Getting Started

A New Year Begins

October 2005 Revised Feb. 2013

Another curling season has begun for most of us and for me that now means more than just playing a few games a week. I’m lucky enough to be involved with coaching juniors and bantams in addition to my intense playing schedule (hey, two games a week is intense for some people…). For those of you who don’t know me, well, there isn’t much I can do about that. Over the last ten years I’ve worked at getting my NCCP coaching certification in curling. I’m now Level 3 certified and am active in many areas of coaching and athlete instruction.

I’ve always tried to gather as much curling resource material as possible to help me improve my game and I thought it might be beneficial (and fun!) for me to return something into that well of knowledge. Over the course of the season, I’m going to post as series of articles that hopefully will provide you with some ideas and tips to help your game and curling experience in general.

My inspiration for this came from the NTC (National Training Centre) and the head dude out there, Mr. Bill Tschirhart.  Bill is no longer the head of operations there but is still active as a curling educator. If you’re reading this then you can most likely find your way around the internet so I really urge you to go to his website (look in my links page) and look through the articles posted there. The information there is fantastic and covers practically every aspect of the game. Also, Bill is an extremely helpful guy who graciously answers emails from people like me,whom he doesn’t know from a hole in the ground. Check it out; it’s well worth it.

So, how do we begin the year? It may sound like a silly question but how you approach your first few times out on the ice can affect your whole year. First, you should get into the habit of stretching before you go on the ice. This means every time you go out on to the ice whether you’re practicing or playing. I am one of the worst offenders on this particular point and have resolved to change that this year (especially after enduring the stiffness brought on by my first two times out this year). The older you get the more your muscles need this prep time and regular stretching keeps you loose for longer. Doing a pre-game or pre-practice stretch has huge benefits; not doing it can cause you huge problems. “But,” you may say, “my muscles are going to stretch anyway once I start playing so why bother?” Let’s look at what’s going on within your muscles.

Muscles are made up of fibers that can contract (or shrink), relax and lengthen. These fibers are like people on a tug of war rope. When they’re resting they’re all facing different directions. If the other team gives a light pull on the rope (that’s like your muscle flexing) then there are probably going to be enough people facing the direction of the pull to hold on and pull back. If suddenly there is a very strong pull from the other side of the rope then some of the people on the rope (those people not facing the direction of the pull) are going to have the rope pulled out of their hands. That’s what happens when you tear a muscle, these small fibers pull away from each other.

Stretching is like slowly pulling on that tug of war rope. As the pull gets stronger, more people realize what’s going on and turn in the direction of the pull and pull back. In your muscles, fibers line up in the same direction in a similar way. Stretching gives these fibers time to line up without pulling away. Once the fibers are lined up, they will tend to stay that way through activity and your muscles will more easily go through that motion again. Don’t be fooled by this simple explanation, muscles are very complex things and the way they work is much more complicated than what I’ve described. I only say this to make you understand that much can go bad if you start pulling that rope before you’re ready.

So, you say, “I’ll just take a few practice slides before I start.” Well, that’s not a good way to prepare for a couple of reasons. As we all know, it’s chilly out there on the ice and muscles in your body tend to tighten up in the cold. Performing an activity in a cold environment without a proper stretch makes you more likely to pull or tear a muscle because fibers are more bunched up to start. Also, keep in mind the goal (that word again!!) of stretching is to prepare all the muscles you’re going to use. This means your legs muscles, inner thighs, hamstrings (those big ones on the front of your legs above your knees), your calf muscles, your upper body and even your arms. Practice slides do nothing to prepare you for the most physically intensive part of curling, sweeping.

Some basic tips on stretching:

Coaches in the know will advise you to use a “Step, Stretch, Slide” technique to prepare for games.  What is this?  Step.  This is an activity that will get your blood pumping.  Something like running on the spot or jumping jacks is perfect.  This shouldn’t be done so hard that you start to sweat.  The point is to get your blood moving and essentially let your body know it’s in for some work.

Stretch  There are two types of stretches.  Dynamic (suggesting movement) and static (suggesting…no movement).  When warming up you should be doing dynamic stretches.  These are things like “golf swings”, “leg swings” or lunges.  The static stretching is what most of us are used to.  This involves getting into some difficult position and holding it there.  Those are best used after your activity to help eliminate the build up of lactic acid in your muscles.  It’s the lactic acid that causes the soreness.

Slide  Yes, NOW you can take that first practice slide.  In fact, take a few.

Some other tips on stretching:

Don’t bounce. Bouncing does the exact thing you’re trying to prevent by stretching. It’s putting your muscles through a quick action before they’re ready. Bouncing is something than can cause a serious amount of damage to a muscle because it causes lots of little tears. That creates lots of little scar tissue and can decrease your flexibility and mobility.

Don’t over extend. You should feel a pull in your muscles when you’re stretching but if it hurts you’re going too far and probably starting to do some damage. Relax and breathe normally while stretching. It’s a documented fact (because I “documented” it here…) that people forget to breathe during intense activity and starve their body of oxygen when they need it most.

Stretch both sides. I know curling requires one leg under you and another trailing but consider all the motion you’re going to go through in a game. You walk on two legs; make sure both of them are ready for action.

Another important thing everyone should do at the beginning of the year is to consider his or her goals. Many people think “goals” mean how many games you’re going to win. Goals are about things that are much more important than winning or losing. Goals really are simply what you want to accomplish. It’s not any more complicated than that. For instance, one of my goals for this season is getting through the entire year without strangling my vice on my Monday night men’s team! See, nothing to do with winning or losing! You’re all out here to have fun, take some time to consider what sorts of things would help you to have the most fun. Goals don’t have to be about an entire season. You may have short-term goals. Figure out what is going to make the game the most fun for you and that is where your goal setting begins.

Need ideas?

How about: I want to meet five new people while curling. I want to play as a vice for one game. I want to learn to throw take out weight. I want to learn to slide with a flat foot. I want to learn to sweep on both sides of the rock. I want to figure out what FESRAIN means. I want to slide all the way to the hog line. Get the idea?

Remember always make you goals realistic. Setting unreasonable goals is discouraging and is does the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do. Personally I’d like to play in the Brier this year but should that be a goal of mine? If I understand the work and commitment it would take AND if I believe I have the talent AND if I find a team with the same goals, talent commitment etc. then maybe it’s okay. For the record, it’s more a dream than a goal. It’s not a good goal for me because it’s just not realistic. I’m better off buying lottery tickets. A more realistic goal is the one I already mentioned; to become a Level 3 certified coach. I know that with enough work and desire I can do it. On the other hand, don’t make your goals too easy; otherwise you get nothing out of accomplishing them. “I’m not going to fall asleep during a game” isn’t a very rewarding goal.

Take some time to think for just a short while on what would make you a happy curler. Why did you start playing? What part of the game do you really enjoy? That’s what goals are about. They give you something to look forward to every time you go out. You never have to share your goals with anyone but if you do then you can get help in accomplishing them. Having goals as a team is a great way to pull everyone together. The teams I’m coaching this year are going to start the year off by creating a list of things that we want to accomplish together as a team. Over the year we’ll support each other in what we do to make those things happen. At the end of the year we’ll be able to go back and celebrate all those things that we accomplished. I would be most happy to talk to any of you about setting goals for yourselves.

I hope you enjoyed this first attempt. I know it wasn’t really hard-core curling but there’s a whole season for that. I’ve already got my next article planned out and it’s going to be much more curling intensive so stick with me.

Keep your broom on the ice,

Sean Turriff

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