Thursday, November 14, 2013

Calm Down

Usually when we/I refer to one's athletic skill set, it's only natural to think in technical terms. When I attend a coaches' conference and I'm placed among coaches of other sports, upon their discovery that I'm a curling coach, someone is likely to say, "Oh, curling, that's the technical sport!". And, from a spectator's perspective, it certainly would appear that were true. Heh, how many times have we all said, "Hit the brush, deliver the right weight and all will be well" or words to that affect? Countless times I suspect. Well, we aren't what we appear to be are we! Spectators see the result of a skill set, much of which is not visible to the eye and of late I've been dealing with some of the elements. Today, it's about calming down and at the end of this post, I'm going to lift the veil on a new drill that I've recently field-tested with very good results, sort of curling's "clinical trial".

Excellent athletic performances have common characteristics. One of those is a sense of calmness. Strange as it might seem, when performance is needed the most and nerves and anxiety are at their peak, meeting the challenge is much easier and I might add from participant observation, essential, when you are calm. How many times have we intervened in a stressful situation and suggested, perhaps in very strong terms, that the individual(s) involved, start by "calming down"? It seems intuitive that nothing worthwhile/productive can occur until there's a sense of calmness.

I'm guessing there's more than one reader who's saying right now, "Heh Bill, easier said than done!" and I might have said that too at one point but not any more. Actually, if you know how to do it, it IS easy. It takes knowledge and discipline, that's all!

The knowledge was provided in the videos I suggested you watch in my recent "Quiet Eye" posts ("On the Ball" & "Brainy Putting"). If you've not watched them, please go to YouTube and do so right now.

In the scene at Dr. Debbie Crews' lab at Arizona State University, the well-known actor, Alan Alda was matched up with a professional golfer in a putting contest. You will recall that Alda, except for the miniature golf outings with his grandchildren, does not play golf. Tina Tombs played golf for a living. But Alda won the contest easily because it appeared as though Tombs, even with her excellent skill set, had not learned how to calm herself down, or as Dr. Crews described it, to calm the "left hemisphere" of the brain. Tombs putted horribly and Alda performed well even though their relative skill sets could not have been more different.

I hope that scene in "Brainy Putting" was like a building falling on you! If you don't know how to balance your brain (i.e. calming the left side so the just-do-it-trust-my-skill right side can perform) you're taking a sound curling delivery onto the ice with no protection against "competitive breakdown". I've said this before on this site, "If all you take onto the ice is a sound technical delivery, you don't have very much!"

You saw in the videos, more than one way to balance the hemispheres of the brain but I hope you took note that it's the "left side" that's the problem. The left side, the "do-it-this-way" side, always wants to be front and centre. Unfortunately, the right side, the side that actually does the performing, only works when it's in balance with the left side. I like to think of the brain's right side as on autopilot just waiting to help you perform and will do so, but only when the left side has been calmed.

In our sport of curling, I like a "mantra", a word or phrase, technical in nature, that just might make no sense to anyone except you, as perhaps the easiest way to do the job of calming the brain's left hemishpere. As I said in my follow-up post, the left side of the brain is searching for a job. If you don't give it one, a task you know is helpful to your performance, it will step to the plate and choose a job on its own and the one it selects might be most inappropriate and as a result, a satisfying performance is all but out the window. Or, as "luck" would have it, the left side might choose a task that results in a great performance. But you'll never be consistent operating on the basis!

Balancing your brain will not make an average curler great but not knowing how to balance the brain frequently makes a great curler, average. Look, you've worked very hard to develop that sound, technical delivery. Why would you leave performance to chance and not learn the other half of the process, balancing your brain so you can compete in a calm, personal atmosphere?

In about an hour, I'm going to head from Charlottetown, where I'm writing this, to Crapaud (about 30 min. east) to meet about 30 junior curlers for an on ice clinic. Then I'm headed for Cornwall where I'm going to meet some coaches for a two hour session where we're going to talk about "coaching stuff". I'm guessing the coaches are expecting me to bring some of the latest insights about delivery or brushing, something technical and I will do that but I want to spend most of the time encouraging them to ensure that aspects of the curling delivery one can't see on video get some attention. Making the athletes aware of the modalities available to balance their brain will be an agenda item.

And now for the new drill. I call it "All Hands On Deck" and of course, it's a team drill, perhaps the ultimate team drill and I believe you'll see why I say that. When I first came up with this, it was just an end-of-practice-let's-do-something-just-for-fun activity. And it was fun!!! But the more I reflected on it, the more I realized that it had a component that's very difficult simulate in a drill. And that component was providing a seemingly chaotic environment, where teamwork was paramount but one's role in the drill is to turn chaos into calmness.

The object of the drill is simple! Each member of the team will draw two shots to come to rest somewhere in the house. But, the last of the 8 stones must reach the near tee line before the first stone delivered comes to rest. Picture that!

For this drill to be feasible, the ice must be "up-to-speed" to be sure and the team must choreograph the position of the stones and movements of the players (i.e. there's no time for the time-honoured tradition of cleaning the stone so you're going to have to do that before the drill starts).

Clearly the team will be in hurry up mode but twice during the chaos and confusion, each player will have to calm down enough to make the shots (obviously without brushing). To date a few teams have tried the drill with varying degrees of success. The first order of business is just to get that 8th shot to the near tee line before the 1st stone delivered comes to rest regardless of the final resting places of the set of stones. Once the team has accomplished that goal, then they can try for the ultimate goal of eight stones in the house.

I'll invite the first team to accomplish "All Hands On Deck" to send me an email so that I can recognize the feat on this site. In the meantime, just calm down will ya!


  1. Bill showed us this drill a couple of weeks ago. The girls found it great and was alot of fun. Recommend to try for all types of teams

  2. I recall 'in the old days" late 1970's early 80's our coach would tell us to release the rock by the top of the house, or earlier if it was a takeout maybe tee line or so. Setup in the hack was key. Perhaps as ice preparation has advanced or just having faster ice and shoes curlers now find getting to the hogline happens too fast and this has become the point of release for many. I recently spared in a mixed game, I enjoyed watching a particularly petite lady make shot after shot against our team she released the rock consistently at our near the top of the house, her stone would reach the point of curl maybe 20-30' sooner than most anyone else's. Yet her skip broomed her well and she mad a lot of great shots, papering some gaurds to do so. This would be a great drill for some who realease the rock quickly at the hog like it suddenly has a 400 degree handle. Having a mix of right and left handed curlers might help, but it sure would be challenge to accomplist all hands on deck, fun i am sure,