The Team Behind The Team
How the alumni, faculty and staff of Memorial University supported the Gushue Rink in its pursuit of Olympic Gold and in their plans for life after Turino.
One of the strengths of great leaders is the ability to surround themselves with people who can help make them even stronger. Brad Gushue is that kind of leader. In a telephone interview from his suburban Mount Pearl home this past April, Brad, B.B.A.'04, admitted that, "As a team there are a lot of areas where [Team Gushue] didn't have the knowledge we needed to make it to the Olympics. That's why we went to experts in the field." And it was Memorial University that provided the experts who supported the team's climb to the pinnacle of the curling world, Olympic gold.
At Memorial Brad found mentors for psychological preparation, for physical fitness and even for career counseling. And here he found the flexibility to study while pursuing his dream. Many of the people he worked with are Memorial alumni, including team coach and 1976 Brier champion, Toby McDonald, B.A.'72. Together those people make up Memorial's team behind The Team.
One of the people at the top of Brad's roster is Memorial alumnus Dr. Bas Kavanagh, B.Ed.'81, B.P.Ed.'81, M.P.Ed.'85. He's been a team sports psychology consultant for the past four years. Brad and he met when the Canadian Curling Association referred the rising young athlete to him for help with the mental aspects of his game. "Bas and I hit it off from the start. He's become a close personal friend and a friend of the team.We could not have gotten to where we are today without his support," admits Brad.
Good-bye to George Street.
An associate professor with Human Kinetics and Recreation since 1989, Bas has a Ph.D. in sports psychology and performance enhancement from the University of Iowa. He sensed that Brad and team mates Mark Nichols, B.Kin.'05, Jamie Korab and Mike Adam were sincere and committed, "so it was natural for me to get enthused about them."
"If you are on your game...you can have a bad shot, or a bad game, but still be certain that the next shot or the next game will be good."
Bas worked with the team to set targets for every aspect of their game including psychological and physical preparation, technical skills improvement and the development of tactical strategies.
A particular focus was team cohesion. That meant putting the team first for four years in almost every facet of their lives including nutrition, sleep and social activities. "We'd practice on Saturday mornings so there was no George Street on Friday night," says Bas. "They heard me ask many times, 'Is what we are doing counter productive to our goals? Does missing a training session, or not being at our best, help us to achieve our goals?'"
The team philosophy of "process leads to outcomes" was based on the understanding that curling is a game of percentages. "If you are on your game and prepared, then you can have a bad end, or a bad game, but still be certain that the next end or the next game will be good," explains Bas.
The gold medal skip credits Bas with, "getting us thinking about the way we think individually and as a team." That gave them the advantage of being able to regroup quickly so that "negative thoughts don't get in the way of our game."
"The Gushue Rink is the best prepared men's curling team I've ever seen."
An enduring balance
Also at the top of the Memorial roster for the team behind The Team is Dr. David Behm. With a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, he's worked with elite athletes at national and international levels. David devised and monitored the Gushue team's fitness program from his fitness lab on the ground floor of the Human Kinetics building. There, various pieces of equipment shaped to the proportions of the human body are hooked by elaborate sets of wires to computers.
David was skeptical when the team first approached him in the spring of 2005 with their sights set on qualifying for the Olympics. "I've always thought of curlers as athletes but never thought they needed a high level of fitness," he admits. But as he worked with the Gushue Rink he discovered that endurance and balance are vital in curling. "If you aren't in condition, sweeping up to 60 times each game can cause you to be jittery. And that's not good because this is a precision sport." He's convinced that Mark Nichols' conditioning was an important factor in the amazing double takeout he threw in the sixth end of the final game.
Following the team physiologist's program of endurance and balance exercises, team members improved steadily over the summer of 2005. And Brad led the way. For example, in May he could do 30 pushups. By July he was doing 43 and by August he was up to 50. An improvement of 66 per cent. The improvement in balance was even more impressive. Brad's performance on the wobble board went up by 387 per cent. Jamie Korab wasn't far behind at 370 per cent.
