The Gauntlet Drill

A long-standing line of delivery (LOD) drill used in curling is one where the athlete delivers a stone by sliding between a series of markers (cones, cups, or stones) to practice line of delivery. We term this drill the “gauntlet drill”. When coupled with a point laser and video recording, the gauntlet drill is an excellent way to practice an athlete’s line of delivery and its use permits root-cause analysis of line of delivery faults that can materialize as competitive breakdown through the course of a season. As illustrated in the photograph at left, the athlete delivers a stone, using either turn, through a series of pylons. We prefer low-height, soft-plastic soccer-style pylons for this exercise since the pylons tend not to spread as far if touched by the athlete or the stone itself during an attempt. Pylons are also much safer and less intimidating than using curling stones as the “gauntlet”, especially when working with younger athletes.

Gauntlet Drill setup

In addition to the pylons, a point laser is (nearly) essential to the setup of the drill. The laser acts as the “target broom” to which the athlete throws their stone, and at the same time the laser shines a “dot” on the striking band of the stone so that it is much easier to observe lateral movement in the stone during the delivery. By observing carefully the point of laser light on the stone, a player’s adjustments in their slide or their release can be pinpointed and then used in root cause analysis of the respective delivery fault.

This drill uses commercially available lasers. Although lasers are in common use in construction and DIY household renovations, they are still lasers. Proper precautions and best practices should be exercised to avoid shining a laser at eye level. See article No. 11, “Using Lasers in Curling”, in this Series for more information on lasers and safety precautions. Remember, there may not just be your athletes on the ice, and there may also be people behind the glass. Lasers should only be turned on when the direction and line of light are just above the ice surface. They should remain off at all other times.

Ideally, the “dot” of the laser should fall onto the striking band of the stone, making the pinpoint of light easier to see. In brightly-lit curling clubs it may be difficult to setup the laser from the far tee-line and still properly adjust the alignment on the stone, because the laser light may not be bright enough. Two solutions present themselves for this problem: either dim the lights over your sheet of ice, or move the laser closer to the throwing end (say ½ the distance down the sheet). If the latter, it will be necessary to stop each thrown stone before it makes contact with the laser.

Once the position of the laser has been set – keep in mind that the laser and its mount becomes the “target broom” – a stone must be positioned in front of the hack for the particular player performing the drill. The athlete should perform a “setup” and position the stone in front of the hack for the LOD mandated by the position of the laser on the sheet. Once the stone position is set, then the laser is pointed at the center of the stone (see photograph) and once set, the pylons can be placed along the line of delivery. Subsequently, during the repeated execution of the drill, the same athlete will return to the hack to throw, performing their usual pre-shot routine. Immediately prior to beginning each delivery, the starting position of the stone should be precisely where the initial stone position was set.

In our experience, four pairs of pylons straddling the LOD are minimally required for the drill:

  1. The first, placed just beyond the back line in the back 8-foot circle, helps to determine LOD issues from the athlete’s initial forward movement;
  2. The second, placed in the top-12 foot circle, presents a “gauntlet” after the athlete has bottomed-out in their delivery and are now in full slide towards the target broom;
  3. The third, located approximately 4 feet before the near hog line, presents a gauntlet during the final stage of the athlete’s release; and finally
  4. The fourth set, located approximately 4-8 feet past the near hog line, helps to diagnose release issues.

One can use an ordinary curling brush to help place each pair of pylons on the LOD. Hold a brush so that the laser shines on the handle; place the pylons about six inches away from the handle on either side, and repeat for each pair (most curling stones are approximately 11 ½ inches in diameter). For less experienced athletes, set the pylons slightly further apart so that each athlete experiences success performing the drill. More experienced athletes can throw with the pylons closer together. A “tight” gauntlet is very useful in discovering release issues. The athlete may be perfect in their negotiation of the gauntlet up to the point of release, but if the stone touches one of the pylons past the hog line after release, then some attention to the athlete’s grip and release is likely necessary.

As the athlete delivers the stone, the laser light initially placed in the center of the stone will make readily apparent any LOD issues that develop during any stage of the delivery. If the light is not in the center of the stone at a certain point, then the stone must have moved laterally since the laser itself remains stationary throughout the drill. Video, or simple observation of the laser’s position by a coach or practice partner, can then be used in root-cause analysis of any delivery fault.

Where is the stone initially placed?

