Monthly Archives: November 2013

Certified or Certifiable?

This weekend saw the beginning of the Ontario Junior playdowns with the zone competitions running across the province.  Somewhere in the group of men’s and women’s teams are a pair of teams that will represent Ontario at the Canadian Junior Curling Championships in Liverpool, NS January 18 -26, 2014.  If it seems early for this (being November and all) it isn’t.  The Junior curling season starts and ends earlier than the standard club season because a lot of levels of play have to be stuffed into the calendar.

This season the OCA rules committee decided that coaches at all levels of junior men’s and women’s competitions up to provincials must be Competition Coach Certified.  This has a very specific meaning within the NCCP (National Coaching Certification Program) and without making it complicated, it means the coach must have been trained as a Competition Coach, completed an online Making Ethical Decisions test and have been evaluated by a certified Evaluator.  It’s not a short process and the goal of the program is to make sure those coaches who are coaching at playdowns have been trained in the methods promoted by the CCA and are proficient at applying those methods.  It applies a rigor to the coaching art.

The OCA rules committee also has determined that all coaches coaching at Bantam boys and girls competitions (at all levels) must ALSO be Competition Coach Certified.  Now, there is always some confusion around what the OCA does, the CCA’s involvement and who the NCCP is so let me try to de-mystify this.  First, the NCCP is administered in Ottawa for all sports in Canada who receive federal funding.  They set the guidelines and advise sports bodies on what they believe are best practices with respect to coaching in general.  The NCCP also sets up the general format for coaching certification and training.  That format for coaching certification is surprisingly similar across sports in Canada because it all comes from the NCCP.   Sport bodies pay close attention to this and apply it to their sports because if they don’t, they don’t get to keep their federal funding!  The CCA (Canadian Curling Association) is responsible for applying the guidelines set out by the NCCP to our sport across Canada.  They take the best practices as outlined to us by the NCCP and make it work for curling.  They develop the detailed information that will be taught at the various levels and streams of coaching for our sport.  This is a monumental undertaking that literally takes years of dedicated work by some of our sports best minds. It’s not simply a book thrown together.  They also plan out and develop how the technical material will be delivered to new coaches or developing coaches.  The CCA literally writes the curling book for us coaches here in Canada.

Finally the provincial body, in our case the OCA (Ontario Curling Association) puts that work into practice by administering the coaching courses and conducting the evaluations.  This takes a great deal of co-operation between a number of layers of bureaucracy and in Canada, it’s been done very well.  We lead the world in our technical understanding and broadcast of coaching education in the sport of curling.

Nice info Sean but, so what?  I mean you start with playdowns then ramble into NCCP, the question really is, have you finally lost it completely?  No.  I actually haven’t.  I provided the background on the coaching course development and application so that I could talk to this point.  The OCA has another responsibility besides application of the CCA coaching material.  A separate branch of the OCA (specifically the rules committee) determines how the varying levels of coaching education will be applied within the OCA run competitions, commonly known as “playdowns”.  This year, after years of discussion, the OCA finally made it law that coaches have to be Competition Coach Certified to enter into OCA playdowns.   As an OCA Learning Facilitator, OCA Evaluator and “about town” curling coach, I have heard 1000 different opinions on this decision, most of them unfavourable.  I have listened patiently to those complaints and usually have kept my own thoughts on this to myself.  Now, for the first time world wide, I am unveiling my opinions on this volatile subject.

The most frequent complaint I hear is that it will push kids out of the sport if certified coaches are required.  Let’s be clear here, certified coaches are ONLY required at OCA playdowns.  There are dozens of spiels, both recreational and competitive that do not require any level of coaching certification at all. Nothing is impeding kids from playing in those and trust me, curlers can be quite busy playing in competitive spiels.  Playdowns are not fun spiels.  They lead to provincial and national titles and if you’re entering them, there is some part of you that is aiming to that.  If you are even semi-serious about pursuing this, why would you not want a certified coach?

The next most frequent complaint I hear is “but they’re just kids, why do you need such rigor for the kids?”  My reply is this; when are kids learning the most about the fundamentals of the sport?  I’ll tell you from experience, it’s not when they’re 18.  It’s when they’re starting out, which is anywhere from age 6 to 13.  THAT is when they need the most knowledgeable coaches working with them to help them improve.  And yes, that means I believe that the CCA program is the best path to the development of knowledgeable coaches.

You can argue perhaps that maybe Competition Coach certification is a big step as your first foray into the coaching world.  Yup.  I would argue that if you aren’t serious about coaching, you shouldn’t bother.   I’m passionate about this point.

