The Vancouver Olympics brought curling into the spotlight. The Lone Star Curling Club was lucky to be on the receiving end of some of this fantastic media coverage.
The Lone Star Curling Club hosted two Learn to Curl Open House sessions in honor of the Vancouver Olympic Games. At our first open house on Feb. 28, the last day of the Olympics, we had 410 people take the ice for their first curling lessons. Club members arrived by 8:30 a.m. to get ready for a 9:30 start. By 9:00 the waiting area was completely full. By the start of our session at 9:30 the lines were literally out into the parking lot. We had 10 hacks set up and we were taking 100 people at a time onto the ice for a quick 20 minute lesson. Rumor has it approximately 100 people or so left because of the long lines. It was a fantastic event, one surely not to be repeated again the following week. Just to be on the safe side we advised interested curlers to please arrive early for the second open house on March 7. Again, by 9:00 the line was out the door. We broke the previous weeks headcount and got 452 people on the ice! Our “Olympic Mini-League” filled up in record time. We are thrilled to have introduced the fabulous sport of curling to hundreds of Austinites. If you are interested in learning to curl, please send an email to email@example.com and we will get your name on the mailing list to receive updates about future learn to curl opportunities.
A HUGE thank you to all of our club members who helped make these events such a success, it would not have been possible without all of you!
There are a number of different types of shots in curling. However, none seems to get as much attention as the take out shot. There is nothing quite like the sound and feel of a rock solidly striking another rock. And as anyone who has played me has seen, I love to hit, especially on those days where I can’t seem to find the draw weight. As an old skip told me: “When in Doubt, Take it Out” ( No, that is not a Canadian accent ).
As attractive as the shot sounds, mastery of the takeout takes time, and can be the source of much frustration, broom slapping and colorful adjectives. Yet it is a key aspect of strategy. You will encounter many situations where the best option is to take out the opponent’s rock. As well, the complications we face with arena ice make this a shot to use with discretion.
For example, suppose you have 3 rocks in the 12 foot, and your opponent draws into the middle of your rocks. If you can only remove the shot rock, you have a chance of counting up to 4.
There are three things required to successfully make a takeout shot:
- The skip must give the correct ice.
- The shot must have the correct weight
- The shot must be on the broom
These needs aren’t much different than other shots. However, if any one of them is off, the shot is normally lost, and typically the rock will sail merrily through the house.
For the skip, calling the correct ice on a takeout shot has a couple of considerations. When a rock is thrown with heavy weight, it curls less than a draw shot. This is because the faster speed reduces the friction of the rock with the ice, and the rock’s curl motion has less effect. You must almost always give less ice on a takeout than on a draw shot.
The other aspect is predicting the takeout weight that members of your rink will throw. You will get very little curl on a “barrel weight” takeout. On the other hand, a light or “hack weight” takeout will curl almost as much as that of a draw.
Consistent takeout weight is critical. Nothing can be more frustrating than inconsistent weight. The first takeout shot wasn’t hard enough, so you give more ice on the second shot. However, the thrower also ups their weight. The result is the rock sails through the house without touching the target. Communication is the key. Tell them if you want more weight, or if you want them to throw the same weight.
For open takeout shots, I encourage members of my rink to always throw a weight they feel comfortable with – i.e.: they don’t throw themselves off the broom by throwing too hard. You also want them to try to be consistent with weight. If you know that your lead throws a light takeout, you can give her more ice than your third, who throws much harder.
Picking the ice on our arena sheets at times can be akin to black magic. There are ridges and falls, Zamboni tire tracks and skate valleys. If the ice is too tricky, you can waste rocks throwing a takeout. Closely watch your own and the opponents rocks in each area of the ice so you get to know what the shots will do.
Hitting the broom, although important with other shots, is critical to a takeout. For a draw, being 6 inches off with house weight will usually result in a playable rock in the house. However, a 6 inch miss on a takeout is usually a lost shot. As opposed to draw shots, with a takeout, there are very few chances of a “Plan B” shot.
