Friday, September 27, 2013

I Hope They Didn't Bring Apple Juice

Today's post is reprinted by permission of the author, Steve Simmons. It was penned 15 years ago but is as true today about young athletes as it was back in 1998 and a lesson those of us who are charged with the responsibility of fostering the "joy of effort in sports" need to learn and employ. Enjoy, "I Hope They Didn't Bring Apple Juice".

There was about two minutes to play in the playoff game and I was anxiously pacing behind the bench, barking out whatever instructions seemed important at that very moment. You watch the game and you watch the clock in those final seconds, sometimes precisely at the very same time.
We were up by a goal, poised to advance to the next round of the playoffs, when I felt a tug on my jacket.
“Ah coach,” one of my players said on the bench.
“Yea,” I answered, concentrating more on the game and the clock than on him at that instant.
“Are there snacks today?”
“Whaaaat?” I barked exasperated.
“Did anyone bring snacks today?”
“Huh?” I said as I looked away.
“I hope they didn’t bring apple juice,” the young boy said. “I don’t like apple juice.”
The moment froze me in all the playoff excitement, the way all special and meaningful moments should. If somehow, I could have captured that conversation on tape, I would have had one of those special sporting moments for parents everywhere, the kind you need to play for coaches and executives and trainers and managers and all of us who take youth hockey way too seriously.
It isn’t life or death, as we like to think it is. It isn’t do or die as often as we pretend it to be. In one tiny moment in one game, youth hockey was reduced to what it really is about. Apple juice. OK, so it’s not apple juice. But what apple juice happens to represent in all of this. The snack. The routine. The ritual.

Overwhelmingly, kids would rather play a
lot and lose than win while playing a little.

Kids can win and lose and not even give a second’s thought about either, but don’t forget the post-game drinks. If anything will spoil a good time that will.
You see, it’s all part of the culture of hockey. Not who wins, not who scores goals, not which team accomplished what on any given night, but whether Mom and Dad are there, whether their grandparents are in the stands watching, whether their best friend was on their team and they got a shift on the power play, and yes, about what they ate.
When you get involved in hockey, when you truly put your heart into the game and into the environment and into everything, it can be when it’s at its best. The game is only part of the package.
It becomes a social outing for parents. It becomes a social outing for children. It should never be about who is going for extra power skating and who is going straight from Mites to the Ottawa Senators but about building that kind of environment, the kind of memories kids and parents and families will have forever.
Sometimes, when I stand around the arenas I can’t believe the tone of the conversations I hear. The visions are so shortsighted. The conversations are almost always about today and who won and who lost and who scored. Not enough people use the word fun and not enough sell it that way either. Hard as we try to think like kids, we’re not kids.
Hard as we try to remember what we were like when we were young, our vision is clouded by perspective and logic, something not always evident with children.
Ask any parent whether they would rather win or lose, and without a doubt they would say win. But ask most children what they would prefer: playing a regular shift, with power play time and penalty killing time on a losing team rather playing sparingly on a winning team, and the answer has already come out in two different studies. Overwhelmingly, kids would rather play a lot and lose than win while playing a little. They would rather strap on their hockey equipment from HockeyMonkey and start playing than be champions.
Like I said, it is about apple juice. It is, after all, about the experience.
You can’t know what’s in a kid’s mind. I was coaching a team a few years ago when I got a call from the goaltender’s father. It was the day before the championship game. The father told me his son didn’t want to play anymore.
“Anymore after tomorrow?” I asked.
“No,” the father said. “He just doesn’t want to play anymore.”
“Did something happen?” I asked.
“He won’t tell me,” the father said.
I hung up the phone and began to wonder how this happened and who would play goal the next day when I decided to call back.
“Can I talk to him?” I asked the father.
The goalie came on the phone. “I don’t want to play anymore,” he said
“But you know what tomorrow is, don’t you? Are you nervous?”
“Then what? You can tell me.”
“I don’t like it anymore.”
“Don’t like playing goal?”
“They hurt me,” he said.
“Who hurts you?”
“The guys,” he said.
“What guys?”
“Our guys. They jump on me after the game. It hurts me and scares me.”
“Is that it?”
“Do you trust me?”
“What if I told you they won’t jump on you and hurt you anymore. Would you play then?”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.”
“Then I’ll play.”
And that was the end of the goalie crisis.
The kid was scared and wouldn’t tell his parents. The kid loved playing but didn’t love being jumped on after winning games. You can’t anticipate anything like that as a coach. You can’t anticipate what’s in their minds. It’s their game. We have to remember that. It’s not our game.
They don’t think like we do or look at the sport like we do. They don’t have to adjust to us, we have to adjust to them. We have to make certain we’re not spoiling their experience.
Our experience is important too, but the game is for the children and not for the adults. We can say that over and over again, but the message seems to get lost every year.
Lost in too many coaches who lose perspective and who think nothing of blaming and yelling and bullying.

