When beginning archery, most archers are just trying it as an activity, or are giving it a go before they fully commit to the sport. Being able to get the archers hitting the target with success is what will get them coming back again and again for more!
Working with beginners is a far cry from fine-tuning the form of a high-performance archer. Some coaches can get ‘hung-up’ on the semantics and finer technique elements, and forget that for the beginning archer, its the quick-wins that keep them coming back for more.
With beginners, there are a few common problems that keep popping up and can cause much frustration if they remain unchecked. By being able to remedy these, you will not only help enhance the archers experience, but also build the archers trust in you as a coach.
This article discusses some of the most common problems that I have experienced with beginners, and how to overcome them.
Enjoy the smiles!
String striking the chest or arm
Whilst an obvious one, this is at the top of the list because it is something a lot of people have trouble correcting. There is a two-part solution that is very simple.
Part 1: Chest down posture
The chest-down posture is taught to developing archers to improve stability throughout the shot, but something not well acknowledged is that it also improves string clearance of the chest and arm. In beginners, their tendency to ‘lean back’ when drawing the bow is often what causes them to pull the string into their chest.
To coach someone through this, follow these steps:
Take a bow and demonstrate the difference in string clearance on the chest with correct and incorrect posture
Demonstrate how to achieve the correct posture (chest down) and get the archer to practice (without a bow)
It is often required to get hands-on to show them what correct posture feels like
Get them to draw the bow (no arrow) whilst maintaining posture – spend time on this step to get it right
Add the arrow and supervise so that they don’t relapse into arching their back
Part 2: Internally rotating the front arm
This is for when the archer is having trouble striking the inside of their elbow with the string. Not only is this painful, it also thwarts any chance of having consistency, and can make the archer very ‘timid’ when releasing.
Unfortunately for us, most people have absolutely horrendous upper body strength and mobility, and internally rotating your front arm requires a bit of both. Here’s how I teach it (for a beginner):
Take a bow and demonstrate arm clearance with and without the front arm rotated (you can exaggerate for effect).
Get the archer to try it without a bow. This is usually met with about 10% success, but its important for the archer to understand what they are trying to achieve.
Go hands-on, and take the archers front arm and physically rotate it for them. Hold it in position and get them to try and hold this position as you apply pressure into their front arm. This simulates the pressure of the bow on the front arm.
Before progressing to the bow, get the archer to practice rotating their front arm against a wall. You may need to help them set the position originally, then get them to apply pressure into the wall and hold for about 20 seconds. Rest and repeat.
From the wall, move to a training bow or theraband first, then move onto the bow.
A good thing about this technique element is that it has an immediate and painful feedback loop if you get it wrong!
Some other things to consider:
It is important that the archer understands that they need to set this rotated front arm position early in the draw, as under the weight of full draw they will not have the strength to rotate the arm under pressure.
The archer should also understand that this is not a ‘set and forget’ exercise. They must maintain the tension rotating the elbow and also pushing towards the target otherwise the elbow will ‘pop’ right up again!
Keep an eye on their front shoulder during this exercise. Archers with poor strength/proprioception often roll their front shoulder in.
Some archers never have this problem, and others really struggle with it. It is very common for people with a hyperextending elbow joint. For those that struggle, reassure them that it’s just going to take a bit of practice, and they may need to improve the strength and flexibility in the front arm.
Closing the wrong eye (written for a right handed archer)
This sounds uber obvious, but makes the list based on how many times I’ve seen it overlooked in beginner archers.
It often occurs in archers who are shooting against their eye dominance, or people who see two sight pins when focusing on the target. A right handed archer must aim with their right eye, unfortunately some archers close the wrong one! The tell-tale sign that this is occurring is that the arrows are flying waaaaaay off to the left hand side of the target, no matter how far they have moved their sight across...
Teaching string picture can solve the problem before it begins, but beginners can be somewhat notorious for ignoring string picture.
