Recall a curling match where you’re hitting nearly all of your shots and the feeling of being so attuned with your weight and line. Or, a time where you couldn’t make a single shot and how frustrating it was. In both instances, and for me it’s more so the latter, you probably wanted to keep playing or to practice up much more before the next match. But for most curlers who don’t have access to dedicated ice, practice time can be as rare as an 8-ender. So, what can you do?
Well I try to do some practicing at home- it’s obviously not as good as the real thing, but it’s helpful to keep my form and technique sharp in-between each of my matches. Before I get into what I do and what works for me, I’ll provide a little background.
My first time curling, I subbed for my mother’s team with absolutely no experience and no knowledge about curling. It was on dedicated ice and I absolutely loved it. For the next few weeks, I studied every curling video I could find, read through the whole of Wikipedia and other online articles to learn everything I could about curling. I then decided that I wanted to be on my own curling team and to work on my delivery to look like the pros. Learning about the proper form was easy enough to find online, but the tricky part was in how to practice it, especially without the help of an experienced and knowledgeable person at my side to correct anything. But I practiced everyday in my bedroom and living room, and by the time I started in my own league, people assumed I had curled for at least a year already and I was a much more consistent player from the start.
When I was first learning the delivery, I rehearsed all the steps as laid out on the USA Curling Association site and various instructional videos. I started by practicing on a carpeted surface first to maintain easy stability and to focus on more of the body mechanics. I started slowly at first and over the course of the first couple days I made it more fluid and rhythmic, like finding your swing tempo in golf. I would take video of myself and compare it to the videos I was watching- some of these included olympic curlers from the 2014 Sochi games. But I didn’t worry about looking like one of the world’s best, I would mostly focus on getting the mechanics first and building a solid delivery foundation. So today I do mostly the same thing, but this time I do it on a hardwood surface and use some slippery socks to help mimic ice slipperiness to work on my balance.
- Start with a few stretches. I like to incorporate these two moves- one I call an extended lunge that looks like this (http://fitnessformommies.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/hp_209_05_lrg.jpg) I use my hands for balance and try to get as low as possible to get that good stretch feeling. I do both legs for symmetry. Then I like to follow that up with a normal lunge by coming back up higher and not using my hands. This really focuses on the balance and strength in that forward leg and practicing this will greatly help you in delivering the rock with no to minimal weight on the rock or broom. Incorporate any of your favorite stretches here, I also like to add these in at the end of at-home practice too.
- Rehearse the steps. I’ve only been curling for 20 months, but I still like to rehearse the delivery steps in the disjointed manner a few times to start to remind myself of the key form.
- Delivery. I take to my hardwood floor, put on my slippery sock on the left slide foot and a grippy sock on my right foot. I use my broom by wrapping the broom head with a light towel so it slides on the floor better. And for the rock, I use a small, firm pillow. It’s not perfect, but the pillow works for me because I can still grip it in a way where I can practice my in and out turns. If you’re balance still needs work I recommend practicing on carpet first as I did. Then slowly build yourself up to the hardwood. When you transition to a slippery surface, try to use something for your rock that can aide you in balance until you get the hang of that.
- Sweeping. This is an area that I feel most people don’t practice but I find it useful to do. I take pride in my hard sweeping. I’m far from elite and that’s why I still work on it. Sweeping like an olympian takes a lot of coordination, balance, and strength. So I mimic the situation on my hardwood floors. I bring back the broom with the head wrapped in a towel and put on my socks again. I really focus on leaning directly over the broom with the majority of my weight and pushing myself down the wood planks with my feet. I have found that my balance has greatly improved when I come back to the ice and that it’s a great way to remove those tough scuff marks on my floors!
- Strategy. This is something that can be learned more easily off the ice. I try to watch matches on YouTube or that I find via a Google search online. Any bit of watching should do, trying to mix up the variety of teams and skips so you don’t become single minded. Though watching the perennially great teams like Canada, Scandinavia, and Scotland is a plus to see why they’re better than others. I’’ve also started to watch more mixed-doubles because it’s going to be a new olympic event and there are some different strategies there that help build on your shot-calling imagination.
I have found that despite playing on arena ice once a week at most with no practice time, that these at-home routines can help tremendously in maintaining or even improving your form. Give some of these a try and put your own twists on them for what works for you and what your apartment/house gives you.