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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Schieber helping Team USA prepare for Paralympic Games


January 15, 2014 5:40 pm  • 

When Schieber starts listing off all the countries he’s visited for international curling competitions, he sounds a little like Johnny Cash singing about all the place’s he’s been.

“I have been to Canada multiple times, Norway, Sweden, Scotland, England, Germany, Denmark, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Russia, Korea and China,” Schieber said in a recent interview.
Is that it?

“Oh, and Japan,” Schieber added, realizing he almost forgot one. “The passport is close to being filled.”

Most of Schieber’s travels around the globe have come since he joined the U.S. Wheelchair Curling Team as an assistant coach in 2009. It’s a job that will have Schieber making the trip from his Portage home to Sochi, Russia in March, as he and head coach Steve Brown, of Madison, try to help Team USA win what has been an elusive Paralympic curling medal.

Schieber joined the team in 2009, as it was preparing for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver. As the head coach, Brown needed somebody to lend a hand when his other curling duties made him unavailable to coach the team, and he decided to ask Schieber, based on his experiences working with him in the past while coaching one of Rusty’s daughters in junior curling.

Coaching the U.S. Wheelchair Curling athletes is a big job, considering most of the athletes know almost nothing about the sport when they join the program.

“When our players come in to us, we have to teach them everything they need to know about curling, from the strategy of the game, all the way through the execution of the shot,” Schieber said. “I would say it’s common for them to spend probably two or three years practicing through our various camps, until they get themselves to a level where they can actually think about making the team.

“Then once, they get on the team, they get some Olympic money and we make them the best they can possibly be.”

One example of an athlete that Brown and Schieber have helped teach is Penny Greely, of Green Bay, who won a a bronze medal in sitting volleyball at the 2004 Summer Paralympic Games in Athens. Then, in 2010, Greely was recruited to the U.S. curling program, and is now the team’s lead.
Getting the chance to help athletes like Greely, not only learn the sport of curling, but play it at a high level, is what makes Schieber’s coaching job enjoyable.

“To watch her go from not knowing anything about curling, and bringing her in after Vancouver in 2009 and see her compete in her second international competition, her first Paralympic Winter Games, it is pretty impressive,” Schieber said. “So you get to see the growth, you get to see the development, you get to see the plan that you instituted to make those players better, work. It’s just phenomenal.”

When Schieber heads to Sochi in March, it will actually be his second trip to the city. Last year, he traveled there with the U.S. Wheelchair Team for the 2013 World Championships. The event served as a bit of a tune-up for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, which begin in three weeks.

What was Schieber’s impression of Sochi?

Think palm trees.


“Sochi is going to be unlike any Winter Olympic venue that they’ve ever had. When you picture Winter Olympics, you’re picturing snow, you’re picturing pine trees, you’re picturing mountains,” Schieber said. “Sochi is a Mediterranean resort village. It’s palm trees. It’s green. It’s on the shores of the Black Sea.

“As soon as people see those palm trees on the Olympics, they’re going to ask ‘what Olympics is this, the summer or the winter?’”

Being involved with the U.S. Wheelchair Curling team has its challenges. One of the biggest is getting together for practice. The team includes members that live in Wisconsin, New York and Massachusetts. With the athletes spread out so far, the team gets together only once a month for a four-day camp.

When the team isn’t together, the athletes are responsible for practicing on their own. And even though Brown and Schieber aren’t there to see the athletes practicing, they have taken measures to make sure the work is getting done.

“You can either assume that people are carrying out their on-ice practice, because you can’t be there to see them doing it, or you can institute measures that document that they have been maintaining their on-ice presence,” Schieber said. “We do a combination of the two. We assume that everybody is going to practice, but we do have a required skill-set that’s done for score that’s administered every two weeks.”

Seeing team members just four days a month also means the coaches have to be extra observant to how the team is coming together.

“The perception of what you feel is happening amongst your team may not truly be what’s happening,” Schieber said. “When they’re all dispersed like that, we have to communicate with them affectively. We have to ask the right questions and we have to kind of read between the lines of, are things going the direction we want them to go, or are there areas that we need to explore.”

And if the coaches do their job, the team should be in position to medal in Sochi in March. If the team does medal, it will be the first Paralympic curling medal the United States has ever won.
The key to winning that medal, according to Schieber, is finishing. Team members have changed over the years – this year’s team includes only two members who played in the Vancouver games four years ago – but the one thing that seems to have stayed the same has been struggles in the medal round.

The late struggles started in at the World Championships in Vancouver in 2009, when the team won the round robin with a 7-2 record, but still failed to medal.

“We needed one more win to get any medal,” Schieber said. “It didn’t matter. One more win and you’re getting a medal. In two games, we couldn’t get that win.”

At last year’s World Championships, the team finished fourth again.

“What this team has to do is finish. We are so tired of coming in fourth, that it’s incredibly frustrating,” Schieber said. “We play phenomenal through the front end of a competition, and we tend to, at the end of a competition, to pull back.

“I think that’s attention to detail. We can play stone for stone with any team in the world.”

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