Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Your Kid & My Kid Are Not Playing in the Pros

A "thank you" to Cathy King and Cori Bartel Morris for alerting me to this thought provoking article.

Your Kid and My Kid Are Not Playing in the Pros

- Dr. Louis M. Profeta

    I don't care if your eight year old can throw a baseball through six inches of plywood. He is not going to the pros. I don't care if your twelve-year-old scored seven touchdowns last week in Pop Warner. He is not going to the pros. I don't care if your sixteen-year-old made first team all-state in basketball. He is not playing in the pros. I don't care if your freshman in college is a varsity scratch golfer, averaging two under par. He isn't playing in the pros. Now tell me again how good he is. I'll lay you two to one odds right now — and I don't even know your kid, I have never even see them play — but I'll put up my pension that your kid is not playing in the pros. It is simply an odds thing. There are far too many variables working against your child. Injury, burnout, others who are better — these things are just a fraction of the barriers preventing your child from becoming "the one."

    So how do we balance being the supportive parent who spends three hours a day driving all over hell's half acre to allow our child to pursue his or her dream without becoming the supportive parent that drives all over hell's half acre to allow our child to pursue OUR dream? When does this pursuit of athletic stardom become something just shy of a gambling habit? From my experience in the ER I've developed some insight in how to identify the latter.

    1. When I inform you as a parent that your child has just ruptured their ACL ligament or Achilles tendon, if the next question out of your mouth is, "How long until he or she will be able to play?" you have a serious problem.

    2. If you child is knocked unconscious during a football game and can't remember your name let alone my name but you feel it is a "vital" piece of medical information to let me know that he is the starting linebacker and that the team will probably lose now because he was taken out of the game, you need to see a counselor.

    3. If I tell you that mononucleosis has caused the spleen to swell and that participation in a contact sport could cause a life threatening rupture and bleeding during the course of the illness and you then ask me, "If we just get some extra padding around the spleen, would it be OK to play?" someone needs to hit you upside the head with a two by four.

    4. If your child comes in with a blood alcohol level of .250 after wrecking your Lexus and you ask if I can hurry up and get them out of the ER before the police arrive so as not to run the risk of her getting kicked off the swim team, YOU need to be put in jail.

    I bet you think I'm kidding about the above patient and parent interactions. I wish I were, but I'm not. These are a fraction of the things I have heard when it comes to children and sports. Every ER doctor in America sees this. How did we get here? How did we go from spending our family times in parks and picnics, at movies and relatives houses to travel baseball and cheerleading competitions? When did we go from being supportive to being subtly abusive?

    Why are we spending our entire weekends schlepping from county to county, town to town, state to state to play in some bullshit regional, junior, mid-west, southeast, invitational, elite, prep, all- state, conference, blah, blah, blah tourney? We decorate our cars with washable paint, streamers, numbers and names. We roll in little carpool caravans trekking down the interstate honking and waiving at each other like Rev. Jim Jones followers in a Kool-Aid line. Greyhounds, Hawks, Panthers, Eagles, Bobcats, Screaming Devils, Scorching Gonads or whatever other mascot adorns their jerseys. 

    Somewhere along the line we got distracted, and the practice field became the dinner table of the new millennium. Instead of huddling around a platter of baked chicken, mashed potatoes and fruit salad, we spend our evenings handing off our children like 4 x 200 batons. From baseball practice to cheerleading, from swimming lessons to personal training, we have become the "hour-long" generation of five to six, six to seven, and seven to eight, selling the souls of our family for lacrosse try-outs. But why do we do this?

    It's because, just like everyone else, we're afraid. We are afraid that Emma will make the cheerleading squad instead of Suzy and that Mitch will start at first base instead of my Dillon. But it doesn't stop there. You see, if Mitch starts instead of Dillon then Dillon will feel like a failure, and if Dillon feels like a failure then he will sulk and cower in his room, and he will lose his friends because all his friends are on the baseball team, too, and if he loses his friends then he will start dressing in Goth duds, pierce his testicles, start using drugs and begin listening to headbanging music with his door locked. Then, of course, it's just a matter of time until he's surfing the net for neo-Nazi memorabilia, visiting gun shows and then opening fire in the school cafeteria. That is why so many fathers who bring their injured sons to the ER are so afraid that they won't be able to practice this week, or that he may miss the game this weekend. Miss a game, you become a mass murderer — it's that simple.

    Suzy is a whole other story, though. You see, if she doesn't make the cheerleading squad she will lose a whole bunch of friends and not be as popular as she should (and she's REAL popular). If she loses some friends, she will be devastated — all the cool kids will talk about her behind her back, so then she'll sit in her room all day, eating Ding Dongs and cutting at her wrists. Then, of course, it is only a matter of time until she is chatting on the Internet with fifty-year-old men and meeting up with them at truck stops. And that is why every mother is so frightened when her daughters have mononucleosis or influenza. Miss cheerleading practice for a week, and your daughter is headed for a career in porn. It's that simple.

