How well do you know your plunger?

It’s amazing how many archers do not understand the nature of the Berger Button/Cushion Plunger and the center-shot setting.

If you are a recurve archer, have you ever taken the time and trouble to explore the effect on tune and arrow behavior which changing your center shot has?  Perhaps you should experiment so you understand cause-and-effect and can tune better.

Start by measuring exactly how “deep” your plunger is so you can put it back to it’s current location if you want to return there quickly and easily (iow, when you panic). 🙂

Now, whatever its depth was, unscrew the plunger and set it to be about HALF as deep as it was. This’ll be the starting point and you’ll gradually move it deeper (past its original position most likely).   If it is designed like the Beiter Plunger you can tighten the spring by rotating the shroud until there is NO give in the button.  KEEP TRACK OF HOW MANY 360 DEGREE TURNS AND CLICKS YOU HAVE TO GO TO LOCK THE BUTTON DOWN. Again, so that you can put it back where it was at any time.  If another brand, just use the matchstick trick, insert a matchstick or a toothpick, something that eliminates the action of the spring for this exercise.

I like to do this shooting exercise with bare shafts.  Fletchings/vanes only serve to disguise the effects you seek to understand.  Be sure you are close enough to keep the arrows on the bale! Put up a blank sheet of butcher paper with a dot to aim at, or use a fresh target so you can circle each end of arrows.    Assuming you can shoot 3 arrows and get a group, well… do so.  Note how the arrows fly (how much they skew sideways) and where they go relative to your aiming point.  After each three arrows, rotate the plunger IN 1/2 turn pushing the centershot deeper away from the riser, and watch the arrows “march” across the target bale.

At some point the arrows will fly better than they have been and keep getting better, cleaner in flight.  Then as you continue changing the center shot, they will start to fly worse.  Keep going for a few ends and simply educate yourself on how the arrows fly, how they look in the bale (esp. if a foam bale – if a straw bale the angle of the dangle is not so diagnostic).  Ultimately you want to return to that plunger setting of “best behavior”.  You then might wish to check this “center shot” position in the traditional, arrow-on-the-bow-and-look-down-the-center-of-the-limbs method just to see how far off it is from the “accepted perfect center shot” (where the edge of the string away from the riser is just touching the junction of the shaft and arrow point joint).  If there is a difference between the “ideal” and your empiric center shot I would suggest it is due to the spine of the arrows and most importantly your release technique.

So which is better?  The one that give you the best groups, of course.

Incidentally, you did the center shot first because it has the more profound, basic influence on the arrow compared to the spring tension, but the spring can have a huge effect on the shape and size of your grouping pattern.

SO, how about the plunger tension now?  same thing.  You will not know until you try all the settings, using the same “little bit at a time” method keeping track as you make half-turns on the tension.  Notice how certain areas of adjustment actually make big changes in the left-right arrow groups, and as you get close to the sweet spot, you get better groups.  But you have to decrease the number of clicks per change as you near the sweet spot or you might go right past it.  Again, this exercise is simply to learn what effect the plunger tension has on the flight of the arrows as well as the grouping.

There is no more commonly used, less understood, hardware on the olympic recurve bow than the plunger.  You can study the engineering and physics of it all day long, and never really understand what it’s good for.  Till you experiment a little…



Bareshaft Benefits

A short one (I hope):

I found all of my parts were healthy enough to shoot some without pain, so I dug up my old ACEs, 32 inch long, and realized their points were rusty (really) and the vanes toast. 

SO I put together a 27 inch Hoyt GM right hand riser, some long 30 pound WW limbs Lindsey had left over when she went to medium length and dedicated herself to promoting the Hoyt bow products, made a string to match, and started shooting barebow up close.  Amazing when nothing hurts, even when at 38 pounds at click…!  So I moved back to 18 meters, adjusting the center shot and plunger tension to straighten out the arrow flight. 

I found that shooting nothing but bare shafts was a great way to set the center shot, the nocking point, and the plunger tension.  When the vanes are not smoothing out “crumby” things, you see very quickly how good your release truly is, and if you do shoot groups at say, 18 meters you can readily tell from the arrow’s behavior what needs adjusting and tweaking. 

Bare shaft groupings in comparison to fletched groups – this has long been my preferred method to tune a bow in many ways.  Bare shafts alone – a valued addition to the tuning library of options especially when *nothing* on the bow is tuned… 

Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success, by Matthew Syed

First, I think it best if you have already read Gladwell, Coyle, Colvin, Gladwell, Gladwell, Coyle, Ratey, and Gladwell.  (each author mentioned once per book I have read).  But here are some excerpts from Bounce:
Practically every man or woman who triumphs against the odds is, on closer inspection, a beneficiary of unusual circumstances.
Not genetics, but a unique circumstance, such as an older brother excellent as a competitive driver, or a geographic circumstance, where the athlete can walk out the front door of the home and be shooting 70 meters within just a few steps.
“The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves,” Gladwell writes. “But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.”
Just because Syed is repeating at great length the quotes from these other authors I cited does not mean the information is not properly applied to the NTS method of training archers.
These differences are not just statistically significant; they are extraordinary. Top performers had devoted thousands of additional hours to the task of becoming master performers. But that’s not all. Ericsson also found that there were no exceptions to this pattern: nobody who had reached the elite group without copious practice, and nobody who had worked their socks off but failed to excel. Purposeful practice was the only factor distinguishing the best from the rest.
No one.  Every exceptional athlete got there by work, not by gift.
research has shown that when top performers seem to possess an early gift for music it is often because they have been given extra tuition at home by their parents.
Parents can make a profound difference.
How long do you need to practice in order to achieve excellence? Extensive research, it turns out, has come up with a very specific answer to that question: from art to science and from board games to tennis, it has been found that a minimum of ten years is required to reach world-class status in any complex task.
I have seen that this number can vary if the practice is of sufficient quality. 8000 hours can be enough for a top step.

