Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It's About The Spirit As Much As the Letter

I have a left knee that is long past its "best before date" and I've begun the process to have it replaced. Thankfully I live in an age and a location in Canada where "knee replacement surgery" is about as smooth an operation (pun intended) as it could possibly be. The surgery (and its rehabilitation) has improved significantly over the last few years to say nothing of the advances over the last decade or two.

I saw my late father get talked out of this type of surgery when he was about my age resulting in his spending his last years confined to a wheelchair. Unfortunately I had no knowledge of this until it was much too late for Dad to do anything about it. Had I known that he was even contemplating the surgery, I would have been his biggest supporter and certainly would have tried my best to offset the recommendation he had received to not have the surgery. 

My left knee has had two surgeries already, one shortly after I began my curling career (complete meniscectomy) and arthroscopy about 15 years later. During that time, mostly due to too many candles on the birthday cake, arthritis has shown up (can you say, "three strikes"?). Before I left my hometown of Kitchener in 1999 to begin my role as National Development Coach in Calgary for the CCA, my surgeon advised me to wait until my 65th birthday to begin the process of knee replacement. Well, I'm a few years past that, so now IS the time.

Victoria, BC is a location for a "Rebalance Medical" site. Apparently all the surgeons who perform this type of sports medicine surgery are under one roof. My x-rays have been sent there. Now I await a call from "Rebalance" to meet with the surgeon who will exchange a well worn knee with a new one. I can't wait for two reasons. First, I'll be able to resume my full jogging regime and I can once again curl with a slide delivery, something I've not been able to do for many years.

But, this post is not about me, my knee issue or what I cannot do. It's about what I can do and for curling it means using the "delivery stick" to stay in the game! Although for a variety or reasons, mostly due to my coaching commitments, I do not curl in a regular league, I use the delivery stick as often as I'm able. Is it the same as using the traditional slide delivery? Of course not. Is it better than not curling at all? You bet it is!!!

It also led me to examine what using a delivery stick was all about from a technical point of view so I took it upon myself to take the lead on this and have written about it in my coaching manual ("A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion" pp. 55-57) and on this site ("For the Stick Curler in Your Life01/26/13). My goal was two fold. First, to encourage and inspire curlers who find themselves in a physical situation where they, like me, cannot curl in the traditional/hand way, to learn to use the delivery stick. Second, to help them make the transition, from a technical perspective, as seamlessly as possible. What I didn't realize was the number of "stick curlers" who would attempt to use the rule changes in place to allow them to continue to participate in a sport that has afforded them hours upon hours of enjoyment, to gain an advantage. That to me was most disheartening and due to a recent email sent to me by a stick curler, I'm going to shout out to ALL stick curlers on this issue. Some of you are going to be offended and quite frankly in my view, need to be offended because you're offending a game that has ethics as page #1 in its rule book, so batten the hatches!

What you see below is a copy of the email referred to above. Nothing has been altered . My response follows.

Just a rule clarification on stick curling.  More and more seniors are using them now.
The rules say:

Section 18. Stick curling
(4)  If delivery begins from the hack, then players using the delivery stick must adhere to delivery rule 8(1); and stones must be delivered along a straight line from the hack to the intended target broom.  (or brush)
Section 8. Delivery
 (1) Only right handed deliveries shall be initiated from the hack located to the left of the centre line (right foot in left hack) and only left- handed deliveries shall be initiated  from the hack located to the right of the hack.

a) I have seen guys using both feet in both hacks, to give a straight line to the broom. (or brush)
b) I have seen some using the space between the hacks and starting from there.
c) I have seen using the left hack for out turns and the right hack for in turns.
 The problem is, using the stick,  to line up you need to bring the stick to the centre of your body or else you will be off the target.
Would you be able to clear this up?  I favour  c)

When it comes to rules, regardless of the sport, the printed words in that sport's rule book are shadowed by a spirit in which the rule is written. Make no mistake re. the rules for stick curling. From a delivery perspective, all the delivery rules and their spirit to which a curler adhered when he/she used a traditional slide delivery, are still in place.* Since the individual can no longer employ a slide delivery, or chooses not to, he/she is able to walk toward the target, on a line to it, and since it's difficult to walk and still put one's hand the handle of the stone, the delivery stick was introduced to connect the curler with the stone. Full stop! All other aspects of the delivery of the stone still apply both in letter AND spirit, including the one that asks the curler to release the stone clearly before the stone's leading edge reaches the inside of the near hog line!

