Category Archives: Brushing

Brushing…Really?

Really?  Another article on brushing?  Yes.  Let’s face it, this is the biggest thing to hit the sport of curling since…well, I don’t know since the time we ditched corn brooms for brushes?  It’s a turbulent time for the sport and how the sport grows or not, hinges a lot on what will happen this summer as the governing bodies in curling decide how they’re going to handle the situation.  For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, (really?) here is the situation in a nutshell.

First, materials and broom constructions have been discovered that have a much larger impact on the ice surface than the stuff we’ve been using up to this point.  Waterproof coated fabrics are so abrasive that they have an incredibly significant impact on the ice surface and therefore the running path of the stone.  That’s one.  Two, are stiffening constructs within the brush head itself are having another huge impact on how much force can be applied to the head during brushing.  I’ve seen homemade brush heads that were literally plywood with fabric over them.

These two modifications in brush head construction have been banned temporarily by Curling Canada because they can unduly affect the path of the stone meaning that you can almost literally steer a stone down the ice with appropriate brushing.

The second half of the brushing conundrum is what is now being called “directional brushing”.  Directional brushing is much like you would think it is.  Instead of brushing across the face of the stone as we have all been taught, brushers sweep slightly off the slide path of the stone across half the stone with the intention of keeping it straight or making it curl.  Yes, you read that correctly, with this technique brushers can make a stone curl more.  Hair brushes are particularly effective at making this happen and so, these too have been banned by the governing bodies.  This style of brushing requires only a single brusher for a number of reasons.  The effectiveness of this brushing style relies naturally on the abilities and strength of the sweeper but also to the state of the brush head itself.  A dirty brush head is much less effective than a new clean one and this effect is so pronounced that in the recent World Championships teams were limited to the number of new brush heads they were allowed to use for the duration of the tournament.

This is not going to be a lesson in directional brushing, rather it is going to serve as a gut check and commentary.  Videos have been posted showing the effect of directional brushing and of the various styles of brush head.  They’re shocking.  It is not a stretch to say that potentially 90% of the shot is now in the hands of the brushers rather than the thrower depending on the brushes being used.

So, first question, should this be allowed?  My opinion is that there needs to be a balance.  I think everyone wants control of shots to be primarily in the hands of the throwers rather than the brushers.  The key is to find the combination of equipment and technique that will ensure this.  The next question is, what ration should there be between control by the throwers and control by the brushers?  I’m thinking somewhere above 70% should be in the control of the throwers.  To clarify, in my opinion only about 30% of the shot should be up to the brushers.  To add to this, I think that this is higher than it was before the broom scandal erupted.

Next question, should you start doing it?  Well, never forget that to be an effective brusher, you have to have good technique.  Directional brushing doesn’t let you off the hook on that one.  You still must be able to generate force and friction with your brush head before you can expect anything to happen.  If you can’t do that, then it really doesn’t much matter what you do.  Directional brushing is not only more complicated but also more difficult than traditional brushing.  In order to be effective you have to stand over the rock and brush almost in the path.  It is much easier to burn stones this way and the footwork is arguably more difficult  as well particularly when you get into a busy house!  It’s important to realize that this is not the magic bullet that will get you out of having to actually brush hard to have an impact.

In many ways, this situation is actually encouraging and let’s face it, not unique to curling.  Golf has gone through many versions of this same debate and continues to do so.  Both golf balls and clubs have restrictions around them to manage the parameters of the game and that evolution of the sport continues even today.  Golf is currently struggling with what to do about the use of the long putter. The fact that we are having discussions about the effect and development of equipment in curling is just one more step towards the bigger things for curling.  We are an Olympic sport and therefore we need to manage how this game evolves.  Now, am I happy that we have to go through all this?  Actually, I kind of am.  The people who came up with the various techniques and equipment modifications are pushing the envelope of performance. Sure, they’re doing it in terms of equipment rather than say, delivery technique but that’s how the sport grows.  We push towards new innovations and see what we like and what we don’t.  We manage how the game is played.  If we want something we’ve never had before in the sport then we must do things we’ve never done before.  These are exciting times for our sport and we should view these latest developments as opportunities to grow, rather than a threat.

New Brushing Information! Sort of….

I’m back!  My only excuse for not posting more often was the fact that we put in a pool this summer and, well it was summer!  I thought about this post for a long time and hopefully will provide clarity to those coaches and athletes our there who are confused or otherwise mis-informed about the status of brushing styles.  A long time ago I posted information about sweeping (more accurately called “brushing”) in an article called “Sweep Me Off My Feet“.  Without going over it in detail, I’ll say that most of that information is still accurate.

In the last few years however there has been new information on the effectiveness of brushing styles.  Prior to the Vancouver Olympics a secret study was done primarily at the University of Western Ontario on brushing.  The study looked at numerous areas in brushing but primarily concerned itself with equipment and technique.  I’ll do my best to relay the results here.

