Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holiday Mail Bag Plus Some Thoughts

I trust all are enjoying the Holiday Season with lots of turkey, family & friends (with emphasis on the last two)! Questions have been piling up under my Christmas tree like so many gifts so here's Santa Bill digging into that sack of queries.

What one delivery fault do most recreational curlers have?

In my view it's the "sliding device" selected and how it's used. Most curlers cling to the use of the brush for the sliding device and that's fine. And most start out in the hack with the brush in the correct  position relative to the body so that the shoulders are square to the line of delivery. The "head of the brush should be opposite the stone". That's the time honoured admonition from instructors across the curling world and most recreational curlers understand and get the message. But, and you knew there'd be a "but", by the time that recreational curler gets to the most critical part of the delivery, the release, that brush head us no longer opposite the stone, rather the brush is at a 90 degree angle to the body and the upper body, the part where the delivery arm is attached (last time I checked) is literally "bent out of shape" with no end of release issues ensuing.
I'm pleased that most curling facilities have a number of sliding devices, the so-called "stabilizer" available for novices and rental groups. I believe that all curlers should start out that way and move into using the brush as a sliding device when they so choose. I know I'll get opposition on this but I'm too old to care 'cause I know I'm right (& modest)!

What do most team do wrong?

This one is easy! Most teams don't see the members of the team as a "team". It's just a collection of individuals each trying to make two shots per end. They don't see the team as becoming greater than the sum of its parts. This is especially true of recreational teams who just want to curl and have fun, and that's OK if it remains that way but as soon as those same recreational curlers start to get "bent out of shape" (unlike the first question, this time is a psychological bending out of shape) they've moved their yardsticks down the performance field but don't know how to improve as a team.
This is when I feel we as instructors need to step in and offer, not a high performance camp in the way we conduct one for elite teams, but for those recreational teams. There are so many areas that this type of team is missing. It's not so much what they're doing wrong. It's much more what they're not doing at all. It's an error of omission not commission!
I'll give but one example. Most recreational teams never take the time to establish a "communication protocol", something about which I've written on this site and in "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion". They end up distracting one another which manifests itself in a sub par technical performance but the problem is not necessarily technical in nature. Many times it's the "failure to communicate" effectively.
I suggest to teams in this setting to contact your provincial/territorial association and ask for a camp with instructors skilled at working with teams. If you're in/near BC, get some teams together with like interest, contact Curl BC now and suggest they contact me. I'll conduct your camp and get some of my "peeps" to join me! I/we (Karen Watson) do exactly that in Seattle each autumn.
I'll add one more "thing" recreational teams do wrong. They watch way too much curling on TV! Don't misunderstand! TV curling is great!!!! Please do watch but don't try to emulate what you see (there's a more in depth treatise on this topic the aforementioned "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion").

What is the one thing that a recreational curler should try to improve?

No question here. To play this sport to any degree of satisfaction/fun, there's a signature skill as there is in most sports. You can't play ice hockey unless you can skate efficiently. You can't play baseball unless you can throw, catch & hit a baseball. You can't play basketball unless you can dribble, pass  and shoot the ball. Well, you'll find it difficult and certainly unsatisfying if you can't slide in a straight line. It's curling's signature skill!
Doing that is relatively simple. If you slide so that the weight of your body is evenly distributed on your slider throughout the slide, you'll slide in a straight line. Full stop!

How can one measure improvement?

From a team perspective, I feel there are three "benchmarks" that when met will demonstrate team improvement. They are (in no particular order) execution tolerance, what you do following a miss by the opposition & the degree to which you make key/killer shots. If you hit these three benchmarks, it's really hard not to play well. If you go to iTunes and purchase "Curl Coach", you'll have a wonderful app to record these "benchmarks".
From an individual point of view, if you have a knowledgeable person keeping shooting statistics, you will see an improvement or deterioration in skill level simply based upon the number of shots being made. I could go on at great length on this very "touchy" subject with me as those of you know who read my scribblings on a regular basis but in this case they can be helpful.
A coach from here on Vancouver Island has developed her own simple yet very effective system whereby she divides the sheet of ice into sections and rotations. By recording degree of performance for each of the two rotations and in longitudinal sections of the ice (12', 8', 4' & left of right of the house) she can show a player where she's struggling or having success. That's using shooting statistics the right way in my view!

