Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Science Behind Doubles and In/Offs

Yesterday (11/17/13) in Medicine Hat, AB in the final game of the Grand Slam event, the 2013 Canadian Open, a shot known commonly as an "in/off" was pretty much the only shot left for skip Kevin Koe to win the game (and the $$$ that went with it, don't forget that). I did not see the game as at the time I was enjoying the hospitality of Team Canada (Sr. Women) in Truro, NS at the home of skip Colleen Pinkney. On the drive from Chez Pinkney back to the hotel, listening to a sports talk show on the radio, the on-air commentator was quite animated about skip Koe's "fantastic in/off" for the victory.

Naturally I couldn't wait to fire up my tablet to see the shot, as I was reasonably certain it would be front and centre on the SPORTSNET web site, the event's media carrier. If you've not seen it, go to the aforementioned web site to witness one of curling's most spectacular type of shot. This post will make a lot more sense if you do!

For those readers not familiar with an in/off, it's a shot whereby the running stone purposefully strikes a stationary stone for the sole purpose of redirecting the running stone for some intended purpose, in this case to remove an opposition stone. Koe's running stone had to be redirected and strike the opposition stone and not roll away. In curling parlance, Koe had to "stick it"! And stick it he did!

For those seeing the shot and muttering, "Well, that was certainly a 'lucky' shot!", you'd be in a group I would describe as "incorrect". Not only did 'luck' have very little to do with it, the purpose of this post will illustrate that Team Koe had some solid sports science supporting one particular element of the shot, which along with a good measure of talent, great line calling on the part of third Pat Simmons and "practice" (yes, the teams that entertain us week-after-week on television actually practise those shots) helped with the successful execution of the shot.

Let's begin with the sports science. This so-called "in/off" was essentially a "double takeout" whereby the back half of the shot was the only portion that mattered. Elite teams like Team Koe play those shots on a regular basis.

The first order of business is to determine the 'contact point' on the stationary stone to be struck first. For many decades in curling, that was more or less guess work and experience than exact science. That's no longer the case thanks to the work of Ron Mills (SK) who postulated that if one draws a straight line tangent to the circumference of the leading edge of the 'front stone' to the circumference of the back edge of the second or 'back stone', the point at which that straight line contacts the edge of the circumference (i.e. striking band) of the front stone is the contact point.

You can easily test this by placing the two stones to be removed in a makeable double takeout configuration. Now get any object that's straight (brush handle, curtain rod etc.) and place the straight object as described in the paragraph above. Note the contact point. Now, place a third stone to touch the 'front stone' of the double at that exact spot. That simulates the running stone, only it's frozen in time. To animate the entire situation, get a fourth stone and have someone crouch down close to that stone you placed on the 'contact point' and drive it with some force onto the nose of that stone. It will instantly remove the stone it's touching and redirect itself onto the nose of the second, target stone. It works every time!!! I've added some photos below to illustrate.

In a game setting, you'd be more than unpopular when lining up a double, or as in the case with Kevin Koe, an in/off, if you started placing your brush handle on the ice but, there's no rule against holding your brush in the air at about waist height so that the edge of the handle of your brush acts as that straight line then standing so that it visually touches "the front edge of the front stone and the back edge of the back stone" OR you can stand so that you can "visualize" a straight line. The point is this, now you've removed a troublesome part of making doubles and in/offs (knowing where to strike the first stone)!

The next decision involves rotation. The first consideration is that contact point. Choose the rotation that affords the better chance of striking that point. If that really doesn't matter, then ice might be a factor as I believe it might have been with Team Koe (more about that later). The severity of the angle between the two stones also may come into play.

Generally, when the stones are sitting at a relatively "steep" angle to one another, coming "into the first stone" will cause the redirected running stone to come off that first stationary stone at a "slightly" steeper angle, thus facilitating the successful double takeout. Conversely, if the two stones to be removed are at a relatively "flat" angle one to the other, then coming across the face of the first stone will see the redirected stone come off the first stone at an angle that's slightly reduced and it will redirect at a reduced velocity, which may or may not be relevant.

You need to be aware that coming across the face, as with that Koe stone, causes the rotation to be "reversed" (very likely accounting for its reduced velocity). Skip Koe delivered this stone with a clockwise rotation but after contact with the first stone (his as it turned out, but that didn't matter) it came across to tap the Gushue shot stone with just enough force to move it out of its shot position (with his stone taking its place for the win).

