Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Proceed With Caution

It's not only that time of year, it's that time in the Olympic quadrennial and when it happens with the most high profile teams, it gets played out in the media for all to see. Of course I'm taking about player personnel changes.

But, to be quite frank, I'm not that concerned about the elite teams and what they do re. player changes, they're big boys and girls so I'll defer to their experience in matters like this. No, this is directed at you, the serious recreational curler who might be contemplating a change in team personnel.

What follows are my thoughts on this most important issue but permit me one observation on what's happening literally as I publish this post. I'll not delve into the specifics of the teams who have announced changes although I will say in at least one instance, I'm really shaking my head (don't even ask)! I've looked at this team's decision from as many angles as I can and try as I might, it makes absolutely no sense to me. I hope there's something that we don't know because if that's not the case, yikes!

There are countless reasons for a team to make personnel changes. Family, work, financial situation etc. I'm taking all of those obvious reasons out of the mix for this posting. I want to focus on a change of players when the only reason is to improve team performance. There are three notes of caution. They are in no particular order;

1) You will change the team dynamics* (as one of the most high profile women's teams in Canada will soon discover). That may be indeed the reason for the player change as the player(s) to be changed caused that very commodity to be something less than you had hoped. But, if your team dynamics were rock solid, hmmm...

2) All the playing experience you gained over the time spent together now goes out the window to some degree and for most teams, it's a very large degree. While your competitors are moving forward, you're going to be moving in the opposite direction and then have to catch up just to draw even, hmmm...

3) If you really feel the players being replaced are somehow less skilled than the players coming on board then go ahead and make the change(s). But, and you knew there'd be one, did you consider the other qualities required of the new player(s)? Do they have the same view on how the game is to be played from strategical & tactical perspectives. What are their goals? Do they share a common vision, philosophy and attitude? What about their views on physical preparation, nutrition, mental preparation? Are the significant others (family & friends) in their lives as supportive as the team's experience & plans require? Will they have the same dedication to training and the time to devote to it? What about their skill set as a teammate, not just a curler? If your team has aspirations to play competitively to the point that travel to bonspiels plays a significant role in the team's plan and the team is not sponsored, will the player(s) have the financial resources to contribute to entries, travel, accommodation, equipment & food? Does their technical skill set work with those already on the team? If you feel that the player(s) joining the team ARE more skillful and what about the level of trust they have in those skills? How susceptible is/are the new player(s) to competive breakdown? If your team has a coach, will the new player(s) "listen" to the coach's suggestions?

I could go on for quite some time with #3 but I believe the point has been made. They are many questions that need to be both asked and answered before there's any consideration of a player personnel change.

Curling teams were never meant to stay together forever! Those of you familiar with the "Team Dynamics Wheel" know that there is a 5th stage (after forming, storming, norming & performing), "adjournment"! In high performance camps with rarely if ever talk about that stage but clearly that's the premise of this post so let's deal with "adjournment" from a process perspective.

As is my nature, I'll begin with questions. What is the genesis of the player change? In other words, who takes ownership? Is this one of those so-called skip decisions? What if the three "front end" players decide they want a different skip? What if the skip decides he/she wants a totally different team (that sounds familiar for some reason, let's see, hmm...)? Whatever the dynamic and/or impetus, don't use social media, telephone, smoke signals, pony express, telegram etc. to inform the principals. Do it the old fashioned way, face-to-face and make sure the team is the first to get the news of the final decision. That seems so obvious and common sense but experience has demonstrated that sometimes it's not so obvious and common sense isn't as common as one might think.

When I'm brought into the mix in situations like this, to quote my friend Terry O'Reilly's recent podcast (CBC's "Under the Influence") my "elevator pitch" is simple, "You make player personnel changes at your own peril. Make sure it's worth the risk?"

