrow with too weak of a spine.  You ask about the too-stiff spine?  It will be smaller still but only when the release is perfectly consistent.  A too-stiff arrow will likely be unforgiving of an inconsistent release. And once you have fletchings on the arrow, a too-weak spine will be more at risk for hitting the bow particularly with inconsistent releases.  A slower release – stiff fingers – magnifies the flexing of the arrow, all other things being equal, resembling a weaker shaft – “dynamic” flexing.

Once honed to the best bare-shaft arrow behavior, the perfect plunger depth/center shot, the ideal nocking point (for that brace height/tiller), it’s time to start weakening the totally stiff plunger to find the best arrow flight again.

React to the arrow flight, the angle in the target, and the pattern of impact points on the target face.  Remember that you will need to make smaller adjustments – for example, you may find that moving the nocking point by a single serving thread diameter yields a profoundly better tweak to the group!

Remember that fletchings serve to average out the imperfections – in the arrow shaft.  The point weight/forward-of-center. The tune.  The release.  The wind.  By causing the arrow to rotate through 360 degrees continually, the vanes reduce the flaws.  They were critical when arrows were wood and vanes were feathers.  As long as the device loosing the arrow is human fingers, there will be imperfections that vanes can mitigate.

SO that begs the question, in a perfectly tuned compound bow shooting with no winds, why are vanes useful?  Well, a compound bow needs tuning as well.  I suspect that due to the built-in accuracy associated with a bowstring in tracks with a string-guide, with a magnified sight with a level, and yes, with a defined wall and a mechanical release, most compounders never learn to micro-tune and are unknowingly relying on the vanes to mitigate subtle flaws in the tune.

Doing the things I suggest will result in a much better awareness/knowledge of the bow, the arrow, and the relationship the archer has to both.  It may even result in better scores.

When Should You Make A Change?

At some point the coach is faced with the decision  – whether to make a change in the athlete’s form.

Aside from the “if you keep doing that you are going to hurt yourself” as a need to change, all other choices are optional.   There is rarely a critical “you HAVE to make this change or else…”, contrary-wise, I think a good opportunity to enhance technique exists ALL the time.

Notice the phrase.  “enhance technique”.  NOT “make a change”.  It is often to the athlete’s better interests for the coach to approach a desired end (a different way of doing something) in a less-obvious manner.

Look, I am all for being clear and loud and just saying what needs saying IF NEEDED.  Just realize that if you TELL the athlete you are making a change, you might be presenting your effort TOO forthrightly and actually distracting from the lesson.

“You are doing much better keeping your forearm in line with the arrow – I bet you are feeling much more power in your (lightly touch the lower trap) back, right?”  instead of, “Let’s see if you can make your string forearm get into alignment with your arrow.  Really move your scapula towards the spine during loading”.

Which impetus for change will be the best for any given athlete?  Only the coach knows for sure, and only then (perhaps) after trying both.

What? Oh, the title?  WHEN should you make a change?  Maybe I’ll be able to deal with that next time, if nothing changes…though if you are still really wondering, then this post probably missed its mark.

Flair!

“He’s plucking the string”.

There may not be a mis-diagnosis more common than that one.  A bystander will see the string hand fly out to the side, and assume plucking is the cause.  It is likely to be something ELSE.  Telling an archer to “not pluck” is poor coaching technique.

Rather than a true pluck (like plucking the string of a guitar), it’s more likely to be a combination of several common problems:

    1. The archer has far too much tension in the string forearm, making a relaxed release impossible.
    2. The wrist is cocked out because the string forearm is not nearly in line with the arrow.   In this case the archer can easily see the string elbow if using a mirror as the target.  Simple physics causes the hand to fly out from the jaw during the moment of release when muscles are relaxing.
    3. If the elbow is behind and in line with the arrow, the archer is “in alignment” more and there is no elbow to be seen in the mirror.  If the string arm is not put into alignment by the archer, the bow tends to try to do it during the release process.
    4. Because of the cocked wrist and excess tension in the forearm, the archer has a harder time of simply relaxing the string fingers, and is prone to making an active “letting go” effort which causes the fingers to go straight out after the string is loosed.  A relaxed release results in the fingers actually curling up, not sticking out like a porcupine.

