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Monday, November 19, 2018

There is Drinking in Curling! I Am Shocked!

If you have not yet heard, curling made the news this week for the wrong reasons:
Jamie Koe, and a pickup team made up of Ryan Fry, DJ Kidby and Chris Shille were ejected from a WCT event in Red Deer over the weekend for unsportsmanlike behavior.

Curling Team Ejected

You can read the articles on this, so I won't re-tell the story. And I was not there.
But from what I understand, they (and I don't think it was the entire team) behaved really badly on the ice, smashing and breaking brooms, then damaged the locker room. They were all pretty drunk at the time.

So I certainly did not want to be writing on this topic - but I am at a work conference today and I have already been asked about it by non-curlers about a million times already. So first of all - thanks for that guys. You have now made it tougher for every team looking for sponsors across the country to convince people that curling weekend are not drunken escapes from our wives.

This is definitely not the kind of attention that our sport needs.

But I am pretty sure they are getting an earful from just about everybody in the curling world today - so I will hold back from further criticism.

But I will talk a bit about drinking and fun in curling.

So here is the deal. Curling is a sport that has often been associated with drinking. And I certainly grew up in that generation.

So full disclosure:

I have gotten drunk at so many bonspiels, I can't even begin to count. I typically have not curled drunk very often (mainly because I am not very good at it). And I have curled hungover, in more important games than I would like to admit.

But when I started curling in the late eighties, that was what EVERYONE did. We drank. We partied. We did stupid stuff. The best teams in the world were doing it. Ed Werenich, Paul Gowsell, Hackner. They all drank and partied until the weee hours of the morning, then got up and curled. And usually curled pretty well.

In Quebec we had the Buckingham guys, who were half in the bag or hungover while playing at Provincials to go to the Brier, let alone a weekend cashspiel. And they won. A lot. When we played, our team physician/therapist was Doctor Bacardi  - he could cure all ills.

But somewhere along the way that changed. It seems to coincide with the notion that curling is an Olympic pursuit and not just a game. It coincides with the notion of "professional" curlers, or guys who now make their living curling.  It coincides with the emergence of coaching, because it is hard to convince your coach that you are mentally preparing for a game when you are really trying to focus on not throwing up. It coincides with binge-drinking becoming far less socially acceptable than it was 20-30 years ago.

Somewhere along the way, the teams that drank their way to success faded away, and were replaced by teams that would have a protein shake instead of a beer before the game. They were replaced by early morning visits to the gym, instead of the floor of the hotel room bathroom.

I look back and wonder why we did it. I think part of it was the lack of coaching. The fact is, one of the most important secrets to the higher levels of curling is to learn how to "turn your brain off", in other words, how to not overthink your delivery. Coaches work hard with teams teaching them this point.  The way we used to do this was by occupying the right side of your brain with the task of holding down your breakfast. So we drank. We drank to forget, and to exorcise the demons that haunt you after a game. And we drank to make sure we were not thinking about being nervous. And we drank because it was fun.

Now most of the great drinking of the past is long gone from the game, relegated to end of season drinking spiels like the Glenmore Intermediate, the Kenogami spring tournament and countless other relatively meaningless but immensely fun events across the country where drinking still plays a big role in curling.

But there are throwbacks. Jamie Koe is a throwback to another generation. He drinks. And plays. And plays well.
Jamie and Chris Shille played me last year at the Brier in the "placement game" which was relatively meaningless but was still televised on TSN.
I don't think they slept much the night before, and I am pretty confident that they did not have any water in their water bottles.
But we had a fun game, and they out-curled the shit out of my sober team.
(you can actually watch a replay of the game on Youtube, in case you want to watch some drunk guys beat the crap out of us:  Fournier vs. Koe Brier 2018). Jamie and Chris did not miss many.

I have hung out with Jamie at spiels before, and they have made a career out of being not only good on the ice, but great at the bar. And nobody loves curling more than Jamie Koe. He is a popular draw at charity spiels, and readily gives his time to a number of causes.

So Jamie signed up to play at the Red Deer Classic, which seems to be a Tier 2- level curling tournament. It is not a drinking spiel. This was a real event, with sponsors and volunteers and teams competing. And like most spiels, Jamie did what Jamie does: drink.
But I have a tough time seeing Jamie as being "unsportsmanlike". Drunk yes, unsportsmanlike no.

Make no mistake, this team did not get kicked out of the tournament for being drunk. Jamie is drunk at most spiels he plays, and has never gotten kicked out of anywhere. His team got kicked out for being assholes (at least one of them).

The issue by all accounts seems to have been Ryan Fry, who has been known to smash a broom or two while sober. Fry is on a week off from Team Jacobs, who are between 2 Grand Slam Events. So he likely signed on to spare with Jamie, thinking it would be a fun week of a more casual style of curling. Ooops. Ryan apparently behaved badly, both on and off the ice.

By all accounts, Fry seems to know how bad he screwed up, and this will more than likely end up being a trans-formative experience for the guy. I am not saying he will find Jesus or join AA, but I think you have to take a hard look at yourself in the mirror when you get kicked out of a bonspiel for being an asshole. His apology on Twitter today seems contrite. And I wish him the best. We have all screwed up at times, this occasion is just a bit more public than most.

As for Jamie, he is one of the true characters of the game I love, it would be a shame if this tarnishes his image as a lovable and highly-skilled party animal. I doubt it will.

