Saturday, August 31, 2013

Summer Mailbag

The calendar indicates it's the last day of August, 2013 and that means the last long weekend of the summer. It's my history that's a sad time, not just because it heralds a return to the day-to-day routine of life (school, work etc.) but it's end of that glorious weather that for Canadians seems to come and go so quickly. Heh, I'm not complaining. I like the change of seasons and everything that means but summer, ah summer, those lazy, hazy, crazy days, they're something very special! As a, ahem, retired individual (what a joke, just look at my calendar, this autumn I've set a new record for travel around the country doing "curling stuff") I'm looking forward to the summer-like weather conditions of September. Then there's the glory of October and all that colour (OK Bill, get a grip, this is NOT an Environment Canada treatise on national weather & climate, get on with the mailbag)...

Although I don't instruct at summer curling camps much anymore, time for younger instructors to take the reins and they are outstanding, I do make my way up island to Elaine Dagg-Jackson's adult camp in Parksville, BC (yes, the curling facility IS on the beach) which in one form or another has been in continuous operation for the past, now get this, thirty-two years! Someone out there can correct me if I'm wrong but I believe that's the longest running curling camp in the entire world. Let's hear it for Elaine!!!!

This year when I did my off ice presentation, I asked anyone who wished to ask a curling related question to record it on paper with name and email address and I would respond to them all. Well, as opposed to many separate emails I decided to create a document with all the Q's along with my A's so all who posed questions could see my responses. If you'd like a copy of that document please send an email request ( and it will be sent electronically to you. But one question I felt was worthy of a mailbag response on my blog site so sit back and enjoy this query re. brushing. The question is multi-dimensional so I'll deal with each part separately.

Q. I was wondering if you know of any method to "objectively measure" how effective someone's brushing is for competitive purposes? For example, if there are two members of my team using the same brushing technique and I feel that one is significantly stronger than the other, how could I confirm that?

A. There have been attempts to develop and manufacture an "instrumented brush", filled with electronics to ascertain those aspects of brushing you mention in your question. Unfortunately the project, which was started twice in the curling world, did not produce such a brush but one country did have success with one but not to the degree its sport governing body wanted. I don't know if that country, it's not Canada by the way, has advanced the project or if it's been shelved for the now. But that doesn't really help you much with the point of your question.

If the techniques really are the same, it would be difficult to know but usually if one brush IS stronger, it will show in the technique. Watch the feet relative to the hips. Strong brushers have their feet outside the hip line, with their weight on the balls of their feet, hand low on the handle, head of the brusher directly over the head of the brush with their back parallel to the ice surface. Clearly the size and physical development of the individual will afford a clue to the stronger brusher as well.

Q. I've discussed this matter with a club mate who's a mechanical engineer and we thought of using a bathroom scale to measure downward force but we're not sure if that's an accurate measure since it's not on the ice with the brush actually moving?

A. Actually using a bathroom scale does have some merit especially when one is experimenting with the mechanics of brushing as described above. You will see changes on the readout on the bathroom scale as you assume the correct body position. As instructors we've used the bathroom scale method for several years and it's still a good way to provide feedback to the brusher, even though he's/she's not on the ice.

Q. We also thought about putting a "strain gauge" on the base of the brush handle which would measure how much the handle "flexed". That flexing should relate to the pressure on the head, but that might be inaccurate if various people hold their hands on different places on the handle.

A. Your concern about where hands are placed is spot on! Actually, if there's flex in the handle, it's an indication that the hands are not well placed on the handle. When someone's brushing, their lower arm is rigid, forming a straight line. If that line is extended (from shoulder to hand and across the handle to the ice surface) notice now far the contact point of that arm line extended is from the head of the brush. That distance should be as small as possible. Another clue to this is the angle that straight lower arm makes with the brush handle. That angle should also be very small. One wastes much downward pressure when the angle of pressure is across the handle of the brush. You should feel that the downward pressure is as much applied "directly" to the head of the brush!

Q. I'm also not sure that pressure alone is the key factor in brushing effectiveness. I suspect the speed of the brush stroke also plays a role. Is that correct?

A. Sure, you want as much downward pressure as possible married to the fastest brush stroke. Clearly, the two forces oppose one another somewhat. The more one presses down, causing as much friction with the ice surface as possible, the more difficult it will be to move the brush back-and-forth. From what I've learned, downward pressure is more important so keep that aspect as strong as possible even at the expense of a somewhat slower brush stroke rate.

Q. Could one use sensitive temperature measuring equipment to determine the effectiveness of brushing?

A. The simple answer is not only yes, but devices to measure ice temperature are currently used in some brushing studies. When one considers brushing effectiveness at all, we do think of raising the ice temperature to create a micro-film of moisture that allows the stone to retain as much of its velocity as possible for as long as possible. The temperature measuring devices about which I'm aware, do indicate such a rise in ice surface temperature. What's perhaps even more interesting, is the length of time it takes for the ice to return to its normal temperature. It's longer than expected which flies in the face of those who feel the two brushers must be as close to the stone as possible. But there's another aspect of brushing we can't ignore and that's the physical change to the pebble. A brush, especially a good quality synthetic brush, in the hands of technically sound and fit brushers the pebble can actually be altered. Just ask an ice technician about that when he/she inspects the ice surface following a game involving brushers with the qualities described above. That ice technician will tell you that it appears as though a war has taken place on the ice. The pebble has literally been ripped to shreds!

Let me make a general statement about what I refer to as the "sport science" of curling. Thankfully we now have more sports science available to us in curling than ever before by a considerable margin! When I instruct, and I'm aware of the sport science relating to the topic at hand, that's the way I present what I know. It goes like this; "The sport science tells us ...!". I then leave it to the individual to take that science and apply it as they see fit with me as their guide, offering "suggestions". It's a great way to instruct as it's not you the instructor telling the athlete what to do and how to do it. It's why coaching/instructing certification is so important.

To be certified means you've been exposed to at least some of the sport science of our sport. With all due respect to elite players who conclude their playing career and decide to step into the instructing/coaching role I say this, "While you were playing bonspiel after bonspiel, I & my colleagues was/were attending conferences, seminars, camps, symposia listening and learning from experts in their field of the science of curling. No disrespect to you but you need to "pay the piper" and start down that road so you bring to your athletes not only all that you've gathered as an elite athlete but the knowledge and might I also add the pedagogy to be the best instructor/coach you can be for them!

Sorry if there's an elite athlete reading this whose nose is now somewhere removed from it's normal position. This is no longer about you, it's about your athletes! Every athlete deserves a certified coach!

When I publish this post to my blog site, I'm going down to the lake and if there's enough wind, I'm going sailing aboard "Hurry Hard"! It's still summer!

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