Monday, August 28, 2023

Pick Up Sticks & All Hands On Deck


Position each curler, with two rocks (one from each colour set) at a "corner" of the house, just outside the 12' circle.

On a command, the 8 rocks are slid toward the button at a speed so that there is a controlled measure of collision, with the rocks remaining in the house,

Place a rock in the free guard zone touching the centre line.

Determine which rock is in the shot position, noting its colour.

The object of the drill is for the team, using a rock of the opposite colour from the shot rock, to make that colour shot!

Discuss all the shots that could be played to reach the objective.  Don't necessarily play the "easiest" shot to reach the objective! Perhaps play the shot that will result in the largest score for the end. Assume this is the last shot of the end.

One team member will deliver the shot while two assume the brushers' positions and a fourth will hold the brush in the house


Using the eight rocks of one colour, the team will deliver the rocks so that all eight come to rest in a scoring position (in the house or touching the edge of the 12' circle). 

Each team member will deliver two rocks in the set.

The 8th rock must be delivered (with its leading edge touching the near tee line) before the first delivered rock comes to rest!

Monday, August 21, 2023

The Cash Bonspiel 

Go to (S2E26) for an explanation of this excellent on ice event which makes an ideal end of session activity!

This activity was taught to me by Pat B Reid. I am forever in her debt for this as I have used it pretty much everywhere I go. You can hear an excellent episode of my podcast ("A Pane In The Glass Podcast") with Pat by going to S1E11. The title of the episode is "Dealing With Two Imposters"!

Each team is assigned to a sheet of ice. If the number of teams exceeds the number of sheets of ice, doubling up on the required number of sheets many be necessary.

Each team will chose someone to be the team's "banker", a very important responsibility.

Each team's banker is provided a container with "cash" (to pay the entry fee for each shot attempted). The cash is usually small pieces of confection (if it's anywhere near Halloween, the large boxes of small candy bars make excellent "dollars" but the foil covered coins are ideal as well). Twenty dollars is a good starting amount!

To warm up, the teams deliver all the stones on its sheet to the away end as all shots are attempted toward the home end of the ice.

One individual will as as the "Event Banker". That person will distribute "prize money" to all teams that successfully execute the shot described by another person known as the event "Commissioner"!

When all the stones are at the away end, the Commissioner will describe the first shot to be attempted and clearly show what is required to "make" the shot. Since all the stones are at the away end, the first shot of "The Cash Bonspiel" will be a draw, as a result the Commissioner may say, "the stone must come to rest touching the 8' circle of better". If it was a "learn to curl" group the criterion for success might be "touching the 12' circle or better". On the other hand, if the group is highly skilled, it may be "touching the button". 

Then the commissioner states the "entry fee" for the shot (commensurate with the shot's difficulty). For the shot described above, the entry might be "one dollar". Each team's banker will pay the entry fee to the Event Banker (choose some who will not eat the money). 

As subsequent shots are described, the entry fee may increase (at the discretion of the Commissioner). 

When the shot has been described and the entry fees paid, the teams will prepare to attempt the shot. The skip will take his/her position, the person delivering the stone will stand behind the hack with the stone ready and the brushers will assume their pre-shot positions. 

When everyone is in position, the Commissioner (standing on the hog line at the playing end) will issue the following commands; READY (curlers delivering the shot assume the hack position), FOCUS (related to the pre-shot routine discussed in the clinic) and finally DELIVER (at which point all stones make their way down the ice). If there are more teams than sheets of ice, those teams will then follow the same delivery protocol. 

When all teams have attempted the shot, those teams who "made" the shot receive cash from the Event Banker based upon all money in the bank at that time.

If no team makes the shot, there may be a "carry over". The shot is attempted again but a different teammate is selected to delivery the "do over". In fact, for each shot attempted, a different teammate must deliver the shot!

If the shot is not made on a second attempt, the entry fees are paid increasing the money in the event banker's possession. The Commissioner may attempt the shot a third time. Each time the shot is attempted, the entry fee for the shot is paid to the Event Banker (although that fee might adjusted, for example, there might be no entry fee required for a carry over shot). 

When all teams have attempted the shot, the Commissioner describes the next shot at the home end with all participants gathered around. 

