Monthly Archives: June 2013

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?