Whitehorse Daily Star

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KOREAN MIXED DOUBLES TEAM – The Mixed Doubles team in Bern, Switzerland on Oct. 1. Back left to right: Sung-Jun Lee – Korean Coach; Wade Scoffin – Mixed Doubles Head Coach; Armin Harder – Head Coach National Team Programs; Ho-Seung Lee – Trainer Front row: Min-ji Kim; Ki-Jeong Lee.

Yukon curling legend coaching Korean National Mixed Doubles team

Longtime Yukon curling coach Wade Scoffin has been selected to coach the Korean National Mixed Doubles program.

By Morris Prokop on October 15, 2021

Longtime Yukon curling coach Wade Scoffin has been selected to coach the Korean National Mixed Doubles program.

According to the Yukon Curling Association (YCA), Scoffin “has been a certified curling coach since 1986 and has coached at over 20 national and international events including the Scott Tournament of Hearts, Tim Horton’s Brier, Junior Nationals, Canada Winter Games and World Mixed Doubles for Team Brazil.”

Scoffin “has contributed to curling in the Yukon for over 25 years including being president, past-president and technical director for YCA.

“He was also the recipient of Curling Canada’s National Junior Men’s Coaching Award in 2009 and the Bert Boyd Memorial award for contributions in curling in the Yukon.”

Scoffin has also acted in the role of Learning Facilitator for the Yukon, helping develop coaches at many levels, from club to competitive coaching, including many who are still actively training athletes in the Yukon.

He has represented the Yukon at the Brier, Mixed Nationals and Mixed Doubles 15 times. He and his wife, Helen Strong, represented Canada in Mixed Doubles at the World Winter Masters Games in Austria in January 2020 as well.

Scoffin and the Korean contingent are currently in Europe traveling the Mixed Doubles world circuit before trying to qualify Korea for a spot at the 2022 Winter Olympics. If successful, he will take the team to compete in Beijing in February.

Scoffin started with the Korean team on Sept. 1. The team competed at the nationals about a month before that.

“They really, then, were looking towards doing a fast-track development of a short seasonal plan and program aimed at helping the team to be as prepared as possible for the event coming up in December,” explained Scoffin.

“Because of COVID, it was impossible for me to meet up with the team in Korea,. So the alternative was for us to do a lot of distance-based planning and communicating through the month of December, and then on the 26th of September, I left Whitehorse and then arrived in Europe on the 27th, and they also arrived on the 27th. We met up in Zurich, Switzerland, and then proceeded to participate in one event, and a number of exhibition games and what I sort of described as a bit of a training camp as well, so I could become more familiar with the team … being right on the ice with them.”

The team moved from Switzerland to Kitzbuhel on Oct. 12. Their second event started yesterday.

The Star reached Scoffin in Kitzbuhel, Austria, where he was coaching his two young Korean charges.

He explained how he came to be the coach of the Korean mixed doubles team.

“I’ve been involved in international coaching for the last several years. The last four or five I’ve been involved with assisting the Brazil Curling Federation with their mixed doubles program and so that’s been my more recent involvement from an international perspective.

“Also from a national perspective where the other coach is … Peter Gallant – he’s been a longstanding coach for the Korean women’s program, national team, and at the last Olympics, he assisted the Korean ladies team to a silver medal. And he and I are longstanding acquaintances and friends. We’ve always been keeping in touch and so I asked him and he said ‘yeah, you should’ and I put the application in. It was a formal application process that went out this past summer.”

The Korean Curling Federation didn’t approach Scoffin about the position.

“No they didn’t, but I submitted a formal application, but with the dialogue and discussions I was certainly encouraged to apply, but it wasn’t from the federation itself that encouraged me, it was just sort of personal encouragement from sort of peers within the curling community.

“They had a formal application posting that went internationally, and they were searching around the world for candidates for the mixed doubles program and the men’s program, and they had already made an agreement with Peter Gallant to remain involved with the women’s program.”

So is he running the mixed doubles program, or just the head coach of the team?

“It’s complicated,” said Scoffin. The focus right now as far as the mandate that I have is to be the head coach of the mixed doubles team. And the team was declared through their national championship in late July, early August of this past year.

“And the focus is for this particular team primarily to be able to assist them to qualify for the upcoming Beijing Olympics … I’ve been asked to focus the attention on …. initially and primarily on the team with that particular goal in mind, but we all have additional plans and hopes associated with working in assisting the developing teams, as compared to the designated team as well. But the focus primarily now ‘til December is with the designated team.”

The Korean team gave their new coach a great first impression.

“Amazingly talented … Ki-Jeong (Lee)… the male player on our team, was at the Pyeongchang, Korea Olympics on a mixed doubles team. He had a different female partner for that competition. He also in the past won the world juniors as skip … six to seven years ago.

