I have received an number of emails and inquires as to what positions people should play. Often the individuals state something along the lines of “I don’t want to play lead, I’m not that bad”. I’m not sure where this feeling that the lead is a position is a lower position than any other position on the team comes from. I can only presume that it comes from the TV watchers who see the talked about shots being thrown by vice or skip stones. Maybe this is a society issue where people prefer the quarterback who throws the 50 yard touchdown pass but only wins half the games over the quarterback who throws only 5-10 yard passes, but wins 95% of their games.
Fancy does not mean good.
A great team does not throw those TV highlight reel shots very often; if at all. A great team has such a strong lead and 2nd, that the vice and skip only have to throw draws and guards to keep control of the house. The “spectacular” shots they talk about are a result of a team scrambling to make something more of a bad situation. These “low-percentage shots” are low-percentage because they do not happen often with teams on TV. The teams that win bonspiels are the teams that throw 99% of their shots as “high-percentage shots” like guards and draws and single stone hits.
A good lead will set up the team to control the game. If a lead throws 16 stones 6 inches to a foot in front of the house (either on the center line or off to the side depending on if you have the hammer or not), the 2nd can draw around those or they can be later used to bump them in for points. A consistent lead is an asset that every team wants.
So why is it that curlers often find the newest curler to be in the lead position? This is because lead stones offer an advantage to a curler that the other positions do not. A lead will throw guards 80% of the time. This means they can focus on finding a consistent weight and work on their balance. If there is any weight inconsistency, this will allow the curler to focus on that, while allowing the team 6 stones to compensate for any missed guards.
A 2nd will throw 80% draws. They need to have consistent weight to draw around the guards (yours or opponents). If a 2nd has the most inconsistent weight on the team, the team will often feel as though they are always trying to chase the opponents and use more take-out throws in the vice position.
A vice (3rd) has the hardest job on the team in terms of delivery. They need to throw everything with the exact correct weight. This curler is typically your most consistent curler. If the curler is your most inconsistent, there is very little the skip stones will be able to do to regain control of a bad situation.
Skip stones are 90% draws or guards. This position is mostly just to get the extra point or try to keep the house as it is. After the vice stones, the skip should only need to put the finishing touches on the end to secure the points or force the opponents into taking less points. Low-percentage shots being thrown by the skip is either done because there is very little risk or because things are so bad that the team is scrambling for something to work. The difficulty in skip stones is that the pressure is on. When the curler is faced with a draw, it can be the difference between winning or losing. That kind of pressure is a mental game that not everyone has. The nice part of this position is that if you have a consistent lead to set up the guards and the 2nd and vice have done their jobs, then the skip often has a lot of options of which all are high-percentage shots.
The lead position is just as important as any other position on the team. Although the highlight reel may not show too many lead throws, the type of game the team will play will be determined on how well the lead is throwing.
If you are an established team and have been playing for many years, you may have your own reasons for your lineup, but if you are a new team or acquire new members, it is common that the curler that is struggling with their weight the most, start as lead. Do not believe that this is a demotion. This is often just an opportunity to focus on your weight and not have to worry as much about aim. It is better to have correct weight rather than correct aim. If the weight is correct, it will at least be in play!
Last but not least, do remember that you can change positions between games (not during games). I have thrown many skip stones. Sometimes if I feel I’m in a rut and missing on my weight due to the mental aspect of the game, I will move to lead. It’s a great way to focus on the weight of stones without feeling the pressure of the clutch draw or guard.
Each position has its advantages and its difficulties. No position is better or higher than another. Everyone throws 2 stones. A curler can only be judged whether they curl better than the opponent in the same position. A lead that makes 80% of their shots has done a better job to their team than the lead that makes 60% of their shots. A 2nd who makes 60% of their shots has done a better job to their team than the 2nd who makes 40% of their shots. This does not mean that the lead that makes 80% of their shots is better or worse than the 2nd that makes 60% of their shots. This is not comparable. Curlers are only ever compared to the opponent in the same position.