Sunglassed! “The frames of my glasses block my sight”, or “Visionary Thinking, Part 1″

Man is a predator.  LIke other predators, our eyes are both facing the same direction, whereas prey have eyes on each side of the head looking outwards because this makes them safer from ….predators.

So we do best in athletic events (ergo, “hunting a paper target”) when we face our prey.  For archers this means turning the face to the target as much as possible.  This can be hard for several reasons, all of which are based in the body’s natural design.

First, joints are only as flexible in range of motion as the owner makes them.  If you carefully and cautiously press your range, usually the joint will gain in range. We call it “stretching”, and it must be done carefully to avoid microtearing muscles (or even MACRO TEARING!)

What is the best way to stretch your neck’s range of motion – improve the tendons, ligaments, muscles so they allow you to zero in on your prey better?  Swimming.  The crawl, where you float face down, flail away with your arms while you kick crazily, and periodically ROLL YOUR HEAD on your spinal axis to the side for a breath.

You need to roll your head to the same side you look to when shooting: Right hand archers should breath from their LEFT side.  Every breath is an opportunity to stretch your joints just a little, to become more comfortable doing this.  Plus your athlete is cross-training, a great thing.

Incidentally, most people have a favored side, a great range of motion, to one side or the other.  Why?  After a lot of reflection I concluded that people sleep on the stomach at least a little every night, some much more so.  And when on the stomach the head must roll to one side if you don’t want to suffocate.  This gives you the same repetitions as swimming does.  Try it and see if you don’t feel a tightness sooner to one side or the other as you look first left, then right, as far as you can.

OK, one last and fundamental reason your athlete is having trouble seeing the aperture while wearing glasses because the frame is “right in the way”.  The neck vertebra (“cervical”) are different than the other vertebra of the spine in one particular way.  They interlock in a way that increases stability and lessens the chance of breaking said neck.

bones of the neck

Image the head tilting forward (to the left in the picture) and see how the bones interlock but have room to arch. But not so much to the back(right side of pic), nor in a rotational way unless tilted to the left (forward).  Credt: eSpine

Want to verify this?  Assume a shooting stance, OR, just sit where you are but sit up, and raise your head as though you are putting your nose just a little up, to contact the bowstring, and turn your head towards the target and draw your airbow.  Turn your head as much as possible to the target till you reach your limit.  NOW, drop your nose down about an inch, and carefully observe how much more further you suddenly can turn your head in an easier way! An inch? maybe more?  Well past where the eyeglass frame would be! It will be “more” because the spurs of bone in the cervical vetebrae interlock more when your head is tilted back/up than when it is slightly rocked forward/down. Don’t allow the athlete to “nose-down” too far, of course.

One fact that USAA National Head Coach Kisik Lee identified during the implementation of his shooting method was that elite and accomplished archers who had never been able to wear glasses because the frame got in the way, were suddenly able to enjoy sunglasses.  They could because he teaches a method that is consistent with the importance of facing your prey, facing the target.

Every USAA coach will already know this, but for the rest: When your eyes are rotated to the extreme edge of your orbits, either left or right, your nervous system cannot, will not, maintain the same control of your muscles.  While shooting a bow, if you look out of the corner of your eye, in other words, you will be weaker and holding the string to anchor will actually be harder for you.  Ask a USAA coach to show you proof – it’s fun/funny.

Essentially, my position is that if someone complains about the frames being in the way or the edge of the glass distorting the target, the problem is NOT with the glasses, it is with the coach failing to teach the athlete a proper technique for getting the head into a “Prey/predator” relationship with the target.  We are predators. When shooting a bow, be like the lion sighting in on the antelope.  Or, like your cat looking at a bird through the window – their intensity can be incredibly obvious, and they NEVER watch a prey out of the corner of their eyes.  With good, natural reason.

SO swim some laps breathing out of the correct side.  Drop the chin just a little.  Push the range a little at a time, and soon you will be seeing clearly through your glasses.  Just don’t make them so dark you can’t see the target!

What’s Your Reward?

People must have a reward.  No matter what you attempt in life, if you don’t see a reward worth the effort, you will find an excuse, a reason, to stop do that thing. Why bother if you do not get some benefit, some warm fuzzies, some something?

I think what makes a great coach is finding a way to reward the athlete and derive a reward simultaneously from that deed.  Neatly, it is a FREE reward.  It costs me nothing in other words, in motivating the archer for a positive change.

If you are a great coach then when you reward the archer, you realize that same reward for your own (quietly).  There is such a wonderful feeling when you help an archer succeed thereby documenting internally that you succeeded.

