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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

#PowerRankings W9

#BetweenTheSheets: Week 9 Power Rankings
Who's peaking?  Are you peaking?  What is peaking?



It's close to midnight
Something evil's lurking from the dark
Under the moonlight
You see a sight that almost stops your heart
You try to scream
But terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze
As horror looks you right between your eyes
You're paralyzed
                                          -  Michael Jackson's Thriller


Of course you are all familiar with the opening lines of Michael Jackson's iconic Halloween-themed song Thriller.  And if you aren't, WWWHHHHAAAA?  Is that even possible?  HERE check out the video...no really it's ok.  For the first time, and in honour of today being Halloween and in the memory of the iconic pop star, I will actually encourage you to leave the #TwineTime blog (for a moment) to relive this amazing mini-movie.  But come back ok....

Welcome back....did you enjoy a little scare?  Epic dance moves right?  But now you are asking, what is the relevance other than the holiday posting of these lyrics to the #TwineTime blog and, more specifically, curling?  I am glad you asked dear reader....

Let us do some creepy Halloween peaking into the topic of sports peaking....

Had you no reference point to the opening lyrics of Thriller and I was to just write the words in the same manner I am writing this sentence by adding an opening framework like "this is how an athlete feels when they prepare for a major competition only to hit the brick wall known as loss," would you disagree?  Re-position your mind around the statement I just made and now re-read the opening lines of this blog post.  See a correlation? 

Athletes train vigorously for competition.  Whether it is a weekend spiel to a provincial championship to a national championship to a world and/or Olympic dream....training is an all-year sequence of events.  Yes there is an off-season but even the off-season is filled with some sort of training, perhaps more mental or psychological or strategic.  Either way, something is always happening in the mind and/or body of an athlete.

This is a big year for many athletes in a variety of winter sports around the world.  The 2018 Winter Olympics define the pinnacle of amateur sports achievement.  Athletes have been grooming their mental, spiritual, emotional and physical self's for years in hopes of representing their nation on the grandest sports spectacle of all.  And curling is certainly no exception!

Last season when I sat down with #SwedishVikings skip Niklas Edin, he touched on the topic of peaking.  The team set out, in the off-season, a strategy to ensure they peaked at the right time in preparation of major events like the European Championships in November and World Championships in March.  They wanted to ensure they did not peak too early while also trying to stay the course on the path to achieving their goals.  It ain't easy folks!  Team Edin would go on to win the the opening two grand slam events, add in a third middle of the year and compete in the final of the world championships.  Sure they came up short in the final but did they peak at the right time?  Based on results, I would say yes.

The Olympics are a tricky time for the strategic athlete.  They only happen every four years.  But the qualification and preparedness takes three years, at a minimum.  The post-Olympics year is usually a "down year" for athletes.  Sure they are competing in tour events or for world championships but it is not the same.  Results typically do not count towards the next Olympic qualification cycle and this is the year you can start trying new techniques or new equipment or, in the case of curling and team sports, new teammates.  But that year two and year three...those are the big years!  Those are the years where you need to start getting your ducks in a row (or rocks aligned in the house if you will) to make the Olympic run.  You need the results.  You need the proper equipment.  You need the right teammates.  And you need to peak at the right time each year to make it all come together.

For most Canadian curling teams the Olympic dream is already over...at least for 2018.  For some, those dreams will come to a disappointing end in just over one week's time.  And for a few, the Olympic flame will extinguish by the end of the first week of December.  Only 2 teams, one men's and one women's, will have their four-year dreams become reality heading into the Christmas break.  And, after all the time spent preparing and the stress and the excitement, it will make it all worth while.  Those teams, they peaked at the right time at the right competition.  Let's just hope, in the sake of being a #TeamCanada fan, they can rediscover their peak performance by February!

But how does one prepare oneself or one's team for maximizing the potential and peaking at the right moment?  There are many different techniques or strategies to sports peaking and differing approaches based on coaches/athletes preferences and sports psychologists but here is a general overview of the 5 Peaking Strategies for Sports (as shared by Travis Hansen):


