Monday, October 28, 2013

Light My Fire

This post has absolutely nothing to do with curling! But it does pertain to those cold winter nights when building a wood fire in one's fireplace or wood stove sounds like a great idea. But the crabgrass in the idea is getting the fire "started".  You can buy commercially produced fire starters or use countless pages of  newsprint, for those of you who still get your news that way OR if you know someone like me, a wood turner, who produces wood chips by the bucketful, you can make the world's best & least expensive fire starters. Here's how to do it.

MATERIALS: wood chips/saw dust, paper muffin cups, muffin tins, wax (old burned down candles are terrific), cooking pot, juice tin (open at one end), small stir stick

METHOD: put water into a small cooking pot - put wax into a juice tin & place into the cooking pot - on medium/high setting, melt the wax - while waiting for wax to melt, place muffin cups into muffin tin & fill paper muffin cups with wood chips or saw dust - pour melted wax into the wood chip filled muffin cups & mix (I use Popsicle sticks) - use just enough wax to soak the wood chips - before the wax solidifies, use the stick to jam a length of string into the wood/wax mixture to act as a wick - set aside to allow the wax to set

These fire starters work amazingly well!!! Be careful to use only enough wax to "bind" the wood. If you use too much you will have made a candle rather than a fire starter! They will produce a large flame that burns for several minutes. If your wood is dry there's no need for kindling. Just sit back, watch your fire start and enjoy! These fire starters are great in the summer months to start campfires.

In the next post I'll provide may "take" on the "Quiet Eye" home assignment of 10/22/13 so if you've not seen the videos, do so soon. You will be amazed at what you learn! It will change how you instruct/play this great sport!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mailbag #3

At a recent cash spiel, a perplexed athlete stopped me in the curling facility's parking lot and asked to talk with me about "hitting the brush". It seemed that her skip felt line of delivery had become a challenge but the athlete "thought" she was on line.

I commiserated with the athlete as you should be the first one to real realize that you've "missed the brush", not the last or worse, contend that you indeed had hit the brush!

After a few questions on my part it seemed to me that "eye dominance" was a factor in the dilemma, perhaps the out-and-out cause of the disconnect between player & skip. I hoped the athlete would contact me with the success or lack thereof of the advice I offered. What follows is that feedback and my response. For privacy purposes, I'll call her "Sally" (what ever happened to that name?).

Hi Bill 

I really appreciate our discussion regarding this right hand / left eye dominance issue.

I've been working on keeping my rock behind my left eye per your suggestion and have been finding that I'm getting more consistant feedback from my skip that I am hitting the brush.

Through practice I've just discovered on my out-turn (counter clockwise rotation) that if my alignment is off I tend to deliver from my right shoulder (right eye) which is not my dominant eye.

Can you suggest any specific drills I can do to work on this issue in general?

Thanks in advance!


Dear Sally, 

I'm pleased for your sake that our brief chat helped! 

As I recall you were "opposite side" dominant (right handed and left eye dominant). This proper positioning of "rock-to-body" during the "slide" portion of the delivery is something the body will do correctly/naturally assuming (whoa, that's always dangerous) no one, instructor or teammate, not understanding the critical role of "eye dominance", has unintentionally mislead you. In other words, as a curler slides, the body already knows your eye dominance and it will encourage you to get your sliding foot in position relative to the rock according to your eye dominance. In your case that sliding foot to rock alignment will be such that your sliding foot will be "behind" the rock. Your mantra then could be "follow the rock"! 

For a  curler who's "same side" dominant, he/she will slide so that when viewed from the front, you will see a good portion of the sliding foot. That's because that individual will need get get the eye that's on the same side of the body as the hand that's on the rock, behind the rock.

This is all about "targeting"! 

Everyone is "eye dominant"! And, eye dominance can vary according to distance between the individual and the target. That's why when testing in curling, I always have the athlete standing on the boardwalk at the home end with the target (usually a sheet numeral or letter as the target) because that's the distance with which we're dealing. Also, eye dominance can be trained to be either eye although I'm not sure why one would want to do that but I'm guessing there ARE reasons. 

