Charlie Sneed Level 4 Archery Coach

He’s seen me shoot. We’ve shot side by side. But, he’s never been my coach. Today, he is my coach.

My last coach, Norman, was just fine. I took weekly lesson from him for months. I had no complaints. But, years of training have taught me; there is a time when another coach’s perspective might be helpful.

In cycling I had two truly great international coaches, a Belgian and a South African. Both left a lasting impression on me. The Belgian is still alive. Just last week I met an old teammate of mine, Tomas Rahal, in Charlottesville, Virginia. We talked about the years we trained together and our coach, Nestor Gernay. What he taught us we took into our everyday lives. Nestor coached many State and National Champions as well as Olympic Team members and USA Cycling Teams.

The other great coach I had in cycling Gabe Stanley from South Africa is no longer with us. Gabe found me, quite by accident. I was out of shape having played at sports but not competitively while I finished my education and built a career. Gabe pushed me harder than I could have imagined. After a few years of training with Gabe, I never again thought about limits of what I might do in sports. As Gabe said, “It’s all in your head.”

Much of what we do in sport is in our heads. What I felt I was (and am) missing is the ‘head game’ when it comes to competitive archery. Perhaps, a way to find how to improve would be to try a new coach, to find a new perspective.

Charlie Sneed, USA Archery Level 4 Coach

Charlie Sneed is a Level 4 USA Archery coach. According to Charlie, there are 150 level 4 USA Archery coaches. There are only 10 level 5. We had our first meeting over lunch. As we talked Charlie decided during that meal we’d give it a shot as student and coach.

That was more shooting than I’d expected

On Saturday morning I pulled out a 3-spot and tacked it onto a Block target. I have not shot a 3-spot at 18 meters for anything other than checking my equipment in a while. This wasn’t a practice to check equipment. It was time to pick up my hinge release; I’d switched to a thumb for 3D and field archery. I’d also just gotten my primary bow back from having a new string connected.

Shooting at 18 meters is addicting. Before long was approaching 90 arrows. It seemed like a good place to stop. The new string was ‘off’ relating to my yardage calibration and that would be an afternoon project.

The last time I made a serious practice on a 3-spot leaves weren’t on the trees

During the afternoon all I intended to do was find the graduation marks on my sight and attach the proper yardage tape. That in itself generally takes me more than an hour.

On my range distances from the target have been marked using a tape measure rather than a range finder. Range finders are not as accurate as a tape measure. As such shooting from known distances I found the graduated marks on the sight for the corresponding  20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 yards. Then I identified the matching yardage tape and applied it to the sight. That exercise didn’t take as long as I’d expected.



With more time to spend and feeling fresh I decided to do a test of 18-meters shooting 60 arrows using a hinge release. I shot using a Scott Black Hole Three and didn’t do great. Aiming at a Vegas style 3-spot and counting the smallest ring for 10 I ended up with a 542 and 12 Xs. (The USA Archery 10 Ring Count)

More curious than worried I did another few shots with a thumb release. Clearly there was no improvement. So, I started over with the Black Hole Three and changed that release after 30 arrows to a Scott Pro Advantage. That yielded a 552 with 17 Xx.

Now I was even more curious. I shot another 60 with the Scott Pro Advantage release and shot a 562 with 22Xs. I suppose I’ll stick with the Pro Advantage for a while and see how it goes.

Time to change from a thumb to a hinge.

When I finished shooting for the day it occurred to me that I’d shot over 300 arrows since morning. The weather was nearly perfect, very little wind and the temperature was only 84°F. Not a bad way to spend a day outdoors.

More 3D Practice and Analysis

Learning how to shoot 3D using a scope and adjusting for the yardage is more difficult than I’d anticipated. Last year I shot with pins. Over the 2015 season my average score per arrow was 9.61 in 3D. During the first half of 2016 my scores were lower, 8.3 points per arrow.

During the winter I stopped using pins to practice 3D. I was shooting a lot of 3-spots preparing for Lancaster and the USA Indoor National Championships. It was a slight pain to switch my equipment from pins to a scope each time I switched target styles So, I kept the scope and long stabilizers on the bow.

Using pins, I’d learned to estimate yardages for 3D. If I felt the 30-yard pin was the one to use, I used it. Then I’d aim a little high or low between pins to hit at 27 yards or 32 yards. There was a sort of feel for the yardage.

There is point with my scope where at 30 yards, I hit 30 yards. The same for 20, 40, 50, 60 etc. It’s calibrated down to the yard. The problem is with 3D I need to set the yards. If I am off, well I’m off. And I am off, but not by much, most of the time. I am getting a slight feel for moving my aim a little up or down to compensate for a yard or two after I have set my scope. But, lately, there has been that one shot where I am way off.

