Thursday, September 27, 2012

This Time It's Not Someone Else's Money

The Ryder Cup (officially the Ryder Cup Matches) is a biennial golf competition between teams from Europe and the United States. The competition is jointly administered by the PGA of America and the PGA European Tour, and is contested every two years, the venue alternating between courses in the United States and Europe. The Ryder Cup is also the name of the trophy, after the person who donated it, Samuel Ryder. The Ryder Cup, and its counterpart the Presidents Cup, are unusual in the world of professional sports, since despite being high-profile events that bring in tens of millions of dollars in TV and sponsorship revenue the players receive no prize money. The event also has a significant financial impact on the local economy.
The 2012 contest is scheduled for 28, 29, and 30 September at Medinah Country Club, in Medinah, Illinois, a suburb northwest of Chicago. The 2014 contest will be at Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perth & Kinross, Scotland.
The competition began following an exhibition match in 1926 between a team comprising American professionals against a similar one drawn from the British PGA on the East Course, Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, Surrey, UK. The first competition took place in 1927 at the Worcester Country Club, in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Early matches between the two sides were fairly even, but after the Second World War, repeated U.S. dominance led to a decision, initiated by Jack Nicklaus, to extend the representation to continental Europe in 1979. (Ireland was officially included in the title of British team in 1973, though Irish had competed since 1953 and Northern Irish since 1947.) Including Europe was partly prompted by the success of a new generation of Spanish golfers, led by Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido, the first Spaniards (and continental Europeans) to play in the event. Team Europe has included players from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden. Since 1979, Europe has won eight times outright and retained the Cup once by tying, with seven American wins over this period. Through 2010, Europe has won six of the last eight matches (.750) and has not lost in Europe since 1993.

As you can see by the Wikipedia entry above, the Americans have found the sledding rather tough of late, even on home soil but when the matches are in Europe, it's been nothing short of famine. You'll notice that the competition is in the form of "matches". Tomorrow there will be four matches in the morning and another four in the afternoon. The same scenario will be repeated on Saturday. These matches are in "pairs" format in that two Americans will play two Europeans in each match.

These Friday and Saturday matches have curious names, "foursomes" and "fourball". On this side of the pond "foursomes" is more commonly called "alternate shots" with each team playing one ball and alternating tee shots while "fourball" is usually called "better ball" in North America. In this type of match, each player plays his own shots (ball) with the better score on the team counting for the team.

Curiously enough, in "match play" as opposed to "medal play", you may not have to actually get the ball into the hole. Your opponent can "concede" the putt in which case you pick up your ball as though you had made the shot. Yes, there's some gamesmanship in this conceding putts business, one part of the contest I don't like and never have. Golf is about putting the ball into the hole. Full stop!

If your team  has the better score on a hole, it "wins the hole" and since there are only 18 holes to play in a match, if you have won more holes than there are holes left to play, your team wins the match and gets a point for the team and points are what it's all about so let's go there.

With sixteen matches on Friday and Saturday, obviously there are 16 points to be won. But on Sunday, all the players on each team (there are 12 per side) play singles which makes the total number of points available, 28! If a match ends in a tie (it's said that the match is "halved") then each side secures a half point. Now here's where curious doesn't begin to describe it. If, at the end of all 28 matches, each team has 14 points, the team that won the last Ryder Cup Matches gets to keep the trophy and the substantial bragging rights that go with it. Therefore, the U.S. team must win at least 14 1/2 points to rescue the Ryder Cup from the clutches of the Europeans.

So why do I include this Ryder Cup event on my blog site? Even though golf is pretty much the quintessential individual sport, this event places more value on the team dynamics of the two sides than is evident to even the most avid golf fan. The Europeans of late seem to bond better than the Americans. Some of the knowledgeable golf commentators have said it's much more likely that you'll see European players sharing a libation and fellowship than you will the Americans. There's more of a sense that "we're in this together" on the European side.

