Coaching Novice Archers
There is much less certainty about who constitutes a novice archer compared to a beginner. Novice could refer to a maximum score achievement or time the archer has been shooting. Both classifications have problems. Archers develop at different rates so somebody who has been shooting for six months may well have progressed well beyond the novice band whilst other archers who have achieved high scores may well have done so using heavy equipment and their underlying technique has not improved much. The latter archer is likely to drop out the sport fairly, quickly because of injury.
I tend to define a novice archer is somebody who has finished their Beginners course and is shooting with basic, foundation technique. They should have achieved a reasonable bow hand position, can raise the bow by keeping their bow shoulder low and can open the bow using their back muscles. An archer who cannot do this, despite finishing their Beginners course is to all intents and purposes still a beginner.
I further define an archer moving out of the novice phase when they have developed the ability to execute a pre-draw action, have a stable posture with a flat back, have refined their vertical and lateral alignment and are capable of expanding their draw to execute their release. Many archers never reach this point and graduate into the social archer category which I will cover later. Other archers will graduate in around six to twelve months.
During their novice phase archers will start to differentiate in respect of the progress they make. Despite that differentiation, it makes sense through time and cost efficiency to coach these archers in a group. They are still all learning on the same broad track. However, individual development plans and practice regimes will need to be formulated for each person. It becomes especially important to coach the person in front of you and not just apply a blanket formula to the group. Archers should also have some knowledge of shooting technique by this point and ought to be encouraged to have some input into their development plan. Few novice archers will have unlimited time to practice and many will be working for a living. A junior, still at school, who is living at home, would have a different development plan to an adult who is working a forty-hour week.
At some point during this stage the archer is also going to want to buy their own equipment. This is quite a difficult step to manage as the archer or their parents are usually keen to get good quality equipment with all the bells and whistles. This often leads to kit being purchased which is far too high in both mass weight and draw weight for the archer to handle without an adverse impact on their shooting technique. This is commonly seen in the archer’s front shoulder starting to rise and they develop a backward lean.
Finally, the underlying fitness and conditioning of the archer starts to have some impact on how they can progress. Some people who come to the sport take it up because it does not involve running around and getting sweaty. You can shoot to a high level whilst not being particularly fit but physical conditioning will make a big difference to an archer’s ability to maintain a practice session. A fitter archer can train for longer, does not find fatigue interfering with their shot cycle and they recover quicker. One of the reasons people move into the social archer category is they find the physical demands of the sport start to limit their progress. They reach a fitness plateau rather than a shooting plateau. They could move forward if they were prepared to compromise and change their lifestyle slightly but for many individuals who came into archery for more social reasons, they would rather stay eating cake and accept the physical limitations. It is important the coach gives the archer the choice to move away from the competitive end of the sport as there is quite a lot of evidence around that coaches who push their archers too hard to perform or practice can have a counter-productive effect. The performer may well then choose to drop out the sport completely rather than transition to a slower development path. The coach can also easily tip over into bullying which can lead to mental health consequences for the performer.
Some archers who come into the sport, particularly from a gymnastics or dance background seem to have good body awareness and they often progress much faster than archers without that background. They are often more coachable because they are used to receiving directions based on body position and have an innate ability to feel their way into a shot. This skill needs to be trained into most other archers. However, those archers should still be given voice and choice in their development plans. The increased motivation found in archers who feel more in control of their development is worth the extra time spent on communication.
There is not a clear barrier between beginner and novice. Motor skill development is still a critical element of this phase and the drills learnt as a beginner should still be practiced. Some drills, such as the 1-2-3 Alignment drill can be dropped once the archer has clearly mastered the requisite motor skill and other drills such as the set to set up drill will eventually morph into the raise and rotate drill or the three step drill. The archer should welcome this sign of progress, but the coach needs to keep these drills in reserve in case the archer starts to regress and needs some retraining.
There are some quite complex elements to coach at this stage. These need to be delivered over a few weeks with the archer spending time practicing each element before moving on. Most archers are unable to spend or afford more time than one formal session a week, so practice is vitally important. Obviously, coach supported practice is more productive but good results can be achieved by giving the archer a training plan and making sure they know what it looks like and feels like when they are performing the practice drill correctly. The use of mirrors when practicing is vital so that the performer can check their positioning. Also, I spend some time at this stage, once they have mastered a drill with their eyes open getting them to perform the drill with their eyes closed. This takes away all their visual input and forces them to concentrate on the proprioception of the movement. Video feedback can also be useful in training novice archers.
