Thursday, January 31, 2013

Now What Do We Do?

My inbox recently has received several messages from curlers whose teams have qualified in playdowns to move forward to regional, provincial/territorial and in one case, national competition asking for assistance as they prepare. It is the subject of today's post, "Now What Do We Do?". Interestingly enough, answering commonly asked questions on-line was how my writing career got started. What follows are suggestions from my experience preparing teams for that next level of competition, whatever it might be.

I'm sure that phrase sounds comical to some but it's my experience that success at a particular level might have come quite unexpectedly and perhaps in dramatic fashion. By qualifying for the next level, more of a spotlight is placed upon you. Your attitude going into that next round is critical. If you feel as though you've got no chance to succeed, very likely that's exactly what will happen. Don't assume that your team will be anointed with success just because of who you are but also don't assume you're going to be trampled to death because you didn't think for a moment you'd be there. As Henry Ford said, "If you think you can or you think you can't, you're right!"  You don't want to leave the competition realizing you "low balled" your hopes and aspirations.
Attitude will mean everything and if you've read my posts you know the one I prefer; "Coach, we just can't wait to play!"

There's always the tendency to feel that now you have to do more to help the team. Exactly the opposite is true. Do less, but do it better! When you try to be someone you're not, you'll never be the person you are. It was good enough to get you there. It will be good enough to keep you there. You can't leave your skills at home. Trust those skills and those of your teammates. Support one another unconditionally. Do all the non skill- based things you know help you perform.

That competition for which you've qualified is quite likely only a few weeks down the road. You aren't going to hone new skills in that time so don't even try. Don't practise harder or longer. In other words, don't focus on your "performer self", he's/she's OK but do focus on your "real self".
Make sure that when you leave for that next competition, all is right with family, friends, co-workers, school etc. Compete with the knowledge that all is right "back home"! That way you can concentrate on the task at hand.

This is the most valuable skill in your tool box! You know how to contribute to not only the overall success of the team, but to the success of each of your teammates. If four athletes do that, they will perform well and that's the goal! If you're not sure how to support one another, ask!

There's a saying those of us who deliver high performance camps use with attending teams. "If you do what you've always done, you're going to get what you've always got!" A companion adage is "Doing the same things over and over again, expecting different results!"
It is our participant observation that teams aspiring to increasing heights of performance don't do things wrong. There are some necessary components they don't do at all. Find out what they are!

You and your team have obviously done something(s) that are working. Identify those things and make sure they're in your repertoire when you go to that next event!

Distractions are the biggest "skill killers" especially if you're unaccustomed to playing in event such as the one in which you are about to play. It's really difficult to prepare for distractions but I have an activity below to help with that. In a nutshell, expect the unexpected. If nothing unexpected occurs, no harm, no foul but if it does, you won't be surprised. Talk to those who have been where you're going!

If someone who knows you (sing. or pl.) is willing, take him/her up on the offer but be sure he/she knows exactly how he/she can  assist. Without "marching orders", his/her involvement just might be one of those dreaded distractions. If the person willing to come to the event will be in a coaching role that's when you really must make sure he/she knows how they can help!

I know you've hear/read this almost constantly but process is way more important than the outcome. Outcomes take care of themselves but you are in control of the process. Enough said!

In your (sing. or pl.) practice sessions, concentrate on "weight control" drills and activities. Make sure you know what you're doing. You perhaps have heard me say, "The athlete who knows why will always defeat the athlete who only knows how." Have a reason for everything you do!
For the first time your team might have the opportunity for a pre-event practice* and pre-game practices. Decide exactly how you're going to use the 10-15 min. you will have on each sheet (likely the day before the event). In your practice sessions, literally choreograph your pre-game warm up starting with what you (sing. & pl.) want the pre-game warm up to provide for you.

This activity was referred to above re. distractions. Have everyone on the team take a blank piece of paper and draw a large circle. Inside the circle place all the aspects of the event over which you and your teammates have either complete control or at least a good deal of influence. Outside the circle identify those aspects of the competition over which you and your teammates have no control or very little. Make a pact with your teammates that all topics listed outside the circle will not be discussed. Never!

It's much too late to decide to "eat to perform" if you've not been doing that all along. The same goes for physical preparation. Eat and prepare physically as you would normally. It may be the best learning experience for the future (wink, wink)!

More than one team has gotten itself into a mess because they did not read the rules and regulations governing the event. If there's a "participant's guide", read it, word-for-word. It's not a bad idea to re-acquaint yourself with the actual rules of curling. Regulations can change if the event is officiated or not officiated. If you're the skip, make sure you're aware that if a rule infraction is caused by the opposition, you need to know what happened (don't be getting a drink of water) and what options are at your disposal

* In the next post I'll detail a pre-event practice activity I call "64" that Team Canada uses at the World Senior Curling Championships.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

For The Stick Curler In Your Life - (that might be you)

In my last post I dealt with what I feel is the most important single skill for a curler, weight control. That's not to subordinate the other skills, they're all important but there's no question in my mind that the team that's made up of members with superior weight control have a decided advantage in winning the game. Challenge me on that if you will!

But, today's post is for that ever-growing segment of the curling fellowship, stick curlers "of which I r 1" and please, although your interest in stick curling might be equal to your interest in playing goal without a mask, send this to someone you know is considering the use of the delivery stick or who already uses one. They will thank you (hopefully)!

