Curler’s Corner: Know Your Role (1/7)

The following will be a 7 part series of the different aspects of curling (skipping, sweeping, deliverying, throwing lead, throwing 2nd, throwing 3rd, & throwing 4th) and understanding what your role in the curling game is.  Like anything, a team who’s members know what they are to be doing, when, and why, will function like a well oiled machine.  There will be less confusion and frustration which will result in games that are more fun to play and possibly easier to win.

Now, for the wrestling fans out there that are wondering if I’m quoting The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) from 1998, I may be; but without the tone.  :)  Who said curling and WWE (formally WWF) had nothing in common?  :)

Part 1: Skips

Of all the positions and roles in curling, I decided to start with Skips.  Curlers often explain to non-curlers that the skip is like the quarterback in football.  The simile is actually fairly accurate.  The skip does call the shots, which is visually apparent.  But a skips role is not merely calling the game.  A skip’s role maybe ends with calling the game, but what makes a great skip is beyond holding the broom, holding out a hand, and yelling.  So what is the role of the skip?  

Communicate:

Communication breeds trust.  A team that trusts each other will be more successful and have way more fun.  If you take 4 Olympians that do not trust each other, they will never be as good as 4 equally skilled team members that do trust each other.

This includes communicating things that are going well withthe team or with each player, the general strategy (ie. “lets keep the house clean”), and sometimes what went wrong (“great weight, but you were outside on that one”).   This is does not mean yelling “sweep” or “hard” all the time.  Just like at home, communication is not yelling. 

Most importantly the skips job is to keep the morale up.  This means that the skip’s morale needs to be up.  An optimistic skip is contagious and so is a pessimistic skip.  If a skip gets down on themselves or the team, the team will fall apart.  The first thing to break down will be trust.

Remember this game is fun.  Keep the game light hearted.   Laugh and joke about stuff.  Its a social sport, not an intense chess game.

Know your team:

A skip that can make calls that are to the capabilities of the team members will result in more shots made.  If a player is great at inside turns at draw weights and lighter, then having them throw and outside turn takeout is a low-percentage shot.  Sometimes this is necessary, but a skip that knows their player is better at the inside turn takeouts and uses this information effectively, will result in more accurate takeouts.  

If a team member is more likely to get down on themselves, then there needs to be more effort on encouraging this player and informing them on what they’ve done correctly and less on what could be improved.  Again, communication with your team is very important.  Communicating correctly with your team is key.

Lead your team:

Just like in the football analogy, a quarterback is looked to as the leader.  What they do and say is so important, because the team will follow suit.  A skip must lead the team with proper etiquette and rules.  As a skip, learn the rules!  More importantly, learn the etiquette of curling.  No team wants to play against a team that has poor etiquette.  A member with poor etiquette or poor sportsmanship will have a very difficult time finding a team to play on.  A team lead by a skip with poor etiquette will have a very difficult time finding clubs and bonspiels that will invite them back.

Trust your team:

As we will discuss in the next segment of this series, Sweepers have an important role.   A skips role with the sweepers is trust.  Allow the sweepers to do their job so you can focus on  yours. 

Trust the member throwing the stone.  If you do not believe they can make the shot, call something they can make.  If  you do not believe in a shot, you will not call it correctly which gives it a very little chance of success.

If a skip trusts their teammates, their teammates are more likely to trust the skip.

Learn the ice:

This is the first technical role of the skip and it is listed 5th because it is less important than the above points. 

The first skip to learn how the ice is reacting is most likely win arena ice games.  A skip that knows the ice and knows their team can combine the strengths to control the game early on.  So how do you learn the ice?   Watch every stone thrown from release to the point it stops.  Remember how it travelled, where it fell, where it started to curl, and at what weight.   This includes the stones your team throws and the stones your opponents throw. 

To watch an opponents stone, stand still behind the hack and look over or to the side of the opponent’s skip.  You should be able to get an idea of if the opponent hit the broom or where it was released.  You can then move around behind the opponent’s skip to watch the stone travel to understand how and when it curls.

Being a skip is like playing the hardest game of memory.  The 16 stones you’ve watched in the first end will tell you how to call the ice for the 3rd, 5th, and 7th end.  Sometimes the shot you saw in the 1st end is the exact shot you need in the 7th end.  Knowing where the broom was and what weight was thrown will allow you to know exactly how to get the results you want.

Make decisions:

As a skip, it is your job to make the decisions.  Although it is a good idea to talk with your vice about the final 2 shots, keep in mind that you want to keep the game moving so that you can get all 8 ends in.  Look at your options and make a decision.  It does not have to be unanimous or even agreed upon by anyone.  You as the skip are responsible for keeping the game moving and you do this by making calls in a timely manner.  

As your opponent is getting ready to throw, you should be able to tell what their plans are.  You should be already thinking about what you are going to do if they make their shot and if they miss their shot.  When they release their stone, you will be watching the stone and know if its on track or not.  By the time their stone come to rest, you will already have an idea of what you want to call.   Walk to the house and deliberately make the call.   Humming and Hawing about each shot will break down trust between your team and you.

Remember, like chess, it is advantageous to think more shots in advance.  “If I put a stone here, they will probably do this, then I can do that, …”

Adjust your call:

Sometimes things do not go as planned.  Either the ice reacted in a way that you did not expect, or the delivery was off the broom, or the weight is too heavy or too light.  In any case, you as a skip need to make quick adjustments.  Have a plan B and C for the case where things are not perfect.  Changing your plans early enough will allow you to take advantage of the shot.  If you wait too long to make the adjustment, you will have a harder time making the most use out of a shot.

If you do not need to make adjustments, your sweepers should be able to judge the weight for you.  If there is an issue with the line (going to hit a guard or over curl) OR if you’ve decided to make a plan B, you need to communicate with your sweepers.  Remember that communication is not yelling.  Yes you will probably have to speak up to get them to sweep or stop sweeping, but once they have complied, you do not need to continue to repeating the command.  Adding “stay close” or “just past the guard” or “bring it deep” allows them to know what the change of plans is or why you are over-riding their role of judging the sweeping for weight. 

But again, do not vocally dominate the ice.   If a team next to you on the ice is vocally dominating the ice by yelling loud and constantly repeating the same command, it will be very difficult for you to communicate with your team.  So in-turn, avoid dominating the ice with your voice to allow other teams to also communicate with their team.  If the whole arena becomes a screaming match, no one will be successful at communicating. 

And last, but not least.  You can use hand signals to communicate calls to your team.  “If I do this, it means draw weight.  If I do this, it means sweep. …”  Having hand signals allows your team to visually understand your calls.  The key is to outline what these signals mean prior to using them (learn from my mistakes). 

Part 2 will be on the role of Sweepers. 

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