The importance of the preshot routine

Last week, during my own club game, I was reminded in the 3rd end why a preshot routine is critical to a sound curling delivery. With my first stone of the 3rd end, I became distracted while cleaning my stone. Then, rather than placing the stone precisely in front of my hack foot with the correct handle orientation, I had left it straddling the center line. Then I got in the hack as usual, but with the stone in the wrong place.

I recall thinking that this wasn’t feeling right, but no matter, I’d throw it anyway rather than stand up and start over. Big mistake. Without completing my preshot routine as usual, I simply wasn’t ready to throw. Predictably, I missed.

Consistency and the preshot routine

In way that’s very similar to golf, adhering to preshot routine in curling is essential for competitive play. A superb reference for golf psychology is Bob Rotella’s book Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect [1], and in this article I’d like to take the principles outlined in Rotella’s volume specific to the preshot routine, and apply those principles to the game of curling. Rotella begins his discussion on the preshot routine beginning on page 69:

The foundation of consistency is a sound preshot routine.

and follows that statement with this explanation:

A sound preshot routine is the rod and staff of the golfer under pressure, a comfort in times of affliction and challenge. It ensures that he gets set up properly, physically and mentally. It blocks out distractions. It helps him to produce his best golf under pressure…. the pros I work with, who know the golf swing better than anyone, tell me that 80 percent of any golf shot happens before the player takes his club back: when he aims, takes his grip, addresses the ball, and, most important, focuses his mind.

Obviously for the curler the details of the preshot routine will differ; there is no club to swing, nor a ball to strike. However, the importance of the preshot routine is paramount [1, pp. 70]:

But golfers with an effective mental approach to the game know that they can control much better what happens before the swing begins, when the movements are slow, deliberate, and more susceptible to discipline. They seize that advantage by adopting a disciplined, constant preshot routine. They use this routine for every full shot, be it a wide-open lay-up on a par five or the tightest, most challenging tee shot on the course.

There are, of course, significant differences between what a preshot routine might look like for a competitive curler versus a preshot routine utilized by a professional golfer. Here are a few:

  1. The golfer’s preshot routine will almost always involve one or more practice swings; there is no parallel rehearsal available to the curler.
  2. The golfer’s preshot routine must include the choice and visualization of the target – precisely where he or she intends the ball to land, taking into account the layout of the hole and course management considerations. In contrast, for the curler the field of play has fixed dimensions, and the target for each shot is predetermined by the skip. At the same time, however, visualization of the shot is just as important for the curler as it is for the golfer.
  3. Part of a golfer’s preshot routine would include club selection, which though related is external to the golfer’s own physical mechanics. For the curler, weight control is entirely up to the athlete; the stones used in a game are, hopefully, entirely consistent in behaviour between the two used by each player.
  4. The golfer is in complete control of the outcome of each shot. During the preshot routine she may rely on their caddie for advice, but once the ball is addressed the golfer is on her own. In contrast, in curling the thrower has an important but non-exclusive role in the outcome; the skip and the two sweepers also have important roles in the making of any shot. In curling, visualization of the shot is important for the entire rink, not only the player who delivers the stone.
  5. While the golfer chooses the desired landing place for the ball, and be mindful of it, she must concentrate on the ball itself during the swing in order to execute the shot. In contrast, for the curler there is only the target – the skip’s broom – upon which to focus.

At the same time, however, there are also similarities:

  1. Ideally, in both sports the preshot routine ends immediately before the execution of the shot in a relaxed, confident state and complete focus on the target.
  2. As part of shot tactics and club selection, the golfer must take into account the strength and direction of the wind, the desired trajectory of the ball, the lie, the location, size and nature of relevant hazards, and so on. For the curler, similar factors, such as ice conditions, are decided by the skip as part of the process of placing the broom. However, to make a successful shot, the thrower must take into account the ice conditions in order to deliver the stone with the correct weight.
  3. Visualization is often a key component of both the golfer’s and the curler’s preshot routine. However, as stated by Dr. Rotella, “… you don’t have to visualize. A lot of great players don’t, because their minds don’t work that way”.
  4. Both the golfer and the curler must be relaxed prior to the shot. Incorporating appropriate relaxation techniques, such as a slow, steady breath prior to an exacting shot such as a draw to the pin – a relaxation technique used in nearly all sports – can help to achieve the appropriate activation level required to successfully execute that shot.
  5. Both the curler and the golfer must have complete, unthinking confidence in their grip and stance. There is no room for thoughts about delivery (or swing) mechanics during the execution of a shot during a game [1, pp. 75-76]:

    In the ideal routine, the player takes his grip and stance unconsciously because they recognize their importance and they practice them, sometimes more than they practice hitting golf balls. Many of them have full-length mirrors at home on which they have placed tape to indicate where their hands, shoulders, and other checkpoints should be when they set up properly….. The correct grip and stance are so important that if you plan on taking only one golf lesson for the rest of your life, I would recommend that it deal only with grip, stance, alignment, ball position, and developing a routine that enables you to mentally and physically set up properly every time.

  6. The golfer may begin his preshot routine while other players are playing in order to save time. In curling, a portion of the preshot routine can take place while the other team executes their shot. However, any such preparatory actions must await the call from the player’s own skip. A critical difference between the two sports, however, is that a golfer rarely finds herself under time clock restrictions, whereas time clocks are an accepted part of competitive curling.

Making your preshot routine fit you

As with professional golfers, it makes perfect sense for each individual’s preshot routine to suit their needs: their temperament, personality, and their position on the team [1, pp. 70]:

Every player I work with has his or her own variation on the routine. But all sound routines incorporate certain fundamentals. A good routine enables a golfer to be trusting, decisive, and focused on the target. It fits his or her personality.

For the curler, another factor in the choice of preshot routine is the flow of play. A particular preshot routine may work well for a front-end player, but that routine may have to differ if the skip herself is the thrower. This is because there are different time clock considerations for the two players, and in addition the skip calls their own shots, rather than directing the play for the first six stones.

Moreover, a preshot routine’s triggering gesture itself may also have to be modified depending on which stone is being thrown. For example, one might choose removing the mitt from their throwing hand as the triggering device for the preshot routine, as a golfer might adjust their glove or place their hand on top of their golf bag. This type of gesture will work for the first shot in an end, but chances are for the second shot the mitt will remain on the backboard and hence the triggering action for the second preshot routine must be something else. A better choice, perhaps, is to adopt a specific phrase to say to one of the brushers prior to beginning the preshot routine, since the players brushing will be the same for both shots. Both Colleen Jones’ Halifax rink, and the late Sandra Schmirler’s Regina foursome, effectively used this triggering technique when they dominated Canadian women’s’ curling in the 1990’s.

Indeed, Rotella’s advice is to expunge completely negative thoughts, doubt, and thoughts of swing mechanics prior to the execution of the shot. Maurice Wilson of the Golden Hawks HPC calls this “clearing the hack”: being in the present, leaving the previous shot behind you and not dwelling on the future. To put it another way, Colleen Jones stresses that before the throw you need to think about only line and weight; the kinetic memory built up over disciplined practice does the rest. Rotella [1, pp. 76] states:

Until you reach the stage where you can unconsciously take care of grip, stance, and alignment, you need to be consciously meticulous about your setup. As soon as you’ve completed setting up, shift gears mentally, stop thinking about mechanics, and focus on the target.

[1] Bob Rotella (with Bob Cullen) (1995). Golf is Not a Game of Perfect. Simon and Schuster, New York, New York. ISBN 0-684-80364-X.

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