Let’s start with the equipment.  By now most people are familiar with the EQ brand of brush head.  This design came directly out of the brushing study and again, by now most people are familiar with the “foil” insert.  This insert is inserted on the foam inside the brush head immediately up against the brushing fabric.  This addition was made because it was found that somewhere near 40% of the heat generated when brushing was lost up the shaft of the brush itself.  The foil reflects this heat back down towards the ice surface.  That in itself is a significant improvement.  That’s not the end of it however.  What you may not know is the the fabric covering the head is special as well.  The fabric is much more water resistant that what was previously used.  It was found that the effectiveness of the brush head was significantly diminished when the head became wet.  In addition, it was found the dirt accumulation on the head also had a significant effect of the effectiveness of the brush.  It follows then that any foreign material on the brush surface diminishes it’s effectiveness and sure enough, the brush heads the had stenciled patters on them were, too, less effective.  Today there is a serious competitor to the EQ head.  The “Norway” head comes out of (wait for it…) Norway and is seen as an equivalent to the EQ head.  To be honest, I don’t know what’s inside the Norway head but it is distinctive due to the angular ridges seen on the brushing surface.  I won’t comment further on that head other than to say it’s quite popular and is as common, if not more so than the EQ head.

Next we’re going to talk technique.  First lets review the principles of brushing.  The purpose of brushing is to generate heat.  The more heat (up to a point) that you can generate, the more effective your brushing is going to be.  You will never melt the ice.  That is a myth proven out by the study.  You can think of the brushing action as polishing the pebble rather than melting it.  In order to generate heat when brushing, you need two things.  Pressure and speed.  Also by way of review, there are two stances you can use while brushing.  The first, is called the “Open” stance and it’s so called because your body is “open” to the path that the stone is taking.  In other words, you are walking forwards while sweeping.  The second is, naturally enough, the “Closed” stance and in this stance your shouders are not facing the house.

The studies showed that there are a few keys to creating maximum pressure and attaining the fastest speed.  First, the closed stance allows a brusher to create more pressure.  This has to do with the biomechanics of the sweeping action and the brushers body position on the brush itself.  Next, a sweeper should endeavour to get into a position where their head is over top of the brush head itself.  A brusher should be bent at the hips and try to get their back flat, or parallel to the ice surface while brushing.  In order to get to this position, the brusher is going to have to position their lowest hand much lower on the brush handle.  Two hand widths from the brush head is a good place to start.  The second, higher hand also has to be lower than it was previously.  Finally, at least one leg should be outside the hip line while brushing.  It’s this combination of positions, in the closed stance, that creates maximum pressure on the brush head.  Someday I’ll get around to putting up pictures but if you can envision how the brusher would look, you’ll see that with the flat back, head over the brush head, one (maybe two) legs outside the hip line, a “tripod” position is created that puts a good portion of the body weight on the brush head.  All three actions are important.  Head over the brush head, flat back without a leg outside the hip line isn’t nearly as effective.  At this point, you’re thinking “but….that’s hard!”  Guess what?  You’re right!  The footwork in this position is incredibly hard to perform and requires practice to get right particularly if you’re trying to get both feet outside the hip line.  It’s an inherently unbalanced position.

The next question usually is whether slider sweeping is acceptable.  Tricky question actually.  The short answer is no, longer answer is yes.  No, it’s not ok because it’s hard and you can fall very easily.  This isn’t for beginners…or intermediate players.  I’ll explain this more later.  Yes you can do it if you’re able to brush with your partner in the closed position.  Suffice it to say, that while it seems easier, the effectiveness isn’t what you think unless you’re doing it very well.

A few other tidbits that came out of the study.  The most effective sweeping happens in the last half of the sheet when the weight starts to come off the stone.  In fact, early brushing does very little.  Surprising but proven.  That being said, a “heavy clean” all the way down the ice can add 3 feet to the stone.  Also, by the end of a full sheets worth of brushing, brushers are at about 65% of their power.  Now, combine those statements and what do you get?  You will realize that at the end of the shot, when sweeping makes the most difference, your sweepers will only be at 65% of their power if they brushed the whole way down the ice.  Better to wait to sweep to maxiumize effectiveness.

The “third sweeper” or wandering skip has how much of an effect?  Exactly zero.  But, I hear you saying, if my sweepers are at 65% don’t I add some effect by swapping out with them?  A few points to that.  First, you’re a skip.  Most skips aren’t properly conditioned to sweep very well.  Second, there is a “swapping out” point that requires some fancy footwork during which sweeping strokes will be lost.  The loss of those strokes overtakes any real help you might be adding.  Third, rarely does a skip not need to be calling line.  The bottom line for those in the house wanting to come out and sweep, DON’T DO IT!!  You aren’t helping and are likely hurting.

The last note on brushing and ice conditions is on hands and knees left on the ice.  Does it REALLY have an impact?  Wow, yes, and a HUGE impact.  Three seconds of a part on the ice leaves a signifcant heat signature that will last a minumum of 30 seconds.  Rocks will be affected, bet on it.  Next, what do you usually see after a player has left a hand or knee on the ice?  Someone comes along and brushes the spot vigorously.  The effect?  Well, it’s actually making a bad situation worse.  This makes sense if you think about it.  Brushing warms up the ice.  Brushing a warm spot makes that spot warmer.  One or two quick brushes over the spot is fine but any more just makes it worse so don’t.  Interestingly, dragging your fingers along the ice after your release was shown to have no effect on the ice at all.  The real culprits are hands and knees left in one spot.

Hopefully this clears up some of the confusion out there about the “new” sweeping techniques.  As always, if you have any questions or comments give me a shout!