Keep It Moving

“I feel the need… The need for speed!”
-Maverick & Goose, Top Gun

One of the things that makes the sport of Curling so unique is the etiquette. Curling – for better or worse – is known traditionally as “Gentleman’s Game.” This is not because it should only be played by men, but rather, this expression (as it is used in the modern day) is metaphorically used to imply that the players of the game, both men and women, all abide by a Code of Ethics. Any good curler knows that this is a sport of delicacy and finesse. We are not ruffians mixing it up on a pitch. We value honor, integrity, and sportsmanship.

Yes, we take our sport very seriously and do our very best to perform at the peak of our present abilities every time we step out on to the ice, but never so seriously that we cannot laugh, smile, and enjoy the sport as we play it. We almost have to: there are no referees to call our fouls or mistakes. If everyone playing the sport suddenly lost control of his or her emotions every time a bad shot was made, or we thought another team’s sweeper touched the stone, or had a disagreement over which stone is closer to the button than another, games would result in brawls and bruises instead of beers and brother- or sister-hood.

But you already knew that. And this blog isn’t about that aspect of good sportsmanship. I’m writing this blog to go a little more in depth into the more technical aspects of etiquette. The reason being that in the last two weeks Windy City Curling has sent four teams to two different bonspiels. (And it’s looking like we’ll be sending a few more to another in December.)  That. is. Awesome!

And yet, if teams are going to go out into the fray and start competing against clubs in spiels, those need to know that they represent Windy City Curling in all aspects: not just in whether they win or lose.

Being in a club that does not currently own a dedicated facility, Windy City Curling’s access to ice time is limited to two-ish hours once a week. That’s it. Two hours to complete a full eight-end game. Ice time is a valuable, limited, and precious resource. Therefore, keeping the pace of the game moving is of the utmost importance.

The last blog I posted, The House Rules, was posted as a standalone resource. And most of the items on that list are rather self-explanatory. But a lot of the rules posted there can easily fall under one big blanket rule: Keep the game moving. Going further in-depth with those rules is what this blog is all about.

Note: I am NOT calling for a break-neck pace that makes the game feel “rushed.” Being a sport rooted in strategy and fine-tuned precision, rushing only leads to mistakes and all-around unhappiness. Instead, I am offering tips and tricks to cut out things that consume extra time needlessly so that more time can be spent where it is needed: in strategy and focusing on making finely-tuned shots.

I’m All About that Pace, ‘Bout that Pace, ‘Bout that Pace – no Stumble

While the list of etiquette is not exhaustive nor even “official” by any rulebook, it was compiled to be a basic guide from various sources including: this signage in the Fort Wayne Curling Club, opinions solicited on Reddit, other club websites, and a lot of back-and-forth emails from the higher-ups in the club. I repeat some of the rules here, with further examples and explanations as to why in (parenthetical asides written in Italics).

For the Non-Delivering Team:

  1. Sweepers should remain still, off to the side, and between the hoglines. (This allows the current shooter and sweepers to see their Skip’s call. A lot of times, sweepers on the non-delivering team don’t realize they’re blocking the view of the current shooter, or sometimes they back up so much they end up on the neighboring sheet, doing the exact same thing. It’s important to be mindful of one’s surroundings when “waiting in the wings.”)
  2. Once the opposing team has delivered their stone out of the hack, the next player on-deck to shoot should ready their stone in front of the hack and clean it. If need be, this is also the time to put a slip-on slider over your shoe. (This simple act alone is what saves so much time during games. You are allowed to do this once they leave the hack, even if their stone is still in motion. Just try to do so in a manner that isn’t distracting. Depending on the shooter, they may not have gotten that far out of the hack. That doesn’t mean they aren’t watching their line and helping their shot.)
  3. The Skip and/or Vice should be waiting behind the back line of the house to give the current Skip peace and space to focus on their game. (You are allowed to move into the house to sweep once their stone is on its way. Prior to this, though, any discussion should be kept to a non-distracting volume. I get it – you want to talk about the possibilities that may arise, but remember that while you’re talking about your next potential shot, the current Skip is trying to focus on their current here-and-now shot.)
  4. Any player on a non-delivering team should be standing with their brooms parallel to the ice, especially anyone behind the house at the playing end. (This eliminates giving a false or distracting target to the current shooter. There’s nothing more confusing than looking down to see your Skip’s broom, only to see three brooms on the ice instead. If you’re not calling a shot, hold your broom up off the ice and as parallel to the ground as comfortably possible.)
  5. Any talking while the other team has the ice should be kept to a non-distracting volume. (This does not mean “Shut up,” “Be quiet,” or “No talking.” Curling is a social sport – we get that. Just keep it down out of respect to the current team. Remember that when you’re on the ice, the game comes first. Broomstacking is where the real socializing comes in.)

