Designing Practice and Training

In our USA Archery Level 3 NTS Coaches course we were given a ‘Weekly Training Plan’ template.  It’s a basic template that provides coaches with a simple tool to plan an athlete’s weekly training activities.  It is important to have a plan for training. Otherwise, you’re just shooting arrows.

You’ll improve by just shooting arrows.  However, you’ll reach a point where you either decide to go to the next step or enjoy shooting arrows. The latter approach can make to a better archer,  a formal plan might make you excel.

Beginning a new practice plan

I use six weeks cycles for training. It is a method I’ve used for decades in other sports.  The volume of work and type of training floats with the plan. The plan itself is a rotation of six-week intervals that incorporates a year or years.

The plans revolve around specific tournament goals.  Those goals and tournament are further categorized into ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ events. Those events can change based on performance and other factors.

Performance changes might be based on how an archer is shooting.  An event may be removed from the schedule and another added in its place. One ‘other’ factor, for me, can be shown in the example of the Gator Cup in Florida.  That event was dropped due to the cost as well as my most recent performance at 50-meters. I won the tournament, but felt my score wasn’t competitive enough to spend the money on the Gator Cup.

Based on 2018 results, my recent 50-meter tournament’s score would have landed me in 5thfor the Gator Cup Qualification round and my elimination score would have earned me a 4thplace in the Masters 50 year old group. Spending over $1000.00 for not earning a top 3 finish isn’t worth the expense.  So, the Gator Cup moved out of the 2019 rotation.  Because there doesn’t seem to be a 60+, 70+ or higher age group, in order to keep the Gator Cup in the rotation for 2020, knowing if I go I’ll need to compete against archers potentially 15 years younger, I need to stay fit. My plan incorporates significant time for fitness.

These don’t come about without a plan. (Ironman Lake Placid, Louisville and World Championships on Kona, HI)

A weekly training plan should include fitness training, strength training, and a general idea about nutrition.  Nutrition is important in that learning to eat like an athlete supports athletic endeavors. (more on nutrition in the future)

Some of the archery hardware collected over the past 5 years using a specific plan

My personal training plans are long range.  There’s an ‘A’ tournament on the horizon, 6 weeks out.  That plan includes others for 2019 and one tournament already in the queue for 2020 with specific goals.

Having a plan, not just in your head (that’s a dream), which is formal, on paper and reviewed daily will help you improve as an archer and athlete.

It is like work

In the early 1990s we were putting together a cycling team.  The team would have our sponsorship.  For the first year, there was a total of $35,000 in the budget. Not much for 10 cyclists.

If the team did well the second year’s budget would increase.  The first year, with only $35,000 to spend, all the cyclists would need to be high-level amateurs.  Those amateurs needed to be of a quality that would allow some of them to turn professional in year two.  At the onset of the program we had several such cyclists.

One in particular was an athlete we predicted would be a top level pro, a cyclist we’d be lucky to keep for a couple of years.  Then, he just quit.  When asked why he answered, “This is too much like work.” In any sport to become an elite performer there will be a lot of work involved.

At every tournament, during most practices, there’s always someone advising others to “Just have fun,” or “Remember to have fun, “ and “Did you have fun?”

When I asked elite athletes what it took to become a champion being able to have fun was not among their responses.  In fact, the number one response was determination and number response two was work.

Certainly, work can be enjoyable.  You can also enjoy doing something that might not be fun.  Or, at least, you will do the activity, that isn’t so much ‘fun’, because you’re determined to succeed in a sport and are willing to put forth the work. If you hated it you’d probably not do it.

Coaching tip

Flinging hundreds of arrows a day for years is work.  It is also practice.  Designing your practice session to be interesting and challenging does reduce the monotony of the activity.  There are no short cuts and it isn’t always fun.  Sometimes it feels like work. If your determined and do the work there will be a reward.

How Many Hours Per Week Do You Train?

On the internet I stumbled across an interesting article about archery.(1) It was based on a survey.  Years ago I ran a studies that collected survey data. In that research we needed to be certain the data submitted was correct.  In order to do so we contracted with a major university that audited cancer surveys. They’d developed a program that would sort suspicious entries. Those entries could then be questioned and verified.  The archery article I read had in the results data that I found questionable. (1)

Not certain those numbers add up

What caught my attention among the data on this survey were the hours that 2% of the respondents stated they practiced per week. (1) Those archers submitted they practiced more than 50 hours per week.  That seemed like a lot of practice.

