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Bibliography. ? Whut’s thet?

A list.  A bibliography is a kind of list, a summary, of reference materials wherein you can find gems of value, of wisdom to help you on your path to where you wish to go.  Here is a list of some of the books a coach might benefit from, though certainly not all.

I am a reader. I have read with a great appetite since an early age.  Taking an Evelyn Wood speed reading course at 14 did not hurt, either.  Growing up with a great public library nearby and a paperback novel displayrack full of books (for free for me) in my dad’s drug store was a distinct advantage as well.  OK.  so I read A LOT.  I’ve got more than 200 books on Kindle for calendar year 2012 as I write this on 12-23-2012 (23-12-2012 for my backwards English friends<G>).

Herein I am going to try to summarize some of the readings I have that have helped me to be a better coach, a better team leader, a better person.  Where I can recall, I’ll credit the person that brought me into contact with the book – the wiser person who told me, “you should read this”…

First, Tom Parrish told me to read “Golf is Not A Game of Perfect” at a time when I was struggling with how to get my daughter to a higher level of consistency.  I was worried about her occasional fliers (all archers will have these as they are developing – 5 great arrows and then one amongst them will be off in the blue instead of the gold/red ).  Tom told me something like, “ignore the parts about the sand traps, and the laying-up, substitute the word “archery” anytime the word “golf” appears.  He was right.  It is a superb educational book on the mental aspects of trying to put the itty-bitty pointy stick into the tiny target 76 yards away with some consistency.  Author is Rotello and here is the Amazon Link to the book.

I thought for a long time that Malcom Gladwell was some exotic, immensely intelligent, doctoral psychologist.  His books are literally THAT good.  I think early on that Coach Tom Barker turned me on to this author.  But Gladwell, a “mere” New York Times reporter,  weaves together again and again in his book, fundamental facts from a host of different sources and creates a tightly-woven rug that can hold water.  I read everything he writes, and I am the better person and coach for it.  Some are truly better than others, of course.  Thank you, Tom!

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures
Outliers: The Story of Success
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Of these, I love Outliers the best because I have always felt myself as something of an outlier. :)
I do dare you to read any of these and not come out of the book with a sense of increased wisdom, power to effect positive change in your athlete, and a different perspective on how to approach your calling.  This author has been passed around between coaches so much that it’s hard to know for sure who first zeroed in on how apt his writings are for the archery coach, but Tom certainly deserves my thanks.

Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions, by Susan Barry. As I have said in earlier blogs, she reveals (to me, at least) a way to get a huge percent improvement in performance by training a set of muscles that no archery coach has ever attempted before.  Teach the muscles of the eye to respond faster and more accurately and with more range of motion and you’ll have reached the outer limits of performance.  You think *nothing* of teach your athletes to do the same with their biceps, triceps, lats, and especially their trapezius set, why not with their ocular muscles?  jeez, this ain’t rocket science!  Ask any special-trained optometrist (NOT opthalmalolgist!).  Who told me to read this? NO ONE.  I have met only disdain and dismissal for my insight regarding the potential for training the muscles of the eyes in like manner to how all other muscles of the body are trained.  Someday I will be vindicated, unfortunately I fear it will not be because the US archery team is demonstrating a renewed potential best because of it – some other country will do this first.

You should never, ever, again mention the phrase “target panic”.  It is a stupid phrase and lacking in accuracy and truthfulness.  Instead, you will find you have to deal with “shot choke” or “hesitancy” in your elite athlete.  Beginner athletes never get this.  Only excellent archers find a plateau where their frontal cortex reactivates, overloads, and blocks the action that SHOULD be an entirely autonomous function.   To help you understand why this is more of a choking sensation than a panic situation, please read
CHOKE, by Sian Beilock.  Read it twice.  And quit planting the seeds of destruction by using the phrase target panic.

Emotional Intelligence 2.0, by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves – the title pretty much implies all you need to know about why it is something you should learn from.

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else – by Geoff Colvin.   Puts lie to the notion that there are “overnight wonders” and “natural professionals”.  The 10,000 hour rule is a truth.  NO ONE EVER BECAME ELITE without myelinating their neural pathways properly over a period of thousands of hours of doing that “something to be great in”.  If that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, well, read the book and learn.  It is a fundamental truth that every coaching certification course I teach includes.  Bill Gates, the Beatles, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, you name the athlete, they ALL put in at least 10,000 hours of purposeful practice on their way to the top step.  If I had to choose only one book, this one would probably be it.

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How – Daniel Coyle – Again, pounding away on the fact that we only think someone is “big for their age” or “naturally athletic”.  Our society builds a false premise that we continually fall for. (as coaches and as parents).  Learn how NOT to expect too much from your athletes and how to get more from them at the same time.  OK, maybe I would choose this as my “one and only” book to seize on.  It’s so HARD TO CHOOSE from!

