Move That Sight

At the 2016 NC ASA State Championship, in Mt. Airy, shooting a compound bow my arrows were all shooting to the left.  In my group was the eventual winner of the division.  He’s won a lot of tournaments, been a National Champion, Shooter of the Year, and has a stack of other championships.  In fact, I competed with and against him numerous times.  He offered me some simple advice, “Move your sight.”  I didn’t listen.

I figured the off-shots were me and that I’d gain control then begin hitting 10s and 12s rather than 10s and 8s and any moment.  I never did and walked away 5th. If I’d only listened.

During that NC ASA State Championship I was still very new to archery. I’d been shooting for 32 months.  I wasn’t at all comfortable fidgeting with my sight during a tournament. Today, that is different.

Time to twist a knob

I’ve also put down my compound bow for an Olympic recurve bow. Using that bow I’ll twist the sight knobs without a qualm.

That’s better

Adjusting your sight isn’t something that needs to be done on every shot.  If you fling a bad arrow it really might be you not the sight.  But, shoot enough and you’ll feel when it is you versus the need to make an adjustment.

Measure and Manage

On a weekly basis I use one day to replicate an archery tournament. For example, the next event on my calendar is the Georgia Cup.  I’ll shoot that tournament in the 50-year-old division at a distance of 60 meters.  That’s the practice tournament done this week – 60 meters.

During the week I’ll shoot hundreds of arrows ranging on a daily basis from 60 arrows to 200 arrows.  The maximum will eventually work up to 300 arrows per day.  The most I’ve shot in a day is 400 and I may go for a 500-arrow day this year.  For now, however 200 is my daily maximum.

Flinging arrows is good for stamina and control.  It aids in working on specific matters of form.  The practice tournament is a way to measure progress. The outcome further helps in determining adjustments for the subsequent week’s training plan.

Aside from recording the score I record the time remaining on the shot clock.  Reviewing those times versus the end’s score is important to ensure relaxed shooting during an event.  It eliminates needing to watch the clock.  It is much like an NFL quarterback who knows there is 25 seconds to receive the hike. It is a method of comparing time versus score.

If I add calories, such as a sport drink or some solid calories I record that as well.

Having a solid understand of performance during a mock-tournament will help during the real thing.

Your Brain and Fitness

During my working career I did lots of interesting things.   All of my work was cognitive. I used to say, “I think, therefore I get paid.” I did of lot of thinking, figuring things out.  So, my brain has been and remains an important tool for me.

Aging is an area where I have an interest and I’ve done a little research. As a result I have a fair grasp of what to expect as I age and how I’ll perform in sports.

I stay is pretty good overall fitness as much for my physical abilities as for my brain. I like my brain – it entertains me. It turns out that fitness does a lot to help my brain. It can help your brain, too.

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When you consider archery, there is a lot of brainwork going on to make a good shot. Primarily, you need to have an active brain that converts to a meditative brain (alpha waves –described here in an earlier post) to get that great shot time after time. In order to accomplish the brain process, a healthy brain is a significant advantage over an unhealthy one. And it turn out that exercise, not archery exercise, helps make the brain healthy.

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In a systematic review a group of scientists concluded that a sedentary lifestyle led to impaired cognitive function. In their conclusion they wrote, “Our systematic review provides evidence that limiting sedentary time and concomitantly engaging in regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity may best promote healthy cognitive aging.”

I would not rank archery as moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. In fact, the less vigorous we are when we shoot the better. But, to be really calm, it may be beneficial to be fit and healthy. Being unfit and in poor health would make it hard to for the brain to relax – an important component to making a good shot.

Archery is one of the two sports where an athlete over 50 can be or become an elite. Making it to over 50 in good health takes a bit, not much – you don’t need to be an Ironman or marathoner – of exercise. I highly recommend a routine and somewhat structure plan for exercise. If you’ve never done any exercise, it is not going to be easy at first. Heck, there are times when it is never “easy”. Easy is a sedentary life style. Over the decades an easy lifestyle will catch up with you. So, do a bit of exercise, in the long haul you’ll benefit from the effort.

