Monday, December 21, 2015

Be the Most Dangerous Team

It's that time of year which all competitive teams seek. It's play down time! Depending upon your age, your competitive team may be near the start of its play down trail or at the doorstep of the provincial level (i.e. juniors).

All the effort, time and resources you've invested will come into stark evaluation. This is where the rubber meets the road (or as one of my coaching colleagues from SK states it, "It's where the toboggan meets the Tarmac." [although why anyone from SK would know anything about toboggans is beyond me]). :)

Depending upon your team's yearly training plan, the end of the play down road might be the end of the road for this season, at least for your team as presently constituted. I always feel badly for Canadian junior teams as this age category is the first to declare participants at every step of the way along that play down trail. If a junior team resides in a populous province like Ontario, it may have to play its way out of its home club before moving on to zone, regional, provincial and hopefully national competition. This year, in Stratford, ON, in late January, one male & one female team will be crowned national champions. That leaves a lot of the curling season remaining for many, many teams. Some of the members of the team may be aging out leaving one or two teammates behind to look for new team members with whom to train in preparation for the following season. But, I'm a little ahead of myself. For the sake of this blog I'm going to assume you're reading this with your team firmly entrenched on that play down trail.

At whatever stage that journey you happen to be, you go into the competition wanting to know how you stack up against the opposition. That's only natural and for all the sport psych. talk about focusing on your team, your skill set, your preparation, your agenda, your supporters etc., it's really hard not to wonder about your place in the pecking order.

Well, advice #1 is this. The ice and the stones when you and your teammates step onto the playing surface and ultimately place your hands on the handles of the stones, have no idea who you are, what you've done in the past, they have not read your press clippings (or more accurately for juniors, your social media entries), what your skill set is, who's coaching you etc.

Advice #2 - Your value as a teammate is going to be equal to if not more important to the success you (sing. & pl.) enjoy than your value as a curler.

Advice #3 - You can never leave your skills at home but the right attitude (and that's always a choice) can be AWOL.

Advice #4 - The only people that really matter when you step onto the ice are your teammates.

Advice #5 - If you want to focus on something at the event, do everything you're able to ensure that your teammates have a great competition.

Advice #6 - You will not be nervous if you're convinced you've done everything possible to prepare. Athletes get nervous when they know deep down they have not done everything possible to prepare.

Advice #7 - Look after your "real self" (your everyday personal life issues) and your "performer self" will look after itself.

Advice #8 - As a team, only discuss and deal with issues over which you have almost complete control (food, sleep, travel etc.) and don't even entertain a second of concern and talk about those aspects of the competition for which you have almost no control (officials, format, rules etc.)

Advice #9 - Know all the rules that govern your participation in the event!

Advice #10 - Be the most dangerous team at the event! The most dangerous team is not the team that enters the competition with a sterling won/lost record. The most dangerous team is not the team with the great pedigree (i.e. the most talented athletes). The most dangerous team by default is not the team coming from a large metropolitan area with lots of resources at hand. The most dangerous team is not the team with the largest entourage of stakeholders. The most dangerous team in the competition is the team with the highest degree of trust in its skill set (individual & team) and the lowest degree of expectation. Don't misunderstand that previous sentence. It does not refer to confidence and trust. It refers to focus. Focus on the processes than lead to performance, not the outcome!

As you can see, I saved the best piece of advice for last. Be that most dangerous team!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

But Can It Work For Anyone?

I've started this blog on a number of occasions as "brushing" continues to evolve as a dominant factor in the performance of a curling team. Each time I was prepared to hit "publish" something new seemed to pop up. This time I'm forging ahead, mostly because recreational curlers/teams have asked me to weigh in. But, as Julie Andrews proclaimed in her role of Maria in "The Sound of Music", let's start at the very beginning!

First let me take a walk down memory lane for just a moment. Most of my competitive playing days occurred in the "sweeping" era, not the "brushing" era. And, I wouldn't have scripted it any other way. Sure, the physical playing environment wasn't nearly as consistent. The rocks were homogenous (no blue hone inserts with the occasional "enhancement" of the running surface) and the ice, well, let's just say it was "eau municipale" (i.e. tap water) full of impurities which percolated to the surface.

Brooms were just that, corn straw implements that deteriorated rather quickly (I purchased them by the box of twelve from the factory in Port Elgin, ON). Later the straw brooms gave way to a synthetic version which created a sound that would cause eardrums to rise in protest. On takeouts, my front end partner (Bob Serviss) and I could literally make the ice vibrate as our brooms struck the ice surface in near perfect synchronization.

Although to the neophyte and spectator, the thunder of a pair of brooms seemed to be the result of a tremendous application of force & power, interestingly enough, almost the exact opposite was true. Once you mastered the basic technique, the broom seemed to move itself in a very satisfying rhythm. You just got it started and the reflex action of the broom's straw created a perpetual motion. Very unlike the push/pull action of today's brushing.

As much as I enjoyed sweeping, it became clear towards the end of my career that brushing was here to stay! It wasn't nearly as satisfying, but it was obvious that it was much more efficient!

Like brooms, the first brushes were hair (of the equine variety). Then, as with brooms, synthetic brush heads became available, giving rise to a debate still very much alive (hair vs. synthetic).

Then there's the rules issue! In the sweeping era, outside actually striking the stone, sweeping rules were not really necessary. With the action of the brooms, so-called "snowplowing" was impossible. Making one's last sweeping stroke "away" from the path of the stone was irrelevant, of course it was away from the path of the rock!

Since the brush head was always in contact with the ice, rules had to be written to ensure that brushers did not unduly influence the natural movement of the running stone to the point that the skill of the athlete was subordinated (where have we recently heard that sentiment expressed?).

Brushing a curling stone, although a respected part of the game, for most was as much curiosity as anything else. Then Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Winter Olympic Games! That changed everything in terms of what we knew was true for brushing a curling stone. The then Canadian Curling Association (now Curling Canada) commissioned two groundbreaking studies, one was an exhaustive examination of the mechanics of the delivery (Saville Spirts Centre in Edmonton, AB) and the other was the first-of-a-kind study of brushing (University of Western Ontario in London, ON).

I'll freely admit that during weekend high performance camps, my colleagues and I only touched on brushing and sad to say that if some topic needed to be scrapped due to time constraints, often that topic was brushing. Now it's close to the head of the agenda and that's primarily due to what we learned from the UWO study.

Until that study, much of what we suggested when the topic of brushing was at hand was through participant observation (i.e. what we learned that the elite teams believed to be true). And it's that phrase "believed to be true" that was key. And to a certain extent, it still is, even in the face of the sport science we now have in the area of brushing.

So that's my first piece of advice for those of you out there who want to move your performance yardsticks down the field by being more effective brushers. Experiment! Then after examining all the styles and theories, believe what you see. Commit to it (not with blinders on to the point that you're never going to be open to new ideas) and go with it!

OK, now here's what we have learned from that brushing study referred to above, not all of it, but the parts that are relevant to the question in the title, can this work for anyone?

