Everybody Misses, Everybody Gets It

There are two archers. Between the two of them they have 16 individual world championships.  (Seriously, I checked)  You can imagine they are great archers.  One shoots dots the other shoots foam animals.  Both are extremely pleasant and polite. Neither is a perfect archer.  They’ve missed before and they’ll miss, again.

This year the 10X world champion at 3D made a mistake adjusting the yardage on his sight.  It cost him a win.  Two years ago the 6X world champion against paper targets lost it on his draw and missed a target.  These are two of the very best archers in the world.  They’ve made mistakes.

At their level a mistake will cost.  In the case of 3D champion it dropped him from 1stto 3rd. In the World Cup Archery style the miss took the other world champion totally out of the money.  In both cases, they simply moved on to the next practice and next event.  Neither got overly out of sorts or concerned.  Both have won subsequent tournaments.   At their level any opening given to the competition is costly.

Some folks will have good days, some folks will have less good days

When you sign up for an archery tournament your registration pays for you to have the maximum points allowed.  If it’s an ASA 3D event you’ve paid for, at 20 targets, you have bought 240 points. If you’ve entered an indoor USA Archery style event with 60 arrows you’ve bought 600 points. They are all yours. The question becomes how many are you prepared to give back? Every shot where you miss the X or 12 you’ve returned points.

You’re not alone. Unless you’re one of the top the world you’ll be returning points throughout events.  A problem can develop when you make a mistake and dump a pile of points in a hurry.

In a field tournament this year I was losing by a few points going into the second day.  The competition was extremely tight.  In fact, the top three finishers in my class all broke the previous State field record.  It was truly an exciting tournament with anyone of the top three within a point or two from taking it all.

All your arrows won’t land like this – but a lot will

Then, the fellow that was leading made a mistake.  It was a big error and I moved ahead by four points.  Did he lose his composure after error he’d made? No. In fact, he seemed to loosen up and finished the remainder of the targets nearly perfectly. He slowly pulled ahead and took 7 points to win by 3 points.  It was truly an amazing comeback.

He’d had a bad break. Aside from a momentary shocked look on his face all he could do was laugh about it and move forward.  He didn’t let that single error get him so upset that his shooting spiraled downward.  Although I wanted the win it was honestly fun to watch this athlete shoot the remainder of the day and honestly I was happy for him.

He’d reached a point where he’d given up all the points he could have afforded on that day.  He laughed at the error and continued to trust his training.  His efforts and composure led him to the victory and a new State record.

You’ll miss.  I miss. We all miss.  We get more than we miss. The questions become how badly do you want to keep the points you paid for and how do you deal with adversity? Staying in the frame of mind that every arrow counts and each arrow is a single shot helps. Be positive and be able to laugh off a mistake.  You might not win after an error.  But, next time the error might not be as great.  Keeping the right attitude can make the next small mistake count less those in the past.

Perfect scores are rare, great scores aren’t as rare. Creating a mindset to reach greatness and perfection is part of archery.

When I was talking with the multi-time world champion 3D archer he laughed and told me he’d made more mistakes than he could remember.  The multi-time world champion at World Cup and USA Archery style shooting said everyone he competes against is great.  All you need to do is put the dot in the middle and shoot the dot. Both agreed you have to love the sport and be willing to understand you’ll make mistakes.

Staying in the Present

In archery we need to know how to close our minds to everything aside from the shot.  If you’re on the line or at the stake having your mind drift is bad mental timing.

Occasionally, just before a shot you lose that mental clarity and start thinking about something. It doesn’t matter what that something is, what matters is that you catch the drift. If you’ve drifted start over.

Coaching Tip

Letting down during the shot process is tough.  Your process becomes automatic. Still, you need the ability to stop the process, break the pattern, let down and begin the shot anew.

It can feel a little awkward letting down especially when the clock is running. However, by staying present in the moment, letting distractions not be the reason you missed an X or hit and 8 you’ll become more comfortable when the time arises where you need to reset.

Numbers, Process, and Monitoring

In professional sports, where athletes and their coaches are making money, believe me those individuals know their numbers.  When Usain Bolt prepared for a 100-meter sprint he knew about how fast he’d run.  So did his opponents.

When Coach Belichick begins a game against any team in the NFL he knows what that team’s expected yardages are for nearly every play and his defense works to read which play is coming their way in order to stop the play. Odds makers and bookies know this on  broader scale – football isn’t a total mystery. 

Feb 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick looks on during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

If you are a professional athlete you know how fast, strong, or accurate you are in your sport.  You may not be as fast as Usain Bolt, then no one else is either, however, you do know how fast you run – if you’re a runner.  If you are a power lifter you know how much weight to add to a barbell during exercise and about where you’ll lift in competition. 

There are variances to that knowledge. These variances in performance don’t amount to huge gains or loses. But, it is those variances that often make sport so interesting. Like an NFL upset or Bolt losing to Americans Gatlin and Coleman at the World Championship in 2017. (2017 was Bolt’s final year as a professional)

Eli Manning data

Suppose, for example, you are an archer that has been preparing for a tournament shooting a 5-spot.  You might not keep records your practice scores.  You might record how well you perceived your adherence to your shooting process.

