Saturday, April 27, 2013

Famous Last Words

Many have asked me what I say to teams about to play for a major curling prize like the recently concluded World Senior Curling Championships in Fredericton, NB. It's certainly a legitimate question and I do have a meeting with the teams prior to the "big game" to offer last words (the jury's out on just how "famous" they may or may not be). But before I reveal what I said to Teams Canada in Fredericton the night before the playoffs, let's examine the concept of coaches' words to athletes in general.

If you speak with any of the athletes who have been on teams I have coached, I hope they would tell you that I'm a "training & preparation" coach much more than a "game" coach. We won our two gold medals in the 12 months between the time Team King & Team Armitage won their respective national senior titles in Abbotsford, BC in March of 2012 and those playoff games on April 19 in the New Brunswick capital. They presented them on that date. We didn't win them on that date!

Some coaches are famous for their locker room speeches. Knute Rockne, football coach at Notre Dame is among the more well known in this category and I believe every elite coach has at one time or another inspired his/her team to greatness by words spoken just prior to the defining game. As my daughter Susan (the professional speaker) has told me on more than one occasion, "Dad, you can't motivate anyone. Motivation comes from within. You can only inspire people and you can do so in a variety of ways." With Susan as my guide, my brand of inspiration comes from example as much as anything. I can deliver the inspirational locker room speech, but I feel it's window dressing. A window through which elite athletes can easily see. No, I'm much more wanting to have the athletes so well prepared, any inspirational or motivational speeches are simply not necessary. My way of putting an exclamation point on this is to ask following a game, "Heh, how did you do?"

I mentioned to the teams along the way in Fredericton that in playoffs, teams sink to the level of their preparation. If there's a shred of truth to that, and I believe there's much more than just a shred, the more and better the training, the more likely the team will perform to its self-imposed expectations. A team that attempts to perform to external expectations, does so at its own peril!

When we landed in Fredericton, the players wanted to go to the Grant Harvey Centre to see the venue. When we arrived at the GHC, all the stories we had heard about the building were true. It was amazing! The two ice surfaces were spectacular with the WSCC on the larger ice surface but with fewer seats and the WMDCC on the smaller surface but with many more seats. I took a page out of the movie "Hoosiers" and mentioned to the teams that it appeared that the circles, especially the largest one was 12' in diameter with the others at 8', 4' and a button that looked very familiar. We knew all about the stones to be used so they seemed familiar as well. Then I added, "The stones and ice do not know this is the World Senior Curling Championships!"

I told both teams the first time I met them that I would play a diminishing role with them as the 2013 World Senior Curling Championships approached, to the point that when we actually arrived in Fredericton, their need of me was very small. In my mind had I not been able to attend at all due to some last minute unforeseen reason, the teams would know exactly what to do and how to do it. That's the utopia of coaching. It's unlikely to ever happen and it didn't in this case.

Despite our detailed preparation, there was something that happened with one of the teams during the event that had a coach not been there to act upon it, the result might have been very different. And I credit the team's fifth player for alerting me to the situation in the first place. Without that team member's keen sense of the team's dynamics, I would never have known about it. But when I learned of it, I knew exactly what to do!

I know I'm being vague here. I'm doing so to remain true to the trust the teams I've coached have in me that whatever I learn from the experience of working with them will be passed on generically. My role as coach is simple. It's to empower the athletes and ultimately the team. This is a good time to reveal one of the things I said to the teams at the hotel the night before the playoff day, "Tomorrow is your day. It's why you did all those things in the past 12 months. You don't need me any longer. You know what to do so just do what you know!"

Athletes try hard to perform. It's one of the best parts of the world of sports. It's why I like working with elite athletes in particular. They are goal driven people who will do whatever it takes to be the best they can be when it matters most. In society, people with this philosophy drive the world forward. They are part of the world's solutions, not the world's problems in most cases. But the desire to excel in crucial situations can be as much a liability as an asset.