    We have become a frightened society that can literally jump from point A to point Z and ignore everything in between. We spend so much time worrying about who might get ahead — and if we're falling behind — that we have simply lost our common sense. Myself included.

    There was a time when sick or injured children were simply sick or injured children. They needed bed rest, fluid, antibiotics and a limitation on activity. They just needed to get better. They didn't NEED to get better.

    I know, I know. Your family is different. You do all these things because your kid loves to compete, he loves the travel basketball, she loves the swim team, it's her life, it's what defines him. Part of that is certainly true but a big part of that isn't. Tens of thousands of families thrive in this setting, but I'm telling you, from what I've seen as a clinician, tens of thousands don't. It is a hidden scourge in society today, taxing and stressing husbands, wives, parents and children. We're denying children the opportunity to explore literally thousands of facets of interests because of the fear of the need to "specialize" in something early, and that by not doing this your child will somehow be just an average kid. How do we learn to rejoice in the average and celebrate as a whole society the exceptional? I'm not sure, but I know that this whole preoccupation is unhealthy, it is dysfunctional and is as bad as alcoholism, tobacco abuse, or any other types of dependency.

    I would love to have a son that is a pro athlete. I'd get season tickets; all the other fathers would point at me and I might get a chance to meet Sandy Koufax. It isn't going to happen, though. But you know what I am certain will happen? I'll raise self-reliant kids, who will hang out with me when I'm older, remember my birthday, care for their mother, take me to lunch and the movies, buy me club level seats at Yankee Stadium on occasion, call me at least four times a week and let me in on all the good things in their life, and turn to me for some comfort and advice for all the bad things. I am convinced that those things just will not happen as much for parents of the "hour-long" generation. You can't create a sense of family only at spring and Christmas break. It just won't happen. Sure, the kids will probably grow up to be adequate adults. They'll reflect on how supportive you were by driving them to all their games and practices and workouts. They'll call the ER from a couple states away to see how mom's doing but in time you'll see that something will be missing, something that was sacrificed for a piano tutor, a pitching coach, a travel soccer tournament. It may take years, but in time, you'll see.
    Dr.Louis M. Profeta is an Emergency Physician practicing in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Patient in Room Nine Says He's God

    Monday, March 23, 2015

    But At What Expense?

    I'm writing this amidst the Canadian Interuniversity Sport curling championships in my hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo, ON and at my home curling facility (The K-W Granite Club although the "new" facility, very near the campus of the University of Waterloo, is not where I played, that was at the original site on Agnes St. in Kitchener). What a delight it is to not only represent "Curling Canada" at this prestigious event but to be "home"!

    We are well into the "Season of Champions", seeing world class athletes in the sport of curling dazzle us with their skill and what skill it is! But just as it's not the best idea in the curling world to try to learn strategy by watching TV, it can be equally risky to make changes to your curling delivery that way as well. What?

    "But Bill, you just said these athletes are the best at what they do didn't you?"

    "Yes I did, or at least implied same. But you should not infer that they are the best because of the way they deliver the rock."

    I say this wherever I go. Some curlers, golfers, tennis players, lawn bowlers (insert sport here) are very, very good not because of their technique but in spite of it! Let's get one thing out of the way right now. You don't have enough money to pay me for me to tell you which athletes I feel are in the in spite of category so don't even try! :)

    We are all different physically. Body proportions can be all over the map. Stage of development plays a major role. There are countless reasons why no two athletes will meet the same motor challenge and look exactly the same in doing so.

    When I started my career at the K-W Granite Club (on Agnes St.), I had no role models, zero! I knew no one who curled, no one! It was the sport that attracted me, not anyone who played the sport. There was no TV curling. Most of you who read my blogs regularly know the story. The K-W Granite Club was on my way home from high school. That's all it took for me and attending the 1962 Brier at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. When I started playing, I copied the two best curlers at the club (Shelly Uffelman & Carl Thiel). I patterned my delivery after theirs. Thankfully, the person who suggested that to me, knew what he was talking about. It set me on the right technical path. I've still never had a curling lesson (stop the snickering right now).

    Role models can be dangerous, helpful, but dangerous. If you want to pattern your delivery after someone you admire, make sure you do it with some measure of reason because, not to sound like a broken record, many elite athletes are that way not because ...

    So what does it matter if there's an "anomaly" (I hesitate to use the word "flaw") in one's curling delivery? Well, here's what matters!

    The whole idea of taking a lesson when one begins anything is simple. It's not to tell you how to do something, it's to ensure you don't do something that when once engrained, is going to either cause performance issues down the road when physical prowess begins it's descent and will be difficult to "unlearn" once those neural pathways have been established or you're going to expend an inordinate amount of time overcoming that delivery issue. It's why it's so challenging to do something different after doing it another way for so long. It's hard to unlearn something from a motor perspective. The first step in my view is to be convinced that the new way of doing something IS a better way (I've written about this a few times in the past).

