Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Teammates and Team Dynamics

So the last few weeks have been me turning into a stress ball trying to determine my partner for the 2014 Yukon River Quest (YRQ). The YRQ is a 750Km marathon canoe race from Whitehorse to Dawson City, Yukon. This is 12 day holiday canoe trip that teams RACE in approximately 55 hours (69 hours is the maximum when you are pulled from the race).  So when the going got tough for this paddling decision, who did a turn to: my ex-curling teammates of course and mostly Kerry Galusha (my curling teammate of 18 years). There is no one I know who knows more about forming teams and teammates than Kerry! But what I learned in this process is picking teammates is a fairly similar process across sports, the stresses and thought processes are not all that much different.  And what better a time to discuss team dynamics and teammates than an Olympic year; teams parting ways after disappointment, new teams forming for another 4 year training cycle and of course championship teams forming for Sochi.


I LOVE team dynamics! For me a team is more than just looking for success in a specific sport or towards one, single performance goal. I play sports for experiences, challenges, goals and personal growth and I pick teammates for those same reasons. Curling coach, Bill Tschirhart from BC, outlines his formula for a winning performance as;
P = SL+E+C-D+/-TD+/-PF&N+/-L+A
In Bill’s formula; SL= skill level, E= experience, C= confidence, D= distractions, PFN= personal fitness and nutrition, L= LUCK and A= attitude. All of these are dependent on your choice of teammates and what you bring out of each other and it shows the depth we need to look in choosing teammates.
Kerry Galusha and I played as curling teammates over an 18 year span. We have chatted about this before and I know Jill Officer (Team Canada- Sochi) expressed these same sentiments after the Olympic Curling Trials about herself and Jennifer Jones; after that many years you begin to feel like sisters and not teammates. Sure, you have disagreements and some frustrations now and then with teammates like this but Kerry is the one person who I never doubt during a game, I know has my back and at the end of the day will be standing beside me win or lose. Granted, I lived with the Koe family for many years which meant she couldn’t get rid of me too easily! But at the end of the day this is a teammate that the majority of the time we have shared a competitive drive, similar goals and a way of understanding either other that moves beyond discussions and planning. It is a relationship that is intuitive at times.
I also chat a lot about a team I had while attending the University of Alberta; Lori Olson-Johns, Natalie (Morgan) Halloway and Tiffany (Odegard) Game. All four of us have had great curling careers and continue to have success. Lori and Tiffany were both participants in the most recent Alberta Scotties Championships and with Lori losing the final game! This was a team that was young, full of ‘piss and vinegar’ and stacked with big personalities. I remember at one point getting in deep with one another and not even knowing if would have a full team showing up at the next game. We had passion, attitude, drive, determination and we were too young to know when to use things to our advantage and when to back off a bit. At the end of the day, we beat Team Cathy King and Team Heather Nedohin, both Canadian Champions, to move on to provincials in our home club! These were teammates I will always be appreciate of and have friendships with. We got the best out of each other in ways only each of could!
There are many other curling teammates that I could go on to mention; Heather McCagg-Nystrom, Dawn ‘Dawny Mo’ Moses, Wendy Miller and others who I am appreciative for in terms of performances and also personal reasons.
In picking a YRQ teammate I looked to similar qualities; someone who could push me and I could push them to our limits and challenges, in a pairing I had to know that I was putting in my 50% and sometimes more of the effort, someone who could see me cry and at my weakest and not judge, and of course someone who would work with and compliment my sometimes OCD and type A personality. This is not necessarily the fastest, most experienced or fittest racer/paddler but like Bill’s formula, it is teammate that you can get performance, adrenaline and thrill with! And there were technical reasons too; I needed someone who was heavier than me to go in the back of the boat as I was NOT prepared to take on that responsibility.
So with teammates and partnerships in mind and now determined for me and 2014 YRQ, I am excited for the next stage of team dynamics… becoming a team or working towards cohesion. Technically referred to as Tuckman’s Model of Group Development, and casually chatted about as FORMING, STORMING, NORMING and PERFORMING. Besides being able to hang out with cool teammates this is the process of sport that I love more than anything else. We form together as a team, we go through our difficulties and storming, we learn our systems and start norming, and then (and we know championships are built on this) we learn to peak when we need to and perform. I LOVE it all and even writing about it gets my adrenaline going. The challenges and tough moments are always worth it at the end and as athletes we know that through these challenges comes success. I remember at a World Curling Tour event in Lloydminster, being so frustrated during some stormy times that the tears would not stop. Even having to walk the cold golf course to get the tears to stop. But that turning point became a weekend of our first WCT qualifying event and we would go on to win the NWT/Yukon Championships that year.
So with all of this information and the joys of team dynamics and forming team I wish everyone success in their own decisions. Know that any stresses you feel in picking teammates is normal; you are not the first or the last athlete that will go through all of this. Know that you will have doubts at times but when it comes time commit there will be something deep inside you as an athlete that knows the right decisions. Learn from these experiences and when we are old these lessons will become good rocking chair stories. But more immediately we should just be able to become better people through these sporty- experiences.

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