It can if a) your equipment (i.e. brush head) is clean and dry, no not clean, pristine and very dry b) you've spent time in the gym working on upper body and core strength (see the "Harden's" for an example) c) your technique is putting maximum pressure on the brush head (your head is directly over the brush head, your lower hand is near the point where the handle meets the brush head, your back is parallel to the ice surface and your feet, as much as possible, are outside the hip line [if someone was to come out and pull the brush out of your hands, you'd fall flat on your face]) d) you understand and make use of the sport science as it applies to brushing (see bullets below).
  • brush at 45 degrees to the path of the stone
  • the angle between your brush head and the handle of the brush is ninety degrees
  • your push stroke is much more powerful than your pull (return) stroke
  • the new fabric on the brush head seems to influence the curl of the stone
Before moving on, let's get this directional fabric issue out of the way. In the fourth bullet above, I'm not referring to the "directional fabric" that recently caused curling jurisdictions to ban certain brush heads due to their overriding effect on the path of the stone to the point that the accuracy of the delivery of the stone was subordinate to the brushing. The approved fabric does seem to create something on the ice so that if brushed according to the parameters listed above in bold and italics, it can influence the path of the stone in a manner that does NOT subordinate the accuracy of the athlete in delivering the stone.

What you're seeing on the ice in events where the very best teams are competing, is a brushing technique whereby, unless the brushing is simply to maintain stone velocity (in that case both brushers are engaged), only one brusher is active. That brusher is brushing to either influence the stone to curl, or to reduce the amount of curl. If his/her brushing partner were to be involved, the thought is that the second brusher, on the opposite side the stone and brushing in the opposite direction, is essentially working at cross purposes to his/her partner, in effect negating or at least reducing his/her effectiveness.

The TV commentators have described it well. The brusher, with his/her brush stroke is pushing the stone in the desired direction.

Let's assume a stone delivered with a counterclockwise rotation at takeout velocity. The only reason for that stone to be brushed is to reduce the amount of curl so it's the brusher on the left side of the stone who would brush, pushing the stone away from the curl path.

Now let's reduce the velocity of that counterclockwise rotating stone to draw weight, and a draw around a stationary stone (i.e. guard). The admonition of the skip is to try to make the stone curl more, so this time the only brusher would be on the right side of the stone, in essence, pushing the stone towards the curl.

That's it in a nutshell. It's not complicated. Can it work for you? Well, once again, see that paragraph above with the four aspects of brushing (equipment, fitness, technique & science) to see where you fit in! And let me know how it goes (!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

"The Great Escape"

There's a saying in sports that "sports doesn't build character as much as it reveals it". Sometimes after great athletic performances under gruelling conditions or in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, we label the participants as "heroes". Hmm, really? Heroes? It's a game! In the course of human events the outcome is of little or no consequence. Let me tell you about some real heroes, one of whom I've actually met and perhaps some of you have too but that's, the rest of the story.

As you can see by the title, this is about one of the most truly incredible feats of initiative, intelligence, perseverance, courage and down right hard physical labour in modern history. For those of you out there who have never heard of "The Great Escape", don't run to the local DVD store to watch the movie of the same name. Hollywood took much licence with the real situation at the officers only camp during the second world war known as Luft III (aka Stalag Camp Oflag III). This was not a concentration camp. It was a prisoner of war camp mostly for Allied airmen shot down by the Nazis in the second world war.

There were three "compounds" in the camp. The first constructed was the East Compound and was for British RAF and Fleet Air officers. The Centre Compound was initially built to house British sergeants but was eventually filled by American prisoners exclusively. The North Compound (where the great escape occurred) was for British airmen and the West Compound for U.S. officers. Each of the compounds was comprised of 15 single storey huts. Each huts housed 15 prisoners in five triple deck bunks in a bunk room and there were many such rooms in each hut..

The camp was designed to be "tunnel proof", or so the Nazis thought. First, each barracks was built 60 cm. off the ground to make any tunnels easily visible. Second, the camp was purposely built on very sandy, yellow soil. The sand would make tunnelling treacherous as the sand would collapse on itself as a tunnel would be dug and even if one was attempted, the sand removed to be scattered would be quite visible due to its colour. Lastly, seismographic microphones were embedded around the perimeter of the camp to detect any sounds of digging.

The first successful escape was from the East Compound. That occurred in October of 1943 when prisoners constructed a wooden vaulting "horse" which was placed in the same place in the compound each day for exercise and recreation. The real purpose was to conceal two prisoners who opened a wooden trap door to continue to dig an escape tunnel. At the end of the day's vaulting over the horse, the two diggers and the sand they removed were carried back into the barracks. The physical activity around the horse shielded the digging from the seismographic microphones. Eventually a tunnel was dug of over 30 m and three prisoners escaped to freedom on the night of Oct. 19, 1943. You can read about this amazing feat in the book, "The Wooden Horse" by Eric Williams.

In the spring of 1943, Squadron Leader Roger Bushell RAF conceived a plan for a major escape which  was planned for the nights of March, 23-25, 1944. This escape, to be known as "The Great Escape" was from the North Compound. To improve the likelihood that a tunnel would be successfully completed, it was decided to build three, "Tom, Dick & Harry". And, although most escape tunnels were built hoping to free 10 - 20 prisoners, the plan for Tom, Dick and/or Harry was to allow for the escape of over 200 prisoners. Dick's entrance was carefully hidden in a drain sump in one of the washrooms. The entrance to Harry was hidden under a stove and Tom's entrance was in the dark corner of a hall in one of the buildings.

The depth of the tunnels was 9 m below the surface and only 0.6 m square, just enough room for a prisoner to be "dollied" along its length. Chambers along the way were dug to house air pumps, a workshop and staging posts. Since the sandy soil was so unstable, the walls of the tunnels needed to be "shored up". This was accomplished using boards from the bunks. Normally, each bunk had about 20 boards but by the time the tunnels were completed, each bunk was down to 7 or 8.

Another valuable resource were the "klim" cans ("milk" spelled backwards) which arrived for the prisoners from the Red Cross. These metal containers provided many different tools for digging as well as for other purposes. Fresh air was supplied by "air pumps" made from knapsacks and hockey stick shafts.

Once Tom, Dick & Harry were started, the next challenge was to dispose of the sand. The normal method was to have various prisoners place the yellow sand into pouches made from old socks. As they walked around the compound with the sand-laden socks under their trousers, made easier by the inevitable weight loss, the sand would scatter. Sometimes larger quantities of sand were placed into gardens the prisoners were allowed to tend. In all about 200 prisoners were involved in the sand distribution project making an estimated 25,000 trips into the compound for that purpose.

The Germans sensed that something was "up" but numerous attempts to find the entrance to tunnels failed! In a "shotgun" approach to break up the possible leaders of any escape via tunnels, without notice, 19 of the top "tunnel suspects" were transferred to Stalag VIIC but of the 19, only 6 were heavily involved in tunnel construction.

