Monthly Archives: June 2012

How is your Ventral Striatum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When is a match decided?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello Texas!

This is a resource for a couple of coaches to communicate to students, archers, and parents of Texas Archery.   Comments are encouraged, but must be civil, as if you were standing on the line competing as an archer.   Sportsmanship is key.