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A bonus is, you get to keep your brain operating at a high capacity. Which in turn will help you with your archery.

Reference:

1.) Falck RS, Davis JC, Liu-Ambrose T. What is the association between sedentary behavior and cognitive function? A systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2016 May 6. pii: bjsports-2015-095551. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-095551. [Epub ahead of print]

Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning

Archery is generally considered a sport where mental focus is paramount to success. Mental focus is critical for all sports. However, archery, by the sheer nature of the degree of clarity of mind needed to perform is in a unique class. The mental focus of elite archers is to such a degree that prior to executing a proper shot their brain waves are primary alpha, a wave associated with deep mediation.1

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A group of scientist considered the emotional state of pre-competition and subsequent competitive performance during archery. Their goal was to gain insight into individual psychophysical reactions accompanying an athletic event, and to test predictions of pre-performance emotions effects upon performance.2 They guessed that good performance was expected when the actual pre-performance emotions resembled the recalled optimal emotion pattern. Conversely, poor performance was expected when the actual pre-performance emotions paralleled the recalled ineffective emotion pattern.

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We all have these days

Their investigation comprised of individual emotion profiling, emotions and heart rate monitoring, final interview and performance evaluation. The study was conducted during the 1996 European Archery Championships, one of the most important international archery competitions.

Emotion profiling was carried out using an idiographic approach based on recalled optimal and poor performances, according to the Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) model. Emotions, heart rate, and performance were monitored across the five days of practice and competition.

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The Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) model postulates the functional relationship between emotions and optimal performance, and aims to predict the quality of upcoming performance with respect to the pre-performance emotional state of the athlete.3

What they learned was that individual pre-performance optimal emotion pattern, heart rate deceleration during shooting (not all research shows heart rate deceleration1), consistent shooting scores were revealed throughout practice and competition. The good performance predicted on the basis of pre-performance emotion assessments was met and was confirmed by the archer’s interpretation.2

Essentially what this means is that if you are focused, calm and shooting well in practice you are more likely to perform in competition in that manner.

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Reference:

1.)  Salazar W, Landers DM, Petruzzello SJ, Han M, Crews DJ, Kubitz KA. Hemispheric asymmetry, cardiac response, and performance in elite archers. Res Q Exerc Sport. 1990 Dec; 61 (4): 351 – 9

2.)  Robazza C1, Bortoli L, Nougier V. Emotions, heart rate and performance in archery. A case study. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1999 Jun;39(2):169-76.

3.)  Akihito Kamata, Yuri L. Hanin Sport Psychology Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF): A Probabilistic Estimation JSEP Volume 24, Issue 2, June

It May Take Practice, But Confidence Rules

I was shooting with one of the top archers in the world. On this day, it was the second time less than 6 weeks (in two states)  I ended up on the range with him. Between the two tournments I met a coach that said to me, “Archery is all mental.” That comment had me reflecting and thinking.

Those thoughts and reflections ended in a post at this site, “It Takes Practice.” (1) In that writing I examined other physical development aspects of shooting. Wanting to learn more about science behind the coach’s claim I turned to research.

After reading an article in a peer-reviewed journal the top archer I’d recently shot with came to mind. In particular, the second tournament is what I most clearly recalled. It was an event where we had 40 3D targets to shoot during two sessions of 20 targets each.

During the first half of the event the popular pro was shooting good. He was leading but not by an amazing margin. The first shoot had been early morning and the targets were dark and hard to see. By my estimate, I felt he was struggling just a little. During the second half of the event things began to change, then things really changed.

In the same group was another archer, a two-time world champion. He was obviously struggling.(He actually commented about his struggling)  He was consistently shooting high. (Just high enough to lose a couple of points here and there – he still beat me.) There was a noticeable difference: the first elite archer began to appear more confident than the second elite archer.

