Hodge Podge

I’m lucky as a coach to be on a continual learning path.  I am constantly learning about the game and how to coach it and I hope I never stop!  This post is about busyness in a curling delivery.  It’s a similar message to the one on the “Really Old Article” KISS but different enough to warrant it’s own posting.

Among the very many things I’ve learned is to view a curling delivery from a technical point of view.  I’ve learned the various key things to look for to help athletes improve their performance.  As anyone who’s ever thrown a rock knows, a curling delivery is a complicated assembly of motions.   Similar to a golf swing, there is a proper place for every part of your body and deviating from those proper positions has an effect on where the stone ends up at the end of your throw.  The CCA teaches its coaches (and by that I mean me and my brethren…) the “proper” technique for throwing a curling stone.  What’s proper?  Well, proper technique is that which has some basis in common sense, mechanics and past success!  I believe somewhere, I emphasized that a coach should always be able to explain why they ask you to do something or change something.  This holds true for delivery mechanics as much as any other aspect of the game.  If your coach tells you to keep your eyes up and can’t explain why…hmmm.

By and large, there are good reasons for the positions and movements that are required in throwing a curling stone properly.  This isn’t going to be a comprehensive examination of all those movements (that’s a big chunk of the Competition Coach course) but I am going to share some of what I’ve learned by watching curlers from a technical point of view.  So, here we go with “What Sean’s Learned from Coaching”

Lesson 1:  It’s Gonna Get Worse Before It Gets Better…

I’ve learned that in order to improve, you need to make changes.  To be honest, I knew this already but what I didn’t realize is that not everyone really understands what this means or if they do, they aren’t always willing to accept the implications of it.  There is a very sensible little adage that you hear at many curling coaching clinics.  “If you want something you’ve never had before, you have to do something you’ve never done before.”  I also like, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”  Both are essentially saying the same thing.  Corrections to your curling delivery are going to feel weird!  Expect it.  Expect to have a dip in your performance initially after a correction because face it, you’ve never done that before.  It is however, how you’re going to better than you ever were before.  I get this so much from curlers when they ask for help.  “What am I doing wrong?!” they say.  I watch for a few slides, pick out the biggest fault and give them some feedback.  Perhaps it’s a balance issue, where the slider foot isn’t really getting under the body causing the player to lean on the rock.  I’ll suggest a correction then ask them to throw using the correction.  I’ll actually ask them to throw at least three times with the correction while I’m watching.  Often it happens that the first corrected throw is much improved (with complaints about how “weird” it feels…), the second corrected throw is okay and the third is their old delivery with the correction discarded.  It’s no surprise that when I ask which delivery felt best, the answer is the last one.  It feels best because it’s what you’ve been doing forever!  I’ve had players simply thank me at that point and go on with the delivery they had before we started.  I have had other players struggle through the “weirdness” and actually make a change and improve because of it.

That period of discomfort may also result in an immediate drop in performance.  Your body is a system and when you change one thing in a system it has a ripple effect across the whole system.  Until the entire system adjusts to these new “settings” it can’t be consistent.  That adjustment period may be as little as 10 minutes or much much longer depending on much of an adjustment you made.  This is typically why a coach should really only be making small incremental adjustments to your delivery.  Fix one thing and before you try to move to the next.  It’s practically impossible to fix everything at once.  The cumulative adjustment is just too much.

Lesson 2:  If it ain’t broke…

One of the best pieces of coaching advice I ever received was this.  “Sometimes what you DON’T say is more important than what you do say.”  Some of you have asked me for help on your deliveries.  Some of you need a lot of help with your deliveries…  Some of you don’t though.  Just last week a player on a team asked me if I was going to, “tell them what was wrong with their deliveries”.  I asked the whole team what was wrong with that question.  Some of them thought the grammar was incorrect…  My issue was that the question pre-supposed that there WAS something wrong with their deliveries.  In the case of this team, there are incremental things to work on for each player but the biggest issue they need to work on is simple consistency specifically with their weight control.  They are all balanced and they all hit the broom consistently enough.  The biggest “bang for the buck” improvement they could make is to fine tune their weight control.  They were looking for a smoking gun of a delivery fault and I suppose I could have given them one but to really help them, I had to focus on the single biggest thing that I felt would have an impact.

If I Said It Once, I May As Well Not Have Said It At All

We learn through experience.  We can chew our food efficiently because we’ve had literally years of practice at it (perhaps I’ve had more than some of you but nonetheless…).  Curling is the same.  Even the most focused and keen athlete needs to repeat and repeat and repeat something if they are going to really incorporate it into their curling minds.  One practice, one delivery, one lesson only introduces you to new ideas.  Putting them into practice takes, well, practice!  I’ve learned that you must go out there and simply do that “new” thing over and over again until it just doesn’t feel new anymore.  In the world of bio-mechanics the rule of thumb seems to be that you have to do something 10,000 times before it is incorporated into your “muscle” memory.  This “rule” has come under scrutiny of late but the idea is still sound I believe even if the actual number isn’t accurate.  The concept is to repeat and to repeat correctly.  Practice does NOT make perfect, practice makes permanent.  Perfect practice makes perfect.

I will reinforce the need to change to the athlete however, as a player it’s up to you to work for improvement.  You have to go through a period of discomfort if things are going to change for you.  You have to know it’s going to happen and you have to be willing to do that which you’ve never done before.

So, a little of this and a little of that today.  Mostly just some food for thought.  Happy curling!

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