As the so-called "baby boom" generation reaches its retirement years, North American society will see an unprecedented situation. People in never before seen numbers will reach retirement. North American society has no blueprint for the ramifications of having such a large segment of its population at that stage of their lives. It's not the purpose of this post to delve into the impact of this first time scenario. I'm just a lowly curling coach, not a political scientist, sociologist or any other much more competent professional who, hopefully, will make good decisions over the next 10 or so years. But, I will weigh on a modification to our sport that hopefully will both attract new curlers at that stage of their lives and retain those who have played for many years. Of course I'm referring to the "delivery stick"!

Curling has both a wonderful opportunity and challenge as it offers to retirees and any others who for one reason or another can only participate in our sport with the use of a delivery aid (i.e. stick). As I write this there are committees around the country setting forth guidelines to welcome many who have always been intrigued by curling as they watched and enjoyed it on television but who for one reason or another, have not been able to actively participate and feel that participation is most likely to be realized using the stick, as opposed to learning the traditional slide delivery. Getting this group involved in curling is easy so I'll only say to those already involved in the game, if you know of a soon or recently retired friend or family member who has expressed any interest in playing the game, take, don't send them to your local curling centre and help get them involved with good start up instruction.It's the "other group" of potential stick curlers, those with a long, active, fulfilling, relationship with the game who can no longer deliver the stone in the traditional manner (slide delivery) I want to address.

I see so many on the cusp of the ultimate decision. "Do I switch to the stick or retire from the game and find another winter activity less physically challenging?" Most will give the stick a try but sadly, for a reason I'll deal with shortly, in very large numbers they do "give it a try" but find the experience "disappointing" and walk away from the game leaving life-long wonderful memories & friends behind. I feel very sad when that occurs! I understand the decision, but it was made with flawed input. It is my participant observation that the vast majority of curlers who give the stick a try do so with no instruction from a certified instructor, make critical technical errors resulting in that less than satisfying experience and the unnecessary decision to conclude their curling career which gave them so much pleasure.

The word I here spoken often is "pride" as though you're some second class citizen if you're seen using the stick. Well, if you want to cut off your nose to spite your face then go ahead and quit but you're only hurting one person, the one who stares at you from the mirror.

Besides my continued involvement in the game in all phases and with all groups, I've morphed into understanding as much as I'm able about the "stick delivery". My initial exposure to stick curling came many years ago from a man in Guelph, ON by the name of Murray MacGregor. Murray was a long time nemesis in S ON. He was an excellent curler whose technical skill was only exceeded by his sportsmanship. Losing to a Murray MacGrgor skipped team was never a disgrace. Murray was the consummate gentleman. When his knees finally sent the message that they could no longer sustain the slide delivery, Murray was one of the first to employ the use of the stick and did so with a high degree of skill right from the start. I loved to chat with Murray anytime I was back home in the Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph area. His "secret" was simple.

When using the stick, as you reach the release point and release the stone,
keep walking forward for a few more steps!

I was many years away from using the stick but as I taught novice stick curlers the delivery, Murray's words were uppermost in my mind. Keep walking! Murray's rationale was simple and obvious. In a traditional slide delivery, the curler wouldn't think about stopping his/her slide at the point of release. Why then do legions of stick curlers, at the most critical stage of the delivery, stop walking? It just doesn't make sense. As I go into curling centres around the country to see more and more stick curlers in action, I see this critical delivery error made by the vast majority of stick curlers. If you see a stick curler stopping at the release point, encourage him/her to keep walking and use Murray's rationale. The less than satisfactory performance by curlers who give the stick a try stems from the inability to execute draws the way they did with the slide delivery. It's the greatest challenge with the use of the stick, no question. But, if they use the stick as much as possible to the way they delivered the stone with the slide, they will realize intuitively the value of walking through the release point.

Some stick curlers who have changed from their slide delivery make another critical error. They continue to use a slider and push/glide forward motion to maintain their feel for "draw weight". It sounds like a good idea but there's only one problem, it's really dangerous from a health and safety perspective.

In my mind, stick curlers who "push/glide" fall (pun intended) into one of two categories; those who have fallen to the ice and those who haven't yet. There's no group known as "will never slip and fall"!

I'm pleased that more and more curlers whose birthday cake resembles a forest fire are wearing protective head gear. I've helped to clean the blood from the ice too many times after stick curlers have fallen! Stick curlers who wear helmets tell me that until I pointed it out to them, they forgot they had it on. The reason it's dangerous is two fold. One, in an erect position your centre of gravity is much further from the ice than it is in a slide delivery, therefore balance is more tenuous, much more. Second, you don't have the same core strength and stability you once had, sorry, but that's life so why run the risk of falling to the ice and for the rest of that life, putting your brain into "neutral"? The sound of a head hitting the cold, hard surface of curling ice is one I don't want to hear again!

If you still scoff at my cautionary words, I'll make you a deal. Go home and talk this over with those who both love you and rely upon you. If they feel it's OK that you remain in the group about to fall, fill your boots, but make sure your medical  insurance is paid up and covers imprudence. But, if that's your  choice, do yourself and your loved ones a favour. Wear a helmet!

I'll leave stick curlers with three pieces of technical advice. One is about that seemingly elusive weight control to which I referred above, The second has to do with line of delivery and the third is about apply rotation.

Weight Control

A stick curler does not have a slide. He/she walks along the line of delivery, according to both the rules of the game and its spirit*, so walking speed also is rock speed up to a point. And that point is the release point. The stick curler could simply rotate the stick, applying the correct rotation (see below), releasing the stone which would leave the stick with walking velocity. Assuming that's within the power of the brushing, a successful shot should result. If more or less rock speed is required, the stick curler simply alters the walking speed. That's option #1.

