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Category Archives: Lesson Day

Training with Tony

Training with Tony

Tony is one of the best coaches I know. He usually coaches kids. He only coaches people who are serious and willing to learn. And in the last six months or so he’s been so busy even his regular students don’t see him much. I hadn’t seen him at all.

I went to the range yesterday to sort myself out after the discombobulation of Saturday’s Winter Games. I hadn’t put in the performance I had hoped to. Not even close. And…Tony’s there. Like magic. I was not going to ask him for help. But he always asks me what I’m working on, and I always tell him the truth. When I explained to him that my old anchor point was wrong and I didn’t know where the new one was yet he was like “those things don’t occur naturally, you have to force it”. And promptly took me to ” the wall ” and watched me shoot.

Then he put an 8 pound bow in my hand and proceeded to fix me. Some things were the same that he’d fixed six months ago (elbow too close to the body). Some were problems I’d noticed more recently but hadn’t been able to fix (not getting completely into my back. Guess what, your torso is supposed to move!) And yes, he fixed the anchor point, too. And then started working on my release.

I have a huge mental block when it comes to release and follow through. I keep thinking that I should be frozen in place, not moving, after the shot goes off. So I refuse to allow my elbow to continue going around the imaginary circle. I freeze all the muscles instead. So that I have almost no follow through motion. I think we wound up spending more time on this than anything else, and he was literally re-mapping what the follow through is supposed to be in my brain. And we made progress! My performance journal is filled with all kinds of excited hand  writing and exclamation marks!!

And he’ll let me send him video to look at, and help out when he has time. I feel like the last two weeks or so have been huge jumps for me in a lot of different areas of the sport. Things that I’m really excited about. Tony gave me enough to work on for probably the next six months. But I could already see and feel an improvement in my shooting. I felt like this was the first time I really understood exactly what each movement he asked for was supposed to do and feel like. Before, I’m sure most of what he said just went right over my head. But last night I got it. I really got it. I’m looking forward to shooting tomorrow night and training each movement a little more.

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I have to

Evolution

Evolution

I started out shooting barebow with a traditional anchor. I shot barebow from February 2014 all the way through January of 2015. That is almost a year of using a traditional anchor at the corner of the mouth.

To understand how strong the muscle memories are that we develop, know that in February of 2015 I switched to Olympic Recurve precisely because I thought the form was more efficient. I made the switch mentally. I made the switch materially, with all new equipment. I’ve been making the switch physically for the entire 2015 year.

My anchor never completely made the switch. It moved lower, yes. But it moved to the side of my jaw, not under my jaw. Which caused (or was facilitated by) my draw wrist breaking inward, which caused my draw arm to not quite get into alignment, which caused my elbow to be in front of the arrow, which caused me to shoot very left almost all summer 2015 and also caused my arrows to go low, because there was less energy in the shot because I was not drawing as far back because my elbow was in front of the arrow.

WHEW! Could you follow all that?

WHY was I anchoring on the side of my jaw for so long, you might ask? I can hear it now: why didn’t your coach fix this?!?!? OMG that was such a huge thing you should have fixed it sooner!

No. I’ve spent the majority of 2015 getting straight. First I had to get vertically straight, from feet to head. Then I had to get horizontally straight, through my shoulders. That took months. Months of ab workouts and focusing on my posture at work and almost a year of carrying my purse on the left side instead of the right. Months and months of fine tuning my posture. Months that a lot of men, who don’t carry purses and haven’t had babies, don’t have to lose to correcting posture. I envy them.

Without the large blocks, the front end (bow arm) and the back end (draw arm), the connecting piece (anchor) didn’t matter. Now, neither can be fully aligned without the connection in between them being correct, but both could be badly aligned even if the connection was correct. So we fixed the front end. We fixed the back end. We fixed the front end again. They became stable but not perfect. That’s been my September through December focus.

Only the last two weeks were the large blocks of my form good enough to even address that connecting piece, the anchor. It was now the thing most obviously affecting my form.

So my anchor has changed. A lot. It’s not consistent yet because hey, I only started working on it yesterday. It’s such a small change, but such a huge change. Shooting with this different anchor feels lighter, freer, and more stable.