But, you asked about a drill. Here's one hat has helped many, many curlers at all levels. It's based upon an observation I made very early in my curling career. When we know what rotation has been selected by the skip, we make accommodations with our body positioning, grip, hack foot placement etc. just because it's a clockwise or counterclockwise rotation. When one does that it gives rise to favouring or reluctance to one rotation over the other. Not a good thing! So here's the drill (& I need a name for this). 

Get someone to stand about 5m beyond the near hog line, holding the brush with "both hands" (i.e. no rotation indicated). You then line up to that "line of delivery" (from behind the hack), assume the "hack position", position the rock so that the middle of the rock is opposite the arm pit and (here's the key element) position the gooseneck of the handle so that it's at 12 o'clock (the so-called "neutral position"). Then the brush holder raises a hand to indicate the rotation. You then move that gooseneck to either 10 or 2 o'clock (whichever matches the rotation indicated), raise your hips and delivery the rock to the brush. 

I think you can see the value in this drill. It removes all those unconscious, subtle but destructive "accommodations" (picked up over seasons of play) to return the curler to that "pure", unencumbered delivery with the dominant eye and body positioned appropriately (as determined by the body's natural instincts). 

Give this a try and let me know how it goes!


NB - if you've not done so, please go to my previous post  of 10/22/13 entitled "Quiet Eye -A Home Assignment". I'll be drawing conclusions on the amazing research conducted by Dr. Joan Vickers of the University of Calgary plus what actor Alan Alda (of TV's  M*A*S*H fame) learned at the University of Aizona. It will change how you mentally prepare to execute a curling shot. It certainly changed, in a profound way, the approach I take in assisting curlers with the only challenge that really counts, making curling shots!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Quiet Eye - A Home Assignement

While in my position as the National Development Coach for the Canadian Curling Association in Calgary, AB, my partner, Helen Radford introduced me and the athletes to Dr. Joan Vickers of the University of Calgary. Dr. Vickers was in the final stages of a research project designed to ascertain what athletes actually look at while they attempt to execute a shot. The fact that Dr. Vickers was literally in our backyard and we in hers brought us together. By the time Helen had arranged for curlers to be tested with Dr. Vicker's measuring devices and equipment, she had drawn some initial conclusions and to say it was "ground-breaking" would be putting it mildly!

Dr. Vickers and her associates were surprised and almost at the shocked stage when they tested some of our elite athletes. But to really understand why they were so surprised you need to do some homework and I can assure you, it will be a most entertaining and educational assignment.

Go to There you will find two videos. One is entitled "A Quiet Eye" and the other "Brainy Putting". In the first, you will meet Dr. Vickers and a very well-known personality, Alan Alda (TV's M*A*S*H and numerous motion pictures). The second will introduce you to researcher Debbie Crews at the University of Arizona. In concert with one another, their work is why I used the term "ground-breaking" in my introduction to this post and how I coined the phrase "the performance cocktail" about which you'll read more in a soon to be published post.

You might need to view the videos more than once, perhaps a few times to get the full relevence of each and the tie between the two that revolutionized the way I work with athletes.

I'm constantly referring to "the sports science" when I make technical suggestions. After meeting Dr. Vickers and watching the "On the Ball" video more times than can I count, this is the sports science that should change the way you approach making a curling shot to maximize the skill set you have.

Please, don't pass up on this opportunity!

I'll be back to give you my take on the videos and how I use them with athletes.

Enjoy and be prepared to be amazed at what you see and learn!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

More About Left/Right

What you see in the photo below couldn't have arrived in my inbox at a more opportune time. This photo was sent to me by "Marco Farrero". Now that name might not mean anything to you but it sure does to me and it should to you as well because every time you deliver a curling stone, I'll wager you use his product (with his name emblazoned on the back side). Yes, it's the industry standard Marco Hack! In an exchange of emails w/Marco, I learned that we've been using his hacks for longer than I had recalled, since 1988!

I mentioned to Marco that his hack is one of my favourite trivia questions, the answer to which you are now aware ("What's the name of the hacks used in the vast majority of curling centres?"). But here's a better question about the Marco Hack. What is its most useful design feature (and there are a few excellent design features but this one stands out in my view)? Well, the next time you go to your curling facility, place your hand on the sloped portion of the hack, the trapezoid shaped part. What do you notice. Yes, it's not flat, it's concave. Hmmm, I wonder why Marco did that? Any ideas? If you do, place your idea into the comment section below. I'll reveal the answer in an upcoming blog.

