Kevin Martin has been to Whitehorse twice before. Once in 1999 for the McCain Skins game, where he lost in the finals to Wayne Maddaugh. He was in Whitehorse again in 2009 for a World Curling event, which he and his team eventually won. Martin was back in Whitehorse over the weekend, after nine years away, not to play, but as a coach to all those who wished to attend the clinics that were hosted by the curling club.
Although it has been nearly a decade since Martin was in Whitehorse, he remembered the curling club well.
“I remember coming in here in 99 and all the dark wood in the building, it’s a gorgeous, gorgeous curling club,” reflected Martin. “It would certainly rank up as one of the top curling clubs in Canada.I remember the ice being so good in 99 and 09 and then over the past few days. The curlers here are very lucky to have this facility and the playing conditions.”
Martin, now retired from professional curling, is still an active member of the curling community. Despite working around other ventures such as his sports store and working as a television analyst, he remains dedicated to growing and developing the sport. Martin says the Whitehorse Curling Club is excelling in these two areas.
“This morning we had about 24 little rockers, and that is just terrific,” said Martin. “As long as you’re getting that type of response and that many kids into the program, the cream-of-the-crop are going to be really strong. They are doing a great job promoting and getting young curlers involved, that is really important.”
According to Martin, curling is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, winter and summer.
Part of it, is the growing popularity of the Olympics, as well as an increase in television exposure, this rise in popularity is noticeable to Martin at the ground roots level.
“Kids can now watch their heroes, whether it’s Anna Hasselborg from Sweden or [Rachel] Homan from Canada, young girls will say I want to be like that,” says Martin. “So they get to the club practice and work hard and become a really good player. Here in Whitehorse there is certainly the makings of that, from what I saw.”
Developing the youth program is the key to sustainability in the sport, according to Martin, something he believes Whitehorse is doing well. Like any sport, coaching is pivotal to sustaining and achieving success. Martin was really impressed with the turnout of coaches who assisted him in running the days clinics.
“We had all those kids this morning, but we had five instructors out there with me,” said Martin.
“That’s really good when you have that much help. Not only do you have a vast number of kids wanting to play, but also you have all these people wanting to help. That is a really healthy situation.”
Part of Martin’s mission in growing the game is to develop the coaching. Which is why he tries to fit as many instructional clinics into his schedule as he can.
“Having a lot of kids in a youth program is great, but the other side of that is you need the coaching,” said Martin. “You need to get the 12 and 13 year-olds well coached so they have the fundamentals and the technical side to get picked up by a competitive team.
“The coaches have to grow as the kids get better,” said Martin. “That’s a lot of work to do, its not easy. That’s why it’s important to bring in different people, because its different information. I bring in different information to build onto the knowledge base. Curling philosophy and strategy is always changing, that’s why it is important for the coaches, or the kids to go out, or bring someone in so they can experience different coaching, because there is so much information to be gained. It’s about staying ahead of the curve.”
A strong youth program coupled with knowledgeable coaching is the recipe for a strong curling program. Canada has always been a force on the international levels but Martin says other countries are catching up or have caught up to Canada’s level of play. To maintain a strong international presence, it is up to the individual clubs across Canada to have long-term plans to generate quality curlers.
“You can’t let your foot off the gas or someone is going to pass you,” said Martin. “Whitehorse is definitely on the right track, there is no question, getting that many kids and instructors, its impossible not to work. There is too much talent here on both sides. Now it’s a matter of continuing it, 20 and 30 years, and that is when it gets really fun, because you start to win major championships.”
As the day came to an end Martin had one more message for all the curlers, to prepare them for their future successes.
“You need to set yourself goals,” said Martin.“Make them attainable, make them reasonable but challenge yourself. Then move on to the next one.”