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Elbow comparison

On the left is all the progress I had made up until yesterday. But I was getting stressed, the tension was showing and my elbow was still in front of the arrow. On the right, after a short break and some breathing and stretching is the progress I made yesterday. It’s not perfect, but I’m more behind the arrow than I used to be.

It will take a lot of time to overcome the old muscle memory developed during barebow to get the new anchor consistent. There is lots of blank baling in my future. And then sight settings to change, because wow have they changed.

I am so excited. Yesterday felt like the missing link had been discovered and my archery had taken a revolutionary turn!

I can already see from these photos what I’ll be working on after the anchor. That chest lift will get ironed out eventually. But I’m comforted by the thought that it’s not as bad as it used to be.

So what does blank baling look like when you’re working on changing anchors?

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It looks like this

Bad Scrunch! Bad!

I pulled the GoPro out yesterday and filmed my practice. After implementing a new shot timing and mental software program I felt I was making good progress. For a while. But the last week or so my shooting felt off and I was coming away with a sore neck. I needed to see what was happening to make my neck muscles sore.

Sure enough, my shoulders were scrunching upwards and my anchor was sliding forward. Why? I didn’t have the ability to get into true holding because of incorrect form, so the more I tried the higher my shoulders would go. In typical “try to hard” fashion I had incorporated that motion into muscle memory from doing it so much, so it became a very consistent motion. So consistent that on 2 different ends you could find the string sliding across my face at almost the same exact time on the videos.

I took that as an encouraging sign! It’s proof that I can be very consistent!

Today with the help of my wonderful, now Level 4, Coach, I’m on the road to getting it fixed.

When you watch the draw you can see an exaggerated downward motion in my draw now, and then coming into anchor. This keeps my draw arm relaxed and “long” and allows me the room to get into true holding instead of scrunching all up. I’m impressed with how straight my elbow stays! I still remember the days of it being kicked up very high and very in front of the arrow.

And here is the stretchy band practice to get this motion to replace the old one.

I used to be very bad about using my stretchy band to practice at home. But with this I can definitely see the need. So wish me luck in getting all the stretchy practice in! This has somewhat changed where I anchor, so I feel it’s really important to get some kind of practice in every night. Otherwise I’ll be all over the place for a long time.

Form Improvement

It’s been a while, again. I have tons of pictures and thoughts from the last tournament we went to, but I just haven’t blogged about it. Today my coach took video for me during our lesson so that I could show some of the improvements I’ve made since the last videos I posted. So I’m going to throw them up here without a lot of comment. Documenting progress. That’s what this is for  🙂

This first video shows me shooting with focus on tricep during draw and anchor.

The second video shows me shooting with focus on scapula moving down and into spine during draw and anchor.

We spent a lot of this lesson refining the over correction I had made in my draw hand wrist. After that was corrected, we focused on bow arm, the super set of the elbow before set up and maintaining that position through release.

Prepping for Long Distance

Prepping for Long Distance

The last week has been full of shooting and new things! The Central Texas Shoot Off Uno! is in two weeks. My coach recommended I participate.

One problem. I’ve never shot 70 meters before! And the idea was a little daunting until I actually started shooting longer distances.

I started out at 30 meters. Trying to get both my sight and my form in line. My split finger tabs weren’t in yet, so I was still shooting 3 under.

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30 meters on Wednesday

On Wednesday I was pretty low. And not grouping. I’ve been working on my new anchor for a while now, and I just didn’t have it down yet. Plus other problems. My bow arm was collapsing inwards, to the point that I would get to full draw and think wow this feels really cramped. Only to discover that my elbow was bent. Let down and try again.

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Friday at 30 meters

On Friday I was improving a lot! And by the end I was able to group on and around the tiny five spot face that had been taped to the target. My bow arm was still collapsing, but not nearly as often. I was opening up again. And my anchor was…better.

It had been raining all day Friday, and was so wet that we didn’t want to risk driving the cars down the dirt road so we left them parked up top. I have never been so grateful for my new Easton backpack bow case. It made hiking up and down the hill a breeze! And was very comfortable on my shoulders.

