Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Book & A Movie

For those who read my blogs regularly, and thank you for that, as you can see the posts are not coming at you at the rate they once were. There's two reasons for that.

It is, finally, the end of a long curling season and two, for those of you who visit Facebook will know, I have purchased a home (see photo) on the south end of Lake Cowichan about 1.5 hours north of Victoria. One of my lake neighbours is Elaine Dagg-Jackson (although she and husband Glen are only summer residents and are at the north end of the lake [I can hear her now, "There goes the neighbourhood"]). Now that the move in process is winding down, I've been able to put feet up and get caught up on some reading and watching a movie that has been on my "must see" list for a few months. I don't make it a habit of foisting my likes and dislikes upon others and as a result, I'm not one for saying, "Heh, I read this book or I saw this movie and you just have to read it and see it!". Well, in light of what I've just said, you do have to read "The Gold Mine Effect" and see, if you haven't already, "Seven Days in Utopia"! First, the book.

"The Gold Mine Effect" is the work of author Rasmus Ankersen, a Danish footballer whose professional career was stopped before it got started due to injury. When his elite football (soccer for those reading in NA) was over, he turned to trying to solve a mystery in the world of sports, notably why pockets of the world were producing world class athletes at a disproportionate rate. Why does a track & field club in Jamaica with no running track, save a grass oval, produce so many elite sprinters? And why do two towns, one in Kenya and the other in Ethiopia, produce so many of the world's great middle and long distance runners (it's not genes nor topography)? What's happening in Russia and Korea to spin out so many highly skills female athletes in tennis and golf respectively? And what's with the coaches (author Ankersen calls them "godfathers") in these "gold mines" that none played the sport they now coach? Ankersen wanted to know what the secret was in these gold mines. You'll be surprised to learn the secret (hint, there actually isn't one)!

Those of us in North America (athletes & coaches) are going to have our core beliefs sorely tested by what Ankersen uncovers (better tighten that chin strap once again)!!!

"Seven Days in Utopia" is the story of a golfer (Luke Chisolm [played by Lucas Black]) who, after a disastrous first outing on the pro tour lost his skill set, or at least he thought he did until, quite unexpectedly he wound up in a Texas town, population 373, called "Utopia" and met up with "Johnny Crawford" (played by Robert Duvall) who demonstrated that his skills had not vanished. But how Johnny Crawford did it will, quite frankly put a chill up your spine and make your hair stand on end. It's one of those "feel good" movies that seem so rare today. Warning; there's no sex, violence or computer animation! It's about the human spirit and how we "think" makes us what we "are"! You'll find out why the young golfer, Lucas, puts S-F-T on his golf balls.

There is a surprise ending, at least an ending that will make you wonder, "Did he make the putt?" and lead you to a web site for the answer. For coaches, it shows us that there are many more ways to help athletes than by taking them to the sport specific venue for some intensive, coach-directed training. But enough said, enjoy the movie. You'll not see the world quite the same again!

THE GOLD MINE EFFECT - Rasmus Ankersen ISBN 978-1-44342-057-0

SEVEN DAYS IN UTOPIA (available on iTunes & Google Play to buy or rent) starring Robert Duvall

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Latest On Why Curling Stones Curl

May 13, 2013 — Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden can now reveal the mechanism behind the curved path of a curling stone. The discovery by the researchers, who usually study friction and wear in industrial and technical applications, is now published in the scientific journal Wear.

In the curling sport, the players shoot their stones along the ice so that they slowly slide towards the target area, almost 30 m away. The game has its name from the slightly curved "curled" path taken by the stone, when released with a slow rotation. This curled path is important since it is used to reach open spots behind previously played stones, or take out opponent stones behind hindering "guarding" stones. As soon as the player releases the stone, it is only affected by the friction against the ice. The friction can be slightly reduced, and therefore the sliding distance somewhat increased by intensively sweeping the ice just in front of the sliding stone.