I use a lot of video feedback, but I also recognise it can be quite expensive for the coach to buy the equipment and always try to show cheaper alternatives to using a video camera. The growth of smart phones has made access to video technology much cheaper and wide, spread so it is becoming easier to use video in coaching archery.
The first area I concentrate on is their stance and posture. Normally I set archers up with a square stance and am very reluctant to move away from it. I find that archers who use an open stance usually struggle to get their shoulders correctly aligned to the target. They need to twist at the waist to bring the top of their body around and few archers that I have coached have the flexibility in their body to be able to do this action. The action also winds in a tension in the body that acts away from the shooting plane. As the archer fatigues there is a tendency for the body to unwind during the shot. Finally, the strain placed on the lower back during this shot cycle can give rise to back pain and skeletal problems later in life.
A lot of top archers do use the open stance, but an equal number use a square stance. I think the benefits of the open stance are more illusory and the aspects it purports to control are better controlled by activating a strong core. Placing the rear foot forward creates a slightly more stable platform in certain wind conditions and can reduce body sway in archers who shoot with their knees locked. However, that position does not help the archer’s stability with the wind coming at them from other directions. The need to impart a body twist makes it almost impossible to activate the core muscles. The body twist and the tension generated is meant to replace the use of the core, but the lack of symmetry does not help the archer balance.
Overall, there is a degree of archer choice in the stance they choose but I am always keen to sell the benefits of a square stance to the novice archer. It is much simpler to execute well and leaves them aligned to the shooting plane. Most novice archers will at some point be told by a well-meaning fellow archer to adopt an open stance which they generally follow blindly. Rarely are they given an explanation why they should change their stance. When I talk about stance with an archer, I generally take the archer through the pros and cons of each type of stance, ask them to make an informed choice and stick to it. Nine times out of ten they decide to use a square stance.
I teach posture in stages. The positioning of the feet and the body at this stage of the archer’s development happens predominantly in their conscious mind. They have to perfect control over several elements of their stance. As they progress as archers, some of their postural control becomes internalised and they do not have to think about what is going on. This is particularly relevant as their shot cycle progresses. As they open the bow the dynamic centre of gravity of their body changes which they will control using their posture without having to think about it.
Good postural control though comes from learning the correct actions and then having the core strength to allow the shot to progress without compromising their stability. Few novice archers have much awareness of their core muscles and given modern lifestyles a lot of them also have poor core strength. For most novice archers, I have found it necessary to set conditioning exercises to improve core strength. In this way the archer improves their physical conditioning and can control their equipment through their shot cycle rather than be controlled by their equipment. An archer who is being controlled by their equipment is likely to bend backwards through their shot cycle because their bow is too heavy for them.
The first step in teaching posture is to get them to place their feet in the correct position each time and to find a comfortable angle for their feet to turn out. I find marking the floor with tape or pins helps them to get consistency. Most archers find that having their feet underneath their shoulders is the best position which given our bodies have evolved to stand like that, it is not a surprise. Feet are generally turned out between five and ten degrees with the body weight coming down in the middle of their stance. They should hold their weight balanced so that the centre of their pressure on the floor passes behind the ball of their feet. Modern archers tend to hold their weight too far back when they start shooting. There does not seem to be a particularly obvious reason for this although I suspect that being overweight does cause most of these postural issues. I often need to teach them to bring their weight forward by raising up on their toes and setting back down again. This eases the weight forward and the balance point seems to maintain when they drop back down onto their full foot.
