Saturday, January 26, 2013

For The Stick Curler In Your Life - (that might be you)

In my last post I dealt with what I feel is the most important single skill for a curler, weight control. That's not to subordinate the other skills, they're all important but there's no question in my mind that the team that's made up of members with superior weight control have a decided advantage in winning the game. Challenge me on that if you will!

But, today's post is for that ever-growing segment of the curling fellowship, stick curlers "of which I r 1" and please, although your interest in stick curling might be equal to your interest in playing goal without a mask, send this to someone you know is considering the use of the delivery stick or who already uses one. They will thank you (hopefully)!

As the so-called "baby boom" generation reaches its retirement years, North American society will see an unprecedented situation. People in never before seen numbers will reach retirement. North American society has no blueprint for the ramifications of having such a large segment of its population at that stage of their lives. It's not the purpose of this post to delve into the impact of this first time scenario. I'm just a lowly curling coach, not a political scientist, sociologist or any other much more competent professional who, hopefully, will make good decisions over the next 10 or so years. But, I will weigh on a modification to our sport that hopefully will both attract new curlers at that stage of their lives and retain those who have played for many years. Of course I'm referring to the "delivery stick"!

Curling has both a wonderful opportunity and challenge as it offers to retirees and any others who for one reason or another can only participate in our sport with the use of a delivery aid (i.e. stick). As I write this there are committees around the country setting forth guidelines to welcome many who have always been intrigued by curling as they watched and enjoyed it on television but who for one reason or another, have not been able to actively participate and feel that participation is most likely to be realized using the stick, as opposed to learning the traditional slide delivery. Getting this group involved in curling is easy so I'll only say to those already involved in the game, if you know of a soon or recently retired friend or family member who has expressed any interest in playing the game, take, don't send them to your local curling centre and help get them involved with good start up instruction.It's the "other group" of potential stick curlers, those with a long, active, fulfilling, relationship with the game who can no longer deliver the stone in the traditional manner (slide delivery) I want to address.

I see so many on the cusp of the ultimate decision. "Do I switch to the stick or retire from the game and find another winter activity less physically challenging?" Most will give the stick a try but sadly, for a reason I'll deal with shortly, in very large numbers they do "give it a try" but find the experience "disappointing" and walk away from the game leaving life-long wonderful memories & friends behind. I feel very sad when that occurs! I understand the decision, but it was made with flawed input. It is my participant observation that the vast majority of curlers who give the stick a try do so with no instruction from a certified instructor, make critical technical errors resulting in that less than satisfying experience and the unnecessary decision to conclude their curling career which gave them so much pleasure.

The word I here spoken often is "pride" as though you're some second class citizen if you're seen using the stick. Well, if you want to cut off your nose to spite your face then go ahead and quit but you're only hurting one person, the one who stares at you from the mirror.

Besides my continued involvement in the game in all phases and with all groups, I've morphed into understanding as much as I'm able about the "stick delivery". My initial exposure to stick curling came many years ago from a man in Guelph, ON by the name of Murray MacGregor. Murray was a long time nemesis in S ON. He was an excellent curler whose technical skill was only exceeded by his sportsmanship. Losing to a Murray MacGrgor skipped team was never a disgrace. Murray was the consummate gentleman. When his knees finally sent the message that they could no longer sustain the slide delivery, Murray was one of the first to employ the use of the stick and did so with a high degree of skill right from the start. I loved to chat with Murray anytime I was back home in the Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph area. His "secret" was simple.

When using the stick, as you reach the release point and release the stone,
keep walking forward for a few more steps!

I was many years away from using the stick but as I taught novice stick curlers the delivery, Murray's words were uppermost in my mind. Keep walking! Murray's rationale was simple and obvious. In a traditional slide delivery, the curler wouldn't think about stopping his/her slide at the point of release. Why then do legions of stick curlers, at the most critical stage of the delivery, stop walking? It just doesn't make sense. As I go into curling centres around the country to see more and more stick curlers in action, I see this critical delivery error made by the vast majority of stick curlers. If you see a stick curler stopping at the release point, encourage him/her to keep walking and use Murray's rationale. The less than satisfactory performance by curlers who give the stick a try stems from the inability to execute draws the way they did with the slide delivery. It's the greatest challenge with the use of the stick, no question. But, if they use the stick as much as possible to the way they delivered the stone with the slide, they will realize intuitively the value of walking through the release point.

