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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lego Construction and Elf Open-pit Mining

My apologies for taking too a while to blog over the holidays. I was busy - mostly putting together the endless piles of lego and Playmobile that my kids received for Christmas. Below is the Lego Ninja Fire Temple, and my son.

As a result, I am now a Lego God. I am thinking of adding a Lego room in my house. No I don't mean I am going to designate a room to store toys, I am actually going to build an extension on my house out of Lego. I think it would be awesome. Now I only need to find the instructions.
Let the Second Season begin.
This weekend I start the process of trying to reach the Brier. Western Quebec Regional playdowns start Friday at Glenmore Curling Club, and conclude Sunday Afternoon.
For those unfamiliar with how competitive curling works – there are really 2 seasons:
·         Season 1: Cash Season: where the teams play each other in tournaments trying to win money. Finishing in 2nd a 3rd place here is good – as you still win a fair amount of money.
·         Season 2: Playdown Season: Where everyone tries to win one big prize: A trip to the Brier. There is no 2nd place.
There is actually a 3rd season - Team Change Season, which officially starts 1 minute after your team has been eliminated from Season 2, or sometimes even before. However, very little curling actually happens during season 3.
I love the Playdown process. When I started in competitive men’s curling in Montreal back in the early 90’s, playdowns used to consist of 80 or so teams playing down to send 3 or 4 teams to Provincials in a triple knockout. EIGHTY teams – just in Montreal.
I won the Montreal A qualifier in 1994 (I think) by winning SEVEN games in a row. Seven! To qualify through the C-section, Montreal teams usually had to play 12 or 13 games, over 9 or 10 days, in 9 or 10 different clubs. Playdowns were an insane test of curling and endurance. And I loved it. It was crazy, it was draining, but man it was fun.
But the playdowns are not what they used to be. This weekend, 12 teams will compete to send 4 to provincials to represent Western Quebec. In Eastern Quebec, 8 teams will play to send another 4 teams. (4 teams are already qualified through points: Menard, Reid, Desjardins and Ferland). So in the entire province, 24 teams are attempting to qualify to go to the Brier. Fifteen years ago, this number was well over a hundred. (Make no mistake - having fewer teams does not make it easier - all 12 teams are tough - there is no such thing as an easy game in playdowns).
This is not only a Quebec phenomenon. Other provinces are seeing similar declines in competitive participation. Women’s Curling is even more of a tragic tale. Curling Quebec will struggle to find eight women’s teams to play in provincials this year.
So why the decline? Where has everybody gone? Why does competitive curling appear to be in such decline?
The answer is not simple. In theory, curling should be benefitting from increased TV exposure and Olympic coverage. I also do not believe that participation levels in curling have declined as rapidly as the number of teams playing competitively.
I have 2 theories to explain the decline:
Theory 1: The good teams are too good
The fact is that there are only 5 or 6 teams that could conceivably win the province. So why should anyone else even try? So why would anyone take a week off of work to go to Quebec provincials in order to fill out the field, or waste $300 to play 3 or 4 games in the Regionals?
I hear this from a lot of teams as their excuse for not playing in playdowns, but to be honest – the same was true 20 years ago, and yet over a hundred teams tried out. Admittedly, it used to cost $100 to play in regionals, but I am not convinced that dropping the price would increase participation.
Theory 2:  Demographics:
Curling is getting older. The last 20 years have seen an exodus of people in their 20s and 30s from the game. Clubs have done a poor job of keeping junior curling alive, and in integrating juniors into adult curling once they grow up. Also, it is just not easy for people in their 20’s and 30’s to curl. We all have jobs, and mortgages, and kids, and whatever - that make it impractical to commit to curling competitively.
Participation is still high in Seniors curling in Quebec and Canada.
So what do we need to do?
1.       To deal with Theory 1: The Club Series: Curling Quebec has actually taken a very intelligent approach to this problem. They are spending a lot of time and $$$ supporting “Club Series” events, aimed at providing Club-level curlers with competitions where they have a chance of winning. The Dominion has created a National Championship for Club Curlers, and word is spreading about just how good thsi event is.
2.       To Deal with theory 2: Rebuild the base:  Support junior curling. And not only competitive junior curling. Junior curling needs to be fun, and not only for the 1 team per club playing competitively. Clubs need to be social clubs for juniors, more than just another activity that they play between 9-11 Saturday mornings. If your Club does not have a solid junior program – then shame on you. A lot of clubs have a difficult time finding volounteers to run a junior program. If this is the case - then hire poeple. Hire kids who are just out of juniors -who can animate and teach the younger kids.
As I have said before - curling is in danger of becoming like the luge - a quirky Olympic sport that only a few weird people actually try. 

