Resources for Delivery and Sweeping Skills
Below are some resources for improving your curling game. It's important to recognize that unlike etiquette and rules, curling techniques and skills are largely based on personal preferences. Will you use the lift, the Utica slide, or the more common lunge?
For the classic lunge, will you include a press and pull back, a pullback only, or a down and forward only delivery? Will you begin your lunge from the standing or squatting position? Will you start with your handle as 12 o'clock and then flip the handle on release, or start at 2- or 10-o'clock and then release at 12-o'clock? Will you grip the rock directly over its center of gravity, or up near the neck of the handle? These are all personal preferences! Some are better for some curlers, others might be best for you! Watch the Olympics and you'll see bits of these techniques used by different curlers, sometimes even by the same curler on different types of shots. Don't be afraid to experiment; as long as you are consciously experimenting rather than simply being sloppy, you'll improve.
When you first learn to curl, we strongly recommend that you simply accept whatever techniques your first-time instructors are teaching. Accept those techniques regardless of what you've seen online or in the Olympics. Try to master those techniques while those instructors are available to continue coaching you... then, once you're reasonably consistent with your delivery and sweeping abilities, explore alternatives as you see fit. When exploring, focus on the physics, mechanics, and simplicity of the alternatives, and fine-tune your delivery only when the 'rationale' for the change convinces you that it will improve your delivery consistency with respect to line, handle, and weight, or your sweeping consistency with respect to weight-judgement, power, and effectiveness. Don't switch to a new mechanic because an expert tells you to, or a professional does it that way; take the time to understand why and how that mechanic works.
In this quide, we'll introduce you to the "Forward-Only" delivery, and explain why we feel is preferrable for new curlers. The general philosophical foundation of this delivery mechanics is: The fewer steps and moving parts there are, the fewer things there are to go wrong. If a step or characteristic of the delivery doesn't clearly improve consistency or accuracy, find a way to deliver without it.
Forward-Only, step-by-step, with a step-on slider
1) Place the cleaned stone 2" in front of the hack, directly in front of the center of the rubber, with handle at 2- or 10-o'clock
2) Stand behind the hack with broom or stabilizer in hand, and slider placed directly beside the hack
3) Step into the hack such that the heel and toe are pointed straight through the center of the rock to the Skip's broom.
4) Balancing on the hack foot, rest the sliding foot onto the step-on slider, then spread your weight evenly between the two feet.
5) Staring at the target, bend from the hips and the knees until the broom or stabilizer is on the ice and the hand grips the rock.
note: avoid looking at the rock... the handle will always be 7" in front of your hack toe... just bend down and grip it!
6) Lift very slightly on the handle of the rock and push down very slighly on the broom or stabilizer.
7) Slowly begin to push the rock forward, while focusing entirely on making the first 6" of travel go directly towards the broom.
8) As the rock continues to move, slowly slip the slider foot in behind the rock as if softly kicking a soccer ball with your instep.
9) With rock still moving and slider foot directly beneath the spine and behind the rock, shift weight forward and accelerate.
10) At full leg extension after the final bit of push, let the toe gently roll over to a laces down position to drag behind.
We want a very controlled, minimal complexity initiation of rock movement directly towards the broom. Then we want to get our slider foot into position before we shift our weight or push, so that the entire push will be straight through the center of gravity of the combined player-stone system. We avodie sliding the foot into position after the hard forward push has started, as that tends to cause fish-tailing issues. If the slider is in the correct position before the push, and both the stone and the slider are kept on the line of delivery during the push, it's much easier for the new curler to maintain their balance.
To help keep the stone on line, it's important that the curler not put any weight on it. As infants learning to crawl, we all developed the natural reflex that when we feel unbalanced we automatically spread our hands apart to catch ourselves. So, if we allow the brain to use the rock for balance it will automatically be pushed out to the side (opposite the stabilizer). Later, as toddlers learning to walk, we developed another automatic response to unbalance; when we feel unbalanced our natural reflex is to avoid using a hand that's carrying something to catch our balance. So, during the delivery we recommend very gently lifting up on the rock. This signals to the brain that "this hand is carrying something", so when our balance reflexes kick in they'll naturally try to use the stabilizer and the slider foot for balance, rather than stabilizer and the rock.
