Monthly Archives: December 2013

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.

It’s Cold Outside…

SEASONAL ARCHERY:

When the temperatures begin to drop, and the last outdoor tournament has been shot, there becomes a divide of archers into two groups. Many archers change the entire tune/set-up including buying arrows as big around as your thumb, to shoot indoors while others well, don’t change a thing.  There is a separate, somewhat more clever, sub-grouping who have a complete “indoor setup” that sits idle most of the outdoor season, which I’ll muse on later…

FIRST:

Why change?  For many, the motivation is to shoot the highest score.  Not a personal best score, but the highest.  The target archery rule on scoring dictates the underlying scheme – if the shaft of an arrow comes to rest across the line dividing two scores, the archer shall have the higher score.  Therefore, popular logic is, shooting a fat arrow increases the percentage, the odds, that the archer gets an scoring advantage.

PROVIDED THE ARCHER CAN TUNE THE BOW TO THE ARROW AND SHOOT THE SAME AS S/HE WAS, WITH THE SKINNY ARROW/SETUP.  Remember that fat arrows get blown about by the weather elements (wind and rain) much more than skinny arrows – neither of which is a factor at MOST indoor facilities.  I have it on good authority that lots of indoor events in Arizona are very breezy, however.  (kidding here – Arizona does have nice indoor venues)

There are a *lot* of biases to consider – bias meaning a particular view of “influence” both pro and con:

  1. Fat arrows at typical USAA events cannot be larger than a 2315 Easton Shaft-there is such as thing as “too fat”.
  2. Cross winds, as mentioned, have a lot more effect on a fatter, lighter aluminum shaft than on a denser, smaller carbon/aluminum shaft.
  3. In rain, the arrow drop from bow to target can be more pronounced due to the ratios of shaft mass to raindrop mass.
  4. Air drag effect is magnified as well for the big shafts, which is less a factor at 18 meters than at 50 or 70 meters.
  5. The 10 ring of a 40cm target is very small and even if perfectly arranged, the three arrows of the largest legal shaft will barely fit inside.
  6. The larger the shaft is, the greater the chance of an arrow deflection, and not always in an obvious way.  Damaged nocks are a good telltale, but an arrow NOT in the gold might not be due to the archer’s aim.
  7. Making a change from a skinny to a large involves a huge number of considerations, which is both a good learning experience as well as a set of difficulties which many archers fail to overcome.
  8. The size of the shaft actually can change the way the string – fingers interact, interfering with a clean sharp release.
  9. Added cost for different vanes/fletches, arrows, and points.
  10. Time to tune up both at the beginning of the season and at the end where you change back to outdoor setup.
  11. You can probably come up with yet another bias beyond these. ?

Point is, what you do matters a lot.

Ask yourself: “why am I shooting indoors?”   If you want to make a particular team, it’s important.  If you want to just stay strong in your skills until you can once again fling a shaft 70 meters, maybe not so much.  If you are in the sport for fun, you might keep a separate bowkit for indoors and glory in shooting a 20 pound bow!

I have to muddy the waters of what up until now has been an “either-or” proposition.

In the mid ‘aughts, around 2003 or 4, at the NAA National Indoors in College Station, I witnessed a truly great coaching moment.  A Canadian female cub archer and her father-coach (This will be a topic here, soon) ventured from Quebec down to the warmer Yew Ess south to shoot.

First thing, I realized she was holding for a longggg time.  I had seen her shoot at several outdoor events and that was not normally her way.  Yet her shot cycle was slow motion from anchor to loose, and I could not understand how she could maintain the hold with what I knew to be 35+ pounds.  At that point Denis (the father/national level coach) explained with a bemused smile:  ”She is shooting only 20 pounds. (“!” goes I)  He said, “For 18 meters, why would anyone shoot more?”  (Now, it might have been 24 pounds – I can’t remember for sure).  Point was, DUH, she only needed a small weight to accurately break paper at 18 meters, why use twice as much draw weight as what is needed????  light-bulb!

She went on that evening to shoot a FITA WORLD CUB RECORD with her superb form (NOT an NTS form, but that is not relevant here) with a well-tuned bow requiring 1/2 or so of the draw weight needed to complete the shot.

Due to the fallacy of “common sense”, I had to that point presumed that an athlete needed to always spiral upwards in draw weight, never purposely dropping down dramatically, if even only for a couple of months.  (not talking about injury & recovery, of which I have more coaching experience than any 5 coaches).

There are several “take-aways” from this for those willing to consider.

A young (adolescent) athlete is undergoing radical evolutions in body – strength, leverages as bone lengths change, hormonal influences are causing super-human changes, balance, emotion, you name it, it’s changing.  So what negatives does a coach risk by DROPPING the demand on the muscle groups for a short period, before re-challenging ?

Are you familiar with periodization?  HELLO, RON!  This became a “DUH” moment for me when I was first introduced to periodization at the Colorado OTC, and I put two and two together.  Wow.  I don’t know if Denis was practicing periodization on purpose, but he was doing it.  Wow.  Talk about a wake-up slap to the face!

The more important take-away to me:  A coach that forces an archer always to shoot the maximum poundage possible is not using every arrow in his quiver.  Can you not for a moment imagine how it feels to go down by 20 or 30 pounds, in a well-tuned system, and still lambast the hell out of the ten ring (in a 40cm target at 18 meters)???  There is mental training of all sorts, and rewarding the archer for a couple of months by allowing a coasting of muscles results in a blossoming of mental strength and positive feedback.  Frankly, the coach that ignores positive mental reinforcement isn’t much of a coach.

Hey.  Would that not be a great “vacation” mentally during the off-months indoors?  Sure, it would likely require the coach to implement a strength re-acquisition program leading into the outdoor season.  But I would feel certain that’s NO biggie for a coach to handle (aka: periodization), and for an adolescent athlete, such challenges are part and parcel of leading to super-compensation.  Coming away from the winter with a positive attitude of “can-do” is priceless!

If you can afford a library of limbs so that the archer can bump a continuous pound-a-week or so, such a cycle makes great sense.   Just sayin…

Thanks, Denis, for teaching me a lesson that took me several years to fully understand.

Oh, by the way….that archer, Marie Pier, did NOT change her arrows from X10s to guppies.  In that, I was pretty much always on the same page – elite recurve archers can probably benefit more from the same size arrows year-round and learning to tune into better 18-meter grouping behavior than from switching to shooting logs.  The technique of release is highly underappreciated, and staying with one thickness of shaft gives much more benefit than the tenuous-at-best linecutter notions, when the relevant events are all happening outdoors for that athlete as well.  

If your goal is only the national indoors, then guppy away.  If you aim for the USAT / Jr.USAT / PARA USAT, then you *have* to perform at 70 meters (or 50) and only using carbon/aluminum shafts such as ACEs or X10s will optimize your release.  This dictates what you should be shooting indoors! <hint>

So it’s cold outside.  Unless you are Aya (see photo), Whut Are Yew Gonna Do ?CalendarGirl

Dedicated

 

 

As a coach, you must decide what to do, based on the goals of your athlete.  Your goals must be harmonious with your philosophy as a coach, and with your respect for your athlete.

A final thought – For most youth, the winter months are the time of “school”, where academics are weighted more heavily by both the parents and the athlete in the scheme of things compared to the spring/summer months.  Taking it easier on the athletic aspect of training during this period could be a smart thing for more reasons than are obvious at first.