Monday, July 2, 2012

Don't Waste Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

For some of you out there, when the calendar flips from June to July, the only things on your mind are those activities associated with warm sun and a slower, less hectic pace to one's life. I'm "in" on that too but for curling teams with high expectations and aspirations, summer can be just as important to the quality of the team's performance than most things it might do "in season", not the least of which may be to replace a teammate who for whatever reason, has left the team.
Unfortunately we don't have a great track record in curling in selecting teammates. We have been much too much dazzled with technical expertise and have not spent nearly enough time determining a potential teammate's value as just that, a teammate.
An article I penned a few years ago dealt with that issue. It follows below. Enjoy!

Your Value as a Teammate

I tell this story from time-to-time in clinics, coaching symposia and high performance camps. One of the advantages of being the National Development Coach (1999-2006) was that the National Training Center is located in Calgary. AB and those mountains you see from Calgary are the Rocky Mountains, home to some of the best skiing on the world.

I love to ski! I’m what I’d call a good intermediate skier. All of the “green dot” runs and most of the “blue circle” runs (on the ski map indicating degree of difficulty) I could ski comfortably along with a few carefully selected “black diamonds”. Skiing down a ski run that’s in your comfort zone on a crisp, cold AB day with that wonderful dry snow under your skis is a singular pleasure.

My favourite place to ski was Sunshine, about a 90 min. drive from my apartment in Calgary to the parking lot at the resort. I liked Sunshine for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that all the snow was natural. There was not an artificial flake anywhere.

Friday was my ski day. For the teams in my programme at the NTC, Friday was a travel day to the bonspiel of their choice. In essence, it was my day “off”. The weekend skiers would not arrive until later in the day so the “lift lines” that are so common at other ski areas were non-existent at Sunshine, especially on Fridays. I would leave my apartment at 0700 and be at the top of the mountain by 0900, ski for three hours, break for lunch, ski until about 1430 then head home to arrive by 1630. What could be better?

My partner in the early years at the NTC was Helen Radford. What a great partner she was! We worked well together. She always had a smile! For Helen, the glass is always “half full”!!! One day she suggested that I join she and two of her friends who were visiting for a day of skiing, not at Sunshine, but at Lake Louise. I have nothing against Lake Louise. Who would? But it was another hour west of Calgary which meant two more hours of driving for a one day ski outing so that was really the only reason I didn’t ski there often. But Helen’s invitation was quickly accepted.

Helens friends were really good skiers as is Helen. I was fourth on the skill list for sure but was able to keep up. On one quad chair, I happened to be seated between Helen’s friends. Both had been athletes on national teams, one for soccer, one for basketball. As we chatted on the lift, they had lots of questions about elite curlers and elite curling teams. Then one asked the classic question, “Bill, why does Canada not choose its four best curlers to form a team to compete in international competitions?”

Coming from a soccer or basketball player, that’s a legitimate question. They were accustomed to trying out for the national team by attending a try out camp, playing exhibition games, hoping to “make the cut” then playing internationally for Canada. But even at that, I reminded them that even for their sports, the coach isn’t necessarily going to choose the “best” players, he/she would be much more concerned about, what Herb Brooks did when selecting the U.S. ice hockey team for the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games, choosing the “right” players. I also reminded the soccer and basketball players that in their sports, the coach had control, during the game, of exactly which combination of players where on the court or pitch respectively, A curling coach, during the game has very little “game influence”. Clearly all four players play the entire game. Here’s how I answered the question.

“On a curling team, everyone contributes 25% of the effort, 
but does so 100% of the time!”

Obviously each player delivers 25% of the shots the team plays. The math tells you that. But what you do for the other six shots each end is critical to the success the team enjoys. Shot selection, the tactics to be employed, weight judgment, brushing technique and application, ice reading, communication with teammates etc. (the list is long indeed) are all integral parts to the overall performance of the team. You may not be experiencing a “red letter” day from a skill perspective but you can still do everything in your power to make sure your teammates have a great game (words I first heard spoken by Andrea Lawes to my high performance campers at the Trillium Jr. Summer Camp many summers ago).

But here’s the message of today’s blog. As your team moves toward elite status, the definition of “time” in my answer to the question changes. For recreational curlers, “time” means in the context of the game. But as your hopes and aspirations become more lofty, “time” means what you do outside of the context of the game, at the bonpsiel, at home, in the gym, with friends, at the training table etc.

I tell teams that the only people who really count are your teammates! Not me, not your friends, not your co-workers, not your family, not anyone else. That said family is always one’s first priority. I mean in the competitive sense, you do everything you can to make sure your teammates have a great day and what you do personally away from the game is part of that effort. Your teammates are counting on you. Don’t let them down! We can’t all be great athletes but we can all be great teammates.

Oh and by the way, there’s another person counting on you. It’s that person who stares back at you from the mirror! In life you might become expert at fooling everyone around you but you can’t ever fool the person in the mirror!

Author's Note: In October I'll be making my way to Atlantic Canada where Helen, now charged with the educational programmes for Curl Atlantic has invited me to make a tour of the four Atlantic provinces to present some coaching sessions and clinics. I can't wait to get there and see my partner from Calgary once again!

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