Coaches, in plucking cases it is important to study the archer’s release with a tool like Coach’s Eye or a high-speed camera like a Casio Exilim.  Most archers know their string hand should end up behind and near the neck for followthrough and will MAKE the hand go there no matter how hard it is.  A camera will reveal that the string hand makes a detour out because of the physics and tension then goes back near the neck to where it should have gone immediately.

It’s NOT plucking, and telling an archer “don’t pluck” is worse than useless.  Get at the root cause of the hand flare and “plucking” will vanish.

Simple.

With any archer and particular with newer, less imprinted archers, there is a conflict – does one (coach) worry about where the arrow goes, or how it gets to go there?

Most NTS coaches will give lip service to “what happens on the line determines what the arrow does”.

When the arrow leaves the bow, what can the archer do to change where it goes?

Right.

Equally as strong, and extremely more important, is that the shooting of a bow is a result of a second, or 8, of effort.  If you can accept that from the moment an arrow is nocked on the string until it leaves the bow is a “shot cycle” then you can divide that time up into “steps”.   Like walking down the aisle to your wedding.  It’s a series of steps that leads to success or (unfortunately) failure.

That time can be divided into fragments, so let’s call them steps.  Pieces.  Parts of the pie.  a sum of the pieces.

In the National Training System (NTS) we must teach the archer to adopt techniques for a variety of steps that together make up a successful shot.

So when faced with a new archer where does the coach start?  With the ground.  Work from the ground up.  (now, I will admit to first always, dealing with any parts of the archer that might lead to either danger or injury)

Why?

In the NTS, Kisik Lee has demonstrated time and again that for say, step 5 to work easily and properly, the archer must have done step 2 in an excellent way.  To shoot an arrow in a best way, the archer must accomplish each preliminary step well in order to succeed in the most effortless shot cycle.

If you skip step 2, when you get to step 4 or 6, you cannot succeed in that step because step 2 set up failure.

For example, and there is no better graphic,  if you fail to place your bowhand on the grip with the meaty part of the base of the thumb just slightly to the inside of the centerline of the bow, then you cannot achieve a 45 degree angle of bowhand/bow riser, and you then cannot set your elbow into an easy vertical orientation.  If you cannot set your elbow vertically, you will then be unable to tense your tricep enough to hold the upper humerus into the shoulder socket assembly.  This would in turn adversely affect your draw length, your ability to smoothly CLICK, and your aim thereof.

If you allow an archer to skip proper foot placement or shoe choice, or knee locking, or butt tucking, or chest position, or hip rotation, then the archer will have trouble later on in the shot with succeeding in other parts of a shot cycle.

MANY times I see another coach trying to “fix” a problem they see, without understanding that the actual cause of that problem happened much earlier in the shot cycle.

Please, if you coach, do not speak when you first think to – do not assume you have the archimedes moment (EUREKA).  Instead, please assess whether what you are about to pronounce, is actually truth.  Accurate.  RIGHT.
It does no good to correct a bow shoulder problem if you do not first solve the posture of the archer.

In solving the posture the shoulder (or other downhill step) may actually take care of itself.  A chain reaction of benefits.  Remember the NTS is not a trophy nor an accomplishment, it is not a static thing.  It is DYNAMIC, a process in motion, always dependent on “what happened before” to achieve success in the end.  Skip a step and the archer will not succeed.

 

 

More Flow, Please

Returning to the subject of the book I mentioned on FLOW.

Learning *any* new skill in life is characterized by obvious clumsiness which decreases as the mind and body begin to agree about what needs be done.

