Category Archives: Tournament/Competition

Concerning the situation where an athlete competes publicly

“Coach” – What does it mean?

The word COACH is derived from ancient sanskrit “kachhhh” , from the sound made when a flint rock opened up the skull of a warrior in battle – and meant quite literally, “open mind”.   Often confused for the Klingon word, chach, meaning “emergency”.

Um. OK.  Not really the origin for “coach”…..  But today I feel the need to emphasize that a coach with a closed mind is not reaching the potential best.  No matter your age nor your level of coaching certification, you cannot potentiate without an open mind.

I feel a coach must be continually observant to the entire world around him (or her – since I’m male I’m gonna default this time to the thicker-headed gender).

As I have developed as a coach I have been on occasion startled to find out something that helped me to reach an archer, or to make a point with one.  Just as an athlete must constantly be evolving in order to become a better archer, so must the coach be constantly evolving to improve communication and observational skills.

An open-minded coach will also be able to see what other coaches are doing and either incorporate the best parts, or just as importantly, avoid pitfalling into the worst parts.

What archer ever picked up a bow for the first time and said, “I want to be the worst that I can”?  If you have not thought about it, surely when you started to realize the personal joy and self-esteem that comes from sharing knowledge and enhancing performance in others, you didn’t choose to “be the worst coach you could”, right?

Short and sweet:  Be constantly alert in your every-day life to what new things you encounter that you can make into coaching tools.  A coach with a closed mind is not much of a coach.

Though chach really does mean emergency in Klingon.  There, your word for the day!

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.

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.

 

 

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.

Some Science

I’ve been against stretching for several years, when the first studies came out.  They were somewhat low in “P” value, meaning the studies weren’t HUGELY designed.  Here is more information to learn on – why you should NOT stretch before you plan to exercise, and the author gets it right.
This is a copyright blog post from

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/03/reasons-not-to-stretch

by Gretchen Reynolds

April 3, 2013, 12:01 am

Reasons Not to Stretch

By Gretchen Reynolds

Most of us grew up hearing that we should warm up with a stretch. Strike and hold a pose, such as touching your toes, for 30 seconds or more, we were told, and you’ll be looser, stronger and injury-proof.

But anyone who follows fitness science — or this column— knows that in recent years a variety of experiments have undermined that idea. Instead, researchers have discovered, this so-called static stretching can lessen jumpers’ heights and sprinters’ speeds, without substantially reducing people’s chances of hurting themselves.

Now, two new studies are giving us additional reasons not to stretch.

One, a study being published this month in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, concluded that if you stretch before you lift weights, you may find yourself feeling weaker and wobblier than you expect during your workout. Those findings join those of another new study from Croatia, a bogglingly comprehensive re-analysis of data from earlier experiments that was published in The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. Together, the studies augment a growing scientific consensus that pre-exercise stretching is generally unnecessary and likely counterproductive.

Many issues related to exercise and stretching have remained unresolved. In particular, it is unclear to what extent, precisely, subsequent workouts are changed when you stretch beforehand, as well as whether all types of physical activity are similarly affected.

For the more wide-ranging of the new studies, and to partially fill that knowledge gap, researchers at the University of Zagreb began combing through hundreds of earlier experiments in which volunteers stretched and then jumped, dunked, sprinted, lifted or otherwise had their muscular strength and power tested. For their purposes, the Croatian researchers wanted studies that used only static stretching as an exclusive warm-up; they excluded past experiments in which people stretched but also jogged or otherwise actively warmed up before their exercise session.

The scientists wound up with 104 past studies that met their criteria. Then they amalgamated those studies’ results and, using sophisticated statistical calculations, determined just how much stretching impeded subsequent performance.

The numbers, especially for competitive athletes, are sobering. According to their calculations, static stretching reduces strength in the stretched muscles by almost 5.5 percent, with the impact increasing in people who hold individual stretches for 90 seconds or more. While the effect is reduced somewhat when people’s stretches last less than 45 seconds, stretched muscles are, in general, substantially less strong.

They also are less powerful, with power being a measure of the muscle’s ability to produce force during contractions, according to Goran Markovic, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Zagreb and the study’s senior author. In Dr. Markovic and his colleagues’ re-analysis of past data, they determined that muscle power generally falls by about 2 percent after stretching.

And as a result, they found, explosive muscular performance also drops off significantly, by as much as 2.8 percent. That means that someone trying to burst from the starting blocks, blast out a ballistic first tennis serve, clean and jerk a laden barbell, block a basketball shot, or even tick off a fleet opening mile in a marathon will be ill served by stretching first. Their performance after warming up with stretching is likely to be worse than if they hadn’t warmed up at all.

A similar conclusion was reached by the authors of the other new study, in which young, fit men performed standard squats with barbells after either first stretching or not. The volunteers could manage 8.3 percent less weight after the static stretching. But even more interesting, they also reported that they felt less stable and more unbalanced after the stretching than when they didn’t stretch.

Just why stretching hampers performance is not fully understood, although the authors of both of the new studies write that they suspect the problem is in part that stretching does exactly what we expect it to do. It loosens muscles and their accompanying tendons. But in the process, it makes them less able to store energy and spring into action, like lax elastic waistbands in old shorts, which I’m certain have added significantly to the pokiness of some of my past race times by requiring me manually to hold up the garment.

Of course, the new studies’ findings primarily apply to people participating in events that require strength and explosive power, more so than endurance. But “some research speaks in favor” of static stretching impairing performance in distance running and cycling, Dr. Markovic said.

More fundamentally, the results underscore the importance of not prepping for exercise by stretching, he said. “We can now say for sure that static stretching alone is not recommended as an appropriate form of warm-up,” he said. “A warm-up should improve performance,” he pointed out, not worsen it.

A better choice, he continued, is to warm-up dynamically, by moving the muscles that will be called upon in your workout. Jumping jacks and toy-soldier-like high leg kicks, for instance, prepare muscles for additional exercise better than stretching. As an unscientific side benefit, they can also be fun.

 

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.

 

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.