Brushing footwork: a case study

Brushing is arguably the most under-rated and under-coached aspect of the game of curling. In 2010, Paul Webster of the Canadian Curling Association posted an article detailing the optimal body position for the most effective sweeping. It is this position that you’ll often see the world’s top curlers use; for example, here is a photograph of Team Martin executing a shot against Randy Ferbey’s rink at the 2009 Canada Cup:

John Morris delivers a stone during the 2009 Canada Cup. Note the sweeping positions of Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert. Photo copyright Michael Burns Photography; used with permission from the Canadian Curling Association.

Here, notice the body position of Team Martin second player Marc Kennedy on the left:

  • Marc’s back is flat and perpendicular to the ice surface.
  • The lower hand is positioned very close to the head of the brush, perhaps six inches (fifteen centimeters).
  • Marc is sweeping in a Closed position (see below).
  • Marc’s head is directly over the head of the brush.
  • His feet are outside (behind) his hips, which means that the majority of his body weight is being transferred through his arms to the head of the brush, maximizing the brush’s pressure on the ice.

Getting the feet to transfer back-and-forth outside the hips is a challenging technical skill; but if it can be mastered, brushing efficiency is maximized because a greater amount of body weight is transferred through the brush head to the ice. You can illustrate that directly to your players by having them adopt various body positions with their brush placed on an ordinary bathroom scale.

During a recent practice with my Wilfrid Laurier athletes I was struck with how two of them – both very competent sweepers – appeared to suffer from very similar faults in their footwork. Their footwork is the subject of this case study. To explain, I’ll utilize the help of the Ontario Curling Council’s channel on YouTube.

Player 1

Player 1 is right-handed and right-footed and has considerable experience in playing front-end positions. Historically Player 1 has not brushed using two grippers and has relied on his slider to move down the ice surface while brushing. In terms of grip, Player 1’s hand preference is to have his left hand above his right, with his right hand very close to the brush head. Player 1’s lower grip permits his head to be above the brush head while sweeping with a fairly level back. Player 1 is, however, still getting used to the in-and-out footwork when using two grippers as can be seen here:

In the video, note how Player 1 is able to draw both his feet in-and-out so that at some point one foot or the other is outside of his hips, permitting additional pressure to be placed on the brush pad. Player 1’s foot motion is somewhat awkward, rather than smooth, but nonetheless Player 1 is having some success in adopting the recommended brushing footwork using two grippers. Aside: that footwork motion needs a name. It is somewhat akin to rock-climbing, though on a horizontal surface – but I am unable to conjure any better metaphor to describe it. Suggestions are welcome.

In this second video clip, Player 1 is on the opposite side of the (imaginary) stone, brushing in the closed position and leading with his right foot:

In this clip, note how Player 1’s left foot never really gets beyond the line of his hips, though he is able to do so with his leading right foot with ease. Over the years I have noticed several accomplished junior-aged athletes of both genders having similar issues.

Player 2

After working with Player 1 for a few minutes, I then used video analysis on Player 2, another Wilfrid Laurier athlete with considerable experience and who is also right-handed. Below is a clip of Player 2 brushing an imaginary stone on the left side and, like Player 1, also in the open position:

Player 2 has more experience brushing with two grippers and the video clip of Player 2 shows a significantly smoother footwork technique than that of Player 1. However, compare Player 2’s technique on the left side with this second clip, showing Player 2 on the right side of the imaginary stone but brushing in the closed position:

Compare the footwork of Player 2 to the previous video. As with Player 1, note how the left foot does not extend beyond the line of the hips, but instead supports the player’s weight while the right leg is extended behind during the sweeping motion, and then moved forward as the leading leg when propelling down the ice surface. While both players have different levels of technical ability with brushing, I found it striking that both of these experienced athletes appeared to suffer from the identical technical flaw when brushing in the closed position on the right side.

Analysis

A sample size of two is far too small to make any generalizations about brushing efficiency. Nonetheless I found it interesting that I had two athletes with very similar issues with brushing footwork, and only when brushing on the right side. Part of the issue may lie in that on the right-hand side both players are brushing in the closed position, which may be impacting their physical alignment and prevent automatic movement of the left leg. However, I am inclined to believe that both players’ issues with brushing on the right side is at least in part due to their right-handedness. As children, right-handed players learn quickly to “plant” their left foot underneath them when performing all sorts of actions – kicking a ball comes to mind, but it’s not the only one. At any public skating venue in the country, it is exceedingly rare to find a group of skaters skating in a clockwise direction around the rink; it is almost always counter-clockwise. Why? Because for the 90% of children who are right-handed, right-over-left cross-overs while skating are far easier than left-over-right. And so it is, I believe, potentially an issue with these two athletes.

When on the left side, both players must lead with their left foot, and so during that motion the right foot MUST be used to maintain balance. For a right-handed player this motion is unusual and since it falls out of the norm, I believe both players are more successful with their brushing footwork. However, on the right side, muscle memory plays a more significant role: on the right side, both players are leading with their right leg, meaning that the left leg has to “plant” to maintain balance. Once that “plant” is initiated, the player’s 20-year muscle experience takes over and the player has greater difficulty in being able to move the left leg out of the “plant” position, and hence beyond the line of the hips.

That muscle memory can be overcome. Below is a third clip of Player 2, who, after some coaching and practice brushing on the right side in the closed position, is clearly much better able to move both feet in the desired motion. The motion here is a bit over-pronounced and excessive, but by getting his feet behind his hips Player 2 is much better able to supply additional force through the brush.

It would be interesting to compare these two athletes to other athletes who have the opposite grip on the brush – brushing with their left hand lower than their right – and hence are in the closed (not open) position when brushing on the left side of the stone. An athlete who, for example, is right-handed but in hockey shoots left, as do I.

I would enjoy comments from readers about their experiences in coaching high-performance athletes in the techniques of brushing and to learn if my observations are correct. If anything, however, my coaching experiences with these two athletes has again demonstrated the power and utility of video analysis.

3 Comments

  • Thought provoking article and introduces many new challenges for improving sweeping efficiency.

    maurice wilson 07.12.2012
  • Thanks for the article!

    I tried to change my sweeping footwork based on this article, and had a little trouble, until I observed a few of your athletes Monday night from the side, and saw the sequence much better. If you can, could you post some side videos of the footwork as well ?

    Of course, I also discovered that I’ll need to improve my core strength quite a bit to keep this up for an entire game.

    Doug 08.12.2012
    • Thanks for your comment, Doug.

      I would be happy to provide some additional clips of my athletes from different angles – thanks for the suggestion. You’re right that core strength is a requirement in order to brush with this technique for an entire game, or competition – the back in particular especially if you brush, as recommended, in the closed position because of the frequent twisting.

      Good curling!

      Glenn Paulley 10.12.2012

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