Lost by parents who think their son or daughter is the next this or the next that and they are already spending the millions their little one will be earning by the time they finish hockey in the winter, 3-on-3 in the summer, power skating over winter break, special lessons over March break, pre-tryout camp before the AAA tryouts in May and a couple weeks of hockey school, just to make certain they don’t go rusty.
I have asked many NHL players how they grew up in the game. My favorite answer came from Trevor Linden, who has captained more than one team. He said he played hockey until April and then put his skates away. He played baseball all summer until the last week of August. He went to hockey camp for one week then began his season midway through September with tryouts.

They don’t think like we do or look at the sport like we do. They don’t have to adjust to us, we have to adjust to them. We have to make certain we’re not spoiling their experience.

No summer hockey. No special schools. No skating 12 months a year.
“I didn’t even see my skates for about five months a year,” he said. “I think the kids today are playing way too much hockey, and all you have to do is look at the development to see it really isn’t producing any better players. We have to let the kids be kids.”
When, I asked Gary Roberts, did he think he had a future in hockey.
“When I got a call from an agent before the OHL draft,” he said. “Before that, it was just a game we played.”
Do me a favor: Until the agent comes knocking on your teenager’s door, let’s keep it that way. A game for kids.
And one reminder, I don’t care what the age: Don’t forget the snacks.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sports Betting

Recently one of North America's most popular spectator sports, NASCAR, has been implicated in a "race fixing" scandal. This only a week or so on the heels of a report that game fixing has reached into the Canadian Soccer League. Both allegations seem, at least on the surface, to be credible. This is a clear example of the time honoured adage that "perception is reality" as there is nothing more detrimental to the growth of a sport than the notion that the games may not be a fair and unbiased contest of abilities but rather a vehicle for some to enhance their financial position! In fact, it can be its death knell!

As soon as a journalist enters into the world of sports wagering, the case that immediately comes to mind is Pete Rose. "Charlie Hustle" (as he was known in some circles) is major League Baseball's all-time hits leader. That statistic alone would punch anyone's ticket to baseball's sacred shrine in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate NY called Cooperstown, home of "The Baseball Hall of Fame" (not the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame).  Mr. Rose was given a lifetime suspension for gambling when he was the manager of the team for which he played when he got all those hits, the Cincinnati Reds. That sentence was handed down by the then Commissioner of Baseball, the late Bart Giamatti.

Each year, when voting takes place for membership into Cooperstown, there's an ever growing chorus to put the past behind and admit Pete Rose to the Hall of Fame. As time passes, just as the group who would vote for Rose's induction into the hall, there is an equally growing number of members of the Professional Baseball Writers Association, the group that actually does the voting along with the Veterans Committee, who never saw Pete Rose hit a baseball. Pete didn't help his cause when the allegations first surfaced by enthusiastically denying them. Now, he admits to betting on some games involving his team, the aforementioned Reds of Cincinnati. It appears true that he never bet against his team. He always bet the Reds would win. That's a problem! Why didn't he then bet that the team would win every game? When he didn't place a wager on his team, one might argue that it's tantamount to concluding that his team had no chance to win that game. It speaks to the investment Manager Rose might have in game. And what about the players who played for Pete? If betting that the team would win certain games why didn't he tell the players that tonight's game had a few shekels on the line? Oh, yes, I forgot, that's illegal so you wouldn't want to tell anyone would you! I guess Pete did know that what he was doing was contrary to the ethics of the sport he said he loved. Hmm, another problem.

Make no mistake, the BHOF is no cathedral of the righteous & pious! There are any number of players whose lives were lived in such a way that their stories would make good screen plays for dark dramas. Some of them were downright disgusting individuals but between the lines, they played the game to the best of their abilities each and every day. The problem for many was the time they spent away from the ball parks.

