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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

Texas Winter Games

Texas Winter Games

I am so freaking proud of J!!! He went to the Texas Winter Games tournament with me on Saturday and shot. Not only did he shoot, but he came in first in his division. I’m more proud of him for going than anything else.

Texas Winter Games was interesting for both of us. It was a new range, not a FITA, and not in any way associated with USA Archery. We were on a lot of unfamiliar terrain.

The range in McKinney took us both by surprise. I was told it was a small tournament and not many people showed up for it. When we arrived, however, the range was packed! That’s a good thing, until there’s literally so little room that it took a concerted effort to not trip over each others bows. I was told we could, and should plan on, registering on site. But I’m pretty sure we gave the lady running registration a heart attack when we both showed up to shoot and weren’t on the registration list. Apparently everyone BUT us had pre-registered online and bale assignments were set. Oh. To her credit, Mrs. Witt found us both places on the line and was very gracious to us. She was less gracious about the person who had misinformed us. One last surprise awaited us at McKinney. Russell! Russell worked at the Dallas range on Walnut Hill before it closed, and we were pretty close acquaintances. I hadn’t seen him since shortly after that range closed, so it was a wonderful surprise to see him at McKinney. He came to the rescue as backup judge and timer manager.

Speaking of the timer, I did not realize I had become so clock dependent until we didn’t have one at this tournament. There was a timer running, we just couldn’t see it. I’m used to looking up after my 2nd arrow to see how much time is left on the clock. But there was no clock. I didn’t have a clue how much time I had. I started rushing. Badly. Really badly. J was having the same problem, so we started calling time for each other. Whichever of us wasn’t shooting would call out time quietly for the other at the 30 second marks. Several people thanked us afterwards for doing that. I just wish we had started sooner. Those first three ends or so of rushing and stressing took their toll on both of us. Thankfully he was on A line and I was on B line, so we could call time and spot for each other.

Probably the other biggest factor for me at McKinney is the line of plywood dropped from the ceiling about a third of the way down the range. I typically let my eye follow my bow up during set up. Then my eye goes to the target during draw and I can watch my sight come to settle on the target. Except my eye would hit this line of plywood, my brain would immediately seize in a “too close don’t shoot!” momentary panic and I would have to almost force myself to look down at the target and draw. Never got all the way into my back, never got into true holding, never got my elbow behind the arrow for something like the first half of the tournament. We were only doing 10 ends, so 5 ends of brain freeze was 5 too many. I don’t know why the plywood is there, and it was only afterwards, talking to another shooter, that they mentioned the plywood was messing with my depth perception.

But despite the challenges, we finished the tournament! I got to shoot next the cutest darned barebow shooter I have ever laid eyes on. She couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10, with long red hair and a teal Bubba Bateman quiver. The rubber bands on her braces matched her quiver!! I spent some time talking to the girl who took first place in our division. Turns out she was supposed to try out for the Puerto Rican Olympic team but had to have surgery instead. She was immensely nice and knowledgeable and just fun to be around. And I spent some time talking to Troy Albert, the owner of Fulcrum Archery. More on that conversation later.

Then it was awards time. My scores weren’t great. J was disappointed in his scores. Neither of us thought we’d win anything.

Surprise! J came in first in his division! And I came in second in mine! Turns out we are now eligible to shoot in the State Games of America in 2017. I think. More pics to come later, after I grab them off my phone.

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2nd place Texas Winter Games

Coaching J, Episode 2

Coaching J, Episode 2

Last week, there was a brief moment where I was afraid J was going over to the dark side. The side of “I only want to do what’s fun! Does it matter if that messes up my ability to do the fun thing correctly?” And by correctly I don’t mean my way or the highway, but just in a way that won’t lead to injury after a while.

I’m no Obi-wan. I couldn’t just cut him down with my lightsaber of still growing Archery knowledge and leave him behind. I would still support him in his sport, still want to shoot on the line with him. I would just always be inwardly cringing that one day, after the fun, he’d be in the doctor’s office needing steroid shots, or have to put his bow back down to have shoulder or back surgery. Or that it would wind up being too uncomfortable or painful and he’d make the choice to give up archery.