Option #2 involves an arm extension (see previous post, "When Push Comes To Shove"). With this option, walking speed remains reasonably constant with an arm extension adding the required velocity to the stone, again, within the power of the brushers. To employ option #2, the curler needs to walk at a speed that's somewhat slower than required, all the while monitoring that walking speed so the "fine tuning mechanism" (arm extension) adds just the required amount.

Option #3 is a combination of options #1 & #2. There may be a slight adjustment to walking speed along with an appropriate arm extension. It's my experience that most stick curlers employ option #3 most frequently followed by #2 then #1. Only through practice will you know which works best for you!

Line of Delivery

With the advent of the "no back swing" delivery which is now the industry standard and has been for more than a generation of curlers, in the hack we basically place the stone in front of our hack foot. There are some mitigating circumstances and some personal preferences from my coaching/instructing colleagues which place the stone somewhere to the right or left of the center of the hack foot but for the sake of this post, I'm sticking with my "centrist" position (I sound like a politician running for office).

Stick curlers need to do the same. I like to stand slightly behind the hack when I line up to the skip's brush. That's where you adjust your body position so that you're standing "perpendicular to the line of delivery". Now here's the key point in all of this. When you stand behind the hack as described in the previous paragraph, hold the stick so that when you look down the stick it's an extension of the imaginary line to the skip's brush, the "line of delivery". The stick will be directly on the mid-line of the body and "it must remain there" to the release point and follow through (remember to "keep walking").


Hopefully when you started curling, you were taught to position the handle of the stone at either the 10 o'clock position or the 2 o'clock position then to apply the rotation by moving the handle toward the 12 o'clock position as it's released. Well, good news stick curlers, nothing has changed. You do the same thing with the stick! It's why I use a stick that has a head manufactured to be apply to the end of a hockey stick shaft. That way I can feel when the stick is at any of the "clock positions" described about. A round stick can't do that!

* Just because you play with a stick, it doesn't give you license to try to circumvent the spirit of the rules of the game as they apply to the delivery of the stone. To do so to try to gain an advantage is unethical! Don't get me started!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When Push Comes To Shove

During the lead up to the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, where curling was a demonstration sport, there was much ado about exactly how Canada should select its representatives. It was decided that an evaluation camp was to be held in Calgary some months prior to the event as part of the process. To say that decision caused quite a stir was akin to comparing hurricane Sandy to a bad weather day.

I won't go into the details of the acrimony caused by both the inclusion and exclusion of particular Canadian curlers but the media had a field day (or weeks) publishing and commenting on the continuous flow of sound bites emanating from various athletes. Those of "a certain age" I'm sure will vividly recall many of them. Most of the more memorable quotes originated with an Ontario curler whose curling nickname identified a common workshop tool.

But despite the rancor caused by the evaluation camp, there were some very interesting data which surfaced from the testing of the athletes. One had an immediate impact on instructors whose responsibility it was to establish curricula for the way delivering the curling stone was taught.

Clearly the male subjects tested better on down weight shots (i.e. draws) than their female counterparts and as I recall, the difference in the test scores was striking. No sweeping/brushing accounted for the difference as the shots were not aided in any way.

Visual evidence showed that female curlers were delivering the stone pretty much the way we taught it at that time, with a relatively straight arm, while most of the men clearly had a delivery arm that was "bent". As much as could be determined, that was the only visual difference. Male curlers, as they reached the release point appeared to monitor the velocity of their slide and add whatever was required through a smooth, unhurried arm extension. To allow that arm extension to fine tune the weight of the stone the athlete had to be sliding "slower" than the required velocity which seemed a relatively easy task. The majority of the female athletes relied on their speed-from-the-hack as the sole determining factor for weight control, a relatively difficult task.

While I was National Development Coach for the CCA at the National Training Centre in Calgary, I recall a study conducted by a physics professor from Queen's University (Kingston, ON) who was charged with the responsibility of determining if a skilled athlete could drive from the hack repeatedly with the same velocity. I'll spare the details of his methodology and tell you that he concluded the athlete could not control his velocity from the hack using leg drive alone! When his empirical data was released I recall conversing with him suggesting that in my mind, the test subject may not have been able to drive from the hack with the same velocity time-after-time but when one took into account the assistance of his brushers/sweepers, the differences according to the professor's rather strict standards were negated. In other words, the athlete could control his speed out of the hack well within the power of his brushing/sweeping teammates.

But the point was made. Drive from the hack uses the largest muscle group in the human body, the quadriceps (thigh). They are the muscles least designed for fine motor control. The arm, with biceps and triceps, is an aid to weight control that we were ignoring.

As instructors, we got the message. We changed our instructional material to encourage curlers to slide with a "soft elbow" so that as they slide (slower than draw weight would dictate) there was a "fine tuning mechanism" (arm extension) available to add the necessary velocity. And that's the way curlers control the speed of the stone to this very day. But there's a problem as I see it and its why I've entitled this post "When Push Comes To Shove".

In a nutshell, in my view, we've gone a little overboard with what was supposed to be a "fine tuning mechanism" (FTM) and I see way too many curlers trying to emulate the elite athletes they see on TV who by talent and much, much practice, literally push the stone forward, under control and still rotate the stone. That's not easy to do! It does require talent and practice, a lot of practice. Many elite curlers tend to slide forward with a consistent velocity with the FTM (I'm sticking with that term) as the primary source of weight control. Again, they get away with it for the reasons cited above.

