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    Wednesday, April 8, 2009

    Some thoughts on the way forward for wheelchair curling - 2009

    Growing the sport

    Participation in wheelchair curling in Canada is paltry considering the number of venues and the number of wheelchair users able to curl. The most pressing issue is how to increase participation, and the CCA has TSX and other funding to help make that happen. Most efforts thus far have been what I consider retail operations; one-off give-it-a-go days and clinics. These have value to the individuals who hear about them and are inspired by the skills of the presenter to take up the sport. But without a follow-up plan and a committed person mentoring a nascent program, these clinics have a short shelf life. We need funding spent at the wholesale level, establishing what is needed for wheelchair curling to take root and providing resources that can be applied across the country. There are current plans to give all curling clubs information to encourage them to include wheelchair users.

    To get wheelchair curling started in a new location, there needs to be someone there who is determined to make it happen, and who will organise the resources (ice-time, equipment, coaching, sponsorship etc) necessary for a program to develop. There are lots of examples where this has happened. Al Whittier at the Lennoxville CC in Quebec, Dave Kawahara in Northern Ontario, Ernie Comerford in Calgary (I know there are others) all came fresh to wheelchair curling and created something that will last beyond their personal involvement.

    So how do we reach those people who will be the necessary catalyst for growth? In my opinion you begin by putting one wheelchair out on the ice, and you make that happen by publicising that possibility to Canada's club curlers. Get one wheelchair user to participate at a club, and you will have the club membership recruit others. Get three of four wheelchair users and you will attract the attention of people interested in coaching. Get a nucleus of players and you can begin to publicise them in local media, raise sponsorship money and start outreach, which is far easier to do if there is something, however small, that a recruit can attach themselves to, rather than be sold the idea of wheelchair curling and then be left wondering what to do next.

    What I am suggesting is there is a proven process which needs to be replicated across Canada. Shipping in outside experts, while easy to do and easy to organise, comes after necessary groundwork is laid.

    Raising the standard of play

    I remember a high performance coach, at the end of a long weekend of curling strategy, psychology, team dynamics, fitness and nutrition and much more, saying "Of course, if you can't make your shots, none of this matters."

    Throwing a stone with the right weight in the right direction with the right rotation depends on technique, and while with wheelchair curlers technique will depend on their individual available muscle sets, it can be taught, practiced and improved. Good technique is not about a type of delivery. It is about working with your body and not fighting your body, or your wheelchair.

    Poor technique begins with a curler's first attempt to get a stone all the way down the ice, where the effort to throw hard enough never allows a controlled repeatable and dependable delivery to develop. This is why wise heads like Scots skip Michael McCreadie suggest not throwing from 120 feet until you can push a stone accurately 20, then 40 then 60 feet.


    Evaluating technique and understanding enough about kinesthesiology to be able to suggest improvements is, I suspect, more than most coaches feel comfortable tackling. There was certainly a lot of really poor technique on display at the Nationals, and not just by the inexperienced teams. So the biggest single thing that an ambitious wheelchair curler can do is to examine their delivery. Are they using a pendulum delivery when they have the strength to use a more compact and stable piston delivery? Are they anchoring their off-side hand in a way that twists their body when they throw? Would an off-side brace help keep their shoulders square through delivery? Would angling the chair make them more accurate throwers, or lengthening their sticks or adding an angled hand grip to their delivery stick?

    The principle here is that the harder you throw, the more likely it is that your delivery will break down unless you have developed an accurate delivery to which you have gradually added more weight.

    Once you have mastered weight, direction and rotation, then you can start worrying about subtleties of strategy and tactics. Jim Armstrong certainly has the potential to advance skills like ice-reading and shot calling. Most players are nowhere near the skill level where that would be more than of academic interest. For most teams, getting five or six rocks somewhere in the house will win most of the time.

    Having a widely recognised name may help spur interest in what you have to say, but the trick is knowing what needs to be said if lasting improvement and change is to be made. There are lots of potential mentors, but first let's concentrate on getting more clubs to accommodate wheelchairs, and then let's improve technique so that our stones' destination becomes less of a guess.

    40 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    Eric,

    congratulations on a well measured response.

    I do feel, and I was one of your previous bloggers, that Jim brings a fresh face, with fresh ideas, and a very credible attitude, with new and innovative concepts.

    I do agree that his real value may well be lost in an entry level venture.

