The “C” Word…Commitment
January 2008 Revised Feb. 2013
After spending 25 years in curling (30 now and still counting…) I still find I have so much to learn. Yes, I said 25 years and no, I’m not THAT old. As my curling career transitions from wannabe club player to wannabe aspiring coach I have found that the learning curve has steepened… considerably. While that can be a challenge at times, it’s also extremely rewarding. The highest highs and the lowest lows as it were. When I’m trying to find things to write about here I typically look for lessons that I might have recently learned. Writing to you about them helps to cement them into my head. I’ve always believed that if you can’t explain a concept or idea to someone else then you likely don’t understand it yourself. (This assumes anything I’ve written makes any sense at all…) So as homage to a lesson I recently re-learned, here we go.
Today’s article is brought to you by the letter C. Yes, “C” is for cookie but also for “Commitment”. Commitment is a word tossed around these days by players and teams and from the abundant usage of it, you might think the whole world is quite clear on the concept. Commitment means different things to different people however. You often hear people say “I’m committed to this endeavor”. That however is relatively meaningless without some clarification. Commitment is given in degrees and it’s important that each member of a team understand the degree of commitment the other players have.
This article however isn’t really about that higher level of team commitment, though maybe it is. Let me explain and you can decide for yourself. I want to discuss the very specific topic of committing to a shot and the mental preparation you go through before a shot is made. When you are about to throw a shot and your skip makes the call what thoughts do you usually have about that shot? Do you usually think things like, “Wrong ice bozo” or “Have you been playing on another sheet or something?” or “Are you still drunk from last night?” What about when you’re sweeping? Do you think much about the shot one way or the other? Some sweepers (yes I’m guilty of this since my move to second in a particular un-named league…) don’t even know what the shot is until they scoot past the near hog line and ask their partner.
What do you think the odds are of a shot being successful if the shooter doesn’t believe it’s right and the sweepers aren’t fully prepared for it? I’m going to say the odds are somewhere between “crappy” and “really crappy”. Now it’s likely that when you read that you thought “well of course that’s the case, why even discuss it?” It just makes sense right? If you’re in a positive frame of mind about an event or action you’re about to perform it just has a better chance of succeeding. If you’re in a negative frame of mind then it is less likely to turn out well.
Hopefully we all know that this is a result of your subconscious mind at work. Your head is doing a lot of things that you’re not entirely aware of. How many times have you blinked since reading this for example? I have an exercise where you have a weight suspended on a short string. You hold the string with the weight dangling over a flat surface. You then close your eyes. You are to hold the string as still as you can. In your mind, “see” the weight going around in clockwise circles. Keep your eyes closed! Don’t move your hand either, just imagine it happening. See it in your mind. After about thirty seconds the test subject is allowed to open their eyes and lo and behold! The weight is spinning clockwise. (I just did it myself and it FREAKS ME OUT.) I’ve never seen that one fail. People immediately swear that they aren’t doing anything and to some extent they aren’t. At least, they aren’t consciously doing anything physical. Their body is responding to the images that they have in their minds. It’s very subtle but it is there and it is very real. So, that shot you think is a real bonehead move? Your body is going to fight it based on your mood and what is lurking in your head.
Remember however that there are degrees to commitment. It’s easy to see how the shot is going to be negatively affected if you completely hate it but what about if you only sort of hate it? It’s not all bad…the draw would be better…maybe not… Now what? How is that going to affect your shot? What sort of result are you “seeing” in your mind? Chances are you’re not seeing a successful shot. Chances are you’re seeing what can possibly go wrong or you’re seeing the other shot that might be there. In that case your body is going to respond in a manner as confused as your head is. The uncertainty that is in your head is going to affect your body and that’s how you will respond physically.
This effect happens with the sweepers too. If the sweepers don’t believe that the draw is the right shot they simply aren’t going to have as much enthusiasm as they might otherwise. This is not to say they won’t be supportive or encouraging and it’s not to say they won’t do their best. They may and they may not but their bodies will not respond as well as they would have if they were convinced the shot was right.
How about the skipper or vice in the house? Yes I know it’s “their” call but what if they are uncertain about whether it’s the right thing? That uncertainty is going to cloud their judgment when it comes to calling line for the sweepers and it’s going to work against them as they try to set the correct ice. A giant faux pas that we skips make is to call the “tweener” shot. A “tweener” is a shot that is half way between two shots, (Between…“tween”…get it?) An example of this might be a take out with two opponents’ stones close together, stone A and stone B. The skip might call, “either hit is okay”. On the surface there is nothing wrong with this, after all he has given his team the tolerance for the shot in positive language. The problem is with the commitment to the shot. Which shot is he really committing to? The skip MUST be clear on which shot he is calling and the thrower MUST be clear on what shot is being called. Those two shots MUST agree. The thrower might say to himself, “it’s okay to be a little light because if it curls then it will hit the other stone”. The skip on the other hand might be putting the broom down and cheating inside a little to make sure you don’t miss both stones. What happens? Both players have compensated a little to make sure they at least get the secondary shot and end up missing both shots because the stone over curled. Not enough ice AND not enough weight. Yes, this was a communication issue but the skip did not commit to the shot. The shot was the hit on stone A, not the miss on stone B. He should have called the ice and weight to make that shot, not to “miss well”. AND the thrower should have thrown the weight for the shot called. It happens a lot.