In a study by Kim, et al, they examined  11 elements of archery that archers determined were needed for top-level performance. These elements where isolated though meetings with 20 elite archers. Then, the scientists confirmed those elements with 463 different archers and created an analytic hierarchy process that was verified by addition 36 archery experts.

The results of this revealed three sets of performance factors: mental, skill and fitness categories. Fitness factors affecting performance included “drawing a bow without an arrow,” “lower-body weight training,” and “upper-body weight training.” Skill factors affecting performance included “extending by maintaining left and right shoulder balance during aiming,” “shooting skill over a regular clicker time,” “maintaining pace and direction at release,” and “drawing skill by maintaining left and right shoulder balance.” Mental factors affecting performance were “confidence,” “concentration,” “emotion control,” and “positive thinking.” (The 11 elements are in quotes from reference 2.)

What is clear from the athletes, archery is not all mental. What is paramount is what the archers selected as the most important of the 11 elements of importance to performance: confidence – that is mental.

Recall the elite archer I’ve competed against twice who I mentioned the opening? During the last shoot with him I noticed a change in what I perceived as his level of confidence. There was a clear change in his demeanor. His final score for the day reflected the change: one 8, ten 10s, and nine 12s for a score of 216.

Regarding the comment, “Archery is all mental” – well it’s not, at least according to archers. Archery is part mental, part skill and part fitness. The trio of performance factors developing together and not necessary at the same pace.  I believe, after the skill and fitness performance factors of the sport have been satisfied, then the mental aspects of the sport are primed to take control. Confidence, built on practice and fitness, was the most important, according to this study, mental category – as judged by the athletes.

Reference:

1.) http://puttingitontheline.com/archery/it-takes-practice/

2.) Kim HB1, Kim SH, So WY. The relative importance of performance factors in Korean archery. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 May;29(5):1211-9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000687.

What Does It Take to Be a Champion?

Think about a person you consider an athletic champion.  Which words or phrases would you choose to describe that person? Strong?  Energized?  Relentless? Balanced?  Ambitious?  Some, or even all, of those words might apply.  And there are certainly many more words that describe it valiantly.

It’s a hot topic that is discussed pervasively.  All you need to do is an internet search and a plethora of information pops up.  In fact, books have been written about what it takes to be a successful athletic champion. And there is a professional speaking circuit for those willing to pay to listen.

The topic is also arguably subjective.  But are there commonalities that simplify the definition of what it takes to be a champion athlete?  Perhaps.

Recently, over chicken wings and few bottles of good beer, three professional coaches, one of whom is also a competitive athlete, took the dive into discussing this highly debated topic.

Two of the coaches agreed that the mental aspect, regardless of the sport, is the number one factor in becoming a champion.  The premise of the mental aspect is that with enough mental focus and a mental program, an individual can become a champion in his or her chosen sport.

Ordering another round of beers and snatching the last chicken wing in the basket, one of the coaches pushed back. Fundamentally believing that it is the athletic skill itself that is the number one aspect of being a champion, he argued that the mental bit, while essential, is secondary to core physical skill. In other words, he argued that an athlete can think about winning all day and all night, but if the work isn’t there the athlete will fail.

After getting to a point where the coaches were rehashing hash on the topic, and because of commitments like needing to go home to feed the dog and getting itchy to jump on the elliptical and burn off the calories from the beer and chicken wings, the three coaches abandoned the debate.  So they could reconvene to discuss, one coach volunteered to develop a simple survey to uncover what it is that turns athlete into a champion.

Level 3 and 4 archery coaches began the debate

The coaches agreed, that to give context to the survey,  a champion would be defined as an individual who wins a major sporting event, unchallenged as the victor.  For example, an athlete who wins an Ironman World Championship, a Gold Medal in an Olympic or Pan Am game, a National title or Professional Golf Association win would meet the criteria.