There is a move from some coaches to widen some archers’ stances. I often see coaches widen an archer’s stance so that their feet are now outside the line of their shoulders. The argument runs that it makes it easier for the archer to stay upright when drawing the bow. I often hear comments that say the outside of the shoulder should match the inside line of the foot. In theory this does make it easier for the archer to resist the weight of the bow during its opening. In truth, it seems just another attempt to compensate for poor core strength. In some ways it can even exacerbate the problem. Changing the angle that the thigh bone enters the hip joint makes it much harder for the muscles that work across that joint to function. It is much harder to brace the muscles that cross that joint if the bones of the leg are not in line with the direction of the pull. In my view there are no shortcuts to good technique. It is better to learn a simple stance, then build up the strength to control it, than try and find a way around working on core strength. How much work the novice archer will put in will vary enormously. Providing the archer understands the underlying reasons for a strong core, they can make an informed choice as to which way they are going to go.
Assuming the archer is shooting with a square stance, once I have the foot positioned correctly, I will then start the archer practising on developing a flat back. This goes hand in hand with helping them find the neutral position for their hips which is generally around the mid-point of how far forward they can tilt their hips and how far back they can go. I get them to find this position with their eyes closed a few times before they worry about anything else. Once they have this position, I then get them to practice flattening their back. I generally do this by getting the archer to put their index finger along their breastbone, pointing downward. I then get them to drop their chest until their finger is vertical. The aim is to get the chest to drop down enough to flatten the back but without going over into a hunch. Too many archers overdo the drop and then their back starts to not just flatten but their shoulders become rounded and they will struggle to execute the draw. I use the phrase half a breath out quite a lot to drop the chest into the correct position.
Flattening the back locks, the Spine and creates a strong posture. However, that goes hand in hand with finding the neutral position for the pelvis, so the archer’s knees are soft. They do not want to be completely bent but neither do you want them to be locked out. Locked knee joints create a pivot point at the ankle joint and the body will sway from side to side across that joint. If the knees are softer then they will act as a suspension system and prevent much of this sway. If the knees are particularly bent, then you start to see some consistency issues develop as the archer may not bend them the same amount each time and the archer ends up a slightly different height each shot. They will also fatigue quickly. It sounds complicated but the actual position reflects how most people stand when they are asked to stand in a relaxed way. The archer’s unconscious mind generally knows what to do and over complicated coaching instructions can make their posture worse as they try and implement an unnatural standing position.
Once the correct back and hip position has been found, I then let the archer progress via shooting a TheraBand, training bow and heavier bow to practicing the set to set up. It is quite common for them to find the set to set up extremely hard to execute without lifting their chest. This will need to be practiced until it has been got right. Archers who have mastered raising the bow without their shoulders coming up should find this easier than archers who have not.
The next step is to teach the archer to learn to activate their core muscles whilst they are standing. An archer who has a naturally strong and toned core will already have an advantage with their stability but if an archer can learn to tense or brace their core muscles whilst they are on the shooting line they will create a lot of tension along the line of their body and make their body much more resistant to movement. This bracing action needs to be built into their set sequence.
Along with the bracing of the core the archer needs to learn to brace their bottom muscles which tightens their upper legs. Again, this creates tension to stiffen the body and make it more resistant to wind pressure and natural sway.
The last step for the archer to learn is the knee twist. This is an isometric movement as nothing moves but by trying to turn the knees inward, the body tension is enhanced. I prefer the archer to use an inward knee twist whilst some coaches prefer the outward knee twist. Either way the effect is much the same. It is hard to maintain all this bracing during the full shot cycle, so it is important the archer practices this as much as everything else they practice. It is easier to do this without the bow in their hand but at some point, they will need to progress their practice to using a full weight competition bow.
As you can see an open stance precludes a lot of the additional stability work that the archer can do with an active core. However, there are times, for some archers, when an open stance may be more appropriate. An effective coach will always have an open stance in their coaching kit bag.
Archers who have large tummies may experience some string clearance issues across their stomach that will be solved by changing them to an open stance. Some people with significantly pronating elbows will also be helped by moving them to an open stance. Finally, archers who have no core strength and little intention of developing any may get better results with an open stance. The coach should always give the archer free choice in the stance they adopt once the archer is able to make an informed choice. Switching stances at this level of archery is relatively easy because the archer generally is operating in their conscious mind. Once they have tried both stances and know the underpinning theory most archers will come back to a square stance but not all. The thing I hate most about archers who change their stance is they often have no idea why they have. Too often when asked why they made the change it will be because another archer has told them that is the way to shoot. They have simply accepted this advice in an uncritical way and the executed their new stance in a manner that is unsuited to the rest of their shot cycle.
