Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Coach's Question

Recently a coach of a junior team contacted me for some advice re. the restructuring of the team. Two of its original members have teamed up with two from a team that was in its competitive environment. It seems that all the members of the new team are willing to play whatever position is in the best interests of the team. Basically the coach wants to know how to go about that task. Earlier today the coach has called me for a voice-to-voice on this matter.

The very fact that the team members are willing to play any position is a good thing. There appears to be no "princess" on the team from the coach's description. Certainly a thorough examination of the demands and responsibilities of each position needs to be undertaken. That just may change the willingness of a member of the team to play a particular position so that exercise is vital in my view. The players may "think" they know what it takes to play lead, second, third or skip but when all the cards are placed on the table, that may change.

A thorough assessment of the skills and experiences of each team member is the next order of business. It's at this time that I hope the team will "think outside the box" and given the exchange of emails between the coach and yours truly, I know that will happen. I call it the "division of labour". Gone are the days when each team member played a position and assumed the traditional responsibilities and demands. We have more and more teams for example who make use of each player's unique skill set by having the person responsible for strategy and tactics not necessarily deliver the last two stones of the end.

I will suggest that each player put fingers to keyboard to describe what he/she brings to the table based upon perceived skills (strong & weak), experiences and hopes & aspirations.

It's at this point you marry steps one and two. In an ideal world, it's obvious the positions each person should play from those reviews. There may have to be some tweaking, juggling and compromising but generally it will sort itself out and least to the point that the team can begin to see itself within a structure.

I would hope that the coach would approach this exercise in such a way as to provide the team with a launch pad but knowing full well that as the journey progresses, changes may have to be made.

Although the coach's emails did not refer to a yearly training plan (YPT) per se, it clearly must be on the order paper as this team has competitive aspirations such that it's going to be a full time occupation from time to time. As coach I'd need to know exactly how committed the team is to the goals it sets for itself. Hmm, goal setting, there's another topic altogether.

Lastly, there's the stakeholders (aka parents). These are young juniors so parents will play a role in all of this and the nature of that role can be uplifting and supportive or ... well, you can fill in the remainder of this sentence I'm sure. A meeting with the parent group must be near the top of the order paper. That too will be a topic of another blog at some point.

I applaud this coach for the obvious care he has demonstrated in his emails. As I like to say, "They don't care how much you know until they know who much you care!" This coach cares deeply about his athletes!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Damn Yankees

I guess you might say I've really become a west coaster. Although I will always cast an eye in an easterly direction to learn how those Blue Jays are doing, the team out here is of course, the Seattle Mariners. Perhaps if the Blue Jays contracted a radio or television station on the "left coast" to join the Blue Jay Network, it might be a little easier to follow their fortunes, or misfortunes on a more or less daily basis. But sadly, that's not the case.

The home of the Seattle Mariners is "Safeco Field". A wonderful place to watch a game and easy to get to from Canada. For us on the Saanich Peninsula, we have a number of choices to get to Seattle quickly and easily. There are four ferries available, one of which takes you within walking distance of Safeco Field. In fact, once your in downtown Seattle, everything is within walking distance!

Safeco Field has a roof. No, it's not quite as fancy as the dome on The Rogers Centre which turns outdoors to indoors. This is just a roof! It rests over those noisy rail lines you hear when you watch or listen to a game from Seattle and it couldn't be simpler in its movement back and forth over the stadium but it works so you always know you're going to see a game!

The sight lines at Safeco are superb! There really isn't a bad seat in the house! Access to all seating levels is easy and quick. Interestingly, there is no parking lot per se. You take public transit or use the many commercial lots which surround Safeco Field. Century Link Field, Safeco's next door neighbour, home to the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer and the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League does have parking when the Sounders or Seahawks aren't playing.

Seattle joined the American League in the same year as the Blue Jays and one year put 116 games into the win column but alas, the franchise is World Seriesless while Toronto has two World Series banners hanging in the Rogers Centre.

There have been great players who have played in Seattle but none the equal of Ichiro Suzuki! Of his many accomplishments is ten straight seasons of 200+ hits. That statistic alone will see him enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in  Cooperstown, NY when his playing days come to an end. He's a unanimous first ballot selection!

But yesterday in mid-afternoon, a trade was consummated between the Yankees of New York and the Seattle Mariners which saw Ichiro (the only player in major league baseball allowed to wear his first name on his jersey) don the pin stripes of the Bronx Bombers. To make matters worse for long suffering Mariner fans, Seattle started a three game home series with those carpet baggers from NY so many learned of the trade when they walked into Safeco Field to see their beloved Ichiro in the visitors' dugout. What a shock that was!

