Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Paint Can & the Screw Driver

In our consumer society, we seem to have a tool for most everything! Tools are very specialized. I'm a wood turner, just an amateur, but I love working on my lathe. I can't believe the array of turning tools I've accumulated over the years! In the early years of my wood turning addiction, I used one "scraper" to produce most of the projects I turned out (sorry 'bout that) with varying degrees of success until I found out that it's much easier and more successful if you use the right turning tool (and it helps to know how to use it, who knew?).

The same is true for the "tools" we use as curlers, notably the curling stone. There is some basic knowledge of the only piece of equipment that really "counts" that's required by all curlers. What you don't know about curling stones can harm your performance.

Elite teams have made this an art form. They obsess about the eight stones they've been asked to use in a game. The ice upon which they play is so good, and so different from most curling club ice that to not pay attention to stone characteristics is "performance suicide". The "rock book" that each elite team compiles is a treasured commodity. In the competitive environment in which they find themselves, the sets of stones they will play is rather limited. It makes perfect sense to catalogue the stones and their characteristics of speed and curl. They don't need me to explain the process but to those out there reading this who are "serious" or "competitive" curlers/teams, hopefully this post will help you better understand the one aspect of delivering the curling stone that most of your competitors will ignore, and do so at their own peril.

Delivering a curling stone is about "weight" and "line". Hit the brush and deliver the right weight. Simple! Well, almost simple! There's a third aspect of delivering a curling stone and it's the amount of rotation. The article in my coaching manual regarding this most important issue is entitled "The Technical Double Cross". So many club teams double cross themselves without knowing it because they don't count rotations.

When a curling stone is delivered with "positive rotation", when it ends its journey, two things happen at exactly the same time, the stone stops moving forward and stops rotating. The key phrase in the preceding sentence is in quotations. Deliver a curing stone without positive rotation and all bets are off. The stone is in the unpredictable category with an array of possible results, some good but mostly bad.

Curling stone manufacturers mill the running surface of the stone to 4-5 mm. They assume that you will rotate the stone 3 rotations from release to stop. If you don't do that, you're asking their product to do something for which it was not designed! Does that mean that if you don't rotate the stone 3 rotations or significantly more than 3 rotations, you will not make the called shot? Of course not! You may make the shot but you need to understand that you did so with good fortune, not good planning playing a prominent role. Don't ignore nor forget that! But you won't make a very satisfying  career out of playing that way and you won't be of much value as a teammate either.

You can open a can of paint with a screw driver but that's not its intended purpose. When you make curling shots outside of the 3 rotations, you're opening that paint can with a screw driver!

If  you learned to curl from a certified instructor, you were likely taught to rotate the stone from 10 or 2 o'clock to 12 o'clock while sliding the distance of the length of a curling brush. If you do that, you will apply the 3 rotations those curling stone manufacturers expect. If at the halfway point of the stone's journey the handle has made one complete rotation, you will achieve the results you seek. The stone will "finish" and you'll make more shots and know why you are doing so.

Bottom line, be aware of the number of rotations you and your teammates apply. It's easy. Watch the handle!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Mayonnaise Jar and Coffee

In reading the title of today's post, some of you will feel you've seen or heard this before. If you know about "The Mayonnaise Jar and the Coffee", take the time to re-read. It's one of those life lessons we should never forget, especially at this time of the year when we put aside life's daily challenges and focus on family and friends. These are not my words and I've seen a few versions. In one, beer was substituted for the coffee. That version must have been paraphrased by a curler! Enjoy!

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large, empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with
golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – your family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favorite passions – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, and your car.

The sand is everything else – the small stuff. “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.

The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children! Take time to get medical checkups. Take your wife/husband/lover/friend out to dinner. Maybe even play another 18. There is always time to clean the house and fix the disposal.

Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and enquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there is always room for a couple cups of coffee with a friend.”

