Friday, February 21, 2014

Never Provide "Bulletin Board" Material

I could not believe my eyes! On Bob Weeks' blog site ( for today, Feb. 21 in the post "British Coach Takes A Swipe At Jacobs Before Gold Medal Match", Bob reported the comments of the Great Britain men's coach prior to the gold medal game versus Canada (Team Jacobs). I had no difficulty with "what" he said, in fact, I share much the same feelings and I'll explain my position on that later in this post but I have to take issue with the "forum and timing" he chose to express his feelings. Yikes, what was he thinking?

In essence he spoke out against the antics of Team Jacobs and the outward displays of emotion from time-to-time. But why on earth would he make his feelings public prior to the game for the Olympic gold medal and provide Team Jacobs with exactly the same incentive he feels Team Jacobs provides for its opponent? That's the part I don't understand.

Heh coach, I'm with you. When a team reacts overtly to a situation in a game, be it positive or negative, its opponent will be watching and when a member of the team slams a brush for example, I too feel it emboldens his/her opponent. I love to see the opposition bang brushes, kick stones etc. as I know we're into their head. Teams that do that will defend their actions by playing the "passion card". Well, go ahead and play that card but you do so at your own peril! I don't think it's a risk worth taking and it appears neither does the GB men's coach.

I hope when he made those statements he had the blessing of all the members of Team GB and its entourage. If he did it independently, I think if I were a member of a team about to do battle with a team that's on an extended winning streak and starting the game with last stone advantage for an Olympic title, I'd be a little miffed (or insert descriptive phrase of your choice here if "miffed" is a little mild). That's a distraction I would not need.

Call me old school but I prefer the counsel of a CFL/NFL coach of yesteryear whose words I have used before. His name is Bud Grant and he issued the following "suggestion" to his players. "When you score a touchdown, you have two choices. You may drop the ball onto the ground and jog to the bench or you may hand the ball to the nearest official and jog to the bench. Make it look like you've been there before and you're coming back real soon!"

The last thing a team (and the coach is a member of the team) wants to do is provide "bulletin board" material for an  upcoming opponent. What the GB coach said prior to the gold medal game might have had no affect on the outcome but why take the chance?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The "Eyes" Have It

I've written about this topic before but I want to reintroduce it in light of the plethora of elite curling we're witnessing on TV and I'm going to take issue with some of the on air commentators, one in particular. It's not that this individual is providing false information. This person is only telling half the story leaving viewers, many of whom are recreational curlers who want to understand what's occurring in the delivery of the stone and perhaps improve their own performance and ultimately the sense of satisfaction that comes from a shot well made, in a bit of a quandary.

There's a term you rarely, if ever, hear from the TV commentators, "eye dominance". Here's a quick primer on the term.

We have two eyes for depth perception. It's why objects that are close appear that way and those in the distance are seen that way (I have a wonderful grasp of the obvious). Even though we have two eyes, when it comes to targeting, we use only one eye and it may be left or right regardless of one's dominant hand/arm/foot/leg (insert body part here).

You can find out which eye is dominant for you in a variety of ways but I like the one that was demonstrated to a group of national coaches, of which I was a part, by an ophthalmologist. Since we're talking curling here, and I'll explain that concept later in this post, I ask the athletes to stand on the backboard looking at the opposite end of the curling ice. Usually I have the group at the home end and select an object at the away end, such as a sheet number/letter, clock, pennant/flag etc. What follows is the process to determine one's dominant eye for curling, and notice I said for curling.

  • Facing the object, extend your arms at shoulder height.
  • Bend your hands at the wrist so your palms face the target.
  • Make your fingers touch one another but extend the thumbs.
  • Turn your hands at forty-five degrees to one another.
  • Overlap your hands so that you create a small "hole" in the crook of your thumbs so you can only see the selected object with both eyes open.
  • Now, alternately close your eyes (you may have to get a friend to place his/her hand in front of one eye if you find it a challenge to alternately close them).