The key requirement for the gauntlet drill is to ensure that the stone is in the correct position prior to the delivery of each stone through the “gauntlet”. Obviously a different initial setup will be required if one has a mix of left- and right-handed athletes to perform the drill, since the starting position of the stone for a left-handed player using a no-lift delivery will be completely different than for a right-handed player.

It is insufficient, however, to naively attempt the drill with a team of athletes without consideration of their individual deliveries, since no two players deliver a stone in precisely the same way. Ideally, to minimize lateral drift of a stone during delivery, the stone should be held such that the center of the stone is directly in front of the athlete’s throwing armpit when in the hack, which permits the greatest strength to be applied in controlling the stone during the initial forward motion. Keep in mind that the position of the stone in front of the hack will also be determined by where the target is, since the athlete must at all times be square to the LOD before beginning the initial backward motion. Differences will be minor, typically varying only a few centimeters, but this difference matters considerably for the proper execution of the drill.

If this is the orientation of the stone in front of the body during the setup in the hack, then for most right-handed athletes the stone will only overlap the centre line by one or two inches even if the laser (target broom) is placed at the edge of the 12-foot circle on the right side of the sheet. A common delivery fault that we see, particularly with junior athletes, is that the stone is initially placed too wide, leading to a lateral movement from right-to-left for a right-handed player, or a lateral movement of the stone from left-to-right for a left-handed player.

Moreover, in a no-lift delivery, eye dominance plays a role in the initial placement of the stone and the relative position of the stone to the body during the slide. While about 10% of the world’s population is left-handed, about one-third of the population is left-eye dominant. Players who are opposite-eye dominant from their throwing hand may have a strong preference to place the stone at an initial position closer to the center of their bodies, and so the precise location of the stone may differ substantially from player to player. Consequently, a slight adjustment of the laser’s direction, and the drill’s pylon placements, may be required for each athlete.

Using the drill to diagnose delivery faults

As the laser spot on the curling stone should remain in the centre of the stone during the entire delivery, any deviation one way or the other signifies lateral movement of the stone, something to be avoided since either the shot will be missed or the athlete must “fix” the error with a compensating movement in the opposite direction before release. In our experience the gauntlet drill remains a fundamental tool that we use frequently with our respective teams in practice.

In the photograph below, note that the laser dot is no longer in the centre of the stone, but instead has moved two inches to the right (when facing the athlete). This means that, at this point in her delivery, the athlete is now wide of the target broom by that amount, and getting the stone on the LOD at release will require a compensating lateral movement to the left. By analyzing precisely where the athlete became offline, we can provide feedback to the athlete to correct the fault. In this case, the athlete had setup incorrectly in the hack, with her hips not perfectly square to the line of delivery and, consequently, her entire slide was offline slightly to the right.

Once a team acquires solid delivery skills, the length of the gauntlet can be increased to further test and reinforce proper fundamentals, particularly with the initial setup in the hack. A previous article in this series, “Setup: The Importance of the Slide Foot Position”, addresses several fundamental setup issues that we commonly see with junior athletes. Note as well that the drill can be conducted for shots at any speed, and hence can be used to assess variations in a delivery due to differences in the timing of the various delivery elements.

Ideally, the gauntlet drill is practiced with a coach or another player with video to provide additional feedback to the athlete instead of relying solely on the pylons as the LOD guide. However, video is unnecessary to execute the drill, and while a laser is ideal one can make do with anything that provides a straight line with which to place the pylons – even a tape measure or a thin cord can be used. The drill can also be practiced by individuals alone. Tighter pylons require more precise throws as do additional pairs of pylons further down the sheet, and the pylons themselves can provide useful feedback to the athlete even in the absence of a coach or training partner.

The following images illustrate 2019 Saskatchewan Tankard champion Kirk Muyres of Saskatoon training with the gauntlet drill. Note the number of cones used for following the line of delivery down the length of the sheet.

Finally, we note that the placement of pylons on the opposite of the throwing hand may require adjustment depending on the athlete’s delivery technique (e.g. tuck slide) or if the athlete uses a delivery aid when throwing instead of a conventional brush.

Olympic champion Brad Jacobs trains using the gauntlet drill.

An appendix to this article can be found here, in PDF format, which contains schematic diagrams of various setups of the drill, along with summarized drill instructions.

Acknowledgements

This article is co-authored with John Newhook, Ph.D., P.Eng., Dean of Engineering at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

We thank the players of Team Mackenzie Kiemele for providing demonstrations of the gauntlet drill.

We thank Jennifer Ferris of the Ontario Curling Council for her helpful comments on a previous version of this article.

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