The novice archer often does not realise the importance of the set position. This stage is often rushed through because the archer is keen to get on with the draw. I find slowing archers down and making them be more precise in their draw cycle improves even the archer with poor technique and most coaches will recognise the constant nag to slow down during their coaching sessions.
If an archer wants to use an open stance then the coach needs to concentrate on improving rotational flexibility. The archer is going to need to keep their hips stable above their feet whilst they twist their upper body, so their shoulders move round to align with the target. This will then put them in a position to execute a pre-draw and leave them sufficient room to rotate their drawing scapula round towards their spine as they open the bow. The coach should be setting torso flexibility exercises to train and improve this movement. In my experience this is rarely done, and the archer often struggles to achieve good alignment. I also find that over the length of a competition the body twist breaks down, the archer struggles to maintain the rotation and the arrows start to drift left across the target for a right-handed archer.
I am trying to get the novice archer to be precise in how they locate their bow hand on the bow grip. As I have said before, I generally keep the archer shooting with a low wrist at this point because it is strongest and simplest. Also, a lot of archers still do not have their own equipment and are having to share club kit. It is not practical to start building up bow grips on equipment that is not owned.
Similarly, even for archers that have their own bows I am quite keen not to build up their grip. Their technique is still stabilising, and it feels expensive to make permanent alterations to the grip on a bow they may well want to trade in within a few months for something more expensive. I know there are some coaches who are looking to work with a higher wrist when shooting but to execute this wrist position effectively requires stronger wrists to stabilise the wrist during the draw. There are many other areas with the novice archer that need to be strengthened before I would focus on the wrist and this all points me to persevere with a low wrist position through the novice period.
The coach needs to be aware when talking about the wrist position that every individual is different and not all archers can shoot with a higher wrist. For a typical archer, the higher wrist position can put the bones of the forearm in a better alignment to resist the force of the bow coming down their arm. However, many archers, me included, have large hands but small wrists. I cannot use a high wrist because the position of the riser in my hand takes it outside the line of my arm and generates much tension and fatigue in my bow hand, which leads to significant bow torque. Simply put the coach needs to work with the body in front of them and adjust accordingly.
There has also been a lot of debate recently as to the best position for the fingers on the string. When I was taught to shoot, many years ago the fashion was to hold the string on the pads of your fingers. This makes it hard for the archer to maintain a flat string hand and creates quite a lot of tension in the string hand. Latterly the fashion is to move the string to behind the first joint in the fingers so that it pulls forward into the joint under pressure. Bio-mechanically that can lead to a more relaxed bow hand, but archers often find this quite a painful place to hold the string as there is little flesh or padding protecting the joint. This can put pressure on the vessels and nerves running through the joint. The novice archer, shooting with a reasonable quality tab is unlikely to be shooting enough for this to generate long term problems but I can accept elite archers may be affected and need a string hand condition management strategy.
I have known archers shoot with quite a deep hold, going as far back as their second joint. If you look at a young baby trying to grip something tight, they will curl the whole of their hand around the object to hang on to it. Their body instinctively knows this is the strongest position to hold anything. It is also the most relaxed position for the hand as more muscle is coming into play to help resist the force of the string. The counter to this is the length of time it takes the string to pass around the fingers on a deeper hold. If the hand is truly more relaxed, then the force of the string will push the fingers open more efficiently than a hand that is less relaxed. It may seem counter intuitive but that will generate a smoother release than a hand under more holding tension.
I once did a coaching course with a surgeon who told me that the flexor muscle has three attachment points on its respective finger. One attachment point is at the end of the finger and two attachment points are behind the first joint. The finger works more efficiently if all three attachment points are working evenly rather than more pressure being taken on the single point at the end of the finger. Therefore bio-mechanically a finger position behind the first joint is a more efficient and more relaxed holding position.