With one eye, you will still see the selected object. With the other, it will most likely be obscured in the palm of one of your hands. The eye that sees the object is your dominant eye for that distance. Did you get that last phrase, for that distance?

We learned that "eye dominance" can change over distance. I'm left eye dominant for curling but if I had a 10' putt, I might be right eye dominant. That's why I make sure to do this in the ice area of the curling facility and not the lounge (unless it's about 150' in length). We also learned that the dominant eye can be trained to be one or the other. Apparently that happens with competitive shooters (of the firearm variety).

Virtually 100% of the population is "eye dominant". So what does all this mean for a curler?.It means everything in terms of the relationship between stone and body. Left to its own devices, as a curler slides with the stone in front, the body will align its "dominant eye" behind it. It's one of the "natural systems" which works really well as long as we don't mess it up but more about that below.

A curler that is right handed and right eye dominant (or left handed and left eye dominant) is said to be "same-side-dominant". If one is right handed and left eye dominant OR left handed and right eye dominant, then we use the term "opposite-side-dominant".

If a curler is "same-side-dominant", when viewed from the front as the athlete sides toward the viewer, you will very likely see a good portion of the athlete's sliding foot behind and to the side of the stone. In other words, the stone and the sliding foot are sliding in "parallel" straight lines. If that same athlete is "opposite-side-dominant" then he/she needs to follow behind the stone and again, viewed from the front, the sliding foot will not be visible.

Occasionally an individual will be "significantly" eye dominant. When tested with the procedure described above, that object when viewed by the non-dominant eye will actually be visible to the side of the overlapped hands. When that's the case, you might find an athlete position the stone across the body so that it's directly in front of the dominant eye. Occasionally you'll see this with one or two of the elite athletes on TV.

The point of all this eye dominance talk is this; the body will do the dominant eye/body alignment naturally. When I work with an athlete, that alignment of stone and body is always checked by the "eye dominance" procedure, simply to confirm what I'm seeing. Thankfully seldom do I see an athlete's stone and body alignment inconsistent with what the sport science tells us. When that occurs, it's almost always because a well-meaning instructor, unfamiliar with the premise of this post, has misaligned the athlete.

The very fact that I'm devoting a post to eye dominance demonstrates the importance I place on the topic. But, as stated at the outset, the TV viewer rarely hears anything about eye dominance but from one particular on-air commentator, when it appears that an athlete isn't right behind the stone, the viewer is left with the assumption based upon what is said that the athlete  is misaligned. That's very likely not the case. It's much more likely that the athlete is "same-side-dominant". To make matters worse, the camera that follows an athlete from the hack is frequently to the side and it's to the side of the body with the arm that's holding the stone. Then it really appears that the stone and athlete are misaligned. You need to wait to see that athlete from the "front view camera" to accurately assess that stone/body alignment.

If you've been counselled to align yourself relative to the stone in a particular fashion, please make sure it's in agreement with the arm/hand you use to hold the stone and your dominant eye. If it's not in agreement, get it checked with an instructor that's knowledgeable about "eye dominance"!

Before I leave this topic of "eyes", watch the eyes of the athletes you're seeing on TV. Some will focus on the brush full time. Some will divert their eyes from time-to-time. Well, here's what the sport science tells us about that.

It's OK to look away from the target as long as the eye movement away is down and not to the side BUT at the point of release, all eyes must be on the target. If you're not looking at the tsrget when you're releasing the it, you're just guessing. You might, through repeated practice, get really, really good at that guessing but why not put sport science on your side?

Hopefully you'll enjoy watching all that TV curling and be a little more knowledgeable with what you're seeing!

* There is a more complete explanation of "eye dominance" contained in an article of the same title in my coaching manual "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion".

Monday, February 10, 2014

Matching Stones 101

I recently received an email from a team here on the Saanich Peninsula re. the matching of stones. There were a number of questions asked and I thought they were worthy of a posting on the blog site. As the title implies, this isn't going to satisfy the elite teams, this is stone matching for the rest of the curling world.