For the rest of us, who play for a very different reason than those you see on TV, relying on the FTM is dangerous to say the least. You should, in my view, practise propelling your body forward from the hack at differing velocities so that you can adjust your slide speed to just under the requirement for draw weight, monitor your body speed and then apply the FTM as required. To acquire that skill, practise sliding to predetermined distances (perhaps marked by paper/plastic cups) at various intervals down the ice "without a stone" (the corollary benefit is a check on balance). And this applies to takeouts as well! Again, I see too many curlers getting most of the weight of the stone, even on takeouts with what has now become a "push". Whoa, good luck with that! Delivering a takeout is no different than delivering a draw. You still slide out of the hack with slightly less velocity than required and add the FTM.

I'm going to show a bias here but if you want to emulate someone's delivery in terms of the release of the stone, someone you see on TV frequently, emulate Glenn Howard! You won't see the violent push forward from him and that release, silky smooth.

If you have a million dollar slide and a two cent release, you've got a two cent delivery!

As a parting note, I asked the good professor from Queen's if the inability (again based upon his standards which I still feel were too strict) for a curler to push from the hack with consistent velocity applied to everyone. He said there will be some, a very small minority, who can adjust the speed of their slide and stay inside the power of the brushers/sweepers. Not that it matters to the premise of this post but I was one of those. In my competitive playing days in the 1700's, although I never had a "ram rod straight delivery arm", I did not employ an FTM so coaches, don't feel that all your athletes must use one, but clearly most should!

For more about velocity from the hack, turn to p.45 in your copy of "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion" and read the article "You Have the Power"

Friday, January 18, 2013

Puck Drop

As many had predicted, the "dance" involving the NHL & NHLPA is over. The music has finally stopped and play will begin tomorrow (01/19/13) for some NHL teams with every team having played its first game by Sunday. OK all you fans out there, now is the time to know whether all the vitriol you expelled during the 100+ days of the NHL lockout was just words or sincere feelings.

The fans have been bombarded this week with television ads, radio interviews etc. with both team owners and players literally pleading for their fans to return. Players want you to feel part of their challenge to perform well and make the playoffs and possibly "bring home the Cup". Owners have set up discount food and reduced merchandise costs to lure the team's fans back into the building.

I hope you see all this for what it is. Now that their sandbox scrap is in the rear view mirror, they realize what most knew all along. The money that was at the heart of the issue was never theirs and any future revenue comes from one source, the fans.Where was this contrition "during" the lockout? It's like being remorsful for a wrongdoing after you've been exposed. The apology is only because you got caught, not for what you did.

I have a friend here on Vancouver Island who has been a Vancouver Canuck season ticket holder from "day one". Yes, I said "day one" of the team's existence (1970). That means a ferry ride and an overnight stay on the mainland including the cost of the ticket each time he witnesses a Canuck game. This man is a "fan" of the highest order (a little misguided perhaps as the team to cheer for is in Calgary but that's for another time). During the lockout I asked for his take on the situation. What follows are his words with his permission to post. Hockey fans take heed!!!

I am totally disgusted with the NHL Owners and Commissioner Gary Bettman and his Deputy Bill Daly for allowing the renegotiation of the CBA to degenerate into a needless 113-day lockout from Sept. 15th during which any prospects of reasonable and fair settlement were compromised by bad faith, intentional delays and the worst examples of constructive collective bargaining practices. Although multi-millions of dollars have been lost by owners and players, the big losers are the fans who create the bulk of hockey revenue and the suppliers of goods and services which support the business of hockey. Many fans and supporting businesses will not be continuing their considerable support in the future.

The lengthy negotiations of the new CBA have been reported endlessly. As Sidney Crosby stated recently, there was no legitimate reason for the CBA not to have been agreed upon in early December with the prospects of a nearly full season. Instead, contrary to the opinion stated by Don Cherry that a shortened 48-game schedule "will be terrific", most knowledgable hockey people are skeptical - a compressed schedule will lead to tired players prone to injury, boring games limited to teams in our own Conference, and questionable results in the final standings.

Unfortunately, in most NHL cities the owners will not get the message and improve their contractual dealings with their players, nor give greater recognition to their fans and supporting businesses who bear the freight. Like most other season ticket holders, I will somewhat reluctantly continue to attend games and the Canucks will extend their consecutive sellout record from the existing 400 plus games. One of the unfortunate results I have found over my 40-years as a Canucks season ticket holder is that the fan base has changed from predominantly one of individuals and families to corporate ownership, no doubt due to the high cost of tickets - with this protracted lockout and resulting CBA, there is little prospect of more affordable live hockey at the NHL level.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

And You Call Yourself "Coach"?

This post is not an easy one to write. I'm an avid supporter of the National Coaching Certification Programme in Canada! I believe this programme comes as close to producing coaches who are knowledgeable, dedicated, forward thinking and caring as any in the entire world. But, nothing's perfect. Some coaches who get certified somewhere along the line, lose sight of their role with athletes, especially young athletes.

The impetus for this post comes from two long distance situations where coaches sought my thoughts on respective scenarios into which they had been drawn and in both cases, the less than savory environment was caused, not by athletes making poor decisions, but by certified coaches. In both cases my initial and sustained reaction was that both coaches should be removed from working with young athletes in our sport until they realize, accept and exhibit the charateristics of someone charged with working with impressionable young athletes!

In one case the coach was blatantly unethical to the degree that the athletes in the coach's care where taught by example that winning trumps everything else. In the other, the coach's treatment of a segment of the team is nothing short of unconscionable. In fact in the latter case, when the details where made known to me, I was stunned by what I was hearing! I didn't believe any coach, certified or not, could conduct him/herself in that manner.