If a team's bank account is depleted, the team remains in the event. At such time that team wins money, it resumes paying entry fees. 

To end "The Cash Bonspiel", the shot is a draw-to-the-button with the team drawing closest to the button winning all the money in the bank!

Coach Bill's Note: This event, besides being flat out fun, has a very important ingrained teaching component. The Commissioner can lead a brief discussion of the difference between "strategy & tactics". The strategy of a shot has been provided by the Commissioner (i.e. it's the called shot) but tactics refers to how the shot is attempted to provide the maximum chance for success. For example, if the shot is a takeout, how might the shot be played? If the Commissioner indicated that the delivered stone must remain in the house, then a discussion might  ensue regarding the weight delivered. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Win As Much As You Can


This is the chart you'll need to play "Win As Much As You Can"!

4X's - each loses $1

 1X - wins $3

3Y's - each loses $1

2X's - each wins $2

2Y's - each loses $2

3X's - each wins $1

 1Y - loses $3

4Y's - each wins $1

Rule #1 There is no talking!

Rule #2 - (see rule #1) 

 Put the entire group into "teams" of four (preferably at a table facing one another). 

Each participant will require two cards, one with an "X" & one with a "Y". 

On each of 10 rounds, the leader will give the command "Up" (each member of the "team" will choose one of the cards to hold up so the rest of the team can see all four).

Using the chart above, each member of the "team" calculates the amount of fictitious "dollars" which are won or lost, adjusting his/her imaginary back accent accordingly. 

Each member of the "team" can select either "X" or "Y" as the ten rounds of the game are played. In other words, a participant can change from his/her "X" or "Y" as he/she sees fit.

Remember, the object of the game is to "Win As Much As You Can"!

When the 10th round has been completed, each "team" calculates that amount of money the "team" has won. 

Emphasize the fact that the pronoun "you" in the title of the game can be seen as either singular or plural. If one sees "you" as singular, he/she will try to win more money than his/her teammates but if they see "you" as plural, a teammate will want to hold up his/her "Y" card and hope the others do as well because they will realize that the game is actually among the "teams" in the room. Remind everyone that you used the word "team" on a number of occasions when explaining the object and rules of the game hoping they would pick up on the fact that it is a "team competition" not an individual competition!

If the members of the team work together, a team can win $40 (but no team member will win any more money than any other team member).

When the calculations have been completed, ask the group why there is a "no talking" rule! A. If one member of the team realizes that it is indeed a team competition, he/she cannot convey that to the rest of the team (only hold up the "Y" card each time)! It emphasizes the importance of communication among teammates, on or off the ice!

For a more detailed explanation of the "X/Y Game" to go to episode #25 in season #2!


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Canada’s Greatest Asset May Also Be Its Greatest Liability

The curling season worldwide has come to a screeching halt along with the seasons of every other sport on this third rock from the sun. Who would have suspected that not only the sports world but the activities of the entire world would be stopped by something you can’t see with the naked eye, COVD-19, the Coronavirus? Usually, I prefer a lighthearted approach to my scribblings but this is serious, to put it mildly! It appears that the only way to “flatten the curve” with this virus is to stop its seemingly relentless spread. The bottom line, stay away from others! It’s not complicated! 

To that end, and to do my part in this global effort, I’m beginning this article from the comfort of my bed in Grand Bend, ON, on the shore of Lake Huron, on my iPad. I may indeed finish here but I suspect I’ll end up at my desk on my new iMac. 

The end of the curling season inevitably prompts competitive curling teams (however you define ‘competitive’) to at least consider its four-player configuration and in many cases make a change of some sort. In Canada it’s easy, too easy, to survey the talented personnel and see that lawn on the other side of the fence, you know, that greener one, and jump at the opportunity to pull the trigger in an attempt to improve the team by making a player change. If that's the case with your team, you do so at your own peril!

Look, to be fair, there are many reasons why a "personnel adjustment" (do you like that?) is warranted. Here are but a few.

The player just wants out. There comes a point in any group relationship that the task for which the group was assembled in the first place has either been accomplished or is no longer a viable pursuit and not all members of the group have to be in agreement on this. If any member of the group feels that way, well, no one is holding a gun to your head. Leave, hopefully on good terms.