I did try shooting 50 meters Friday evening. It was close to dark and I didn’t get a picture. Which was OK, because I don’t think I made it onto the bale anyway 🙂

Saturday I had a lesson outdoor with my coach. I got to put on the new limbs, Hoyt 720’s. And they are so smooth it makes me wonder why I ever shot with anything else! And I got to try out the new split finger tabs. The AAE KSL aluminum tab needs trimming. It was almost impossible to shoot with. The W&W 360 is what I used, because I could shoot with it, with some difficulty, without any trimming. And I finally got that anchor nailed. We started again at 30 meters.

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So much improvement!

And then moved on to 50 meters. My coach asked, “how does it feel to be working on your anchor and on transfer and holding at 50 meters?” And all I could think was this is freaking awesome!

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Grouping at 50 Meters!

Who would have thought that I could group at 50 meters on my first day? Some of the lower arrows were caused by the string hitting my jacket, which slowed velocity. But I fixed that later in the day by picking up some long sleeve hoodies that snugly fit my arms so I can shoot without freezing. Coach’s quick fix was to wrap her Columbia chill zone sleeve around my bow arm with the jacket on. So now I need a pair of those, too! But proof that when I do it right form wise, I can do the distance. Just need to work on aiming.

This week I’ll be shooting 50 meters and preparing for 70. I can hardly believe I’m actually doing this!

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Friends at the Range. Coach Shot Gold!

What Women Want in an Archery Instructor

What Women Want in an Archery Instructor

I’ve been wanting to write a post about my USA Archery Level 2 Instructor course, but every time I go to write it, I get hung up on this topic. A nice and knowledgeable gentleman introduced himself to the class by saying ” So many women are getting into archery and hunting these days. I feel like I have a lot to offer and I want to be able to teach them and help them ” (paraphrased).

And…I started to scoff. I didn’t know him well yet, and I figured he was seeing dollar signs in the influx of new archers and the girls influenced by Brave and Hunger Games. I didn’t think he was genuine, and that was partly due to my beginnings in archery and partly due to the thought that kept creeping into my head. Does he even know what a woman wants or needs in an archery instructor?

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Don't we all want to be Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games?

My first archery instructor was a guy who had been shooting compound for decades. I was shooting barebow recurve, and pretty set in the mindset that I wanted to stay barebow recurve at that point in time. That was the first mismatch. He didn’t know enough to help me beyond the very, very basics. And I didn’t know enough to know he didn’t know enough to help me. Never once was the “what do you want to get out of archery” question asked. And that question is a really, really important one. Even if the answer is “I want to have fun or blow off steam”.

I didn’t want to pretend I was Katniss while never shooting farther than 8 meters. I wanted other things. I wanted more. Which meant I needed someone who had slightly more knowledge with recurves than how to pick one up and hold it.

Speaking of. During those first three or four lessons I bow slapped myself constantly. I turned my left arm black, blue, purple, green, and yellow for weeks on end. People at work became alarmed if I wore short sleeves.

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This was not the worst I did to myself in the beginning

And because of who I am and what I wanted out of archery, I wouldn’t stop shooting even when the pain was pretty severe. I distinctly remember a lesson where Instructor #1 said I was shooting well. I was grouping pretty nicely! And I didn’t want to stop shooting because I was doing so well! But every time I shot, I bow slapped myself with 28 pounds of draw weight. I didn’t break skin, but I came close. And this was after he knew I was having this problem. At the very end he asked if I had slapped myself. I told him yes, every shot.

I think that scared him, honestly.

Look. Women can be tough. Driven. And those of us participating in traditionally men’s sports, like hunting, don’t want men to think we are somehow less up to the task. Which means, unless you the man who is an archery instructor make damn clear that archery isn’t supposed to be painful, we may not tell you when something is going wrong.

So. It’s important for you to know enough about a particular style of archery to be able to teach the basics. And it’s important for you as a coach to know when your student has outstripped that knowledge. Pass them on to someone who knows more. Or, talk to archers in other disciplines and expand your knowledge so that you can help your student grow. Take some lessons of your own! But don’t pretend like you know what you’re doing when you don’t. You’ll only wind up hurting your student.