The coach also needs to consider the length and relationship of their archer’s fingers. Ideally the ring and index fingers should be slightly shorter than the middle finger and even in length between them. It is not untypical for this relationship to be different. I have a long middle finger in relation to the other two and my ring finger is about 5 mm longer than my index finger. Ideally the holding pressure should be taken 50% on the middle finger, 30% on the index finger and 20% on the ring finger. To get anywhere close to this balance I need to load my index and ring finger onto the string before my middle finger. Other archers with different finger size combinations will need to adopt different strategies. It is important the coach identifies these cases and builds in a personalised string loading process for the novice archer.
Hopefully if they have been doing their string release exercises regularly from their beginners phase the coach will not have problems with the novice archer plucking the string to let it go. This is quite a hard skill to learn as the natural thing to do when letting a string go is to pull the fingers open. The novice archer does have a propensity to develop this habit and all the string loading in the world will not cure it until they have learnt the motor control action of relaxing rather than pulling the fingers open. The more relaxed the string hand is and the flatter the back of the string hand is, the easier it is for the archer to relax their fingers off the string. Tension anywhere along the string hand and string arm is likely to adversely affect the release. Unwanted tension is often generated by the archer increasing their bow poundage too quickly and the coach should be aware of problems appearing in this whole area of the body if the archer goes out and buys a new bow with a heavier draw weight.
The set position is often neglected by archers and coaches. It is important as it is where the shot really starts. The archer needs to ensure that their grip on the bow is consistent and in line with the grip they are trying to achieve. They also need to check their foot and balance position along with starting their body brace. Once that is done the archer should then turn their head to address the target and move into the set-up position.
Novice archers generally need to be reminded of the importance of the set position and the need to ensure they have checked the feel of the grip in their bow hand, feel of the pressure of the fingers on the string, feel of the balance through their body and the tension in their core. Once they have turned their head to look at the target, they will not be able to see anything other than down the range. From this point on everything is going to be done by proprioceptive feel. This is the last point in the shot sequence when the archer has the luxury of a visual check as well, hence its importance.
The point where the archer moves into the set will vary between archers and can to an extent be a matter of personal choice. Some archers will have a low set and will like to see a straight line running from their string elbow through their hand and along the arrow. Other archers will want to set up a little higher and not worry too much about the line between the string elbow and the arrow. The critical thing here is consistency and comprehension. The archer needs to know what they are doing in this phase so they can repeat it and they need to be comfortable with it. In discussions with some of the archers I have been coaching I have set them up with quite a high set position because they find it hard to get the tension in their body correct if they are unbalanced by a low set position. In moving the set position higher and round to be more in line with the target they can get a better feel for the next part of the shot.
The set position is where the archer also needs to rotate their elbow out of the way. Hopefully by now the novice archer will have got the action embedded but often it takes a lot of practice for archers to be able to rotate their elbow successfully. Sometimes archers cannot get there and that needs to be accepted by the coach. It is not a critical problem. That archer can still achieve a high standard but may not be able to reach as far as an international standard.
The coach also needs to be aware of the relationship between the archer’s hand shape and size and the archer’s ability to keep the head of the humerus seated comfortably within the cup of the shoulder joint. There is a tendency for it to ride up over the edge of the socket when it is rotated and can create some structural weakness in the shoulder. Improving shoulder flexibility should improve this but whilst it is an obvious issue the archer should be wary about pushing the bow poundage up too quickly.
In short, the more time the novice archer spends practicing the set position and rotating the elbow correctly the better it will likely be for long term shoulder health.
Coaching the set to set up position is one of the most important but poorly understood elements of the shot cycle. Coaches are too quick to look for a one size fits all solution or follow the latest trend. Neither of these approaches are correct and it is important the coach works with the archer in front of them. The ideal set up position is unique for each archer and driven by their shoulder flexibility. If their shoulders are not very flexible, then the archer needs to set up lower than if their shoulders are flexible. Archers with flexible shoulders can set up with their hands somewhere between mouth and eye level. Archers with less flexible shoulders will need to set up lower, often at a position level with the shoulder joint. Setting up higher will make it easier to engage the back muscles during the draw but if the shoulder joint is not flexible enough to enable the shoulders to stay low in the set up position, then the bow shoulder will rise and collapse inward as the bow is drawn.
I always test shoulder flexibility before deciding with the archer on where they are going to set up. The best way to do this is to get the archer to hold their arms out in front of them with the arms slightly bent. They should start at about waist height and then raise the arms until the point when the scapula starts to move upwards. Just below this point is the best place for the archer to set up.
