February 17, 2017-So You Want to Become a Competitive Curler, Do you?


I’ve purposely taken a break from the blog during January because it’s provincial playdown season.  There’s just way too much other stuff going on in the curling world to command your attention than my musings. Plus, a lot of you are doing two things: you’re either licking wounds from failed playdown runs or you’re watching all the results.


It’s to those of you watching, and not participating, to whom this blog is addressed. Now, I should clarify that previous sentence a bit.  I’m referring to those of you who are not just watching but also wondering.  Because you’ve had that moment, that epiphany.


You know what I’m talking about.  That moment when fate gives you a left-handed gift from the gods and shows you-just for a fleeting instant-that you might have a bright, undiscovered future in the game that you never realized before this moment.


Perhaps it was a singular event you experienced on your own.  Or your team played a game against a far superior opponent and performed at a level you never imagined possible.


For me it was the singular event.  The moment when an instructor, watching a 15 year old me struggling to slide without falling over, simply suggested that I turn my sliding foot slightly sideways to the left.  I was willing to try anything at that point, so I did it.  A dumbstruck kid slid, perfectly balanced, twenty feet beyond the hog line.  I was able to repeat that, consistently and suddenly there it was.  My epiphany.  I could do this! And away I went on this crazy journey, crusade-whatever you want to call it.


My point is (oh, and if you’re wondering who that instructor was so you can pin the blame on someone, he was the late Wally M’lot.  Thanks Wally) when you have that flash of insight you’ll do one of two things:  ignore it and head to the bar or you’ll be scratching your head, trying to figure out what the hell just happened and what it meant.


In short, you’re now wondering if maybe, just maybe, you could play the game at a high level, take a run at playdowns, catch lightning in a bottle and ride it all the way to glory.


Well, I’m here to tell you that you can and to also show you a different way to do it.


Look, right now our sport is spoon-feeding you an illusion that you aren’t good enough.  You can pin that blame smack dab on the WCT and a Curling Media who are busy hyping the antics and results of a select few teams in a made-for-TV series of events we all know as the Slams.  I’ve gone into detail in a previous blog about why the Slams are bad for the sport so there’s no sense rehashing them.  Suffice to say though that they are an unrealistic and unaffordable bunch of tournaments that 99% of all curlers, competitive or recreational, can’t entertain.


The overwhelming majority of you are just like me.  You have a real job and other commitments in your life that command your attention first.  Yet, you’re pretty good at something that you have fun doing and you have that irritating itch, scratching away in the back of your poor brain to stretch that talent, see where it might take you.


But reality rears its ugly head. You look at these TV events, listen to the talking heads and tell yourself there’s no way you have the time or the means to chase down that itch. It’s just not in the cards for you.


Wrong. There is a way. 


It takes a bit of time, effort and money.  But not as much as you envision when you watch a Slam.  Because the simple truth a lot of those teams don’t want you to know is this: take your thumb and index finger and hold them one inch (or 2.54 centimeters for you metric folks) apart. 


You see that small gap?  That symbolizes what separates you from them. 


Why don’t they want you to know this?  Because the fewer teams they have to play, the fewer chances are they will get eliminated.  Meaning a far easier road to national championships and Olympic trials.  These teams you watch on the glass teat (thank you Harlan Ellison for that timeless metaphor) spend a lot of money, sponsors money, trying to get to those two events.  To them the fewer teams in the way, the better.  Because they know they’re capable of having a stinker any time they step on the ice (just witness Jennifer Jones’s team’s performance in this year’s Manitoba Ladies final). 


So what ingredients are in that little gap I refer to?  What’s in the recipe for you to breach it and play at-or close to-that same level?  Well, first we have to make a few presumptions-and you need to be very honest with yourself here.


First, we have to presume that you have some ability at the game.  By this I mean a decent and, at this stage, reasonably consistent delivery and release because this is what you will hone.  You don’t have to be pretty.  But it’s important you can repeat your slide consistently.  Lee Trevino was a classic example of this in golf. He had an unorthodox swing but was so consistent he always knew what his ball would do.  And he won a lot because of it.  Google him, watch a few swings on YouTube.  You’ll shake your head in amazement.


Second, you have the desire and drive to pursue this.  You have to want to do this.  Clubs are full of talented throwers who are happy being recreational players.  And that’s great.  But if you want to stretch you have to be willing to push yourself and endure mind-numbing hours of practice, lots of games and humiliating losses.  Only desire and the inner drive to excel can overcome that.