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck – learn how profoundly influential  attitudes are in controlling success, and how to guide your athlete through a variety of pitfalls and traps.

A quick jaunt aside to a fictional yet educational story about shot choke.  “The Art of Fielding is mere baseball fiction the way Moby Dick is just a fish story” (Nicholas Dawidoff).   Book by Chad Harbach.

Sport Supplement Reference Guide bvy William Llewellym – a total waste of time.  NO ARCHER needs to take ANY special supplements.  He or she must eat 9 to 12 helpings of a variety of raw fruits, vegetables, and berries every day, in addition to appropriate levels of animal protein (if not a vegan) and fats, so that the body can extract all of the micronutrients needed to create new cells in the body on a continual basis.  More so when in training, as heavy training produces results by destroying cells and counting on the nutrients being available to rebuild the destruction better, stronger, and more efficiently.  Like the NGBs for France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, I find that the science, the documentation in peer-reviewed, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, certification by the NSF, to be so compelling that I have not only taken it myself for 10+ years but also commend it to my athletes:   http://www.winningwithjuiceplus.com  – a capsulated formulation of a neutraceutical product consisting of 25 fully-ripened, raw, cold-juiced/treated/lyophyllized fruits, vegetables, and berries manufactured under stringent parameters that are totally USADA and WADA safe.  You don’t need an “out of balance hyper dosage of anything”.  Just a totally rounded realistic source for mother natures’ best natural nutrients so that your body can pick and choose just what is needed at just the right time during rebuilding and supercompensation.  You also need to insure your athletes are getting therapeutic daily doses of what is called “vitamin D” by either adequate sun exposure to skin, or else Vitamin D3, 5000 iu per 100 pounds of body weight. (in lieu of semi-monthly blood test of the 25(OH)D which MUST be at a level of at least 50 ng/ml, and below 80 ng/ml). A ng, by the way, is a billionth of a gram.  So it don’t take much to make a world of difference in athletic performance when it comes to vitamin D3.

Rome 1960 by David Maraniss – This book fosters a greater understanding of the singular largest athletic event to be held every four years in the world.  The good, the bad, the WHY and the WHEREFORE of this juggernaut of power and monied interests on behalf of the youth of the world, called upon to gather every four years…

The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human by V.S. Ramachandran  –  Dr. Rama will be awarded the Nobel Price in my lifetime, and hopefully his, IMHO.  If you want insight into how the human brain greets consciousness, how it learns by simply watching, and how the magnificence of it all comes together, this book is a must.  You can also use TED.COM to view his 10-15 minute presentations which I recommend prior to you buying the book.  If it doesn’t ring a chime in your core, you probably should not be a coach.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey .  Ok.  Despite all the excellent books I have already listed, this book.  This Book.   THIS FREAKING BOOK!!!!  If you know the Miller children of Napiersville, IL, then you will have a starburst of comprehension midway through this book that transcends what you THINK you know about learning.  It is an incredible slap in the face of our conventional wisdom about how schools should operate.  It paints a vivid and clear yet simple and cheap path we could be following to create excellence in our students at *any* level, in any pursuit of learning not just archery.  But it certainly applies to archery!!!
and in greatest position of honor, two books who by author name alphabetically should come last, but by greatness should never be anywhere but first:
Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and Off the Court
and
The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership
by?
John Wooden, of course.   His example lesson to me is simply, be as selfless as possible. Be honest to the athlete and to the sport, as well as to yourself.  BE MODEST.  Have a method for everything and a reason for your method.  Train not to the top step but to the top performance of the athlete.  All else will take care of itself.  And as I recall a certain “head coach” grabbing a trophy from the athlete and dancing in a bizarre way on the field with the trophy over his head as though it was his, it aint’ about the coach. It’s all about the athlete.  They win.  We coach.  If we do it right, we open the door for that win, but the athlete walks through that door and kicks butt.  Our tears of joy must come through the success of those we mentor.
Ahem. Teared up there for a minute.  You have some reading to do.  Please feel free to post comments with the titles and authors of books YOU have found useful, so that I and others might benefit as well?  and a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, to you..
and I’ll add more books in the next year…

 

 

Give it a rest

As a coach it is easy to assign tasks, goals, work.

It is very easy to overload your student(s) with too much.  Especially right before a big tournament, especially the official practice day prior, the archer (and you) will want to “get out there and shoot a buncha arrows”.  This often is a prescription for failure, or at best, mediocrity.  Ironically, the more important the event the more likely the athlete will make this mistake and shoot their best arrows on the practice field.  You are the coach, and you must guide and control your athletes with your superior experience and knowledge.

The best thing a smart coach will know is when to stop the archers – when to give…it…a…rest…!