The sport of curling is one in which you can try too hard. To perform well, one has to "stay within him/herself"!  A linebacker in N. A. style football cannot try too hard. Asking a curler to deliver a stone to an exact location over 100' away requires a calmness that football linebacker would not recognize. Which leads to the second of three points I made with the teams in that Delta Hotel room the night before the playoff games, "There's always the tendency to feel you have to do more to help the team be successful tomorrow. Don't fall for that trap. Actually, do less, but do it better than you've ever done it before! You have a job to do on the team that's different from each of your teammates. Just do your job and the team will be greater than the sum of its parts!"

Then there's that "maple leaf" emblazoned on the uniform. What an honour it is to wear the country's colours at an international event! For virtually all Canadian curlers it's a dream come true. I know for many of the athletes I have the honour of accompanying to the WSCC, a Canada shirt will go to a grandchild, for some within a day or two of the athlete's arrival home. And that leads to the last thing I said to the teams, "The only people who will matter tomorrow are your teammates. The over one million Canadians who curl don't matter. The Canadians in the stands watching you play don't matter. Your clubmates back in Edmonton & Red Deer don't matter. Your friends & family don't matter and most of all, I don't matter. The only ones who do, are your teammates. Do everything you can tomorrow to be the best teammate possible"!

It's been said that sports is one thing in life about which one can be truly passionate that doesn't make a hill of beans difference in the world. It's just a game.

On my flight home to Vancouver Island I had the good fortune of a 3+ hour layover in Toronto. My son Mark, his wife Emily and grandson Lucas met me for dinner at a restaurant near Pearson Airport. I had my two gold medals with me. I never took them out of my pocket. They weren't important. What was important was the time spent with them. And the most important words spoken by me were, "I love you (especially that little blonde kid)!"

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Fortune Cookie

When Teams Canada arrived in Fredericton, NB for the World Senior Curling Championships, Chris Jurgenson (5th for Team King) et moi were the last to arrive. A text message received as we waited for our bags to appear on the luggage carousel at the Fredericton Airport told us that the remainder of the Canadians were at the Diplomat Restaurant beside the Delta Hotel, our "home" for the next 12 days.

After dropping our luggage into our rooms, Chris & I headed straight to the restaurant. It was hugs all around to finally, after 12+ months of preparation, be at the site of the WSCC and only days away from "getting it on"!

Although most of the team had already eaten, Chris & I decided to order some food. For my part, to make the process easier & quicker, I opted for the restaurant's signature Chinese buffet complete with the ever present fortune cookie. As a group of ten, we then made our way to the Delta to finalize our pre-event training plans.

An integral part of those plans was a few days of training at the nearby Capital Winter Club where we had made arrangements to use their ice surfaces for "two-a-days", one at 1000 & again at 1700. Some of the other participating countries also availed themselves of this opportunity to train prior to the start of the WSCC or its companion event, the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship. It was great to meet athletes from other countries!

Friday, April 12 was the Pre-event Training Day for all teams. This is standard operating procedure at major curling events whereby teams have a set amount of time to train on each of the sheets to be used in the event. Teams Canada had rehearsed the pre-event  training format to maximize the time available.

It was on that day that I saw one particular team on the men's side of the event that made me recall a similar time at last years WSCC in Copenhagen, Denmark. One team exhibited body language which screamed that they were the most talented curlers at the event therefore the final outcome was a foregone conclusion. In Copenhagen I recall whispering to one of the Team Canada athletes that to me that team's body language foreshadowed a very different story. I leaned in and stated, "Look at them. Not only will they not win, they won't even make the playoffs"! I did the same thing this year. I'm not an I-told-you-so person, but the truth is that neither team made the playoffs. They both arrived with the wrong "attitude" and if you have followed these posts you know how I feel about attitude! It won't come as a surprise when I tell you that the Canadians "just couldn't wait to play"! And did they play!

The venue for the WSCC & WMDCC was the sparkling new "Grant Harevey Centre" on the outskirts of Fredericton, NB. The building, housing two ice surfaces, was named in honour of two of Fredericton's favourite sons, both former NHL players, Danny Grant & the late Buster Harvey. The two ice surfaces were separated on two levels by change rooms on the lower and meeting rooms on the upper. One of those large rooms served as the "patch" and allowed spectators to freely move between the two competitions.

