Home Sweet Home….NOT!
February 2009 Revised Feb. 2013
After a couple years of doing these articles I finally have a reader inspired topic. It’s comforting to know someone is reading these! Many of the topics that I write about concern how to be a better curler or team. This one isn’t really any different but I am going to put a slightly different slant on it for the less competitive minded of you out there.
I recently competed in the TCA (Toronto Curling Association) Mens “Energizer” bonspiel. For those of you who are not familiar with this bonspiel, it runs for a week in early January and takes place in most of the curling clubs across the greater Toronto area. I think there were somewhere around 160 men’s teams entered this past year. The format has teams playing two games on the first Saturday to determine your draw, A, B, C or D. After that it’s a single elimination event. Teams play each night over the following week to whittle the field down to 16 teams for the semi finals on the following Saturday. It’s fun and to be honest, a great event.
I like this event for a very specific reason. The format allows me to play at other clubs. On the first Saturday you play your two games at one club. On the Monday night you play at a different club. If you survive and keep going you have the potential to play at no less than six different curling clubs right within your own back yard…sort of. I mean, I wouldn’t call Oshawa my back yard but you get my drift. The point is, this bonspiel allows you to broaden your curling experience by playing at other clubs. Why is that important?
There are many benefits to curling out and about. For the curler with competitive aspirations, one of the biggest benefits of getting out of your home club is that it gives you the chance to experience different ice conditions and styles of play. These things are tied together. As an example, if your home club has notoriously straight ice then many of the teams you will meet week in and week out will favour a tap back sort of game. There will be fewer attempts at drawing behind guards. You’ll also find once rocks are behind guards, teams will more likely attempt to remove or run back the guards. It’s likely that your own game will favour the run back / tap back because at home, it’s the only way to score! Clearly your game is then somewhat limited. Playing at club where the ice is substantially more swingy will give you the opportunity to play those delicate draws and even the more quiet take outs. It gives you the chance to play a different sort of game and expand your arsenal and it gives you a broader range of experience against different playing styles.
It also gives you an opportunity to improve your ice reading abilities. Sure the ice changes at your home club week to week and game to game but if your home ice is curling 4 – 10 inches it isn’t suddenly going to curl 2 – 4 FEET one night and that might be what you see when you visit other clubs. You’re going to have to pay close attention at other clubs because you really will be going in there blind. You’ll have to learn to trust what you see and act on that instead of what you might be used to playing on week in and week out. You may find that you have settled into an ice reading slump where you simply take 6 inches of ice for a draw shot because “that’s what it always is”. When your stone overcurls by 2 feet it will be a nice little wake up call for you. That renewed attention to ice conditions is something you can bring home and hopefully use.
Another big advantage to playing in other clubs is that it helps you develop your weight control. You can practice your weight control at one club all you want but the true test of your effectiveness comes in competition at another club. Can you really dial your draw weight from 3.5 seconds to the 3.9 seconds required at another club? We shall see!! Sweepers in particular will have to pay strict attention to this and trust what they are seeing. For instance your ice at home may allow sweepers to carry rocks 6 feet or more. Not all clubs are so lucky and require sweepers to get on stones earlier.
For skips, calling the game at different clubs may be different. Stones may finish differently than at home requiring the person in the house to anticipate the sweep with a little more accuracy. Houses may be more or less “lively” than you are used to which means you have to take more care on how much of a stone you need to hit to get the roll you require.
It’s the varied experience that is valuable. If you know one set of conditions then you can only ever be good in those conditions. Your home club only hosts so many bonspiels and never all the stages of a playdown. If you plan to be competitive then you need a varied curling experience if you are going to be successful.
This is well and fine for those “go getters” but what about the club players? I mean, why bother travelling outside the club to curl? Isn’t our club good enough? I would ask those of you who “aren’t competitive”, why do you play at all? I’m sure some of the answers will sound like, “for the fun of it” and good for you. That’s a perfectly reasonable answer. I think that even the competitive players should be primarily playing for the fun of it. God bless him but even Glenn Howard has to show up at the Beer Store to make a living and if that’s the case there isn’t one of us who is going to make a living from curling. You better enjoy the experience of the game even at a competitive level.
Back to visiting other clubs! What’s fun about that?? Driving in the winter, worrying about your stuff in the locker room, paying more (sometimes less!) for drinks…bah. Actually, I would hope the fun of playing outside your own club would be obvious. Without exception, when clubs host visiting players they make their best attempt at making them feel welcome. The atmosphere of a curling club just encourages interaction. It’s a great chance to meet new people with whom you already have a common interest, curling! The curling rink hasn’t yet supplanted the golf course as a place to do business and schmooze with clients but I know business has been born at friendly bonspiels and it’s not hard to see why! People are in a friendly relaxed atmosphere and encouraged to take some time to get to know each other.
It’s also an ideal time to support our sport outside our own limited circle. It is my opinion that one of the biggest failings of our sport is how we sequester ourselves between clubs. There is no common mind between curling clubs where practices can be systematically shared. The CCA is making some headway there but it really is up to the clubs themselves to reach out. Some of you out there have played at different clubs and you know that there are vast differences in how things are done. Getting out to those clubs allows you to tap into those ideas and to learn what good things other clubs are doing to improve the game. Going the other way, it allows you to share the good things your club is doing. It would be nice if there were a more systematic approach to this but for now this is our best way of sharing ideas and practices from club to club. Some of you enjoy that organizational part of the game and we thank you for it. Seeing what others are doing and sharing what you’re doing strengthens the sport all around.
Experiencing other clubs can be inspiring. I’ll give you an example. Much of my coaching is with junior aged athletes so I’m always looking to see how other clubs run their junior programs or even to see what the juniors are involved in. My first two games in this year’s Energizer were at the Unionville curling club. The club was selling a fairly standard lunch of sandwiches and soup. The price was reasonable and the food was good. What impressed me was not the food, or the price but the service. The food was all being served by volunteer members from the clubs junior section. Proceeds from the food sales were going towards helping out the juniors at Unionville. I was impressed! The concept was simple but the execution was great. There were plenty of kids there to help and their enthusiasm was contagious. It was clear that these kids were interested in doing this to make money for their club. They did their jobs like pros. Experiences like this make us want to go back to our own clubs and “steal” ideas.
Curling is a social sport at all levels. Whether you’re a competitive player or a social player, get out of your own club and see what’s out there. It’s good for your game, it’s good for your club and it’s good for your own personal curling experience.