Brad Jacobs curling team tackles “in between the ears” in a mental reboot

Team Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs makes a shot during the first draw against the wildcard team at the Brier in Brandon, Man. Saturday, Mar. 2, 2019. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

BRANDON, Man. — Brad Jacobs’s team stood at a crossroads after the 2018 Winter Olympics when the curling carousel was in full spin.

Many of Canada’s top male curlers were mixing and matching lineups, with some forming "super-teams" to set up for a run at the next Winter Games in 2022.

Winning a Canadian title in 2013 and an Olympic gold medal in 2014 made Jacobs, vice Ryan Fry and front-end brothers E.J. and Ryan Harnden loathe to dismantle their team with a track record of winning big events.

But something was missing for the foursome from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

"At the end of last year, I believe our team was at a teetering point where, yes, we decided to stick together, but we had one of two directions to go and that was either down or up," Jacobs explained.

"We definitely do have a good thing going, but if we didn’t make some sort of a change in the aspect of the mental performance, we were never going to change."

"I think we would still be good, but we wouldn’t be world-class."

Enter Adam Kingsbury, a clinical psychology student at the University of Ottawa who applied his unique skill set of mental training and data analytics to Rachel Homan’s team for three years.

When Kingsbury parted company with Homan in the spring of 2018, he heard from Jacobs.

"I really think all of the issues and all of the tension, the stress, the problems our team was having was in between the ears for all four of us," Jacobs said.

"Patience has probably been the biggest one. I think because we know each other so well and we’re family, we can get annoyed with one another very easily.

"We’ve been together a long time so we can say things to one another and we can almost take ourselves out of the game.

"I believe we picked the right guy for the job in Adam. He’s done a great job in figuring out what makes us tick, how to communicate with us and helping us work on the things we need to work on."

Jacobs opened the Canadian men’s curling championship with a pair of wins.

He said following Northern Ontario’s 10-2 win over Brendan Bottcher’s wild-card team Saturday "this was probably one of the calmest Team Jacobs you’ve seen at any Brier."

Manitoba’s Mike McEwen joined Northern Ontario atop Pool A at 2-0 on Sunday, while Canada’s Brad Gushue, Alberta’s Kevin Koe and B.C.’s Jim Cotter were tied for first at 2-0 in Pool B heading into the evening draw.

Saskatchewan’s Kirk Muyres, Edmonton’s Bottcher, Quebec’s Martin Crete and Prince Edward Island’s John Likely were 1-1 in Pool A.

Nova Scotia’s Terry Odishaw and Nova Scotia’s Stuart Thompson were knotted at 1-1 in Pool B.

Ontario’s Scott McDonald, Jamie Koe of Northwest Territories and Nunavut’s Dave St. Louis were still seeking their first Pool B wins.

Yukon’s John Solberg and Andrew Symonds of Newfoundland and Labrador were winless in Pool A.

The top four teams in each pool at the conclusion of the round robin Wednesday advance to the championship round, from which four Page playoff teams will emerge.

Jacobs and the Harnden brothers were in their mid-20s when Fry joined them for the 2012-13 season. In their first year together, they won their first Brier, the Olympic trials and an Olympic gold medal.

They’ve remained an elite team for seven years with a cohesion now atypical in the sport.

Their familiarity with each other put them in danger, however, of taking each other and their success for granted.

"We ascended to the top extremely fast," the skip said. "As you stay together as a team, that’s when you kind of go through that storming phase and we went through that."

The four men have worked with Algoma University psychology professor Arthur Perlini for several years and continue to do so, but Kingsbury travels with Jacobs.

With a young son at home, Kingsbury contemplated a break from the curling road. But when a team like Jacobs thinks you can help them, he said it’s difficult to say no.

"What do you think you could do to help an Olympic gold medallist, former Brier winner?" Kingsbury asked.

"This team knows how to play. They know how to be great. Of course things can get stale. They’ve played together so long. I try to have a fresh perspective.

"What are their strengths? When are they at their best? What are the things that get in the way?"

A Jacobs team trademark is a burst of yelling and broom-rattling after executing in a game’s big moment, as a means of releasing tension.

Has the chill Team Jacobs abandoned those emotional explosions?

"No, that’s going to happen for sure," he said. "We hope."

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