Gamblers circle around any endeavor for which there is the perception of an unknown outcome. In North America , the NFL's championship game, more commonly known by the moniker, the "Super Bowl", is the poster child for single event sports betting. You not only can bet on the obvious, the game's outcome, you can bet on a myriad of outcomes within the contest, the so-called "prop bets"! One can wager on which team will score first, when the first score is made, which team will get the initial "first down", the list goes on and on.

Governments are now complicit in sports betting using "lotteries & gaming" to legitimize sources of revenue to support programmes that might otherwise not exist or at least function well. I'm conflicted on that and always have been. I don't know where I stand on that issue.

Pete Rose knew very well that there's only one item on baseball's Code of Ethics, don't wager on the outcome of games while you have any role whereby you can exert any measure of influence on their outcome, full stop! It really doesn't matter whether Pete lied about it not. Sure, had he owned up to his transgression, he would have been seen as more popular in the court of public opinion but to those circling, those big money gamblers, he was and still is seen in a very different light. He's an opportunity! And trust me on this, that's all they're looking for, a crack in the door of a sport's integrity. Rose's supporters are counting on enough to arrive at the conclusion that, "Pete Rose belongs in The Baseball Hall of Fame, just look at his numbers!" As a player, I would like to see him enshrined as well. I loved watching him play. He'll always be one of baseball's best players in the minds of its fans, me included, and that's where his legacy should remain, only in the annals of baseball's history!

I'm pleased that Pete has finally admitted that he bet on baseball. He too is counting on the passage of time to see him get into the hall. But it's going to have to be through the Veterans Committee, not the PBWA according to the rules of the BHOF.

The competitive integrity of a sport, be it amateur or professional is its greatest asset, both from the perspective of a participant and spectator. Would you want to either play or watch a sport where it's outcome was predetermined? I'm guessing the answer to that question is "no"! So much in our society is contrived. If sports is the great escape to the trials and tribulations of life's daily existence, then that escape needs to be protected from those who would make it otherwise. Those who feel sports have value need to ensure the "cracks in the door" never happen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Team & Virtual Coach - An On Line Project

As announced on Facebook & Twitter (was that the best name they could have chosen, really) by yours truly, I'm looking for two competitive club level adult teams (m & w) who might be interested in a unique on line project.

I will be your "virtual coach", using my blog site to answer all your questions as you make your way through the 2013-14 curling season. The teams selected need not be from Canada. Both teams will curl out of "The True North Curling Centre" (don't try to "google" it, it doesn't exist) and you will receive pseudonyms. No one will learn your true identity and my responses to your questions will always honour that coach/team relationship!

I hope the purpose of this on line project is already obvious. When I answer your questions, I hope there are countless other adult club level competitive teams who will benefit from my answers and might spur many of them to start to ask their own questions of their own. 

I don't purport to have all the answers but I usually know someone in my network of colleagues who can. If your team is selected, I will answer your questions as though I was your coach and will respond in a timely fashion. All answers will appear here on my blog site of course.

You are a club level competitive team if you plan to play together for this entire season with some defined goals (bonspiels, league play, play downs etc.). You do NOT have to have provincial or national level aspirations but what you must have to make this project worthwhile is a willingness to contact me on a regular basis and in some cases pour out your heart and soul. Remember, no one will know who you are.

If his idea excites your team, please send me an email (billchpc@shaw) with as much information you feel your "coach" needs before he/she begins the season with you (i.e. how was the team formed? what are your goals? where do you play? how often will you compete together? what are your curling backgrounds? describe the members of the team ...). I will select the two teams best expressing a willingness to stay with me throughout the season. I know, I get to choose the teams but if selected, you're stuck with me as virtual coach. 

I'll make the end of this month of September the deadline for applications. I will send a complimentary copy of my coaching manual ("A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion") to the two teams selected!

Feel free to send email to me if your team might be interested but you have more questions about the project.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Where Do You Come Down On This!

The news which broke a few days ago that "Own The Podium" (one of Canada's high performance funding agencies) was at least considering skewing its funding towards winter sports and away from summer sports hit me like a Kevin Martin takeout. I was shocked when I heard that and somewhat skeptical re. the validity of the story. It's just non-Canadian to do that sort of thing! We tend to think in universal terms. When I went to OTP's web site to see its mission statement;

  • To contend for number one in 2014 Olympic Winter Games (total medals) 
  • Place in the top three in the gold medal count at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games
  • Place in the top 12 nations in medal count at the 2012 Olympic Games
  • Place in the top eight in the gold medal count at the 2012 Paralympic Games

Then it was reported that at least one national (winter) sport governing body had stated that it endorsed the policy while all the others, when contacted, declined comment. No, I'm not curious as to whether that national sport governing body was the Canadian Curling Association as I'd be shocked if it was.