Most level IV coaches are familiar with periodization.  This is the term for a scientific approach to creating an elite performer out of a potentially excellent athlete by varying the training workload, the nutritional intake, the resting recovery periods, *everything* associated with development and maintenance of excellence…

In short, you can’t get to the top step by simply shooting 300 arrows every day.  You have to shoot varying numbers of arrows, lift weights, maybe swim laps to gain “wind”, mentally train, practice, train train train, smarter than simply tossing arrows downrange.

A critical part of the stair-step pattern of evolution of excellence in an archer is the RECOVERY phase, where the athlete simply does little or nothing in the sport, for days at a time, and the body responds to the “vacation” from heavy training by ….rebuilding it better than before.  During the recovery phase you do not stop coaching.  You coach on nutrition.  You coach on mental strength, visualization, you exercise the grey matter of the athlete and leave the red matter to rebuild and recover.  You do not stop coaching, ok?

I am reminded of a superb movie by Bogdanovich, called “The Last Picture Show”.  It is set in a small dying town in north Texas, one my mother lived near as a child.  The basketball coach (heck, he was the only coach so he did football, dodgeball, basketball, and probably “health education”, as my own high school coach did<G>) – anyway, this red-faced coach with the physique of a compound archer stood in the gym as the guys ran laps around, screaming,  “RUN, yew little piss-aints, RUN”… as if that was all there was to creating an excellent basketball team.   Running the asses off of your athletes is hardly ever the way to the center of the gold.  You have to know to let their physiques rebuild and recover before you tell them to take another lap or two…

Supercompensation is the fancy name.  “Better than before” is the truth, and you cannot force a human body into supercompensation by working it to exhaustion, to death, to the edge of collapse.

You want your athlete archer to shoot a PB?  Give her a few days to a week prior to a big event virtually nothing to do but visual training, mental training (shoot arrows in her imagination), and outstanding chances are that she will reward herself (and therefore you) with a good, enjoyable performance.   Fer pete’s sake, just give the athlete a rest at the right time.   No more, “run, you little pissaints, run!”.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

It takes a certain amount of intent to hold a bowstring while a shot is made. Most often the intent, the tension, has nothing in the real world to relate it to the job description, other than “I must not let go till I am ready”.

Seldom if ever does the coach pay appropriate attention to the amount of effort the archer chooses to expend in holding the string. Finger placement? Yes, we do teach that. Thumb and pinky location during the draw, flat relaxed string hand, fist knuckle under the boney jawline? Yes, we should be teaching this as well. But we should teach the athlete to be a minimalist when holding the bowstring!

When was the last time you taught an archer to find that minimal amount of effort to keep the string from slipping away? Chances are extremely good that your athlete is using too much, far too much, strength and effort to grip the bow string.

Ahh. That may be it. The archer should not GRIP the bowstring, merely hold it, hook it, with a static hook of fingers. Of the two verbs “grip” and “hook”, to me grip sounds like it intends more effort.

To walk the knife edge between too little and too much, one must find precisely where “too little” is.  Standing 5-10 ft from the blank bale, have the archer go through set, but only so far. Then align and create the gunbarrel while the hands are still only partially above “set” position, increase the draw slightly and allow the string/arrow to slip out of the bow and into the blank bale (no aiming!). The focus in the archer’s mind must be on minimal effort – just enough to not let slip till the draw is say, half-way. Do a dozen reps of this. Then the archer should draw a little further, say 3/4 of the way, letting slip while still moving to draw. If the archer does not have the string accidentally slip out a few times, he or she is using too much effort to hook the string and is instead holding it.

You are also insuring that the string hand wrist is bent in a relaxed direction. You can demonstrate this bend to your athlete by holding the hand and arm out in the “stop” gesture and simply let the hand droop down by relaxing the wrist.  This is the same wrist bend needed for drawing the bow in the NTS method. By the way, this bent wrist is visible in every picture of any astronaut asleep in zero gravity – a totally neutral/relaxed position.

Back to the drill – once you are sure the archer is balancing on the edge of “not enough strength to hold the string/arrow back”, allow the archer to go to a normal set, set-up, and draw, and the instant the archer reaches anchor, he should instantly relax the fingers. (no clicker at this point and don’t say, “let go”).

Have the archer repeat the “low resistance finger hook” (not GRIP) on several practice sessions, and then whenever you sense a slow release is happening. Lightning, explosive releases happen best when the archer is only hooking the string with 0.1 pounds of excess effort. Without training most archers pulling say, a 30 pound bow, use 40 or 45 pounds of effort to grip the string. Before the string can be loosed and the arrow let fly, the archer must somehow shed 15 or more pounds of gripping effort which takes too much time.  This is part and parcel of why many male archers think they have a great release at 48 pounds and a so-so release at 38 – at 48 pounds they are probably just barely able to hold that string<G> while at 38 they are overgripping by 50% excess effort…This excess must somehow be reversed in order to allow the string to slip away.