    Overcoming a technical anomaly (are we OK with that term?) means extra training/practice. Those elite athletes that I see on TV with those, ahem, anomalies, have one thing in common, an unbelievable practice regimen. They must! They need to practice to overcome that flaw (oops). That takes extra time, time that might be spent on team dynamics, physical preparation, mental preparation etc. There'a price to be paid and it can be a heavy one!

    Then there's the birthday candle syndrome. Frankly, some of those athletes with the technical challenge(s) (perhaps a better word eh?) will see the onset of the decline in skill set because they can no longer, simply through fewer birthday candles on the cake, mask it. Often athletes with technical issues see their competitive careers hit the wall much earlier than their peers with better mechanics. One excellent example of that was the great golfers Sam Snead and Ben Hogan who had long careers that many felt were due to excellent mechanics.

    When I instructed at summer camps, I would caution my 15-16 yr. old females that their ratio of strength to flexibility will never in their lives be in the balance it is at that age. They can hide technical flaws relatively easily because of that one time ratio. But, when they should be challenging teams for the right to play in the Scotties at age 25 or so, and that ratio of strength to flexibility is not the way it was at 15-16, that technical issue really becomes an issue! It's much like the Fram Oil Filter TV commercial* of many, many years ago, "You can pay me know or pay me later!". If you're a young athlete and a knowledgeable instructor makes a technical suggestion when you're in this age group, I encourage you to make the change now rather than later.

    Bottom line is this, make sure your delivery works for you not against you! Give yourself the benefit of the sport science and experience of others, both players and coaches, who will help you set the right course of action for you as you develop your skills.

    And, given the date on the calendar, it's worth another mention to you that despite common belief, the best time to take a really hard look at your technical skills is now! Don't wait until you put the golf clubs away and you start to think about curling in late September or October. That's too late but better late than never certainly applies. Now is the best time. You have the past season(s) vividly etched in your memory and for most, as leagues draw to a close, you have the time and in most cases, there's extra ice available. Not only that, so are my colleagues, who will be willing to provide an experienced and trained eye. But the best part about time is the duration between now and the start of the season because it takes time to be convinced that it's a better way to deliver a curling stone. Then, when the next season does roll around, you just can't wait to play with a new and improved curling delivery!

    Don't waste this most valuable portion of the curling season!

    * Just for fun I went to YouTube and there it was, from 1972! Check it out! It's a simple, but great commercial and I believe it sold a lot of oil filters!

    This just in from my good friend, and accomplished curler from Calgary, Guy Scholz who made me aware of the following; Ted William, arguably the most technically correct batter ever once said, "There is a difference between a hitch and a flaw. A technical hitch is OK if it doesn't mess with a fundamental, but a technical flaw can destroy your swing."
    You're correct Guy when you suggest that Ted's statement might also hold for curling!

    Thursday, March 19, 2015

    Enhancing the Stone

    You hear about it when you watch curling on TV at major events. It's about "enhancing/papering  the stones". What is it and why is it done? Well, sit back, I'm going to pull back the curtain and  explain why and show you how it's done.

    If you read my recent blog entitled "Guiding Rocks Down The Ice", you were offered an explanation of why stones curl in the first place. If you've not read the blog, I suggest you do so and return here. I'll wait!

    OK, welcome back, I hope my attempt to explain why stones curl makes sense to you. It's all about the texture of the running surface on the pebbled surface of the ice. I used the word "grab" in blog that you just read, perhaps not the most scientific way to explain the action that takes place between the running surface and the pebble but it seems to work for many.

    As you can appreciate, over time, the running surface can become well worn, (i.e. smooth) and as that occurs, there's less "grab" (there's that word again) and as a result, there's less curl and the last time I checked that's what the game is called, curling!

    To make the stones finish more "aggressively" (i.e. late curl), the texture of the running surface of the ice is "enhanced" (how's that for diplomacy?). The process to do so is sometimes referred to a "papering" because a waterproof, 80 grit carbide silica emory paper is the agent of change.


    Here's how the ice technician (I.T.) does it. The I.T. carefully places the stone onto a block where a piece of the aforementioned emory paper is placed. As you can see in the photo, the handle of the stone is placed at the 12 o'clock position as it is slid over the emory paper, approximately the distance of the diameter of the running surface then returned to its original position.

    The stone is lifted once again from the emory paper and returned but with the handle in the 10 o'clock position. It is then slid forward and returned. The stone is then lifted and returned with the handle at the 2 o'clock position, slide forward and returned.

