Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pat Sanders ... Hall of Famer

Blessed is the coach who gets to work with athletes of the calibre of one Pat Sanders, newly inducted athlete into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame. What you read below is taken from the Curl BC Connection, an online newsletter put out by the staff at the head office in Richmond, BC. Pat was asked five questions. You'll read her wonderfully entertaining, insightful and educational responses below but I'm going to embellish a little, something of the rest of the story which Pat is too modest to tell. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did working with Pat Sanders, Hall of Famer!

I received an email from Pat when her senior ladies team of Cheryl Noble, Roz Craig (you'll read more about this lady below) and Christine Jurgenson won the 2008 BC Senior Women's Provincial Championship and were preparing for senior nationals. She asked if I had some time to meet with them at the Victoria CC for a few hours. Little did I know, that few hours was the genesis of a relationship with four exceptional people to say nothing of them as elite athletes.

To say "we hit if off" immediately would be putting it mildly. The "chemistry" about which you'll read was there right from the start. In fact when after two national and an equal number of senior world championships, I would get asked about the team, although I could identify a number of factors that made the team great, it was always the "team dynamics" that came to mind first! If you were going to beat Team Sanders/Jurgenson (more about that soon), you had to beat the whole team, the support they demonstrated for one another was that good, I might even say rare!

From a technical perspective, yikes these women are good, was my initial reaction. My role was to make sure they trusted the skills I knew they had and the level of trust was not the same from team mate to team mate (don't even ask). One factor that made them two time world senior champions was their level of physical fitness which showed in their second national senior championship when they started out 0-2 then "ran the table". I could not be at the championship, they didn't need me, but from the reports I received, they simply got stronger and stronger as the week progressed.

After that first world senior curling championship, Pat felt that due to a number of circumstances she really couldn't devote the time required to "gear it up again". That's when her team mates, Cheryl, Roz and Christine approached her with an idea. "How 'about if we took the skipping responsibilities off your shoulders, would you play?". Pat said she would and without hesitation it was agreed that Cheryl needed to remain at third, with Pat and her "high, hard one" at second. Roz said she'd move to lead and that left Christine at the helm. Then they called me with the news. "Heh Bill, want to coach us again? Oh, by the way, except for Cheryl, we're all playing different positions!" Well, in a nanosecond the answer was "Yes", then I thought about the coaching challenge of coaching a new/old team. But, I shouldn't have been concerned. They accepted their new responsibilities readily and again, since this team already knew what to do, my role was to make sure they did what they knew!

I owe Pat much gratitude for that initial email but also for something I know I will always do with teams. I call it "you-have-the-floor"! In our pre and post game meetings with the team, I noticed that whereas all the others were eager to jump into the conversation, Pat frequently was very quiet. But I could see the wheels in motion and knew she had something to say and it's why the last item on a team meeting agenda is the aforementioned you-have-the-floor where I go around the room pointing to each player in turn inviting them to say whatever they wish. It need not pertain to the topics recently discussed. It can be about anything. That's when Pat, after hearing all the input from her team mates and coach, had a unique ability to put a red ribbon around it or take it in a direction none of us had seen. Her contributions in those meetings and in training sessions, in reflection, were worth their weight in gold.

Enough from me. Let's hear it from Pat!

How did you feel when you heard you were going to be inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame?

Joy and awe at the thought of joining the ranks of such a respected group of elite athletes and builders, and a feeling that I will wake up and it has all been a dream and I have just begun. I also felt relief that the hard work and sacrifices have achieved a life-long goal. There was also sadness and guilt - that it is just me being inducted and not my teammates too, because ... really ... where would I be without them?

Did you enjoy your trip to Ottawa for the official induction? 

The trip was a treat and very unexpected. I was able to invite Roselyn (Craig) to come with me. Each of my team mates is special and brings his/her own special imprint to the teams I have played with, but someone who can endure the pain of a torn knee while playing at an elite level through the grueling schedule of a world championship deserves to be at the CCA luncheon, don’t you think? We went to the Van Gogh Exhibit, travelled on a river cruise, had lunch with the senior men’s inductees from Alberta, and had a beaver tail and a beer in typical Canadian fashion in the buzzing metropolis of Ottawa. All in all, it was a fabulous trip and it was good to see our many hard-working and supportive friends at the CCA too.