* It's my experience that the most valuable asset a team has is not its skill set but rather the state of the team's dynamics. It's the last item with which to play around! You want to treat it like so much gold!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

An Open Letter to Curling Officials

Dear Curling Official,
On behalf of my coaching colleagues & and the athletes with whom we're honoured to guide, thank you for your dedication to the sport of curling and the countless hours, many of them in below freezing temperatures, you devote to helping us enjoy the greatest game on ice. You are all volunteers who have studied the rules, attended officiating workshops & courses and have demonstrated proficiency in a task that largely goes unnoticed by many of us, and curling fans. At the highest level we can't play the game without you!

The game you've chosen to officiate is a curious one. The vast majority of the time it's contested without officials. In fact, there are thousounds, perhaps tens of thousands of curlers who participate recreationally for many decades, never to have played a game with an official of any kind present. Our summer companion sport of golf is played in a similar manner. Essentially, in both sports, the onus is on the player to both know the rules and to never take advantage of the fact that indeed there is no one to enforce them.

The very heart & soul of both sports is embodied in the notion that enforcement and application of the agreed upon guidelines of fair play are part of the responsibility assumed by the participant. Neither sport can be played without that understanding. The handshake that takes place prior to the start of a game of curling and a round of golf is a reaffirmation among its participants that the "code of ethics" is indeed the cornerstone of the sport and will be its guiding beacon throughout the contest. It's a clear statement to one's opponent that you know the rules, will not knowing breach any of them and if you happen to inadvertently do so you will divulge the violation. Our role as coach is to ensure that's the case!

It is our understanding that your role primarily is to be present to help us interpret and on occasion apply the rule(s) correctly if called upon to do so. We understand & generally appreciate your reluctance to be a constantly involved arbitrator.

Unfortunately not all players live up to their end of the tacit agreement outlined above. They do not know the rules and their adherence to the aforementioned "code of ethics" varys. When this occurs, hard feelings often are the residue of what should have been a wonderful experience.

When a player breaks a rule, regardless of the motivation, be it intentional or inadvertent through a lack of knowledge of the rule(s) we need you to step in, not wait for one of us to invite you in! When the onus is on us as player or coach, you place us in an awkward and frankly unwarranted situation. Often when we go to you for assistance we're seen as a complainer or whiner as opposed to someone who does know the rules, honours the game's code of ethics, and simply wishes to play the game in a fair manner.

The game of curling has changed in my lifetime. There are now large sums of money on the line and honours such as Olympic Champion which I never dreamed would be a driving force in curling. Mostly, those rewards give extra life to curling. For some, unfortunately, the prize has become so great that they will do anything to achieve it. On occasion the rules become something to circumvent rather than embrace.

This letter to you is to ask that you join with those of us who care about the spirit of curling by stepping into to a rules application situation without being invited to do so when, in your educated opinion, a rule has been broken and it's obvious the violator is not going to own up regardless of his/her motivation for not doing so. Please don't wait for one of us to ask you to step in!

I hope you agree, as distasteful as it might be and as much as it may be a change in operating procedure, it's time for officials to rethink their role.

And once again, thank you for all you do for us!
Coach Bill

Note to Curlers: As you can see by the open letter you've just read, it's your responsibility to know the rules, all the rules, not just the ones you "pick up" along the way. The curling rule book is not a voluminous publication and in most cases can be viewed on line ( You can read the rules that apply to the actual playing of the game in about 15 minutes. It's something I do before every World Senior Championship ( and I expect my players to do so as well.

While I'm on that subject, let me walk you through what one's role is in a rule violation. If you inadvertently break a rule, you have but one role, to indicate the breach. You and your teammates are done! It's now up to the offended team to apply the option afforded to it in the rules. If you and your teammates are "ticked" with the option selected, too bad! You caused the problem! Play on! To that skip of the offended team, you must know what your options are. That's why you need to know the rules.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Enhancing the Curling Experience

In a recent posting I discussed the "score line" on a curling stone. Today's topic re. curling stones is "papering", also known as "enhancement" and a number of other terms among ice technicians. For recreational curlers who watch TV events, almost always the stones have been "papered" which in part, and I repeat, in part, allows those elite athletes to make the shots you see them make to which you roll your eyes and shake your head in amazement.

