Category Archives: Tournament/Competition

Concerning the situation where an athlete competes publicly

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

In watching the archery competition online at NBCOlympics.com, 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.