But, this post is regarding that left/right matter about which I've written lately. Marco has suggested that his hacks be positioned in a side-by-side configuration as seen in the photo. In fact, those nice folks at "Canada Curling Stone" have created a plate that will allow an ice technician to easily choose to position the hacks as they are presently configured in your curling facility OR in this side-by-side manner.

Marco's contention is sound. If they're place side-by-side, then with the curler positioning the middle of the stone relative to the inside edge of the hack being employed (or opposite the arm pit, whichever reference point you prefer), the "stone setup" part of the TTC (Team Technical Checkup [see last post]) is almost identical right from the start.

Great idea Marco! I hope it has legs and is given serious consideration by the game's sport governing bodies!

Monday, October 14, 2013


My recent post in response to a "Mailbag" question re. differences between a right handed curler v. a left handed curler certainly drew some interesting responses! Many of you who contacted me wanted more detail re. those differences. Your wish is my command!

I made the somewhat cavalier comment that the stone doesn't know what hand is on its handle. That was my way of stating that it's my experience that any differences between right & left handed curlers is much more in the mind of the athlete than in fact/reality!

Those teams who feel that the skip MUST make allowances, some significant, between a right handed teammate and one who delivers the stone with his/her left hand, may be correct but it's my contention that the reason(s) for these accommodations have much more to do with the results of one's "Team Technical Checkup" (TTC) than with the left/right issue.

To reiterate, in a TTC , the team will observe five aspects of the delivery, grip, stone set up, release point, application of rotation & number of rotations. Once again, let's examine them one-at-a-time. Before we do, I want to make it clear that this is about stones as they "track" down the ice with "track" defined as the path the stone follows to reach its destination. Why worry about how a stone arrives at its destination? If there are no guards to negotiate, then it makes very little difference but in most cases there ARE guards to have to "come around" so the way a stone "tracks" is of utmost importance!

As curlers, we basically play four shots; clockwise & counterclockwise down weight shots (defined as any stone that comes to rest "in play" [i.e. guards & draws]). Then we deliver clockwise & counterclockwise up weight shots (defined as any stone that has enough velocity to clear the back line [i.e. take-outs delivered with various weights]). The question is, does each member of the team employ the same grip for each of those four shots? If the answer is a resounding "No" then I would suggest that it's unlikely the stones will "track" in similar fashion!
NB - The grip that we have come to know and love has changed due to a study conducted at the University of Alberta prior to the Vancouver Games but more about that another time.

Relative to a reference point (i.e. hack) where does each teammate position the stone? If all members of the team deliver with the same hand clearly this is less of an issue than it is for a team with left AND right handed curlers. But (and you knew there'd be a "but") if you are aware of the sport science on this topic, your fears about the left/right issue will be greatly lessened. The sport science on this tells us that for a no back swing delivery, the body's natural stone set up will be such that the middle of the stone is at/opposite the inside edge of the hack (or as the University of Alberta researchers state it, "opposite the arm pit). That brings the stone closer to the same point for right v. left handed curlers than the relative positions of the two hacks might suggest. And I get it. If even from the point of the inside edges of the hacks, one was to draw vectors (lines) from those points to the skip's brush, it would describe somewhat different paths (tracks) but it's my experience that when the left and right handed curlers get to their respective release points  (see next TTC component on that subject) they are so close, the difference is negligible. But if you're still skeptical, please read on and allow me to explain the three remaining aspects of the TTC.

I don't feel diagrams are necessary to illustrate the point that if two curlers, deliver their shot down the same line with the same velocity (weight), both with positive rotation and a "clean" release, they are delivering to completely different shots as one will start curling before or after the other if one teammate releases at the top of the house and one near the hog line. The former stone has started to curl 10' before the latter. Those are two significantly different shots and clearly will "track" (there's that word again) differently.
If you as coach had 16 paper cups and had the numeral 1 on the bottom of 4 of those cups, the numeral 2 on the bottom of four others (& in similar fashion the numerals 3 & 4), stood on the side board of a sheet and asked each player to deliver those four shots described earlier, placing a cup opposite each shot's release point, when the 16th shot is delivered, you should able to bend down and gather the 16 cups without taking any steps! Try it at your next on ice training session.