I'll not deal with the ice surface in this posting, ice that I call, "pampered ice" (and it's not anything like the surface upon which you play in your Tuesday Night Adult Beverage League). We'll stick with this mystifying papering of stones.

The part of the stone that actually touches the ice is called the "running surface" and it's exposed granite, much like the "striking bands". If you turn a curling stone over and run your finger around the running surface, it's going to feel "rough" in relation to the polished part of the stone. That roughness touching the pebbled surface while the stone "rotates" is what makes the stone move from right-to-left (counter clockwise) or left-to-right (clockwise) as it makes its way down the ice. That movement is why the game is called "curling".

The amount of curl is critical to the playing of the game from both a competitive aspect as well as an enjoyment aspect. It's simply no fun to play when the stones do not curl. Yes, you might as well play shuffleboard if that's the case! So clearly the ice technician's main responsibility is to make ice that allows curling stones to curl. But it's not just the ice that allows for the "curl", the rocks, or more precisely the running surface of the stones also plays a key role. To ensure that the running surface will "grab" the "pebble " sometimes the running surface will be "enhanced" (the preferred term for ice technicians). That running surface enhancement is the subject of this posting.

For all we hear about running surface enhancement, it's a surprisingly simple process. All one needs is a supply of "emery paper", kerosene, some clean cloths and of course the curling stones. Oh yes, I forgot one thing, a measure of expertise gained from experience with this process.

The stone is placed on one end of the emery paper with the ice technician positioned behind the emery paper. With the handle of the stone at the 10 o'clock position the stone is pulled toward the ice technician (to the opposite end of the emery paper). When the stone reaches its destination it's lifted from the emery paper and repositioned so the handle is at the 2 o'clock position. The stone is then pushed along the emery paper to its original position.

The key element in this pull/push movement of the stone is "equal pressure" on the entire running surface. That's the skill & experience part! Sometimes the emery paper is placed into a wooden frame which limits the movement over the emery paper to ensure that each stone receives exactly the same distance over the abrasive surface.

The photo below shows the path a curling stone took along the emery paper. The travel distance is about 10 cm. in both directions then the stone is lifted from the emery paper. The running surface is cleaned of any "granite dust" by a cloth which has been dipped in kerosene. Kerosene evaporates very quickly.

Ice technicians use one piece of emery paper per stone so the grit (the roughness of the emery paper) is consistent from stone to stone. Emery paper has the appearance of sand paper but the grit of emery paper is minute stone particles called emery and is native to Turkey (the things you find out when you do your homework) not silica (sand particles) and is usually cloth backed as opposed to paper.

Papering of curling stones to enhance their performance is temporary. Under normal conditions in a curling facility its effects will be noticeable for approximately 4-6 weeks. If the stones were to be "repapered", the handles might be positioned at the 12 & 3 o'clock positions so the cross hatching of the emery paper is somewhat different from the previous papering process described above.

If you're informed at your curling facility that the stones have been papered/enhanced, expect them to not only curl more but to break late. Don't panic if that's not the type of stone reaction to which you've become accustomed. Embrace the new conditions! That's why it's called "curling" and consider yourself and your club mates fortunate to have an ice technician willing to put the curl back into curling!

If you want to learn more about curling stones I have two suggestions. Go to the web site for the World Curling Federation ( and click on "videos" (on the left banner bar) to find a video entitled "From Island to Ice: A Journey of Curling Stones". For the Canadian perspective on the manufacture of quality curling stones go to to check out the various types of granite and what makes them different from one another. 

As curlers, it's my experience we don't pay enough attention to the stones we use and the ice upon which we slide them! Education, what a novel idea!