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Learning from National Playdowns

Our recent endeavor into the world of national playdowns did not go exactly as we had planned. We finished 1-3 at the east regional qualifier. In the end, this record was only good enough to tie for last place. We knew this would be our most difficult tournament to date, but to be perfectly honest, we were hoping for more than one win.

I’d like to congratulate skip Heath McCormick and his ‘Fit to Curl’ team. They were the top team at Rochester playdowns, and will now compete for the US championship in Fargo, ND. Good curling, fellas!

Despite our poor results this past weekend, the event was a terrific learning experience for our team. It was our first attempt at competing on the highest level that United States curling has to offer. So in a way, our entry fee of $440 was more like a tuition. It was the price we paid to get schooled the hard way.

I don’t mean to make that sound like a bad thing. Learning the hard way is probably the best way when it comes to curling at high levels. You can read all you want about strategy, and practice as much as you like against teams in your home club. But it doesn’t come close to the value of actually competing against top level teams, and witnessing how they approach the game.

Curling on the national level is very different than the traditional bonspiel game most curlers are accustomed to. Yes, the rocks are the same weight. The ice is the same length. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

The best teams that compete for nationals all display a certain level of professionalism in their game. It is a level of dedication and focus that you just don’t see at a standard bonspiel. It’s a harsh disparity, one that I won’t soon forget.

So what makes these teams so different? What exactly is this professionalism I’m talking about? It stems from their vast experience, and affects all aspects of their game. Here’s just a few things the successful teams do that often get overlooked by less competitive teams...

Player duties:
These are basic, tangible things. Sweepers will clear the lane for all players before the shooter throws. You’ll see them constantly scanning the ice for debris, etc. They’ll clean each rock upon release. This goes a long way in making a random pick far less likely. Players will remember every line and its respective split time. Since each line will often demand a separate weight, (we’re talking tenths of a second here) knowing who previously threw what/where/when, is crucial.

Uprink and downrink will talk thoroughly about each shot and situation. The more information each player has, the more likely the shooter is to make the shot. During any given shot, sweepers will be specific when conveying weight to whoever is in the house. Discussion often involves all players, allowing everyone to get on the same page.

A steady demeanor is always demonstrated, no matter the game situation. When playing poorly, a calm demeanor will prevent anyone from getting too down on themselves. When playing well, it allows players to remain focused on the task at hand. You won’t see a professional team yelling at each other on the ice, or slamming brooms in frustration. Similarly, you won’t see them overtly celebrating a 3 point end either.

Overall, this professionalism means that players treat their responsibilities more like a necessity than a preference... more like a job, than a hobby. It means that players don’t go into an event like national playdowns looking to have fun like at most other bonspiels. That’s not to say that fun can’t be had, but rather, these teams arrive with one goal in mind: to win.

Perhaps this professional approach is something that experience will help with. The more any team competes at a high level, the more they will grow accustomed to what it takes to succeed at said level.

Our team now has a few weeks to reflect upon what we learned in Rochester. We’re competing at Club National Playdowns in Bridgeport, CT from Jan. 20-23. I’ll talk more about Club Nationals in an upcoming entry.

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