The only issue I have with any of the NCCP lead, CCA developed, OCA applied coaching system is that we are starting to see people new to the sport entering the coaching stream as prospective Competition Coaches.  Previously, there was a pre-requisite before new coaches could attain this level but again, without making it overly complicated, now there isn’t.  I would personally like to see some mechanism in place that ensured prospective Competition Coaches were at least familiar with the sport before being allowed to take the course.  This is, however, a minor point because the evaluation process is designed to ensure that “new” Competition Coaches aren’t CERTIFIED until they prove they know their stuff.  That aspect of the program is a checkpoint that “tests” coaches, specifically around their knowledge and ability to apply the knowledge.

Yes, this post was a rant and it’s mostly born from the virtual flood of complaints I’ve endured lately.  I don’t necessarily see myself as a conformist and I had a LOT of questions about the “new” coaching system when it was first introduced to me but I had very smart curling people explain it to me and I have come to embrace it as the best path we currently have.  Sure, someday it will all change and hopefully for the best but for now, I see more upsides than downsides.

Good coaching to you all.


My Side or Yours?

This curling thing we do is a very “sided” game to play.  By that, I mean that when we play our favourite game we are very definitely “righties” or “lefties”.  There has not to my knowledge been a successful switch hitter, uh, thrower in the roaring game.  This side bias certainly exists in other sports, just think of baseball where a hitter has a preferred side of the plate for swinging the bat and where they wear their catching glove on one hand, throwing with the other.  This matters in baseball.  A lot!  Managers go through considerable mental effort going over rosters and pitching matchups particularly when they need to make substitutions.  The handedness of the pitcher is considered carefully because a like handed pitcher is generally more successful against a like handed hitter.  Consider too how this affects, say the first baseman.  Left handed first basemen are prized for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they wear their gloves on the big side of the field and not closest to the line.  Lefties on first also have a positional advantage when it comes to the pick off from the pitcher.  All this simply serves to show that our physical preference for one hand or the other is in play in practically all sports.  Curling is no exception.

There is, for instance, a significant difference in the line of delivery to a single broom placement for righties and lefties.  This assumes the use of the no lift delivery of course, where the start point of the stone is closer to the toe of the hack foot, rather than the center line.  Brushing effectiveness is another place where our handedness affects our performance.  It’s been proven that a closed stance is more effective than an open stance.  In case this means nothing to you, a closed stance is essentially the stance where you need to stand somewhat sideways facing the stone in motion.  So if you hold your broom in a “left” grip (that is with the left hand high and right hand low), the closed stance means you’ll be on the left side of the stone as seen from the throwing hack.  The same grip swept from the right side of the stone as seen from the throwing hack is an open stance because your hips and shoulders are open to the direction of the path of the stone.  I’m a right handed thrower.  I’m a left handed sweeper.  Yes, it’s not common but it happens and it affects how I sweep considerably.

Now, I know you’re saying, so what?  Sure we know this but what is the point?  Well, it just so happens that recently I was out in a practice with some of my favourite curlers and this notion of sidedness came up.  It seems one of my players thought she was having a problem with her out turn (counterclockwise because she’s a righty) and my other player thought she was having a similar problem with her in turn (clockwise because…yes, she’s a righty too).  Before making any judgements, I studied my players and their deliveries.  I went back to basics and that meant I didn’t start with any assumptions or in fact even observations about their turns.  I looked first to their timing, or sequence of movements.  Everything seemed to be just fine there so I moved on to their line of delivery.  We went through and exercise designed to see just how straight along the slide path they were sliding.  My out turn problem player’s first slide was perfect.  Right up the line.  My in turn problem player’s first slide was also perfect.  Second slides for both? Not so good.  The difference was this.  My out turn problem was sliding beautifully up the left side of the sheet.  My in turn problem was sliding beautifully up the right side of the sheet.  When they switched sides, it all fell apart.  Both of them were sliding wide on their problem sides, out turn wide on the right, in turn wide on the left.

It wasn’t the handle or grip that was causing the problem, it was something lower in triangle of skills we need to assess.  It turns out what looked like a “handle problem” was nothing of the sort.  It was in fact, a “side of the sheet” problem, they only thought it was a handle issue because on those sides of the sheet, those are the handles they most often throw.  Sidedness was a major contributor to why they were missing shots, not handle.

As coaches, this aspect of the game needs to be in our minds at all times.  Skips have preferences for handles, so do players.  Brushers prefer one side of the stone over the other (sometimes).  Our players strengths and weaknesses can very often be identified by some sort of sided preferences.  Helping our athletes mirror their motion on both sides of whatever aspect of the game we’re working on is critical to consistency.  Even our physical preperation needs to address the fact that we get into a very specifically sided position over and over throughout game play.  How often do you right handed players stretch out in a left handed delivery position?  Physical trainers who are knowledgable about curling will tell you that if you really want balance in the game, you’ll work both sides of your body equally.

Next time you’re out there watching your players keep in mind this concept of sidedness when trying to detect errors.  It might save you a lot of work!

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”.