I have to begin by saying that I have known a great many archers who were far better archers than I was who did not follow this advice. They kept everything in their heads (well, part of it; there is way too much info to memorize it all). So, I am not saying that if you do not keep written records that you will not be able to be come very, very good. What I am saying is that it is highly likely that you will not become as good as you could have become if you forgo keeping written records. This I will attempt to convince you of.
In the book Thinking Fast and Slow, the author (the brilliant Daniel Kahneman) points out that there seem to be two systems that we use to “think:”
System 1 This system is effortless, automatic, associative, rapid, parallel process, opaque (in that we are unaware of its workings), emotional, concrete, specific, social, and personalized.
System 2 This system is effortful, controlled, deductive, slow, serial, self-aware, neutral, abstract, asocial, and depersonalized.
Playing a hunch is an example of System 1 thinking; math homework an example of System 2. Setting aside whether these characterizations are true and correct, I think there is enough truth in them to address the recommendation at the top of this post.
It seems the vast bulk of our thinking falls under System 1 and it is that system that values “stories” or as the news people say, “narratives.” When I taught professionally I argued that we are primed to learn through stories. Stories hold things together. They make sense of why things happen. They make it clear why Action B followed Action A, etc. Children are told stories that have morals behind them (“And the moral to the story, children, is …”). Unfortunately we tend to, uh, well, embellish stories. We tend to make the story come out as we want it to rather than just as it did. There is even an adage that says “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
How does this affect archers, you ask? Allow me to answer you via a story.
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Consider the following scenario: in competition an archer shoots their first arrow which lands at 6 o’clock in the 7-ring. What should he/she do? What he/she should do, of course, depends on whether this was a “good shot” or a “poor shot.” This distinction is made absent the result of the shot. If it felt like a normal good shot, it was . . . unless . . . unless say the archer wasn’t paying full attention to their process. If this was the case, he/she might be able to discern that fact through a little analysis. So, if it felt as if it were a good shot, was the outcome a good outcome? Was that 7 “normal?” Here is where problems occur.
It is unfortunate but when we enter into a competition, we have hopes for a high score. We think that we will shoot high scoring arrows with occasional poorer scoring arrows mixed in. But when do those lower scoring arrows show up? Good question. Most likely they show up randomly; they can show up on the first arrow as likely on the twelfth arrow or the last arrow. But our expectations for a good score can result in that initial 7 to lead us to think there will be more of them, even worse scoring arrows, leading to a poor score. The disappointment associated with this may lead us to make a change in our sight setting, or execution. Our subconscious minds might translate our disappointment with that shot into changes we are not even aware of. But if the shot was “normal,” then any change is moving the archer to a less successful setup/execution with the result being a guaranteed lower score.
So what’s an archer to do?
First we must recognize that first arrows are problematic. The excitement of shooting is at a high. There is no previous good scoring shot to imprint upon (to use in a mental rehearsal), and there are those hopes and dreams for a good overall score. I remember working toward a perfect score of 300 on the NFAA indoor round (60 arrows, 5-4-3 scoring). I can’t tell you how many times I had the thought “If the first arrow isn’t a five, I’m done,” but it wasn’t just a few. But this only happens when you are chasing a perfect score. The first arrow of any competition may be your lowest or highest scoring arrow.
I ask my students to monitor what their “normal groups” are. For the sake of this story, this student, when shooting at this distance at a ten-ring target face, typically “holds the 8-ring.” This means the vast majority of his arrows score 8, 9, or 10 . . . with a rare 7 from time to time. So, was the score of that 7 just shot “normal” or not? If there is no other evidence to tell you different, shooting a 7 is normal for this student.
If you keep records, you have the opportunity to explore those records to see what reality actually looks like. You can go through a score card on which all of the arrow scores are recorded and identify your lowest scoring arrows. You can then see when they tend to occur. This gives you a number of advantages: one is an ability to distinguish between your hopes/fears and reality. Another is a recognition that lower scoring arrows happen and they probably happen less now than a couple of years ago. (Hey, I am making progress!) Another is that is there is a regular pattern, you can train for that. For example, if your low scoring arrows always happen in the last few ends, maybe your fitness level is not high enough. If they occur on the first few arrows,maybe nerves need to be addressed. Maybe there is a psychological factor.
If, on the other hand, you discard those score cards and take no notes, all you have are your stories. Here’s another example.
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You are in a tight shoot-off with a fellow competitor and you get to the last arrow with the score tied. On the last arrow, you shoot an 8 and he shoots a … 9! Most people automatically blame the loss on that last arrow. “If I had just shot a 10 or even a 9,” we think. But if you go back to the scorecard you probably get a different picture. In this case (I am making up this story), our losing archer had a three point lead that was steadily eroded as the shoot-off continued. What about the arrow scores that caused him the loss of his lead? Had he been leading by three points and both had the same last arrows, he would have won by two points.
This is typical of System 1 thinking. We have oodles of biases built into our System 1 thinking, one of those is we tend to overvalue the most recent events and devalue earlier ones. These biases developed over very long periods of time and are actually useful in many cases, so they are not to be disparaged, but they also can be problematic.
Writing’s Long List of Strengths
I have more than a few thoroughly modern students who, went I ask them to take a note whip out their smart phones and start typing. They do not know they are making a mistake by choosing a poor form of writing. Smart phones are problematic because there is too much information on them and one’s notes can be buried (amongst other things). By having a notebook dedicated to archery, all of your archery notes are in one place, you do not have to look elsewhere, nor do you have to wade through piles of irrelevant stuff to find your archery notes. I like segmented notebooks and put info of one kind or another in specific locations, making it even easier to find.
I am not advocating that you favor System 2 thinking over System 1 thinking, far from it. System 2 thinking is slow and laborious, again think math homework. But some System 2 thinking mixed in can make you a better archer or coach. Doing some System 2 thinking when you have the time to wade through a scorecard or analyze your groupings (in an attempt to answer the question: what is normal for me now?). This can reduce the impulsive nature that is normal for us most of the time. Writing those things down, makes them much easier to remember.
Just being able to tell the difference between a normal shot and a faulty shot is key to making the corrections that are required to shoot good scores. Leaving this up to a “gut feeling” can lead you or your students astray over and over. (The mistake that keeps on giving!)