Archery Misconceptions/Myths

Archers believe a lot of things that are just not true and they will convince you of these things with you if you aren’t careful. We can’t possibly go into all of them but we can look at a few.

Practice Always Makes You Better
This is a misconception that most people believe. If you just keep going to practice, taking lessons, etc. you will automatically get better. This is true when you are a beginner but rapidly becomes not true as you become adept. Basically, if you have “automated” your shot, meaning you don’t have to think a lot or even much at all to make your shots and the results are reasonably good, just practicing more will no longer make you better.

According to Anders Ericsson: “Research has shown that, generally speaking, once a person reaches that level of “acceptable” performance and automaticity, the additional years of “practice” don’t lead to improvement. If anything, the doctor or teacher or the driver who’s been doing it for twenty years is likely to be a bit worse that the one who’s been doing it for only five, and the reason is these automated abilities gradually deteriorate in the absence of deliberate efforts to improve.”

If you follow professional basketball, you know that starts are people who are always adding something to their game. Comments are frequently along the lines of “He/she worked hard all summer to add a three-point shot to his/her game or a ‘post-up ability” to his/her game. Michael Jordan came into the NBA as a fairly poor shooter. Needless to say he improved his shooting somewhat. These athletes are adding something new, which not only increases their repertoire of abilities but also has them improving their skills. The really hard work is improving skills that are already adequate.

So, if you have been going to regular class or taking lessons, but you have just been doing the same old things, you are probably not getting better. This also means you are probably getting worse as recent scientific studies have shown that almost every activity we engage, whether new or frequently done is painted as being “new” in part mentally. This is apparently a protection of falling into predictable patterns. If one always does the same thing in response to a stimulus, then one becomes predictable and predators love predictable prey. To always have a certain amount of unpredictability hard-wired into our behaviors, everything we do is a tough “new,” as if we were just learning it. This is one of the reasons why archers need to practice continually to maintain their skills. And that practice, in order to be effective, has to be intensely focused on become “better,” with higher standards imposed, more effort expended, etc. Basically “good enough” never is and if you aren’t trying to get better, you are probably getting worse.

A New Piece of Equipment Will Improve Your Scores
Archers firmly believe that if they just had a better <fill in the blank>, their archery would improve. A new bow, arrows, stabilizer system, binoculars, etc. will make me better! Unfortunately, there are three possible outcomes when you change out pieces of your equipment: you can get better, you can stay the same, or you can get worse.

What? You mean if I get that new bow I have been lusting after, my scores may actually go down?

Yes, that is exactly what we are saying.

Here are what have to be in your situation for an improvement to be in the offing. First, your equipment needs to be holding you back. Something about your old bow is preventing you from shooting better. It is too heavy for you to hold in position at full draw. It has too high of a draw weight. The component parts are worn and don’t line up or stay lined up. Something like that. If you replace that bow with a bow that is not too heavy, or is just the right draw weight, or can be set up correctly, you will get an improvement in your scores.

Unfortunately, people get bored with what they have and dream of something “better.” (We all do.) But then we go out, like one of our students did, and buy a compound bow that was too heavy, had too much draw weight and had a draw length range that didn’t include our student’s actual draw length. But is was shiny, red, and had flames painted on it.

When you get “new” gear, you need to ask it to prove it is actually “better.” After you have set up and/or tuned it, shoot some practice rounds and see if the scores are better than your previous practice rounds. Check you group sizes, something. Otherwise you can be fooled into thinking that you’ve gotten “better” when really nothing has changed or, worse, you have gotten worse.

Something you have to watch out for, though, is the Hawthorne Effect. This is a short term effect that whenever you get something new, it performs better than the thing it replaced, at least for a short while. The key is “for a short while.” So don’t be quick to conclude that your new gear is super. Whenever we get new archery gear, our interest level and focus go up for a few days to a week and our performance goes up because of the increase focus and interest, but that wears off with the “new” feeling. Once it is gone you may be back where you started.

Archers heartily believe in a great many things that turn out not to be true. We encourage you to listen to one and all and to be skeptical. Don’t assume everything you hear or read is true just because the speaker or writer believes it is true. We are all unique as archers and what works for us, should pass the test of performance before you believe it “works for you.”



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How Much Should Your Child Practice?