If the player gives the stone a clockwise rotation as it is released, it curls to the right, while an anti clockwise rotating stone will curl to the left. The stone is heavy, almost 20 kg, and the rotation is very slow, typically 2-3 rotations during the roughly 25 seconds it takes to slide to the target. This is much too slow to cause the curved path taken by the ball in sports such as table tennis, tennis or soccer.
Despite years of speculations among the curlers and several scientific articles, so far no one has been able to present a good explanation to why the curling stones actually curl; "What puts the curl in the curling stone?." Interestingly, other rotating objects sliding over a surface curl in the opposite direction (make a simple test by sliding for example a glass turned upside down over a slippery floor).
However, the mechanism has now been revealed by researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden. Harald Nyberg, Sara Alfredsson, Sture Hogmark and Staffan Jacobson, who usually study friction and wear in technical and industrial material systems, describe in their article that the curved path is due to the microscopic roughness of the stone producing microscopic scratches in the ice sheet. As the stone slides over the ice the roughness on its leading half will produce small scratches in the ice. The rotation of the stone will give the scratches a slight deviation from the sliding direction. When the rough protrusions on the trailing half shortly pass the same area, they will cross the scratches from the front in a small angle. When crossing these scratches they will have a tendency to follow them. It is this scratch-guiding or track steering mechanism that generate the sideway force necessary to cause the curl.
The importance of having a proper roughness of the sliding surface on the stone to give it he expected trajectory, is since long known among curlers. However, this has not previously been coupled to the steering mechanism. While working on their model the Uppsala researchers experimented with pre-scratching of the ice in various ways, and could then observe that also non-rotating stones could be guided. Stones with very smooth, polished sliding surface were however not affected by the scratches. They also investigated the microscopic scratches made by the stones by moulding replicas of the ice, that were subsequently studied in microscopes.

Journal Reference:
  1. Harald Nyberg, Sara Alfredson, Sture Hogmark, Staffan Jacobson. The asymmetrical friction mechanism that puts the curl in the curlingstoneWear, 2013; DOI:10.1016/j.wear.2013.01.051

Monday, May 13, 2013

Golden Hawks High Performance Centre

We're quickly approaching that time of year when one's high school career enters the rear view mirror phase. And what a time it is, graduation ceremony, prom, parties ....! I hope all you high school grads had the same mentorship I had when I was about to enter high school in my hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo, ON. His name was Leroy (Lee) Hallman, one of our boy scout troop leaders, family friend and high school teacher at, ahem, another secondary institution in K-W (our great rival). I remember the moment well.

We were on a canoe trip in Ontario's Algonquin Provincial Park. And as stated above, it was the summer before starting high school. Lee and I were at the water's edge "shooting the breeze" when the subject morphed into my pending high school career and what it might bring. That prompted Lee to say, "Bill, your high school days will be among the best days of your life!" As usual, Lee was right! He justified his statement by saying, "You will have the best balance of independence, resources and responsibility. You will have more independence and more resources later in life but those will be balanced off by much greater responsibility. Enjoy your high school days!"

Little did I know at the time that following my formal education, I would spend about 30 years, teaching middle school students and passing along to them, Lee's words of wisdom. As you can see, this post is for all high school graduating students, but with a twist not available to me at that time beside Canoe Lake.

If you're looking for a post secondary institution with a superb curling training programme, you would do well to consider Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, ON. The excellent high performance programme about which I speak is the title of this post. It's under the direction of my friend Gary Crossley. Gary is ably assisted by Glenn Paulley, Maurice Wilson and David Kaun. It's located in what I consider to be my home curling facility, The Kitchener-Waterloo Granite Curling Club.

Curling, almost from the outset, has had strong "Little Rocks", bantam & junior programmes. The "gap" occurred most frequently at the post-secondary level. There was always the thought that the gap was the graveyard for much of the work that was done with and for young curlers. By the time they exited their post-secondary institution, thoughts turned to career and family more so than competitive curling. Oh, there were varsity curling programmes. I coached at the University of Waterloo from 1990-99 but despite my best efforts, I hesitate to say that I had a curling high performance programme.

