The Natural Order of the Curling Delivery
October 2006 Revised Feb. 2013
Welcome back! Believe it or not, there are two clubs in Ontario that have had ice in since mid-August. I’ve personally had the pleasure of watching some bantam games in a great summer league running out in Oakville and I’ve been to a fantastic weekend long camp with the girls team that I coach. I can do without the drive from Richmond Hill to Oakville at rush hour but I’ll tell you, once you get in the club and looking out over those pristine sheets of ice, it all comes rushing back, well mostly. I haven’t personally thrown a rock yet this year (I’m DYING to) but already my plans for the season are firming up, including my plans to resume writing these little articles.
Oh how I struggled with what topic to write about for the first article of this new curling season! I actually ended up writing two different “beginning of the year” articles and you’ll see the other one pretty close on the heels of this one. I finally settled on a topic that I thought would benefit most players more, a curling delivery refresher.
Here’s something you’ll never hear from my vice, “I’m missing the broom on my outturns, can you help?”
“Why, yes I can, thanks for asking” would be my reply in the fantasy world where he really did ask instead of simply missing week in and out and blaming me. Honestly, when I’m asked to help someone it makes all that time and effort I spent getting certified as a curling coach worth it! My first response to this sort of question is to ask the player to slide a few times for me without a stone. After all, if I’m going to be of any use helping this player who isn’t my vice “fix” their outturn then I need to see what they’re doing in their delivery. Why do I ask them to slide without a rock though when clearly they were asking for help with what seems to be a release issue? That’s where the natural order of the curling delivery comes in.
A curling delivery is a complex combination of movements involving the entire body. Trying to fix it from that point of view is a little intimidating. Thankfully it can be broken down into four basic elements. These elements have what I call a natural order. That is, you have to have a decent mastery of the first element before you can work on the second. You have to have a decent mastery of the second element before you can work on the third and so on… This breakdown of the curling delivery is the blood and guts of the level 2 technical curling coaching course (now Competition Coach) and simply knowing the order can go a long way to improving your own delivery.
The first element to master is balance. There is absolutely no sense at all on working on improving your release if you fall over on every third slide. Our student from above will quickly show me if he or she has a balance issue when they slide without a stone. Usually it’s from the wailing protests that they can’t slide without a stone at all…
Good balance starts in the hack. When you get into position to throw your stone, you should not struggle to maintain that position. Your feet should be almost side by side, your slider foot may be slightly ahead of your gripper foot and both feet should be roughly under your shoulders. Your non-throwing hand should be on your broom with the broom head at about 10:00 for righty’s and 2:00 for lefty’s and your throwing hand should be out in front of your slider foot as though you were ready to grip your stone. Your throwing arm should be slightly bent and not locked at the elbow. I heard someone once explain that your throwing arm should be “loosely rigid”. That’s helpful huh? Actually, it is. What it really means is that your throwing arm should be in a definite position with a slight bend and not just flopping around. That’s the rigid part. It should also be relaxed and you should be able to flex is slightly; that’s the “loosely” part. Your back should be fairly straight with your hips and shoulders square to the broom. Your head should be up so you are looking directly up the ice at the target, the broom.
You should be comfortable in this position and not easily pushed off balance. How balanced are you? Get into the hack and ask some responsible person who likes you to gently nudge you from any direction. Gently, I say, no rocking hip checks into the back boards. They should be able to make you sway but not easily knock you over.
As you begin the delivery motion there should be no point where you struggle to stay balanced. Pushing forward, your slider foot should settle nicely under the center of your chest and ideally your toe should be pointing out towards your broom head. The slider foot should be directly under your sternum. If you don’t know where your sternum is, stand up straight then take a steel rod and ram it down through the center of the top of your head. The point where the rod goes through your chest is roughly where your sternum is and your foot should be right under it. Maybe you don’t really need the steel rod, but it helps to explain…
Turning your foot to a slight angle provides sideways stability. Your broom is there as well for you to lean on but really you don’t want to “lean” on your broom anymore than you want to lean on your rock. The broom should ideally just give you a little help fine tuning your balance. Your throwing hand should not be on the ice when you throw without a stone. It’s not that far down when you throw with a stone and if it is on the ice as you slide, it’s likely you’re leaning on your rock. Bring your shoulders back if you find your hand on the ice.