If practising as a team is difficult or next to impossible, what can an individual do to improve his/her skill level?

Get a visual recording device (camcorder, tablet etc.) and get someone who knows the difference between "record", "stop", "pause", "fast forward" and "play" to record your delivery. When you watch yourself simple say, "What surprises me?" You can be surprised with aspects of your delivery you know you should see but don't and conversely aspects of your delivery you see that should not be there. You want the perception of your delivery and what's really occurring to be the same. If "perception" and "reality" are never allowed to stray from one another, you'll stay on track technically!
That same person who recorded your delivery can also help you with a stopwatch by recording the time from "back-line-to-hog-line" or "tee-line-to-hog-line" so that you can get a "feel" for weight control and can put a number to it. Get your friend to tell you the "interval time" of each shot then you should begin to tell him/her the "number/weight" delivered and get some feedback.

Would a recreational team benefit from attending a "team camp"?

Absolutely!!!! Provincial/territorial associations exist because of you and your needs. Don't wait for what you need to be offered by your PSO (Provincial Sport Organization). Pick up the telephone or send email to them and indicate your interests/needs. You very likely have no idea that there are several other teams in your area with a similar interest and frankly neither does your PSO. I know PSO's sometimes come under criticism because it they don't offer the programmes the curlers want. Well, they're not mind-readers. Tell them!!!!

Are there resources out there that might help teams and individuals about which they have no knowledge?

Usually, not always, but usually, that's the bailiwick of the NSO (National Sport Organization). Sport science research is not cheap, as you might expect, which is why it's more common that the NSO would initiate and fund it rather than the PSO. There is more sport science available today in curling than ever before. I catch myself in clinics, symposia, team consultations etc. saying, "The sport science tells us ..." regularly. It's certainly made my job much easier! Teams and individuals no longer have to take my word for it either because of a personal bias or through participant observation over decades of working with curlers of all ages, skills and experience. I have the sport science! But, I have that because I'm a national coach so I get it early on. Like medical research, it take some time to work it's way into print material and into courses for obvious reasons.
All the more reason to pick up that phone or send that email to your PSO and ask for assistance!!!!

And now for those thoughts mentioned in the title...


In my post of 11/13/14 entitled "Calm Down", I dealt with the topic of "calmness" and its direct affiliation with performance. I'm reading and enjoying Bobby Orr's book "Orr: My Own Story". I want to reprint a section on p.74 from his excellent publication and it's about being calm.

You might imagine a young player trying to cut his teeth at a higher level could get so nervous he couldn't play to his potential. The reality is very different. At least, it was for me. Being nervous before a game is only natural and probably a good thing, because it means you are getting ready to play. Once I got on the ice, however, and the puck was dropped to start the game, I would calm down and everything made sense. I could almost feel a kind of peace come over me. I was in my element. You get to a place that sports psychologists have identified as the "comfort zone". Getting there allows you to play your game at your particular level.


On my Christmas Day jog with the podcast version of "Primetime Sports" in my ear, host Bob McCown interviewed Toronto Raptors coach, Wayne Casey and commented on the very positive run the team has put together of late, in spite of the trade of the highly-touted Rudy Gay. In fact in the interview, when asked why the team is playing better with lesser talent, Coach Casey said two things. First, the players are playing better "as a team". Second and the reason for the first is the level of "trust" the players have in one another and their own skills has risen. What was it that Coach Herb Brooks said in 1980 with his team of college hockey players getting ready for the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games, "I'm not looking for the best players. I'm looking for the right players!"? What a concept!

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