So what started as a simple, “Hey. We need a sub tonight. You in?” ended up as a nearly month-long career hopscotching from one team to another. No joke. For five awesome weeks in a row, I had the honor of meeting almost ten teams’ worth of curlers simply through playing substitute. I’m kind of glad this is how I eased into my time here at the Windy City Curling Club. It allowed me to meet new friends not just through broomstacking, but in our element on the ice as well.
And now that ‘A’ and ‘C’ Leagues have concluded and ‘D’ league (which I am in) is poised to start, I find myself looking excitedly toward the future. Finally – my own team! A new band of brothers/sisters to play with for five awesome weeks! And because I never want to be the disappointment to my team (honestly, who does?) I’m always looking for lessons to learn to up my game, be they on the technical aspects or the social. As such, after every instance of playing sub, I started taking reflective notes on my various experiences as a primer for league play.
Slight disclaimer: One of the cool things about Curling is that everyone, despite playing the same game, takes a different path in their training to get wherever they are at present. So as you read the following, please bear in mind that these expanded blurbs (in no particular order of importance or chronology) were written to me, by me. Your opinions and mileage on them may vary or completely differ. And if they do, by all means – share your thoughts! I’d love to hear about any lessons you’ve learned somewhere along the way. Which brings me to the first (which I overheard while broomstacking and remembered to jot down):
- “Learn to teach, and teach to learn. We all need to go back to the basics at one point or another.” I still find myself slowly remembering how to properly slide out of the hack virtually every time I get in it. (You won’t believe the number of entries from my notebook I’m omitting from this list that are incredibly specific to myself about my slide. I still don’t know what on Earth, “The broom is your Guide Dog!” is supposed to mean, but I’m sure I thought it a revelation when I wrote it down at 3:00 a.m. one Thursday night…)
- Playing Lead is terrifying, he says with humor. Knowing that my two stones were setting up the end for success or difficulty added a unique layer of pressure I was not used to. I found it interesting to note how some of my better lead-off shots were still being dealt with at the end of some ends, whereas my misses forced my team to have to work even harder to rally if the opposition was spot-on. So to you lead-off men and women out there who do your job and do it well, I absolutely salute you.
- Playing Second is more relaxing when your Lead is on point, but extra taxing when not. Whoever said, “A good lead can be a tough act to follow,” never played Second after a great one. Thankfully, I did – and it made my job to keep the momentum going so much easier. The groundwork was laid, I just had to be sure to add to the strategy and not ruin anything already in place. I just wish this position’s shots weren’t bookended with all that sweeping…
- I do not remotely have any where NEAR enough upper body strength as I would like to play front end. As someone who has spent most of his curling career (y’know, the whole three months of it, lol) thus far as a Skip, you sweepers have an even deeper appreciation from me. (This lesson was written down in my notebook simply as, “Sweeping sucks. Do more Push-Ups.”)
- Playing Third is a blast. Of all the non-Skip positions, playing Vice plays to my current strengths the best: less sweeping required, more strategy talks with the Skip, being a messenger to the front end guys, and getting a lot more takeout shots (at least, in the one game I played as Vice, I felt like this kept being the call for my shots). It’s not without without its pressure, sure, but at least this pressure felt more familiar to me, and therefore more manageable.
- Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. No one is perfect, and this is not the Olympic Trials. So you’re going to miss shots – that’s okay. You’re allowed to miss a shot as long as it also doesn’t become a missed opportunity. If you calm down and try to figure out where you went wrong, and work to do better next time, you’re still learning. And there is nothing wrong with learning as you go. Just remember to have a blast! (This one is probably more specific to just me, but if there happens to be any other perfectionists out there on the ice who find wanting to do right by their team more emotionally stressing than not, I figure it couldn’t hurt to share this friendly reminder.)
- No one tries to miss. So let it go, Elsa. Let it go. (This is my way of apologizing to any team I played for wherein I missed a shot. So, you know… to all of them, lol.)
- Skipping a team of players you don’t know requires a lot of blind trust and faith in people you just met. But since nothing brings strangers together in camaraderie like a shared common enemy, this trust is easy to establish within an end of the game. (It helps when the game is more relaxed and fun, too.)
- Going with that: when skipping, “Never let ’em see you sweat.” Especially your own team. When the chips are down, they look to the Skip to lead them. Do not ever give them a reason to think their trust was misplaced. Confidence, positivity, and a smile are infectious. Be the source of it, even if you have none.
- I have found very few things in life that feel as empowering and awesome as a really good slide out of the hack.
- Cosmic Curling is awesome. Needs more blacklight and day-glo paint.
- Though we’re trying to change this, on a small level, it’s a good thing that Curling is not so saturated of a sport in the world because, when it comes to buying gear, there are no companies out there charging insane mark-up prices just because their logo is slapped on the side. You truly do get what you pay for. (At least, this is what I was told when asking about getting my own pair of Teflon-footed kicks. Applies to brushes, too.)
- And finally, ice time is Ice Time. Use it for whatever you want to use it for – focus on making better shots, perfect your slide, practice sweeping, create your team language, make friends and network, have fun, etc. – but above all else, do not ever take it for granted.
(Eric is a guest blogger who, if these last five weeks are any indication, could probably keep Mead Notebooks, Bic pens, RedBull and his local Walgreens in business all by himself. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)