What has been the highlight of your career?

Winning my second world championship in New Zealand with my senior ladies team. I was older and wiser and could really appreciate the journey and the achievements of my mates and friends. The first time I won with my mixed team, I was young, naive and totally awestruck. After my very first Canadians, where we finished middle of the pack and were attending the after-event, a smoke-filled hotel-room all-night party, I really did not believe Rick Folk when he said he would see me again at this level. The first Canadian championship I won was with an exceptionally strong, mature and seasoned mixed team and a feeling that this was probably the pinnacle of my curling career. My next somewhat shocking win was with my ladies team and that was such a whirlwind - it happened so fast, and I remember it as a blur-in-time, a time of extreme highs and lows, achievements, failures and exceptional stress. But really, in the end, it’s all about being a respected representative for your country and performing your absolute best at the highest level, while participating with your friends and making new friends along the way.
Since curling is a team game, what do you think is the secret to good teamwork?

Team chemistry is a must. You can put “dream teams” together, but unless they have team chemistry, the team will most likely fail. One element of this chemistry is faith in each other’s ability and another is an understanding and acceptance of team mates’ strengths and weaknesses. A third and vital element, is each individual’s willingness to accept, adapt and perform whatever role is best for the good of the team. Good teams do not always see eye to eye on game play and life play, but they always find a way of communicating and reaching a consensus that is acceptable to all, and through the good and bad, they support and understand each other and remain friends. (I would also say that team chemistry includes the coach, if there is one.)

Anything else you want to say?

As I said at the CCA luncheon, I am only the lead domino in a series of dominoes that led from Ferintosh, Alberta, to Biggar, Saskatchewan, to Endako/Fraser Lake, BC, to Victoria, BC, to many wonderful places in Canada, to Chicago, to Germany and Switzerland, to Dunedin, New Zealand and finally to St. Paul, Minnesota. The dominoes included not only these places, but all of my supporting structure of family, friends, coaches, supporters and all of my many, many, curling mates and friends who put up with my competitive nature and wacky sense of humour. So, in reality, I am not so much Pat Sanders the inductee, but Pat Sanders the persona who was melded, shaped and re-shaped over the years by all
of the dominoes that influenced her and whose induction represents all of their hard work, friendship, support and faith. So what is next? Who knows ... perhaps a new line of dominoes and a new path.




Friday, October 26, 2012

The Role of the Coach

It's "World Series" time! For those reading this post who are not residents of either of the Americas or Japan, don't be alarmed, I'll get around to making this "curlingcentric" (let the spell checker deal with that one) in due course.

In last night's "game two" of the 2012 World Series between the Giants of San Francisco and the Tigers of Detroit, the game was tied at zero with but two innings remaing to be played. It seemed clear to all observers that this was going to be a "one run game".

Earlier in the contest, Prince Fielder (yes, that's his real name and no, he is not a rock star) was called "out" at home plate on a wonderful fielding play from the Giant left fielder who threw to the cutoff man and finally to the catcher to get the aforementioned Prince Fielder by the proverbial whisker at home plate to keep the game score knotted at zero.At the time, one of the on air commentators mentioned that the decision by the Tiger third base coach to "send the runner" was suspect even before the play unfolded at home plate. For those not familiar with Mr. Fielder, well, he's not exactly Usain Bolt in speed afoot nor body type (I'll be kind here). At the time, there were "none out", so to have a runner on third base, many would argue that the attempt to score was a risk not worth the potential reward and as it turned out, the decision was a game breaker.

There's an adage in baseball that every Little Leaguer learns before he/she is 10 years old, "Never make the first out of an inning at third base or home plate." I guess third base coach Gene Lamont never played Little League baseball!