If you’ve created a method of gaging your process of success that excludes knowing the scoring result you’ve missed a critical piece of information. 

While you might perform well at the 5-spot tournament you may be surprised, one way or the other, as scores are being called and recorded while you watch.  Without having trained to recognize scores as only one part of the process you could find that during competition a mental pressure to achieve a score creeps into your thoughts.

On the other hand, during your practice sessions if you’ve kept a measurement of your scoring you will become desensitized to the numbers.  What those numbers can provide is a floating bar to inform you of how you’re performing within your process.

In a tournament you don’t need to be thinking about your process.  Competition is a time where you trust your training and shoot. Process practice is for practice. During competition “You get the job done or you don’t,” Bill Belichick once said. Afterwards, you can sit down and evaluate your performance. Then, you’ll find what you need to work on for the next event.

Say that prior to the 5-spot tournament you’ve kept a database of the practice outcomes associated with scoring.  From that database you can review your most recent 30 scores.  Your data teaches you that your average practice score is 299.5 (300 is the maximum score).  You might further learn that your standard deviation is 0.99 points and your range  (‘range’ in this context means – minimum and maximum scoring)  is 297 through 300. Additionally, you can discover from your data that of the past 30 scores you ended up with 297 (3 times) for 10%, 298 (2 times) for 6%, 299 (1 time) for 1% and 300 (24 times) for 80% of your recorded practices. 

Numbers in sport are important

Understanding your numbers should give you the confidence to see yourself earning 300 points (you do it 80% of the time) at your tournament.  You also know that your variance is less than one point, 0.99.  But, your range is 297 – 300 or 3 points. 

Obviously, you aren’t likely to win a 5-spot tournament with a score below 300, although it has happened outside the professional divisions. Knowing that you score 300 at a rate of 80% means there is immediate room, 20%, for improvement.  Once you are landing 300 scores 100% of the time you set a goal of achieving 60X.

Coaching tip

While monitoring your performance can be done using a variety of matrices, scoring is one very objective value.  By following scores you’ll see improvement and create goals. You’ll further learn not to be intimidated by numbers and not reach a panic point when you are off on a shot. What matters is how you recover from that missed X. 

Remember, everybody misses and the score will take care of itself.

Getting Your Mental Picture

“I have never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture in my head.  It’s like a color movie.  First I ‘see’ the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes and I ‘see’ the ball going there; its path, trajectory and shape, even its behavior on landing. Then there is sort of a fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the image into reality.” (Jack Nicklaus, Gold My Way, Simon & Schuster, New York, p. 79, 1974)

One expert on mental efforts in sport has written to see yourself as the champion.  It seems to fit the fake it until you make it philosophy.  While this appears silly it there is some merit to the mindset. However, faking it doesn’t supplant practice and training.  Those you can’t fake.

During practice don’t daydream you’re the winning of the next event. Use that time to focus your mind on the shot.  Before the shot, in your head go through your process and see your arrow land exactly where you want it to go. Then relax and make your shot.

Once that shot has completed clear your head, relax and move to the next shot.  Sure you’ll visualize yourself on the podium.  But, before you can get there you’ve got to execute one arrow at a time.

The benefits of exercise

There are lots of articles at this site about the benefits of exercise.  Some people exercise their entire lives. Others are professional athletes where various forms of exercise are their work. For some of us exercise is an activity done at best a few times a week.  For too many people exercise is an activity they avoid.

When we see young fit glorified professional athletes we are amazed at their being ability.  You may think, “I could never do that.” Perhaps, it is outside your ability.  If you are 5 feet 4 inches tall, age 50 and overweight, you will not ever play in the NBA.

You do not need to be a professional athlete to be fit.  You don’t need to be 6 six 8 inches tall to enjoy playing basketball.  Being fit has nothing to do with professional athletes. There are a lot of ex-professional athletes, now in the 50s and 60s who are massively out of shape. There are also plenty that remain fit. There, too, are amazingly fit individuals that have never earned a dime in sport.

Being unfit can reduce how long you get to live.  I had a friend, tremendously unfit, who once said to me, “I’m here for a good time, not a long time.”  He said this to me when we ran into one another after years of not seeing each other. I nearly didn’t recognize him. A few months later he fulfilled his statement.

A lack of fitness will increase your risk for: coronary heart disease, heart attack, diabetes, hip fracture, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, obesity, and being over weight.  On the other hand exercise can lead a disability free extra 18.4 years of life.

Aging well is supported by fitness.  If you are young begin now developing a life style that will lead to an enjoyable existence in your later years.  If you have reached a point in your life that you feel too old to begin exercise you are mistaken.

