Thoughts of an archery coach

#16 Book Review (Mastering Archery, James Park)

So for those of you who don't know the author (shame on you!). Dr. James Park is the 'go to' academic of the archery world. With a background in engineering he is ideally qualified to talk about the mechanics of both bow and arrow (I'll dig up a bibliography just to underline his credentials!).

Although "Mastering Archery" is quite a slim volume at just 122 pages, James manages to cram it full of useful material covering topics such as biomechanics, the concept of the upper body as a shooting 'machine', fundamental ideas around the use of the skeleton rather than muscles and the criticality of bow hand position.

Fundamental to James' approach in this book is the way he identifies and breaks down the items he sees as important to the creation (or not) of accuracy and what the archer can do in both technique and equipment to optimise those areas.

James' key elements of accuracy:-

  • Aim the bow steadily at the target
  • Keep the bow aimed correctly at the time you release the string.
  • Ensure the manner in which the bow sits in your hand doesn't disturb things.
  • Ensure that after you release the string its path is not disturbed.
  • Ensure that the arrows, given no adverse influences, reliably hit where they are aimed.

Simple eh?

So would I recommend "Mastering Archery"? Wholeheartedly...  It's not a book for the novice archer, but for the improver, or a coach wanting an alternative view of the fundamentals, then definitely.  It's still in print (and sadly several of James' books are now out of print),  at £15 in paperback it's not cheap, but you can get it as a Kindle book for half that which makes it rather better value.


#15 Be like the Karate Kid...

So you have a couple of spare strings and you alternate them on your bow so they're shot in, just in case you have a problem when you're out shooting. You've recently done the centre serving and tied some beautiful nocks so you're all good right?

Not so fast. Your bow string is a vital part of your equipment (and often overlooked), after all, it's the critical link that transfers the energy stored in the limbs at full draw, to the arrow when you shoot so it pays to keep it in tip-top condition right?

Well thankfully it's not a difficult job and to help, we've put together a short video to explain the technique and you compound archers... It's just as important for you as everyone else so don't neglect your strings and cables either. Just remember Mr. Miyagi and Wax on... Wax off!

#14 Game on (Part-1)...

Backyard shooting (where/when it's safe to do so), is a great way to keep your form and strength up, but endless blank boss (while good for training form) gets dull awfully quickly. Games are a great way to break up your shooting routine and can be as challenging as you decided to make them.

We've put together a small selection from our huge back catalogue of games to help you get started and add some fun to your training sessions.


  • Equipment: Target Boss, bows, arrows, target face with six equal-sized fields (see picture.), six-sided die.
  • Objective: Shoot all your arrows into the same box.
  • Distance: Variable, depends on ability.
  • Number of archers: Individuals, or teams of up to three.
  • Number of arrows: Individuals shoot three arrows per end; archers in teams of three shoot one arrow each per end. Number of ends depends on available time.
  • Rules: First each archer/team rolls the die. They then try to shoot all three arrows into the field corresponding to the number they rolled
  • Score: 3 arrows in the field = 4 points 2 arrows in the field = 2 points 1 arrow in the field = 1 point●
  • Skill emphasised: Maximal accuracy and aiming off.


  • Equipment: Butts, bows, arrows, 80cm, 60cm or 40cm target face.
  • Game objective: Shooting with variable stance, try to reach the highest score.
  • Shooting distance: Variable, depends on archers’ ability levels and bow class(es).
  • Number of archers: Two or more individuals.
  • Number of arrows: Four arrows per archer each end.
  • Rules:
    • First arrow: Archer’s usual stance, but on tiptoe
    • Second arrow: Feet together on the line
    • Third arrow: Standing on one foot (archer’s choice)
    • Fourth arrow: Kneeling. Variation: on one knee.
    • The winner is the archer with the highest score after a predetermined number of ends (often 5).
  • Skill emphasized: Maximal accuracy understress, body balance, self-evaluation and tactics.

