Coaches? Bah, We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Coaches…
November 2006 Revised Feb. 2013
Believe it or not when I began writing this it was August and 36°C with a humidex of 48°C. I know, the date says November, but that’s my “release” date so there. Sometime this season I’m sure I’ll write an article that starts off with “…as I write this it’s -36°C with a wind chill of -48°C…” but for now we’re far to close to the boiling point of water for my liking. I thought I would write this some articles early so that I would have a few ready for the beginning of the season and so I wouldn’t have to work too hard during the season at it. Besides, as I further my fledgling career as a curling coach I find that the season doesn’t end so much as it slows down a little in the summer.
My season wound down last year with two monumental events (monumental for me at least). The first was my submission of my practical experience for my level 2 coaching certification (At the time this was first produced I had just received my level 2 certification…today I’m fully level 3 certified). I have to thank my two teams greatly for this as of course, you can’t have any practical coaching experience if you’re not coaching anyone. Those team members deserve to be recognized (by whomever you are reading this…I’m still not sure anyone is but what the heck…). These kids are a real pleasure to work with and don’t make me feel nearly as old as they could if they chose to… Thanks to:
Taylor Ryan, Krystan Haidasz, Katelyn Wasylkiw, Tameka Vaters, Scott Eckford, Lauren Wasylkiw, Kevin Talbott, Stephanie Beverley
The other simply unbelievable experience I had was to attend the “Coaching in Curling” seminar put on by Curl Ontario in Guelph in April. This seminar blew me away for dozens of reasons. Both Jennifer Jones and Brad Gushue were there (I got to hold his Olympic gold medal!) as well as Jim Waite and Paul Webster who are High Performance, national team coaches. Being around these individuals is inspiring all by itself. The emotional momentum from that has kept me thinking curling all summer (much to the amusement I’m sure of my teams who are wishing by now that my email would go down permanently…). Still, anyone who was lucky enough to be at this day long event will surely know what I’m talking about.
Those two experiences have reinforced my decision to become a coach so much that these days when I think about the game I see it through the eyes of a coach before I see it through the eyes of a player. Most of this article is going to sound like a shameless plug for myself and my coaching brethren but as you read on, remember, I’m not selling anything and the opinion of the author doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of any other individual in existence.
Okay, so the topic is, who needs coaches?!? Well, I would say anyone who wants to improve their game should think about talking to a coach. A coach can be anyone with some experience and not necessarily someone with more experience than you! If you’re just looking for a few tips then of course you can seek out anyone who might have the knowledge and experience to help. Remember however, great players don’t necessarily make great coaches. They might, but being able to play well doesn’t mean you can help someone else to play well. The biggest advantage that great players usually have is that they usually have lots of experience. Getting to share in that is most beneficial all by itself.
If you’re a team with competitive aspirations then you have to have a certified coach for your team. In the bantam and junior ranks you must have a certified coach before you’re allowed to even compete. Note that I said certified coach. A certified coach is registered with the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) and will have completed coaching theory and sport specific courses. They will also have to have a certain amount of practical experience to attain full certification. Certification doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any good, but it does mean they’ve made a commitment to getting better, it means they have been trained on proven and accepted techniques and theories and it means they have some time under their belt specifically being a coach.
In fact, it’s really important to recognize what certification brings with it and what it doesn’t. Certification means a coach has been exposed to and instructed in accepted practices in curling and sports in general. For instance, a certified coach will have learned about mental training techniques. They will have learned about coaching ethics, nutrition and how to build a practice plan. They will have been taught to analyze a curling delivery and will understand WHY it’s a bad idea to lean on your rock. With all due respect to my fellow coaches out there, it does NOT mean they have learned how to be organized. It does not mean they can communicate effectively with your team and it doesn’t mean they have the same goals and motivations as you do. When it comes to finding a coach, those things are just as important as what the coach actually knows about the sport. After all, the coach will become a part of your team. If they don’t fit in with the rest of you then you’re not going to realize the full benefits of a coach no matter their experience. Also, certification doesn’t guarantee that a coach has actually learned anything about proper techniques, just that they’ve been taught them. Chances are if they took the time to attend the training and get certified then they likely know what they’re talking about. It just doesn’t guarantee it.
