Q & A: With coach Jan Pula
Jan Pula admits she wasn’t very fond of curling when she started playing as an adult, but that didn’t stop her from developing into one of the city’s most successful curling coaches.
A native of Windsor, Pula’s husband’s career as a mining engineer moved the couple around the world, before they settled in Sudbury in 1979 with their two sons.
Since joining the coaching ranks shortly after she picked up the sport, Pula has guided her teams to countless regional, provincial and national titles, both in club curling and at the university level. She is credited with starting the Laurentian University varsity curling teams and she has twice been named the House of Kin’s Joe Drago Coach of the Year.
Aside from coaching, Pula has enjoyed great success as a player as well, playing in the Ontario Scotties in 1996, three national senior championships and three masters championships.
Sports Life sat down to chat with Pula about her career in curling.
SPORTS LIFE: How long have you been curling?
JAN PULA: I didn’t start curling until I was 43. My son was a competitive hockey player and … you know what it’s like being a hockey parent — you follow them all around. When he graduated from high school, I needed something to do, so I started curling.
SL: Why did you choose curling as that activity?
JP: I’ve loved sports all my life. When we moved to Sudbury, we joined the Idylwylde for golf, and a lot of my friends golfed and curled, so I thought I’d give it a try. I didn’t like it at first because … if I don’t do something really well, I don’t want to do it, and I wasn’t very good at curling.
SL: Then how did you get into coaching?
JP: There wasn’t anyone teaching curling so I took a coaching course because that was the only way I could find to get someone to teach me to curl — I wanted to learn to do it properly. So I took my Level 1 (coaching certification) and really got hooked and stuck with it. My first coaching experience, which didn’t happen long after I started curling, was with Cambrian College. It was around 1994 or 1995. I coached the men’s and women’s varsity teams.
SL: What took you to the next level after that?
JP: There were a couple things. There was a junior camp that southern Ontario was running and the Northern Ontario Curling Association (NOCA) decided it would be a good idea to start one in the north. Someone asked if I would like to get involved. In 1997, we started an Amethyst Curling Camp in Thunder Bay and I got to be an instructor. That got me going — I really liked working with the kids.
The other thing was Ryan Gates had a daughter who he had been coaching and he needed someone to take over because it’s difficult to coach your own child. So he talked me into coaching his daughter, Amanda’s team, and we managed to get to the Ontario Winter Games. It just blossomed from there. The girls did well and new teams formed. I happened to be in the right place at the right time and I got to work with a bunch of really great kids.
SL: Describe your coaching style.
JP: One of my goals when I’m coaching is that I want the kids, when I’m done with them, to be able to coach themselves. I try to get across, that I’m here to help you, I’m going to give you the information and I’m here to work through it with you, but I’m not going to yell at you and I’m not going to tell you exactly what you have to do, you have to experience it.
SL: What has been your proudest moment as a coach?
JP: Do I have to just pick one? The very first Northern Ontario Junior Provincials in 2005 was a big deal. It was the first time a team from Sudbury had represented Northern Ontario at a national championship. That was the first one and you always remember your first one as being special.
SL: What one piece of advice would you give to other coaches?
JP: Be patient, especially with young people. Keep repeating a skill or drill but keep trying to make it a little more difficult, but repeat so it gets ingrained in their brains.
SL: What does your future look like in terms of your involvement in curling?
JP: One of the things I’ve been trying to do lately is succession planning. I think a lot of sports organizations miss preparing someone to take other people’s places. The last couple years, I’ve been working with a couple of young people who I’ve moved into positions that I had. Rather than just disappearing into the sunset … at least I’ve prepared someone to take over some of the coaching jobs because that’s how the sport continues to grow.
I’m trying to go back into playing. I figure I have a few years left, so I’m going to go curl. I’m at the Masters level but I hope to do some competing myself.