As the sand dispersal became more challenging, a perceived setback actually proved beneficial when Dick's entrance was covered by a camp expansion. They used that tunnel to hide sand taken from the construction of Tom and Harry. Dick was also used as a storage place for maps, postage stamps, forged travel documents, compasses and both German military & civilian clothing. Above the entrance to Dick, a theatre was constructed and by various means, seat 13 was "hinged" directly over Dick's entrance. Problem solved!

As work on Tom and Harry proceeded, eventually the Germans discovered Tom, the 98th tunnel to be discovered in the camp. Work on Harry stopped for a cooling off period but was resumed in January, 1944. Harry was finally ready in March of that year but many of the American prisoners, many of whom had worked on Harry were relocated to a camp about 7 miles away. As a result, despite the Hollywood film of the same name, no Americans escaped via Harry. The Germans redoubled their efforts to make sure no tunnels would be constructed for possible escape. Bushell therefore ordered the escape attempt to happen as soon as Harry was ready!

Of the 600 prisoners who worked on the tunnel, only 200 were slated to escape. That group of 200 was subdivided into two groups of 100. The first group was known as "the serial offenders" and included those who spoke German, had a history of attempted escapes plus 70 who had done the most work on tunnel construction. The second 100, called the "hard arsers" drew lots to gain their inclusion and knew they would have to travel by night with minimal fake papers and equipment. They knew their chances of a successful return home were slim but slim was better than nothing!

The first moonless night came on March 24. Those allocated to escape first gathered in Hut 104 but the weather was very cold and the entrance to Harry was frozen, adding an additional one and one-half hours to the start of the escape. But the real setback came when the first escapee emerged about 15' short of the forest near a guard tower and with snow on the ground it would be easy to spot someone moving toward the trees.

Tunnel Harry.jpg

Instead of the one-man-per-minute plan, fewer than 10 could escape each hour via the dolly system that pulled a man in the prone position along the tunnel shaft. During the night there was a brief power outage and a partial tunnel collapse but despite these challenges, 76 prisoners escaped before the 77th was spotted by a guard.

The Germans began a frantic search for Harry's entrance and thankfully, Hut 104 was one of the last to be searched, giving sufficient time for forged documents to be burned. One German guard volunteered to crawl through Harry to its entrance but became trapped near the entrance, only to be freed by some prisoners who revealed Harry's entrance.

For the 76 successful escapees, those hoping to catch nighttime trains were unable to find the railway station entrance in the dark and had to wait until morning to learn that it was in a recess in a pedestrian tunnel. The weather that March was the coldest and snowiest in 30 years making travel through the cover of the forest all but impossible so road travel had to be risked. Of the 76 who escaped, all but three were captured and returned to the camp.

When the Germans took an inventory of the camp they discovered that among the missing "items" were; 4,000 bed boards, 90 double bunk beds, 635 mattresses, 192 bed covers, 161 pillow cases, 52 20-man tables, 10 singles tables, 34 chairs, 76 benches, 1,121 bed bolsters, 1.370 beading battens, 1,219 knives, 478 spoons, 582 forks, 69 lamps, 246 water cans, 30 shovels, 300 m of electric wire, 180 m of rope, 3,424 towels, 1,700 blankets and more than 1,400 klim cans.

As you might imagine, Hitler was enraged at this bold escape attempt and initially wanted all 73 escapees to be shot. In the end 50 were, including Roger Bushell. The three successful escapees were Per Bergsland & Jens Muller from Norway and Bram van der Stock from Holland.

And now for the rest of the story!

Perhaps the last remaining Great Escape survivor resides in Edmonton, AB, Canada. He is Gordon (Gordie) King. The 95 (almost 96) year old King reports that he was number 141 on the list of escapees and operated the pump that sent fresh air into the tunnel. What a fitting task for a Canadian given that the air pumps were made of knapsacks and hockey stick shafts! He considers himself honoured to be counted among a group of men who, under the greatest of obstacles, through will, determination, courage and initiative, showed the world what they were made of.

Most of you reading this will know that the surname "King" is well known in the curling world and belongs to Cathy King, the current skip of the national women's senior team who will wear the Maple Leaf next April in Fredericton.* You see, Gordie King is Cathy's father!

I had the opportunity to meet Mr. King at last season's national senior championships in Abbotsford, BC. The meeting was very brief and at the time I did not know his connection with "The Great Escape". I plan to be in Edmonton at some point this curling season to train with Cathy's team as we prepare to defend the gold medal at the World Senior Curling Championship and I hope to have a longer chat with this "hero" to learn more about the great escape.

For now Mr. King, on behalf of myself and I'm sure millions of Canadians in this eleventh month when we set aside a time to remember what courage and sacrifice is really all about, thank you! It's a debt we'll never be able to fully repay.

* Cathy and her team from Edmonton were successful in Fredericton!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

It's Hard Work. It's No Fun. But The Rewards Are Off The Charts!

Well now, isn't that an attractive title for what I hope will be an inspiring blog!

For those of you who are competing in our sport in hopes of advancing to playdowns and the potential rewards that await (i.e. regional, provincial and perhaps even national participation) it's getting to be crunch time.

If you're a coach, you've achieved a level of certification, you've helped the team prepare a training plan,  you've planned and helped execute on ice and off ice training sessions, you've attended a coaching seminar and, you've lost more than one night's sleep wondering if there's more than you can do to help.

As an athlete you've prepared yourself physically and nutritionally, you've attended the training sessions your coach has prepared (in some cases only those for which your life's responsibilities will allow and that's perfectly understandable), you've worked hard to be the best teammate you can be, you've maintained a daily journal of both your everyday events and those within the confines of competition, you've sacrificed some social time to be with your teammates. In other words, you've done as much as you are able to prepare yourself to contribute to the team's success.

That said, I recently looked the members of a team just like the fictional one to which this blog alludes and said the following, "The success you will enjoy both individually and collectively will depend more on what you do on your own than what you do with your teammates in team training sessions!"

With that team, I have spent a good deal of time demonstrating how to train individually, from on ice sessions with a friend and a hand-held recording device to reading publications on performance to learning how to practise making curling shots in the privacy of the athlete's dwelling place through mental rehearsal.

But, I always added that it's hard work, it's no fun but the rewards are off the chart!

You see, everyone wants to win/perform.
Some even know what it takes to do so.
Few are willing to do what it takes!

When you stand in front of the mirror, you can't fool the person who stares back at you. That person knows if you're in the last group! Knowing what it takes to perform is my responsibility. Being willing to do what it takes to perform is the athlete's responsibility.

Only one men's team and one women's team will win the world championship in each of the categories for which world championships are contested. Does that mean that every other team failed? Of course not! That would make competitive participation meaningless if that were the case and thankfully it's not because, to use an of-cited phrase, "It's not the destination. It's the journey"!

Those rewards to which I referred are not the medals, crests and banners that are the spoils of victory for all to see, it's the person you know you've become as a result of the preparation for competing and the lessons learned by competing.

There's a quote on the title page of my coaching manual ("A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion") that states it better than I ever could (author unknown) and I'll leave you with it as my best advice for performance success.