I could not believe that any curler would use the delivery stick accommodation provided by the Canadian Curling Association, to gain an advantage by kicking the (expletive deleted) out of the spirit of the rules! 

Some stick curlers actually walked to a point near where the hog line touches the sideline/board, stopped and completely changed the angle of delivery (thus the recent addition to rule 8(1) requiring stick curlers to walk in a "straight" line to the release point). Others, as you see by the observations of the sender of the email, have taken other liberties with the rules to similarly gain a competitive advantage. If you even thought about any of this, you need to get a rule book and reread its first page, "The Code of Ethics"(especially the "Fair Play" section where it clearly states "Fair Play begins with the strict observance of the written rule; however, in most cases, Fair Play involves something more than even unfailing observance of the written rule. The observance of the spirit of the written rule, whether written or unwritten, is important".) because what you're contemplating is unethical and the worst part, you know it is, so do the right thing and remind yourself what the CCA has provided you with, an opportunity to remain in the game and play it they way you played it and enjoyed it for many years!

It's really simple, if you hold the stick in your right hand, you place your right foot into the hack positioned to the left of the centre line to begin the delivery process and if you hold the delivery stick in your left hand, you place your left foot into the hack positioned to the right of the centre line to begin the delivery process. Exactly which part of that do some stick curlers not understand? I'm feeling my CBC Rick Mercer "Rant" in high gear on this!

If you're still somewhat caught in the middle of all of this, there's a simple yardstick to apply if you're not sure if you should take advantage of what the rule doesn't say, and that's what I hear from time to time by those who would try to take advantage or the stick rules. "Well Bill, it doesn't say you can't do ...!" Well, actually it does and here's that yardstick by which to measure your "rule creativity". If you want to take advantage of what you see as a "loophole" in the stick curling rules, simply ask yourself, "Is this something that I did when I used the traditional/hand method of delivering the stone OR is it in common practice by those who are currently delivering the stone in the traditional/hand method?" If the answer is "No", then it isn't OK, loophole or no loophole. Allow me an illustration. 

I've seen stick curlers who hold the stick with both hands and some will hold it in one hand until they leave the hack, then place their second hand on the stick, thinking they're abiding by the rule which clearly indicates that the stick be held in one hand. So, let's apply Bill's measuring device. Is it something that is in common practice by those using the traditional/hand delivery. Answer, "No"! Then it does not comply with the spirit of the rule regardless of what you think the rule does not "say"! The intention of the use of the delivery stick is that the curler will use one hand, the same hand, throughout the game, so no moving from hack to hack by switching hands from one shot to the next! To do anything else fundamentally changes the game and that was never the intention of allowing the use of a delivery stick!

As to the individual who sent the email, I have a question for you. Why would you support any of the options listed in your message? You say you prefer option "c"! There are no options! All three violate both the letter and more importantly the spirit of the delivery rule. That said, I'm going to cut this individual some slack on this because he/she may be confusing the rules of stick curling with the rules of a misguided discipline of stick curling known as "Sturling" ( #. On the other hand, if I'm going to call out the purveyors of "sturling", full credit to the aforementioned two person stick discipline as described at which advocates the delivery that adheres to the spirit of the delivery rule that has been in place since the game began.

I never thought I'd want anyone to stop curling but if you're a stick curler who looks at the rules governing the delivery of the stone, and attempt to gain an advantage by trying to circumvent them, you've lost sight of the integrity of the game so make it official and pursue some other winter sport.

To those of you out there who are still adamant about stretching the rules to accommodate your own needs, I say in summary, "Stop embarrassing yourself and the game of curling! Play by the rules both in letter and spirit!"