Committing to a shot means believing it’s right. That means believing it is the appropriate shot for the situation and believing the call (ice and weight) is correct for the desired outcome. It also means being able to envision the shot successfully. I’m sure many of you have been in the house when someone makes a shot suggestion that for the life of you, you just don’t see. “Sure, we come off the corner blue and just tick this yellow, bump this other blue spin and roll to the button”. Then I need to tell my vice, “Um I don’t think rocks can change direction 180° but maybe this time the laws of physics will be temporarily suspended…” Yes, we’ve all been there (some of us more than others…). If everyone on the team can’t imagine the successful outcome to the shot being called then guess what? The team isn’t committed to it. Your minds will harbour trace doubts about the success of the shot and that doubt will seep into your muscles. It will affect your delivery and / or reactions during the shot.
You might be tempted to put this all on your skip. You might say, “well, if the team believes in the skip then we’re good to go”. Ah how temptation can lead you astray. The last part of committing to a shot involves the other players on your team. For example, as a sweeper you must believe that your lead can make that perfect guard whenever she wants to. After all, if you don’t believe the player has the talent to throw a particular shot, how can you honestly say that you can envision it happening? I can see us making it if I was throwing it, but our vice? Nah…
I said in the early part of this that committing to a shot might not be about the larger team commitment. I also said that might be wrong. In fact, perhaps committing to shots is the best demonstration of how committed players are to the team and each other. The best teams out there consist of individuals who absolutely believe that each player can make her shots. They don’t doubt it for a second. The broom is placed and four players know that it’s the right call and the stone is going to end up right where it’s supposed to BECAUSE THE THROWER CAN MAKE IT. Nothing to it but to do it. Trust and faith in your teammates where it counts, on the ice.
Now comes the hard part. What if you really don’t believe the shot is right? What if, as hard as you try, you simply can’t see it happening? I mean, sheesh, your skip is a great curler but what can he be thinking on this one, stones don’t move that way?! This is going to happen and there’s no getting around that fact. The best teams out there do address this however. The best teams do a number of things specifically to make it easier for each player to commit to every shot.
First, the best teams have a team philosophy about their strategy. They know how they want to play in different situations and have rehearsed this in practice. What they are seeing in games is not new to them because they have prepared for it. In fact, they have likely dictated play into this particular type of situation. Having a team philosophy is a long article unto itself but I can summarize it this way. The team has examined its strengths and weaknesses, its tolerance for risk and their abilities, both strengths and weaknesses. The shots they call take advantage of their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Their goal is to achieve as much reward as they are willing to risk. If you honestly examined all of that, then you have started building your team philosophy.
Second, (and this builds from the first…naturally…) is that the best teams rehearse those shots and situations that might create doubt. I believe my skipper can draw through that tiny port and put it onto the button because I’ve seen her do it. I’ve seen her do it 1000 times in practice and this is no different. You know your second can make that double peel because you’ve seen her throw it over and over again in practice. I’m going to sweep my bloody head right off because that’s what I can do to make it happen. The very best teams build the mental basis for belief in each other during practice. All those team building exercises and meetings? This is where it kicks in.
The flip side of this contributes to why groups of talented players fail as a team. Again, not to drift into my concepts of team philosophy but if you have one or more members of a team of four who just never agree with the call, the ice, the shot, then no matter how good the four of you are individually, you’re just not going to succeed together. The doubter (or doubters…) will be hesitant and eventually the others will begin to doubt the doubters. The subconscious never sleeps so eventually this disconnect will seep into your team foundation and cause irreparable cracks. Routine shots will start being missed and you’ll wonder how such a good “team” can play so horribly.
Committing to a shot means believing it’s the appropriate shot for a situation. It means believing the ice given and weight called are correct to achieve the shot. It means believing the player throwing the shot has the talent to make it. Finally it means being able to see a successful shot in your head before the stone ever starts moving. Everyone on the team needs to be able to do this on every shot. Failing to do this means you’re getting ready to miss. Oh, the lessons you learn…
Finally, if anyone ever has any comments or suggestions on topics I would really love to hear them. My email address is on the site. I can’t promise every suggestion will get an article but I will respond to all enquiries. Also if I don’t know anything about the topic I promise to fake it very well, wait, no I mean I promise to research it and find someone who does know. Only the best for my anonymous audience.