Here's a Excellent Video Training Resources for the Pullback Delivery
... followed by a discussion of why the Forward-Only delivery might be better for new curlers.
Curling Canada's Discover Curling Series: watch the "Learn Curling" video
The video provides an excellent breakdown of delivery and sweeping techniques! They run through everything nice and slow, with excellent graphics enhancements to illustrate some important alignment aspects of a great curling shot. It's a fine place to start! And it's an excellent technique for more very athletic curlers who have hours for training and practice... but we don't think it's the best way to teach new curlers, especially when they'll only get a few practice slides before moving into a mini-game situation.
Notice how the video teaches a "pullback" windup from a "squatting position". After hours of video analysis of new curlers (which is our focus), we've found that two particular aspects of the Pullback technique tend to cause newbies to lose hip-alignment, making it difficult for them to consistently find balance or hit the line-of-delivery. We instead teach a Forward-Only delivery. That is, all motions in the delivery are either moving 'forward' from the standing position towards the ice, or 'forward' from the hack towards the broom. By removing all movements that are upwards (away from the ice) and backwards (away from the broom), we remove several motions where problems can be introduced. We've also minimized the number of points during the delivery where the curler has to focus on two or more different motions as once... which alleviates complexity and reduces that feeling of being overwhelmed so common to new curlers.
When we taught the Pullback to new curler, we often heard new curlers exclaim, "Wow! There's so much to think about!"
With Forward-Only, we rarely hear that complaint, and we see more balanced slides, on-line, with nice gentle releases earlier on.
Squat, Lift, and Pullback vs. Forward Only -- the technical analaysis
Our video analysis has shown that new curlers using the squat, lift, and pullback technique tend to (a) shift their knees and hips out of alignment with the line-of-delivery when "raising" their hips prior to the pullback, and (b) shift their hips and shoulders out of alignment when the slider foot is pulled back behind the hack foot. Even without video analysis, it's easy to imagine why this would be the case:
[A] Imagine the bodies position after the hips are lifted from the squatting position to the point where the back is fairly parallel with the ceiling. It takes significantly more muscular effort to lift to that position from a full squat than to bend down to the same delivery-ready position from a standing position. In fact, the act of squatting down tends to introduce some misalignment of the knees and hips that is often left uncorrected by the squatting curler. We see knees that appear to be aligned well when stepping into the hack and beginning to squat, but that shift out of alignment as the knees flex past 90 degrees. We instead use a forward-only technique where the curler starts standing and flexes the knees and hips only as much as needed to comfortably grip the rock handle without losing eye contact with the skip's broom. We alleviate any misalignment introduced by the full squat (which tends to be more dramatic in unfit new curlers). By alleviating the more strenuously lift-from-squat action, we're also reducing the number of muscular interactions, and avoiding the naturally tendency to twist the hips to increase leverage from the dominant leg.
Remember: We're focused on new curlers here! They tend to be less fit than experienced curlers, and we're asking them to use muscles they haven't used in these ways before. The Pullback may very well be a better delivery for Olympians, or even a serious curler with the time and inclination to practice by throwing a few dozen rocks a couple times a week... but we feel that the Forward-Only delivery is much easier to teach and far less prone to development of bad habits.
[B] The pullback of the rock to the toe and the slider to behind the hack foot tends to be error-prone for many new curlers. Our natural tendency from virtually all of our everyday activities is to lift the heel when putting one foot back behind our center of gravity. By asking new curlers to move into such an unnatural posture (i.e., leg back while keeping the heel down), they have a natural tendency to compensate for the awkwardness by dipping one hip and twisting their shoulders slightly. Since the objective of shifting weigh back in the Pullback is essentially to add momentum to the slide, and since that extra momentum is generally not needed for draws and guards, we encourage newbies to not pull their slider foot back at all (i.e., Forward-Only). Moreover, we find that curlers who feel unbalanced tend to be afraid to give a firm kick. Forward-only improve balance earlier in their training, giving new curlers more confidence to give a firm leg kick, alleviating the need for a pullback for most.
