In 1066 King Harold was struck in the eye and killed by an arrow at the Battle of Hastings. Then, in 1190, Richard the Lionheart departed on Crusade to the Holy Lands and Jerusalem, and if we are to believe folklore, this was also the time of the most famous bowman, Robin Hood. Then in 1346 and 1416, the deadly efficiency of the English archers made history at the battles of Crecy and Agincourt respectively.
Needless to say, practice with the long bow was an important part of English and Welsh life and men were required to maintain some level of proficiency. Various villages were also tasked with making bows and thousands of arrows to be sent to royal armories such as the Tower of London, much as the military stockpiles weapons and ammunition today. Keep in mind that even a hundred archers could shoot over 400 arrows per minute and tens of thousands of arrows in a single engagement.
Archery was so important to national security that in 1457 James II of Scotland banned “fut ball and golfe” on the grounds that these frivolous activities were drawing men away from practice. Golf was banned again in 1491 by James IV with the threat of stiff penalties for neglecting practice with the bow.
Just as the recon scout goes ahead of the troops to identify the best path forward, the scout arrow tells the archer where he or she needs to aim or adjust for local conditions.
After stretching out and warming up with a couple of sets, the archer should begin to have a feel for where arrows are impacting for a given range, wind, or lighting conditions. Shooting with the sun on the right, behind, or on the left can all change the alignment of string blur, as can indoor lighting. So knowing that your bow is in tune, the scout arrow will indicate the adjustment you may need to make for a given time and and location.
In the example above, and knowing that this barebow was shooting point-on the X the previous day at 30 yards, the first arrow went left into the 9 ring. The only change was the morning sun being on the right and changing the appearance of the string blur. By aiming at the 9 to the right of center brought the arrows back into the 10 and X rings.
This is equally important when shooting in gusty conditions. The trick is to identify how much the wind is pushing the arrow left or right at a given wind strength, and then attempting to release all arrows at the same wind strength.
USA Archery Technical Bulletin – High Performance Newsletter
Technical Bulletin – Commanding the Follow Through By Guy Krueger, USA Archery Education and Training Manager
As we close the door on 2020, it seems appropriate to discuss the technical step of follow through. Almost every movement skill or sport has a concept of follow through; the analogy of follow through often applies to finishing a task or completing a goal. In archery, there is a follow through whether you are talking about compound, recurve or barebow. I have often heard coaches and athletes refer to follow through as a reaction of what we do before the release in the shot process, and because of that mindset I think that follow through is often misunderstood.
Conscious vs. Subconscious Before we talk about the physical explanation of what is going on, let’s briefly look at the focus at this point of the shot process. Just before following through, we have expansion and release. The release is a very critical point of the shot process. A lot can happen at that point and a lot of times our brain can get in the way. For those of you who have taken Mental Management 101 and 102, you know that to keep our brain and thoughts out of the way, we need to have a focal point during this time so we can release the string subconsciously. We can release the string more consistently and naturally each shot if we can do it subconsciously. To do this, we need to occupy our conscious mind with a focal point. Follow through, however, is not a subconscious movement. It is something we need to make sure we complete each shot and to do that, we need to focus on completing the follow through each shot. For some archers this may involve focusing on the feeling of the final follow through position after expansion begins. For others, it may involve focusing on a cue or phrase to get to the end of the follow through. Follow through should be a continuation of the movement in the same direction of expansion. So instead of the archer consciously expanding, then releasing, and then following through, the archer should expand to the end of follow through and release happens subconsciously during the expansion to follow through.
Expansion Starts the Follow Through The follow through and degree to which we complete the follow through has a drastic impact on how the arrow will fly. Technically, the archer must continue the movement of expansion to the end of the follow through position. How we expand, release, and follow thorough has a big impact on the feeling of our back tension. If our follow through ends at a different position each time, we could very well put a different amount of force on the arrow each shot resulting in inconsistencies. In our Level 4-NTS course we always ask coaches, “What is the greatest moment of back tension?” Many coaches respond, “at holding” or, “when the clicker clicks” or, “at release”. However, if our greatest amount of back tension feeling was during one of these situations, that would mean we lose some amount of back tension through release which could result in a collapse. By getting to the end of the follow through position, our scapulae should be closest together at that point and therefore, should result in the greatest feeling of back tension.