My sense is that he chose that "across the face" rotation because it was easier to strike the contact point going "outside in" rather than "inside out" which would have been the case with the counterclockwise rotation.* He would have had greater "jump" with the counterclockwise rotation but with the greater amount of curl, it might have been more difficult to hit that contact point and that's the key element. If you don't hit the contact point, all the rest of the elements are quite meaningless!

In/offs become even more challenging when it's for a hit-&-roll, where there's no second stone to "catch" the redirected running stone. In that case, coming across the face just might be the better rotation selection due to that reduced velocity after contact. Much of this type of shot is experiential in nature but not the contact point. That's sport science thanks to Ron Mills!

* In speaking with someone who did see the entire game, apparently Team Koe had played a shot or two in the exact spot with the clockwise rotation so perhaps that was the deciding factor. I'll invite someone from Team Koe to contact me with the real reason.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Calm Down

Usually when we/I refer to one's athletic skill set, it's only natural to think in technical terms. When I attend a coaches' conference and I'm placed among coaches of other sports, upon their discovery that I'm a curling coach, someone is likely to say, "Oh, curling, that's the technical sport!". And, from a spectator's perspective, it certainly would appear that were true. Heh, how many times have we all said, "Hit the brush, deliver the right weight and all will be well" or words to that affect? Countless times I suspect. Well, we aren't what we appear to be are we! Spectators see the result of a skill set, much of which is not visible to the eye and of late I've been dealing with some of the elements. Today, it's about calming down and at the end of this post, I'm going to lift the veil on a new drill that I've recently field-tested with very good results, sort of curling's "clinical trial".

Excellent athletic performances have common characteristics. One of those is a sense of calmness. Strange as it might seem, when performance is needed the most and nerves and anxiety are at their peak, meeting the challenge is much easier and I might add from participant observation, essential, when you are calm. How many times have we intervened in a stressful situation and suggested, perhaps in very strong terms, that the individual(s) involved, start by "calming down"? It seems intuitive that nothing worthwhile/productive can occur until there's a sense of calmness.

I'm guessing there's more than one reader who's saying right now, "Heh Bill, easier said than done!" and I might have said that too at one point but not any more. Actually, if you know how to do it, it IS easy. It takes knowledge and discipline, that's all!

The knowledge was provided in the videos I suggested you watch in my recent "Quiet Eye" posts ("On the Ball" & "Brainy Putting"). If you've not watched them, please go to YouTube and do so right now.

In the scene at Dr. Debbie Crews' lab at Arizona State University, the well-known actor, Alan Alda was matched up with a professional golfer in a putting contest. You will recall that Alda, except for the miniature golf outings with his grandchildren, does not play golf. Tina Tombs played golf for a living. But Alda won the contest easily because it appeared as though Tombs, even with her excellent skill set, had not learned how to calm herself down, or as Dr. Crews described it, to calm the "left hemisphere" of the brain. Tombs putted horribly and Alda performed well even though their relative skill sets could not have been more different.

I hope that scene in "Brainy Putting" was like a building falling on you! If you don't know how to balance your brain (i.e. calming the left side so the just-do-it-trust-my-skill right side can perform) you're taking a sound curling delivery onto the ice with no protection against "competitive breakdown". I've said this before on this site, "If all you take onto the ice is a sound technical delivery, you don't have very much!"

You saw in the videos, more than one way to balance the hemispheres of the brain but I hope you took note that it's the "left side" that's the problem. The left side, the "do-it-this-way" side, always wants to be front and centre. Unfortunately, the right side, the side that actually does the performing, only works when it's in balance with the left side. I like to think of the brain's right side as on autopilot just waiting to help you perform and will do so, but only when the left side has been calmed.

In our sport of curling, I like a "mantra", a word or phrase, technical in nature, that just might make no sense to anyone except you, as perhaps the easiest way to do the job of calming the brain's left hemishpere. As I said in my follow-up post, the left side of the brain is searching for a job. If you don't give it one, a task you know is helpful to your performance, it will step to the plate and choose a job on its own and the one it selects might be most inappropriate and as a result, a satisfying performance is all but out the window. Or, as "luck" would have it, the left side might choose a task that results in a great performance. But you'll never be consistent operating on the basis!

