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 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.)