This is not an easy question. There is a spectrum that stretches from “too little” all the way to “too much,” with the problem being it is very hard to describe what these phrases mean. If your child attends an archery session or class once a week at an archery club or shop but does not practice in between sessions, then they are at the lower end of our scale, aka “almost no practice.” If in every spare moment they have they are either working on their equipment or are shooting arrows, or studying the mental game, or . . . then they are at the upper end. But where should your child be on this scale?

We address this with reference to their goals as an archer.

Goals and Practice
If they want to make an Olympic Team, they are going to be practicing … a lot. Plus they have to learn how to compete, so they are going to have to compete … a lot. This is obvious, we suspect.

If archery is just a fun activity for them, then they needn’t practice at all, they can just shoot when it moves you to do so.

So, how much they need to practice depends on what moves them. The word “motivation” basically refers to what moves someone, motor-vates them. So, are they happy with the groups they are shooting now? Are you happy with their scores . . . if they even keep score? Are they happy with your placements at competitions . . . if they compete? If not, the only way to improve is to practice. If the practice they are doing now does not seem to be getting them where they want to be, it might be the case that they are not practicing enough. (They may also not be practicing correctly.)

This comes up often when archers are looking for individual lessons. During the “let’s get started” interview, the question “Why do you want to be coached?” is asked. The most common answer archers give is “I want to get better.” We follow up on that answer with “What does “getting better” look like to you?”

So, play along, what does “getting better” look like to them? Are they standing on a medal stand at a local tournament? Are they standing at the shooting line of the practice range at your club shooting respectable groups at all of the distances offered? Are they standing in your backyard, having just shot a new personal best in their favorite round … with no one watching? Are they a state or national champion? Only they can answer these questions.

And, honestly, they may come up with nothing better than the phrase “I just want to get better.” (When we hear this a second time in the “let’s get started” interview, it is usually accompanied with a shrug, which adds “I dunno. . . .”)

This is okay. It does take time and effort to find out what you want to get out of archery. We like to think there is a transition point between being a recreational archer (“I shoot for fun.”) to being a competitive archer (”I want to win.”) and that point usually comes in one of their first competitions in which they do maybe a little better than they thought they would, so they think “If I tried, I could probably be pretty good.”

But all questions are answered when they get the results of “trying.” Those who “try” to get better by “practicing” more and do not get the results they were looking for, often quit or change their goals at that point. If they do see progress forward, they are usually encouraged to “try even harder.”

It looks like the key is to “try it and see.” So, the only answer to whether practicing more will make them “better” is to give it a try . . . and see, but. . . . (There is always a “but,’ no?)

Trying to Get Better
When most archers think about “more practice,” they almost automatically think “I gotta shoot more arrows.” This is almost certainly true, but the cruel hard fact is that just shooting more arrows will make them more fit as an archer but that, by itself, will not make them any better. To think that just shooting more would make your scores better is the equivalent of thinking that driving to work or school everyday is getting you closer to your dream of driving in NASCAR races.

If they want to get better, what they do is vastly more important than shooting vast quantities of arrows. This means that if they can get help, aka good coaching, they can find out what the weak points are in their archery and they can learn about specific drills they can do to strengthen them. These things may, or may not, involve shooting lots of arrows.

To get better they need to know what you need to work on, how they need to work on it, and how often they need to work on it. If too much time occurs between learning something new and practicing that thing, the odds on them practicing it right are smaller. If they train too hard, too often, they can injure themselves, which prevents them from practicing. Good advice can steer them to the middle ground, where new things are tackled the easiest possible way and learned as quickly as possible. A word of warning, though, when trying to change doing something they have already learned, like tying your shoes a new way or learning a new archery form element, the “old way” never really goes away. It just drops down to a lower priority. These “old ways” often pop up when they are under stress, such as during a competition and an “old habit” reasserts itself. This is why when practicing to get better, archers need to focus intensely on what they are trying to do and commit to doing it that way . . . or else. Any shot that does not include the “new bit” has to be let down and started over. If they do not do this, then they are teaching their subconscious mind that it is okay to dredge up the “old ways” whenever it thinks it appropriate.

So, For Now?
The best thing they can do for now, is to learn how to practice effectively. No matter their goals, if they involve practice, they do not want to put in extra practice time only to find out “It didn’t work.”

Practicing the right way is effective practice, practice that will make them better. Whether the progress they are making is fast enough, only they can tell.

