What to do when your opponent intentionally burns a stone


Hear more about this subject and other curling topics from Jonathan Havercroft on Rocks Across the Pond: A Curling Podcast  available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn

We had an interesting twitter conversation this week prompted by Amanda from the Tulsa Curling Club’s question about what to do when an opponent intentionally burns a stone. She asked: “What are the consequences if the OTHER team intentionally burns a stone to protect their other stones?”

This is a situation that comes up pretty rarely, but it important to think through. One of my favourite things about curling is that it is largely a self-policed sport. Even at the highest levels, the umpires are largely deferential to the players, intervening normally to clarify a rules dispute rather than to penalize a team.

But because curling is self-policing there is always the risk that a player or players may take advantage of the situation and cheat. The situation that Amanda outlines is one of a team cheating – although they may not have realized they were doing that.

First, let’s be clear on what a burned stone is and what the rules and expectations are around how to handle a burned stone. I will work off the World Curling Federation rulebook because that governs the competitions I play and coach in, but the rules are pretty much the same regardless of the member association. Rule R.8 “Touched moving stone” describes what to do in the event of a burned stone. It covers three different situations:

1.     Between the t-line and the hog line at the playing end

2.     After the hog line at the playing end

3.     If the moving stone is touched by either the other team or an external force

In situation one (before the stone crosses the hog line) the offending team must stop the stone immediately and remove it from play. There are no ifs and or buts about this. If you or your sweeping partner burn the stone before the hog line, then anything other than stopping the stone are removing it from play is cheating.

The second situation is more interesting and where a lot of disputes can arise. Once the stone crosses the hog line, if a team burns the stone, then they must let the stone and any stones it touches come to rest and then immediately declare the infraction. Doing anything other than that is cheating.

We’ll set aside situation three as raises issues about rethrowing the stone that don’t concern us here. You can look that part up if you are curious.

The skip of the non-offending team then has three choices to make in the event of a burned stone between the t-line and hog line at the playing end. They can either:

1.     Let the outcome of the shot stand

2.     Remove the delivered stone from play and return all the other stones to their original positions before the shot was thrown

3.     Place the stones where they reasonable think they would have ended up without the burned stone

To return to the case Amanda raised on Twitter, the appropriate course of action when another team intentionally burns its own stone to avoid the negative consequence of the shot is to put the stones where they would have gone if the burn had not occurred. The team is trying to avoid this outcome, so they don’t have much of an argument to say that it would not have happened.

The burned stone rule raises a few other issues. First, it has become normal practice in both club and competitive play for teams, in the case of minor burned stones to let the outcome of the shot stand. This is often seen as being in the spirit of curling and not wanting to win by a burned stone, but on a made shot.

That is fair enough if that is what your team wants to do. But it is unfair, dare I say bad sportsmanship, to expect that your opponent will apply option 1. If you burn a stone all you can do is declare the foul and then let the opponent apply whichever of those three options they think is fair.

We have seen some controversy about this in recent years. At the 2018 Olympics, team Homan received a lot of social media backlash when they opted to remove a burned Danish stone rather than let it stand. Team Shuster faced a similar backlash in 2016 when they placed a burned Japanese stone where they thought it would have ended up rather than where it came to rest.

In both cases the other team committed the foul, and the skips correctly applied to rule. While you as a player may have chosen a different option, both Shuster and Homan were fully within their rights to apply the rule that they did.

So keep this in mind the next time you either burn a rock or have to decide how to burn a rock. If you are on the offending team you must declare the foul, otherwise you are cheating. You also have to accept whatever decision the other team makes as long as it is in the rules.

You can apply any of the three options if you are on the non-offending team. So if someone tries to intentionally burn a stone to escape a bad outcome for them, the obvious solution is to place the stones where they would have ended up had they not burned the stone.


What to watch when you are watching curling?


Hear more about this subject and other curling topics from Jonathan Havercroft on Rocks Across the Pond: A Curling Podcast  available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn

Playdown season is now in full swing. TV networks will broadcast a major national or international championship virtually every week from now until early April. In the internet streaming era, it is now possible to watch provincial championships from Canada, live coverage of the US championships through TESN, and even a humble live stream of the English Curling Championships.

With so much curling to watch this is not only a chance to enjoy some great (and not so great) curling, it is also a chance for curlers to improve their games. There is plenty to learn from watching curling on TV, but there are also some potential pitfalls from trying to emulate the pro game. So what should you watch for when watching curling on TV?

1.    Watch the strategy, but don’t copy it

While the five-rock free guard zone has introduced a bit more variety into elite curling strategy, most ends at the elite level have fairly similar openings. The lead on the team without hammer throws up a center guard. The lead of the other team draws around to the top of the four-foot. The first team freezes on that draw. The other team the freezes on that. It is only when one of the teams makes a subtle miss – setting up an interesting angle, or jostling the stones in a useful way – will the end turn interesting with run backs and delicate hit and rolls.

It is worth watching this closely to learn the strategy, but there is no point in trying to copy it at the club level. Do you have a lead who will curl over 90%? Can your second make a runback 80% of the time? If you answered yes to both questions, then you are probably curling on TV, not watching curling. The danger in trying to copy such an aggressive style of play is that you might end up giving up a big end to your opponent. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that club teams necessarily need to play defensively. But the strategy of elite teams is based on the assumption that their players will make more the 80% of their shots.

I think a better way to approach studying the strategy is to study three key things. First ask yourself if a team is playing an offensive style or a defensive style? Is the team calling mostly take-outs (defensive style)? Or are they playing mostly draws (offensive style)? Second how is the team trying to manage the scoreboard? Are they trying to score in even ends? Do they change their strategy when they are ahead or behind? Third, when do teams spend more time discussing shots? And what kinds of reasons do they use to decide upon a shot (Ice conditions? What they leave their opponent? The risks of missing a shot?)

2.    Watch how teams communicate with each other

The unique thing about curling on TV is that all of the players wear mics and the viewers can always hear what they are saying and thinking during the game. This gives us tremendous insight into the team’s dynamic. I also think that this is the easiest aspect for the novice curler to emulate. It takes years of practice to develop an elite curling delivery, but being a good teammate is mostly a matter of playing with the right attitude.

When you watch a game on TV pay close attention to how teams make decisions – especially when there is a conference about a curling shot. Who gives input, and what kind of input do they give? How does a team finally decide on what to do? Many club teams have authoritarian structures. The skip normally says what the shot is, and most teams usually defer to that judgment. But most elite teams run on a more collaborative and democratic decision making style. It is worth studying how teams do this and then discussing with your team how you might make decision making a more inclusive process (without of course spending too much time discussing every shot).

Aside from decision making it is worth noticing how elite teams communicate at two other key junctures. What kind of information do the sweepers and throwers share with each other before a shot? Notice how they communicate about the different paths on the ice and what they say to help a player execute to the best of their ability.

In my experience this is a key difference between club and competitive curlers. A lot of front-end curlers check out of games when they aren’t throwing. They don’t read the ice conditions, and often don’t communicate this information to their teammates. Every member of an elite team is talking about ice conditions all the time.