By the way, as you can see by the Wikipedia entry, the combatants are professional golfers, some of whom are not just millionaires (Brendt Snedeker, one of the Americans, last weekend won 11.4 million dollars by winning the FedEx Cup) but multi-millionaires or billionaires. But they won't play that way because you see, this weekend, they can lose. When they play in a professional tournament, it's all bout how much they can win. It's someone else's money. It's only a matter of the size of the slice of the pie!

You're going to see "angst" on the faces of otherwise pretty cool customers as they feel the weight of the country and the team on their shoulders. No one wants to lose the match that clinches the point or half point that wins the Ryder Cup for the opposition. Now, it's about winning and losing, something they don't face on a regular basis and something for which they are not really trained. That's where the "captains" come in.

The Captain of the American team is Davis Love III. The European Captain is Jose Maria Olazabal (there are accents I should have on the Spaniard's name so for those fluent in Spanish, please forgive). Captaining a Ryder Cup team is an honour professional golfers covet. For Love and Olazabal, it's been two years of painstaking attention to detail. The pride that's taken by winning this event is like nothing else in golf. It's the Masters, U.S. & British Opens and the PGA all rolled into one! For golf fans, it's the best competition in the sport they'll see for the next two years! It's quite simply, great theatre! In 2008, Captain Paul Azinger, to solidify the team dynamics on the American side put his 12 players into three "pods" based upon a variety of common characteristics. One pod was euphemistically called "The Rednecks" as they hailed from the southern states. The pariings for the "foursomes" and "fourball" came from within each pod. It was in my mind, and in the mind of many others, a stroke of genius on Captain Azinger's part! Those common experiences and characteristics of the players in each pod played a vital role in the American's win!

Both captains will try to inspire their team, to put them into the best mindset so they can play as well as they are able. Although I doubt very much that either captain will read this post, I'm going to weigh in with my two cents worth.

First, the only people who really matter are your teammates, not the country, not your family and friends, and certainly not the captain. Everything you do is to support your teammates and that support must be unconditional. Second, trust your skills, they're all you've got so why wouldn't you trust them? And, trust the skills of your teammates! Third, be disciplined and sweat the small stuff. Don't try too hard! Don't try to be the hero and do things you know are unlikely you'll be successful doing. Stay within yourself. In fact, as opposed to trying to do more, do less, but do it better! Lastly, have the right attitude. As you walk to the first tee tomorrow morning, say to yourself, "I just can't wait to play!"

Those of you with copies of  "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion" (available through the Balance Plus website), go to "Your New Lenses Are Ready For Pick-Up" (p.128).

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pre-Game & Pre-Event On Ice Practice/Warm Up

Recreational curlers seeing the title of today's post might cast a wandering eye regarding the relevance it might have for them. In purely recreational leagues, it's arrive at the curling venue, change into your gear, greet your teammates, step onto the ice and "game on"! Bless your heart. You're what curling is all about, the pure joy of delivering granite stones up and down a sheet of ice, enjoying the camaraderie of club mates then heading home knowing you've participated in a wonderful sport for the ages. If that's your curling world and you never intend it to be anything else, take the day off and thanks for checking in!

If, on the other hand, you are in either of my other three categories of curlers (serious, competitive & elite*) then you just may wish to read further.

First, allow me to make the distinction between a pre-game practice/warm up and a pre-event practice. As the adjectives imply, one takes place prior to a game and one, usually the day before a major event. Let's deal with a pre-game practice first.

A pre-game practice is usually a time given to each team to use the ice and the stones they will use in the game for a period of time (which can vary significantly). What the team does with those stones and the playing surface is largely up to the team. In fact, you don't have to use the time at all if you so desire (and that has happened). But this would be a pretty short post if everyone ignored the opportunity to practise before the game so I'll assume that's your wish.

