Category Archives: Training

Topics of training issues

(IS) There Is Only The Right Way!?

I am currently in a situation, a classroom, with more than 30 coaches from some 20 countries.  The majority of the coaching instruction is coming from one U.S. Coach, Don Rabska, for whom I have the greatest respect and appreciation.

He’s emphasized something time and again, that many coaches in the U.S. do not fully understand, nor feel comfortable with.

THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SHOOT A BOW.

It is ok to teach a customized-for-the-individual-needs of the athlete.  The obvious provisions come into awareness for the athlete with a physical impediment (aka a paralympian) but a wise coach may find it productive to change a part of the method in order to succeed with an archer that has other issues – say, a shoulder impingement from some other sport.  I recall one JDT camp I was an observer at, where I was repeatedly admonished to watch, to observe, and to shut up.  Two separate youths were shooting their hearts out (among many others) to try and make the team, and who I was to observe.  Each   had some issue that were obvious to me as painful, “hitches in their giddyup”, but they were bound and determined to gut it out and shoot exactly as the JDT coaches were teaching – in one, the dad was also watching, adding the pressure.

I ended up accompanying one of them to the sports medicine facility, his JDT experience effectively “shot” because of the pain in his shoulder.  Career in archery effectively over.

With what I came to know afterwards, and what is being emphasized now in this superb class, if the normal draw path causes pain, a good coach should be able to explore other paths, try different methods, to avoid pain yet achieve a consistent shot method. And to do so without delay or floundering!  The first sentence in my coaching philosophy is, “First, do no harm”, and it is that way because I was victim to a feckless individual who called himself a coach yet nearly destroyed an archer near and dear to me.

The predominant method for teaching archery in the U.S. is the NTS, and I deeply believe it is the best method for uniform archery instruction ever employed in the U.S. .  BUT, it is not a “one size fits all” rigid code.  A good coach learns as many styles, methods, and philosophies as possible, NEVER stopping his/her own learning process, in order to bring to the student every resource possible.  A coach must have as many arrows in the quiver as possible, and know which one to use for a particular “target” in training the athlete.  If the athlete needs to draw lower than the average height at “set up”, so what?  The critical element is whether that enables said archer to achieve holding or bridging without pain in the shoulder assembly.

Be flexible.  Be innovative.  Be open to using alternative methods that help, not hurt, your athlete.  Just be sure your adjustment is a positive one for the archer, not an unthinking compromise to a rigidity in thinking that causes failure or injury.

Long Term Athlete/Archer Development

A splendid coaching document was brought to my attention by Tom Barker.  I’ve long known and respected the Canadians for their level-headed and all-inclusive approach to the sport of archery.  They often have a unique perspective on elements of coaching, as well.

While no program is perfect, the Canadians have seemed to me to often be on the leading edge of developing a more well-rounded program that does not sacrifice the well-being of the individual athlete for the sake of national dominance or even “excellence” to the elite level.   Excellence in a program is possible without disregarding the ultimate welfare of the participating athletes.

There is a philosophy of “you are not doing your best coaching unless you push all your athletes so hard, you lose 25% to injury or burnout.  The knowledge that for the limited number of spots on a national training team, the competition is so high that if coach “uses up” an athlete, there are plenty more eagerly waiting where that one came from who are just dying to get a shot seduces a coach into a win/lose coaching mentality.  It does not have to be that way.

This document might help you to develop a win-win coaching philosophy that does not require you to sacrifice *any* athletes in pursuit of excellence.

I do not believe there is a more well-developed overall plan of athlete/archer development for all levels of athletes anywhere. Every coach should read and evaluate this, and incorporate elements into your own philosophy for coaching.

My Favorite Vitamin For Performance

I’m thinking today about one thing in particular, having today come across yet another study indicating the lack of a fundamental element of health in athletes.  NCAA Athletes in Southern California…, wherein about one-third of these subjects are either deficient or insufficient in a fundamental nutrient which is critical for health and vital for peak athletic performance.