But coaching errors were not the exclusive domain of that third base coach. Team head coach (in baseball he/she is called the "manager") made a coaching error in the situation referred to in the second paragraph. Allow me to recap. The score was tied 0-0. A great likelihood that one run by either team would win the game. None were out with the bases "loaded" with Giants. Manager Jim Leyland of the Tigers decided to play his infielders at "normal depth" and on an infield ground ball hit by the Giant batter, to "trade a run for a double play". That's exactly what happned. The Giant batter hit a routine grounder to the second baseman who threw to the short stop covering 2nd base and on to 1st base for the easy double play all the while the Giant runner on 3rd based trotted home with what 99.9% of the observers of the game were sure was the game winning run to put the Giants up two games to zero in the best of seven series.

Had the Tiger infielders been "drawn in" (on the direction of Manager Leyland), the ball hit to the Tiger second baseman would easily have fielded the ball and thrown home (no tag of the runner necessary as it was a "forced play") and on to 1st base for the anticipated double play with no runs scored. Instead the run scored and the Tigers could not push the equalizer across the plate resulting in a 2-0 Giant victory. Yikes, two glaring coaching errors by professional coaches!

Perhaps the baseball manager for whim I had the most respect was the late "Sparky Anderson" who I believe is still the only manager to have won World Series Championships in both of the major leagues of professional baseball. Sparky was the Will Rogers of baseball managers and one of his sayings that I always remameber is, "It's really hard to win a major league baseball game!". The hidden meaning I always took from that was this. "Don't make it any more difficult than it already is!". In other words, mental mistakes at the elite level simply cannot be tolerated, not by a team that wishes to perform well enough to win.

Those of you who have followed my scribblings (thank you, I hope you enjoy them) know that my late father brought his son up with the same credo, no mental mistakes because you are in control of the decisions you make, make only good ones! Bill Sr. was heard to exclaim on numerous occasions within earshot of Bill Jr., "Bigger, Stronger, Faster, Dumber" and Dad rarely if ever referred to anyone as "dumb". And, as usual, Dad know what he was taling about.

I wonder if in that game ending scenario I described above, had one of  infielders been "empowered" with the decision to have his teammates play "in" rather than at "normal" depth, what his decision might have been. Sparky also was heard to say, "As a manger, I can't win any game, but I sure can lose one!" We cartainly saw that last night in the city by the bay!

My point here is this, your principle role as a coach is to empower your athletes. Utopia for a coach is to have the team so well perpared, especially in the decison making department that they don't need you any longer. Which is why when my teams take to the ice the last thing I say to them is, "Let me know how you do!". Don't take that sentence literally. It's simply my way of saying to the team that I know they will make good desisions. What happens after that, well, that's why it's a game. And their reply to me is, "Heh Coach, we just can't wait to play!"

Game on!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why Teams Lose

I am going to base this post on the work of one of my favourite sports psychology authors, Jim Loeher and the words in his book “The New Toughness Training for Sports” (Penguin ISBN 0-525-93839-7). I try to read as much as I can in this subject area and this publication is right at the top for me and has been for quite some time. If you have had one of my presentations inflicted upon you, you have probably seen me hold up my dog-eared copy. Jim is one of the very few authors to have placed the largely theoretical world of sports psychology into reality, providing actual activities one can do to improve in this area. It’s a must read for any teams with whom I work. OK, let’s examine, why teams lose. To illustrate the reasons, I’ve chosen to use the curling rings, the “house”.

In the twelve foot circle, not at all close to competing successfully, is TANKING. I don’t think this is a very well known term, perhaps used more south of the border, but so many talented teams fall into this category. I describe it as being afraid to win. What? How can a team be afraid to win? Isn’t that the whole reason for competing? Good questions. Let’s take them one at a time.

Being afraid to win is all about taking a risk. Entering a competition is facing defeat squarely in the face. That’s why short-term goal setting is so important. A loss on the scoreboard doesn’t necessarily mean that “all is lost”’. The short-term goal might have been to eliminate a “big end” plague that has been haunting your team. You did, but a series of small ends scored by your opposition did you in. Did you lose? Yes. Were you successful in meeting a short-term goal? Yes. But, let’s get real. Sometimes that score- board is all that counts and it’s uncomfortable to “lose” and as confident as one might be when taking to the ice, there is the possibility that you might lose. So, teams not wishing to risk losing start to rationalize their way to a perceived victory. They set a new standard of success that is not like short-term goal setting. It’s tanking. It’s being the surprise winner of your club championship and then realizing that in the zone competition, all the club members will be watching the results. And worse than that, should the team be successful at the zones, it’s on to regions and yikes, all the clubs in the zone will be watching. So, without discussing it, the team decides that a “good showing” at the zones will allow them to say, “Well, we won the club title and got to the “C” semis at zones. Heh, we did pretty well.” In reality, they had just as much talent as any other team in the zones and could have gone on to regions but they tanked. They didn’t want to take the risk of being on stage at regions.

