So You Want To Be A Competitive Curler? Part Two: Getting Down to Work

So, have you had your fill of Gushue and Homan? Gorged on curling coverage on the Glass Teat? Inspired by all of it to jump on your own personal Rocinante, brandish your CCA approved brush like a lance and gallop off to battle windmills? Congratulations, you’re ready to get to work.

You ground your way through Part One but first a quick review; you’ve met the parameters, found three other idiots, debunked the myth and faced the simple truth. You’re on your way to becoming a competitive curling team. Ready for the next steps? Because SURPRISE! Part one was the easiest step.

So, what’s next? Well, getting down to work involves two more steps:

  1. Assess, with brutal honesty, your teams current level of talent
  2. Spend more time on the ice. Lots, and lots more time.

Seriously. that’s it? Well, yes and no. But the next two steps will put you on the road to becoming the competitive curler you dream of. With one little caveat: You gotta be patient..

If you expect instant success you’re going to be quickly heading to that armchair in front of the TV, with a case of PBR at your side, sneering at those irritating Pinty’s commercials.

But, show some patience with yourself and your teammates and you stand a chance of seeing results down the road. There is no shortcut, fast track to success here. If you’re in this, truly in this, then it’s a long term game you have to play.

I think that’s enough warnings for now. Let’s move on.

Step One-Assess, with Brutal Honesty, Your Teams Current Level of Ability

You have to tailor your program to fit your existing level of skill and from there move forward. So first you need to know where you currently fit in the curling pecking order.

Why? because jumping into too high a level of play, too early, is team suicide. You don’t put Bantams on the ice against the Maple Leafs and expect success (well, maybe against the Leafs you could). The same applies to curling. You need time to develop your skills and gain valuable experience. The good news here is that because the diffence between recreational and competitive is so small, less time is required to bridge that gap.

So you need to know where you stand, because no new team is the same. You might be four complete newbies, or great club players. Perhaps a mix of rookie talent and experience, or four seasoned veterans deciding to take a further plunge.. The bottom line is this: knowing what you are allows you to focus, take advantage of your strengths and help you address and improve on your weaknesses.

In my experience I’ve been able to narrow it down to four categories of team ability/talent:

  1. Total Newbies
  2. The Good Club and Bonspielers
  3. The Mix
  4. The Ready for Prime Time Players
  1. Total Newbies

Suffice to say you’re four guys/gals who play in a club league, have a bit of talent (see Part One) but don’t practice and haven’t even played in a local bonspiel. You are fresh meat and you’ve got a long road, but take heart-this is where everyone starts.

  1. The Good Club and Bonspielers

You’ve played a lot more. You’re likely in more than one league at your club and you’ve dabbled in a few bonspiels-perhaps taking home a toaster or two. You might even practice a bit. You’re ready for some competition that’s a bit meatier.

  1. The Mix

Now you’re a hybrid. A combination of folks from all the other categories. Perhaps a Newbie with a couple of Good Club and Bonspielers and one or more Ready for Prime Time Players. You’re a challenge because you’re diverse. So careful consideration is needed when setting goals and making a plan. The best approach here? Base decisions on the least experienced member of your team.

  1. The Ready for Prime Time Players

You have competitive accomplishments and experiences at multiple levels. You’re ready to hit the tour but need fine tuning. Advanced coaching and a more structured approach to events and practice could be of major benefit for you. In, short, you’re the teams the other three categories aspire to become.

Okay, so take a long hard look in that mirror and decide where you fit. Got it? okay let’s move on to Step 2.

Step Two- Spend more time on the ice. Lots, and lots more time

Okay. You know who you are and where you stand. Now use that information to move forward. That means goal setting. And the goals you set have to fit your situation (see Step One) and they must be realistic.

It’s a little tricky setting goals. Too easy and you don’t improve. Too difficult and you can get crushed by frustration, walking away just as you were about to make progress.

You have to strike a balance. You don’t sit down as Newbies and expect to be World Champion in the first year. You don’t decide as Ready for Prime Time to enter nothing but local Men’s Bonspiels against only recreational teams.

Thanks to Step One you know where you stand. Now, set up a meeting with your teammates-away from the club but in a relaxed social atmosphere-crack a few cold ones and talk. And someone take notes.