Clearly I'm not going to go any further into either case but perhaps the NCCP needs to take a look at a process by which the "bad apples" can be thrown out of the barrel until they are worthy to be called "coach".

I do not know the names of the two coaches to which I have referred but if they are reading this, and I suspect this post will find its way to them, do the right thing. Stop, before any more damage to the athletes is done and get help for yourself. I suggest you take a step back from working with young athletes and re-examine why you're coaching in the first place.

I usually apologize for sounding "preachy" but I'm not in this case. If you've not read my articles or posts you need to know something that regular readers have heard or seen me say. "Your athletes don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." And that means caring not only about your own athletes but respecting their opponents and your fellow coaches. It also means that you care about the ethics and rules of the sport both in spirit and in letter. You appear to care much more about yourself than you do your athletes! That's not right and cannot continue! You do not belong in the fellowship of coaches who put athletes first and see them not just as athletes but as young citizens who are part of the solution rather than part of the problem in this society.

In a recent post I stated that sports does not build character, it reveals it and that's true of coaches too. Interestingly and disturbingly enough, in both cited cases, the coach is also the parent of an athlete on the team. Those parents will pay dearly for the lessons they are teaching to their own children. In both cases, the caring coaches who contacted me about what's happening, are now left with cleaning up the mess and I'm helping them do that in the best way I know.

The silver lining in all of this is the rarity of these unfortunate instances. But that's no reason to turn a blind eye. If you are a coach or a parent of an athlete who is involved in a situation in which a coach in your opinion is not guiding the athletes based upon generally accepted principles, speak up! If you can't find receptive ears in your area, you know how to reach me!

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Day When Nothing Meant Everything

Each year about 570 (it was 569 this year) journalists who cover Major League Baseball receive a ballot in the mail which empowers the recipient to vote for players who he/she feels is worthy of inclusion into the Baseball Hall of Fame (BHOF) in Cooperstown, NY. To say that the criteria for this highest of honours is vague is putting it mildly. They are all members of an elite group of baseball journalists known as the Baseball Writers Association of America (BWAA) and yes, there are Canadian journalists in the BWAA.

Clearly it's the most subjective of decisions. Numbers are important to some voters. Others view longevity in the game as paramount. Some see great performances in the face of overwhelming odds as a key factor. Great comebacks from a few years of not-so-great seasons impresses some. Still others simply look at a player's career against the backdrop of those already enshrined and simple say, "Does he/she belong in this group?". Although many feel that the criteria should be more focused, I rather like the diversity as it makes the mosaic of the BHOF more all-encompassing.

Whatever a voter sees as a benchmark, this year's vote was a Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of baseball. It was the first time, players who openly admitted or were caught using performance enhancing drugs (PED) were eligible. Their names were on the ballot. The sporting world waited to see how those closest to the game would see the players of that era. Yesterday (01.09.13) the results of the voting were made known.

As my title suggests, no player who enhanced his performance by taking substances designed solely for that purpose was voted for inclusion in the BHOF! For the first time, in a long time, no living player will be voted into the BHOF. The voters have spoken clearly and with a combined voice. Taking PED is cheating and this is at least part of the price one pays for taking them! Full stop! There is already criticism from some quarters on the Internet chastising the BWAA for taking this stance.

This comes as quite a blow to the business owners in the sleepy town of Cooperstown, NY, high in Adirondack mountains of the "empire state". Oh, there will be an induction ceremony as a few inductees will be posthumously inducted into the shrine of baseball (Jacob Ruppert [executive], Hank O'Day [umpire] & Deacon White [player]) but very few who might attend the ceremony will have known much about these individuals which for the inductees and there families, is unfortunate. These inductees were voted into the BHOF, not by the BWAA but by a specially appointed panel known as "The Veterans Committee". The BHOF Induction Day Committee will fill the void of not having real live players inducted by honouring a group of inductees from the past as well as other special events. This hasn't happened since 1960!

Although I've not attended an "Induction Day Ceremony" I have visited the BHOF and I suggest that any baseball fan who can make his/her way to Cooperstown, NY, do so. Of all the halls of fame for various sports, the BHOF is really something special. One of my favourite baseball movies, "A League of Their Own", concludes with a very moving scene shot in Cooperstown at the BHOF. Yes, there are women enshrined in the BHOF, an entire league!

Those who care or are at least interested in the voting procedure for the BHOF were eagerly anticipating this year's vote as its results would be historic and set something of a precedent. Without going into a lot of detail, the rules of induction into the BHOF decree that a player must be retired from active participation for a period of five years and his name remains on the ballot for a set period of time as well. When that period of time expires, the only way to be inducted into the BHOF is through the aforementioned Veterans Committee. So, just because the players who were on the ballot (by the way, no "write in" names are allowed) this year, that does not mean they won't be "voted in" sometime down the road. That provision occasionally sees, due to the passage of time, that standards change and what seems to have prevented a player from initial inclusion is somewhat muted later on resulting in the player's induction.

