Let us look at the psycho-physiological process going on in aiming.
As human beings we naturally like, and are comfortable with, lining things up; and this is the essence of aiming.
Archery is a target sport, the very term “target” giving emphasis in the mind of the archer the idea of aiming. To many, that I talk to, the whole technique is merely a platform to get to the perceived crux of the matter, aiming. This emphasis on the act of aiming is unnecessary, and causes practitioners to lose sight of the “controllable” aspects of the shot. This is not unique to archery, in most sports there are aspects that are over emphasised stopping the athlete from seeing the holistic nature of the technique. Rather than seeing the aiming aspect of the shot as a stand-alone part, let us look at it as an integral part of the technique. This ability to perform the “aim” requires a stable platform. This platform is based in posture and balance, also anchor point and a trust in these, as well as their execution, is vital. It is important to get these correct and they are the aspects of the technique that are “controlled” by the archer. If they are consistent and effective (by which I mean they have the lowest resource use possible and “fit” in a natural way through practice) then the aiming aspect will take care of itself.
It is necessary to start by addressing the contentious question:
One eye shut/ Both eyes open?
There is a simple answer to this:
“if there is no eye dominance issues then the best approach to aiming is with both eyes open.”
There are many factors that lead to this conclusion, which include reduced muscular tension and depth of focus, but the major reason is that we are binocular creatures. We spend our whole lives processing images of the world around us using both eyes, this allows us to process much more information but also gives us a depth of vision that controls point of focus.
If you are asked to point at something, a target, you will bring your finger up in a smooth motion and point unerringly at WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING AT. This is crucial in understanding functional aiming; your point of focus is on the target you are aiming at, NOT on the finger. If you close one eye you will get an inline image through your dominant eye and a displaced image through you non-dominant eye. Understand that your brain is comfortable processing these differing images and will give you the correct point of aim. Now try the same thing closing your dominant eye and see if it is as smooth movement, it is not, it becomes a forced muscular movement with degrees of over compensation and care with an emphasis given to focus on the pointing finger not the target. Work done 30 years ago with target rifle shooters showed that Novices focussed on the aiming mechanism and experts’ point of focus was very close to the target. This focus on the target is facilitated by binocular vision, to the extent that target rifle shooters will block an image coming to the non-dominant eye, but not close it, thus keeping this depth of focus whilst reducing the information coming to the non dominant eye. It must be noted that in several studies no advantage has been found in firearm shooters reducing information coming to the non-dominant eye in the aiming process, save for cases of eye dominance, and this habit may be seen as “foible” of target firearm shooters.
There is a common belief that aiming is a clinical and carefully controlled business, a concept in cognitive movement linked to feedback from what the individual sees and muscular correction. This is not the case in the expert. When you hold a bow at full draw you will experience a natural movement of the body (sway), this is slightly different for each person and is relatively constant. Again, work with international pistol shooters showed that, although they executed the shot with the sight in a constant position, there movement to this point of aim where not directly controlled, and involved a signature sway to each athlete. The equipment to measure this has been used at Edinburgh and Loughborough universities in many aiming sports including archery. It involves a sensor on the target, which plots sight movement from a laser mounted on the sight; this data is then converted into a diagram showing sight movement on the target with respect to time.
This signature movement is crucial in understanding how the act of aiming works.
The athletes did not consciously move the sight to the middle but let their experience guide their body, they were not conscious of their movement to aim, in fact many of them reported very different things from what happened.
This natural sway is unique and constant to each performer, and if they trust the skill and don’t try to control it the brain will often ignore it and give the impression that aim is rock steady.
This allows the athlete to be calm and execute their shot.
It is important to understand that there are very different processes appearing to happen as opposed to what is happening and, as I have already said, this has been studied in some depth.
This model of aiming goes a long way to explaining what happens shooting outdoors when it is windy. If you go down the line asking individuals how windy they perceive it to be then you will get different answers. Those shooting the best will perceive there to be less movement on their sights and this is often put down to equipment. However, the difference in bow speed etc does not allow for the perceived difference in arrow drift (again the use of shooting machines has shown how little difference there is in drift between equipment). The real difference is that the athlete doing well is leaving the aiming to their body and experience to deal with, when the others are trying to control the aim and struggling through over compensation and cognitive control causing technical errors. A recent study using the equipment I have discussed above showed that performers who were convinced they were aiming off to mitigate the effect of the wind were actually executing the shot with the sight pointing in a VERY different place to that which they thought.
So “aiming” is a complex process that uses visual and physical feedback (balance) as well as experience. To process all this information cognitively in the time the archer is at full draw is a pointless waste of time and resources. In fact, like many motor processes that appear to require quick reaction and control, it is impossible to do cognitively. The time it would take to recognise feedback and activate muscles is too long to react to a situation which has already changed in this time (i.e. the sight has already moved somewhere else). However if the individual does not try to process the feedback and trusts the skill and technique they have learnt then the body starts to predict where the sight is going due to a crosswind and makes adjustments. This can be seen if you take a balance exercise (or in skiing) a cognitive control of balance leads to a skill failure, however, if you let your body use its experience then balance is kept, even in very unstable situations. This is a vital aspect of performing well in the wind, you must let your body balance against the movements caused by the wind. This is facilitated by looking at the gold and waiting for the sight to settle without trying to force it to do so. If you do not fight the wind or chase the sight around the target you will be surprised how well your body and technique will deal with the most difficult of situations.
So when people next start talking about aiming you would be better to let experience and good technique take care of it, rather than trying to control things that you can not.