Through Facebook, a message was sent to recruit responses from 100 athletes and coaches. The same message was sent to everyone:

“I am asking 100 coaches and athletes a question where the responses will be compiled into a database.  I will write an essay based on the results.  I would greatly appreciate your brief responses. By brief, I mean your top three or four words that describe the answer.  The question is: What does it take to be a champion?

It was not anticipated that Facebook would block progress.  A firm notification was returned from the Facebook team believing the messages were coming from a robot.  While applause to Facebook for its vigilance to protect its customers is due, the interruption knocked back the messages sent from 100 to 54.  Still, 54 was an excellent sample set for an informal study and the coach was thrilled with a 100% response rate from the 54 who received the question..

There were 41 males and 13 females who responded from across the globe: United States, Canada, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Israel, France, England, Australia, Russia, Iran and Switzerland.

To make the survey information robust, the profiles of the respondents were captured.

Twelve sport disciplines were represented: golf, cycling, archery, running/marathon/ultramarathon (distance runners), football, shooting, swimming, triathlon, weightlifting, sailing, track/field (sprint, decathlon, heptathlon) and Karate. 

Of the 54 total responders, there were 23 world championships, two Olympic gold medals and four PGA wins.  And among the entire group of 54, there were 75 National titles.  Included in the 54 were eight athletes who consider themselves enthusiasts, but train for their sport nearly every day and compete on a regular basis.  Clearly, this was experience talking.

This was a solid cross section of people who could help define what it takes to be a champion athlete, and so began the arduous task of compiling and analyzing the response and profile data.

Feedback from the respondents resulted in a tally of 132 unique words and descriptors of what it takes to be a champion.  All words and descriptors were entered in a spreadsheet and sorted alphabetically.  From there, common words and descriptors began to emerge: work, confidence, determination, mental, emotional.

The words were then ranked based on the percentage of response between the athletes and coaches surveyed.  Two sets of interesting and potentially conflicting results were revealed:

  • Athletes used the word “determination” the highest, followed in order by “work”, “emotional”, “mental”, and “confidence” to describe what it takes to be a champion.
  • In highest place for coaches were words in the “emotional” category, followed by “determination” and “work” being equal, then “confidence” and “mental” respectively. Disciplines for the responding coaches included football (NCAA Div. II, SAC), track and field, triathlon, marathon running, cross country running and archery.
Coaches versus all athletes

So, what is “the” number one word to describe what it takes to be a champion athlete?  Determination, as presented by the athlete survey responses, or emotional, as presented by the coach survey responses?

The trio of coaches reconvened at the pub to discuss the results.  Additional questions were posited.  Is determination an emotion?  Does emotion evoke determination?  It could be argued that determination is a mental state that drives emotions like passion and commitment. An athlete can be physically extraordinary at his or her sport, but if there is no passion for the activity, what is the likelihood that individual will emerge as a champion?

Two of three coaches argued that the brain is a powerful thing and it can trick the body into elite performance.  One coach felt that when aggressive coaching is involved, the athlete’s mind can push the body into performing at an elite level.

Chicken wings were ordered and the survey results were studied in more depth. Thankfully the wings were served with a big pile of napkins, because the coaches needed to sketch out their theories on how the words garnered from the survey fundamentally aligned to what it takes to be a champion.

Ultimately, the trio agreed that based on the feedback from the 54 person survey, the first and most dominant factor in becoming a champion is determination.If an athlete is determined enough they’ll find a way to get the work done, to build confidence, control and use emotions, and develop a mental process to polish off perfection.

All responses: coaches, elites and enthusiasts.

“Work”, as one of the top three words selected by both athletes and coaches, is highly relevant.  Following “determination”, all 54 respondents indicated that “work” was the second word to answer the question ‘what does it take to be a champion’, followed in frequency of response by mental effort, emotional bearingand confidence, in that order.

There were two outlier responses, that have merit and are worthy of mentioning. These were: “being in the right place at the right time”and “great equipment.”