Young archers must be taught to be minimalists at controlling the string.  I often employ the visualization technique with the athlete – “let the energy flow from your hand through your arm and into your back, and HOLD it all there as you feel your arm relax and your back muscles power up”.

Holding the bowstring should never be a contest of power, but a demonstration of minimalism.  Crisp, explosive releases from from proper hooking in the front and holding in the back.

Birthday Candle?

I was watching a semi-cheesy series on TV when one person let loose with a genius statement, which I shall transliterate for you for my own purposes:

Shooting an arrow during an important competition should be like blowing out the candles on your birthday cake.

You don’t overthink it.  You just focus on the “flames” and you do it – you blow them out.    You breathe in, you focus on executing the shot, and let the arrow go where it will.

How and why do you teach this act of simplicity to your athletes? .

In preparing an athlete for Athens, I did *everything* I could think of to her for the stresses involved.  I feel I failed somewhat in preparing her for Athens, and she still shot world record scores.  I simply did not anticipate the crowd pressure – the cheering throngs, the self-imposed stresses she put on herself, especially when it (inevitably) comes down to that “one” arrow. It was so different from every other competition I had been to, had witnessed, that my imagination was too conservative.

For Beijing, four years after Athens, I had learned and was a much more professional coach than I had been for Athens.  I used those 4 years to analyze my shortcomings and devise remedies, to seek the advice of experts with much more experience such as Kisik Lee, Lloyd Brown and especially Don Rabska.

I taught the athlete how to choose to ignore and how to focus.  I started by simply talking to her as she shot, to get her to shut me out. (I know, NOT a good thing for an athlete to do – ignore the coach?!<G>)   I literally and liberally water hosed her down while she shot, since it rarely rains here.  I banged pots and pans continually while she shot.  I poked a camera in her face.  I used a metronome to help her lay down, to play, a mental soundtrack of pacing like the countdown clock.   Yes, I also waved my hands in the air, right in her face, gesticulating like a wild man.  George Tekmitchov kindly provided an audio file of the crowd noises from the games ,while he announced the archer’s name in an imaginary match – a great aid to visualization exercising which we played loudly over and over as she exercised her mind.

Recently during the London games, I laughed right out loud to myself when seeing the commercials showing a Korean coach screaming face-on to the female archer in a gym shooting.  Then, a few days later, Team USA came back with the head US Para coach, Randi Smith, duplicating this scene with Jeff Fabry (the soon-to-be gold medalist from the London Games and the two-time bronze medalist from prior games) – screaming into his face as he mouth-tabbed an arrow off of his bow.

Note that this was screaming. (not going “BOO”) Consider: the goal is not to scare, but to distract and learn to focus through distractions.   Banging pots and pans continually, not a single firecracker going off suddenly right at full draw..

I laughed because I had also used my training as a player in Judo and Tae Kwan Do to create the most profoundly distracting screams arising from my chi center – guaranteed to freeze you in your tracks for that instant I would need to follow up with a knee to your chin or chest, or groin – to prepare an athlete bound for the games.  The first time I did this she collapsed in a laughing heap it was so startling!  But soon she was able to ignore it completely.  I used every method I had in my imagination to interrupt the concentration of the athlete short of actually striking her physically.  In some countries, as I understand it they do actually push and shove and strike(gently) their archers to stress them – they also require them to carry heavy loads up hills and train with “seal-like” troops in hardships….   so yelling at your archer may seem extreme but failing to prepare him or her adequately is far worse! What exactly are you preparing for?

CIMG5900In Beijing, there were three stands, likewise in London very similar – the two sidelines each holding 5,000+ people, and the small endzone stand behind the archers having 4 to 5 thousand more. Say, 15,000 highly partisan people in Beijing right on top of the shooting line, to watch arrow flinging.

The width of the shooting line in Beijing was perhaps 30 yards, total.  I was able, through the shelter of the para team mates of my athlete, to kneel amongst the wheelchair athletes in order to talk to my athlete, to film her in action.  Youtube  the term “UTARCHER” to see her competing there, and on her final arrow with mere seconds on the clock, listen as I say “deep breath”, and watch her respond, her focus total.  When the shot was done, it took her several seconds to realize, she had won and the match was done. Intense.

As her opponents (each one had been competing in archery for more years than she had been alive) shot, she had to surmount various obstacles.  In one case, her Hoyt Helix bow gave her, without reason or rhyme, an arrow in the wooden frame at 9 o’clock – a complete miss – for her opening arrow of the match.  She looked at me in a moment of unsureness – eye to eye – and I motioned her to ignore it as bullshit – her form was perfect, the flier was “something else” – she shrugged,  came back with a nine, then an 8, and proceeded to win the match despite that loss of ten points. She blew out the candles without thinking.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In these competitions, the two archers alternate arrows. She had only 20 seconds from the moment the opponent shot, to complete her own shot. Of course, the crowd cheers loudly for the opponent, right when the archer is most used to having calm and quiet to start her own shot.  It is so intense that frequently the athlete will not remember anything that happened during the match!  If you have trained the athlete properly it will be as if she is simply, automatically, blowing out the candles, and the crowd noise will be as nothing.

