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Those who can, do...

It has come to that time of year in IFAF when the Instructors need to justify their being by submitting their logs and classification cards. For some this is a simple matter of uploading a file that has all of their coaching or instruction detailed for the year, conscientiously updated after every session, with every task they have done and every bit of information they have gleaned dutifully noted. For others it’s a frantic scramble to gather random notes and ask the club admin for dates of courses that were run over the year, straining the memory for the name of the archer who needed to work on their release in October…or was that January? … Obviously I’m going to say that the former is a more sensible way to document what you’ve been doing, not only showing you the progress of a specific archer, but also of your own coaching or instruction journey through the season.

Before we go further, I should explain that while they are similar, the terms ‘coach’ and ‘instructor’ are very different in their own ways, and while we tend to use them interchangeably, we should be aware of these key differences. If you look at the materials from the IFAF and indeed the IFAA you will see that while the heading may be “Coaching” or “Coaching and Training” the documentation usually refers to Instructors. There are many definitions if you want to go searching but to me the key difference is this; an Instructor teaches a specific skill set, in the most basic terms, shoot straight, shoot safely, do not injure yourself or another. They would have a thorough knowledge of the various styles and the rules of the sport. They should understand the bio-mechanics of the shot and apply that knowledge to archers from beginners to the seasoned veteran. The role of a Coach is more about the focused and holistic approach, playing the mental game, taking nutrition, stamina, overall fitness and of course the skillset required for the mechanics of shooting into the equation to round the archers’ game if you will.

What we as Instructors and or coaches need to look to is what the archer wants to achieve from the sport, and tailor our programme to their needs. We need to appreciate that for many archers the competition is a secondary thing, the fun is to be had as much off the course as on it. Others would take a much more serious approach, they want to win if at all possible and are willing to put in the hours of hard work required to achieve this. I would hazard a guess that most of us fall somewhere in-between, we relish the competition or just like challenging ourselves to achieve a personal best but really can’t manage training every day. The notion of shooting a few hundred arrows everyday would be great but the kids need dropped to ballet and the tap in the bathroom needs seen to and there’s working for a living…. so, an evening at the club and a trip to Valley Bowmen or Galtee at the weekend is really all we can fit in.

The beauty of field archery is that there is room for everyone to enjoy the sport in the way that suits them, so the weekend archer can bump along with the world champ and enjoy a good day in the woods without fear that either will be judged by the other for how they enjoy the sport. In reality all Instructors are not Coaches. To be fair not all Instructors want to be Coaches! It’s a huge commitment, the Coach needs to work as hard as the athlete; the planning and follow through is immense, every time the athlete suffers a knock back the coach has to be there doubling down on the programme to help the athlete achieve their goal. They are living and breathing the programme almost as much as the athlete and have to be on their toes for changes or problems, observing and noting everything.

For most of us instructing archers on the simple mechanics of their form and style is enough. Offering advice on arrow spine, setting up new bows for people, teaching the rules of the rounds and encouraging more people to take part in the sport is quite enough to be getting on with thank you very much.

This brings me back the title of this piece. You may be familiar with G.B. Shaw’s infamous quote from his play Man and Superman about teachers, “Those who can do, those who can’t teach”. While it’s very pithy I think it’s fundamentally flawed. It came to mind during a conversation with a good friend recently about non-shooting coaches. We had been looking at a video where Jake Kaminski gets very exercised about coaches who have never shot, now what he was talking about was coaching as a business and specifically in the U.S.A. where this would be more prevalent than in Europe, however it raised a few interesting questions about people being fit to coach or instruct. If we look at the basic requirements for becoming an Instructor for IFAF/IFAA they are minimal really, “Be of good standing in the organization, be a member for 2 years, hold a valid classification card, hold Safeguarding 1 or higher and be vetted by the Gardaí” after that all you need to do is sit the course and keep on top of your paperwork.

There you go, I have my cert that’s it, I’m a Coach now so my work here is done.

But really, we all know that going through this process is only the first step. What some people forget is that in order to be an effective Instructor or Coach you not only have to teach you have to learn, and pass on what you have learned. Instructors and Coaches have a duty of care for our charges and therefore we need to know the best and latest practices to ensure they are physically safe and getting the most from the sport. Don’t get hung up on your scores though, this doesn’t mean you have to be a world champ or indeed that you have to shoot better than anyone else, it means that you need to understand what affects an archers’ form and how to help them, you have to know the basics of every style and should be able to offer advice to archers shooting any and all bows, you should know the rules of both IFAA and IFAF to the extent that you only need to look at the Book of Rules in the case of a dispute, and you should be able to rattle off the differences between the rounds without batting an eyelid. But this doesn’t happen overnight and it takes a big person to turn around and say, I’m sorry but I’m not sure however I know a person who does. Then it takes an Instructor to put in the effort to fill that knowledge gap for the next time. I think that both Jake Kaminski and George Bernard Shaw were a little off the mark, certainly when it comes to IFAF Instructors anyway.

I started on a slightly different tack though. For all of you Coaches and Instructors out there frantically filling out your logs, remember the things you learned along the way, when someone else explained how best to set up a 5 pin sight and you spent hours messing with it getting it right…put it in your log. When you had yet another conversation about the correct way to shoot a fan shot and how it’s definitely never ok to shoot 4 up on it…. put that in to. When you sign off a course for safety and discuss what changes need to be made, because you’ve taken the time to study it…. that goes down too. Remember that as Coaches and Instructors we are there to promote the entire sport. So if your log is just a list of beginners’ courses... think again, I’m sure you’ve done a lot more over the season without even realizing.

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