Balancing your brain will not make an average curler great but not knowing how to balance the brain frequently makes a great curler, average. Look, you've worked very hard to develop that sound, technical delivery. Why would you leave performance to chance and not learn the other half of the process, balancing your brain so you can compete in a calm, personal atmosphere?

In about an hour, I'm going to head from Charlottetown, where I'm writing this, to Crapaud (about 30 min. east) to meet about 30 junior curlers for an on ice clinic. Then I'm headed for Cornwall where I'm going to meet some coaches for a two hour session where we're going to talk about "coaching stuff". I'm guessing the coaches are expecting me to bring some of the latest insights about delivery or brushing, something technical and I will do that but I want to spend most of the time encouraging them to ensure that aspects of the curling delivery one can't see on video get some attention. Making the athletes aware of the modalities available to balance their brain will be an agenda item.

And now for the new drill. I call it "All Hands On Deck" and of course, it's a team drill, perhaps the ultimate team drill and I believe you'll see why I say that. When I first came up with this, it was just an end-of-practice-let's-do-something-just-for-fun activity. And it was fun!!! But the more I reflected on it, the more I realized that it had a component that's very difficult simulate in a drill. And that component was providing a seemingly chaotic environment, where teamwork was paramount but one's role in the drill is to turn chaos into calmness.

The object of the drill is simple! Each member of the team will draw two shots to come to rest somewhere in the house. But, the last of the 8 stones must reach the near tee line before the first stone delivered comes to rest. Picture that!

For this drill to be feasible, the ice must be "up-to-speed" to be sure and the team must choreograph the position of the stones and movements of the players (i.e. there's no time for the time-honoured tradition of cleaning the stone so you're going to have to do that before the drill starts).

Clearly the team will be in hurry up mode but twice during the chaos and confusion, each player will have to calm down enough to make the shots (obviously without brushing). To date a few teams have tried the drill with varying degrees of success. The first order of business is just to get that 8th shot to the near tee line before the 1st stone delivered comes to rest regardless of the final resting places of the set of stones. Once the team has accomplished that goal, then they can try for the ultimate goal of eight stones in the house.

I'll invite the first team to accomplish "All Hands On Deck" to send me an email so that I can recognize the feat on this site. In the meantime, just calm down will ya!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Virtual Coach Programme - Team Introductions (and a really good question from the women's team)

Allow me to introduce the two "Virtual Coach Programme" teams. Both are club level teams with very clear outcome goals. The women's team is from Canada in Southern Ontario and the men's team is from Switzerland (I get to practise my Kitchener-Waterloo version of German). The men's team is somewhat (diplomacy rules the day) older than the women's team for whatever that's worth. The women have taken my suggestion and have adopted pseudonyms. I have watched this team play and will actually be able to spend some on ice time with them soon as I travel back to BC through S ON. I'm in Charlottetown as I write this post.
The men's team and I have "Skyped" to answer some questions and will be doing so again soon. Who knew when I started this coaching/instructing more than two decades ago that I'd be conferring with a team thousands of kilometers away on something call an iPad and in doing so, we'd hear and see one another in real time?

Women's Team

We are a brand new team which was formed to compete in the zone playdowns for "Women's Intermediates" (40+ age group in ON). We are all friends who have either played on a previous team or played in bonspiels together at one point throughout our curling careers. What we lack in technical skills, we definitely make up for with our positive team dynamics! Our major outcome goal for our season is to qualify for the provincials. To help us achieve that we are playing together once a week in a league at our curling club and competing in some cash bonspiels throughout the fall. 

Loni (Lead)

Playing lead is by far my favourite position on a curling team. I love the challenge of throwing lead rocks and I very much enjoy brushing.  Although my actually ability to brush the rock is not the greatest, I take great pride in attempting to improve constantly my ability to judge the weight of the rock. I have been curling for 14 years. I did not start the game at a young age unfortunately. What I lack in experience, I make up for in enthusiasm. I believe I have a very positive attitude on the ice and I always believe we can win the game, no matter the ability of the opposition or the score. Until the game is over, I always believe we can find a way to win.

