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Alberta skip Brendan Bottcher throws a rock in March.
Brendan Bottcher Ian Kucerak/Postmedia files
Brendan Bottcher has authored one of Canada’s great success stories when it comes to making the transition from junior star to elite level curler, but he can’t see how many others will follow in his footsteps under the country’s current development strategy.
Bottcher, 28, is the skip of one of the world’s best men’s teams, out of Edmonton. His foursome made it to the final of the Tim Hortons Brier the last three years and, even though his team lost each time, there’s no doubting the former world junior champion is up there with the current greats of the game.
He’s also one of the bright minds of the sport.
A graduate of the University of Alberta, with a degree in chemical engineering, Bottcher has ideas on what needs to be done by curling administrators in this country in order to start turning high-level junior curlers into elite men’s and women’s level curlers more often.
“I think coaching and training resources are a big part of it,” Bottcher said this week. “Ultimately, we need to be able to fund those young athletes for longer. Right now, a lot of the rewards you get from curling, albeit they are pretty limited, come after you have won things. There’s very little funding and support for athletes that are developing and trying to win things in the future.
“I think that’s where our shift has to be.”
During a COVID-19 pandemic that has affected people in all walks of life and has completely disrupted the elite and recreational curling schedules, it might not be the best time to be looking at the big picture. Curling Canada is clearly focused on trying to find a way to run its major championships in 2021, possibly in a bubble format, and right now the development of young curlers is likely on the back burner.
But it’s certainly a good time to think about what needs to be done down the road, and Bottcher has become increasingly vocal on the subject.
What he has noticed in recent years is that the gap between developing curlers and elite curlers is getting wider. The top teams have more resources, more training, and all of that leads to a bigger gap.
“There’s a lot of people that fall through the cracks,” Bottcher said.
“There’s a lot of people that could be highly competitive, could be our sport’s greatest athletes, but they simply never make it there because they never had the resources, they never had the commitment, and they never had all the other things that go into it, that people in a lot of other sports just take for granted.
“There’s a huge gap there in curling and we need to do a much better job of trying to transition our juniors and our youth athletes and help them and prop them up to become our elite athletes of the future.”
Curling Canada’s NextGen program is a start. The national governing body of the sport is investing more in development these days than it has in the past, and it’s helping the top handful of junior and university athletes move into the men’s and women’s ranks.
But there needs to be more and it starts with coaching.
“There’s not one professional sport where coaching is not a fundamental principle of why teams are successful, or not,” Bottcher said.
“In curling, because we’ve always taken a slightly different approach to forming teams and managing teams and often the skip is the leader of the team on and off the ice, that role of coach has never really been defined that well.
“The vast majority of teams just go without a coach. That’s a huge downfall.”
Interestingly, Bottcher and his teammates played in the 2019 Brier in Brandon, Man., without a coach. But he believes that was a mistake and suggests any team — from juniors up to the Olympic level — that doesn’t have a coach is not trying hard enough to be successful.
“There has to be someone guiding the ship with an outside perspective, that really knows what’s going on,” Bottcher said.
“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would say otherwise. I think that’s just obvious.”
In the past, Bottcher said Curling Canada made it too difficult for former players to become coaches. The time and effort it took to get levels and certifications made it unappealing.
“Curling Canada has tried to open the door to allow more of those people to transition into coaching but I think they need to do even more and they really need to promote all of the top teams having full-time coaches, period,” said Bottcher, who brought in Olympian and world champion Don Bartlett as coach last year and found it to be a good fit.
“I couldn’t be more clear on that. There’s no professional sport in the world that goes without coaching, like curling does.”
Bottcher able to see positive side of losing three straight Brier finals
No one knows more about curling heartbreak over the last few years than Brendan Bottcher.
The 28-year-old skip from Edmonton has been on the losing end of the last three Brier finals, losing twice to Brad Gushue and once to Kevin Koe.
It’s not easy to swallow those kinds of losses, especially when they happen repeatedly, but Bottcher remains impressively positive about his experiences.
“I think you have to look at them at face value,” Bottcher said. “Each of those years I can think of multiple reasons why that was a huge success. You have to find some positivity in there as well, as much as the defeat hurts and sucks and all those things.”
The key for Bottcher, and his teammates Darren Moulding, Brad Thiessen and Karrick Martin, is patience.
“Really, all I’m trying to do is keep getting better,” Bottcher said. “If every year we keep getting back to the Brier and we keep getting better, it’s just a matter of time before we’re gonna win one.
“That’s the approach I’ve taken. I’m really proud of everything we’re doing and I just want us to keep down this path.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020