Is the New Book “Archery” by USA Archery Really the Ultimate Archery Resource? Book Review

The cover photo of the new USA Archery Book "Archery". Is it really the ultimate archery resource?The new book by USA Archery proclaims itself “The ultimate resource for recurve and compound archers?” Is it?

What It Is

A compilation of advice from top competitive target archery coaches on the USA Archery National training System, bow tuning, the shot cycle, the mental game, cross training, developing young archers and more.

Who It Is For

Intermediate and advanced competitive target archers (kids and adults), instructors, coaches, parents and anyone interested in the National Training System as taught to archers at the US Olympic Training Center.

Who It Is Not For

Beginning archers. Archers who aren’t interested in the proprietary USA Archery National Training System. Non-competitive archers. People trying to learn archery from scratch from a book.

Archery by USA Archery–The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good

Archery by USA Archery is an important book. USA Archery has been working for years to create a unified National Training System (NTS) through an extensive system of instructor and coaching education programs, the kind attended by Golden Gate JOAD instructors and coaches. The NTS system is complex. It can be hard to learn, understand and teach, and it has been a moving target in the sense that the details keep changing. Frustratingly, none of those details of the national standard have been posted to USA Archery’s website or made widely available to the general public by USA Archery until now. On this basis alone Archery is a valuable book for anyone interested in the National Training System. Previously, interested archers could only buy expensive, privately published books co-authored by the USA Archery Head Coach KiSik Lee.

Archery features chapters on a wide variety of topics by top coaches and archers:

  • Becoming a Competitive Archer – Butch Johnson
  • Equipment and Tuning Tips – Mel Nichols
  • Developing the Athlete’s Shot Sequence – Guy Krueger
  • Recurve Shooting: Setting Up – KiSik Lee
  • Recurve Shooting: Drawing the Shot – KiSik Lee
  • Recurve Shooting: Completing the Shot – KiSik Lee
  • Compound Shooting: Setting Up and Completing the Shot – Mel Nichols
  • Making Practice More Effective – KiSik Lee
  • Nutrition and Physical Training for Archers – Guy Krueger
  • Mental Training for Archers – KiSik Lee
  • Planning to Win – Butch Johnson
  • Preparing and Peaking for Competition – Sheri Rhodes
  • Developing Young Archers – Diane Watson
  • Developing an Athlete’s Support Team – Robby K. Beyer

You can see that Archery includes great stuff for competitive archers. The chapters by 5-time Olympian Butch Johnson are excellent. He cuts through the clutter with information we all need to keep in mind. He reminds parents and supporters of competitive archers to support the person and not base their support on the archer’s scores or outcomes, which will vary. The chapters by KiSik Lee give important details of the NTS System, which is based largely on his preexisting KiSik Lee Shot Cycle (KSL). And the development and training chapters, including specific cross training exercises and schedules, are all very useful. Archery is a book that any competitive archer involved with USA Archery will want to check out for themselves. It is a great companion book for any intermediate to advanced NTS Archery program.

The Bad and the Ugly

As good as many parts of Archery are, the book tries to cover too much in too few pages. And there are also a few head scratchers in the things that do make it into the book. That combined with specialized nature of Archery means that it is not a book for beginners. It skips too many basics and teaches too complex a system of archery for folks just starting out. Even for archers experienced in another system, NTS is, for the most part, too complex to learn correctly solely from a book. It is hard to learn a motion sport from text and still pictures–an issue that affects all instructional archery books. A couple of short YouTube examples shot especially as companions to the book would be really helpful.

One of the first notable problems in Archery is the tuning chapter by Mel Nichols. Nichols is an experienced coach who has a lot of great advice to offer on equipment and on how to tune bows to arrows. But before you can tune a bow to an arrow you need to first select arrows that are properly spined (a measure of material flexibility) to an archers bow type, draw weight and draw length. There is no mention of how to do that. That is a major oversight likely due to an attempt to keep the book simple. Explaining how to pick arrows is complex, but there is no point in a tuning chapter unless an archer can first pick out the right arrow.

