I Saw It On TV

As “The Season of Champions” winds to a conclusion for the 2012-13 season, we’ve seen some remarkable performances by world class athletes in the sport of curling. In Canada, the television coverage is nothing short of amazing! The camera angles and commentary are first class, even Vic (just joking, he is so cute on those vignettes don’t you think). But, and you knew there’d be a “but”, there’s a downside to all of this and I’ve referred to it in the past, most notably in the article in “A Pane in the Glass: A Coach’s Companion” entitled, “The Dangers of Learning Curling Strategy by Watching TV” (p.183).

Those athletes you see on TV are exceptionally gifted! But (there’s that word again) the curling deliveries they demonstrate can fool you. Some, and there’s not enough money in the world to get me to identify in my mind who they are, are great curlers not “because” of their curling delivery but rather “in spite” of their delivery. How do they then perform at such high levels? Well, one has already been identified. It’s the gift they have been given and the other is a dedication to training that’s in the less than one percentile of all curlers. In some cases, when made aware of the “flaws” in their delivery, the athlete will persist as they simply don’t have the inclination to change, in most cases because they’re much too far along their career path to take the time to affect the change(s). Point taken!
What you see on TV is also the “end product” of several years of learning the basics, thereby establishing a solid ground upon which to make the subtle and not so subtle accommodations to their technique that put them in good stead in their narrow competitive environment. And that’s another aspect that frequently explains what you see them do. For many, they have competed with the same teammates for a significant period of time and in doing so, they have altered their delivery to work as best it can with those teammates. But what you don’t see or hear about is the fact that they too, when they were in your shoes began using the same “basics” you’ve been encouraged to master. Again, you’re seeing the “end product” of that learning and experience, not the beginning.

Then there’s the “p” word, practice! Those athletes you see on TV do a lot of it. And they practise with a purpose. If you recall in further scribblings, I use a four stage model for curling teams, recreational, serious, competitive and elite. Curlers in the first two categories never practise. Oh, they might, if they arrive early for a game and the ice is ready, “throw a few warm-up rocks”.  But with all due respect, that’s not practice! A competitive curler, will,  on occasion, actually reserve a sheet of ice and set time aside to “throw rocks”. Elite curlers do it regularly, and they “make curling shots”. They never just throw rocks. And that’s over and above their regular “team practices”! An elite curler will deliver more stones in practice in a season than recreational, serious and competitive curlers and their teammates will deliver in a season, in games, combined! No kidding!

Now we get to the really fun part, strategy & tactics. I won’t go into this here as that’s why I wrote the article referred to in the first paragraph, in “A Pane in the Glass: A Coach’s Companion“. Suffice to say, from a strategy & tactics perspective, the game you see those TV teams play is uncharted territory for 99.9% of curling teams. Don’t even think about it! You just don’t have their skill set nor their array of weapons.

Then there’s the brushing, and for this it’s better to actually put your backside into a seat, as many will this week here in Victoria, as the BC capital plays host to some of the best curling teams on the planet. To see the Harnden boys from the Soo brush a stone, start-to-finish is nothing short of awe inspiring. Again, what you don’t see are the hours upon hours that Ryan and E. J. spend in the gym sweating out a demanding and highly intensive training regimen.

The ice upon which they play is also not like the ice you play on at your curling centre/club but that’s a whole other story you can read about if you refer to the post of 03/15/13 (“Pampered Ice“).

So sit back, either on your couch in front of that TV or in that seat at the Save-on-Foods Arena and prepare to be amazed, but “don’t try this at home”. They’re trained professionals, or as close to that as curling allows! And to those boys from the Soo and their coach, my friend Tom Coulterman, Go Canada Go!