The Curling Manual

Table of Contents

Section 12 Advanced Team Performance

Championship curling teams develop and perform in different ways. All teams though, must move through different stages of team development before they can expect to perform at a high level. Like all great teams, performance is based on skill, mental toughness, coaching and circumstances*. Learning proper mechanics and practicing them will get any team to high level of skill. It's the mental toughness and circumstances that is more unpredictable when it comes to measuring and anticipating performance.

*The term "circumstances" is a catch-all word referring to luck, bad ice, bad rocks and any other external factor we can't control.

The Performance Equation

Players with excellent mechanics don't always perform at a high level. Before a mechanically correct player can achieve true team success, other factors must be in place. Team comfort, team confidence and a positive team attitude must be in place. Of course comfort, confidence and attitude are very difficult to measure. This is why the performance formula can be expressed as:

Skill + X = Performance

X refers to the immeasurable component of comfort, confidence and attitude. Let's try a Major League Baseball team example. Occasionally a baseball team wins a World Series with what some people would describe as a marginally talented team. How can this happen? There are usually one or two individuals on the team that bring out the best in everyone. It could be the manager, the team captain or some other more obscure person. A good example is Kevin Millar of the 2004 Boston Red Sox. He was the catalyst for team cohesiveness during that season. Either way, they performed beyond the sum of their talent. It works the other way as well. One bad egg on the team can disrupt the entire team and limit performance (Tyrell Owens of the 2005 Philadelphia Eagles).

How can we translate this to curling? Usually a team that underperforms on a continuous basis has a similar problem. The cause is usually a person out of position. This person believes he or she should be playing a different position. This alone can cause friction on a team and prevent the comfort, confidence and attitude needed for success. Even if the dissatisfied person is not outwardly showing their displeasure, it can be apparent to the skip and manifest itself in poor performance.

CurlTech Development Model

All curlers develop skills and knowledge about the sport as they play. CurlTech has a formal development model that applies to individuals and teams. The model has three stages and is quite simple:

  1. Learn the mechanics of the delivery and sweeping.
  2. Become proficient at both.
  3. Learn to execute a strategy with your skills.

Before any player can truly perform they MUST be proficient at the delivery mechanics. This can be simplified even further. Throw the rock consistently on the line of delivery with a fluid motion.

Players and teams develop skills in three stages mentioned above. In regards to mechanics, stages 1-3 of a player's development is very similar to how Major League pitchers develop through single A, AA, AAA and Minor Leagues.

Skill Development Stage I

Stage one of mechanics development is the most important phase of all because it must happen first. In phase I, the players on the team learn to throw the rock consistently on the LOD with a fluid motion. This is done by repetition with the proper delivery techniques. A Single A pitcher learns to properly throw the fastball, changeup and breaking balls.

Skill Development Stage II

Stage II requires the players to make shots with their proper deliveries and learn to execute shots consistently as a team. The pitcher in AA learns to predictably and consistently locate the pitches learned in the A league.

Skill Development Stage III

In stage III, the team learns to win games through proper execution of the shots coupled with game strategy. The pitcher, now in AAA, learns to win games with their skills by strategically making outs.

In the Major League Baseball system, a pitcher will not advance to AA unless they can properly demonstrate the skills. In curling, a player cannot expect to win games unless they first master the skills.

The trap most curlers fall into is winning games without the skills. How can that happen? Even poor mechanics can win games if your schedule of opponents is weak. Teams find out quickly that they can't compete without skills once they enter higher level cash spiels and national playdowns.

Levels of Team Commitment

Below is one example of different championship team levels based on the desire to perform.

Level I

This team:

  • has living, breathing human-beings to qualify
  • is comprised of four individuals
  • can have differing goals and mechanics
  • may practice and bonspiel occasionally
  • is considered a recreationally competitive team
  • experiences limited success at the lower levels

Level II

This team:

  • is individual basedmay practice occasionally
  • may bonspiel occasionally
  • may have a coach
  • may prepare physically for championships
  • may play in club leagues
  • depending on skill level, enjoys moderate success at the regional level

Level III

This team:

  • accepts all team positions and has confidence in each other
  • strives for similar skills
  • practices, spiels and may play in leagues
  • strives for advanced sweeping skills*
  • strives for perfect delivery mechanics
  • strives for team systems** in the area of positioning, sweeping and communication
  • strives for mental toughness in championship situations
  • prepares physically for championships
  • depending on skill level, enjoys moderate success at the regional or national level

