Hear more about this subject and other curling topics from Jonathan Havercroft on Rocks Across the Pond: A Curling Podcast available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn
During our latest episode of the podcast we discussed how teams plan out their season. While most elite teams do extremely detailed plans, teams entering less competitive events should also take some time to think through how all the different parts of the season fit together.
On the podcast we talked about the season plans for teams entering three very different kinds of events. We chatted with English women’s skip Lisa Farnell about her plans for the European Curling Championships in November. I talked about how the English junior men’s team is planning out its season leading up to the World Junior B Championships in Finland in January. Ryan then asked us how an arena curling team might plan out its season for the United States Arena Curling Nationals.
Regardless of your team’s competitive level, it is worth getting together for a preseason meeting to plan things out. As the old saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail!” How should you go about planning your curling season? The principles are the same whatever level your team is at.
1. Choose your goal event
In our earlier discussion about team formation we talked about how when teams form they should be specific about how a curling team is four individuals coming together to achieve a common goal. So the first thing a team should do is define what their goal is for the season. For most teams this involves entering some type of play-down event. The team should all agree at the outset on both the event and what they hope to accomplish at it.
While winning the event might be an admirable goal, as a team you should have an honest conversation about whether that is a realistic goal. If it is a new team and this is your first time playing at that level, a more realistic goal may be to win a game or two.
Whatever the goal ends up being, it should be specific, everyone on the team should agree upon it and it should be pushing your team out of its comfort zone, but not into the panic zone. I think teams should aim for a goal that they think they have about a 1-in-3 chance of achieving – that makes the goal ambitious, but attainable.
2. Divide your season into blocks
Once you have your target event and performance goal I would work backwards from it and divide your season into three blocks.
The first part of the season should be focused primarily on getting better. This is the time of year to focus on delivery technique, work through your team communication systems and to figure out your team’s strategic approach to the game. At this stage of the season the team should de-emphasize results in competition and focus instead on how they are playing and gelling as a unit.
The second stage of the season should be the ramp up phase. Now that the team has worked through many of its issues around technique and team systems, the focus should shift to on ice performance. The goal in events now should be to play well.
If the team is winning, then it needs to figure out why it is winning so it can keep doing that. If the team is struggling, then it needs to figure out what isn’t working and make changes. In terms of practice the team should shift its focus from more technical work to drills that emphasize team skills, and focusing on any issues that have appeared in the first part of the season.
The third phase of the season should be aimed at peaking. This is normally the month leading up to the competition. The goal here should be to focus on building confidence and getting rested prior to the big event. It is a good idea to ramp down both the competition schedule and any off-ice training and to focus on practice drills that give players confidence in their different weights. While practicing regularly is still important, being well rested is even more important.
3. Select events leading up to the goal event
Once you have blocked out your season you can then pick events – bonspiels and leagues – that help prepare you for the goal event. How many events you choose to play during a season is going to depend on a number of factors including money, team member’s commitments outside of curling, and what events are within a feasible travel distance. But after all these issues have been talked through, the team should select events that are appropriate for their goals.
When choosing events, the first question to ask yourself is, “what kinds of events are my competitors playing?” If you are entering the US Arena Nationals, then nearby arena bonspiels might be a good fit for your team. I also think it is worth choosing one or two stretch events in a season – bonspiels where teams a level above your team’s skill level might be playing.
The best way for a team to improve is to play against teams that are better. Teams should also consider how frequently they want to enter bonspiels. While playing a lot against good competition is a well-trodden path to curling success, there is a danger that team plays so much that it ends up burning itself out by the time it reaches its goal event.
The events the team selects should also fit in with the different blocks of the season. So during the beginning part of the season the events should be local early season bonspiels. The more competitive stretch bonspiels should be slotted into the ramp up phase and then you should try to schedule events at your goal competitions level during the run in to the main event.
4. Plan out a regular practice schedule
Just as important as the playing schedule is the practice schedule. Teams should try to schedule regular practice (what regular is will vary depending upon the team’s goals, but at a minimum it should be at least once a week).
The practice should be more than just throwing rocks. Each practice session should have a focus that matches the stage of the season that it is in. Early season practices should focus on technique and developing team systems, mid-season can focus more on team drills and game situations and practice in the weeks leading up to the event should address any issues that have come up during the season and help the team get their draw weights really dialed in.
Getting creative with your season plan
Finally, during the podcast Ryan discussed some of the challenges that arena curling club teams face in preparing for their major event: US Arena Nationals. One big take-away from our conversation was that most teams face obstacles when it comes to training and competing. Lisa offered some great advice to “focus on what you can do rather than worry about what you can’t do.”
For an arena curling club team, even if it is impossible to get practice ice at your facility you could plan out a road trip to your nearest dedicated curling facility and plan out a training weekend. You could reach out to your national governing body for a list of certified coaches in your area and see if one of those coaches might work with your team – even off ice sessions where a team talks about communication systems and team strategy can help with a team’s performance in their big events for the season.
Rather than letting the obstacles that your team faces in planning out your season become excuses for failure, use those obstacles as ways to come up with creative solutions for how to do things better. Winners find a way, losers make excuses!