Another problem with the tuning chapter is that it attempts to cover both recurve bows and compound bows, and switches back and forth between them without properly distinguishing what advice applies to what kind of bow.  He talks about scopes (magnifying lenses for archery sights) without first saying what a scope is, and he doesn’t mention that scopes aren’t used on recurves. Nor, when stating that good “movable sights” have a 3d axis adjustment does he mention that sights for recurves don’t use 3d axis adjustments. The tuning chapter is really in need of editing so people can benefit from Nichols obvious expertise.

Next up is the National Training System (NTS). This really isn’t an issue with the book, per se, but with the program the book covers. NTS is why to read Archery. At Golden Gate JOAD we teach the NTS system because it has a lot of great features, and because it makes sense to have instructors across the nation all on the same page. If you aren’t interested in the NTS, then the core of this book really isn’t for you. That leaves the question should you be interested in NTS?

What has since become the NTS was originally titled the Biomechanically Efficient Shooting Technique (BEST). USA Archery is working to standardize all archers in their programs on the NTS. It is not required of Olympic archers–they earn their spots by competition rather than by adherence to any particular system. However, NTS is pretty much expected of any youth archer hoping to be on the elite USA Archery “Jr. Dream Team” (JDT).

NTS is promoted as a scientifically vetted, best practices system that reduces injuries and increases performance by being biomechanically efficient. 2004 Olympian John Magera, one of the four original 2006 Jr. Dream Team coaches, writes about what was then then called “BEST” Method as taught to the JDT:

We saw quite a few injuries crop up with the young archers attempting to shoot the “BEST” method. This was for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the kids were just overdoing it. Sometimes the individual student just simply could not achieve the positions they were being asked to achieve. Sometimes, coaches were not interpreting the method correctly. Lots of reasons. But many of us JOAD coaches noticed that some “collateral damage” was occurring to archers who in some cases, quit the sport as a result.

That being said, Magera does think that NTS can work for many, but may not be right for every individual. Others have found NTS to be a great system and believe that it decreases injuries rather than increases them.

Archer, Coach and USA Archery Marketing and Public Relations person Teresa Iaconi (USA Archery’s project coordinator for Archery) says NTS won her over:

I refused to teach it for three years because I didn’t understand it…But I read up on it, and I now understand that it is based on biomechanics.

It doesn’t stunt innovation because no one is forced to use the system. We have several top archers who don’t use it. But what I like is that now we finally have an easy and repeatable way to teach archery.

It is hard to know what to think about injury rates. Top archers train much harder than regular archers and are more vulnerable to overuse injuries, no matter what system they are using. There just isn’t enough hard data publicly available to know for certain how much effect any one archery system has on injury rates.

Ultimately, the appeal of NTS in my mind is its scientific underpinnings. Science is how we separate what seems to be true from what is true. Properly interpreted, sound data trumps gut instincts, which are useful but unreliable. However, what is largely lacking from the publicly available information about NTS is scientific data to back up its wide claims of being scientifically based. And at least a few claims in NTS may not be scientifically supportable. Here’s a screen capture of Figure 5.14 from the Kindle edition of Archery.

This claim seems to come from KiSik Lee, stating that if you look too far to the side of your “eye openings” that “neurological strength is decreased.” This claim in the book has been “proven” to coaches in some USA Archery coach certification classes through a simple test, by having someone push down on a subject’s outstretched arm when they look straight ahead and again when they look to the side. The subjects are unable to hold their arm up when looking to the side. That is a pretty dramatic and convincing demonstration. However, if this dramatic association between eye position and strength were actually true it would be one of the most important factors in all of sports performance and it would affect all sports. Heck, it would be one of the most important factors in our everyday lives. We’d all drop things or fall down every time we glanced to the side. But we don’t. So, can Lee’s claim, and the test that “proves” it, be wrong? And if so, how could smart, capable people be convinced it is true if it isn’t?

It turns out that the test used to “prove” the eye position/strength correlation to coaches is the same kind of test used in the non-scientific practice known as “Applied Kinesiolgy“(AK)–not to be confused with the scientific field of kinesiology, the study of human motion. AK claims to test “allergies” by the exact same kind of subjective tests used in the coaching class. These tests have a known bias effect. They give whatever results people expect, thus they have been used to “prove” all sorts of bogus claims, such as the efficacy of Power Balance bracelets that are supposed to improve people’s balance by mechanisms unknown to proven science. But the AK test only “works” when people know what to expect. An Australian television show investigated claims made by Power Balance:

Psychologist Ray Hyman visited with a group of AK chiropractic practitioners who’s understanding of science was rather flawed:

Some years ago I participated in a test of applied kinesiology at Dr. Wallace Sampson’s medical office in Mountain View, California. A team of chiropractors came to demonstrate the procedure. Several physician observers and the chiropractors had agreed that chiropractors would first be free to illustrate applied kinesiology in whatever manner they chose. Afterward, we would try some double-blind tests of their claims.