The local organizing committee under the leadership of Wayne Tallon, did an outstanding job hosting these world curling events! Nearly 400 volunteers met our every need and did so with a friendly smile. To Wayne, his committees and volunteers, THANK YOU! You are the gold standard for future WSCC & WMDCC events. I hope the two representatives from Dumfries, Scotland, site of the 2014 WSCC & WMDCC were paying attention. Interestingly enough, Wayne Tallon will be skipping Team Canada in Dumfries next April.

The WSCC & the WMDCC are different from the WCF events for men & women (held this year in Riga, Latvia & Victoria, BC) in that any member of the WCF may be represented. That means that if every member did send a team, there would be 50. Well, there weren't 50 but on the WSCC side of the ledger, there were 14 women's teams in two pools of seven and twenty men's teams in two pools of 10. It meant that Team Cathy King (with third Carolyn Morris, second Lesley McEwan, lead Doreen Gares & alternate Chris Jurgenson) played six round robin games while Team Rob Armitage (with third Keith Glover, second Randy Ponich, lead Wilf Edgar & alternate Lyle Treiber) faced 9 round robin opponents.

Playoffs are simple  with two semi-finals & final with the semi-final opponent coming from the other pool in a 1st v 2nd format. In other words, 1st from one pool played the 2nd place team in the other pool. For us it meant Team King would tangle with the ladies from Sweden and the men would battle the Swiss.

There were two aspects of these semi-final encounters worthy of note. The Swedish women's team was not a senior team, they were a "masters" team. I believe the youngest member was 62 but don't let chronology get in the way of excellence. These ladies were on their 10th trip to the WSCC! Tenth! They've been there before, know what's around every corner and have at least one world title to their name. On the men's side, the Swiss men chose to forego an opportunity to train on the ice surface that had been used all week for the WMDCC. That decision meant they would play with stones on an ice surface they were seeing for the first time. I don't make a habit out of second guessing my coaching colleagues but wow, for the sake of another hour in bed to not train, well, as I said at the time, "Let's not judge until our game with them is over. It might be a brilliant decision!" Ummm, no! The game was not close, and over in the required 6 ends. So, Team Armitage knew it was off to the final later that day.

The women from Edmonton, got their money's worth from the Swedish women and had to win it in the extra end on an open draw to the 8'. But the last end of regulation could have gone very differently. Down one with last stone advantage, Sweden had the only two stones in the house on opposite sides and Cathy had already played her first stone in the end. Two hit-and-stay shots by Sweden and the Canadian women's 50 game win streak at the WSCC would end and we'd have been playing for bronze. But skip Meldahl hit and rolled out. King made her hit and stay leaving an open draw to the full 12' for the tie to extend the game to an extra end. You already know that it did indeed go to the extra end but it was not due to a pretty easy draw. The Swedish skip chose to hit a Canadian stone biting the top 12' at about 1 o'clock and she chose the outside-in rotation. Yikes! She hit the stone, rolled to the edge of the 12' and only a "spin back" to win the measure forced the extra end which the Canadian quartet executed extremely well and, well, you know the result.

The gold medal games were solid efforts by the players wearing the maple leaf. The opposition for Team King was provided by Austria, the surprise semi-final winner over Scotland. With a score of 6 in the first end for Canada, the Austrians knew it was going to be uphill all the way. They finally shook hands with the Canadians at the end of six. One gold won with one to go!

The Red Deer Alberta foursome had a legitimate contender in the Kiwis. I happened to have coached three of them in an earlier life and knew them well. They could play and were the only other undefeated men's team. Skip Armitage formulated a game plan based upon the fact that the New Zealand skip had burned the candle at both ends, playing in the WSCC and the WMDCC. Rob felt that  NZ skip Hans Frauenlob had played so many draws to the 4', he might use that against him. Well, whatever the plan was, a score of 3 in the 6th end sealed the deal for the Albertans.