    You can see clearly the "textured" running surface (photo below)) as it's removed from the emory paper.  It's a rather vivid grey colour as the "granite dust" from the abrasive running surface is quite visible. But, of course, that granite dust, for obvious reasons, must be removed and that's accomplished with a clean cloth dampened with naphtha gas. A fresh piece of emory paper is used for each stone!

    The papered/textured/enhanced stone, on an excellent ice surface, will finish (i.e. late curl). It makes for great shot-making for TV events but with all due respect, if recreational curlers played on championship ice with textured/papered stones, it would very likely be a frustrating experience because under the conditions just described, the ice and stones are not very forgiving! A curler playing under said conditions must have precise weight control as the stone, delivered with an inappropriate weight, can make you look pretty foolish!


    Although the process, as you can see, is pretty simple, the effect does not have a long shelf life.  The important point is this, the stone must be moved over the emory paper in full contact  with the paper. It's so easy for a portion of the stone to lift from the emory paper resulting in an uneven texturing and that would not be a good thing. This procedure should only be done by someone who is experienced. It's not for a well-intentioned club member who has seen the procedure on some blog site ! :)

    It's not uncommon for the ice technicians to re-paper the stones during a prolonged event. It's not a procedure used in most curling facilities. but if your ice technician or ice committee suggests papering the rocks at your curling facility, it's a good idea to support the idea. Remember, the game is called "curling"!

    To see the process in action, go to my Facebook home page!
















    Monday, March 9, 2015

    Same Athletes But Different Team

    The 2015 Tim Hortons Brier was a notable one for a variety of reasons. It inspired not one, but two postings by yours truly, both based upon on ice incidents, one somewhat negative in nature ("Dealing With On Ice Issues") and the second the exact opposite ("The Culture of Sport"). Both illustrated the adage that sport doesn't build character, it reveals it!

    This posting is about still another aspect of the Brier in Calgary that I'm sure curling fans found most interesting and once again, what played out in the Brier holds a lesson for all curlers. Those of you who watched the Brier will know what I'm going to talk about today by the title. Of course I'm referring to Team Canada* and its decision to shuffle its back end midway through the event. The athletes involved were John Morris and Pat Simmons. I've had the pleasure to work with both athletes, more with Pat than with John. They have very different personalities and those differences played a prominent role in the decision to switch playing positions and responsibilities.

    Without going into a lot of details suffice to say that Team Morris (the first "Team Canada" at a Brier) struggled out of the gate and that would be putting it mildly! One must remember that this Team Canada came about due to 3/4 of the team winning the coveted "Brier Tankard" last year in Kamloops, BC. When that last stone came to rest, there must have been something of a mixed reaction among the team members. One emotion certainly was one of joy. It just won the Canadian Men's Curling Championship. But, it meant the team would be coming back and that's where the mixed emotion came into play as skip Kevin Koe had announced before the Brier that he would be leaving the team and forming another (which he did and won the AB men's championship to be Team Alberta at the Brier). That meant he was giving up a number of opportunities that come with a Brier title, not the least of which is the right to return as Team Canada. Add to that the announced desire of one of the players to "hang them up", at least for the foreseeable future.

    Then there's the whole funding issue. If the team members are to receive the funding to continue to train, well, they need to continue to compete at a high performance level. Kevin Koe still gets that type of funding even though it's with different teammates. Bottom line? The team needed to continue to compete but it needed a skip. Enter, stage right, the aforementioned John Morris who had crossed over the Rocky Mountains to play with another excellent curler with exactly the opposite personality from his, Jim Cotter. With his BC teammates' blessing, Johnny "MO" was anointed as skip of Team Canada and just to put the cherry on top of the cake, along with John came his dad Earle, who retired from coaching Rachel Homan's team (are you keeping up with all of this?).

    So, with this new lineup and coach, the team donned the red and white garb of Team Canada with much fanfare and anticipation. Oops, someone forgot to tell their early round opponents that this was one of the favourites and there were more l's than w's as a result. And that's when it happened and full credit to John Morris as it seemed that the switch with Pat was his idea.

    The first inclination was for John to continue his skipping duties but with Pat delivering stones 7 & 8. Sources tell me that the mild-mannered Pat Simmons indicated that if he were to deliver the last stones, he wanted to assume all skip responsibilities. That might have been the genius in all of this as Pat plays a very different strategic and tactical game from John. That's not a value judgement. That's just the way it is. John agreed and assumed Pat's third responsibilities. But, and here's where I feel the change made the most difference, it put John's outgoing personality in the best place possible on the team. John's a great communicator and in his "gate keeper" role between skip Pat and front end Nolan & Carter, he injected a dynamic that energized the team. Pat, well, he just curled up a storm and did so with a more conservative approach that seemed to fit the team well! It was a simpler approach and perhaps left the opposition scrambling somewhat, anticipating John's more aggressive style.