By the way, I agree with the sender of the email from a technical perspective. It is better in my view to hold the stick somewhat near the midline of the body. And here's my best technical advice for the actual delivery of the stone with the stick. When you release the stone, keep walking for a few steps. Don't release the stone while coming to a stop. You didn't stop your slide when you released the stone so don't stop walking with the delivery stick!

And to those stick curlers out there who still deliver with a slider, let me know where to send the get well card!

If you're on Vancouver Island or the Lower Mainland of BC and would like a "stick curlers clinic", let me know, I'd be happy to provide one!

* Some of you might have noticed in rule #18 that a stick curler does not have to begin the delivery process from that hack. That provision is in place for wheelchair athletes who deliver from a position just behind the hog line nearer the delivery end of the ice. It is not intended for anyone else using a delivery stick (there's that spirit thing again)!

"Sturling" is a two person game with some players using the delivery stick. In general, the rules of "sturling" make very good sense and if you're a stick curler, I encourage you to go to the web site named above and check it out. I have played in "Canadian Stick Curling rules events" and quite enjoy the game but I strongly feel that the "sturling" rule regarding the actual delivery of the stone is doing the game of curling a disservice. 
"Sturling" rules allow the participant to use either hack with either foot in the selected hack. The rationale is that the CCA/Canadian Stick Curling rule is "overly restrictive". "Sturling" stick curlers have fundamentally changed the game and as a result have created much confusion when stick curlers play with athletes who use the traditional/hand delivery. "Sturling" curlers must realize that it's disingenuous to use the "sturling" delivery rule when playing with curlers who use the traditional delivery rule. 
If "sturling" curlers want to maintain their delivery rule in "sturling" sanctioned events, I doubt this scribe is doing to change their minds but to insist on using the "sturling" delivery rule in games with those who use the CCA/Canadian Stick Curling rule is to give the "sturling" rule curlers an unfair advantage. 
I don't want to be too harsh with the well-intentioned "sturling" advocates but I will call upon them to rethink what they've done. The CCA/Canadian Stick Curling rule is not overly restrictive! The CCA/Canadian Stick Curling rule complies with the spirit of the game at its most fundamental level, the delivery. "Sturling" curlers may like their rule but it has put the use of the delivery stick on a very slippery slope and as a result, as stated above, have fundamentally changed the game. That's unacceptable!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Most Poorly Played Shot

I've seen it too many times. "If only we could have placed that guard we would have won the game!" Well, I bring good news and bad news. The good news is, you're right! If only... The bad news is, that's the answer to the title of this blog. Placing a guard, in my opinion, is the one shot that's most poorly played and it need not be so!

To begin, let's make one thing perfectly clear. When you place a guard, you do it for one of two reasons. It's either placed to provide potential cover for a shot to be played later OR you're attempting to guard the path to a stone already in place. Notice the words in italics, that's one of the reasons why a relatively simple shot is not played very well across the board. You don't guard the stone from view, you guard the path TO the stone! Never forget that!

Of the two types of guards the one about which I would like to dwell is the second, guarding a stone already in place. Now here's the scenario that exists a very high percentage of the time. The stone to be protected is already protected on either of the two rotations. In other words, guards placed to protect an existing stone are almost always placed in concert with stationary stones. Your task is guard the path to that stone, taking away the other rotation.

When this shot is missed, it's usually missed because it ends up, and this is the key point here, joining the other stationary stones and leaving the path the the stone completely open on one of the rotations, allowing your opponent to choose from a number of weights to remove the stone you wanted to protect. There's nothing that's more infuriating than to waste a shot in that manner and it's so avoidable assuming of course that the player delivering the stone delivered the stone with a weight inside "execution tolerance" and "on line to the brush".

Well, you might be asking yourself, if the stone was delivered with the correct weight and on line, what more can one do? There's a lot more one can do! What we're really dealing with here is the difference between "strategy" and "tactics". The strategy is to guard a stone but the tactic employed to accomplish that is flawed and here's why.

