Pat Sanders … Hall of Famer

Blessed is the coach who gets to work with athletes of the calibre of one Pat Sanders, newly inducted athlete into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame. What you read below is taken from the Curl BC Connection, an online newsletter put out by the staff at the head office in Richmond, BC. Pat was asked five questions. You’ll read her wonderfully entertaining, insightful and educational responses below but I’m going to embellish a little, something of the rest of the story which Pat is too modest to tell. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did working with Pat Sanders, Hall of Famer!

I received an email from Pat when her senior ladies team of Cheryl Noble, Roz Craig (you’ll read more about this lady below) and Christine Jurgenson won the 2008 BC Senior Women’s Provincial Championship and were preparing for senior nationals. She asked if I had some time to meet with them at the Victoria CC for a few hours. Little did I know, that few hours was the genesis of a relationship with four exceptional people to say nothing of them as elite athletes.

To say “we hit if off” immediately would be putting it mildly. The “chemistry” about which you’ll read was there right from the start. In fact when after two national and an equal number of senior world championships, I would get asked about the team, although I could identify a number of factors that made the team great, it was always the “team dynamics” that came to mind first! If you were going to beat Team Sanders/Jurgenson (more about that soon), you had to beat the whole team, the support they demonstrated for one another was that good, I might even say rare!

From a technical perspective, yikes these women are good, was my initial reaction. My role was to make sure they trusted the skills I knew they had and the level of trust was not the same from team mate to team mate (don’t even ask). One factor that made them two time world senior champions was their level of physical fitness which showed in their second national senior championship when they started out 0-2 then “ran the table”. I could not be at the championship, they didn’t need me, but from the reports I received, they simply got stronger and stronger as the week progressed.

After that first world senior curling championship, Pat felt that due to a number of circumstances she really couldn’t devote the time required to “gear it up again”. That’s when her team mates, Cheryl, Roz and Christine approached her with an idea. “How ‘about if we took the skipping responsibilities off your shoulders, would you play?”. Pat said she would and without hesitation it was agreed that Cheryl needed to remain at third, with Pat and her “high, hard one” at second. Roz said she’d move to lead and that left Christine at the helm. Then they called me with the news. “Heh Bill, want to coach us again? Oh, by the way, except for Cheryl, we’re all playing different positions!” Well, in a nanosecond the answer was “Yes”, then I thought about the coaching challenge of coaching a new/old team. But, I shouldn’t have been concerned. They accepted their new responsibilities readily and again, since this team already knew what to do, my role was to make sure they did what they knew!

I owe Pat much gratitude for that initial email but also for something I know I will always do with teams. I call it “you-have-the-floor”! In our pre and post game meetings with the team, I noticed that whereas all the others were eager to jump into the conversation, Pat frequently was very quiet. But I could see the wheels in motion and knew she had something to say and it’s why the last item on a team meeting agenda is the aforementioned you-have-the-floor where I go around the room pointing to each player in turn inviting them to say whatever they wish. It need not pertain to the topics recently discussed. It can be about anything. That’s when Pat, after hearing all the input from her team mates and coach, had a unique ability to put a red ribbon around it or take it in a direction none of us had seen. Her contributions in those meetings and in training sessions, in reflection, were worth their weight in gold.

Enough from me. Let’s hear it from Pat!

How did you feel when you heard you were going to be inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame?

Joy and awe at the thought of joining the ranks of such a respected group of elite athletes and builders, and a feeling that I will wake up and it has all been a dream and I have just begun. I also felt relief that the hard work and sacrifices have achieved a life-long goal. There was also sadness and guilt – that it is just me being inducted and not my teammates too, because … really … where would I be without them?

Did you enjoy your trip to Ottawa for the official induction? 

The trip was a treat and very unexpected. I was able to invite Roselyn (Craig) to come with me. Each of my team mates is special and brings his/her own special imprint to the teams I have played with, but someone who can endure the pain of a torn knee while playing at an elite level through the grueling schedule of a world championship deserves to be at the CCA luncheon, don’t you think? We went to the Van Gogh Exhibit, travelled on a river cruise, had lunch with the senior men’s inductees from Alberta, and had a beaver tail and a beer in typical Canadian fashion in the buzzing metropolis of Ottawa. All in all, it was a fabulous trip and it was good to see our many hard-working and supportive friends at the CCA too.

What has been the highlight of your career?

Winning my second world championship in New Zealand with my senior ladies team. I was older and wiser and could really appreciate the journey and the achievements of my mates and friends. The first time I won with my mixed team, I was young, naive and totally awestruck. After my very first Canadians, where we finished middle of the pack and were attending the after-event, a smoke-filled hotel-room all-night party, I really did not believe Rick Folk when he said he would see me again at this level. The first Canadian championship I won was with an exceptionally strong, mature and seasoned mixed team and a feeling that this was probably the pinnacle of my curling career. My next somewhat shocking win was with my ladies team and that was such a whirlwind – it happened so fast, and I remember it as a blur-in-time, a time of extreme highs and lows, achievements, failures and exceptional stress. But really, in the end, it’s all about being a respected representative for your country and performing your absolute best at the highest level, while participating with your friends and making new friends along the way.
Since curling is a team game, what do you think is the secret to good teamwork?

Team chemistry is a must. You can put “dream teams” together, but unless they have team chemistry, the team will most likely fail. One element of this chemistry is faith in each other’s ability and another is an understanding and acceptance of team mates’ strengths and weaknesses. A third and vital element, is each individual’s willingness to accept, adapt and perform whatever role is best for the good of the team. Good teams do not always see eye to eye on game play and life play, but they always find a way of communicating and reaching a consensus that is acceptable to all, and through the good and bad, they support and understand each other and remain friends. (I would also say that team chemistry includes the coach, if there is one.)

Anything else you want to say?

As I said at the CCA luncheon, I am only the lead domino in a series of dominoes that led from Ferintosh, Alberta, to Biggar, Saskatchewan, to Endako/Fraser Lake, BC, to Victoria, BC, to many wonderful places in Canada, to Chicago, to Germany and Switzerland, to Dunedin, New Zealand and finally to St. Paul, Minnesota. The dominoes included not only these places, but all of my supporting structure of family, friends, coaches, supporters and all of my many, many, curling mates and friends who put up with my competitive nature and wacky sense of humour. So, in reality, I am not so much Pat Sanders the inductee, but Pat Sanders the persona who was melded, shaped and re-shaped over the years by all

of the dominoes that influenced her and whose induction represents all of their hard work, friendship, support and faith. So what is next? Who knows … perhaps a new line of dominoes and a new path.