Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Commitment Required

As many readers will testify, I have been banging on far too long about the level of commitment that the current system demands of our elite young curlers and the detrimental effect that this can have on their studies or the early part of their career. It is important that those older and wiser give appropriate guidance and advice to athletes who, if we are not careful, will have their heads turned with the promise of medals, fame and fortune when at least one -and probably two in our football-obsessed sporting culture - of these flighty mistresses will remain unattainable.

It is all very well for full-time coaches who are paid to get that commitment; it is all very well for the self-employed; it is all very well for full-time curlers; it is all very well for the children of Croesus. But what about the rest of us?

And how do we square another circle? Evidence demonstrates time and again that curlers hit their peaks at different times. Glenn Howard and Kevin Martin, to name but two Canadian stars, are well into their forties, yet are still curling at the very top level. They would be nowhere in Scotland’s current system, because they all have jobs and careers to pursue as well as their curling dreams.

At this point, I shall make a startling admission. I play golf – not, to be fair, as anyone else might recognise it, but I do wander around the long grass in search of lost causes most Saturday mornings when the rest of you are still tucked up in the warm quagmire that passes for your pit. The course that has been most damaged in the course of this typically weekly pursuit (not the right word; it suggests speed!) is Baberton on the south-west side of Edinburgh. It is a fine course and has produced Ewan Murray as an example as well as a couple of other golfers good enough to pursue their golfing dreams on the American golfing circuit.

This got me and an old curling friend a-talking after my last post. Would it not be possible to negotiate some kind of deal with the University of Stirling? Could they not be persuaded to run a curling programme that on the one hand gave participants the chance to secure a good degree and on the other gave them the appropriate time as required to train and compete?

Perhaps we need our sporting authorities to get together and thrash some kind of deal out with the university? I suspect that a benefactor might be required to help sponsor the programme – I don’t know, really I don’t how these things work, but this would surely help those at the start of their careers at least.

The next challenge will be to keep the talented late twenties- and early thirties-brigade on side. Right now, we have Tom Brewster, the manager at Aberdeen curling club and David Murdoch, a full-time curler in that age bracket. But how do we keep the likes of Logan Gray and David Edwards enthused and committed enough to keep challenging? Therein lies your problem.

Talking of benefactors, curling needs these now more than ever. I am going to give a plug here. My old mucker and team mate Tom Pendreigh started his business, British Curling Supplies a few years ago and he does a power of unsung work supporting junior teams and curling generally; he is also a great 'fixer' who was, for example closely involved with the putting together of Goldline’s sponsorship of the Scottish curling tour. He is also heavily involved in the running and management of the Inverness rink. Look him up on the web; we need more of his type supporting our great game. By the way, he can’t help how he looks; his coupon is a gift from on high, though that didn’t stop his mother from pulling the pram!

And on that happy note, I bid you a good summer!

Robin Copland

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

You cannot argue with the facts

There has been much weeping and gnashing of teeth by pundits (myself included) on Scottish competitive curling these past few seasons. I even read somewhere that a Scottish person was actually supporting the other team in a World Championship game because he was so vehemently opposed to 'the system'. Didn’t really know what to make of that, to be honest; it struck me as odd.

But, and it is something of a big 'but', (I might rephrase that last bit in the edit in case I am accused of being a fatist. Que – moi?), you cannot argue with the facts. This season, in the six major annual competitions, the World Championships, the World Junior Championships and the European Championships (with due respect to the European Mixed, the World Mixed Doubles and the World Senior Championships), Scotland has finished on the podium in all but one. Our tally is two Gold Medals, two Silver Medals and one Bronze. It is a pretty astonishing record when all said and done and credit needs to be given to all of the competitors, too numerous to mention now.

I have as much of a problem as anyone with the level of commitment that is demanded of our young competitors. I fear for their collective futures when the good times, as they surely will, come to an end and they are left with medals, memories but – no job, or perhaps less of a job than their talent deserves. But hey; it’s a free world and choices have to be made. Make your choice and get on with it.

I have just finished reading Jim Telfer’s autobiography. In it, he talks about commitment and the difficulties that Scottish rugby faced in the transition from a wholly amateur game to professionalism. He was firmly of the view that there needed to be an elite level and that the elite clubs (he lobbied for four Scottish elite clubs, loosely based on the old 'districts') would only prosper in a seriously competitive league. He also argued for a vibrant 'amateur' club scene that would develop and nurture new talent. The established clubs, of course, were adamantly opposed to that set-up and instead wanted to become 'elite' themselves. It is fair to say that the sport is only now recovering from the internecine war that developed.

Curling needs to be careful about how it handles the rise of the elite. There is still a stairway that individuals can climb from mere mortal status to international curler. That the system has flaws is not in question. It is wrong and misguided, for example to be proscriptive and judgemental about young teenagers. Kids develop at different speeds. The fourteen year old star may not be so brilliant at twenty. The gauche young teenager may develop into something like the finished article later on in his teens. Let the kids enjoy themselves; let them learn to play in teams of their own choosing; don’t over-coach them – rather make sure that they have the basics right.

When it comes to the business end of the Scottish Championship I remain steadfast in my view that four talented curlers should be able to get together, enter their national championship and win the right to represent Scotland at world level. Trouble for them is that they will have to get past the likes of teams Brewster or Muirhead; there’s the challenge.

Now, let’s talk about five men teams. Actually, let’s not!

Well done though to all of our medal winners. An amazing achievement that would be good to repeat next season when the Olympics make their quadrennial appearance.

Robin Copland