Category Archives: Training

Topics of training issues

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.

Going with the flow.

I’ve been posting clips from a book to my Kindle Amazon highlights file.  This book deals with the more esoteric aspect of coaching, MENTAL development.

If you read through this post, you’ll be rewarded with the name of the book and a link to it on  Amazon.

It’s normal for the archer to want to “work on” something everytime she shoots.  We all want to be better at what we do, and the physical aspect is right in front of the brain.  But if you are familiar with periodization, a means of physical training optimization, you may not have extended the concept beyond the physical.   I like that the notion deals with MENTAL periodization also.

Don’t just work on “something” every time you go out.  Set one day of practice out of every 7 that you shoot, to just shoot.  But instead of working on that release, or that transfer, holding, relaxed wrist, etc., you can choose to become complete null mentally.

Look, if you have been shooting for more than a few months, you have begun to myelinize your shot pathways.  It’s time for you to trust yourself and well, trust in the force, Luke.

Follow your normal shot mechanism conscientiously, carefully, till right before you go to the “up” position, (set to set-up).  When you have gotten to that point, you are ready to engage autopilot, and perhaps think of nothing in particular.  Emit a mantra, an “ommmmm” loud enough to hear between your ears.  Think of a polar bear in a snow storm.  Or, like one of the most successful female compound archers ever, visualize green legos.    Just don’t work on anything in the physical realm, think only of smoothness.  ease.  flow.

The goal is to relax and let your body take its course.  Disconnect from the desire to determine the results through force. Instead, learn how to go with the flow of your body’s natural abilities to complete the actions of delivering the arrow into the air.    Like visualization, going with the flow takes practice and clever desire.

The book?  ok, you’ve earned it…

Golf Flow  by Gio Valiente

Remember, as with several other excellent golf books you need to substitute the word golf with archery, ignore the sand traps, and think of how what he writes can apply to your particular desires to be a better archer/golfer.

PS: Are most archers practicing mental strengths, such as visualization?  Not so much.  Despite champions uniformly praising the skill development of visualizing as key to their success, I find it is amazingly difficult to persuade athletes to develop this skill. The students I coach that have given themselves over to this notion have become much happier with their abilities and performances.  In archery, the power of the mind will exceed the power of the body given a chance to do so.  This book in great part has mental strengths in well, mind.  :)   Well written, and I recommend it only for those who can trust in their mental force.

In times of pure stress and duress, when hitting the spider is the strongest desire in mind, allowing the subconscious to rule will win out, provided the athlete has laid the foundation for succeeding with flow by practicing the nothingness of the perfect unconscious release.  Wow, how zen is that?

Look Here.

Many of the topics I am moved to share thoughts on come from my students, primarily my college students. :)

When an archer has a miss (not “if”; as EVERY archer will have a miss) it apparently needs must involve some coaching to speed the process of retrieving the arrow(s).

The vast majority of normal missed shots will only miss the bale by inches, rather than yards.  (Not talking about missfires/shoot-through-the-clicker/letting-down-and-shot-anyway/triggered the release whoops early kind of events)

As such, the arrow will fall within a narrow cone or rectangle that barely is wider than the alley the bale sits in.  Yet time and again I’ll watch archers search 5, 10, or 20 yards to the side of the bale for the arrow which will almost certainly be found BEHIND the bale…Teach your archer to note mentally how the arrow missed. Was it to the side because the wind came up/quit right at release?  Was it on the plunger and launched OVER the bale?  It can make a great impact on the limited time we often have to work with the archer if too much time is wasted “in the green”.  And first, exhaust the possibility that it is within a narrow rectangle about the width of the darn target bale!  Only after that, go searching wider afield…

And teach them to go to the target, go ten or twenty feet further, and then take a sight on their scope’s tripod way back on the shooting line, so they have a sense of where the arrow traveled FROM and to….finding an arrow in the turf should not be rocket science and it should not take all day.

How well do you know your plunger?

It’s amazing how many archers do not understand the nature of the Berger Button/Cushion Plunger and the center-shot setting.

If you are a recurve archer, have you ever taken the time and trouble to explore the effect on tune and arrow behavior which changing your center shot has?  Perhaps you should experiment so you understand cause-and-effect and can tune better.

Start by measuring exactly how “deep” your plunger is so you can put it back to it’s current location if you want to return there quickly and easily (iow, when you panic). :)

Now, whatever its depth was, unscrew the plunger and set it to be about HALF as deep as it was. This’ll be the starting point and you’ll gradually move it deeper (past its original position most likely).   If it is designed like the Beiter Plunger you can tighten the spring by rotating the shroud until there is NO give in the button.  KEEP TRACK OF HOW MANY 360 DEGREE TURNS AND CLICKS YOU HAVE TO GO TO LOCK THE BUTTON DOWN. Again, so that you can put it back where it was at any time.  If another brand, just use the matchstick trick, insert a matchstick or a toothpick, something that eliminates the action of the spring for this exercise.

I like to do this shooting exercise with bare shafts.  Fletchings/vanes only serve to disguise the effects you seek to understand.  Be sure you are close enough to keep the arrows on the bale! Put up a blank sheet of butcher paper with a dot to aim at, or use a fresh target so you can circle each end of arrows.    Assuming you can shoot 3 arrows and get a group, well… do so.  Note how the arrows fly (how much they skew sideways) and where they go relative to your aiming point.  After each three arrows, rotate the plunger IN 1/2 turn pushing the centershot deeper away from the riser, and watch the arrows “march” across the target bale.

At some point the arrows will fly better than they have been and keep getting better, cleaner in flight.  Then as you continue changing the center shot, they will start to fly worse.  Keep going for a few ends and simply educate yourself on how the arrows fly, how they look in the bale (esp. if a foam bale – if a straw bale the angle of the dangle is not so diagnostic).  Ultimately you want to return to that plunger setting of “best behavior”.  You then might wish to check this “center shot” position in the traditional, arrow-on-the-bow-and-look-down-the-center-of-the-limbs method just to see how far off it is from the “accepted perfect center shot” (where the edge of the string away from the riser is just touching the junction of the shaft and arrow point joint).  If there is a difference between the “ideal” and your empiric center shot I would suggest it is due to the spine of the arrows and most importantly your release technique.

So which is better?  The one that give you the best groups, of course.

Incidentally, you did the center shot first because it has the more profound, basic influence on the arrow compared to the spring tension, but the spring can have a huge effect on the shape and size of your grouping pattern.

SO, how about the plunger tension now?  same thing.  You will not know until you try all the settings, using the same “little bit at a time” method keeping track as you make half-turns on the tension.  Notice how certain areas of adjustment actually make big changes in the left-right arrow groups, and as you get close to the sweet spot, you get better groups.  But you have to decrease the number of clicks per change as you near the sweet spot or you might go right past it.  Again, this exercise is simply to learn what effect the plunger tension has on the flight of the arrows as well as the grouping.

There is no more commonly used, less understood, hardware on the olympic recurve bow than the plunger.  You can study the engineering and physics of it all day long, and never really understand what it’s good for.  Till you experiment a little…

 

 

Too Much Of A Good Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do You Know?

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

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

Simply, do you give more than you receive?

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

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

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

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

Clearing The Mechanism, or FOCUS

More on this notion of training an athlete mentally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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