The way off shot last week was misjudged by 10 yards. Major brain fart. So, this morning I went out on the 3D practice range for practice and post-practice analysis.

I shot 20 targets. I took a range finder to measure the yardage after I shot. My estimate of yardage for all targets was 34.45. The range finder indicated the average yardage was 34.25. OK, close.

There were 11 shots greater than 35 yards with an average distance of 41.1 yards and 8 shots less than 35 at an average distance of 26.3 yards. The targets were at 24 yards to 46 yards. I shot a 167 and missed, undershot, one target at 40 yards (my estimate, 42 yards per the range finder.) I scored, per arrow 8.35, my average for all of 2016. There had to have been a major brain fart somewhere on the missed shot. There were also two 5s, one on a badger at 37 yards, the other on a mosquito at 24 yards.

This afternoon, I’ll give practice some more.

The Game Teaches the Game



John Kessel, of USA Volley Ball, said, “ The game teaches the game.” That is a bit of coaching advice that’s I’ve taken to heart. It seems too true in 3D.


2016 has been a year of changes for me. A new bow, shooting with a long stabilizer, using a scope versus pins, and adding a side stabilizer. These equipment changes, aside rom the bow, weren’t totally new, I’d used that set up for indoor tournaments. Shooting with this rig for 3D is altogether another story.


Honestly, I didn’t think it would be so difficult to judge yardage and set a scope/sight to the corresponding mental measurement. I was wrong. With pins, there seems to me a bit of flex. I could float a pin or float between pins to get the yardage. I haven’t yet got the knack of a single pin and dialing the yardage on a sight.

New skills in sports are often taught through repetition. 3D isn’t like shooting a set distance into a dot. A lot of variables come into hitting the X on a foam animal. These variables include: terrain, target size, distance, placement of the X on the target, light, target color, etc. These all must be considered when training for 3D. Another element of training is how to practice.

Going out a shooting a 2D target at 20 – 50 yards will improve your skill. But, adding sessions that simulate a 3D event can be a great method of training to augment your practice.

The tactic for 3D training should include making some sessions resemble as much as possible a 3D tournament.

It’s a Matter of Fitness

At nearly all archery competitions people are talking about their health. Some talk about injuries, others mention medical aliments, still more complain about their excess weight. At one outdoor competition, a 50-meter event, the archer on the line next to me said, “I’ve never shot more than 30 arrows in one day.” We had 72 arrows to shoot and we’d had 24 shots for warm-up. Plus, the guy’s weight was a tad on the excessive side. I knew this guy was in for a rough day. I wasn’t mistaken.

Days on the range can be long, hot, and require a lot of standing around

Once I heard a bit of braggadocio that went like this, “In practice, if I shoot 10 good shots I quit.” That may be fine if the bulk of the tournaments were 10 arrows or less. Ten shots will not prepare anyone for a 100 shot day.

Another time, a self-proclaimed expert said, “I shoot 30 arrows 3 to 4 times a week.” On the range during 3D tournaments I’ve heard this several time, “I haven’t practiced all week.” Before too long that same individual is whining because he’s making poor shots.

I make a lot of bad shots. Prior to this season, there’s not been a year when I didn’t miss a 3D target entirely. Heck, during my first year of shooting, on an indoor range no less, I put arrows into the ceiling on more than one occasion. This past weekend, I shot all 12’s and 10’s with two exceptions, an 8 and (hanging my head) a 5. (Amazingly, I still won – I just knew that 5 if not the 8 were going to blow it for me.)


Archery is a sport and it takes a great deal of physical effort. That effort isn’t a major cardio workout. At the last 3D tournament we walked 1.36 miles over the course in about 2 hours. Not a grueling pace. Yet, there were people who seemed totally wasted from the effort. (I ran further than that before the tournament.)

You do not need to be a marathoner to shoot archery. But, you should be in shape to perform to your highest level. The better fitness you process the more time you can spend training. In that regard, I consider fitness training part of my archery training. Aside from archery specific training, I spend nearly 1000 additional hours a year on general fitness training.


I can’t shoot well more than about 4 hours per day broken into two practice sessions, morning and afternoon. Nearly every morning, before archery practice I run. Not far, never more than 6 miles, and not too fast. Between archery practices is when I do more fitness training.


I understand most of you work during the day. As such, you probably do most of your archery practice in the evenings and on weekends. That still leaves early mornings for addition fitness training.

