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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.

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Coaching J – Episode 1

Coaching J – Episode 1

My dear friend, the one who first encouraged me to think about participating in competitive archery, had to take an almost 9 month break from the sport due to work and injury. Recently we got him back! I’ve been so excited to shoot with J again, and uplifted by his presence. I don’t think I realized just how much I missed him until he came back to the range.

A day or two ago he asked me to be his interim coach and get him back into the form be used to have. I’ve been Level 2 certified for almost a year now, but I didn’t think I had that much to offer him. He is well into being an intermediate to advanced archer himself. Didn’t he need someone more skilled than me? Of course I would help him! I just didn’t know how much help I would really be. Turns out, more than I thought.

J gave me permission to post before and after videos from our lesson today.

The first thing I wanted to do was just watch him shoot. Closely and from several angles. Then video the next end to confirm what I thought I was seeing and be able to show him the trouble spot I found that I thought we should work on first. Here is one of J’s before videos.

I used Coach’s Eye to draw some simple lines to detail the problem area I saw. At the start you can see that one hip is higher than the other, but spine is straight and shoulders are aligned. As the video progresses you can see his weight  shift, and instead of coiling around the spine and keeping the lower body still, he twists at the hips so that his whole body rotates. The shoulder blade winds up where the spine was, the hips twist, and his right shoulder to elbow line lifts upwards.

We worked on foot  placement, because the placement he was using was almost T like, back foot parallel to the line and front foot pointed at the target, which left his base unstable.

We also worked on isolating the right shoulder muscles for movement, allowing just the right shoulder blade to drive the draw process. In the video above the hips were driving the draw instead of the shoulder.

I like people to see what I see and for us to collaborate together to fix the problem. I’m partial to the Socratic method, so I tend to ask more questions and to also explain why I’m asking for a specific change. It’s my hope that in doing so the instruction and change sticks with the person longer. I know that the more collaborative I am with my own coach the more I get out of my lesson. So I showed this video to J and we talked about what changes to make.

This the result, after some practice.

See how his hips are much more even and how they stay still during the draw? Part of that is due to the change in foot placement, allowing a more stable base. Part of it is on focusing on allowing the right shoulder blade to drive the entire draw movement. There is still a bit of twist going on, but it has minimized drastically.

I am so proud of J! It’s extremely difficult to come back to a sport after extended time off. I couldn’t be happier with his decision to return and I’m grateful for his permission to share our experience here on my blog.  J’s last end for the night looked like this!

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J's final end at 18 meters. Super group!

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.