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
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.
April 8, 2009