An archer’s shoulder flexibility can be improved by stretching exercises to improve the shoulder joint but for most social archers this is probably more effort than it is worth. They can shoot to a high standard using a traditional T draw. They will need to work in a slightly different way to achieve transference of the draw onto their back muscles, but the coach can help them with this aspect. I am finding more problems with social archers trying to copy the higher set up position for the draw without the flexibility to keep both shoulders relaxed. This action compresses and shortens their draw, puts undue pressure on both shoulder joints, makes it harder to get weight transference onto the back, often leads to poor alignment and can over time lead to injury in either shoulder.
Generally, I find archers have reasonable shoulder flexibility up to about the age of 30 and then after that shoulder flexibility starts to decline. This decline in flexibility is partly down to aging but can also be affected by injury or their occupation.
Most younger archers can be set up with a higher start position. There are still some issues to consider such as how easy it can be for them to complete the draw and finish with their string hand under their chin. They need to learn to drop their bow hand at the same pace as their string hand or they will end up with an illegal draw. This is a growing problem on the shooting line, so the archer needs to practice this with a band to make sure they learn the correct co-ordination.
I have found that archers also set themselves up naturally with their shoulder and bow hand level. They will need to learn the new set up position, so the principles of motor skills acquisition pertain. Typically, archers coming off a Beginners course will not have mastered this action and time will need to be invested in getting the set-up position correct for them. The archer needs to learn to insert a check of their technique before they start the next part of the draw sequence.
It is possible for the archer’s shoulders to come up as they move from the set to set up and then relax down again. Some archers have built this into their shot sequence and use it as part of their routine. The coach should learn to watch the end of the shoulder joint so they can see what is happening. Personally, this is an affectation that I would rather the archer did without. It does not follow my principles of economy of movement and creates another area where inconsistency can develop but if it has become embedded in the archer’s motor action it may be hard to eradicate. Providing the archer relaxes and checks that relaxation before proceeding further then that archer should be able to manage that inconsistency.
There are still novice archers out there who are using or have been taught to use a deeper set position and a rotation of the arm in the shoulder joint under pressure to raise the bow. Personally, I prefer more of a scooping action to raise the bow with both the riser and the string being lifted. A deeper set position brings the string hand much closer to shoulder height before the lift commences so it is possible to rotate the riser upwards whilst the string hand barely moves. This action works for a traditional T draw set up but does not work well with a higher start position, but I see many archers persist with it. Generally, what happens is the shoulder is pushed upwards under pressure and once the bow hand comes level with the shoulder there is too much force coming down the arm for the shoulder to then be relaxed back.
On a final note around set up positioning I also have several coaches state that the traditional T draw is dangerous because it can lead to shoulder separation injuries on the string side. I have no experience of this myself and the only examples I can find in the UK are from archers who have been shooting bows that are too heavy for them. This seems to be only an issue with juniors who are pushing up their bow poundage too quickly for their bodies to adapt. The technique itself is not necessarily at fault so much as the draw weight of the bow.
Like the elbow rotation drill that needs to be introduced at the Beginners course I do not find many coaches teach any form of pre-draw. I thought this was a peculiarly British phenomenon but since doing more work around the world I have found this is common almost universally. I think part of this is because you cannot easily coach the pre-draw sequence on a Beginners course and after the course many archers are comfortable with their drawing motion and do not want to make changes to it. In Britain very few archers receive much formal coaching after their Beginners course unless they progress on to some form of talent pathway. By the time they are identified for the talent pathway they have already started to score well with their traditional technique. Changing a fundamental part of their technique at this stage can represent a big risk to their eventual success and it is far better that they are taught a pre-draw motion near the start of their shooting career whilst their motor control action is still fairly pliable.
The pre-draw action is also not very evident when the top performing archer’s shoot. Once the action has been learnt it becomes integral to the rest of the drawing sequence and is difficult to see by the un-tutored eye. The pre-draw becomes a very smooth motion following on from either the set up so the archer pauses in a deep hold to undertake their draw feel check or it happens as part of the draw process with the body rotation running straight into the drawing action following a draw check at the end of the set up process.