Note: not necessarily 10,000 hours but rather ten years?

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell points out that most top performers practice for around one thousand hours per year (it is difficult to sustain the quality of practice if you go beyond this), so he redescribes the ten-year rule as the ten-thousand-hour rule. This is the minimum time necessary for the acquisition of expertise in any complex task.
As Ericsson puts it, “There are apparently no limits to improvements in memory skill with practice.”
the new science of expertise. Speed in sport is not based on innate reaction speed, but derived from highly specific practice.
I read this as, “With a sufficient coach, development does not have to be assigned to a schedule.
But we can now see that the solution to the riddle is simple. In essence, Douglas spent more hours than any other player in the history of the sport encoding the characteristics of a highly specific type of table tennis: the kind played at maximum pace, close to the table.
the movement has been encoded in implicit rather than explicit memory. This is what psychologists call expert-induced amnesia.
subconscious performance is proven to be the most elusive but the best
Great shot-making, then, is not about developing “muscle memory” rather, the memory is encoded in the brain and central nervous system. The ascendency of the mental and the acquired over the physical and the innate has been confirmed again and again.
“The most important differences are not at the lowest levels of cells or muscle groups, but at the athletes’ superior control over the integrated and coordinated actions of their bodies. Expert performance is mediated by acquired mental representations that allow the experts to anticipate, plan and reason alternative courses of action. These mental representations provide experts with increased control of the aspects that are relevant to generating their superior performance.”
“One key trait the study found was that these companies valued ‘domain expertise’ in managers—extensive knowledge of the company’s field. Immelt has now specified ‘deep domain expertise’ as a trait required for getting ahead at GE.”
if you want to bend it like Beckham or fade it like Tiger, you have to work like crazy, regardless of your genes, background, creed, or color. There is no shortcut, even if child prodigies bewitch us into thinking there is.
It is only possible to clock up meaningful practice if an individual has made an independent decision to devote himself to whatever field of expertise. He has to care about what he is doing, not because a parent or a teacher says so, but for its own sake. Psychologists call this “internal motivation,” and it is often lacking in children who start too young and are pushed too hard. They are, therefore, on the road not to excellence but to burnout.
neatly emphasizes the power of practice when it is challenging rather than nice and easy. “When most people practice, they focus on the things they can do effortlessly,” Ericsson has said. “Expert practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.”
call it purposeful practice. Why? Because the practice sessions of aspiring champions have a specific and never-changing purpose: progress. Every second of every minute of every hour, the goal is to extend one’s mind and body, to push oneself beyond the outer limits of one’s capacities, to engage so deeply in the task that one leaves the training session, literally, a changed person.
That is worth stating again: world-class performance comes by striving for a target just out of reach, but with a vivid awareness of how the gap might be breached. Over time, through constant repetition and deep concentration, the gap will disappear, only for a new target to be created, just out of reach once again.
Elite skaters regularly attempt jumps beyond their current capabilities; less elite skaters do not.
If you are not falling down when you ski you are not learning.
Purposeful practice is about striving for what is just out of reach and not quite making it; it is about grappling with tasks beyond current limitations and falling short again and again. Excellence is about stepping outside the comfort zone, training with a spirit of endeavor, and accepting the inevitability of trials and tribulations. Progress is built, in effect, upon the foundations of necessary failure. That is the essential paradox of expert performance.
As Mia Hamm, one of the greatest female soccer players, has said: “All my life I’ve been playing up, meaning I’ve challenged myself with players older, bigger, more skillful, more experienced—in short, better than me.”
Brain Transformation The ten-thousand-hour rule, then, is inadequate as a predictor of excellence.
What is required is ten thousand hours of purposeful practice. And for practice to be truly purposeful, concentration and dedication, although important, are not sufficient. You also need to have access to the right training system, and that sometimes means living in the right town or having the right coach.
You are also on the path to personal transformation. Literally. One of the most striking things about modern research on expertise is how the body and mind can be radically altered with the right kind of practice. “When the human body is put under exceptional strain, a range of dormant genes in the DNA are expressed and extraordinary physiological processes are activated,” Anders Ericsson has written.
“Over time the cells of the body reorganize in response to the metabolic demands of the activity by, for example, increases in the number of capillaries supplying blood to the muscles.”
A key aspect of brain transformation is myelin, a substance that wraps around the nerve fibers and that can dramatically increase the speed with which signals pass through the brain. A 2005 experiment that scanned the brains of concert pianists found a direct relationship between the numbers of hours practiced and the quantity of myelin. But myelin is not the only theme in the brain change story. Purposeful practice also builds new neural connections, increases the size of specific sections of the brain, and enables the expert to co-opt new areas of gray matter in the quest to improve.
your skull also contains this system, and you too can corral it into action when performing multi-digit calculations. But there is a catch: you can purchase access to this prime neural real estate only by building up a bank deposit of thousands of hours of purposeful practice. That, if you like, is the price of excellence.
In complex tasks, human achievement has many more centuries, possibly millennia, to run before it hits any kind of immovable ceiling. This is not just because the principles of purposeful practice are constantly being elaborated and improved, but also because of what we might call paradigm shifts—completely unforeseen innovations—in technique and application.
But careful study has shown that creative innovation follows a very precise pattern: like excellence itself, it emerges from the rigors of purposeful practice. It is the consequence of experts absorbing themselves for so long in their chosen field that they become, as it were, pregnant with creative energy. To put it another way, eureka moments are not lightning bolts from the blue, but tidal waves that erupt following deep immersion in an area of expertise.
technique and education is getting smarter. Similarly, soccer and table tennis standards are rising, at least in part, because technique is improving. So are the training systems, as we have seen. It all adds up to one inexorable conclusion: human performance in complex tasks will continue on an upward trajectory into the distant future, punctuated by innovations that are not merely unforeseen but unforeseeable.

