Monday, June 30, 2014

Happy Birthday Derek

Perhaps the most recognizable Major League Baseball player celebrated (although I'm not sure if that's the right word) an anniversary of his birth last week, June 26. You see, it was the big 4-0! What does the 0 mean? It's means Oh my, where did those years go?

The birthday boy, as most of you can guess from the subject line is Derek Jeter, of the Yankees, yes those same hated Yankees, unless of course you actually reside in NYC or are part of "Yankee Nation". When I meet someone who "roots" for the team with by far the most money in a sport without a salary cap (don't even bring up the "luxury tax", what a joke) I ask that same Yankee fan if they also "root" for the Apple Corporation or MicroSoft. If the Yankees need a player, the team simply go out and buy one, but I digress.

Even though I fall into the Yankee hater category, it's hard not to "like" the team's perennial shortstop who in this his 40th year, is playing in his 20th and last season. It will be strange in the 2015 campaign to see someone else play the key defensive position for the team that has won more World Series titles than any other, more than twice as many. It's a gross understatement to say that Derek is and has been a "classy athlete". In an era where athletes move from team-to-team on a regular basis, it's worth noting that Derek has been a Yankee his entire career. And, also in an era, sad to say, when many, not all by any means, have had their off-the-field challenges in various situations, Derek has been nothing but exemplary!

Here's a quick summary of Derek's amazing career.

  • five time World Series champion
  • all-time Yankee leader in hits, games played, stolen bases and at-bats
  • thirteen All-Star selections
  • five Gold Glove awards
  • five Silver Slugger awards
  • two Hank Aaron awards
  • Roberto Clemente Award recipient
  • only the 28th player in MLB history to get 3,000 hits

But here's something you might not know about Derek (besides the fact he's been the most eligible bachelor in NYC for quite some time and dates, well, let's just say, some pretty notable women [you do the Googling on that one]).

Drafted directly out of high school in 1992, he made his Yankee debut in the 1995 season and became the Yankee's everyday shortstop the following year, winning the "Rookie of the Year Award" and helping his team win the first of his 5 "Commissioner's Trophies" emblematic of MLB's championship, more commonly known by term "World Series". What the record books don't indicate are the struggles Derek had fielding his position in the early going. In plain terms, he committed an unusually high number of errors in his first couple of seasons and then, in dramatic fashion, turned that statistic completely around where it has remained for virtually his entire career.

In a TV interview on CBS's "Sixty Minutes" with the late Ed Bradley, when asked about the aforementioned dramatic turnaround in his defensive statistics, Bradley suggested that experience likely played the major role. Derek's response is something we can all take away. He explained simply, "I stopped being afraid to fail!".

What he was really saying is that what changed was not his skill set, it was his "attitude" toward the task at hand. He might just as easily have said that he stopped trying to be perfect, a topic about which I've written in the past in "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion" largely thanks to what I learned about "the pursuit of perfection" from Kevin Koe's sport psychologist, Dr. John Dunn (he's the guy you see on the Coaches' Bench wearing Koe colours).

It's really dangerous this "pursuit of perfection". There's nothing wrong with the pursuit per se, once again it's your attitude toward it that matters.

I've stated many times with curling teams that although the team tries to make as many shots as it possibly can, the final outcome of the game is tied much more to how the team deals with the shots it misses than the number of shots made. Think about the games your team has played when the number of shots made between your team and your opponent is similar. I'll wager the "w" or "l" was more about the recovery, or lack of recovery, from shots that didn't get the 4/4 on the stats sheet.

Happy Birthday Derek! Thanks for the great role model! That was a "gift" you gave to all of us who care about sports!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It Was A Very Good Year

The title of this post is the title of a song made popular by Frank Sinatra. It's very moving with lyrics that tug at the heart strings. If you've never heard it, it's worth the on-line search! Go to YouTube and enjoy one of Frank's classic renditions.

For me, this past curling season was a very busy one! It didn't start out that way. In fact, now that I have my cabin on Lake Cowichan here on Vancouver Island, I was quite prepared to spend most of the winter here, with the cool, rainy days spent in my workshop, turning (pun intended) out pepper mills, pens, bowls, bottle stoppers, honey dippers etc. and writing more posts for this blog site. Well, that was the plan but that's not exactly the way the 2013-14 curling season unfolded, not by a long shot. In fact, after doing this sort of thing for 25+ years, I was quite prepared to "begin my descent" towards "Retirement International Airport" but the 2013-14 season completely changed my mind.