Special Note for Very Young Archers (Ages 8-12)
Youthful enthusiasm aside, we do not advocate young archers do archery and nothing but archery. Specialization at this age is neither required or desirable. Kids should explore all of the sports they have interests in. Archery is something that can be done alongside soccer, baseball, basketball, etc. or dropped for a while and picked up again later. This is a matter of physical and psychological development.

Once a teenager, we have no objections for kids going “whole hog” on archery. It is fun, an outdoor sport (at least during the middle of each year), and it doesn’t require batteries!

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How to Deal with a Dry Fire

I just got a really good safety question via email, to wit:

Hi, Steve,
I was wondering if you had any information on “dry fires” and what can happen to the bow and what to look for (problems) in the riser and limbs. My granddaughter had an arrow fall off her arrow rest and then when she started to back down her fingers slipped and released the string. I looked it over really well and did not see anything wrong. I also shot it a few times and everything appeared okay. Any guidance you can supply would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

* * *

Ah, dry fires. You didn’t mention what kind of bow she has or what the bow’s draw weight is … ahem. (Please add pertinent information to your questions. If asking about a bow, describe it, etc. This makes it easier for me to answer to your question well.)

For those who may not know what a dry fire is, it is basically a bow being shot with no arrow on the bowstring. Since the arrow typically carries off ~75% of the energy stored in the bent bow, the bow is expected to be able to deal with the remaining 25% as a matter of course. But a dry fire leaves 100% of the energy from the drawn bow in the bow, or partly in the archer if a body parts is involved, hence the concern. The danger to the archer and potential damage of the bow make dry fires something to be eagerly avoided.

The odds are strong that no damage was had in this case. I have made more than a few dry fires in my life and never broken anything. Compound bow manufacturers have machines that will dry fire a bow, repeatedly, hundreds of times in the time-tested engineering practice of “testing to destruction.” New bow designs can survive as many as 400 consecutive dry fires with no damage to riser or limbs. The most common happening on the compound side when a dry fire occurs is the bow string or a cable can jump out of its track. I have had to “repair” any number of Genesis compounds for this occurrence. (The repair being putting the bow in a bow press and putting the string/cable back where it belongs.)

Recurve bows have different parameters. Youth bows tend to be of low draw weight and hence the forces involved are lower. But to get those draw weights low, very thin limbs are needed, so thin that they are subject to cracking or even breaking in the event of a dry fire. If the bow was a recurve bow, inspect the limbs to see if they retain their normal curvature (as well as for cracks, etc.). If you can’t remember what the limbs looked like before, compare one limb with the other. It is very unusual for both limbs to break because usually one limb breaks first which reduces the stress on the other. Make sure the bowstring is still secure in the limb tip notches and that the string is centered on the limbs. Check the limb tips for cracks, broken tip protectors, etc. If the bow looks okay, try drawing it while listening for any noises it may make. An internal crack may betray itself with a tiny “cricking” sound. If you are really unsure of the bow, put a bow case or folded towel on the floor/ground, lower the bow held by its bowstring onto this pad, and place your foot over the pivot point (where the hand goes on the bow). Then pull the bowstring up while listening carefully. No noise? Probably no problem. (I have to say probably because of the bizarre things that happen very, very infrequently.

I suspect that the admonition against dry fires began in the “all-wood bow” days and has been carried forward in time. A dry fire of a self bow has a very high probability of a broken bow. Some of these bows break during ordinary shots. But with the advent of fiberglass-reinforced limbs, outright breaks have become quite rare. (I have seen only a couple.) Most compound limbs are solid fiberglass now, as are Uukha recurve limbs. These are virtually unbreakable.

Hope this helps.

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Are Your Kids Suffering from the Instant Gratification Cycle?

One of my colleagues dropped a student he was working with because in between coaching sessions, his student would either solicit or accept coaching direction from other archers and when they got back together he had done none of what they agreed upon he needed to do to get better. Instead the student would want to discuss a long list of things he had been trying suggested by fellow archers. Requests to have the student check in with the coach before just trying things, but that did not happen.

This student was suffering from a malady common in amateur athletic circles. Desiring instant results, if something appears to not be working, they would try something else. The “something else” may be something they just made up or something suggested by another archer.cj-coaching

Archers are often in the advice business for myriad reasons: archery is a social sport, we all want to encourage newbies and those struggling so they will get better and stay in the game, etc. (As coaches, we are not supposed to offer advice unless asked!) In fact, there is such an established pattern of giving advice, especially older archers to younger archers, that we equip our younger archers with a canned response. If someone offers them advice, we suggest they say “Gee, thanks, mister, I’ll tell my coach the next time I see her/him.” If a young archer merely brushes off such attempts to “help” them, they can get a reputation for being aloof or “stuck up” or worse. (You might want to share this idea with your young archers.)

