Interview with WLRA’s Shane Gustafson

Windy City Curling’s own Eric Reithel was recently interviewed on WLRA 88.1 FM, The Start!

Broadcasting live from Romeoville, Illinois, WLRA gives the students of Lewis University the chance to create and broadcast their own radio shows for all to hear. News Director, Shane Gustafson, sat down with Eric to record an interview all about our club, our sport, and how new players can get involved.

You can listen to the entire interview above.

Gearing Up: A Primer (part 2)

Continuing on from where I last left off in my “Gearing Up” blog series, in this second part of the basic primer, I discuss and offer up opinions on how science and technology has progressed and equalized the sport of Curling through its gear.

MARS AND VENUS COME DOWN TO EARTH

“So I’m getting my own gear – is it really going to make that much of a difference in my game?”

Short answer: Yes.

(AUTHOR’S SIDE NOTE: In this blog series, I am making the assumption that if you’re reading this, you want to improve upon your game to a competition-ready level.)

Forgive me for the turn this blog is going to take, but I must “go there” if I am to make my awesome point (and I do have one) and bring things full circle.

Fifty years ago, in the days of corn brooms, it made sense to separate the genders in terms of forming teams (old-school notion of gender-roles aside). Why do I say this? Because (and here we go) male physiques were more capable of building strength to really beat the Hell out of the ice with a corn broom to affect the path of a stone. That is not me ragging on women, I swear. That is, quite simply, physiological differences. If you take the best power lifting woman in the world and put her up against the world’s best power lifting male, he would be able to hoist up more weight. Does this mean all women are weaker and not capable of being stronger than men? HELL NO. In fact, if you took the world’s best female MMA fighter and put her in a cage match against, say, me – I’ll see you in three months when I wake up from my coma.

Now before every woman out there beats me with a corn broom to prove her strength – let me make my point: This was fifty years ago. As in, not the case present-day. One of the awesome things that I LOVE about the sport of curling is that the advances of technology in the equipment we play with almost-completely equalize the sport. By integrating Teflon sliders onto the shoes, using carbon fiber broom shafts, and even advancing the brush pads to include insulating space-age mylar – brute force and accurate strength alone no longer make a difference. The sport’s “meta” has shifted from muscle to mind, and there are any number of scientific journal studies out there I could cite that state the same thing: men and women may be physiologically different, but mentally we are equal. The power of the mind favors no gender. Which means the ‘olden days’ belief of gender inequality are now just that: olden days. Archaic. Gone. Done. No more. Etcetera.

“How?”

Simple. Before adding Telfon to the shoes, the amount of leg strength required to get a stone down the sheet for a big-weight takeout was pretty hefty. In fact, there’s an old school belief that, because of this, women “can’t hit.”  In the words of Gabrielle Coleman in her e-book, Break Through Beginner Curling, “Bullsh!t.” Thanks to slider, and to studies done on human body mechanics, women can now shoot (and especially hit) just as fine, if not better, than men. Case in point: Canadian gold-medalist Jennifer Jones is known for her amazing hitting skills.

“Okay, that’s shooting. What about sweeping?”

For the longest time, this is where men had a arm-up on women (so to speak), but that isn’t the case these days. Thanks to the awesome magic of technology, higher-end brooms make women (and weaker-armed males, such as myself, lol) just as competition-ready as beefy-forearmed men. Think of it this way: High Definition TVs are getting more and more “Hi Def” (if the ads are to be believed) with more and more pixels built in to each new generation’s screen that comes out. And yet, we are approaching a point in advancement where the pixels are so small, that the change in adding even more of them is no longer discernible to the naked human eye. Sure, a next generation HD television technically will be even more advanced than a current one, but if you place them side by side and look at the same picture, you won’t be able to tell which is which.

Now imagine those pixels are brush pads. How long does it take a stone to pass over any given pebble droplet with two brooms in front of it? Not very long. It used to be that a sweeper really had to scrub that pebble as he or she passed it to truly polish it down enough to build up a noticeable effect on a stone over the length of any given shot. However, with modern-day (and appropriately-named) EQ pads, short for ‘Equalizer,’ and Norway brush pads (Goldline’s version of the same thing), mylar is now integrated into the fabric on the end of a broom to insulate the fabric and retain warmth generated by friction. This means that, overall, it takes much less friction in one’s sweeping to achieve the optimal effect of polishing any given bump of pebble to a desirable smoothness. This helps all sweepers, and removes the amount of strength required to be effective – making the sport of curling not only more gender-equal, but beginner-friendly. (Advancements in making lighter weight carbon fiber brush shafts only help ease the burden of sweeping, too.)

