Category Archives: Life Lessons

Archery teaches lessons that are for life as well

What can you do?

Your fairly inexperienced archer shows up with not one, not even two, but multiple things changed, such as:

  • new, heavier limbs (by more than 2 pounds difference)
  • a new fingertab
  • altered bow grip with plumbers’ epoxy
  • clicker (for the first time)
  • added weights to the stabilizer
  • added lateral bars to the stabilizer setup (with weights)

So what do you do, coach?  Hissy Fit?

You may need to decide what the net impact is, when the archer realizes he/she has lost all semblance of the shot skill from before.

There is the distinct possibility that this is a good thing – get it all over with faster – by making so many changes that the archer’s brain is totally discombobulated and you can make huge strides in correcting form issues and technique bad habits.  It provides an opportunity for you to stretch your coaching muscles.

Or, this has such a negative impact on performance, or else you kneejerk the reaction so badly, that the athlete becomes disillusioned and quits the sport.

Finally, more cautiously, sometimes the best coaching technique is that of benevolent observation and inaction, followed by acute inquiry….After all, the coach has an obligation to WORK with the athlete, as long as the athlete is working.  I think I like this approach the most – it’s like, “hmmm, very interesting.  How does that make you feel”? that psychiatrists are so famous for using in *any* situation.  SEE what negatives crop up, deal with/knock them down one at a time, and seize upon the positives that arise from the archer feeling they’ve done good.

It may very well be that the way you handle the athlete doing something that demonstrates just how badly he/she needs you such as mega-changes, defines your own capability as a good coach.  It’s worth thinking about now, so you will be more comfortable and react optimally, when it does happen to you. And it will very likely happen to you.  Remember when you were starting out?

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.

Bibliography. ? Whut’s thet?

A list.  A bibliography is a kind of list, a summary, of reference materials wherein you can find gems of value, of wisdom to help you on your path to where you wish to go.  Here is a list of some of the books a coach might benefit from, though certainly not all.

I am a reader. I have read with a great appetite since an early age.  Taking an Evelyn Wood speed reading course at 14 did not hurt, either.  Growing up with a great public library nearby and a paperback novel displayrack full of books (for free for me) in my dad’s drug store was a distinct advantage as well.  OK.  so I read A LOT.  I’ve got more than 200 books on Kindle for calendar year 2012 as I write this on 12-23-2012 (23-12-2012 for my backwards English friends<G>).

Herein I am going to try to summarize some of the readings I have that have helped me to be a better coach, a better team leader, a better person.  Where I can recall, I’ll credit the person that brought me into contact with the book – the wiser person who told me, “you should read this”…

First, Tom Parrish told me to read “Golf is Not A Game of Perfect” at a time when I was struggling with how to get my daughter to a higher level of consistency.  I was worried about her occasional fliers (all archers will have these as they are developing – 5 great arrows and then one amongst them will be off in the blue instead of the gold/red ).  Tom told me something like, “ignore the parts about the sand traps, and the laying-up, substitute the word “archery” anytime the word “golf” appears.  He was right.  It is a superb educational book on the mental aspects of trying to put the itty-bitty pointy stick into the tiny target 76 yards away with some consistency.  Author is Rotello and here is the Amazon Link to the book.

I thought for a long time that Malcom Gladwell was some exotic, immensely intelligent, doctoral psychologist.  His books are literally THAT good.  I think early on that Coach Tom Barker turned me on to this author.  But Gladwell, a “mere” New York Times reporter,  weaves together again and again in his book, fundamental facts from a host of different sources and creates a tightly-woven rug that can hold water.  I read everything he writes, and I am the better person and coach for it.  Some are truly better than others, of course.  Thank you, Tom!

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures
Outliers: The Story of Success
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Of these, I love Outliers the best because I have always felt myself as something of an outlier. :)
I do dare you to read any of these and not come out of the book with a sense of increased wisdom, power to effect positive change in your athlete, and a different perspective on how to approach your calling.  This author has been passed around between coaches so much that it’s hard to know for sure who first zeroed in on how apt his writings are for the archery coach, but Tom certainly deserves my thanks.

Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions, by Susan Barry. As I have said in earlier blogs, she reveals (to me, at least) a way to get a huge percent improvement in performance by training a set of muscles that no archery coach has ever attempted before.  Teach the muscles of the eye to respond faster and more accurately and with more range of motion and you’ll have reached the outer limits of performance.  You think *nothing* of teach your athletes to do the same with their biceps, triceps, lats, and especially their trapezius set, why not with their ocular muscles?  jeez, this ain’t rocket science!  Ask any special-trained optometrist (NOT opthalmalolgist!).  Who told me to read this? NO ONE.  I have met only disdain and dismissal for my insight regarding the potential for training the muscles of the eyes in like manner to how all other muscles of the body are trained.  Someday I will be vindicated, unfortunately I fear it will not be because the US archery team is demonstrating a renewed potential best because of it – some other country will do this first.

You should never, ever, again mention the phrase “target panic”.  It is a stupid phrase and lacking in accuracy and truthfulness.  Instead, you will find you have to deal with “shot choke” or “hesitancy” in your elite athlete.  Beginner athletes never get this.  Only excellent archers find a plateau where their frontal cortex reactivates, overloads, and blocks the action that SHOULD be an entirely autonomous function.   To help you understand why this is more of a choking sensation than a panic situation, please read
CHOKE, by Sian Beilock.  Read it twice.  And quit planting the seeds of destruction by using the phrase target panic.

Emotional Intelligence 2.0, by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves – the title pretty much implies all you need to know about why it is something you should learn from.

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else – by Geoff Colvin.   Puts lie to the notion that there are “overnight wonders” and “natural professionals”.  The 10,000 hour rule is a truth.  NO ONE EVER BECAME ELITE without myelinating their neural pathways properly over a period of thousands of hours of doing that “something to be great in”.  If that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, well, read the book and learn.  It is a fundamental truth that every coaching certification course I teach includes.  Bill Gates, the Beatles, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, you name the athlete, they ALL put in at least 10,000 hours of purposeful practice on their way to the top step.  If I had to choose only one book, this one would probably be it.

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How – Daniel Coyle – Again, pounding away on the fact that we only think someone is “big for their age” or “naturally athletic”.  Our society builds a false premise that we continually fall for. (as coaches and as parents).  Learn how NOT to expect too much from your athletes and how to get more from them at the same time.  OK, maybe I would choose this as my “one and only” book to seize on.  It’s so HARD TO CHOOSE from!

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck – learn how profoundly influential  attitudes are in controlling success, and how to guide your athlete through a variety of pitfalls and traps.

A quick jaunt aside to a fictional yet educational story about shot choke.  “The Art of Fielding is mere baseball fiction the way Moby Dick is just a fish story” (Nicholas Dawidoff).   Book by Chad Harbach.

Sport Supplement Reference Guide bvy William Llewellym – a total waste of time.  NO ARCHER needs to take ANY special supplements.  He or she must eat 9 to 12 helpings of a variety of raw fruits, vegetables, and berries every day, in addition to appropriate levels of animal protein (if not a vegan) and fats, so that the body can extract all of the micronutrients needed to create new cells in the body on a continual basis.  More so when in training, as heavy training produces results by destroying cells and counting on the nutrients being available to rebuild the destruction better, stronger, and more efficiently.  Like the NGBs for France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, I find that the science, the documentation in peer-reviewed, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, certification by the NSF, to be so compelling that I have not only taken it myself for 10+ years but also commend it to my athletes:   http://www.winningwithjuiceplus.com  – a capsulated formulation of a neutraceutical product consisting of 25 fully-ripened, raw, cold-juiced/treated/lyophyllized fruits, vegetables, and berries manufactured under stringent parameters that are totally USADA and WADA safe.  You don’t need an “out of balance hyper dosage of anything”.  Just a totally rounded realistic source for mother natures’ best natural nutrients so that your body can pick and choose just what is needed at just the right time during rebuilding and supercompensation.  You also need to insure your athletes are getting therapeutic daily doses of what is called “vitamin D” by either adequate sun exposure to skin, or else Vitamin D3, 5000 iu per 100 pounds of body weight. (in lieu of semi-monthly blood test of the 25(OH)D which MUST be at a level of at least 50 ng/ml, and below 80 ng/ml). A ng, by the way, is a billionth of a gram.  So it don’t take much to make a world of difference in athletic performance when it comes to vitamin D3.

