This curling thing we do is a very “sided” game to play. By that, I mean that when we play our favourite game we are very definitely “righties” or “lefties”. There has not to my knowledge been a successful switch hitter, uh, thrower in the roaring game. This side bias certainly exists in other sports, just think of baseball where a hitter has a preferred side of the plate for swinging the bat and where they wear their catching glove on one hand, throwing with the other. This matters in baseball. A lot! Managers go through considerable mental effort going over rosters and pitching matchups particularly when they need to make substitutions. The handedness of the pitcher is considered carefully because a like handed pitcher is generally more successful against a like handed hitter. Consider too how this affects, say the first baseman. Left handed first basemen are prized for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they wear their gloves on the big side of the field and not closest to the line. Lefties on first also have a positional advantage when it comes to the pick off from the pitcher. All this simply serves to show that our physical preference for one hand or the other is in play in practically all sports. Curling is no exception.
There is, for instance, a significant difference in the line of delivery to a single broom placement for righties and lefties. This assumes the use of the no lift delivery of course, where the start point of the stone is closer to the toe of the hack foot, rather than the center line. Brushing effectiveness is another place where our handedness affects our performance. It’s been proven that a closed stance is more effective than an open stance. In case this means nothing to you, a closed stance is essentially the stance where you need to stand somewhat sideways facing the stone in motion. So if you hold your broom in a “left” grip (that is with the left hand high and right hand low), the closed stance means you’ll be on the left side of the stone as seen from the throwing hack. The same grip swept from the right side of the stone as seen from the throwing hack is an open stance because your hips and shoulders are open to the direction of the path of the stone. I’m a right handed thrower. I’m a left handed sweeper. Yes, it’s not common but it happens and it affects how I sweep considerably.
Now, I know you’re saying, so what? Sure we know this but what is the point? Well, it just so happens that recently I was out in a practice with some of my favourite curlers and this notion of sidedness came up. It seems one of my players thought she was having a problem with her out turn (counterclockwise because she’s a righty) and my other player thought she was having a similar problem with her in turn (clockwise because…yes, she’s a righty too). Before making any judgements, I studied my players and their deliveries. I went back to basics and that meant I didn’t start with any assumptions or in fact even observations about their turns. I looked first to their timing, or sequence of movements. Everything seemed to be just fine there so I moved on to their line of delivery. We went through and exercise designed to see just how straight along the slide path they were sliding. My out turn problem player’s first slide was perfect. Right up the line. My in turn problem player’s first slide was also perfect. Second slides for both? Not so good. The difference was this. My out turn problem was sliding beautifully up the left side of the sheet. My in turn problem was sliding beautifully up the right side of the sheet. When they switched sides, it all fell apart. Both of them were sliding wide on their problem sides, out turn wide on the right, in turn wide on the left.
It wasn’t the handle or grip that was causing the problem, it was something lower in triangle of skills we need to assess. It turns out what looked like a “handle problem” was nothing of the sort. It was in fact, a “side of the sheet” problem, they only thought it was a handle issue because on those sides of the sheet, those are the handles they most often throw. Sidedness was a major contributor to why they were missing shots, not handle.
As coaches, this aspect of the game needs to be in our minds at all times. Skips have preferences for handles, so do players. Brushers prefer one side of the stone over the other (sometimes). Our players strengths and weaknesses can very often be identified by some sort of sided preferences. Helping our athletes mirror their motion on both sides of whatever aspect of the game we’re working on is critical to consistency. Even our physical preperation needs to address the fact that we get into a very specifically sided position over and over throughout game play. How often do you right handed players stretch out in a left handed delivery position? Physical trainers who are knowledgable about curling will tell you that if you really want balance in the game, you’ll work both sides of your body equally.
Next time you’re out there watching your players keep in mind this concept of sidedness when trying to detect errors. It might save you a lot of work!