“Great. Science and technology are awesome. So what does this mean?”

It means that, thanks to technological advancements, every one is more or less on the same footing. So much so, that there is a push to add the discipline of Mixed Doubles Curling to the 2018 Winter Olympics roster. If this happens, Curling will be only the THIRD Olympic sport, and the FIRST Winter Olympic sport – EVER – to allow both men and women to compete with and against each other simultaneously. (The other two being Equestrian sports and Badminton.)

“So what does this have to do with gearing up for Curling?”

Everything! The base-line equality exists in the equipment.

If you are of a physique where you will not be modeling on the cover of Health & Fitness anytime soon (as I will not), finding the right gear is crucial to your continued success in this sport and to help you be the best curler you can be. Will having the top-of-the-line gear instantly make you a gold medal contender? No, of course not. And I will never claim that it will. This is still a sport after all, and physical prowess is required.

“So then why bother buying gear?”

As I have said, getting better at curling requires repetition and consistency. Lots of it. Tons of it, even. In order to maximize your progression, you need to eliminate as many variables that detract from achieving maximum consistency as possible. Using the same quality broom and shoes every time you step out onto the ice is a major way to do that.

Now, while there are many brands out there, there aren’t a TON of options in gear. That is why I’m doing this series: to wade through the options, opinions, and advertisements, and to field some common and not-so-common questions in an effort to help fellow beginners navigate through the potentially slippery ground of getting gear. I may not be able to cover every base, but I certainly will try to touch upon as many of these bases as I can, and condense them into a simple and easy-to-use guide.

(Eric Reithel is a resident blogger for Windy City Curling who has done so much research on Curling gear that he never wants to hear about gender disparity in Curling ever again. Like, ever. However, he does want to hear from you. So drop a comment below. Or follow him on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)

Learn2Teach. Teach2Learn.

“Look: I haven’t any money. I can only pay you in knowledge.”
“Then you’ve got me for as long as you need me.”
-Anonymous (overheard exchange)

There’s an old saying I read (that I’ve mentioned in a previous blog I’ve written) about how new curlers can always up their game: “Learn to teach, and teach to learn. We all need to go back to the basics at one point or another.”

The idea behind this saying is simple. Learning from instructors is a great way to gather knowledge. Learning from experience is a great way to gather wisdom. And yet, learning to teach is a great way to build upon both. By focusing on helping others, not only are we required to improve our own knowledge and experience, we are tasked with being able to articulate what we know into a language that others can comprehend.

How many times have you been on the ice and had an epiphany – a moment of clarity when something “just clicked into place”? Have you ever had a hard time explaining that revelation to others? It’s one thing to come to a conclusion on our own, it’s another to be able to articulate it (especially in a way that helps others). And yet, when we find those words to impart our knowledge, somehow watching another try to implement our advice opens up even newer revelations. By seeing ways for others to improve, we think of new ways to improve ourselves. Whether we discover a flaw in our advice/wording, a new problem our “solution” didn’t anticipate, or an even better way to streamline what we thought we already knew, teaching others only serves to better our own game. It offers us an outside perspective; a critical eye with an attention for detail that we, hopefully, can then turn on ourselves.

This is one of the reasons I love watching my toddler-aged nieces grow and learn: without experience to teach them, whenever they are faced with a problem, they have nothing but their own creativity to find a solution. They don’t always arrive at the best answer, but sometimes they absolutely amaze and surprise me with their simplistic ingenuity. So, too, do other beginners of this great sport of ours.

That’s why I’m throwing down a challenge to each of you reading this: I want every single one of you to, if and when you feel comfortable, volunteer to learn how to teach a Learn2Curl. Not only will you be helping give back to Windy City Curling by encouraging growth and new members to join us, you will also be learning to improve upon your own game.

This club of ours, like so many others in the United States, thrives because of its amazing volunteers.

If you were at the most recent all-member meeting, you already know that our club is in a bit of a transition; a cross-roads, if you will. What the current board began is an amazing thing. Now, as we hope to expand and grow, our club needs some helping hands to move past this “growing pain” stage we currently find ourselves in.