Even worse, many club level teammates say things that undermine their teammates. They get angry at teammates when they miss. They often unintentionally place negative thoughts in their teammates mind when they are about to throw. Or they argue with the skip about a shot just as he or she is in mid-delivery.

Compare these types of behaviours to what elite players do. How do elite players react to misses? What do they say to teammates right before they throw? How do they communicate with their skip? Most elite teams will have had numerous conversations about who says what when, what kind of information each player wants before he throws and how each player responds when a teammate misses. Watch how teams manage these situations and then think about how you can incorporate some of these strategies into your own team.

3.    Watch the sweeping, and try to copy it

Sweeping is another area where club level players can make tremendous strides with minimal effort. Most novice curlers begin as front-end players in a club league. A front-end curler is going to throw two stones and sweep six stones each end. So a novice curler is going to be sweeping three times as much as he or she is throwing. But most novice curlers put all of their effort into developing a curling delivery and no effort into sweeping.

As with communication I think sweeping is an area where most novice curlers could make tremendous strides with a little bit more effort. Sweeping involves three elements: technique, judgment, and communication.

When you are watching curling, pay attention to the sweepers. They are actually in the frame for most of the curling shot. Pay attention to their footwork and how hard they are sweeping. Pay attention to how often they communicate the weight. Pay attention to how they manage the stone down the ice. Is one player doing the judging and communicating while the other keeps it clean? How do the players decide who is the inside sweeper and who is the outside sweeper? How and when does the team switch sweepers? When does a team only use one sweeper and why?

Every sport has a set of skills and tasks that are not glamorous, but real fans of the game know are important. Think of the center in basketball who does not score much, but gobbles up rebounds and can set a hard screen. Or the catcher in baseball that may not be a great hitter, but is known for calling a great game and managing a pitching staff. In curling, sweeping is that skill. Elite teams have always had front-end players who earned their pay cheques from their sweeping skills. If you learn to appreciate the fine art of sweeping while watching it on TV, and then carry those skills over to your club game, then I guarantee you will always be in demand as a curler.


What does a bench coach do?


Hear more about this subject and other curling topics from Jonathan Havercroft on Rocks Across the Pond: A Curling Podcast  available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn

At the start of January I’ll be heading to Finland to coach the England Junior Men’s team in the World Junior B Curling Championship. For most curling fans they only know the bench coach as person who makes a very brief appearance during a team’s time out. On TV the coach usually makes a brief suggestion about what shot to play and then walks back to the bench.

On some of the more famous elite teams (e.g. team Koe) the bench coach never even bothers to leave the bench during the timeout. So for the casual curling fan, it may look like the bench coach actually does not do much. That actually could not be further from the truth. Let’s look at what a bench coach does from before a game right through until afterwards.


I see my primary job as bench coach as supporting the team so that they can perform at their absolute best. In practice this means that I try to ensure that the team sticks to its agreed upon routines before, during, and after each game.

Basic sports psychology teaches us that the in order for individuals and teams performing at their best is the ability to consistently execute their skills when called upon to do so. The key to avoiding performance failure under pressure (i.e. choking) is for the athlete to develop consist mental and physical skills that they can repeat on demand regardless of the context. Making everything as routine as possible is the key ensuring consistent performance which in turn leads to success (i.e. winning).

What kind of routines am I talking about? For every match we have a pre-game meeting at an agreed upon time before the match, and usually away from the competition venue. Here we set our individual and team goals for the game, discuss how we will adopt our strategy given the ice conditions, our opponents, and other factors (perhaps we want to try a new tactic in a game situation, perhaps we want to avoid a tactic that has not been working lately).

We then aim to arrive at the venue an hour to forty-five minutes before the match. For a club curler this probably seem really early, but there is a lot that a team needs to do in a major event that the club team doesn’t need to do. In addition to getting changed and warmed up, both teams have a nine-minute practice session. Two players from each team must throw the last stone draw (LSD) to determine who has hammer.

As a coach I also need to set up my space on the bench – I work with an iPad and a notepad and paper, but many coaches bring laptops, cameras, and other gadgets to collect as much match data as they can. The coaches are also responsible for setting the team lineup and giving the names of the LSD throwers to the umpires.

Once the pre-game practice and LSD are complete I have one last chance to chat with the team before the game begins. I use those few moments to check in on how they are feeling and to reiterate key points from the pre-game meeting. Then I walk back to the coaching bench and the game is on.

Game Time

During the game I have very little interaction with the team. Most of my job is to watch the match closely to come up with pointers for how the team can improve for the next match and to identify and underscore the things the team is doing well.

Under WCF rules coaches only get two interactions with a team during the game – during the five-minute break at “halftime” and during the one-minute time out. The half time break normally consists of a snack, a bit of positive feedback, and maybe one or two suggestions of what to do differently in the second half.

The Art of the Time Out

The time out normally happens at a crucial juncture late in the match where the team calls on me for tactical advice. We only get one minute, but I try to impart three things during each timeout.

First I answer any questions they might have about the particular situation. Second I try to focus the team on what the ideal and acceptable outcomes are for the end. Is it acceptable to concede a point or even two points in this situation if it still puts us in an advantageous situation to win? What outcome do we want to avoid at all cost?

Third we try to briefly discuss the options for the next end. The goal is to help the team see how the specific strategic decision that led to the time-out fits into the larger goal of winning the game.

Post Game

My best opportunity to discuss the game as a coach happens during our post-game meeting. Like the pre-game meeting we normally hold this away from the venue in a quiet space. In addition to discussing any issues that came up during the game, we always review our pre-game goals and then agree on things we want to work on for the next game.

A key part of these routines is to get the players to focus on the small steps that are within their control from game to game so that they can maximize performance throughout the week. Normally the goals are very simple ones that focus on things like team communication and ice reading, rather than vague general goals like “make all my shots” or “shoot better than the other team”.

Over the years I’ve found that the teams that focus on doing as many of the small things that are within their control well tend to perform the best over the course of the week. The bench coach’s job is to help the team control the “control-ables” and then block everything else out so that the team can maximize its performance.


Are We Heading for a Curl-pocalypse?


Hear more about this subject and other curling topics from Jonathan Havercroft on Rocks Across the Pond: A Curling Podcast  available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn

From one perspective, curling has never been in better shape. The United States Men’s Olympic gold medal run sparked a curling boom in the U.S. Thousands showed up at open houses and USA Curling just announced its largest ever membership total – sitting at just over 22,000 curling club members.

The Grand Slam of Curling is expanding its offerings again by now including a women’s division in the Elite 10. The World Curling Federation just launched its new Curling World Cup series featuring tournaments on three different continents and significant coverage through online streaming and TV broadcasts.

When I moved to the U.S. in 2000, USA Curling had a membership of less than 10,000. Growing up in Canada in the 1980s and 1990s, curling TV coverage was limited to the Scotties, the Brier and the TSN Skins Game. In terms of both the number of curlers (at least in the U.S.) and TV coverage, the game has never been stronger.

