Had it! Lost It! How Do I Get It Back?

In most, if not all sports, there’s a “critical skill/element” that can’t be bottled up, stored, and taken off the shelf when needed. We hear about a gifted pitcher who, for reasons unknown, even though he’s applying the same mechanics as always, steps to the pitcher’s mound and his pitches don’t move the way they should. Great pitchers don’t jump off tall buildings when it occurs. Or the elite basketball player whose free throw shooting percentage is in the high 80’s or low 90’s but on a given night, couldn’t throw a table tennis ball into a trash barrel from 3′ away.

Frustration soon sets in. “Why can’t I do what I know I can do when I need to do it, because I usually can?” Well, one thing’s for sure. You’re human! How boring it would be to “make everything”! I can hear the laugher from wherever many of you are reading this (“Boring? I’ll take that boring!”). Even though that’s the knee jerk reaction, I’m suggesting you’d lose a good measure of interest in the sport if that were the case. Why? The challenge is gone! That’s what keeps us coming back, the challenge.

I once played a round of golf with my good, long time friend Jim Waite. Jim’s an excellent golfer! I started the round playing quite well, at least for me. Then the wheels feel off. Jim exclaimed, “Well, you had it for awhile Bill!” And he was right. I did have it for awhile but it was gone and I didn’t know how to get it back.

In curling, the key skill for all curlers, regardless of position played is the feel for draw weight. When you’ve got it, you feel you really can make everything. When you lose it, yikes, your world comes crashing down around you. How do you get it back?

One’s initial reaction to the loss is to concentrate hard on that which is missing. I believe that’s the most difficult way to get it back. It can be done, but it’s difficult. It’s my experience that to recapture that feel for draw weight is better found in using other methods. One is technical in nature and one is based upon awareness. Let’s deal with the technical method first and I’ve written about it on a few previous occasions, in my coaching manual (“A Pane in the Glass: A Coach’s Companion“) and on this blog site but here goes again.

There are five components to the current, popular delivery (aka no back swing). In order they are; hack position, park, bottom out, slide & release.

I’m not going to make this blog a “curling 101” treatise so I’m going to assume my audience today is comprised of experienced curlers employing this type of delivery but I will explain that “park” means the position of the hips just prior to forward movement and “bottom out” refers to the instant one’s hack foot leaves the hack to begin the “slide” phase. Weight control is literally the amount of “time” one consumes from “park-to-bottom out”. The less time consumed, the faster one will slide. The more time consumed, the slower one will slide. This is not rocket science! This whole concept is akin to what most curlers will say is “leg drive” but this way of perceiving & expressing it I feel is more descriptive and therefore more useful. So, how does this whole “time from park-to-bottom out” work in a game setting when you’ve lost that elusive “feel”?

If you have a case of the “heavies”, you’re adding to much weight to the stone because you are taking too little time from park-to-bottom out and when you enter the slide phase of the delivery, you’re sliding too fast, therefore the stone is moving too quickly resulting in a shot that travels too far. If, on the other hand, you’re experiencing a case of the “lights”, exactly the opposite is true. You are taking too much time from park-to-bottom out. When you enter the slide phase of the delivery, you’re sliding too slowly. But, good news on this front! If you read my recent blog entitled, “Don’t Even Try To Hit It Straight“, you’ll know that this is the preferred side of the weight control issue since with an arm extension (added to the power of your teammates with brushes in hand) you can still apply the correct velocity to the stone and make the shot. In the case of sliding too fast, because you’ve taken too little time from park-to-bottom out, yikes, drop the anchor, not a suggested method for weight control!

When the time taken from park-to-bottom out has been restored, take careful note of what that slide is like and well, feel is now where it belongs, in your back pocket!

But, there is a second method to restore feel. It’s awareness! Awareness of what? Actually, it’s awareness of many things. As one slides to the release point, without realizing it, there are many cues available to us to indicate the velocity of our slide.

One is “sound”. When you’re sliding, the delivery device, most likely a brush head turned upside down, will vibrate across the pebbled surface of the ice and create a sound. Slide more slowly or more quickly and the pitch of the sound will change, not much, but the change doesn’t have to be dramatic for you to sense it.

Your slider will make a sound, much like your sliding device, but your slider will also send a sensation to the sole of your foot as it vibrates over the pebble. A change is sliding speed will be mimicked by a change in that vibration sensation to your foot.

Even the stone will sound and feel different as it slides more quickly or more slowly across the pebbled ice surface.

And here’s the one that we seldom recognize. When you slide through that ocean of cold air, a subtle wind chill is applied to the nerve endings in your cheeks, no not those cheeks, the ones on your face silly! Slide more quickly or more slowly and that wind chill changes, enough to be sensed.

If you have a consistent release point, when you get to it too soon, guess what, you’re sliding too fast and conversely if you get to it too late, you’re sliding too slowly. This sensation of time consumed to release point is sharpened for those curlers who employ the split/interval timing system.

What does this have to do with the recapturing of feel? You have either shut down or suspended these cues, not intentionally of course. But the key point is to return to a more heightened awareness of them. They in turn will help you recapture “feel”.

It’s really difficult to “teach” weight control. I’ve found it most useful to make the athlete aware of the variety of ways it can be attained, which is what this blog is all about. When the athlete has that buffet of information, he/she will select the elements from the buffet table that work for him/her.

Your task as coach/instructor is to set the table and be available to assist when the athlete has made his/her selection. You’ve done your job. You have empowered the athlete!