A Coach Learns Too

Coaches Learn Too…

 October 2009 Revised Feb. 2013

It’s something I learned a long time ago and yet it’s something that always continues to amaze me.  Every time I answer one question two new ones pop into my head.  In this instance, I’m talking about curling.  This year marks my 27th curling season of my life (a quarter century plus!!) and 7 years ago I would have sworn there was very little new that I could learn.  Of course, then I started coaching and realized I hardly knew anything at all.  That revelation changed my curling life!  I can honestly say that I have learned more in the last seven years than the previous 20.  Every year now I vow to learn something new about the game or about how to teach it and I have to be honest, it hasn’t been a difficult vow to keep.  Without any further adieu, here begins some of “What Sean has Learned from Coaching”.

Lesson 1: Everyone is Different

Of course everyone is different.  I knew that before I started coaching and hopefully so do you all.  How does this relate to curling?  Well, one of the very many things I’ve learned is how to view a curling delivery from a technical point of view and to see where faults might occur.  I also have learned to some extent how to correct those faults.  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, it’s a model of an ideal delivery based on common sense, bio-mechanics and past success and I have to say, it’s a very nice model indeed.

The thing is, just like any model, it doesn’t fit every single person.  People have different body types and different physical abilities and as a coach it’s critical to keep this in mind.  Forcing a player to get into a position they aren’t comfortable with is NOT going to make them better even if that position is closer to the model.  Of course, it’s important to show proper form and to explain the advantages of it but you really can’t push a person to do something their bodies won’t do.  Sometimes all you can do as a coach is help players improve the things they are doing already.  If you can change something without hurting them, great!

Let’s assume you’ve been able to make a significant change that is closer to the ideal model.  What have I learned about that?

Lesson 2:  It’s Gonna Get Worse Before It Gets Better…

I’ve learned that in order to improve, you need to make changes.  And here we go again but 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 should hear at every curling coaching clinic.  “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.  You just have to be willing to do it and stick with it.

Here is something that happens to me on a not infrequent basis.  Someone will ask me,  “What am I doing wrong?!”.  I watch for a few slides, pick out the biggest fault and give them some feedback.  I’ll suggest a correction then ask them to throw using the correction.  So 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 will very likely result in an immediate drop in performance.  Face it, you need to build up a new muscle memory in order to become proficient at your newly acquired skill.  It’s going to take time.  That adjustment period may be as little as 10 minutes or much much longer depending on much of an adjustment you made.  This is partly why a coach should really only be making small incremental adjustments to your delivery.  Make one adjustment and work until it sinks in, don’t rush to the keep fixing.   It’s practically impossible to fix everything at once.  The adjustment is just too much.

Lesson 3:  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.

I’ll steal yet another quote, “Be very careful what you put into your head because you’ll never get it out.”  If you assume you have a problem, then congratulations, you do.  If you truly want to improve keep an open mind and don’t assume you have something “wrong”.  If that comfortable (if not ‘model’) delivery is almost working then maybe you simply need to get a little more consistent with it.

Lesson 4: 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 biomechanics the rule of thumb is that you have to do something 10,000 times before it is incorporated into your “muscle” memory.  I know I sometimes exaggerate in my articles but this time I’m not.  Think about that.  How many of us have even thrown 10,000 curling stones over our lives?

It’s very likely that few of you are working constantly with a coach.  That means you likely don’t have that external motivator to keep reminding you of the things you need to work on.  That means it’s up to you to take good advice to heart.  You have to hold it in your mind and work on it on your own until it becomes ingrained into what you do.  Tough stuff but worth the work.

Lesson 5: Work on What’s Important FIRST!

I was teaching a clinic this past weekend and as usually happens the participants wanted to talk strategy.  I find it a fun topic and there’s nothing wrong with people wanting to learn more about the strategy of the game but this conversation took an odd turn.  The person asking the questions wanted to talk about what to do when their players were new and couldn’t make their shots.  What strategy do you use then?

At that point I had to ask the person to take a step back.  If you’re not making at least half your shots then it’s quite likely you’re going to lose regardless of the strategy you use.  The problem with this person’s group isn’t strategy, it’s execution.  Frankly, there’s little use in working on the finer points of strategy until the execution is bumped up a bit.  Besides, the strategy of the game doesn’t change with your ability to execute (tactics might…another article…) but the strategy doesn’t.  You have to work on the root cause of problems.  Kevin Martin couldn’t skip a group of little rockers against a club team and win and it’s not because of his strategy.

The same goes with your delivery.  There is another article on this (The Natural Order of the Curling Delivery – Oct 2006) but it certainly bears repeating.  Here is your natural order:

Balance

Timing – Line of Delivery

Grips and Release

If you’re falling over on each delivery DON’T try to work on a feather release!  You HAVE to work on things in this order and if you do, you will likely correct and prevent problems down the line.

Of course, these are just a few of the many many things I’ve learned over the years.  As often happens, current events tend to shape what I write about and a few things over the last few weeks made me go back and look at what I’ve learned.

I think the overwhelming message from this should be that improvement in curling is really a learning process and without sounding trite, it’s a journey that should never end.  The day I stop learning is the day I stop coaching.  That’s the way it should be.  Never be satisfied with the status quo and the education you get will be its own reward.

As always, I welcome any and all comments particularly if you can teach me something new!

Sean Turriff

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