Performance Benchmarks

It’s November here on Canada’s Left Coast, actually I suspect given today’s date it’s November everywhere (what a grasp of the obvious) but whereas golfers around the country likely have packed it in for the 2012 golf season, hackers here on Vancouver Island only get out the “rain shoes” as play continues through the winter. Why the reference to golf? I can interview golfers as they come off the 18th green and by asking one question about their round, I can tell them if they played well (and the question is not, “How well did you play?”). My question quite simply is, “How did you play the par  3’s?”.

For those of you who are not golfers, golf holes come in “three sizes” (par 3, 4 & 5). When the “par” for a hole is established, it’s primarily the length of the hole which is the determining factor and given the allowance for two strokes on the green to “putt” the ball into the hole, on a par 4 (the most common of the three par designations) from the tee to the green you are allowed two strokes which added to the two for putting make a total of four. In other words, to get on the green in “regulation” on a par four it should take two strokes to accomplish the task.By extension then, on a par five hole, you have three shots to make it to the green. That said, you can “make par” in other ways. For example, on a par four you might not have executed a world class tee shot but a superior approach to the green added to the two putting strokes and you have your par. You may have kicked the ball around the fairway to take three strokes to make it to the green but make a long, winding putt to “save par”. On par five holes, you have three shots to make it to the green. Generally par fives are more forgiving because even with their added length, you can “make up” for a poor shot and still make par.

Not so with par three holes. You’re expected to hit your tee shot onto the green then make two putts for par. Par three holes are not forgiving! You have to play well to make par. More strokes are lost to par on par  3’s than to the other two types of holes.

Therefore my premise, score well on the par 3’s and you’ve very likely played well on the 4’s & 5’s too! Your performance on the par three holes is a “benchmark” to your overall performance! A benchmark is an “indicator” of overall performance. Hit your benchmarks and the remainder of the challenge should fall into place. Another benchmark for golf is your total number of putts. Again, given two putts per hole, on an 18 hole golf course, of your total score, 36 or fewer should be putts. If you’re averaging less than 36 putts per round but you’re not scoring satisfactorily, you know your problem is either on the tee or in the fairway. Benchmarks, useful diagnostic tools!

After a curling game, I feel there are three benchmarks which need to be addressed. If you hit these benchmarks, in my opinion, you are playing well. Do not confuse “benchmarks” with “performance goals”. They are not the same. A performance goal is entirely in your control. Benchmarks are the result of performance but key indicators to the forensic examination of your overall performance and this can be applied to recreational curlers as well as the most elite.

HOW WELL DID YOU PLAY WITHOUT LAST STONE ADVANTAGE?

Like those par 3’s, the ends when you don’t have last stone advantage are key indicators in my view. Look I really don’t care much how a team plays with last stone advantage. If a team wants to employ its offence first game strategy, or its defence first game strategy or wishes to play like a blended attack team, from my perspective “behind a pane in the glass”, I’m not that concerned. But, when you don’t have last stone advantage my interest swings in the other direction. I care very much how you play! The reason is obvious, you don’t have last stone advantage! You’re playing a par 3. It’s not very forgiving. A missed shot when a team has last stone advantage can be negated by your fourth player on his/her last shot of the end. Miscues when you don’t have last stone advantage tend to show up on the scoreboard, and not on your side of it I’m afraid!

I do not understand why teams play with reckless abandon right out of the gate on ends when they don’t have last stone advantage when “the big three” (end, score, last stone advantage) don’t make it a necessity. I get the fact that on occasion, you might just get a feeling deep inside that says, “Go for it!” even though you may not have last stone advantage but to make that style of play your modus operandi, you’re “tickling the dragon’s tail” in my view.

Here’s why this is such a big deal with me. Statistics tell us that to win a ten end game, on average you need to score, in total, 7.5 points. When I ask teams if they can do that when they know they’re likely to have last stone advantage in five of the tens ends, I rarely, if ever, have a team tell me they cannot score 7.5 points under those conditions. My follow up question then becomes, “If that’s the case, why then do you play so aggressively without last stone advantage thereby forcing you to score many more than 7.5 points to win the game with all the risks that entails?”. If you’re “competitive data” shows, over time, that playing aggressively without last stone advantage proves beneficial, then ignore my warnings and let me know how that goes!

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE OPPOSITION MISSES A SHOT?