Figure Hunting

  • Equipment: Figure Hunting sheet, one for each competitor.
  • Game objective: Finding the numbers in order as quickly as possible.
  • Number of archers: Any number of individuals.
  • Rules: Find the numbers 1-100 consecutively as quickly as possible. Tap on the number with your index finger when you find it. Start from number 1.
  • Skill emphasised: Concentration and activation.
  • Variation: Start from number 100.
  • Variation: Make 5x5 grid (ie numbers 1-25).
  • Variation: Make grid size dependant on archers skill.

Incredible Shrinking Targets

  • Equipment: Butts, bows, arrows, target face (anything suitable will do).
  • Game objective: Retain as many arrows as possible
  • Shooting distance: Variable, depends on archers’ ability levels and bow class(es). 
  • Number of archers:
    • Individual, 
    • Teams of two, 
    • Teams of three.
  • Number of arrows per end:
    • Individual, six arrows;
    • Teams of two, three arrows per archer;
    • Teams of three, two arrows each.
  • Rules: Each team or individual starts with six arrows.
    • Arrows which hit the target are kept to shoot next end.
    • Arrows which miss are discarded.
    • After each end the target face is reduced (perhaps 1/2, perhaps 1/4).
  • Winner: Individual or team with most arrows remaining after agreed No. of ends is the winner.
  • Skill emphasised: Maximal accuracy, calm under pressure.

#13 Nock on...

Back in episode 4. I talked about how to tie soft nocks and I promised then that I'd show you how to do this another slightly more complex, but neater way in a future video. Well here we are ;-)

So tying soft nocks by serving them onto the string is really no more difficult than repairing a centre serving (something we did in episode 7.). However, we do need to make sure that we keep everything tight and start the serving in the right place so our nocking points are in the right place.

A little bit of practice with some spare serving thread will help no end and you'll find yourself tying nocks this way in no time at all. Having said that, my preference is still for the 'half-hitch' method ;-)


#12 A Shakespearian post...

Hamlet, Act III, Scene I

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;

Hamlet knew it... Not only is good sleep essential for good health, it's essential for optimal performance in sports too. We know that an average adult needs approximately 8-hours of sleep for normal day-to-day life. But sports people (especially elite sportsmen and women) need even more to enable proper recovery from training sessions. This can be as much as 12hrs a day!

So what can we do to improve both the quantity and quality of sleep we get each night? Here are 8 tips for better sleep.

1. Create a sleep routine and stick to it. Just like young people adults should have a bedtime too! Establish a waking and sleeping schedule, even for weekends, and stick to it. Irregular sleep patterns interfere with the bodies Circadian rhythms which harm your ability to get to sleep.

2. Optimize conditions for sleep. Keep your sleeping space cool, quiet and dark to create the best environment to get to sleep and stay asleep. Distractions such as TV's, noise, light and temperature all harm the quality of your sleep.

3. Bedroom equipment. Make sure you have a good mattress (when was the last time you changed yours?). Mattresses should be changed every 5-8yrs and a quality bed will help reduce muscle pain and stiffness as well as improving sleep quality by as much as 60%. Think also about curtains, try blackout curtains if your bedroom is south/east facing so that early morning sunlight doesn't wake you earlier than necessary.

4. Napping. Don't underestimate the power of a power-nap, but keep it to under 40min otherwise you'll drift into the wrong kind of sleep and limit the benefit of the nap.

5. Avoid technology and blue light exposure before bed. Hard to do in our modern  lives, but try to avoid watching TV, checking email/social media or watching YouTube at least an hour before bedtime. Instead listen to music, read a book or take part in other relaxing activities. Blue light emitted by devices such as smartphones/tablets and laptops confuse the brain into thinking it's daytime, suppressing the hormones associated with normal sleep patterns.

6. Increase bright light exposure during the day. Boost your Circadian clock by getting as much natural light during the daytime as possible. Go for a walk during the day or at least out in natural light so your body can 'sync' with it's natural rhythms.