There are a variety of reasons for a pre-game practice and for each reason, a multitude of scenarios your team might follow. Knowing what elements go into a pre-game practice comes from the answers to some questions. What does the team want from the pre-game practice time? What do each of the team's players want from the pre-game practice? When you know the answers to those questions, you're well on your way to creating an effective pre-game practice, in fact, using the time efficiently should follow quite naturally. You'll notice in the preceding sentences that there's the implication that only will the "team" want something from the time on the ice prior to the game but each "team member" may/will as well. Be aware of those needs and make sure they're met! If you're playing in the venue for the first time, you may wish to deliver as many stones in the time allotted as possible. Ice reading might be the priority or the speed of the ice.

You may wish to have one pre-game practice if you practise first rather than second. If you're practising first, you most likely have last stone advantage in the initial end. If your game plan dictates that you're going to start the game pursuing a scoring opportunity, you may wish to play more of the finesse type shots in the pre-game practice. On the other hand, if you have second practice, you likely to not have last stone advantage in end #1 and as a result, more take-out shots may be practised. The shots you personally practise may be dictated by the position you play (along with the strategy & tactics your team might employ).

Whatever programme of shots you plan, please make sure you "choreograph" the shots so that when you step onto the ice surface, with your competitors watching, you "look" very much that you are fully prepared to play the game. Everyone moves into position with a purpose and the shots played also have a purpose. The pre-game practice should be so well-rehearsed that you finish within seconds of the time allotted for its completion.

I do have some personal preferences for a pre-game practice besides those already outlined. I like the pre-game practice to end with some "team" shots, not necessarily delivered by the skip (or the one charged with delivering the last two stones of each end).

Drawing to the button is now the industry standard for determining last stone advantage in the first end with a toss of the coin deciding which team practises first and which practises second. In that case, you'll want the player who's going to deliver that shot-to-the-button to be part of those last team shots prior to the conclusion of the pre-game practice.

I realize that I have not been very specific on this topic and that's because it's so team oriented. You decide and create your own pre-game practice scenarios keeping the parameters outlined above in mind.

Now to that "other" type of rehearsal, the "pre-event practice". As the name suggests this is an opportunity for all teams in the competition to have some time on "all" the ice surfaces. A schedule of ice and teams and time is usually prepared so you know what ice you're to start on and how to move to the subsequent sheets. There is usually not much ice reading going on in the pre-event practice as it's unlikely that the movement and speed of the ice surfaces will be much the same as they will be when play begins the next day. Most teams use the time to simply get comfortable with the playing environment. How are the "sight lines"? Where is the most direct path to the washrooms? Where are the water coolers? Where will the coaches be seated? Where are the time clocks? There's really no end to the little details that each person wants to "get straight" before play begins.

Most teams will occupy most of the time allowed on each sheet in the pre-vent practice for "stone matching". The team "Bible" comes out to record the stones that each player wishes to use when the team plays on a particular sheet. Before you go onto a sheet in the pre-event practice you will want to check the game schedule to know if you should practise with one set or the other or both.

When the team comes to a sheet where we have no games scheduled, they'll give me one end of that ice surface to me (they go to the other end) so I can test for the "drag affect". I only need do it once!**

It's not unusual for some members of the team to limit the time they spend in the pre-event practice. When they and the team have what they want, they may forfeit some of the time given in the pre-event practice.

I do have specific pre-game practices that my teams have used in the past. Feel free to contact me ( if you're interested.

* Recreational- see first paragraph.
   Serious - you play within the jurisdiction of your facility but you're on the "caring" side about your performance (perhaps you sense there's something amiss or absent in your [pl] game preventing you from achieving your goal which may be as modest as making the playoffs in your club league for the first time), And, also for the first time, you are actively looking for help, I love working with teams in this category (contact me). This type of team will not attend many, if any, local bonspiels.
   Competitive- these players/teams have likely attended or intend to attend a high performance camp offered in their area by the provincial sport governing body. They have aspirations for provincial playdowns. They will play in bonspiels outside their home facility. They might have some local sponsorship. They might have a coach (hopefully certified and will schedule practice sessions).
   Elite - These are the very best teams in the nation. They likely will recruit players from across the land and will play on the "tour". You'll see them on TV regularly!