So whats the point?   The coach must train the athlete for the worst case and you cannot wait till the last minute to prepare your athlete for this.  It must be an ongoing process over many months at least.  Use your imagination for what the situation will be and train your athlete to the most stressful conditions you can think of.  I’m not suggesting abuse, but pro-use.  Proactive preparation for the toughest shooting conditions imaginable.  The roar of thousands of people, the pressure of desire to succeed, the nagging doubts we are all prone to, you find ways to deal with these factors early on in the career and return to them often.

TO belabor this point, I want to emphasize that there is a huge difference between EVERY archery competition apart from the “games” (Olympic/Paralympic).  In the games, cheering is uncontrolled, while in almost all other archery competition situations a hush is part and parcel in tournaments, like the gallery for a golf tournament where everyone hushes.  The games are a complete opposite to everything the archer has known previously.  Prior to this level, “golf-like” conditions in the gallery of onlookers is considered good manners – hush hush hush –  but in the games, the bigs, as soon as the opponent shoots her arrow the crowds erupt with noise … just as your athlete has to execute her perfect shot cycle she discovers the entire 15,000+ crowd right on top of her is screaming and banging noise-tubes together, creating a weight of sound pressure that is hard to imagine.  For the unprepared, it can complete unnerve the athlete and destroy her normal shot process!

Teach your athletes to be able blow out the candles when it truly matters.

 

How Do You Know?

You wish to be a coach?   How do you know if you are a “coach”.

Do you effect changes in those athletes who trust you to speak truth and cause positive change?’

Simply, do you give more than you receive?

There is no way that a coach can be paid enough for what he does (said he, modestly)….  SO it is important that the “quid pro quo” have nothing to do with money.

Yes, a coach, you, must make a payment be worth what the payor feels it is worth.  One failing coaches often have is that they are afraid to charge a fee commensurate (equal to) what their benefit is worth.  So they charge nothing and send the message that their expertise is worth “nothing”.  So it is worth exactly what they wanted to relate it as.

How do you know you are a coach worth your salt?  Regardless of what you charge you can judge your worth by simply, do your subjects improve?   Do they respect you?  Do you exit the gym feeling that you have done good?

As a coach, often you can hope for nothing more.

Clearing The Mechanism, or FOCUS

More on this notion of training an athlete mentally.

Olympic Style Archery is routinely performed in quiet, much like the golf gallery as the golfer hits the ball –  kind of a hushed up close, sometimes a little noise from a nearby fairway.

Even at National Championships for archery, even for World Cup events (usually) the archers enjoy a respectful silence from the crowd as they make their shot.  The worst complaint regarding noise is from the archers who cannot shut out the camera shutter noise – click click click click click hundreds of a time during a shot cycle, which they might never have had to deal with until they get to a “big” event.  As you know, a camera’s motor-driven mechanical shutter can drown out the clicker on the riser if the coach has not trained the archer to sense the clicker’s actions (movement, tactile vibration, AND sound) in order to free the arrow to fly.  It can be VERY distracting to the unprepared archer!

That’s small peanuts compared to the show, the bigtime, the ultimate.  When an archer arrives in some foreign countries, and especially at the Olympics/Paralympics, the archer will perform before stands of thousands of partisan fans (the word “fan” derives from FANATIC, remember).  Those fans likely will NOT know the custom of “quiet” like you see when a tennis star is serving at Wimbledon, or a pro golfer is teeing one up.  They will likely have brought inflatable mylar tubes, cowbells, clackers, loud voices screaming hoarsely for THEIR archer’s shot as YOUR archer’s shot clock ticks down from 20 seconds…

What will your archer do?  What CAN you do?  During this last 2012 London Olympics, I saw a commercial where an asian archer’s coach is inches from her face, screaming at the top of his lungs as she executes shot cycles.   I thought, yeah, I did that.  I also sprayed an athlete with a water jet while she shot, not just to simulate rain but to distract her.  I banged pots together HARD and abruptly(not always constantly)  behind her, to startle her.  Of course, I yelled, screamed, and gestured into her visual field.  I played an audio track from a previous game, with a world-class announcer who actually inserted the archer’s name into the dialogue to help with visualization.  When it rained, we practiced.

I worked very hard on increasing the athlete’s ability to focus.  It became a keyword.  “Focus”.   I played a video for her that epitomizes what I wanted her to learn to do – to shut everything out when the next 20 seconds become “everything” to her last 8 years of dedication.