It was gold in stereo for Canada. "O Canada" never sounded so good to ten very well prepared, talented and dedicated senior curlers. I detected a tear or two on the cheeks of the men from Red Deer. Men who very likely can't recall the last time that happened and good for them!

Those tears and the hugs from the athletes were my reward!

When asked by people how it is to coach gold medalists at the world level, I explain that it's really complicated. You get two very talented, hard working and dedicated teams, then you stay out of the way!

And oh yes, that fortune cookie, it read, "You will soon be awarded in public." I'd also provide the ever-present lottery numbers but I'm going to play them myself, something I don't do. If the next post comes from the Bahamas, you'll know that fortune cookie really was golden.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

It's Just The Beginning I'm Afraid

Canadian curling fans have seen the future at this year's men's & women's world curling championships and it's going to be the 1970's in ice hockey all over again. In that era, the Soviet Union iced hockey teams which were comprised of Red Army "soldiers" whose only real weapon was a hockey stick. For those much too young to know where this is headed, allow me to educate you with some international athletic history.

It was the "cold war" era. The space race was in full forward. Cultures were viewed in juxtaposition. Political systems clashed. Weapons of mass destruction were trained upon the principals with full intentions to deploy. In the midst of all of this tension, a game, played on ice, seem to be the battleground were the differences were to be settled. But, the ice surface was not level. The soviet national team was comprised of men who were listed as amateurs (occupation - soldier in the Soviet Red Army). Canada's national team was comprised of players who played for teams that battled for the Allan Cup, emblematic of senior hockey supremacy in Canada. On their team roster, under occupation you saw car salesman, real estate representative, fuel station attendant, electrician, postal worker, plumber, educator, computer technician etc.

The Russian National Team trained and played full time. Canada was represented at world championships and Winter Olympic Games by club teams, one, on two occasions, from my hometown of Kitchener (Kitchcner-Waterloo Dutchmen). It soon became evident that the Russian players, skilled as they were and they were very skilled, had a distinct advantage and rarely was the soviet hockey machine tested as it won international event after international event. It was in no way, Canada's best against the Soviet's best. I have used the words Russian and Soviet interchangeably thus far in this post but that was not true. Russia was a country in the Union of  Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which really meant that on top of their "professionalism" they were drawing from several countries which now represent themselves internationally.

Then came the "Summit Series" of 1972 where, for the first time, Canadian players from the National Hockey League played the Soviets in what has become folk lore in Canada. If you have seen the film footage and/or the made-for-TV movie about the series, you'll know that it was won on a goal by Paul Henderson in the dying stages of the last of eight games, in Moscow. But a new era had dawned. Canada no longer had a monopoly on hockey. The rest of the world was catching up and catching up fast.

Well my maple syrup eating, Tim Hortons drinking countrymen, the same thing is happening in curling.  All you had to do was watch the recent women's and men's world championships to know that the game that was born in Scotland but grew up in Canada, now belongs to the world. And Canada in general, and the Canadian Curling Association in particular played in integral role in making it so and full marks to them! Canadian teaching materials, equipment and instructing/coaching personnel were dispatched to any nation interested. The game moved forward on an international scale.

Then came the Nagano Winter Olympic Games. Canada did not win both gold medals as many simply assumed it would. And many smaller nations at the doorstep of Winter Olympic participation were watching. The lesson learned was that with all that Canadian assistance, it too could identify a relatively small group of athletes, teach them how to curl, fund a national programme, send them to Canada for the invaluable experience and dream of a podium finish at a future Winter Olympic Games.

Sweden learned the lesson best it would appear and now funds not one, but two men's teams comprised of full time curlers, training under a detailed, demanding, podium oriented training programme under the guidance of Peter Lindholm, three time men's world champion. I suspect, but at this writing can't confirm that the same is true for female elite Swedish teams. Other countries are following in lockstep taking strides leading them to challenge the Maple Leaf teams just as effectively as the Swedes. The playing field is only a few degrees from being level. The future is now!