It’s why we actually name an infant “a toddler” as she tries to stand, and then walk – she literally toddles about :)

Before too much time has passed, though, the toddler actually stands, perfectly still and in control and then for the rest of that child’s life, standing will be a completely unconscious accomplishment – easy to do without ever considering it.  The parents will be hard put to even recall how clumsy that toddler was in the beginning, so effective is the child’s brain at becoming adept – making the incredibly complex task of standing upright look smooth and easy, effortless.  Though I still remember my daughter’s look of “heyyyy” when she first locked knees and realized what she had done to her world view.

How many times have you watched an elite archer make a shot?  And of those times, how often could you have described it as “effortless”?  Most if not all of the time, if you are like me.  Effortless because they’ve learned to use only the muscles needed, no antagonistic muscles in the chest fighting against the trapezius for example, and also to enlist those muscles properly at the right time and in the right amount.  Finesse, Skill, Deliberate, Smooth, Powerful, Easy, Effortless, all words to describe what the elite athlete does.

So I am angling here to provide a GOAL of learning the parts of the NTS – as the archer gains a degree of mastery over the pieces, the coach must help the athlete to link them together into a smoother, more flowing series of movements.  Increase the flowing nature of calibrated movements in the human body.  You can’t just hope they do that, you must coach them into doing it smoothly and deliberately and efficiently.

The NTS draws heavily upon the human nature of movement. It optimizes the motions by enhancing the naturally skillful method of muscle contractions acting on the bones.  It relies on Archmede’s lever action because of how powerful the lever is. Mother nature put several superb levers in the body and used them to well, leverage power.

Also, there is no partial muscle contraction.  A muscle fiber is either tonic or atonic.  Contracted or relaxed.  Now, a “muscle” is composed of many thousands of muscle fibers, and through skill and training we learn to enlist a cascading increase of fibers when we want to grow strength, power, or speed gradually during a motion.  The untrained person will exert “a bunch of effort” and tend to fire off all of the bundles of fibers in a muscle yielding a crudely powerful contraction, kind of like lifting a heavy barbell in the clean and jerk.  Brute force, however, does not serve well in olympic target archery.  (It was great at Crecy and Agincourt, where quantity of arrows launched counted far more than accuracy of those arrows)

I feel coaches (should) speak of “purposeful practice” instead of praising the mere shooting of x number of arrows.  And as the archer grows in the skill of deliberate drawing (the cascading of muscle fiber activation in the correct tempo) and in the levering about the shoulder assembly by employing the middle and lower trapezius together with the LAN2 to achieve “holding”, the coach must encourage these separate things to be all one coordinated FLOWing of movement.

The goal is holding.  Getting there requires a calibrated cascade of contractions in the right muscle groups, a river of power flowing through the archer’s skeleton which is guided by the calm, focused mind of the archer.  I know I used cascade several times in the last few sentences – do you understand why?  Hopefully you are experiencing a cascade of understanding!

Encourage your athlete to merge the tiny steps of walking through the NTS shot process into a river of powerful flow and soon they will, well, make it look as easy as standing.  If they achieve the same level of mastery over the shot cycle, flow it all together, then they will be far more able to answer the stress of the moment and still make their own shot when it counts.

How do you get the athlete to “merge” the parts of the shot cycle? That depends on the athlete, I think.  I found using a metronome during one stage of development to be really helpful.  Verbally counting down with the stated conscious goal of continual motion was good.  Even, saying “MOVE MOVE MOVE”, could be a proper code word (Mnemonic) if properly defined to the athlete.   Or, “build, Build, BUILd, BUILD….” in a soft-to-louder manner might work better for one than another.  But hopefully you get the idea.

To get anywhere nowadays, the archer has to know how to merge into the flow of traffic.  Teach them that skill so they can make it look easy.

Going with the flow.