  1. Low Volume Phase (Intro) - In an Olympic cycle, this would be the post-Olympic year.  Here we see athletes returning to the training circuit and making personal adjustments to technical elements of the sport.  Core basic re-development.  Perhaps strengthen the weak muscle areas or build strength in certain areas where improvement is needed.  Get the body ready for repeat training and consistent results.
  2. Moderate Volume Phase - Bye bye "honeymoon" phase, hello demoralizing plateau.  It is only natural to suffer a plateau section of your training when you are consistently doing the same routine week in and week out to be better prepared, whether it is muscle or core building or working on a specific technique tied to the sport strategy.  Either way, once you feel it is mastered you start to feel a plateau phase and need to step up the game to stay motivated.  Something needs to change to encourage more development.  Maybe it is something simple like throwing only in-turns during practice for the next few weeks or working solely on draw weight to the 4 foot or 12 foot or guard because all of those shots could be to your strategic advantage.  Either way, small adjustments to the training regime need to be added.
  3. Concentrated Loading / Overreaching Phase - Here is when everything is clicking.  In our curling example, hopefully this is end of Year 2 /  beginning Year 3.  The team is feeling energized and confident.  Your body is feeling conditioned.  Injury risk is low.  Technique execution is high.  Results are coming in as expected.  Here is where you want to discover what max effort high intensity feels like but also recognize athlete fatigue and coping mechanisms.  
  4. Taper Phase - Everything is coming along well and you are feeling great.  Now what?  Time to detrain of course!  Yup, we see this quite often with athletes in all sports.  Athletes will start lowering their amount of training time over the course of a few weeks in preparation of big tournaments.  Let's use Team Edin as an example.  They took most of October off to recharge the batteries back home in Sweden.  Sure they were training and hitting the gym and practicing on the ice but it was tapered down from their regular in-season training schedule.  Maybe it was taking one or two less reps off at the gym or during on-ice practice.  Simple measures to help align yourself back to your original baseline is not a bad thing.  It can only help you be better prepared for the ultimate strategy....
  5. Peaking Phase - Now is the time to work towards the all-important result and truly peak as an athlete.  The combination of allowing full body recovery coupled with complete training effects equate to showcasing your talent when it matters the most.  This phase will usually see a week or 10 days off with only very mild or light cardio training thrown in to keep the body up.  The week before the Olympics is a great example.  Athletes are prepared.  The training and preparation is complete.  Frankly if you are a week out from the start of the Olympics and you are feeling unprepared it is too little too late because your competition is ready.  There is little you can do now to become more ready.  All you can do now is go out and perform at the best of your abilities and hope for the best results.  You are in your peak position as an athlete and ready to compete!

The extra interesting point to make here is the above steps are applied not only towards the Olympic cycle but then also applied inside each qualification year leading up to the next Winter Olympics.  Just think about that for a second.  All the points above need to be strategically figured out based over 4 years but also need to be built into an annual plan at the same time.  It almost makes your head spin right?  Welcome to the life of an athlete, coach and sports psychologist rock heads and stoners!!

Now of course I have simplified this entire process and realize there is MUCH more involved in the process then the simple steps and explanation laid out above.  I would suggest heading to a curling club or World Curling Tour event and try sitting down with one of these elite athletes and really pick their brains on the idea of sports performance and peaking.  Honestly, every time I see Niklas Edin at events now we usually have one conversation on this topic alone and every time I learn something new and get more intrigued and interested in the subject. 

Hopefully some of you have become more interested in peaking strategies for sports now too.  Whether you are a recreation athlete or semi-professional athlete or elite athlete, the strategies can still be applied (of course tailored to your expectations and other factors).

Hmmmm I wonder if any of the teams listed on this week's #IceWarmers are peaking too early?  Or maybe the teams taking the #BambiBumble are trying to ensure they do not peak too early? 

#IceWarmers

1.  #MastersGSOC Champs - I am lumping Brad Gushue and Jennifer Jones into one this week as both are deserving of top #IceWarmers spot after picking up another major title this past weekend in Lloydminster.  Gushue is dominating the tour this season picking up #gsoc title #2 on the year while Jones accomplished a milestone in collecting her 1st Masters title.  Jones went undefeated in topping Swiss rivals Paetz and Tirinzoni in the RR before taking out USA's Sinclair (QF), Sweden's Hasselborg (SF, scoring a HUGE 7 in the opening end) and provincial rival Einarson (F).  Gushue followed a similar path in going 7-0 over the weekend, including W's over international contenders Ulsrud, Shuster, Smith and perrenial Manitoba favourite McEwen (RR) as well as eliminating De Cruz (QF), Koe (SF) and defending champion Edin (F) to claim the title.  Both teams are looking strong heading into the trials next month.

