By Mark V. Lonsdale
The first year of archery training can be a frustrating start to a long journey where novice archers may feel like they are chasing their proverbial tail. This speaks to the issue of working to improve one part of the shot process, only to find another failing. In other words, and for example, while working to improve the anchor and transfer, the bow arm stops reaching or collapses; or, while focused on aiming, the posture and form suffer. These are just some of the separate parts of the archers’ form and shot process that eventually need to meld together.
A competent coach can be invaluable in observing and correcting the externally visible parts of form, to include, stance, skeletal alignment, and release. But there are other physical aspects that the coach cannot observe. These are elements that only the archer can feel to include, the alignment and pressure of the bow hand, sight alignment, string blur, and the subtle feel of the transfer into the back muscles.
As with many sports, a consistent, repeatable shot process requires significant self-awareness of the feel of the process and kinesthetic sense. Kinesthetic sense is defined as, “The ability to know accurately the positions and movements of one’s skeletal joints. Kinesthesis refers to sensory input that occurs within the body. Postural and movement information are communicated via sensory systems by tension and compression of muscles in the body.”
As with the golf swing, the archery shot process requires a keen sense of feel built on an understanding of the fundamentals and thousands of correct repetitions. For example, if the bow hand thumb pad is not centered on the grip, then shots will impact left or right of the aiming point. If the forward pressure increases or decreases then the shots will hit high or low respectively. But this pressure point is only one part of the shot process, so let’s look at what the novice is struggling with.
The easy parts of the shot process are establishing a stable, balanced base for the stance, aligning with the target, setting the hook, and bringing the bow up. But once the archer hits his or her anchor, then several components of the process must come together seamlessly. For the novice, this becomes a mental inventory of all the body parts, skeletal alignment at full draw, and loading of the back muscles, where for the more experienced archer, these become all but subconscious.
Novices will be checking to feel if they have hit the correct anchor point; is the bow hand centered on the grip; is the reach and grip pressure consistent and directed at the target; is the sight or arrow point (for barebow) centered on the target; is the string blur aligned with the riser; is the skeletal alignment solid; and can he or she feel the transfer into the back muscles. Unfortunately, this is where frustration rears its ugly head. As the novice focuses on the string blur or sight alignment, the bow arm may begin to collapse or the string blur may drift right. This is also the danger of over-aiming or aiming too long. The longer the archer struggles for the perfect sight alignment (or point-on for barebow), the greater the probability that the muscles will begin to fatigue and doubt will begin to creep into the process.
Again, as with other precision shooting sports, there are no shortcuts and no substitute for tens of thousands of repetitions and a well-structured, disciplined training program. A good coach is invaluable, but more importantly, the archer must develop the kinesthetic sense to feel all the subtleties of the shot process. Only with time and practice will all the pieces come together into a smooth, relaxed, seamless shot process.
So, in addition to good balance and form, the shot process from draw and transfer to release and follow through, must be strong, relaxed, smooth, and consistent. The archer must also execute the shot with confidence. If the archer lacks mental strength and confidence, then hesitation and doubt will manifest as an excessively long aiming process, plus the inevitable tremors or target panic that come with muscle fatigue. This is also a good reason to begin with a lighter poundage bow to develop the correct muscles and stamina before moving up to heavier poundage.
Don’t be concerned that in the early stages of archery training, the novice archer will be self-inventorying all his or her body parts as he or she seeks good form. When the arrows hit the center of the target, they need to remember what that shot felt like and then work to repeat it. And when a shot goes wild, they should self-analyze and know why that happened. For example, shots going low left (for a right handed archer) is often a collapse or weakening of the bow arm reach and grip pressure; and arrows impacting left can be caused by the string blur drifting right.
To wrap this up, while a coach and the use of video are invaluable training tools, the archer must become self-aware of all their body parts and the feel of correct form and a clean shot process. But the shot process is more than just body mechanics. It’s the melding of relaxed confidence and a finely honed feel for the shot process. Or as they say, “Don’t think, just shoot!”