Skip the Charades

“It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart.
Without saying a word you can light up the dark.
Try as I may I could never explain,
What I hear when you don’t say a thing.”
-Alison Krauss, When You Say Nothing At All

So I’m sitting there on my couch, watching Curling on TV (like ya do). On the screen I see a woman crouched in the hack cleaning her stone. She looks down the sheet. Her skip is standing in the house.

Madam Skip taps the head of her broom off to her right, and then repositions it directly down in front of her. She places her left hand (the one not holding the broom) over her heart, and pats her sternum gently. She then thrusts her left hand straight out to the side. Back in the hack, the woman nods. The two ladies flanking her also nod and start to walk as she pushes out of the hack.

As she glides down the ice she turns her wrist and the stone counterclockwise. The instant her hand lets go of the stone, one of the sweepers calls out, “Six-seven… Six! SIX!”

“YEHP! …YEHP!” returns Madam Skip, and the sweepers start to scrub the ice hard. “Line’s good!” calls out our lady shooter. “HOARD!” Madam Skip bellows repeatedly, encouraging them on. As the stone traverses down the ice, it begins to gently curl. “Six-Seven!” the other sweeper shouts back, fighting to be heard.

“Woh-Woh-WOH!!” Madam Skip responds, waving her arms back-and-forth in front of her. The sweepers lift their brooms, staying with the stone as it just barely passes between two enemy guards, kindly floats into the house, and settles on the button dead-center behind a guard. Hands of pride and joy from the sweepers and Madam Skip raise into the air. The camera cuts back to our lady shooter, who sees this and smiles (knowing she made a great shot).

As I sit on my couch watching all of this, I begin to smile as much as the shooter. “Wow!” I think. “That was an awesome shot!”

With barely an understandable word of English spoken between them, these four women pulled off an incredible draw to the button. Now look back over those first few paragraphs. How many non-verbal (or borderline nonsensical) ways did our ladies communicate? From the broom and hand signals of the skip, to the weird numbering system of the sweepers, to even the shooter shouting about a line, so much was said on the ice without much of anything actually being said at all.

For new curlers like myself, learning how to communicate as a member of the team is an incredibly important skill to master. It’s right up there with say, perfecting one’s delivery slide. But you want to know something crazy? Every team out there will communicate in their random little way differently. I was reminded of this lesson tonight when I subbed in for Matt Galas’s team.

(This marks my second date with WCCC, for those of you keeping track. Yeah, the first one went that well. 😀 If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read all about it here: First Date. Last Night.)

Where I learned to curl, seeing a skip stick his left hand out (my right, as I face him) means he wants an out-turn (counterclockwise) rotation on the stone. So as I stood next to my teammate as he nestled into the hack and saw Matt’s left hand go out, I assumed it would be the same. Imagine that brief moment of horror I felt as I followed the shooter down the ice and saw him rotate the stone clockwise, an in-turn.

“Oh no. He released it the wrong way…” I thought to myself, now on full alert and ready for the skip’s call, believing we’d have make the best of this less-than-ideal throw. Ten or so seconds later, the rock stops in the house, we’re sitting shot stone, and Matt is calling out, “Great shooting!”

My confusion factor was at about a 1000%. “What on Earth just happened?”

A quick question later, I learned Matt and his team call things a bit differently with their arms than what I’m used to. “Okay. I’ll adapt. After all, I’m the sub, right?”

My first shot comes up. I get ready in the hack. I look at Matt and he sticks his left hand out. I pause for a moment, questioning this seemingly odd choice in my head before it hits me and I remember: “In-turn, right?” I shout down. “Yep!” I hear back. “Okay. That I can do.”

Matt then proceeds to wave his hand over his head front to back a few times.

I stop completely. My eyes squint to make sure that, yes, I am seeing this crazy man’s wild flailing accurately. (I’m sure my head involuntarily cocked to the side in bewilderment, too.)

I started to giggle to myself at this point, suddenly feeling very out of place; a stranger in a strange land, almost. I smiled and shrugged that I had no idea what he wanted. Matt, from the other end of the sheet, smiled as well and called out, “Gimme a takeout, up weight.  We’re going for the nose of the stone.”

“Bingo. There we go.” It’s a good thing I could hear him. If Rocket Ice Arena had been too noisy on the ice tonight, I’d have been just shy of useless.

With my previous team at Notre Dame, where I skipped, non-spoken hand signals and gestures were vastly different. For a takeout, I’d personally tap the target stone first, then kick the air. “Kick this you-know-what out the house,” being the unspoken meaning. For a draw, I’d draw my fist slowly into my side like a 1990’s boy band singer who just feels the emotion of his lyrics a bit too much in that awkward music video. (Probably not the best way to send this message, but hey: it got the point across.) And this was just my team. Every single one of the other teams in our league would do something different. I imagine that if Jane Goodall were to walk in and see some of us, she’d find herself suddenly nostalgic for her days spent with the apes in Africa.

Verbal communication wasn’t any similar. Every time Matt would keep it simple and (thankfully) shout “Sweep!” to command us to, you guessed it, sweep a stone, I’d personally have horrible flashbacks to my college days as a theater major in singing lessons, dreading having to belt a high note on an “eeee” sound. (Please don’t ask me to sing for you. I didn’t want the lessons. They were required for my major. And they didn’t go all that well. But I did remember at least one thing from them:) Being a ‘tight’ or ‘closed’ vowel sound, it’s harder to sing an “eeee” on higher pitches, which often require more volume to get to as well.

Knowing this, and knowing I needed to project my voice across the ice to my team, I elected to find a comfortable open vowel sound and used “YAHP!” (my awkward variation on the word, “Yep”) to let them know when to scrub and scrub hard.

Oh, yeah: that weird numbering system the lady sweepers were using in my intro? That’s a real thing. It’s one way to communicate weight. By assigning different ‘zones’ of the house a number, what the sweepers were shouting is roughly where in their numbering system they believed the stone would stop. But even this system can, and often does, differ amongst teams, regions, and nations.

So what’s the absolute right way to call a shot? There isn’t one.

Yes, there are commonalities in ways to call a game of curling that are more or less universal, like the terms “in-turn” and “out-turn” (and thank God for that, or figuring out my handles tonight would’ve been a lot more interesting). But when it comes to non-verbal gestures, that’s the one part of Curling that always rings true: Each and every new team that forms will create its own unique language. The more a team plays together, the more their own individual dialect of curling will form.

And that’s okay!

In fact, that’s half the fun! Pitchers and catchers make up their own crazy hand gestures in baseball. Why can’t a curling team? As long as everyone understands what is being asked, is on the same linguistic wavelength, and effective communication happens during delivery, who is to say what one team shouts or gestures is better than another? Because that’s what it’s all about in the end (no pun intended): Effective communication.

Even if no one else in the room understands me when I put up my palm out like a crossing guard signaling pedestrians to stop, as long as the three people at the other end of sheet know, we’re golden. And if things go according to plan, everyone else will know soon enough what I meant when we’re smiling with our fists in the air, and that other team now has a guard to deal with. 😀

–Eric

(Eric is a guest blogger who spends too much time trying to think of clever and/or witty blog titles. And seriously, no: he will not sing for you. Unless you’re at karaoke. And there’s beer involved. Lots and lots of beer. And even then – don’t hold your breath.)

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