When you set the brush and choose the weight to make the shot, knowing that for the shot to be successful, everything has to be right, it usually isn't. By that I mean, if when the stone is delivered, the team hopes and prays it stops in the right spot, many times it will curl past that ideal location, thus joining that group of stationary stones referred to above. To maximize the likelihood of successful completion of the shot, a few things need to happen. First, the skip needs to have selected a line of delivery that's very generous (i.e. a little wider than normal). Second, the shooter needs to "get right out to the brush" (line in this case is the "execution tolerance", not weight) and third, the brushers need to know that due to the first two components, they will very likely have to "brush the stone into its final position". And that's the key to successful execution of a guard, it needs to be brushed into its final position, not praying that it does!

I can hear some of the naysayers now. "What if we don't brush the stone far enough into position and leave an opening?". If you leave an agonizingly small port, even though it's large enough for a stone to pass through, you've restricted the weight options available to your opponent and for club level curlers, let's be honest, how often will an opponent make that shot? Leaving that agonizingly small port is much better than leaving your opponent with a completely open side! We're playing the percentages here folks!

This is also the key point in placing a guard for a purpose later in the end, notably that centre line guard, most frequently delivered by the team without last stone advantage on its first shot of the end. That stone absolutely, positively MUST come to rest on the centre line! In many cases it's the most important shot of the end for that team! If that shot comes to rest not touching the centre line, I can make the case that your team is now playing the end with 7 stones while your opponent, who by the way also delivers the last stone of the end, is playing with nine! Yikes!

Begin to take note how you play guards. Do you play them hoping they stop in the right spot, or do you play them in such as way that they must be brushed into position? I believe if you play them in the second manner, you'll be much more successful.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

You Have the Floor

The most recent edition of the biennial golf matchup pitting golfers from the PGA of America against their counterparts from Europe proved once again that professional golfers from European countries at this point are better than those from America! That's the bottom line. The competition at Gleneagles, Scotland and the solid victory by the European side proved that notion to be true but, the Americans in my view missed an opportunity to make it least close by not viewing the matches as simply golfer versus golfer but rather as side versus side.

You'll notice that I have used the word "side" as opposed to "team" to describe the "Ryder Cup Matches". That's because part of the format is a two man "team" competition but more about that later.

That was not the case in 2008 when the Americans were led by Captain Paul Azinger. I wrote about Azinger's approach to the event whereby he looked at his 12 players and saw them as a group, not just a collection of skilled golfers. Actually, he saw them as three, four player groups. He divided the Americans into three groups according to commonalities (geographical background, personality etc.). For Captain Azinger, this was a side v. side event, first & foremost and as such, he knew and understood the importance of the support each player in the "pod" could provide for his teammates.

The Ryder Cup is a very different type of golf event for professional golfers. I adhere to the premise that unless a pro misses the cut in a tournament, he/she can't lose. It's just a matter of how much he/she can win. Professional golfers play for someone else's money. Not so with Samuel Ryder's hardware. The 12 professional golfers on each side stare defeat squarely in the face when they punch their ticket to the event. Nine of the twelve qualify by virtue of their play in tournaments by amassing Ryder Cup points. Then, within a few weeks of the competition, the captains select three additional players to round out the squad.

Any who have played in the matches will tell you that the pressure to perform in the Ryder Cup is enormous. Why? Because you're not playing for yourself which is what touring pros do virtually all the time. Now you have the weight of the nation/continent on your shoulders plus that of your teammates.

Actually, the Americcans should have this figured out by now as they play this four ball, foursomes plus singles scenario every year because the "Presidents' Cup" matches take place in the non-Ryder Cup years.  The President's Cup matches see the Americans get it on with a side from the rest of the world (excluding Europe of course) but the format is the same as the Ryder Cup.

The 2014 American squad was led by Tom Watson who filled that prestigious role for the second time. Worthy of note is the fact that Watson was the captain the last time America captured the Ryder Cup away from home soil. Also noteworthy is the preceding Ryder Cup held in the U.S. (referred to by the Europeans as "The Miracle at Medinah"). The event moves back-and-forth from the U.S. to Europe on an alternating basis.