As with so many such studies, I feel the actual “situation” is much worse than it appears from that study as the typical researcher sets the bar far too low.  In this study they called a vitamin D* blood level of ~32 ng/ml to be the desired level which is wrong.  When mother nature is in control the blood level is actually nearly double that!

There are studies indicating that blood levels approaching 70 ng/ml (but no higher) yield positive changes in muscle performance.  If they had set the bar to 50 ng/ml a far greater percentage would be insufficient/deficient!

TO QUOTE the authors of that study: “Recent studies have demonstrated a direct relationship between serum 25(OH)D levels and muscle power, force, velocity, and optimal bone mass. In fact, studies examining muscle biopsies from patients with low vitamin D levels have demonstrated atrophic changes in type II muscle fibers, which are crucial to most athletes. Furthermore, insufficient 25(OH)D levels can result in secondary hyperparathyroidism, increased bone turnover, bone loss, and increased risk of low trauma fractures and muscle injuries.”  (Atrophic in this sense means the the more critical fast-twitch muscles fail to grow to potential during training – the exercise training is not having the desired effect.)

The Encyclopaedia of Sports Medicine: An IOC Medical Commission Publication, states very much the same thing, “maintaining adequate vitamin D blood levels may reduce risk for stress fracture, acute infection, inflammation, and impaired muscle function”.  The”may” in that sentence is again a timid researcher avoiding responsibility.

What virtually no researcher will go on record saying, is WHAT the ideal blood level of vitamin D should be, always instead cautiously calling “for more research”.  So why am I, a simple pharmacist and an archery coach, confident in calling for at least a blood level of FIFTY nanograms/ml (50 ng/ml)?  Because 50 is the natural, optimal, desirable blood level in humans.   I know this because, if you take ANY person of ANY skin complexion, and put them firmly in the sun’s grasp (ie, scant clothing and NO sunscreen) close to the solar noon, in Austin, Texas during the spring, summer, and even early fall, that athlete will generate enough vitamin D in as little as 15 minutes to an hour, to achieve a blood level of ~50 ng/ml. That’s mother nature, evolutionary process for millions of years, at work.

Darker skin requires more UV-B, lighter skin less exposure so the times will vary BUT what is obvious is that the body generates vitamin D in response to sun exposure, as a means of providing health.  Mother Nature says 50 ng/ml is optimal, in other words.  Some studies in athletes do show improved performances going to 60-70 ng/ml, but I have yet to find any speaking to > 70 ng/ml.  Some people will have issue with my choice of  “Mother Nature” as the controlling entity, so let me say it differently by paraphrasing the words of one of the foremost authorities in the world on vitamin D effects, Dr. John Cannell:  “God designed us, God gave us the ability to respond to God’s sunshine, to generate our personal health.  It is clear to me that in order to be healthy we must not shun that which God designed.  That does not mean we promptly go out and get sunburned to a crisp, but that we act in accordance and prudence to treat our bodies as our temple, with the respect God demands.”

Yes, coaches must focus on the sport in their mentoring, but I also feel the good coach must address in an appropriate way those “outside” elements like diet, sleep, hydration, nutrition (not the same as diet), and yes, sun exposure & vitamin D acquisition.

By the way, the athletes in that study I started out with, where 1/3 to 1/2 were deficient?  They  lived and exercised in “sunny” southern California where they had a superb opportunity to get adequate sunshine (but obviously were not)!  Know that the further the athlete lives from the equator the less sun intensity they will receive.  For example if those athletes were in Chicago, New York, Seattle, etc., the number of months of the year where “good sun” could happen would be far, far fewer and they’d be more deficient.  That means that the study looked at a “best-case scenario” where the athletes were MOST LIKELY TO HAVE GOOD LEVELS, yet even they came up short by a significant number.  That study, were it done in any university north of the Red River in Texas, would show far more deficiency. Period.  Thought: where do YOU coach your athletes – how far north (or south) of the equator?