As for competition requirements, these are changing from year to year as the model for certification changes. This is causing some confusion as to what certification level is required and it’s caused by the fact that one organization (the CCA) is responsible for coaching education content and another jurisdiction (the OCA) is responsible to making the rules in Ontario around what coaches are required to have. It’s not as complicated as I make it sound however and if there are any questions please ask me. The difficulty comes from the fact that the requirements literally change year to year so it’s important to look into it every year.
I will also say that in my humble opinion the competition requirements for coaching certification are pretty generous particularly at the zone level and for bantams. I believe as time goes on the requirements for coaches will become more and more advanced and higher levels of coaches will be required at earlier levels of competition. I also believe this will eventually further extend into the bantam level and up into senior levels as well. That will most certainly be to the benefit of the sport and to young athletes. Still, it’s just my opinion. I don’t have any insider information. A big issue at the bantam and junior zone level is the lack of certified coaches. Making entry at the zone level more difficult can discourage some teams from entering altogether and honestly I believe everyone should play in some zone level competition at some point. The rules should encourage entry which is what I believe they do and should not discourage.
Other than the rules telling you to get a coach, why else should you have one? A coach is many things. A coach can be a mentor, a guide, a teacher, an organizer, a banker, a shoulder to cry on, a focus point for the team, someone to complain to, a driver, a messenger, a scout… Get the idea? Basically, your coach is a broad resource for your team but still part of that team and not a slave despite the way I make it sound. A coach is a resource that can expand what a team can accomplish simply because the coach brings an extra pair of hands (especially helpful when it comes to lugging that broom bag around…) and an extra brain.
Hopefully the coach is of much more use than simply as bag boy (or girl). The coach can take on much of the logistic work for the team and that takes that burden off the players themselves. The more players can concentrate on simply playing, the more focused they will be and the better they will play.
A coach will direct teams and players in their training. Your coach should be able to set priorities regarding what the team is working on. Your coach should be able to analyze issues with you and the team and provide corrections. As you progress as a player you’re going to get better and better at knowing when you have a problem. Your coach can help you with those problems and help you get better at recognizing them yourself. Certified coaches are going to know the “whys” behind techniques. They’re going to be able to explain why you shouldn’t hold the handle too close to the neck (you’re more likely to dump or pull the stone when you put the rotation on it since the rotation is not being applied from the center of the stone) and why you should keep your shoulders square when delivering (your delivery will be straighter and you’ll hit the broom more consistently). These are valuable things to know if you’re a player struggling with some aspect of your game. I’ve never been able to accept the explanation “it’s just the way to do it”. If I understand why something is done a certain way then I am more likely to try harder to make it work. A coach will help you understand why to do things a certain way.
A coach is much more than just a “delivery mechanic” though. As I spend more and more time around competitive curlers one of the biggest frustrations I see from them is the constant tinkering some coaches do with their deliveries. Sure, a coach should be able to analyze a delivery and correct issues but that isn’t all the coach should be doing for you. Also, if the coach is doing this part of their job correctly, working on your delivery should really become something the coach monitors in the background. It should stop being the focus of work. You cannot spend the entire season tweaking your delivery. Kinks should be ironed out and by the time major competitions roll around your coach should have you focusing on making shots, not on making sure your wrist is kept high on the delivery. Your coach should have the broader development of the team in mind and should develop a plan to help the team move beyond their current level. Certified coaches have been trained in how to build season plans for their teams. They’ve been taught how to train towards peak performance at competition time. That’s something a competitive team is going to be quite interested in. A coach is also going to be able to prioritize those things that you need to work on. If you’re falling over on your take outs and you’re dumping the stone too, your coach is going to know that the balance issue needs to be addressed first, even if you’re more worried about the dumping thing.
Your coach is going to keep your team focused and hopefully motivated. You’re out there because you love the game but having someone encourage you and push you to be your best will keep you going when you might otherwise have given up. Your coach is going to look for every opportunity they can to help you improve your sporting experience. I worded that very carefully. Your coach should understand very clearly why you are participating in curling. They should know if you’re there to be with friends, or if you’re there to get away from your parents or if you want to be the best player you can be. Everyone is on the ice for slightly different reasons. Your coach should understand your reason for being there and should be providing an experience for you that makes your reason for being there more enjoyable. This doesn’t necessarily mean simply helping you be a better player or winning more.