    As I write this on the western shore of Hudson Bay in Rankin Inlet (can you say c-o-l-d?) Team Canada has pulled off a feat that will forever be etched into the historical record of the Brier. The team's 2-3 record after five games gave rise to some jokes about Team Canada's possible participation in the pre-qualification portion of the 2016 Brier in Ottawa. Well, that's not happening, at least not for the 2016 event, as the Team Canada march to victory from fourth place in the standings was remarkable, especially considering the opposition and the fact that they started each playoff game without the benefit of last stone advantage and had to take stones their opponent did not want, proving once again, it's not how you start, it's how you finish!

    I've already stated what I feel were the differences in the team and as usual, I write about what happens on the high performance scene such as the Brier or Scotties, as these athletes and their teams are the role models for the elite curlers of the future and for recreational curlers trying to be better. The lesson here is a demonstrative reminder that when a team has only four members, the choice of teammates and where they play is critical! I've said this many, many times before. Curling does not exactly have a stellar history when it comes to teammate selection. Oh we're decidedly better than we were 10-15 years ago but it's never a bad idea to choose teammates wisely.

    Even though on the surface, curling seems for all intents a purposes to be a shoot-two-brush-six (or four or none) format but it's much more complex than that and much more dynamic than that. As the season progresses, your team might consider if it has everyone playing the position that gets the most out of each teammate resulting in the best performance possible.

    When it comes to an important competition, I'm quick to say that your value as a teammate is more important to the performance of the team than your value as a curler. One of the messages I send to the 28 junior teams who assemble to decide the national junior champions when I get to speak to them all at the players' meeting prior at the start of the event is this, "If you want to focus on a task that will pay the greatest dividends do everything you're able to make sure your teammates have a great competition! Each of you is the expert at knowing precisely how you can make that happen. You know what to do, just do what you know!"

    For many years, as I've described the importance of team dynamics on a curling team I've stated that on a curling team, everyone contributes 25% of the effort but does so 100% of the time. I can now add that you maximize that effort when you play a position on the team that allows your qualities and skills to have the greatest impact.

    John Morris saw that the team needed a change and knew why. We all saw the results which is a clear illustration that none of this is possible unless the team has four players who put the performance of the team before personal accolades. This might be especially difficult for junior curlers who might feel that way but know that parents want him/her to play a certain role on the team, not for their son or daughter, but for their own gratification.

    I can relate in instance where a team bound for the Winter Olympics was misaligned. In my opinion, the team would have performed significantly better if the players had shuffled the deck somewhat. The skip was the best shooter on the team but also by far the best brusher. The third, by the same measure was clearly the best strategist and tactician. But, the father of the skip would not hear of my suggestion to have his son play anywhere else on the team besides skip as he wanted the team representing his country to be skipped by an athlete with his surname. So, the team remained aligned as always and the team never won a game! It would have been the same players, but a very different team!

    If you wish to excel, performance must come before any other agendas one might have, either personal or imposed by others (i.e. family and/or friends).

    * One of the more defining moments of my 2015 Brier experience came, not in the Scotiabank Saddledome but in "The Purple Heart Lounge". The PHL is the somewhat more sedate twin of the famous "Brier Patch". On this particular occasion in the PHL, the MC was conducting one of his "Up Close & Personal" interviews. The team being interviewed was the team representing Prince Edward Island". Since it was between afternoon & evening draws, the PHL was packed with what I would argue was a very good sampling of hard core curling fans, the type that would place the Brier on their calendar to make an annual pilgrimage. The group that through ticket sales, souvenir purchases, restaurant meals & hotel reservations, are the reason the Brier exists as we know it.

    In the course of the Q & A session, the topic de jour turned to the new format of the Brier, which saw this PEI squad survive the first ever Brier pre-qualification round. Finally the MC got around to the "Team Canada" entry. He turned to the crowd and asked, "How do you feel about a Team Canada in the Brier?", clearly anticipating an enthusiastic show of support.

    The silence, and I mean the hear-a-pin-drop silence, was deafening! 

    Wednesday, March 4, 2015

    The Culture of Sport

    In my coaching manual ("A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion"), one of the articles about which I am most proud has the same title as this blog, "The Culture of Sport" (pp.249-253). In that article I refer to the mores that surrounds sports in general and curling (as well as golf) in particular.

    The premise of the article is simple. In sports, as in all walks of life, participants tacitly or openly agree to a set of principles. From a sociological perspective (if I recall some of my sociology classes at Wilfrid Laurier University), it's mostly a birth rite. In other words, we are born into a society that has rules of conduct which form the basis of that society's laws and general day-to-day anticipation of behaviour. I'm sure my sociology professors from WLU will say that I've greatly oversimplified the topic but for the purposes of this blog, it's going to have to do.

    Most human conflicts are a result of one group of people trying to impose its culture onto another whose mores are different. Unfortunately, we're seeing that played out today, in perhaps its most brutal form ever.

