Yes, I know sometimes I struggle with my titles and this one is obviously a stretch so cut me a little slack. A and I are the next two letters in our strategic acronym FESRAIN. A stands for Ability and I for Ice.
First, Ability. Ability clearly refers to a player’s skill level in throwing any particular shot. As with most of the terms in FESRAIN some of what the letters refer to is obvious but a little more digging helps us see that there’s a lot more going on. Clearly, not many club curlers are going to expect to make the ‘in-off’ triple that you just watched Wayne Middaugh throw so you wouldn’t likely call that shot. That however, is the extreme case. What about the delicate tap back early in the game? Is that something that’s in your back pocket? Ability is one of those fluid factors that we need to be wary of. As club curlers we’ve all had streaks, for better or worse when either we couldn’t miss the button or couldn’t find the house. Assessing whether a particular shot is within your range RIGHT NOW is an important consideration for the club player. It is that inconsistency that the higher level players work to remove from their game because it’s simply one more factor that you don’t want to have to consider when you’re playing against the best. Consistency is king (or queen).
When coaches are thinking about a players shot repertoire we are thinking about the developmental stage of the athlete. An extreme example of this is peel weight shots for the newly graduated little rocker. It’s physically very difficult for an 80lb child to throw a 40lb curling stone that hard and so we wouldn’t be pushing that right away. Players working on their own development should think in these terms as well. The old adage is that you have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run.
Also, it’s not only physical ability that applies here. If you’re a skip who simply doesn’t understand angles then perhaps those aren’t the shots you should be looking at first. You should make a note of that and go out to improve that part of your game! Ability refers to how likely a particular shot is to be made considering all the environmental factors that go into that shot (line of delivery, release, strength, flexibility, balance, broom placement, sweepers weight judgement…). Oh yes, curling is a team game and no player throws alone! If you are prone to calling a lot of delicate weight shots then you better have some good sweepers who can really judge weight well! Team game, team shots, team ability.
Ability also covers your opponent’s ability. When you’re considering the shot you want to call one thing you need to think about is what leave your opponent. We NEVER call shots expecting a miss from our opponent but if you can choose one that will give your opponent a harder shot then that’s an important consideration.
Ice is the other factor we’re looking at here. Usually when we’re talking about ice conditions we’re thinking the amount of curl. Straight ice favours a “shuffleboard” style with tap backs and hit and rolls whereas ice with more curl allows you to actually curl around things and play a draw game. Everyone reading this has been in a game where there was a guard or port where the path around wasn’t a sure bet. Will the ice curl THAT much? The amount of curl on a sheet has a profound impact on how deep your guards need to be in order to be effective. If you ever watch curling on TV you’ll see center guards literally at the very top of the rings as a rule of thumb. Why? Because their ice curls four feet plus and if you place guards much higher than the top of the rings then they aren’t effective. With that much curl a stone can be thrown with enough weight to remove “hidden” stones. The TV game is therefore that much more precise because of the ice conditions. Ice reading is clearly a hugely important skill that is difficult to develop outside a game situation. Perhaps one of the greatest ice readers is Russ Howard. If you ever watch a TSN broadcast you would almost think that Russ is psychic with his ability to predict misses. Truth is, he sees the ice so well that he knows better than the players what the ice is doing and so knows immediately if the broom is in the right place.
The speed of the ice is an important thing to know when you’re playing a game (duh…) but it doesn’t generally factor into shot selection unless you’re in a somewhat extreme situation. If ice is extremely heavy then it might be difficult make quieter weight shots and you might look at playing a tap back style instead. With ice within the “normal” range of speed this really isn’t a consideration.
Next up we’ll talk about the last factor in FESRAIN and how the different factors work together!