Pre-season reflections

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By Graeme Thompson, British Curling Performance Director

Whilst Baden was officially the first tournament of the season, the most recent events have seen a variety of teams competing in both Scotland and Canada, with a further contingent of curlers travelling out to Canada to tournaments this week. We also completed our five weeks of pre-season training at Kinross Curling Club. This included all levels of the performance programme – British, Scottish Performance Foundation and Scottish Academy.

The time at Kinross, starting on the 1st August, was very effectively spent. The quality of ice was very good, which is a compliment to Steven Kerr and his colleagues there. The players and staff really appreciated that and it enabled them to train with confidence during this key phase of preparation. The ice was well used, albeit we built in preparation time every two hours for it to be pebbled and scraped, to allow the ice crew to maintain the high standard.

Players worked on technical and tactical aspects of their development. Firstly, re-engaging with their slide after between one and two month’s off-ice, whilst sweeping was another technical focus. After last year’s disruptive sweeping scenario, all the teams were readying themselves for the new rules and utilising approved fabrics. This five week block enabled players to do significant core technical work and in a much more focused way by comparison with the competition phase. This will be a growing facet of the programme especially as pre-season phases will be more prominent in the future with the anticipated National Curling Centre.

Team sessions were another component on the ice. Included in this were matches organised between teams. For some teams, who remained the same from last season, an opportunity was provided to check in on last year’s finishing point and develop new thoughts and approaches to tactics. For new teams it was important to get time together, establishing principles of play and how they will operate on the ice. Whether a new team or not, playing matches in pre-season can help to test out the process of communication, new tactics and sweeping co-ordination, as examples. Whilst they can never replicate actual tournament play, they can be a significant preparation activity.

Not all the training at Kinross was on ice. Having a common base for five weeks allowed a lot of informal interaction between players and staff. This was really helpful as operating across multiple sites for on-ice and physical preparation work does not create this to the same degree. The players and staff also attended four workshops.

The Anti-Doping workshop was delivered by a United Kingdom Anti-Doping trainer. This will be an annual workshop all players need to attend and there will be follow up activity during the season including regular reminders of the key messages.  It is a critical issue in sport and we need to consistently educate and remind all personnel on the programme.

The Media workshop was led by British Curling’s part time media consultant, Kate Weldon. It included a senior sports writer from a Scottish newspaper, giving up-to-date feedback as to how the players can help to develop the profile of the sport and that of themselves and their teams at the same time. Players taking an element of ownership for raising the profile of the sport is part of the responsibility of being invested in by the National Lottery via UK Sport and sportscotland.

The third workshop focused on Performance Analysis and Skill Acquisition. It was led by Kenny More and Malcolm Fairweather from the Sportscotland Institute of Sport. Both have a long association with the Curling programme. Kenny is the lead Performance Analyst in the programme and also played a prominent role during on ice training with his regular videoing of sessions and, crucially, his analysis of the footage for players to take on board. Their workshop focused on making the most of time on ice, training to ensure that it was transferred into competition time and improvements in performance. It included reference to some cutting edge research that the Sportscotland Institute of Sport has worked upon in other target sports and how curlers can benefit from it.

The final workshop was designed to support the key issue of Team Dynamics. The programme had researched other environments to learn from. The key ingredients being of small teams working together on an agreed mission with set roles under a designated leader but with everyone contributing collectively and gathering intelligence whilst on the mission to make well informed decisions. Hence a former member of UK Special Forces offered perspective on how small teams can work best with this mission in front of them. Those sessions, delivered from a very relevant but different perspective, seemed highly effective in stimulating thoughts for the curlers.

Whilst the bulk of the work at Kinross was about the performance players, we incorporated some other stakeholders in the sport and some new ones. A few examples of these were:

-          Academy coaches and coach mentors spent a day with David Ramsay and Tony Zummack preparing for the new season

-          Alan Stansfield had a group of 12 umpires come together for a day, which included a discussion with Teams Fleming and K Smith about situations and scenarios in tournaments and how best for officials and players to interact and  co-operate.

-          The RCCC US tour took an afternoon session of ice for practice matches

-          Through an initiative run by upmysport, Team Murdoch on one occasion and David Murdoch by himself once, ran sessions for two groups of youngsters totally new to the sport. One was a group of Scouts from Glenrothes and one a group of young carers from Milgnavie.

So, all told, the pre-season phase at Kinross is viewed as a successful period. The ultimate test though is competition time and we are now in the full swing of that, with five teams in Canada this week alone competing.
PHOTO: Tom J Brydone


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