I use this at just about every high performance camp I do. Everyone wants to win. Some even know what it takes to win. Few are willingly to do what it takes to win. Willing to do what it takes doesn’t just mean the sacrifices of practice etc. It means being willing to take a risk as well. We have all tanked at some point or another. For me it was in the last millennium, in the early 1970’s. I was playing out of a small 4 sheet club in the town of Elmira just north of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. We won the zones that year and had to play a team from London Ont. who had already been to the “holy grail”, the Brier. At that time, there were no regions and the 16 zone winners across Ontario were paired in a best-of-three competition with the winner moving on to provincials. The games were played at the Glenbrier Curling Club (no longer in existence in Waterloo). The London team knew what they were doing. In the locker room the talked about provincials, not this silly zone competition, and they wore their purple hearts. We, on the other hand, sat silent, watched and listened.

We played our game to a tee in game one. We hit everything in sight and only drew if we had the chance. The London squad was not quite as sharp and we won a close game. Then it happened! We knew that we were one win away from going to provincials. We knew it meant a trip into “the Big Smoke” (aka Toronto) to play the other seven inter-zone winners (which usually meant playing more “big city” teams). So, what did we do? We played well in the two remaining games. Just well enough to say that we “did good” (apologies to my English teachers) and “almost won”. We took on those London sharp shooters and took them to the brink. Wow, what a great try! We didn’t realize it then but what we did was TANK! We were afraid to win. We were just as good as they were and actually, looking back, on that particular day, we were better. But we didn’t want the risk of looking silly at provincials, so we folded our tent carefully. We felt good at the time, but we tanked. I’m not proud of it but I learned never to do that again. The long-term feeling “ain’t so good”!

In the eight foot circle of our imaginary house is ANGER. The poster boy for anger was John Mclnroe. To this day, many knowledgeable tennis people feel that he might have been the greatest naturally talented player to ever live but very few would regard him so due to his on-the-court outbursts. In his playing days, John Mclnroe’s fan club could held its annual convention in a telephone booth. He was not well liked and he didn’t care. He was focused on only one thing, winning. Unfortunately, he fell short of many of his goals due to his anger. It was his way of dealing with stress. For those of you who did not have the “privilege” of seeing him play, John directed his tantrums at officials (line judges were his favourite target), media, event organizers, grounds crew, opponents, fans, locker room attendants, ball boys or girls, etc. Many thought it was just his miserable temperament. But, if you watch John do his “colour” work on NBC today, you will know that he is really a pretty good guy. No, anger was his way of dealing with stress. Worthy of note is the fact that almost never was anger self-directed. That was by design. But it took energy to carry on like that, energy that should have been directed to the task at hand, playing top-flight tennis. In a word, he was not accountable for his shortcomings and therefore never reached his true potential.

In the curling world, the lack of accountability is clearly evident in the excuses a player makes. The ice is bad, the skip can’t place the brush properly, the game time is too late, the food at the club is poor, the lighting is bad, the brushers don’t judge the draws well, the ... I think you get the picture. Usually the complainers are good curlers, but their “anger” (always addressed toward someone or something else) prevents success.

In the four foot, we find the most maligned of all sports terminology, CHOKING. For an athlete to say that he/she choked is like a chef admitting his/her souffle fell. It’s death itself. But, when you choke, it means many good things. It means that you didn’t tank, you are willing to take the risk. It also means that you focused your energy on playing the game and were accountable for your actions. Unfortunately, it also means that you probably focused on the outcome of the event rather than the task at hand.