My lead, JF Trepanier, made a great point this weekend - before we even knew about the whole Koe-Fry thing, and I think it is especially relevant today:
As competitive curlers, we owe a debt to the game. The Game gives us a lot: it gives us fun and excitement and the chance to have fans actually cheer for what we do. Sometimes it even gives us money. What a privilege.

But the trade-off is that we have to make it fun for the fans to watch as well.
We have to make the people watching the game love curling as much as we do. We do that as much with how we act on the ice as we do with our curling ability - if not more so.
This is why a Guy Hemmings was always so popular with the fans. You did not just watch him play, you shared in his joy of curling.

I think this is a good thing to keep in mind for the uber-serious competitive teams of today, and especially for Ryan Fry.


So in less exciting news, Team Fournier had a good weekend in Halifax - losing in the Semis to eventual winner Scott Howard.

The spiel itself was awesome. This was the inaugural Stu Sells 1824 Halifax Classic, and we definitely plan on returning. The hospitality was typically Maritime, the ice was flawless and the party was a blast. The curling world needs more events like this. Big thanks to the organizers - and to Stu Stankey, who is now sponsoring some of the best events in the country.

We are now off to Charlevoix this weekend, one of my favorite places in curling despite how it has treated me in the past, and usually on my birthday no less.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Winning isn't everything - or is it?

So this has been bugging me for a while. This will be a curling and non-curling post – as a few events in my life seem to be hitting on this this point lately - so forgive me for venting a bit.

So my son plays house league hockey. He is pretty good for house league – he scores a lot and is fun to watch. He has no allusions of being a professional hockey player, but he genuinely loves the game. He tapes and re-tapes his stick before every game. He looks at standings from his league on-line (probably instead of doing homework). This year he is playing Bantam B. In house-league hockey – there are two levels – A and B. The better/bigger kids play in A. The smaller or less-skilled players play in B.

So this year my son got put in B. Fine. He will enjoy it, he will score a bunch of goals.

But predictably, the league in which he plays, like a lot of kid’s sports, was affected by parents and politics. Somehow – the league decided it was better to load up and stack the A teams with 17-18 players and leave my son’s team undermanned with 12. Strange. Also, the balancing of the teams was horribly biased, and seems to have resulted in my son’s team getting the short end of the stick.
But what disappointed me the most is the obsession people seem to have to win at all costs, vs. the notion of playing in leagues that are well balanced with players of equal abilities. If your goal is to produce young athletes that enjoy the game, should we not be obsessed with making the games fun for all, not just the team that wins the trophy at the end of the year? 

So now let me bring this back to curling.

I read an article by the excellent Devin Heroux on the CBC site where he interviewed Mark Kennedy, who has switched from a playing to a role in Curling Canada’s high-performance development team.
Mark basically said in the interview, that he thought it was unpatriotic for Canadian coaches to be doing such a good job at making other teams from around the world better. We should instead keep our knowledge of high performance curling secret, presumably so that we can win more.

I love Mark – have always been a big fan, but Ugh - what a misguided thing to say! I was dumbfounded that a curler in Canada, especially one who has won a gold medal, would say something like that.

Is winning more important than developing the sport we love around the world? 
Would a gold medal mean as much to us if it was easier – because the rest of the world failed to get better?

To me, it comes down to the scourge of winning.

Let me make this clear: I play sports, and I love sports. I play golf, soccer and curling a lot. And I hate to lose at any of them. Every time I step on a field/rink/course I really, REALLY hate to lose. To quote Billy Bean of Moneyball fame: “I hate losing more than I like winning.” 

But here is the thing, for there to be sports, someone has to lose. 
And for it to matter to anyone - the fans or the players, the outcome of the game can't be predetermined. For every winner, there is a loser.

For kids, sports is an awesome learning experience. But that experience is not all about winning, or stacking your team so that it’s easy. Winning builds confidence, but losing builds character.
If we make it all about winning all the time, and if it’s the same team or guys that win all the time, the losers will start staying home. I think this is part of why the majority of kids (not all but the majority) seem to lose interest and stop playing team sports as they get older. The fact is – out of a league of 10 teams, only one team will win in the end.

To bring it back to curling, if Canada wins every Olympics easily, then why should other countries play? Would we care as much? Would it be as interesting? I don't think so.

Anyway, this is just me venting. My son will likely enjoy his season anyway, and I am hoping his team will use the whole biased balancing process as a motivation to have a Vegas Golden Knights kind of year. If they win, he will build his confidence, if they lose he will build character. 

And I’m pretty sure that Canadian curling coaches will not be turning down lucrative coaching contracts from outside of Canada because Mark doesn’t think it’s a good idea.

But please if you are involved in sports at any level, let’s always remember the bigger picture and not get all hung up on who gets to bring home the trophy at the end of the season. It's bigger than that.

Venting Over.


So we are off to Halifax this weekend to play the Stu Sells 1824 classic. Should be a fun weekend, with Gushue, Howard and Murphy in the field! We get to fly to a spiel – which is a big deal for us. We have decided to not take chances with Felix this time after he lost his luggage and our rock book heading to the Brier last year, so Felix will be dressed in full curling gear on the plane, and we are making him travel in Will’s carry-on luggage just to be safe.

We were asked to do a promotional video for the event – you can see it later today on our team Facebook page (Team Fournier Facebook page )in case you want to see what I have to endure every game from my front end.