Training the muscles up.
We train athletes to shoot an arrow from a bow in an extremely precise, reproduceable way.
We cross-train athletes, too. We know through experience and science that training an athlete to have greater core strength for example, will result in a more stable upper platform, less aperture movement, especially in windy conditions. Most coaches think nothing is unusual with this concept. I have never had an archer say, “the transverse abdominus muscles aren’t part of drawing a bow, so why bother?” Once a coach explains it properly, the archer CAN gain more power over the shot cycle by using the TA muscle group to squeeze the grapefruit behind the belt buckle.
So why do we not train the singularly most sophisticated and powerful ciliary muscles? Did you even know you COULD train the ciliary muscles? Well, you can and we should. I think that gaining the ability to focus perhaps 5 times faster, to accommodate for near objects with greater facility, perhaps even to increase an athlete’s depth of field to where both the aperture AND the target are in focus simultaneously, cannot be given enough importance.
How? Thank you for wondering that. In the book, Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions by Susan R. Barry , the applicability of this concept of training the ciliary muscle of elite archers struck me like a thunderbolt out of the blue. You could say it was made clear to me as I read this remarkable story. Sue Barry is a neuroscientist who was more than 40 years old before she ever got to see the world as the other 99% do, in stereo vision. By analogy, think of what it is like when you go to the IMAX 3D, put on a set of special glasses, and have things leap out of the flat screen and into the air, hovering before you. We take this for granted in our normal lives. Imagine a 24/7 world where you never get the glasses for the 3D movie!
Sue was not blind, not unable to see things. She just couldn’t detect edges, depth, foreground and background, she could not see individual snowflakes in the air.
Now, she can. Through some absurdly simple tools and some awesomely clever optometrists, she learned to see in 3D at an age when all of the medical doctors told her it was impossible. She, and others like her, prove that it is never to late to enhance visual technique.
We already know that we can cause myelination of neural pathways in our athletes through deliberate practice and repetition, creating world-class elite performers out of mere teenagers (who are old enough that by this “common knowledge” cannot still have plastic cells in their brains, right?) Wrong.
There are two kinds of eye doctors, in a general sense. There are Opthalmologists, MDs, who have specialized in the eye and diseases thereof. They are able to prescribe pretty much any drug they see fit for eye health. You want someone to do a surgery on an eyeball, chances are it will be an opthalmologist. In the days of yore, they were the only ones who could use eye drops that dilate your pupils in order to get a better peek inside the eye.
The other kind of eye doc is an optometrist – Nowadays, they do have a number of drugs they can use in their role. But perhaps because they used to have more restrictions, or perhaps because I don’t understand it at all, they have become much more likely to use physical therapy to find a solution to a vision problem (instead of surgery).
Your eyes must be able to go crosseyed on demand to see something that is only a few inches in front – say the clicker. The aperture. For the target, the eyes must diverge apart evenly and quickly to much less than the angle for really close things. Most eyes will function normally, and with slight effort the athletes views these things “on demand” never realizing this is how vision works. Most athletes DO have a certain depth perception that allows bow “attitude” to be seen in 3D, a critical part of shooting well.
There is no way to predict for any single archer how much benefit can be gained from training with the special kind of Optometrist that Sue Barry worked with. Another point is that many people who think they have normal vision actually have defects that they don’t realize, but that COULD be trained out of them. I know of a medalist who was found to have some coordination eye movement problems that could have improved the odds. I have been told by one of these specialists that there may be only 400 such optometrists in the entire world capable of performing this kind of training.
I see this as simply another opportunity for cross-training. Imagine if a 1300 archer is found to have a limitation in eyesight that can be fixed – freeing that athlete to be better, to reach a potential that would not, could not, otherwise be achieved. How much better? Well, how much is 1% better worth? 10%? 15%? One cannot know, but getting the elite athlete’s muscles trained up is what coaches do.
Why do we not train the muscles of the only target detector system the athlete has?