Easily the most well-known player not to have been inducted into the BHOF, is Pete Rose. His "numbers" are extraordinary. He's the all time "hits" leader and he played the game with an enthusiasm rarely seen over the span of a career. In fact his nickname in the game was "Charlie Hustle". But, he bet on baseball, at the time, a "rule" (never documented) in the game that was universally accepted. He is alleged to have bet on his team he was playing for and later managing and as he has stated on numerous occasions, he never wagered against his team. He always bet that his team would win but he didn't bet on every game and that was part of the problem. Many would ask Pete why he didn't bet on every game. The implication of not betting on a game in which his team participated many argued was the same as betting against them. And then there's the whole murky situation of the criminal underworld and its close ties to wagering and the accrued profits from that practice. Pete made life more difficult for himself by changing his story re. the betting or alleged betting. He seemed to tell you whatever he felt you wanted to hear. As luck would have it, as I'm putting the finishing touches on this post, I have the TV on in my hotel room in Red Deer, and guess who is being interviewed, Pete Rose and he's still up to his old tricks of dodging and weaving with his answers. Pete, stop already!

Sports, to be popular with fans needs one thing more than any other. It needs to be seen as a contest with both teams having the same opportunity to win the game. Without that, we're watching pure entertainment (can you say "professional wrestling"?). Soccer is in a very grey area right now due to some game fixing allegations that seem to have "legs". There have been other sports were gamblers have infiltrated players and officials to "shave points" or actually "throw" games and when that's discovered the cancer is quickly cut away as sports league know that to ignore that element is suicide for the sport.

The players who took PED, I would contend. were not excluded from the BHOF per se, they were excluded because they lied about taking the PED and sometimes the lies were in front of government committees. North Americans have a great capacity to forgive. Just don't lie! Pete Rose would be in the BHOF had he not lied about his gambling addiction. I feel most if not all of these players whose numbers etc. would normally have afforded them first ballot inclusion would also be basking in that glow had they not lied about it. It's not the transgression, it's the lie that will keep them out!

The great Yankee pitcher, Andy Pettitte will have his name on a BHOF ballot five years after his retirement. That will be the next interesting vote by the BWAA. Why? Mr. Pettitte took PED but he did so to more quickly recover from an injury and admitted doing so. Call me naive but I believe that he would have stopped taking the PED when he eventually recovered. Where does he fit into the PED mess?

The sport that's most associated with PED is cycling. Enter Lance Armstrong, winner of seven "Tour de France" titles, oh, not so fast, those titles have been stripped as it appears there is proof that he did take PED. As I write this he seems to be willing to finally reveal that even though he said he didn't and he never tested positive, he indeed enhanced his performance by taking PED. He feels that his admission will allow him to be reinstated so he can continue his athletic career. With all the good that Lance Armstrong has done with his cancer research programme, "Livestrong", do we cut him some slack on this? Is one justified in taking PED because "everyone else in the sport is doing so"?

There are legions of fans who are of the opinion that the world has changed (better living through chemistry). Those in this group would allege that the only reason athletes of yesteryear didn't take PED was because they didn't exist. They now do exist and they're not going away so let the players take whatever they want. We want to see great performances and if the PED prove to shorten athletes lives, heh, they're well compensated for their performances! The potentially devastating affects of a life time of taking PED is simply the cost of doing business for that athlete. Is that view justifiable?

If you think for a minute that the fans referred to in the above paragraph don't exist, the "home run race" between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa that quite literally captured the imagination of baseball fans in that it was heralded as "saving baseball" following a work stoppage (NHL fans can relate to this) proved otherwise in my view. It was commonly perceived that both players were "juiced". But the majority of the fans didn't care. They just wanted to see baseballs "leave the yard" as frequently as possible. Are fans complicit?

There are many out there who feel that since PED are not "illicit" drugs, technically the athletes were within their rights as citizens to consume them. If there was nothing wrong taking PED why then did the players do so in a "cloak & dagger" environment? They knew very well that what they were doing was "unethical" within the realm of their sport. Hmm, ethics! Where do ethics fit into sports? Is ethics up to the individual or team? Exactly what is ethics anyway? Sports have rules. Isn't abiding by the rules enough?

Well, I will weigh in on this one as curling is one of the few sports that actually has a "code of ethics". It's the first page, or near the front of our rule book.

Look, every rule has both a "letter" and a "spirit". One can abide by the "letter of the rule" and kick the stuffing out of the "spirit of the rule". And to make matters even more complicated regarding rules and ethics, the culture can change and in dramatic fashion from one sport to another.

In an article in "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion" I cite the case of a major league baseball player in a World Series Game who in front of 50 000+ fans in the stadium and millions watching on TV took advantage of an obvious error in judgement on the part of the home plate umpire who believed the pitched ball had hit the player's hands on the bat and was awarded first base (later to be driven home with the game winning run) when in reality the ball hit the bat (as the replay clearly showed). He might have been the only one who knew for sure the ball had not hit him but the culture of the sport allows him to take advantage of an unwarranted situation. My contention in the article was that had the player not been in professional baseball but a professional golfer and accidentally touched the ball with no one else noticing, he would have declared it because it's golf, not baseball. What's the culture of the sport you play?

The evidence seems to indicate that PED have long term implications to the health of the individual. What about the thousands upon thousands of very young athletes with hopes of reaching the "brass ring" through a professional career, fall short only to be left with a life time of debilitating health challenges and possibly a shortened life span? If you're a parent of a teenage athlete with aspirations for a professional career, how do you feel about your son/daughter gaining a competitive edge through PED?

Those of us who care about sports and its place in society can't stick our heads in the sand on this. I've asked a lot of questions in this post. I did that purposefully. Where do you stand on these issues? I look forward to your comments!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Yes, You Have a Voice!

The hockey world awoke this morning (01/06/13) to the news that the Board of Governors of the National Hockey League have reached a tentative agreement on a "collective bargaining agreement" with the members of the National Hockey League Players' Association. For the sake of this post, we'll assume the agreement will be ratified and play will begin in the NHL on or about Jan. 19 with a 50 or more likely, a 48 game schedule with teams playing teams in their own conference only.