Encourage your members to not use the dreaded arm push on takeout shots. Once a person is in their slide, that extra push usually causes the body to also move. Hitting the broom with an arm push is very questionable. Instead, the thrower should use the same form as a draw. They should release the rock sooner, and if needed, push harder from the leg in the hack.
Sweeping also plays a role in takeout shots. Especially if they sweep it early, it can be quite amazing how straight two good sweepers can keep a takeout shot. For sweeping, ensure your sweepers know it is a takeout shot – this is another good reason for sweepers to pay attention to the game.
As opposed to a draw, where the sweepers should judge the weight, a takeout is all dependent on the skip for calling sweeping for the line of the rock. I find it works best to crouch down behind the target rock. Closely watch the rock for movement. If the line is getting close to the target, holler for the sweepers.
For new curlers, be conservative in calling takeout shots. Consistent weight and hitting the broom, at the same time, can be difficult skills for new curlers to master. On my rink, I try to watch how each new member is developing, and once they are hitting the broom fairly well, I will call a few takeouts to see how they do.
From a strategy standpoint, the takeout game is a great tool to have at your disposal. In a bad end, it can reduce the opposition’s score and keep you in the game. If you have the lead, you can try to minimize the rocks your opponent has in the house. And if there are two or more of your opponent’s rocks closely positioned in the house, a “double” hit can turn the tables on an end.
A hit and roll can also be a very useful shot. The shot rock is open, but there are guards in front. If you can hit the rock a bit off the nose, and then have it roll behind cover, your opponent will have major difficulties trying to get at your rock. On our dreaded arena end sheets, a hit and roll in the house can become a shot that is impossible for the opposition to remove.
There are a couple of shot calling pointers to keep in mind with takeouts. One is known as “jamming”. A “jam” occurs when you hit the opposing rock, but that rock hits another rock in the house and stays. This can end up worse than a missed shot. If there are rocks behind the target, make sure there is a path to get the rock out. If not, a takeout shot is probably not the best choice.
A second caution is the position of your own rocks. If your rock is too close to the target, make sure the risk is worthwhile. A clean miss is one thing, but it’s much worse if you end up taking out your own rock.
The takeout shot is a key element of curling. Work on mastering your skills, and it is an excellent weapon for the game. And remember, that a solid takeout shot feels great !!
Ice quality is a major concern to all curlers. Arena ice presents its own set of unique characteristics. The keenness or heaviness of the ice is due to many factors such as the temperatures of the both the rink and the ice, the humidity in the air, the temperature of the rocks, the amount and quality of the pebbling. Whatever the reason, it is a challenge to throw a rock consistently with the correct weight in heavy ice conditions. In this column, I will outline some techniques that might help you.
Heavy weight throws are needed in several situations. The ability to throw the ‘big weight’ is an excellent weapon to have in your curling arsenal. When your skip calls a takeout shot, you need enough weight to knock your opponent’s rock out of the house. Shots to peel off a guard or to execute a double takeout require even more weight. And of course, if the ice is really heavy, such as at the start of the game, you need to be able to generate extra velocity on your shot just to have it make the house.
If anyone has had a chance to watch top flight curling in person or on television, you have seen how effortlessly they seem to slide out from the hack. Even with takeout shots, they barely push out from the hack, hold onto the rock till just before the hog line, and can still generate the higher weight. Some of this is possible due to the excellent quality of the ice. However, the other part of this is the technique they have perfected to throw heavy weigh, yet maintain accuracy on the broom. This is a technique that everyone can learn.
Mainly, you want to avoid the dreaded “arm push”. All the force in the basic curling delivery is generated from your legs while pushing off from the hack. When the ice is heavy, the tendency for many people is to give the rock an extra push from your arm. While this will generate more speed on the rock, it is next to impossible for your shots to consistently hit the broom. Unless your body is sliding directly towards the broom, and your push is directed straight to the broom, your shot will be off the broom. Known as ‘cross firing’, your shot has more chance to hit the blue line than to be close to the target your skip gave you.
