Richard Priestman competed in three Olympic Games for Great Britain, and came home with two bronze medals from the team events in Seoul and Barcelona. He has been an archery coach since 1993, and has travelled the world coaching national sides. This year, he has been coaching the Columbian recurve squad, the women’s team achieving a silver medal in the Shanghai stage of the World Cup. Richard was kind enough to take some time to answer my questions via email while preparing for the upcoming stage in Antalya.
Can you explain how you got started in coaching in Britain?
I have always enjoyed coaching, even when I was a competitor I used to do a lot of coaching. When I retired from international archery in 1993, the GNAS (now Archery GB) asked me if I wanted to be involved in coaching and I was voted into the position of Director of Coaching and then went on to be the national Coaching Organiser for the national training squads.
Which countries have you coached in now and for how long?
I was coaching with the British team for approximately 10 years (no salary in those days), then worked as the national coach in Bangladesh for 2 separate periods – 2009 to 2011. In between, I worked for 5 months in Nepal with their national team (initially on behalf of the Asian Archery Federation) to help them prepare for the 2010 Asian Games. After the World Championships with Bangladesh in 2011, World Archery employed me as an agent to work on the Latin American Youth Development Project. I worked with 6 different countries: Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela. My role was to hold 1 month training camps in each country in turn and then return to evaluate and further improve the archers and coaches in each country, specifically to raise standards in international competitions. I worked on this project for 2 years. I do keep in contact with many of the archers and coaches I have worked with in the past, I am always eager to see how they are all progressing even though I am not with them any more. I have been with so many countries that invariably my current team will end up competing against one of my former archers!
You were appointed as ‘temporary’ recurve coach for Brazil last year. How did that come about?
Brazil were without a national coach and World Archery wanted to support them, especially as they are the hosts for the Rio Olympic Games 2016, so I was asked if I would go there to help them. Originally I was temporary until Brazil could recruit a permanent national coach. Brazil did offer me the job but despite the rapid improvement in scores and some great results in international competitions, I decided that my future was to be elsewhere. I do wish them well for the future. They have some great talent, especially 16 year old Marcus Carvalho and Sarah Nikitin.
The Brazilian recurve team have, fairly suddenly, made quite an impact at the last two World Cup stages. How much of that would you say is down to changes you have made?
Sure, Brazil’s improvement came after several months of really hard training. They have a full time training camp. I made a lot of changes to their training schedules, increasing the numbers of arrows they were shooting, and made important improvements to their techniques. A lot of attention to detail. I changed their fitness training routines, improved eating habits and introduced many new ideas for the sports psychologist to work with the team.
How long have you been coaching the Columbian national side? Is it just the recurves?
I will work with the recurve team. Initially a lot of work with the mens team to improve standards, but I am sure I will cast my eyes over the compound archers and help them and their coaches. This is my first official week training in Colombia. I travelled to Shanghai for the first World Cup to be with the Colombian team, but had to return to England to apply for a work visa. I only arrived in Colombia one day before the start of the World Cup in Medellin.
It’s obviously been a fairly short time, but what changes have you made so far?
In the short time I have been with the Colombian team I have concentrated mostly on observing the team, looking at their strengths and weaknesses, but already making suggestions to the archers and their coaches. Now is right in the middle of the competition season so not the best time to make any major changes, but the mens team have already started the long process of change. I prefer a slow evolution of technique and thinking.
Is there a particular coaching ‘philosophy’ or strand of thinking you adhere to?
I have studied many different successful winning techniques over the past 40 years, from the USA team of the 70s to Russian male and female techniques, the different Korean techniques etc. I utilise best practices from all techniques I have seen and from my own shooting experience, make changes which I think are appropriate to the archer I am working with. Certainly I was influenced by great champions from the USA such as John Williams, Darrell Pace, Rick McKinney, top coaches such as Al Henderson, Kisik Lee and Kim Hyung Tak. Most of my coaching has been to work with already experienced archers, so it is very difficult and often destructive to their scores and confidence to make big changes to technique. I prefer a slow evolution to improve on what they already do. Much of my time has been spent fixing technique and physical weaknesses, importantly clearing misunderstandings about the techniques the archers have already been taught in the past.
I concentrate in getting the archer into a position where it is easier for them to make expansion. I want the archers to know where their expansion comes from, learn how to control the expansion under pressure and how to control their follow through to maximise their scores. All the archers who have worked with me know I like very much to utilise bow training exercises with their training, used in the right way, many of the archers problems will disappear with the appropriate exercises. I find with most developing archers, the biggest limitation to progress is physical, so that is where I usually start. Only once they are fit enough to control their bow can we effectively begin to improve skills and their mental game. I try to be a student of archery and I am always looking for new ideas.
With recurves, how do you teach the release phase of the shot cycle?
I teach the archers that they have to learn set up, engage and really feel the parts of their body they will use to make expansion. The archer must concentrate on expansion and commit to the expansion before, during and after click. The click is just there to signal the relaxation of the string fingers…expansion does not stop until the end of follow through. Release is not an action of taking the fingers off the bowstring, the bow string will push the relaxed string fingers out of the way. A typical good release will involve the string fingers moving in towards the neck on release rather than the fingers opening and moving away from the neck. I think it is very important too to encourage the archer to start expansion before or at the same time as they start to aim. If the archer waits until after aiming before they start expansion, then the shot will very likely be too slow and full of extra tension.
What’s your greatest strength as a coach?
I have a lot of experience both as an archer and as a coach. I have seen every kind of problems and mistakes made by archers and coaches. I do a lot of observation and discussions with the archers to help me understand how and why they make the mistakes they under pressure, then make solutions to help them fix and improve what they do. I aim to teach the archers to understand better their bodies and techniques, and how to prepare themselves better for competition, helping them to cut the mistakes to a minimum. Good scores are not made by shooting more tens but by learning how to stop the mistakes happening. If an archer prepares effectively for each shot, understands how a good shot should feel, visualises that process, then executes the process without fear, then the arrow has to be in the group. I expect all archers to eventually be self sufficient and not have to rely on a coach to perform well.
Do you believe in luck?
Definitely, many matches are won and lost with good or bad luck. Plus you can lose with a good score and win with a bad score.
What’s your favourite sport apart from archery, and why?
I love badminton, I used to play a lot in high school, and my son is now exceptionally good. He is one of the top under 17 players in England. Maybe one day I will become a badminton coach.
Are you going to stop travelling eventually?
I love travelling, I have been travelling ever since I was a small child, so probably unlikely I will ever stop. It has been a real pleasure to work in so many different countries, different languages, different cultures, and religions. I get more pleasure now helping archers to improve, shoot personal best scores, and to win medals than I ever did when I was a competitor.