The duration of an athletic contest may only be a few minutes, while the training for it may take many weeks or months of hard work and continuous exercise of self effort.

The real value of sport is not in the actual game played in the limelight of applause but the hours of dogged determination and self discipline carried out alone, imposed and supervised by and exacting conscience.

The applause soon dies away. The prize is left behind. But the character you build is yours forever!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Four 62's & One 50

I’ve written about this before but given the fervor around game #5 of the recent American League Division Series between Toronto and Texas and the 7th inning of that game in particular, I think a reexamination of those pesky w’s & l’s is in order. If you are truly a recreational participant who doesn’t give a “flying fidoo” (to use a favourite term of the host of the very popular radio programme “Prime Time Sports”, Bob McCown) about win’s and losses, find something else to do, this doesn’t apply.

For the 99.9999 % of you who, regardless of your activity of choice, keep score, this IS for you. I’ll begin with a question, the key question. Just how much do you care about the final score of the sport you love to play, be it individual or team oriented? I completely understand and accept that even though score is kept, for some, it has very little relevance, while for others, it can mean the world. I get that!

But let’s put ourselves somewhere in the middle of this conundrum. The score of the game does have some import. When we win, there’s a measure of satisfaction and when we lose, it’s not the most pleasant feeling in the world. I’m sensing that most of you are in this category. I know I am. So let’s have a look at winning & losing and how to deal with these two impostors (with apologies to Rudyard Kipling).

To do this, I will reprise my “baseball analogy” for those who have not been exposed to it and it has great relevance on this Oct. 15 because yesterday, at The Rogers Centre, history was made on a variety of levels as one team moved on and the other is on its way home.

The Baseball Analogy

At the beginning of the baseball season, a season that’s truly a marathon of 162 games, 81 at home and 81 on the road, I can meet with the best team in major league baseball and make the claim that despite its best efforts, high degree of skill, experience and talent, it’s going to lose a minimum of 50 games. If I can say that to the very best team in MLB then I can say that to every team.

On the other hand, I can meet with the worst team in MLB prior the start of that 162 game season and announce to the team that despite its short comings, for sure it will win a minimum of 50 games. If I can say that to the worst team in baseball it would hold that I could say that to all the teams in both major leagues.

So, of the 162 games, 100 of them, for all intents and purposes, are pre-determined. Each team has no idea which of the 50 it’s about to experience as it begins a game, but when the game is over, each team will know if it was a 50, 50 or 62!

It might have been a game in which clearly and objectively it was the better team but for some twist of fate, their opponent snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Fortunately, those games are balanced off by an equal number in which the team walks of the field, court, ice etc., knowing full well it has just been handed a win, again due to some unfortunate circumstance befalling its opponent who clearly should have won the game. It happens to everyone. It’s the nature of sport.

Thankfully there will be games after which the team knows, that its opponent just played better and were deserving of the w and others where it knew it had played well, better than its opponent and knew the w on its side of the ledger was legitimately earned.

Point to be made is this. When the game ends, determine if the outcome was one of the 50’s or a 62. If it was one of the 50’s, don’t dwell too much on it. In other words, don’t read too much into it. If was one of the 62 and you won the game, know why you won. What did you do better than your opponent and how did that performance by the team compare to your standard of performance? If you lost the game, spend time identifying your short comings but most importantly, as I’ve stated on many occasions, don’t lose the lesson!

In the ALDS involving Toronto & Texas, there were five games played. Four of them were in the 62 category, not my opinion but that of the manager of the losing team in all four games. Manager John Gibbons of the Toronto Blue Jays flat out stated that in the two home games that kicked off the five game series, Texas played better! Jeff Bannister of the Texas Rangers when with the series victory one win away at home, stated much the same after two Blue Jay road wins.

With the ALDS on the line, the series’ final game took place at The Rogers Centre. There was a measure of concern for Blue Jay fans when those Rangers of Arlington Texas, jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. It looked too much like the start of those home losses in games #1 & #2. But the Jays tied the score leading to what will go down in Blue Jay history as the most note worthy inning in the team’s history, at least to this point.

For those Canadians having their wisdom teeth pulled or where otherwise occupied, there’s what happened. In the top of the inning, the Rangers managed to get a runner to third base. Russell Martin, the BJ’s native Canadian catcher, in attempting to return the ball to the pitcher, inadvertently struck the bat of the Ranger hitter, who was in the batter’s box, extending his batting arm, preparing for the next pitch. He in no way attempted to interfere with catcher Martin’s return throw to his battery mate. But the ball deflected off the bat and before it could be retrieved the Ranger base runner sprinted home with the go ahead run and given the inning and the low score, potentially with the series winning run. Interestingly enough, the first reaction of the home plate umpire was to wave his arms indicating a dead ball. Although after a meeting with his five colleagues, he realized that the rule to be applied allowed the run to be scored, much to the chagrin of the almost 50 000 spectators, some of whom embarrassed themselves by throwing debris toward the field. That rule, correctly applied, is a bad rule. The umpire’s first instinct said it all, the ball should be “dead”, no runners to advance but that’s for another time.

As the bottom of the same inning commenced, a comedy of errors on the part of the Rangers allowed the tying run to cross the plate. With two on base, the team’s long time spiritual leader and home run hitter, Jose Bautista, launched a rocket not just toward the third deck in left field, it almost relocated the third deck. It made the score 6-3 and despite a mini uprising by the Rangers in the late stages of the game, the Blue Jays secured the ALDS title by that 6-3 score.

In my view the BJ’s were outplayed. Not by much, but by enough that the Rangers should be headed to Kansas City on Friday to begin the American League Championship Series and a possible berth in the World Series, not the Blue Jays. The chances of a team committing  three back-to-back errors in the same inning in MLB is akin to every member of that team winning a power ball lottery.

It’s been said that “luck is where preparation meets opportunity”. There’s no question in my mind that the Blue Jays were lucky but Jose Bautista made the most of his opportunity and the BJ relief pitchers closed the door. The key point here is chronology. Without the incredible string of uncharacteristic “unforced” errors*, Bautista’s opportunity would likely have never materialized. But it did! Way to go Jose!!!!

So ends the 2015 ALCS between the Blue Jays of Toronto and the Rangers of Arlington, Texas. It was a great series, four 62’s and a 50!

* Of those 3 back-to-back Texas errors, one was influenced by Russell Martin as he made his way to 2nd base. He knew the throw was coming from 1st base and the replay showed he altered his path just enough to make the throw more difficult!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Packers or Patriots?

I grew up an NFL fan in general and my "team" was the Green Bay Packers and it still is even though living where I do, only a few hours from Seattle, I do have a leaning toward those neon green and blue Seahawks.

I'm well aware that professional sports teams are really collections of independent business people who just happen to be under contract to the same employer. I know that's a pretty dispassionate way to look at one's "home team" but I do try to always remember that as players get traded and in the case of "free agency", pack up and play for someone else's "home team", they're really playing for themselves.

But when I DO put on my fan hat, I reminded that the word "fan" is an abbreviation for the word "fanatic" and when one's psyche is in that realm, well, the light in which one sees his/her home team is quite different (see current "Blue Jay" fan). It's in that light that I write this first section of today's blog.