First off you need to understand the various aspects of a curling stone. There are a number of videos in cyberspace re. the manufacture of curling stones. If this topic interests you I strongly recommend that you take a look at one or two of them (try "YouTube") so you can become familiar with the parts of a curling stone. 

The aspect that affects velocity and curl is the "running surface". The bottom of a curling stone is not flat. It's concave which leaves a "ring" about 5-6 mm in width (when the stone is new) and about 13 cm in diameter. That's the "running surface" (r/s)!

In a perfect world, the r/s of all stones would be exactly the same. They are not! Since each curler delivers two stones per end for the duration of the game, it would be great if the stones "tracked" (made their way down the ice) the same. If that's the case, we say the stones are "matched". 

There are two aspects of "tracking", speed and curl. If the two stones you've been bequeathed at the start of the game are delivered with the same force (weight) we would like them to travel down the ice and come to rest the same distance from their relative release points. And, we'd also like the path they take to that common destination to be the same, thus the terms "speed" and "curl"!

I'm going to cut to the chase here. When you have two curling stones and wish to test them for the aforementioned "speed" & "curl", they need to be delivered in the manner of a curling shot. And when you do that, you must consider three factors, speed/velocity, line & rotation. In other words, the stones need to be delivered with the same velocity (or known velocities if not the same), down the same line, with the same amount of rotation. If you do not control those three factors, the results could be skewed and you might in the end (pun intended) miss some shots as a result.

Laser timers are a wonderful aid to determine velocity. The holder of the brush can determine line and of course you can count rotations by observing the handle.

If two stones are delivered with the same velocity, down the same line with the same amount of rotation and they come to rest in the same location, voila, you likely have a pair of matched stones. If they do not and this is borne out time-after-time, then the opposite may be true. Take note of the words "likely" and "may" in the preceding paragraph. There are no absolutes with stone matching, only degrees of reliability!

Strangely enough, if your suspicion is that you don't have a pair of matched stones, that doesn't mean your world is coming to an end. I know curlers who relish the fact that two stones are not matched and the team uses the differences between that curler's two stones to their advantage. When I coached Team USA (m) at the World Curling Championships in Kamloops, our third knew he had a "cutter" (a stone that curled more than the other). We saved it for his second shot on ends when we had last rock and buried it. The opposing skip knew we had found a cutter and could not follow it. It ultimately won the game for us!

I say this to counter any argument that to not have a pair of matched stones is tantamount to being charged with a criminal offence known you are innocent. But, that said, if you're not comfortable with an unmatched pair of stones, you need to inform your team of that and enlist their aid in finding two that are matched using the method described above.

One of the most high profile curlers in Canadian curling history was obsessed with finding a pair of matched stones in the pre-game warm up. So much so that his/her teammates spent the entire time in this quest. In speaking with a teammate of this aforementioned curler, he/she confided that sometimes the team was pretty sure the stones the skip decided to use were not matched, but the skip thought so and that's all that mattered! Back to those r/s's!

Start to get to know them from stone-to-stone at your home curling facility and in facilities where you will compete. Record the stones and their velocity and curl characteristics. Most teams who are serious about their performance have a "rock book" which contains the information re. stones that the team feels are "worthy of note" (a diplomatic term replacing more common terminology like "pig" and "dog").

Stones of course have unique identifying features. First, the "cap" is coloured. On that coloured cap are numerals to identify the sheet of ice where the stone resides and the number in the set of eight. Sometimes the caps are replaced (read "exchanged") with the cap from another stone. In that case, if the stone is turned over to reveal its r/s, you might notice an etched serial numeral near the bolt hole in the centre of the stone. Some "rock books" refer to stones using that system as opposed to colour, sheet location and number in the set. If the sheets at your curling facility are lettered A,B,C,D etc. then the letter is usually found at the edge of the coloured cap at the base of the gooseneck portion of the handle. The "set numeral" is usually at the edge of the cap on either side.