I asked some professional athlete friends how much they trained per week. They train closer to 30 hours per week (triathlon/cycling).  More training than that and the return on training begins to diminish. I searched and found that as a group professional athletes practice about 5-6 hours per day 6 days per week. (2) That’s,  around 30 hours per week.

50+ hours a week of cycling would be too much for me.

There a limit of what the body can absorb from training.  If someone is pushing 50 hours per week, allowing for a 6 day week (assuming, perhaps erroneously the 50+ hours per week archers give themselves a rest day) that is 8.33 hours of archery practice per day.  It seems like a lot of archery in a day.

He’s my schedule:

Running is a great adjunct to archery. Races are fun.

I shoot and train about 30.5 hours per week.  I do not have another job so my days are clear for athletic work.  Not all of that 30.5 is shooting arrows.  I shoot arrows on an average two and a half hours per day broken, mostly, into two sessions.  I spend an hour per week at the gym, 2.5 hours stretching, 6 hours running, and 7 hours cycling.  This time does not include video review or study. I have one day off a week.  There are training cycles where this varies, this is an annual analysis.

Training as an archer should include more than shooting arrows

Now, you my think that shooting arrows about 14 hours per week will take a long time to reach 10,000 hours, the number of hours often associated with elite performance.(3) If that 10,000 rule was an absolute, you would be correct.  The 10,000 rule is not an absolute.

Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, often is misquoted in regard to the 10,000 rule

You may further think that 14 hours per week shooting is the extent of training.  Here you would be somewhat incorrect.  Indeed, it is archery practice. However, the other elements of training, the stretching, running, going to the gym, and cycling are all components to becoming a better archer.

Shooting a bow for more than 90 minutes at a time is a long time.  So, I typically break up archery practice into morning and afternoon practice sessions.  Aside from not becoming too physically fatigued, and increasing the risk of an injury, it means I have what I consider the best time frame for mental focus.  Too long at practice and it is easy to become mentally tired which can be followed by sloppy form.

Coaching tip

The brain needs a break as well as the body.  Anyone practicing archery for 50+ hours per week is likely headed toward injury or burnout. Personally, I question archers who claim to be practicing 50+ hours per week. Their math may be wrong or they may be including other activities. Either way, 50+ hours is a lot.

How many hours per week do you train? (The answer is for you, this is not a survey)

Reference:

  • hitting-the-bullseye-reel-girl-archers-inspire-real-girl-archers-full
  • https://www.quora.com/How-many-hours-do-athletes-practice-a-week
  • https://www.businessinsider.com/anders-ericsson-how-to-become-an-expert-at-anything-2016-6

Field Archery?

The next tournament is a Field Archery event.  I know next to nothing about field archery.  I’ve been reading the rules trying to learn about this shooting venue.

The targets are different, the distances vary, and there are a lot of arrows to shoot.  I like the lot of arrow part.

Well, I figured out the elevation, finally during this practice

I once tried a field event about three years ago in North Carolina.  I didn’t have a clue.  I’m still pretty clueless.  Hopefully, with about 5 weeks to go before the competition, I’ll get some idea of how it works.

A few clicks on the windage. Put this dark target up since I think field archery uses black and white paper

Worse case, I’ll follow the crowd and aim for the middle of the target. Someone will point the way.

 

Saving Turtles

Part of my overall training for archery includes cardio fitness exercise. In that essential area are running and cycling.  I’ve done a lot of running and cycling. Often, while cycling or running along side of a rural road I see a turtle trying to make it to the other side of the road.

Turtles aren’t known for speed but they do have endurance.  In that matter I can relate.  Whenever I see one on the road I pause to help it across.

Today I crossed paths while riding my bike with a large turtle and gave it a tow handed lift to the other side of the road.  This turtle never completely ducked back into its shell.  Perhaps it knew I was hoping to help.

On the round trip I checked to be sure I’d headed it in the correct direction.  I was pleased to find it making progress.

I searched for the turtle on the ride back. It took some looking but there’s it is heading away from the road.

