Break a leg! Oh, and have good game…
December 20, 2005 Revised Feb. 2013
I often find it difficult to explain to people why I love curling so much. It’s not that I have difficulty with what I enjoy, it’s just that there is so much, I have a hard time getting down to a key few things. The game requires both physical and mental finesse, that’s a big one. You don’t risk getting a piece of lumber smacked across your head, that’s another. While both of those are valid reasons for liking curling, I have to say the biggest reason I love our sport is because of the atmosphere around the game. For the most part, curling clubs are comfortable, friendly places to be whether you’re on the ice or off and I simply enjoy being a part of all that. Off the ice you’re typically in a lounge or bar with comfortable seating and lots of people who are all there to enjoy the same game. Next time you’re at the club, take a look around. See if you can tell which people are on the same team just by looking at them. Unless they all have team jackets or something, then usually it’s hard because everyone socializes with each other in the lounge before the game. Things are a little different when you start moving up the competitive ladder but there is still an air of camaraderie among all players even at that level.
On the ice, sportsmanship (not to be sexist, sportswomanship too…) is paramount even at the highest levels of competition. When I talk about sportsmanship I mean playing by the rules and showing respect for the opposition (Everyone should look up the curlers code of ethics in the front of the rulebook. Ask your coach to see it, or me!). Some of this sportsmanlike behaviour is laid out in the rulebook specifically but much of the curling tradition is not. It’s something that is passed on from more experience curlers to newer players. Some people have little value for those traditions but I believe that it’s those “unwritten” rules that really enrich the game and make it more than sliding granite down some pebbly ice. For many curlers, the game is more of a social activity than a sport, a chance to get together with friends and enjoy some time together. If you ignore the traditions that go with the game you’re missing a considerable part of the sport as a whole.
You should realize that while some of the social stuff changes depending on your competition level, what doesn’t change is the reason for these traditions in the first place, namely respect for your competition and the game itself. So, what sorts of things am I talking about? Let’s start on the ice. Every game starts with a handshake and a good word to your opponent. This isn’t a heavy weight boxing match though and it isn’t the time to stare down your opponent. You should look your opponent in they eye and be friendly about it. This is the first opportunity to show you sportsmanship and you should use it by firmly shaking your opponents hand (with your glove or mitts off!) and wishing them good luck. You should really mean it too. You want your opponent to push you to perform as well as you can. Hopefully you will triumph over the other team with superior skill and not because they had a bad game. Once the game has begun, cheering when your opponents miss is not considered good sportsmanship and it’s something I see all too regularly at our club games. It shows a lack of respect and honestly a lack of class. The Golden Rule applies in curling too, how would you like it if the other team clapped and cheered when you flash a take out? It’s bad form and more importantly it’s a sign of your own weaknesses. I tell my teams to always play as though your opponents are going to make every shot. NEVER play assuming they will miss. The reasons for this go beyond good sportsmanship. If you are always playing for the other team to miss, what happens when you start playing more skilled teams that don’t miss? You’re going to lose big my friends and worse, you’re not going to know how to win at that level. Respect your opponents; assume they will make their shots. If they don’t, then it’s a bonus. Smart, skilled teams play this way and you should too. Cheering for your own team on the other hand is different. Teams members should encourage each other and congratulate each other on good shots. There shouldn’t be any end zone dances(unless you just won the Olympic trials…we’ll forgive you at that point and maybe even dance with you…) but a small high five and a “good shot” comment are very appropriate. Keep it to the side and out of the face of your opponents. Don’t use a good shot as an opportunity to taunt the opposition. Your skill and performance should speak for themselves. Curling has a long tradition of remaining completely silent when you make a good shot. In the not so distant past it was considered very bad form to cheer your own shots. I don’t personally agree with this and I’m glad to see it changing. There is no harm in encouraging your own team and celebrating good shots as long as it is in the spirit of support and not as a way to antagonize the other team. Remember, the point of any celebration should be to encourage and boost your own team and not to swagger in front of your opponents. As long as you have this attitude then you should have no problems.
That’s the positive side of your performance. How about when things are, well, in the dumps? We all get upset from time to time with ourselves, our team, the other team, the ice…you get the idea. Our reaction to these difficult situations shows how resilient we are. Resilient; the ability to quickly return to a previous good condition. Elite teams work on “returning to a good condition quickly” as much as anything other aspect of the game. At the worst extreme, players will grumble, yell, scream and toss brooms. This is harmful for so many reasons. First, for the player venting like this, this reaction usually only serves to make an unfortunate situation worse. A big rant after a bad miss will typically only make it stick in your mind longer. You want to learn to put those bad shots out of your mind and “return to a previous good condition” as quickly as possible. Also, this sort of behaviour has a very bad impact on the REST OF YOUR TEAM! In the worst cases you may even be causing disruptions to adjoining sheets. Trust me I have first hand experience playing on a team with a player who cannot contain his emotion when mistakes are made. On bad shots it’s common for him to use as many four letter words as he can dredge up and to toss his broom toward the back boards. It makes me very uncomfortable and it also makes preparing for my shot much more difficult. (I won’t reveal who this player is, (*…cough my vice, cough cough*….) You’re going to have bad games and you’re going to make bad shots. You will likely throw shots that cost your team the game. Good players learn to rebound from those things and they learn to contain their emotions for their own sakes and for the sake of their team. Plus, trust me, you look like a goof.