Despite all the good news, there are a few warning signs trouble may be brewing for the roaring game beneath the surface. Team Edin, despite winning an Olympic silver medal and the world championship last season had their funding cut. Curling clubs are closing in the Toronto area. And the opening bonspiel on the competitive curling calendar in Scotland was just cancelled due to lack of entries.

My worry is we are experiencing a curling bubble. In economics, a bubble is defined as a market cycle that experiences a rapid rise in an asset price followed by a sharp contraction – think of the 2008 housing market crash or any stock market crash.  

Cash Rules Everything Around Me

In the case of curling, what we are witnessing is a rapid influx of money into the elite end of the sport driving up the price of curlers (i.e. how much money a high level curler can expect to make in a season) and coaches (in the form of salary for coaches and high performance directors) that is unsustainable.

First, what is driving this bubble? In short, the answer is the Olympics. Once curling became an Olympic medal sport in 1998 it rapidly shifted from a sport played in a few wintery locales around the world (Canada, upper Midwest U.S., Scotland, Scandinavia and Switzerland) to a truly global game. But this shift was more driven by a top down process than the grassroots process that had shaped the game from the late 19th century though until 1998.

The old model consisted of local clubs of amateurs organizing local competitions, recruiting members each year and then the best from each club going on to competing in regional, national, and eventually global championships. Curling had a pyramid system that was based upon mass participation at the grassroots level that then fed the best of each club into increasingly competitive competitions the higher up the ladder a team or player went.

The new model consists of national Olympic committees targeting certain Olympic sports for possible medals and then investing large sums of money into a handful of sports over a four year Olympic cycle.

If your sport is lucky enough to be chosen, then the national governing body will need to hire a high-performance director and coaches and then select a group of athletes they will train over the four-year cycle with the target of winning a medal at the end of the cycle. If the country wins a medal, then it can get more money for the next cycle. But if the country underperforms, then its funding can get cut and the entire high-performance program disappears.

Let’s take British Curling as an example. While Britain just missed the medal round in men’s and women’s curling at the 2018 Olympics, UK Sport (the agency that manages funding for British Olympic Sports) awarded British Curling £6.35 million ($8.3 million USD, $10.7 million CAD) in funding for the 2022 Olympic Cycle. But the same agency decided to cut all of the funding for wheelchair curling because the British Paralympic Team had its funding cut entirely. So if a country wins medals then it has a good chance of getting even more money for the next four years, but if it misses its target then all the money disappears.

More Money More Problems 

On top of the feast-or-famine nature of Olympic funding, the new model concentrates all of the money into a handful of individuals. In the case of British Curling, this season they are funding three men’s teams, two women’s teams, and three mixed doubles teams. Over £6 million is being invested in fewer than 30 curlers.

While the exact number of teams and players receiving funding may shift over the course of the cycle, the new model identifies a handful of the best curlers, gives them elite level training over a four year cycle, and underwrites the cost of them playing a rigorous schedule of events on the World Curling Tour. A few coaches in Europe have told me the ballpark figure for funding a team is around 100,000 Euros ($118,000 USD, $150,000 CAD) per season. So even though £6 million may seem like a lot of money, you can see how quickly a national governing body can spend that amount, as that figure only covers the travel costs and entry fees for teams. Once an organization adds in money for staff, equipment, and the others costs associated with high performance curling the money disappears pretty quickly.

I worry this is creating a bubble because the new model is wreaking havoc with the old model. If you look at entries in playdowns for national championships, the numbers are way down. In the late 1990s in Montreal, the Brier playdowns would have 40–50 teams enter each year (and I remember back then how the old-timers were complaining about the declining numbers) – just competing for the right to get out of the city. Last year, fewer than 25 teams entered the Brier playdowns in all of Quebec. Similarly in Scotland, last year there was no playdown process for the Scottish Championship because fewer than 10 teams signed up. 

What is happening is fewer and fewer competitive curlers are signing up because they do not see the point in competing against teams that are fully funded and can play full time. This in turn leads not just to fewer people entering playdowns, but fewer and fewer people even bothering to curl at all. Fewer curlers at the club level means less revenue to sustain clubs, more clubs closing and then fewer places to curl.

In the long run it means fewer talented curlers coming up from the junior ranks and fewer opportunities for a country to cultivate the next generation of elite curling talent. The short-term pursuit of a gold medal in one Olympic cycle might come at the cost of medals in future Olympic cycles. If a country misses the podium in an Olympic cycle then it may not have any funding for curling for the next four years. Then the bubble bursts, and a country’s curling scene is significantly smaller than it was before.

See You at the Crossroads

I think curling is at a very significant crossroads. The game could truly go global, especially if the heightened attention from the Olympics sparks a curling club boom in the U.S. and China (the two most important media markets in the world right now). In that case, perhaps curling ends up like golf or tennis with a well-funded professional tour and a vibrant amateur game for the weekend warriors.

But curling, if it is not careful, could end up like skeleton. UK Sport is giving skeleton £7.4 million over the next Olympic cycle. Team GB has historically done very well in skeleton and so it continues to get funding for its high performance athletes.

Unfortunately, if a British child watches skeleton at the Olympics and wants to take up the sport they can’t. There are no skeleton tracks in the UK. In fact there are only seventeen skeleton tracks in the world! It is a sport where mass participation is impossible.

While all the developments at the elite level of the sport are exciting, we need to make sure the growing attention the game is receiving helps to grow the game at the grassroots level.

I’m not saying that curling should quit the Olympics. Nor am I trying to crush anyone’s Olympic dream. But if curling is only about the Olympics and if all the money and volunteer resources are just fed into pursuing the Olympic dream, then the game risks undermining the base of its pyramid. And like a giant tower of Jenga blocks, if you take too many blocks away from the base, then whole structure ends up falling down.


Planning Out Your Season in Four Easy Steps


Hear more about this subject and other curling topics from Jonathan Havercroft on Rocks Across the Pond: A Curling Podcast  available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn


During our latest episode of the podcast we discussed how teams plan out their season. While most elite teams do extremely detailed plans, teams entering less competitive events should also take some time to think through how all the different parts of the season fit together.

On the podcast we talked about the season plans for teams entering three very different kinds of events. We chatted with English women’s skip Lisa Farnell about her plans for the European Curling Championships in November. I talked about how the English junior men’s team is planning out its season leading up to the World Junior B Championships in Finland in January. Ryan then asked us how an arena curling team might plan out its season for the United States Arena Curling Nationals.

Regardless of your team’s competitive level, it is worth getting together for a preseason meeting to plan things out. As the old saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail!” How should you go about planning your curling season? The principles are the same whatever level your team is at.

1.     Choose your goal event

In our earlier discussion about team formation we talked about how when teams form they should be specific about how a curling team is four individuals coming together to achieve a common goal. So the first thing a team should do is define what their goal is for the season. For most teams this involves entering some type of play-down event. The team should all agree at the outset on both the event and what they hope to accomplish at it.