Let's assume that you have four players, all attempting to deliver a clockwise rotation shot, a draw. The first player starts the gooseneck of the stone at the 9 o'clock position and rotates it through to 11 o'clock at release. The next player starts the gooseneck at 11 o'clock and releases at 1 o'clock. The third player starts the gooseneck at 12 o'clock, releasing at 2 o'clock while the fourth player rotates from 1 o'clock to 3 o'clock. Those are all clockwise releases. There's isn't a hope in hades those stones, assuming all players "hit the brush with the same weight", will follow the same path to their common destination, not a chance!
NB - Hopefully all would start the gooseneck at either 10 o'clock or 2 o'clock and release just before the gooseneck of the handle reaches the 12 o'clock position.

Here's where sport science makes the scene. One of the most prominent manufacturers of curling stones, in speaking with me at his stone manufacturing facility, asked me to pass along to all to whom I speak that he and his competitors mill the running surface of the curling stones at 4-5 mm. They assume that the customers, that's you and me, who use their product will rotate the stone approximately three times from release to stop! He told me also to tell curlers that if they don't do that, they might still make the shot but it won't be because his curling stone performed according to specifications. It was his diplomatic way of saying, "You were lucky!". Do you need a building to fall on you to get the message? Of the five components of a TTC, this one comes closest to an absolute.

When a team, hopefully with its certified coach, gathers the information provided by a TTC, it's up to the team to decide what they wish to do with the data. I'm not saying that every team must have a common grip, or a common release point, or the same stone set up position or that they must apply each rotation in the same manner or that they need to apply three rotations (release to stop). My task is to make the team aware of what's really happening, technically, with the team. The team may feel it's in their best interest to have a common grip, release point etc. while another my see some differences as weapons with which opponents might find some considerable difficulty dealing. Again, it's a team (w/coach) decision!

OK, for some of you out there, what you've just read about a TTC is yesterday's news. So here's the tie in with this left/right issue I seem to have resurrected in the curling world. If you feel that you must make an accommodation to a player on your team who delivers with a hand that's different from his/her teammates, it's my experience that it's much more likely that there's an issue with one of the components of the TTC than it is with the hand that's on the handle of the stone!!! I feel strongly that you need to check the components of the TTC before you make other accommodations. You could be caught in another form of a "technical double cross" if you don't.

As usual, I welcome your comments & questions (

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mailbag #2

The questions today come from the members of an adult male team. I felt they were universal enough to comprise a blog. Enjoy "Mailbag #2".

Q. What is the single most important "thing" I can do to improve my delivery?

A. I'm going to assume (that's gotten me into trouble in the past but I'll take a flyer one this) that you have or are learning a "balanced, flat foot delivery" (the industry standard as I send this). You've asked for one piece of advice and if that's your wish, here it is. When you enter the slide portion of your delivery and proceed toward the release point, you need to "feel" that the weight of your body is evenly distributed on your slider (side-to-side and front-to-back)! It's a phrase I use frequently in clinic settings and with teams of all skill & experience levels. When you slide as described above, two really good things occur. First, you will slide in a straight line. Hopefully, with a solid pre-shot routine, that straight line will be directed to the skip's brush. Second, you will maintain the velocity you generated from the hack for a longer period of time. That will allow you to monitor the speed of your slide and with it the velocity of the stone so you can add, with a "soft elbow" in the delivery arm (not a "bent arm"), as much "fine tuning" (arm extension) as required. If your rate of deceleration is pronounced, that can be a real challenge. Why make the most important aspect of the delivery of the stone any more of a challenge than it already may be?

I know you asked for one thing, but this IS my blog site :) so here's a bonus suggestion. I've written about this before. I see so many curlers use their "sliding device" incorrectly. For most, that sliding device will be a brush. Most curlers begin with that sliding device in a good position (45 degrees to the body [which places the head of the brush approximately opposite the back edge of the stone], hand on the top of the handle [about 3/4 of the way down, near the label] and brush handle across the hip [wood or plastic side down]) BUT, and here's my observation, as the curler slides, that brush position changes so that by the time the athlete reaches that critical "release" point, the brush handle is now 90 degrees to the body which literally twists the upper body and the last time I checked, the delivery arm is attached to the upper body. The result is a release that's not on the line of delivery, even though one's slide might be.

