Alberta skip Kevin Martin (left) and Manitoba skip Kerry Burtnyk share a laugh at the Brier three years back. Both believe in the importance of leadership and proper planning in top teams. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

A story Amber Holland told the press last week about the maturing process of a top skip left other leaders of men's and women's curling rinks nodding their heads in agreement.  

The Saskatchewan skip, who would go on to win her first Tournament of Hearts national championship a few days later, was chatting about sitting on the floor of a smelly men's hockey dressing room at the 2010 Hearts, eating a sub between draws, when it struck her.

This was no way for a high quality team to act.

So this year she rented a house in Charlottetown, brought along her sister to be the chef, and made sure everyone ate, slept and lived properly during the bonspiel.  

It caught Kerry Burtnyk's eye. 

"I think the decision that Amber had there is very interesting and probably pretty smart," said Manitoba's two-time Canadian champion and 1995 world gold medallist, on the phone from his Winnipeg home. "It shows a lot of maturity on her part."  

Before you can hurry hard, many skips believe you have to work hard on trying to keep everything from happening in too much of a hurry, with too little organization.

Especially at a major event like this week's national men's championship, the Brier, in London, Ont.

Little decisions such as how and where you practise, what you eat, where you stay, even how you might travel to the rink can often mean the difference between winning and watching someone else hold the tankard.  

Renting a house, is an example.  

"I actually did that with a few of my teams a number of times at our provincial championships [he won five of them]," Burtnyk says. "[It was] partly because we play in a lot of small communities, in Manitoba ... and your hotel accommodations are less than desirable.

"So renting a house and having the ability to relax and sleep better, and maybe cook some meals worked out really well, I think."  

There's a lot that goes into the off-ice thought process.

Martin in control

Take the captain of detail, Alberta's Kevin Martin.

He has his own special sheet of Brier-quality ice at the Derrick Golf and Winter Club he and his Brier, world and Olympic champion rink practice on continuously.

And he carefully plans the whirlwind rounds of games and appearances — reportedly 23 alone in October and November of last year, most taking his rink with him — so nothing can go wrong.  

There is, especially, no detail left to chance at a Brier. Professional every step of the way.  

Ontario's Glenn Howard, in his sixth-straight national bonspiel and 13th overall, tends to leave a lot of detail work, says his wife Judy, to coach Scott Taylor, himself a long-time top curler.  

It becomes especially hard for a top skip like Howard, Martin, or Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton, because they do so many interviews the rest of the team often doesn't see their skip between draws until a few minutes before they have to go on the ice.  

What happens, then, when you have a lot of rookies there for the first time?  

"I know one time in particular, we went to a Brier and the three guys I was with hadn't been there before, and I had been there a couple of times," Burtnyk says. "We went through that process. Not only did they rely heavily on me leading by example, but kind of leading in general as well, even off the ice."

'You have to have a vision'

Colleen Jones has seen it all in an illustrious career that has included six Hearts titles and two world crowns. She made her first senior national championship visit at just 19, finishing second.

Jones believes in the totality of a vision for how things need to be done, that the rest of the rink follows along with. Buying in.  

"[A skip] can't be placid," she says. "You have to have a vision, and believe in the vision, and bring everybody else on board.  

"If one person starts saying, 'Oh, this is nuts, wanting that,' or 'I can't believe the skip wants us to live in a house and not the hotel with the other curlers.'

"If you have one person on the team saying that, it's like bad office politics, and it gets really ugly in a hurry."  

Jones, who has worked many times as a commentator on men's events over the years and is very close to that side of the game, says the style may change on the top teams, but the leadership is the same.  

"The teams that lose were the teams with no leadership," she says. "The ones that couldn't make their minds up about supper … about how an end would develop. If they were weak [in leadership] you saw it, and it just screamed failure."

What Holland went through is familiar to Jones.  

"She learned the mistake the hard way. I would have made the mistake in the 1984 Scotties."

You evolve. You change. But leadership on and off the rink, she says, stays the same.  

Burtnyk has seen leadership expressed in a lot of different ways, too.  

"Some can be successful doing it one way, some another way, but the whole team has to be comfortable proceeding in [a] direction.

"If anybody on a team is getting rattled or upset, it can not only affect them and their play, it can upset the chemistry on the team and have a big effect on how you do at that particular competition."  

Step one can be as easy as making sure they're not sitting on the floor of a smelly dressing room, eating subs.