Personally, I find the posture the archer adopts important to their ability to learn a pre-draw sequence. Archers who have a square stance, a flat back and a braced core can rotate their upper body around their spine more easily than an archer who has an open stance. When using a square stance, the hips are in line with the shooting plane and they can be held rigid by the core muscles. The risk is that the hips rotate in line with the chest and the body moves out of line causing string clearance issues and structural instability. Training this action should go alongside teaching archers core strength development exercises so they can execute this action correctly.
If an archer is using an open stance, they need to bring their body much further round to bring their shoulders into the correct position whilst leaving their hips above their feet. All the rotation needs to happen at the waist point. In my experience, I find few archers are flexible enough in their spine and waist to make that rotation. It is also impossible to get this amount of rotation done whilst keeping the core muscles working effectively in a vertical plane. Replacement stability comes from the dynamic twist in the spine but over time many archers adopting this approach find they develop lower back problems.
Therefore, if the archer is using an open stance, the coach and the archer have a choice to make around whether they are going to put the effort into flexibility training so they can execute this movement or whether they are going to move back to a square stance. Most social archers, who probably do not have much of a core will probably prefer to stay shooting with an open stance as the stability benefits can outweigh the difficulties, they have in achieving good alignment. Aspiring elite archers will probably find they need to put in some significant work to master this process.
I start teaching people to pre-draw by sitting them on a chair and getting them to twist their upper body whilst their hips are locked in place by the chair. This forces them to twist at the waist. If they are struggling to get this action, they are often helped by putting their string side index finger on their breastbone and focus on turning their finger.
The next step is to get people to repeat this action standing up with their body braced and just the upper body moving. Practicing in a mirror will help the archer control this movement as they can see if their hips are moving at the same time. Once this has been perfected a band can be introduced and then the bow. The coach may need to vary the mass weight of the bow when introducing it as there is a big step up in mass weight between the band and a riser with all the stabilisation attached.
The training becomes complete when the action becomes smooth with little visible transition between the raise and the rotate. The coach will probably find that the archer’s bow shoulder is still too far back and the next step will be to teach the archer to activate the Serratus Anterior muscle between the side of the chest and the scapula which acts to pull the scapula forward. These have the effect, when the arm is extended and supporting the bow, of appearing to push the riser out towards the target. The scapula comes more into line with the force coming down the arm and the force transfers easily into the spine. If the bow shoulder remains further back, then the pressure of the bow is much harder to resist and there is a tendency for the bow shoulder to back up towards the spine. This is how archers were taught to shoot many years ago and you still hear older coaches talk about cracking walnuts between the shoulder blades. The study of Biomechanics shows this is not the best position to be in to shoot the bow and in fact the shoulder needs to be further forward to allow room for the drawing shoulder to come around. You often see archers who have poor bow shoulder control becoming “locked out” when they rotate their drawing scapula because they have no more room for the continued rotation of the drawing scapula at execution.
I find that many archers struggle to achieve this action. I often help them to achieve better shoulder flexibility by keeping their arms straight and out in front of them. I get them to move their arms towards and away from themselves by moving their shoulder blades only. This activates the correct muscles and enables them to progress onto doing this movement with the bow. The coach can often help by standing behind the archer and pushing the point of their bow scapula forward once they start to feel it try to move. These muscles are often not that strong and will take time for them to develop enough to be able work against the pressure of the bow coming back at them. I find it useful to get the archer doing some straight arm press ups using a wall to start with to strengthen these muscles.
The archer does have some choice around how much push to use during the execution of the shot and precisely where they place their bow shoulder. The push should come from the Serratus Anterior muscles contracting. If the bow shoulder is in a forward position, then the bow is likely to break forward on loose. If it is further back, then the bow is likely to break left for a right-handed archer. However, the bigger challenge for most novice archers is to keep their bow shoulder down during the draw. They can learn to control the position of their shoulder at set up and even hold it through the pre-draw but once they get to the full draw the poundage has increased beyond what their muscles can support. In consequence, their bow shoulder rises and in worst cases starts to tremble. The muscles supporting and holding that shoulder down are just not strong enough and the coach needs to take time to develop these before anything else. Personally, I would take poundage off the bow and send the archer into the gym to strengthen those muscles before letting the poundage increase. The danger with allowing the archer to shoot with a poundage they cannot control is they start to compromise their neural pathway and the feel of the shot sequence driven by the heavy bow starts to feel normal. This will be much harder to correct later once the archer becomes stronger.