There are really only two items on my annual agenda for the Canadian Curling Association. As most of you who read my ramblings on a more or less regular basis know, I attend our junior national event as a "mentor coach" to all the teams. And, I take our two national senior teams to the Senior World Curling Championships. This year those two events took me to Nova Scotia's famous "south shore" (Liverpool, NS) and to the home of "Robbie Burns" (Dumfries-Galloway, Scotland) respectively.

As the season approached, my telephone started to ring and the emails began appearing in my inbox. For various reasons, based upon requests teams and individuals, I made my way to Victoria International Airport four times en route to Whitehorse, YK, twice to Yellowknife, NT, Halifax, NS (for a 2 week tour of 3 of the Atlantic provinces), Charlottetown, PEI, Toronto, ON and Rankin Inlet, NU. Those destinations allowed me to experience some unique events in my career.

The four trips to Whitehorse, YK were to conduct an "Adult Initiative Programme" the Yukon Curling Association requested, to my knowledge, the first of its kind. One of the journeys to the capital of the Northwest Territories was at the request of a coaching colleague & friend of many years who asked if I'd coach his junior team in the YK/NT women's play down for a berth in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (which was successful and this team is now the youngest "team" to ever compete at the prestigious women's national championship). The second sojourn to Yellowknife was to pinch hit for the CCA's Danny Lamoureux in preparation for the 2014 Canadian Senior Curling Championship (I had no idea there were so many tasks that needed to be completed prior to the staging of a national championship). The tour of the Atlantic Provinces led me to small towns such as Cornwall & Montague on PEI, Truro & Sydney on NS, in addition to three major Atlantic Canada cities (Halifax, NS, St. John's, NL & Moncton, NB). During those two weeks I worked with curlers from high performance teams to novices plus a few coaching seminars. My luggage for the return trip from Scotland was weighed down with a gold & silver medal. All of the events listed above generated memories I will cherish forever! No question! But that said, the Rankin Inlet, NU stop provided one that stood out in my mind.

My five days on the frigid, windswept shore of Hudson Bay came about from my attendance at junior nationals. All of Canada's provinces & territories are represented at this event. The junior men's team is from Rankin Inlet. They have represented NU from its inaugural inclusion in the event. The coach is Kevin Bussey and it was he who asked if I'd come to Rankin Inlet. Since I was going to be there for a full workday week, Kevin and his trusty sidekick Angela Dale, set out a number of activities to keep me out of trouble. But first, some background information about which most readers might not be aware re. our newest territory.

Nunavut as vast! And, in the winter, it's not just cold, it's really cold! Most of the inhabitants are Inuit with a culture of their own with, and I say this with respect, a somewhat different set of values, not better than or worse than those with which I've lived my life, just different. Rankin Inlet, like most of the territory, has few trees (I saw none) so right away, for me, that's something with which I have to learn to deal if ever I should live there. Everything about the community is for practical purposes, the architecture of the buildings, the modes of transportation, the food, etc. It's just not smart to waste time and resources on style (I don't want to be the lawn mower sales representative in Rankin Inlet for example). Most of the life style reflects the environment in which the population lives. There's little choice but to do that! And from a recreational perspective, hockey is king (can you say "Jordan Tootoo"?)!!! The community centre with its hockey arena is the heartbeat of activities, especially in the winter months, which are most of the months as summer makes but a token appearance.

But, in part of that building, there's a curling facility, with two sheets of ice and despite what some of the curlers said, it's not natural ice but as with many shared facilities in Canada, the curling ice comes compliments of the hockey refrigeration system. When I was there it might as well have been "natural ice". The temperate in Celsius degrees "on the ice" was -33! Needless to say that if you're a curler in Rankin Inlet, you will be a dedicated curler with lots of warm clothing.