Begin to turn stones over to examine the r/s of the stones you're likely to use in the game. Ask yourself these questions. Are the widths of the r/s's the same? Are the diameters the same? When I run a bare finger around the inside and outside edges of the r/s's, are they the same? And lastly, when I feel the r/s's, is one smooth and the other "pitted"? If you get some definite "no" responses, you might be suspect of the stones from a match perspective. But even with those suspicions, deliver them according to the method described above to know for sure and trust what you see!

A "dull" r/s produces a stone that will be relatively "quick" but "unpredictable" in curl. A stone that has a "defined" edge to its r/s, especially if it's the outside edge may not be quite as quick as the previous but it will "finish" (i.e. curl, especially near the end of its journey).

On occasion, you will see a curler take his/her two stones and place them together in line with the center line of the sheet. Then the stones are pushed to get them moving in tandem. If the stones remain "frozen", the velocities of the stones may be the same. I say "may" because the stone that's behind might be faster and as a result will be pushing the slower stone. The only way to control that possibility is to repeat the process with the stones in reverse positions. Simply moving them in the opposite direction accomplishes that task. Although this method does give you some information, it's no substitute for actually delivering the two stones, again, as described above.

One note of caution be I close. Don't become so obsessed with "rock matching" that it gets in your head. If you think the stones you're playing are not matched and that's why you're missing shots, that indeed may be the case but remove yourself from the equation first. Be honest! Check with the teammate holding the brush. If he/she says you're missing the brush or if your brushers look you in the eye and tell you you're light/heavy, be accountable. You're the problem, not the stones!

And if you're a junior athlete, please make sure your coach is involved in the rock matching process. Trust your coach!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Let the Games Begin

To win a copy of "A Pane in the Glass: A Coach's Companion" send your prediction of the winners of the gold, silver & bronze medals for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia for both the women's & men's curling events.

Please submit your name & email address which will not be used for any other purpose than to contact the winner to facilitate the mailing of the prize! Send entries to by midnight on Sunday, February 9! One submission per person!

In the case of multiple winners, a draw will determine the recipient of the coaching manual. If the winner is a trained curling coach, a copy of "Curl Coach" will accompany the coaching manual. If you qualify in this category, include your NCCP number with your name, email address and medal predictions. If you are a curling coach outside Canada, you are still eligible to win a copy of "Curl Coach"!

"Curl Coach" is an Apple based (iPad/iPhone) coaching tool, different from any other curling application currently available. It goes way beyond the gathering of statistics. Go to the Apps Store or better still go to for further information about "Curl Coach"! It's the ideal companion to my coaching manual for curling coaches.

I look forward to your predictions!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Most Common Rule Violation Follow Up

This is a first! I've never written an entire posting as a follow up. If memory serves, I believe I did say that there would be comments about the premise of the previous blog. Little did I know the extent of the comments.

I'm pleased to report, as I suggested late in the posting, there are more curlers out there wondering about the practice of brushing the intended path of an opposition stone (or their own for that matter) before it's set in motion. A good friend from Halifax, NS sent me an email indicating that the junior curlers in his/her facility asked about that particular situation citing the rule that I highlighted in my posting. Well, to those junior curlers, good for you! It's clear you care about playing this game by the rules!

What follows below is a typical comment that I received followed by my reply.

