Elite performance is determined by a number of factors: natural talent, hours of dedicated training and coaching. The performance of an athlete hinges not just upon physical prowess but also upon attitude. The athlete’s mindset is probably the single greatest factor affecting his or her performance.
When it comes to gaining mental prowess, the role of the coach is vital to developing the athlete to full potential. Coaches analyze performance, instruct and develop skills and provide encouragement. Verne Anderson, curling coach to Team Saskatchewan, has all the requirements. His own curling career stretches back to 1960 when, at age nine, he began curling in Rose Valley. Since then he has won eight provincial titles (four senior division wins, four master division wins), one Canadian championship senior win, one Canadian championship masters win, and one world seniors championship. He was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2015 for the 2009 world seniors championship.
Even before he was officially certified as a coach, Anderson was assisting Dustin Mikush of Wadena on a one-to-one basis. So when Mikush and Mitchell Dales put together a team, they asked Anderson if he would be their coach.
“We were starting from scratch,” said Anderson. “New faces, new personalities, different ways of playing; all had to come together as one.”
According to Anderson, the coach’s role in curling is different from that in most other sports. In football or hockey, coaches can shout from the sidelines and wave and talk to players. In curling, it is what one coaches before the game that is important. During the game, the coach has access to his team on only three occasions. With the majority of the game spent behind the glass “biting your fingernails,” Anderson admits, “it’s nerve-racking.” He acknowledges that from time to time he has to work at calming himself down.
From the very first game to the second placing at the U18 Provincials in Regina, Anderson was pleased with the way Mitchell Dales, Braden Fleischhacker, Dustin Mikush and Mitchell Schmidt played together. Their conduct on and off the ice was above reproach, which made for a harmonious team to coach.
When the announcement came that they were to replace Team Klieter, who were unable to participate at the Optomist U18 Championships, Anderson saw it as an opportunity. If the team could achieve a winning record at the championships, what a sense of achievement there would be.
At the championships in Edmonton, held March 30 to April 3 this year, Anderson realized after the third game and third win that the team had met its goal of a winning record in the round robin. He also noticed that the games were getting tougher. It was here in the third game that skip Mitchell Dales played the game of his life, says Anderson, and it was probably in this game that Dales realized his true potential.
To say the team was ecstatic to reach the final would be an understatement and Anderson recalls saying, before the final game, ”Of all the people I have known who won a green jacket, only a few played in a final. So whatever you do, make sure you enjoy it … no matter what happens.”
For the final game, Anderson had to leave the team and catch a flight to the East Coast to compete in the Canadian Masters. Thus he handed over the role of coach to Darlene Kaminski, as she had been assisting throughout the playdowns. Throughout the flight to Halifax, his cellphone was his only contact with the game right up to the last end, when cell coverage failed. Anderson was in the dark. He flicked over to Wi-Fi and first saw the team’s win on Facebook, which “brought a tear to the eye” and he was finally able to relax.
This was the first team from Saskatchewan to take the gold medal since 2004. Saskatchewan has won the title only three times in the 16-year history of this event.
“As a coach there is a great sense of satisfaction,” he says, “when the team goes right from base to the top.”
His message to curlers is, “It’s a team sport, not like golf or any other individual sport. The number one thing you do is to help your fellow curlers curl better. Put your own ego aside.”
By Andy Labdon