Eyes-in-the-Sky

If you’ve attended a major curling event of late, and scanned the crowd, you might have noticed various individuals with clip board, iPad, binoculars, telescope, laptop computer or some combination of these items, intently gathering data about opposition teams. And in true James Bond 007 fashion, that which they gather is highly classified information. But exactly what is it that seems to be so valuable that a team would pay someone and provide the high tech equipment to learn about its opposition? Basically those “eyes-in-the-sky” want to know three things about your team and its members.

First, the reason for the high powered visual aid apparatus (binoculars and telescopes) is to discover which pairs of stones a curler might use. I’m sure you’ve noticed at your curling facility that the plastic “caps” have numerals. The one traditionally embossed at the base of the gooseneck identifies that sheet of ice where the stone “lives”. But it’s the numerals on opposite edges of that plastic cap that make the stone identifiable. In each set of eight stones there will be a #1, #2, #3 … #8. Even if you don’t concern yourself with “stone matching”, you should deliver the same pair of stones in the colour set your team is using. The lead does not have to use #1 & #2 but whatever pair the lead chooses, he/she should use them throughout the game and deliver them in the same order. That way if it appears that a stone is faster or slower or curls more or less, you have a way to identify it. But back to 007! Knowing which stones another team has “paired” in a set (yellow or red) might validate the stones you have matched when you tested the stones in the pre-event practice session (usually the day prior to the start of the event). In some cases, for teams not experienced in stone matching, that information is trusted to the point that the team will use the stones according to the way a more experienced team has. You do this at your own peril!

Second, Agent 007 will “chart” an opposition to gather shooting statistics on each member of a future opponent to determine tendencies & weaknesses. Using a four point system of evaluating the results of an attempted shot, an opposition player might shoot 68% on counterclockwise takeouts but 89% on clockwise takeouts. And if the sample size is large enough to validate the data, it may influence the shot a team plays, almost forcing that opposition player to employ the weaker of the two rotations. This type of data can be especially useful when a team is deciding what shot to leave the opposing skip. It should be noted that, mostly for media purposes, the host committee usually provides volunteers to gather similar statistical information which it makes available but with all due respect to those well-intentioned and dedicated volunteers, teams would rather gather their own stats in this area.

Third, using computer based programmes and apps, Agent 007 will chart the game being observed from a “strategy & tactics” perspective, again looking for “tendencies”.  It’s good to know, given the end, score & last stone advantage that a team prefers to play its lead stones in a particular manner and again, if the data has been gathered over many, many games, it’s validity and therefore it’s reliability rises as well, to the point that it just might influence the strategy & tactics your team uses.

There’s a “buyer beware” element that I feel needs to be identified. Don’t get so focused on the tendencies of your opponents to the point that it so affects the way you play that you’re not using YOUR strengths. Certainly if you’re a junior team, leave this element of competition to your certified coach. Just make curling shots!

If you’re going to attend “championship weekend” at The Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre here in Victoria, watch for those secret agents. They’ll be there, covert equipment in hand.

Note to Team Canada: you’ve done this before, you know what to do now just do what you know!