If we get technical about it, the player isn't sweeping the stone, but cleaning the ice of debris, which I believe isn't against the rules.
Getting "technical" is the point! Removing "debris" from the path of a stone "which has been set in motion" is the purpose if "brushing" (by the way, we no longer "sweep" and haven't for quite some time [don't know why our rules still use that word]). When this is done to an opponent's stone along a definite exit path from the stone's "stationary" position it "technically" violates the rule cited. The key word is "stationary" and if the opposition stone, in its stationary position, happens to be in front of the tee line, a second rule is "technically" being violated.
Another comment mentioned that in a players' meeting, the official indicated that it was OK to lightly clear debris from the intended path of a stationary stone. I mentioned in my reply to the reader who sent that comment that I'm pleased the official clarified that point but as I thought more about it, I'm going to withdraw my approval. It's not the official's role in my view to decide which rules to apply and which to ignore. It may be OK with him/her personally but not in the role of an official pledged to uphold the rules, all the rules, as printed. If interpretation is required, that's the role of the committee charged with that responsibility.
Not that curling should follow the precepts and philosophies of other sports (it bothers me when one begins the dialogue about a curling rule by citing another particular sport) but that said, I applaud basketball in that it has a "rule book" and a "case book". The latter interprets the rules and their practical application. Perhaps our rules need be have an addendum which interprets and applies the rules as printed.

Most of the comments centered around the practice of clearing the path of a shot from the delivery end of the ice, not the playing end (the end of the sheet where the stones have come to rest). Those who made comments about front ends clearing the path of a stone to be delivered cited this accepted practice as justification for clearing the path of a stationary opposition stone, intended to be moved or removed in the house. I don't feel that is justification and here's why. The stone to be delivered is not an opponent's stone, it belongs to the players clearing the path. Also, it's not a stone that's "in play". It's not considered so until its "leading edge reaches the near tee line".

My last line of the initial posting suggested that it will generate lots of comments. That indeed has occurred but not only many comments but a record number of readers (to date it's just south of 500). I also suggested in that posting that perhaps I'm the only one to really care about this. Well, that too seems not to be the case.

Now, I have a confession (confession is good for the soul I'm told). My tongue was firmly planted in my cheek when I wrote the posting. As I indicated, I trust curlers. No one "intentionally" breaks a rule. This is common practice. I get that, but let's clarify that practice in the rule book so those juniors in Nova Scotia know what to do to maintain the integrity of the rules of a great game.

Before I leave you today, I want comment about a rule that was changed regarding the backline.

The position of a stone in relation to the backline previously was determined by the final resting place of the stone. As we know, as a stone comes to rest, many times it "spins" back. Sometimes a stone that has exited the house, spins back at the end of its journey to come to rest biting the 12' circle. Depending upon ownership of said stone, that's either good or bad! :) When it came to determining if a stone was to be removed from play in relation to the backline, an official, if called upon, could examine whether the stone was clear of the backline or not by examination and the official's ruling was final.

But, that rule has been changed, I believe to be more in line with sidelines. When a stone reaches the sideline, it's to be removed from play immediately. Sidelines come in two versions, dividers (be they wood, sponge or some other solid material) or actual lines. No problem there because a stone is not headed toward the scoring area (i.e. house). But that's not the case with the backline.

Now, when a stone clearly crosses the backline, it's to be removed from play immediately (rule 13-2). Sounds OK but consider this. A stone is moving very slowly toward the back edge of the house along the centerline. The opposition third or skip is frantically brushing that stone (don't get me started) and as the stone approaches the back edge of the back line (which is also the edge of the scoring area), it makes that last second spin and clearly moves back to bite the 12' ring. The opposition contends that the stone "clearly crossed the backline" and is therefore to be considered out-of-play while the team to which the stone belongs contends it clearly did not cross the backline therefore it's to be considered "in play" (and in this case, in a scoring position). And let's say the score at the time is tied and it's the last stone of the last end with the Olympic gold medal on the line. I don't want to be the official called in to make that ruling unless I was in a position to see whether or not the stone clearly crossed the line. But what if it's a really important game to the two teams involved and there is no official? The rule as previously written was not perfect, but much better than the potential awkward situation the new rule poses.

No, I don't lay awake at night thinking about curling rules but if I can't sleep, I frequently go to my computer and write many of the postings for this site (by the way, it's a bright sunny day here in Sidney-by-the-Sea, BC and therefore despite what you might think, I'm wide awake).