While winning the event might be an admirable goal, as a team you should have an honest conversation about whether that is a realistic goal. If it is a new team and this is your first time playing at that level, a more realistic goal may be to win a game or two.

Whatever the goal ends up being, it should be specific, everyone on the team should agree upon it and it should be pushing your team out of its comfort zone, but not into the panic zone. I think teams should aim for a goal that they think they have about a 1-in-3 chance of achieving – that makes the goal ambitious, but attainable.

2.     Divide your season into blocks

Once you have your target event and performance goal I would work backwards from it and divide your season into three blocks. 

The first part of the season should be focused primarily on getting better. This is the time of year to focus on delivery technique, work through your team communication systems and to figure out your team’s strategic approach to the game. At this stage of the season the team should de-emphasize results in competition and focus instead on how they are playing and gelling as a unit.

The second stage of the season should be the ramp up phase. Now that the team has worked through many of its issues around technique and team systems, the focus should shift to on ice performance. The goal in events now should be to play well.

If the team is winning, then it needs to figure out why it is winning so it can keep doing that. If the team is struggling, then it needs to figure out what isn’t working and make changes. In terms of practice the team should shift its focus from more technical work to drills that emphasize team skills, and focusing on any issues that have appeared in the first part of the season.

The third phase of the season should be aimed at peaking. This is normally the month leading up to the competition. The goal here should be to focus on building confidence and getting rested prior to the big event. It is a good idea to ramp down both the competition schedule and any off-ice training and to focus on practice drills that give players confidence in their different weights. While practicing regularly is still important, being well rested is even more important.

3.     Select events leading up to the goal event

Once you have blocked out your season you can then pick events – bonspiels and leagues – that help prepare you for the goal event. How many events you choose to play during a season is going to depend on a number of factors including money, team member’s commitments outside of curling, and what events are within a feasible travel distance. But after all these issues have been talked through, the team should select events that are appropriate for their goals.

When choosing events, the first question to ask yourself is, “what kinds of events are my competitors playing?” If you are entering the US Arena Nationals, then nearby arena bonspiels might be a good fit for your team. I also think it is worth choosing one or two stretch events in a season – bonspiels where teams a level above your team’s skill level might be playing.

The best way for a team to improve is to play against teams that are better. Teams should also consider how frequently they want to enter bonspiels. While playing a lot against good competition is a well-trodden path to curling success, there is a danger that team plays so much that it ends up burning itself out by the time it reaches its goal event.

The events the team selects should also fit in with the different blocks of the season. So during the beginning part of the season the events should be local early season bonspiels. The more competitive stretch bonspiels should be slotted into the ramp up phase and then you should try to schedule events at your goal competitions level during the run in to the main event.

4.     Plan out a regular practice schedule

Just as important as the playing schedule is the practice schedule. Teams should try to schedule regular practice (what regular is will vary depending upon the team’s goals, but at a minimum it should be at least once a week).

The practice should be more than just throwing rocks. Each practice session should have a focus that matches the stage of the season that it is in. Early season practices should focus on technique and developing team systems, mid-season can focus more on team drills and game situations and practice in the weeks leading up to the event should address any issues that have come up during the season and help the team get their draw weights really dialed in.

Getting creative with your season plan 

Finally, during the podcast Ryan discussed some of the challenges that arena curling club teams face in preparing for their major event: US Arena Nationals. One big take-away from our conversation was that most teams face obstacles when it comes to training and competing. Lisa offered some great advice to “focus on what you can do rather than worry about what you can’t do.”

For an arena curling club team, even if it is impossible to get practice ice at your facility you could plan out a road trip to your nearest dedicated curling facility and plan out a training weekend. You could reach out to your national governing body for a list of certified coaches in your area and see if one of those coaches might work with your team – even off ice sessions where a team talks about communication systems and team strategy can help with a team’s performance in their big events for the season.

Rather than letting the obstacles that your team faces in planning out your season become excuses for failure, use those obstacles as ways to come up with creative solutions for how to do things better. Winners find a way, losers make excuses!


Five-Rock FGZ Strategies


Hear more about this subject and other curling topics from Jonathan Havercroft on Rocks Across the Pond: A Curling Podcast available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn

With the start of the new curling season just around the corner, most curlers will experience playing under the new five-rock free guard zone (FGZ) for the first time. While the rule has been used in the Grand Slam of Curling for several years now, the WCF only adopted it as the official rule for curling beginning this season.

There are two rationales behind this rule change. First, the five rock FGZ gives each team an equal number of protected guards. Under the four rock rule, the team with the hammer only had one protected guard, whereas the team without the hammer had two. Now a team can set up an end with two protected guards regardless of whether or not it has the hammer.

Second, the rule make the game more entertaining to watch by encouraging more rocks in play, making comebacks more likely, making defensive tactics like the tick shot less effective and reducing the number of blank ends.

While the elite teams have experience playing with this rule for years, most club teams will start the season with no experience under the new rule.

Because the rule is new it’s going to take a few seasons for both competitive and club teams to figure out how to adapt their style of play. I’ve only played eight games using the five-rock FGZ, and in a few instances the rule changes did lead to some unfamiliar situations. Most notably we would often have long chats about what to do with the fifth rock of the end – especially when we were trying to protect a lead.

So what follows are some fairly provisional suggestions about four openings to an end that now become possible under the five-rock FGZ?

1.    Delayed Corner Guard

delayed corner guard.png

One tactic my team tried out last season was not putting up a corner guard with our first shot of the end but with our second shot. This enabled us to be moderately aggressive. We were putting a guard in play that we could use to generate offense, but were not going all in to score a big end. This strategy works well in early ends, or when the score is tied in the middle ends.

Our opponent would begin the end by drawing top four. We would respond by hitting that stone with the goal of rolling to one side of the house. The opponent normally responds by hitting our stone – but if they roll back towards the center it is normally behind the t-line, or if they do not roll far then they remain out in the edge of the house. In either case, we would respond by putting up a corner guard on the other side of the house.

The opponent is now faced with some tricky choices – guard a stone that is not in a great scoring position, draw another stone top four, or try to go around the corner guard. No matter what the opponent chooses, we would then have a good set-up for the end – we would have access to the four foot to score with the last shot, and rocks in play on the side of the house to use to generate offense and a corner guard to come around.

2.    Cutting off the corner guard

cutting off guard.png

This is actually an old tactic used by Manitoba teams back in the 1980s, but I expect it to make a comeback as there will be more corner guards in play.

A common opening with the four-rock FGZ would be for the team without hammer to draw top four, the team without hammer to then put up a corner guard. The team without hammer would normally respond by guarding their own stone or simply drawing another stone top 8 and wait until the fifth stone of the end to remove the corner guard.

But now a team without hammer has to wait until the seventh stone to remove that guard, so it becomes a lot more dangerous. One way to counter the corner guard is to draw around it. This does involve some risk, as a poorly placed draw might give the opponent either another guard to come around, or a stone to freeze against.