Life gets in the way. This is still a game. No one plays it to make a living, although we can make the case for some that it's getting close. Life's priorities change. Sometimes circumstances are altered by outside forces (employment, family, finances etc.) and even though the fire to compete still burns brightly, it's time to move on to address those priorities.

The game changes but the skill set of one or more players just can't keep up.  The change may be the impact of a rules change, redefining the challenges of the position the player(s) play. Sometimes it's just the way the game is played in the team’s competitive environment placing new demands for which one or more members if the team simply can no longer successfully meet.

An uninvited guest arrives in the team's living room, usually in the form of an elephant. We’re talking about team dynamics here folks, one of the big reasons a personnel adjustment is necessary for the team to compete and hoping that pachyderm magically disappears, is just not a prudent course of action. Something gets said in the heat of battle, feathers get ruffled, personalities begin to clash, I believe you get the picture. A curling team is small in relation to most team sports. Some sports have disciplines that are smaller (i.e. pairs skating, doubles in tennis and if course mixed doubles in curling) and as we know, the smaller the group, the more important role team dynamics plays! As spectators we see the on ice dynamics and make no mistake, the way teammates interact through verbiage and body language can be a clue that all is not well. But we don't see the hours spent away from the glare of television lights and well, I'm sure you can see where this is headed too.  

But I'm burying the lead here so enough of the understandable reasons why teams decide to shuffle the deck chairs. I started this diatribe by asserting that in Canada, due to the fact we have many excellent curlers residing within our borders, it's been my participant observation that instead of learning how to play together,* we take the easy route by looking for someone who by their very presence, can alter the team’s fortunes. 

Without veering off onto a tangent here, I've stated many times that curling does not have a very good track record at selecting teammates (although we are getting better). We’re still too technocentric (spell check is having a field day with this). We see a curler with a great delivery or exceptional brushing and we grab onto them or at least make the attempt. There are so many other factors that comprise a great teammate (understatement alert).

The problem with selecting a new teammate lies in the fact that to bring him/her into the group, the team is going to have to hit the pause key to do so. Your competitors, the ones who have chosen to stay together and continue to learn how to play together, move forward. 

Bottom line? Make sure making that ”personnel adjustment” is the last resort! Failure to do so can have profound, negative consequences! 

* Learning how to play together out of necessity is one of the major reasons in my view in understanding the meteoric rise to the world stage on the part of countries who have a very short history of playing this sport. They subsequently don't have the myriad of curlers from which to choose so they don't have a choice. They must learn to play together! 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Art of the Time Out

Yes, I know, it's been more than awhile since I've put fingers to keyboard on my blog site. Thank you to the many who have sent emails and made telephone calls to inquire if I was, well, OK! I doubt I've never been fully OK, but thanks, I'm fine! 

So what's the reason for the no blogs for several months? I made a deal with myself that I wouldn't write just for the sake of writing. If there wasn't something to say, I wasn't going to say it! But now there is and it's time to reach into the electronic mailbag to answer an email sent from someone for whom I have great respect. His name is John Newhook from one of my favourite cities in Canada, Halifax. I had the joy of spending an afternoon with John at the iconic Mayflower CC as he walked me through an example of his passion and calling, the science of our sport, particularly as it applies to one of the hot button topics, brushing!

This time the topic was "time outs", when to call one and indeed if one should be called and, for whatever reason a coach is called upon to chat with the team during an end, what does one say? What I'm about to write certainly is not the definitive word on TO's, it's only my take on the subject so John, buckle that chin strap, let's weigh in.

TO's in the sport of curling are curious animals! From a coaching perspective, we usually only get two of the them, not counting the mid-game break. And, calling a TO is something a player must initiate, not the coach although, according to the rules on the date of publication of this blog, the coach may signify to his/her athletes that he/she wishes to stop the game for a brief chat. These rather sporadic opportunities to speak with one's athletes puts curling into something of a unique position when compared to other team sports. 