When I worked at my medical career I trained (not archery) before work, after work and at times (when I was not traveling) during my lunch break. That pattern began when I was 17 and would train for cycling before school and after school. The pattern still rules today – 44 years later.

Being fit doesn’t mean I need to be able to run a marathon or do an Ironman. It also doesn’t mean I won’t do another of each. What it does mean is that I am in better condition for the rigors of archery.

Getting our on my bike or running offers some great views

I don’t focus on the number of arrows I shoot per day. Some days it’s a few as 30 (tapering or active recover) or as many as 240. To help prevent should injury I only pull 52 pounds and lift weights year round. My mid-day workouts are critical to my ongoing development as an archer. Mid-day I swim, ride a bike and/or weight lift.


Not everyone shares this view of archery. That’s obvious by the phenotypes I see in the sport. Regardless of opinion, being healthy and fit are beneficial. Find a plan, create a plan, do what you can for your health. You’ll appreciate when you’re in your 60s.


A Few Practice Notes

Making notes and keeping data of my practice is important to me. Without measurements it seems very difficult to monitor change. Below is one example of data for 40 practice 3D shots. Both columns of practice session data where “cold” shoots. That is, there was no warm-up.

Some training sessions I do are as close to tournament conditions as I can make them. Competitive events have time allotted for warm-up shots. There are events, however, when the warm-up and the actual start of competitive shooting can be an hour or more apart – especially in major 3D events. Therefore, during 3D, I view warm-up as a time to see that my bow is functioning properly. Often by the first scoring shot there’s been an allowance for cooling down.

Anyway, here’s an example of some of the data I collect. The data is transferred to an Excel spreadsheet where additional information is entered.

A 40 target field data page

Numbers, Stats, and Video

Do you measure and record your practice? How about your tournaments? Not just wins and places. Recording and measuring your progress is an important element in sports.

I’ve had three archer coaches in nearly 3 years. The first coach I had was level 4 coach, and a scientist. He had a PhD and a law degree – we spoke the same languages. I really liked him. But, he drove more than an hour each way to give me an hour lesson. His fee barely covered his gas expenses. I felt a little guilty after every lesson. But, he made notes during our practice and developed training plans for me to follow.


It was only my third lesson when he mentioned to me the Virginia Indoor Tournament was only a few weeks away. He said, “I think you should enter it, I think you could be competitive.” I entered, I shot, and I didn’t feel competitive. (February 2014) It was my first archery tournament and I didn’t have a clue.

Along the way, actually, from the start, I’ve kept my data. I keep scores on all types of practices and tournaments. Currently, I am looking into methods to expand the data I record and analyze.


My second coach was anti-data. He said, “Don’t worry about your score just go shoot.” First, I don’t worry about my score. Second, I rarely go out to “just shoot.” Although, I do allow myself easy recovery days where I’ll shoot for fun only.  But, seriously, I don;t worry about the score.  I think about it afterwards.

Coach Bill Walsh was an amazing guy. I met him in Chicago. We were both giving lectures at the same conference center at different meetings. It was one of those moments I won’t forget.

Apparently, we’d both finished lecturing about the same time. We were  in the hotel lobby waiting for our transportation. We were looking out toward the street when we glanced at one another. Of course, I knew he was the Super Champion coach. He was probably looking at me thinking, “Medical Geek.”

I figured, what the heck, I’m going to introduce myself. I think we might have both been a little surprised. After a few minutes we were talking like long time acquaintances. Eventually, our rides came and we went our separate ways.

Coach Walsh has said, “The score takes care of itself.” True enough. But, to think the coach didn’t look at numbers – before the results – would be a mistake. Like all coaches in the NFL he knew the numbers and stats for his players and others. You have to in the NFL.

Back to my second coach, I think he meant well. I don’t think he understood the power of data.

I often use my Garmin to look at time and distance spent on the range. That data is applied to caloric needs for a tournament

Professional athletes are monitored and measured on nearly a continuous basis. Amateur athletes, thanks to all the inexpensive products that record and monitor physical output that are available, can become nearly as sophisticated as the pros. What can be learned from data can help improve athletes in all sports.

In the first half of 2016 my 3D scores were down. My known yardage scores where down. Had I reached my peak? Maybe this was it for me. Video recordings identified a change I had slipped into – I was tilting my head down, just a little before shots, and then dropping my bow. I’d gotten sloppy. I learned this from my third coach’s videos of my practice.

My scores for the first half of the 3D season were averaging only 8.4 points per shot. Working to break bad habits (identified through video analysis), my second half scores are now 9.62 points per target. The improvement is still lower than my goal of 10.5 points per target.