Rome 1960 by David Maraniss – This book fosters a greater understanding of the singular largest athletic event to be held every four years in the world.  The good, the bad, the WHY and the WHEREFORE of this juggernaut of power and monied interests on behalf of the youth of the world, called upon to gather every four years…

The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human by V.S. Ramachandran  -  Dr. Rama will be awarded the Nobel Price in my lifetime, and hopefully his, IMHO.  If you want insight into how the human brain greets consciousness, how it learns by simply watching, and how the magnificence of it all comes together, this book is a must.  You can also use TED.COM to view his 10-15 minute presentations which I recommend prior to you buying the book.  If it doesn’t ring a chime in your core, you probably should not be a coach.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey .  Ok.  Despite all the excellent books I have already listed, this book.  This Book.   THIS FREAKING BOOK!!!!  If you know the Miller children of Napiersville, IL, then you will have a starburst of comprehension midway through this book that transcends what you THINK you know about learning.  It is an incredible slap in the face of our conventional wisdom about how schools should operate.  It paints a vivid and clear yet simple and cheap path we could be following to create excellence in our students at *any* level, in any pursuit of learning not just archery.  But it certainly applies to archery!!!
and in greatest position of honor, two books who by author name alphabetically should come last, but by greatness should never be anywhere but first:
Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and Off the Court
and
The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership
by?
John Wooden, of course.   His example lesson to me is simply, be as selfless as possible. Be honest to the athlete and to the sport, as well as to yourself.  BE MODEST.  Have a method for everything and a reason for your method.  Train not to the top step but to the top performance of the athlete.  All else will take care of itself.  And as I recall a certain “head coach” grabbing a trophy from the athlete and dancing in a bizarre way on the field with the trophy over his head as though it was his, it aint’ about the coach. It’s all about the athlete.  They win.  We coach.  If we do it right, we open the door for that win, but the athlete walks through that door and kicks butt.  Our tears of joy must come through the success of those we mentor.
Ahem. Teared up there for a minute.  You have some reading to do.  Please feel free to post comments with the titles and authors of books YOU have found useful, so that I and others might benefit as well?  and a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, to you..
and I’ll add more books in the next year…

 

 

Communication

This is a quickie redaption of a long post I wrote during the Olympics. I wrote that long and harsh blog post because of what I witnessed once, twice, three times a nightmare on the Lord’s Cricket Field.  It was harsh and too easily objectionable as “peanut gallery cheap seat whinery” so I pulled it soon after posting. It’s premise is true though, and I’ll try to be as objectively professional as I can.

Coaches, you have to know when to open your mouth and how to control your athlete ANYTIME when he is not performing a shot cycle.  When the stands are creating a standing pressure wave 20 feet high of intense noise and distraction, and your archer looks back at you in obvious distress, you better not find yourself lacking in preparation yourself.

KNOW what your athlete needs when she is up, know what he needs when he is down, and especially know what your athlete needs when she is teetering on the edge of self-demolition.  Know what the hell to say, to do, how to communicate non-verbally from your little holding cell of hell so that your athlete succeeds. The smallest of gestures can climb the highest mountain of momentary fear.  I’ve climbed a number of 14K peaks in Colorado, and there is nothing like balancing on a knife edge ridge 100 yards from the summit, wheezing and trembling muscles in the thighs, sheer unmitigated dropoffs of thousands of feet either side, to realize how the smallest of things can make the largest of differences.  There was no “try” there was only “do”.  Like a small gesture from the coach in the right way at the right time. Or the right couple of key “words”.