The board has proven they can do a great job getting new players addicted to this awesome sport (heck, they hooked almost everyone here all by themselves). But, as we saw in the meeting, their efforts to keep this club going are needed in ever-increasing and differing directions (marketing, funding, membership, scheduling, event planning, etc.).  So, in an effort to help them not spread themselves too thin, I’m asking that we the members help take this one simple task – teaching new prospective members that register for our Learn2Curls – off of their plate, if we are able.

There are some amazing people that take to the ice every single week at Windy City Curling; they play this sport with heart, passion, skill, and genuine camaraderie. I can think of no better ambassadors to bring new blood into the fold.

-Eric 🙂

P.S. – For those of you wanting an even extra challenge to tackle, I’m working on getting a group of WCCC members together to take an official Level 1 USCA Certified Instructor Course that will be happening out in Fort Wayne, Indiana on September 27th, 2014. You can read all of the details (that I currently have) HERE.

(Eric Reithel is -despite what anyone would convince you of- just a guest-blogger for the Windy City Curling Club. Some will say he is THE blogger, but those people are lying to you. Okay, they actually aren’t.  It’s official: he is WCCC’s blogger. But he wants you to know that this is a title and responsibility he reluctantly accepts out of fear of being a disappointment. He also wants you to know that you can follow him on Twitter – reluctantly or enthusiastically (dealer’s choice) – @TheCraftyCurler.)

On the Other Hand…

“There is no stability without solidarity and no solidarity without stability.”
-Jose Manuel Barroso

If you’re looking for a place to discuss all things Curling – be it players we love, games we’ve seen, bonspiels we’ve attended, or even advice on game theory and gear – there is a wonderful online community of curlers on the website Reddit. (For those of you who may not know, Reddit is a massive online site where users mainly post various pictures, stories, news articles, and discussion topics. These are are all further broken down into what are called “subreddits” where the content is geared towards the chosen topic. And yes, there is one called “Curling” devoted strictly to this awesome sport of ours.)

One of the discussions that appears every now and then (as new users come and go) is the topic of stabilizers. You know… these things. As discussions progress, there’s always some people who love using them, some people who think them to be a crutch, some people who feel they ought to be banned, some people who could take ’em or leave ’em, and some people who view them as an excellent teaching tool with which to start off new players before eventually “graduating” them into sliding out of the hack with a broom. My opinion on stabilizers mostly falls into this last group mentality, although I do take exception to the notion of “graduating to the broom.”

What makes the topic so lively and one that keeps coming up is that stabilizers are allowed at all levels of competition nationally and internationally.  That’s right – you can use one at the Olympics. In fact, some Curlers have. (That’s skip Pal Trulsen from Team Norway at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games. His team won the gold medal that year.)

It’s an interesting debate, to be sure, and one that I don’t think will ever come to a solid conclusion anytime soon. But it is a discussion occasionally worth having.

You see, I was always told stabilizers were there for beginners who may not have yet developed the balance needed for proper rock delivery. It’s supposed to help new players get used to putting their upper body’s weight on their non-dominant arm instead of the stone.

According to various sources I’ve read, “ideal” stone delivery should have almost, if not all of your weight on your sliding foot. Should you need it, your trailing leg is to be used for upright balance, but it should mostly just be there for drag to help you adjust your speed after pushing out of the hack. Your broom/stabilizer should only be there for lateral balance checks if you absolutely need it. (Theoretically speaking, you should ideally have such solid balance that you don’t need anything in your non-throwing hand at all.) The combination of these three contact points on the ice – sliding foot, trailing leg, and broom – should create a tripod-like effect for stability. This allows no weight to be placed on the rock at all – allowing for cleaner, more accurate delivery.

Again, all of this is in-theory.

Since it takes a natural period of time and strength building to adapt to having all of your weight on one foot in a lunge, people will naturally use their trailing leg. And also, since most people aren’t perfectly centered when they balance on their two feet positioned in a straight line, it makes sense they’ll need to begin their curling careers with one arm out on something for support. Since you don’t want this support to be the rock they’re going to ultimately be letting go of, you give them something to use: a stabilizer or a broom tucked under the shoulder.

And yet, the learning process of figuring out how to tuck a broom under your arm to use for support also takes time to learn how to do effectively.