But the advantage of cutting off the corner guard is that the area the opponent has to draw behind is smaller and you are sitting two stones in the house, whereas your opponent is sitting none. Sometimes the best guard is second shot.

3.    Double Corner Guard

double corner guard.png

The most common placement for a second corner guard under the four-rock rule was the other side of the house. The thought was that guards separated by distance would be hard to double peel.

With a five-rock free guard zone, the double peel on the second’s first shot is no longer an option. So there is a case to be made for trying to place two corner guards on the same side of the ice (ideally separated by some distance) and then try to hide a stone underneath it.

I think the double corner guard accomplishes two things. First, a well staggered double corner guard on one side also leaves the other side of the ice open for a draw to the button if the end plan does not work out well. I think there is a case to be made for teams with hammer to try to place rocks on one side of the house to attempt to generate offense while having an open side as a bail out option, rather than placing guards on both sides of the rings and then not having an open path to the button with the last rock.

Second, a double corner guard creates a lot of coverage under which to hide multiple stones and potentially build up a big end.

4.    Attack on the side first, then deal with opponent’s stones in the middle

attack on side.png

I noticed a few teams, including Kyle Smith’s Scottish men’s team, use this strategy at last year’s European Championships and I expect the five-rock FGZ will make this an even more appealing option.

Since the advent of the four-rock FGZ, most of the game has become a race to the four foot. The team without last rock puts up a center guard, the opposing team comes around it, then the first team freezes on it, and the teams repeat until one of them tries a big weight shot to either sit a lot of stones, or get themselves out of trouble.

To be honest it can get a bit repetitive at times and often meant you could skip watching the first few shots of the end. The Smith rink tended to shake things up by responding to the center guard with a corner guard. When the other team went around the center guard, the Smith team would ignore that stone as well and draw around their corner guard.

The advantage of this strategy is it sets up the team’s second point early in the end. While the team without hammer can set up a good steal opportunity, from the sixth rock of the end on, the Smith rink would then attack the shot stone. The team without hammer has to protect shot rock for ten stones, or risk giving up a deuce.

If the goal for the team with hammer is to score two points, then this approach is a clever way to do it. So often teams obsess about who is shot rock and how they can be shot rock after they throw. But you only need to be shot rock after the last rock is thrown in order to score. This approach lets a team lock in its second point, and then it can chase after shot rock.


Go Tuck Yourself: Finding a Delivery Style That Works for You


Hear more about this subject and other curling topics from Jonathan Havercroft on Rocks Across the Pond: A Curling Podcast available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn

On the latest episode of our podcast we had our first guest: Mark Ngo from Oklahoma Curling Club. We asked Mark if he had any questions about curling for our coaching segment, and it turns out he had a lot! I think his questions boil down to one big issue: does a curler’s delivery have to imitate the curling manual?

The by-the-manual curling delivery

Anyone who has taken a Level 1 curling coaching course (regardless of the country) knows that there is a standard way of teaching the curling delivery: no back-swing, flat foot slide, broom under the arm at a 45 degree angle, toe of sliding foot turned out, etc. Anyone who has watched a curling match on TV or walked into any curling club on the planet will quickly notice that very few curlers from the beer league to PyeongChang throw the way they tell us to in the coaching course.

So what gives? When should we listen to the Level 1 curling course guidelines, and when should we ignore them?

The short answer is that the level 1 curling course teaches a standard delivery aimed at getting a novice curler to throw the stone as quickly as possible with as technically sound a delivery as possible in as short a time as possible. So it is best when coaching and playing to at least start with that delivery.

But I prefer to think of these more as delivery guidelines than hard or fast rules. Many people will not be able to get into the prescribed position simply because of body shape, size or flexibility. Some people might get into a very different slide position than the one the manual prescribes.

To pick one example Mark raised: is the toe-tuck delivery bad? The toe-tuck delivery is not covered in any coaching manual, but it is relatively common amongst elite curlers, especially curlers from Manitoba. A lot of world champions have used the toe-tuck delivery. So obviously it can be that bad.

Mark Ngo doing the Okie Toe-Tuck

Curling manuals do not teach the tuck delivery because it is associated with knee injuries. By putting more body weight on the toe of the foot and bending the knee to a more extreme angle, the toe tuck puts more strain on the knee ligaments and can lead to more knee injuries.

I’m not a doctor or a physiotherapist, so I can’t answer the question of whether or not the tuck is actually more dangerous. If, however, the toe tuck delivery hurts your knee when you do it, then the delivery probably isn’t for you. But let’s say your knee doesn’t hurt, then why might you want to do it? Most people toe tuck to get lower to the ice. In the conventional flat foot slide, turning the sliding foot out creates space in the hips that allows the body to drop to the ice, which in turn helps with the balance of the slide (lower center of gravity) and the aim (lowers the eye to behind the stone).

Jeff Stoughton's classic tuck delivery

The toe tuck does this too, but instead uses the ankle and knee joint as well as the hip joint to get the body into a low sliding position. How low a curler is able to get in either sliding style is going to depend on how flexible they are in each of those joints. In terms of the slide itself, the tuck also has the advantage of having less surface area touch the ice, making for less friction, and so a faster slide over all.

The big disadvantage with a tuck slide is that the curler is more likely to fishtail (i.e. the trailing leg can drift off to one side or other) which in turn can throw the curler offline. So if you do use a tuck slide you need to have someone check to make sure you are not creating other problems with your delivery.

It is the same principle for the other questions Mark asked about broom placement and the trunk lift as well as any other delivery characteristic that deviates from what the manual teaches.

Hard to argue with Randy Ferbey's six Briers

There is nothing wrong with delivering a stone that way, but the more a delivery deviates from the standard delivery, the more likely a curler is to introduce a problem into their delivery that will negatively impact how the stone is thrown. But very few people, especially those who take up curling later in life, have the flexibility and balance to slide exactly how it is taught in the curling manual. This is where the coach needs to adjust what is taught in the manual to fit the needs and abilities of each curler.


Team Formation and Team Dynamics


Hear more about this subject and other curling topics from Jonathan Havercroft on Rocks Across the Pond: A Curling Podcast  available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn


With the curling offseason comes the time of year when most curlers begin to think about their plans for next season. For the professional curlers – especially in Canada – the major team shakeups happened months ago. Curling at the elite level is now driven entirely by the Olympics, and so most elite teams form for a four-year cycle. As soon as their Olympic run ends – whether it is when they fail to make the trials, are eliminated at the trials, or on the podium in Pyeongchang – the teams then turn to the conversation about “what do we want to do now?”

For some, the team breaks up entirely and each player goes his or her own way. For others, they do a slight reshuffle – changing one or two players – with the goal of reloading for another Olympic run. Finally, some teams decide to stand pat, thinking it is better to stick with a team that you know rather than go hunting for better options.

The process is a fascinating. And in the age of social media it is a lot easier to keep track of who has moved where. The Curling Geek has even put together a handy curling free agent tracker for the top 20 or so teams in Canada.

