Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holiday Mail Bag Plus Some Thoughts

I trust all are enjoying the Holiday Season with lots of turkey, family & friends (with emphasis on the last two)! Questions have been piling up under my Christmas tree like so many gifts so here's Santa Bill digging into that sack of queries.

What one delivery fault do most recreational curlers have?

In my view it's the "sliding device" selected and how it's used. Most curlers cling to the use of the brush for the sliding device and that's fine. And most start out in the hack with the brush in the correct  position relative to the body so that the shoulders are square to the line of delivery. The "head of the brush should be opposite the stone". That's the time honoured admonition from instructors across the curling world and most recreational curlers understand and get the message. But, and you knew there'd be a "but", by the time that recreational curler gets to the most critical part of the delivery, the release, that brush head us no longer opposite the stone, rather the brush is at a 90 degree angle to the body and the upper body, the part where the delivery arm is attached (last time I checked) is literally "bent out of shape" with no end of release issues ensuing.
I'm pleased that most curling facilities have a number of sliding devices, the so-called "stabilizer" available for novices and rental groups. I believe that all curlers should start out that way and move into using the brush as a sliding device when they so choose. I know I'll get opposition on this but I'm too old to care 'cause I know I'm right (& modest)!

What do most team do wrong?

This one is easy! Most teams don't see the members of the team as a "team". It's just a collection of individuals each trying to make two shots per end. They don't see the team as becoming greater than the sum of its parts. This is especially true of recreational teams who just want to curl and have fun, and that's OK if it remains that way but as soon as those same recreational curlers start to get "bent out of shape" (unlike the first question, this time is a psychological bending out of shape) they've moved their yardsticks down the performance field but don't know how to improve as a team.
This is when I feel we as instructors need to step in and offer, not a high performance camp in the way we conduct one for elite teams, but for those recreational teams. There are so many areas that this type of team is missing. It's not so much what they're doing wrong. It's much more what they're not doing at all. It's an error of omission not commission!
I'll give but one example. Most recreational teams never take the time to establish a "communication protocol", something about which I've written on this site and in "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion". They end up distracting one another which manifests itself in a sub par technical performance but the problem is not necessarily technical in nature. Many times it's the "failure to communicate" effectively.
I suggest to teams in this setting to contact your provincial/territorial association and ask for a camp with instructors skilled at working with teams. If you're in/near BC, get some teams together with like interest, contact Curl BC now and suggest they contact me. I'll conduct your camp and get some of my "peeps" to join me! I/we (Karen Watson) do exactly that in Seattle each autumn.
I'll add one more "thing" recreational teams do wrong. They watch way too much curling on TV! Don't misunderstand! TV curling is great!!!! Please do watch but don't try to emulate what you see (there's a more in depth treatise on this topic the aforementioned "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion").

What is the one thing that a recreational curler should try to improve?

No question here. To play this sport to any degree of satisfaction/fun, there's a signature skill as there is in most sports. You can't play ice hockey unless you can skate efficiently. You can't play baseball unless you can throw, catch & hit a baseball. You can't play basketball unless you can dribble, pass  and shoot the ball. Well, you'll find it difficult and certainly unsatisfying if you can't slide in a straight line. It's curling's signature skill!
Doing that is relatively simple. If you slide so that the weight of your body is evenly distributed on your slider throughout the slide, you'll slide in a straight line. Full stop!

How can one measure improvement?

From a team perspective, I feel there are three "benchmarks" that when met will demonstrate team improvement. They are (in no particular order) execution tolerance, what you do following a miss by the opposition & the degree to which you make key/killer shots. If you hit these three benchmarks, it's really hard not to play well. If you go to iTunes and purchase "Curl Coach", you'll have a wonderful app to record these "benchmarks".
From an individual point of view, if you have a knowledgeable person keeping shooting statistics, you will see an improvement or deterioration in skill level simply based upon the number of shots being made. I could go on at great length on this very "touchy" subject with me as those of you know who read my scribblings on a regular basis but in this case they can be helpful.
A coach from here on Vancouver Island has developed her own simple yet very effective system whereby she divides the sheet of ice into sections and rotations. By recording degree of performance for each of the two rotations and in longitudinal sections of the ice (12', 8', 4' & left of right of the house) she can show a player where she's struggling or having success. That's using shooting statistics the right way in my view!