Gary was a curler and world class track & field (now "athletics") coach at the international level. He was the National Team Head Coach specializing in women's hurdles. He had become accustomed to working with elite athletes. When he decided to go "all in" with curling, not surprisingly he did so with the same expertise and passion he had exhibited with athletics.

The next step was to find a location for his programme and to say the K-W Granite Curling Club stepped up to the plate would be putting it mildly. They embraced Gary's vision and became for all intents and purpose, partners in the venture and I'm pleased to say that partnership continues and flourishes. The K-WGCC has provided office & equipment space, a dedicated fitness facility which includes a TRX system, treadmill, elliptical trainer, workout mats and a variety of apparatus including medicine balls, rollers and skip ropes.

The next item on the agenda was support from existing individuals in the area of high performance training in curling and associations willing to share what they already had learned along that trail. A key individual was Jim Waite and the Canadian Curling Association provided Gary with all the help they could to get the programme off the ground.

Next was the affiliation with Wilfrid Laurier University and again, he found an enthusiastic ally. Gary was named varsity curling coach at WLU and with that came a group of talented, passionate and dedicated athletes. The main pieces of the puzzle were in place to allow Gary and his colleagues to "hang their shingle".

It soon became apparent that the LHPC was a goal-oriented centre with solid pedagogy and a vision. Soon other partners came on board, notably the WLU Kinesiology Dept., the Ontario Curling Association and some community based programmes who supplied staff.

From the outset the goals for the LHPC were;
  • to serve as a technical resource to both coaches & athletes in every aspect of the sport of curling
  • to offer a single location, with dedicated staffing, providing a full spectrum of resources & services to meet the needs of competitive teams
  • to serve "anchor teams" (teams not affiliated withe either WLU or the KWGCC of which there were 7 in 2012)
  • to provide services, in particular customized on-ice or off-ice team sessions
  • to support mandates from the Ontario Curling Council, the Ontario Curling Association & the Canadian Curling Association through programme delivery, particularly in the areas of bantam & junior aged player development as outlined in the CCA's "Long Term Athlete Development model
  • to build partnerships with other individuals, groups & agencies in the sport of curling that share the same vision of long term athlete development

During the season just concluded, the LHPC's offerings have expanded significantly and a number of successful teams &/or individuals athletes, including bantam-aged athletes, have taken advantage of the on-ice & off-ice services. The LHPC has conducted 3 public clinics at the KWGCC and another three week, six session clinic at the Galt (Cambridge) Curling Club and another this past February at the Elmira Curling Club (north of Waterloo in Mennonite country). The four clinics attracted in excess of 300 participants. In addition, the LHPC has conducted 15 anchor teams sessions and a weekend anchor team clinic, 13 non-anchor team sessions and 20 individual sessions. These sessions included both on-ice & off-ice sessions covering a  wide variety of topics including mental preparation, strategy & team dynamics.

Success soon followed. Twelve athletes (9 female & 3 male) played on various teams at the 2013 Ontario Provincial Junior Championships (including the champion male skip and the women's runner-up skip). Four female athletes earned a berth to the bantam provincial championships. Another four female athletes advanced to Senior Women's provincial play downs and 3 male athletes earned their second consecutive zone crest at the Fairfield Marriott Challenge.

In addition to the four regular staff members mentioned above, the LHPC has an ancillary staff of professionals on call in the areas of health & wellness, athletic therapy, chiropractic, massage therapy & reflexology, yoga and sport psychology.

Even though the Wilfrid Laurier University varsity curling programme trains at the same facility as the LHPC, the intent was never to use the LHPC as a recruiting vehicle for Laurier varsity athletes but rather it was hoped the centre could capitalize on the brand and success of the Laurier curling programme to bring credibility in its early stages. While Laurier athletes benefit from having the centre in the same facility, the LHPC offers its many services to a wide spectrum of athletes, from bantam and junior aged curlers in and around southern Ontario to varsity athletes at other post secondary institutions and to senior adult teams.

