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Coaching in Canada and the World Stage

The Canadian Curling Association finally decided, in 1974, the time had arrived to do something about training curling instructors. By 1979, the program also involved the certification of coaches.

Team Kevin Martin and Coach Jules Owchar

Not only was this the beginning of the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) for Canada, it also marked the beginning for national curling coaches and the CCA’s willing contributions to curlers and curling associations all over the world.

Global curling was in its infancy and the International Curling Federation (ICF, now WCF) looked to Canada for assistance and expertise to train and develop curlers and, in some cases, coaches in different parts of the world.

During the development years of the coaching certification program, I played a major role with the CCA (Curl Canada) but I also was the director of one of the three major professional curling schools of the day. The three groups annually operated clinics across Canada, the northern U.S.A. and parts of Europe teaching the sport to existing and novice curlers. My group did extensive work in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and parts of the eastern United States while one of the other schools spent considerable time in Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and other areas of the United States.

Curl Canada kept turning out instructors and coaches and, by the mid-Eighties the professional teaching operations no longer existed. During this time, however, a number of coaches and instructors developed through the Canadian system began to spread their wings beyond the borders of Canada and took on contracts with a number of other curling nations.

Coaching, and the acceptance of coaches by curlers in Canada, started to develop at the same time and while juniors and women’s teams began to look to trained coaches for direction most of the top men’s teams only saw it as a distraction.

In the past 10 years, most of the top teams, including the men, have relied more on coaches but many would argue that coaches still have not been utilized to the utmost by the majority of the top teams in Canada. Meanwhile, other nations around the world have, for the most part, embraced the principles of coaching and coaches to a much greater degree. And, again, remember that a large portion of the current international coaching complement has Canadian roots.

In just a couple of weeks, the 2010 Winter Olympics will be played in Canada for only the second time in history. There are huge expectations for the Canadian curlers to not only win a medal but for the colour of that medal to be gold. While a few years ago, Canada would pretty much have been an automatic to be on the podium, the road to a medal has become a lot bumpier because of the improvement of coaching.

Hence, nations like China, Japan and Korea that, just a few years ago were not even considered to be a threat, now have medal possibilities. Combine this surge with the ongoing and improved capabilities of nations like Scotland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark, and the Canadians, men and women, have their work cut out for them.

Still, a lot of the success being enjoyed by other nations is at the hands of Canadian-trained and Canadian-developed coaches.

The greatest success story is that of Dan Rafael of Montreal who has spent a good deal of his time in recent years coaching the Chinese national teams. In 2008, the women’s team took silver at the Ford Women’s Worlds at Vernon and, last year, in Korea, the same foursome captured gold which marked the first time in world curling history that a team from the Pacific Rim had won a world title.

Last season, at the Ford World’s in Moncton, Rafael and his Chinese men were on hand along four other nations — United States, France, Japan and Switzerland — that were employing prominent Canadian curlers/coaches as advisers.

There is little question that a number of Canadian-trained coaches will continue to work and assist world teams in the years ahead. And if Canada is to keep up and continue to excel at the world level of curling it will be essential for all of the top teams to fully buy in to the appropriate use of coaches. In addition, the coaches working with Canadian teams will need to continue to work and refine a number of precise skills that will allow Canada to regain an edge.

Sound like a re-make of an old movie? Yes, but it was hockey starring in the original.