So as not to leave the impression that Canada has been sitting on its hands allowing the developing curling countries to track us down, our best young athletes and their teams have been identified, a posse has been formed and the cavalry is on the way! Programmes such as La Releve and a carding initiative have provided the funds needed for those identified athletes and those teams that have by merit, earned the funding. New funding formulae are being considered through the "Own the Podium" programme. That funding along with an array of performance enhancement professionals made available to the athletes hopefully will help to keep up with the aforementioned international challengers.

The "mine canary" in all of this is the results of the last 10 junior world championships. Of the potential 20 junior world championships, Canadian junior teams have won only 4, all on the men's side. No, I have no explanation save the one that's the premise of this post, the world is catching up and doing so at break neck speed. If Canada wishes to continue its dominance on the world curling stage, we're going to have to do something and sorry, I don't know what that something is at this point.

Before I sign off on this topic, to those burgeoning countries on the world stage, I have a question for you. Are you spending the same resources on the growth of the game in your country as you obviously are getting a team on that Winter Olympic Podium? I sincerely hope so because to not do so is disingenuous in my view and something of a slap in the face to the country that opened its resources to you to get you where you are!

But it's a brave new world at the top which isn't going to change anytime soon and it's just the beginning I'm afraid! I believe we'd better tighten our chin straps!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

It's Not The Shots You Make ...

Early this morning (04.11.13) in the town of Augusta, GA, the first tee shots will have been played to commence the battle for the coveted "Green Jacket", emblematic of the championship of "The Masters", the first of the four major golf tournaments for 2013. The Masters is the only one of the four (can you name the other three?) that's played on the same golf course each year, Augusta National. Those who watch the 72 hole event each year on TV, as have I, know each hole as though we were actually present, and one day, I hope to be among the group of spectators, more correctly known as "patrons".

The plot of land upon which Augusta National Golf Club is situated was a former nursery, which just might explain the beauty of the land, with it's immaculately manicured fairways, pristine sand in the bunkers and of course the Georgia pines and the azaleas. If St. Andrew's is the holy grail of golf courses, Augusta National is its cathedral, with participants and patrons alike in awe of the surroundings. The founding father of The Masters was Bobbie Jones (worth the "google") who set the special tone of the competition from the outset.

The "green jacket" is the optical prize but the real award is a lifetime membership to Augusta National Golf Club. All the members of the club wear their green jacket when they are at the club. Only one person is allowed to take his off the premises and that's only for one year. That person is the winner of the golf tournament.

There is a locker room set aside for past winners where his green jacket hangs until he's on the premises. Yes, there is money involved, even though there are a few amateurs who play but the dollar amounts are rarely mentioned on the telecast of the event. There's something else that's missing at The Masters that's present at almost all TV golf tournaments, the blimp, which provides aerial coverage of the proceedings. The members of Augusta will not allow it. Why? Because, believe it or not, the area of Augusta, GA which surrounds the golf course is, well let's just say, different. Those of you reading this who have been there know that of which I speak!

And about those green jacketed members; all were of the male persuasion until very recently. Augusta has two female members. One is the former Secretary of State for the U.S., Condalisa Rice. In fact, Phil Mickelson purposefully sought out Ms. Rice for a practice round on Sunday. According to Phil, she's a phenomenal putter, draining a 40 footer on the 18th hole.

Although most Masters tournaments are dramatic events, last year, on the second playoff hole, Bubba Watson pushed his tee shot into the woods, and I mean INTO the woods. For all the world it looked as though he was toast but his mental toughness and an unbelievable desire to perform in the face of all adversity were summoned to execute a shot that will go down in Masters' history as one of the greatest ever played. To say he hit a controlled hook out of the trees and onto the green would be a great injustice. On the Internet the day following his victory, someone posted a satellite graphic of the hole with the ball flight of Bubba's recovery shot in brilliant red, contrasting the green hues of the landscape. To actual see the trajectory of Bubba's shot leaves you in jaw drop mode. But here's the interesting part, no one talks about the horrific tee shot that put his ball into the forest, it's all about that unbelievable shot that followed out of the trees which turned out to be the winning shot. In other words, it's not the shots you make, it's about how you deal with the shots you miss!

