Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Canada’s Greatest Asset May Also Be Its Greatest Liability

The curling season worldwide has come to a screeching halt along with the seasons of every other sport on this third rock from the sun. Who would have suspected that not only the sports world but the activities of the entire world would be stopped by something you can’t see with the naked eye, COVD-19, the Coronavirus? Usually, I prefer a lighthearted approach to my scribblings but this is serious, to put it mildly! It appears that the only way to “flatten the curve” with this virus is to stop its seemingly relentless spread. The bottom line, stay away from others! It’s not complicated! 

To that end, and to do my part in this global effort, I’m beginning this article from the comfort of my bed in Grand Bend, ON, on the shore of Lake Huron, on my iPad. I may indeed finish here but I suspect I’ll end up at my desk on my new iMac. 

The end of the curling season inevitably prompts competitive curling teams (however you define ‘competitive’) to at least consider its four-player configuration and in many cases make a change of some sort. In Canada it’s easy, too easy, to survey the talented personnel and see that lawn on the other side of the fence, you know, that greener one, and jump at the opportunity to pull the trigger in an attempt to improve the team by making a player change. If that's the case with your team, you do so at your own peril!

Look, to be fair, there are many reasons why a "personnel adjustment" (do you like that?) is warranted. Here are but a few.

The player just wants out. There comes a point in any group relationship that the task for which the group was assembled in the first place has either been accomplished or is no longer a viable pursuit and not all members of the group have to be in agreement on this. If any member of the group feels that way, well, no one is holding a gun to your head. Leave, hopefully on good terms.

Life gets in the way. This is still a game. No one plays it to make a living, although we can make the case for some that it's getting close. Life's priorities change. Sometimes circumstances are altered by outside forces (employment, family, finances etc.) and even though the fire to compete still burns brightly, it's time to move on to address those priorities.

The game changes but the skill set of one or more players just can't keep up.  The change may be the impact of a rules change, redefining the challenges of the position the player(s) play. Sometimes it's just the way the game is played in the team’s competitive environment placing new demands for which one or more members if the team simply can no longer successfully meet.


An uninvited guest arrives in the team's living room, usually in the form of an elephant. We’re talking about team dynamics here folks, one of the big reasons a personnel adjustment is necessary for the team to compete and hoping that pachyderm magically disappears, is just not a prudent course of action. Something gets said in the heat of battle, feathers get ruffled, personalities begin to clash, I believe you get the picture. A curling team is small in relation to most team sports. Some sports have disciplines that are smaller (i.e. pairs skating, doubles in tennis and if course mixed doubles in curling) and as we know, the smaller the group, the more important role team dynamics plays! As spectators we see the on ice dynamics and make no mistake, the way teammates interact through verbiage and body language can be a clue that all is not well. But we don't see the hours spent away from the glare of television lights and well, I'm sure you can see where this is headed too.  


But I'm burying the lead here so enough of the understandable reasons why teams decide to shuffle the deck chairs. I started this diatribe by asserting that in Canada, due to the fact we have many excellent curlers residing within our borders, it's been my participant observation that instead of learning how to play together,* we take the easy route by looking for someone who by their very presence, can alter the team’s fortunes. 

Without veering off onto a tangent here, I've stated many times that curling does not have a very good track record at selecting teammates (although we are getting better). We’re still too technocentric (spell check is having a field day with this). We see a curler with a great delivery or exceptional brushing and we grab onto them or at least make the attempt. There are so many other factors that comprise a great teammate (understatement alert).

The problem with selecting a new teammate lies in the fact that to bring him/her into the group, the team is going to have to hit the pause key to do so. Your competitors, the ones who have chosen to stay together and continue to learn how to play together, move forward. 

Bottom line? Make sure making that ”personnel adjustment” is the last resort! Failure to do so can have profound, negative consequences! 

* Learning how to play together out of necessity is one of the major reasons in my view in understanding the meteoric rise to the world stage on the part of countries who have a very short history of playing this sport. They subsequently don't have the myriad of curlers from which to choose so they don't have a choice. They must learn to play together! 



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