Summary We have to rethink follow through and how we finish the shot process. Follow through cannot simply be a reaction, or we run the risk that the archer will collapse and lose back tension through the critical instant of the shot process. Focusing on commanding the follow through to the end position is the key to finishing the shot consistently and with the greatest amount of back tension which will allow the archer to execute a clean shot each time.
Several years ago I penned an article on the differences between practicing and training in Judo, but now find that it applies equally to archery.
For many target archers, their entry into archery begins by attending regularly scheduled practice at a local club. They are not taking up archery to train for the Olympics or even the Nationals, but simply for recreation, school PE credits, or possibly bow hunting. After the initial learning and technical phases, the archer continues to attend informal practice to improve. This practice involves repeating a number of actions and steps to improve form and performance. There are no defined goals except to continue refining form and release until they can execute consecutive shots with proficiency and accuracy. Many archers simply practice for exercise, to enjoy the sport, and for personal satisfaction. Archery truly is a “sport for life.”
The only marker of progress is a higher percentage of golds with fewer blues and blacks, along with some recognition at the club level. As with most regular practice, spurred on by some constructive critique by peers, an individual can expect to experience incremental improvement. However, lacking clearly defined long term goals, the probability of reaching one’s full potential is significantly reduced.
In practical terms, practice is the once a week club event where one shoots for an hour or two, generally at the same targets and at the same distance. But without increased frequency or augmented by back yard practice, progress comes slowly.
Training, on the other hand, generally speaks to a significant time commitment to a structured plan that includes a number of meaningful drills and exercises to achieve specific goals. In most sports, there is also accompanying fitness training to improve strength, stamina, endurance, flexibility, focus, and mental toughness.
In archery, training includes specific drills to improve form and consistency while developing archery-specific strength and stamina. Archery utilizes a very specific set of muscle groups to draw the bow, mostly in the shoulders and back, but also depend on a foundation of core strength and balance. Archery is also unique in that proficiency requires developing both gross and fine motor skills simultaneously. This is seen in the strength required to draw a 40+ pound bow, while having the finesse to aim and release with the goal of hitting a very small 10 or X-ring at distance (20 to 70 yards).
All this may appear to be easily quantifiable, along with metrics for the coach and athlete to gauge improvement, but the score on the target dos not tell the whole story. An uncoached archery may have developed bad habits and poor form but still shoots well, since accuracy is the product of uniformity. In other words, if an archer has poor technique but does it consistently, he or she may still shoot good groups. But this lack of proven form and technique may emerge as a roadblock to long term development. This is where the support of a competent coach becomes so important.
Training means having planned, meaningful practice activities driven by personalized coaching and instruction designed to improve specific performance objectives. For archery the training programs should be designed to improve technical skills (form), competition skills (tactics), plus endurance and mental toughness. For optimum effectiveness, each training program and training module should become progressively more challenging and individualized as the individual athlete improves and advances. Where initial group training will have drills that are “common to all,” truly effective coaching requires that the training be customized to suit the individual.
To take this a step further, each athlete on a training squad, or students in a school program, has varying strengths and weaknesses, so it is the mission of the coach to identify the weaknesses in each individual and to tailor the training to correct those deficiencies. Over time those weaknesses become strengths and the training is adjusted to address other weaknesses.
Finally, as most competent coaches are aware, meaningful, structuredtraining that is focused on developing physical strength and stamina, plus technical, tactical and mental skills, greatly improves the athletes’ probability of reaching their full potential. Think of practice as working on technique and form, where training drills that form into the neuro-muscle memory while building the mental toughness needed for high level competition.
Train Hard – Train Smart – Train Often
See the previous October article on Specificity in Training
Built on scientific studies and widely used in international coaching circles, Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is driven by the logic that sports training and coaching must be appropriate for the ageand development of the student or athlete. Even though individual development is a variable, and there are recognized differences in development between boys and girls, within LTAD there are seven fundamental stages with recommended age ranges for each level.