“The lady, Min-Ji Kim, she was very successful in junior. She’s only 22 years old, but in 2019 won (a) bronze medal at the world women’s championships and was also runner-up in one of the major Canadian events.”

The team is working hard to prepare for their Olympic opportunity.

“We are doing a lot of team practicing to be able to work on our systems … and having confidence in … the shot-making and decision-making associated with the game,” related Scoffin.

“We’ve had quite a number of practice games against the top teams in Europe. We have a good close connection and relationship, so for example we’ve had invitations to people to have multiple practice games with the Swiss mixed doubles team and they’re the defending silver medalists from the last Olympics. So we’ve spent many hours with them on the ice and we’ve got a series of five major events that we’re competing in, from – the first of October was the first one … and they’re going to continue on until mid-November.”

Those events are part of the World Curling Tour Mixed doubles events.

“In Europe, there’s a stronger emphasis on the mixed doubles format, so that’s why we’ve chosen to have the team train and compete here, as compared to in Canada. So we’re playing the teams – the majority of the teams, apart from Canada, that have already qualified for the Olympics, or the teams that are in a similar boat to us, where they’re in that final event, the Olympic qualifying event. So we’ll be playing the teams … we need to know how to play against.”

Scoffin said the competition at these events is strong.

“Absolutely, the top teams in the world right now; the stronger teams are from Norway … Sweden … the U.K. and from Switzerland. Those are certainly strong, strong, countries.”

The tournaments are also called cash-spiels. Entry fees are in the $400-$500 range. If you make it to the quarter finals, you can make back a little more than the entry fee. Winning teams usually get five times the entry fee (so with an entry fee of $500, a winning team would receive $2500 – a far cry from, say pro golf prize money).

“You’re usually spending more than you’re making,” said Scoffin.

The Korean team had a pretty successful first event.

“They won their first three games, which qualified them for the championship round, and they beat the Swiss national team in the A Qualifier game, and then they ended up having to face the same team in the quarterfinals of the single elimination side of it, and they –both games were 6-5, and we won the first game, and they won the second game, so they were both very close games,” related Scoffin.

The Korean team will be competing in a 16-country Olympic qualifying event in Leeuwarden, Holland Dec. 5-9 for the two remaining spots in the Olympics. Scoffin thinks his team’s chances are “quite good. We have to be cautious. There’s a lot of work to prepare, and you want to be able to be as prepared as possible, but if you’re looking at the stats and the rankings, for example the world rankings, the Korea Mixed Doubles program is ranked 8th in the world … the teams that haven’t qualified that are above us are the U.S.A. – they’re ranked 5th. And then the other teams that remain still to qualify are ranked lower. So we’re second seed … in the event. So certainly up there.

“The other countries that we feel would be quite strong would be the teams that would represent Russia – they have a strong depth of program. Japan as well, is also quite strong. There are a number of smaller countries, because of it being a two-player format, that end up being quite strong.”

And what about after the Olympics?

“All three of the coaches are certainly very interested in the long-term development of the high-performance program for the Korean Curling Federation” said Scoffin. “So we certainly hope that there would be interest, because – apart from the ladies team, because they’ve had a consistent coach for several years, and really for this whole Olympic cycle, which is a four-year time period. They’ve been able to have a really good long-term development plan with the team that is representing Korea through this process.

“But for the men’s team, and the mixed doubles team, bringing in coaches to accomplish this in a very short time period is pretty challenging, and we certainly see that there is potential to set up the systems and the processes so that there is more depth and sustainability for the programs for a longer time period.”

Whether Scoffin stays on will depend on the success of the team.

“It’s always hard to say. It will certainly be an easier decision for the federation if we do have some success. Success usually leads to easy conversations. But we’re also working really hard on showing and educating the program as well on areas where we’re identifying – areas for improvement that will benefit both immediately and longer-term.”

Scoffin would like to stay on with the program.

“For sure. It’s been a really positive experience so far – obviously it’s wild and crazy to travel during COVID, but we’re managing. And the athletes are wonderful young people … the support team that’s around the athletes as well, the trainers and translators and the Korean coach are terrific as well, and are wonderful to work with.”

After the Olympics, the World Championships loom on the curling horizon in late April, with the location to be determined.

“The priority focus is the Olympics, but we also have the long-term objectives as well, and strong performances at the world championships lead to other opportunities as well.”

Korea struggled at the world championships last year, and were relegated as a result, so would have to play a world qualifier process in early January in Scotland. There are currently 16 teams in the World Championships A pool, and another four to be determined from the event.

“Korea … just had a world championships last year that they did struggle in as far as results and so – one of their poorer performances – I think that’s one of the reasons that they needed some changes, because they recognized that that isn’t going to help them get to the Olympics,” surmises Scoffin.

He adds that there’s “a lot of work ahead, but we’re positive and hopeful.”

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