But what about team changes and team formation for the rest us? What should the club or competitive curler keep in mind when putting together a team for the next season? In a certain sense the process is very similar for the grassroots curlers as it is for the pros.

1.     Begin with the end in mind

The Dutch national coach once defined a curling team for me as “four individuals coming together to achieve a common goal.” I love that definition because it communicates so much in eight words. Many people just play with the first person who asks them, and then have a miserable season because the players haven’t talked about what they want to achieve, what the expectations are in terms of commitment, and how they want to achieve that goal.

The goal could be a very simple one. “We just want to have fun on Tuesday night, have a drink after the game, and maybe enter the local funspiel in March.” But I’ve seen lots of beer league teams torn apart when one player has ambitions to practice and try to win the league, and the other players are not interested I doing much more than have fun for two hours once a week. So the first step is to think through what your goal is for the season, and then find out who in you club has similar ambitions. When forming the team everyone should sit down and agree on three things:

a.     What is the team trying to accomplish? Is it just for fun? If so is everyone comfortable going 3 – 17 that season? Is it to “get better?” If so, is everyone willing to put in extra work to “get better?” Is it to win something (a league, a bonspiel, a playdown, a national championship)? If so, what are the expectations from the team both on and off the ice?

b.     What is everyone’s commitment level? If one player wants to practice four times a week, enter eight bonspiels and hire a personal trainer to work out five times a week while the three other players might want to enter one or two spiels, maybe practice when they can get the time, and drink beer all summer, I guarantee that team will not last long. The team has to agree on: a) what events are we going to play in; b) what are the practice expectations; c) what other things are we going to do as a team.

c.     What is the team’s expiry date? Most people don’t want to talk about when a team is going to end, but I believe every team should agree on a date when they will sit down and decide what they are going to do. If you are forming a competitive team in order to enter a playdown process then the natural end point is when you are eliminated in that process (or win, but keep in mind that only one team on the planet is going to finish the year a winner in each playdown process).

Once you agree on the end point, you should agree on two other things. First, it is unethical to change teams once you have committed to a team for a process. Second, if at the end of the playdown process someone wants to leave and join a new team, nobody should hold a grudge against that player for deciding to move on to a new team. Having an expiry date for a team makes it clear when players can decide to move on and also makes it clear when players should not move on.

2.     “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right ones.”

The movie Miracle is about the 1980 gold medal winning USA Men’s Hockey Team. There is a scene early in the movie where the team coach, Herb Brooks, is assembling the roster, and one of his assistants complains that Brooks is leaving some of the best players off the team. Brooks replies that he wants the right players, not the best players.

Too often people form teams simply by trying to grab the four best players available. But there is so much more that goes into a team that just talent. At the outset a team should think about who is going to play where. To my mind the two most difficult positions to fill on a team are the skip and the lead.

Good skips take many curling seasons to develop. So if a team is forming with a new person in the house, the whole team has to be comfortable with the skip developing as both a game caller, and a last rock thrower. Leads are often the last person that most new teams think about, but in many ways good leads are as hard to find as good skips.

When the TSN Skins game was doing the all-star draft format, Ben Hebert was often the first player picked. That’s because the four things a great lead must have (excellent weight control, excellent strength and fitness to brush effectively, excellent weight judgment, and a team first mentality) is a very rare combination.

The other two positions also matter. A third has to be a great communicator, as the third is often the bridge between the skip and the front end. A second has to be a great shot maker, and a great sweeper.

In the ideal world a team would find the best positional player for each spot on the team, and everyone would get along. But in the real world, especially at the grassroots level, a team’s choices may be a lot narrower. If that is the case, when choosing teammates I think you should ask yourself two questions.

What is a player’s strengths? It is easy to focus on a club level player’s weaknesses, but if you can clearly identify what a player is good at, and then decide how the team can use that, then you are halfway to a good team.

Second, what is a player’s attitude? It is a lot easier to fix a player’s delivery than it is to fix a player’s attitude. It is far better off to choose a player with a good attitude that you will get along with, than to choose a player with a great delivery but you know you will end up hating by the end of the season.

3.     Keep the Team Dynamics Wheel in Mind

The Canadian curling coach Bill Tschirhart has a concept that he calls the “team dynamics wheel.” In his experience, curling teams (and I would say all teams in my personal experience) go through four phases.

A forming stage where the team is getting to know each other, the players are very polite to each other, but the players are reluctant to communicate. A storming stage where the team starts to fight with each other and the performance starts to dip. A norming stage where the team then agrees to work what the expectations and protocols will be on the team. Finally a performing stage where a team achieves its full potential.

If you are forming a new team, then you should keep this cycle in mind, and agree to the occasional off-ice check-in to see where the team is in the performance cycle. I strongly recommend that your team (regardless of the playing level) find someone to act as a coach and facilitator.

If you are lucky enough to have a certified curling coach at your local club, your team should reach out to him or her for some help. But if there is no such coach available, then I think a knowledgeable but neutral third party can fulfill this role. What that person can help with is facilitating the team conversation when things start to go wrong.

Ideally you should have a team meeting with this person as your team is forming, and then agree to have regular meetings as a team, with your coach, throughout the season. An external person watching the team dynamics and body language on the ice can often pick up on things that the team may not notice. A coach can also often address “elephant in the room” issues that teammates may be reluctant to share with each other.

Keeping the team performance wheel in mind will also help a new team reach its potential sooner. While John Morris does not explicitly mention the performance wheel in his recounting of winning the mixed doubles gold medal, one thing that jumps out at me is his story of a crucial dinner he had with Kaitlyn Lawes where they talked through some team dynamic issues, and then went on to win the Olympic curling trials.

When I read through John Morris’s story, I can see how that team went through the entire performance wheel in days to go on and become Olympic champs. The takeaway message is that a new team should embrace each stage of the team dynamics wheel – especially the conflict that comes with the storming stage, and the subsequent working out of differences with the norming stage – to accelerate the team formation process and achieve their team goals.


What Happened In Vegas


Hear more about this subject and other curling topics from Jonathan Havercroft on Rocks Across the Pond: A Curling Podcast  available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn.


The 2018 World Men’s Curling Championship in Las Vegas was my first time going to a big-time curling event as a fan. Odd I know, having played for over 30 years. But for some reason whenever a Scotties or a Brier was close by, work or school or curling would conflict. And when the event was not close, the location did not seem enticing enough to justify a trip.

I mean nothing against Regina in March, but who really wants to travel to Regina in March (on purpose)? This year I was in San Francisco for a work conference the week of the Worlds and a flight to Vegas wasn’t too expensive, so I figured why not go to the closing weekend.

INTURN: Watching curling inside Orleans Arena

So what was the event like? Orleans Arena was great from a spectator perspective. It was just the right size (around 7,500 seats) and the sight lines were pretty good. However, I would have had a hard time seeing the sheet closest to my seats had I gone mid-week. Oddly, seats that are higher up along the side lines have better views than ones closer to ice level for curling.