I liked Green Bay as a teenager because, long before Coach Vince Lombardi became the legend he is, I liked his coaching philosophy and style. I liked the fact that Green Bay, WI was, and still is, the smallest geographic entity by far to have an NFL franchise.

I have a pennant that I purchased at Lambeau Field, the home of the Green Bay Packers that identified the team's nickname as emblematic of the Green Bay Packing Co., a sort of local forerunner to UPS and Fedex. It's worth noting that in this age of stadia identified by large corporations (i.e. The Rogers Centre, Citi-Bank Field, The United Centre etc.), it's still Lambeau Field (named after long time coach, Curly Lambeau). The franchise is owned by the City of Green Bay, WI not some billionaire industrialist or business person who owns a sports franchise as either just another business opportunity or to fulfill a need to be close to world class athletes with the money to do so.

The people of Green Bay, WI really are fanatic about their team! If you are a resident of Green Bay, and wish to do so, and most do, your name can be placed into a lottery for tickets to a Green Bay Packers home game. You see, the top two rows at Lambeau Field are set aside for those lucky Green Bay residents whose names are drawn for those tickets. That's a lot of seats if you know Lambeau Field. I'm told that if your name is in that ticket lottery, the likelihood of getting tickets is quite good!

Fans come into Green Bay, WI on "game day" from all over the state. Three times the seating capacity of the stadium arrive in Green Bay, filling parking lots all over the city, firing up their portable generators and bar-b-q's for "tailgate parties" to watch the game on TV and to feel part of the whole Green Bay Packers atmosphere. I've been in Green Bay on game day. I've seen it up close and personal. It's hard to describe but the aroma of those famous "brats" fills the air to say nothing of the well known adult beverage to wash them down!

A group of national coaches from the Canadian Curling Association conducted a high performance camp in Green Bay on the weekend of a Packers home game. I happened to arrive at the Green Bay Airport on the last flight of the day. As usual, I waited to be the last person off the plane and by the time I arrived at customs (long before there was "homeland security"), I was alone with the only customs agent on duty. As luck would have it, the well known quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, Brett Favre, had just announced his retirement (the first time). Needless to say, the entire city of Green Bay was abuzz with this news. In essence, a sense of panic had engulfed the city. The aforementioned customs agent looked friendly enough so I thought I'd use Favre's retirement announcement to have some fun with him. When he asked about the nature of my business in Green Bay, I leaned toward him and in my best 007 voice said, "Well I guess I have to tell you the truth. I'm a retired quarterback in the Canadian Football League. Brett Favre's been traded to a CFL team for me and cash." Without missing a beat, he paused, looked me over and in a vary matter-of-fact voice said, "I hope it was a lot of cash!" We both laughed, although me not so much!

On the field, the Green Bay Packers were a machine! There were no surprises when you played the Packers. Every opponent knew exactly what the offensive and defensives schemes and alignments were going to be. It was common knowledge around the league at the time of Coach Lombardi that the Green Bay Packers' "playbook" was the thinnest in the league. It was not complicated! The Packers challenged you to stop them. There was no trickery! They just did what every else did but did it so well, they were unbeatable. It was not lost on me and many NFL fans that it didn't hurt to have players like QB Bart Starr, running back Paul Hornung and offensive linemen like Fuzzy Thurston.

Although the Green Bay Packers of today are not a carbon copy of the Packers I knew those many years ago, the legacy of those teams of the 1960's and 70's is still alive on the shore of Lake Michigan. The Packers of 2015 will not dazzle you with fancy plays. They have at the controls, arguably one of the best, if not the best player in the league in the person of Aaron Rodgers, last year's MVP. Like their predecessors, they just go what they do very well. Had it not been for the most unfortunate of circumstances in the late stages of last year's NFC championship game versus those aforementioned Seahawks of Seattle, the gold and green clad squad from Green Bay, WI would have been the opponent of the New England Patriots in last year's Super Bowl.

Which brings me to the other side of the title coin, Robert Kraft's New England Patriots and notably their quarterback, Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belichick. I very much respect this franchise. It's hard not to! Their record speaks for itself although with some of the shenanigans attributed to Coach Belichick of late, my respect for him and his win-at-all-costs philosophy does taint his image in my view (save the comments please if you disagree). But what separates the Patriots is their style.

Unlike the Packers, the Patriots go about their business on the field by using tactics that most teams do not employ. It's hard to prepare to play against the New England Patriots quite simply because you're not sure what they're going to do and how they're going to do it. Make no mistake, it's really difficult to play like the Patriots. The offensive and defensive plays and schemes change on a regular basis. You have to have great coaches and talented, smart players to make it work, and that's what they have. Coach Belichick's assistant coaches are empowered to do what they do and do it well, with no interference from him during a game. Everyone just does his job according to the game plan established for that contest, which might be very different for their next opponent.

Your curling team needs to make a decision. Are you going to play like the Green Bay Packers or like the New England Patriots? Are you going to employ the tactics that virtually every other team in your competitive environment uses, stating to all that you're going to just be better than everyone else or are you going to be more like the New England Patriots and keep your opponents guessing as just how you're going to go about your business? There's no value judgment here! One way will be better for your team but I feel strongly that not enough teams consider the option. It's so easy to just follow the herd and do things the way everyone else does!

Let's begin with your team alignment. If you, by default, aligned your team in the traditional lead, second. third/mate, skip format, there may be absolutely nothing wrong with that. But, was that "division of labour" the result of a thorough examination of the skills that each member of the team brings to the table or did you set your team in that configuration because, well, that's what most everyone else does so if it's good enough for the vast majority of teams, it must be good enough for you?

My beloved Green Bay Packers of yesteryear did things the way every other team did them, but as mentioned above, they did those things so much better, there was really no need to be innovative. We have the sport science now that indicates, for example, that the person who delivers the last two stones of the end may not be the one who's also charged with the responsibility to determine the team's approach to strategy & tactics and who has been relatively inactive until the time in the end when he/she must deliver those stones. Is your best brusher standing in the house most of the time? Is your best strategist and tactician playing a position putting him/her away from the house? Which two players on your team make the best brushing combination? I could go on but I believe you're getting the picture!

And, since I've raised the issue about "strategy & tactics", especially re. tactics, are you executing your plan (strategy) using the same types of shots (tactics) as everyone else in your competitive environment?

I'm actually coaching a team this season as a way of helping a dear friend who is having knee surgery next month. I was always this team's advisor coach so in essence, we're temporarily switching roles. The impetus for this blog comes from my work with this team who have recently made the decision about the way the team wishes to play. The team has examined the way the Green Bay Packers would decide to curl and the way the New England Patriots might approach a curling game. The team has made a commitment!

You need to consider the way you play and make the same commitment! It doesn't matter which way you go on this, the key is to make sure you've taken a good hard look at your team and the options available to it. Make a good decision! Your competitive future just might depend on it!

Monday, September 14, 2015

When Did This Become Acceptable?