Third, you have-in the beginning-some free time and money to donate.  Donate?  What do I mean by that?  Exactly what the word implies.  The quest you embark on requires some sacrifice time-wise and financially.  You are very likely not going to win anything for the first while, so get accustomed to no initial return on your investment.  That’s the up-front, in-your-face bad news.  The good news is if you follow my plan you can keep the initial time and cash to a minimum.


Fourth, if you’re in a relationship you have the support of your partner.  Ever wonder why so many athletes tend to have spouses or partners who are in the same sport?  Or at least competitive also?  It’s because they understand the demands inherent in pursuing the goal.  Now, not every relationship has to have this dynamic-but your partner must understand what it is you have to do and give their support.  Otherwise, you’ve just added a very large psychological burden to your workload. 


Trust me, I’ve been on both sides of the fence here.  Support and encouragement are far better than someone chiding you about how much time and money you’re spending at the rink.  Of course if you’re single, who cares?


So let’s presume you meet those four parameters.  Ready to carry on?  Hit the ice?  Not so fast bucko.  There’s just one more hurdle-and Myth-to address, followed by the acceptance of a simple truth.


Five, you have three other maniacs who are willing to join you and also meet the first 4 parameters.


That’s so easy I don’t need to waste space on an exposition paragraph. 


Now, here’s the myth, one that you’re going to keep reading and hearing, predicated by Armchair Assholes in the Press and Social Media:


‘Gone are the days of a club team going all the way’


Folks that is sheer, unadulterated bullshit.  If you believe that statement-which you will read or hear-then don’t bother reading another word in this blog.  Every successful competitive curler, now or in the past, got their start playing on a club team, be it in juniors or adult competition.  They may have moved beyond that initial foursome-for all teams come to an end-but that’s where you start, in the club.


And you have in your club, right now, this very instant, at least 3 other talented fools who want to do the same silly Don Quixote impersonation you aspire to.  Truth is, there’s probably far more than just 3.  But there is the talent, right in front of your nose, to form a team that will have a chance.


And now it’s simple truth time…


What we’re ultimately talking about is the slim chance of going all the way.  Why do I say slim?  Because you have to face a final, simple truth before you begin this adventure.  But behind this truth is the real reason why you compete, in any sport.  Here it is:


Only One Team Gets To Win


Embrace those six, simple words.  There is nothing more true in all sports.  It doesn’t matter whether we are discussing a club championship, bonspiel, cashspiel or playdown event.  Ultimately only one team gets to take the top spot on the podium at the end. The odds are you are not going to win it all.  I know this, very, very personally.


So, why bother right?  If the odds are so stacked against you, what’s the point of all the effort and sacrifice if chances are most likely that you’re going to lose?


Because it’s the effort and sacrifice, the pushing yourself to see what you can become. That’s the true prize here. And it’s fun. 


The alternative to ignoring your itch, not competing and bypassing all this hard work and heartache? Not so much fun. Trust me.


Look, let me give you an example.  There’s a guy in my club-there’s at least one in every club-who’ll you recognize instantly.  He has talent and ability but after a beer or two he gets morose and starts telling you how much better he is than you-and not in a gentle, teasing way.  Yet, if you know this guy, you know he’s never really tried or pushed himself to succeed or at least see what he could accomplish. 


The reason he’s so miserable?  He’s the good club curler who was afraid to try and he regrets that decision. So rather than face the simple truth about himself he puts you down for your effort, trying to get you to become just like him-because misery loves company after all.


I’ve met guys-and gals-like him in every club I have ever played in and I can tell you this; you don’t want to be this person.


Tennyson (at least I think it was him) was right. It is truly better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.  The same translates to sport.  It’s better to be out there battling and losing than to sit in an armchair, sucking on a beer, watching others on the tube and wondering what might have been if only you’d reached out, just once and tried for the brass ring.


So if you can meet those five requirements, ignore the myth and accept the simple truth then you’re ready to move on to the nitty gritty details in Part Two.


Ah man. Seriously? Part Two? 


Don’t act all surprised.  If you’ve read any of my blogs then you know I rarely sum up a topic in one entry. There’s just too much you need to know. Besides, it’s just another test to see how committed you really are.  So if you’re ready to try for that ring, hang in there for the next act.


Ain’t I a stinker?





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