Monday, November 26, 2012

I Had It, Lost it, Gotta Find It Again!

We've all been there! We had draw weight in our back pocket (or wherever you keep valuable possessions) but lost it and have to get it back a.s.a.p.! What to do, what to do? Well, there's good news and there's bad news. The good news is, you DID have it so it's attainable. The bad news is of course, it's gone but hopefully for only a brief period so let's see what we can do to get it back.

First, if you've followed my posts of late, particularly that of Nov. 12,  you'll know that the degree to which you understand your mechanics, exactly what you're doing and why you're doing it, is your best hedge against losing it over a prolonged period of time. I believe the phrase was, "The athlete who understands why will always defeat the athlete who only knows how". If you've not read that blog, you might wish to leave this one to do so, I'll wait for you here.

Second, how well do your teammates know and understand your skill set? They can be invaluable in getting you back on track.

Third, and it's very much part of the understanding of what you're doing, is how you actually regard it. By that I mean, in your mind, exactly how do you "see" weight control. What does it mean to you? Allow me to digress for a moment.

When I work with an experienced athlete, curler in this case, I spend a good deal of time trying to ascertain how the athlete conceptualizes the task. It doesn't make a hill of beans difference how I think about the skill at hand, it's how the athlete thinks about it. As a result, when I work with an athlete, I spend a good deal of time getting the athlete to verbalize the skill on the warm side of the glass before we step onto the ice surface. That's extremely valuable information. If I detect a disconnect between the athlete's thought process and what's really trying to be accomplished, I'll spend a commensurate amount of time getting the athlete to "see" the skill clearly before any attempt is made to remedy the situation. I am no longer surprised to learn that an athlete's real problem is how he/she is "thinking" as opposed to "doing"! Weight control is a perfect example where thought process is paramount. Allow me to explain.

I'm an advocate of the Socratic method of teaching. I like to ask questions. From time to time I'll catch myself saying, "I don't have all the right answers but I believe I do have most of the right questions." I feel knowing what to ask the athlete is more valuable than attempting to provide the right answers. Why? When you bring the athlete into the fold with his/her experiences to find a solution, he/she will take ownership for that solution. As a result, its sustainability is increased because it will be repetitive. When the athlete assimilates my answer, that may not occur. In terms of weight control my favourite question goes something like this, "If you drew to the top of the house to bite the 12', and your next shot was to the tee line, tell me precisely, in as much detail as possible, how you would add those six feet?" The key word in that question is "you", not your coach, not your teammates, you!

Everyone tends to see the same challenges slightly differently. It's why in a clinic setting, I will make the same statement in a variety of ways. I read eyes when I'm in front of a group of coaches or athletes. I can tell when my response to a question or a statement from me resonates and when it doesn't and frequently it will with some in the audience and not with others. That's my cue to say it differently. I want everyone to understand!

That's never more true than with one's concept of weight control. The answer I receive so much of the time is "leg drive". Hmm, an easy response and since I asked how the athlete controls the weight of the stone coming out of the hand, I will not argue with it but I'll remind the athlete that the quadriceps bundle of muscles in the thigh is the largest muscle group in the body. As such, it's not very well designed for a precise motor skill like controlling the weight of a curling stone over more than 100' of ice. That usually causes the athlete to reconsider the response to include other ways, in conjunction with "leg drive'. That's when I start getting amendments like "arm extension", "shoulder drop", "hack foot placement in the hack" (the list is long). Weight control is like a recipe. It has many ingredients. The chef will add more of this and use less of that and sometimes add something no one else has thought about to create a dish that he/she likes. Weight control is like that.

In a clinic, for weight control, I use a series of challenges to provide that discovery of ingredients available to the athlete he/she employs and an opportunity to learn from others how they do it. The athletes actually do the teaching among themselves. It takes longer doing it like this but everyone is busy and no one is telling anyone what to do. I just issue the challenges!

But here's an answer to my question that I rarely, I think I can say never receive. It's the "time" taken from "park-to-bottom-out".

When the no backswing delivery first took hold of the curling world, as instructors, we had to come up with some terminology to identify its parts. "Park" refers to that part of the delivery when the hips are placed in a position prior to their movement forward. Most athletes when employing the no backswing delivery, raise the hips and then, along with the sliding foot, move the hips back before the forward action begins. Many will actually pause at that hips back location that's why we used the term "park". From that park position, with leg drive, the athlete moves forward toward the slide portion of the delivery. When the hack foot leaves the hack we say the athlete has "bottomed out". The result of the forward movement is velocity of the body (along with the stone) as the athlete slides forward. That initial velocity will decrease due to the friction between the sliding foot and the pebbled surface of the ice but that's for another post.

How do we measure velocity? It's a relationship between "time & distance" (miles per hour, kilometres per hour, feet per second etc.). Since the "distance" from park to bottom out does not change much we're left with the "time" component. How much "time" did you take from "park" to "bottom out"? Allow me an illustration.

If an athlete was asked to take 1.0 seconds from park to bottom out and release the stone at the top of the house with no arm extension and a positive release, the stone would travel a certain distance to be marked. If the same athlete, with the same stone, with no arm extension and with the same amount of rotation was asked to consume 0.5 sec. from park to bottom out, where would that stone come to rest relative to the location of the final destination for the first stone? The answer is to a point farther down the ice. Why? If the distance from park to bottom out was the same and the athlete took less time to cover that distance, he/she must have been moving faster therefore the stone would as well and after release it would logically move to a spot farther down the ice. If the athlete was then asked to take 1.5 sec. from park to bottom out, the third shot would com to rest short of the distance traveled by the other two shots because the athlete and the stone were moving more slowly than in both of the first two attempts.