Getting ready for the next tournament

With the Georgia Cup behind me it is time to concentrate on the Georgia Bowhunter and Archery Association’s (NFAA) State Field Championship being held in Savannah, Georgia. The event is about 6 weeks out as I write.

Having only once before competed in a NFAA style field tournament I’ve spent some time reading over the rules, scoring, targets and such.  It is also the time to switch to a six-week cycle of training.

Right back at it after a day off

At a week before a tournament I don’t go to the gym to lift weights.  Aside from that there are other modifications of time spent shooting and fitness training. At six weeks out I am in the gym.

The gym where I train never ceases to amaze me in that the vacuum cleaning is always underway when I arrive.  Of the noises in the world the sound of a vacuum cleaner is one of the foulest in my opinion.  It doesn’t matter if I am at the gym morning or afternoon, I’ve tried both, there’s some attendant pushing a vacuum.  Worse is they always migrate to whatever weight station I’m using.

Time to head to the gym

Sure as Southern Summers are hot, in the gym today, there was the attendant with his vacuum cleaner sucking up unseen particles within inches of me.  Perhaps, unknown to me, I’m like Pigpen from the cartoon ‘Peanuts’, and when then gym’s employees see me coming they start up the vacuum preparing to follow me around.

 

Jalapenos and Archery Tournaments

It is rare to find food that is too spicy.  The hotter the better.  There have been times when food was served that were fireball hot.  Still, for me, it didn’t go to waste.  That is until the next day.

The day after eating particularly spicy food the results of digestion can attest to the degree of heat previously consumed.  For some of us, jalapenos do not fall into the category of foods that lead to gastronomical second degree burning.  The first degree being felt in the buccal cavity.

Recently, I spent a long day in outdoor competition where I didn’t bring enough food.  By the time I was home I was hungry and tired.  I wanted to go out for dinner and not cook or clean the kitchen.  I further had a taste for spicy food. Brenda, my wife agreed to dinner on the town. We decided on Mexican food.

As a rule, Mexican food is delicious, hot and filling.  Like I mentioned, I was hungry.

We didn’t order anything outlandish.  The food was excellent.  My mistake was fresh and pickled jalapenos.  I got extra.  Our salsa request was, “Bring us the hottest you have, please.”  They were proud of their ability to satisfy.

On day 2 of the archery tournament announcements were being delivered throughout the morning. I missed at least half of them.  One very fortunate geographical development is that where I was standing to shoot on day 2 was as close to the rest rooms as possible. Another really lucky thing is that I didn’t need to shoot for quite some time having two byes in the elimination rounds.

Most times spicy food and my lower G.I. system are extremely compatible. Spicy food divergence with an archery tournament intersection is a rough way to spend a morning on the range.

Another life lesson learned.

That was hot!

The weekend of the Georgia Cup in Conyers, Georgia was a hot one.  The temperature was in the low 90s.  It wasn’t the hottest outdoor archery tournament that I have shot in but it was near the top of the list.

The field of sweaty (soon to be sun burnt) archers was impressive considering the overlap with the ASA Pro/Am being held a few hours away near Augusta, GA.  The tournament moved along as fast as possible in the heat.  There were times when walking back from pulling arrows seemed to take longer than usual.  No one was running wind sprints to return to the line. Of course, the slower people walked the hotter it became with the day bearing down on us. Shade was a precious commodity.

I show up at tournaments here in Georgia as a solo athlete so I don’t bring one of those nice pop-up canopies.  Bringing a canopy for one person seems excessive.  Thankfully, there is usually a group under a canopy that offers shade. At the Georgia Cup that shade was provided by a group of archers I’ve gotten to know over the past year shooting here.  I was thankful.

The Georgia Cup is a two-day event put on by the Georgia Archery Association. Last year I lost to a friend from Savannah, Georgia who took first on the final few arrows. Paul, last year’s winner, got into a flow and just couldn’t miss the X.  He was absent for the 2019 version.

Day one is the qualifying day.  That is, for any that might not know, 72 arrows at 50-meters for bracketing on day 2 during the elimination rounds. Day two archers are paired into brackets based on qualifying score.  Those pairs shoot against one another.  Eventually, some lose and have to sit down; others shoot on until there is one archer that wins.  If you score high enough on day one you may end up with a bye or two for the eliminations on day two.