Example of key words prepared well in advance between athlete and coach: for Lindsey, “Decide” and “Deep Breath” combated and ultimately defeated her Target Panic at the right moments. Her final bronze medal-winning arrow in Beijing, on YouTube, is witness to the words from me she could hear in that insanely crazy moment as you see her take that breath. She does not even remember what the camera shows, so great is the stress at that moment…   But loaded key word terms trained into your athlete should be an arrow in your coaching quiver.

When the athlete dares falter it is your job to already know how to cure that hesitation, to be the Coach with a capital C.  Do not be the coach who just crosses his arms, dons opaque sunglasses, and becomes the stern father figure.  Chances are that will NOT be doing YOUR job.  You must prepare during good days for those moments you will have the honor to do your duty to your athlete.

Coach.  Boy Scout.   Be Prepared.  Act.

Opportunities Abounding For Life Lessons

London 2012.

The best archers each country of the world could muster all gathered at the Lord’s Cricket Grounds for a rainy and sunny 5 days in order to see who was the best at the end of competitions. And at the end, there was only one male archery and one female archer holding gold medals.  All other archers, every single one, met defeat at least once, though for each gender one poor bronze-match player lost once to get to that event, then lost again to be denied. Double pain!

The importance of this blog post begins with the fact that the stories of their triumphs are what keep us all glued to the computer screen, to the TV, sharing their ecstasies of success and their agonies of defeat.  If we didn’t care about the also-rans, we would well, just treat all competitions short of the medal matches just like the way we (well, NBC TV to be more precise) treat the qualifying round (which is never televised – as if it doesn’t happen).

Change direction a little:  As a coach, it is critical to make sure that when YOUR athlete is presented with such an opportunity she (or he, I won’t bother with such a distinction here again) realizes that when she only has 9 or so arrows to win through, she must be prepared to accept the whims of fate as well as the consequences of her own actions. Every round HALF of the athletes will lose.  Fact.  Lose.  Half.

Change direction again:  It is an accepted fact by the mature, seasoned archers at the world-class level that “you may beat me today, but I can beat you tomorrow”.  This knowledge becomes one of the most effective coping mechanisms for a defeat – knowing that quirks, fates, whims, breaths of wind, all play with the archer.  Some days, an archer just plain shoots out of her class, in the zone, totally inside the bow and can do no wrong.  Other days the archer’s bow develops a mind of its own and cannot be commanded, so how will the athlete deal with such a betrayal in a healthy and educational way?  Especially during the Olympics, when it is the end of a 4 or 8 year odyssey of training and selfless dedication, endless USADA aderence, and “got no life” sacrifice?

Like in real estate where it is all “Location, Location, Location”, in coaching it is all “Preparation, Preparation, Preparation”.  A coach prepares his athlete for every contingency. Winning. Losing. AND everything in-between that determines both of these and how each will be handled.

Add all of this together with the slogan from the movie Highlander and you may understand what needs to be done, and that is why you must teach your athletes to prepare for how they will deal with failure.  You lie to yourself and worse, to your athlete if you doubt for even the slightest moment that an athlete’s career will have MORE losses than wins.  The slogan? In case you don’t know it already, “THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE”.   In any archery tournament only one archer can be on the highest step.

HINT: coaches co-relate (yes, correlate) things that happen while practicing archery events with life skills the athlete will use throughout their future on and off the field.  One of the wonders of being in archery is that it is a wonder prep school for life, if you coach it right.

How good you teach your athlete to deal with the reality of losing defines how good of a coach you are. Ideally every time your athletes loses it is a learning opportunity, a tempering of steely resolve in the fire of competition, it is an opportunity!

So, coach, how good ARE you at preparing your athlete for life, for losing, and from that, ultimately for winning both on the field and in life itself?