Safety?  People are admitted to the ER on a daily basis for overdose of “multivitamins” and iron tablets, which can actually cause death.  Yet, there is an astonishing absence in the literature for any cases of the over-the-counter, inexpensive vitamin D anywhere causing any kind of overdose!  Vitamin D can be accurately said to be safer than water, since more people are admitted with life-threatening “water intoxication” than ever for vitamin D overdose!  In my own professional opinion,  multivitamins are never to be recommended to an athlete. Never.  That’s right – as a pharmacist I quit recommending every vitamin aside from D years ago.  Pardon my Texan but multivitamins are just plain bullsh*t.  Even the AMA recently proclaimed an absence of science to justify multivitamins.

Just so we are clear: vitamin D is not a vitamin.  Vitamins are substances humans must take internally (eat) because they cannot make it, that are necessary for health.  Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a good example – without it your teeth fall out and you die.  You can’t make vitamin C, so you should drink a margarita often.  (Or, maybe some orange juice or other citrus). :)  But “vitamin D”?  You make it!  Therefore, it is NOT a vitamin.  But just call it one to avoid distress.

To help you arrive at your own dosing regimen I can share what I do for myself:  I take vitamin D based on the formula of 1,000iu per day for every 25 pounds of body weight, always rounding “up”, so for 100 pounds a 5,000iu capsule (commonly marketed) is logical to me, and at 6’5″ and 235 pounds, I usually take 10,000iu per day unless I get some “good” sun which I would rather do than take a pill.  Being a health professional, I also get tested at least once a year for my 25(OH)D level, and it’s always between 50 and 70 ng/ml, depending on the time of year – runs higher in the summer because I try to also get routine sun exposure to boost my levels “naturally”.   Why “round up”? Your body will not activate the D3 into 25(OH)D unless it needs it.  Taking a small amount extra insures that your body stores away some vitamin D for when it needs extra.  If you break a bone, your D levels actually disappear!   If you acquire an infection, your body converts D into cathelicidin (google it).  If YOU TRAIN HARD, your body uses it to reduce inflammation and help build muscle to recover better, to actually achieve supercompensation.  If you have excessive body weight, your needs do go up as well.   For any other elite athlete, I would do as I did with my daughter – dose per my guideline, then get a blood level to make sure you can “check off” this concern, and then deal with other things, knowing you’ve done the right thing and that base is covered.  She won’t get sick as often, won’t risk injury as much, and will benefit to the max from training.

If you are not an athlete, everything regarding D still applies.  If you are an athlete, vitamin D can be that which allows you to focus on the top step, instead of trying to breathe through a sinus infection while you draw down on the X.

* I call it Vitamin D throughout this article – what is measured is actually the active form of the chemical, 25(OH)D , which your body makes from regular, over-the counter vitamin D3 aka cholecalciferol.  Incidentally, what you body makes from the sun’s rays is the same cholecalciferol as the capsules you can buy and take when the sun isn’t available. Sun is better, but the capsule is vitally better than going without.

Vitamin D3 is available in a variety of strengths, over the counter, in drug stores and big box outfits like Costco and Sams, as well as online.  Don’t waste your time with anything less than 5,000iu capsules and be careful online with your source.  I see prices of $17 for 300+ capsules of 5,000iu at Costco.  Years ago, I started buying from BioTech directly over the net because 5,000iu caps weren’t yet available, and I supply *every* extended family member that wants it.  50,000iu D3 caps allow for a less-than-every-day dosing regimen.  I do not like it, as a pharmacist I know that people forget to take meds, and missing once a week can be pretty important.  Missing a daily dose, not such a big impact.  Also, you can refine your dosing a little more easily with daily dosing.  Some might take 10,000iu one day, 5,000iu the next, alternating….  All good.

Cover your bases, coaches.

Knees

Last month during the annual USAA Coaching Conference in COS, we were informed that a slight enhancement to the stance of the shot cycle was being considered.  When weightlifters “lock” their knees and undertake a strenuous lift, they increase the risk of momentarily blacking out due to an impediment in circulation caused by the overwhelming contraction of muscles throughout the body and in particular, the lower body.  There is an Fainting after Strenuous Exertion or two on YouTube showing this effect.