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Most Common Rule Violation

It's rule 11 (2) in the Canadian Curling Association rule book. For the rest of the curling world it's rule 7 (b) in the World Curling Federation rules. The wording is slightly different between the two rule books but the meaning is the same and could not be more clear. A stone may not be swept/brushed unless it is in motion. But, even with its clarity, the rule is broken by the vast majority of curlers and it's done so quite unintentionally (there's no accusation here that anyone is intentionally breaching a rule).

I hope I've peaked your interest at this point. Some who know me well have already guessed the scenario in which this rule is violated. If you are still in the mystified category here's the situation.

Your team is about to attempt to move, or more likely, remove an opposition stone or stones. The skip has determined the ice & weight for the shot and has retreated to the delivery end of the sheet. The third decides to brush the potential path of the target stone(s) and proceeds to do so. That's where the rule violation occurs! Why? There are no stones in motion! And, to make matters worse, if that opposition stone is in front of the tee line, that well intentioned third is violating a second rule which in essence states that an opposition stone must have reached the tee line before it can be brushed (& only then by the player in charge of the house [skip or third]).

I have yet to see an official step in to ask the skips & thirds to desist from violating these rules in a "players' meeting" prior to an event.* We need to clarify this situation by adding something to the rule book to allow this practice or to educate the curling community to stop doing this. This post is to educate. I'll leave it to the sport governing bodies to decide to allow this practice and amend the rules or enforce the rule(s).

I take the rules of our game for what they are and in this case, skips & thirds on teams I coach do not violate this rule at my request.

Before I'm inundated by comments from readers who remind me that's it's no big deal and everyone does this, I'll reply that if a game and its rules, regulations & procedures are to have the desired impact on the integrity of the sport, its practitioners need to abide by all of them, not just the ones that are most convenient, turning a blind eye to those they arbitrarily feel not worthy of compliance.

In the rules for general play, rule 18 (3) allows for decisions to be made that are not covered in the rules per se so that equity is maintained. I'm sure that's the feeling among most curlers that brushing the potential path of stone from the house maintains that equity since no one save me, gets his/her nose out of joint but perhaps I'm not alone, just the one to draw attention to the situation. Let's remove the ambiguity!

Yah, you're right, I'm old school!

And, while I'm on the topic of rules, there are two that I feel need to be changed. The first is brushing opposition stones. I feel the only stones a team should brush are there own. No more brushing opposition stones anywhere! If there's a measure of discord between curling teams it's almost always because of the congestion in the house as players from opposing teams attempt to brush the stones belonging to the opposite team. Why create a situation where hard feelings result?

Second, when a team scores, the opposing team should have the option of delivering the first or second stone of the next end.# As with so many sports where there's a "possession factor" (i.e. which team is on offence or to say it another way, which team is in possession of the ball), when one team scores, "possession" goes over to their opponent. It's a balance of offence and defence. If you pause here and consider most team sports, that back-and-forth of offence and defence keeps the playing field level. I know, I know, who in their right mind would choose to give the team that just scored, last stone "advantage" on the ensuing end? Well, I might, if conditions where such that delivering the first stone of the next end was perceived by my team as advantageous (the four rock rule protects both stones in the free guard zone of the team that delivers the first stone of the end and only one belonging to the team that delivers the second stone of the end). Heh, we've all muttered the words, after having a succession of ends stolen upon finally scoring, "Well, we finally got rid of that last stone disadvantage!" I know the words were likely spoken in gest but perhaps they were not. What's the harm in letting the scored upon team decide who plays the first stone of the next end?

Methinks the comment box will see some activity!

* I do know of one chief umpire who when this rule violation was pointed out did ask the skips & thirds to not brush potential exit paths. As coaches, we're best suited to ensure that all the rules of the game are honoured.

# I think it's ludicrous that in skins play, the team that has been scored upon is forced to take last stone in the next end (which means that to win the skin, it must score at least two points). If ever there was a time to allow the scored upon team to choose, this would be it!