2.  Glenn Howard - Well Glenn sure is putting it to the #TwineTime blog right now isn't he?  After this very space called out the team for their lackluster results on the season following an 0-3 outing at the Stu Sells Toronto event, Howard has been almost unbeatable.  Howard took home the Huron ReproGraphics Oil Heritage Classic in Sarnia, ON this past weekend posting a 6-2 record, including W's over McCormick, Bice (SF) and Clark (F).  In their past two events the team has an impressive 11-3 record and have now reached back to back championship finals.  All about peaking at the right time right?

3.  Tracey Fleury - While most of you were focused on the Masters event last weekend, Tracey Fleury was quietly putting together an undefeated streak in claiming her first title of the season winning the Gord Carroll Curling Classic in Whitby, ON.  Fleury went 6-0 over the weekend with W's over Ogasawara (twice, including the SF), #TwineTime fam Inglis and defending world junior champs Sweden's Wrana (F).  Remember Fleury struggled at the season opening Tour Challenge, going 0-4, but since has qualified in three straight events en route to claiming the title this weekend.  Don't sell the Fleury stock quite yet folks!

4.  #TwineTime Fam Mention: Mark Kean - Welcome back to the ice #Keaner, the #TwineTime blog has missed you....as have many curling fans.  Kean is back with a new team this season and is having a pretty strong year thus far.  This past weekend in Sarnia the team reached the SF (l. to Clark) and have qualified in 3 of 5 events, including a run to the championship final (l. to Menard) at the Moosehead Fall Open in their second event together.  The team owns a solid 17-8 record on the year and, while the Olympic dream is not to be this time around, perhaps a dark horse contender for the Ontario Tankard title this season is becoming more and more of a reality.

#BambiBumble

1.  Rachel Homan - How weird is this stat for the defending world champs: Outside the slams the team boasts an incredible 16-1 record with two titles; however, after two #gsoc events the team sports an unimpressive 2-6 record?  What is going on?  Yes of course we don't need to hit the panic button yet but this has to be a bit troublesome for the team psyche in failing to make the playoffs in the two biggest events of the season so far.  Plus the losses are coming against teams who have already qualified for the Olympic trials (Englot, Scheidegger, Sweeting) or could qualify via the pre-trials event beginning next week (Harrison, Einarson).  Panic button not pushed yet but for the first time in quite a long while the button is out of the lower drawer and sitting on the desk.

2.  John Morris - While the panic button may only be on the Homan desk, it is certainly being pushed and kicked and punched in the Morris camp.  What is happening to this team?  They sport a shocking 0-8 record at the two #gsoc events and own an underwhelming 7-11 record on the season.  Outside the 3 straight W's to qualify A-side in Saskatoon earlier this season (which they would lose the QF battle vs. Korea's Kim) this team has struggled all year.  Four years ago Morris rode the pre-trials all the way to an Olympic trials final, followed by a Brier final.  At this point of this season it would be a shock to even see this team reach the playoffs at the pre-trials next weekend.  This is a good team, don't get me wrong, and a team I actually really enjoy on and off the ice...which makes this critique even more difficult.  But these boys have got to find the solutions to the problems quick or else the rock is going to slide right through the house here.

3.  Heath McCormick - Yikes, I am picking on some #TwineTime fam members this week aren't I?  First I dig hard at Caitlin Schneider's team above and now I am going after Chris Plys and his boys.  Honestly I do love both these guys but we have to play fair here right?  Team McCormick struggled this weekend in Sarnia going 2-3 and failing to qualify once again.  Outside the tour win in St. Paul and the SF showing at the Stu Sells Oakville, the boys from south of the border have failed to qualify in 4 of 6 events now this year.  The US Olympic Trials are set to begin November 11 so the disappointing results the past two events for this team sting just a bit.  The US field is still wide open mind you and this team is fully capable of recovering and making a run at #PyeongChang2018 but the consistency needs to happen and the momentum/confidence needs to be established.

Here are the UPDATED Week 9 #PowerRankings:


MEN

1.  Team Gushue (LW: 1) - 29-3 on the season.  20-game winning streak.  4 titles.  2 #gsoc wins.  Anyone else get the feeling the rest of the teams competing to become #TeamCanada in Ottawa next month are really just playing for runner-up prize now?

2.  Team Edin (3) - Being a defending slam champion is never easy.  Reaching the final of said slam with a chance to defend the title is almost unheard of.  Credit to the #SwedishVikings on reaching the #MastersGSOC final last weekend and coming oh so close to the repeat win.  Unfortunately they ran into the hottest team on tour over the past 18 months in Team Gushue.  Edin and company are clicking (and peaking?) at the right time though and look to be cementing their spot behind Gushue as Olympic favourite.