If practising as a team is difficult or next to impossible, what can an individual do to improve his/her skill level?

Get a visual recording device (camcorder, tablet etc.) and get someone who knows the difference between "record", "stop", "pause", "fast forward" and "play" to record your delivery. When you watch yourself simple say, "What surprises me?" You can be surprised with aspects of your delivery you know you should see but don't and conversely aspects of your delivery you see that should not be there. You want the perception of your delivery and what's really occurring to be the same. If "perception" and "reality" are never allowed to stray from one another, you'll stay on track technically!
That same person who recorded your delivery can also help you with a stopwatch by recording the time from "back-line-to-hog-line" or "tee-line-to-hog-line" so that you can get a "feel" for weight control and can put a number to it. Get your friend to tell you the "interval time" of each shot then you should begin to tell him/her the "number/weight" delivered and get some feedback.

Would a recreational team benefit from attending a "team camp"?

Absolutely!!!! Provincial/territorial associations exist because of you and your needs. Don't wait for what you need to be offered by your PSO (Provincial Sport Organization). Pick up the telephone or send email to them and indicate your interests/needs. You very likely have no idea that there are several other teams in your area with a similar interest and frankly neither does your PSO. I know PSO's sometimes come under criticism because it they don't offer the programmes the curlers want. Well, they're not mind-readers. Tell them!!!!

Are there resources out there that might help teams and individuals about which they have no knowledge?

Usually, not always, but usually, that's the bailiwick of the NSO (National Sport Organization). Sport science research is not cheap, as you might expect, which is why it's more common that the NSO would initiate and fund it rather than the PSO. There is more sport science available today in curling than ever before. I catch myself in clinics, symposia, team consultations etc. saying, "The sport science tells us ..." regularly. It's certainly made my job much easier! Teams and individuals no longer have to take my word for it either because of a personal bias or through participant observation over decades of working with curlers of all ages, skills and experience. I have the sport science! But, I have that because I'm a national coach so I get it early on. Like medical research, it take some time to work it's way into print material and into courses for obvious reasons.
All the more reason to pick up that phone or send that email to your PSO and ask for assistance!!!!

And now for those thoughts mentioned in the title...


In my post of 11/13/14 entitled "Calm Down", I dealt with the topic of "calmness" and its direct affiliation with performance. I'm reading and enjoying Bobby Orr's book "Orr: My Own Story". I want to reprint a section on p.74 from his excellent publication and it's about being calm.

You might imagine a young player trying to cut his teeth at a higher level could get so nervous he couldn't play to his potential. The reality is very different. At least, it was for me. Being nervous before a game is only natural and probably a good thing, because it means you are getting ready to play. Once I got on the ice, however, and the puck was dropped to start the game, I would calm down and everything made sense. I could almost feel a kind of peace come over me. I was in my element. You get to a place that sports psychologists have identified as the "comfort zone". Getting there allows you to play your game at your particular level.


On my Christmas Day jog with the podcast version of "Primetime Sports" in my ear, host Bob McCown interviewed Toronto Raptors coach, Wayne Casey and commented on the very positive run the team has put together of late, in spite of the trade of the highly-touted Rudy Gay. In fact in the interview, when asked why the team is playing better with lesser talent, Coach Casey said two things. First, the players are playing better "as a team". Second and the reason for the first is the level of "trust" the players have in one another and their own skills has risen. What was it that Coach Herb Brooks said in 1980 with his team of college hockey players getting ready for the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games, "I'm not looking for the best players. I'm looking for the right players!"? What a concept!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's Time To Rethink Pre-Game Practice

