Curler’s Corner: Know Your Role (2/7)

Part 2: Sweepers

It it common for most curlers out there to think their only role is to sweep when the skip says to and stop when they say to stop.  But sweepers have more responsibility and a role in every shot than just doing what their told.  So what else do the sweepers have to do?

Communicate:

It should be no surprise that communication is the largest and most important role.  Skips biggest responsibility is to communicate, so it only makes sense that the sweepers communicate as well.  A team functions best when they all understand what is happening.

For every shot there are a number of communication opportunities to take advantage of.  When the curler delivering the stone is in the hack and the skip has made their call, communicate with the other sweeper and the curler delivering the stone.  Confirm the call.  Make sure everyone understands what the call is in both line and what weight the curler will be throwing.  A simple “draw the top house” is sufficient.  You as a sweeper know where the stone will end up and what weight you expect upon release.  You may also need to know that after a hit, the stone is expected to roll over to the edge of the house or to the button.  As a sweeper on the left or on the right, you might need to take the roll or the bumped stone into the desired location.

As soon as the stone is released, your role is to communicate the weight to the skip.  Sweepers have a much better judge of the weight than a skip will ever have.  If you’re new to curling or have never done this, you may be guessing.  That’s fine.  As you continue to do this you will hone this skill and become more accurate.  Olympians break down the hog to the back-line into 10 number segments.  You do not need to be this accurate.  “light”, “heavy”, “looks good” is helpful to a skip.  If its heavy, the skip may have to adjust their plan or they know to avoid sweeping for line.  If it is light, then they know to get the stone in play the sweepers will have to sweep and the stone will not curl as much or they may change plans on where it may end up.  As you proceed down the ice, adjust your call if your first call was inaccurate or if the stone hits a slow patch.  Get in the habit of calling the weight at the point of release, halfway down the ice, and when you reach the hog line.  A good skip will appreciate the information and understand that sometimes you get it wrong.  But the more you do it, the better you will be at it; just like the other aspects of curling.

There is also opportunities for sweepers to communicate amongst themselves.  The sweeper closest to the stone should be focused on the stone.  Their biggest job is to not burn the stone.  The sweeper farthest from the stone has the role of visually communicating with the skip.  There are a lot of voices, so it may not always be clear if it was your skip or a neighboring skip that gave the command.  Visually checking with your skip often helps confirm who is calling what.  Again it may help to have visual cues or signals that are easy to understand as a sweeper upon glancing up.   The sweeper furthest from the stone is also able to communicate to the other sweeper about what is coming up that might be a hazard.  A good example is “guard on the left” so they do not trip over the other stones in play.

Trust your skip:

As mentioned above, sweepers will always have the best judge of weight.  By communicating the judged weight to the skip, the skip can formulate a plan B if necessary.  If a skip calls you to sweep or stop sweeping a stone, trust them.  The only reason the skip would have  you sweeping or not sweeping under their call is because they need it for the line (aka not to curl too much), or because they went from the original plan to a new plan based on how the stone is travelling and the weight you communicated to them.

Trust that the skip is never calling you on or off a rock because they think it is heavy or light.  That’s your role and trust that they will allow you to do your job.  So if they overrule or make judgements about the sweeping its for a reason besides the weight of the stone in what was/is Plan A.  Just like the skip trusts the weight that you as a sweeper judge and communicate (ie. light, heavy, etc), you should trust the reasoning that they are calling you on or off the stone.  Ignoring their call causes a breakdown in trust and an increase in frustration.  Trusting everyone to preform their role will allow you to focus on what your role is and the fun that is curling.

Remember, the skip that you are listening to is the the one holding the broom.  During the skip’s turn to throw, the vice is the acting skip.  The vice in this case is the person calling the line.  The team’s skip (who threw the stone) may be calling for line, but the vice (acting skip) is the only one who sweepers need to be responding to.

Make decisions:

Again, sweepers will always have a better judge of the weight.  So as you communicate the perceived weight of the stone to the skip, you should be deciding when to start or stop sweeping.  You should already know where the skip intended the stone to be, so based on that knowledge you should start sweeping if the weight needs it.  Your skip may call you off or on the stone due to a change of plans, but if the plan remains the same, then its up to you as sweepers to judge the weight and the need for sweeping. 

A skip will often state “line’s good” or “weight only”.  What they mean by this is that everything is on target for the original shot called from their end.  So your job is to make sure it has the weight to get there without over sweeping it.  If a skip states “yeah for line”, then they are telling you that the weight is less important that sweeping to reduce the curl.  If the skip states “needs to curl”, then they are asking you to stay off it to let it curl.  This is an opportunity to re-judge and re-communicate the weight.  “Its a high guard” or “its only only top house”.  This communication helps the skip to make the decision if the curl or the weight is more important and when.  

The other comment you may hear from a skip as you are sweeping, is “take a look”.  What they are saying is that you are getting close and they don’t want you to over-sweep it and bring it too deep.  They are not calling you off, but just getting the lead sweeper to look up and judge if they feel they need to continue to sweep it.  In arena curling where lines are hard to see, sometimes sweepers are working so hard they do not realize how effective their sweeping is, so this reminder to “take a look” is sometimes helpful.   But again, the skip is still allowing you to make the decision to sweep or not sweep based on the weight.

Be ready:

This has 2 parts:

  1. When you are travelling down the ice with a stone that you feel has enough or even too much weight, stay ready to sweep.  The skip may change their mind, realize something else, or the stone may do something unexpected due to arena ice.   Always stay ready to sweep, regardless of the weight of the stone. 
  2. The 4th stones thrown (often call skip-stones) usually end up being discussed between the skip and the vice (third), to make sure the vice understands what to expect regarding line.  During this time, the sweepers are not required to be part of the conversation.  Your role as a sweeper is to get the stone out for your skip.  This allows the skip to come down the ice and just get ready to throw without having to fetch stones or move any around.  This will help the speed of play and allow you to play more ends.

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