Heh, we’ve all done it. “If I make this open hit, we win the bonspiel”. “If I make this open draw, we’re in the final.” “If I...” Well, you get this picture too. And, you know the likely result, oops! You choked! But, the good news is that you were very close to that competitive “button”.

OK, I’ve kept you in suspense long enough. What’s “on the button”?

To be truly competitive and to perform well, you must feel CHALLENGED! It’s that “I-can’t-wait-to-play” attitude that all elite athletes have. It’s not cockiness, it’s not defiance, it’s not overbearing but it is calmness. It is trust in your skill set and that of your teammates. It is tunnel vision. It is “the zone”. You can be challenged without being successful on the scoreboard. But it is not trying to do your best. That’s an outcome that results frequently in choking. It’s the knowledge that if you don’t succeed on the scoreboard, your opponent had to bring his/her “A” game to the ice to win. It took everything they had. They were forced to drain their tank.

When you lose, make sure it was for the right reason(s) and of course, don't lose the lesson!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Baseball Analogy

Play ball! With those words, all over the U.S., in one Canadian city and many in Japan, Abner Doubleday's whimsical past time will play itself out at the professional level. Countless baseball diamonds all around the world will play host to many more amateur games.

For the dyed-in-the-wool baseball/softball fan, the game that seems so simple can take a lifetime to understand its nuances. My late father, into his 90's would sit with me to watch "his Blue Jays" and complain to me that "The pitcher should not be throwing balls low and away to the right-handed batter with a runner on first as it pulls the first baseman out of position to field the potential ground ball." At that point I'd just look over to my dad and respond, "Dad, just watch the game!" Good thing one of us in the room was still sharp as a tack!

As I write this on 10/17/12, my pvr is humming away recording the NLCS (National |League Championship Series) game from St. Louis, MO where the hometown Cardinals are hosting the Giants from "the city by the bay" (aka San Francisco) with the best-of-seven series tied at one game apiece. Later today, I'll put my feet up and watch the Tigers of Detroit, MI hopefully (oh, did I say hopefully?) end the suffering of The Bronx Bombers (aka New York Yankees) as the Tigers enter into the contest leading 3-0 in the ALCS (American League Championship Series). The winners of course will meet to decide who captures The Commissioner's Trophy in what is more commonly known as The World Series\(Go Tigers, oops, just slipped).

All joking aside, it's baseball which has afforded me my best advice to put wins and losses into their proper perspective and I simply call it, "The Baseball Analogy".

Before the baseball season starts, even before that unmistakable sign of the vernal equinox, spring training, I can go to the worst team in baseball with the following statement. "Despite your ineptitude, inexperience, limited skill set (enter the negative quality of your choice here), you're going to win 50 of the 162 games you will play in the regular season schedule. Fifty!

I then can approach the best team in baseball with the following statement. "Despite your great talent, experience, motivation etc., you're going to lose 50 of your 162 games. Fifty!

Well, if the worst team in baseball, despite all their negative attributes, is going to win at least 50 games, so will every other team! And if the best team in baseball despite all their positive qualities are going to lose 50 games,well, so will every other team.

You see, your standing in the league is not based upon those 100 games, it's how you perform in the remaining sixty-two!

When you win, or lose a curling game, make sure whether it's in the group that no matter what you did, you were simply not destined to win that game, don't look for tall buildings from which to jump or sharp objects to do personal harm, just realize the result for what it is and move on. Also, when you come off the ice and you know very well that you didn't deserve to win that game, the curling gods were just smiling on you, accept the gift gracefully and move on.

But, if it's one of the 62, and you won, make sure you know why you won and if it's a loss, don't lose the lesson!

Bottom line? Know if it was a 50, 50 or 62!

Go Tigers Go (oops, did it again)!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Team Bible

How's that journal coming along? What, you didn't! Heh, what part of "start" don't you understand? Allow me to provide a little more "inspiration" as my daughter Susan would say.

If you've been following the blogs of late, you'll perhaps recall that in pre-game meetings, it's very worthwhile for each teammate to announce his/her "performance goal" for the game. Those performance goals should be part of a journal entry and in my post re. post-game meetings, the first item on the agenda is for each teammate to report to the team his/her rate of success of meeting the performance goal because one of the key hallmarks of performance goals is that they are measurable. You'll soon discover that there will be links between successful completion of certain performance goals and successful performance on both your part and the team. Record all of that!