Our guest blogger today is HANS FRAUNENLOB from New Zealand. Hans and I go back to the years leading to the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. Hans and Team New Zealand, as it made its way to the World Curling Federation Championships, did so on an "around-the-world" air ticket. Essentially it meant the team had to travel either east-to-west or west-to-east and had to make a minimum of three stops along the way. One of those was the National Training Centre in Calgary to spend a week with yours truly (and they lived to tell about it) with one of the remaining two obviously wherever the WCF event was being held and since three of the four (besides Hans there were Gerald Chick & Lorne de Pape) were native Canadians, the third was somewhere else in Canada so at least one of them could visit with family and friends. Sean Becker, the skip of the team, was the Kiwi.
More I think in spite of me than because of me, in the years leading to Torino, the team earned enough points to qualify for those 2006 Games.
Last year, in Frederiction, NB, Hans had the distinction of skipping the NZ entries in both the WCF Mixed Doubles and the Seniors. In fact, NZ was our opposition in the final game for the gold medal and gave us all we could handle!
Some of you may recall on this site (post of 5/2/13 entitled "Mixed Doubles From An Athlete's Perspective") that Hans suggested a rule change for Mixed Doubles. This man lies awake at night thinking these great thoughts. I believe his take on Pre-Game Practice will interest you. Enjoy, leave comments and thanks Hans!

If you'd like to hear an mp3 version of this post, go to sound and enter "coachbill" in the search area at the top. Click on "play" icon beside the title of this post and you're good to go!

Like many curlers and curling fans, I've been following the process of curlers from around the world competing for the honour of representing their country at the biggest spiel of all - the Winter Olympics.

I was fortunate enough to have that experience myself in 2006 at the Torino Olympics.  I've competed in international competitions since then, and I've experienced the growing importance of the 'Draw Shot Distance' (DSD)* factor in the game.  

Now it not only gets you hammer in the first end if you are successful (which is huge) -  it becomes a potentially important tie-breaker at the business end of a competition when all the 'DSD's' are averaged (which can give you big advantages).

I've reached the conclusion that gaining that advantage wins you more games - so it means the pre-game practice has a new purpose. 

It's time to re-think those important few minutes before the game. It's not about everyone getting a feel for the ice and finding your draw weight anymore. Forget about that. It's only about nailing that last shot draw. Nothing else should matter.

The just-completed Olympic Qualifying Event had a four-way tie for first at the end of the round robin (contesting for two places in the Games). At a Worlds we competed at in Victoria. BC in 2005 there was a six-way tie. This stuff matters. You can't afford duds. Even if you don't get the hammer - you can't afford to be full-12 foot either. All your DSD's need to be close - or at the end of the week you might find yourself playing an extra game or more, you wish you didn't have to play.

In an 8 to 10 game round robin, I figure that having the hammer in the first end 80 percent of the time probably adds up to one extra win (versus having the hammer 20 to 50 percent of the time).

In the last two years, my teams have totally re-oriented our pre-game practice routine around nailing that draw shot. We've decided that nothing else matters - and our approach seems to be paying off.

This requires a leap of faith from the front end players in particular. Back in the day, we used to assign different people different parts of the ice to deliver to, to try and get a feel across the whole sheet how much the ice was curling, in different places and at different weights. In that scenario, everyone delivered a lot of rocks.

In our new scenario, we have two different routines. One is for 'first practice' (when the ice is freshly pebbled and slower) and the other for 'second practice' (when there have been a few rocks delivered over different parts of the ice)

If we have 'first practice' - we use the eight rocks delivered away from the home end to get a rough feel for curl, and which rotation might be easier to control to be able to hit the centre line (and the pin). We make a call on the 'preferred rotation' and start to deliver a few more over the 'preferred path'.  We then push rocks back just for the last rock shooter and the rest of the practice is that person delivering the draw to the pin about 6 times in a row. Having the brushers time and follow the stone to be able to judge the carry/slide (on still-quickening ice) is really important. The pace changes literally with every stone. We've gotten pretty good at anticipating 'how much more the next one might carry'.

If we have 'second practice' the routine is similar - but we've had the benefit of watching the other team deliver stones. So the uncertainty of the pace of the ice and a preferred path is lower - you've had a chance to time some rocks and observe the curl (and importantly how much the draws 'finish' - as many last stone draws are 'missed' because of overcurl or undercurl, as they are for over or underbrushing).  So we lock in the 'path choice' earlier - but we still orient the last half of the practice time totally on the draw shooter repeating the draw shot.

