Category Archives: Coaching

Why We Bother with Pre-Trials

Wow, what an exciting time to be a curler and curling fan!!  Tomorrow marks the start of the “Road to the Rings”, also known as the Canadian Pre-Trials.  This competition will pit 12 mens and 12 womens teams against each other for the right to…play again!  Yes, the top two teams get to move on to the “Roar of the Rings” which will determine the teams that will carry the Maple Leaf into the Olympics in Sochi Russia in 2014.  The pre-trials is being held in Kitchener Waterloo Ontario and features many teams you will know well, (Brad Jacobs, you know, reigning Canadian Mens Curling champion!!) and some you might be less familiar with.  Some of you might be wondering, why bother?  I mean, what’s the point of having two of these events, why can’t we just have that one big competition and be done with it?  The answer of course belongs right here in my ramblings about curling and development of curlers.  The “point” of having a pre-trials competition is to aid in the development of teams who may have an even longer term view of their path to the Olympics.

As many of us will recall, back in 2012 London England held the Summer Olympic games to great success.  The Canadian Olympic Committee had the foresight to send some prospective Olympic curlers to that event to experience life at the Olympics.  Why??  Again, this was done to help prepare those prospective Olympians for the overwhelming experience of the Olympic environment.  The athletes chosen to attend were able to visit the Olympic Village, attend a number of competitions and even get outfitted in Team Canada gear.  As coaches, we know the value of experience prior to competition and we know how distractions away from the game can affect our athletes performance.  By giving these athletes that experience before they actually go to an Olympic Games as competitors, the Canadian Committee has given our athletes a feel for what it will be like if and when they make it there themselves.  They will be less overwhelmed and distracted when it comes time for them to compete.

This is the primary reason Canada is holding a “Pre-Trials” competition.  With due respect to the teams competing in the Pre-Trials, there is really maybe only one legitimate contender in that field who could challenge for the Olympic spot.  That isn’t the point however.  The point is to prepare those other teams for what it will take to get there NEXT TIME!!  The Pre-Trials are essentially a development stage for the future Olympians!  I believe it shows amazing foresight on behalf of the powers that be in curling in Canada.  What better way to expose younger teams to the challenges that they will face in a run towards the Olympics?

For coaches out there, a good lesson can be learned from this.  How can you prepare your athletes for that next level of competition?  Find your own “Pre-Trials”.

LTAD or…”Le TAD”

Yes, it’s been too long between posts.  I’ll work on that.  In this post, I’m going to be talking about the LTAD or “Long Term Athlete Development” model.  The LTAD is a critically important document that has come out of the re-evaluation of coaching development not only in curling but in all sport in Canada.  For those of you who don’t know, coaching has undergone a fairly serious overhaul in the last 5 – 10 years.  Gone is the old, single path tiered system of coaching development.  That’s now been replaced by a multi stream system that addresses the needs of recreational athletes separately from the competitive athletes.  It’s also changed the approach on certification from a “tell us what you do” to a “show us what you do” mentality.  Both very positive moves in my humble opinion.

As part of this overhaul, every sport that wished to enjoy federal funding was asked to develop this Long Term Athlete Development Model and our glorious sport of curling happily led the way.  The model is a comprehensive document that describes the optimal training principles that should be followed for athletes in the sport of curling.  The goal of the model is to create a system whereby coaches are creating athletes for life.  This is a very positive way to look at athlete development.

Why do I think this is a positive model?  Many coaches are unsure of what to teach when and this model lays that out.  Specifically, it identifies where the focus should be at different stages of athlete development.  I think we all know that sometimes a priority is put on winning and that this pressure can be difficult for athletes to manage.  The beauty of this model is that it identifies how and when that focus should start coming into play for athletes.  As coaches we should all be striving towards coaching our athletes as whole people and not simply as curlers.  Having the perspective of this model in our minds as we approach our jobs helps us keep our priorities appropriate and positive for our athletes.  It helps guide us on a development path that will eventually lead to success, if that’s what the athletes ultimate goal is.

This model is of huge importance not only to coaches but to parents and athletes as well and I encourage all of you to go and read it.  A copy can be found at this link:


It’s A Complicated Job

So it’s summer, sort of, but curling is always on my mind, specifically coaching in curling. So while I’m watching the Bruins take their best shot at winning another cup, I’m watching how the coaches go about their jobs. Hockey coaches have a much different set of conditions than curling coaches under which they ply their craft. The biggest difference is during actual game play. Curling is almost unique in that the coaches duties are extremely limited during a game and frankly I believe that’s the way it should be. It’s the nature of the game to have it directed by the players themselves rather than by the coaches. I believe as well that this model helps curlers mature faster with respect to their decision making because they simply get more competitive practice at an earlier age.

Watching the Stanley Cup playoffs is a fascinating study of coaching styles. This year we have two truly interesting styles at play in the finals. On Chicago we see the versatile and experimental Joel Quenville facing the Bruins Claude Julien with his faith in established systems. Which is better?