When an archer is trying to get better, they are trying to do things differently from what they had been doing which is always awkward. Whether or not those changes are successful can’t be determined until the “new moves” are practiced until they become “normal.” This means that serious archers need to be patient. Coaches need to explain what “being patient” means in terms of practice time and clock time so there are no misunderstandings. Coaches need to explain to archers that if they flit from one tip to another like a bee harvesting pollen, they will end up with a whole mess of nothing.

Archers also need to know what to do with such tips when they are offered. In addition to the above canned response we teach to younger archers, we suggest that they write down such tips so they can discuss them with us via text/email or in person. Sometimes something valuable is suggested. (They have a notebook at all times, right?) Knowing that Coach is open to suggestions helps build trust in the coach-athlete relationship.

Whatever happens on the relationship front, an archer has to avoid like the plague the Instant Gratification Cycle:

a problem occurs → something new is tried → something works somewhat better  → another problem pops up → etc.

A basic fact of human behavior is the Hawthorne Effect: which is that when something new is tried, things tend to get better … for a short time. The first time this effect was described it was used to explain an experiment done on office workers. The office workers were told that if the lighting were slightly better, it would help their work and when it was brightened a bit  office productivity increased. Then they were told that if it were made even brighter, etc. … and their productivity increased again. Then they were told that the optimal amount of lighting had been determined and the lighting was changed once again, and productivity went up again. The final change was to lighting exactly as it was when the experiment first began. But, after some weeks, the measured productivity dropped back to what it had been before the experiments began.

things-go-better-with-coachSome say that the Hawthorne Effect is just a result of expectations on the part of the participants: if you expect to do better (reasonably, not magically, there needs to be a reason) you tend to do better. But the “improvements” are short-lived. This has ramifications when archers are looking at form changes and equipment changes, etc. First impressions are not always valid as they tend to be better than one will get in the long term. So, patience is required to make rapid progress in archery form or in one’s equipment/equipment setup. (Yes, they have to slow down to speed up.) The sure way to slow down someone’s progress is to work on something for only a short time and then switch to another thing, and another,…

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Question: Does My Child Need Better Equipment?

Note I apologize for the length of this post but this is a very common question archery parents ask and the answer isn’t simple. SPR

* * *

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked about whether some archer “needs” better equipment, but it is a lot. Often this comes from the parents of youths as much as the archers themselves. Most of the time, archers or archery parents seem to be lusting after equipment that is laced liberally with “carbon,” a shorthand term for carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is now used as a lamination in limbs, in stabilizer rods, in bow sight extension bars, and of course in arrows. Even bow risers, compound and recurve, have been made of this high-tech material.

The question, though, is really: “Do I (or my son or daughter) need ‘better’ equipment?” The answer to this question unfortunately has to be answered with another question: “Is your equipment limiting your performance?” Because if it is not, then you don’t “need” better equipment and, more importantly, better equipment will not help you score better. If your equipment is limiting your performance, then you need better equipment. The basic idea is if your poorer shots are created by limitations in your equipment, they are not giving you the feedback you need to improve your performance. So, is your equipment limiting your (or your child’s or your student’s) performance? This is not an easy question to answer. To get some perspective, consider the following historical example.

In 1979 Darrell Pace set a new world recurve record for the 1440 Round (formerly FITA International Round) with a score of 1341 in Japan; that record stood for 10 years. Stories say that he was jet lagged and using a bow that wasn’t well-tuned, but those are just stories, I can’t confirm them.

Darrell shot a Hoyt Gold Medallist (I think a TD4) when he shot the WR in Japan and, with the premiere arrow shafts of the day . . . aluminum. There wasn’t a gram of carbon in his whole setup: the stabilizers were aluminum, his sight was made of aluminum, the limbs were wood-fiberglass, the bowstring was probably Dacron, a string fiber no serious archer would use today.