Overall the venue did a good job of creating a positive experience for the fans. There was an announcer who did some kind of feature during each end break like you might see at a minor league baseball game. Sometimes it was a contest with a fan. Other times an interview with a curling celebrities like Ernie Richardson and John Shuster.

There is only one tweak I’d make. There was very little to no curling information relayed to the fans. In a certain sense curling is pretty self-explanatory, we can all see the game and watch the score. But there were a few episodes where odd things happened and there was no official explanation.

For example, in the Canada vs. Scotland semifinal the ice had to be reconditioned at the 5th end break and the players were then able to each throw one practice stone. I’ve never seen that happen before, and it would have been nice for the announcer to just give a quick explanation about the delay in game.

In terms of the games themselves the scores were not that close in the playoffs, but the shot-making was amazing! It is a world championship, so that shouldn’t be surprising. But we were treated to an Edin performance for the ages. Two or three times in the final my buddy and I would ask, “Is that shot even there?,” only to watch Edin execute it to perfection.

Gushue played lights out in the semifinal against Mouat, putting the game away with two perfect runbacks in a row.  Mouat however put on his own shot-making clinic against the Koreans in a rout in the bronze medal game.

OUTTURN: The party atmosphere at Orleans Casino

Off-ice the experience was interesting. The strongest feature of this Worlds was the Pool Patch. Major curling events tend to have a large party room/bar where the fans go after games to hang out and party. The Orleans Resort has a giant pool. So during the day time they decided to have the party poolside.

They also had an evening patch in a ballroom and it was a bit of a snorefest. It was not well attended and the room had no ambience. It felt a bit like going to your boring cousin’s wedding. There were a few people drinking too heavily, some bad white person dancing by some old people and nobody having much fun.

I’m not really sure why the pool patch was so great (ED. NOTE: You seriously can’t figure that out?) and the night patch was so bad (ED. NOTE: Really? Still can’t put your finger on this one?). I’ve always heard stories about how great the Brier patch is and how the party goes on until late into the night. But here the Patch was dead by 11pm in a casino that runs 24/7 (ED NOTE: BECAUSE THERE WAS A CASINO THAT RAN 24/7 WHERE YOU DRINK FOR FREE.).

The resort itself had plenty to do in between matches. Obviously there is lots of ways to lose your money gambling. But there is also a bowling alley, 20 restaurants, the pool, a spa, a movie theatre and an arcade. You never have to leave the facility and to be honest we didn’t. I think it would get old if I had been there for the whole nine days of worlds, but it is a perfect place to watch curling for a weekend.

TAKEOUT: Final overview of the 2018 World Men’s Curling Championship

The announced attendance for the whole event was a little under 75,000, which was a new record for a world championship in the U.S. I would guess the arena was about 75 percent full for the final with a fairly heavy Canadian contingent. The crowd was probably 80 percent Canadian fans with a small but very vocal contingent of Swedes.

To be honest the European delegations, Sweden and Scotland, had way better chants than the Canadians. They brought a bit of a European football mentality to the arena. With organized chants for different players, and all the fans sitting together and color coordinated. The Canadian fans were loud and vocal, but not very inspired in their cheers (apart from calling for spin-o-ramas when the games were out of reach).

Overall it was a great experience. The Continental Cup is heading back to the Orleans Arena in 2019. That is probably the best place to watch high-caliber curling in the U.S. right now. So if you are looking for a curling vacation, you might want to give the 2019 Continental Cup a shot.


How to Integrate and Retain New Members


Hear more about this subject and other curling topics from Jonathan Havercroft on Rocks Across the Pond: A Curling Podcast  available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

With the post-Olympic curling boom in full swing, curling clubs are now facing a new challenge: how to incorporate new curlers into their clubs so that they stick around. After the Olympics it is easy to get new people to come to learn to curl sessions and sign up for leagues. But curling booms can go bust very quickly if the club does not have plans in place to integrate new curlers into the club.

When I was a member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Curling Club we experienced a boom bust cycle. In 2006 over 400 people showed up to a learn to curl session right after the Olympics. The club went from 32 members to 58 members in the 2006/2007 season but a year and a half later membership was back down to 32. All the hard work of the previous Olympic cycle recruitment drive had no long term effect on club membership.

What I learned from that mistake is that if you want people to become long term members of your club, you need to work hard at integrating them into your club. Curling can’t just be the fun sports league they do once a week for a few months a year. It has to become a community that they want to be a part of, and they have to make new friends, and feel like they are contributing to that community.

So here are a few tips on how to help people transition from beginner curler to club member.

1. Don’t let cliques form in your club: This is going to vary depending on your club size and format. But for newer arena clubs where the membership is in the 30- to 100-member range, new curlers will have a harder time integrating into the club if there are a few cliques. The best way to stop this from happening is to mix teams. New members should play with different people and make new friends. The competition manager can either form new balanced teams each round, or use a draft system to form teams for each league.

While some new members may want to play only with their friends, the problem with this approach is if the team’s organizer drops out, the club may end up losing all four members rather than just one. The best way to make friends throughout the club is to get people playing with as many different members as possible.

2. Build broom stacking into the club culture: Broom stacking (i.e. having a beverage with your opponent after the game) is an important tradition in curling. It also serves an important function in building curling club culture, as it is a natural icebreaker.

You sit down after the match and chat about the game with your opponents. This is how you get to get to know people and make new friends. That in turn makes a person more likely to be a member of a club. At arena clubs this can be a problem if you do not have a bar at the ice rink.

At Oklahoma Curling Club we faced this problem. We solved it in true Oklahoma football tradition by tailgating. Members would bring their grills to the rink and we would have burgers and beers in the parking lot before and after the game. We also had a different team responsible for bringing snacks each week and we would celebrate events like Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and the club’s birthday with cakes and themed league nights. For Halloween, people would dress in costume and we’d have a prize for the best one. The key is to make the club about more than curling and to make the curling fun.

3. Draw on your new member’s talents: Curling clubs are always facing problems, but even the smallest of clubs will have members with the talents to fix those problems. When we were starting Oklahoma Curling Club, we needed a website, scoreboards, help publicizing the club, help scheduling and running the leagues.

If you ask around your club membership you would be amazed at how many people have exactly the skills you need to fix your problems. Having members help out with the club and recognizing their contribution has an amazing effect on the club. When someone helps the club, it increases their sense of ownership of the club. That in turn increases the likelihood that they will stick around.

Every little problem a member solves makes the club a little bit better, which means other members are more likely to stick around. In a club there are always a few workhorses that are going to do the majority of the volunteer work to sustain the club. But it is important for those club leaders to always be looking for ways to draw on the talent of as many of their members as possible. It helps to retain members and leads to the club flourishing more in the long term.


Throwing a Positive Release


When watching curling on TV, you may hear players talk about throwing either a “positive release” or a “soft release.”

One thing that differentiates the average club curler from a competitive curler is the quality of their release. A problem with the release is often the first fault many players notice in their own delivery.  This is because a release problem (such as “dumping” the out turn or “starting” the in-turn) is the most obvious reason for missing the target from the skip’s perspective.