Later this morning, I'm going to have breakfast with a friend (orange juice, not coffee)! Whatever your belief, enjoy this very precious time of the year! For me, I'm going to do my best to have a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Keith Reilly - Mentor & Friend

The curling world was saddened today upon learning of the passing of Keith Reilly. Keith was one of the course conductors with the Ontario Curling Federation when a young curler from Kitchener-Waterloo decided to move from competitive curler to instructor/coach/official.

Under the "old" NCCP prgramme, my level I, II & III technical courses had one thing in common, Keith was one of the instructors. Without realizing it nor without Keith actually saying it, the best lesson I learned from him was the credo by which I now coach and instruct, "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care!"

Keith was an excellent curler with the Alfie Phillips Jr. national championship quartet (1967). I never got to see Keith play but I'm told he was a consummate teammate. Knowing Keith's personality, it was not difficult to believe that about him.

Keith was also a world class curling official. Those of you who have played in national events will have seen Keith in that role.

Keith was also an accomplished coach most notably with the Alison Goring team out of the Bayview G&CC, Canadian Women's Champion (1990). In his coaching role, he created a coaching manual called, "How Are We Doin' Coach?" That manual was under my arm at many practices when I began my coaching career. When I decided to compile my own coaching manual, I wanted it to look and feel like Keith's. He was one of the first persons I contacted when my manuscript was ready. I wanted Keith's permission to publish it in the style of "How Are We Doin' Coach?".

As I look back on Keith's career both in curling and in life, I realize how much mine paralleled his. We both were professional educators ending our careers teaching the same subject, "design & technology" before we started coaching and instructing.

Keith retired to central Ontario in the Barrie area, one of the best parts of our home province. He had many friends especially Linda and Don Holman who will be a great comfort to the Reilly family at this time.

As I travel along my coaching career path, there have been many times that I've paused to wonder, "Heh Keith, How Am I Doin' Coach?". Hopefully he would approve! Keith, you will be missed but your legacy lives in the lives of all you touched!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Canadian Open in the Rear View Mirror

The second of this season's Grand Slam events is now history and congratulations to both Team Howard and Jacobs, both from "the centre of the universe (ON)". I watched as many games as Sportsnet broadcast, which of course was not all draws and this event caused me to reflect on both the positive and negative side of the ledger.

I'm sure most viewers would agree that the "rookie" in the booth, Richard Hart, did an excellent job considering it was his first time out of the gate! The combination of Rob, Mike & Richard worked for me. Does anyone know what has happened to Joan McCusker in all of this? If you do, let us know in a comment.

The insights provided by Richard and Mike were entertaining, in just the right amounts, and in most cases educational to the recreational curler watching at home (although I feel they [including the TSN triumvirate] still miss golden opportunities to explain the "why" as they illustrate the "how"). The only downside to Richard's on air performance was in the final game when he "lectured" coaches about making sure there is a communication protocol in place to relay relevant information to the person in the house from the brushers as the stone makes its way down the ice. Heh Richard, I don't know of any coach who wouldn't have covered that with his/her team!

I hope all curlers watching noticed that in virtually every case in which a guard was played, the skip/third placed the target brush wide enough so that the stone had to be "brushed" to the desired location. Did you get that? The stone had to be brushed to arrive at the desired location! If there is one shot that is played most poorly by club teams it's executing guards!

Most guards come to rest past the desired location. This is especially true for the placement of center line guards. If your team does not have last stone advantage and your first stone of the end is meant to come to rest on the centre line, you absolutely, positively MUST make that shot!!! Failure to do so will colour the entire end. I see so many club teams play center line guards with minimal ice and as the stone reaches its destination, the team is "hoping" it comes to rest on the centre line. If you have to brush the stone to the centre line you will be much more successful at playing that critical first shot of the end. Placing guards should be an integral part of every team's practice regimen!

The same is true when you play a guard to provide protection for a stone in the house. Most guards of this nature are positioned in conjunction with a guard that's already protecting one of the rotational paths. Rarely do you try to guard a stationary stone with one other stone. Remembering that you don't guard the stone, you guard the path to the stone, placing that second guard should leave an agonizingly small port so that both paths to the stationary stone are protected even though the opposition make be able to "see" the target stone. But so often that second guard over curls leaving one rotation open for the opposition to remove the stone you wanted to guard.

