Warriors on Ice

It’s common amongst playdowns curlers to joke about how many curling team jackets they have accumulated in their closet from years of competing. Many times over the years they find themselves changing teams or line-ups, resulting in the purchase of yet another team jacket. I have a collection of jackets myself.
The jacket collections that so many of the competitive type curlers have is an indication of how difficult it can be for them to form and maintain teams that stay together for any length of time. It’s a problem that extends to club curlers as well, but to a lesser degree.
One of the difficulties with a curling team is that it’s a small one with only four or five people, meaning that if you don’t get along with someone on your team it’s a difficult situation. In other sports with larger teams you don’t have to interact with a team mate you may not like as much as you do in curling. On a curling team you will find yourself interacting closely with everyone on the team during a game and socializing with your team mates in the curling club bar afterwards. Competitive teams also find themselves travelling together to events out of town and sharing motel rooms.
Most competitive team break-ups over personality clashes and individual’s behaviour happen at the end of the season, but I’ve been on teams where players have been removed during the middle of a cash spiel and even after the team has qualified for a provincial championship. One team (not mine!) even removed a player during a recent BC men’s championship.
Decisions like those can be emotional and tough to go through, but sometimes they need to be made for everyone concerned, even if the turfed party doesn’t recognize it in the heat of the moment. A team can’t function well if players don’t want to be on the ice together. I’ve even written an outline in recent years of how our team plays and expected conduct, and shared it with guys joining our team. Doesn’t mean they always follow it though!
One of my biggest rules is you only express anger with yourself during a game, not your team mates, and you don’t allow it to distract from your focus for the next shot. Any disputes need to be discussed civilly when you’re not on the ice. I have no interest in team mates who won’t maintain their cool and focus regardless of how the game may be going. As one of my long-time team mates and coach likes to say, you have to be “warriors” out on the ice.
Playdowns teams often shuffle line-ups because they are looking for curlers they feel they can have more success with. I know I’m reluctant to form a team, no matter how much I may like the individuals involved, if my gut tells me they realistically can’t help me achieve my goals. There have been many off-seasons where I’ve searched far and wide for players, including out of the Lower Mainland, in order to put together a team I have confidence in. Some years I have stepped away from playdowns curling because I couldn’t find the right opportunity.
Right now, it’s a tricky situation for some of the top BC men’s teams because the Jim Cotter team has been so dominant, winning BC titles six of the last seven seasons. Cotter’s squad likely would have won in 2013 as well had they not come down with the flu during the BC championship in Parksville. Even if you put together some sort of all-star team of the best of the rest of BC men’s curlers, I’m not so sure there’s a line-up out there that would beat Cotter more times than not, especially now that John Morris is back curling with him.
Having everyone satisfied with their position and role on the team can often be a challenge, especially if one player or the team is struggling and changing the line-up around becomes a point of contention. People tend to place themselves higher up the ladder than others might put them. Over the years I’ve been lucky to have my brother curl with me on teams I’ve skipped because he’s always happy to play lead and does a great job of sweeping my rocks. Not everyone is willing to play that role.
If one or more players don’t believe in the skip’s ability to both call the game and throw the last rocks successfully then things will quickly fall apart. Some players love the challenge and ego boost that comes with being the skip, while others have no interest in that position and the pressure associated with it. As a skip I’ve experienced the highs of winning the BC Travelers Club Championship and qualifying in playdowns, but I’ve also lost sleep over the stress of not performing well or screwing up in crucial games. Sometimes you feel the need to step back from it, and I’ve done it when I know I’m not playing well, putting someone else in charge. It’s better than waiting for the knives to come out!
Teams can also break apart because not everyone wants or is able to put the same amount of time and effort into it. If I want to enter 10 events over the season and practice regularly, but you can only do three events and rarely practice, then we’re not likely to work as team mates.
So, if you are a club curler hoping to find a team to play on next season, don’t feel you are alone! My recommendation is to be clear with yourself about what you want before joining up with a team and have a discussion with the others about their wants. It might be easy to say yes to anything that comes along, but it won’t be fun or fulfilling if you are on the wrong team.