Make sure following games that you take time to make journal entries about "anything" worth remembering for both you and your team. The list is endless from how you felt as the game progressed to concrete reminders of the venue. It's difficult for me to suggest what might go into your journal because it's so personal.

But, to today's post is what has become, my journal of sorts, The Team Bible. As you might expect, every team's "bible" will contain different information but there are six categories of information that are universal.

Rock Book
As the term implies, this is the section of the team bible that records stone characteristics as you experience them from venue to venue. A note of caution needs to be made at this point. This is an acquired skill over time, much time. If you "really" feel that a stone is not matched in any way with any other stone in the set, I mean "really" convinced (did I say "really" convinced) then by all means record it. You may wish to turn the stone over and use its serial number as opposed to the plastic camp (i.e. red #2, sheet C) as stone caps can be exchanged for various reasons but the engraved serial number will be a permanent part of the stone. It's usually found in the "cup" near the bolt hole. If you don't have the foggiest idea about that which I speak, don't worry about recording stones. It will only confuse you resulting in chaos. I'll deal with stone matching in another post.

Team Performance Notes
This is where you record your "team performance goals" just as each teammate does with "individual performance goals" (see above). When you add your w/l record, you'll soon discover the team performance goals that bring the best performances. This is a very important section of the team bible as it avoids spinning your wheels doing things that are unproductive or downright counterproductive.

Competitive Data
This section is the companion to the previous. This is NOT about statistics! This about information that can be gathered, sometimes empirically, that is really happening on the ice. For example, you may note that when you come home either up one without last stone advantage or one down with last stone advantage you win (or lose) most of those games. That's competitive data. Not to be silly but you can record coin toss calls and first or second practice, relating that data with performance.

Communication Protocol
I'll not elaborate too much on this topic as there's an article in "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion" on that topic on p. 108 with easily the longest title ("Who to Say, How to Say, What to Say, Why to Say, When to Say, Where to Say..."). Suffice to say it's the "rules of engagement" on the ice. Remember this; "Most of the distractions that negatively impact on the performance of the team come from within the team itself". Why? Because well-intentioned teammates make communication errors resulting in distracted teammates. The manifestation of that distraction is inevitably a poor performance followed by a loss in trust and a technical panic when the problem is a lack of a communication protocol.
The right teammate can say the right thing, to the right teammate, in the right way, at the right time, for the right reason but at the wrong place. Almost perfect but in the world of communication, almost isn't good enough because mess up on one of the protocols, in this case "place", and you've created a distraction. Good luck with that!
Developing your team's communication protocol is the result of two things; experience on the ice in competition and sitting down with your teammates and talking about who says what to whom, how, where, why and when. All these rules of verbal engagement are recorded and revisited on a regular basis.

This is the section of the team bible to record your scores on the drills you do in practice. I won't go deeply into drills as this time except to point out that "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion" has drills near the back of the manual called "Drills to Die For". Suffice at this time to counsel that when you do a drill, it should be measureable and the scores need to be recorded because when you execute a drill you need to be aware of your "average score" on that drill. That should be your target, to exceed your average score! If, in the process, you reach a personal best score, great, that simply goes into the arithmetic the next time you do the drill as the avcrage will now be just a little higher.

Every team, over time, believes certain premises to be true for them. It just happens! Well, if the team is convinced that somethings are true for them they need to record those beliefs. It may be about brushing styles, effective strategies & tactics, the sky's the limit but whatever they are, record them and like the communication protocol section of the team bible, it needs to be revisited.

Wins & Losses
You'll very likely want to keep track of your w/l record as the season progresses. When you win (perform) identify why you won (performed) and when you lose (don't perform well enough) make sure you record the "lesson" learned. Never lose the lesson!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Follow the Bread Crumbs

As the season begins, there are good habits to also begin that will pay dividends down the road (can you say playdowns?). One of them is journaling! Don't argue, just do it! I don't normally talk that way but in this case it's warranted because when you start your journal, making entries each day, it will be a royal pain the the backside. Don't quit! Soon, you will not be able to wait to enter the day's thoughts! And that's exactly what they are, thoughts.