The same is true for curling! Of course one wants to make as many shots as possible and there will be wonderful shots that turn the tide of the game but over the long haul, it will be what you do following shots that didn't work out quite they way they were planned that makes the difference between W's & L's!

Attitude plays a significant role in this. Some might characterize that as "mental toughness". I won't quibble with the terminology but I know how you view the situation after that less than A+ shot, is huge. And of course, your opposition gets to play a shot before you can do anything. While they are playing you can look like someone shot your dog or you can remember Bubba's example and simply accept the situation in which you played a role and get on with the remedy. It's always a choice and I'm still perplexed with the athletes and teams who choose the former.

As I write this post it's Thursday afternoon prior to the pre-event practice day at the 2013 World Senior Curling Championships in Fredericton, NB. The Canadian teams have been on the ice training at the Capital Winter Club for the last two days, but before we start to deliver stones in anger on Saturday, I'll be sure to remind them that performance is frequently measured by what you do with the shots that are missed, not the ones that are made!

Monday, April 8, 2013

But How Much Do You Actually Trust It?

I'll be boarding an aircraft here in Victoria, BC bound for Fredericton, NB tomorrow (04.09.13). When those wheels touch down in that provincial capital, I'll meet 10 Canadian athletes with much curling experience who will represent Canada at the World Senior Curling Championships. One of them is the most recent inductee into The Canadian Curling Hall of Fame (Cathy King). In fact, in my tenure as Team Leader & Coach for Canadian National Senior Champions, I've had the honour of coaching five members of the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame (Pat Sanders, Millard Evans, Ken McLean, Marv Wirth and Cathy).  I suspect they're Hall of Famers not because of me, but in spite of me!

This year's wearers of the red & white are from the province of Alberta, Team Cathy King (with Carolyn Morris, Lesley McEwan, Doreen Gares and Christine Jurgenson) & Team Rob Armitage (with Keith Glover, Randy Ponich, Wilf Edgar and Lyle Treiber) who slightly more than 12 months ago earned the right to wear the Maple Leaf by winning the 2012 Canadian Senior Curling Championship in Abbotsford, BC. Interestingly enough, I already know who I'll take to the 2014 World Senior Curling Championships as those teams won the most recent Canadian Senior Curling Championship in Summerside, PEI. They are both from Atlantic Canada, Team Wayne Tallon (chair of the host committee for the Fredericton event) & Team Colleen Pinkney. The men are from New Brunswick and the women from Nova Scotia. Team Pinkey is a repeat Canadian Senior Women's Champion having captured that title in 2010. And, they were the 2011 WSCC winner!

Our senior national champions have one year to train in preparation for the WSCC. Each will work very hard to develop the skills needed to compete against the best senior curlers on the planet. Other countries have fielded strong teams for the Fredericton global showdown with former world champions reaching the 50 birthday candle plateau. This year, Team Canada men will face a number of senior curlers who have competed for their country at the international level. It's a tough field!

I was recently with teams King & Armitage in Edmonton. They are both very talented teams comprised of curlers with excellent skill sets. In those three days of training at The Saville Sports Centre on the campus of The University of Alberta, we honed both individual and team skills.  But as skillful as they might be, those skills aren't worth very much if those athletes don't also have a high degree of trust in them.

In my years working with some of the best athletes in curling, I've seen world class skill sets but I've not seen an equal number of complete trust in those skill sets. Some of those athletes, for one reason or another, struggle with the "trust factor"! Elite athletes are very demanding of themselves and sometimes they cross the line to the point that they're never satisfied with their own skill set. Now, on this point, don't be misled. Elite athletes, by their very nature, will do just about anything to be just a little better at what they do. And there's nothing wrong with that! The problem for some arises as thy prepare to compete.

When you are about to compete in an event, you can't all of a sudden, become more skillful. I've said  this many times, "You can't leave your skills at home. Not even if you tried! But what you can leave at home is the trust needed in those skills."