Case in point, I was playing in a great bonspiel in my junior days at Avonlea. For those of you who never had the pleasure of playing there, Avonlea had eight sheets of ice on either side of the lounge area. Today it’s an indoor soccer facility, a tremendous shame and loss for curling in the GTA but I digress… My point is it was big out there. On the sheet next to me was a team with whom I was pretty familiar with (they were from our zone and we had numerous matches with them over the years). One player in particular on this team (their skip) was a hot head. Everyone who had ever played against this team knew about the skips temper. I never found out what exactly caused the ruckus but mid way through a game this fellow missed a shot. From the near hog line he fired his broom toward the glass like a helicopter blade suddenly separated from its fuselage. The broom crashed into the wall, narrowly missing the glass, so loudly that everyone on seven sheets of ice froze in place, unmoving and speechless. I have never been in a curling rink where every single player on the ice stopped to look at one person. The silence on the ice lasted a good 30 seconds while this player scooted down toward the house (he was the only person even moving at this point…) where he stopped and quietly picked up his broom. The lounge, full of parents and spectators was aghast.
I’m still not sure he was even aware of the disruption he had caused. It was the worst spectacle I have ever witnessed during a curling game. Years later I had the pleasure of getting to know the vice from that team. He told me that even 10 years after playing with this individual, he still found himself answering to his poor behaviour. Anyone who had even heard of this team had a story about this person. Don’t do this to yourself or to your team. A quick review of the rule book can also help your understanding of etiquette. The rules specifically state that players are to stand out of the way of the opposition when they are not throwing. This means, if you are not the skip and you’re not getting ready to throw you should be standing quietly on the side lines, between the hog lines, not moving wildly about. If you’re the skip, you should be behind the back line with your BROOM UP watching the ice quietly (the same goes if you are the vice and you’re in the house…). If you’re next to throw, you may stand behind the thrower but stay up on the back boards and be QUIET. (Are you starting to see a theme here???) These are really important points and it’s behaviour everyone should follow. Like most of this stuff, it’s a matter of respect for the other team. Purposely distracting the other team when they shoot is against the rules and spirit of the game.
Just as we start our games with a handshake, we finish them in the same manner. Once the last rock has been thrown you can now congratulate your opponents on a good game. It’s not the time to rub in a big win and it’s not the time to flaunt your good fortune. Again, Golden Rule, how would you like hearing “Nyahh, nyahh, nyahh” after a close, hard fought game, which you lost? Typically after the game the bigger kids, (okay I mean the adults…) will sit together and have a drink. Winners are expected to buy their counterparts (skips buy for skips, vice buys for vice etc.) a drink and the counterpart is expected to offer one back after the first round. This is a social ritual that extends to most club play and club level bonspiels you play in. Club teams in Ontario and east expect this sort of behaviour. Again, as you move up the competitive path, you will find this happening less and less. Just look at how the lounge area is laid out. There is a table for every sheet and eight chairs around each of these tables. What a coincidence huh!? I was once lucky enough one year to play in a zone playdown that had both Russ Howard and Ed Werenich in the draw. (We were confident of going to regions that year, you know, to watch…) I wasn’t fortunate enough to play against either team but mid way through the first day, some of the teams were complaining that Russ wasn’t staying around after the game for a drink. Most of the teams at this event were club teams but lets be serious, Russ Howard’s team was not. They had a realistic goal of winning the world championship that year and were just starting down that long road. It’s likely that if Russ Howard had a drink (or two!) after every curling game he played he would be half in the bag for more than half the time. Russ was very friendly throughout the weekend but he was there to play not to socialize. You will find this to be the case as your level of competition increases. Out west (Alberta at least) it’s not even common for the two club teams to sit together after the game. The attitude is, “I just spent 2 hours trying to beat you, I don’t want to have a drink with you…” It’s a little more competitive than we see in Ontario perhaps but it’s their tradition and it should be respected. Just as we have our one table per sheet, the clubs out west have two tables per sheet, with four chairs per table. Recognize these different customs and adjust for who and where you’re playing.
All of these many customs and traditions (and rules!) come down to one important concept. You need to show some consideration and respect for your team and your opponent. You’ll find a certain amount of pride from curlers about the game and much of it has to do with the great spirit there is in curling. That spirit should be a part of your experience too and it’s something you should always try to add to. If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them.