There are some small trade-offs to this approach. Your front end players may have slightly less feel for weight in the first end (but I'd argue that is offset by them intently watching draw shots - and at top level competition all players should be able to 'deliver to a number' otherwise you haven't practiced enough!). As a skip, you might be guessing a bit more about curl in different parts of the sheet than you might like (but in top competitions, you have a really good idea what the ice is going to do anyways). Probably the biggest thing to work through in the first two ends is the different pace on different parts of the sheet (some paths are lightning, some are slower, due to many rocks going over a specific part of the ice).

But we believe having the hammer and a preferred position in complex tie-break situations trumps all of that. Try organising all of your six or eight minutes before the game only around making one shot. You might be pleasantly surprised how your won-loss record improves.

* The WCF term for this is DSC (Draw Shot Challenge) and it's the draw-to-the-button now commonly used around the curling world to determine the team that gets to choose the set of  stones it wishes to use to to play the first or second stone of end #1 fir a game and to rank teams that are tied going into the playoff portion of the event. It is worth noting that in that averaging of a team's DSC's, it's common practice to eliminate the team's worst distance.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Coach Can't Lose!

Normally you'd see the text of my posting here, but not today! If you want to hear this short posting, one I just happened upon in doing some "office cleaning" in preparation for a move to a new residence, almost within sight of the one from which I'm writing this, follow the directions below.

I do not know the name of the author but it wasn't me. But, I thought the premise was worth sharing so I chose it for my first attempt at a podcast.

To hear it go to "". At the top of the home page you'll see a "search bar". Enter coachbill and you'll come upon "A Coach Can't Lose".

I'd very much like your comments on this form of communication. If it "flies" with you I'll still create posts here in the traditional way but I'll also make a podcast version.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Professional Golf Syndrome: A Look Back at the Curling Trials

Last week we were hoping to see "world class curling" at the Canadian Curling Trials in Winnipeg. It didn't deliver! What we saw was average curling by our most elite teams and that's putting it mildly.  Don't be mislead by this statement. I really do feel we're sending the best two teams from the Curling Trials to 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia and both played extremely well. Heh, when Team Jacobs* goes undefeated and beats one of the better teams twice, that's nothing at which to sneeze and Team Jones was the best women's team all week and I wish them well! But on balance, the curling was not what most of us expected!

I was not glued to my television nor my computer as I was in Whitehorse, YT at the request of the Yukon Curling Association on the third weekend of a four weekend visit to that territory, working with their top adult teams so what I saw was not ceremony-to-ceremony but it was enough to get a feel for the event. I did speak with those who were actually in attendance and saw every draw. They were even less impressed with what they witnessed than me (yikes).

Had this been in Las Vegas, imagine the money you could have made on a bet that none of Teams Howard (2-5), Stoughton (3-4) and Koe (2-5) would qualify for a tie-breaker much less the playoffs (and you might have upped the ante with the "prop bet" that the trio would have losing records). You might have been able to purchase the MTS Centre and the Winnipeg Jets NHL franchise with your winnings. So what happened? Here's my take for what it's worth.

Most of the teams competing in Winnipeg, especially on the men's side of the ledger, spend almost their entire competitive season playing, for want of a better term, in big money events (by curling standards). But, there's no real "losing" involved because like professional golfers, it's only about the degree of "winning". No one loses! They're playing with/for someone else's money!!!! But, put those same professional golfers into a scenario like "The Ryder Cup" where losing is a real possibility, you see some very uncharacteristic performances. Some fold under the pressure and some do the opposite and rise to the occasion but it's my experience it's much more the latter. And add age to the equation where the career finish line is in plain view, and you can mix in a focus on the outcome as much as the process and we know where that road leads. In plain English, nerves were very close to the surface for some very experienced & skilled teams.

As the Curling Trials approached, I was asked many times who I thought might prevail. My response each time was, "I have no idea but one of the four teams coming out of Kitchener (the so-called pre-Trials event) was going to make a splash. I just don't know how large the splash nor who will get wet!" Hmmm, where do you place those bets again?