Active Start (Under 6 years) focused on introducing the kids to safety, active play, and basic ABCs – Agility, Balance, & Coordination
FUNdamentals (6-9 years) where the goal is to make learning and practice fun and to light the fire for future training
Learn to Train (8-12 years) where participants and junior athletes begin setting goals and working to achieve them
Train to Train (11-16 years) is the next step from learning and practicing to actually committing to a training program
Train to Compete (15-23 years) where the instructor moves into coach mode to help participants develop into committed athletes and successful competitors
Train to Win (18+ years) where the training focuses on specific competitions and events
Active for Life (any age) specifically for Masters where they are encouraged to stay active in club and competitive events
Within these seven stages there are also other training objectives such as Playing to Learn, Learning to Play, or Training to Excel, but the primary goal is to match the training and sports development to the developmental age and interests of the participant. At the same time the instructor-coach is working closely with the individual to make their sports experience enjoyable, worthwhile, and challenging. To help achieve these goals, coaches must constantly work to improve their coaching skills and their understanding of child development and athlete development. But more importantly, they need to know the goals of their participants, students, and athletes.
While experienced competitive target archers will train on the targets utilized for their chosen form of competition, for example 40cm for indoor and 122cm for outdoor, there is value in using large targets for novice archers. Two of the primary values are improving the enjoyment factor of “hitting gold” and setting more attainable incremental goals.
The most common 18-meter/20-yard indoor target is the 40cm single spot or 3-spot, but these have a 40cm/1.57” ten ring and the gold is 80cm/3.15” diameter. That’s a very small target for a novice archer, even at 10-15 yards, so hitting golds may be rare, and a feeling of accomplishment slow coming.
Put that same novice on a 122cm target, where the gold 9 & 10 ring is 244cm/9.6” diameter, then the probability of golds becomes much higher. A coach or instructor only has to look at the sheer joy on a novice’s face when he or she scores a gold to know that they are enjoying the experience.
As an instructor working with novice archers I don’t talk in terms of numeric score, for example 10s, 9s, 8s, etc, but rather in terms of color. Where a novice may start out throwing arrows into the blue and black, and even a few complete misses off the bale, the first attainable goal is to stay inside the blue at 10 yards. Most will achieve that quite quickly and progress to staying inside the red, but those periodic golds are tangible morale boosters. At the end of the day, the novice won’t remember all the misses and blacks, but simply that they put one in the bullseye (even if it was part luck).
Learning target archery is not a fast learning curve, but like all precision shooting sports, requires endless repetitions. That said, while staying in the blue or red will come quickly, consistent golds require months and years of practice. But to maintain the novice student’s enthusiasm, it is helpful to set a training progression of many small attainable steps. Each step attained is a feather in their cap and motivation to keep training.
So while blank bale practice is a valuable training tool to learn and reinforce form, nothing is more satisfying for the student than hitting gold. As such, I will start student out at 10 yards on large 122cm targets with 9.6” golds. In the very first class I can guarantee that they will be scoring more than a few golds and feeling the initial joy of archery. But if given a 40cm indoor target with a 3.15” gold, that same joy and satisfaction may be slow coming.
How the instructor coaches the novice also has a lot to do with whether or not the student enjoys the process. When a novice gets even one out of six arrows in the gold, the instructor should acknowledge that accomplishment and praise the effort. Conversely, with an experienced competitive archer, when he or she scores five golds and throws one in the red, the coach should be critiquing and encouraging the archer to get the red into the gold. In other words, the more experienced the archer, the greater the push for excellence.
That said, this process of setting color goals can also be used by more experienced archers. When I first got into outdoor barebow competition, shot at 50 meters, my first goal was to stay on the target and not throw any arrows into the black rings. Then it became to stay in the blue, and then to hold reds and golds. To this day I still throw a few blues but the goal in every training session to stay in the red and gold zones. In time the goal will be to hold 3 out of 6 in the gold, then 4 out of 6, then 5 out of 6, while increasing the number of 10s and Xs.
Again, obviously the goal is to shoot 10s and Xs, but setting incremental attainable goals makes the training more satisfying, especially when one achieves one goal and moves to the next. That said, periodically it is important to quantify progress by actually shooting for score, both in practice and competition.
For an up and coming competitor, he or she can look at the previous year’s national competition scores to see what score they need to shoot to place in the top 50, top 20, top 10, and top 3. To simply set a training goal of shooting a winning score may sound logical, but it denies the athlete the satisfaction derived from achieving multiple attainable goals.