Apex 7 vs ZXT
This is old data where I compared one bow with another, over time, using short stabilizers and pins. (3-spot at 20 yards)

You might think, why set a goal that is not 11 points per target (IBO scoring) or 12 points per target (ASA scoring). Well, because I am realistic and know better than to set goals too high too soon. Once I achieve 10.5 points per target, then I can change goals.

Everyone I shoot against is good. Most have gotten good after years of practice. Less than 24 months ago a 35-yard 3D target was my maximum distance. Today, it is 50 yards. I’m still getting beaten a lot having won only 2 events this year. But, data and analysis is a factor in continuing to improve as fast as possible.

You might not collect data or make recording of your practice. If we are competitors, well for now I encourage you to not change a thing. And, bye the way, I never worry about the score.

Concentrated Practice

The mean distance was 41.8 yards. Seven of the targets were 45 yards or greater, there were 20 targets total. The shortest shot was 35 yards, the longest 50. I ended up shooting 189.

What I learned from the practice is that I needed more work on a bear and a turkey at distance. I was also not doing so great on a buck deer at greater than 45 yards.

These notes helped me determine where I needed to concentrate my next practice
Shoot more than one arrow at the same point on a target and this is bound to happen

An effort to improve meant concentration on the turkey, deer, and bear. Rather than rely on a range finder or my judgment I took a tape measure and staked yardage from 20 to 50 yards on each. Then I shot 4 arrows at distances of 20, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 yards for each target. To break things up I also shot my bobcat and mountain lion. The mountain lion had bright rays of light streaming over it – too tempting to pass. The bobcat was completely shadowed. To difficult to pass without some practice.

Seventy-five percent of the shots were 10s. It helped knowing the distance. The others were a mix of 11s, 8s, and 5s. Tomorrow, I’ll do another long yardage practice in the morning to see of this exercise paid off.

A Little Rain During Long Shot Practice

There was a little rain today adding to the challenge of long shot practice. It wasn’t a hard rain and practice wasn’t halted. Archery is shot rain or shine. In the event of severe weather, such as thunderstorms, the range is closed. But, a little rain or even a lot of rain doesn’t stop tournaments.

At 38-yards, straight in, and unobstructed, this isn’t a really difficult shot.
Shooting this pig at an angle was a bit tough from 42-yards

So, practice continued and things got a little wet. Not bad. With the rain there was some cooling of the heat we’ve been experiencing. The cooler temperatures seemed agreeable to the critters in the woods. There was a lot of movement in the trees and underbrush. Aside from squirrels and a rabbit the live animals remained hidden.

There was one snake that venture into my path, but it was harmless and we parted ways injury free.

No problem for either snake or archer

After Practicing for 50 Meters – Getting Back to 3D

I finished 8 down in practice. It was a day of longer shots. I selected a range of numbers to generate 20 values from 30 to 50 yards. The average distance was 37.8 yards – nearly 9 yards further per target than my previous practice at 3D. On that occasion the yardage range was from 20 to 40 yards.  For the longer 20 targets I averaged 9.6 points per shot for a total of 192.

50 yards – yes there is a deer down range

It’s hard to figure out where the target distances might be set during a 3D shoot. The best we can do is to shoot all sorts of distances. Aside from the abilities to judge distance and shoot well, in 3D, with all the uneven footing, an archer must be able to adjust his/her form to accommodate the ground in order to shoot uphill and downhill.

50 yards – it doesn’t take being off much to lose an arrow

Here, in New Hope, North Carolina (on the cusps of Hertford) the ground is pretty much level. On my practice range, I have no variances in elevation. The best I can do for elevation is shoot off porches and decks. Those allow for changes in elevation, but the footing remains level.

Some people have suggested standing on blocks or making ramps, similar to skateboard ramps, to stand on while practicing. The theory is that those  ramps and blocks will provide unstable, not level footing. Those techniques remain untested.

I can’t make changes in elevation, but I can find ways to make shots difficult

There is nothing to be down for the uphill shots as far as local practice goes here on the coast on North Carolina. What I do most is work on things I have at my disposal – yardages and complicated shots.

Yep, this bear was one of those difficult shot series

Over the early summer I practiced primarily for 50 meters. Yes, there were a lot of 3D tournaments on the weekends. However, my focus was 50 meters. That effort may have cost me during 3D competitions. Over the past few weeks I’ve dropped the 50-meter sessions.  I still shoot from 50-meters, now at foam animals. But, by making my practice at 3D deliberate and difficult, my scores are over the past two tournaments are creeping up a bit.