Lexie (Second)

I started curling in high school and played several different positions on my school team. I gave up curling when I went to university but came back to the game about 10 years ago. I have played in various leagues at my local club and have played in a few provincial curling association competitions. Second is my favourite position on a curling team. I love the opportunity to throw lots of hits and I enjoy brushing. I am very excited about this team - we are great friends on and off the ice - and I am looking forward to learning lots this season.

Ellen (Vice)

I have been curling for over 20 years. I played competitively as a junior (women's and mixed) and have spent my adult years curling at both the club and competitive level. I skipped a competitive women's team for a few seasons, but the bulk of my experience lies at the position of vice. It was a debate whether Janet or I would skip the team, however, I strongly believe we are in the positions that best utilize our strengths.

Janet (Skip)

This is my first year playing skip ever! I enjoy a new challenge and love throwing the key shots in games. I have been honing the strategy aspects of the game while playing on the provincial competitive circuit for the past two years. I've been curling for 7 years and have always regretted not starting to play the game sooner in life. Having said that, I've spent most of my winters in a rink and enjoy both the social and competitive aspects of the game.

Men's Team

The core of this team was formed in the 2008/09 season with two members added, one in 2010/11 and the other in 2011/12. They are all experienced curlers with an average of about 10 years experience on "pebbled ice" (not sure what ice was used before that). Each member of the team is motivated to be the best teammate he can be but each asked me a different question in our first give-&-take via email. The team's goal is to finish in 4th place or better in their group (again, I'm sure they'll tell me what "group" means at some point, perhaps "league").
The team does practise on a regular basis if memory serves from our emails.
The team has sent me video files so I have seen each player's delivery and have responded with comments. This team is dedicated to improve but from their bio's, it's clear they play as much because they simple enjoy the experience (best reason in the world and it's the same for the women's team). Let's meet the players.

Hanspeter (lead)

This is Hanspeter's 14th season playing on pebbled ice and has been with the team for 3 seasons, with the 2013-14 season being the fourth. Hanspeter is a football (i.e. soccer) fan of FC Bassel and enjoys classical music, reading (about politics) and is a model railway enthusiast.

Silvan (second)

This is Silvan's 3rd full season with the team. He sings in a gospel chorus, enjoys fine wine and hiking. Silvan is  a left-handed curler.

Thomas (third)

Thomas has curled since 1973 but only on pebbled ice for the last 15 seasons. He along with skip Walter, is one of the founding members of the team. He enjoys soccer as well. FC Thun is the team he supports but also is an active skier and cyclist. Like his teammate Hanspeter, he enjoys music.

Walter (skip)

And I might add, from our  emails, Walter is clearly the managing general of the team (and I say that with respect). He is the question & answer man on the team and he asks really good questions. He keeps me on my toes! Walter has much curling experience, we'll just leave it at that. Although he did not so state on his bio, I know from our emails that he relishes discussions about strategy & tactics.

And now the question (actually, a question and a comment) that was sent by Lexie, the second on the women's team.

I have a question for you after our recent cash spiel.
I feel one of our biggest challenges is the different delivery styles of everyone on the team. It makes it difficult for the brushers to judge the weight & for the skip to place the brush when there is no consistency among the deliveries. I know there are many elements to the delivery that we could adjust. Knowing that we can't all commit to hours of practice, is there one element of our deliveries on which you would recommend we all focus so that we can at least start to get some consistency?

Since I have seen you (pl.) play, I agree with your assessment that each of you has a delivery style. First off, that's certainly not unusual so no need to jump off any tall buildings or hide sharp objects from the four of you! Clearly it's why I'm pleased that we can spend some on ice time together soon but that doesn't help readers who see a similar situation with their team so let me comment on your observation and concern about delivery differences.

You've used the buzz word that's on the lips of all curlers, consistency. Even if you don't aspire to shoot in the 90% range when you know a solid 60% is a good night for you, you get frustrated with the peaks and valleys of your performance. I'll begin with a non-skilled based item that will work wonders but only if you do it every time you are about to deliver a curling stone. Visualize the successful completion of your shot. Keep that picture in your mind's eye then make a copy of the picture in real time. In other words, "follow the picture". If you did your homework re. my post on "Quiet Eye" and saw the videos, you'll know what I mean. Second, know how to establish line of delivery. It starts with you standing behind the hack (good time to take that picture) and aligning your hips (the most reliable body part) so that the hip line is perpendicular to the line of delivery. Then when you get into the hack, make sure those hips are still perpendicular. If you slide to that the weight of your body is evenly distributed on your slider, you will slide, not only straight, but also at the skip's brush. But of course all of what I've just suggested means diddly squat (oh spell check will have fun with that one) if your grip, rotation and release are not sound. Apply the clockwise rotation with the gooseneck starting at 10 o'clock and the counter clockwise at 2 o'clock with release at 12 o'clock for both.
When I get on the ice with the team we're going to check everyone's stone set up, grip, release point, application of rotation and number of rotations (my so-called "team technical check-up") to see if we can make the deliveries work better together.