At a recent outdoor 50 meter barebow competition I heard a Masters competitor say that his goal was to “break 500.” The match format was a 720 event (12 sets of 6 arrows), so he had set himself what he thought to be an attainable goal. Similarly, watching the Seniors competing in barebow it was evident that most were keeping their arrows within the red zone (7 and 8 rings) at 50 meters. Now this may not sound like much of a goal for a compound bow shooter or Olympic target archer shooting sights, but it is quite respectable for a barebow at 50 meters.
This is where one of my early training goals came to be staying within the red at 50 meters. Interestingly, if an archer was to shoot nothing but 7s, he or she would have a score of 504 (7 x 72); or if one was to average 7, then they would break 500. So by throwing a good number of 8s, 9s, and the odd 10, then 600 becomes the next attainable goal.
To conclude, set yourself or your students goals that they can attain with a month’s diligent practice. When you or they attain that goal, raise the bar incrementally and track both the progress and overall enjoyment.
Easton offers three major arrow shaft design technologies for target archers-Parallel shafts, tapered shafts, and, at the top of the product line, barreled shafts. Each of these technologies offer performance advantages for specific purposes. Let’s discuss these and get a better understanding of the place each of these has in Easton’s designs.
Parallel-design shafts are the most common, most available, and, because they are easier to build, least costly type of arrow shaft design produced today. Well suited for all-around use, parallel designs in either aluminum or carbon have the advantage of easily available, standardized components, and little guesswork when it comes to setup and tuning. Because there are fewer manufacturing steps needed, parallel shafts can be made much more inexpensively than non-parallel shafts. Shafts such as the Easton ACG and the new ProComp compound shaft provide very good performance at an affordable price.
However, the main reason parallel shafts ARE parallel has as much to do with the expediency of manufacturing and production as with the ultimate performance of the arrow shaft. Because parallel shaft designs have more mass at the front and rear than otherwise equivalent tapered or barreled designs, they have more inertia at the ends- particularly the rear end- potentially decreasing clearance for finger shooting. The parallel shaft also has more surface area, and presents more cross section to side winds, compared to other designs, potentially increasing wind drift. One can certainly obtain excellent performance from parallel shafts, but there are demonstrably better alternatives, alternatives that can help accomplished shooters score better than with parallel shafts, in certain situations. These include windy conditions, longer distance shooting, and slightly variable (in other words, human) release techniques.
For improved performance, especially in an outdoor environment, we must turn our attention to barreled, and tapered shafts.
The tapered shaft concept is thousands of years old. Ancient archers knew that by tapering the rear of the shaft and maintaining a bigger diameter in the front of the shaft, the arrow had better performance. For one thing, the tapered shape slightly reduces drag while producing a higher front-of-center balance with equivalent overall weight. But most of all, for a finger shooter, a correctly designed rear taper can provide a more forgiving behavior in the event of small release variations.
These advantages might be why ancient examples or evidence of tapered shafts can be found in nearly all cultures, even though they likely did not fully understand the physics behind these advantages. Tapered shafts have two distinct “spine zones” which can be tailored for specific behaviors.
Today, specialty designs such as the Easton X10 ProTour have been introduced with a reverse taper- with a more aerodynamic front, an overall smaller profile, and much stiffer rear portion, for better compound bow launch and downrange performance. This design was proven by being used to set most of the existing compound bow world records, and to earn the vast majority of medals, from the time of its introduction a decade ago, through today.
While there are advantages to the tapered shaft, there are some trade-offs. The main drawback of tapered shafts is the increased cost of production and difficulty in maintaining consistency, and therefore, the higher price, compared to parallel shafts. The technology needed to taper an arrow shaft isn’t particularly complex- but on the other hand, maintaining excellent spine and straightness standards for a complete set of tapered shafts- much less every single one produced- is technically challenging and quite expensive. In fact, this is where most of the added cost comes from.
The upshot is that the front-tapered shaft is, so far, the ultimate in performance for compounds shot with a release device. Compounds don’t benefit from a more compliant rear shaft portion. Finger shooters benefit more from a rear taper, which is more forgiving of minor release variation, and being lighter in mass, clears better on leaving the bow. Notably, in the years before introduction of the ProTour, top compound shooters would use X10 Shafts with all or nearly all the rear taper portion removed. Reo Wilde, among others, used this configuration to set numerous world records and win numerous World Archery world champion titles. The ProTour was largely developed with this experience in mind.