Day one earned me a couple of byes.  As such I didn’t have a competition round until two and a half hours after the eliminations began.  That was a long hot wait. When I was finally up the first archer I had to shoot against, Buddy, has beaten me a number of times.

Typical of Buddy, on the first end he shot X, 10, 9 and typical of me I shot 10, 9,9.  I like Buddy, it always a challenge shooting against him.  At each tournament, we’ve already shot against one another at 3 in 2019, he always asks, “Have you been shooting?”  I always rely, “Yes.”  The he adds, “I haven’t picked up a bow since the last time I saw you.” Right.

He’s a State record holder and isn’t going to make too many mistakes.  It was tight going into the third end when Buddy gave me a couple of points.

They way I look at it, in archery we all start with the maximum allowable number of points.  In elimination round, during each head-to-head competition, each archer is given 150 points.  You shoot to keep those points.  To keep them all you need to do is put your arrow into the 10 ring. Every time you don’t do that you give away a point or more.

I gave Buddy a few points, he gave me a few points and by the time it was over I was less charitable with my points.

Making it into the final match for Gold or Silver there stood Jerry in the lane next to me. Jerry has been flinging arrows for over 30 years.  Going into the second end I had one point on Jerry.  With three more ends to shoot against an opponent with significantly more skill and training I needed to not let my mind drift over to the potential advantages Jerry has over me.

With his experience and skill  Jerry’s earned a Mathews kit, a brand new Mathews bow and top-level arrows. Thirty years in the business of shooting arrows gets you top-level support.   On any given day Jerry can beat me.  But, I had this one point advantage and that pirate saying in my head, “Take what you can; give nothing back.”

Not really.  There was no pirate mantra in my head.  I was thinking, “Just shoot your game” and “Perfect form equals a perfect shot”, and “Don’t rush the shot” and “Paul is not here this year” and “stance, hook and grip, set-up, set…” and “Brenda (my wife) is going to not like this is I lose,” and “feel the Force,” and “see the arrow landing in the X,” and “the kids and grandkids are coming over to celebrate my birthday this afternoon” and “Mama will be proud if I win,” and “My father in law will be disappointed if I lose,” and, “please wind stop” and “man, it is hot,” and “is that a squirrel on the range,” and “I’m thirsty” and  “silence your thoughts” (that one didn’t work).

When the final tally was complete Jerry had been too generous with his points. It was still hot.

Finished the day with a Gold Medal and self-portrait drawn by one of my granddaughters.

Marginal Gains

When it comes to equipment, as athletes become better performers, their gear makes a difference. British Cycling has a team, the Secret Squirrel Club, that’s composed of engineers and designers. Their job is to make equipment best suited to provide marginal gains for elite cyclists.  Small gains at an elite level can make a difference when thousandths of a second can mean the gap between a first place and second.

Archery is no different. As we improve our groups become tighter. The accuracy of shots becomes more repeatable.  It is this way with all top archers.  Equipment in archery is generally quite good.  Searching for marginal gains through technologically superior equipment can provide the archer with marginal gains that can make the difference between a first place and second place.

I can’t recall how many times I’ve now lost a tournament by one point, a one point shoot off, the X count,  or the inner X count (I do recall that one).  Each of those close matches I know, whether or not the archer was simply one point better, that my opponent on that day used equipment at least more expense that mine.  At times, most times, the archer shooting to victory held gear that has a retail sticker price of more than double of mine.

I asked a coach/sales person, “How can I buy more points with improved gear?”  First off the bat were the arrows I was shooting for outdoor contests.

He suggested I switch to a more expensive arrow.  The price of the arrows I shoot is $150.15 vanes and nocks included from Amazon.  The tips are another $21.00 at Amazon.  Total price is $171.15.

The arrows the coach/sales person suggested aren’t available at Amazon; they are from Lancaster Archery Supply.  The shafts alone for those arrows are $239.99. Built and ready to shoot the price came to $407.99.  The coach/sales person said he’d gone to those arrows and his score had improved by 10 points.  Ten points is a lot.

Next he suggested a different arrow rest, the price for that suggestion is $248.00.  The arrow rest on my bow is $127.00 on Amazon.  His suggestion is not available on Amazon. He claimed his recommended arrow rest is the best on the market. He should know he is an ex-pro.