Your trailing leg should extend back behind you and your trailing foot should ideally be pointing in toward your body. I have never personally been able to do this. The best I can manage is to keep my gripper foot straight out behind me. The key here is to make sure your foot doesn’t become a rudder that steers you off course. Don’t let it point out to the side opposite your broom. This may seem like a minor thing however the position of that trailing foot can really make a huge difference in your line up. If it’s turned out away from your body then your hips will follow. If your hips are turned out then they are most definitely NOT square to the broom…hence the line issue.
Now, back to our friend with the outturn problem. If they slide without a stone and they have a balance problem then that is what needs to get corrected first. It may be the cause of the perceived outturn issue.
Assuming balance is not an issue, we move on to the next element, timing. I don’t mean timing of stones or anything to do with a watch actually. What I mean by timing is the order of actions you perform during your delivery. A much better term for this is “Sequence of Movement”. I haven’t yet figured out a cute way to remember this so I’ll just spill it out. Once you’re in the hack the order of movement is:
Raise your hips (not your shoulders, just your hips)
- Bring your slider foot back
- Slide the rock back to your gripper toe
- Park, or pause (only for a very brief moment, don’t hold this position long)
- Slide the rock forward
- Slider foot comes forward
- Push out with your gripper foot from the hack.
Some very good curlers don’t go through all these steps. A great example of a delivery which drops steps is that of David Nedohin. He doesn’t raise his hips at all but clearly it’s not an issue for him. Dave is a high caliber water skier and because he has such incredible strength in his legs, he doesn’t need that extra movement to generate momentum. Most of the rest of us do however.
While a solid delivery like his may not include all these steps, I’ll guarantee you the steps that are in there are in this order. If you’re not doing these actions in this order you will create innumerable problems for yourself. For instance, a very common issue I see in this area is that players often try to move their slider foot forward before starting any forward motion on the rock. What results from this is that the players foot crashes into the stone. This usually pushes the player completely off the line that they wanted to throw on. Go try it. Move your foot forward before the rock and you’ll notice your foot has to bang into the rock. Suddenly you find you need to rush the rock out of the way and usually you’ll have some sort of sideways effect caused by the impact of your foot on the stone. The order of these steps is critical to a proper delivery. If your impulse is to immediately trim out this list my advice to you is, once you get good enough that you do each of these in the right order, then go back and drop some if you want.
There are a lot of technical points to each step but we’ll leave that discussion for another article.
The next phase in delivery development is the line of your delivery. Now that you’re balanced and you are coming out of the hack with the right order of actions you can start worrying about where you’re sliding. If our friend with the unfortunate outturn is still having issues despite solid balance and correct timing then perhaps his line is at fault.
Most of you who have curled for any amount of time will know that the time to get yourself lined up to the broom is when you get into the hack. Your balanced position in the hack should be such that you are facing the target straight on. Another way to say this is that you should be square to the broom. Pop quiz, what part of your body should you set square to the broom? A common answer to this is your shoulders. If you said this answer, then you get a prize! Second prize though because it’s the wrong answer.
You must first square your hips to the broom. I’ll oversimplify the explanation of this by saying that you slide on your feet (okay foot!). Your foot is at the end of your leg which is connected to your hip, not your shoulder. Since your slide is pretty much dependant on where your foot is going then if you want to make sure you foot is going in the right direction you have to set your hips in that direction first. Your shoulders then should be aligned with your hips. That part is important because your upper body is the part of you controlling the direction the rock is going to travel in. So, first line up your hips, get your shoulders facing the same direction then slide straight out from there. Of course it’s still not as simple as that. Many other things can still go wrong with your line. For instance, your throwing arm may be flared out at the elbow or your gripper foot may be badly angled in the hack which can cause you to push out at an angle. This isn’t as simple as lining up and then firing out of the hack but unless you line up right you don’t have much hope of being on line ever.