As good as tapered shafts can be, in some particular uses- specifically, finger release- a barreled shaft- which has three separate “spine zones”- can offer even more advantage.
Like tapered shafts, barreled shafts are a concept dating to antiquity. The legendary flight archery accomplishments of the Ottoman sultans, for example, were all accomplished with barreled shafts. Simply put, the barreled shaft is the most efficient design for longer distance archery.
In the 1920’s Doug Easton created barreled target shafts from eight pieces of intricately laminated wood, with a denser heavier wood making up the front of his elegantly crafted arrow shafts, and the back 2/3rds of the arrows made of straight grained, laminated cedar. So much painstaking hand labor went into a matched dozen of such arrows, that the price was equivalent to up to a month’s wages at the time. Hunting arrows of the day, used at closer range and no doubt more prone to loss or damage, were also composed of two different densities of wood, but were typically parallel in design and . But the barreled shaft was widely demanded, partly because doing distance shooting was the order of the day for target archery- in fact, even more than today. At the time, competitions were shot with 72 arrows at 100 yards- 91 meters- 48 arrows at 80 yards or 73m, and 12 arrows at 60 yards or 55m. (Obviously our forebears in the sport were a tougher lot than we are today!!) Barreled shafts could easily be demonstrated to clearly outperform parallel designs, even with the relative accuracy standards of the time.
In the 1970’s Easton created barreled X7 aluminum arrows, which were proven through testing to be superior to parallel shafts. Unfortunately the cost of producing a barreled aluminum shaft with a constant wall thickness and good tolerances proved to be too high for viable production.
In 1982, Jim Easton created the first carbon arrows, the original Easton A/C. This shaft was a parallel design and pushed the limits of technology at the time. These were used to win the 1984 Olympic Games. Their chief advantage was lower mass, providing good FOC balance, and substantially smaller diameter than the aluminum shafts of the day.
In the late 80’s Jim Easton devised a method to improve on the parallel design, and create a barreled Aluminum-Carbon shaft- this became the A/C/E, introduced in 1987 and used by Jay Barrs to win the 1988 Olympic Games, as well as to set multiple world records of the time (some of which lasted more than 20 years).
In 1995, after several years of studies and testing, Jim and I designed the Easton X10 to build on our experience and leverage some then-new theories regarding the interaction between the bow and arrow- in particular, for the first time since the introduction of the carbon arrow, deliberately using a heavier shaft to perform better at longer distance. It seems to have been the right direction, as the X10 has been used to win every Olympic title (and was used to set every outdoor recurve world record) since 1996.
X10 shafts have improved aerodynamics, and an optimized, custom-per-spine flex pattern, to allow a more forgiving finger release and the best possible clearance from recurve bows. X10’s have optimized mass distribution and more flexible tuning options.
By making the rear half of the shaft less stiff and much lighter in mass than the front or the center, clearance for finger shooters is improved from recurve bows. This characteristic also makes small variations in finger release much less of a problem. By shifting the shaft balance point forward, front of center balance is improved, which allows for improved wind performance from the arrow shaft.
The optimized mass of the X10 works better at modern recurve lengths, providing for a better frequency match between the arrow and bowstring, which is important at the moment of separation from the string and has a significant effect on accuracy. The optimized mass also retains more energy and improves arrow performance downrange.
Of course, this ultimate performance also comes at a price. It is much more difficult to build a barreled shaft with excellent tolerances than either a parallel or a single-tapered shaft. A tremendous investment in technology and considerable experience is needed to successfully build such arrow shafts consistently.
Tolerances all along the production process must be held to a much higher standard, material selection and specifications must be made much more tightly, and the fundamental behavior of a barreled shaft means that each and every spine size needs a custom designed materials callout, shape and flex pattern.
Proper selection and tuning of barreled shafts does require an understanding of tuning and the ability to take accurate measurements of draw weight, draw length, and other parameters.
The barreled shaft is currently the ultimate design for accuracy and performance for recurve finger shooters, proven by thousands of archers around the world.
There are pros and cons to each design- parallel, tapered and barreled. Parallel shafts balance performance and price, while tapered shafts provide specific benefits to both compound and recurve shooters, though these are opposite in terms of implementation. Barreled shafts provide the most benefit to finger shooters, and represent the pinnacle of performance, but at a considerable increase in cost. Easton provides options at various price points and performance levels to accommodate all shooters.