Look, if you're a Yankee fan, let me make myself clear on this matter. Unless you were born in the shadows of Yankee Stadium (old or new) you can respect them, admire them, be in awe of them, be enthralled by them but to "cheer" for them makes absolutely no sense. How on earth can you "cheer" for a franchise that's so wealthy it just goes out and buys whatever it needs? In this case it needed a right fielder due to injuries to its regulars so what does it do, it "buys" Ichiro who quite happily will now play for a team that's 10+ games ahead in the American League Eastern Division. Oh yes, wasn't it great for the Mariners in the twilight of Ichiro's career to trade him to a team with a chance to win.

And what did the Mariners get in return? Two minor league pitchers and a draft pick (I'm not certain about the draft pick but I'll check on that) and cash. Oh, but hold the phone. It wasn't cash FROM the Yankees TO Seattle. It was the other way around!!! Seattle actually paid NY for the privilege of giving away its franchise player.

Ladies and gentleman, the apocalypse is upon us!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Process v. Outcome

It was hard to watch. With four holes to play in the 2012 British Open (sorry UK, yours isn't the only Open), Aussie Adam Scott with Tiger Woods former caddie, Steve Williams, on the bag, headed toward the venerable club house at the only English stop on the nine course rotation, Royal Lytham & St. Annes, with a four shot lead with four holes left to play. If it were match play you might say the rest of the field was "dormie". Only Hall of Fame golfer from South Africa affectionately known as "The Big Easy", Ernie Els, had a chance to supplant Scott as the 2012 Champion Golfer and hold the "Claret Jug" aloft.

Only Adam Scott will really ever know what happened but if I might hazard a guess, he fell victim to the oldest championship murderer known, he focused on the "outcome" rather than the "process". Welcome to the club Adam. You have lots of company!

A telling sign that his focus had changed was on one of the last four holes when he pulled out a three wood for his tee shot. This was a hole which he had parred each of the first three rounds using an iron from the tee to avoid some of the 205 bunkers that dot the course. Royal Lytham & St. Annes is a course that, unlike the other eight sites, looks more like the "parkland" layouts North American players find to their liking. The weather was most unOpen like, warm, no wind and a rainy few weeks left the greens receptive to approach shots. It looked like a real golf tournament, not a battle with the elements!'

For the non-golf fans reading this, I'll save you the details by simply telling you that Mr. Scott bogeyed (one stroke over par) all four of those remaining holes while Mr. Els birdied #18 (the 72nd hole of the event). Scott needed to make about a 10' putt on #18 to force a playoff but his putt slide slightly to the left of the hole, leaving Ernie Els with his second British Open title.

The previous blog is about "experience". The best definition I know for experience is: "Experience doesn't reduce the number of errors you make, but it does reduce and can eliminate the negative affects those mistakes have on your overall performance". I suspect experience played a role in the outcome of the event!

Worthy of note is that both players were most gracious in how they handled their relative situations! They are classy athletes!

Recently I attended a lawn bowl clinic presented by one of Canada's national lawn bowl coaches. Although the clinic had lawn bowlers at various skill and experience levels, the national coach stated that the first objective is "to win the game". Wrong! The first objective is to "perform". Focus on victory and you're focusing on the wrong aspect of the competition. You can't control the outcome but you can at least influence and to varying degrees control your performance (process).

But it's not easy when that championship is so close you can touch it. It's why it's almost cruel when the awards are placed in close proximity to the the players during championship final games. Talk about distractions! Oh, distractions, that's for another post.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Curling, like golf, places a very heavy emphasis on "experience", the one aspect of preparation no coach can teach! You have to "get your nose blooded" from time-to-time (figuratively speaking of course) to really learn what works and what doesn't AND how to win. This post is not going to challenge that premise but I would like to make some comments about "experience".

Recently a coach contacted me citing an experience he had as a young civil engineer. He was charged with reviewing a construction project. When he did so, based upon his freshly minted engineering degree, he found the practices employed by the "experienced" construction crew somewhat wanting. When he questioned the project foreman (it was in the politically incorrect years) the foreman replied that they had been doing things that way for 20 years. In other words, he had 20 years experience. When our coach/engineer reported this to his superior he was told that the foreman really didn't have 20 years experience, he had one year's experience repeated 20 times.