I thought I would share one other comment. I'm sure this is no surprise to you, but I think we were all surprised at the spiel by how much changing Ellen's and Janet's positions affected our 'team dynamics'. We had played a few league games in this order and things seemed good, but it was challenging at the cash spiel. The first couple of games were especially tough. The good news is that we talked a lot between games and we were all feeling and performing much better in our last game.

Welcome to the club, Lexie! You're right, what happened was not a surprise to me. And actually, I know there were more responsibility changes on the team than just the switch of skip and third because lead Loni holds the brush for Ellen, not Janet.
Anytime a group alters the responsibilities of any of the group's members, there's bound to be a change in the way members of the group relate to one another, especially and obviously to the members whose responsibilities have been changed. When the new responsibility is attached to a new level of authority it's even more tenuous in the beginning. In professional team sports, when an assistant coach becomes the head coach, the relationship the new head coach has with the players is totally different. As an assistant, the players could go to him/her with issues that they would never bring to the same person if he/she was the head coach. The same is true in the workplace when a staff member gets a promotion. Now he/she must relate differently to co-workers and they in turn.
On the "team dynamics wheel" it's not unusual, in fact it would be unusual if the reverse was true, that the team will revisit the "storming stage" of the wheel.
I was encouraged by the fact that you indicated that the team recognized the change in team dynamics and sat down and openly talked about it. Good for you!!!! So many teams make the classic error of brushing it (pun intended) it under the rug. That results in an "elephant in the living room" and we know where that leads don't we!
So, I feel you did the right thing and by doing so, the team will emerge stronger!
Keep those good questions coming!


Friday, November 1, 2013

The Performance Cocktail: The "Quiet Eye Home Assignment" Followup

Well, what did you think about those videos ("On the Ball" & "Brainy Putting)? If you don't have the foggiest idea what I'm talking about, please stop here and return to my post of 22/10/13 and read "Quiet Eye - A Home Assignment"!

Call me easily impressed but I found the two videos revolutionary, both as player & coach! Let's start with "On the Ball". PBS chose wisely in my view, when it selected the well respected actor, Alan Alda (M*A*S*H) to be its host. In the videos you must remember that he was not given one bit of technical advice, zero, and yet you saw him drop putt-after-putt, make several basketball free throws and in one case defeat a professional golfer, by a considerable margin, in a putting contest (albeit with special rules).

You met Dr. Joan Vickers of the University of Calgary who chose to examine what athletes actually look at and postulated about what they should really focus on and for how long, based upon her research. When Alan Alda first started putting, he was terrible to say the least. Dr. Vickers' headgear camera which tracked his stare, showed that his focus was very random. Dr Vickers then made some suggestions. Focus on the target (the hole) to take a picture of it in the "mind's eye". She then suggested that he return his gaze to the back of the ball, strike the ball with the putter, watch the putter strike the ball and remain focused on the spot where putter met ball. In the second video ("Brainy Putting") Dr. Crews added to that by suggesting that he rate his putt soon after contact on a scale of 1-10.  As you saw, when Alda did that his success rate continued to improve (& remember, without any technical advice about grip, putter head movement follow through etc.). From "On the Ball" there were two conclusions that had impact for both golf & curling.

First, you must look at something very specific. For the basketball player it meant focusing on the spot where the front loop of the basketball net met the rim. For curlers, it must be more specific than just the skip's brush. At the National Training Centre, we put a turn of brightly coloured tape around the handle of the target brush, near where the brush handle met the brush head. That became our real/specific target.

Second was the matter of duration of the focus. How long should one stare at that specific target? For the sports mentioned in the video, it seemed to Dr. Vickers that the "stare" was not exceeding about 3 seconds. She felt that the purpose of the stare was to allow the brain to gather as much information as it required. When the brain reached that information saturation point, it was time for the body to take action. Focusing longer on the target could be a distraction. Wow, who knew?