Personal Experience: Coming from a former dance background, using a stabilizer always felt a bit weird to me. When I would use one, it felt like I was in more of a hunched over I’m-about-to-beat-my-fists-into-my-chest gorilla-ish/linebacker pose, instead of in an upright, here-gracefully-comes-my-curling-stone delivery. This put a lot of my body weight forward in my lunge, which meant my legs were required to work overtime pushing out of the hack. Sure, I was able to make shots, but personally, I was having to ‘muscle it’ too much just to hit draw weight. Shooting, though fun, was an incredibly taxing and exhausting ordeal on my quads and hamstrings. (And while this style of leg-driven delivery may work wonders for stronger men just fine, I, believe it or not, am not one of those men.)

So I tried tucking the broom under my arm. This was also super awkward at first because I could never quite figure out how to hold the darn thing solidly in place during a slide in any variation of straight, flexed, or bent wrist/elbow/shoulder combination.

That is, until I saw this guy at Notre Dame simply holding his broom under his arm while standing around before a game having a casual conversation with a friend. I was watching him hold his broom in curious awe. “How is he doing that?” I asked my self. From my angle, I couldn’t see the broom head, so it looked like he was simply holding a medieval quarterstaff (aka – ninja bo staff). He looked similar to this.

Having taken a few stage combat lessons in my day (theatrical acting degree activate!), I instantly remembered how I used to casually hold a staff under my arm, too. So I applied the same body mechanics to my broom, adjusting things slightly to account for the broom head and sliding angle, and viola! – this position put the shaft of the broom in a more comfortable position against my back, and put my arms into a more familiar squared-off dance-like pose. Since making this connection and discovery, I’ve been coasting out of the hack with what feels like finesse and grace ever since, but making this connection and applying it into practical use took some time. Like, about four to five weeks. (And to be honest, I’m still working on getting my broom tuck down pat. Remember? It’s supposedly my “Guide Dog” or some other such thing.)

Given all of this, when you have a bunch of absolute beginners in a Learn 2 Curl wanting to try out this crazy rock-throwing sport of ours, there is the risk of turning people off if you expect them to even remotely grasp the commonly accepted system of delivery with a broom straight out of the gate. Therefore, to make things easier, and to keep people ultimately interested in the sport by maximizing their fun at the on-set of learning, you give them a tool to lend a helping hand: the stabilizer.

Personally, I have no problem with this for beginners. Heck, I needed a stabilizer when I first started out, too. The broom tuck was the bane of my existence. And I know I’m not alone. In fact, if you had asked me to start off with only a broom instead of a stabilizer, I probably would not have stuck with the sport. Switching from stabilizer to broom was a challenge for me. I fell on the ice a lot. And it hurt. A lot.

I needed to have a few incredible weeks of experience under my belt with a stabilizer to give me that drive to want to better myself at my sport by “upping my game,” so to speak. And now that I use the broom, I can feel the difference in my shooting. I know that, even with a wobble here-and-there out of the hack, I’m throwing better now than I ever did with a stabilizer. But that’s a personal journey I made. Not everyone will feel the same. Some will disagree with me, swear by the stabilizer, and use it for life. So what?

With some beginners who only want to play casually in a once-a-week league and nothing else, why force them into a period of painful and potentially frustrating trial-and-error when letting them just have fun and a stabilizer will do just fine?

Eventually, encouragement to do so from other players, and seeing a majority of those at the top of the sport use them, will naturally move some of the new players on to the more traditional broom delivery if/when they are ready/willing. (Having a league without any stabilizers to use at all so that people are forced to use the broom can also help this process, but I wouldn’t personally recommend taking that risk with your beginners. Unlike at Notre Dame. Where they did.)

But until then, let people fall in love with the game in their own way before asking to them to fall in love it your way. Maybe they’ll change, and maybe they won’t.

Besides, having a Norwegian skip win the Gold Medal while using one at the Olympics – y’know, just the pinnacle of competition in our sport – kind of adds a lot of points to the “Stabilizers are a-Okay!” column, whether anyone likes it or not.  So there’s that.

-Eric 🙂

(Eric Reithel is a guest blogger who, once he abandoned stability in favor of only using a broom, used the pick-up line, ‘Would you like to go Curling together, or shall I just sweep you off of your feet now?’ in his online dating profile with very limited success. You can follow him on Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)


Now what about you? Have an opinion on the matter? Feel free to share it in a comment below, over on our Facebook page, or tweet it to us @WindyCity_CC.  See you on the ice!

Notes to Self: Five Weeks of Lessons Learned by Subbing-In

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

(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.)