** I want to know the impact of the drag affect when stones are frozen and when the affect dissipates as they are separated. As long as the stones all come from the same "lot", I need only test for the drag affect once. I'll devote an entire post to the drag affect later in the season. If you'd like it sooner rather than later, send me a comment to that affect!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Post-Game Meeting

Last week's post dealt with the "pre-game" meeting. If you've not read it, stop here and do so. It will make what I say today much more meaningful!

The post-game meeting is often problematic for a very simple reason, it's after the game and therefore the cold, hard reality of a result is front and center. Prior to the game, well, hope does spring eternal regardless of the odds of success. Not so following! To deal with triumph or disaster I'll refer to the words of a bard far more eloquent that I, Rudyard Kipling who wrote in his classic poem "If"...

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same ...

And that's the trick, to treat them the same for they both provide valuable lessons if you're willing to listen! But do we listen? I'd suggest for many the answer is "no"!

After a "win" for many years, the next step after changing out of curling gear was straight to the club bar for an after game libation with teammates and perhaps, your defeated opponent. There was going to be little discussion of any great substance in that environment. Talk would have revolved around anything and everything BUT the game just concluded. When teams announce to me that they've just come off a winning performance, they'll get a question fired back at them that goes something, no, exactly like this, "Do you know WHY you performed well enough to win"? Did you (pl.) even talk about the reasons why you performed well and if you actually did that, did someone record those reasons for future reference? I'll postulate that the answer to both questions is quite likely a resounding "No"! What a golden opportunity you have lost! Never lose that precious information again because when "things ain't goin' so good" you'll wish you had! Look at it as insurance for the future against a downward spiral of less than spectacular performances which just may result in a string of "l's". But, when you lose, don't lose the lesson(s)!

So let's have a more detailed look at the post-game meeting. Again, as with the first admonition with the pre-game meeting, have one! Don't backslide to the old ways of heading for the bar. Tell your opponent, if you're playing in an atmosphere where socializing after games is expected, that you'll be with them in due course. These post-games don't have to be the NHL/NHLPA negotiations. It's your teammates who will sit across the table from you and you're working together to move the yardsticks down the field. It's not adversarial!

Second, what do we discuss? Well, go back to the meat of the pre-game meeting, Did your game plan work as you anticipated (remembering that's it's only a way to "start" the game)? But most importantly, how did everyone do on their stated personal performance goals? Go around the table. If you as the lead stated that you were going to get an interval time on every draw the opposition played and they played 56 of them, did you get 56 times? No? What happened? On two occasions I was helping my front end partner deal with a release issue he/she was having so I was 54/56 on my personal performance goal! That's a success rate of 96%. As Henry Ford said, "If you can't measure it. You can't manage it!" After everyone has checked in with the report card on their personal performance goal, examine your "team performance goal". It may have been to only allow one multiple score by your opponents. Well, did they only get one or didn't they?

Goals to have any real significance must meet the SAMM test. They have to be specific, attainable, measurable and mutual.

So many times I hear athletes/teams say things like, "We want to play better!" or "I want to have better draw weight." or the classic, "I/we want to be a formidable opponent." Noble hopes and aspirations but that's all they are. They are not valueless but their value is severely limited.

Outcome goals such as the ones stated above are fine. Don't misunderstand but as standalone goals with no performance support, their value plummets, and plummets quickly! And that's the key to goal setting. Start with an outcome goal then build a string of SAMM goals that support it. When you do that, you're going somewhere and the "breadcrumbs" you leave will be there when you need them in the future, and you will need them!

Another item that frequently finds its way onto the post-game agenda is the team's "communication protocol". Is it still working? Does it need any tweaking? If so, let's get 'er done!

This may sound somewhat hard-hearted but I'm at a point in my coaching career whereby I refuse to work with an individual or team that only has outcome goals. You can't control outcome goals! Performance goals are where it's at! Stick with them.

The last point I'd like to make on the topic of performance goals is the last item on the agenda. Before you leave the discussion of the game just completed, make sure each player has the floor to say anything he/she wishes! Always end that way! The teammate who's feeling somewhat embattled and is quiet during much of the post-game meeting will, in many cases, let it out when he/she has the floor and the rule is that everyone else has but one task. Listen! No interruptions! Listen! And that means you/me coach!