Well, those who know me know that my answer to that question is complicated. No two teams are the same even from one season to the next so the challenge for coaches regardless of what sport they are involved in is to develop a style that will allow you to motivate, educate and empower your athletes so that they can realize their full potential. A coach needs to understand their athletes as people before they can hope to accomplish this. Back to the NHL. Does Quenville’s style of mixing and matching lines constantly really help his team? Absolutely. The Chicago Blackhawks are a creative, free wheeling group of offense first type of players. This group values creativity with the puck and thrive when they are allowed to use their talents in an open way. The Blackhawks succeed when they are given the freedom and trust from their coach. Would this style work for their opponents, the Boston Bruins? Possibly, but unlikely. The Bruins team is more of a grinding team, one that thrives on established systems. They are a team that is very dependant on each other and are content with established roles. Their coach trusts the in those roles and so empowers the whole team.

Interestingly, there is a common element to both styles and that is trust. Both coaches trust their players to fulfill the roles defined for them. More on this in a minute.

You might be tempted to say that this is a “chicken and “egg argument, that the Hawks for instance are freewheeling because the coach made them that way rather than saying the coach adapted his style to fit the team DNA. That might be partially true but if that we’re completely the case then neither team would be as successful as they have been so far. Why? Because of a little something called values. People will only perform in a limited capacity in an environment that runs contrary to their value system. The old adage “a leopard can’t change his spots” has some kernel of truth in it. You know personally that if you don’t believe in a cause you aren’t very likely to support it. This is what we’re talking about in the coaching context. Your preferences for all things stems from your personal value system. For instance, you can teach an offensive minded player how to play defensive but they will only use that style when they cannot use their preferred style. Good coaches know this and empower their athletes by supporting the athletes preferences that are born from their value systems. Part of the difficulty is first understanding your players as human beings so that you gain some insight into their values. Too many coaches don’t bother to get to know their players that well as people.

Now, you may be asking, how did we get on to players? Weren’t we talking about coaching styles? Sure we were and that is the second major difficulty we face as coaches. We too have a set of values that drive our behaviour and that will influence how we perform and what decisions we make. In a perfect world, your values will align closely with your athletes and together you will have to make a minimal number of adjustments. Let me know when you find that perfect world… It is a coaching duty to figure out your players so that you can teach them effectively but in order to do this well you need to stay true to yourself and your needs. It’s complicated business.

The best advice I can give you isn’t my advice at all. In fact it comes from yet another hockey coach, Paul Maclean this years winner of the NHL’s Jack Adams award for the coach of the year. When asked about what makes him such a good coach, he simply replied “you just have to be yourself”. I couldn’t agree more.

Coaching is More Than It Appears

Very recently I’ve been in the position of having to, shall we say, consider how different coaches impact their teams.  Part of my life is as a coach evaluator on behalf of the OCA (Ontario Curling Association) and in that role I have to watch a coach run a practice and evaluate them based on an extensive list of criteria developed by the CCA.  I’m a huge fan of the process and I know a ton of work has gone into developing it.  Essentially, to become certified, a coach must now demonstrate their competence as a coach in front of a live evaluator.  You are allowed to submit a video of your practice but it is strongly discouraged partly because of the difficulties in getting a video that is good enough quality to evaluate but also because there is no chance for any interaction in the process.  This requires a certain level of competence and is designed to ensure that coaches have the knowledge they need to be effective coaches in competition.

Unfortunately, I’ve also heard too many stories of coaching gone wrong.  Excuse me a moment while I get up on my soapbox.  Thank you for your patience.  Now I have posted about this before in my article  Coaches? We Don’t Need No Stinking Coaches but as I said, I have a recent incident to re-ignite my fires on this topic.

A coach WILL have an impact on the athletes they interact with.  This is an absolute certainty.  It cannot be avoided.  YOU as a coach are then responsible for the impact that you are going to have and it’s a big responsibility.  Should this scare you away if you’re interested in coaching?  Absolutely not!  However, you must recognize your impact on your athletes and behave accordingly.  What am I talking about?  First of all, it’s my firm belief that the coach is there for the team NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!  Yes, I take selfish pleasure in coaching but my athletes are people in their own right with their own goals and motivations.  A coach should make sure their goals and aspirations align with the athletes they are working with before getting involved with them.  Coaching is a behind the scenes role and if you don’t want to remain in the background while your athletes shine then you have to re-evaluate why you want to be a coach in the first place.

Also, a good coach should recognize the individuality of their athletes.  If you have taken the Competition Coach course you should remember the module on teaching and learning where the different learning styles are discussed.  Not every athlete will learn in the same way and coaches need to be flexible with their delivery methods if they want to be effective.  This is going to require knowing your athletes as people and not just athletic performers.

Finally as a coach you have a duty to be knowledgable about your sport.  You must make the effort to stay on top of what is happening in your sport so that you can effectively help your athletes attain their potential.  There are many well intentioned people out there willing to help athletes but without that technical knowledge they can only do so much.  If you want to make the transition from cheerleader to coach, study the game.   Get certified.  Learn and don’t stop learning until you stop coaching.

Yes, I know this post was very preachy.  Most of the time I’m not this bad but as I said, I’ve recently encountered too many bad coaches who had significantly negative impacts on young athletes.  I’m not amused.