There are some things a coach just isn’t however. Your coach is not (or should not be) “the boss” of the team. He or she is a part of that team as much as any player. Their contribution is unique, he won’t throw rocks or sweep for you (thankfully for me…) but a coach is a member of your team with an equal voice. Yes, when it comes to training then perhaps the coach is the leader but that isn’t the way it should be for all things. Take strategy for instance. Should your coach tell you exactly how to call a game? This is a topic all unto itself but the short answer is NO! Your coach should be clear on the “type” of team you are and can help you on how to call according to your “type”. (When I say style, I mean offensive, defensive or mixed. Another article, another time…). The coach doesn’t decide however what “type” of team you are. Your team is going to have some preference on the game and the everyone will have to all get together to buy into that style of play or decide on one they can agree on. Your coach is a resource member and it’s up to the team to decide how to use that resource. Do you need a coach to direct the team on sporting issues only or do you need a coach who will make all the off ice arrangements too? The answer to that is going to be different for every team and your coach will have some input into the role they want to play.
A coach also isn’t simply a fan who tags along. I suppose technically a coach could be a glorified groupie but then you’re not using that role to its full potential. A certified coach will be looking for things that fans, players and even parents aren’t looking for. They are trained to watch out for athletes as people and to consider what is in the best interest of each player and the team as a whole. Of course they’re still cheering for you but they’ll also watch for issues and then they’ll work to get rid of them. Fans don’t do that.
Finally, the most important thing to consider when thinking about a coach is how much you can trust that person. A coach is in a very influential position in an athlete’s life. This person is working with you on a personal level to help you attain goals and ambitions perhaps like no one else in your life. Whether you want it to or not, how a coach deals with you is going to affect you very deeply. You have to trust that person and their direction. You have to find someone who is going to take that responsibility seriously and who will have the best interests of you the athlete in mind. If you can’t bring yourself to trust a person then they should NOT coach you because they simply won’t be effective.
Of course, there are far too many examples of this trust being abused. This can take many forms from emotion abuse to physical abuse to sexual abuse. It is perhaps the ugliest side of sports when a coach preys on an athlete because it such a betrayal of the trust a player puts in you as a coach. If you’re going to be effective as a coach your players have to believe what you say and follow your direction carefully. You are a professional critic to these individuals on something that matters very much to them. Not recognizing that responsibility is pure negligence and abusing it is nothing short of criminal. I have to say, I’m completely unqualified to advise you on how to protect yourself as an athlete against potentially harmful situations. I’ve just never been a part of or witness to something like that. The truth is though, the risk is too great not to be aware and prepared for bad situations. I have read some very good books that have professional advice on this and I would strongly encourage all young athletes and parents to do some research on this. I recently read a very good book that had a relatively short section on this topic. The book was, “Games Girls Play” by Caroline Silby, Ph.D., Shelley Smith. They have some good advice on what to look for and how to avoid possibly dangerous situations between coaches and athletes. All I can say is educate yourself and if a situation feels wrong, it likely is. Trust your own instincts first.
Hopefully I’ve been able to show you how useful a coach can be and hopefully I’ve given you some idea what to look for in a good coach. I’ve tried to show you that the coach needs to fit in with the team if they’re going to be really useful. They are very much members of the team and we too rejoice in the wins and despair in the losses. Our task however is to help the team build from these experiences. A certain amount of camaraderie between coach and athlete is going to be required for this and that can be particularly hard for the junior and bantam teams because of the difference in age between coaches and athletes. My advice to younger teams is to find a coach who is young at heart, if not in body so you can all relate to each other. Above all, look for a coach who shares your outlook on the game. If your team is mostly about going out and having a good time, find a coach who shares that with you. If you are more competitive then find a coach who is willing and able to support you that way. I could write tons more on this topic but for now, hopefully I’ve convinced you that every athlete should have and deserves a certified coach.