Now a FITA Round score of 1340 is roughly the equivalent of a Olympic Ranking Round score of 670 out of 720, a very credible score even today. So one could argue that a carbon-free setup should not be limiting until you reach that level of performance. But that would be a bit simplistic. The first serious target carbon arrows came out in 1986-87 (by Beman), and were used by Esheev to win the 1987 World Championships, in Australia. Today everyone at the Olympic or World Championship level is using all carbon or aluminum-carbon arrows. I would argue that the vast majority of improvement in archery equipment between 1979 and now is due to improvements in arrow technology. Today’s arrows are lighter and hence faster than any before. They maintain the required stiffness due to the use of carbon fiber in their construction.

So, carbon arrows seem to be a positive benefit. But this is also simplistic. Many people at the highest levels are sponsored by equipment manufacturers. For example, in golf, almost all of the top archers use Titleist golf balls. Why? Because they are paid by Titleist to do just that (somehow the TV commercials leave that fact out of their spiels). Many archers, also have “arrow contracts.” Their pay often comes in the form of free or reduced-price arrows as archery is not as rich a sport as is golf, but even so such perceptions like “all of the elites are using those arrows” are biased because of this.

So, “who is using what” does not seem to be a reasonable basis for determining the value of a piece of equipment. Probably the best you could come up with is a sponsored archer’s performance is not being limited by that piece of equipment (or that contract would get shredded quickly).

How to Tell if New Equipment is Needed
I think everyone would be a lot better off if they were to establish criteria for whether a new piece of equipment is needed or not. This is also not easy.

When Equipment is Based Upon Feel Let’s say you have an “old” and “antiquated” stabilizer system and you have seen a number of “new and improved” stabilizer systems being offered for sale. Will an upgrade improve your scores? Most people leap to an answer and offer reasons like “Archer X says his scores really jumped up when he switched to these stabilizers.” Uh, did Archer X happen to list his scores? How much of a jump did they make? Did they really jump or were they just within the same range?

Some archers feel that they need a change in equipment to fuel their interest in the sport. Don’t pooh-pooh this. A new piece of kit can get you back thinking and fiddling and tuning and shooting more than you have been. If this is the case, and you have evidence that this is not just wishful thinking, then this is a valid reason to pursue an upgrade. But to preserve your sanity and to not end up pursuing better scores primarily with a credit card, you need to test your beliefs. Spend some time with the new stabilizer system. Adjust end weights and side bar angles, whatever you need to create the feel you want and then shoot practice scores. Are they better? Are they the same? Did they go down? If they are better or stayed the same, you have a reason to stay with the change (even if they stayed the same, going back seems like a lot of work for nothing). If they went down and no amount of tuning can bring them back, well, only an idiot would keep that change. I would go back to my former system and sell the “new, improved” system at a steep discount to one of my rivals.

When Equipment is Not Based Upon Feel Now you are looking at a new compound bow or a new recurve riser or new limbs or new arrows. From these purchases, you are supposed to be acquiring better performance, so this is the basis upon which you need to decide what to do.

If you are, say, getting new limbs that have a different draw weight rating, that is an entirely different animal than getting new limbs that have the same draw weight rating. The same goes for a case in which your compound bow has run out of adjustment for draw weight and you want to go higher or lower. A significant change in draw weight is a major change requiring a number of additional changes, typically including needing different arrows. While compound bows have a wide range of arrows that can be tuned in, recurve bows do not. If your arrows were too stiff for your heavier drawing compound bow they are going to be way too stiff for a lighter drawing one, etc.

In either case, you need to prepare for such changes if you want to evaluate whether they made any difference. You need:
1. a measure of success, and
2. records of those previous measurement
Common measures of “better/worse” are practice round scores, competition round scores, group sizes, etc. I do not recommend competition round scores as a primary gauge, but sometimes the pressure from competition is the only true test of performance. Who cares if your practice rounds scores go up if your competition round scores go down at the same time? My preference is that I would rather get all of these things worked out before a competition is involved.

So, if practice round scores is to be your test, then you need 3-5 recent scores in which the practice rounds are shot under competition conditions. What I mean by “competition conditions” is many archers get into bad habits when shooting practice rounds; after all it is “only practice.” Archers often quit mid-round if they aren’t shooting well. Or they shoot extra arrows or they score creatively, etc. Proper conditions need to take into account shooting high and low (indoors), with a timer if appropriate, etc. (You only need follow the rules, you don’t have to create the ambiance, too.)

Then after the equipment is swapped out and tuned in, 3-5 more practice rounds are needed to make the comparison. These “tests” can be made tougher by stretching out the distance.