Some stick curlers who have changed from their slide delivery make another critical error. They continue to use a slider and push/glide forward motion to maintain their feel for "draw weight". It sounds like a good idea but there's only one problem, it's really dangerous from a health and safety perspective.

In my mind, stick curlers who "push/glide" fall (pun intended) into one of two categories; those who have fallen to the ice and those who haven't yet. There's no group known as "will never slip and fall"!

I'm pleased that more and more curlers whose birthday cake resembles a forest fire are wearing protective head gear. I've helped to clean the blood from the ice too many times after stick curlers have fallen! Stick curlers who wear helmets tell me that until I pointed it out to them, they forgot they had it on. The reason it's dangerous is two fold. One, in an erect position your centre of gravity is much further from the ice than it is in a slide delivery, therefore balance is more tenuous, much more. Second, you don't have the same core strength and stability you once had, sorry, but that's life so why run the risk of falling to the ice and for the rest of that life, putting your brain into "neutral"? The sound of a head hitting the cold, hard surface of curling ice is one I don't want to hear again!

If you still scoff at my cautionary words, I'll make you a deal. Go home and talk this over with those who both love you and rely upon you. If they feel it's OK that you remain in the group about to fall, fill your boots, but make sure your medical  insurance is paid up and covers imprudence. But, if that's your  choice, do yourself and your loved ones a favour. Wear a helmet!

I'll leave stick curlers with three pieces of technical advice. One is about that seemingly elusive weight control to which I referred above, The second has to do with line of delivery and the third is about apply rotation.

Weight Control

A stick curler does not have a slide. He/she walks along the line of delivery, according to both the rules of the game and its spirit*, so walking speed also is rock speed up to a point. And that point is the release point. The stick curler could simply rotate the stick, applying the correct rotation (see below), releasing the stone which would leave the stick with walking velocity. Assuming that's within the power of the brushing, a successful shot should result. If more or less rock speed is required, the stick curler simply alters the walking speed. That's option #1.

Option #2 involves an arm extension (see previous post, "When Push Comes To Shove"). With this option, walking speed remains reasonably constant with an arm extension adding the required velocity to the stone, again, within the power of the brushers. To employ option #2, the curler needs to walk at a speed that's somewhat slower than required, all the while monitoring that walking speed so the "fine tuning mechanism" (arm extension) adds just the required amount.

Option #3 is a combination of options #1 & #2. There may be a slight adjustment to walking speed along with an appropriate arm extension. It's my experience that most stick curlers employ option #3 most frequently followed by #2 then #1. Only through practice will you know which works best for you!

Line of Delivery

With the advent of the "no back swing" delivery which is now the industry standard and has been for more than a generation of curlers, in the hack we basically place the stone in front of our hack foot. There are some mitigating circumstances and some personal preferences from my coaching/instructing colleagues which place the stone somewhere to the right or left of the center of the hack foot but for the sake of this post, I'm sticking with my "centrist" position (I sound like a politician running for office).

Stick curlers need to do the same. I like to stand slightly behind the hack when I line up to the skip's brush. That's where you adjust your body position so that you're standing "perpendicular to the line of delivery". Now here's the key point in all of this. When you stand behind the hack as described in the previous paragraph, hold the stick so that when you look down the stick it's an extension of the imaginary line to the skip's brush, the "line of delivery". The stick will be directly on the mid-line of the body and "it must remain there" to the release point and follow through (remember to "keep walking").


Hopefully when you started curling, you were taught to position the handle of the stone at either the 10 o'clock position or the 2 o'clock position then to apply the rotation by moving the handle toward the 12 o'clock position as it's released. Well, good news stick curlers, nothing has changed. You do the same thing with the stick! It's why I use a stick that has a head manufactured to be apply to the end of a hockey stick shaft. That way I can feel when the stick is at any of the "clock positions" described about. A round stick can't do that!

* Just because you play with a stick, it doesn't give you license to try to circumvent the spirit of the rules of the game as they apply to the delivery of the stone. To do so to try to gain an advantage is unethical! Don't get me started!

1 comment:

  1. What is your opinion of the stick that has a brush on one end and the attachment for the rock handle on the other end - I would like to have only one item to go from one end to the next!