If you think of a basketball coach for example, besides the seemingly endless number of TO's available, most used in the last minute or two of regulation time, he/she can substitute players in order to take one aside for some one-on-one counselling, then quickly send the player back into the fray. Not so in curling. In a curling facility setting, where the coach is sitting, ahem, behind a pane in the glass (no low hanging fruit to be picked to advertise a certain coaching manual), that transparent barrier does more than keep the coach warm, it tends to isolate the coach from the "rhythm" of the game, that ebb & flow of momentum and emotions that inevitably take place in any athletic contest. To be blunt, a well-intentioned TO with very valuable advice ready to be delivered can end up being counterproductive, significantly disturbing that rhythm referred to above which brings me to my first suggestion, rehearse TO's to reduce and hopefully avoid the possible distraction factor. 

When your team plays in regular league play or in pre-arranged exhibition games, ask the opposing team if it's OK if you call your two TO's (keep them brief) to help the team deal with your presence on the ice. In most cases, especially if you have a young team playing in an adult league, the opposing team will be more than happy to help by allowing you the TO's.  

My next suggestion is to decide who is going to call the TO. Will they only be called by the members of the team or is it OK if you, as coach, call them as well? Clearly a young team will benefit from the input an experienced, certified coach can provide. Perhaps not so much with an older more experienced team. That type of team may respectfully ask you not to call TO's. 

Mutually decide the nature of your input during the TO. I learned this some time ago in my position as National Development Coach when I was asked by a women's team in my programme who earned the right to play in an event to complete the first Curling Trials field when curling finally achieved full Olympic medal status, to be its coach at the event. During the discussion about my involvement during a TO, I suggested that I would guide them through an examination of all the possible shots which might be played and the reasons for each. To that the team replied, "Bill, if we call a TO we want you to come out, suggest a shot and leave. We've already done what you're suggesting.". In black-and-white on your computer screen, that sounds rather callous but it wasn't meant to be so and it wasn't taken that way by me. Quite to the contrary, that's exactly what I needed to know!

Then there's the whole "time duration" thing. As I write this, it's 90 seconds from the time the TO is called for the coach to get to the ice surface and join the team and discuss whatever needs discussing, another really good reason to rehearse TO's. You need to decide who speaks first and where the discussion goes from there to complete the discourse in the time allotted.

Venue plays a significant role. I've been positioned in the most unusual of places relative to the access point to the ice surface. The path to the playing area can be convoluted to say the least! I'm writing this from my hotel room in St. Catharines, ON, waiting for my four young curlers from Whitehorse to arrive for the 2017 Scotties Tournaments of Hearts. I know I'm going to be positioned right behind the scoreboard, very likely at the home end of the playing area. Not only that, I can speak with members of the team between each end as long as I stay behind the scoreboard (more about that later). Not much of my 90 seconds will be consumed by travel. 

By the way, a note about courtesy before I continue. In our sport, as with most, if a team calls a TO, both teams may meet with their coach. There has been a movement to allow only the team that called the TO to do so. I'm not against that by the way but I digress. If you are the coach of the team that did not call the TO, it's courteous to not access the playing area before the coach who did call the TO and if that TO is at the away end of the ice, you should not begin speaking with your team until the coach of the team that called the TO has reached his/her team.

If you are a coach of a junior team, you are most likely aware of a special TO known as a "Fair Play TO". This affords the coach an opportunity to call a temporary halt to the game so a player can recompose him/herself. That's a polite way of saying it gives the coach the opportunity to settle a player down, no discussion re. strategy &/or tactics or anything technical. I don't know who or which sport governing body came up with that idea but it has proven to be a good one! This TO was the idea of one of my coaching role models, Keith Reilly. 

If I may speak from personal experience, during TO's including the mid-game break, I prefer to hear the athletes speak as opposed to me launching into some diatribe which may be inappropriate (see earlier paragraph re. distraction). My best TO advice has come from something I've picked up from what an athlete said first. If the team knows that you are waiting for them to speak, that's what will occur (don't forget those 90 seconds). 

As a TV viewer, and this may just be my sensitivity as a coach, when I see a team call a TO only to totally ignore the mere presence of the coach, well, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard! Therefore, I tell my teams that if they call a TO and just want time to talk among themselves, I'm more than OK with that. I suggest that when the TO comes from the ice, if they want me involved, just give me the wave and I'll come a runnin', oops, no, you can't run to meet your team. Officials frown on that!