I for one, couldn't care less if the NHL season resumed. I'm thinking I'm not alone with that sentiment and that feeling was growing at a rate that alarmed both the NHL and the NHLPA playing at least a small role in the aforementioned tentative agreement. 

I hope the parties are alarmed because throughout the "negotiations" (that's a bit of a stretch), with the exception of an ill-conceived comment by the league Commissioner (Gary Bettman), the group that actually provides the millions and millions of dollars that were the center of the work stoppage, the fans, were all but ignored. 

Well NHL fans, you do have a voice and now is the time to use it! Failure to do so will make fans part of the problem as they will validate the aforementioned Mr. Bettman's comment that the NHL has the most loyal fans of all sports leagues. He might as well have stated that regardless of the way NHL fans are ignored during the process and regardless of the way the league and the players use the money the fans infuse, those fans, like lemmings, will return to place their stamp of approval on the new collective bargaining agreement. 

I'm reminded of a scene in the movie, "The King's Speech" when Geoffrey Rush's character, Lionel Logue, finally inspires Colin Firth's lead character to use his voice. The scene is one of those stand up and applaud scenes. It takes place in Westminster Abbey as Lionel Logue helps the future King George VI prepare for his coronation. Here's a transcript:

King George VI: [sees Logue seated on the coronation throne] What are you doing? Get up! You can't sit there! GET UP!!!
Lionel Logue: Why not? It's a chair.
KG VI: No, that's not just a chair. That is Saint Edward's chair.
LL: People have carved their names on it.
KG VI: [simultaneously] That ... chair ... is the seat on which every king and queen has ... that is the stone Stone of Scone you ah are trivializing everything . You trivialize ...
LL: [simultaneously] It's held in place by a large rock! I don't care how many royal arseholes have sat in this chair.
KG VI: Listen to me. "LISTEN TO ME"!
LL: Listen to you? By what right? 
KG VI: By divine right if you must! I am your king!
LL: No you're not. You told me so yourself. You didn't want it. Why should I waste my time listening?
KG VI: Because I have a right to be heard. I have a voice!
LL: [pause] Yes, you do!

Now make no mistake. The NHL lockout is in no way to be compared to the importance of a speech to be made by the future king of Great Britain as that nation prepared to be embroiled in the Second World War but just as King George had a voice, NHL fans do as well and here's how I would suggest they use it.

The "first home game" for each team should be played to as empty a building as possible. No one should purchase a ticket and season ticket holders (who will have to sacrifice more) need to stay away as well. No one should watch a home opening game on TV. That sends a clear message to league and team sponsors. If that were to occur, the NHL, the NHLPA and its sponsors will realize that it's the fans who cannot be ignored. Players' salaries and league revenue come from the fans. Each team would play to an empty arena twice. After that, fans can flock back in droves if they wish. But the message will have been sent in the only way it can be sent, by combined absence.

If, on the other hand, the buildings for each team's home opener are filled, exactly the opposite message will have been sent and make no mistake, both the NHL & the NHLPA will be listening.

You have a voice! Use it or for the next ten years, lose it!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Red, White, Blue & GOLD

For me, the real hockey season has come and gone (regardless of the news by the NHL & NHLPA out of New York City this morning) and I believe I'm not alone in my feelings. I'm speaking of the World Junior Hockey Championships, recently concluded in Ufa Russia.

From Boxing Day to yesterday, the best junior aged male hockey players on the planet displayed their considerable talents (albeit at 0130 in the morning on occasion for those of us on the left coast of North America [thank you PVR]). And this year, all the best junior players were available thanks to the NHL lockout so no Canadian excuses that some of their best juniors were playing professionally in that league.

Congratulations to Team U.S.A. and the coaching staff for winning the gold medal! As I said on my Facebook page, once again we are reminded that it's not how you start, it's how you finish! The Americans did not start fast. In fact, in their group, they suffered two defeats which in past years might have put that team on the next aircraft home with no chance for a medal of any kind. But their group w/l record did qualify the team wearing red, white & blue for the medal round but forced them to win three games back-to-back-to-back to claim the title, which of course, is exactly what the team did.

Attitude going into the medal round I'm sure played a prominent role with the key game being the first one, the quarter-final. In the semi-final and final, they were playing with "house money" as both of their opponents had avoided the quarter-final by winning their group (Canada & Sweden). Certainly in the game with their continental compatriots it was obvious to me that the Canadians were playing "not to lose" while the Americans played "to win". Playing not to lose is never a good idea!

The bye to the semi-final or final in any sporting event is fraught with danger. Ed Werenich ("TheWrench") was once asked about playing semi-final games as opposed to advancing to the final. He said that there was only one downside to having to play a semi-final. You might lose! He understood "momentum" or "being on a roll". Ask the Detroit Tigers about waiting several days for their World Series opponent in their last two appearances in "The Fall Classic". In our sport, the Page System has seen many bye-to-the-final teams go down in the title game. I'm to the point that I'm not so sure that it's worth winning that 1v2 game and I'm dead serious when I say that. It's more difficult to get it going than it is to keep it going!

As the group stage of the tournament concluded, I felt that Team U.S.A. was "the dangerous team". There's always one in every event. It's the team with "low expectations" and "high trust in their skills". As I've said before, don't misunderstand that "low expectations" part. That's the "playing with house money" term used above. It's the release of the pressure valve that "going for the gold"* (are you listening Canada?) that's in place many times for one's opponents. Marry that with complete faith that the players and the team have the tools needed to perform, and you have the "dark horse" or as I prefer, the most "dangerous team" in the playoffs. So no surprise here that Team U.S.A. are World Junior Hockey Champions! From a Canadian supporter, thanks Team U.S.A. for bringing the WJHC trophy back to North America.

