Everyone wants to win. Some even know what it takes to win. Few are willing to do what it takes to win!
In one of the other articles I have provided on this site [sic], I referred to Lindsay Sparkes who identified for the curling world the characteristics of championship teams. If you have not read the article, you should! Not that my writing is any great shakes but the work that Lindsay has done is invaluable!
But how does a team begin? Where does it start? The journey begins with goal setting. If you review Lindsay’s characteristics, one is “clearly defined goals”. I might add that although the list of characteristics is not prioritized, goal setting is very likely first!
Goals can be both long term as well as short term. In the 1998 World Championship in Kamloops, I had the honour of coaching the American men. One of our long term goals was to make the playoffs (close, but no cigar) but in order to do that we had, as a short term goal, the elimination of the big end against us which we did achieve. Long term goals are great, but the stepping stones toward those goals must be clearly identified.
To help with goal setting, an acronym can be employed. Credit for SAMM goes to friend and Canadian team leader, Jim Waite of St. Thomas, Ontario.
The “S” means specific! Goals, to have any value, must be specific. Permit me a personal illustration. I had the privilege of working with scholastic athletes at the University of Waterloo for nine years. In a discussion with the then men’s varsity basketball coach, Don McRae, he indicated that in his organizational meetings at the onset of the basketball season, he asked his team what their goal for the season might be. On many occasions the team replied that they wanted to play well. As admirable as that goal was, it was rather useless because it was much too general. To play well, more specific short term goals had to be established.
“A” stands for achievable. Goals have to be realistic. This past summer (1998) I had the joy of working with four junior girls’ teams for a week at the Amethyst Summer Curling Camp in beautiful Thunder Bay, Ontario. One team is bound for the Canada Winter Games next February in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Two were hoping to get to their association playdowns and one, quite frankly, was just aspiring to win their club’s spot in the zone. All four teams had their heads screwed on right because their goals were realistic. And, of course, the goals outlined above were relatively long term. What we spent a good deal of time discussing with the teams at the camp was exactly what each had to do in terms of practice, nutrition, mental preparation, physical preparation, delivery analysis and team building to move toward the goal. It’s the moving toward goals that makes sport worthwhile! When goals are viewed as achievable, there is a much greater chance that the athletes will stay committed to the task.
The first of the “M’s” is for measurable. It’s a little like the digital age in which we find ourselves. Either we did or we didn’t. And if we didn’t, can we measure the degree of success? From a team perspective, it may mean winning a certain number of games in a bonspiel or a league. From a player’s perspective it may mean reducing the number of unforced errors. There must be some scale which can be applied to the task. Now, let’s set the record straight on one matter here and now. That’s statistics. I caution all coaches and players on the matter of statistics. Too often a player hustles off the ice to the coach or designated scorer to “find out how he/she shot”. Heh, gang, nobody makes a shot all by themselves. It takes four people to make a shot! Someone must call the shot in the first place and position the brush. Two others will judge the weight. That individual holding the aforementioned brush will judge the line. Decisions are made to react or not react appropriately. Of course, one person must send the stone on its way but he/she is merely a part of the overall picture in executing a curling shot. If the lead shoots 78% it’s not the stat for a player. It’s how the team played on the first two stones of the ends!
The second “M” represents the key factor in goal setting in my humble opinion. That’s mutual. Everyone must be on the same page. Everyone must be committed to the goals. Do you remember one of Lindsay’s characteristics that deals with this subject? It was honest communication. Heavy emphasis is placed on the adjective honest. Goal setting should take place in the off season. Certainly the long term goals should be established long before the season begins. And people need time to live with a pending group decision. So I advise teams that goal setting sessions should both suggest goals and then finalize them. Sometimes teams are well intentioned and buy into this goal setting idea. They convene a meeting to set the goals and resolve to live or die with them. Wrong! The first goal setting session should be a brain storming one. Explore many possible goals. Then, reject the ones that do not follow SAMM. Of the ones remaining, give everyone a chance to sleep on them. In a follow-up session, honest communication then must take place before a final decision is made. It’s much better, and I might add easier for a player to speak up in August around the Bar-B-Q than in December, three weeks before zone playdowns. The goals need to be recorded and revisited frequently.
I spend fall weekends with some of the best teams in the country in sessions set up by the Canadian Curling Association and provincial associations. We call them high performance camps. We don’t spend a great deal of time on the ice. In fact, we have done high performance camps without any ice at all. The point I want to make is that for teams to be successful, for every hour of on-ice preparation which takes place, there should be about one half hour of off-ice work. I will speak more about this in a later article but suffice to say that if a team ignores things like goal setting, stress management, physical preparation, nutrition etc. it’s leaving a major portion of its game in the locker room. Can your team afford to do that?
Before I close this off, let me say one thing about team building. Plan many sessions for the team away from anything that even resembles curling, It may be a golf outing, a Bar-B-Q, a visit to a professional sports game such a the Bluejays, Expos or Raptors. It may take the form of a camping trip, anything which will get the team to begin to come together and begin to rely on one another. As Lindsay noted, players on championship teams believe in one another. When that begins to occur, coach, you’re well on your way to making the team greater than the sum of its parts.