By Robin Copland.
I was struck by a post that Logan Gray put up on his Facebook page this week, in fact, I was so struck by the post that I was moved to reply! In it, he admitted to looking forward to hearing who his new team was going to be this season.
Read that last sentence again.
Now, let me share something with you. If I were Rhona Martin, Sören Grahn, Nancy Murdoch, Dave Crosbee or any of the other High Heid Yins in charge of competitive curling development in Scotland, I would want to have a group of talented athletes around me over whom I had complete control and who were in my thrall. I would want to have them at my beck and call. I would want to be able to manage them effectively – which means I would want them to be more committed to their curling than to their work. I would want them all to be living in Stirling; in fact, I would set up camp beds in Stirling ice rink for them to sleep on.
I would want all of this because I would be earning my living and adding to (or detracting from) my reputation – and hence my promotion / new job prospects, based on the performance on the ice of that group of people. Of course I would want that control; the more imponderables I control, the more chance I have of stamping my authority on things and the better I can control my own destiny.
Imagine, if you will for a minute, Sir Alex Ferguson and his players. “Sorry boss, I can’t come to training tomorrow because I have a work deadline to meet.” Aye, right. So, as I say, if I ruled the world, I would want to rule it properly.
I am concerned. There are all the usual reasons for my concern. Let me share some with you:
• Curling teams have always been 'organic'.
• Skips pick their teams and the rest is history.
• Psychology is far more important in a curling team than it is in, for example or rugby or a football team (where the coach traditionally picks the team).
• The best teams are friends off as well as on the ice.
But really, these are the 'old hat' arguments. All we are really arguing about here is who picks the teams. There has been coach input into that process for the last decade at least, so there is nothing really new there. What concerns me more – well there are two potential things, but I think one of them is already covered.
The one that I think is already covered is the team 'input' to the decision. I would hate to hear that there had been no input from the players themselves into who is playing with whom. Our coaches are, I think, sensible enough to realise that there needs to be harmony within a curling team much more so – and I mean much more so – than almost any other sport. Wayne Rooney does not need to like Rio Ferdinand, but David Murdoch needs to see eye to eye with Tom Brewster is all that I am saying here.
I would also hate to hear that a player has kept their mouth shut in these circumstances for fear of rocking the boat or putting themselves out on a limb with the coaching staff. In extremis, that could lead to four (sometimes five) players having an unhappy time of things playing with people with whom they just don’t get on. Nightmare on so many levels. That said, I am a young ambitious player; would I speak out against the people in power? Probably not and that is definitely not healthy.
My second concern is more fundamental. I am worried by the commitment that the coaching team are insisting on. I spoke about this at a recent dinner (and got pelters, I may add), but I really do worry that we are limiting the talent pool at our disposal by disenfranchising all those whose answer to the question, which comes first, curling or your work / studies, is not curling.
Come on and get real! Anyone over the age of twenty-five who is holding down a job might very well answer 'curling', but everyone in their right mind knows that the answer to that question is 'work', unless one or more of the following apply:
• You are married to a sugar-daddy
• You are married to a sugar-mummy
• You are as rich as Croesus
• Your parents continue to financially support you (and are themselves as rich as Croesus)
• You have a job willing to give you oodles of paid time off
• You are prepared to put your career aspirations on hold
• You are willing to defer your studies
• You are content to fail a few exams and finish up with poorer qualifications than if you had put the studying effort in
• You are funded to such an extent that your financial worries are taken care of
• You are prepared to live / work within a reasonable distance of Stirling
• You are Wayne Rooney.
So what’s the problem, you may very well ask. I’ll give you the answer in one person – David Edwards. David is an honest young man, who was not prepared to dissemble in order to get some funding. He is recently married and is holding down an important job. This job helps him pay his mortgage. Perhaps more worryingly from the perspective of Scottish curling, he is also a talented young curler, whose talent we can ill afford to lose from an already small enough pool. None of the above bullet points apply as far as he is concerned, so he is, not to put too fine a point on it, out. You may argue that he has made his choice. I would argue that he should never have had to make the choice in the first place. We can ill-afford to lose him and others like him.
Just to add a little bit of insult to this already injured soul, his second player from last season, Scott Macleod, is in the performance squad. It is not clear yet which team Scott will be placed in, but I am willing to place a wee wager on a performance team with people like Glen Muirhead, Jay McWilliam and perhaps Billy Morton. If that is the case, then David is looking for a new second player. This team, by the way, were good enough to finish on an 8-1 record in the Scottish Championship last season. Scott may very well be asked to leave that team to join three other players, at least two of whom are relative strangers. Could someone please explain to me why this is a good idea from anyone’s perspective?
The best teams are the ones where talented players get together because they want to. They enjoy playing with each other and they build up a rapport within the team. The coaches’ challenge will be to ensure that still holds true in the 'made-up' teams. The fact that Tom Brewster and Eve Muirhead’s successful teams have been kept together speaks volumes to that important point. Mind you, although every one of the four existing members of team Brewster speaks of the 'welcome' news that David Murdoch is joining them as fifth man, I would be looking over my shoulder. Maybe that’s because I was never, ever, in the same league as any of those fine players, mind you. Aye – that’s maybe it. But I’d still be looking over my shoulder, nonetheless!
And now for my last point – and it is about the Scottish Championships. Does anyone else out there bemoan the fact that one of Tom’s major competitors is no longer skipping his own team in the Scottish next season? Does anyone else feel just the merest smidgin cheated that we won’t see another clash of these two fine skips? I do earnestly hope and pray that the High Heid Yins do not have designs on the Scottish. I do hope that they do not intend it to be rendered second class by 'picking' a team to represent Scotland at the World Championships. The Scottish is the one competition we have that sorts out the men from the boys. It is the one competition where a curler is asked to play the kind of shot that leads occasionally to one of those 'squeaky bum' moments.
Lose the Scottish and you lose the Crown Jewel of Scottish curling. Lose the Scottish and you lose the chance to see a new team emerge, bright-eyed and excited into the light of success. Look at the season before last. Would anyone have picked Team Brewster to go the World Championship? Look at season 2003. Would anyone have picked Team Murdoch at that point? What the Scottish gives you is a competition in which new talent fights its way to the fore in the heat of competition. It gives that talent the chance to make the shots under intense pressure. It gives them the chance to play their curling under the same kind of pressure that they will face in World and European Championships.
Lose the Scottish and you give the chosen few a sinecure to overstay their welcome at the top of the game.
Lose the Scottish and Mr Angry from Balerno will be on your case good and proper. It should never, ever be allowed to happen. Our Scottish champions have earned the right to represent their country.
Full stop. End of story.