I did not see the women's final in yesterday's Tour Challenge Grand Slam event but I knew the outcome especially as it unfolded in the game's last end and in particular on the game's last shot. When I returned home to watch a replay of the last end of the game, I was disappointed in what happened after the last stone came to rest. I was prepared to just shake my head but it bothered me all night.

It's not difficult to construct the situation. Team Homan was up one with last stone advantage. Team Tirinzoni was counting two on either side of the eight foot circle. Skip Homan had a reasonably open path to the four foot to draw for the win but choose to play to one of the yellow handled Tirinzoni stones to secure the victory.

Having not seen the game I won't comment on Rachel's tactic of playing to the opposition stone as opposed to the draw (the ice and atmosphere conditions in the building were less than ideal it appeared) but suffice to say that her shot curled more than anticipated, leaving the team from Switzerland counting two and winning the title.

Naturally, given the magnitude of the victory, to say nothing of its attendant monetary reward, including the surprising way it came about, Team Tirinzoni had to be feeling over the moon with elation. But even though the release of emotion tells you to let the feeling out, on the ice, in front of the team that just lost the game (it could be argued that Team Tirinzoni did not win the game, Team Homan lost the game) the right thing to do is to simply shake hands, enjoy a group hug and save the wild celebration for later.

But that does not appear to be the current culture of sport today! The wild celebration that took place on the ice immediately following the last shot seems to be accepted. If that's the case, I now can say I'm officially "old school". That is not OK with me!

It's about respecting one's opponent and how he/she/they might be feeling. I could argue too that it's about class and professionalism. And there's another aspect as well. You might be playing the team you just disrespected down the line. Athletes have long memories. Your rather thoughtless action of today might just provide your opponent with that extra bit of incentive when they next meet you on the ice. That puts your ill-timed celebration into the less than prudent category as well.

Just because standards change, it doesn't mean you have to change with them. The right thing to do will always be available. Make the right choice!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Enemy At The Gate

If sports is a religion in North America, and for the most part it is in my view, sad to say on some levels, if there is one thing that can destroy what for millions of people is an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life, it's the realization that the contests which generate all that interest and the revenue that comes with it, are fixed. No sports league can tolerate betting. It's about the only thing that can kill that goose that lays the golden egg!

Each of the four major teams sports in North America have safeguards which are designed to prevent those who would gain personally from establishing a system whereby the outcome of the games is contrived. For Major League Baseball (MLB) it's rule 21 (d). That rule is in every major league club house for all to read (in two languages) whether they be player, umpire or anyone connected with MLB who can influence the outcome of games. There is even a section of rule 21 which refers to those involved in the game who are not in a position to affect the outcomes.

For anyone caught violating rule 21, the consequence is "baseball death" (i.e. you are declared permanently ineligible from further participation in MLB)! The key consequence if you are a player is ineligibility for consideration for the baseball "Hall of Fame".

I think most if not all would agree that this most severe of consequences is essential for a professional sport to protect itself.

Enter one Peter Edward Rose, the only player to have been proven and admitted (albeit after a prolonged period of denial) to have violated rule 21 (d) in the modern area (Google "Black Sox Scandal").

Pete the player had no parallel, especially when it came to hitting the ball, the signature skill in the game. As his career entered the back nine, his election to the baseball "Hall of Fame" was considered a certainty, most likely on the first ballot with perhaps 100% of the voters placing him in the Cooperstown shrine.

But, as foreshadowed above, Rose's personal Achilles heal reared its ugly head when Rose, completing his playing days for his beloved Cincinnati Reds, was named the team's manager. And, in the initial stages, Pete was the "playing manager". He didn't play regularly, as you might imagine, but he did play and it seems that during those days, and as we have recently learned, even before that when he was Pete Rose the player, he wagered on his team's outcomes.

Although Pete was addicted to gambling, and not the first star athlete to be so afflicted, his betting spilled over into the sport he loved (his words, not mine) and on the team for which he pulled the managerial strings. Pete could have confined his wagering to basketball, football, hockey etc., and from what I'm lead to believe, did so, but he couldn't resist betting on the one sport for which he had an influence on its outcome!

When Pete finally admitted to betting on this team, he contended it was only for his team to "win", not lose. For many of Rose's fans and admirers, that was all they needed to know asserting that to bet that your team would win is the ultimate statement of one's desire to excel. That's where the problem begins!

Had Pete been a journeyman player, with an undistinguished career who took over the managerial reins of his team and bet on the outcome of baseball games, many of you out there who are going to the wall to "forgive and forget" wouldn't even contemplate doing so. Your instinct would kick in to protect the most important element of the integrity of the game, the notion that the outcome has not been predetermined, because when the outcome is "fixed", much, if not all of the interest in the game vanishes, along with the money the game generates. Its records and "Hall of Fame" become meaningless. Ultimately betting is the cancer that kills sport.

It's why I have to shake my head when Rose still expresses his "love" of baseball and openly seeks his inclusion into its "Hall of Fame". Rose doesn't care about baseball! He had a chance to demonstrate that, in part by not violating its most important regulation and to fall on his sword and accept what he did for what it is, and be a role model for anyone else in his position who contemplates betting on baseball. As for his inclusion into the "Hall of Fame", I'm reminded of a line from the movie "Cool Runnings", "If you're not enough without the gold medal, you'll never be enough with it!". Substitute "Hall of Fame" for "gold medal" in that line and it's all you need to know about Pete Rose.

But let's go back to Pete's insistence that he only bet on his team to win. As previously stated, on the surface, it seems almost harmless but a more careful consideration leaves disturbing questions.

Why didn't Rose bet on all the games in which the team played? When he didn't bet, did he manage that game with all the competitive instincts at his disposal or did he manage in such as way so that he could enhance the likelihood that for an upcoming game (one on which he had placed a wager), he could put a better "nine" on the field. When he placed a bet, was the size of the wager the same? When it was not, again, what did that say about the level of his competitive juices?

When you consider the ramifications of betting on one's team, it puts everything that the game means on a very slippery slope.

Another argument Pete is quite willing to allow his supports to put forth is the fact that the "Hall of Fame" is filled with rouges and scoundrels, some of whom did despicable things. But, there's one difference between Rose and those rouges and scoundrels. When those in the latter groups crossed the foul lines, they did everything in their power to win every game. A strong argument can now be made, given the evidence now unearthed, Pete didn't!

I'm all for forgiveness! People make mistakes and to provide another opportunity for a "do over" is admirable. But sometimes there simply are no "do overs" because of the implication. Those who would seek to profit by controlling the outcome of baseball games, like Rose, don't care one iota about baseball. Money is their only driving force and for many in the gaming industry (and I use that term loosely) its attainment supersedes any speck of morality. If the gaming establishment ever does get into baseball, the game will cease to exist as we know it and when the betting revenue dries up, the gaming industry will move on to its next target.

Pete Rose is the bettors' perfect foil because arguably he has no more respect for baseball then they. I'd like to forgive Pete but to do so will assuredly embolden another individual associated with baseball who like Pete, is in a position to control the outcome of games. There simply is no wiggle room in the dilemma. Pete made a conscious decision and he must live with it.

