Get a Grip!
November 2009 Revised Feb. 2013
The other night while attempting to escape from the curling club, I was accosted by a fellow coach with a technical question. For the record, I love talking curling with people and frankly don’t feel like I get to do that as often as I would like so, what should have been a 5 minute conversation turned into an hour long one. This was quite beneficial because it made me realize that what is needed for curlers and coaches is sometimes a refresher or confirmation of the information they already have. I personally don’t believe that the CCA does a very good job of keeping their coaches up to date on the technical developments within the sport. It could be because they have absolutely no process for doing that but I digress. In any event, the recognition of that gap made me think again about what I could write about. Maybe there is room out here for some more material on topics which we all THINK we already know about. Today, in honour of my coaching friend, I’m going to talk about grips.
How you hold the rock through your delivery is critical. Ed Werenich once said something to the effect that if you have a million dollar slide and a five cent release, then you have a five cent delivery and it’s true. Now caution here! Remember that fixing your grip and release may not be the first thing you need to work on. For the sake of today, let’s say you’ve got good balance and decent timing. (see other articles on that!)
The proper way to hold a stone is with the second pads of at least your first three fingers under the handle of the stone. They should be positioned such that your middle finger is about over the center of the stone. Your thumb and forefinger should be on the side of the handle applying a firm but controlled amount of pressure. The “V” formed between your forefinger and thumb should point to your opposite shoulder when the stone is in the 12 o’clock position. For those of you who only know digital clocks, that means when the handle is pointing straight ahead. Finally the wrist should be in a high position not slumped down along the handle. This is view of a pretty good grip:
Figure 1 – Side View
Please ignore my couch in the background there…and the carpet. Just be thankful I was able to hold a curling stone AND take pictures at the same time!
Figure 2 – Top View
Take note of the V pointing towards my left shoulder and take note of where my thumb is. One of the most common grip faults is when a player has their thumb on the top of the handle like this:
Figure 3 – Errant Thumb
Why is that a problem? The problem with this comes when you put your rotation on the stone. If your thumb is on top of the stone then when you rotate your wrist to apply the turn you will tend to “fling” the out turn (that’s counter clockwise for righties and clockwise for lefties). Also, you will under rotate the in turn (that’s clockwise for righties and counter clockwise for lefties). It’s a function of how your wrist works. A high wrist and fingers as shown allows your wrist to move practically the same way with both turns, albeit in opposite directions. This means consistent turns and releases for you.
Another common fault in the grip is the position of the hand, specifically how far up or back on the handle it is. At this point I need to caution people about the evils of television. (Yes, I know you think I’m having another ‘eccentric’ diversionary moment but bear with me.) I was teaching a clinic a few weeks ago and one of the participants kept brining up ‘how it’s done on TV’. When you watch curling on TV you have to remember that those players are as close to professional as our sport gets. This means they don’t do things the way club players do. They also don’t play in the same environment as club players do. Arena ice requires a different touch than club ice! Don’t automatically follow what you see on TV! You cannot know the very many differences in the CONDITIONS under which they are playing versus what we generally play in clubs. Here is a picture of what you might see on TV:
Figure 4 – End of the handle
When you apply your turn to the stone, you want the stone to turn around its center. You don’t want to apply rotation that is not around the center because that will throw the stone off its intended path. I’m not sure I made that point clear so let me try again. Ideally, you must not allow your stone to change its path when you apply the turn. The only way to do that is to rotate it around the center of the stone while sliding. With the grip above, that’s impossible. Again, if you watch TV you’re going to see many players with this “back of the handle” type grip. There is a reason for this. On arena ice there is so much curl that player have to ‘set’ their stones on to their intended paths. This is much easier to do with the grip shown above. Be careful! Don’t go away now and change your grip when you get on swingy ice unless you have practiced it and are absolutely sure you know what you’re doing. The grip in Figure 4 can be a killer to you and your team if you don’t know when or how to apply it.
The last sort fault I’ll mention (and the one that sparked the conversation that sparked this article) is the death grip.
Figure 5 – Death Grip
I tried really hard to get a picture of white knuckles here. Some very high level players swear by this. I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to why it’s required. A light but firm grip allows you to gently open your hand when you’re releasing the stone and that allows for more control and a finer touch. When confronted with this grip, I tried it. Personally, I found it was like releasing a clamp when I let go of the stone. Of course you want a clean release, one that clearly lets the rock slide out of your hand but I’m not convinced this accomplishes that. As long as you have control of the stone through your delivery then you are gripping it tightly enough. I also find that with this grip you have too much contact with the stone. See how the fingers are wrapped all the way around the handle? You have to make sure that all those fingers get out of the way when you release. This can be trickier than it sounds especially when you’re releasing all that tension in your fingers.
The information in this article comes from the course material that the CCA teaches to its coaches at the various technical courses such as “Club Coach” and “Club Coach – Youth”. I like to keep an open mind about this technical stuff because it does change from time to time. Sometimes something simpler comes along that works just as well. Other times something more effective becomes apparent.
Currently this is the accepted way to teach the grip of a curling rock and I like it because I understand and agree with the ‘why’ behind what is done. As a curler you too should be critical of information you get about how to play the game. Never accept the argument, “that’s just the way it’s done”. In fact, be very wary of such an argument and demand to know why.
Here’s hoping some of you out there will be able to ‘get a grip’ now.