Level IV

This team:

  • has achieved the criteria in level III.
  • depending on skill level, enjoys moderate to high levels of success at the world level

Team Skill Standards

Delivery

All players:

  • are balanced and flat-footed
  • have similar release types
  • have similar release points
  • have similar delivery tempo

Sweeping

All players:

  • Achieve maximum pressure and head speed
    are positioned for effectiveness, efficiency weight judgment and communication
  • use the best equipment possible

Team Conditioning and Strength Training

Fitness and strength are not required for recreational curling. You've probably already noticed that curlers come in all shapes and sizes. Overall fitness will, however, help your curling game and at the advanced level, it is required. We had the opportunity to discuss curling with the US. Olympic training specialist at the Olympic Training Facility in Colorado Springs, CO. He mentioned some basic guidelines for Olympic athletes, including curlers. Even if you don't plan on curling in the Olympics, these guidelines should help. The fitness specialist mentioned two main fitness components:

  • General fitness
  • Specific fitness

Being generally fit refers to having a healthy heart, not carrying too much weight and having some basic muscle tone and endurance.

Specific fitness refers to the areas of fitness that are specific to curling. Even the specialist admits to only knowing a limited amount about curling. He mentioned the two key components to curling fitness:

Conditioning and Sweeping

Setting the standard is important. With your coach, establish the throwing heart rate that is desired for each shot. Some curlers can smoothly throw a draw with a heart rate over 120. Most curlers need a heart rate under 120 to calibrate the draw properly. First, agree on the sweeping stroke and mechanics (speed and pressure) for your team. Then, sweep a draw from the hog to tee and measure your heart rate. Measure the amount of time it takes for your heart rate to drop below 120 (or your own target). Since the opponent's rock takes only 30 seconds maximum, this is the standard you should be training to.

Chart your progress over the season. With a good program in place, your sweeper won't let you down in the semis and finals.

Interval Training

In addition to general cardio training, curlers will enjoy the benefits of interval training as well. In the gym, elevate your heart rate to the maximum sweeping rate as determined by your coach and team. Stop the exercise and wait until your heart is at throwing rate (also set by the coach and team). This can also be done on the ice, live.

General Conditioning

Curling is an anaerobic sport. Most players (except the skip) must sweep vigorously then calm down enough the gently delivery the rock. This requires the heart to calm down quickly, which is associated with general fitness and conditioning. A good cardio program is necessary.

Strength Training

Curlers need leg-muscle strength to sustain the delivery position for any length of time. The leg muscles, specifically the quadriceps, carry most of the body weight during the slide. Strong quadriceps will help with a consistent flat-footed delivery. Lack of muscle strength in the legs is not noticeable if players are playing games on an irregular basis. Muscle strength becomes critical if a player is playing multiple games per day or playing many games over an extended period of time. Good sweepers that can sustain quality sweeping over a week's time must also have god core strength in the abs and back

A solid weight raining program can be found at any reputable gym, health club or personal trainer.

Performance Phasing

Have you ever wondered why a team with average skill can beat a great team? This happens quite a bit in all sports. Comments like a team is "in the zone" or "up for this one" can describe an average team that is performing at a high level (usually temporary). On the other hand, comments like "the team is flat" can describe a good team that is not performing well. An average team performing well can beat a great team that is flat.

All teams operate in a certain performance range. In curling, we can measure the performance level by charting the shot made against the shot called. Top teams with good mechanics and mental toughness operate higher than teams without.

The following chart shows the shot-making percentages of team ranging from the club team to the world contender.

Great teams 80-90%
Good teams 65-80%
Average teams 50-65%
Club teams Below 50%

Teams fluctuate within their performance range. A great team may play at the 85% mark for most games but can perform slightly higher or lower based on circumstances. On occasion, the great team curls at the 70% mark. This is considered "out of phase" with their normal performance. In this example, the great team is out of phase on the negative side. In many cases the team can overcome this. However, problems occur when an average team is out of phase on the positive side and the great team is out of phase on the negative side. The average team normally curling in the 65% range may have a 75% game (out of phase on the positive side). The great team may play a game in the 70% range (out of phase on the negative side) and be beaten by the average team.