    In sport, the participants play by a set of unwritten rules, accepted by all with negative sanctions imposed on those who break the rules. Sometimes it's referred to as the "code". The National Hockey League is an excellent example of such a code, vigorously defended by its Players' Association, sometimes in my view, to the detriment of both the game and the players themselves. 

    In my article referred to above I cite the case of a major league baseball player, who in a pivotal World Series game, accepted an awarding of first base, when the home plate umpire felt the pitched ball had struck the batter on the hand. Replay showed clearly that the ball had not hit the batter's hand but rather the end of the bat. It was an honest mistake and here's the point, the batter might have been the only one who knew for sure the ball had not struck his hand. He could have turned to the umpire and corrected the error. Of course he didn't! Why? Because the culture of baseball is such that when the official makes an error in your favour, you accept it, to do otherwise would most certainly incur the wrath of your teammates. But, had that same batter had a golf club in his hand as opposed to a baseball bat and been on a golf course as opposed to a baseball diamond and had that same athlete accidentally touched the golf ball at address, out of site of anyone else, he very likely would have imposed a penalty on himself. Same person, different culture!

    In my last blog ("Dealing With On Ice Issues") I referred to a situation in a Brier game where the culture of the sport of curling took a bit of a body blow, not in any way fatal, but not commensurate with curling's culture. In juxtaposition, last night in the Brier, curling's culture was on display for all to see and for the right reason.

    In a critical round robin game among two teams favoured to be playing in the playoffs, an apparent hog line violation occurred when the athlete released the stone, only see the dreaded red lights glow brightly. The player's body language showed some consternation as he felt he had released the stone before its leading edge reached the inside edge of the hog line. Replays showed that was indeed the case! It did not take very long for the other team to decide that the player should replay the shot even though, according to the protocol, the hog line violation could have held. 

    I for one was not surprised that the skip of this non-offending team, along with his third, quickly made the decision to have the shot replayed. You see, that's the kind of athletes they are and the skip in particular, in the final of a Canadian Junior Championship, displayed the same quality of sportsmanship! Was it the culture, the basic decency of the athlete or a measure of both? I like to think it's a combination of the two!

    At this year's M&M Meat Shops Canadian Junior Curling Championship in Corner Brook, NL, I was in conversation with the front desk clerk at the host hotel. I asked how everything was going now that all the athletes had arrived. She started to speak when I raised my hand and said, "Let me tell you how it's going. These athletes are polite, enthusiastic, respectful and a joy to be around." Her mouth dropped open as she asked, "How did you know what I would say?" With a smile I replied, "Oh, just a lucky guess." 

    I recently on this site encouraged parents of aspiring athletes to read an excellent article. I'm going to encourage parents once again, as they help their offspring to engage in sports, to take the time to examine the culture of that sport as it will play a role in the way their son or daughter not only sees the world but how they act and react in it. And perhaps most importantly, it will set for a good deal of their young life, the friends with whom they will spend a good deal of time. Will they get the same message from those friends that you are sending at home? 

    If you're looking for a sport whose culture represents the best of what we in our society see as positive, curling might be a good choice!


    Tuesday, March 3, 2015

    Dealing With On Ice Issues

    I'm writing this during the 2015 Tim Hortons Brier in Calgary. During a game last evening (03.02.15), there was an "incident" on the ice that I feel is worthy of note. Here's what happened.

    During the game, a player from Team A, as part of his delivery, when coming to a stop, tended to place a knee on the ice surface. Apparently a member of Team B, noting this, as diplomatically as possible, mentioned this to Team B. When it happened subsequently, a member of Team B, using his brush, indicated to the offending member of Team A about the issue.

    At the time of this writing, again apparently, Team A has lodged something of a protest over the incident involving the member of Team B who used his brush to draw attention to the placing of the knee on the ice surface. Here's the way this should have been handled by both parties in my view.

    No one should place hands or knees on the ice surface. It really can have an adverse affect on the ice which affects all players so that member of Team A, had he not placed his knee on the ice, nothing would have occurred in the first place! Team B, noting the infraction, and it IS a rule infraction*, had two options. If what Team A did was not of immediate concern, during the end change over, the Team B coach should have been informed and the coach should have taken the responsibility of dealing with the issue. If what happens on the ice is of immediate concern, there is a signal to the officials that their presence is required and the signal is with crossed forearms. All clocks will be stopped and an official will intervene. When the official's intervention has been completed, the matter is over, full stop!

    On that note, I would hope that in an officiated event, in the "team meeting" prior to the start of the competition, the head official would state that hands and/or knees on the ice will not be tolerated and that offending parties will be told, during the game to cease and desist from that practice!

    The point of all this is "distractions"! Distractions are among biggest enemys of performance and distractions can come in many forms not the least of wish is a breakdown in on ice communication, something about which I have written extensively. But when it's something of an unforeseen distraction, such as the one described here, the last thing a team wants to happen is for the incident, be in intentional or unintentional, to not cause a distraction. The team who feels offended needs to "park it" and the method I've described I feel is the best way to do that.

