Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Professional Golf Syndrome: A Look Back at the Curling Trials

Last week we were hoping to see "world class curling" at the Canadian Curling Trials in Winnipeg. It didn't deliver! What we saw was average curling by our most elite teams and that's putting it mildly.  Don't be mislead by this statement. I really do feel we're sending the best two teams from the Curling Trials to 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia and both played extremely well. Heh, when Team Jacobs* goes undefeated and beats one of the better teams twice, that's nothing at which to sneeze and Team Jones was the best women's team all week and I wish them well! But on balance, the curling was not what most of us expected!

I was not glued to my television nor my computer as I was in Whitehorse, YT at the request of the Yukon Curling Association on the third weekend of a four weekend visit to that territory, working with their top adult teams so what I saw was not ceremony-to-ceremony but it was enough to get a feel for the event. I did speak with those who were actually in attendance and saw every draw. They were even less impressed with what they witnessed than me (yikes).

Had this been in Las Vegas, imagine the money you could have made on a bet that none of Teams Howard (2-5), Stoughton (3-4) and Koe (2-5) would qualify for a tie-breaker much less the playoffs (and you might have upped the ante with the "prop bet" that the trio would have losing records). You might have been able to purchase the MTS Centre and the Winnipeg Jets NHL franchise with your winnings. So what happened? Here's my take for what it's worth.

Most of the teams competing in Winnipeg, especially on the men's side of the ledger, spend almost their entire competitive season playing, for want of a better term, in big money events (by curling standards). But, there's no real "losing" involved because like professional golfers, it's only about the degree of "winning". No one loses! They're playing with/for someone else's money!!!! But, put those same professional golfers into a scenario like "The Ryder Cup" where losing is a real possibility, you see some very uncharacteristic performances. Some fold under the pressure and some do the opposite and rise to the occasion but it's my experience it's much more the latter. And add age to the equation where the career finish line is in plain view, and you can mix in a focus on the outcome as much as the process and we know where that road leads. In plain English, nerves were very close to the surface for some very experienced & skilled teams.

As the Curling Trials approached, I was asked many times who I thought might prevail. My response each time was, "I have no idea but one of the four teams coming out of Kitchener (the so-called pre-Trials event) was going to make a splash. I just don't know how large the splash nor who will get wet!" Hmmm, where do you place those bets again?

The women's final was of particular interest to me. I did see that one. Team Middaugh made a mistake on the timing of the speed of the ice which led to the Team Jones score of three early in the game. The look on Skip Middaugh's face and the accompanying body language said all Team Jones needed to see. It was "game over" as that "look" lasted throughout the contest. Experience should have risen to the surface for Middaugh. She should have realized that although the error was critical, the patient was not dead, only in need of life support which a confident demeanour on her part might  have provided. Instead, she looked like someone shot her dog and that never changed. Her team needed to see someone who was resilient and could fight back, instead they saw exactly the opposite!# A TO by the team coach to address that situation might have been appropriate. TO's are not always just about what shot to play!

The skip of the winning men's team might take some advice from one of my coaching role models, about whom I spoken before on this site, Bud Grant, who told his players, "When you score a touchdown, you have two choices. You can hand the ball to the official and jog to the bench or you can place it on the ground and jog to the bench. Make it look like you've been there before and you'll be back real soon!" Team Jacobs dodged what could have been a self-inflicted fatal wound by having its skip make unflattering & disappointing gestures at several points during the event. They prevailed in spite of it but that might have a short shelf life! Team Jacobs might pay greater heed to the personality of its wonderful coach, Tom Coulterman.

Sochi is going to be interesting. Those who feel that it's a given that Canada will win double gold, and I hope Canada does, might rethink that position. It's going to be a good old fashion dog fight to the podium. We'd better buckle our collective chin straps!

* I don't recall the opponent at the time and it was relatively early in the event, but with skips' stones to be played, Brad Jacobs used his first shot to "rearrange the furniture" (i.e. change the angles [at the time it looked for all the world that his opponent had the force of "one" locked]) and with his second, played a very delicate tap to score two. His teammates, as demonstrated by their facial expressions weren't exactly sure what he was thinking, but Brad did.  At the time I mumbled to myself, "If he goes on to win, those two shots were the shots across the bows of all opponents that he came to play"! I guess he did come to play!!!

# I have heard more than one sport psychologist indicate that the muscles you "choose" to activate are the ones that in large measure determine one's level of performance. Great athletes are great actors and learn to activate those muscles needed to perform even though inside they might feel exactly the opposite. Yet another aspect of a curling delivery that affects performance over and above mechanics!

1 comment:

  1. Bill I enjoyed your Blog. I was at the event and I think that you captured what happened there. I am not sure what Koe's situation was as they did not seem to have the nerves, perhaps a strategy change is in order for them to reach the next level.. Howard and Stoughton seemed to be distracted and clearly this was a last chance event for them. Jacobs team while over the top from time to time seemed able to compose themselves and focus and will be great representatives. Jones was the best of the women and will perform well under the pressure.