Note: can anyone say, NTS…?

That is the power of feedback. As Chen says: “If you don’t know what you are doing wrong, you can never know what you are doing right.”
Feedback is, in effect, the rocket fuel that propels the acquisition of knowledge, and without it no amount of practice is going to get you there.
For an archer, immediate feedback can come from within, but also must come from a coach’s eye and wisdom.
He also has a coach standing behind him, providing an extra dimension of feedback. His coach is not merely offering encouragement and assessing his levels of concentration, he is also on the lookout for small technical glitches that may have escaped the attention of his charge. The advantage of a coach is that he has a perspective—being able to look from the outside in—that the player lacks.
It is not just that they receive expert advice during training sessions; far more important is that great coaches are able to design practice so that feedback is embedded in the drill, leading to automatic readjustment, which in turn improves the quality of feedback, generating further improvements, and so on.
Almost twenty years after his eldest daughter became the first female grandmaster in chess, Polgar’s insights are repudiated by most academics and ignored by society, despite a growing avalanche of evidence in support. To put it simply: The talent theory of expertise continues to reign supreme. This strangely resilient paradigm has had, and is having, devastating consequences.
a key factor driving success and failure is to be found within the realm of motivation. Sure, clocking up thousands of hours of purposeful practice ultimately determines how far we make it along the path to excellence: but it is only those who care about the destination, whose motivation (to use the phrase in chapter 2) is “internalized,” who are ever going to get there
A coach must recognize that creating drive must sometimes come from the athlete, alone.
What we are seeing at work here might be called motivation by association: a small, barely noticed connection searing deep into the subconscious and sparking a motivational response.
The hand you’re dealt is just the starting point…. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
Armed with a growth mind-set, she interpreted falling down not merely as a means of improving, but as evidence that she was improving. Failure was not something that sapped her energy and vitality, but something that provided her with an opportunity to learn, develop, and adapt.
Excellence is about striving for what is just out of reach and not quite making it; it is about grappling with tasks beyond current limitations and falling short again and again. The paradox of excellence is that it is built upon the foundations of necessary failure.
“Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation, and it harms their performance.”
The coach must never use the cheap compliment, but the true comment.
He praises effort, never talent; he eulogizes about the transformational power of practice at every
opportunity; he preaches the vital importance of hard work during every interruption in play. And he does not regard failure in his students as either good or bad, but as an opportunity to improve. “That’s fine,” he says as his student hits a forehand long. “You are on the right track. It’s not the mistakes; it’s how you respond to them.”
“Every endeavour pursued with passion produces a successful outcome regardless of the result. For it is not about winning or losing—rather, the effort put forth in producing the outcome. The best way to predict the future is to create it—therefore, we believe we have the best training methods to help each athlete achieve their dreams and goals and ultimately reach their ability level in the arena of sports and life.”
This, it turns out, is a strangely difficult art to master, and one that often separates the best from the rest. We know it when we see it: that extraordinary ability of top sportsmen to rise above the anxieties and angst, the doubts and the tensions, that so often paralyze lesser performers. They retain their sureness of touch, their subtlety of mind, all those deep and complex motor is boskills built up over thousands of hours and which can so easily melt in the heat of the battle
Goldacre reports that stimulant medication tends to come in red or orange, antidepressants in blue, and so on.
Ariely, the behavioral economist, has shown that cheap painkillers are less effective than painkillers identical in every respect except for a more expensive price tag. Again, it all comes down to belief. For obvious reasons, we find it easier to believe in a treatment when it burns a hole in our wallet: “At that price, it must be good!”
This book contains much more.  Read it for your own ability enhancement.

Bibliography. ? Whut’s thet?

A list.  A bibliography is a kind of list, a summary, of reference materials wherein you can find gems of value, of wisdom to help you on your path to where you wish to go.  Here is a list of some of the books a coach might benefit from, though certainly not all.

I am a reader. I have read with a great appetite since an early age.  Taking an Evelyn Wood speed reading course at 14 did not hurt, either.  Growing up with a great public library nearby and a paperback novel displayrack full of books (for free for me) in my dad’s drug store was a distinct advantage as well.  OK.  so I read A LOT.  I’ve got more than 200 books on Kindle for calendar year 2012 as I write this on 12-23-2012 (23-12-2012 for my backwards English friends<G>).