A win can be a small, insignificant-seeming thing to the naive or inattentive, or the uninformed.  A great coach can enable an athlete to acquire a new skill of *any* size and that to me is a win.  For the athlete, of course, and … for the coach.

Win-Win (no trademark) situations benefit both “sides”, by the standard definition.  If you want a win, help your athlete to have a win, and put that in your vest pocket for warmth.  Nothing fuzzy about that concept.

On Scientific Behalf Of Exercise

One of the best archers I ever met just showed up at the field right out of the blue.  I watched in curiosity as he remained aloof, apart, shooting at his own target foam block while UT students went about being, well, college students.

Let’s call him, well, Easy.  Easy would shoot his arrows from a full-blown archery kit setup, hitting target decently at 70 meters, and then set bow down, and RUN to the bale, pull, and RUN back.  Seriously.  This guy was dedicated.  I know him better now, and have tried to informally help him though we have never had a formal coach-student relationship.  He’s a marvelous human in many ways.

I have recently learned WHY he became an excellent archer so quickly, or at least, one reason why.  He exercised aerobically before he exercised anaerobically.  He would get his heart rate up, then shoot.  How many archers do YOU know, coach, that do this?  DO you teach this?  Kisik Lee, National Head Coach, has the Resident Athletes do this at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center.  I have to wonder:  WHY in the world do we coaches follow the path he lays down in shooting technique yet FAIL our athletes by not having them follow ALL of the methods he uses?

Let’s go to the mattresses:  Get a copy of SPARK.  The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman).  Or, subscribe to my notes in Amazon Kindle, and zero in on the passages I extracted as relevant to archery coaching.

I’ll try to briefly summarize for you lazier folk<G>.  Children in one Chicago school district, over 17 years of doing this, who are led to exercise in a specific way at the beginning of their school day, in controlled study, are able to outscore like aged children in every country in the world in a standarized test (the TIMSS).  Nothing else special – no megabucks spent, just having them exercise. Google “Naperville TIMSS Singapore”  – singapore routinely cleans the clocks of American students in readin’,writin’,and ‘rithmatic.

Got to keep this short: When YOU exercise to 60-70% of max heart rate in a way that requires your brain engages for stability, dexterity, coordination, etc. then your brain releases glutamate, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, GABA, and most importantly Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. If you want the science of it, then read it. This book has it in spades – transparent, clearly said, easy to understand, scientific proof of a nature that is reliable enough to be acted on.

Again in short: With these chemicals cascading due to exercise, your brain chooses to use the “flight or fight syndrome” to lay down memory in a more powerful way.

Read that again as though your success as a coach depended on it.

Muscles exercising will create IGF (Insulin-like Growth Factor), VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor), and FGF-2 (fibroblast growth factor).  To be simplistic, these migrate to the brain and lay down more brain cells, more blood supply, and selectively myelinate the nerve pathways that are exercised immediately following …… aerobic exercise. If that happens to be shooting an arrow, the brain myelinizes better the skill of pointy stick into the gold, IF THE COACH IS DOING THE JOB A COACH SHOULD DO.

Ok, I’ve gone on long enough.  Get your students to exercise for 10 to 20 minutes before they shoot, and get their heart rates up to at least 120, maybe 160, depending on their age and their health.  Use prudence.  First, do no harm.  But like Easy, they will give you far more progess if you do this.  You will get credit you probably don’t realize you deserve.

Read Spark.  you will find it a great educational opportunity.  To get a taste of why it is pertinent to every archery coach, try this link.

Do some good today.  Make your students’ heart rates zoom before they shoot…

 

Opportunities Abounding For Life Lessons

London 2012.

The best archers each country of the world could muster all gathered at the Lord’s Cricket Grounds for a rainy and sunny 5 days in order to see who was the best at the end of competitions. And at the end, there was only one male archery and one female archer holding gold medals.  All other archers, every single one, met defeat at least once, though for each gender one poor bronze-match player lost once to get to that event, then lost again to be denied. Double pain!

The importance of this blog post begins with the fact that the stories of their triumphs are what keep us all glued to the computer screen, to the TV, sharing their ecstasies of success and their agonies of defeat.  If we didn’t care about the also-rans, we would well, just treat all competitions short of the medal matches just like the way we (well, NBC TV to be more precise) treat the qualifying round (which is never televised – as if it doesn’t happen).

Change direction a little:  As a coach, it is critical to make sure that when YOUR athlete is presented with such an opportunity she (or he, I won’t bother with such a distinction here again) realizes that when she only has 9 or so arrows to win through, she must be prepared to accept the whims of fate as well as the consequences of her own actions. Every round HALF of the athletes will lose.  Fact.  Lose.  Half.