I’ve been posting clips from a book to my Kindle Amazon highlights file.  This book deals with the more esoteric aspect of coaching, MENTAL development.

If you read through this post, you’ll be rewarded with the name of the book and a link to it on  Amazon.

It’s normal for the archer to want to “work on” something everytime she shoots.  We all want to be better at what we do, and the physical aspect is right in front of the brain.  But if you are familiar with periodization, a means of physical training optimization, you may not have extended the concept beyond the physical.   I like that the notion deals with MENTAL periodization also.

Don’t just work on “something” every time you go out.  Set one day of practice out of every 7 that you shoot, to just shoot.  But instead of working on that release, or that transfer, holding, relaxed wrist, etc., you can choose to become complete null mentally.

Look, if you have been shooting for more than a few months, you have begun to myelinize your shot pathways.  It’s time for you to trust yourself and well, trust in the force, Luke.

Follow your normal shot mechanism conscientiously, carefully, till right before you go to the “up” position, (set to set-up).  When you have gotten to that point, you are ready to engage autopilot, and perhaps think of nothing in particular.  Emit a mantra, an “ommmmm” loud enough to hear between your ears.  Think of a polar bear in a snow storm.  Or, like one of the most successful female compound archers ever, visualize green legos.    Just don’t work on anything in the physical realm, think only of smoothness.  ease.  flow.

The goal is to relax and let your body take its course.  Disconnect from the desire to determine the results through force. Instead, learn how to go with the flow of your body’s natural abilities to complete the actions of delivering the arrow into the air.    Like visualization, going with the flow takes practice and clever desire.

The book?  ok, you’ve earned it…

Golf Flow  by Gio Valiente

Remember, as with several other excellent golf books you need to substitute the word golf with archery, ignore the sand traps, and think of how what he writes can apply to your particular desires to be a better archer/golfer.

PS: Are most archers practicing mental strengths, such as visualization?  Not so much.  Despite champions uniformly praising the skill development of visualizing as key to their success, I find it is amazingly difficult to persuade athletes to develop this skill. The students I coach that have given themselves over to this notion have become much happier with their abilities and performances.  In archery, the power of the mind will exceed the power of the body given a chance to do so.  This book in great part has mental strengths in well, mind.  :)   Well written, and I recommend it only for those who can trust in their mental force.

In times of pure stress and duress, when hitting the spider is the strongest desire in mind, allowing the subconscious to rule will win out, provided the athlete has laid the foundation for succeeding with flow by practicing the nothingness of the perfect unconscious release.  Wow, how zen is that?

It’s Not Either Or – Archery is not a zero-sum game

Archery is a sport.  For some it is also a way of life. Or at least a meaningful part of a “normal” life.

After 6 months of thinking on the role of sport, I’ve concluded that a critic was wrong back then.

The act of promoting archery cannot be to the detriment of archers.  I don’t mean “a rising tide lifts all boats” but that could also be true.

After a 5 year history of participating in several community archery events, a club president arbitrarily decided that it was not prudent to continue – it was “outside” of the normal functions as that person narrow-mindedly perceived the function of the club.  As a result, hundreds of kids from one event never got to touch a bow – their path through life remains duller, less enjoyable.  At the other event about 1000 kids did not get to learn about archery in college.  To me the loss is not calculable.

It is incredibly important that any opportunity to share archery is NOT ignored.  You deprive yourself as well as those that would benefit.

Look.  Archery.  You do it because ….??  If you view it as a job right now, think back to when you started.  That was because you … enjoyed it?  Why not help others to enjoy it as well?  As you share your insights, your knowledge, your sport, you learn more about yourself.  You become better by helping others.  So the next time you wear an archery-related shirt be ready to share the sport.  Heck, share the sport without the shirt (umm, do wear some kind of shirt, ok?)

Archery is a sport to be proud of.  You can be proud, you can share, and be a better person thereby.  No risk of diminishing yourself if you speak from the heart and are truthful.