For the Delivering Team:

  1. Be ready to deliver your stone once your team has the ice. (If you’ve prepared your stone once the hack is vacated from the previous shooter, this should be easy.)
  2. Sweepers should be alert, paying attention, and ready to sweep when needed. (While every team is different, a part of being ready to sweep is moving in from between the hoglines and down towards your shooter once your team has the ice. Waiting halfway down the sheet for your teammate’s shot to come to you is nowhere near close enough: You never know how soon your Skip is going to call you on.)
  3. Every member of the team should actively help the current shot. (Shooters should be watching their line and for the break in the curl, sweepers should be observing and calling down the stone’s weight, and skips should be reading the ice and ready to command the sweeping, if needed. Only by playing and communicating as a team will anyone improve.)
  4. Leads and Seconds can greatly help the pace of the game by readying the stone for their Skips and Vices (especially if they are currently engaged in a strategic discussion). (And if you see a teammate struggling to get ready, feel free to lend a friendly hand, too. Those slip-on sliders can be tricky, you know!)
  5. Move to the sides of the sheet as soon as your shot comes to a rest to yield the ice to the other team. (I’ve seen so many instances where a shot finishes, and all four members of that team suddenly stand in front of the house to look at what they’ve just done. While it’s nice a team is communicating, stopping the progression of the game for what would be 64 stones suddenly turns a two-hour game into a three-hour game. As hard as it may be for some new players to understand, sometimes you just have to make the shot and move on. Leave it up to the Skip to figure out what your last shot means for the team/game. Besides, when you’re at a timed competition, yielding the ice is what stops your clock and you’re aren’t given that much to begin with.)

When an End is Finished:

  1. Only the Thirds shall determine the score. All other players should remain out of the house until this is done. (There is no need for more than two people to agree on a score. Anymore than that, and things get cluttered, which slows the game down.)
  2. The scoring Skip that is to start the next End should immediately head to the playing end of the sheet to call their first shot, instead of helping clear stones. (I know it seems unfair that he or she doesn’t have to help clean up the mess everyone just made, but readying up for the next end is also a huge time saver in the long-run.)
  3. The Lead to deliver the first stone of the next End should get their slider on (or gripper off) and ready their first stone in front of the hack while the other players clear away stones. (Same as above. Anyone that does any act to move the game along is only helping everyone out.)

I know that a lot of this may seem like old-school strictness, but there are some things about Curling traditions that are still very much applicable today. You would be amazed at how many games I’ve seen drag on longer than necessary simply because there were frequent moments of lag waiting for any of the above things to happen.

Speaking from experience on a few of these points:

As a Skip, I always sincerely appreciate it whenever a Lead or a Second has my stone cleaned off and ready for me. If I could strategize and ready my stone simultaneously, it would be amazing. But alas, those two objectives must happen roughly 140 feet away from each other, rendering such an act impossible. I always try to thank my team for doing this for me every chance I can because, after a focused discussion on strategy to come up with the ideal shot, being able to just head down and drop straight into the hack to deliver my stone helps me stay in-the-moment.

No one ever likes feeling like they’re holding things up. For this reason I’m going to add further stress and emphasis to the point of helping each other out when it comes to readying stones. Most of our club is composed of new players. Many of these new players don’t own their own curling shoes yet. Accordingly, many players have to use the slip-on sliders.