One of the first techniques to throw a heavier rock is to release sooner during your delivery. Your body is moving the fastest just after you push off from the hack. Your body actually acts as a brake on the rock speed. So the sooner you release the rock, the more speed it will have. While a slide to the hog line looks impressive, it doesn’t help if your shot stops half way down the ice. If the ice is heavy, let go of the rock sooner.
A second delivery technique for more weight is to move your sliding foot further back from the hack. By this, I mean that as you start your delivery, move your sliding foot two to three feet behind the hack. Then as you slide forward, this extra distance will generate much more momentum. This will translate into more weight for your shot.
The third method for heavier weight is to push off from the hack with more force. Granted, this can be easier said than done. If you can push off the hack with more power, it will translate into more speed for your rock. Make sure you foot is anchored securely in the hack before you start the delivery. The hack is anchored in the ice, so it should not become loose.
There are also a couple of more advanced techniques that can be used. If you are a beginner, don’t try these until feel comfortable with the balance in your delivery. Both of these methods require that you can control the delivery without fear of falling.
If you are having trouble generating more weight, purchase curling shoes. The attached slider makes a major difference. If you have curling shoes, try using a faster slider. Generally, there are three types of sliders. The slowest is the white Teflon slider. The next fastest is the orange ceramic slider known as the ‘brick slider’. This is the type of slider that I have used for the past 20 years. The fastest slider type is the silver chrome slider.
A faster slider translates into more speed from the same leg push, and thus more speed for your rock. The drawback is that your delivery will be more difficult to control with a faster slider. However, with practice, a faster slider can be mastered. Some shoes now come with detachable sliders, allowing you to switch sliders as you desire.
The other method is one that is not part of the recommended USCA curling delivery. This is to use a back swing as part of your delivery. As mentioned above with moving the sliding foot back further, swinging the rock generates momentum. Just as with an underhand pitch, the further back you swing the rock, the more velocity it will have when you release.
The technique is very close to that of the delivery that we teach. As you start your delivery, you raise your hips and move your sliding foot back. At the same time, lift the rock and swing it back. Then push forward and swing the rock ahead as you go into your slide. The momentum of the swing generates much more speed for the slide.
As many of you have noticed, I use a back swing as part of my delivery. Many years ago, when I learned to curl in the wilds of Saskatchewan, the curling rink had natural ice. The speed of the ice really depended on the weather, and heavy ice was common. Everyone was taught to throw with a back swing. Besides being too old to learn a new delivery ( you know what they say about old dogs ), I have found a big back swing useful in heavy ice situations.
As with the faster slider, the disadvantage of the back swing is control of your delivery. As the back swing generates more force, it can also throw off your balance. As with other techniques, it takes practice and repetition. Start with a very small lift, and gradually increase the swing till you get the desired speed. The swing delivery is not a commonly taught technique, but it can be useful to combat heavy ice conditions.
Overall, arena curling can be a challenge to get the correct weight. However, by mastering techniques such as I have described, you can become proficient at throwing the heavy weight. You will hit the broom more often, and it will allow you to throw consistent weight on your take out shots.
This may seem like a strange topic for a column, especially given the active social aspect of our sport. However, this represents one of the most basic things a skip must do in order to properly choose shots and strategy. This is especially important with a new club such as ours, where there are many new curlers.
The main point is that you need to assess what your rink and yourself can do in shot making. A list might include:
- How often do they hit the broom ?
- How consistent is their weight judgment on draw shots ?
- Can they throw heavy weight for take outs ?
- When they throw heavy weight, is the weight consistent ?
- With heavy weight, do they usually hit the broom ?
After you have played a couple of games together, you should know answers to each of these questions.
Once you understand each of your team member’s strengths and weaknesses, you can start to decide the types of shots to call for your rink. I find there are often at least two shots that can be called for most situations: the correct shot based on the rocks in the house, and the best shot based on what your thrower can do. These will often be different.
