Sunday, December 1, 2013

The "What" & the "Why"

There are some aspects of one's childhood that remain indelibly etched in one's memory. For me it was my Mother, coming upon something I clearly, in her mind, should not have been doing. Her opening line, and I suspect for many of you as well with your parent, went something like this, "What are you doing?". Well, I knew very well "what" I was doing, and so did my Mother. The real question being asked was, "Why on earth are you doing it?". Aye, there's the rub, why indeed!

I learned very early on that if I was going to do something, anything, not previously condoned in the Tschirhart household, I had better know not only "what" I was doing, but more importantly it seemed, "why" I was doing it. So many of our early childhood transgressions were conducted with no apparent reason. Well, as an athlete aspiring to perform well, you must not only know "what" you're doing, you had better know "why". Why? Well, that's what this post is about!

This is not exactly a new theme about which I have put fingers to keyboard, but as I travel the curling world, I still meet too many elite athletes, who are very talented and as a result play at a very high level, but they're "working without a net"! That is not only dangerous for a high wire performer, it's equally so for a high performance athlete and team!

We are not robots, programmed to follow a carefully planned programme of commands with a consistent response time-after-time. We're humans. Despite the best of intentions and preparation, we make mistakes. It's what makes life fun and frustrating at the same time, in every walk of life, not just sports. The constant goal it seems as I meet curlers of all experience and skill levels is consistency. Recreational curlers don't expect to make every shot or come anywhere near that plateau. But what they and the elite curler universally loath is playing reasonable well one game and unbelievably bad the next. Grrrrrrrr!!!!! Elite athlete share that experience and sentiment with their recreational cousins. It just doesn't happen as often nor to the same degree.

There are ways to reduce those peaks & valleys in performance, knowing how to balance your brain is one of them (see the post entitled "Calm Down" [11/14/13]). Another way is knowing exactly what you do and why you do it!

We don't think about all the minute details that go into the execution of a curling shot. We just do it and hopefully, we do it well. But back to our non-robotic status. When that execution heads south and you don't know what you're doing, literally, you're lost at sea without a life jacket! One of the best ways to get back on track is to refer to your knowledge base. You may have to go back, however briefly, to curling 101. If you know what you do, I'm confident as you go through your Rolodex of sequential movements accompanied with the comfort of knowing why to do them, you'll quickly find the one that's either missing or one that should not be there in the first place.

So here's what you need do. Get a piece of paper and draw a line down the centre of the sheet (in portrait orientation [if you're not sure what that is, ask any 12 yr. old]). At the top of one of the two columns you've created, print the word WHAT and at the top of the other, the word WHY. I think you know what's coming next.

Under WHAT, preferably in chronological order, list everything you do from the time the preceding opponent's shot comes to rest until your shot comes to rest, everything!!!! Beside each of the element of your delivery that you placed in the WHAT column, in a word or phrase indicate the reason you do it in the WHY column. If you can't think of a good reason, don't make one up. Leave it blank!

Clearly, for curlers in their first, second or third year of experience, this will be something of a greater challenge than it should be for those with more experience, but that said, if the novice's instruction has been provided by a certified instructor, that instructor will always state the reason why he/she suggests anything.

In a previous posting I've referred to the difference between "ritual" & "routine" and that difference is the "why" element. Rituals are done without thinking and that's true for routines as well but they part ways early on. Rituals simply evolve, for no reason. Routines are carefully choreographed, revisited & tweaked for very specific reasons, in our case to make curling shots etc. It's pretty difficult, I'd say close to impossible to have "reasons" with "whats". To say that the two go hand-in-hand would be an understatement but as mentioned above, I shake my head at the number of times experienced and skilled athletes struggle with that simple activity previously mentioned.

The next step of course is to have someone visually record your delivery. What that "What/Why" document close at hand, compare what you see with what you expected to see. There may be elements that you see that you clearly did not want to see and perhaps some elements you expected and hoped to see but were absent.

Video analysis doesn't always have to be about an instructor indicating what he/she feels needs to be altered, subtracted or added. In my mind, it's much better that the athlete does the caparison between document and video then ask him/herself the question, "What surprises me?" Frequently the athlete can take it from there and what he/she takes away is far more valuable than anything you or I might have suggested.

Make no mistake, occasionally, even the most experienced and skilled of curlers may not be sure how to proceed when they notice there's something amiss between document and video. They will then ask for a suggestion. That's when you've been invited into the process as a trusted partner as opposed to the omniscient instructor/coach and that's when whatever is suggested has a much longer shelf life with the athlete.

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