Donning a Slip-On Slider: An Awkward Interpretive Dance

If you know your video game history, I equate slip-on sliders to the first weapon the hero is given at the beginning of The Legend of Zelda (yeah, the first one released for the old Nintendo all the way back in the mid-1980’s.).  It was dangerous to go alone, so the hero took a sword made of wood. Sure, it did an adequate job getting the player off and running quickly and was a trusty sidearm at the start of a big adventure, but it was no Master Sword (like having your own pair of Curling shoes can be). It had its limitations. So too, do the slip-on sliders.

Try putting one of those things on securely. It’s not easy, is it?

I’ve seen so many players try and do that one-footed balancing act/dance ON ICE in an effort to don one that I think our video man, Dan, should record all of us trying to do this and edit the footage together into a music video set to the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker. (You’re imagining the hilarity now, aren’t you? You’re welcome.)

And if they can’t stand on one foot to do it, I’ve often seen players sit on the ice to get their slider on, which cannot be warm by the sixteenth attempt to do so in an eight-end game. Failing that, they just drop it down and treat it like a step on slider (which has its own follies I won’t even get into).

My point: Many new players are at the mercy of these slip-on sliders, and they often take more time to get ready than a stone. Therefore, teammates should be there to help. You can do this by either readying the next stone for a teammate getting their slider on, or offering an arm for balance for our one-footed dancer friends who don’t want to sit down on the ice and put a slip-on slider, well, on.

A Humble Suggestion:

One of the things that I’ve observed curling at the Notre Dame Curling Club was that each team would use it’s own slider for the duration of the match. This really helped moved the pace of the game along.

I know it’s a tradition at Windy City Curling to leave a loaner slider at each end of the sheet for the game, but think about it: That’s an entire End that a slider is just sitting there not being used.

If each team had its own slider for the match (as in, have two sliders on the same end of the sheet simultaneously), as the current player is sliding out to deliver their stone, the next shooter from the other team can get their rock ready and then put on their slider while the current shooter is still wearing one. Since the next player to go already has a slider, you either hold on to the one you just used (if you have another stone to throw) or pass it off to your next teammate up to shoot while you both wait on the sidelines.

It was amazing to me how such a simple thing could help save so much time.

I realize the common pitfall to this is forgetting a slider at one end of the sheet as everyone moves to the opposite for the next End, but after seeing how quickly some of you Windy City players can shoot a slider across the length of the rink with your broom hockey-style, this “delay in game” will be fixed much quicker than our current system.

Which would you rather have?  1.) Having a Skip send a slider across the rink so each team has one within a second or two? or 2.) leaving the slider there and then watch a player deliver a stone, wait for their shot to stop, then stand up, take the slider off, pass it to the very next shooter on the other team, and then wait for the current shooter to put the slider on…for every…single…stone…

Make no mistake: this blog is NOT specifically calling any player out as being slow or a drag on the game. I see the energy and the enthusiasm every single one of you bring to the ice each week. After getting to know many of you incredibly well enough to call friend, I know for a fact that no one at Windy City is intentionally slowing the game down. (If anything, I slow the game down more as a Skip with my strategy talks – which is something I promise I’m working on.) But, you all know how late our nights presently last due to the time slot we have on the ice.

So rather, this blog is calling out the current system we have in place to hopefully better the Windy City Curling experience for everyone there, while also encouraging everyone to focus on upping the pace of their game. Not only will practicing this at our home club make Thursday nights more enjoyable (and not go as late), it’ll also be proper preparation for if/when anyone decides to jump into a bonspiel and get out there in the awesome and fun competitive world.

I mean, it’s not like doing any of this will cut into our all-important broomstacking time… (That’s why we rock that out first.)

-Eric 🙂

(Eric Reithel is a resident blogger for Windy City Curling. He also loves using terrible pop culture references, horrible puns, and awkward visuals to help make his point. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)

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