Füssen Junior Camp 2018: The Instructors

  • Judith McCleary welcomes the camp attendees © WCF / Christian Leibbrandt

The success of Füssen’s Junior Curling Camp may be partially down to the soon-to-be-famous faces that are associated with it.

Over the past 20 years, many familiar names on the elite stage today, spent a week at the camp in their junior years. However, there is a lot more to it than that. Füssen’s facilities are an important place in the world for the sport, but it is also the hard work and dedication from those who run it too.

The foundation of the camp lies with its six instructors, who take individual groups with each instructor being flanked by two assistants. These 18 people, along with Camp Director Eeva Röthlisberger, are pivotal to the success and development of a select group of curlers and have a responsibility to help those young athletes progress. Yet, some instructors have visited the camp more than most of the campers and some are willing to sacrifice work holidays to do so.

“I have a two-year-old boy so it’s not that easy for me to go, but this year is particularly special,” says Judith McCleary, Head of Development for Scottish Curling.

A twentieth anniversary is a special occasion, but it also marks the retirement of one of the camp’s founders, Keith Wendorf, who is greatly respected for his dedication to the camp. Before this year Judith had been to four camps, with the last being six years ago. Her friendship with Keith comes from the tight-knit community at Füssen. Judith refers to it as the ‘Füssen family’, “You go back because it’s a great environment. Everyone pulls together.”

Echoing these words is Shari Leibbrandt [pictured above right: photo © WCF / Christian Leibbrandt], the national coach for the Netherlands men’s team, who also holds a developmental role in Dutch curling. Her years at the camp have seen her take the team she coaches from the youth ranks to the present day, all of whom went through the Füssen ranks too. She agrees that that it’s a place to make lifelong friendships.

“I’ve had some of the kids that I’ve coached at the camp who I’ve kept in contact with and then you go off to a championship and you see those kids on the ice at a championship and it’s great to know that you’ve contributing to them not just being successful but loving and enjoying what they do. That’s the biggest reward.”

Judith’s Füssen story started in 2006 when she went to the camp as an assistant for German curler, Gesa Angrick. She would stay in the assistant position for the next two years while juggling her work as Braehead Curling Development Officer.

“I had only been in my post for less than a year, so me going to the camp was a whole new experience,” she says, “I had been a participant at a junior camp in Scotland, but I’d never been an assistant or coach.
“Going to the camp gave me the opportunity for my own development.”

After a few years of assisting, she was brought back as an instructor four years later, which she says was a great learning experience, “I was getting to meet other people, picking up different coaching styles, learning different techniques used elsewhere and a lot of the different drills that were taught that we could bring back and I could share in my junior club’s programme.”

Shari’s experience at the Füssen camp did not begin as a camper or an instructor or an assistant, but as an onlooker. In her developmental role within Dutch curling, she oversaw her team’s progression at the camp as a coach providing moral support. But she was not merely a cheerleader to her team, she quietly studied the techniques from all the different instructors and applied them to her own programme.

“Originally, I was there in a supportive role for my athletes and encouraged them to get the most out of it as possible,” says Shari, “I encouraged juniors to participate so all my athletes have participated in Füssen.”

Despite first going to the camp 14 years ago, Shari would not become involved officially until seven years ago where she jumped into the role as an assistant at the last moment due to a cancellation, “If there was ever crisis or cancellation last minute, I always felt that they could call me,” she says, “One time they took advantage of that and the next year I went back as an instructor. I have been there every year since.”

The melting pot that Füssen creates allows a whole variety of ideas to come together, giving coaches different perspectives on the game and making the sport more technical than ever. Although beneficial to the youngsters, it’s equally as beneficial to the instructors.

“Every time you have a chance to work with different athletes and coaches in a different environment and year group you should take it because they don’t come around so often,” says Shari, “We share classes, we share information.”

“It doesn’t matter what culture you come from, everyone has potential to learn something new and if you can find and share that passion the opportunities are endless.

“A coach needs to continue learning, no different from the way they expect their athletes to. You can only encourage your athletes to take on lessons if you can take on them yourself. I go because the learning opportunity to improve my skills and learn. I’ve learned more from my assistants and my students then I learn in any other environment I work in.”

The connections that you make are also important according to Judith, “There are six instructors and 12 assistants, so everyone has different ideas to share,” she says, “Quite often we share different presentations or ideas or drills so that’s valuable to bring back for our own programme.”

“You maintain contact with these instructors and can get back in touch with them later and share ideas as well.

“There was a bit of personal development and a good opportunity to meet other people and find out what was happening in the curling world.”

Instructors like Judith and Shari can come to Füssen every year and learn something new. After all, the camp is all about development for not just the athletes, but the coaches too. Even if they become encyclopaedias of curling, helping to develop the next generation of top curlers who will eventually compete in Olympic Games and World Championships, is rewarding in itself.

You can follow the junior camp and the World Curling Federation on Twitter, Instagram (@worldcurling) and Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) and by searching the hashtags: #curling #wcfcamps

Written by feature writer: Michael Houston