In 2013 a group of investigators looked at physical activity and quality of life. They concluded that physical activity does improve quality of life. (1) It seems like a simple concept. Yet, the CDC has reported that 39.9% of the adult population of the US is obese. (2)

I do run nearly everyday. I also do a lot of walking during archery practice

Of course, you do not need to become a marathoner, Ironman, or open water distance swimmer to be fit. Walking, too often over looked for the lack of glamour given it by sports apparel corporations, is an ideal method to gain fitness. (3)

If you are reading this and you are an unfit archer you are on a path that can improve your fitness. Already you walk, back and forth to retrieve arrows, when you practice.  You may not be able to practice archery everyday, but you can walk everyday. Adding more walking to your archery-training plan will improve over health and fitness.

References:

1.Diane L. Gill, Cara C. Hammond, Erin J. Reifsteck, Christine M. Jehu, Rennae A. Williams, Melanie M. Adams, Elizabeth H. Lange, Katie Becofsky, Enid Rodriguez, and Ya-Ting ShangPhysical Activity and Quality of Life. J Prev Med Public Health. 2013 Jan; 46(Suppl 1): S28–S34. Published online 2013 Jan 30. doi: 10.3961/jpmph.2013.46.S.S28PMCID: PMC3567315 PMID: 23412703

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
  2. 3.https://www.emedicinehealth.com/walking_for_fitness/article_em.htm#walking_for_fitness_getting_started

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

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.

Video Records

A valuable tool for your training is a video camera.  In fact, several video cameras are even better.

Coaching Tip

Professional athletes are video recorded during practice and performance.  Nick Woodman, a surfer who wanted better pictures of himself while surfing, invented the ‘GoPro’.  The ‘GoPro’ is a great tool for athletes as are small HD video cameras.  I’ve used my ‘GoPro’ in cycling and recently had a “duh” moment and began using it for archery. I also use a small Canon HD video camera.  Both are set-up on tripods during practice.

The video recordings can be played over and over to analyze form and look for mistakes.  I admit mine aren’t pretty.  However, they are revealing.

Among the textbook of how not to shoot errors I make I’ve broken the problems down to categories. Each category is a problem and that problem becomes the focus of practice until it has been resolved.  I am still on problem number one.

The first major problem that jumped out at me is that I seemed to shoot too fast.  The timing from anchor to release is the section of the shooting process that concerned me.  It seemed fast, so I timed it on the video.

Of course, how fast is too fast?

To figure this out I timed Reo Wilde and Jimmy Butts shooting.  YouTube made them available. (Wilde eventually became my ‘control’)

I timed shots for each archer.  The results were quite telling.

From the point where I anchor to when I release an arrow it takes 4.99 seconds.   Jimmy Butts from anchor to release held for 9.8 seconds while Reo Wilde held for 11.89 seconds.

Note: I shot from 50 meters and Wilde and Butts were shooting at 18 meters for the first measurements.  The distance wasn’t the variable I wanted until I finished looking at the shooters. Then, I wondered whether Reo Wilde shot differently at 50 meters. He’s easy to find on YouTube so he became the control.

At 50 meters (outdoor) Wilde’s hold time was 9.07 seconds, 2.83 seconds faster than 18 meters (indoor).  The variance of the hold time between Wilde’s and mine is 5.49 seconds, using Wilde’s indoor and outdoor average hold time.

The shorter hold times for Wilde during outdoor shooting is important as it is for all of us. Why shorter outdoors?  What I’ve come up with is wind.  Outside there is wind, inside there isn’t wind.  When you find the shot during a calm window you take it.  The calm moment my be your best opportunity.

It is the hold time that appears to be a potential flaw on my part. Wilde and Butts hold their aim before release at more than double or nearly double the amount of time I take from anchor to release.  The video was key to seeing this for myself.

Awareness of this problem with timing (assuming it is a problem) I slowed down.  Today’s hold time increased to 7.49 seconds.  It is too early to know if there will be an improvement in my score.  Actually, my score improved a tad, 0.08 points per arrow.  Doesn’t sound like a lot, but those incremental points add up.  Over 72 arrows those small gains amount to 5.76 points  which is great for 50-meters or any distance.

I’m not saying that Reo Wilde’s extended hold time makes him better. It might, I don’t know for certain.  What I can say is that Reo Wilde hold time is much longer than mine.

Overtime, I’ll continue to record and measure.  There will be a point where I find the best feeling hold time for me.  My guess it is going to be longer that 4.99 seconds.

What Does it Take to Be a Champion?

There’s another article based on this research. It is written in a format for a journal.  Boring to most people. On the other hand, here’s the data shared in a friendlier format.

The data comes from real athletes and coaches.  Within the population is a cluster of World Champions, National Champions and Olympians.  To even out the group there are good athletes, top level weekend warriors who are truly dedicated to their sport.  These weekend warriors are excellent in their sport, but are not elite athletes.

There is also a group of coaches that work in high school, college and at the professional levels.

No, this isn’t free.  I tried to set the price at one dollar; Amazon wouldn’t allow that price. It is $2.99, which is less than a nickel per word.

The essay was edited by a bonafide editor and friend, Diane L.  No matter what I’ve written when she gets a hold it the writing  becomes a fun readable document.  Here she has turned what I sent her into an essay that is well beyond my ability.

This is for you to enjoy.  Sorry I couldn’t get the price lower.  The version for scientific publication, when it comes out will be at no charge other than the subscription or membership price.