So the 2013 edition of the Canadian Mens Curling Championship (called “The Brier” by some…) has concluded with the Northern Ontario team skipped by Brad Jacobs taking home the big hardware. Much will be written in the next little while about some of the choices made by Glenn Howard particularly in his Page 1/2 game versus team Stoughton and so, I thought I would add my two cents to the conversation. Hopefully this will help my loyal following understand the situation just a little better.
First, to explain what I’m specifically talking about I’ll take you to the tenth end of the game with Stoughton laying first and third shots on the side of the house. Howard was laying second with a stone a few feet in front of Stoughtons shot stone. Stoughton had last rock advantage but Howard was leading by two. The position of the rocks was difficult. Shot stone was in front of third shot but partially buried behind Howard’s second shot stone. Stoughtons third shot stone was deeper than shot 1 or 2 and further over to the side of the rings. Someday I’ll get fancy enough to chart these situations out but hopefully you can picture it right now without graphics.
In any case, the choices left to Glenn were these:
1. Draw open side and HOPE Jeff doesn’t hit and stick for two which would have tied the game putting it into an extra end.
2. Hit the open stone and HOPE Jeff doesn’t simply draw full 8 foot and put the game into an extra end.
3. Try to pick shot stone out and double both Manitoba rocks out of play and win the game right then and there.
Conventional wisdom and most club players would have liked voted 48% choice 1, 48% choice 2 and 4% choice 3. What did Glenn choose to do? He chose to try the double. The result was that he clipped his own stone pushing it out to third shot, leaving Jeff an open draw for three and the win. Many people were and still are shaking their collective heads and wondering “What was Glenn thinking??” A statistic I saw after the game said that since 2006, Glenn Howard was 21-0 in games that he forced into an extra end so it would seem like the safe and smart choice. What was he thinking?!?
Before I explain what he was thinking, I’ll preface my comments with this. I don’t know Glenn (not that lucky) and this is only my opinion as a competitive curling coach. Take it or leave it but regardless whether I’m right or not, there is a lesson here and it ISN’T what you think it is.
As my knowledge of the game has increased through my coaching experience I have begun to see the TV games in an entirely different way. This is where the title of this post comes into play. The people you see curling on TV are NOT playing in your Monday fun league, or even in your Thursday competitive league. These people are playing at the very highest levels of the game and are able to do so because they have trained hard with nothing short of the Olympic Games in their sights. Okay, you might be saying, but it’s still the same game I play isn’t it? Sure it is. Exactly the same way that golf is the same game you and Tiger Woods play. Same game, different levels. You’re here and Tiger and Glenn are outside the moon’s orbit, so to speak.
I have written before about team DNA and strategy. Part of determining your strategy is knowing yourself well. This means knowing your comfort zones and knowing what you’re capable of. I’m sure the bulk majority of us have watched a curling game on TV and wished we had the control of the stones the same way the top players do. Most of the time we understand that we don’t and so don’t call the game in the same way as we see on TV. Sometimes however, we see a situation such as the one above and recognize it as within our own sphere of experience and talent to deal with. Again, we wonder, why didn’t Glenn just do the simple thing?
The answer comes out of the difference not in the ability of the players at the top level but in their attitudes, specifically their confidence. With the physical and technical training the top players do comes an increased confidence. Glenn Howard believes he will make the double in the situation above. He is far to experienced and intelligent to deceive himself on a shot call as important as that and if in fact Glenn did have a mental lapse of some sort, there would have been a voice on that team (with over 300 Brier games among them tucked nicely in their belts) that would have let him know that the shot was too dangerous. Now here is the really important part. Glenn believes he can make that pick double BECAUSE HE CAN! Sure, he missed it that day but he’s made harder shots with just as much on the line. It wasn’t arrogance nor lack of judgement that lead him to throw that shot. It was a belief that he could make a shot to win the game. To club curlers, it was pure foolishness because…it would BE foolish for a club curler to try to make that shot. For Glenn, it’s something he knows he can make.
What is revealed in this situation is not arrogance of top players but rather the elevation of confidence that must come with an increase in ability if players are going to go beyond their current levels. I see it a LOT in the junior ranks. Many people think that junior mens curling is somewhat reckless because often they will choose the shots that are more difficult. Part of this is an experience factor and part of this is ego but another part of this is how talented players push the boundaries of what they can do and learn from those experiences. You can often tell when players are starting to break through by how they practice on their own. They will try things that seem beyond their abilities just to get a feel for how well they can do it.
I’ll often talk to players about risk vs. reward as well with respect to shot calls. Usually it’s easy to identify the reward and we might think it’s easy to figure out the risk. Risk however is much more subjective because it has to factor in your ability, confidence and experience. The bulk majority of club players don’t have an honest handle on these things and so choose shots that are too simple which don’t get the results you need or too complicated which again, lead to problems. Honestly assessing risk is a difficult thing to do because it requires an honest assessment of your own capabilities, something not often done at the club level. By the time you’re on TV however, you will have done this self reflection and come to terms with what you can and cannot do. It doesn’t mean they aren’t working to improve those things which they aren’t great at but at least they can recognize them and play accordingly.
The overall message here is this. In order to really improve your game requires first an elevation in your physical ability to throw shots. Practice my friend, practice. That however, will only get you so far. The other half of that coin is gaining the confidence to throw the more difficult shots in pressure situations. Your confidence level MUST keep up with your ability (and not out pace it…by much…). You also MUST be honest with yourself and know what you can and cannot do. Glenn knows he is one of the best throwers in the world and this isn’t a boast. For one of the very best players in the game, THAT SHOT IS THERE. This is a component of mental toughness that many people never bother with however, it is something that will eventually limit you as a player as you progress from pretty good to great.
Enjoy the journey!