7. Avoid caffeine & alcohol in the evening. Tea, coffee, energy drinks and alcohol all negatively impact the quality of sleep and should ideally be avoided 4-6hrs before bedtime and don't be tempted to have a 'nightcap'. Although alcohol might appear to aid getting off to sleep, its metabolism in your body interferes with sleep cycles leading to shallower, less restful sleep.

8. Maintain a relaxed state before bed. Try to get things 'out of your head' before bedtime. Make lists of things you'll do over the coming days so you don't stress about them just before bedtime.

#11 Up skill yourself and learn to fletch...

Wether its plastic vanes, mylar spin-wings or natural feather, fletchings are there to do the same job, stabilise your arrow in flight and (if you set things up correctly), induce a little extra spin too.

  • Plastic vanes. Cheap, robust and available in a multitude of colours, shapes and sizes, it's no wonder they are popular and seen everywhere on the shooting line.
  • Spin-Wings. A little more expensive, spin-wings and their counterparts (kurlyvanes etc.) are lighter than plastic vanes and favoured by recurve archers because of their innate ability to induce spin into the arrows flight (hence the name). They are a little more fiddly to use and a lot less robust which is why they're not recommended for novices.
  • Feathers. The only option for English Longbow archers but also popular with compound, barebow and recurve archers during the indoor season where their weight penalty and inconsistency is less of an issue, but their ability to stabilise an arrow quickly comes to the fore.

This time in another video of our popular HOW TO series we take a look fletching with plastic vanes. Requiring only simple tools and easy to do, taking care of your own fletching is both rewarding and economical. Next time you need to upgrade your arrows or replace damaged ones, why not just buy the parts and do it yourself!

#10 Mobility is the key...

Humans were never 'designed' to be as sedentary as we have become. Indeed our 21st century lifestyle is nudging us ever closer to on which resembles those folks in the hover-chairs in Wall-E!

But being stuck indoors doesn't mean you can excuse yourself a training session. Indeed there's stacks you can do to improve your CV (Cardio-Vascular), strength and the one most often overlooked your flexibility and range of motion.

In fact all good posture stems from good movement patterns and the best archers have fabulous movement patterns.

So if you struggle with that Anterior Pelvic Tilt your coach has been talking about, or you just want your body to move better then can I suggest the following...

Our friends at the light blue clinic (Hi Gosia!) have put together a fabulous set of (simple) exercises you can do at home (in fact demonstrated here at home!) with minimal equipment (got a sofa? then you have no excuses!)

Word of warning... Go easy, if you have any pre-existing conditions that might preclude you doing these exercises then please consult a medical/sports fitness professional (OK health warning over ;-)).


#9 First service...

When you think about it, archers only have two points of contact with the bow. The handle/grip and the string. The string in particular takes a pounding. It needs to be flexible, yet tough, non-stretchy yet slightly springy to take up the shock of shooting and not transmit that shock to the limbs/riser in a way that could be catastrophic!

Given all that, and the fact most of us hardly give them a second thought, its amazing that strings stand up to this pounding with hardly a problem from month to month.

But those high traffic areas (especially the centre serving) will eventually show their age, but that doesn't mean you need to ditch your favourite string.

Instead of getting a new one, why not re-serve it?

#8 Practice makes perfect, but what makes perfect practice?

We know that repetitive practice alone doesn't make perfect.

So if that's the case, that leaves us with a phrase often used in place of the classic aphorism “Practice makes perfect” – namely, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” (often credited to the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi).

Thing is, that phrase “perfect practice” gives people the wrong impression.

Perfect practice

It’s easy to interpret the word “perfect” in this context to mean that we should avoid errors and mistakes while practicing. After all, it stands to reason that if we have a habit of making mistakes there, we'll also make mistakes in competition too.

Ok, well avoiding mistakes in  practice would necessitate practicing very carefully and methodically (which isn’t all bad).