If your scores are basically unchanged, well, you just spent a lot of money on no real improvement. “Better” equipment gives you better feedback that allows you to shoot better. There is no magic involved where the equipment causes you to shoot better.

There is a big difference between thinking/guessing/hoping an equipment change is going to improve your scores and it actually doing so. If you have proof, in the form of practice round scores, or other measures, that your scoring has improved, that is quite a different thing, especially mentally when it comes to having confidence in your new equipment.

If you are a coach, you really need to think about what kinds of equipment changes really make a difference. I had a sponsored compound archer tell me he preferred his sponsor’s bows because they were more accurate. Bows do not provide accuracy, archers do. Bows provide consistency and arrow speed, that’s it. These are things coaches need to know. And, the more you know, the easier it will be to separate the good stuff from the bull stuff. (I don’t blame that compound archer, he was trying to say something good about his sponsor’s bows, which he clearly liked (and for good reasons), but I don’t think those sponsors provide their sponsored archers with talking points … maybe they should.


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Question: Where Can I Find a Good Archery Coach for My Son?

QandA logoI get this question … a lot and there are really two questions here, both of them difficult. The first question is “where do I find an archery coach?” and the second is “where can I find a good archery coach?”

Where Can I Find an Archery Coach
This is a problem that is becoming less of one. Ever since the target archer scene exploded due to the movies (Brave, The Avengers, the Hunger Games, the Lord of the Rings, The Arrow (TV), all of which highlighted brave archers) the number of coaches in the U.S. has about doubled to handle the influx of so many new to the sport. Unfortunately, about half of those are coaches who have been trained to work with children in summer camps only and are likely (but not always) not trained well enough to guide archers in personal lessons.

A place to start looking is here: This is USA Archery’s Coach Finder web function. Put in your state of residence and you will get a list of coaches sorted by city alphabetically. Scroll down to see if there are coaches available in your town. You can also select what level coach you want before looking at the list. At a bare minimum, a Level 2 coach would be needed for individualized lessons. A Level 3 or Level 4 coach would be desirable for a developing archer who has their own equipment and has attended at least a couple of archery competitions and is serious about becoming a much better archer.

Young ladies at nationals (LB)In addition you can ask local archery clubs and/or local archery shops for recommendations (if they exist). If you are looking for group archery classes, check in with your local park and recreation people.

Where Can I Find a Good Archery Coach
This is a problem like everything else: how do I find a good contractor to remodel my house?, how do I find a good mechanic to work on my car?, etc. In other words, how can you tell a good coach from an ordinary one. This is too complex a topic to handle here, you will find additional guidance in my book “A Parent’s Guide to Archery” but realize there is no Angie’s List or Consumer Reports equivalent here, so you will have to use your own judgment, and because of the relative paucity of coaches, you may be limited to who is available.

What Should I Expect to Pay for Such Lessons
You should not expect lessons to be free, although there is considerable sentiment in the general archery community that lessons for beginners be free, you cannot count on that. Coaches set fees based upon local norms. We use the guideline that for beginner group lessons, each lesson should cost about what a ticket to the movies costs. For individual lessons, some coaches charge based upon their training. (Level 2 coaches might be $20 for a one-hour lesson, Level 4 coaches might be $50 for a one hour lesson. Elite coaches are typically $65 per hour and up.) Some coaches charge based upon the level of the students (less for beginners, more for more advanced students) and some charge less for youths than they do for adults (based upon the ability to pay?).

Concluding Remarks
Most archery coaches are good people (that is my experience, any way) but you need to know that coaches specialize. Some are experts at shooting recurve bows, Olympic-style but know much less about compound bows. Others are experts at compound archery but know very little about recurve bows. Few are as expert with one kind of bow as they are with the other.

What you are looking for is someone who communicates well with your child and with you. (I, for example, encourage follow-up questions via email (at no charge) as an aid to both parents and archers, but not all coaches necessarily do this.) For young archers, I expect a parent to be there for the whole lesson. If there are equipment issues, I will discuss them both with the archer and the archer’s parent. (No one likes to have their kid jacked up about acquiring some expensive new sports equipment, leaving it to the parent to be the bad gut because they do not have the budget for it.) If there are complex issues to address I want both archer and parent there because it may take both to comprehend what is being discussed.

Good luck!

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Question: My Daughter’s Arrows are Flying to the Left; Could a Nock that is Too Tight Cause This?

QandA logoMy daughter’s arrows are flying to the left; could a nock that is too tight cause this? She has a 16-strand bowstring of BCY 8125G with 0.021 Halo serving material.

