Sweeping rocks is one of those things that seems to be distinctive about curling. If you happen to talk to someone about curling, invariably they will remember seeing that funny sport where people use brooms. In my experience with our club, sweeping is one of those areas where there is room for improvement. This column focuses on ideas to enhance the sweeping effectiveness, especially on draw shots.
Too often, I see rinks where the sweepers dutifully follow the rocks down the sheet, anxiously waiting for their skip’s command to start. I have never actually counted, but I would guess that probably one third of draw shots will come up short of the house because the sweeping was not started soon enough. I would also contend that most skips, especially me, cannot accurately gauge the weight of a rock until it is about half way down the ice. How can this problem be solved – have the club buy better glasses for skips??
It is important that members of your rink, especially if you have some relatively new members, are aware of why you sweep a rock. Our Learn to Curl approach teaches them that a rock travels further and straighter when swept, and most new curlers will understand this. Once they have mastered the basics of sweeping, and understand the difference between draw shots and take outs, you can involve them much more in the sweeping activities.
The first thing the sweepers need to know is what shot is being called by the skip. They should watch the skip for the shot call, or ask the person shooting what he or she is throwing. On a draw shot, your sweepers should know that they have the primary decision on when to sweep the rock.
The critical thing is to start sweeping early. The earlier you start sweeping a rock, the more momentum the rock maintains. A rock is going the fastest just after it is released. You can bring a rock furthest by starting your sweeping early.
How can sweepers learn to judge the weight of a rock ?? As with most aspects of curling, this takes practice to learn judgment. Just as getting your draw weight can take a few ( or many ) tries, judging the weight of a thrown rock takes some observation of shots. Judge the rock’s speed as it goes down the ice. If it looks light, sweep it.
Also, encourage your sweepers to observe your opponent’s draw shots. As a sweeper, I watch the release, and then estimate where their rock will end up. The more rocks I watch, the more accurate my weight judgment will become.
I tell my sweepers to start moving when the thrower goes into their slide. They can start from near the hack and move forward as the rock is delivered. This is much more effective than starting from a cold stop at the hog line.
I also encourage my sweepers to be aggressive on draw shots. When in doubt, sweep it. I had an old skip who used to tell us that if we didn’t sweep a couple of rocks through the house, we weren’t being aggressive enough. This also requires the skip to shut up, and let your sweepers decide. If it’s obviously too heavy, you can always call them off.
Also encourage your sweepers to communicate a rock’s weight to you. As my eyesight gets more blurry, it takes longer before I realize a shot does not have the correct weight, both for a draw or a takeout. The top rinks typically have a numbering system describing where they think the rock will end up. You don’t have to get that fancy, but it can be useful if the sweepers tell me a draw shot has too much weight. In that situation, I may then look for a Plan B or C shot where the draw will hit a rock.
If you follow some of these tips, you will experience a more effective role for sweeping on your rink’s shots, especially draws. Your sweepers will be more in the game, and will probably find it more enjoyable.