The chiropractors presented as their major example a demonstration they believed showed that the human body could respond to the difference between glucose (a “bad” sugar) and fructose (a “good” sugar). The differential sensitivity was a truism among “alternative healers,” though there was no scientific warrant for it. The chiropractors had volunteers lie on their backs and raise one arm vertically. They then would put a drop of glucose (in a solution of water) on the volunteer’s tongue. The chiropractor then tried to push the volunteer’s upraised arm down to a horizontal position while the volunteer tried to resist. In almost every case, the volunteer could not resist. The chiropractors stated the volunteer’s body recognized glucose as a “bad” sugar. After the volunteer’s mouth was rinsed out and a drop of fructose was placed on the tongue, the volunteer, in just about every test, resisted movement to the horizontal position. The body had recognized fructose as a “good” sugar.

After lunch a nurse brought us a large number of test tubes, each one coded with a secret number so that we could not tell from the tubes which contained fructose and which contained glucose. The nurse then left the room so that no one in the room during the subsequent testing would consciously know which tubes contained glucose and which fructose. The arm tests were repeated, but this time they were double-blind — neither the volunteer, the chiropractors, nor the onlookers was aware of whether the solution being applied to the volunteer’s tongue was glucose or fructose. As in the morning session, sometimes the volunteers were able to resist and other times they were not. We recorded the code number of the solution on each trial. Then the nurse returned with the key to the code. When we determined which trials involved glucose and which involved fructose, there was no connection between ability to resist and whether the volunteer was given the “good” or the “bad” sugar.

When these results were announced, the head chiropractor turned to me and said, “You see, that is why we never do double-blind testing anymore. It never works!” At first I thought he was joking. It turned it out he was quite serious. Since he “knew” that applied kinesiology works, and the best scientific method shows that it does not work, then—in his mind—there must be something wrong with the scientific method.

Which is all to note that the biased results of AK-type testing can be very convincing and can and do fool smart people, but they aren’t scientific tests. Clearly NTS is a world class archery system, with proven results, just as all the systems used by non-US Olympians are. There is no one right way to do archery, but there may be better ways, which is what NTS is meant to be. To insure that NTS is the better system we can use science to decide which parts of the system really are beneficial and which parts just give the appearance of being beneficial. With science we can keep the good stuff, discard the parts that don’t add proven value and continue the process to constantly refine the system over time. But to do that we can’t merely presume whether or not any aspect of NTS is scientific. Many parts of NTS may, indeed, be proven, but each individual aspect of NTS is a different issue, and each has to be considered on its own, and in combination. Nothing about any system that aims to be scientific should be considered to be so until proven with actual science, as opposed to tests like the AK tests which merely seem to be scientific. And for scientific claims to be truly scientific they need to be published so others can examine the data and try to replicate the results, such as claims about eye position and neurological strength. It is critical for the success of NTS going forward that non-scientific claims be rooted out so archers can concentrate on the things that work.

Conclusion

Archery is an important niche book in a niche sport. There is a lot of great information in it, and some room for improvement. The National Training System is a powerful system but very complex, so this book is a vital resource for the USA Archery program. I think anybody involved with USA Archery will want to check out the book for themselves and should give serious consideration to buying a copy. For archers who don’t practice the NTS system, or who practice “trad archery” or recreational archery, the book is less of a good fit but still worth taking a look at.

This review is just me. The rest of the GGJOAD staff may or may not agree with all or part it. If there is one thing you’ll find out about archery it’s that pretty much everything but scores is subjective 🙂

Posted in Archery Coaching, Archery News
One comment on “Is the New Book “Archery” by USA Archery Really the Ultimate Archery Resource? Book Review
  1. Paul Fender says:

    Thank you! You seem to have arrived at a fair and just conclusion