Herein I am going to try to summarize some of the readings I have that have helped me to be a better coach, a better team leader, a better person.  Where I can recall, I’ll credit the person that brought me into contact with the book – the wiser person who told me, “you should read this”…

First, Tom Parrish told me to read “Golf is Not A Game of Perfect” at a time when I was struggling with how to get my daughter to a higher level of consistency.  I was worried about her occasional fliers (all archers will have these as they are developing – 5 great arrows and then one amongst them will be off in the blue instead of the gold/red ).  Tom told me something like, “ignore the parts about the sand traps, and the laying-up, substitute the word “archery” anytime the word “golf” appears.  He was right.  It is a superb educational book on the mental aspects of trying to put the itty-bitty pointy stick into the tiny target 76 yards away with some consistency.  Author is Rotello and here is the Amazon Link to the book.

I thought for a long time that Malcom Gladwell was some exotic, immensely intelligent, doctoral psychologist.  His books are literally THAT good.  I think early on that Coach Tom Barker turned me on to this author.  But Gladwell, a “mere” New York Times reporter,  weaves together again and again in his book, fundamental facts from a host of different sources and creates a tightly-woven rug that can hold water.  I read everything he writes, and I am the better person and coach for it.  Some are truly better than others, of course.  Thank you, Tom!

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures
Outliers: The Story of Success
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Of these, I love Outliers the best because I have always felt myself as something of an outlier. 🙂
I do dare you to read any of these and not come out of the book with a sense of increased wisdom, power to effect positive change in your athlete, and a different perspective on how to approach your calling.  This author has been passed around between coaches so much that it’s hard to know for sure who first zeroed in on how apt his writings are for the archery coach, but Tom certainly deserves my thanks.

Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions, by Susan Barry. As I have said in earlier blogs, she reveals (to me, at least) a way to get a huge percent improvement in performance by training a set of muscles that no archery coach has ever attempted before.  Teach the muscles of the eye to respond faster and more accurately and with more range of motion and you’ll have reached the outer limits of performance.  You think *nothing* of teach your athletes to do the same with their biceps, triceps, lats, and especially their trapezius set, why not with their ocular muscles?  jeez, this ain’t rocket science!  Ask any special-trained optometrist (NOT opthalmalolgist!).  Who told me to read this? NO ONE.  I have met only disdain and dismissal for my insight regarding the potential for training the muscles of the eyes in like manner to how all other muscles of the body are trained.  Someday I will be vindicated, unfortunately I fear it will not be because the US archery team is demonstrating a renewed potential best because of it – some other country will do this first.

You should never, ever, again mention the phrase “target panic”.  It is a stupid phrase and lacking in accuracy and truthfulness.  Instead, you will find you have to deal with “shot choke” or “hesitancy” in your elite athlete.  Beginner athletes never get this.  Only excellent archers find a plateau where their frontal cortex reactivates, overloads, and blocks the action that SHOULD be an entirely autonomous function.   To help you understand why this is more of a choking sensation than a panic situation, please read
CHOKE, by Sian Beilock.  Read it twice.  And quit planting the seeds of destruction by using the phrase target panic.

Emotional Intelligence 2.0, by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves – the title pretty much implies all you need to know about why it is something you should learn from.

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else – by Geoff Colvin.   Puts lie to the notion that there are “overnight wonders” and “natural professionals”.  The 10,000 hour rule is a truth.  NO ONE EVER BECAME ELITE without myelinating their neural pathways properly over a period of thousands of hours of doing that “something to be great in”.  If that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, well, read the book and learn.  It is a fundamental truth that every coaching certification course I teach includes.  Bill Gates, the Beatles, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, you name the athlete, they ALL put in at least 10,000 hours of purposeful practice on their way to the top step.  If I had to choose only one book, this one would probably be it.

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How – Daniel Coyle – Again, pounding away on the fact that we only think someone is “big for their age” or “naturally athletic”.  Our society builds a false premise that we continually fall for. (as coaches and as parents).  Learn how NOT to expect too much from your athletes and how to get more from them at the same time.  OK, maybe I would choose this as my “one and only” book to seize on.  It’s so HARD TO CHOOSE from!

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck – learn how profoundly influential  attitudes are in controlling success, and how to guide your athlete through a variety of pitfalls and traps.

A quick jaunt aside to a fictional yet educational story about shot choke.  “The Art of Fielding is mere baseball fiction the way Moby Dick is just a fish story” (Nicholas Dawidoff).   Book by Chad Harbach.