The first question I'm asked when I encourage athletes/teams to begin journaling is, "What do I write?". Answer, "anything that comes to mind!" If it's a thought about your day, it's worth including in your journal. Don't feel you have to justify what you do or explain why you did it. Do that if you like, but it's not necessary as you begin your journal. The reason for recording the activities and challenges of your everyday life is because your "real self" many times affects your "performer self". We don't live and perform in a competitive vacuum. Even professional athletes, despite the tangible resources their profession brings, deal with the same daily ups and downs as we regular folk. They sometimes don't perform to the standard to which they and their fans have become accustomed not due to some technical difficulty but because "life got in the way"!

It's only natural for an athlete to see him/herself in training or in competition as "athlete" and when they're in the workplace or at home or in a social setting with friends, they see themselves quite differently. What they don't see is the connection between the two, the real self and the performer self, and the events in each which can affect the other and the door swings both ways.

Spouses and partners of elite athletes, either professional or amateur, have a clear set of guidelines as to how they relate to the athlete when he/she (the athlete) comes home after an excellent performance or one that didn't quite meet the standards mentioned above. They learn the coping skills necessary in each situation. Rare is the athlete (or coach) who comes home and is the same type of person regardless of what happened on the field, rink, court etc.

When you record events, reactions and thoughts as you go through your day, one in which there may not be training and/or competition, over time you will see cause and affect relationships. You'll begin to connect the dots to learn that when certain events and reactions to those events happen with your real self, they affect, either positively or negatively, your performer self but without the journal, those connections may never surface. And as I said two paragraphs above, you'll quickly see how your performance in competition is affecting they way you relate and in some more extreme cases treat those closest to you. And, when a poor performance occurs, you can "follow the bread crumbs" back to the cause that only your journal revealed.

Your team should also have a journal, frequently called "The Team Bible"! This journal will be kept by the player on the team most amenable to the task but everyone will contribute from time to time. I'll deal with The Team Bible in the next post but for now, start that journal. It's worth the time and effort!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Life Imitates Sports

In my last post of a few days ago ("The 2012 Ryder Cup: A Look Back") I made the point that one's "attitude" going into a competitive event is absolutely critical, so much so that the final outcome frequently, very frequently, depends upon it. The Europeans simply had a better attitude about Sunday's singles matches than did the Americans.

For those of you who have followed my writings, you will know that I rarely, when talking abut why some teams perform well on a consistent basis and others do not, discuss matters of a technical nature. It's quite simply my experience that technical differences are rarely the difference. Again, referring to my last post, it's about discipline, trust, support and attitude more than anything else.

Wednesday night, from a stage on the campus of a university in Denver, CO, another competition played itself out. This time, unlike a sports game, the stakes were much higher. As over 40 million who tuned in already know, the competitors were the former governor of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney and the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. The prize, the most powerful political position in the world, not much money to go with it, at least not while one is on the job but the residuals are invaluable.

Going into this first of three "Presidential Debates" (with one Vice-Presidential Debate for good measure), the Republican candidate, the aforementioned Mitt (who names their child, Mitt?) Romney was behind in most  polls. The President had the numbers and to hear most political pundits, the majority of the facts on his side as well. A decisive performance by the President in this debate could have pretty much closed the door on his opponent and barring a monumental collapse, cruised to complete his two term presidency (the maximum allowed under The Constitution). To put it into a vernacular with which most of you who read blogs like this are familiar, momentum was on his side, he had a lead on the scoreboard and time was running out. Just close the deal! Look and sound presidential. Use your incumbency to your advantage!

Well, like the American Ryder Cup Team, Mr. Obama did exactly the opposite to what any "coach' would have counselled. He looked and sounded as though he wished he were anywhere but on that stage in Denver. His opponent sensed it right out of the gate and proceeded to make the point for most of the 90 minutes. In short, candidate Romney stopped the bleeding and has begun to revive the patient!