[C] The pullback of the rock itself is also problematic because it's being done at the same time as the slider pullback. There's just too much happening at once, or more importantly more happening at once than is necessary. The hip and shoulder alignment challenges of the slider pullback (for new curlers) tend to translate to rock pullback problems as well. At best, the rock pullback becomes very inconsistent (sometimes drifting off the line-of-delivery as the hips and shoulders shift, sometimes bumping into the toe and bouncing slightly in a random direction). We find that instead of using the pullback as a "windup", the line-of-delivery tends to be more reliable for new curlers by simply starting with the rock located 2" in front of and directly centered on the hack rubber. We teach them to move the rock Forward-Only, directly from that consistent starting point along the line of delivery. We have them keep their hips, knees, and shoulders motionless during the critical first 6" of the push of the rock, so the entire focus at that point is "line-of-delivery", with no other on-going points of focus or motions to interfere.
[D] A few new curlers who are taught to pull their slider foot back will for some reason find it more natural to push the slider foot waaaay back with the leg almost fully extended, and then to lunge from that position. This often results in the superman dive with both feet back. Of course, even when the leg doesn't extend back to the extreme, we still occassionally see the superman complex. We find that teaching a technique in which the slider moves Forward-Only, with a clear interim step of positioning the slider foot behind the rock before initiating the leg kick, helps to avoid this problem. In fact, with this technique the slider foot has only on movement to learn and only one job to remember, which is to gently slip into position behind the rock directly beneath the spine, and to simply stay there (behind the rock) until the stone is released. Very simply. Very few superman problems.
[E] In the alignment mayhem that the slider-foot-back causes for many new curlers, we see compensations such as sliding the foot out into a big "c-curve" when bringing it back out front. This sometimes seems to be a natural adaptation to prevent kicking the hack on the way forward, which wouldn't be an issue if the slider foot were taken straight back (as prescribed by the Pullback method) rather than pulled back to behind the hack foot. Forward-only avoids the problem entirely, though, by removing the slider pullback entirely and instead having the only slider foot motion be to "gently slip the slider foot in behind the rock as soon as there's room for it".
[F] Another common problem with new curlers is development of the "habitual pump", where both the rock and the slider foot move back and forth repeatedly in a long, elaborate wind-up. The pump seems to indicate "overthinking it", and the curlers tends to come out of the repetition either when they finally feel like they're ready, or they finally resolve that they can't keep doing that forever. In any event, video analysis shows a tendency for these "pumps" to shift randomly to either side of the actual line-of-delivery, and that the farther the slider foot moves backwards on the pumps, the more dramatic the line-of-delivery drift tends to be. In the Forward-Only technique, the students are taught to focus on the broom, bend and grip the rock, then just do it. If the motion of the rock is paused after it's start, or if the delivery is delayed for more than a second after the hand grips the rocks, the instructors should immediately interrupt with "reset!" to encouraged the student to start over.
Grip and Release Critique
We find that most aspects of the Grip and Release taught in this video are perfect for new curlers.
Firm but comfortable grip on sides and bottom of handle (with a slight gap between the palm and the top of the handle)!
Gentle positive release (with a slight, consistent forward push of the stone as it's released).
We also like the 10- and 2- starting positions for the rock handle. This is sometimes called the "Hand to Heart" method because the rock begins with the nose of the rock angled towards the Skip's hand but is released with the nose pointed straight at the Skip's heart. We find that with new curlers, the Hand to Heart method tends to result in less of a tendency for them to "flick" the rock either inward or outward from the line-of-delivery.
The only preference we'd add to the Grip and Release shown in this video, is for new curlers to move the "pinch" of the thumb and forefingers closer to the center of the handle (just slightly forward of the center of gravity of the rock), and for the release to consist of more of a "gentle twisting of the fingertips" rather than engaging the entire wrist in the release. The reason for moving the grip to center handle is to allow the release to be performed with fingertips only, which reduces wrist over-engagement problems like too much handle or 'flipping' the rock off line.
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