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(published in SWEEP! Magazine - December 2007)

"What have you done for me lately?"

Coach selection for last season's Team Canada was heavily weighted to favour the Torino gold medalists. This year it's "what have you done for me lately."

Each of the 13 National Talent Pool (NTP) invitees will have had the chance impress at camps and while playing internationally. Team Canada will be picked on a scoring system: 50% coaches' evaluations in various categories, 40% drills and performance in competition, and 10% peer review.

Coaches are using pre-championship bonspiels to experiment; assessing individual contributions to team performance, rather than won/loss record. Canada's Wendy Morgan declared the Prague (October 19-22) bonspiel a success despite a 3-2 record and 5th place. "The four rookies achieved many of their individual and team performance goals and the team more than exceeded our expectations," she said.

There's nothing like winning, though, and an experienced all-B.C. squad returned from Norway (November 16-18) with a 4-1 gold medal performance that saw them beat perennial rivals Scotland and end world champion Norway's 2007 victory sweep. Gerry Austgarden skipped and threw 3rd with Darryl Neighbour throwing last rocks.

An opening draw loss was attributed by Morgan to "initial accommodation challenges" (the players spent their first two nights camping on cots.) "The team rebounded to play very well for the balance of the tournament. They controlled each game strategically, backed up with consistent and very favourable execution stats," she said. "The staff and athletes are very proud to have won the 2007 Norway Open."

Both Scotland and Norway experimented with split squads and changing lineups. The Scots' post tournament report noted: "The team objective was to develop team dynamics, with players playing out of their usual positions and playing out of their comfort zone. Each individual player also had personal achievement goals."

Norway coach Thoralf Hognestad concurred. "I wanted to see different players in different positions. I am happy with 3rd place. But," he warned, "we will be stronger in Utica and BC in December I think."

Rookies Bridget Wilson and Bruno Yizek (AB), Ken Gregory (ON) and Frank Labounty (BC), plus BC's Jackie Roy will compete in the Utica bonspiel, December 7-9th. The 2008 Worlds team will be announced after the $6,400 Richmond BC International Cashspiel December 12-15th.

At the grassroots

CCA Development Coordinator Chris Daw will lead a high performance camp in Halifax at the end of the year, and event that Curl Atlantic hopes will provide the impetus for participation in the 2008 Canadian nationals in Winnipeg.

A series of Discover Curling "give-it-a-go" sessions have been well attended, but the problem of recruitment remains how to build on that initial interest and weave wheelchair users into curling's social fabric. Older facilities, predating access awareness, typically have upstairs lounges and inaccessible bathrooms, even if the ice can be ramped.

Individual clubs are the key to establishing wheelchair curling, just as they were in regular curling a century and more ago. Every community has wheelchair users, in the tens, hundreds, perhaps thousands, but few wheelchair users will approach an unfamiliar sport without an invitation, some support or even initial sponsorship.

Is your club's ice wheelchair accessible, or could it be made so with an inexpensive ramp? Do you have community or service organizations that perhaps already sponsor a club league and might be willing to donate money, time and materials to renovate a bathroom or install an elevator to a lounge?

If you know a wheelchair user, invite them along. If you're involved in the working of your club, ask how you can integrate wheelchair users. The temptation is to wait for someone else to come by and write a check. In truth, the grassroots will only be watered by your hand.

Coaching tip

Weight control is the hardest skill to learn from a wheelchair. You are in contact with the rock for a mere fraction of a second, rather than the 2 to 3 seconds of the player coming out of the hack, and there are no sweepers to rescue you.

One approach is to attempt to learn, through muscle memory, a range of push weights. An alternative, the "constant weight" method, is to learn a single repeatable push weight, and then vary the distance the rock travels by moving your wheelchair, and thus your release point, closer to or further from the hogline.

With this method, one weight covers all: release at the hack for a guard, midway for a draw, and at the hogline for a takeout, If you can master two weights (consistency is the key) so much the better.

UPDATE: Ex-Brier skip Jim Armstrong, presently ineligible to compete in WCF events, continues to practice from a wheelchair and is working with the NTP as a competition consultant.

See you on the ice.

Eric Eales - Kelowna,November, 2007

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