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Wheelchair curling: Real curling, really competitive

Wheelchair curling is a quickly developing Paralympic sport in need of dedicated coaches at every level. Where are they?

When we started wheelchair curling in Calgary in 2004, out of dozens of coaches in the city, only one  had even seen a wheelchair game and did not have much knowledge to help teach the sport to newcomers.  Talk about “on-the-job training”…trial and error was more like it!

Ernie Comerford (top right) - (Photo CCA/Michael Burns)

However we did learn and soon realized that there were lots of technical aspects to this game.  Even those of us with significant  high performance coaching skills and experience soon adapted to the new challenges.  Pretty soon our players were holding their own and becoming very successful.  Sure, there is a learning curve to adapt to this new and fascinating game, but having some experienced coaches helping out and available to talk on the phone really helps newcomers.

Help came from a few dedicated people across the country who wanted to promote the game.  Any question was answered and the encouragement was superb.  Soon the CCA and provincial associations even had instructional material.  There are people out there who will help again.

The Situation Now

It’s unfortunate that in Canada there are many areas that have not been able to get the assistance of even one qualified coach.  What a shame!

Sure there are many people who want to help out, but most have minimal qualifications.  Wheelchair curling has the same level of coaching qualifications as regular curling, and competitions also have similar requirements.

Around most clubs are qualified coaches who honed their skills coaching Junior teams (usually when their child was one of the players).  Some even progressed to Adult teams.  However once teams are finished, many coaches “drop out” of coaching and expect others to pick up the future teams.

People trying to recruit coaches for wheelchair curling programs hear familiar excuses:

It’s not real curling.

Hey, how do I apply the technical aspects of delivery I have worked so hard at mastering? They don’t slide!

How do I teach timing and all the stuff with sweeping? They don’t sweep!

What about lessons on Warm Ups? Hand Positions? Strength training? etc.

How does strategy work with these guys?  Pretty hard to do long hit-and-rolls with no sweeping.  What about freezes?

Boy, how do we teach a skip to read the ice?    There are no sweepers to fine tune the shots and results.

After eight years of coaching wheelchair users, I can assure you that working with wheelchair curling athletes can be as rewarding as working with any team you have ever coached.  You reach the same levels of satisfaction knowing that you have developed a team that has done well.  You will and should be proud!

Becoming Skilled

New players who want more than the social aspect of the game quickly learn that getting better does take some hard work.  Yes, the game sounds simple – throw it straight, have the correct turn and the correct amount of weight.  Sounds easy, though not as much as you think. But you’ll soon get it!

The coach needs to recognize that each player is unique in their physical issues – so adapt! Yes they have physical limitations – so adapt! Yes there will be obstacles to face – so adapt!  The curlers do it all the time.

There is a wonderful group of dedicated players across Canada who want to learn the game, want to have fun, are willing to make the effort and most of all really do appreciate their coaches.  As a coach, you can experience that wonderful moment when a wheelchair curler shakes your hand and says “Thanks”.

The Future

All but two provinces competed at the 2012 Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championships in Thunder Bay.  The sport is growing and the games in Thunder Bay were amazing.  It was great to hear long-time curlers who had not seen the game say “Boy these guys can really curl!”  Yep, they can, and will continue to get better.  But they need more coaches in order to take those next steps.

Interested?

I would encourage you to check out your local clubs to see if there are wheelchair curlers who need some coaching assistance.  You might be even able to start a program at your local club.  Your provincial association can put you in touch with players or clubs that need help.  They can also give you contacts who would be glad to offer advice and assistance.

Why not give it some thought.  But be warned, dedication to the sport can be catching!  Want to talk more about it?  Email me at erniecomerford@rogers.com and I will do everything I can to help out.  I even provide free phone calls back to you.

Ernie Comerford is a wheelchair curling coach from London, Ontario. He coached Team Ontario at the 2012 nationals and has an active programme in southern Ontario.