Monday, March 23, 2015

But At What Expense?

I'm writing this amidst the Canadian Interuniversity Sport curling championships in my hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo, ON and at my home curling facility (The K-W Granite Club although the "new" facility, very near the campus of the University of Waterloo, is not where I played, that was at the original site on Agnes St. in Kitchener). What a delight it is to not only represent "Curling Canada" at this prestigious event but to be "home"!

We are well into the "Season of Champions", seeing world class athletes in the sport of curling dazzle us with their skill and what skill it is! But just as it's not the best idea in the curling world to try to learn strategy by watching TV, it can be equally risky to make changes to your curling delivery that way as well. What?

"But Bill, you just said these athletes are the best at what they do didn't you?"

"Yes I did, or at least implied same. But you should not infer that they are the best because of the way they deliver the rock."

I say this wherever I go. Some curlers, golfers, tennis players, lawn bowlers (insert sport here) are very, very good not because of their technique but in spite of it! Let's get one thing out of the way right now. You don't have enough money to pay me for me to tell you which athletes I feel are in the in spite of category so don't even try! :)

We are all different physically. Body proportions can be all over the map. Stage of development plays a major role. There are countless reasons why no two athletes will meet the same motor challenge and look exactly the same in doing so.

When I started my career at the K-W Granite Club (on Agnes St.), I had no role models, zero! I knew no one who curled, no one! It was the sport that attracted me, not anyone who played the sport. There was no TV curling. Most of you who read my blogs regularly know the story. The K-W Granite Club was on my way home from high school. That's all it took for me and attending the 1962 Brier at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. When I started playing, I copied the two best curlers at the club (Shelly Uffelman & Carl Thiel). I patterned my delivery after theirs. Thankfully, the person who suggested that to me, knew what he was talking about. It set me on the right technical path. I've still never had a curling lesson (stop the snickering right now).

Role models can be dangerous, helpful, but dangerous. If you want to pattern your delivery after someone you admire, make sure you do it with some measure of reason because, not to sound like a broken record, many elite athletes are that way not because ...

So what does it matter if there's an "anomaly" (I hesitate to use the word "flaw") in one's curling delivery? Well, here's what matters!

The whole idea of taking a lesson when one begins anything is simple. It's not to tell you how to do something, it's to ensure you don't do something that when once engrained, is going to either cause performance issues down the road when physical prowess begins it's descent and will be difficult to "unlearn" once those neural pathways have been established or you're going to expend an inordinate amount of time overcoming that delivery issue. It's why it's so challenging to do something different after doing it another way for so long. It's hard to unlearn something from a motor perspective. The first step in my view is to be convinced that the new way of doing something IS a better way (I've written about this a few times in the past).

Overcoming a technical anomaly (are we OK with that term?) means extra training/practice. Those elite athletes that I see on TV with those, ahem, anomalies, have one thing in common, an unbelievable practice regimen. They must! They need to practice to overcome that flaw (oops). That takes extra time, time that might be spent on team dynamics, physical preparation, mental preparation etc. There'a price to be paid and it can be a heavy one!

Then there's the birthday candle syndrome. Frankly, some of those athletes with the technical challenge(s) (perhaps a better word eh?) will see the onset of the decline in skill set because they can no longer, simply through fewer birthday candles on the cake, mask it. Often athletes with technical issues see their competitive careers hit the wall much earlier than their peers with better mechanics. One excellent example of that was the great golfers Sam Snead and Ben Hogan who had long careers that many felt were due to excellent mechanics.

When I instructed at summer camps, I would caution my 15-16 yr. old females that their ratio of strength to flexibility will never in their lives be in the balance it is at that age. They can hide technical flaws relatively easily because of that one time ratio. But, when they should be challenging teams for the right to play in the Scotties at age 25 or so, and that ratio of strength to flexibility is not the way it was at 15-16, that technical issue really becomes an issue! It's much like the Fram Oil Filter TV commercial* of many, many years ago, "You can pay me know or pay me later!". If you're a young athlete and a knowledgeable instructor makes a technical suggestion when you're in this age group, I encourage you to make the change now rather than later.

Bottom line is this, make sure your delivery works for you not against you! Give yourself the benefit of the sport science and experience of others, both players and coaches, who will help you set the right course of action for you as you develop your skills.

And, given the date on the calendar, it's worth another mention to you that despite common belief, the best time to take a really hard look at your technical skills is now! Don't wait until you put the golf clubs away and you start to think about curling in late September or October. That's too late but better late than never certainly applies. Now is the best time. You have the past season(s) vividly etched in your memory and for most, as leagues draw to a close, you have the time and in most cases, there's extra ice available. Not only that, so are my colleagues, who will be willing to provide an experienced and trained eye. But the best part about time is the duration between now and the start of the season because it takes time to be convinced that it's a better way to deliver a curling stone. Then, when the next season does roll around, you just can't wait to play with a new and improved curling delivery!

Don't waste this most valuable portion of the curling season!

* Just for fun I went to YouTube and there it was, from 1972! Check it out! It's a simple, but great commercial and I believe it sold a lot of oil filters!

This just in from my good friend, and accomplished curler from Calgary, Guy Scholz who made me aware of the following; Ted William, arguably the most technically correct batter ever once said, "There is a difference between a hitch and a flaw. A technical hitch is OK if it doesn't mess with a fundamental, but a technical flaw can destroy your swing."
You're correct Guy when you suggest that Ted's statement might also hold for curling!

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