I didn’t want any of that to happen.  I’d just had a friend miss his chance of shooting at the Olympic Trials this summer due to tendonitis in his shoulder. And that  drove home for me how stupidly important good form is. Not just consistent form, but form that does not make us more injury prone than participating in an extremely repetitive movement sport already makes us. We are like baseball pitchers, except we pitch only a fast ball, and only at the exact same speed and in the same way every time. Good form is the only thing saving us from Tommy John (or in our case, rotator cuff) surgery.

I’m lucky, because where my own concerns blinded me into not being able to communicate well with J that one night (my active listening skills were turned off), the Jedi council came in behind me and made my point for me.

And Sunday we resumed right where we left off. I thought long and hard about making a resolution to just be supportive and not criticize. But I knew that if I was being a bone head about something, I’d want other archers to call me on it even if I couldn’t immediately heed their advice. So I trashed that resolution. I decided to be me.

And we went back to feet. I’d already learned from training horses that every move is a process of refinement. So Sunday we refined J’s stance a bit more to give him the most stable base possible.

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J's stance, version 2

This is an improvement over the week before, when his back foot would wind up more parallel to the line and his front foot a tad more open to the target, which I think contributed to his hips twisting during draw. They at least made it easier for him to twist, and since we don’t want the hips to move, making it harder for them to do so was on the top of the agenda.

But really, what causes us to twist when we draw the bow in the first place? Not having the back muscles to draw with just the back
Or not knowing how to draw. But J knew how to draw.

10 months off is a long time to keep the back muscles in shape, though. They had a) forgotten how to do their job without being told and b) had lost the strength to do their job for an extended period of time.

We stood on the line together. Every time his hips would twist I would say “no” and he would let down. Every time he was still he got the shot off.

For now, he has to think about things that used to come naturally, like grounding and “tucking the tail feathers”. But it will come naturally again with time and practice.

I’m sure there will be more times where I worry about the dark side, and where we disagree. But I’m sure we’ll make it past those, too.

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

Chronic Illness Shouldn’t Stop You

Neither should age! John Nuyen is a member of Team USA. He also has Fibromyalgia. Read his inspiring story here:

John Nuyen on Fibromyalgia

John’s story proves that chronic illness does not have to keep you out of sport. And since archery is one of the most adaptive sports, accessible to just about everyone, I truly believe that archery is one of the best sports to keep those of us with Fibro active and moving.

John’s story was both heart breaking and inspiring to me. If he can do it, we can do it!

How Hard is It?

How hard is it to be a competitive archer? How hard is it to be a female competitive archer?

Let’s just say don’t quit your day job. And winning the lottery couldn’t hurt.

On Equality in Archery

Pick One Thing

Lately, and by that I mean sometime in early December, I realized that despite a year of coaching, despite enthusiasm, I wasn’t being very focused about archery. Or work. Or home life. I was juggling like a mad person, doing whatever was most pressing that was thrown in front of my face.

I was moving forward, but I wasn’t moving forward well.

After Shootout, and a break, I think that I came back as a more collaborative partner in my own coaching. Instead of waiting for my coach to see a problem and fix it, I started looking for the problem areas I wanted to fix and bringing them to my coach. But until I started using video a few weeks ago at almost every practice and lesson, I still wasn’t laser-focused on specific archery form corrections.

This month’s focus?

Fixing my elbow.

Remember how I was having the problem of the string smearing forward after I had hit anchor? We fixed that problem!

I realize it can be disconcerting to be up close and personal with someone’s face like that, but did you see how the string stayed put once I came to anchor?

Now did you see how far off to the side it was? That’s a problem, right? Well. I think it isn’t. I think that’s actually a symptom of a different problem. Try this view.

See how far my elbow sticks out in front of the arrow? I think that is the real problem. And that problem is my focus for the month of January. Not scores. Not clicker. Just fixing that elbow.