How "experienced" are you? Are you doing the same things over and over again simply because that's the way you did them from the start? That's simply not good enough! If you're doing things the same way and are open to new modalities and find them inferior to the way you've been doing things, then you're OK on the experience front but never close your mind to new ideas. Give them an airing then make the decision to go with them, look for other ideas or stick with what appears to be working. If you're in a group/team environment, make sure you get the "take" of all the group members. You may not think a new idea is worthy but your teammates might see it quite differently.

If this is the first blog you've read on my site and find this topic of interest, I encourage you to read the post of July 5, 2012. And, your comments and thoughts are always welcome!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Because We've Always Done It That Way

Today's post will be uncomfortable for some of you because human nature is such that we like the familiar, almost to the point that we'd rather keep doing the same things in the same way even though our head tells us a) it's not working well b) there are other ways to accomplish the same task and c) there is sport science which indicates that the likelihood of success doing it differently is high.

For some of you out there, the past has been frustrating to say the least. You have a team that's underachieving and all members of the team know it. As a group you're willing to do whatever is necessary to perform better and that includes some out-of-season examination of the ways in which the team attempted to accomplish its tasks. If that's the case, I believe you'll find today's blog enlightening. Enjoy!

Because We’ve Always Done it This Way

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result, and all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon the monkeys will try to prevent it.
Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.
Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth.
Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been done around here.
What you have just read is a classic experiment that has been replicated on many occasions. The lesson is clear and jumps off the page, especially the last line, “...that’s the way we’ve always done it around here.”
In my professional careers of educator and coach, thankfully, in large measure, I’ve been blessed being around people who don’t think this way! 
People who know me well avoid, as a reason to persist with anything when questioned about it by me, “We’ve always done it this way!” Make no mistake. The tried and true methods of yesterday/year may indeed still be the best way to accomplish a task. I recognize that. My point is the unwillingness or the out-and-out defiance to even explore other, perhaps much better ways of accomplishing the task.
At high performance camps we make statements like; “If you want something you’ve never had before, you’d better be prepared to some things you’ve never done before” and “If you do what you’ve always done, chances are you’ll get what you’ve always got” and “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right” and the classic definition of INSANITY (doing things the same way but expecting different results). These statements are not originals and I don’t want to take credit for any of them. Henry Ford penned one and Albert Einstein another.
Curling teams that perform well on a consistent basis are open to new ideas. Are you a team or just a bunch of monkeys?

The next step of course is to get the help you need and for that you need to contact your provincial/territorial association. All are positioned to provide counselling in the area(s) in which you're most interested. If you have any difficulties, I'm at the end of a telephone line (250-656-9933) or email ( 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Don't Waste Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

For some of you out there, when the calendar flips from June to July, the only things on your mind are those activities associated with warm sun and a slower, less hectic pace to one's life. I'm "in" on that too but for curling teams with high expectations and aspirations, summer can be just as important to the quality of the team's performance than most things it might do "in season", not the least of which may be to replace a teammate who for whatever reason, has left the team.
Unfortunately we don't have a great track record in curling in selecting teammates. We have been much too much dazzled with technical expertise and have not spent nearly enough time determining a potential teammate's value as just that, a teammate.
An article I penned a few years ago dealt with that issue. It follows below. Enjoy!

Your Value as a Teammate

I tell this story from time-to-time in clinics, coaching symposia and high performance camps. One of the advantages of being the National Development Coach (1999-2006) was that the National Training Center is located in Calgary. AB and those mountains you see from Calgary are the Rocky Mountains, home to some of the best skiing on the world.

I love to ski! I’m what I’d call a good intermediate skier. All of the “green dot” runs and most of the “blue circle” runs (on the ski map indicating degree of difficulty) I could ski comfortably along with a few carefully selected “black diamonds”. Skiing down a ski run that’s in your comfort zone on a crisp, cold AB day with that wonderful dry snow under your skis is a singular pleasure.

My favourite place to ski was Sunshine, about a 90 min. drive from my apartment in Calgary to the parking lot at the resort. I liked Sunshine for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that all the snow was natural. There was not an artificial flake anywhere.

Friday was my ski day. For the teams in my programme at the NTC, Friday was a travel day to the bonspiel of their choice. In essence, it was my day “off”. The weekend skiers would not arrive until later in the day so the “lift lines” that are so common at other ski areas were non-existent at Sunshine, especially on Fridays. I would leave my apartment at 0700 and be at the top of the mountain by 0900, ski for three hours, break for lunch, ski until about 1430 then head home to arrive by 1630. What could be better?