It might also mean practicing things slowly, and working up to speed gradually (again, not always such a bad thing).

When perfect practice is bad

This no-mistakes-allowed definition of perfect practice makes us afraid to stretch ourselves  – something that might help us take our performance to a new level. Reluctant to explore the edges of our current technical ability.

We mustn’t neglect and avoid our weaknesses to protect our ego. Limiting our growth in order to protect our ego doesn’t do much to advance our skills or ourselves as person.

What “perfect” practice really means

I’d argue that “perfect” practice is just another name for deliberate practice. Mistakes aren’t the problem. The problem is not taking the time to articulate the specifics of the mistake, the cause of the mistake, and the potential solutions, so you can avoid making that same mistake over and over.

#7 What do you mean you don't have a spare string!?...

So you're 'in the zone' shooting the best round of your life when you notice that the centre serving on your string has come loose and begun to unravel. You spotted it a little while ago but were too busy to deal with it then and now (shocked face :-o), its about to ruin the best day's shooting you've had in ages.

Of course you have a spare, shot-in, string ready to go ;-)

But if you don't, then all is not lost. There's a simple (if a little fiddly) fix that will get you going again in no time.

#6 The myth of talent

It's easy to believe that elite performers in any walk of life, be it sport, music or business, are born with some sort of innate ability which mere mortals like ourselves couldn't hope to emulate. But is this true? Scientists and philosophers down the ages have pondered the question of nature vs. nurture and even Hollywood have got in on the act with movies like Trading Places.

So are we any closer to answering this question of the ages??  BBC ideas have turned their attention to it and come up with some interesting conclusions.

#5 Book Review (Why you suck at archery)

There's precious few books out there on archery, so when one comes along it better be good. Thankfully, as it's from the pen of Steve Ruis, you know it'll be a mine of information and more than that, he's managed to write a book that's both funny (occasionally laugh out loud funny) and jammed full of useful information.

OK, so if you're Brady Ellison, this book is probably not for you (unless you have it as part of your 'bathroom reading' stash). But for the rest of us there's pearls of wisdom in almost every page.

Example... "Chapter 6—You Suck at Archery because . . . you don’t practice properly. You go to the range, shoot arrows until you string together a longish string of “good shots” and call it a “good practice.” You aren’t quite hopeless, but close." Steve then goes on to expand on both the problem (you shoot without a plan) and the solution (form a plan for each practice session and do lots and lots of blank boss!)

Steve has written extensively on archery and archery coaching (he's the editor of Archery Focus Magazine, the US equivalent of Bow International but in my view much better!), but in this book he's used humour to make some often difficult and/or unpalatable archery issues more accessible.

Hats off to Steve for a fresh look at common archery faults. Even if you only ever read it in the loo, it'll be worthwhile I guarantee it!

Why You Suck at Archery
Available at Amazon and other good booksellers.

#4 Soft ones are best...

Most Peacock Archers club members will know that within days of them finishing their beginners course and buying their shiny new equipment, one of the club coaches will come along and ruthlessly remove the nasty brass nocking points which were put on their string by the shop and replace them with nice tied nocks.

Why do we do this? Well here's just a few of the reasons...

  1. Brass nocks cause havoc with your finger tab, gouging lines in the leather and making it wear out prematurely.
  2. Accidentally hit your arm with brass nocks and you'll know about it! And yes... it does occasionally happen even if you're wearing an arm guard/bracer.
  3. They slow your string down. Adding mass in just the wrong part of the string significantly impacts the performance of the bow.

So what's the alternative? Tied nocks are essentially the same as crimped on brass ones, but are (as the name suggests) bits of thread tied onto the string in the right place.

Here's short video we put together to show how to go about it.

#3 The secret weapon of successful archers...

Compound guru Larry Wise said "Archery is about one-third physical, one-third equipment and one-third mental". If you take care of the first two, then in competition what's left is 90% mental, but if you have an equipment or physical flaw in form, strength or execution no mental game will make up for it.

