Mark V. Lonsdale, Shaft Shooters Archery
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, structured training 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