I said I'd refer to that rule at Scotties & Briers (for example) that affords me the opportunity to speak with my team between ends. There are those who would argue that calling the right shot and playing it the right way (strategy & tactics) is in integral part of the game (not much argument there I suspect) and therefore (now here's where views begin to differ) it's a skill that should be developed by the team, and a coach should not become a participant in those critical decision making junctures. Hmm, good point I guess but what about precedent? TO's in other sports allow the coach to become involved in decisions that regularly affect the performance of the team and therefore the outcome of the contest. The extreme example is North American football, especially at the more elite levels where just about everything that happens on the field is choreographed by the coaching staff. Well, I have always held to the belief that just because sport X does or does not do something, that does not mean that curling should or should not. That said, I have to be honest when I say that I work very hard to "empower" my athletes in all phases of the skill sets required to perform including calling the right shot and playing it the right (most appropriate) way. When an opposing coach calls a TO when he/she senses that his/her team is about to make a strategic &/or tactical error and calls a TO to prevent that mistake, I get a little frustrated. 

Here's my take on this matter. I feel it's appropriate for me to meet with my team to ensure that the end plan for the upcoming end is sound. I don't feel I should be able to influence my team's performance during the playing of that end. Just my take and I welcome opposing or supporting views.

And oh, by the way, not every TO is about strategy and tactics, sometimes it is to remind the players of something technical or about team dynamics or ...

There is one more TO and it’s an “official’s TO”. If you feel you need to draw something, anything, to the attention of an official, you cross your forearms in such a manner to be clearly seen. Clocks will stop (if applicable) and an official will come to you to hear your concern.

John, thanks for your email and yes, it does feel good to put fingers onto keyboard once again!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

From Behind That Pane In The Glass

As you can see by the title, what follows is my two cents on what arguably is the hotest topic in the curling world, brushing! And, once again borrowing a line from one of my favourite movies, "The Sound of Music", let's "start at the very beginning"!

But even before returning to yesteryear, I want to put on my "Conan the Grammarian" hat in stating that for the purpose of this blog, I'm drawing the distinction between sweeping & brushing as well as broom versus brush. Note to sport governing bodies, we no longer sweep with a broom (and have not done so for quite some time). We brush with, ahem, a brush! To use the terms "sweep" and "broom" is embarrassing! We should know better! With that off my chest, let's return to those windswept lochs of Scotland where this great game was incubated if not born.

Curling really was more shuffleboard on ice than the game we enjoy today. We've all seen those dusty photos in curling club lounges of Scots, complete with kilts and other regalia, sliding what can only be described as "boulders" down an expanse of a frozen body of water to a target which in the photos was almost imperceptible. I didn't look like much fun to me but everyone seemed to be having a great time so who am I to judge (perhaps like their golfing brethren, a little Scotch whisky from time-to-tome during the match was more responsible for the smiles than the game itself).

Brushing was as much an afterthought at that time as was dribbling at the very onset of the game of basketball. I'm guessing that it seemed only natural to use some sort of implement to remove natural debris (snow, twigs, dirt etc.) from the path of the stone as it made its way down the ice. Besides, it gave members of the team not engaged in the regal art of stone delivery, something to do. The implement of choice seemed obvious, a broom, and the essence of the game had been established.

Curling became more fun as the skill of stone delivery was more the determining factor to the outcome of the contest, than which pile of snow one's stone may or may not encounter on its way to the target. The entire experience was more enjoyable. What a concept and one to keep in mind as I proceed!

As the game moved indoors, and those boulders were replaced by either "irons" or granite "stones", that very unpredictable playing surface too became more consistent. Air temperature and humidity could be controlled. The pebble applied could be regulated. The ambient air temperature could be adjusted so participants could enjoy the game more, without freezing their (insert body part[s] here) off! And those brooms that were borrowed from kitchens & barns also morphed into an implement designed for the purpose of affecting the distance a stone travelled and the trajectory it took to arrive at its destination.

I'm gong to go out on a limb here to suggest that at least some of those hardy Scots who braved the aforementioned natural elements on those outdoor surfaces collectively shook their heads in dismay as younger devotees of the game with their "sweeping" could make a poorly delivered stone still result in a shot that would at least improve the current situation. I can hear the echoes, " Ah, that's nae curling!". Well, it may not have been acceptable to them but it was to a new generation and as a result the game enjoyed unprecedented popularity!

