The Curling Manual

Table of Contents

Section 11 Team Development

At the advanced or competitive level, the curling team becomes more than simply a collection of four individuals. Since curling is one of the only true team sports (everyone on the team has some responsibility on every shot), a proper "fit" at each position is essential.

Although there are many components to great teams, there are four key elements to building a great team. Listed below are four key points when building a team. They are listed in priority order.

1. All players are comfortable with the position they are playing. This means a comfort level with mechanics of the position, but most importantly the positional hierarchy (playing lead or second) is in no way a reflection of their skill level or their value on the team.

2. All players have similar releases and release points.

3. All players strive for similar "lines of delivery".

4. All players recognize the value of team communication, sweeping and positioning systems.

Elements number two and three can be overcome by playing and practicing together. Element number one is probably the most important and is responsible for many teams not staying together for more than a couple of years. "Skip syndrome" means that more than one player on the team thinks they should skip.

The Anatomy of a Curling Shot

Before we discuss the individual positions on the team, it's helpful to understand how a shot is made from beginning to end and how team members interact. Individuals do not make shots, teams do. Curling is one of the few sports (I can only think of one other, crew) where the whole team directly participates in every shot.

Below is a sequence of events that take place on every shot. All four players are involved. It may seem like a lot of things are happening at once, but it all flows together. When a team is functioning properly, all of these things should happen on every shot.

Note: It takes many months of practice as a team for all of these things to happen perfectly. Don't expect your league team to be able to execute in this fashion.

The Draw

  • The skip decides on the shot to be called.
  • He/she communicates the shot to the other team members.
  • He/she surveys the ice conditions and sets the broom.
  • He/she communicates the weight required for the shot.
  • At the other end, with the sweepers in place and ready, the thrower confirms the shot called and the weight required with the sweepers.
  • The shooter focuses on the shot and throws the rock at the broom with the proper weight.
  • The skip gives the sweepers an initial line indication (could be nothing if the line is good).
  • The sweepers return with an initial indication of actual weight (could be nothing if the weight is good).
  • If the weight is too light, the sweepers begin to sweep.
  • At the half way point, the sweepers tell the skip where the rock will stop.
  • The skip continues to communicate the line and may call sweeping if the line is tight.
  • The rock comes to rest. The skip and sweepers were in communication the entire time.

Notice that during this sequence of events, the shooter only has two responsibilities, hit the broom, and throw the weight.

The Takeout

  • The skip decides on the shot to be called.
  • He/she communicates the shot to the other team members.
  • He/she surveys the ice conditions and sets the broom.
  • He/she communicates the weight required for the takeout.
  • At the other end, with the sweepers in place and ready, the shooter confirms the shot called and the weight required with the sweepers.
  • The shooter focuses on the shot and throws the rock at the broom with the desired weight.
  • The skip gives the sweepers an initial indication of relative line.
  • The sweepers return with an initial indication of actual weight.
  • The skip calls sweeping if necessary.
  • The rock comes to rest. The skip and sweepers were in communication the entire time.

Again, notice that the shooter still only has two responsibilities, hit the broom, and throw the weight.

Choosing the Players

Remember rule number one. All players must be comfortable in their positions. They must also be right for the job. Each position on the curling team has a certain profile. When searching for team members or analyzing an existing team, keep the following profiles in mind.

The lead:

Responsibilities: The lead is responsible for setting up the end. In most cases, the results of the lead rocks determine the tactical approach to any given end. In many cases, the outcome of the end is a direct result of the lead's shots. Once the lead has thrown both rocks, the lead's responsibility is to be a supportive teammate for the others and to become one of the core sweepers.

Profile: The lead is the type of person that fully understands the role of the first player. In the past, the lead has usually been recognized as the least experienced player or the least skilled player on the team. This may be the case on a league team, but at the competitive level the lead may be as skilled and experienced as the other players on the team. The difference now is that the lead clearly recognizes the significant role that is expected of him or her. Leads generally throw draw shots with a few takeouts now and then. Pick a lead that has a fluid, all-body delivery, which results in very consistent draw weight. Also find a vigorous sweeper.

The Second

Responsibilities: The second's primary responsibility is to maintain the tactical initiatives developed by the skip and set up by the lead. There are a wider variety of shots at the second position. The second often is asked to make the first offensive or aggressive move. This could be the first come-around of the end. Playing the Free Guard Zone rule, the second is usually the one to "get under" first, meaning the first player to draw behind a guard or guards. On the other hand, the second may also play the role of clean-up person depending on the game strategy or how the lead performed. If the lead missed one or two shots, the second may be called upon to clear the area with heavy hits or doubles. The second should have the ability to throw heavy weight take-outs while still being able to hit the broom.

Profile: The second, like the lead, is the type of person that fully understands the role of a team player. Since the shot-making requirements are broader than the lead, the second must possess a well-rounded set of shot-making skills. The second is the position that is the least recognized in the overall scope of the game. This person must realize that this position is by no means a glamorous one. If a cheerleader were present on the team, it would be a perfect fit at the second. Pick a second with strong power generating (long foot delay) potential. The delivery must still be fluid in the other categories for consistent draws. Once again, find a vigorous sweeper.

The Vice Skip:

Responsibilities: The vice is called upon to make every type of shot, from guards to peels, and from freezes to doubles. The vice skip must have the skills to throw any type of shot at any time. The vice is often asked to make the "kill" shot. This is the shot that seals the end. In addition to shot-making skills, the vice must have excellent knowledge of strategy, house management and possesses good spatial skills for line calls. This is the most difficult job on the team because the vice is expected to make flawless sweep calls on the skip's rocks. Remember, the vice only calls sweeping on two shots per end. In most cases, the vice is the most well rounded player on the team.

Profile: The vice skip must also be a true team player. Because their skill level parallels the skip, they must support and have confidence in the skip as the team leader. They must fully understand that, even though they may be the best shooter on the team, their role as vice is critical. Pick a third with few delivery problems. Any major problems will result in limited success. Try to find a vice that can sweep on both sides.

The Skip:

Responsibilities: The skip's role is to provide overall leadership and strategic direction to the team. The biggest shot-making responsibility of the skip is to "close" the end. This could be the final execution of the tactics developed for the end. On great teams, the skip is called upon to throw maintenance shots like guards, open takeouts, open draws etc. However, in many cases the skip is called upon to make key offensive shots like come-arounds, freezes, hit and rolls, and four foot draws under pressure.

Profile: The skip must have a stabilizing influence over the rest of the team. Even if the skip is not the best shooter on the team, he/she must be able to calmly execute the final shots. After the skip throws, the end is over. Because of this, the pressure of any given shot may be extremely high. The team must have the confidence that the skip will close the end (and sometimes the game) successfully.

Obviously, team dynamics are an important part of a team's success. There is no guarantee that four great shot-makers will make a great team until they have become a cohesive unit with similar goals and expectations.

Any player that doubts the others in the positions will immediately become the catalyst for failure.

Working with a Coach

Curling coaches have become more popular in the last twenty years. Many competitive teams have a coach and the World Championships and Olympics require one for each team. Selecting a coach can be difficult due to the nature of the required skill set. A good coach will have the following skills:

  • Team goal setting
  • Delivery and sweeping technical analysis
  • Conflict management
  • Game planning
  • Opponent analysis
  • Field of play analysis

Coaching a curling team during a game is passive. The rules do not allow a coach to call shots, freely replace players during a game, etc., like other sports. This requires the coach to plan properly before the game because the only interaction with the team will be during time-outs and the fifth-end break.

Coaches look at a much bigger picture with their team, forcing a team to focus on long term goals instead of short term.