On the negative side of the ledger were the number of missed shots that occurred following a miss by the opposition (see the blog of 11.22.12 entitled "Performance Benchmarks"). I realize those are execution errors not mental mistakes but at the elite level, they're unconscionable!

By the way, the percentage of blanked ends that we're successful in producing a multiple score for this event was 31!

On balance, The Canadian Open in beautiful Kelowna, BC was worth the watch!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Going to School Shouldn't Be a Death Defying Act

We all awoke this morning to the horrific news out of Newtown, CT. Twenty young school children were dead at the hands of a 20 something gunman who after killing children, some school administrators and teachers, turned the weapon on himself, taking with him any chance of an explanation. As I write this, it also appears that before the perpetrator went to the school, he killed his mother at home, a teacher at the school.

This is every parent's nightmare to put it mildly. When you send your child off to school, you assume it's a safe environment to learn and grow, with teachers who care more about your child as a person than they do about their teaching subject. I recall vividly as a high school student hearing the praises that were being bestowed upon a retiring teacher in an assembly. I did not have the privilege of having this man as a teacher. When it was time for this wonderful man to speak he simply said, "I don't teach (enter subject here). I teach students!"

We are just now hearing reports of the courage of staff members who acted in the best interests of the students, getting them out of harm's way while bullets flew. A deeply emotional President Obama, obviously thinking as much as a parent as the leader of the country, did not look for any silver linings in his words which were marked by pauses to brush away tears. He was leading the grieving that has started not only in the U.S but around the world.

Watching CNN report the news as it unfolded, probably the worst part for me, outside of the news itself, came from an FBI agent who has been involved in the many school shootings that have taken place in recent years. When asked by Wolf Blitzer if he could ever imagine anything like this happening, his reply was, "Yes, and it will happen again until we finally decide to take action." He went on to say that to date, after the grieving ends, the country moves on, with nothing done to change the situation. President Obama called upon government leaders to put aside any differences to take the action necessary to stem this tide of violence, in this case against truly innocent young people.

To all the parents out there reading this, give your children an extra hug tonight! For me, after I hit "publish" I'm going to Skype my grandson Lucas in Ontario to tell him Grandpa loves him!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Brushing Footwork

I'm pleased to post that of a friend and respected colleague in my hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo, ON in the person of Glenn Paulley. Glenn is one of the assistant coaches under the guidance of another respected friend and collegue, Gary Crossley at the Laurier High Performance Center at The Kitchener-Waterloo Granite Club. I'll have more to say about the LHPC in a separate post but for now I want to share an article (complete with video) composed by Glenn on the topic of brushing footwork so without further ado, enjoy! You may have to copy & paste the URL if simply clicking on it does not work.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Case of the Reversing Ice

Golf and curling stand alone in the importance of the understanding of the playing surface and its relationship to performance. Golfers, serious golfers had better understand the basics of turf management if they are to perform satisfactorily. Curlers, serious curlers also need to understand that their playing surface, as it's prepared and maintained also plays a significant role in the performance of the team.

Ice is alive! It's not an inanimate object! It changes due to a dizzying array of factors and I don't purport to sit here as the ice expert by any stretch of the imagination but that said, one of the first things I do when I enter a curling facility is seek out the ice technician. I sometimes  refer to them as ice "magicians" as given the physical environment in which they must work on occasion, that's exactly their role.

Making and maintaining good curling ice is not an accident. You need to know what you're doing but more than that, a good ice technician should have as much passion for the craft as the athlete has for his/her performance!

I'm constantly asking the best ice techs in the business the same question. "Tell me what I need to relay to the athletes about ice to improve their performance." I don't need to know all the technical details, although they do personally interest me. I want to know what I need to know from a coaching perspective. OK, with that preamble out of the way, on to the case of the reversing ice.