In the first instance, I teach archers to shoot with both eyes open, which has advantages to both balance and depth perception. This works for about 85% of people, but occasionally you will run into someone who has an issue with eye dominance. Some coaches have a cold-hard rule for either shooting based on your hand-dominance or eye-dominance (the debate rages on), but I prefer to make an assessment of the individual archer. For instance, an archer who is somewhat ambidextrous should learn to shoot based on their eye dominance, however some people are about as graceful as Bambi on ice when they change to their non-dominant hand. In this case it may be easier to either close their left eye or obstruct their vision on the left so that the right takes over. Apply your coaching judgement.
Another one to look our for is the notorious ‘floating anchor’.
Whilst rather simple, some beginners really struggle to achieve a solid anchor position. Here are some problems I’ve come across that prevent the archer from achieving a good anchor:
The archer is afraid of the string hitting their face
There has too much tension in the drawing hand, making a distorted hand shape. This means that the archer is unable to get the correct line along the jaw with their hand.
The archer is leaning back when drawing, preventing them from getting the hand under the jaw
The archer saw “The Lord of the Rings” and wants to shoot like Legolas
The problems are numerous, and to cover all of these issues could justify several dozen case studies and a PhD, so I will be focusing on the general way in which I first teach anchor to students that I believe overcomes most of these from the start. The following process takes about 5 minutes to run through for a large group of beginners:
Grab a bow and demonstrate correct anchor.
Next, ask the archers to imagine if you shot one arrow from the correct anchor, then the next shots from various different anchor positions (I actually exaggerate different positions for effect i.e. under the chin, then infront of the nose, then behind the ear etc.) The answer should be obvious, and the archers should quickly figure out that if your anchor is wrong, it doesn’t matter where you aim because your arrows will be all over the place!
Get each archer to ‘shadow’ your anchor position without a bow, and feel the contact between the hand and jaw.
Now try with a training bow so that they can also practice getting the string on the nose.
For the final step, get them to draw their bow, anchor correctly, and then also aim at the target. Some archers will immediately forget everything you’ve just said as soon as you put a target in front of them, so ensure that they get it right before adding the arrow again.
3 reference points:
Hand in contact with the jaw
String on the nose
Hand underneath the chin and thumb pressing into the neck
Plucking the string - release
The release is something that gets a lot of attention, but often the focus is on the wrong part of the shot!
Imagine a swimmer who is struggling to make progress in his lap times and all of his focus is on the last stroke to try and get that extra fraction of a second on his competitors, but... if his launch off the blocks is terrible, it doesn’t matter how well his last stroke is timed, he will never get a good lap time!
The same is true when setting up the release. Too often we focus on the release as something that happens at the end of the shot cycle, however; if the drawing hand is not set-up correctly, this makes it extremely difficult to achieve a clean release. And this is precisely where many beginners go wrong... They have no idea how to set up the hand on the string correctly.
Archers must understand the importance of setting up the hand correctly on the string, and here is a few things to look out for:
Ensure that the hook is not too deep. Many beginners apply a death grip to the string when pulling it back, and seem to be oblivious to the fact that at some point, they have to let it go! Ensure that when they set up the hand, they have the correct hook (1st groove). This alone is often enough to improve their grouping.
Keep the thumb and pinkie fingers relaxed. Having tension in the thumb and pinkie is a good clue to look for, and is often synonymous with plucking the string.
Get the archer to relax the wrist and back of the band when they set the fingers up on the string, and then maintain that feeling of relaxation through the draw.
As with all beginners, it is not important that they master each of these elements, in fact that is quite unrealistic during a beginners course or short instruction session. Rather, it is important to help the archer to the level where they can start shooting with some success, and most importantly, understand what they have to do to improve.
This is usually the stage where their attitude shifts from “I’ve seen the Hunger Games, I know what I’m doing...” to “There might be more to this than I thought...”.
If you can help an archer to hit the centre of the target with one of these pointers, the archer will look to you for more guidance, and demonstrating these ‘quick wins’, can be the first step in building strong trust between the coach and archer.
Enjoy the results.