Sage words, but while we'll spend hours practicing the new skill our coach has introduced us to and hundreds (perhaps thousands) of pounds on equipment. We'll rarely (if ever) spend time on preparing our brains, the 'muscle' which lives between our ears!

I say muscle, because like muscle it needs to be exercised if we are to get the best from it and in archery terms that means having it support our shooting not derail it!

The mental game is something I'll be returning to in future episodes in more detail but for now and as a way of introducing the whole topic of mental skills in archery, I'd like to talk about meditation or in more modern terms, mindfulness.

People will often tell me that they're too busy for this sort of thing, or don't know where to start. The good news is that there are lots of good online resources to help you practice mindfulness/meditation and one of the ones I like the most is the resources offered by UCLA (California). Their free guided meditations are available online from or as an app for Android and iOS (search UCLA Mindfulness on GooglePlay or Apple AppStore).

Why not try this one for starters?

#2 Get your archery fix...

No archery range to shoot at? Or no time to visit the range? That shouldn't mean you have to give up your archery 'fix'. There are lots of ways you can still shoot or train in your own home (subject to a few basic precautions).

First and foremost, lets get the insurance thing out of the way. There's no reason why you can't shoot at home BUT (and it's one worth taking note of), you need to ensure that arrows can't leave the confines of your property. This would mean shooting inside your garage (if you have one), or in a well secured garden. And talking about secured, make sure that all the access points are locked (bolts, latches or other means).

Insurance-wise, Archery GB's insurance won't cover you to shoot at home, so worthwhile checking your home insurance or investigate specialist insurance.

Our friends over at Lancaster Archery in the US have put together a fab video to show how you can practice without that range access :-D

#1 Stop talking about it... and get archery fit!

Archery isn’t usually regarded as a sport requiring high levels of fitness. However, archers at all levels benefit from a degree of fitness across many areas and for those aspiring to performance levels, physical readiness is as important as technical ability.


Good general fitness starts with good cardiovascular fitness. The cardiovascular system comprises the heart, lungs and blood vessels and is responsible for transporting blood around the body. This is the fuel supply for the body; it delivers oxygenated blood to the muscles along with the glucose that is ‘burnt’ there. It then transports the waste products (lactic acid and carbon dioxide) away.

Archery is predominantly an aerobic activity so cardiovascular exercise should be an important part of any training programme. Effective cardiovascular training is anything that raises the heart rate to between 60-70% of its safe maximum level for at least 20 minutes, three times a week. This could be swimming, jogging or initially even brisk walking.


In an archery context, strength means ensuring sufficient muscular capacity to resist the forces generated by the bow during each phase of the shot and to do so throughout a competition. Specifically, the muscles of the shoulder girdle should be able to meet the requirements of shooting. The following exercises are a useful starting point and require little in the way of specialist equipment.

  1. Side push-up
  2. Shoulder pull-down
  3. Thera-Band – Diagonal lift
  4. Thera-Band – Shoulder shrug
  5. Thera-Band – lat pulldown/raise
  6. Thera-Band – shoulder horizontal abduction
  7. Thera-Band – lateral raise

Further information on each of the exercises, including detailed descriptions and illustrations, can be found in the World Archery Intermediate Level Coaching Manual (Archery Anatomy, Warm-up and Physical Conditioning Module).

Core stability

The importance of 'core stability' is now recognised as pivotal for efficient biomechanical function in a wide range of sports including archery. The ability to maintain good posture while shooting is clearly beneficial so exercises that target these muscles including the abdominals, oblique’s and lower back are all valuable. Follow this link for exercises that comprise a good general core stability routine.

For a limited time, the "School of Calisthenics" are offering their bodyweight basics programme (normally £40) for free! I don't necessarily endorse this, but the material does look good.

Exercises courtesy ArcheryGB

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