Oh yah, did someone write all this down in the team "Bible"?

When I'm coaching at a major competition, when the post-game meeting ends (usually at the hotel, our favourite place for the meetings) we morph into the pre-game for the next contest so when we arrive at the venue, we're ready to play!!!! Wow, what a great attitude! "We just can't wait to play!"

Send me an email ( Let me know how your pre-game and post-game meetings are going. If handled properly, the result should be improved team performance (there's that word again, performance).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pre-Game Meeting

Athletes, coaches and discerning spectators know that what goes on behind the scenes plays a huge role in what occurs on the playing surface. Hours upon hours of directed practice make what athletes and teams do seem so easy. Well, it's not easy and only rehearsal under the direction of a knowledgeable coach can make it appear so. I'll deal with but one facet of that preparation in this post, the pre-game meeting.

Step one, have one! I'm still blown away by the myriad of so-called elite curling teams who simply step onto the ice and "hope of the best". If it happens, great! If it doesn't, well, I'll have a Diet Coke thanks very much! What a way to run an organization!

Establishing a pre-game meeting means that it's mandatory that all the players on the team are ready to meet at the appointed time! No one is late! If warm-ups are to follow the pre-game meeting then time must be adjusted so that can take place in due course. And, a location must be pre-selected. You don't have time to look for one at the last minute. That might take much more time than anticipated and you may not find one at all. When I'm coaching our national senior teams at the World Senior Curling Championships, I prefer to have all meetings at the hotel, not at the playing venue for a variety of reasons. I want our opponents to see that when Canada walks into the building, we're ready to play, no last minute panic-laced meetings in front of opponents in a noisy, chaotic atmosphere. At the hotel we're in control. At the venue, we're not!

Step two, someone must "chair" the meeting and if you have a certified coach, well lucky you. He/she has been trained to conduct just such gatherings. If you do not have a coach, then either appoint the team member most suited or better yet, why not share that task?

Step three, what do we talk about in a pre-game meeting? Clearly, the sky's the limit but unfortunately, not your time so here's my two cents worth, oh yes, since the Canadian penny is on the endangered species list, here's my nickel's worth (we still have those don't we?). There should be three standard items on your pre-game agenda. First, what is our game plan? Do we "start" the game pursuing scoring opportunities, defending against perceived scoring threats or shall we play carefully and see what our opponent brings to the table? Second, have we spoken with the ice technician and if so, what might we expect from the playing surface?* Third, each player states his/her performance goal for the game AND your team performance goal.**

I'll can pretty much guarantee that if you have meaningful pre-game meetings that follow the guidelines stated above, your performance will improve. Try it. What do you have to lose?

* I make it part of my responsibility as coach to introduce myself at the earliest opportunity after first arriving at the venue. I ask a lot of questions about how the ice was installed and maintained. Before each draw I ask if he/she prepared the surface any differently. Along with a discussion about the ice, I ask questions about the stones. When I arrive at a venue for the first time the first thing I do is go to the ice surface and check out the stones. More about that too in another post later in the season.

** "Performance goals" are different from "outcome goals". I won't go into a long dissertation about goal setting, that too for another post but suffice to say that performance goals are much, and I mean significantly more useful than outcome goals. In a pre-game scenario the lead might state as his/her performance goal to get an interval time on each draw the opposition delivers. The second might suggest that he/she will check the "in-ice" thermometer after every second end. The third may have as his/her performance goal for the game to ask the skip before he/she leaves the house to make a shot to verbalize one more time, the weight to be delivered. The skip may, before delivering each shot, wish to ask the lead and second if they have noticed anything different about the ice surface as they are the ones moving up and down the sheet. The "team" performance goal may be to have a quick meeting after every two ends to answer the question, "What's the ice telling us?"
These goals, simple as they appear, have common characteristics. They are all totally in control of the player/team stating them. They are measurable and therefore reviewable (an insight into what might be on the agenda for a post-game meeting). And, I'll make one more observation about performance goals. When the team meets them, voila, performance improves! This is not a difficult game!

