Category Archives: Tournament/Competition

Concerning the situation where an athlete competes publicly

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.

What is the most important thing about watching archery in the Olympics?

In watching the archery competition online at, every

Venue for archery during the London Olympics

coach and many archers will naturally search the screen.  Watch the archer.  Gauge the form against the arrow into the target. Try to judge what determines success and failure.  It’s a normal thing to do, I think, at least for me. I have been doing this constantly since I decided to be a mentor to others.  Savvy is as savvy does.

I look for consistent things shared by the archers.  What I see in the Olympic games shooting in London is that quite a lot has to do with stress. It is a given – these archers are under stress – what can be called “overwhelming stress”.  It clearly shows to me in their muscle movements.  The stressed archer tends to freeze up, to under-do everything.  I often see the athlete comes up short in movements – rotation, alignment, muscle tension, quickness of loose, follow-through. The archer is mentally taut and physically tight, often to the point of immobility. The less relaxed, the harder it is to achieve a normal shot cycle.

You see one hold too long, and instead of letting down, force the shot that goes to 5 ring at 10 o’clock. You see the desperate waving of the bow arm left and right, in a vain attempt to get the arrow back onto track for the gold.  Somehow, the athlete prevails though, through this slow-motion horrorshow of dread.  I marveled at how one Italian archer in the team event, one whom I am familiar with in form and shot method, drastically shut down his method, yet still shot the ten to clinch the gold medal.

Yet – the tightness is not necessarily a condemnation – it can be an actual comfort, if the archer has trained properly in the “tightness of stress” often enough.  Writers often have some line like, “toughness forged in the furnace of competition”.  The more an archer competes, the more (with coaching help) likely the archer is to not freeze up so much that a shot can’t be successful.

Is it a for-sure thing, what I (or you) imagine we see?  No, it cannot be unless you already know the archer’s methods and form. But as a coach you have to practice the art of observation and analysis.  And that is the answer – what the most important thing to watch for is.  The act, the art, of observation filtering everything through all that you know.  Bring your knowledge to bear on what you see.

The coach that can see, that observes truthfully and accurately through the prism of his knowledge – that is the most important thing for a coach watching archery on TV.

Learn to see what you are watching. Dissect the form. Analyze the motions.  Compare what you think you see with the results and with what you know as a student of the sport.  Repetitions will be profitable to the time invested for both the coach and the perceptive archer (who can then see, that even when you feel impossibly tight, when even a breath is hard-fought-for, you can still shoot your shot.)

So, THAT is the most important thing  – anytime a coach has his sport captive on a television or a computer screen – seeing and watching and learning from it.  Oh, yeah, and enjoyment comes in many guises – productive watching is a real good one.

How is your Ventral Striatum?

If you are a coach, the link at the bottom of this post is valuable reading.  If you are an athlete, the lesson might be, “you want to care about the shot, but not TOO much”, but do not bother with this article unless your coach asks you to read it.

The Ventral Striatum (VS) is the part of your brain that deals with the good feeling of a reward, like ice cream, or praise, or, the feeling of success when an arrow nails the spider. (or even, scares it to death).  But if the fear of losing (or missing the target) becomes too much, the VS actually shuts down and thereby inhibiting muscle performance, and at that point it can be game over.

The study is a lot of techie talk, and seems to indicate that as everyday people are given a reward, their performance grows better until the reward becomes so important, that they think more about the pain of not getting the reward than getting to the award, to the point of paralyzing fear.  They forget how to perform because they’ve put their subconscious on a back burner and spend too much time actively thinking about what they are doing and the outcome of not doing well.  As Frank Herbert wrote decades ago, “Fear is the mind-killer”…

Archers often fall into this trap, guilty of this same thing.  If the archer tries too hard, or starts micro-managing the effort, say thinking about the pieces of the pie like elbow position, anchoring, clicker, etc., performance goes down instead of up. An archer aiming to not miss will certainly fail.  Allow that kind of thought to repeat a couple of times, and a lifetime habit can be born that destroys a perfectly fun game/sport.

One trick to avoid this is to teach your archer to know when to think about something else completely.  A world champion many times over repeats mentally, “green legos”, so that “how’s my back tension” doesn’t have a chance to appear on the mental tv screen.  Archers that have an issue they are working on can usually get away with saying that mantra over and over, before the actual shot process begins, because even though they are thinking of one particular part of the shot cycle, they are still putting everything else on autopilot once the archer starts to shoot the arrow.

I will often have the archer DECIDE right before the cycle begins on what needs to be done and only then, begin the shot cycle.  Once a decision is made there does not need to be any thinking, because the athlete has visualized the path and need only walk it. On a clear path, who really needs to think about how to walk it?

Archers:  Coach Lee will tell you (quite correctly) that for the successful archer the goal of shooting an arrow can never be an outcome. You cannot get to the top step by trying to “shoot a ten” alone.  You must focus on the process of performing an entire set of movements properly with your body and trust in the results to come.  What happens at the target is entirely controlled by what the archer does on the line. Remember that all archers will shoot bad shots, even miss. The champion is the one that doesn’t care too much when that happens.

Coaches: During competitions an archer must be coached, trained, to recognize when to say “green lego”, when to decide.  and to know how to let go of a bad “whatever”, how to get into , and then stay in, the groove of mindless automation.  That keeps the Ventral Striatum reward system in balance and under control.

Link to the article: The-new-neuroscience-of-choking

When is a match decided?

For every topic there will likely be several answers which can be right.  In the case of when do you know you have won/lost, one coach might say, “you win by how you prepare”.  Another would tell you that the decision point is right before you shoot the first arrow and that what you have in your mind controls the outcome.  I’d say these are all true, but most important: it is decided by the last arrow and you can never know “for sure” until the scoring is done, rather than the shooting.  If you decide you’ve lost, you close the door to success and you’ll be on the wrong side.  Archery matches are often decided on the last arrow, even when one archer has a superb opening end, provided the other does not give up.

It is important that the coach prepare the athlete to compete by laying a foundation that includes the possibility of not winning as well as winning.  In any tournament “there can be only one” who is the ultimate victor and it is important that the expectations be neither too low nor too high.

Time and again, a match is not decided until the last arrow.  I would prefer to say that the match is decided by the score of the last arrow.  The best archer can still have a miss in the first end, or the last end, and nothing is ever a “for sure” with archery.

Mental lapses happen all the time, and an archer on a seeming perfect path can wander off in a way that allows you to pass and win, provided you did not “quit” before the last arrow of the match.

It is important that the archer be taught to not wander, never to decide a match is over too soon, to remain focused on the things within control, and to not worry about what cannot be controlled. And to never accept a loss or claim a win until the last arrow has been shot.

Success is defined more by how you get to the finish line, not necessarily by the order of arrival.