If you’re a curler in Ontario, okay Canada, and follow the top level men’s play, you’ll know who Glenn Howard is. You’ll also know who Craig Savill, Brent Laing, Wayne Middaugh, Richard Hart and Jon Mead are. Of course you don’t really need to be from Ontario to recognize those names but if you’re from Ontario you’ve likely heard a bit more about the inner workings of this team than if you’re from somewhere else. Last season a really interesting program about this team was broadcast on TSN, the Team Howard Rockumentary. If you haven’t seen it, it’s very much worth a look (try YouTube). In the program we see how this team functions from a behind the scenes view. Granted it’s not really hard hitting journalism but as a curler and coach, I found it fascinating to see how these guys get along off the ice.
Truly, this group of guys are friends. They hang around together, have similar interests (other than curling…) and generally get along well off the ice. A personal story to add to this; Christmas of 2011 I was at the Tam Heather curling club watching a team I had coached that season play in the TCA Junior bonspiel. Glenn Howard happened to also be there with his wife and some other friends watching their daughter Carly play. After the game, in the very crowded lounge, I heard Glenn say that they “should go back to Richie’s, he only lives about 5 minutes from here.” So what you say? Glenn was talking about Richard Hart. They were going to go visit Rich that evening to literally just hang out together. What is the big deal you might still be asking? Well at that point in time, Glenn and Rich were no longer playing together. Wayne Middaugh had replaced Rich after Rich retired. The fact that Glenn and Rich were still close enough to simply get together one night speaks volumes about their personal relationship and about how close they had become while playing together. These guys are friends!
If you’ve watched this team for long enough, you’ll realize that’s the way they roll. They are friends. Wayne was an easy addition to that team because Glenn and Wayne have been friends for years going way back to when Wayne played front end with Russ and Glenn. The recent change on that team saw Rich come back to the fold, Wayne depart and Jon Mead come in at second. How does that happen? Well, as any of you know, when you’re out at competition, once the games are over there tends to be some…socializing. Somewhere along the way, Glenn et al got to know Jon well enough that when teams started to readjust for the next Olympic cycle, a natural fit came to light. Glenn, Rich and Craig know Jon well enough to want to play competitively with him, NOT just because he’s a good thrower. So, I now ask you, from a curling team perspective, do you have to be friends with your team mates in order to be successful. Lets look at both sides of that one.
Let’s start by asking why you are playing the game in the first place. Are you a club team just out for a good time? Are you a semi competitive team out to try to build into something more? Are you a very competitive team trying to win something big? The answer will help us because as we move up that competitive ladder, the game more and more resembles a professional sport. I think that we can all agree that no one really gives a sploosh if all the members of the Toronto Maple Leafs are good buddies off the ice. They’re paid an obscene amount of money to perform and any player using the excuse that “they don’t like their team mates” would be shipped off to another team fairly quickly. Professionals have a job to do and their motivations are different than those of us in the amateur ranks.
Top level curlers aren’t strictly professionals (yet) but the notoriety and demands of the game at the highest levels means that there needs to be some semblance of professionalism in order to be successful. Back at our level, in the clubs, why are we playing? It sure isn’t for the money, it’s for the pure enjoyment of the game so it sure does help to play with people you like! This is one of the major reasons that “Open Leagues” are finding some success in clubs. They allow for people to simply play with people they like!
Back up the competition chain however, the question remains, do you have to be friends in order to be successful? My cold hearted opinion is that no, you do not have to be friends to be successful. HOWEVER as in every aspect of life, there are trade offs. Friendship and camaraderie in a team, particularly a small team such as a curling team can help smooth the path when issues arise. Teams that have that bonding in place have particular mechanisms built into their friendship that help them deal with issues. If those “friend” mechanisms aren’t in place then other effective mechanisms are required. Teams need to be more professional with respect to how they run themselves. They need to have more strict mechanisms in place than the “friend” team. All that being said, at some level, even players on the non “friend” teams need enjoy what they are doing at some level.
I will always maintain that an individual will never do their best if they don’t enjoy what they are doing. If being on a particular team becomes too much of a chore then eventually that team will break and perhaps in a spectacular ( not the good kind of spectacular either) way.
Bottom line is, there are good examples of teams that perform because of the friendships within the team. There are good examples of teams that perform because they build themselves into a “professional” model and put aside personal preferences. Which style you as a player choose to pursue will depend on what you’re looking for. What style you choose to be involved in as a coach will depend on the same thing. Good luck.