Finally, our outturn challenged friend has mastered the first three phases of the curling delivery and likely has solved his or her problem. If not then the last place to look is, yes, the release. Believe it or not, curling is similar to martial arts (and trust me, a high level black belt told me this). It’s similar because you are asking your body to do something very precise using primarily your large muscle groups. Large muscles are good for power, not so good for precision. Precision in curling and martial arts (and everything else) is achieved by using small muscles such as those in your arm and hands. If you want to kick someone in the face then you have to have good control over how your foot moves. If you want to kick someone hard in the face then you need your large muscles. In curling, if you want the rock to get to the other end of the sheet you need those big muscles in your legs to work the way you want. If you want the rock to stop on the four foot, then you need the precision of the smaller muscles in your arm and hand.
Your curling release is the precision part of the delivery. Everything else in the delivery that we have talked about has involved getting your biggest muscles to do what you want. When we work on the release we switch the focus to what we require of our smaller muscles and as usual, it’s not simple. What fun would that be right?
Before we can properly release a curling rock we have to grip it properly. Describing in words how to grip a curling stone is pretty difficult so I have a new feature in my article, pictures!! If you think correctly gripping a curling stone is difficult, I’ll just tell you this. My hand model in these pictures is my son Jacob, all of six years old.
When you grip the stone it should be with a firm but not tight hold. (I know, first it’s loosely rigid now it’s firm but not tight…I’m clearly confusing…) What I mean by this is that you should be holding the handle firmly enough so that when you need to move the stone your hand shouldn’t slip. Your movements should have enough authority to make the rock do exactly what you want it to do. What you don’t want is a death grip on the handle. Squeezing it tight makes releasing harder and when you increase the power you use, you lose control. It’s like picking up an egg with a crane.
Your thumb and pointer finger should be on either side of the handle. Like this:
Your thumb should NOT be on the top of the handle. The problem with this isn’t your thumb exactly but the position of your hand when you release the stone.
If your thumb is on top as previously shown, you cannot put a consistent rotation on the stone. The movement you use to put the rotation on the stone with this grip is going to add sideways momentum on the stone which means you’re not likely going to hit the broom.
Your index finger should curl under the handle and should touch the bottom of handle as should your second finger. The third finger and pinky should only be lightly touching the bottom of the handle. That’s all the hold on the rock you need. Keep your wrist high (very difficult with your thumb on top) as you grip the stone. Letting your wrist drop will result in a dumped rock and maybe that little problem with the outturns you’re having, uh, I mean that our friend is having.
You should be holding the handle such that if you stand straight up with your grip, the stone comes straight up off the ice. If the stone tips forward as you lift then you’re holding it too close to the end of the handle. If it tips back then you’re holding it too close to the neck. This is very important because if you’re not holding it in the center of its mass then when you put the rotation on the rock you’ll be pushing the rock. It’s not the sort of push you’re used to thinking about but the rotation you put on will be more like a “fling” instead of a controlled motion. The technical term for this is “angular momentum” and you will not get the result you want if you apply it to the stone.
With our grip now correct, we turn the handle of the rock such that that the end of the handle points to the side of the sheet we want the stone to curl to. (Read that again…okay twice is enough, keep reading…) As we are sliding we hold this position until we are ready to release. All the rotation you put on your stone should take place over the distance of about 1 meter. In that meter we straighten our hand out and let the rock slide out of our hand when it reaches the handshake position. Don’t jerk your hand from the stone and don’t release the stone in small stages. Be definite but don’t make movements that aren’t necessary. One meter to release the rock in is not very far and by limiting the application of the handle to this fairly small distance helps us to put a positive rotation on the stone.
If after all that our friend still has trouble with their outturns, blame the skip or better yet, start over and find the issue you missed with the first evaluation. After all, it can’t be your skips fault…
A curling delivery is complicated but as I’ve hopefully been able to explain, it can be broken down to more simple pieces that can be evaluated independently. The important thing is to work on them in order. Take it one step at a time and your progress will improve, guaranteed.