I've had many talented athletes ask me to take a look at their delivery. Of course I always say "Yes"! As we walk onto the ice, I'm pretty sure I'm going to see a curling delivery that would be the envy of us mere mortals. I'm also reasonably certain I'm going to see a curling delivery that requires no augmentation. But I'll bet the ranch most of my time with that athlete will be spent trying to determine why his/her level of trust in that world class delivery has diminished.

Sometimes the athlete comes off a less than satisfactory performance and quite naturally assumes there's a technical flaw. Well, they may be right. A curling delivery is not static. It's dynamic. It changes with you and that may be for good or ill. That's especially true for young athletes whose body is undergoing change. A solid delivery the next month or two can look very different due to those physical changes with the athlete.

Athletes, especially elite athletes want to perform well and perform well consistently. There's nothing wrong with that. What can be wrong is when an athlete, after missing a shot, loses a degree of trust and runs to the coach asking, "What am I doing wrong?" When I get that question directed toward me, my answer is, "You're not doing anything wrong. I will tell you what happened on that shot but that only means your human. Learn from it to prevent its continued recurrence." In other words, there's absolutely no reason to lose trust in your delivery.

Trust, don't leave home without it!

Friday, April 5, 2013


If you've attended a major curling event of late, and scanned the crowd, you might have noticed various individuals with clip board, iPad, binoculars, telescope, laptop computer or some combination of these items, intently gathering data about opposition teams. And in true James Bond 007 fashion, that which they gather is highly classified information. But exactly what is it that seems to be so valuable that a team would pay someone and provide the high tech equipment to learn about its opposition? Basically those "eyes-in-the-sky" want to know three things about your team and its members.

First, the reason for the high powered visual aid apparatus (binoculars and telescopes) is to discover which pairs of stones a curler might use. I'm sure you've noticed at your curling facility that the plastic "caps" have numerals. The one traditionally embossed at the base of the gooseneck identifies that sheet of ice where the stone "lives". But it's the numerals on opposite edges of that plastic cap that make the stone identifiable. In each set of eight stones there will be a #1, #2, #3 ... #8. Even if you don't concern yourself with "stone matching", you should deliver the same pair of stones in the colour set your team is using. The lead does not have to use #1 & #2 but whatever pair the lead chooses, he/she should use them throughout the game and deliver them in the same order. That way if it appears that a stone is faster or slower or curls more or less, you have a way to identify it. But back to 007! Knowing which stones another team has "paired" in a set (yellow or red) might validate the stones you have matched when you tested the stones in the pre-event practice session (usually the day prior to the start of the event). In some cases, for teams not experienced in stone matching, that information is trusted to the point that the team will use the stones according to the way a more experienced team has. You do this at your own peril!

Second, Agent 007 will "chart" an opposition to gather shooting statistics on each member of a future opponent to determine tendencies & weaknesses. Using a four point system of evaluating the results of an attempted shot, an opposition player might shoot 68% on counterclockwise takeouts but 89% on clockwise takeouts. And if the sample size is large enough to validate the data, it may influence the shot a team plays, almost forcing that opposition player to employ the weaker of the two rotations. This type of data can be especially useful when a team is deciding what shot to leave the opposing skip. It should be noted that, mostly for media purposes, the host committee usually provides volunteers to gather similar statistical information which it makes available but with all due respect to those well-intentioned and dedicated volunteers, teams would rather gather their own stats in this area.

Third, using computer based programmes and apps, Agent 007 will chart the game being observed from a "strategy & tactics" perspective, again looking for "tendencies".  It's good to know, given the end, score & last stone advantage that a team prefers to play its lead stones in a particular manner and again, if the data has been gathered over many, many games, it's validity and therefore it's reliability rises as well, to the point that it just might influence the strategy & tactics your team uses.

There's a "buyer beware" element that I feel needs to be identified. Don't get so focused on the tendencies of your opponents to the point that it so affects the way you play that you're not using YOUR strengths. Certainly if you're a junior team, leave this element of competition to your certified coach. Just make curling shots!

If you're going to attend "championship weekend" at The Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre here in Victoria, watch for those secret agents. They'll be there, covert equipment in hand.

Note to Team Canada: you've done this before, you know what to do now just do what you know!