How one elite archer keeps things tidy. By Günter Kuhr.
So you want to be good at this archery lark, right? You are making notes, yes? On every aspect of your training? If you aren’t, you may be missing a cornerstone of elite performance.
Recording score data digitally on a smartphone app has some advantages, particularly in terms of being able to track scores across time, but requires you to maintain a charged battery on the range, plus opening up the possibility of distraction from training (see this article from Bow 138). It’s worth noting that most elite archers still use good old-fashioned pen and paper; some scientists have argued that the very act of physically writing locks information better into the brain.
Michelle Kroppen, now a solidfixture on the German national recurve team, finished 2019 ranked tenth in the world. In 2018, together with Elena Richter and Lisa Unruh, the 22-year-old Berliner secured the team world title in Yankton, USA. In 2019, she took a silver medal in the individual competition at the World Cup in Salt Lake City, and a team silver at the Antalya World Cup.
She was also part of the team at the World Championships that secured the first German women’s team qualification to an Olympics for twenty years – and also managed a fourth place individual finish at the same tournament.
Kroppen has been shooting for 14 years, and in addition to her coaches, her shooting notebooks with all the data, analysis and solutions used have always been an important guide on the way to the very top of the sport. She tells us what goes into hers.
Every year at the beginning of the season Michelle starts with a new shooting book, this is where the athlete begins to record all the important details about her current equipment. Previously, she tended to use the same gear as her teammates, but that changed in 2018. “That year I decided I have to find my own thing, my own bow setup, technique, whatever works best for me.”
Like most pros, Kroppen has two competition bows, and notes every detail of both of them in her shooting book. This information includes, for example: bracing height, the nock point elevation, tiller, the measured poundage, button settings and also the stabilisers used with length and weight information. An additional page remains free after the entry for notes on the material changes that occur within the season.
You may think you know how your bow is setup, but could you tell someone exactly?
Next, Michelle reserves a page of the shooting book for her arrow data. Here she notes the shaft type, the spine, the length of the arrow and all important information about the individual components such as the point type used, the exact point weights, and the vanes. Ultimately, these notes ensure that all settings remain reproducible at all times. If changes are made and things don’t go so well, Michelle can check the old settings again. Another page of the book is used for the sight mark settings for both bows.
Michelle describes the shooting process in the shooting book with all the details of the technical elements of her shot. She uses this description to help with the “ideomotor training”, in which the shooting technique is trained and consolidated through the pure presentation of the technique. (This is a refinement of the technique usually known as visualisation.) She developed the description of the shooting technique with her sports psychologist and national coach. The transcript is extremely important for ideomotor training. “There is no better place to describe my shooting technique than the book that I always carry in my quiver,” says Michelle.
Michelle documents every training session in the shooting book with these details: date, time, distance, type of target face (e.g. 122cm face, blank bale), arrows per end, and total number of arrows. She is also careful to record the specific content of the training session, e.g. interval training, technique training, performance control, and the results of any performance reviews. “If I notice anything while shooting, I also put it on the documentation page of the training. In this way I can trace back what was important during the past week when the changes were being implemented,” explains Michelle. Weeks or even months later, Michelle can track exactly how many arrows she has dedicated under which conditions to a specific part of the training day.
While some other athletes also use drawings for documentation, Michelle limits herself to words and uses tips from coaches that are sometimes written down in analogies, such as making sure of a “stable position that is firmly anchored to the ground like a tree”.
Michelle always starts to register competitions on a new page in the book. It notes the results of each arrow, the qualifying round and the matches. She later analyses her notes and checks whether there are any notable arrow series. “Sometimes special pressure situations become visible here, and after the analysis I can start to develop
strategies for future competitions to deal with certain situations more routinely,” she explained.
KEEPING ON TRACK
A further section of the book contains motivation: “Sometimes it is quotes, sayings or lyrics that build me up, motivate me or give me a real boost. I write all the things that are good for me in my the book”, reveals Michelle. “It also includes the score sheets of my greatest successes, which I look at from time to time and which can really push me!”
Most elite archers keep some kind of training notes, and the Korean national recurve team are no exception. Current world number one and world record holder Kang Chae Young is noted for carefully documenting every arrow shot in competition, and at international level, the coaches keep even more extensive notes on their charges.
The documentary about the national team, Game Of Numbers, released in 2016, included an over-the-shoulder shot of Ki Bo Bae’s training notebook, written in Hangul. The page she was looking at summarised mental coaching. Translated, this is what it says:
Prioritise shooting bows (Always prioritise shooting bows over other thoughts)
Believe in posture techniques (trust my senses)
Positivity (Always think “I’m good at this” and “I can do this”)
Making a mistake contributes to my image, so a positive routine is a must (Always think about the focus point)
Results depend on my efforts!
When the wind blows, aim for no more or less than 9 points
As long as I follow my usual routine, everything will turn out as planned!
Everything will be okay if I do my routine
Picture the way I shoot whilst performing image training
(Never lose trust!)
On a similar tack, a few years ago Korean international and Olympic team gold medallist Choi Misun was spotted with a laminated card attached to her quiver. Translated, this is exactly what it says:
Hold the left grip
Maintain the bow arm until the end when shooting
Have trust and shoot confidently
This is most notable for its simplicity. It is possible that it has lost a nuance or two in translation, or that each of the lines is summarising something more complicated involving many hundreds of hours of elite coaching work, but it performs the job it needs to, making sure that Choi Misun trusts in her process and execution rather than worrying about the result.
So shooting books, training diaries, or whatever you want to call them serve many purposes. Ultimately, the content of the shooting books is as individual as the athletes who make them. But these athletes later benefit from their self-developed solutions, which are noted down and can be called up at the crucial moments. With archery, there is no place to hide, but maintaining careful notes on exactly how you are doing is critical.
This article originally appeared in Bogensport magazine.