When I provide another way for an athlete to conceptualize weight control in terms of the amount of time taken from park to bottom out, if frequently opens a door they never considered and for many it helps greatly. In your next training sessions, as you deliver various draw shots, think about the time you're taking from park to bottom. It may help you as well!

I recently received an email from a coach of a very talented women's team. He wanted to know how he might develop some training scenarios for his players when less than the entire team is available for the session and frequently it may be only one player. The coach had a copy of "Drills To Die For" from "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion". Many of those drills are dedicated to weight control but they were designed assuming the entire team is present.

I like when players, without a stone in hand, slide to various pre-determined locations (allowing the slides come to rest only due to that friction between slider and ice, no digging "in" with the trail leg). I feel this challenge has great value for the athlete because it provides an opportunity to become aware of the various velocities of the slide and creates an relationship between those "slide" velocities and "stone" velocities.

I'm a huge fan of "laser timers" for weight control awareness and training. I have one that is more than 15 years old which has been repaired several times and is now partially held together with electrical tape. No, I'm not that frugal but it's a "speed trap" (my term for laser activated timing devices) that plays a specific role. I have another set of speed traps, only been repaired once, for a second purpose. Here's what they do.

My old speed trap measures the time taken for an object to pass through its laser. It consists of a black metal box with the actual "stop watch" mechanism and a digital display (which I place on one side of the ice somewhere near the hog line, usually just past the hog line) and a reflector (which is placed on the opposite side of the ice). When an object breaks the laser beam, the stop watch starts. When the beam is restored, the stop watch stops and the time between the two is displayed accurate to four decimals (i.e. ten-thousandths of a second). The athlete sliding through the speed trap following the stone does not change the time on the display. It only times laser breaks of less than one second. It's a measure of the speed of the rock! When I use the "black knight" [my name, not that of the manufacturer]) I actually desensitize its accuracy to three decimals (thousandths of a second). The object for the athlete is to deliver pairs of stones so that as much as possible, their velocities are the same. To do that it forces the athlete to become aware of the various ways he/she does that. It's that awareness which is the real value of the activity. I make a sensible allowance for the athlete to deliver the stone with the same velocity according to the black knight. I certainly don't expect two deliveries to be the same to ten-thousandths of a second. I always ask the athlete to tell me if he/she feels the second attempt was about the same velocity, a little lighter, a lot lighter, a little heavier or a lot heavier than the first. I'm just as interested in the athlete's assessment of the two velocities as I am about his/her ability to duplicate and it's the athlete who should begin the flow of information regarding the potential for the stone to come to rest in the prescribed location.

I have a second laser timing system that has more components than the black knight. This one was purchased through "Brower Timing Systems" in the U.S. Essentially its a laser activated system with one transmitter and receiver placed at either ends of the back line (or tee line, depending on your interval timing protocol) and a second pair at the inside edge of the hog line. The third component is a hand-held digital display device. When an object breaks the first laser beam the stop watch on the hand-held component starts and stops when the laser beam of the second pair is broken. In other words, you get the accurate interval time. The pairs of transmitters and receivers (you get three with the set) can be placed anywhere on the sheet so you could place a third pair at the far hog line for a hog-to-hog time if that's useful to you.

Although I purchased the speed traps separately (the first from a manufacturer in Quebec) I use them together. For this illustration we'll place a pair of transmitter and receiver at the back line and a pair at inside edge of the hog line. The "black knight" is placed just beyond the hog line (10 cm.). I believe you can see how this combination of the two system works. When a player delivers a shot, both the deadly accurate "interval time" and the "rock speed" are provided. Teammates not involved in the delivery of the stone can compare their interval times (as provided by their stop watches) with that of the hand-held laser timer. If each member of the team delivered a stone with the same interval time, it's interesting to know if the "rock speed" is also the same. When I do this with an experienced team, it very often confirms what the team believes to be true about the relationship between interval time and rock speed for various members of the team.

Bottom line, get a laser timer. If you "google" laser timers you'll see that there are now many manufacturers producing them at a relative low cost. I wouldn't leave home without mine!

Before I leave you today, I want to refer you to an interesting article from "Golf Digest" entitled "The Do's and Don'ts of Practice". The author (Ron Kaspriske) cited a study by a professor at UCLA (Richard Schmidt, PhD) who is a noted authority in psychology and motor behaviour. In essence it was a study to learn the differences between "blocked practice" and "random practice". The URL where you can read Mr. Kapriske's article is . I'm not going to give you my take on Dr. Schmidt's findings but I would like to know yours (


  1. Great article Bill. Very helpful.

  2. Huh. I wouldn't have used the terminology "park to bottom-out", but that's definitely how I conceptualize adjusting my weight. Would love to hear more about the role teammates can play in helping get each other back on track.

    1. The terms "park" and "bottom out" are quite arbitrary. They just made sense to those of us who worked with athletes using, what was new at the time, the no backswing delivery.
      As for your teammates understanding how you accomplish a variety of tasks, weight control being just one, given their proximity to you in competition, they can quickly spot a divergence from your "normal" way of doing things and help you get back on track.