For your consideration, I present a copy of that video, which she called “corny”.  I thought for awhile on this, and decided, so what if it’s corny?  It works as an example, and it planted the seed in her mind that she could do the same…

I do not think I did my job as well that last time as I would do, were there to be a next time.  You can never do enough to prepare your athlete for 15,000 fans screaming their lungs out, but you can try.

Click to view the example of what *every* archer must be taught to do.  The “key” mnemonic phrase to trigger it can be different, but the athlete has to be able to do it.  Shut the crowd out. Zero in, focus on what is to be done.

Copyright Credit: This excerpt is from “For Love Of The Game”, with Kevin Costner from 1999 – it is only about 30 seconds in length but might be worth a lifetime of memories for the athlete that learns from it the concept of FOCUS. For the full movie, check here

Plucking. Really?

It is common for archers to release the string with a “flair” of the hand moving to the side, away from the neck instead of a flow straight back.

A very common sight seen after arrow release

Too often the coach says, “you are letting go of the string.  Don’t let go, let it slip out by relaxing your fingers.”

Agree. SOME archers have too much flair of the string hand.

After studying more than a thousand archers with high speed photography, I conclude there is a different cause than “actively letting go of the string”.  As with most of the NTS method, doing one thing wrong leads to other things “wrong” and you must correct the original cause, not the symptom. Do that, and the symptom vanishes.

I feel that “overgripping” coupled with “failure to align” causes most of the “flaired straight fingers upon release” archers make instead of them actually “actively opening” their fingers.   If the bow has 30 pounds at click, the archer should be using 30.1 pounds to grip with, but most use 40  or 50 pounds of grip effort.

In that case it shows in the straightened fingers. Yes, there is failure to relax, but that is because of the underlying necessity of reversing so much muscle contraction. There will be a much longer “click-to-gone” delay in an archer that overgrips.

In addition, when an archer overgrips, if their string arm is not aligned, then the bow will actually have more time during the release portion to pull the hand away from the neck during the release.

This is very easy to demonstrate – draw and hold short of alignment with your string elbow poking out to the side, then slowly relax the desire to anchor (but not finger grip strength) and watch as you lose your anchor hand contact with your jaw, and the bow  forces the arrow and forearm into a straight line several inches away from the anchor point.  (This demonstration is incredibly effective with college students – many of mine seem to all be engineer students, so I toss in a “What’s the force vector here?” for them<G>)  It is simple physics! The visual symptom coaches seize on is mis-diagnosed as “letting go” or “active release”, or “plucking”.

The cure is an exercise to get to minimal grip strength with blank bale up close, as well as using a form strap exercise until the archer achieves string arm alignment with the arrow. (no, don’t beat the archer with a strap!)

As a teenager I was taught that if I didn’t occasionally wipe out on the slopes on my 215cm GS skis, I wasn’t pushing to excellence enough.  It was true then and remains a great way to get to excellence in other ways.  Find where you fall off the string, learn to get to the edge of slipping off the string then back off, add just a tiny bit more grip strength. NOT A LOT!

I persuade/urge the archer to get closer to the “too little grip strength” point of gripping the string, where the fingertab is ALMOST slipping off, until she knows just how little effort is really needed to prevent the fingers slipping off of the string prematurely.  The release transforms itself.

And of course, tell the athlete to relax to release, don’t just try to let go.  That IS often a part of it.

Visionary Thinking, Part 3

Under the colored part of your eye, lies the ciliary muscle pictured here. Perhaps the most refined muscle in the human body.

Training the muscles up.

We train athletes to shoot an arrow from a bow in an extremely precise, reproduceable way.

We cross-train athletes, too.  We know through experience and science that training an athlete to have greater core strength for example, will result in a more stable upper platform, less aperture movement, especially in windy conditions.  Most coaches think nothing is unusual with this concept. I have never had an archer say, “the transverse abdominus muscles aren’t part of drawing a bow, so why bother?”  Once a coach explains it properly, the archer CAN gain more power over the shot cycle by using the TA muscle group to squeeze the grapefruit behind the belt buckle.

So why do we not train the singularly most sophisticated and powerful ciliary muscles?  Did you even know you COULD train the ciliary muscles?  Well, you can and we should.  I think that gaining the ability to focus perhaps 5 times faster, to accommodate for near objects with greater facility, perhaps even to increase an athlete’s depth of field to where both the aperture AND the target are in focus simultaneously, cannot be given enough importance.

How?  Thank you for wondering that.   In the book, Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions  by Susan R. Barry , the applicability of this concept of training the ciliary muscle of elite archers struck me like a thunderbolt out of the blue.  You could say it was made clear to me as I read this remarkable story. Sue Barry is a neuroscientist who was more than 40 years old before she ever got to see the world as the other 99% do, in stereo vision.  By analogy, think of what it is like when you go to the IMAX 3D, put on a set of special glasses, and have things leap out of the flat screen and into the air, hovering before you.  We take this for granted in our normal lives.  Imagine a 24/7 world where you never get the glasses for the 3D movie!