Author's Note: For more about goal setting, go to "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion" p.105 and read the article "Goal Setting - A Lost Art". All proceeds from the sale of the manual go to "The Sandra Schmirler Foundation".
To purchsae a copy of APITG:ACC, go to (E-ProShop) to order or call me directly at 205-686-8882.

Friday, September 14, 2012

"The Score Takes Care of Itself"

My "summer read" aboard my boat, "Indigo Pacific" was called, "The Score Takes Care of Itself". It's something of a biography of the late Bill Walsh, the highly successful coach of the San Francisco 49er's from 1979-1989. Part of it is autobiographical and part biographical with contributions from Bill's son and colleagues. Clearly the title of the book attracted me as it's what I believe and has been so much a part of my coaching philosophy. Those who have read my articles will know that. It's the greatest mistake that athletes, coaches and spectators/fans make in my view. You can't control outcomes and sometimes you will feel that you can't even exert much influence but you can control and exert influence your performance and when that happens, well, "the score takes care of itself".

It's why I have a good chuckle around Olympic time every two years when I hear statements like, "We're going for the gold." or "It's gold or nothing." or "Anything but gold means failure." All those statements are just so much male bovine excrement. When you hear them, give your head a shake, roll your eyes and hope that somewhere there's a trusted confidante that can set the person in question straight. If not, the chances of attaining that gold medal are reduced and in some cases rendered impossible. If you're one of those athletes, coaches or spectators, I hope you're not offended by the above but I do hope you'll cease and desist in doing the "gold thing"! But, back to "The Score Takes Care of Itself".

If you're not familiar with the late Mr. Walsh let me tell you that when he became the head coach of the NFL's San Francisco 49er's, the team was considered one of the most inept in all the league and within three seasons became Super Bowl Champions, an amazing transformation. And it was a wholesale transformation from the way the office staff answered the telephone to the intricate pass plays Bill himself devised. It didn't hurt that in those years he had Hall of Fame players too (Joe Motana, Steve Young). He developed a philosophy that permeated the entire 49er organization.He called it his "Standard of Performance", not his "Standare of Winning" you'll notice.

Considered "Bill Walsh - Genius" he had his trials and tribulations to be sure. On the return flight following a devastating loss to the Dolphins of Miami, he seriously considered submitting his resignation but thankfully the duration of the flight allowed for time to heal the open wound the loss to the Dolphins had inflicted. You see as you read that he didn't walk on water. He went through the "down"times that all coaches encoutner.

When I read that portion of the book it immediately took me back to my very first coaching assignment at the University of Waterloo. I ended up coaching the U of W varsity curling teams (m&w) from 1900-99. In my first year we went to the OUAA (Ontario University Athletic Association) finals for both men and women and although we did not win the provincial championship, I was left with the thought that, ""Heh, there's nothing to this!" Boy, was I wrong!" Despite my best efforts, we didn't get a sniff of returning to the playoffs in the ensuing seasons. By the fifth season it was getting to me. Like Bill Walsh, I felt that perhaps the programme might be better in someone else's hands and on my next visit to the Athletic Dept. at U of W, I too was prepared to offer my resignation. The Athletic Director at the time was my former high school football coach and the varsity football coach for the Warriors. After a few minutes of "small talk", I got to the point about the reason for my visit. I only spoke a few sentences when he interrupted, looked me in the eye and told me to get back to the Westmount Golf & Country Club (our training facility) that there were scholastic athletes waiting for me. It wasn't about championships, it was about what they were learning and with that I thanked him and headed straight to Westmount. Thanks Wally!

I'll not go on about "The Score Takes Care of  Itself" except to tell all coaches out there that it's a great read and when you're finished, you'll be a better coach!

The Score Takes Care of Itself
ISBN 978-1-59184-266-8 (hc)
ISBN 978-1-59184-347-8(pbk)