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.