A player misses a shot and they ask their skip, “what happened?” All too often the skip will respond, “it looked like you were online until your release.”

This raises a number of questions:

  1. What causes someone to have a bad release?
  2. How can we fix a bad release?
  3. What is the difference between a "positive" release and a "soft" release?
  4. Why does it matter?

Let’s consider these issues is order:

What causes a bad release?

By bad release simply means the player is doing something as they let go of the stone that causes it to deviate from the line of delivery. The two most common release faults are the tendency to set an out-turn wide of the line of delivery (the “out-turn dumps”) and to set an in-turn narrow of the line of delivery (“starting” the in-turn).

The out-turn dump will curl less than a clean release and be wide of the target. The started in-turn will curl more than a clean release and be narrow of the target. Both faults are going to lead to a lot of missed shots.

How to fix a bad release

The problem is the release is the symptom of the delivery fault, not the cause in a majority of the cases of a bad release. Often the reason a player is doing something strange on release is to compensate for a problem earlier in the delivery.

So if your skip is complaining about a bad release, step one is to find a certified curling coach to look at your whole delivery and to identify what the actual cause is. The possible causes are numerous, and could be the topic of their own blog post.

Let’s assume you’ve worked with a coach to improve your balance, the timing of your delivery, and your line of delivery (all potential areas that might be causing the bad release). After all those areas have been addressed then there are four steps to the actual release that need to be looked at:

  1. The grip (established during the set-up phase)
  2. Delivery arm position during slide phase
  3. Initiating the curl
  4. Release and follow through

The grip

Step one in the grip is to set the stone at either 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock (assuming 12 o’clock is the neck end of the handle pointing down the sheet) depending on if you are throwing a clockwise or counter-clockwise rotation. You should do this after you have cleaned the stone, but before you grip the stone for your delivery. Setting the rotation after you have gripped the stone can cause problems with your arm position in your delivery. So set the stone, then grip it.

Step two concerns the grip itself. Many curlers have “weird” grips. Many professional curlers have very specialized grips they have worked on over the years that can’t be imitated well without a lot of practice and experience.

I would recommend using one of two textbook grips. The first I’ll call the Canada grip (that is the one that is taught in the Curling Canada manual). The second I’ll call the Norway grip (it is more common in Europe, and is taught in the Scottish curling system).

The Canada-style grip holds the stone at the goose-neck with the thumb, index, and middle finger applying light pressure to the handle. The second set of pads of the inside fingers should be on the bottom of the handle. The wrist should be high. All the fingers should be together. The position of the hand is similar for both turns.

Curling grip

Curling grip

The Norway-style grip holds the stone further back (ideally thumb and index and middle finger are over the center of axis of the stone). With the wrist low and all the fingers together. As with the Canada grip the pressure is applied by the thumb, index, and middle finger. The other fingers should be close together rather than spread out.

The thumb position is different depending on the turn. For an out-turn, the thumb rests on top of the handle. For an in-turn the thumb rests on the inside of the handle. This is to create a bit of leverage on the handle using the thumb. One way of thinking about this grip is that it is similar to how you grip a key to open a lock.

Out-turn grip:

Out-turn grip

Out-turn grip

In-turn grip:

In-turn grip

In-turn grip

Delivery arm

During the delivery you want to have a slight bend in the arm that is holding the stone. This lets your arm function as fine tuning mechanism – so that you can add a little weight or take a little bit off if necessary during your slide. It is also very useful for having a positive release. Many curlers tend to slide with a stiff arm, thinking that this helps them hit the broom. But relaxing the arm a bit gives you a bit more slack to make any necessary adjustments during your slide.

Initiating the curl

Many curlers either begin to rotate the stone too early or too late in their delivery. The rotation should be applied gradually over the last three to four feet of the delivery (prior to letting the stone go).

A great test for this is to have two friends watch your slide. Have one person mark where you start rotating the stone (with a cone, sponge, or gripper) and have the other person mark where you release the stone. The distance between the two points should be about a brush handles length.

If it is any longer the stone tends to under rotate. If the rotation is applied in too short a distance, the stone tends to rotate too much (more on this in a sec).

Next, the bend in your arm from the slide phase now comes into play. Ideally as you are applying the curl, you also want to be extending your arm. It is important that this is not a shove (as that can send the rock offline and unnecessarily accelerate it), but that it is a gradual extension arm from bent to straight over the three to four feet of your release. This accomplishes a couple of things.

First, as soon as you leave the hack and slide, you are decelerating. The arm extension makes sure the stone leaves your hand with positive momentum. If you do the opposite and pull back on the stone as you release, that can cause the stone to slow down dramatically. The extension should be gradual. It should feel like the stone is extending your arm, rather than you are shoving the stone.

Second, the extension creates a positive follow through of the arm towards the broom. Just like a follow through in other throwing sports, the extension should help you hit your target.

One key during this phase is that you should initiate the curl first then begin the follow through as you get to the release.

Release and follow through

At this stage it is simply a matter of letting go of the stone and letting your hand follow through into a handshake position. A key thing to watch for here is what your hand does on release. If you either pull your hand back from the stone as you let it go, or the hand goes off to one side of the other, it is likely that your release is not a clean one.

Either the stone will have some momentum removed or you will have pushed the stone offline (the infamous dumped out-turn or started in-turn I talked about above). In practice, look down as you release and watch what you are doing with your hand. If at all possible, have a friend video your delivery and pay attention to you hand motions at release.

What is the difference between a “positive” release and a “soft” release

If you have followed all of the steps above, then congratulations: you have a positive release! When people talk about a positive release they are referring to two things.

First, the stone is being extended from the delivery upon release and the thrower has a clean follow through. The stone should almost pop out of the hand straight at the broom.

Second, the stone should have 3 to 3.5 rotations over the course of its delivery (assuming it is a draw to the t-line). The clean release at the broom ensures the stone is on target. The arm extension as the stone leaves the hand ensures that the stone is leaving the hand at the intended velocity. The proper application of rotation ensures that the stone will curl in a consistent manner.

One way to test if you have a good rotation on your stone is to throw a draw the length of the ice. It should complete one full rotation by the time it is half way down the ice, and at least three full rotations before it stops.

Why does it matter if you have a positive release?

A stone with too little rotation is likely to over curl. A stone with no rotation is like a knuckleball – it is completely unpredictable where it will end up. A stone with too much curl will run straighter than intended, and often go further because of the extra momentum from the spin.

Most club curlers throw a soft release, where the stone has little of no rotation, and because of this the stone picks up some lateral movement on release. This affects both the line of delivery of the stone and its velocity.

An inconsistent release leads to inconsistent shot making. It also makes it more difficult for the skip to read the ice, because the stones are behaving in an unpredictable manner. Before blaming the ice or the stones for bad play (both common scapegoats every night in the curling club lounge) take a look at your player’s releases and the rotations on the stone.