I’m going to use the Newbies as a convenient example of what I mean. If you’re in a higher category simply adjust my suggestions to fit your level of ability. (ie, instead of bonspiels, play in cashspiels or super leagues instead of club leagues. You’re bright. You get what I’m saying)

What kind of goals should Newbies set in year one? (Note that I imply there’s more than one year involved in this process. Get used to this taking time, no matter where your skill set lies) Here’s an example of what I would suggest for the raw rookies:

First off, make Fun and Improvement your overall goal. If you’re not enjoying things then what’s the point? The wins will come with time.

Second, make a real commitment to increase your ice time.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to spend more time at any endeavor. Learning the value of commitment sets the stage for further improvement as you progress. This is no different than a goal of say, spending an extra day per week in the gym or hitting the driving range twice a week. The benefits pay off down the road.

The increased ice time should take two forms: structured practice and competition.

If you can, get a coach to help you. Coaching helps at all levels of ability, but in my experience the most crucial stage is when you’re a Newbie. They can help improve your technique, create structured practices and work on strategy with you. And one little tip or tweak can mean the difference between giving up and carrying on. I needed a Wally M’lot or I wouldn’t be typing this. You need one as well.

If a coach isn’t available then get your hands on every ‘how to’ book you can. It’s not as easy but it can be done. The good news is there’s lots of those books out there to help with players of all levels of ability.

Competition should take the form of league play, spiels and playdowns. Try to get into the most competitive league in your club. As for Spiels, enter as many as your budget and time allows but for now stick to Bonspiels. No Cashspiels until year two for you.. Don’t worry about initial results, remember: you\re new to all this. Just enter them, have fun, see how you do and soak up the experience.

Initially, don’t worry about results until an event is over. Then assess your performance and find the parts of your game that are strong and the ones needing work. This is where a coach can really help as a neutral third party. Again, you can do this yourself if a coach is not available. But you all have to be honest and sensitive in how you discuss matters-be diplomatic when you tell a teammate that their inturn draws suck.

You’ll notice I mentioned playdowns. No matter your level of ability, it is crucial you enter your local regional event-even as Newbies in year one. Why? because nothing else captures the essence of playdowns. Words are inadequate to describe the heightened atmosphere, you must experience this to fully appreciate it. Let me put it this way: no league, practice or spiel (even the biggest Slam event on the tour) has the same importance, stress and excitement as your local zone playdown.

There’s a bonspiel or cashspiel every weekend. How you do in each one has no bearing on you getting entry into the next one. Playdowns are a different beast altogether. Lose out in your zone and you don’t move onwards. It’s seeya next year and thanks for coming.

That’s the palpable difference between spiels and playdowns. You need to see if you like it-even if that first time is winless. Its different and special and if it sinks its hooks into you, oh man, you’re toast. You’ll start counting the days until next season.

At the end of the year assess how things went and put them into perspective. Was there fun? improvement? more ice time? Bonspiels? Playdowns? And finally the most important question to ask, which will truly show if you’re meant to continue:

Did it leave you wanting more?

If no, then go back to having a great time as a club curler. You’ve lost nothing and can credit yourself to trying- without having to option a second mortgage on the house. Hell, just taking a shot you’ve done something that 99% of your club mates haven’t the courage to do. Take satisfaction in that little stat. At least you’ve earned that armchair.

If yes, welcome to something more addictive (and probably less rewarding) than Crack. Because now the cycle restarts for next year. Only now you make goals and plans building on what you just accomplished, pushing yourself to develop further and harder as you move up the curling food chain.

Is it worth it? you ask. Well, I can only answer that from my own perspective. Sure, I could have done something different. Saved more money, spent my holiday time on a beach watching bikinis instead of running around Western Canada in the winter and staying at an endless procession of Holiday Inns, not had to endure defeats that should have been victories and my left knee would be a helluva lot happier.

But I’d be sitting here at 56 with no memories and that nagging ‘what if’ gnawing at the back of my mind. And I hate ‘what if’.

So yeah, it’s worth it. Even if you only try once. Better to bounce off that windmill then never lower your lance and charge the dragon

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