    What gets tricky is when the game is in an environment without officials. In that case, the offended team has only two choices, forget it or take the chance to express its concern to the other team. I can't sit here to tell the non-offending team which is better in a given circumstance but choose your option wisely so that it minimizes any distraction(s) to your team!

    * R.10 a) No player shall cause damage to the ice surface by means of equipment, hand prints or body prints...

    Monday, March 2, 2015

    Guiding Rocks Down the Ice

    There was a time when in a clinic or high performance camp setting (and I say this with a good measure of embarrassment) if we ran out of time, which we did on occasion, brushing was the casualty. Well, that's no longer the case, in fact, I now make sure this is one of the first areas I/we cover, it's become that important to the overall performance of a team, playing at the highest level or a team wanting to achieve a goal in its curling facility, it's never achieved before, so recreational curlers, this is for you too!

    I played a good deal of my competitive career with a broom, not a brush (let's not travel down memory lane) but suffice to say, there was no sport science to prove that anything we were doing was correct (i.e. causing maximum affect). It was "participant observation", in other words, we did what we thought was the most effective way to sweep a stone, be it for draw purposes or to hold the line on takeouts. What we believed to be true was what we did. The proof for us was on the ice!

    Even though we now have more sport science in the area of brushing than over before (what an understatement that is) a team still has to brush in a manner it feels is best meeting its needs. Part of what I'm going to say here IS sport science and part is what I believe to be true and I will try my best to not confuse them.

    There are now, for want of a better term, instrumented brushes available to imperically know precisely what's happening as a brusher brushes. My friend Dr. John Newhook in Halifax has been most helpful to me in understanding the intricacies of brushing from a science perspective. He has an instrumented brush in development that will do everything but tie your shoes. He's tried to explain how it all works but he doesn't have a very bright student I'm afraid when it comes to the details!

    I've said this before. in my coaching/instructing career, I am now able to begin much of what I say with the words, "The sport science tell us ...!". I then let the athlete(s) make the final decision. Some will buy into the sport science immediately while others want to see it happen on the ice. So, what does the sport science say about brushing? Well, a number of things have been learned through some research that has  taken place in the last number of years. In capsule form they include:
    1. brushing IS effective (that was good news, eh)
    2. the science alone is not good enough, it takes excellent technique, clean & dry brush heads and a degree of brushing fitness as well
    3. there was no discernible difference between a hair brush and a synthetic brush
    4. maintain the angle of the brush head to the handle at 90 degrees
    5. brush at 45 degrees to the path of the rock
    6. when brushing for distance, brush the entire path of the rock
    7. when brushing a take out, brush the "inside" portion of the rock's path*
    8. to promote more curl as the rock ends its journey, brush the "outside" portion of the rock's path*
    9. the most important brushing for a down weight shot is at the end (last 10 sec.)
    10. power cleaning will add significant distance to the brushing of a down weight shot
    11. even the most fit brushers can only brush at maximum efficiency for about 10 sec.
    12. your "away" (push) stroke is more powerful than  your "return" (pull) stroke
    13. the most effective brushing for a takeout occurs early in the rock's journey
    14. downward pressure seems to be more important than stroke rate (but both are desirable
    The next item of business is understanding why curling stones curl, and of late there are a few theories out there explaining this most interesting phenomenon. The one I'm going to put forward is the one that makes the most sense to me and if there's one you feel is better and differs with mine, well, that's what makes the world such an interesting place!

    I wish I could add some animation at this point but failing that, I'm going to ask you to use your powers of imagery and visualization. So, here we go!

    I want you to imagine that you're walking behind a curling stone that's making its way down the ice rotating in a clockwise fashion (I know, check the clock on the wall to re-acquaint yourself with clockwise as opposed to counterclockwise for those of you of the digital age). Can you see that stone rotating clockwise, making its way down the ice and at some point, beginning to move from left-to-right? Good! Now, why is that happening? Here's what I believe to be true.

    The running surface on the left side of the stone as it rotates clockwise, is moving in the same direction as the stone is traveling down the ice. But, the running surface on the right side of the stone is moving back towards you, in the opposite direction of the path of the stone. That unequal directionality is for me, what causes the running surface (r/s) to slide over the pebble on the left side but grab the pebble on the right side causing that left-to-right movement. Don't forget, the running surface is relatively rough compared to the "shiny" portion of the stone and the roughness of the r/s in conjunction with the quality of the pebble (let's not go further down that road today) is what makes the stone curl with directionality of the curl dependent upon the rotation (left-to-right when a clockwise rotation is applied and right-to-left when a counterclockwise rotation is applied).

    OK, let's see what the sport science tells us about enhancing the path a running stone takes. Let's start with a straight draw.

