Skinning Cats

Skinning Cats

Feb. 21, 2013

This first new article isn’t about skinning cats in the literal sense.  I know, shocking…  It’s really about how to get the job of winning a curling game done and whether there is a right or wrong way.  I’m watching the Scotties currently being held in Kingston!  It’s so great to see the level of play from so many women’s teams and I’m very pleased to see that there has been practically no complaining about ice.  It’s been a great event so far!

One of the biggest games so far has been the clash between previously unbeaten Team Manitoba and previously unbeaten Team Canada.  This game was particularly interesting not only because it featured two teams likely to be in the playoffs but also because of the path both teams took to their great 6 – 0 records.  What am I talking about here?

If you’ve ever been in one of my strategy clinics you’ll have heard the term “Team DNA”.  Team DNA is a cute way of describing the make up of your team.  This includes things like favourite shots, team abilities and tolerance for risk.  It is very literally all the things that go into making your team the team it is.  This seems like something that really doesn’t need any explanation.  I mean, obviously your team is made up of four unique individuals and because of that, it’s going to be unique!  Why bother with it and what does it have to do with the Manitoba / Canada game?

Your team DNA bears reflection because if you understand it, then you’ll understand how you like to play the game.  It’s usually in this part of the strategy clinic that I find the most yawns but trust me, having an understanding of this is critical for success.  You’ll understand if you like to gamble or if you prefer a slow and steady approach.  Again, this is something you might think is intuitive EXCEPT that you’re not playing an individual game.   If you’re going to be a competitive team at any level, then everyone on the team should have a similar set of values leading to a similar outlook towards game play.  Two gamblers and two defensive players don’t make an effective team over the long haul simply because they will not agree on many shots and therefore will not commit to all their shots.  Now the nice thing about Team DNA is that it isn’t literal DNA and so individuals can learn to adjust their attitudes and fit into a group if they recognize the need and have the desire.

So we understand that teams have their own personalities and preferences for style of play.  Going back to that fantastic Canada / Manitoba game, how does this factor in?  Team Canada (Nedohin) has a preference for hits.  This team prefers to play the hit and roll versus the tight draw.  They like it a little more clean than most teams and will direct play as much as they can to these sorts of situations.  Looking at their record coming into the game (6 – 0) you might be tempted to say “well, that’s the direction of women’s curling now, everyone should play that way.”  The problem with that thinking is that their opponents, Team Manitoba (Jones) doesn’t play this way.  They like it messier.  They like a more finesse style game and will direct play to these sorts of situations.  Hmm, they can’t both be right so, what’s going on??  Yes, you guessed it, it’s Team DNA.

Both of these teams have figured out where they are comfortable and do their very best to play their games in that style.  They are as successful partly because they are true to their own values and preferences.  One caveat here however.  Just because they have preferences, they do recognize that they can’t always be in control and can’t always direct play to their preferred style so they work hard to make all the shots.  They can play each others game but try not to as much as possible.

So, how does this manifest itself in a game?  We’ve already talked about hits versus draws but from a rock placement point of view it means that Heather Nedohin prefers rocks in the house to rattle around.  She likes being able to come in off things and running stones back into other stones.  Heather is great at reading angles and figuring the precise spot to hit it in order to roll to the perfect place.  Perhaps she doesn’t like as many guards in play.  Jennifer Jones on the other hand likes those front stones to come around.  She likes finessing rocks into position and working them into better places within the house with soft shots.  Again, remember, Heather can draw and draw well.  Also remember, Jennifer can hit and hit well.  The game the other day (Manitoba won 6-5) was classic back and forth and a battle of styles as much as anything else.

Club teams often tell me that this doesn’t apply to them and perhaps it doesn’t if you have no aspirations towards being competitive.  If you want to do well however, you MUST understand your team DNA and how it affects your play even at the club level.  There aren’t any right or wrong answers because the adage is true, there are many ways to skin a cat.

As always, if you have any questions I welcome them and will do my best to answer them.

Coach Sean

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