The women's final was of particular interest to me. I did see that one. Team Middaugh made a mistake on the timing of the speed of the ice which led to the Team Jones score of three early in the game. The look on Skip Middaugh's face and the accompanying body language said all Team Jones needed to see. It was "game over" as that "look" lasted throughout the contest. Experience should have risen to the surface for Middaugh. She should have realized that although the error was critical, the patient was not dead, only in need of life support which a confident demeanour on her part might  have provided. Instead, she looked like someone shot her dog and that never changed. Her team needed to see someone who was resilient and could fight back, instead they saw exactly the opposite!# A TO by the team coach to address that situation might have been appropriate. TO's are not always just about what shot to play!

The skip of the winning men's team might take some advice from one of my coaching role models, about whom I spoken before on this site, Bud Grant, who told his players, "When you score a touchdown, you have two choices. You can hand the ball to the official and jog to the bench or you can place it on the ground and jog to the bench. Make it look like you've been there before and you'll be back real soon!" Team Jacobs dodged what could have been a self-inflicted fatal wound by having its skip make unflattering & disappointing gestures at several points during the event. They prevailed in spite of it but that might have a short shelf life! Team Jacobs might pay greater heed to the personality of its wonderful coach, Tom Coulterman.

Sochi is going to be interesting. Those who feel that it's a given that Canada will win double gold, and I hope Canada does, might rethink that position. It's going to be a good old fashion dog fight to the podium. We'd better buckle our collective chin straps!

* I don't recall the opponent at the time and it was relatively early in the event, but with skips' stones to be played, Brad Jacobs used his first shot to "rearrange the furniture" (i.e. change the angles [at the time it looked for all the world that his opponent had the force of "one" locked]) and with his second, played a very delicate tap to score two. His teammates, as demonstrated by their facial expressions weren't exactly sure what he was thinking, but Brad did.  At the time I mumbled to myself, "If he goes on to win, those two shots were the shots across the bows of all opponents that he came to play"! I guess he did come to play!!!

# I have heard more than one sport psychologist indicate that the muscles you "choose" to activate are the ones that in large measure determine one's level of performance. Great athletes are great actors and learn to activate those muscles needed to perform even though inside they might feel exactly the opposite. Yet another aspect of a curling delivery that affects performance over and above mechanics!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Real Time Visit from the Virtual Coach

Although it was never the intention of my "Virtual Coach Project" to actually visit in person with either team, as my travels recently took me through Southern Ontario, that's exactly what happened and it afforded me the opportunity to visit with the women's team on back-to-back nights at their home curling facility. I'd love to do the same with the men's team but that would necessitate an "across the pond" excursion and that's not in the cards at this point.

Night #1 saw us spend about an hour off ice (while the ice was being prepared for the evening's draws). The team wanted to talk strategy & tactics, but on a shot-by-shot level. The team was most interested in the "what-do-we-do-in-response-to" type of discussion. The various members of the team had slightly differing views on what the response should/could be when the opposition places its first lead stone of the end on the centre line reasonably close to the top of the house. Team Ellen, again not the skip's real name, has last stone advantage and wanted to know what its best response might be. This is a classic strategy & tactics situation, one that occurs, oh, just about every end! Absolutely you need to know what your response will be! The point I made after suggesting that there are two "strategies" and a variety of "tactics", was that some are more appropriate than others depending upon the strategy selected. The two strategies are; ignore the opposition stone (for the moment) or use/deal with the opposition stone. Once that decision is made, you've entered the world of tactics (i.e. selecting the shot that's most appropriate [based upon your game and end plans]). Let's examine the available tactics.

IGNORE - a) corner guard b) draw to either side of the house

USE/DEAL WITH - a) draw around b) split the guard off the CL (perhaps into the house) c) freeze to it (dangerous as it may create an overlap)

This is where "competitive data" enters the picture. The decsion with which you live should be based upon the results you get when you select the various strategies and tactics. What's working for you? What works for you may not be what works for me and my team or anyone else's team!

Then it was time to hit the ice for some technical observations. Team Ellen was dealing with some very common technical issues. Please remember, the names of the players are psuedonyms.