Bowstrings are oscillating left-right as they approach the bow. (You can see this in high speed videos; check out YouTube, there are oodles of examples of bows and arrows shot at high speed (aka slow motion).) The arrow leaves the string when the limbs stop the string from moving forward. Where the string is in its left-right cycle (a matter of a bunch of variables but especially on how tight the nocks are) determines where it is pointed left-right, so the answer to your question is “yes.” A tooEaston G Nocks tight nock will delay the point the arrow leaves the string. A test of correct nock fit is to snap an arrow onto the string and let it hang straight down (with the bow sideways). It should support its own weight. If you rotate the bow about the axis of the string, the arrow should point down the whole time. (The “ears of the nock” surround the string but do not pinch it.) Additionally, a tap on the bowstring right next to the hanging arrow should cause it to fall off.

Re Growing Archers As recurve archers grow taller, their draw lengths grow longer and their draw weights go up. All of these effects require stiffer arrows (2˝ in height = 1˝ in draw = 1˝ shorter arrow needed (or same length in the next stiffer spine group of arrow shafts). Arrows that are too weak fly right (right-handed archers), arrows that are too stiff fly left, so “nock fit” is not the only source of left or right arrows.

Archers with light drawing bows (mentioned in a previous email) experience any number of problems that go away when the draw force and bow and arrow masses go up. The tension on the bowstrings of such bows is so low that the strings can be twisted into pretzels. (I can take a Genesis bow and turn the center serving 180 degrees.) This severely affects the path the string takes as it pushes the arrow out of the bow. The arrows are so light that they move with the slightest touch (and often those small, beginner fingers are touching the arrow at full draw—one of the many reasons we avoid “split finger” grips of the string until the distances being shot climb enough to need one).

The 16 strand string is overkill and a bit fat, although 8125G is a quite skinny bowstring material. Our standard strings for our beginner classes (youths and adults) was 14, and her setup calls for a 12-strand string.

One possible fix for the nock fit problem if they are too tight, is to re-serve the center section with a higher serving pressure setting, which would make for a tighter (and therefore smaller) serving section.


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Question: What’s the Best Way to Explain using a Bow Sight?

QandA logoTo introduce a beginner to a target sight it is best to show them …

Start by attaching the sight block to her bow and then install and set up the sight correctly (you may need to consult the directions—sight bar parallel to string, aperture in same place as string (also central plane of riser), etc.) and then take it (the sight, not the block) off of the bow.

recurve bow sightIf they know how to shoot off of the point and can do so reliably, have them start by doing that (at short distance 5-7 yards/meters). Then attach the sight and move the aperture so that it is near the top of the sight bar. Have them shoot some more arrows, off of the point, and ask them to see if at full draw they can see the aperture. Ask them where the aperture lines up on the target (visually). Move the aperture until, while shooting off of the point, they see it lined up with target center. Then ask them whether they could shoot just lining up the aperture with target center. They will almost always say “yes.” Have them shoot that way for a bit. Then ask them to move back substantially (from 3 to 5 yards/meters) and repeat what they were doing (the arrows will hit low). Ask them what they should do to adjust the aperture so the arrows are closer to the center. No matter what they suggest, have them do that! If they move the aperture the wrong way, the arrows will hit even lower. From such “experiments” they will get the idea and move the aperture the other way and they are will have figured it out on their own (albeit in a guided fashion). Then if they can do it once, they can do it again.

We don’t introduce string picture until later. Early on we emphasize good form, solid anchor, etc. If their anchor position is inconsistent, a string picture adjustment will not fix anything, simply make it more complicated. Many coaches are not aware that their strongest tool is the archer’s desire for the arrows to land in target center. If they can just get their archers to shoot, without trying an endless series of corrections, they will gravitate automatically to good form. Once their form is good, things like string picture can be added as checks instead of major tools.


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Fitting Young Recurve Archers

QandA logoThis begins often enough with an email:

Good Morning Steve,
My daughter met with you a few months ago for one session and she said that you mentioned the wooden riser she has is lighter than the ones being purchased today. Her coach has recommended a new 23˝ riser for her and an increase poundage with new limbs. My daughter wanted me to run this by you and ask what type of riser would you recommend? The one she is being recommended to purchase is <link provided>. Which riser would be good throughout her growth? She has also had another coach tell her that magnesium risers are lighter and would be good for a long time. Will she always outgrow a riser? Please let me know your thoughts.
Thank You in Advance,
<name withheld>

* * *

Equipment purchases are a minefield for archery parents, which is why I am sharing this rather normal request and my answer. (The student in question is a rather new and young but promising and enthusiastic archer. Also, her coach is a friend and student of mine.)

