Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Proceed With Caution

It's not only that time of year, it's that time in the Olympic quadrennial and when it happens with the most high profile teams, it gets played out in the media for all to see. Of course I'm taking about player personnel changes.

But, to be quite frank, I'm not that concerned about the elite teams and what they do re. player changes, they're big boys and girls so I'll defer to their experience in matters like this. No, this is directed at you, the serious recreational curler who might be contemplating a change in team personnel.

What follows are my thoughts on this most important issue but permit me one observation on what's happening literally as I publish this post. I'll not delve into the specifics of the teams who have announced changes although I will say in at least one instance, I'm really shaking my head (don't even ask)! I've looked at this team's decision from as many angles as I can and try as I might, it makes absolutely no sense to me. I hope there's something that we don't know because if that's not the case, yikes!

There are countless reasons for a team to make personnel changes. Family, work, financial situation etc. I'm taking all of those obvious reasons out of the mix for this posting. I want to focus on a change of players when the only reason is to improve team performance. There are three notes of caution. They are in no particular order;

1) You will change the team dynamics* (as one of the most high profile women's teams in Canada will soon discover). That may be indeed the reason for the player change as the player(s) to be changed caused that very commodity to be something less than you had hoped. But, if your team dynamics were rock solid, hmmm...

2) All the playing experience you gained over the time spent together now goes out the window to some degree and for most teams, it's a very large degree. While your competitors are moving forward, you're going to be moving in the opposite direction and then have to catch up just to draw even, hmmm...

3) If you really feel the players being replaced are somehow less skilled than the players coming on board then go ahead and make the change(s). But, and you knew there'd be one, did you consider the other qualities required of the new player(s)? Do they have the same view on how the game is to be played from strategical & tactical perspectives. What are their goals? Do they share a common vision, philosophy and attitude? What about their views on physical preparation, nutrition, mental preparation? Are the significant others (family & friends) in their lives as supportive as the team's experience & plans require? Will they have the same dedication to training and the time to devote to it? What about their skill set as a teammate, not just a curler? If your team has aspirations to play competitively to the point that travel to bonspiels plays a significant role in the team's plan and the team is not sponsored, will the player(s) have the financial resources to contribute to entries, travel, accommodation, equipment & food? Does their technical skill set work with those already on the team? If you feel that the player(s) joining the team ARE more skillful and what about the level of trust they have in those skills? How susceptible is/are the new player(s) to competive breakdown? If your team has a coach, will the new player(s) "listen" to the coach's suggestions?

I could go on for quite some time with #3 but I believe the point has been made. They are many questions that need to be both asked and answered before there's any consideration of a player personnel change.

Curling teams were never meant to stay together forever! Those of you familiar with the "Team Dynamics Wheel" know that there is a 5th stage (after forming, storming, norming & performing), "adjournment"! In high performance camps with rarely if ever talk about that stage but clearly that's the premise of this post so let's deal with "adjournment" from a process perspective.

As is my nature, I'll begin with questions. What is the genesis of the player change? In other words, who takes ownership? Is this one of those so-called skip decisions? What if the three "front end" players decide they want a different skip? What if the skip decides he/she wants a totally different team (that sounds familiar for some reason, let's see, hmm...)? Whatever the dynamic and/or impetus, don't use social media, telephone, smoke signals, pony express, telegram etc. to inform the principals. Do it the old fashioned way, face-to-face and make sure the team is the first to get the news of the final decision. That seems so obvious and common sense but experience has demonstrated that sometimes it's not so obvious and common sense isn't as common as one might think.

When I'm brought into the mix in situations like this, to quote my friend Terry O'Reilly's recent podcast (CBC's "Under the Influence") my "elevator pitch" is simple, "You make player personnel changes at your own peril. Make sure it's worth the risk?"

* It's my experience that the most valuable asset a team has is not its skill set but rather the state of the team's dynamics. It's the last item with which to play around! You want to treat it like so much gold!

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