    Get the wheelies out, through local means, and let them enjoy the experience. Bring Jim in for the "fine tuning" of experienced players, or as the suggestion began, bring him in as a celebrity skip to teach a "competitive" team the nuances in a game situation. One of the problems of development is finding opportunities to learn in real game situations.

    Jim can fulfil this objective comfortably and turn it into a very enjoyable experience.

    Anonymous said...

    I hear what you are saying, Eric, but for whatever reason, wheelchair curling has stumbled into a unique position of full medal paralympic status, full WCF, CCA approval, etc.

    Perception is everything, and I feel we have to provide the best of training, even if it is too early for most.

    Give the players that have had some exposure the opportunity to curl with the best, Armstrong, and let them draw their own conclusions on how much or how little they have to go to be internationally competitive. We need that benchmark to determine where we are in the mix of things.

    Anonymous said...

    The first blogger, in my opinion, is right on the money. Jim Armstrong provides an opportunity to utilize a very credible individual, with a great profile.

    Use him as a promotional tool, as well as a mentor.

    Anonymous said...

    Back to the initial suggestion....have Jim act as mentor by skipping competitive teams in real game situations. Has to be the novel way to advance provincial teams.

    Anonymous said...

    I really have to agree with the above blogger. Utilizing Jim's on-ice presence would be a learning experience for all teams, much like with Team Canada.

    It would be a great way to advance teams looking for that advantage.

    Anonymous said...

    Everyone is pretty much corrrect in their comments, but miss the reason why they want Jim to mentor competitive sides.

    Pure and simple, it is as much a promotional issue as it is what the teams wil learn.

    Certainly, teams will have the opportunity to learn on-ice, game situation strategy and ice-calling, which would be re-worked in the team de-brief after every game. Bur there is much more to it.

    It is a promotinal opportunity, and a credibility issue for the sport. Armstrong is not simply a player that cut his teet on wheelchair curling. He is a world class entitity in the able-bodied game, that lends a ton of credibility to the wheelchair game.

    His presence and mentoring suggests the sport has reached the next level, worthy of the time and consideration of a wily veteran, not simply some guy that happened to win in a game with no one out there showing any esperience or real understanding.Jim is available, and provides an opportunity to cement the image of wheelchair curling.

    Don't lose the opportunity.

    Anonymous said...

    The "celebrity skip" concept has worked well over the years in able-bodied sport...an opportunity for the average player to "rub e;bows" with the elite.

    I know Jim has actually done quite a bit of this in the past, especially back when tlevision cverage was not as prevalent as today. Ironically, how much television coverage do we get?

    So this is where Jim can help, not only with advancing the strategies, but also advancing the promotion. Make him available to the average guy, to play a game, or a weekend with.

    Great concept....Team ________ pays their own way to the Swiss Open, and CURL______ pays for Jim....great concept.....

    Anonymous said...

    I would suggest Jim's reputation and ability would make him a great mentor for the sport.

    Chris, I don't think your reputation packs the promotional punch, now. Jump on to Jim's tail, and sta with the program.

    Anonymous said...

    I don't know hoe long Jim Armstrong will be around, so we really should take advantage of what he bringa......his profile has to help with future sponsorship and promotion; and let's face it, he is a great spokesperson for the sport.

    Anonymous said...

    It is interesting....love him or hate him, Big Jim is the one everyone talks about....let's use him to the best promotion of our sport.

    Anonymous said...

    I believe that wheelchair curling has enjoyed an unbelievable amount of publicity this season, due to a large part to Jim Armstrong.

    I, therefore, further believe that the more we do to put him on the front line, the more notoriety we get, for as Eric says, "the winter sport of choice" for wheelchair users.

    Thus, it seems obvious on the face of it, that Jim should be handling the mentor tasks, AFTER the locals have conscripted the players.. It would be very synergistic relationship for the locals and the overall health of the sport.

    We have apperently got a wee bit ahead of ourselves, though.

    Has anyonr asked Jim if he would be prepared to go on the road, and spend the time necessary to make this happen?

    I feel that the opportunity will be greatest this coming season, as we ramp up for 2010....this means plans need to be made, budgets developed, and calendas checked SOON.

    WHO COORDINATES SUCH A VENTURE....CCA????JIM.....COACHES OF TEAM CANADA??????

    Let's get at it, time is wasting, since I am sure Team Canada will want Jim completely focused on 2010 at least by January 1......

    Michael McCreadie said...

    Enjoyed and agree with the way for ward for "curling from a wheelchair" unless you have sound basics from day 1 your faults will always be there especially when the pressure is on to make those big shots be they draws/guards/take outs. Quality time (not too long) will pay dividends in the long term. Tiger Woods didn't wake up one morning and find himself the best in the World.