Sport Supplement Reference Guide bvy William Llewellym – a total waste of time.  NO ARCHER needs to take ANY special supplements.  He or she must eat 9 to 12 helpings of a variety of raw fruits, vegetables, and berries every day, in addition to appropriate levels of animal protein (if not a vegan) and fats, so that the body can extract all of the micronutrients needed to create new cells in the body on a continual basis.  More so when in training, as heavy training produces results by destroying cells and counting on the nutrients being available to rebuild the destruction better, stronger, and more efficiently.  Like the NGBs for France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, I find that the science, the documentation in peer-reviewed, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, certification by the NSF, to be so compelling that I have not only taken it myself for 10+ years but also commend it to my athletes:   a capsulated formulation of a neutraceutical product consisting of 25 fully-ripened, raw, cold-juiced/treated/lyophyllized fruits, vegetables, and berries manufactured under stringent parameters that are totally USADA and WADA safe.  You don’t need an “out of balance hyper dosage of anything”.  Just a totally rounded realistic source for mother natures’ best natural nutrients so that your body can pick and choose just what is needed at just the right time during rebuilding and supercompensation.  You also need to insure your athletes are getting therapeutic daily doses of what is called “vitamin D” by either adequate sun exposure to skin, or else Vitamin D3, about 5000 iu per 100 pounds of body weight. (in lieu of semi-monthly blood test of the 25(OH)D which MUST be at a level of at least 50 ng/ml, and below 80 ng/ml). A ng, by the way, is a billionth of a gram.  So it don’t take much to make a world of difference in athletic performance when it comes to vitamin D3.

Rome 1960 by David Maraniss – This book fosters a greater understanding of the singular largest athletic event to be held every four years in the world.  The good, the bad, the WHY and the WHEREFORE of this juggernaut of power and monied interests on behalf of the youth of the world, called upon to gather every four years…

The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human by V.S. Ramachandran  –  Dr. Rama will be awarded the Nobel Price in my lifetime, and hopefully his, IMHO.  If you want insight into how the human brain greets consciousness, how it learns by simply watching, and how the magnificence of it all comes together, this book is a must.  You can also use TED.COM to view his 10-15 minute presentations which I recommend prior to you buying the book.  If it doesn’t ring a chime in your core, you probably should not be a coach.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey .  Ok.  Despite all the excellent books I have already listed, this book.  This Book.   THIS FREAKING BOOK!!!!  If you know the Miller children of Napiersville, IL, then you will have a starburst of comprehension midway through this book that transcends what you THINK you know about learning.  It is an incredible slap in the face of our conventional wisdom about how schools should operate.  It paints a vivid and clear yet simple and cheap path we could be following to create excellence in our students at *any* level, in any pursuit of learning not just archery.  But it certainly applies to archery!!!
and in greatest position of honor, two books who by author name alphabetically should come last, but by greatness should never be anywhere but first:
Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and Off the Court
The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership
John Wooden, of course.   His example lesson to me is simply, be as selfless as possible. Be honest to the athlete and to the sport, as well as to yourself.  BE MODEST.  Have a method for everything and a reason for your method.  Train not to the top step but to the top performance of the athlete.  All else will take care of itself.  And as I recall a certain “head coach” grabbing a trophy from the athlete and dancing in a bizarre way on the field with the trophy over his head as though it was his, it aint’ about the coach. It’s all about the athlete.  They win.  We coach.  If we do it right, we open the door for that win, but the athlete walks through that door and kicks butt.  Our tears of joy must come through the success of those we mentor.
Ahem. Teared up there for a minute.  You have some reading to do.  Please feel free to post comments with the titles and authors of books YOU have found useful, so that I and others might benefit as well?  and a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, to you..
and I’ll add more books in the next year…



Give it a rest

As a coach it is easy to assign tasks, goals, work.

It is very easy to overload your student(s) with too much.  Especially right before a big tournament, especially the official practice day prior, the archer (and you) will want to “get out there and shoot a buncha arrows”.  This often is a prescription for failure, or at best, mediocrity.  Ironically, the more important the event the more likely the athlete will make this mistake and shoot their best arrows on the practice field.  You are the coach, and you must guide and control your athletes with your superior experience and knowledge.

The best thing a smart coach will know is when to stop the archers – when to give…it…a…rest…!

Most level IV coaches are familiar with periodization.  This is the term for a scientific approach to creating an elite performer out of a potentially excellent athlete by varying the training workload, the nutritional intake, the resting recovery periods, *everything* associated with development and maintenance of excellence…

In short, you can’t get to the top step by simply shooting 300 arrows every day.  You have to shoot varying numbers of arrows, lift weights, maybe swim laps to gain “wind”, mentally train, practice, train train train, smarter than simply tossing arrows downrange.

A critical part of the stair-step pattern of evolution of excellence in an archer is the RECOVERY phase, where the athlete simply does little or nothing in the sport, for days at a time, and the body responds to the “vacation” from heavy training by ….rebuilding it better than before.  During the recovery phase you do not stop coaching.  You coach on nutrition.  You coach on mental strength, visualization, you exercise the grey matter of the athlete and leave the red matter to rebuild and recover.  You do not stop coaching, ok?

I am reminded of a superb movie by Bogdanovich, called “The Last Picture Show”.  It is set in a small dying town in north Texas, one my mother lived near as a child.  The basketball coach (heck, he was the only coach so he did football, dodgeball, basketball, and probably “health education”, as my own high school coach did<G>) – anyway, this red-faced coach with the physique of a compound archer stood in the gym as the guys ran laps around, screaming,  “RUN, yew little piss-aints, RUN”… as if that was all there was to creating an excellent basketball team.   Running the asses off of your athletes is hardly ever the way to the center of the gold.  You have to know to let their physiques rebuild and recover before you tell them to take another lap or two…

Supercompensation is the fancy name.  “Better than before” is the truth, and you cannot force a human body into supercompensation by working it to exhaustion, to death, to the edge of collapse.