I'm guessing by this point in the post you can see how impressed I am with this programme for post-secondary aged athletes but I don't want anyone reading this to conclude that Wilfrid Laurier University is the only post-secondary institution with a high performance curling programme. There are others around the country, notably at the University of Alberta at the Saville Sports Centre in Edmonton under the direction of Robb Krepps.

When I get "home" to the Kitchener-Waterloo area to visit family and friends, I warn Gary of my arrival and most times he takes me up on my offer to do a presentation to the varsity athletes of both Waterloo universities (WLU and U of W). The are always attentive and make me feel  that I'm adding to the programmes at those institutions but in reality, they've likely already heard my words come from the skilled and experience coaches on site every day.

You can reach the LHPC in a variety of ways:
on the web:
on Facebook: http://www.facebook, com/pages/Golden-Hawks-Curling-HPC/347187318641464
on Twitter: @hawkscurlinghpc
by phone: +1(519)897-2875
by mail: Gary Crossley, Director, Golden Hawks High Performance Centre, Kitchener-Waterloo Granite Curling Club, 99 Seagram Drive, Waterloo, ON, Canada, N2L 3B

Gary & Co. have absolutely no intention of resting on their laurels as plans are in the works to establish a provincial "La Releve" programme, designed to bridge the gap between the "Own the Podium" bantam project and the National La Releve programme.

So, graduating high school curlers, perhaps your chosen field of study CAN co-exist with a first class curling high performance programme. Consider the LHPC in Waterloo, ON. If you do find your way there in September, be sure to say "Hi" to Gary for me and another thing, those high school days will be among if not the best days of your life!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mixed Doubles From An Athlete's Perspective

My guest blogger to day is Hans Frauenlob from New Zealand. Hans and I go back several years when he played on the National Men's Team for NZ. He and his teammates would stop into the National Training Centre in Calgary, AB en route to that year's World Men's Curling Championship for several days of training. In 2006 Hans and Co. wore the black and sliver of NZ at the Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. 

Now that there are 50+ candles on his birthday cake, Hans is a competitor at the World Senior Curling Championships. This year in Fredericton, Hans skipped his NZ side to a very well-deserved silver medal and all the while, as you'll read below, competed in the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships. More than once Hans was seen running from one ice surface to the next to compete in one or the other competitions. Hans put his fingers to keyboard to record his thoughts on Mixed Doubles from his very unique perspective.

I encourage you to comment on Hans' ideas for the future of MD. Many feel there's a real chance that MD might be another discipline in the Winter Olympic Games programme. 

I recently had the honour of representing my country (with my teammate Natalie Campbell) at the 2013 World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships.  My congratulations and thanks go to Wayne Tallon and the team in Fredericton for running an absolute first-class event.

Mixed Doubles is a really interesting new format of the game. It's much more fun to play than fours. You're actively in every shot as a thrower, sweeper, line reader and strategist, and the situation can change massively from shot to shot. Things happen fast. You have to be fit! My thanks go to Natalie for introducing me to this great new form of the game!

Unfortunately, it is as boring as hell to watch as a live spectator. Fans at the arena don't really get involved in the game - they don't really know how yet. Strategic choices are limited, and as a result shot selection choices are limited as well. This deficiency must be fixed if our dream of seeing Mixed Doubles as a medal discipline at the Winter Olympics is to be realised. We have to get the fans involved with the game.

It all reminds me a lot of the days pre-Free Guard Zone. It's too predictable and repetitive. The doubles shot choices (especially the first one) are limited and obvious - and even great execution of the same shots over and over again can get boring (remember 2-1 games and eight ends of peeling guards?). Fortunately, like the FGZ, I believe a rule change could improve the spectacle.

I have a proposal that I believe could really improve doubles as live spectator sport, with the bonus of making it even more fun as a player. It involves opening up the scoring zone, and requiring more strategic choices to be made than need to be made right now.

I propose that the stationery stone of the team with the hammer be placed at the back of the four foot circle on the centre line, rather than at the back of the pin on the centre line (the current rule). 
I'd like to explain my proposal, and the reasons behind it.

Like many, I'm relatively new to doubles, but I've played fours for years. I've been fortunate enough to play in a lot of international events in arenas with live spectators.