Sure, there are all sorts of “Pro” archers. He was a major professional and former “Cover Archer” among the marketing literature for one of the companies he represented.  His opinion is the expensive rest would add 5 more points to my scores.  I do believe he knows what his talking about.

At that point I was looking at an investment of $655.99 for an additional 15 points (potential). That’s a lot of cash. Then, there’s the bow.

Last year, I purchased a bona fide target bow. It shot great for a while.  Then it began doing something that spread the groups. What I noticed was the cable guard was becoming pitted.  The action of the slide on the cable guard appeared to be sticking and gouging small pits and creating ripples on the cable guard itself.

After nearly a year of complaining, calls, and bow tuning I finally got support from the manufacturer.  The bow was returned.  The bow remains AWOL but I do have a receipt.  You can’t shoot a receipt.  Even so, that bow remains among the least expensive target bows on the market.

There’s a point in all sport where excellent equipment can provide an advantage.  One thing I did change which was a huge success was my release. Aside from that my equipment is generally fine for a good time shooting.

Marginal gains are real. These gains can be found through better gear.  Considering the marginal gains projected around the $655.99 of upgraded gear, which I have not purchased, there might be as great as a 15-point gain.  I may never know. What I can say for certain is that the best bow is the bow that is in your hand.

A Form Practice Method

One of the issues with archery is perfecting form.  Good form reliably produces a good shot. The thing is archers as a group are inconsistent with form.1 However, better archers are more consistent in their form.1

Practicing form is not simple a matter of hitting the center of the target at a known distance.  At times, poor form can result in a center shot. That isn’t a good approach that is having poor form and hoping for the best.

Coaching tips

Designing a practice that is specifically tailored to form seems a simple matter – it isn’t. Having a coach watch the archer in practice and providing coaching tips can help.  The problem is that coaches often teach methods which are not incorporated by elite archers. 2 Apparently, coaches may be reciting what they’ve been taught to coach and that advice goes into one of the athlete’s ears and out the other. I’m not suggesting the athletes are wrong. On the contrary, I’m saying those coaching methods are wrong.

In order to create a method that might help create a specific training process for form the archer should be at a degree of accomplishment where the athlete is working on skills of improvement.

The practice isn’t a measure of points.  It is a measure of form, which is the area specific to the skill improvement.

The archer selects a distance that is outside a comfort zone.  For example, if 18-meters is the comfort zone move outside, for instance to 25-meters.  If the goal is better from for 50-meters move to 60 meters.  The idea is to reproduce groups.

If at 50-meters the archer is shooting scores that reveal few poor shots, like an rare eight, then at 60-meters the goal is to create a group of arrows where 100% are within the group.  The score does not matter.  The cluster of arrows is the primary goal.

Say that the archer shoots an end of 10 arrows at 50-meters.  The objective is to create a cluster of arrows, a group, with 100% of them in the yellow.  Should an arrow fall outside the yellow the percentage of success is decreased by 10%. If the main body of the arrows lands in the 10 right with two landing in the nine right that is either a 100% or 80% depending on the skill of the archer.

This practice is done to the point of fatigue – not exhaustion.  The point of fatigue becomes apparent as the percentage drops. Once fatigue occurs stop, rest, and repeat the practice after a period of recovery, say in several hours.

Whether the arrows fail within the group or outside the group each arrow is evaluated.  If an arrows lands high, a 12 O’clock nine, determine if the error was caused by the bow rocking so that the upper limb drifted back or the release hand pulled downward during the activation process. If an arrow lands smack in the middle of the X, pause to consider what occurred to create a good shot.

After each end record the percentage of arrows that are outside the group.  Keep a record of this as a tool to aid in the improvement of form.

The above graph represents this sort of practice.  The red column is the percentage of good form score. In this case, 10 arrows at 60-meters, outside the yellow meant a decrease of 10% per arrow in most cases.

Reference:

1.) Soylu AR1Ertan HKorkusuz F.Archery performance level and repeatability of event-related EMG. Hum Mov Sci. 2006 Dec;25(6):767-74. Epub 2006 Jul 21.

2.) Martin PE1Siler WLHoffman D. Electromyographic analysis of bow string release in highly skilled archers. J Sports Sci. 1990 Winter;8(3):215-21.