Monday, March 28, 2011

Should team selection be the model for Canadian curling Olympians?

Do we want regular curling to emulate wheelchair curling's selection model for Olympic representation?

Bill Tschirhart, in a post on his blog, suggests that selecting a small group of individuals to train for Olympic competition is the way to ensure Olympic medal success for Canada. He cites the success of Canada's wheelchair curling team as a model; concentrating training resources on a small number of individuals, just as perforce happens in countries where there are only a very small number of curlers to start with.

He is of course speaking from the perspective of a high performance coach, indeed a coach working at the National Training Centre where this proposed select group would spend three years preparing to win an Olympic medal.

Bill's perspective on Olympic success: the job would be a lot easier if there weren't so many pesky curlers in Canada. Well, Bill, if you look at wheelchair curling you have that answer too. Selection for the national wheelchair team has removed a major recruiting tool. Participation has not grown significantly in the last three or four years, and at this year's Nationals, leaving aside the invited host team, there were only four rookie players; that's players, not teams.

Canadian high performance coaches, and I put the CCA's Gerry Peckham at the head of that group, have a perspective that answers to the demands of funders; we'll give you money if you give us medals. And if medals equated to the health of a sport as measured by participation, I would have no objection.

But moving to selection will kill the spirit that underpins curling, kill the dream however unrealistic for any one individual in practice, that through your own motivation and effort you can aspire to represent your country. In Bill and Gerry's world, only individuals they approve of can hope to fulfil that dream.

Wheelchair curling was always to be a stalking horse for athlete selection throughout the sport, which is why some of us objected so passionately about it even when it appeared to make logistical sense. 

But before you hold up Canada's wheelchair team as a model for selection, understand that it presently relies on a skip who has played for over 40 years and at the highest Canadian (Brier) level. Competitive wheelchair curling is not yet ten years old, and has only in the past couple of years understood that it is not curling without sweeping, and that it needs a strategy all of its own.
I gauge the success of a sport not by medals won, but by participation. If we want to see curling, and wheelchair curling grow, we should not allow its development to be directed from the too narrow perspective of the high performance coach.


Coach Bill said...

Great Blog Eric. I don't disgree at all with your premise! I have often wondered what the real value of an Olympic medal is. I'd like to know. I think we place a much higher value on it than it deserves but of course, like anything else, it depends upon who you ask!
We sing from the same hymnal when you speak about participation. Participation numbers are an excellent measure of the "success" of any activity be it aport, drama, music etc.
Olympic medals are vitally important to some and of little consequence to others.
That said, there are certain realitites that must be recognized and one of them is that when a sport wins Olympic medals, the corporate world responds with funding, some of which is used to grow the sport to increase participation levels AND we're back where we started!
Again, good thoughts Eric.
BTW, I recetly spoke with two members of the national wheelchair team who feel the winner of the national championship should be able to challenge the national team to represent Canada at international events.
I like the "comment" part of your blog. My email address is on my site but I should do what you do to make comments easier. I'll look into that. Thanks!

. said...

Of course the irony is that were Team Canada to compete as BC they would be hot favourites to win not only their province but the Nationals as well.