If the ratio of influence between delivery and sweeping was 10:1 on the frozen lochs, indoors with real curling brooms changed he ratio dramatically, arguably to 10:2/3.

Thanks to European curlers, brooms in North America gave way to more efficient brushes. Corn straw and the iconic sound of two powerful sweepers faded into the rear view mirror. Brushing was here to stay. Was it more enjoyable than sweeping? Not in my books! Did brushing produce better shot making results? Absolutely!

And as brushing technique, knowledge, fitness and equipment evolved, that delivery-to-brushing ratio moved as well. The importance of brushing kept closing in on delivery to the point where we find ourselves today, at something of a crossroads in this conundrum.

The sport covering bodies charged with dealing with what has become a front burner issue are somewhat up against it in terms of time. Fans, curlers and of course equipment manufacturers want to know where this is all headed. Let's deal with each of these groups of stakeholders.


This group in my mind has two subsets. On one hand we have those who have never darkened the door of a curling facility but would not miss a televised event if their life depended upon it. On the other side you have another group of fans (remembering that "fan" is an abbreviated form of "fanatic" and all that the term implies) who also would never miss a televised game but who make use of their PVR in case they happen to be at their local curling facility when that TV game is scheduled.

I'm guessing that the members of the first mentioned subset couldn't care less about the hullabaloo around brushing. They want to see shots "made" not "missed" and if it takes revolutionary equipment to do so, bring it on! These are the same fans who watched Mark McGuire & Sammy Sousa knock baseballs out of baseball stadia at unprecedented rates all the while knowing full well that Messrs. McGuire & Sousa were "juiced". They didn't care! They wanted to see great performances and if it took some PED'S to do so, well, that's fine with them. Oh, by the way, that group of fans is still out there and not shrinking despite the best efforts of the World Anti Doping Agency. The second subset I'm also guessing see the matter somewhat differently given their on ice experiences. And, to make matters in this fan category even more complicated, there are recreational curlers, serious curlers and competitive curlers, so let's deal with the players.


Recreational curlers just want to curl (what a concept)! If somehow equipment can help them make more shots despite their lack of expertise, great! Where do I go to buy this new brush? This is the same group of golfers who are now enjoying that game more because the equipment, especially the clubs, are much more forgiving. Missing that elusive "sweet spot" on the club face no longer results in the horrific shots they might have experienced twenty years ago. Whereas back then some might have given up the sport, they now play regularly knowing they can keep the golf ball on the short grass. The same will be true in curling! To that end, I would have been very interested if in that dramatic video produced by Team Gushue, some recreational curlers would have been recorded as well as Brad's world class brushers. There's a project for you Brad! :)

When that recreational curler starts to have thoughts of more competition (joining the "serious" and "competitive" groups), his/her view might change to some degree on this brushing thing. Now they're spending more time practising (another novel idea). Perhaps they might not be so forgiving knowing that a competitor who has not put in that same amount of training time is, due to directional brushing with equipment that can really manipulate the path and perhaps even the velocity of the stone, might not be so enthusiastic about his/her competitors making up for that same dedicated training by an equipment innovation.

You'll notice that I've left out a fourth group of curlers, the truly elite, those who attract what can only be described as legions of fans who consume this product, and it has become a significant, marketable product, via various platforms (TV, computers, smart phones, tablets etc.). I'll make one comment about the athletes in this group at the risk of offending some of them. In the fall of 2015, in chorus this group rose in righteous indignation over the new brushing equipment, vowing to deal with it as a group, not needing to wait for any sport governing body to issue decrees. What window dressing that turned out to be! When push came to shove as the season progressed, it seemed as though those same athletes had no problem using whatever equipment was available to enhance the likelihood of victory!