When a sheet of ice is prepared for play in a curling facility, it's a very, very different situation for the than for the ice tech in a venue for ice upon which you see elite teams play. In an upcoming post I'll deal with those differences. I hope the information I provide will enhance your viewing of the events as we get into The Season of Champions, Slams, Skins etc.

At a curling facility the ice must be prepared for as many as four or five games played pretty much back-to-back. Therefore, durability is a factor in the preparation of the ice because those eight curlers that use the ice in game five would like to be able to play all the shots played by the eight who inhabited the ice for the first game of the day.

To create that durability the ice tech will put down a relatively coarse pebble which he/she may "nip" or "clip" or perhaps not. In any event, the ice will usually start somewhat slow (requiring more velocity for a stone to arrive at its prescribed location). After an end or two (or three) the ice inside the "four foot stripe" which is the  high traffic area, starts to "keen up" requiring less velocity for that same stone to arrive at its destination. Shots played outside the four foot stripe, since it's the area of lesser traffic, is much more like the first and second ends in terms of speed therefore more velocity must be applied. Now, here's where it gets interesting!

At some point in the game, especially in ten end contests, that high traffic area (4' stripe) starts to really wear down. There are a number of terms used to describe the phenomenon (flat, fudge etc.). When the pebble wear gets to that stage, speed begins to revert more to the earlier ends of play, it slows down.

Now here's the "kicker". At that point, that outside ice that was "heavy" now will seem "quicker". Actually of course, it's changed very little if at all but relative to the ice in the centre of the sheet it's now "fast".

More draws played to the edge of the sheet late in the game miss through the house because the curler forgot that the ice reverses itself. Don't get caught.

And before I leave you today, one last point. If you play in a game where the ice is cleaned during the 4th or 5th end break and you're the lead of the team playing the first stone in the end after that break, be prepared for the ice to be quicker than when you left it before the break. Shooting statistics will confirm that more draws are missed in the ends following the break (especially by the leads) than in any other ends.

Monday, December 3, 2012

This Will Surprise You!

Those who know me, also know I'm not a great fan of statistics (don't even get me started) but there is a statistic that always surprises people, curling people, when I ask the question, "When a team blanks an end for the sole purpose of scoring a multiple end the next time they score, what are the chances (in percentage form) they will be successful?"

Answers cover a very wide range and certainly it will depend upon your competitive environment to some degree. The key phase in the question is ...'for the sole purpose..."!

Ends are blanked for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is to retain last stone advantage. You may wish to simply take one more end off the "game clock" and scoring is not a priority at the time. And I'll freely admit that to blank for the sole purpose of scoring a multiple end might not happen as often as I believe it does but nonetheless the statistical answer surprises most people.

To test the validity of the answer, when an event concludes and I have access to the line scores, I use only ends that are blanked in the first half of the game in my calculation as clearly there's a much greater likelihood that an end will be blanked in that part of the game where scoring a multiple end is at least on the radar screen.
The likelihood of scoring a multiple end after a blanked end the next time a score is recorded is 25%!

Yes, it's not a keyboarding error. It's 25%! If you blank an end you only have a 50/50 chance of scoring at all in the next end when a score is recorded.

I know, there are many of you out there who are scoffing at this statistic. To you I suggest you watch the scoreboards at your curling facility or when you watch a major event or do what I do and check the line scores (remember, use only blanked ends in the first half of the game) and test it for yourself. In recent tests using line scores of national events as I recall the statistic was in the low teens, not even breaking the 20% plateau.

The result for the recently concluded 2012 Canada Cup played in Moose Jaw, SK (for my international readers, yes, Canada really does have a place called "Moose Jaw") was a surprising 30% and there were only 20 ends blanked in total for all games played. Perhaps the message is getting through?

Is there a lesson here? Well, that's for you to determine but if you're the one on the team making decisions like this, before you blank the end you might just want to remember that you have only a 25% chance of being successful if the reaon for the blank was to score 2 or more points the next time a score is recorded. Let that rattle around in your head before you make your decision!