The results of this conditioning were obvious to Jim Waite. He was the Canadian Olympic coach in Italy for men's curling and he told team coach, Toby McDonald, "the Gushue Rink is the best prepared men's curling team I've ever seen."
A fan joins the clan
Toby joined the team in March of 2005, but has long been a fan of the young curling skip. "I was there at the airport to greet Brad when he came home after losing the World [Junior Championship] in 2000 and I was there in 2001 when he came home after winning it." So when Brad offered Toby the coaching position, this was one lawyer who didn't need to be asked twice. "I filled in my court calendar right then for all the dates so that my time was free."
According to Toby, Brad's work off the ice deserves as much respect as his on-ice performance. Brad runs the team like a business and works hard to develop and maintain team cohesion in everything they do.
"It is very easy to shed a tear when I celebrate with other members of the team. 6 Luminus volume 31, number 1 Spring/Summer 2006"
And the success of that leadership showed in their drive for gold this year. From January 2006 to the closing ceremony at Turin, the team spent 29 days together, including eight days of grueling competition. Toby recalls, with some amazement, how well they all got along during that time. "We were focused on keeping our game at the level we needed to be at to win. To do that we'd worked long and hard at controlling our emotions."
The emotional impact of the gold medal victory is a powerful, but subdued, experience for the team's easy-going coach. "You don't just go from controlled emotions to jumping up and down. That's not possible," he says. "It was more a feeling of relief and elation." After pausing for a moment Toby continues, "Eventually, I may get excited but I'm not sure this was that kind of experience. But it is very easy to shed a tear when I celebrate with other members of the team."
After the gold rush
Memorial had other indirect effects on the Gushue Team. For example, it strengthened Brad's working relationship with Mark Nichols. "Mark is from Labrador and he was looking at going to university on the mainland. But I wanted him to play on my team and I was able to convince him to come to Memorial so we could play together," says Brad.
Also on Brad's list of supporters at Memorial are his professors who allowed him to earn his degree in business administration despite frequent absences to compete. And that education is panning out for him now. "Because of my experience and my interest in marketing and human resources, the combination of the Olympic gold plus my B.B.A. gives me more options."
His education also gives him confidence in how he manages the team. "We've committed so much time and worked so hard and sacrificed so much, I want to make sure that everything we do is the best business decision for the team," says Brad.
Since he returned home, Brad's had job offers but, consistent with his approach to the game, he has a plan that includes looking for opportunities that allow him to stay in the province as he prepares to go for the gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics. So he's added another Memorial graduate to the roster. "I'm working with Rob Shea to make the right decisions in planning my career for me and for any company where I go to work."
Brad's a realistic young man. "He knows that even if he wins in Vancouver in 2010 he'll have to carry a Sharpie autograph pen in his pocket ...And then what?" Brad has a "phenomenal repertoire" of skills outside the rink says Rob. In addition to serving as manager and CFO of the team, Brad negotiated with corporate sponsors. He motivated the team. "And by the process that took him to the gold medal, he's become an eloquent speaker. There are not many young people who have his experience in speaking with Reuters, Sports Illustrated and other international media, not just in Torino, but throughout his winning career."
"...even if he wins in Vancouver in 2010 he'll have to carry a Sharpie autograph pen in his pocket... And then what?"
So Rob is helping the young Olympian to isolate those skills, describe them and then tailor a portfolio that will "attract an employer who sees the advantage in providing Brad with the flexible work hours and challenging employment opportunity he would like to have." Whatever the result, Rob says, they'll be there to support Brad in his quest to find a career that fits his skills and his goals.
And the Gushue Rink's involvement with Memorial doesn't end there. With honorary doctorates from their alma mater in hand, the newly minted Dr. Gushue and Dr. Nichols may be returning to Memorial. Says Brad: "Over the next little while, as we start to plan for the next years, both Mark and I are looking at going back to pursue graduate degrees."