When his betting on baseball came to light, the then Commissioner of Baseball, Bart Giomatti, met with Rose, produced the irrefutable evidence (Google "Dowd Report"). Pete agreed with the declaration of permanent ineligibility and signed off on it. Two of Commissioner Giomatti's successors (Vincent and Selig) have upheld Rose's ban. At the time, that did not exclude him from being elected to the Hall of Fame but two years later that loophole was closed and anyone banned from baseball was also ineligible for its Hall of Fame.

Baseball now has a new man at the helm in the person of Rob Manfred who it seems, is at least willing to consider reinstating Rose. He will not! To do so will let those enemies of baseball, who are waiting at the gate to get their foot in the door with inevitable, negative consequences. And those of you who support Rose will be complicit!

Look, I respect what Rose did from a performance perspective. In my mind, he has "Hall of Fame" numbers. That will never change and in the mind of baseball fans who either saw him play or historically appreciate his skills, he will always have a place in list of the games best players. But that's where he should remain.

As fans we make a critical error in judgement when it comes to our "heroes". Because they have been given extraordinary skills to play a sport, we apply other qualities by default. In the case of Rose, I'd argue that Pete is not a candidate for inclusion into this local MENSA chapter. I really don't think, after all these years, he gets it!

If Pete really cared about baseball, he would stop asking for reinstatement because when he does, it demonstrates his real motive! Don't let Pete draw you in!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Your Kid & My Kid Are Not Playing in the Pros

A "thank you" to Cathy King and Cori Bartel Morris for alerting me to this thought provoking article.

Your Kid and My Kid Are Not Playing in the Pros

- Dr. Louis M. Profeta

    I don't care if your eight year old can throw a baseball through six inches of plywood. He is not going to the pros. I don't care if your twelve-year-old scored seven touchdowns last week in Pop Warner. He is not going to the pros. I don't care if your sixteen-year-old made first team all-state in basketball. He is not playing in the pros. I don't care if your freshman in college is a varsity scratch golfer, averaging two under par. He isn't playing in the pros. Now tell me again how good he is. I'll lay you two to one odds right now — and I don't even know your kid, I have never even see them play — but I'll put up my pension that your kid is not playing in the pros. It is simply an odds thing. There are far too many variables working against your child. Injury, burnout, others who are better — these things are just a fraction of the barriers preventing your child from becoming "the one."

    So how do we balance being the supportive parent who spends three hours a day driving all over hell's half acre to allow our child to pursue his or her dream without becoming the supportive parent that drives all over hell's half acre to allow our child to pursue OUR dream? When does this pursuit of athletic stardom become something just shy of a gambling habit? From my experience in the ER I've developed some insight in how to identify the latter.

    1. When I inform you as a parent that your child has just ruptured their ACL ligament or Achilles tendon, if the next question out of your mouth is, "How long until he or she will be able to play?" you have a serious problem.

    2. If you child is knocked unconscious during a football game and can't remember your name let alone my name but you feel it is a "vital" piece of medical information to let me know that he is the starting linebacker and that the team will probably lose now because he was taken out of the game, you need to see a counselor.

    3. If I tell you that mononucleosis has caused the spleen to swell and that participation in a contact sport could cause a life threatening rupture and bleeding during the course of the illness and you then ask me, "If we just get some extra padding around the spleen, would it be OK to play?" someone needs to hit you upside the head with a two by four.

    4. If your child comes in with a blood alcohol level of .250 after wrecking your Lexus and you ask if I can hurry up and get them out of the ER before the police arrive so as not to run the risk of her getting kicked off the swim team, YOU need to be put in jail.

    I bet you think I'm kidding about the above patient and parent interactions. I wish I were, but I'm not. These are a fraction of the things I have heard when it comes to children and sports. Every ER doctor in America sees this. How did we get here? How did we go from spending our family times in parks and picnics, at movies and relatives houses to travel baseball and cheerleading competitions? When did we go from being supportive to being subtly abusive?

    Why are we spending our entire weekends schlepping from county to county, town to town, state to state to play in some bullshit regional, junior, mid-west, southeast, invitational, elite, prep, all- state, conference, blah, blah, blah tourney? We decorate our cars with washable paint, streamers, numbers and names. We roll in little carpool caravans trekking down the interstate honking and waiving at each other like Rev. Jim Jones followers in a Kool-Aid line. Greyhounds, Hawks, Panthers, Eagles, Bobcats, Screaming Devils, Scorching Gonads or whatever other mascot adorns their jerseys. 

    Somewhere along the line we got distracted, and the practice field became the dinner table of the new millennium. Instead of huddling around a platter of baked chicken, mashed potatoes and fruit salad, we spend our evenings handing off our children like 4 x 200 batons. From baseball practice to cheerleading, from swimming lessons to personal training, we have become the "hour-long" generation of five to six, six to seven, and seven to eight, selling the souls of our family for lacrosse try-outs. But why do we do this?

    It's because, just like everyone else, we're afraid. We are afraid that Emma will make the cheerleading squad instead of Suzy and that Mitch will start at first base instead of my Dillon. But it doesn't stop there. You see, if Mitch starts instead of Dillon then Dillon will feel like a failure, and if Dillon feels like a failure then he will sulk and cower in his room, and he will lose his friends because all his friends are on the baseball team, too, and if he loses his friends then he will start dressing in Goth duds, pierce his testicles, start using drugs and begin listening to headbanging music with his door locked. Then, of course, it's just a matter of time until he's surfing the net for neo-Nazi memorabilia, visiting gun shows and then opening fire in the school cafeteria. That is why so many fathers who bring their injured sons to the ER are so afraid that they won't be able to practice this week, or that he may miss the game this weekend. Miss a game, you become a mass murderer — it's that simple.

    Suzy is a whole other story, though. You see, if she doesn't make the cheerleading squad she will lose a whole bunch of friends and not be as popular as she should (and she's REAL popular). If she loses some friends, she will be devastated — all the cool kids will talk about her behind her back, so then she'll sit in her room all day, eating Ding Dongs and cutting at her wrists. Then, of course, it is only a matter of time until she is chatting on the Internet with fifty-year-old men and meeting up with them at truck stops. And that is why every mother is so frightened when her daughters have mononucleosis or influenza. Miss cheerleading practice for a week, and your daughter is headed for a career in porn. It's that simple.

    We have become a frightened society that can literally jump from point A to point Z and ignore everything in between. We spend so much time worrying about who might get ahead — and if we're falling behind — that we have simply lost our common sense. Myself included.

    There was a time when sick or injured children were simply sick or injured children. They needed bed rest, fluid, antibiotics and a limitation on activity. They just needed to get better. They didn't NEED to get better.