Change direction again:  It is an accepted fact by the mature, seasoned archers at the world-class level that “you may beat me today, but I can beat you tomorrow”.  This knowledge becomes one of the most effective coping mechanisms for a defeat – knowing that quirks, fates, whims, breaths of wind, all play with the archer.  Some days, an archer just plain shoots out of her class, in the zone, totally inside the bow and can do no wrong.  Other days the archer’s bow develops a mind of its own and cannot be commanded, so how will the athlete deal with such a betrayal in a healthy and educational way?  Especially during the Olympics, when it is the end of a 4 or 8 year odyssey of training and selfless dedication, endless USADA aderence, and “got no life” sacrifice?

Like in real estate where it is all “Location, Location, Location”, in coaching it is all “Preparation, Preparation, Preparation”.  A coach prepares his athlete for every contingency. Winning. Losing. AND everything in-between that determines both of these and how each will be handled.

Add all of this together with the slogan from the movie Highlander and you may understand what needs to be done, and that is why you must teach your athletes to prepare for how they will deal with failure.  You lie to yourself and worse, to your athlete if you doubt for even the slightest moment that an athlete’s career will have MORE losses than wins.  The slogan? In case you don’t know it already, “THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE”.   In any archery tournament only one archer can be on the highest step.

HINT: coaches co-relate (yes, correlate) things that happen while practicing archery events with life skills the athlete will use throughout their future on and off the field.  One of the wonders of being in archery is that it is a wonder prep school for life, if you coach it right.

How good you teach your athlete to deal with the reality of losing defines how good of a coach you are. Ideally every time your athletes loses it is a learning opportunity, a tempering of steely resolve in the fire of competition, it is an opportunity!

So, coach, how good ARE you at preparing your athlete for life, for losing, and from that, ultimately for winning both on the field and in life itself?

What is the most important thing about watching archery in the Olympics?

In watching the archery competition online at NBCOlympics.com, every

Venue for archery during the London Olympics

coach and many archers will naturally search the screen.  Watch the archer.  Gauge the form against the arrow into the target. Try to judge what determines success and failure.  It’s a normal thing to do, I think, at least for me. I have been doing this constantly since I decided to be a mentor to others.  Savvy is as savvy does.

I look for consistent things shared by the archers.  What I see in the Olympic games shooting in London is that quite a lot has to do with stress. It is a given – these archers are under stress – what can be called “overwhelming stress”.  It clearly shows to me in their muscle movements.  The stressed archer tends to freeze up, to under-do everything.  I often see the athlete comes up short in movements – rotation, alignment, muscle tension, quickness of loose, follow-through. The archer is mentally taut and physically tight, often to the point of immobility. The less relaxed, the harder it is to achieve a normal shot cycle.

You see one hold too long, and instead of letting down, force the shot that goes to 5 ring at 10 o’clock. You see the desperate waving of the bow arm left and right, in a vain attempt to get the arrow back onto track for the gold.  Somehow, the athlete prevails though, through this slow-motion horrorshow of dread.  I marveled at how one Italian archer in the team event, one whom I am familiar with in form and shot method, drastically shut down his method, yet still shot the ten to clinch the gold medal.

Yet – the tightness is not necessarily a condemnation – it can be an actual comfort, if the archer has trained properly in the “tightness of stress” often enough.  Writers often have some line like, “toughness forged in the furnace of competition”.  The more an archer competes, the more (with coaching help) likely the archer is to not freeze up so much that a shot can’t be successful.

Is it a for-sure thing, what I (or you) imagine we see?  No, it cannot be unless you already know the archer’s methods and form. But as a coach you have to practice the art of observation and analysis.  And that is the answer – what the most important thing to watch for is.  The act, the art, of observation filtering everything through all that you know.  Bring your knowledge to bear on what you see.

The coach that can see, that observes truthfully and accurately through the prism of his knowledge – that is the most important thing for a coach watching archery on TV.

Learn to see what you are watching. Dissect the form. Analyze the motions.  Compare what you think you see with the results and with what you know as a student of the sport.  Repetitions will be profitable to the time invested for both the coach and the perceptive archer (who can then see, that even when you feel impossibly tight, when even a breath is hard-fought-for, you can still shoot your shot.)

So, THAT is the most important thing  – anytime a coach has his sport captive on a television or a computer screen – seeing and watching and learning from it.  Oh, yeah, and enjoyment comes in many guises – productive watching is a real good one.

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.