Opening the bow to anchor should be a straightforward progression from this point. If archers are taught to use their back during their Beginners course, then they should already have the basic motor skill and the coach should only need to refine it. In my experience it is more common for the novice archer to have learnt to draw either with their arm muscles or by using their bow shoulder muscles. Correcting this action can be quite hard if it has become significantly embedded. Archers who need serious remedial work at this point are better off dropping off their competition weight bow and going back to basic band drills, gradually progressing back to their competition weight, whilst maintaining technique. Few novice archers are prepared to put in the amount of work required to make this transition or give up going to competitions for long enough to keep their new neural pathway. Once they attend a competition before the change is embedded, under the pressure of the competition, their old technique usually quickly resurfaces and re-establishes old shooting patterns. There is little the coach can do about this other than have a conversation with the archer, so they are making an informed choice. To my mind it just reinforces the importance of teaching the good use of the back during their beginners training.
If the archer has developed good use of their back muscles, then usually they still need to learn how to expand the shot and execute it correctly. I see many archers who draw using their back muscles but once they start their aiming cycle either lose back tension or use their drawing shoulder muscles to twist the string fingers off the string. I have found that training with an elbow sling or form master can really help develop the right action here as the device forces the body to use the correct muscles. However, I tend to get the archer to practise first on a lightweight training bow. Putting an archer on their normal competition weight bow at the same time as forcing them to use a new set of muscles which because of previous under use, may not have yet developed the required strength to control that draw weight is a recipe for injury. Once the archer has been able to transition to practice with their full weight bow, I still make them shoot for a while to fully warm up before I let them train with this equipment. I have seen too many serious muscles pulls from using an elbow sling on full poundage with cold muscles. These injuries can take weeks to heal and does nothing for your reputation as a coach.
Something I often see at this point is the archer struggling to execute the shot with their Rhomboids as they have locked out. Normally this has been caused by the bow shoulder not moving forward to leave space for the drawing shoulder to come around, but it is not always the case. Sometimes the archer has just over rotated and needs to come back to a better anchor point to leave space for the shot execution.
Where the archer is having a problem with their bow shoulder the solution is to fix that rather than worry too much about their drawing action until the drawing shoulder has the space it needs. The archer needs to get the bow shoulder correctly positioned before they start to open the bow. It is too late to adjust the bow shoulder once the bow has been opened. As ever this fault often comes from a combination of poor initial training and shooting a bow that is too heavy for them.
Shot execution should not be a conscious action. The archer should just be thinking of expanding the shot and the release of the string should come as a surprise. I will talk more about this in the next chapter as it is quite a complex process.
One area where I find novice archers often become sloppy is with their follow through. I hear a lot of talk about it being unnecessary as the arrow will have gone past the bow by the time the hand drops. This has not been my experience and the trouble is the body quickly develops a link between letting the string go and dropping the bow hand. In extreme circumstances this can become a classical conditioning loop from which the archer struggles to recover.
Overall coaching novice archers can be extremely rewarding. The coach knows by this point the archer is serious about the sport and wants to improve. The coach needs to be sensitive to the amount of time and money the archer can devote to training and equipment. The coach may also be limited by the amount of range time the archer can afford. However open dialogue between the coach and the archer should fine the happy balance for that individual.
The coach should be trying to set some simple development plans, based around the archer’s goals to try and keep them motivated. I would recommend these goals are more process orientated around the archer’s developing technique rather than score based. Archers who become too score focused tend to lose focus on developing their technique in a quest to always move their personal best forward.
After about twelve months of solid development then the archer should be progressing into the next level of their performance which I have called the pre-elite stage. This is where the archer’s rapid improvement in technique and scores starts to top out and to move on further, they are going to have to work harder and be more scientific in their approach. The coach should be aware that many archers do not want too or are unable too make this transition and the coach may find their coaching relationship needs to end or be reappraised.