    Anonymous said...

    Michael is on the money...get GOOD basics early. so you don't hve to break bad habits......back to Jim, since he has addressed stick length, chair position, rock position, etc., etc.,....and can explain why......

    Anonymous said...

    HMMMM.....how about a McCreadie / Armstrong international camp?????

    Anonymous said...

    Well, here we go, again. Mr. McCreadie is correct...poor habits initially ar hard to break later. Jim has analyzed the delivery, and has very definite opinions that he says he can biomechanically substantiate, that fly in the face of, for instance, Chris Daw's teaching theory.

    Give me Armstrong

    Anonymous said...

    Oh My God!!!

    Jim Armstrong is NOT, I repeat NOT the Jesus Christ of wheelchair curling!!!!

    Come people!

    Anonymous said...

    With all due respect, who would you prefer to learn from????????

    Name you alternative, and we will go from there..........

    Anonymous said...

    Whoa, Mr. Naysayer,,,,you can certainly slam Armstrong, but you best declare the next best promoter/mentor, and explain your position.......slamming for the ssake of slamming is taboo.....providing other alternatives works.

    Anonymous said...

    Okay, Oh my God......other choices (other than JIM), please?

    Anonymous said...

    Hey, "Come people"....
    always has been easy to slam Armatrong.......provide an alternative, as well as a reason he should not be the premier mentor

    Anonymous said...

    I agree,,,,,,,,Give us a better alternative, or almost as good as Jim

    Anonymous said...

    Hmmmmm. Maybe we should declare this game as BJ (Before Jim) or PJ (Post Jim), because it hasbeen a benchmark, not only in Canada, but internationally

    Anonymous said...

    Sorry, do a head count of likely, or even possible, or even plausible alternatives to Jim...
    Let's see how they match up.

    Anonymous said...

    Hey, Oh my God,

    Jim is not the Jesus Christ of wheelchair curling........YET.

    I think if he applies, he will get it.

    Anonymous said...

    Let's see:

    6 Brier appearances, mixed, junior, schoolboy, numerous provincial finals, WCPA president,World wheelchair, 2 Nationals (only played in two).......do ya think Jim has a committment to curling?

    Maybe we should simply accept and enjoy what he can bring to the table?

    Anonymous said...

    We do have a window of opportunity with Jim Armstrong.

    I think we would be best served figuring our how best to utilize him as a resource.

    Anonymous said...

    Back to the original suggestion of mentoring......I am very interested to hear what logical options there would be to Jim Armstrong as the celebrity skip, or mentor, ot whatever?

    I can think of no one even close.

    Anonymous said...

    Nor can I

    Anonymous said...

    ssuming the CCA or provincial asociations could find funding for a skip/mentor program, which, if requested, I would think woud be made available, has anyone asked Jim Armstrong regarding his interest?

    Any idea, Eric?

    Anonymous said...

    Come on people.

    What would have happened before Armstrong?

    Anonymous said...

    I doubt Chris Daw would have survived even without Jim...maybe he continues with the CCA program, anyway?

    Anonymous said...

    I don't think CCA will tie their fortunes and future with Chris Daw.

    The sport has reached, or approached, at least, the next level of competency (ice reading, strategy, etc.). This requires the next level of coaching/mentor....Jim Armstrong, by default, if nothing else.

    Anonymous said...

    Agreed. Jim Armstrong is the only guy wth understanding at this point. I am sure he will do a great job.

    Anonymous said...

    Backk to the obvious...will Team Canada allow the time from Jim?

    Will Jim take the time?

    Chris Daw is available, and has the time.

    Anonymous said...

    Team Canada does not own Jim, and if an opportunity was framed right, be it a contract by he CCA, or separate provincial opportunities, OR, how about this, the Europeans retain hin for early season, I think Jim would bite.

    Anonymous said...

    Eric:
    Can you confirm what funding is available?

    Anonymous said...

    It will be intersting to see what funds are aavailable, since plans would have to be in place before the season to allow for scheduling.....

    Anonymous said...

    I doubt any one will move in time for next season. That is a shame.

    Anonymous said...

    Eric:

    What has been,and might be the budget for grass roots, and advanced clinics??????

    Anonymous said...

    Jim should be invited to do a once-only availability, cross Canada tour early in the season. If any peovincial associations want to do a bonspiel with him, let them negotiate it by themselves.