Quebec Junior Provincials:
Quebec Junior Provincials are going on this weekend in balmy Val d’Or (temperature at 8PM last night: minus 26).
In case you are not up on your Quebec geography, Val d’Or is located about a few hours North of, well nowhere. It is a few kilometres South of Santa’s North Pole toy production facility. Fortunately, elves who are not qualified as toymakers for Santa can find employment working as miners in Val d’Or’s open-pit gold mines (see below), or as hunting and fishing guides.  

Boys: Felix Asselin from Glenmore, Jean-Benoit Milot and Jeff Stewart from Valleyfield – who should have won last year.
Girls: Roxanne Perron from Quebec, and possibly Allison and L isaDavies from Glenmore. Lisa plays in the Glenmore ladder with Tom Wharry, so she has learned how to drink Labatt 50 and to how to win curling games. Both will serve her well.


  1. Allow me a few comments on both theories.

    Theory #1 - relating to the premise that the top teams are too good. I think we have to refer to your "Cash Season" for one of the reasons for the decline in participation in regionals. Years ago, there wasn't the plethora of cash spiels there are today. Sure there were bonspiels but not always for the cash prize. Money seems to have come to rule the day with many of the competitive teams and when that season is over, so are they.

    In days gone by, regionals was the ultimate test and an opportunity to dispatch those teams with who you had developed a healthy rivalry year after year. Today, teams that stay together for more than a couple of years is unheard of in competitive circles!

    Also...with the advent of two large, central regionals (West & East), teams from "the regions" (don't you just hate that expression?) are less likely to travel the distance where in the past they could compete close to home to qualify for the provincial.

    A few years ago, one of our provincial regional associations conspired to withhold entry fees for all their teams vying for a spot or two at the provincial by running their own regional "bonspiel" and keeping their entry money close to home...feeling that Curling Québec was not giving them bang for their buck!

    Perhaps, as you suggest, reducing the entry fee would make regionals more attractive for those teams on the margins to enter.

    Indeed, Curling Québec SHOULD be extremely concerned about reduced numbers entering regionals. To what extent have they researched the "problem"? One of their mandates is to promote the sport of curling and to this end they should survey the situation very closely.

    Regarding Theory #2...yeas, I agree the demographics are changing. So are the dynamics. Sure, it is very difficult to set curling as a top winter priority what with jobs, family and what not. However, many curlers devote a whole lot more time in the summer to golf! Maybe it's a trade off?

    However, let's look at the dynamics as well. Years ago, there were not the great numbers of French-speaking teams involved in curling. The history of the sport was predominantly English and there was a cultural identity and prerogative to uphold assuring continued participation more based upon what was expected of club members than an option to enter or not. It was "expected" of one another that this was the way to play the game!

    Today, with the influx of French players, the culture of the sport, in our province at least, is changing. And, there is not the cultural identity and commitment to the sport as there was in the past.

    Don't get me wrong. I applaud and revel in the way the French culture has embraced curling. Were it not for this fact, Curling Québec would be out of business!

    Sadly, the French-speaking competitors, for the most part, do not identify with the national prize that is The Brier. Possibly, their focus is limited to competition within our borders?

    Perhaps, those "French" teams that HAVE excelled on the national scene, both on the cashspiel circuit and at national events could be coaxed into "spreading the gospel" which they have obviously subscribed to with some success. They should be exhalted throughout the province as role models unafraid to represent la belle province on the national scene.

    Further to this...it might be a good idea to have your blogs translated into our official language. A few years ago, when I was doing weekly columns on the CQ website, I prevailed on several people over the few short years the column existed to help out by doing a French translation of each column.

    Communicating all these vital issues throughout our entire curling community is of the essence!

    Keep up the good work, Mike. And a very Bonne Année!

  2. Theory #1

    Good teams are too good.

    The distance between the good teams and the also rans is increasing. Also I look at the 12 from Montreal and most of those are familiar names, from years gone by.

    You have to play at that level to be at that level so to speak.

    From an Also ran perspective there really is not purpose in plonking down $300 to get obliterated in super regionals, unless you have a goal to become a competitive team. Same deal with cash spiels, the average team will not be investing $300 to go to 10 of these, to lose badly. So it boils down to this: 4 guys starting from scratch would have to invest thousands of dollars before hitting the Provs. $100 will get the marginal teams back in the fold.

    Theory #2

    Incentive - There is no incentive for an individual club to put resources into a strong Jr program. Many clubs are treading water as is and are stretched thin.

    Graduating Juniors is also an issue, Kids grow up and leave sports to pursue studies, Career ect. There is no magic bullet, kids leave all sports in their late teens.

    The ones that don't move on to adult leagues, where they are told to throw lead rocks even though they are better than most skips