For those of you out there shocked at this view on my part, consider this. Why do you think there were bushing moratoria issued during the past season? If the players had stuck to their lofty prognostications, those moratoria would not have been necessary. I generally don't worry about this elite group of stakeholders. They tend to find a water level that ultimately floats their boat and all others in their competitive environment! I care much more about the first three groups of curlers mentioned above and the jury is out on their feelings.*


I'm somewhat jaded as I write the section of the blog. Why? One of them, the innovator in all of this, had to know during the research and development phases of the manufacturing process that they had a tempest in a teapot! From what I know, this company went ahead and manufactured a brush which it had to know was going to cause exactly what we've witnessed during the season. Therefore, as I read their lament about the "brushing summit" which will be convened in Ottawa, in regard to the manufacturing of equipment for the 2016-17 campaign, I say this, "Too bad! You started this, now deal with its consequences, one of which is this manufacturing dilemma in which you find yourself"! You'll notice I did not use the plural form of the pronoun in the last sentence. I do feel for the equipment manufacturers who have been dragged into this. That said, I'm all for private enterprise and if a company can produce a better mouse trap and reap the rewards, great!

There are those out there who feel I'm being somewhat harsh on this matter. I can hear the comments now about the manufacturer whose idea this was, "Well, he/she was completely within the rules." True! But was there no concern for ethics? Hmmm.

To state it simply, it was irresponsible on the part of the innovating company to simply flood the market with a device that it had to know would fundamentally alter the sport. You may wish to remember the bold face, italicized words in the last sentence, as that seems to be the line in the sand for all sports when innovation rears its head, regardless of the category be it rules, equipment or anything else. It's why elite golfers can no longer employ the "belly putter". It was decreed by its sport governing body to fundamentally alter the sport (even though it took that same sport governing body what seemed like an eternity to do so).

One of the decisions that may come out of the summit is equipment certification/approval. When a manufacturer wishes to offer a product to the curling world, it has two choices, get it certified by the sport governing body before distribution to retail outlets so customers know it's a device approved for play or go ahead and produce a device that may or may not be used for play at one's curling facility. Curling has never been in a position to have to consider equipment approval but it sure is there now!


Historically, curling officials, a most dedicated and greatly under appreciated group of people, have assumed a role that was seen by most as supporting the athletes (i.e. stepping into a situation to help the athletes clarify rule application). It was an "invitation" to participate. Curling officials could not be more unlike their brethren and sisters in virtually any other sport! And for decades upon decades, that somewhat passive role worked, and worked well. Well, as much as I hate to say it, I believe we're on the cusp of a change. Given current circumstances around brushing technique, officials are going to perhaps for the first time, remove stones that have been illegally brushed (if afforded the authority to do so by rule [see Brenda Rogers comment below]). With the new equipment brought "directional brushing" (full credit here to Brad Gushue & Co.). It was in my view a brilliant idea! Good for you Brad but for me, not a surprising one. Brad took what the then Canadian Curling Association learned from a trend setting brushing study conducted prior to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and married it with the new equipment. The result was "one brusher directional brushing'!

On that note, directional brushing has been alive and well for many, many years. Brushing only a portion of the path of the running stone has been a skill used by most serious, competitive & elite teams, perfectly consistent with the rules (and in my mind the ethics) of the game. In fact, to read the World Curling Federation rule re. brushing, the wording literally instructs an effective brusher to only brush a portion of the path of the running stone when attempting to influence the amount of curl. It has always been my view that if you're allowed to the brush the ice surface at all, you should be able to brush a portion of it if you so choose. Polishing a portion of the path of the running stone does not place an "debris" (for me defined as something other than ice) in the path of the running stone.

The problem this past season came with the one brusher, who in an attempt to augment the amount of curl near the end of the stone's journey, with the stone now "carving" (I dislike that term but it works here) significantly, finds him/herself now brushing so that the brush stroke is virtually parallel with the path of the stone. That's a rule violation and the officials should removed the stone. That would only have happened once! The curlers would have gotten the message and that would have been the end! Are you listening officials and sport governing bodies? You would only have had to do what I'm sure you regard as totally distasteful, only ONCE! The 2016 AB Scotties was the most egregious, in your face display of complete disregard for the rules of brushing as I've witnessed, especially in the final game. I was jumping off my couch calling for the officials to remove a stone as a way of telling the players to stop the rule violation.

It's going to come down to our level of tolerance with that delivery/brushing ratio. At this year's World Senior Curling Championship (Karlstad, Sweden) I felt the balance between delivery & brushing was more than acceptable. Did delivery and brushing get closer together in importance? Absolutely! Did the ratio as exhibited in Karlstad fundamentally alter the sport? No, not in my opinion, not at all! It moved the needle but only as a way of involving the brushers more but not to the point that the curler charged with delivering the stone, the fundamental skill, could dismiss his/her challenge, allowing the brushers skill, athleticism, knowledge & equipment make the shot for him/her. When we cross that line, "We're not in Kansas anymore Toto!"