You want your athlete archer to shoot a PB?  Give her a few days to a week prior to a big event virtually nothing to do but visual training, mental training (shoot arrows in her imagination), and outstanding chances are that she will reward herself (and therefore you) with a good, enjoyable performance.   Fer pete’s sake, just give the athlete a rest at the right time.   No more, “run, you little pissaints, run!”.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

It takes a certain amount of intent to hold a bowstring while a shot is made. Most often the intent, the tension, has nothing in the real world to relate it to the job description, other than “I must not let go till I am ready”.

Seldom if ever does the coach pay appropriate attention to the amount of effort the archer chooses to expend in holding the string. Finger placement? Yes, we do teach that. Thumb and pinky location during the draw, flat relaxed string hand, fist knuckle under the boney jawline? Yes, we should be teaching this as well. But we should teach the athlete to be a minimalist when holding the bowstring!

When was the last time you taught an archer to find that minimal amount of effort to keep the string from slipping away? Chances are extremely good that your athlete is using too much, far too much, strength and effort to grip the bow string.

Ahh. That may be it. The archer should not GRIP the bowstring, merely hold it, hook it, with a static hook of fingers. Of the two verbs “grip” and “hook”, to me grip sounds like it intends more effort.

To walk the knife edge between too little and too much, one must find precisely where “too little” is.  Standing 5-10 ft from the blank bale, have the archer go through set, but only so far. Then align and create the gunbarrel while the hands are still only partially above “set” position, increase the draw slightly and allow the string/arrow to slip out of the bow and into the blank bale (no aiming!). The focus in the archer’s mind must be on minimal effort – just enough to not let slip till the draw is say, half-way. Do a dozen reps of this. Then the archer should draw a little further, say 3/4 of the way, letting slip while still moving to draw. If the archer does not have the string accidentally slip out a few times, he or she is using too much effort to hook the string and is instead holding it.

You are also insuring that the string hand wrist is bent in a relaxed direction. You can demonstrate this bend to your athlete by holding the hand and arm out in the “stop” gesture and simply let the hand droop down by relaxing the wrist.  This is the same wrist bend needed for drawing the bow in the NTS method. By the way, this bent wrist is visible in every picture of any astronaut asleep in zero gravity – a totally neutral/relaxed position.

Back to the drill – once you are sure the archer is balancing on the edge of “not enough strength to hold the string/arrow back”, allow the archer to go to a normal set, set-up, and draw, and the instant the archer reaches anchor, he should instantly relax the fingers. (no clicker at this point and don’t say, “let go”).

Have the archer repeat the “low resistance finger hook” (not GRIP) on several practice sessions, and then whenever you sense a slow release is happening. Lightning, explosive releases happen best when the archer is only hooking the string with 0.1 pounds of excess effort. Without training most archers pulling say, a 30 pound bow, use 40 or 45 pounds of effort to grip the string. Before the string can be loosed and the arrow let fly, the archer must somehow shed 15 or more pounds of gripping effort which takes too much time.  This is part and parcel of why many male archers think they have a great release at 48 pounds and a so-so release at 38 – at 48 pounds they are probably just barely able to hold that string<G> while at 38 they are overgripping by 50% excess effort…This excess must somehow be reversed in order to allow the string to slip away.

Young archers must be taught to be minimalists at controlling the string.  I often employ the visualization technique with the athlete – “let the energy flow from your hand through your arm and into your back, and HOLD it all there as you feel your arm relax and your back muscles power up”.

Holding the bowstring should never be a contest of power, but a demonstration of minimalism.  Crisp, explosive releases from from proper hooking in the front and holding in the back.

Birthday Candle?

I was watching a semi-cheesy series on TV when one person let loose with a genius statement, which I shall transliterate for you for my own purposes:

Shooting an arrow during an important competition should be like blowing out the candles on your birthday cake.

You don’t overthink it.  You just focus on the “flames” and you do it – you blow them out.    You breathe in, you focus on executing the shot, and let the arrow go where it will.

How and why do you teach this act of simplicity to your athletes? .

In preparing an athlete for Athens, I did *everything* I could think of to her for the stresses involved.  I feel I failed somewhat in preparing her for Athens, and she still shot world record scores.  I simply did not anticipate the crowd pressure – the cheering throngs, the self-imposed stresses she put on herself, especially when it (inevitably) comes down to that “one” arrow. It was so different from every other competition I had been to, had witnessed, that my imagination was too conservative.

For Beijing, four years after Athens, I had learned and was a much more professional coach than I had been for Athens.  I used those 4 years to analyze my shortcomings and devise remedies, to seek the advice of experts with much more experience such as Kisik Lee, Lloyd Brown and especially Don Rabska.

I taught the athlete how to choose to ignore and how to focus.  I started by simply talking to her as she shot, to get her to shut me out. (I know, NOT a good thing for an athlete to do – ignore the coach?!<G>)   I literally and liberally water hosed her down while she shot, since it rarely rains here.  I banged pots and pans continually while she shot.  I poked a camera in her face.  I used a metronome to help her lay down, to play, a mental soundtrack of pacing like the countdown clock.   Yes, I also waved my hands in the air, right in her face, gesticulating like a wild man.  George Tekmitchov kindly provided an audio file of the crowd noises from the games ,while he announced the archer’s name in an imaginary match – a great aid to visualization exercising which we played loudly over and over as she exercised her mind.