Q. What can I do to improve my mental toughness?

A. As a curler, that's an easier question to answer than if you were a golfer for example. The reason is "teammates". You have some, a golfer doesn't! Use that advantage and the best way to do that is to "trust" your skill set, the skill set of your teammates and "support" one another unconditionally! That's where you start. After that there are many modalities to bolster you mental toughness under playing conditions but for a club level curler, those are the keys. I find that "concentration" is wanting on many club level teams. Be more observant of your surroundings when playing. Watch where the opposition skip places the brush. Get in behind an opposing player when he/she delivers the stone so you can observe the line, weight and what the stone does under those conditions. Begin a mental cataloguing of stones played so that when you're called upon to replay a shot previously delivered by a member of your team or that of your opponent, you have a database of information from which to draw. Stick with your "communication protocol" (who says what to whom, where, when, how & why) so you don't distract one another. Enjoy the game, but get serious about your (sing & pl.) performance!

Q. What compensations must a team make when there is a mixture of left-handed and right-handed curlers?

A. That's a question I get asked from time-to-time and it seems to be posed more by left handers, rarely by right handers. Yes, I suppose it IS right-handed world! The stone does not know whether you're right-handed or left-handed nor does it care, so why should you? If you place the stone so that the midline of the stone is opposite the inside edge of the hack, regardless of the hack, the stone setup of a right-handed curler and that of a left-handed curler is essentially the same by the time both curlers reach their respective release points. Problems occur when a team has a curler (regardless of the hand that's holding the stone) who does not position the stone as described above. If everyone on the team positions the stone the same, regardless of hand or hack, this should be a non-issue!

Q. What's the most important area in which a club level team needs improvement, strategy & tactics, technical, team dynamics, mental preparation, physical and nutritional preparation...?

A. Wow, you've hit them all but again, if I have to choose just one, it's technical but perhaps not defined as you might think. I alluded to one aspect of a team technical check-up with my answer to the previous question, stone setup. There are four more. First, does the team use a "team grip" for both rotations and all weights? Second, does everyone on the team release the stone at the same place relative to the hog line? Third, does everyone apply the rotation in the same manner (2 o'clock or 10 o'clock to 12 o'clock) and fourth, does everyone have the same number of rotations (from release to stop) and that number should be "three"? The more a club level team does these five technical things the same the better it tends to perform!

If you have a question for me, don't hesitate to send it ( If I don't have an answer for you I usually know someone who does and I'll get it for you!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The "Virtual Coach Project" Update

It's Oct. 1 and that means time to reveal the two teams that have been selected to participate in the "Virtual Coach Project" on my blog site. One is from Canada and the other is an international team. They will share their questions and experiences throughout this curling season. The idea of the project is to let these teams represent all adult club level teams in terms of the successes, trials & tribulations and most importantly, the questions they might have. In this way I hope all adult club level teams will benefit.

I want to thank all the teams who contacted me to be either the male adult club level team or female adult level team as the centre pieces of my on line project. It was evident very early on that all the teams that contacted me with interest in the project were more than worthy of inclusion. The resumes sent to me were detailed and impressive! I could have chosen any one of you but I did choose two and they have already been contacted. I guess that's the bad news for you if you were one of the teams that indicated your interest in the project but have not been contacted but it's not really bad news as I invite and encourage all of those teams to continue to send me questions and thoughts on this curling season. All your questions will be answered and some make their way to my "Mailbag" postings so don't feel that you are not going to get what you seek. Exactly the opposite is true! So as the late Dean Martin liked to say, "Keep those cards and letters coming!" only in this case it's emails or ... I guess I'm not the brightest bulb on the tree nor the sharpest knife in the drawer. I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier. Skype, I communicate with family in S ON regularly on this marvel of the technological age. When an athlete in NB asked if we might "Skype" of course I said yes and I extend the idea to "anyone" who wishes to communicate with me in this way. All you need do is send me an email ( to obtain my "Skype address" and we're good to go! Apparently, Skype can be done in a a group format so even if your team is not in the same room, and given that each member has the technology, we can get together in that fashion. I'd really like to see if that works!

I've had many comments about the last posting authored by Steve Simmons, currently of TSN, "I Hope They Don't Bring Apple Juice". If Steve is reading this, thanks once again for your experience with young athletes and how they feel about sports. They're the reason we do what we do!!!