For example, your opponent has two rocks in the house, both in the four foot, open with no guards. The logical shot would be to call for a take out. However, if you thrower is new, and can’t yet throw heavy weight, or is not accurate on the broom, to call a takeout shot may result in a wasted shot. The chances of them hitting it are very low, and rocks thrown through the house never count for any points. Calling these types of shots is a good way to get into major trouble in an end – i.e.: lots of the wrong colored rocks in the house.
A better approach in this situation would be a draw shot. Even if they don’t hit the broom, with the correct weight, you will still have a rock in play. That beats a rock sailing through the house.
Another idea is to use the ‘Plan B’ method. Call for a shot that the thrower has a reasonable chance to make, and where there could be multiple good outcomes. In the above example, call a draw shot with ice so that you draw up to one of your opponents stones. In this way, if they are heavy, they may actually take out that rock or tap it back.
Also watch how your team is performing during a game. Most curlers are streaky. If you have someone who has great draw weight during a game, don’t mess them up by calling some takeout shots. Especially for inexperienced curlers, this is a common way for people to loose the touch. If someone is hot, keep calling those shots.
One word on the development of new curlers. In our club, it is important for your rink to grow their curling skills. We have little time for practice shots, so you need to do this during the game. At times you should “test” your members with different shots. I usually pick a time in the game where a miss does not have dire consequences. This adds variety to their game, and allows you to gauge how they have progressed.
For example, it is best to start new curlers with draw shots. Weight judgment is one of the basic skills, and it is best for them to work on this first. Hitting the broom is typically the next skill to come. Once they have these, you could call a take out shot every so often. This will allow you to see how they can do with heavier weight, and allow your rink to get some variety.
I had a new member of my rink a couple of seasons back, who had only curled a couple of games before he joined our club. I discovered, quite by accident, that he could hit the broom fairly consistently with both draw and takeout weight shots. I started to call more takeouts for him, and he did well. In fact, by half way through the season, he always wanted takeouts, because he couldn’t seem to get his draw weight down. This is an odd case, but it shows that you have to treat each of your members as individuals and use their strengths to build a team.
By the way, this philosophy also applies to calling your own shots. Know what you can and cannot do. A raise take out is a finesse shot, with a low percentage of success. Don’t call it if you aren’t accurate on regular takeouts. If you are better with draws, stay with a predominately draw game. In a pinch, such as when the house is overgrown with of bad colored rocks, you may need to resort to difficult shots. However, you shouldn’t be calling these shots frequently. On the other hand, if you always find yourself in trouble, read some of my future columns for help in that area.
Curling is one of those sports where anyone can make any shot, no matter how difficult. This is a major difference with a sport such as baseball, where only certain individuals can ever throw a 90 mph fastball. However, the pros at curling can make these shots consistently, while us mortals can make them only once in a while. If you keep in mind the chances you have of making a shot, you will make better calls on shots that can be made a higher percentage of the time.
New skips may find themselves bewildered by all the strategies available. What shots do you call for your rink ?? Calling shots is easy when the house is wide open, but then rocks clutter up everything. Even experienced skips, especially if they are not familiar with area curling, can find that new strategies are needed to curl on our ice. In this column, I will try to outline some basics on deciding what shots to call..
These strategies apply to league games at our club. I mention this because your strategy should change as your setting and opponents change. For example, I would not use some of these strategies when playing on consistent ice at a dedicated curling rink, nor against an experienced rink, as you might meet during a bonspiel at another club. I will outline some those strategies in a future column. This article applies to games played at our club league games.
The basic strategy approach is simple – put rocks in the house. Pile them in the house, the more the better. Lots of your rocks in the house will allow you to score more often, and in larger numbers. This is so obvious, you’d think everyone would follow it. However, it amazes me how often I see rinks guarding that single shot rock they have in the house.
Rocks in the house put pressure on the other skip. If you get your opponent to think about the two ( or three or four ) rocks in the house, it can throw them off their game. A skip who is worried about what may happen if he misses a shot is more likely to miss one or two shots.
My second strategy rule is don’t call for guard shots. I say this for a few reasons. Many of our club members are not proficient at take out shots. It takes experience to be good at take out shots, and the tricky ice we can have makes for a low percentage on take outs. Put your rocks in the house.