There's no ice technician at Rankin Inlet. Coach Bussey and his boys are the resident ice techs. My first activity after my arrival was to help with a flood to "try" to level the ice somewhat and at least get it quick enough so that takeout weight at most curling facilities would at least get a stone near the house. At that temperature, we didn't have to wait long before the surface just laid down was frozen. Unfortunately, during the five days I was there, the second hand ice scraper was not operational, despite the arrival of a new "part" and some dedicated repair time by a knowledgeable club member.

As previously stated, the junior men's team under Kevin's tutelage competed at the last two junior nationals in Fort McMurray and Liverpool. Yes, they got their head handed to them most of the time but I'm going to go on record right now to tell the rest of the junior aged athletes that it won't be long before these four young men start putting up their share of "w's" at the national event! Of the hours I spent in -33 C, most of it was with these wonderful young men and their unbelievably dedicated coach. That alone made the trip and the cold all worthwhile!

Sprinkled into the sessions with the junior men's team were clinics for club members and it was at the end of an evening clinic that the memorable event to which I referred earlier happened.

As the session drew to a close, I noticed that four or five Inuit males who I surmised had wandered in front the adjoining hockey area of the building, had their noses pressed against the glass, clearly mesmerized by the goings on. As the club members left the ice I motioned to them to come onto the ice surface. They didn't have to be asked twice! After a quick cleaning of the footwear I showed them how to put their feet (not "foot") into the hack and using all the strength at their disposal, literally fire the stone to the opposite end of the sheet. Some of Kevin's players helped to make sure that the hacks at the playing end were protected as stones flew from the home end. But wait, what about those brushes?  They wanted to brush so when one "delivered" a stone the others would furiously clear its path until the next stone was ready to leave the "launch pad".

By this time, a few more young "hockey fans" filtered into the curling lounge and it was obvious they too wanted to join the fun so another wave of my arm brought five or six more youngsters onto the other sheet. That quick "two-feet-in-the-hack" lesson was all they needed and in short order stones were flying down both sheets.

Word seemed to spread quickly as more young people filed in wanting to emulate their friends. Of course, all were welcome and soon, stones were moving up and down the ice with frantic brushing and loud bursts of laughter. At one point I realized that stones were moving, at considerable velocity, in both directions on both sheets. That's when I filled the cold air with my trademark whistle bringing the proceedings to a sudden halt. A wave of my arm invited the now 40-50 8-12 year olds to gather around. With the translation help of Kevin's athletes I explained that ALL the stones need to be delivered in ONE direction, before they are delivered in the OPPOSITE. Full stop! "Now have fun!"

What I haven't told you was that Kevin had to take his leave following the clinic to attend to some club matters off site and the look on his face when he returned was priceless! His grin said it all. For the first time, the "hockey kids" were, ahem, "curling"!

I'm guessing that we were out there for about an hour or so before we had to shut it down. In the quiet of the curling lounge with only Kevin and I present, he asked me what I had "taught" them. I replied that they very likely didn't learn anything except that "curling is fun"!!!

After those 25+ years, it's perhaps the best lesson I ever taught!

It was a very good year!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Virtual Coach Project In Retrospect

At the beginning of this past curling season, I initiated a "Virtual Coach Programme" whereby club level teams were invited to send a resume of the team, its hopes & aspirations and any other details that would indicated that the team was especially positioned to benefit from a "coach", albeit a virtual one. Several very deserving teams sent resumes and all were worthy but two, one male and one female were selected. The female team is from Canada and the male team is from a European nation. Modern technology was employed in my communication with both teams using Skype and on one accession in my travels I actually met with the female team. On a few occasions on this blog site, the teams shared their experiences so that other club level teams might also benefit. What follows is a summary of their seasons beginning with the female team.

As our team competed at both the competitive and club level, we gained a great deal of clarity about what "sandbox" we like playing in and where we can excel. In the competitive arena, (playing in cash bonspiels and zone playdowns) we didn't experience much success. Our strategy and tactics were just as good as our oppositions', but the sheer lack of shot making and challenging on-ice dynamics limited our ability to fulfill our potential. However, at our club, we won the women's league aggregate (most winning team after the round-robin schedule) and our league championship. The winning that we saw happen in our club league was mainly due to the change at one of our positions. Part way through the season, a new player came on to our team. The issues regarding our dynamics no longer existed and because of the positive shift surrounding the "vibe" on the ice, our individual and team performances improved dramatically. 

