Curling Canada – 2013 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings – Canadian Olympic Curling Trials
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Coaching Profile: John Dunn

John Dunn is the coach of a world champion curling team, but that doesn’t mean he’s an expert at the game. In fact, he’s a total novice. Dunn, a professor in the faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta, is the coach for team Kevin Koe, the winners of the 2010 Tim Hortons Brier and World Men’s Curling Championship.

John Dunn (Photo Michael Burns)

Unlike other coaches, Dunn doesn’t focus on strategy or tuning the team’s technique. Koe and all the other top teams in Canada have a grasp of the technical side of curling. Dunn coaches the mental aspect of the game.

“It’s more developing what I call the motivational climb of the team. Making sure we’re positive, making sure we’re all on the same page and understand one another,” Dunn said.

Dunn originally entered the world of curling in the early 2000s when he worked with Lawnie MacDonald, who played for Heather Nedohin. Dunn was introduced to Lawnie’s husband Blake MacDonald, who played with Koe at the time, and eventually took on the coaching role for the team in 2006.

“It was probably one of the best professional decisions I’ve ever made in my life,” Dunn said.

Dunn has been involved with many high-performance athletes since 1995 as a performance psychology consultant. He’s worked with university level and professional hockey teams, and spent a lot of his time developing athletes for national and international competition in sports like (but not limited to) field hockey, alpine skiing and, of course, curling.

An Olympic year poses new mental challenges for teams hoping to represent Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Dunn has been preparing team Koe in a different manner this year. While he is keeping the strategy for the season a secret, Dunn is aiming for his team to peak at the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic Trials in Winnipeg.

“There’s times in this season where we’ll be at Grand Slam events and the last thing on our mind is trying to win that Slam,” Dunn said. “We’re going to be doing certain things, we’ll be working on certain things and it’s instilling the confidence in guys to say: ‘You know what? Everything we’re doing here is for one event this year and it’s to peak at the Trials.”

The Olympic dream is a long term goal and something the Koe rink has been working towards since MacDonald left the team and Pat Simmons joined as Koe’s new third in 2011.

But even though Saskatchewan’s most decorated curler joined Koe’s team, they still had a learning curve. Dunn had to watch over the group for their entire first season together and help everyone adjust to the new teammate on the ice.

“I don’t think there’s any other team sport environment where stability within the team has such an impact upon performance,” Dunn said. “It’s such a small number of athletes, yet every athlete has such a huge impact on every shot. Stability of your team is one of the absolute cores to success in the sport.”

While it’s never fun to see a teammate leave, MacDonald decided to leave at a good time because it allowed the Koe team three years to figure out their dynamics in time for the Olympic Trials.

In fact, Dunn doesn’t believe teams who have made changes in the short-term will have success during the road to the Olympics.

“I’ll put my money on it: that the last three or four teams standing at the Trials, I don’t think any of them will have made any changes in the short term,” he said.

Of the 12 coaches on teams qualified for the Roar of the Rings so far, Dunn is the only one with no curling background. But, his psychological expertise could be the difference for the Koe rink when the Olympic Trials roll around.

Team Koe representing Alberta at the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier in Saskatoon. Coach John Dunn is top right. (Photo Michael Burns)