Thursday, April 3, 2008

Wheelchair Watch - SWEEP! Magazine April 2008

(published prior to the 2008 TSX Canadian Wheelchair Nationals)

2007/8 Season Wrap-up

The sixth season of wheelchair curling in Canada closes with the TSX sponsored 2008 National Championships in Winnipeg at the end of March.

Nova Scotia and Northern Ontario will make their first appearance. Laughie Rutt, Nova Scotia third and irresistible force behind the provincial program, is realistic about his chances: "We've been working hard and hope to be competitive. We have experienced coaches, and this year's competition will at least prepare us for 2009 when we will be hosts."

He’ll face experienced opposition. It is Alberta's Bruno Yizek’s third championship. He won a five team Alberta playdown. Ontario's Chris Rees makes his fourth appearance after beating Chris Daw in a four team Ontario playdown. Manitoba's Chris Sobkowicz earns his fourth Bison jacket, this time at third.

Darryl Neighbour, as a Team Canada member, was ineligible to participate in BC’s selection camp, so Jim Armstrong will skip an otherwise unchanged side. Vince Miele gets the nod as alternate for years of good natured toil in the trenches. CurlBC appear finally ready to abandon their selection camp circus and hold a playdown next year.

While acknowledging the disappointment of not medaling at the Worlds, national program director Gerry Peckham summed up Team Canada’s year: “We invested far more in the selection of Team Canada 2008 from the National Talent Pool than we did in preparing Team Canada 2008 to win the Worlds, We will now turn our focus to preparing Team Canada 2009 to win the Worlds, and in turn the 2010 Paralympics."

Team Canada is as experienced as any in the world. Sonja Gaudet, Gary Cormack and Gerry Austgarden won gold in Torino. Ina Forrest was on the 2007 Worlds team, and both she and newcomer Darryl Neighbour led at their positions at the 2008 World Championships..

Peckham promises more meaningful competition next year, perhaps against able-bodied practice teams . While his squad practice on their own, and play in leagues, throwing rocks without chairs being braced, and playing in games where poor shots suffer no consequence, may not be helpful.

With only a part-time national coach, the CCA might want to consider enlisting local coaches to monitor practices and league performances. Wheelchair curling practice needs at least two people on the ice. I’m sure there are plenty of coaches and club players who would assist if asked.

Hits and misses

Canada threw an impressive 57% at the 2008 Worlds, second only to Korea. Of the 424 rocks thrown during round robin, how many were scored zero? {answer below]

Although shot making percentages are slowly rising, wheelchair curling remains a game of misses. Looking at the shot by shot diagrams from the 2008 Worlds, it seems that games are not won by great shots so much as lost by draws that do not make the rings, and attempted hits that flash. Great shots, take-out doubles, hit and sticks, and draws to the button do win games; just not very often.

Accurate ice reading and calling simpler shots means more shots will be made. But without sweeping, a great many shot calls, short of desperation, are of dubious value. Freezes top my list, closely followed by hit and sticks, hit and rolls – in fact any finesse shot thrown by someone who has sat in the cold for 30 minutes between throws

Twice world champion Norway’s coach claims to plan for missed shots, and successful teams will not only call high percentage shots, but those that allow for frequent misses. I’d be tempted to question the value of any stone not put immediately into the rings.

Six end matches are a lot more of a lottery than we might like to admit to the sponsors. I’ll take the team that can put 7 stones somewhere in the rings every end.

Coaching tip

What you can do over the summer to prepare for next season? Here’s a tip I first heard from BC coach Kevin Rouck.

Good players have a routine that they follow before they throw. If it is interrupted they start over. By internalizing this routine, they don’t have to think about how to throw. They can just concentrate on line and weight.

Make a list of the things you do to deliver a stone. Start at your approach to the rock. Include where your body sits in the chair, how you anchor yourself, how you position the rock and place your stick on the rock handle, how you breathe as you prepare to throw. Then visualize your delivery motion, note where your elbow is during delivery, where your hand ends up.

That sequence, and it will be different for every wheelchair curler because our bodies are all different, is your delivery script. Write it down, revise it to include every action, and then read it and practice it for a few minutes every day away from the ice. You’ll find next season it will be as though you were never away.

[answer: 114 – 27%]

Kelowna, March 2008

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