I have a prejudice I must admit to: young archers are attracted to the “bling” of a metal riser. Metal risers are what all of the best recurve bows sport, and for good reason: the heavy metal riser is a major contributor to being able to hold the bow still while it is being shot (the largest contributor in fact). But there is a cost to that stability. The stability comes from the riser being heavy. The heavier the riser, the less likely it will be to be moved while the arrow is leaving the bow.

The conflict is with the muscle development of young archers. The muscles needed to hold the bow up (and steady) are primarily in the upper arm (the deltoids). One of the last muscle groups that get developed as a youth makes the transition into their adult strength is … drum roll please … the deltoids. So getting a young archer into a heavier bow too early creates a situation in which they are unable to shoot correctly, so all of their practice involves the creation of bad habits (dropping bow arm during shot, etc.).

Wooden Riser recurve Bow

What’s wrong with this bow? (Absolutely Nothing)

Now, having admitted that to you I will address your daughter’s case: I have no idea whether she is ready for a heavier bow. There is a test, though. Let us say that her “new” bow and stabilizer, and sight, and … and … weigh in at about five pounds (adult rigs are heavier than this, 6-9 pounds). So, here is a test: take a five pound hand weight (you can substitute a plastic milk jug with five pints of water in it) and ask her to pretend it is her bow and ask her to stand in her normal “full draw position.” She should be able to hold this weight up while you count (normal speed) to five (simulating the time needed to take a shot). She should be able to do this repeatedly without getting tired (short rests in between, <10 sec, simulating the time it takes to load another arrow and prepare to shoot).

If she passes this test, then a metal-risered bow should be okay. magnesium risers are marginally lighter than the “ordinary” aluminum risers (wood is lightest, then polymer, and finally the metal risers).

If not, then either wait and/or order heavier drawing limbs for her current bow if that is desirable. An alternative is to do some exercises to build up the upper arm muscles (both arms—and be aware that if she has not gone through puberty, such exercises are less effective).

Whether she will outgrow any new riser depends. How tall is her mother? Typically children exceed the height of their parent of the same gender somewhat. If her mother is of “ordinary” height, then your daughter will probably be somewhat close to that height when she is fully grown and a 25˝ riser would be appropriate (23˝ risers are for shorter adults and youths—they are lighter but also have a smaller “window” to look through, which can be a problem for taller archers). Waiting has the advantage in skipping over the 23˝ riser if it has the probability of being a source of problems. (Many of the Korean Olympian females are 5’6˝ or even shorter and many of them shoot 68” bows which are recommended for archers 6’ tall. There are some advantages to having a longer bow (created with a longer riser and/or longer limbs) but, of course, that is predicated to being able to handle the mass of those bows. Of course, if her mom is short, she may find a 23˝ riser perfectly appropriate.

Regarding models, I would follow her coach’s recommendations as he is closer to that market at this time than am I. Be sure that you share your recreation budget limitations, etc. to help him give you the best recommendations. Part of his thinking may be “why buy new limbs for a bow she will give up when she gets strong enough for a metal-risered bow” (this is the same thinking as buy shoes a little large for a growing child). Talk to him about this.

And, if you are looking for a performance boost, the best source of that is providing a set of arrows fitted to her bow and skill, not a new bow per se. These do not have to be expensive arrows, just arrows of the right size and length (and fitments) to match her bow and skill. Of the two (bow and arrows), the arrows are by far the more important in delivering consistent accuracy.

I want to reinforce that her coach <name withheld> is a reliable source of equipment recommendations, I just always have the concern that youth archers not get into a too heavy bow too quickly.


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Got a Child in Archery?

This is an blog designed to support parents whose children (or spouses) have taken up archery! Archery can be bewildering to parents of young archers as there is so much to learn and acquire. It is especially difficult to make informed decisions about buying archery equipment. I will do my best to answer your questions!

If you are of the bookish sort, I even wrote a book to cover the basics:

APGTA Cover (color)

The host is Steve Ruis, Editor of Archery Focus magazine (, the world’s leading archery education magazine). Please identify yourself in your communication, thanks!

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