I made Instructor #1 nervous. He was uneasy around me. It showed in the way he stuttered or stumbled over words. It became even more apparent when he couldn’t discuss parts of my anatomy and how they impacted my archery practice. Dudes, women have breasts. Women who are well endowed have breasts large enough to impact how they move their arms or hold their bow. Women may have trauma in their past that make them react differently to the bow string touching the side of their breast. I’m a 38G. Let’s just get the uncomfortable stuff out of the way. I had to learn how to maneuver my arms around my boobs. I also had to spend a week or more of conscious effort to not move away from or hold the bow string away from my chest. My current coach has, from the beginning, been very good about this. She’s been good about pointing out ahead of time where the string would touch. How it might be uncomfortable. She never let the string catch me off guard. But more importantly, she never made it out to be a big thing. Anatomy is anatomy. Archers are part of their weapon. Our bodies make up a large piece of the weapon we are shooting. So if you’re not comfortable with bodies, fat ones, slim ones, well endowed ones and tiny ones, then maybe you should stick with coaching guys.

If you wind up with a female student who gets even somewhat serious about her sport, and you are her male coach, you will eventually have to have an uncomfortable discussion regarding two things. Chest guards and sports bras. Chest guards fit women very differently than men. Go to Artebo chest guard measurements. See all the different measurements they take for a custom chest guard for women? Are you comfortable talking about those measurements with your student? Even if they don’t want a custom chest guard, you’ll need to be aware that whatever you choose together will fit her differently that it does a man. It may ride up more, or shift. She may need a larger size to accommodate her cup size, but then have to shorten the strap that goes around her chest or over her shoulder, or both. Remember my measurement from earlier? I don’t currently wear a chest guard even though I’ve gotten to the point that I need one. Because I refuse to wear one that doesn’t fit me well. The last thing I need at a tournament is to be yanking my chest guard back into place constantly.

And yes. You’ll need to talk sports bras. As in, the right one makes archery a lot easier. The wrong one makes it harder. Or at least less comfortable. A good sports bra, like Enell, can help immensely with posture. And good posture is imperative for good form.  An ill fitting or poor supporting sports bra just doesn’t help.

These are probably the most uncomfortable topics you’ll have to face as a male instructor coaching female archers. If you are serious about targeting this demographic. My demographic. Then I hope you’ll take seriously addressing these topics. Please, don’t pretend they don’t exist. We know better.

Tightening the Circle

Tightening the Circle
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At 18m during a Thursday night practice

Let’s call this picture the beginning. I was struggling with my anchor for weeks. I just couldn’t get exactly where I needed to be. I kept feeling as if I were fighting an invisible ghost (that happens a lot to me) – some nebulous “something” that wasn’t correct but that I couldn’t diagnose. The alignment of the string during the draw wasn’t correct. It would end up on the left side of my nose and mouth, at my left eye. But with how I shoot, it should be lining up center / center right.

What was going wrong?

I thought it was my head. If I lifted my chin and strained against tight neck muscles to make sure I had my chin lined up over my left shoulder, I could almost fix the problem. Almost, but not quite.

So during my last lesson we worked on diagnosing the problem. I was straight, my head did need to be turned a little more. Nothing huge to fix. So Coach said “just draw back as far as you can, then anchor. See where the anchor falls”. I had, of course, been anchoring under my chin. Turns out my draw length has lengthened again in the time I’ve been shooting. I needed to be anchoring at the back of the jaw.

I am short. My draw length was measured last fall at something like 25 1/2 inches. Standard measurement is 28″. So you can imagine my elation when we made the realization that my draw length is now longer!!! I don’t have the new measurement yet. But if I can be hitting 27 inches that would be fantastic!

So, I started anchoring at the back of my jaw. The string lined up over my right eye, center on nose, slightly right on lips. WOOT! And. Suddenly. My groups got tighter.

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After changing anchor, at 8m

Talk about tightening up the circle!

After the lesson I sidled over to the 18m lane to continue working on the new anchor point.

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More Gold, Please! At 18m

I suffered a few bow arm issues that sent one arrow into the red. But do you see the other two? That’s gold, baby!

I still need to fine tune my sight. But I can’t really do that until my anchor is a little more consistent and settled. A few more days of practice should let me be consistent enough to know what, if any, changes need to be made to my sight settings. But I’m so happy that the changes to me yielded such immediate results!