That conclusion sent shivers up my coaching spine when I thought of the legion of curlers who were instructed to never take their eye off the brush. Yikes, that's just wrong! Again, I see just one more instance of respecting the body's natural instincts. The curler will know (because the brain will tell him/her) when to "go"! And if that means taking one's eyes from the target and looking down at the rock, then that's what the athlete should be allowed to do! Please don't ever tell an athlete that he/she must never take his/her eyes from the target! But, if taking eyes from the target does occur, it must never be to the left or right, only up or down!

I have a video of a junior athlete with whom I had the privilege of working at a summer camp a few years ago and who I met recently once again at a high performance camp I conducted. She is my poster person for "Quiet Eye". She focuses on the target even before she settles into the hack (something we should all do as part of the pre-shot routine) and never again looks up until just before she releases the stone. She relies totally on the picture in her mind's eye! I'm the antithesis of that. I do keep my gaze on the target throughout the delivery. When I asked Dr. Vickers about that she returned to her thesis that even though my gaze exceeded that three second mark, obviously my brain needed all the information a duration of 5 or 6 seconds would allow. Those of you who know me best could likely have told Dr. Vickers that my brain does not function at normal speed (stop snickering)! You'll notice that the athlete to whom I refer above, while she's not looking at the brush during the slide, does pick it up visually just prior to release, something with which Dr. Vickers concurs!

When Dr. Vickers tested athletes from our National Training Centre, she was told by those same athletes that they kept their focus on the target. But when they saw the recorded results on Dr. Vickers screen, that was rarely the case. Once again, what one thinks they're doing may not be what's actually happening. Another case for a visual record!

In the video, when the U of C women's basketball team began using "quiet eye" for free throws, the team's free throw shooting percentage rose just as dramatically as Alda's putting. When Alda saw that he stepped to the free throw line, focused on the front loop of the net, saw the ball go into the basket, he dropped free throw after free throw.

The U of C basketball players, just before the act of shooting the free throw had adopted the mantra, "Nothing but net". You should also have a mantra before you deliver a curling stone and it can be technically based. It will aid greatly in getting your brain balanced but more about that later in this post.

Now I'm going go off on something of a tangent here and add a component to all of this that was not mentioned in the videos (although it was alluded to in "Brainy Putting"), attitude (enhanced by "mental rehearsal"). When you feel that you're going to be successful, as opposed to perhaps waiting to witness success, you're chances of realizing success improve (now there's an apple pie statement if there ever was one) but more than that, in your mind's eye as you prepare to make a shot, you should actually "see" yourself succeed. You don't need to stop reading to do this but I'm going to suggest at this point you google (who knew we'd be "googling" to get information?) "Basketball Free Throw Visualization Study". I know I'm using this word a lot but here it is once again, you'll be amazed at what you read!

Visualization is not an acquired skill. We all seem to be able to do it. I've mentioned in previous posts that in a high performance camp setting I ask the participants to rhetorically answer questions I pose about the front door to their home. I ask about the colour, the design, windows, type of door latch etc. I can see by their faces that no one is having any difficulty answering my questions and yet we're in a curling lounge. Clearly everyone is visualizing their front door. But, what about the discipline to do that each and every time you're asked to deliver a curling stone? You have the ability, but do you have the discipline?

So, what did Alan Alda learn from his visit w/Dr. Vickers at U of C? He learned to focus on the target (a very specific one) with his eyes only long enough until his brain has all the information it needs. At that point he begins his execution of the skill all the while still seeing the target in his mind's eye. He also learned to recite a word or phrase that meant something to him (mantra). But very likely the best thing that Alda learned was to trust what Dr. Vickers suggested. All the skill in the world is not much good unless you trust it.

Then Alda moved from Calgary to the Arizona State University to the research lab. of Dr. Debbie Crews. Dr. Crews did not know that he had come from Dr. Vickers lab. in Calgary, an important point to recall when Alda was asked to putt on Dr. Crews' "carpet". Dr. Crews' research was all about "brain balancing".