For those reading this who are unfamiliar with the Ryder Cup Matches allow me to describe the event. It's a three day competition. On each of the first two days, each side delegates eight of its 12 players to play in one of four matches (four ball in the morning & foursomes in the afternoon). Each match is worth one point so after the first two days, 16 points will have been divided and it's "match play". When your team of two players has the better score on a hole, it wins the hole. If your team wins more holes in the 18 hole round than your opponent, your team wins the point for the match. If after eighteen holes neither team has won more holes than the other, the match is halved and each side wins 1/2 a point.

On the final day, each member of each side is matched with a player from the other side. Twelve singles matches take place on day #3 to round out the total of 28 possible points. Interestingly enough, if the points are tied at 14, the side that is the current holder of the Cup retains possession. In the case of the matches at Gleneagles, that "Miracle at Medinah" whereby the Euorpeans, on the final day of the matches, overcame a 10-6 deficit to win, put them in a position where the 14/14 tie would see them retain the Cup. The Americans needed that extra 1/2 point.

Ironically, after the first two days, it was the Europeans who held the lead at 10-6 so I'm sure it was not lost on the Americans that to win down 10-6 would go a long way to erase the loss at Medinah. But, such was not the case. The singles matches on the final did not see the Americans exact a measure of revenge with the final tally, after all matches were completed, 16 1/2 -11 1/2 for the Euros! It was a solid victory, the 7th in the last 9 matches.

Well, the story could end here with the Americans hoping to turn the tide at Hazeltine G&CC in 2016 but then the lesson the loss at Gleneagles offered would be lost and that's the premise of this blog.

In the days following the matches, much has been said about the leadership style of Captain Tom Watson and it was the most experienced American Ryder Cup participant, Phil Mickelson, who was the most vocal. Unlike Paul Azinger who constantly dialogued with his 12 players to win the Ryder Cup Matches, Captain Watson made virtually all the decisions unilaterally. To hear Mickelson, the pairings for the team matches of the first two days were made by Watson, with no interaction with the American team. And, since four players sit out for each of the four team matches on days #1&2, again, no discussion with the players was had on that decision either.

For the life of me, I have absolutely no idea why Captain Watson would have adopted that management style. I don't feel that's a very empowering tactic on the part of the leader of the side. Certainly it was in stark contrast to Captain Azinger. To his credit, Watson didn't try to deflect any criticism. He was accountable and took full responsibility!

By this time you're likely wondering why I choose at the title for this blog, "You Have the Floor". This was a lesson taught to me by one of the players on the first senior women's team that I had the honour of taking to the World Senior Curling Championships in 2008 in Dunedin, NZ. The team consisted of skip Pat Sanders (CCA Hall of Fame member), third Cheryl Noble, second Roz Craig and lead Chris Jurgenson. During team meetings, skip Sanders was very quiet but her eyes told me that eventually she was likely to have something to say and that's what prompted me to institute a meeting ending protocol I called "You have the floor". When all was said and done and I felt the meeting should end, I began pointing to each team member in turn and saying, "You have the floor!". That person could say anything she wished and it didn't have to particularly pertain to anything about which we had spoken during the team meeting. She didn't have to raise any issues or ask any questions. You have the floor meant exactly that. We will listen to "anything" you have to say and unless you wish, no response from us will be forthcoming AND if you have nothing to say/add, you could "pass". Well, Pat never passed and in most cases tied a red ribbon around the issues which were discussed and occasionally gave us all pause to consider another angle none of us had considered in the body of the meeting. But the important part is that Pat knew, she would "have the floor".

Not all members of a team will be predisposed to open up in a forum like a team meeting. "You have the floor" is a great way to ensure that everyone at least has the undivided attention of those in attendance. I'm sure it's not the only way to go about it but it certainly has worked for me. I have never not ended a meeting that way! It wasn't my idea, it came to me through Pat and I will be ever so grateful to her for that. Perhaps Captain Watson might have ended his meetings with "You have the floor!"