The first, ‘right place/right time’, can be considered luck or happen stance.  For example, if an undefeated champion is unable to compete one year, does that mean that the new champion for that year is a superior athlete?  What if in the following year the original undefeated athlete competes again and takes back the title?   There is no way to know. An athlete can only compete against those who show up.

Rankings by Elite Athletes compared to enthusiasts

The second outlier response, ‘great equipment’ can surely play a role when an athlete reaches an elite level and marginal gains become more important.  For the less aggressive or less accomplished athlete, great equipment, (i.e. expensive equipment), typically isn’t going to impact results as much as more training and practice.

As the last of the people in the pub began to leave, the trio of coaches decided to pay up and came to a somewhat conclusive agreement that determination and work, whether driven by emotion and/or great coaching, were the keys to becoming a champion. Do you agree?

Increasing Poundage on a Recurve Bow

Shooting an Olympic recurve is demanding.  Unlike a compound bow there is no let off when the archer reaches their draw length.  The archer has to hold the poundage at full draw.  Increasing poundage can be useful and finding an ideal limb weight takes time.

Adult beginners can typically begin and enjoy shooting a recurve bow at lower poundage.  As they improve they’ll often want to increase their draw weight.  Younger archers take time to develop and their draw weight increases as they mature.

Initially an adult who begins at 25 pounds may see a rapid changes in poundage.  Many people can jump from 25 to 35 in 2 to 4 pound increments fairly fast.  Fairly fast is months versus years. Even so there will be people more comfortable remaining at lower poundage for much longer if not indefinitely.

Higher poundage does have some advantage.  At longer distances an arrow launched at 32 pounds will travel more slowly and with more arch than the same arrow launched at 42 pounds.  (Yes, I know the spine is different for 32 versus 42 pounds – this is an example for illustration) The faster arrow and flatter trajectory is affected less by wind.  With a higher weight many archers see an improved release.

Moving up in poundage is not simple.  An increase from 28 pounds to 30 pounds may feel easy where moving from 40 to 42 can feel exponentially more difficult.  If the archer shoots using a clicker the archer may notice the clicker is more difficult to trigger.

The clicker and anchor point are note solely impacted by the increase demand to draw to bow there is additional compressibility of the soft tissue between joints.  When changing limb weight the archer may find their clicker needs a slight adjustment of a millimeter to a few millimeters.

If you are considering increasing the poundage of your limbs and shoot a couple of hundred arrows per day don’t stay at that same volume with you increase weight.  Decease by half or more until you can control your bow.  This will aid to maintain form and reduce the risk of an injury.

Vacation Can Be Tough

Vacation is fun or so they say.  However, it you are a competitive athlete time off can be tough.

It doesn’t matter what the sport is when athletes pause for recovery it can be difficult.  There is a feeling that time is wasting and opponents are getting better while you are relaxing.   That really isn’t the case. By that the case being that an opponent is getting better while the vacationing athlete is losing form.   Breaks are necessary.  It allows the body to recover and the mental stress to abate.  Non-stop training leads to injury and burnout.

Too many breaks is another matter. Pretty much that means, when you are taking lots of breaks, you are an enthusiast. Being an enthusiast is fine.  Most athletes fall into this class. The sport is more of a hobby.  Some folks call these individuals weekend warriors.  Again, this is the class of athlete that is the foundation of sport.

Top athletes are different.  Not simply that they train differently often times they are genetically different.  In football those professional athletes are bigger, faster stronger and have an ability to see rapidly moving patterns on a field. In baseball their speed and reflex ability is breathtaking.  In archery the top athletes can shoot hundreds to thousands of arrows (weekly) without damaging shoulder joints and have a keen sense of feeling a target and loosing an arrow. All of those top athletes still need to plan for recovery.

Jerry Rice the greatest of all time at his position was not the most gifted player of that position. He did however plan specific times for recovery and had a very specific off-season training plan.  Archery can be done year round.  As archers, we really don’t have much of a down season.  Once indoor season ends outdoor season begins.