Those educated in physiology are taught this characteristic, as Coach Kisik Lee was, and it was logical to extend this caution to archers who have a similar stance, similar posture (when doing it right) and experiencing the duress of holding 40 or 50 pounds for a time very similar to that required of a weightlifter qualifying for a clean lift.  So, in the beginning of the NTS, we were taught to be mindful of this and to insure that the archer did not lock the knees.

Careful consideration of the current evidence including the absence of archer faceplants,  has led Coach Lee to conclude that locking the knees does not create the same internal obstructions to circulation as in weightlifting.  Today, I received an email that clarifies further what we were taught, from Steve Cornell, the new head of Coaching Development at USAA (and congratulations to Steve!):

“Stance
We are now asking archers to completely lock their knees when they shoot. There is a
universal concept that if you lock your knees you will pass out; however, archers will not
pass out for the amount of time it takes to execute the shot cycle.
Locking the knees provides several benefits in terms of stability, including keeping the
body still during shot execution.  Archers should start locking their knees completely at the
completion of the Set position, but can relax their knees after the completion of each shot.

As you know, archers “coil” – rotate the upper body – from Set position through Setup, and
remain in this position through the shot cycle. We have seen that a lot of archers are having
difficulty keeping their hip position as they coil when they do not lock their knees.

Losing the hip position will reduce the amount of tension the archer feels in their back, and
will also cause the hips to move upon release. Keeping the knees completely locked
through the shot process will allow the archer to keep his/her hips from moving as he coils
to setup and a she releases the string.

We have included three photos to illustrate this concept (Page2). Notice that Ki Bo Bae
(pictured in both images on the left) has her knees completely locked, while the knees of
the archer on the right are not quite straight, and almost bent.  The knees should be
completely locked and not relaxed.”

Now, as a coach, I have been teaching this since January, and I’ve noticed that for some athletes this locking mechanism allows them to stand comfortably in a positive way, coiling, and assume a stronger posture overall, and improve their performance and happiness.

I have also seen that this does not work for 100% of the athletes – in some unique situations going to a “neutral” knee position that is slightly short of “locked”  MAY be warranted.  But every archer should be given the opportunity to benefit from this knee position before you surrender it as a goal to the more perfect shot cycle.

And these photo examples were provided.  Note that this information was sent to each NTS coach.

kneelock

George’s Blog

GTIf you are not privvy to this blog of George Tekmitchov’s I am pleased to bring it to your attention.  Incidentally, George is a long-time engineer and designer of risers at Hoyt AND the “voice” of Olympic Archery for a number of Olympiads (but for not the Paralympics, unfortunately).  George has extraordinary insights in archery.     HIGHLY recommended.

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

You practice, practice, practice…goes the old joke.  If all your archer does is practice flinging arrows, you’ll never get her to Carnegie Hall, though, because it takes more than just practice.

It is a fairly well-accepted rule that in order to be the best at “something”, you have to put in a lot of work, and a general rule of thumb popularized over the last few years is 10,000 hours.

That’s right, they say – Michael Phelps spent 10,000 hours swimming laps, Michael Jordan playing pickup on the neighborhood basketball courts for 10k hours .  There is a lot of evidence when you look at various successful olympic athletes, that something similar about “time invested” applies.  Another argument is that there really aren’t any “child prodigies” for sports, that the overnight sensations are usually people that labored (practiced) anonymously for years until they were discovered (or had honed their skills till they were “good enough”.

I fell in love with this whole concept when I first was told about it during an olympic coaching seminar held for all sports disciplines in Colorado, and I took it to heart since it merged with what through personal experience I felt I already knew.  I also came home with the understanding that it is not merely “doing it everyday” instead of once every four years, but that it had to be purposeful practice.