When contacted by the CBC, curling's own Anne Merklinger, CEO of OTP dispelled the story saying that it had no such plan or policy.

Whomever started the rumor based it upon the notion that sports with successful track records deserve to be rewarded by increased funding while those that find themselves traveling in the opposite direction will have to try to do more with less seemed to want something of a debate on this issue. Clearly for Canada, success on the international stage is much more pronounced in the winter than in the summer as OTP's mission statement seemed to verify. That's just a fact. Nonetheless, the funding/success conundrum is a curious one. A case could be made that the sports that are struggling to "make it to the podium" need the funding to do just that.

South of the 39th parallel, the national women's curling programme currently receives more funding than the comparable men's programme. Why? Simple, recent international success. The U.S. national women's curling teams have a better international track record. Is that increased funding a reward for that success or incentive for the men to, in the vernacular, get the lead out (or a little of each)?

As at least some of you know, my coaching career started at the University of Waterloo in my hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo, ON. It took ten years to win the OUAA Championship and when we did finally succeed, we did it in stereo (m&w). And those championships came in my last year as Varsity Coach as I had already accepted the position of National Development Coach with the Canadian Curling Association in Calgary, AB.

Along that trail I met coaches from post secondary institutions in Ontario who did not get nearly the level of funding my programme received. In just about every case the story I got was that funding was tied to success. If the programme produced championships, increased funding followed in kind. It was not at all unusual for the scholastic athletes to bear the entire financial burden with the coach in a volunteer capacity. In my case the UW varsity curling programme was well funded. When at one point, in frustration, I tried to resign my position as Varsity Coach due to lack of competitive success, the UW Athletic Director refused to accept my resignation stating that it's not about winning, it's about developing athletes. He said I was doing that rather well in his opinion. He taught me a valuable lesson as a result of that meeting. You can't control the outcome, only the journey toward it.

A few months ago I encouraged all of you to read "The Gold Mine Effect". I hope you did that. For those new readers. please get a copy. It will change the way you see yourself as "coach", the way you see your "athletes" and how you conduct your training programmes.  And, germane to the topic of this post, it blows away the notion that to have a successful athletics programme, one requires a state-of-the-art facility. The track club in Jamaica that produces world class sprinters doesn't even have a track. The athletes train on a grass field! But what those athletes do have are "role models" and a coach (known in Anker Andersen's book as a "guru") who besides never having been a sprinter, isn't afraid to think "outside-the-box"!

While we're on the topic of funding, in the U.S., there's no public funding for Olympic training programmes. The United States Olympic Committee must, by law, conduct its own fundraising. In other words, it's corporate America & private citizens who fund U.S. Olympic programmes. There are those in Canada who feel our Olympic athletes and the Canadian Olympic Committee should follow the American example and fund their training programmes, stop relying on government handouts and get off their backsides and fund their own training programmes. To be fair, there are many Canadian corporations who fund high performance training as well as many citizens who make donations to help our Olympians get the training required. I just now watched a CBC video of Canadian Olympic hopefuls who are presently engaged in unique ways of generating funds to help pay the day-to-day bills and still train.

Waiting for success as the watermark to funding seems to be the ultimate "Catch 22" in athletics. If a programme had success, the argument could be made that it then doesn't require funding (although who could turn any dollars down?).

The title of this post is "Where Do You Come Down On This". I know for a fact that I have readers from various provinces and territories in Canada and from many countries around the curling world. I really want to hear from you on this! I'm delighted that you've taken the time to read this post but I want/need your comment! How does it work in your province/territory/country and where do you come down on this issue? You can comment directly on this blog site or you can send me your thoughts via email ( but I'd much rather you respond below so others can see your opinion(s). Comments on this site are always anonymous! If you know that there are those in your circle of friends who have thoughts on this matter, please make them aware of this blog site so they can weigh in.

I know what some of you are thinking as you read this post. "Heh Bill, how do you feel on this?" For now, I'm employing author's prerogative and remaining neutral although, if you read carefully between the lines ...

I always welcome comments but this time it's really important that you do!!!!!