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Friday, April 23, 2010

Job insecurity happens in curling too

Jennifer Jones had a so-so season.  Sure, she won the Scotties, but she and her team just didn’t get it done at the World Championships. Winning that bronze medal took a lot of guts, but that was never the ultimate goal.  And let’s not even talk about the Olympic Trials, which were a (pick one or all):

1. disaster

2. disappointment

3. unfortunate example of a team not getting its act together at the right time.

In a sport with a short season and only a few high-profile events – with small but growing financial rewards – a curling team needs to be practical and forward-thinking. So teams change their personnel all the time.  Ask Brad Gushue and Kevin Martin, both Olympic gold medalists.

It’s really not that different from staffing in any other organization.  You go with the “players” who will meet the organization’s goals, who can be counted on today, tomorrow – and next year – to deliver the talent, energy and strengths required.

We can look at Jennifer’s decision to drop Cathy Overton-Clapham from the roster as a nasty way to treat a valued, contributing teammate and friend, or we can see it for what it is: a management decision with a goal in mind.  Jones wants to go with a team that will get her to the 2014 Olympics, and in her opinion, that means taking steps  “to ensure we will have a complete set of skills and strengths come 2014.” 

Yes, it hurts Overton-Clapham.  She was given the unexpected news at a team meeting and that’s shocking. But in the business world, downsized employees are asked to hand over their keys and are then escorted off the premises. Now that can be shocking.

Perhaps more devastating for Cathy O is the realization that this late in the season, it will be hard for her to pull a viable team together for next year.  Not only that, but despite her own great performance this season, she now misses out on returning to the Scotties as Team Canada and competing with the Jones team at the Canada Cup and Continental Cup. In business there’s a severance package, but not for curlers, unless you count the Scotties’ diamonds and seeing your name in the official records of the sport. That probably doesn’t provide much consolation to Cathy right now.

In the end, we can look at this move as a harsh reaction to a disappointing season. Or we can see it as the painful but necessary decision-making that’s required to help an organization meet its long term goals.  And in sport as in business, I’m guessing that no one involved particularly enjoys the process.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Curling Cold Turkey: How to survive the off-season without your regular fix


DSC_2204Kevin Martin has walked off into the sunset, somewhat bent over under the weight of all that loot, and you’re looking around with a lost expression on your face wondering how the heck you’re going to get through the next few months without watching any curling on TV, or reading it in the Sports pages, or (unless you live in a town with a summer league) finding some on-ice action at the local club.

It’s a challenge we face every year, Grassroots Curlers, and here are a few tips to help you cope.

1. Relive the magic

An Internet search of “Olympics” and “curling” pulls up over 20 million hits.  You can surf the web all day, and all night, and all day – and never come to an end.  And that’s just the Olympics!  Try “Grand Slam”, “Brier”, “Scotties” and – well, you get the picture.  There’s the Canadian Curling Association site, the fan-friendly and very newsy folks at, and all those other wonderful links which you can see listed on the left-hand side of this page.  And let’s not forget The Curling News blog, source of wild and wonderful curling news, rumours, stories and links. Go forth and surf, Grassroots Curlers. 

2. Get in shape for next season

One of the biggest strides the sport of curling made this year was to sell itself – and be recognized – as a sport that requires fitness, strength, flexibility and all that jazz. John Morris’ Fit to Curl made a splash, as did the obvious (and much-admired) fitness level of Cheryl Bernard at the Olympics.  Real curlers know that you need sturdy legs, arms of steel, a back that doesn’t creak and enough gas in the tank to go eight ends – or more – several times in a day or weekend spiel. The required level of fitness doesn’t just happen, no matter how much we think we’ll be 20 years old forever.  Now’s the time to hit the road, the bike, the weight room, the yoga mat – whatever turns your crank and will show results on the ice next season.  Don’t wait for August – start now.

3. Embrace curling’s alter ego, golf

A lot of curlers are golfers, too: Wayne Middaugh, Russ Howard, Mike Harris, to name three.  I know it’s not a game played on ice, but golf does have its attractions. Fresh air, cool clothes, the 19th Hole.  (We don’t have to mention Tiger Woods, do we?) And it can be a cruel game too, just like curling.  Four members on a “team”. A long implement that helps propel the playing piece (ball, as opposed to rock) forward. Celebratory drinks when the game is done.  Not so far away from the things we love about our own game, right? If you’re suffering the night sweats and trembling associated with curling withdrawal, golf might just help ease you through to next season.

4. Take a break

And if all else fails, bury your equipment in the back of the sports closet until next year and just, simply, walk away for a while.  This was a season of highs and lows, excitement and drama.  It was fantastic, exciting, exhausting and draining.  The number of shots we had to call!  The number of games we had to analyze!  Oh, the times those players on TV just didn’t listen to us! Let it go and take this time to regroup and recover.  It might just be time to take a break…

Until next season, when you can fire up your curling engine, refreshed, recharged and ready to give ‘er, all over again.

(Photo by Jean Mills)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Life Lessons I learned from CURLING

1. How to lose with grace

When Cheryl Bernard’s last shot ended the Gold-medal Olympic curling final – ended it badly for her – did Cheryl cry? Did she stomp? Collapse? Blame someone?  No. After gracious handshakes, she turned to her team and they closed ranks, supportive, calm, and in control of what must have been overwhelming disappointment.  This is how to lose, people.  

AND she won a Silver Medal at the Olympics. I wish I could do that.

2. Never lose faith

Everyone knows Kevin Koe’s story. Years and years of trying to get out of Alberta. Years and years of watching Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey walk off with the Brier trophy and the shirts with the maple leafs on the back.  Years and years of coming oh so close.

This year?  Brier Champs.  World Champs.  It does happen, even when you think it never will.

3. There’s a little humour in everything

Norwegian pants. Enough said.

4. Use it or lose it

Okay, she’s not a household name.  And okay, you’ve probably never heard of her.  But my skip in the final draw of the Monday Night Business Ladies’ league at the Guelph Curling Club this year was the incomparable Hilda Peterson. She’s 94 years old and still curling.  Not only that, but she’s good at it, and she makes the game fun.  When I grow up, I want to be just like Hilda.

5. It’s okay to wave the flag

And chant.  And cheer. And sing our glorious anthem so loudly that an Olympic curling game has to grind to a halt to listen. Wave the flag, Canada.  We. Are. Just. Awesome.

6. Many hands make etc etc

How many people does it take to run a Grand Slam curling event? A club’s 175th Anniversary? A Little Rocks bonspiel? Lots. Curlers are experts at stepping up and taking on the often thankless role of volunteer. Other segments of society could learn a lot from this selfless, generous, fun-loving curling culture. Ever seen a 50-50 Ticket seller who’s not smiling?  I rest my case.

7. You don’t get anything if you don’t ask for it

I write and I curl.  I wanted to write about curling, so I got in contact with George Karrys, the editor of The Curling News, pointed him to my blog and asked if maybe I could sort of kind of try to maybe write something for his publication…? He said yes.  In fact, he not only said yes, but he gave me a number of cool assignments during the year, made sure I had access to the behind-the-scenes madness at a Grand Slam curling event, and edited my work with finesse and skill, making me look good in print. George, thank you!

I’m feeling pretty empowered now. I think I’ll ask Jennifer Jones if I can join her team…

8. How curling has made me a better person

See 1-7 above.