    Clearly one would only brush a stone that is designed to remain in play if the weight of the stone is such that it will not arrive at its destination. In curling parlance, it's "light"! Instinctively a brusher, sensing and/or timing the stone as light will begin to brush as hard as possible but if you go back to the sport science points above, you'll see that the best way to brush a draw is to power clean to about the far hog line and then "hurry hard". I know. I know. That jump-all-over-the-lightly-delivered-stone is a hard instinct to break but trust the sport science or better still, do you own on ice experimentation and you'll see that the sport science is on to something. This "power-clean-then-go-hard" idea is even more important if the down weight shot is a come around a guard type shot. And, the brushers will brush completely across the r/s (but as you'll soon see, that might be the only time that the brushers will do so).

    Before I go on, let's talk about the length of the brush stroke. With the angle of the brush head at 90 degrees to the handle of the brush and the angle of the brush stroke at 45 degrees to the path of the stone, most brushers' brush stoke is much, much to long. Turn a stone over and you'll see that the diameter of the r/s is about the distance between the thumb and little finger of an adult hand. If you brush according to the previous sentence the brush stroke, to be most effective should be small, very small. I'm watching draw #3 of the Brier as I compose this and I see many brushers, very good brushers, who could be even better if they only shortened their brush stroke.

    With that out of the way, let's talk brushing takeouts. If late brushing is most effective when brushing a down weight shot, exactly the opposite is true for the brushing of a takeout because brushing a take out is not for weight but for line. Simply said, the sooner the brushing takes place on a takeout, the more effective it will be but, there's a caveat with this. If the brushers, thinking that the stone has been delivered "tight", jump all over it, that might be just enough to miss the shot so brushers beware!
    But let's assume that your venerable skip calls you "on" to "hold the line", then brushing the inner half of the stone's path is what you want to do (it's that "grab" side referred to above) and the brusher on that "grab" side should be closer to the stone so his/her push stroke (see #14) is closer to the stone. The challenge on brushing takeouts comes with the lead brush (the brusher further away from the stone). He/she must reach across the stone's path to get to the inside half. That's why I encourage video recording of brushing to ensure that both brushers are on the the inside (grab) side.

    Before I continue, I want to make a point about brushing in general and this is for any team member who's charged with the responsibility of calling the brushing. If the brushers are already brushing a takeout and you're not absolutely, 100% certain that they must stop brushing, you will make far fewer errors if you keep them brushing! Experience tells me that when brushers stop and that stone hits that first patch of unbrushed ice, we know what happens. It moves, and often does so quite noticeably. Then, in reaction, you call the brushers back on and by the time the message is delivered, received, and acted upon, oops, too late! Yuk!!!!

    Let's move to brushing draws of the come around variety. This is where my note about brushing a generic draw re-enters the picture but the difference's are around two important points. One is "break point". On championship calibre ice such as the ice upon which the players are playing here in Calgary this week at the Brier, down weight stones don't travel on a uniform trajectory. They move relatively straight and then "break". On most curling facility ice, stones tend to move in a uniform curved path. If you're playing on Brier/Scotties type ice, you need to know the location of the break point and it may be somewhat different from path-to-path. You might miss a come around because you brushed "through the break point".

    OK, with that aside, let's get back to that stone that's moving nicely down the ice with you and your brushing partner sensing the weight is about right. As the stone begins to curl toward the edge of the stationary stone (i.e. guard), you and your brushing partner should be positioned relative to the stone as though you were brushing a take out (see the paragraph above re. which brusher brushes closer to the stone for take outs) because you need to get around the stationary stone (perhaps when you complete this posting you might wish to refer to an earlier one entitled "Code Red Or Code Blue" [1/19/15]). But, when the running stone successfully passes by that stationary stone, you and your brushing partner should switch positions AND sides of the stone. I call it the "double switch" because now you want to promote the curl, not hold  the line, as you do with take outs. You will want to leave that "grab" side unbrushed and you want the closer brusher's push stroke to be closer to the stone which now is the brusher on the "high" side of the stone's path.

    Experience has demonstrated that the best way to execute this "double switch" is for the inside brusher to lift his/her brush and allow the stone to catch up to the outside brusher. During this brief time period that initial inside brusher can reach across the stone's path to become the outside brusher (a lot of inside's and outside's here I know).

    If you couple this relatively new sport science with the other three elements described initially in this  post, you really can "guide stones down the ice"! Let me know how it goes and don't hesitate to ask questions or seek clarification. I suggest you print this posting and take it onto the ice and give this a try (don't forget to visually record your brushing)!

    * For those who might feel that I'm promoting the breaking of a brushing rule, the World Curling Federation rule actually encourages brushing the running stone such that at times the brusher(s) may wish to brush only a portion of its path. It's  Rule #7 a) The sweeping motion is in a side-to-side direction (it need not cover the entire width of the stone)...