This concept struck a deep chord, for I had unwittingly performed much this same concept in working with my athlete that ultimately medaled in Beijing. Coach Tom Parrish had told me as early as 2001 that Korean archers (then as now renowned as some of the world’s best) always practiced with a coach so that no bad habits were allowed to creep in.  Therefore, I had resolved to coach my daughter this same way.

For my archer, it was that nearly every arrow, of nearly every single practice day during more than 8 years of dedication, was done with me coaching – analyzing, assessing, judging, providing instant feedback and reinforcement.  The archer was incredibly adept at receiving the observations and adjusting continually.  I would guess this applied for 80% of her practice time – the rest of the time she diligently worked on her skills by herself, almost always with a set of particular element(s) to improve.   She rarely met the “4 to 6 hours per day” workload due to physical limitations.  However, when she was training she put 100% of herself into it, a higher commitment than most athletes can manage for such an extended time.  She was deeply invested in “purposeful practice”, and though I estimate she put in “only” 8,000 hours, it proved enough.  Which brings me to ….

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence , by Daniel Goleman

This book confirms in many ways the need for the “whatever-the-heck-number-of-hours-you-can-get-out-of-your-athlete” are, to be purposeful, innovative, challenging, stimulating, non-boring, enjoyable, well….you get the idea.  I know it is a fact that in at least one medalist’s case, that if done with the right technique, you don’t need 10,000 hours and that is part of Goleman’s argument.  It can be done with far less, (as well as require far more) – the 10k rule makes the assumption that the individual actually has the core strength in all the elements that define “elite” to rise to the top step.  In reality few will, but I do believe the investment of hours will lead that athlete to be the best that she or he “can” be.

This book should be on your shelf, coach, with ample highlights, underlines, quotes identified, and with the understanding that like the other books in my bibliography up here, it’s both completely right and maybe all wrong.  Take the parts that work best for your coaching philosophy and own them.   If you are fortunate enough to encounter an athlete dedicated enough to attempt 10,000 hours of purposeful practice, you must be prepared to contribute your part to making those hours to be….purposeful enough, useful enough, effective enough, RIGHT enough, to enable that athlete to rise to his or her full potential.  Will it be on the medal stand?

Only the gods of sport will decide upon which head the laurel wreath will rest.

It’s OK To Lock?!

NTS coaches have long known that one fundamental key is the alignment of bones – the bow forearm bones (radius and ulna) into the humerus with the hinge vertical for optimal stress resistance, in example.
And we’ve also been taught that locking the knees, placing the near-to-the-joint leg muscles under tension can actually decrease blood flow and possibly lead to instability and even fainting.

Extreme example of muscle-contraction caused fainting
After several years of observation, Coach Lee has concluded that the risk of archery-induced NTS-method fainting is zero. As he mentioned in a recent seminar, “never see any archer faint, and lots of archers lock their knees”.  And he had a video that he showed without much comment – showing the knee joint and how when the joint is “locked”, the boney aspects interlock in a more favorable way.  Mother nature designs, evolves, our body’s joints to serve well certain functions.

Now, archery is NOT one of them.  But standing stock-still is – and if done with little or no cargo onboard to load up the body, the locking stance of the legs will provide an enhanced stability FOR SOME ATHLETES!  Not necessarily for ALL, but it is both safe and appropriate to evaluate in your archer whether this will provide better performance.

The locking knee in diagram is similar to the video Coach Lee showed – that one is not available to me – but this displays the same slight rotational aspect as the knee “locks”.

In short, it’s OK if your archer likes to lock her knees to get a more stable shooting platform, provided it does not cause pain, and is not allowed to interfere with the rest of the posture requirements of the NTS, AND that it provides a verifiable advantage.  (Straightened lower back, the arrow stays over the rear edge of the ball of the foot of the archer’s back foot, chest down, shoulders down, etc….)

So let your archer try to find a more sturdy leg platform, more comfortable, more natural, stance.

BB and BBB – A method for practice

Let’s consider aiming at a target.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BB and BBB are surprisingly effective exercises when done correctly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Flow, Please

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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