And that's where the "Brainy Putting" video starts, with Alda wearing more head gear, this time one that recorded his brain waves to know if the left side of the brain and the right side were in "balance", an essential characteristic it appears in performance. As mentioned earlier, the putting this time took place on a carpet which demanded putts of about 10'. Right from the start, Alda's putting was in the very good category (again, recalling that he still had no technical instruction). He attributed his performance to the "quiet eye" training he had received in Calgary with Dr. Vickers. At that point, Dr. Crews showed him some ways to balance his brain so that the left side, the "technical side" was allowed to calm down and balanced with the right side, the "just trust it and do it" side. What was startling was the fact that one of the methods was to be active, very active. You'll recall that Dr. Crews had Alda pedal an exercise bicycle for 60 sec. at a high intensity and then grab his putter to attempt to drop those 10' putts which he did quite well. He also got onto a "balance board" and through some imagery (i.e. "I'm a cloud.") aided his mental balance.

It was then that Dr. Crews added the challenge of "evaluating" the potential success of a putt as soon as putter head met ball and his evaluations were very accurate as well. Alda injected that when he smiled he seemed to perform better as well. He recalled his back stage persona, one of anticipation and excitement to place himself in a "good place" mentally. Hmm, I wonder if that's also something we can all do. I'm guessing that's another "yes"? In curling, the shooter, as the stone is released should be rating the shot on the likelihood of its success. That begins the flow of communication with the brushers and on the teammate in the house.

I talk about "attitude" a lot! When asked about attitude and what might be a good one, I suggest that in my view, the best attitude is "I just can't wait to play!"When that's the feeling you have as you step onto the ice surface, like Alan Alda, you will smile, even though it might be on the inside.

But enter the big surprise, the appearance of a professional golfer, Tina Tombs. It was obvious right from the get go that Tina's technical expertise was far superior to Alda's but when Dr. Crews suggested a putting contest with some dollars on the line, both were somewhat reluctant to participate, but more so Tombs as she felt she was likely to have an advantage given her profession but the contest proceeded and you know the results, Alda won by a considerable margin. During the contest, as an aside to the camera, Dr. Crews commented that Tina really didn't have a chance to win the contest because she was focused on the outcome rather than the process. Alda was just the opposite. He was playing with "house money", having no anticipation of a successful outcome beyond putting the ball into the hole. He was totally concentrating on process as opposed to outcome. Hmm, where have you heard that before? All he had was "quiet eye, brain balance, mantra and trust" upon which to lean and that's what he did.

In the last scene of the video, when Alda took to the practice area at Arizona State University to actually "swing" the golf club and attempt to hit the ball into a target, his pre-shot routine is what gave rise to the term "performance cocktail". Before attempting the shot, he did a few bounces to balance his brain, mentally rehearsed the shot hitting the target, saw the ball fly to the target in his mind's eye, stepped up to the ball, used his quite eye training and made the shot (with pretty bad technique).  What Alda didn't realize at the time was that he had created a "performance cocktail". He knew the ingredients necessary and then mixed them into a cocktail that suited his skill set, which once again, was almost non-existent. Imagine what a performance cocktail could do for an athlete with an excellent skill set!

Before I close I want you make one other point. Be wary of the athlete who following a performance says something like, "I didn't think of anything. My mind was a blank. I just did it!". The athlete is being totally honest, sort of, as his mind did indeed go through the ingredients of his/her performance cocktail but so automatically that he was not aware that it was happening. Might that come from directed training? Experience has demonstrated to me that the answer is once again,"yes"!

Assembling the ingredients to your "performance cocktail" is a process that's going to take some time but it's time well spent. I almost entitled this post, "If All You Take To The Ice Is A Technically Sound Curling Delivery, You Don't Have Very Much" but that seemed a little long, but I mean that with all my heart. You need know how to support and protect that curling delivery you've worked so hard to acquire. Against what demon should one be protecting a curling delivery? Answer: "competitive breakdown".

All curlers, and for that matter, athletes in all sports sooner or later feel the ravages of "competitive breakdown". It comes in the form of pressure, stress, anxiety, call it what you will but if you don't know how to deal with "competitive breakdown", you'll not be much good when you're needed most by your teammates.

Your best weapon against competitive breakdown is a) knowing exactly what you do and b) knowing how to support and protect those skills! We all do it slightly differently. As a result, each of us has a "performance cocktail" with varying proportions of the ingredients. The critical element is to have a "performance cocktail", train it and ultimately make it work for you!