Sue was not blind, not unable to see things.  She just couldn’t detect edges, depth, foreground and background, she could not see individual snowflakes in the air.

Now, she can.  Through some absurdly simple tools and some awesomely clever optometrists, she learned to see in 3D at an age when all of the medical doctors told her it was impossible.   She, and others like her, prove that it is never to late to enhance visual technique.

We already know that we can cause myelination of neural pathways in our athletes through deliberate practice and repetition, creating world-class elite performers out of mere teenagers (who are old enough that by this “common knowledge” cannot still have plastic cells in their brains, right?)  Wrong.

There are two kinds of eye doctors, in a general sense.  There are Opthalmologists, MDs, who have specialized in the eye and diseases thereof.  They are able to prescribe pretty much any drug they see fit for eye health.  You want someone to do a surgery on an eyeball, chances are it will be an opthalmologist.  In the days of yore, they were the only ones who could use eye drops that dilate your pupils in order to get a better peek inside the eye.

Opthalmologists will cut one of these muscles in an attempt to help the eyeballs line up so that stereovision can happen, be developed, in the brain.

The other kind of eye doc is an optometrist – Nowadays, they do have a number of drugs they can use in their role.   But perhaps because they used to have more restrictions, or perhaps because I don’t understand it at all, they have become much more likely to use physical therapy to find a solution to a vision problem (instead of surgery).

Your eyes must be able to go crosseyed on demand to see something that is only a few inches in front – say the clicker.  The aperture.  For the target, the eyes must diverge apart evenly and quickly to much less than the angle for really close things.  Most eyes will function normally, and with slight effort the athletes views these things “on demand” never realizing this is how vision works.  Most athletes DO have a certain depth perception that allows bow “attitude” to be seen in 3D, a critical part of shooting well.

There is no way to predict for any single archer how much benefit can be gained from training with the special kind of Optometrist that Sue Barry worked with.  Another point is that many people who think they have normal vision actually have defects that they don’t realize, but that COULD be trained out of them.  I know of a medalist who was found to have some coordination eye movement problems that could have improved the odds. I have been told by one of these specialists that there may be only 400 such optometrists in the entire world capable of performing this kind of training.

I see this as simply another opportunity for cross-training.  Imagine if a 1300 archer is found to have a limitation in eyesight that can be fixed – freeing that athlete to be better, to reach a potential that would not, could not, otherwise be achieved.  How much better? Well, how much is 1% better worth? 10%? 15%?  One cannot know, but getting the elite athlete’s muscles trained up is what coaches do.

Why do we not train the muscles of the only target detector system the athlete has?

 

 

Communication

This is a quickie redaption of a long post I wrote during the Olympics. I wrote that long and harsh blog post because of what I witnessed once, twice, three times a nightmare on the Lord’s Cricket Field.  It was harsh and too easily objectionable as “peanut gallery cheap seat whinery” so I pulled it soon after posting. It’s premise is true though, and I’ll try to be as objectively professional as I can.

Coaches, you have to know when to open your mouth and how to control your athlete ANYTIME when he is not performing a shot cycle.  When the stands are creating a standing pressure wave 20 feet high of intense noise and distraction, and your archer looks back at you in obvious distress, you better not find yourself lacking in preparation yourself.

KNOW what your athlete needs when she is up, know what he needs when he is down, and especially know what your athlete needs when she is teetering on the edge of self-demolition.  Know what the hell to say, to do, how to communicate non-verbally from your little holding cell of hell so that your athlete succeeds. The smallest of gestures can climb the highest mountain of momentary fear.  I’ve climbed a number of 14K peaks in Colorado, and there is nothing like balancing on a knife edge ridge 100 yards from the summit, wheezing and trembling muscles in the thighs, sheer unmitigated dropoffs of thousands of feet either side, to realize how the smallest of things can make the largest of differences.  There was no “try” there was only “do”.  Like a small gesture from the coach in the right way at the right time. Or the right couple of key “words”.

Example of key words prepared well in advance between athlete and coach: for Lindsey, “Decide” and “Deep Breath” combated and ultimately defeated her Target Panic at the right moments. Her final bronze medal-winning arrow in Beijing, on YouTube, is witness to the words from me she could hear in that insanely crazy moment as you see her take that breath. She does not even remember what the camera shows, so great is the stress at that moment…   But loaded key word terms trained into your athlete should be an arrow in your coaching quiver.

When the athlete dares falter it is your job to already know how to cure that hesitation, to be the Coach with a capital C.  Do not be the coach who just crosses his arms, dons opaque sunglasses, and becomes the stern father figure.  Chances are that will NOT be doing YOUR job.  You must prepare during good days for those moments you will have the honor to do your duty to your athlete.