Guards seem to occur on their own. Someone, either on your rink or your opponent’s rink, is light on a shot and it ends up as a guard in front of the house. You can use these “natural” guards to your advantage.
In addition, guards can cause you problems. When you have last rock in an end, you don’t want to have the situation where it is hard to make a draw shot because guards are blocking your path. When you have the hammer, it is always best to keep the front of the house as clear as you can.
This guard rule is not a hard and fast one. Sometimes it makes sense to call for a guard shot. For example:
- It’s the last end, and your shot rock can win the game
- There are some many rocks in play, a draw shot may cause more damage, so just plug it up.
- The other rink or skip is good at take out shots.
These would be situations where I would use guards. However, wait till the game has progressed a couple of ends till reverting to guards.
A better approach than guards is to figure out the tricky spots on your ice. These are spots where the ice falls or a ridge is present, or all of the above. If you can get a draw shot into one of these spots, it is usually better than a guard. I have been amazed when some rinks waste three or four shots trying to take out a rock in a tricky spot. Just because a rock is open doesn’t mean that it is easy to hit.
A third strategy basic for skips is avoid situations where you are faced with making impossible shots. Double angle raise take out shots are nice for the throngs of people we have in the stands, but they are not high percentage shots. Make it easy on yourself.
Try to build up an end so that when it comes your turn to shoot, you can call the shots you are best at. If you forte is draw shots, keep a lane open to the house so that you have a way to draw in. Avoid those guards ( see above ) that give you only a narrow port to get through.
If I have a person on my rink, especially playing third, who is good at take out shots, I will have him or her regularly clearing rocks. A couple of years ago, a member of my rink named Shaun was my “clean up” man. He was dependable enough to knock the opponent’s rocks out of the house, or to get rid of guards that were in the way. That allowed me easier, higher percentage shots when it came to my turn.
Another useful strategy basic is to call “Plan B” shots for your rink. This is a shot where there are two ( or more ) attractive outcomes for a shot. Examples:
- Your opponent has a rock in the house behind the T-line. Call a draw shot that should end up in front of the opponent’s rock. If they are heavy, the opponent’s rock can serve as “backing”, and your shot may take out or at least tap back the opponent’s rock.
- Your opponent has a rock in the house, partially covered by a guard. Call a take out or heavy draw shot that should slide close to the guard. If the rock curls too much, it will still peel the guard, leaving the house open for the next shot.
- Your rock is one foot in front of the house. Call a shot to draw around that rock into the house. If it curls too much, it will wick the front rock, and one or possibly both rocks will end up in the house.
The strategy of calling shots in curling is a detailed topic. Experts write books on it. However, as with many things, focus on these basic strategies. With the unpredictable ice we play on, keeping to a simple strategy is usually the approach. If you use these ideas, you will find your rinks scoring more points during our league games.
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.
As some of the Lone Star Curling Club members may be aware, my wife Ramona & I recently relocated to Austin from Pittsburgh, PA. While we lived there, we helped to found the Pittsburgh Curling Club in 2002. Prior to that, we lived in Western Canada, and had curled for some 25 years.
The development of the Pittsburgh Curling Club closely parallels that of the Lone Star Curling Club. As here, one of the challenges was to educate and train our members on the sport. This included persons who had never curled before, through to persons who had curling experience, but were new to arena ice curling. In an effort to assist with this, I wrote a column on their web site titled “Wayne’s Game.”
I will be writing the similar articles for the Lone Star Curling Club. Some of these will be copied from my earlier Pittsburgh columns (I think it’s okay to plagiarize myself), and others will be new topics based on things I see from our league curling. As well, I would be interested in suggestions on any curling topics that members would like my input on.
My view is that the main objective of curling is to have fun. However, with practice and a few pointers, you can develop your skills. This will usually enhance your enjoyment of the sport, and help to reduce some of the inevitable frustrations that come with playing on ice. Feel free to give them to me on Sundays, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good curling !!