But clearly making a decision on whether an innovation fundamentally alters a sport is a subjective determination. One way or another, some faction is going to be miffed at the decision! That's just the nature of the beast and it's going to be so for curling this summer! I don't envy the task but hopefully this blog will in some small way make a splash with this august body.

To those charged with the unenviable task in Ottawa to wade through what I'm sure will be mounds of data and opinions to ensure that the fundamental skill of the game remains in tact but not to the point that it stops the evolutionary process which on balance has the innate ability to make the game more enjoyable for all stakeholders (not just the ones we see on TV) I say good luck and thank you for the time and effort to safeguard this great sport.

* You can have your say by clicking on complete a short survey. I encourage everyone to do so!

Monday, May 2, 2016


In last night's (04/29/16) Champions Cup Grand Slam game (Simmons v. Laycock) curling showed why it is in a very different category from most sports and why those who play it at the highest levels, with significant rewards on the line, demonstrate strength of character and adherence to the culture of curling. Here's what happened.

On skip Simmons' last shot of the game, with the outcome very much on the line, his attempted draw was touched by one of his brushers as it was about to come to rest in the 8' circle. It was meant to guard the Team Simmons shot stone. By rule it was a "touched running (i.e. moving) stone". And, full credit to brusher Tom Sallows, he immediately indicated that he had indeed touched the stone. Team Simmons' role in the matter ceased at that point.

By rule, skip Laycoack had three choices, a) allow the play to stand as though the rule infraction had not occurred b) reposition all stones including the stone touched by the brusher where he thought they would have come to rest c) remove the touched running stone (repositioning any stones affected). Skip Laycock never hesitated in his selection of option "b" (he replaced the touched running stone to where in his estimation, it would have come to rest) and by doing so, made his last shot more difficult.

He missed that shot! And the handshake following demonstrated class on the part of both teams. There was no elation on the part of Team Simmons, just a nod of the head acknowledging the sportsmanship and a congratulatory (good luck in your next game) handshake on the part of Team Laycock.

For his part, skip Steve Laycock expected no accolades for the option he chose. He was certain had the situation been reversed, Pat would have done the same. End of story! Except, it isn't the end from my perspective.

Anyone watching who felt skip Laycock's actions were somewhat out of the norm, doesn't know nor understand the culture of this sport. I've written about this topic previously in a blog of the same name ("The Culture of Sport" [03/04/15]).

Lost in the annals of time, especially with sports like curling and golf, are the origins of the culture. I can't find any definitive reasons why a curler would chose the option Steve Laycock chose or why a golfer, with no one watching, would impose a penalty on him/herself for grounding his/her club in a hazard and yet we see this regularly. In fact, if you were to read the new book by arguably the most recognizable caddie in golf, Steve Williams, you may be surprised to learn of his disdain for a well known professional golfer who did not live up to the sport's culture.*

I'm not intending to wave the curling flag exclusively here as there are other sports that foster a culture of respect for rules, teammates, opponents, coaches etc. Sadly, there are some sports whose culture is something else. Parents would do well to consider the culture of the sport they are contemplating as an extra-curricular activity for their children. It can make a lasting impression on the values that child will take into the rest of his/her life including those all important friends and the influences they bring to bear.

Before I leave you today, one more point about the incident described above with Steve Laycock. He knew the rules, including the options available to him and knew exactly what had occurred. If you're a third/mate or skip and you're charged with the attendant responsibilities in and around the house, it's hard to make the ethical decision of you're not fully aware of what happened. There were some comments following the game on social media criticizing the official for not asserting his/her authority (i.e. removing the touched running stone). That's simply not the official's role. It was Steve's role. He knew it and immediately knew what to do (and he didn't see any need to confer with his teammates)!

But then I know Steve Laycock personally. I could have told you what he would do before he actually did it!

* Out Of The Rough: Inside The Ropes With The World's Greatest Golfers (Penguin Canada)
   ISBN - 10:0735232776