Loni (lead) has good draw weight, certainly a prerequisite for that position. Her challenge is line of delivery but it's not as a result of a lateral drift. Loni tends to not "get out to the brush" and subsequently she has CL guards which don't end up on the CL (which coupled with not haveing last rock advantage) often begins a downward spiral of events resulting in a multiple score by the opposition. I spent a good deal of time with the entire team reminding them of a solid pre-shot routine especially that element of getting one's body "square to the line of delivery". Included in that was the point that the most "reliable" body part to line up perpendicular to the line of delivery is the "hips", not one's hack toe, hack thigh or hack knee. They are "useful" but not "reliable". I also reminded the team that proper hack set up starts from a standing position about a 1/2 step behind the hack. That's when you get those hips square to the line of delivery (a visual line in the ice). When Loni does that, she gets out to the brush!

Lexie (second) is a "drifter" (in her case, as a right-handed curler it's a left-to-right drift). Lexie's pre-shot routine is good but as she moves her sliding foot under the mid-line of her body in the slide portion of the delivery, it gets there "quickly". When it does so, it wants to continue to move in that left-to-right direction causing the drift. Interestingly enough, Lexie's body senses that left-to-right movement and tries to "get the rock back on line". Unfortunately, that means her shot is really beginning at a point some distance from the hack and that "new" line of delivery oftern results in a shot that misses "narrow" not "wide" as one might expect since Lexie is somewhere to the right of the line of delivery. I reminded Lexie that getting the sliding foot under the mid-line of the body is one of those "automatic systems" the body has in place. I enouraged her to not even try to get her sliding foot to that mid-line position for that reason. Instead, she should try to move her sliding foot directly towards the skip's brush. If she does that, her sliding foor will move to the mid-line position under much more control and the lateral drift will be history!

Janet (third*) collapses out of her delivery so quickly her slide rarely gets much past the hog line. At the most critical time of the delivery, the release, she's decelerating noticeably. This results in a last split second "push" of the rock which makes weight control challenging. I checked Janet's slider and it looks OK. It's more of a conceptual issue. I had Janet, with a rock, slide as far down the ice as she could. Well, she amazed herself with the distance! I then asked her the big question. "Why do you slide so short?" She understood the challenge she presented herself when she decelerated at the release. One wants to release the rock in a free sliding portion of the delivery, long before the deceration phase! When she "slides long", her weight control will improve dramatically!

Ellen (skip*) has the best technical delivery on the team. I'd like to see her get a little more over her slider so more of her body weight is evenly distributed on it but it's just a suggestion to an overall solid delivery. She's a good technical role model for the team!

The second night I was in town, I had an opportunity to see the team play in a league game. Their opponent was not as skilled although the opposing skip demonstrated that she knew her way around a sheet of curling ice. Skip Ellen made a wonderful raise to the 4' to "save" the 1st end and made a number of excellent shots during the game to lead the team to victory (although, due to a time rule, the game ended at the conclusion of the 7th end). In the fourth end, skip Ellen "flashed" two back-to-back open takeouts which led to a score of three by the opposition but those were the only two blemishes on a solid performance by the skip Ellen.

The ice at their curling facility was relatively fast with lots of curl. Even though it was suggested by yours truly, the team neglected to entertain the question, "What's the ice telling us?". Had the team done that, it would have been noticed that the key to making shots on that sheet of ice was to "get out to the brush", which was a rare commodity on Team Ellen that night. Recreational curlers will find that when the skip's brush gets to the edge of the 8' circle or farther, shooting percentages begin to drop and the reason is that pesky getting out to the skip's brush thing.

I very much enjoyed working with the team and look forward to their questions as the season progresses and the same goes for all of my readers. Don't hesitate to tell me about your curling season and feel free to ask questions!

* The team had recently decided to make a position change. Ellen had been the third with Janet skipping. With Janet's short slide, her weight control was a challenge so Ellen moved to deliver the last two stones of the end but with her long time teammate (and lead) Loni holding the brush for her and assisting in determining the strategy and tactics for those end-concluding shots.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The "What" & the "Why"

There are some aspects of one's childhood that remain indelibly etched in one's memory. For me it was my Mother, coming upon something I clearly, in her mind, should not have been doing. Her opening line, and I suspect for many of you as well with your parent, went something like this, "What are you doing?". Well, I knew very well "what" I was doing, and so did my Mother. The real question being asked was, "Why on earth are you doing it?". Aye, there's the rub, why indeed!