This essentially non-stop sport requires scheduled period to recover.  In your yearly training plan you do need to have select periods where you don’t pick up a bow.  It is hard to do but it will help you recover and last as a competitive archer.

Sleep and Archery

Archery isn’t a sport requiring high level of cardiopulmonary fitness.  It does require an elevated degree of neurocognition.  Archery demands a physically repeated action that does stress upper body muscles and skeletal structure.  It also necessitates the ability to balance with minimal sway placing additional demands on an athlete’s core and lower body support. Sleep reinforces sport recovery and improves performance.(1)

The disciple required to excel in sport is enormous.  The daily activities during training, travel and competition all can decrease the ability to train properly, focus and compete.

Training along with poor restorative sleep can lead injury.  Overtraining is associated with injury and lower performance levels.  Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality does reduce performance and leads to injury.

One of the easiest, albeit infrequently considered, ways to improve performances is understanding that quality sleep supports develop as an athlete. Then, taking the steps to improve sleep.

This is true for archery.  In a convenient sample of training scores, simulated tournaments over 30 days sleep quality was recorded along with performance levels.

Nights where sleep was poor were documented, as were the higher quality sleep cycles.  These were based on hours of sleep, good sleep being greater than seven hours, and poor sleep less than seven hours. (Personal data n=1)

The mean number of hours slept for a quality scores was 7.8 hours versus 6.3 hours for poor quality sleep. Those nights with better sleep yielded a mean score of (vertical 3 sport 18 or 25 meters Olympic recurve bow for both conditions) 549 versus 532, quality sleep vs. poor quality sleep, respectively.  The difference of 17 points is significant (3.09%). A high score of 568 was achieved at both 18 and 25 meters for quality sleep nights. Those higher scores had a range of 568 to 540 points.  The poor quality sleep had a high score of 540 (at 25 and 18 meters) and a low score of 527 (25 meters) was revealed.

Sleep has been shown to improve performance of skilled athletes. (2) In this data set archery is not an exception.

Reference:

(1) Simpson NS, Gibbs EL, Metheson GO: Optimizing sleep to maximize performance: implications and recommendations for elite athletes. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2017 Mar; 27(3): 266-274

(2) Cheri D Mah, Kenneth E MahEric J KezirianWilliam C Dement.The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep 2011 Jul 1; 34(7): 943-50

Lifting Weights

A friend of mine recently asked if I lift weight.  I do. When the Covid pretty much shut down the gyms I didn’t.  Now, I do, again.  Only, now I don’t go to the gym.

I bought a weight bench and some weights and workout in my garage.  Turned out that my home gym is less expensive than an annual gym membership.  For sure I don’t have all the fancy gear but I do have enough.

I’ve also changed when I lift.  Rather than in the afternoon I lift in the mornings four days per week.  You can believe during those days at some point while practicing archery my arms are going to feel like they’ve done a lot.

Today was no exception. I lifted weights this morning. The morning practice, 100 arrows at 60 yards, was fine.  The afternoon session, 50 arrows at 40 yards was misery.  Usually the afternoon is a minimum of 60 arrows with a maximum of 120 arrows.  I quit at 50 arrows.

The last end of 10 arrows wasn’t too awful.  Five 10s, one 9 and four 8s.  The four 8s at 40 yards is, of course, a sign.  The more obvious sign was pulling through the shot. One in ten draws were where I had to let down and start over.

To be fair it was a particularly arduous weight lifting workout on this morning.  On the prior day of weights and shooting at forty yards I didn’t land any 8s.  Today it was different.

I felt I could have worked though the stiffness in my muscles.  I decided against it.  Over the past 3 days, the time since my last recovery break, I’ve flung 526 arrows.  On the last end, at 50 arrows, a Kenny Rogers song popped into my head.  The lyrics were, “you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run.”