The second of the the three benchmarks is what happens following a missed shot by your opposition, especially in a well-played game were misses are like the proverbial hen’s teeth. You need to understand that a miss by your opponent is not a miss until you make the next shot! So many times when a team gets a rare miss by its opponent, it misses the shot following. It’s like there’s “something in the water” at that point in the game and everyone has taken a drink.

When one team misses, I look to the body language of the team that should be the beneficiaries of the faux pas. Look, we’ve all been there. You get a miss from the opposition and there’s a subtle voice inside that says, “Well, finally, they’re human. Whew, what a break!” Shoulders drop and a feeling of well being takes over resulting in a drop in concentration or perhaps a modicum of overconfidence. And, unfortunately, the result so many times, is a miss on your part and that miss can be devastating in the big picture.

“Mo” (as in momentum), following a miss, has your team’s jacket in one hand and that of your opposition in the other. “Mo” will put one of them on but will not do so until he knows the result of the shot following the miss because of the italicized phrase above. Make the next shot and it’s your jacket he wears but miss and he wears that of your opponent. There will always be a momentum shift at that point in the game. The direction of the switch is up to you so much so that following a miss by the opposition, you may not decide to play that high risk, high reward shot. Many will as they feel it’s time to  “put your foot on the throat of your opponent” at that stage. I shall not sit here and counsel you otherwise except to make you aware of “Mo”. Only you can determine if the risk is worth the reward but I will counsel that perhaps, to make the opposition pay for its mistake, you need to make a shot, any shot at this point! To miss, is just not worth it!

EXECUTION TOLERANCE

This last benchmark will not come as a surprise to any of you who follow my writings. I talk about it a lot! There are many shots in a curling game that do not have to be made perfect. Some must, but not all. Make all the shots within execution tolerance and your performance will improve and it will do so right away!

Execution tolerance begins with the person in the house recognizing that there IS tolerance on the shot and “indicating” that to the teammate about to play the shot. At this point that player needs to “acknowledge” the execution tolerance and then “confirm” it with the brushers. Elite teams follow that three component protocol to execution tolerance.

In my first draft of “A Pane in the Glass: A Coach’s Companion” there was an article is entitled, “Tennis Anyone?“. It was one of many that didn’t make it into the final version to keep the weight of the publication under one kilo for shipping purposes. The tennis reference conjures up a phrase commonly used in that sport, “unforced errors”. It’s hitting the ball into the net on a ground stroke that 99 times out of 100 you’d hit over the net. Your opponent had very little if anything to do with your error. In other words, it was an “unforced error”! To a competitive tennis player, unforced errors are a dagger to the heart! A competitive team just can’t make unforced errors and missing a shot “outside execution tolerance” is the curling equivalent to an unforced error in tennis.

Many curlers, sensing the value in reducing unforced errors (should be “zero” unforced errors) will ask the question, “OK, we know the execution tolerance. The skip so indicates, the shooter acknowledges and it’s confirmed by the brushers, but how do I execute the shot to stay within the tolerance?”. Good question and I will answer it but before I do I want to make an important point. Don’t get so distracted by the execution tolerance on shots that you subordinate making the called shot as requested. In other words, you’re still trying for that 4/4 statistical score on the shot!

OK, let’s for the sake of discussion say that the tolerance, so indicated by the skip, acknowledged by you the shooter and confirmed with the brushers is “light” (not, “Don’t be heavy!”). You should be skilled enough to look up to those brushers and say, “You’re going to have to brush this for sure. I just don’t know how much!”. If the brushers are going to have to brush the stone at some point, the only way to not get that 4/4 is to be a little light, but that was the execution tolerance! Conversely, if the execution tolerance is “heavy”, your conversation with the brushers will go something like this, “I’m going to put this there all by myself. Keep it clean but you will not have to brush his shot!”. The only way you can miss that shot is for the stone to come to rest beyond its intended destination but again, that was the execution tolerance. On occasion, execution tolerance will be line. The ice might be telling you that you just can’t be wide, especially on take out shots so clearly the tolerance will be narrow. Conversely, you may be playing a come around shot and getting past the guard is critical, therefore you know and execute the shot to the wide side.

A note of caution at this point when line is the issue. Make sure the team knows if it’s the shooter who will deal with the line tolerance or the person positioning the target. If you both do it, you’ll find making the 4/4 shots difficult indeed.

Hit those benchmarks and watch your performance improve! Contact me at billchpc@shaw and let me know how it goes!