I learned very early on that if I was going to do something, anything, not previously condoned in the Tschirhart household, I had better know not only "what" I was doing, but more importantly it seemed, "why" I was doing it. So many of our early childhood transgressions were conducted with no apparent reason. Well, as an athlete aspiring to perform well, you must not only know "what" you're doing, you had better know "why". Why? Well, that's what this post is about!

This is not exactly a new theme about which I have put fingers to keyboard, but as I travel the curling world, I still meet too many elite athletes, who are very talented and as a result play at a very high level, but they're "working without a net"! That is not only dangerous for a high wire performer, it's equally so for a high performance athlete and team!

We are not robots, programmed to follow a carefully planned programme of commands with a consistent response time-after-time. We're humans. Despite the best of intentions and preparation, we make mistakes. It's what makes life fun and frustrating at the same time, in every walk of life, not just sports. The constant goal it seems as I meet curlers of all experience and skill levels is consistency. Recreational curlers don't expect to make every shot or come anywhere near that plateau. But what they and the elite curler universally loath is playing reasonable well one game and unbelievably bad the next. Grrrrrrrr!!!!! Elite athlete share that experience and sentiment with their recreational cousins. It just doesn't happen as often nor to the same degree.

There are ways to reduce those peaks & valleys in performance, knowing how to balance your brain is one of them (see the post entitled "Calm Down" [11/14/13]). Another way is knowing exactly what you do and why you do it!

We don't think about all the minute details that go into the execution of a curling shot. We just do it and hopefully, we do it well. But back to our non-robotic status. When that execution heads south and you don't know what you're doing, literally, you're lost at sea without a life jacket! One of the best ways to get back on track is to refer to your knowledge base. You may have to go back, however briefly, to curling 101. If you know what you do, I'm confident as you go through your Rolodex of sequential movements accompanied with the comfort of knowing why to do them, you'll quickly find the one that's either missing or one that should not be there in the first place.

So here's what you need do. Get a piece of paper and draw a line down the centre of the sheet (in portrait orientation [if you're not sure what that is, ask any 12 yr. old]). At the top of one of the two columns you've created, print the word WHAT and at the top of the other, the word WHY. I think you know what's coming next.

Under WHAT, preferably in chronological order, list everything you do from the time the preceding opponent's shot comes to rest until your shot comes to rest, everything!!!! Beside each of the element of your delivery that you placed in the WHAT column, in a word or phrase indicate the reason you do it in the WHY column. If you can't think of a good reason, don't make one up. Leave it blank!

Clearly, for curlers in their first, second or third year of experience, this will be something of a greater challenge than it should be for those with more experience, but that said, if the novice's instruction has been provided by a certified instructor, that instructor will always state the reason why he/she suggests anything.

In a previous posting I've referred to the difference between "ritual" & "routine" and that difference is the "why" element. Rituals are done without thinking and that's true for routines as well but they part ways early on. Rituals simply evolve, for no reason. Routines are carefully choreographed, revisited & tweaked for very specific reasons, in our case to make curling shots etc. It's pretty difficult, I'd say close to impossible to have "reasons" with "whats". To say that the two go hand-in-hand would be an understatement but as mentioned above, I shake my head at the number of times experienced and skilled athletes struggle with that simple activity previously mentioned.

The next step of course is to have someone visually record your delivery. What that "What/Why" document close at hand, compare what you see with what you expected to see. There may be elements that you see that you clearly did not want to see and perhaps some elements you expected and hoped to see but were absent.

Video analysis doesn't always have to be about an instructor indicating what he/she feels needs to be altered, subtracted or added. In my mind, it's much better that the athlete does the caparison between document and video then ask him/herself the question, "What surprises me?" Frequently the athlete can take it from there and what he/she takes away is far more valuable than anything you or I might have suggested.

Make no mistake, occasionally, even the most experienced and skilled of curlers may not be sure how to proceed when they notice there's something amiss between document and video. They will then ask for a suggestion. That's when you've been invited into the process as a trusted partner as opposed to the omniscient instructor/coach and that's when whatever is suggested has a much longer shelf life with the athlete.