Recently during the London games, I laughed right out loud to myself when seeing the commercials showing a Korean coach screaming face-on to the female archer in a gym shooting.  Then, a few days later, Team USA came back with the head US Para coach, Randi Smith, duplicating this scene with Jeff Fabry (the soon-to-be gold medalist from the London Games and the two-time bronze medalist from prior games) – screaming into his face as he mouth-tabbed an arrow off of his bow.

Note that this was screaming. (not going “BOO”) Consider: the goal is not to scare, but to distract and learn to focus through distractions.   Banging pots and pans continually, not a single firecracker going off suddenly right at full draw..

I laughed because I had also used my training as a player in Judo and Tae Kwan Do to create the most profoundly distracting screams arising from my chi center – guaranteed to freeze you in your tracks for that instant I would need to follow up with a knee to your chin or chest, or groin – to prepare an athlete bound for the games.  The first time I did this she collapsed in a laughing heap it was so startling!  But soon she was able to ignore it completely.  I used every method I had in my imagination to interrupt the concentration of the athlete short of actually striking her physically.  In some countries, as I understand it they do actually push and shove and strike(gently) their archers to stress them – they also require them to carry heavy loads up hills and train with “seal-like” troops in hardships….   so yelling at your archer may seem extreme but failing to prepare him or her adequately is far worse! What exactly are you preparing for?

CIMG5900In Beijing, there were three stands, likewise in London very similar – the two sidelines each holding 5,000+ people, and the small endzone stand behind the archers having 4 to 5 thousand more. Say, 15,000 highly partisan people in Beijing right on top of the shooting line, to watch arrow flinging.

The width of the shooting line in Beijing was perhaps 30 yards, total.  I was able, through the shelter of the para team mates of my athlete, to kneel amongst the wheelchair athletes in order to talk to my athlete, to film her in action.  Youtube  the term “UTARCHER” to see her competing there, and on her final arrow with mere seconds on the clock, listen as I say “deep breath”, and watch her respond, her focus total.  When the shot was done, it took her several seconds to realize, she had won and the match was done. Intense.

As her opponents (each one had been competing in archery for more years than she had been alive) shot, she had to surmount various obstacles.  In one case, her Hoyt Helix bow gave her, without reason or rhyme, an arrow in the wooden frame at 9 o’clock – a complete miss – for her opening arrow of the match.  She looked at me in a moment of unsureness – eye to eye – and I motioned her to ignore it as bullshit – her form was perfect, the flier was “something else” – she shrugged,  came back with a nine, then an 8, and proceeded to win the match despite that loss of ten points. She blew out the candles without thinking.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In these competitions, the two archers alternate arrows. She had only 20 seconds from the moment the opponent shot, to complete her own shot. Of course, the crowd cheers loudly for the opponent, right when the archer is most used to having calm and quiet to start her own shot.  It is so intense that frequently the athlete will not remember anything that happened during the match!  If you have trained the athlete properly it will be as if she is simply, automatically, blowing out the candles, and the crowd noise will be as nothing.

So whats the point?   The coach must train the athlete for the worst case and you cannot wait till the last minute to prepare your athlete for this.  It must be an ongoing process over many months at least.  Use your imagination for what the situation will be and train your athlete to the most stressful conditions you can think of.  I’m not suggesting abuse, but pro-use.  Proactive preparation for the toughest shooting conditions imaginable.  The roar of thousands of people, the pressure of desire to succeed, the nagging doubts we are all prone to, you find ways to deal with these factors early on in the career and return to them often.

TO belabor this point, I want to emphasize that there is a huge difference between EVERY archery competition apart from the “games” (Olympic/Paralympic).  In the games, cheering is uncontrolled, while in almost all other archery competition situations a hush is part and parcel in tournaments, like the gallery for a golf tournament where everyone hushes.  The games are a complete opposite to everything the archer has known previously.  Prior to this level, “golf-like” conditions in the gallery of onlookers is considered good manners – hush hush hush –  but in the games, the bigs, as soon as the opponent shoots her arrow the crowds erupt with noise … just as your athlete has to execute her perfect shot cycle she discovers the entire 15,000+ crowd right on top of her is screaming and banging noise-tubes together, creating a weight of sound pressure that is hard to imagine.  For the unprepared, it can complete unnerve the athlete and destroy her normal shot process!

Teach your athletes to be able blow out the candles when it truly matters.


How Do You Know?

You wish to be a coach?   How do you know if you are a “coach”.

Do you effect changes in those athletes who trust you to speak truth and cause positive change?’

Simply, do you give more than you receive?

There is no way that a coach can be paid enough for what he does (said he, modestly)….  SO it is important that the “quid pro quo” have nothing to do with money.

Yes, a coach, you, must make a payment be worth what the payor feels it is worth.  One failing coaches often have is that they are afraid to charge a fee commensurate (equal to) what their benefit is worth.  So they charge nothing and send the message that their expertise is worth “nothing”.  So it is worth exactly what they wanted to relate it as.

How do you know you are a coach worth your salt?  Regardless of what you charge you can judge your worth by simply, do your subjects improve?   Do they respect you?  Do you exit the gym feeling that you have done good?

As a coach, often you can hope for nothing more.

Clearing The Mechanism, or FOCUS

More on this notion of training an athlete mentally.

Olympic Style Archery is routinely performed in quiet, much like the golf gallery as the golfer hits the ball –  kind of a hushed up close, sometimes a little noise from a nearby fairway.