Coach.  Boy Scout.   Be Prepared.  Act.

It Doesn’t Matter If It’s Not Broke, Coaches Want To Fix It Anyway (Visionary Thinking, Part 2)

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  “The difficult we do today, the impossible we accomplish tomorrow”  “We can make it better”  “We can rebuild him….we have the technology”(from the 6 million dollar man, that last quote).

How many different ways do coaches mess with every aspect of the archer? Whether it is broke or not, many coaches (and athletes) want to “fix it” to make “it” over into something better.   Fact is, this approach has a history of working, and I think the NTS is a fine example of this.  It deals with almost every part of the athlete possible except I have identified one incredibly essential muscle system in the body NOT part of the NTS.

In today’s archery sport development system, we have scientificasized just about everything but one!

I am proud (as a techie nerd type of a coach) to say that along with everything else we coaches in the USAA do, the National Training System (NTS) is the most scientifically devised method of teaching a series of coordinated movements in the delivery of a pointy stick with precision, bar none.  We teach our athletes to use muscle control in a vitally profound way and we teach our athletes how to do that in a very enlightened way thanks to head coach Kisik Lee.

Just as the hardware has been tweaked nearly out of all recognition to the English longbow of yore which was perfectly adept at doing its job, we are in the process of doing the same tweaking and analyzing and testing and developing of the human body that we’ve done (and are still doing) on the hardware that is the bow and arrow.  The scientists at the OTC (and every other one of the more than 200 countries that participate in the Olys) are constantly developing new tools to tweak and test, analyze and evaluate, the human body.

When I finished reading this book, I read it again immediately because I was instantly thunderstruck by a possibility I “saw” for the last big untouched tweakable thing of the archer’s body. I have never had anyone tell me that they were aware of this, and I nursed an illusion that this would confer an advantage to USA for at least an Olympiad – a cycle of 4 years that defines our metric of developmental excellence. (OK, I’ll agree it really is TWO cycles for fulminant development of an archer’s potential) We could have a huge competitive advantage, until everyone else caught up with us.

In all of my learning experiences at the OTCs including talking to the lead physician scientist in COS, in Coach Lee’s classes, in my coaching certifications, and in my educational processes, no one has ever undertaken what I was envisioning.  Of those few I have asked, none have had a similar awareness of what I was about. How exciting to think you have some idea of a relatively important concept no other person in the world has!

After I met with a specialist physician who evaluated my concept’s validity in a positive way, I was so excited I called the man I view in my mind as the foremost archery wise man, my own coach who allowed me to absorb and learn from him for years, to express my revelation and persuade him that this should IMMEDIATELY be scientifically investigated!  I had the doctor lined up who could conduct the study, I had the plan all mapped out to achieve a proper p-value, man! I was rarin’ to go!

His conviction, his reply-without-hesitation after my proposal was, “Hey, there is this blind guy from Korea that just set a world record! He’s legally blind!  So your idea is (stupid)…” well, he didn’t say stupid but he did not pull any punches in telling me I had nothing.  And how could I rebut his opinion in light of his fact that some blind guy sets a world record?  This can’t be, I thought, but hey, him being who he was, I could not doubt his words, his statement, his accuracy, his veracity.  True, in my clutched throat, I doubted him, but by metric of that same heart, he’s my master so I. shut. up.  I never lost hope but without his support and the financial support of a foundation to develop the method through scientific study I couldn’t see a path to develop it.

Two years later, in 2012 in London during the Olympics, the world finally learned the truth about this archer who was “legally blind”, who said he couldn’t wear glasses to help him see the target, yet by his scores were without doubt a world-class athlete/archer.  As the Olympic hype-fest press machine got into gear, the “legally blind archer” was eventually revealed to be having a joke on the world. Reported by the Associated Press, his coach actually laughed when asked if his archer was blind.  Turns out he can be classified as “legally blind” because he cannot focus up close, to read, easily.  He is extra-far-sighted, instead.  Blind close, an eagle eye at 70 meters!  Great joke on the world, I thought bitterly.  I suspect he probably doesn’t even need a spotting scope to see his nocks in the bale at 70 meters since he sees the target so much better than most.  And now that the joke is over, he DOES wear sunglasses.

This revelation means to me THAT my previous revelation from 2010 is still worth investigating and THAT it might be completely legitimate. THAT a study could still be performed, THAT it is highly likely that we are not finished fixing the human body when it comes to enhancing human performance delivering pointy sticks accurately 70 meters away into the 10 ring.

How exciting this is!  But wait, I still have no way to perform this, no financial backing to investigate and properly prove out, verify, my theory.  Perhaps the Carmichael Accommodation Method will be proven somewhere else, and they’ll have the joy of producing this quantum advance and naming it the Korean Method, part 5.  Dang.

Anyone have $14K to create the next 6 million dollar man?