My partner in the early years at the NTC was Helen Radford. What a great partner she was! We worked well together. She always had a smile! For Helen, the glass is always “half full”!!! One day she suggested that I join she and two of her friends who were visiting for a day of skiing, not at Sunshine, but at Lake Louise. I have nothing against Lake Louise. Who would? But it was another hour west of Calgary which meant two more hours of driving for a one day ski outing so that was really the only reason I didn’t ski there often. But Helen’s invitation was quickly accepted.

Helens friends were really good skiers as is Helen. I was fourth on the skill list for sure but was able to keep up. On one quad chair, I happened to be seated between Helen’s friends. Both had been athletes on national teams, one for soccer, one for basketball. As we chatted on the lift, they had lots of questions about elite curlers and elite curling teams. Then one asked the classic question, “Bill, why does Canada not choose its four best curlers to form a team to compete in international competitions?”

Coming from a soccer or basketball player, that’s a legitimate question. They were accustomed to trying out for the national team by attending a try out camp, playing exhibition games, hoping to “make the cut” then playing internationally for Canada. But even at that, I reminded them that even for their sports, the coach isn’t necessarily going to choose the “best” players, he/she would be much more concerned about, what Herb Brooks did when selecting the U.S. ice hockey team for the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games, choosing the “right” players. I also reminded the soccer and basketball players that in their sports, the coach had control, during the game, of exactly which combination of players where on the court or pitch respectively, A curling coach, during the game has very little “game influence”. Clearly all four players play the entire game. Here’s how I answered the question.

“On a curling team, everyone contributes 25% of the effort, 
but does so 100% of the time!”

Obviously each player delivers 25% of the shots the team plays. The math tells you that. But what you do for the other six shots each end is critical to the success the team enjoys. Shot selection, the tactics to be employed, weight judgment, brushing technique and application, ice reading, communication with teammates etc. (the list is long indeed) are all integral parts to the overall performance of the team. You may not be experiencing a “red letter” day from a skill perspective but you can still do everything in your power to make sure your teammates have a great game (words I first heard spoken by Andrea Lawes to my high performance campers at the Trillium Jr. Summer Camp many summers ago).

But here’s the message of today’s blog. As your team moves toward elite status, the definition of “time” in my answer to the question changes. For recreational curlers, “time” means in the context of the game. But as your hopes and aspirations become more lofty, “time” means what you do outside of the context of the game, at the bonpsiel, at home, in the gym, with friends, at the training table etc.

I tell teams that the only people who really count are your teammates! Not me, not your friends, not your co-workers, not your family, not anyone else. That said family is always one’s first priority. I mean in the competitive sense, you do everything you can to make sure your teammates have a great day and what you do personally away from the game is part of that effort. Your teammates are counting on you. Don’t let them down! We can’t all be great athletes but we can all be great teammates.

Oh and by the way, there’s another person counting on you. It’s that person who stares back at you from the mirror! In life you might become expert at fooling everyone around you but you can’t ever fool the person in the mirror!

Author's Note: In October I'll be making my way to Atlantic Canada where Helen, now charged with the educational programmes for Curl Atlantic has invited me to make a tour of the four Atlantic provinces to present some coaching sessions and clinics. I can't wait to get there and see my partner from Calgary once again!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

As you can see by the title, this will now be the site that I will use to post blogs (at least temporarily). The site that I had used in the past using iWeb, as of today (July 1, 2012) is no longer available. I have saved all the blogs I had posted on that site and I will re-post many of them here for those who wish to have them reinstated.

I'll take this opportunity to thank the many who have emailed me about the blogs that I post. Many of you are curling coaches and/or instructors but some are from other walks of life and have found my thoughts at least interesting and hopefully helpful.

I'm very much the type of person who prefers to share my thoughts on topics suggested by readers so I'll issue the invitation again. If you'd like to know my feelings or share my experiences on a topic, please ask ( I'll respond as soon as I'm able.

It's "Canada Day" here in the "great white north"! It's a day for Canadians to acknowledge the gift of our country and to remember for those of us who had that gift automatically bestowed upon us that there are some Canadians who gave their lives so we can live the way we do and many more who are Canadians citizens by choice and have come from afar to live among us and in many cases under threat of retaliation! Thank you to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and welcome to those who choose Canada!