What makes a team a championship team?

Those of you who have previously read my words will know that the role of the coach, in the proverbial twenty-five words or less, is to make the team greater than the sum of its parts. Indeed, four players, banding together to achieve a level of accomplishment must do exactly the same thing. It’s not just a case of making eight shots per end for 8 or 10 ends. We have all seen “four skips” crash and burn. In fact, four skips forming a team is like four generals trying to lead the same army. It takes troops in the trenches and highly specialized personnel to get the job done. So it is true with a championship team. I am going to turn to the observations of one Lindsay Sparkes*, who through her distinguished career in the game might have been the first to actually document what, in her opinion, are the characteristics of championship teams. To hear Lindsay say it, no team has ever won a major championship without them.

As those of you who know me well will attest, I like to make the printed word as interactive as possible so before reading on, try to list what you feel are the characteristics of championship teams.

Championship teams all ..

  • have a steadfast belief in each other
  • promote honest communication
  • have a satisfaction with their position on the team
  • have an openness toward coaching input
  • establish clear goals
  • adhere to established routines
  • adopt the attitude that the team comes first
  • show unity and fearlessness
  • pay attention to detail

Let’s deal with these one at a time. Believing in each other is what really makes a team greater than the sum of its parts. One of the teachers in my school has the saying in his classroom that the hardest thing about reaching your goal is to start! It’s believing that you can that makes it possible and in team sports, each player must have that belief not only in him/herself, but in his/her teammates as well.

So often in curling, the word communication surfaces as either the cornerstone of a team’s success or its Achilles heel. Notice that according to Lindsay’s observations, the adjective honest describes the quality of the communication. Heh, if you mess up, admit it! Trying to cover your sins by blaming them on bad brush placement or a fall in the ice that you know is not there only hurts the team! It’s only when the communication is based upon what everyone feels is the truth can the communication become that cornerstone of your success!

Successful teams exhibit daily the treatise that the team can have only one skip and must have a third (mate for my many friends in Atlantic Canada), second and lead who know how to play the position, understand its significance, want to be the best there ever was at that position and believe that each of their teammates feels the same way. I believe the best example of this to be Neil Harrison, career lead for the Wrench. Is there a more dedicated lead, or one who understands the position and its significance. I don’t feel that there would be too much of an argument that Neil has the fire to be the best lead in any competition in which he plays. I believe the same is true for Marcia Gudereit, lead for Team Schmirler or Christine Jurgenson, lead for Team Law.

Being open to coaching input is a quality that is near and dear to my heart. Ladies, take a bow here! You are light years ahead of the guys in this respect! Enough said. (That’ll get e-mail.)

Goals are what so may teams DON’T have. Some of you (again from a previous publication) may recall the SAMM acronym for goal setting. Goals must be specific, achievable, measurable and mutual. A team must have long and short term goals as well. These goals must be recorded and revisited frequently and in the case of the truly committed team, verified with a signature by each team player.

Routines, established for team effectiveness are the pathways to success. I had the pleasure of coaching the Patti Lank team at the U.S. Olympic Trials. On their own, with very little urging from me, the routine established, beginning one hour before game time was choreographed to the second. In another article I will detail it for you, but suffice to say that the mental toughness and role definition it established was clearly evident to anyone who observed the team in its pre-game preparation. In the on-ice pre-game warm-up, I was told precisely what my role was and what I was expected to do! That’s the attitude!

And now for the spot where the rubber meets the road! Team comes first! We’re talking commitment here guys! This is where the five of you (don’t forget that coach) sit across a table, look one another in the eye, and state your case. Remember those goals that Lindsay referred to earlier. Now is the time to test the mutual part! Not only that, it’s time to state the degree of commitment. I believe I hear the word sacrifice in the background. Notice how closely team first is allied with the initial characteristic, a belief in each other.

Have you ever played an elite team? Did you notice how confident they are? They’re not, cocky or arrogant, but confident! This confidence is especially displayed in time of crisis in a game or competition or when something adverse happens as when a crucial shot picks. There’s no gnashing of teeth or flailing of brushes or cursing, not among the truly championship teams, just the also-rans! Champions have an inner conceit. They truly believe they can win every game. The secret is the word inner. The conceit stays there while the confident presence shows!

Lastly, Lindsay has noticed that every championship team pays attention to detail. This is my column so I get to say this, “They leave no stone unturned”! We say to teams who attend CCA high-performance camps, but it applies to all teams, “If you want something you’ve never had before, you had better be prepared to so some things you’ve never done before” (words this author first heard uttered by Pat “B” Reid).

* 1988 Olympic gold medalist, coach of the Kelly Law team (Olympic trials team), national programme coach and friend.

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