3.  Team Jacobs (2) - #FearTheMoose was in full effect during the Masters RR when Team Jacobs went undefeated to reach the playoffs.  The loss to McEwen in the QF was a tough pill to swallow but this team has to be considered the #2 team in Canada and top challenger to knock off Gushue at the upcoming trials although.....

4.  Team McEwen (5) - Never count out Mike McEwen either.  Not a bad opening slam of the season for the defending Manitoba champions.  Was it easy?  Nope, not at all.  They needed a W in their final RR game vs Smith, coupled with an Ulsrud loss to Gushue, just to reach a TB.  They would knock off Ulsrud in the TB and "upset" undefeated Jacobs in the QF before bowing out in the SF to Edin.  The team is trending up though and could be the team most flying under the radar this season.

5.  Team Koe (NR) - Welcome back Kevin Koe!  What a statement slam for this team.  The Alberta boys going 4-0 in the RR, including W over Edin, before knocking off Gunnlaugson in the SF (after defeating him in the RR) and falling to Gushue in the SF.  After the disappointing 1-3 result at the Tour Challenge, we were all waiting for the real Team Koe to please stand up and they found their sliders in Lloyd.  3 straight events reaching the SF or better now has Koe looking like the powerhouse we all expected at the start of the season.

Hon. Mention:  Team Gunnlaugson, Team Liu, Team Howard, Team Stjerne, Team Carruthers

WOMEN

1.  Team Hasselborg (LW: 1) - Another event, another playoff run, another disappointing finish.  Credit to Team Hasselborg for being consistent at least right?  To their credit they did go 3-1 in the RR and defeated Scheidegger in the QF before the sliders completely fell off in the opening end of their SF vs. Jones.  Ok sure you gave up an almost unheard of 7-spot basically eliminating you from the game after throwing only 8 rocks but you did reach another SF at least and have been arguably the most consistent team on tour.  Glass half full or half empty though for the team mentality right now?

2.  Team Einarson (5) - #TwineTime said Team Einarson would be the perfect dark horse pick for the Masters last weekend and...BOOM...they go on a run and reach the championship final.  Remember this team had to win the Tour Challenge Tier II event just to qualify here!  And qualify they did.  The team went 4-0 in the RR, including W's over Homan, Sweeting, Englot and Scheidegger (all Olympic trials teams btw) before knocking off Olympic teams Tirinzoni (Switzerland) and Muirhead (Great Britain).  Einarson has now reached 4 championship finals in 6 events!  No not just qualifying for the playoffs but actually reaching the finals...and they have won 2.  HUGE favourite for the pre-trials next week.

3.  Team Jones (HM) - Check another milestone off the Jennifer Jones resume folks.  After taking home the Masters title, what is left for her to accomplish?  How about the first team to repeat at Team Canada at the Olympics?  Or perhaps the first team to defend an Olympic gold medal?  Yup, some pretty big feats which are VERY difficult to pull off but certainly in the realm of possibility for this team this season.

4.  Team Homan (2) - Which Team Homan will show up at the trials in December?  Ok sure we have  a few events on the #wct schedule beforehand, including another slam event in November, but we are starting to wonder.  Do we get the dominant world championship team of last season or the grand slam debacle of this season?  Always a threat, still holding the title as Olympic trials favourite....but the gap is perhaps starting to close and the competition is becoming just as, if not more, consistent.

5.  Team Muirhead (HM) - Another slam event, another slam SF result.  Not bad for the Olympic season.  Honestly, much of the attention during the season has been on #TeamCanada and #HoppSchwiiz Olympic competition but perhaps #TeamGB should be receiving more attention.  Ok sure Hasselborg as the #SwedishVikings have been more consistent but not by much.  Muirhead has reached the playoffs in 4 of 5 events this season, including a championship final victory over Hasselborg in Edmonton.  Muirhead is looking poised and confident this year and that makes her a deadly threat at slams and the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Hon. Mention:  Team Tirinzoni, Team Fleury, Team Scheidegger, Team Wang, Team Jentsch

As mentioned the Road to the Roar #TeamCanada Olympic pre-trials hit the hack this upcoming Monday.  #StayTuned for the full preview and predictions of the event sliding into your house this weekend.  As well, the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships are set to hit the ice starting Thursday down under in beautiful Australia (imagine curling in OZ during the spring?).  #TwineTime will also have a full preview of the #PACC2017 competition in this weekend's #TourLifePredictions.

On a final note, today is Halloween but also a special day for a #TwineTime fam member.  Jump online today and wish John Cullen a spook-tacular HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!