Even at National Championships for archery, even for World Cup events (usually) the archers enjoy a respectful silence from the crowd as they make their shot.  The worst complaint regarding noise is from the archers who cannot shut out the camera shutter noise – click click click click click hundreds of a time during a shot cycle, which they might never have had to deal with until they get to a “big” event.  As you know, a camera’s motor-driven mechanical shutter can drown out the clicker on the riser if the coach has not trained the archer to sense the clicker’s actions (movement, tactile vibration, AND sound) in order to free the arrow to fly.  It can be VERY distracting to the unprepared archer!

That’s small peanuts compared to the show, the bigtime, the ultimate.  When an archer arrives in some foreign countries, and especially at the Olympics/Paralympics, the archer will perform before stands of thousands of partisan fans (the word “fan” derives from FANATIC, remember).  Those fans likely will NOT know the custom of “quiet” like you see when a tennis star is serving at Wimbledon, or a pro golfer is teeing one up.  They will likely have brought inflatable mylar tubes, cowbells, clackers, loud voices screaming hoarsely for THEIR archer’s shot as YOUR archer’s shot clock ticks down from 20 seconds…

What will your archer do?  What CAN you do?  During this last 2012 London Olympics, I saw a commercial where an asian archer’s coach is inches from her face, screaming at the top of his lungs as she executes shot cycles.   I thought, yeah, I did that.  I also sprayed an athlete with a water jet while she shot, not just to simulate rain but to distract her.  I banged pots together HARD and abruptly(not always constantly)  behind her, to startle her.  Of course, I yelled, screamed, and gestured into her visual field.  I played an audio track from a previous game, with a world-class announcer who actually inserted the archer’s name into the dialogue to help with visualization.  When it rained, we practiced.

I worked very hard on increasing the athlete’s ability to focus.  It became a keyword.  “Focus”.   I played a video for her that epitomizes what I wanted her to learn to do – to shut everything out when the next 20 seconds become “everything” to her last 8 years of dedication.

For your consideration, I present a copy of that video, which she called “corny”.  I thought for awhile on this, and decided, so what if it’s corny?  It works as an example, and it planted the seed in her mind that she could do the same…

I do not think I did my job as well that last time as I would do, were there to be a next time.  You can never do enough to prepare your athlete for 15,000 fans screaming their lungs out, but you can try.

Click to view the example of what *every* archer must be taught to do.  The “key” mnemonic phrase to trigger it can be different, but the athlete has to be able to do it.  Shut the crowd out. Zero in, focus on what is to be done.

Copyright Credit: This excerpt is from “For Love Of The Game”, with Kevin Costner from 1999 – it is only about 30 seconds in length but might be worth a lifetime of memories for the athlete that learns from it the concept of FOCUS. For the full movie, check here

Plucking. Really?

It is common for archers to release the string with a “flair” of the hand moving to the side, away from the neck instead of a flow straight back.

A very common sight seen after arrow release

Too often the coach says, “you are letting go of the string.  Don’t let go, let it slip out by relaxing your fingers.”

Agree. SOME archers have too much flair of the string hand.

After studying more than a thousand archers with high speed photography, I conclude there is a different cause than “actively letting go of the string”.  As with most of the NTS method, doing one thing wrong leads to other things “wrong” and you must correct the original cause, not the symptom. Do that, and the symptom vanishes.

I feel that “overgripping” coupled with “failure to align” causes most of the “flaired straight fingers upon release” archers make instead of them actually “actively opening” their fingers.   If the bow has 30 pounds at click, the archer should be using 30.1 pounds to grip with, but most use 40  or 50 pounds of grip effort.

In that case it shows in the straightened fingers. Yes, there is failure to relax, but that is because of the underlying necessity of reversing so much muscle contraction. There will be a much longer “click-to-gone” delay in an archer that overgrips.

In addition, when an archer overgrips, if their string arm is not aligned, then the bow will actually have more time during the release portion to pull the hand away from the neck during the release.

This is very easy to demonstrate – draw and hold short of alignment with your string elbow poking out to the side, then slowly relax the desire to anchor (but not finger grip strength) and watch as you lose your anchor hand contact with your jaw, and the bow  forces the arrow and forearm into a straight line several inches away from the anchor point.  (This demonstration is incredibly effective with college students – many of mine seem to all be engineer students, so I toss in a “What’s the force vector here?” for them<G>)  It is simple physics! The visual symptom coaches seize on is mis-diagnosed as “letting go” or “active release”, or “plucking”.

The cure is an exercise to get to minimal grip strength with blank bale up close, as well as using a form strap exercise until the archer achieves string arm alignment with the arrow. (no, don’t beat the archer with a strap!)

As a teenager I was taught that if I didn’t occasionally wipe out on the slopes on my 215cm GS skis, I wasn’t pushing to excellence enough.  It was true then and remains a great way to get to excellence in other ways.  Find where you fall off the string, learn to get to the edge of slipping off the string then back off, add just a tiny bit more grip strength. NOT A LOT!

I persuade/urge the archer to get closer to the “too little grip strength” point of gripping the string, where the fingertab is ALMOST slipping off, until she knows just how little effort is really needed to prevent the fingers slipping off of the string prematurely.  The release transforms itself.

And of course, tell the athlete to relax to release, don’t just try to let go.  That IS often a part of it.