    I know, I know. Your family is different. You do all these things because your kid loves to compete, he loves the travel basketball, she loves the swim team, it's her life, it's what defines him. Part of that is certainly true but a big part of that isn't. Tens of thousands of families thrive in this setting, but I'm telling you, from what I've seen as a clinician, tens of thousands don't. It is a hidden scourge in society today, taxing and stressing husbands, wives, parents and children. We're denying children the opportunity to explore literally thousands of facets of interests because of the fear of the need to "specialize" in something early, and that by not doing this your child will somehow be just an average kid. How do we learn to rejoice in the average and celebrate as a whole society the exceptional? I'm not sure, but I know that this whole preoccupation is unhealthy, it is dysfunctional and is as bad as alcoholism, tobacco abuse, or any other types of dependency.

    I would love to have a son that is a pro athlete. I'd get season tickets; all the other fathers would point at me and I might get a chance to meet Sandy Koufax. It isn't going to happen, though. But you know what I am certain will happen? I'll raise self-reliant kids, who will hang out with me when I'm older, remember my birthday, care for their mother, take me to lunch and the movies, buy me club level seats at Yankee Stadium on occasion, call me at least four times a week and let me in on all the good things in their life, and turn to me for some comfort and advice for all the bad things. I am convinced that those things just will not happen as much for parents of the "hour-long" generation. You can't create a sense of family only at spring and Christmas break. It just won't happen. Sure, the kids will probably grow up to be adequate adults. They'll reflect on how supportive you were by driving them to all their games and practices and workouts. They'll call the ER from a couple states away to see how mom's doing but in time you'll see that something will be missing, something that was sacrificed for a piano tutor, a pitching coach, a travel soccer tournament. It may take years, but in time, you'll see.
    Dr.Louis M. Profeta is an Emergency Physician practicing in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Patient in Room Nine Says He's God

    Monday, March 23, 2015

    But At What Expense?

    I'm writing this amidst the Canadian Interuniversity Sport curling championships in my hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo, ON and at my home curling facility (The K-W Granite Club although the "new" facility, very near the campus of the University of Waterloo, is not where I played, that was at the original site on Agnes St. in Kitchener). What a delight it is to not only represent "Curling Canada" at this prestigious event but to be "home"!

    We are well into the "Season of Champions", seeing world class athletes in the sport of curling dazzle us with their skill and what skill it is! But just as it's not the best idea in the curling world to try to learn strategy by watching TV, it can be equally risky to make changes to your curling delivery that way as well. What?

    "But Bill, you just said these athletes are the best at what they do didn't you?"

    "Yes I did, or at least implied same. But you should not infer that they are the best because of the way they deliver the rock."

    I say this wherever I go. Some curlers, golfers, tennis players, lawn bowlers (insert sport here) are very, very good not because of their technique but in spite of it! Let's get one thing out of the way right now. You don't have enough money to pay me for me to tell you which athletes I feel are in the in spite of category so don't even try! :)

    We are all different physically. Body proportions can be all over the map. Stage of development plays a major role. There are countless reasons why no two athletes will meet the same motor challenge and look exactly the same in doing so.

    When I started my career at the K-W Granite Club (on Agnes St.), I had no role models, zero! I knew no one who curled, no one! It was the sport that attracted me, not anyone who played the sport. There was no TV curling. Most of you who read my blogs regularly know the story. The K-W Granite Club was on my way home from high school. That's all it took for me and attending the 1962 Brier at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. When I started playing, I copied the two best curlers at the club (Shelly Uffelman & Carl Thiel). I patterned my delivery after theirs. Thankfully, the person who suggested that to me, knew what he was talking about. It set me on the right technical path. I've still never had a curling lesson (stop the snickering right now).

    Role models can be dangerous, helpful, but dangerous. If you want to pattern your delivery after someone you admire, make sure you do it with some measure of reason because, not to sound like a broken record, many elite athletes are that way not because ...

    So what does it matter if there's an "anomaly" (I hesitate to use the word "flaw") in one's curling delivery? Well, here's what matters!

    The whole idea of taking a lesson when one begins anything is simple. It's not to tell you how to do something, it's to ensure you don't do something that when once engrained, is going to either cause performance issues down the road when physical prowess begins it's descent and will be difficult to "unlearn" once those neural pathways have been established or you're going to expend an inordinate amount of time overcoming that delivery issue. It's why it's so challenging to do something different after doing it another way for so long. It's hard to unlearn something from a motor perspective. The first step in my view is to be convinced that the new way of doing something IS a better way (I've written about this a few times in the past).

    Overcoming a technical anomaly (are we OK with that term?) means extra training/practice. Those elite athletes that I see on TV with those, ahem, anomalies, have one thing in common, an unbelievable practice regimen. They must! They need to practice to overcome that flaw (oops). That takes extra time, time that might be spent on team dynamics, physical preparation, mental preparation etc. There'a price to be paid and it can be a heavy one!

    Then there's the birthday candle syndrome. Frankly, some of those athletes with the technical challenge(s) (perhaps a better word eh?) will see the onset of the decline in skill set because they can no longer, simply through fewer birthday candles on the cake, mask it. Often athletes with technical issues see their competitive careers hit the wall much earlier than their peers with better mechanics. One excellent example of that was the great golfers Sam Snead and Ben Hogan who had long careers that many felt were due to excellent mechanics.

    When I instructed at summer camps, I would caution my 15-16 yr. old females that their ratio of strength to flexibility will never in their lives be in the balance it is at that age. They can hide technical flaws relatively easily because of that one time ratio. But, when they should be challenging teams for the right to play in the Scotties at age 25 or so, and that ratio of strength to flexibility is not the way it was at 15-16, that technical issue really becomes an issue! It's much like the Fram Oil Filter TV commercial* of many, many years ago, "You can pay me know or pay me later!". If you're a young athlete and a knowledgeable instructor makes a technical suggestion when you're in this age group, I encourage you to make the change now rather than later.

    Bottom line is this, make sure your delivery works for you not against you! Give yourself the benefit of the sport science and experience of others, both players and coaches, who will help you set the right course of action for you as you develop your skills.

    And, given the date on the calendar, it's worth another mention to you that despite common belief, the best time to take a really hard look at your technical skills is now! Don't wait until you put the golf clubs away and you start to think about curling in late September or October. That's too late but better late than never certainly applies. Now is the best time. You have the past season(s) vividly etched in your memory and for most, as leagues draw to a close, you have the time and in most cases, there's extra ice available. Not only that, so are my colleagues, who will be willing to provide an experienced and trained eye. But the best part about time is the duration between now and the start of the season because it takes time to be convinced that it's a better way to deliver a curling stone. Then, when the next season does roll around, you just can't wait to play with a new and improved curling delivery!

    Don't waste this most valuable portion of the curling season!

    * Just for fun I went to YouTube and there it was, from 1972! Check it out! It's a simple, but great commercial and I believe it sold a lot of oil filters!

    This just in from my good friend, and accomplished curler from Calgary, Guy Scholz who made me aware of the following; Ted William, arguably the most technically correct batter ever once said, "There is a difference between a hitch and a flaw. A technical hitch is OK if it doesn't mess with a fundamental, but a technical flaw can destroy your swing."
    You're correct Guy when you suggest that Ted's statement might also hold for curling!