Democratic spin doctors were quick to point out that it's only the first debate and yes, their man was not at his best. What? Not at his best! This is the major leagues of politics! You better be at your best my friend or like so many teams who miss scoring chance after scoring chance, when the opposition who is back on its heals makes the first offensive move, they more often than not score the one goal that wins the game. If Mr. Romney were to pull this out of the fire and win the majority of seats in the Electoral College and become the 45th President of the United States, history might see Wednesday's debate as the turning point. Only time will tell!

There's an axiom in the sports world to which I adhere. "It's a lot easier to keep it going than it is to get it going." Hmmm, what's that about momentum? Lose it and see how difficult it is to get it back, It's not a faucet. You can't turn it "on" and "off" at will.

Heh, Barack, I'm free if you'd like some advice before you tee it up again in a couple of weeks. Give me a call! You need a coach who knows what it takes to perform! There's another sports axiom in which I believe and it goes like this, "It's not how you start. It's how you finish!"

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The 2012 Ryder Cup: A Look Back

Wow! Going into this recent Ryder Cup Matches I felt the Europeans would retain Samuel Ryder's talisman but not in the way it unfolded. Even though the result was what I anticipated, it happened in inverse fashion.

As we know, after the first two days of pairs play (two rounds of foursomes and two of four-ball) it was the American side, not the European dozen that were up in points, 10-6. Many felt as play concluded on Saturday with the Yanks up by four points, going into the singles phase of the battle, that it was a coast-to-the-finish-line scenario that would unfold on the last day. The Americans were more accustomed to playing for themselves in individual style and would feel the wind at their backs and extend the lead for a comfortable win and the recapture of the cup.

I was in Seattle conducting a curling camp on the weekend and as a result had to rely on snippets of information from a variety of sources to remain current with the goings on in the northern suburb of Chicago, IL known as Medinah.

As a coach, I was much more interested in the reaction of the captains at that juncture than I was the players'. I like to imagine what I would say in similar circumstances and I felt that Captain Love had a more difficult challenge on his hands than did Captain Olazabal. Why? The pressure was on the U.S. side, not on the Europeans'. The Euros had nothing to lose as they entered singles play. They were down by a sizable margin so who cares if the loss is by 1/2 point or several. The size of the "L" does not change! I like to think that I'd tell my 12 athletes to "fire at every pin"! Let the Americans play "not to lose". We'll "play to win"!
From everything I've heard post Ryder Cup, that's precisely what the likeable Spaniard did. I think he felt that the Americans just might be gazing at the finish line, the outcome of the matches, always a risky if not down right fatal thing to do so he had his charges concentrate on the process to perform to the best of their ability.

It's also said that, "Under pressure, one sinks to the level of one's preparation". If indeed that were the case, then that too sheds a damning light on the Americans because they were clearly, in my mind, the team that was under greater pressure and playing "at home" only accentuated that pressure! And, of course, the home town media can be counted on to provide all the locker room bulletin board print material the opposition needs to increase their inspiration to perform well. One might say that it was a "perfect storm". All the ingredients for a European win and an American loss were in place. Add some trust, support & discipline on the European side, stir and you have the final result.

Next stop for the Ryder Cup Matches will be at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2014. If I were the Americans, between now and then, I'd find out how to stop the bleeding. Then they can concentrate on reviving the patient.

Parting Thoughts
 I don't know why on the Friday and Saturday of the Ryder Cup, all 12 members of each side don't play as they do on Sunday. It would require six matches each morning and afternoon of those days which may prove logistically somewhat challenging. If that were the case, start three matches on the 1st tee and three on the 10th tee. That way there would be plenty of time to get the three matches at each of the start locations off with time to spare. Also, fans would know their favourite player(s) will be playing all the time. Lastly, it would spread out the gallery to the benefit of all the patrons.
All matches will be played to conclusion. No halved matches! All putts must go into the hole. No conceded putts.
Lastly, no 14/14 win for the side currently holding the cup. If it's 14/14 at the conclusion of singles play, each side selects a player. They go to a designated tee with the first hole won winning the Ryder Cup for his side!
Or, you can stick with the current format for no other reason than, "We've always done it that way!"