As I also pointed out on my Facebook page, there was irony in that American triumph and it came in the persons of John Gibson (Team USA goalkeeper) and Team Canada coach, Steve Spott. Gibson, clearly the best player on Team USA throughout the tournament, plays in the Canadian Hockey League for the team in my hometown, The Kitchener Rangers. Guess who coaches The Kitchener Rangers? You got it, Steve Spott. Should be an interesting next home game for the Rangers in the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium! I'm sure my fellow citizens in Kitchener will applaud enthusiastically for John's success!

* In one of my favourite movies, clips of which I use frequently with teams, "Cool Runnings", there's a scene near the end in which John Candy's character as the Jamaican bob sleigh team coach, is asked to explain by one of the Jamaican team members, why as a bob sleigh driver he "cheated". After attempting to justify his actions with the "win at all costs" explanation, the athlete said that he still couldn't understand why he threw is all away for a gold medal.  Finally Coach Blitzer said,"If you not enough without the gold medal, you'll never be enough with it!"

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year Resolutions for Curlers

Yes, I know! New Year Resolutions are the crab grass in the lawn of ringing in a new year but it's a great time to commit to those decisions you know will benefit you in the long term but as the title indicates, these will be for curlers and their teams. They are in no particular order and I'm not suggesting you or your team need to be resolute on each point. Choose the two, three or four that you feel will have the greatest immediate impact and start with them. This list is not mutually exclusive! Page references are for articles in APITGACC. Dates refer to earlier posts on this site.

  • Ask your teammates how you can be a better teammate. Don't assume you know. Ask them! (p.119)
  • Visualize the successful completion of the shot you are asked/decide to play before you attempt it. 
  • Arrive at every game with a positive attitude toward the challenge as it's your most important piece of equipment. (p.128)
  • Get someone who you feel understands the curling delivery who will assess yours.
  • Start to be aware of the number of rotations you're applying to the stone from release to stop. (12/30/12)
  • If your grippers (notice the plural) are in their second season (or more) of use, discard them and purchase new ones. 
  • Turn your pre-shot "ritual" into a pre-shot "routine". (p.216)
  • Never again go to your curling facility to "just throw rocks". Make shots! (p.11)
  • Arrange for someone with visual recording equipment to record your delivery so what you "believe" you're doing (or not doing) is what's actually happening. (p.81)
  • Start a journal. (10/09/12)
  • Start a "Team Bible". (10/10/12)
  • Don't continue to do what's clearly not working! Try something else! (07/05/12)
  • Call a team meeting to once and for all, decide how it's best for your team to play the game from both a strategic and tactical perspective. (11/18/12)
  • Reduce your (pl.) unforced errors to zero (i.e. stay inside "execution tolerance").
  • If you have a brush with a synthetic head, keep it clean (warm water, mild soap and an old finger nail or tooth brush work well). Don't brush your teeth with the tooth brush used to clean the brush head. (p.106)
  • Stop focusing on the outcome and begin to focus on the performance. (07/23/12)
  • Stop trying to be perfect! (p.203)
  • You began curling because it was fun so make sure that's the primary reason you're still playing!
  • If you haven't already done so, support The Sandra Schmirler Foundation by purchasing a copy of "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion". If you're not sure how to order, send me an email (

Good Curling in 2013!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Parent and the iPhone

Today's blog came from some web surfing by yours truly. I came upon what you will read below regarding a parent (Janelle) who had "given" her 13 yr. old son (Greg, you'll understand the quotations marks shortly) an iPhone for Christmas. But, there were strings attached and in my mind, good parenting skills demonstrated.  Her 18 rules and regulations are the essence of this post. If you're a parent of teenagers out there, this is for you! Enjoy and I wish for you all that's best for 2013!

Her rules are as follows (lightly edited from Janelle Hofmann's blog):
  1. It is Mom's phone, she's just loaning it to Son.
  2. Mom always gets to know the password.
  3. Son must always use manners when picking up the phone -- and ALWAYS pick up the phone when it rings, especially when Mom or Dad are on the other line.
  4. Son must hand phone to Mom or Dad at 7:30 PM on weekdays and 9 PM on weekends.
  5. No iPhone during school hours. Son must have physical conversations, not just text message chains.
  6. Son, not Mom, is responsible for any iPhone repairs or replacements.
  7. Technology can not be used by son to "lie, fool or deceive another human being."
  8. Son may not write or say anything on the phone he wouldn't say in person.
  9. Son may not say something on the phone he wouldn't say in front of the other person's parents (censorship).
  10. Son may not look at porn.
  11. iPhone must not make Son rude. Phone must be stored during movies, dinners, etc.
  12. Son may not send or receive sexts (pictures of body parts).
  13. Son may not take too many photos or videos (bad news, Instagram)
  14. Son must be able to leave the house without the phone without feeling paranoid. i.e. Son must not become addicted to his iPhone.
  15. Son must download new songs that his friends haven't discovered yet. "Expand your horizons," says Mom.
  16. Son must play games "every now and then" on iPhone.
  17. Son must still experience the world and look up from the iPhone from time to time. "Wonder without googling."
  18. If Son messes up (mom expects him to), his phone will get taken away. He'll be talked to and given the phone back. "I am on your team," Mom concludes. "We are always learning."
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