Sucky Timing, Sound Advice

I watch in horror as my errant curling rock careens through the house. Before I threw my shot we’d been lying two; now, our opponents are lying three. Yikes. Did I really do that?


I look up to see my father on his feet, gesturing at me through the glass to meet him at the door onto the ice. I jog down to see what he wants to tell me. Maybe he has some way I can recall my last shot.


Always ask yourself what could happen if the shot goes wrong.

Thanks, Dad. As I trudge back to face my dispirited team I reflect that it’s sucky timing, but sound advice.

Of course, thinking about how a shot might go wrong is beyond my skill level. In choosing a shot, I try to cover the basics: What’s the score? Do I have last rock? Should I split the house or guard my shot rock? With the shot decided, I try to call the ice properly. As a 15-year-old skip, that’s as far as I’ve got.

Fast forward roughly 50 years.

“If I go there, he’ll have this.” That’s the skip speaking, and one other team member nods thoughtfully.

The third pipes up. “What if you go here? Then he’d only have that.” More heads nod thoughtfully.

Good grief. These world-class curlers aren’t thinking like the 15-year-old skip I once was, wondering how to call the shot I want to make. They’re not even thinking like my then 45-year-old father, wondering what might go wrong with the shot he wants to call.

Indeed, in one sense they’re not thinking about their shot at all. Instead, they’re thinking about what shot they should leave for their opponent:

  • A takeout that requires their opponent’s weaker turn?
  • A tricky shot through a port, where the line must be perfect?
  • A draw on an unused part of the sheet where they can’t predict the weight?

It’s not what you make, it’s what you leave.
Russ Howard, TSN curling commentator
and Olympic curling champion

Of course, what they really want is to leave their opponents with no shot at all. Or do they?

A skip with no shot — or at least no good options — looks further afield, and sometimes find a trick shot: a low-percentage, desperation move with a big payoff if it is, by some miracle, successful. And so we’ve seen curlers like Jennifer Jones and Kevin Martin (back in the day) try — and execute — high-speed, in-off, triple-raise, hit-and-stick shots that no one with any options would ever attempt.

In the last 18 months, we’ve seen Canadian politicians do things that look a lot like trying to leave voters with no good options. Jim Prentice, may he rest in peace, tried to eliminate the Wild Rose Party as an opposition party, convinced (I guess) that Albertans would vote Conservative if the only option was to vote NDP. The federal Conservative Party tried the “You may not like our guy, but look at how unready/socialist the other guys are” strategy, convinced (I guess) that Canadians would opt for distaste, if the only option were unease.

In the last 18 months, we’ve seen the American political system come up with two wildly unpopular candidates for President. It seems to be a case of “You might not like our guy/gal, but what choice do you have?”

In sports, figuring your opponents have no good options is wishful thinking. In politics, trying to set it up so that voters have no good options is disrespectful thinking, both of your opponents and of the voters.

In sports and politics, discounting people’s ability to generate options when they’re desperate can be self-defeating thinking. Making them desperate — well, that’s your choice, all right. But as someone once said to me, “Always ask yourself what could happen if it goes wrong.”

Thanks, Dad. Exactly right.


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6 Responses to Sucky Timing, Sound Advice

  1. I started to win more games in (phonetic) Scrabbel when I thought, “What could John do with the word I am putting down?….add an S and continue down to the triple score…hmmm.” That, and just enjoying playing the game — not trying to win– that I began to win was the byproduct. (The Brits are sorry when The Game is over, whether they won or lost … or maybe that’s just my John. :D)

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – I notice that on the standard setting my computer opponent makes moves no (even remotely normal) human would do, offering me easy triple-word-score opportunities. (I tried the advanced game once. Once.) I’d like to see the electronic Scrabble programmable – offering phonetic options, or puns only, or story themes. Of course, I could always buy one of those old-fashioned hard-copy versions . . .

      • Doubt you could find one that isn’t plastic, with indentations for the letters. And plastic letters. And plastic holders. There is something soothing about the wooden tiles and worn paper board — and the the double-word, etc. boxes don’t have neon exclamations on them…

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – Well, of course that would be the case that plastic had replaced cardboard and wood. What was I thinking? Only of something out of date by about 30 years.

  2. Tom Watson says:

    In curling, in elections too, “Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances.” Sometimes the result is good, other times not so much, but ya throws the shot anyway.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – “True dat,” as some are prone to saying. In the short term, our options are limited; what’s interesting to me is how we might affect the options over the course of more than one election cycle. I know at least one staunchly small-c conservative who refused to vote Conservative in the last election on the grounds that if you don’t demand better, you won’t get it.

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