In my experience, there are three main things that really 'light up' and engage a live curling crowd:

1. A big scoring shot with takeout weight

2. A lot of screaming and great sweeping (usually leading to a big scoring shot or an end-turning shot)
3. An opportunity to second-guess strategic options shot to shot
Unfortunately, Doubles suffers relative to fours in all of these areas. Let's examine why:

1. The big weight scoring shot

In fours, the 'big shot' is usually something like a double takeout, and after the shot is complete, it is immediately obvious to the crowd that the throwing team has scored a bundle. The crowd knows, and goes wild.

In doubles, the 'big shot' usually also involves some weight and repositioning some stones. However, when the shot is being delivered, there are almost always four or five stones in and around the four foot. So when the shot is over - its often not immediately obvious that the shot was successful. The area around the pin is so crowded it is usually only the player at the tee who actually knows who scored. So the chance for the crowd to immediately roar their approval for a great shot is lost - they just don't know what the result was!

2. A lot of screaming and great sweeping

Of the three areas, this is the one with the least difference between the disciplines. But there is just something different to someone sweeping alone to seeing a two person sweeping machine in full flight.

And when a draw shot in doubles needs both sweepers, no one is screaming line calls, so something is audibly missing from the shot for a spectator.

3. An opportunity to second-guess strategic options.

This is a big one.

A current, and legitimate, criticism of Doubles is that the same shots are played time after time. As a spectator in fours, the choice of the first shot of an end for the team without the hammer is a genuinely interesting choice. Draw into the rings? (trying for a force) Centre guard? (challenging - maybe trying for a steal!) Long centre guard? (wow interesting, maybe trying to stack two guards, gambling big for a steal!)

In doubles however, there is only one shot choice for the first rock of the end for the team without hammer. Every time, it is a freeze-tiny bump to the opponents stone placed at the back of the pin. This is usually followed by a series of small taps, bumps and freezes, and before long, the button area resembles a Los Angeles freeway at rush hour!

At this point, the fan in the stands has no idea at all what a 'good shot choice' would look like. This isn't because they don't have knowledge of the game.. its because they just can't see the stone positions and angles well enough to know what the options actually are! Its too busy in the button area!

The net result - there is little 'between shots' buzz in the crowd as everyone in the crowd plays skip and makes a shot choice for the player on the ice. I know that I've never missed a shot from the stands!

Taking this opportunity for input away from the crowd makes them less involved in the game.
Worse - it is lazy strategically. There is only 'one way' to start an end. This is bad for the game - there should be choices demanded of a team, and consequences to those choices.

I believe that there is a small adjustment to the rules of Mixed Doubles that could address all of these deficiency areas.

A Possible Solution

"Open up the scoring area, and also require the team without hammer to make a genuine shot choice, by positioning the stationary stone of the team with the hammer on the centre line at the back of the four foot circle".

This change would now require the team without the hammer to make a genuine shot choice! If the team is playing for a force, they might freeze the opponents shot in the back of the four foot - but the team with the hammer would still have the full button available. If the team is playing for a steal, they maybe try to bury biting the top button. The 'response shot' by the team with the hammer could then either 'commit the end' to the button area (by making a play to the stones in the four foot, which might guarantee a score of one but no more) or slightly open up the end by repositioning the stones a bit (which should leave two clear paths to the button and the four foot/button area 'more receptive' to hits or run-ins later in the end).

My belief is that this change would result in:
- slightly lower end scores (fewer 1s, 4s and 5s, more 2s and 3s)
- more hits to score multiple ends, with immediately clearer shot results for fans
- new strategies for the early shots of an end, serious strategic choices to be made, more reward for great execution, greater penalty for poor execution
- more shot options 'mid-end' (set up for a run-in/in-off? wedge another rock in there? split a stone top eight foot?)
- easier for fans to relate to what is happening on the ice

I would be really interested to hear what other curlers think of this idea. Doubles in the Olympics would be absolutely awesome for our sport - but if we can't engage the curling fan, we'll never get there.