Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Real Time Visit from the Virtual Coach

Although it was never the intention of my "Virtual Coach Project" to actually visit in person with either team, as my travels recently took me through Southern Ontario, that's exactly what happened and it afforded me the opportunity to visit with the women's team on back-to-back nights at their home curling facility. I'd love to do the same with the men's team but that would necessitate an "across the pond" excursion and that's not in the cards at this point.

Night #1 saw us spend about an hour off ice (while the ice was being prepared for the evening's draws). The team wanted to talk strategy & tactics, but on a shot-by-shot level. The team was most interested in the "what-do-we-do-in-response-to" type of discussion. The various members of the team had slightly differing views on what the response should/could be when the opposition places its first lead stone of the end on the centre line reasonably close to the top of the house. Team Ellen, again not the skip's real name, has last stone advantage and wanted to know what its best response might be. This is a classic strategy & tactics situation, one that occurs, oh, just about every end! Absolutely you need to know what your response will be! The point I made after suggesting that there are two "strategies" and a variety of "tactics", was that some are more appropriate than others depending upon the strategy selected. The two strategies are; ignore the opposition stone (for the moment) or use/deal with the opposition stone. Once that decision is made, you've entered the world of tactics (i.e. selecting the shot that's most appropriate [based upon your game and end plans]). Let's examine the available tactics.

IGNORE - a) corner guard b) draw to either side of the house

USE/DEAL WITH - a) draw around b) split the guard off the CL (perhaps into the house) c) freeze to it (dangerous as it may create an overlap)

This is where "competitive data" enters the picture. The decsion with which you live should be based upon the results you get when you select the various strategies and tactics. What's working for you? What works for you may not be what works for me and my team or anyone else's team!

Then it was time to hit the ice for some technical observations. Team Ellen was dealing with some very common technical issues. Please remember, the names of the players are psuedonyms.

Loni (lead) has good draw weight, certainly a prerequisite for that position. Her challenge is line of delivery but it's not as a result of a lateral drift. Loni tends to not "get out to the brush" and subsequently she has CL guards which don't end up on the CL (which coupled with not haveing last rock advantage) often begins a downward spiral of events resulting in a multiple score by the opposition. I spent a good deal of time with the entire team reminding them of a solid pre-shot routine especially that element of getting one's body "square to the line of delivery". Included in that was the point that the most "reliable" body part to line up perpendicular to the line of delivery is the "hips", not one's hack toe, hack thigh or hack knee. They are "useful" but not "reliable". I also reminded the team that proper hack set up starts from a standing position about a 1/2 step behind the hack. That's when you get those hips square to the line of delivery (a visual line in the ice). When Loni does that, she gets out to the brush!

Lexie (second) is a "drifter" (in her case, as a right-handed curler it's a left-to-right drift). Lexie's pre-shot routine is good but as she moves her sliding foot under the mid-line of her body in the slide portion of the delivery, it gets there "quickly". When it does so, it wants to continue to move in that left-to-right direction causing the drift. Interestingly enough, Lexie's body senses that left-to-right movement and tries to "get the rock back on line". Unfortunately, that means her shot is really beginning at a point some distance from the hack and that "new" line of delivery oftern results in a shot that misses "narrow" not "wide" as one might expect since Lexie is somewhere to the right of the line of delivery. I reminded Lexie that getting the sliding foot under the mid-line of the body is one of those "automatic systems" the body has in place. I enouraged her to not even try to get her sliding foot to that mid-line position for that reason. Instead, she should try to move her sliding foot directly towards the skip's brush. If she does that, her sliding foor will move to the mid-line position under much more control and the lateral drift will be history!

Janet (third*) collapses out of her delivery so quickly her slide rarely gets much past the hog line. At the most critical time of the delivery, the release, she's decelerating noticeably. This results in a last split second "push" of the rock which makes weight control challenging. I checked Janet's slider and it looks OK. It's more of a conceptual issue. I had Janet, with a rock, slide as far down the ice as she could. Well, she amazed herself with the distance! I then asked her the big question. "Why do you slide so short?" She understood the challenge she presented herself when she decelerated at the release. One wants to release the rock in a free sliding portion of the delivery, long before the deceration phase! When she "slides long", her weight control will improve dramatically!

Ellen (skip*) has the best technical delivery on the team. I'd like to see her get a little more over her slider so more of her body weight is evenly distributed on it but it's just a suggestion to an overall solid delivery. She's a good technical role model for the team!

The second night I was in town, I had an opportunity to see the team play in a league game. Their opponent was not as skilled although the opposing skip demonstrated that she knew her way around a sheet of curling ice. Skip Ellen made a wonderful raise to the 4' to "save" the 1st end and made a number of excellent shots during the game to lead the team to victory (although, due to a time rule, the game ended at the conclusion of the 7th end). In the fourth end, skip Ellen "flashed" two back-to-back open takeouts which led to a score of three by the opposition but those were the only two blemishes on a solid performance by the skip Ellen.

The ice at their curling facility was relatively fast with lots of curl. Even though it was suggested by yours truly, the team neglected to entertain the question, "What's the ice telling us?". Had the team done that, it would have been noticed that the key to making shots on that sheet of ice was to "get out to the brush", which was a rare commodity on Team Ellen that night. Recreational curlers will find that when the skip's brush gets to the edge of the 8' circle or farther, shooting percentages begin to drop and the reason is that pesky getting out to the skip's brush thing.

I very much enjoyed working with the team and look forward to their questions as the season progresses and the same goes for all of my readers. Don't hesitate to tell me about your curling season and feel free to ask questions!

* The team had recently decided to make a position change. Ellen had been the third with Janet skipping. With Janet's short slide, her weight control was a challenge so Ellen moved to deliver the last two stones of the end but with her long time teammate (and lead) Loni holding the brush for her and assisting in determining the strategy and tactics for those end-concluding shots.

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