What we experienced this past season illustrates two things about team success. First, to play well and win games, you need the right four people together - three out of four just doesn't cut it - and great friendships off the ice doesn't necessarily translate into positive dynamics on the ice. Second, to play well and win games, you also need to feel like you're competing at the "right level" and that "right level" contains a balance of challenge and comfort. It is clear to us now that with the tools that we had and the level of commitment we were all willing to take on, we're a very good club curling team.

Our greatest strength (executed consistently at club level) was our on-ice communication. Coach Bill introduced the concept of constantly talking about "what the ice is telling us" and due to that ongoing discussion during games, we beat the good teams in our league. As Bill brought into our awareness, when you spend the first couple ends exchanging information about the ice conditions and then continue to discuss the ice's changing conditions, you are always mindful of those little things (like the right way to miss) that can add up to something much bigger like a win. 

Thanks to Coach Bill for sharing his time, energy, and wise words with our team this past season!  

I would like to give you a feedback and season-ending compilation "focusing on anything we did together which had a positive impact on the team's experience".

To sum it up I would say the experience with you as our virtual coach had impacts on different levels:
  • on the technical level through the team technical check up and the brushing feedback
  • on the tactics and strategy level through getting to know our Strategic &Tactical DNA
  • on communications: using the same language, observing the same aspects of a sliding delivery, excersing the same releases/release points etc.
But let's go a little bit into some details...

Maybe I will surprise you with the first point that addresses even a moment BEFORE we even knew that our team would be honored to take part in this exicting experiment...

First, I would like to start with the application procedure and the document I put together based on our team's input and planning. This was already good experience to focus on our season goals and season planning. Furthermore thanks to this process we learned to appreciate our team history we already lived together (not all the same length of course).

Second, the definite highlights were our three Skype exchanges (end of October 2013 about the team technical check-up; mid December 2013 about brushing technique and end of February 2014 about the Strategy &Tactics Workshop). Each of these exchanges was fully loaded with helpful advice, hints, questions and exercises for us to take back on the ice and to try things out. And of course this technical feature allows to build a personal relationship much faster and easier. It's always a pleasure to hear and see you Bill! These are the moments when the virtual coach becomes real.

Personally, for me as Skip the team technical check-up revealed so many 'new' details I was able to observe afterwards in the sliding delivery of my team mates and our adversaries. This was a real eye-opener to me. For one team member the focus on the number of rotations was an element he will not forget as he repeately reminded us of this during the whole season. For all of us   - the "G-Y-R-language" from the Strategy &Tactics Workshop has a highlight. Our team experimented with this during the last games of this season. It is so helpful and time-saving to have a common ground with three simple code words to discuss and decide between the ends how we want to play the next end. This makes it so much easier that everyone of the team is on the same page.

I found it useful to send you videos and powerpoint documents as materials for the preparation of a Skype. Also the fact that we tried to focus on a specific subject.

As self critics I would say that the mastering of (oral) English is certainly a weak point on our side among the team. I was able to compensate this deficit by explaining certain details after the Skype meetings. The language was certainly also a reason why the participation on our side was not as lively and diverse as you may have wished.

Nevertheless based on you fantastic manual "A Pane In The Glass: A Coach's Companion" I could give more inputs to my team and also the drill part a the end was and will be in use. Although I read already quite a few articles there is still more material to be discovered. It is really a wealth for a curling fan.

What we/I certainly appreciated a lot is your highly responsiveness. This made our exchange very smoothly.

Above I focused on the process of our virtual coach experience. Now it is time to mention our results for the season 2013/2014:
  • Our team won the final bonspiel last month (see attached doc) - This was the first time our team won a bonspiel!
  • The club championship 2014 is played in a format as individual player on a fix position. Thomas ended up on the second place of all thirds in our club and yourstruely was on the top of the podium (see attached doc)
  • Our season goal was to reach the top four in our club league - that's what we achieved. Unfortunately we couldn't win the last two final games.
As I look out of our window I see snow on the mountains. The Spring waits for another round but it will arrive!

If your club level team would like to send a resume to perhaps be one of the two teams for which I'll be your virtual coach for the 2014-15 season, my email address is!