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 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.)

First Date. Last Night.

“I’m pleased and very scared to be here.”
-Penny Pingleton, Hairspray

First dates are scary. You never know how things are going to go. You hope for the best, brace for the worst, try to keep an open mind, and do everything you can to make a good first impression while hoping the other person does the same. That gamut of emotion is almost exactly how I felt as I walked into Rocket Ice Arena last night to sub in for my first game ever with the Windy City Curling Club.

Flashback: I’ve only been curling for the past three months, and have done so only at two different places around Lake Michigan, neither of them being Windy City Curling. All of the previous clubs I’ve been to I found online, so I kind of felt like my search for a curling club home has been like an adventure in online dating. Google searching led me to my start in Kalamazoo, Michigan. And while the Kalamazoo Curling Club was incredible and had a great group of passionate and dedicated members, a two-hour one-way drive was a bit too far for me to maintain, sadly.

From there I transitioned over to South Bend, Indiana to curl with some of my friends at Notre Dame. Although this was a much better drive, and curling with your pals is always a heck of a lot of fun, the league structure there is more akin to a collegiate style than a traditional club.  It’s weird how much broomstacking really does make the difference in this sport.

The major positive thing about Notre Dame for me was simply being cast in the role of skip for my team. You see, without that club feel to the league, there weren’t any experienced veterans to really help coach us newbies. I had to do a lot of self-teaching about this crazy rock throwing sport of ours by scouring the internet, and even then, everything I found and learned was untested game theory. In my searching, however, I found a fantastic community and resource for help on (r/curling, for those of you familiar with it). It was there in a discussion on league fees that I casually mentioned being close-ish to the Chicago Chicago Club, but the drive was still more than an hour away.

Thinking nothing more of it, a week later I received notification that someone had replied to my comment. This reply simply said the following:

“If you’re anywhere near Bolingbrook, we’d love to have you at Windy City Curling!”

After a quick click on the link, some light reading that turned into reading the entire website, hoping over to the Facebook page and liking it, and – ultimately- a few excited cartwheels later, I began emailing back-and-forth with Matt Galas. It was his friendly and helpful replies to my MANY questions about WCCC (and again – to Matt – sorry for flooding your inbox, dude) that convinced me to give this new club a try. Third club’s the charm, right?

Flash forward: So there I was at 8:30 p.m. on a drizzling Thursday night, less than an hour from home (the closest club I’ve ever found to me), sitting in the parking lot of Rocket Ice Arena, and downright honest-to-God nervous. Earlier in the day, I couldn’t type fast enough to reply to the email I received asking if anyone wanted to sub in for a team, but now that I was actually at the arena, all those dubious and anxiety-creating questions started to creep into my mind. Anyone who has ever joined a new social group of people should know them by heart: “What if I’m terrible at this? What if I embarrass myself? What if no one there likes me?” etc.

But you know what? It took less than an awkward, “Hello, I’m Eric and I think I’m subbing in for one of your teams tonight…?” to have all of those anxieties and fears allayed. From the moment I met Matt (finally in-person!), some other leaders of WCCC (I’m terrible with names, or else I’d give each and every one of you a personal shout-out), and my team for the night, I don’t believe I ever once stopped grinning like an idiot. Every single person at the WCCC that night was incredibly warm and friendly to talk to.

As we waited to take to the ice, I got to know some new faces over a really fun curling-like table top board game called Crokinole. Once we set up the rink and took to the ice, most of the guys put on their best ‘game’ faces, but even those couldn’t completely mask their friendly demeanor. They were all such a blast to play with. I couldn’t believe it when our game was over, it flew by so fast. “Wait, we’re done?” I believe I asked with an evident tinge of sadness.

I looked at the clock on my cell phone: 11:30p.m. Three awesome hours had flown by in the blink of an eye. I was stunned. Post-game conversations quickly followed with talk of shots made and missed, good ends and bad ends, and even talk of where and how to get a kickin’ pair of curling shoes for the newly initiated and addicted (Debbie McCormick at Goldline Curling!).

When I got back to my car, I finally allowed my stupid grin to turn into a full-blown smile. If this is what subbing-in with the Windy City Curling club is like the first time out, I cannot wait until the end of May to see what this summer’s ‘D’ league has in store. (Seriously – I can’t. If any of you need a sub until then, call or email me.) For those of you I’ll be playing with then, see you on the ice! And for those of you reading this that I won’t – change it so that I will. You gotta try this. 🙂

Eric is a guest blogger with a penchant for verbose analogies, musical theater metaphors, long-winded talks on game theory, and geeking out in general.

New Clubs – The “Columbus Model”

Building a Curling Club

In an ideal world, each club would have their own dedicated building and space for their club activities.  However, this usually isn’t feasible for newer clubs.  With the recent growth of curling, we have seen unprecedented amounts of new clubs both nationally and globally.  The typical startup club doesn’t have too many options and usually clubs will often start on arena ice.

This is a great way for clubs to start to build interest and get people curling.  However, this also produces a few issues that really hinder the long term success of arena clubs.  The problem with arena ice in this manner is it is near impossible to maintain properly for curling and usually curling takes a back seat to everything else at the ice arena.  The combination of bad ice conditions, inconvenient times and expensive rental time makes it hard for the new club to grow and prosper.

Wouldn’t it be great if their was a model that a new club could reference to build their own dedicated space?  There is and the Columbus Curling Club has found a way! This same method can be used for current clubs to grow and expand as well!

Dedicated Space – Lease Option

If you can’t buy a house, what do you do for a place to live?  You rent!   In the past, the costs to renovate the space and to create the ice field usually makes renting or leasing cost prohibitive in a building that is not a permanent home.

However, with new technology that is available, this is now a viable option with a track record of success.

Leasing provides relatively small startup costs while still providing the convenience and effectiveness of a dedicated space.  In the current economy, you’ll be hard pressed not to find distressed properties available for lease.

When looking for a space, there a just a few requirements.  The space must be zoned properly, have enough space to create the number of sheets, have a warm area and plenty of storage.  We’ll be looking into this more and gathering additional requirements over the next couple years.

Equipment, Materials and Technology

So how do we create a cost effective ice field in a leased space?

The IceMat simple design results in years of trouble-free use. Each mat is modular in design so that your rink size can be increased or decreased at any time. The mats roll out like carpet over the floor and then roll back up when not in use.

The ICEMAT produces an ice field that not only produces good conditions, but it typically saves in annual operating costs as well.  This also provides the ability to expand as needed.

In addition to the floor and ice sheet, other considerations must be evaluated as well. An ALUMA-ZORB Ceiling Curtain, with an emissivity of 4 to 5 percent, will stop 95 percent of this energy-robbing heat radiation to the ice surface.

Hopefully we’ll continue to add to this as we investigate more options and learn about the process.

Sample Use Cases

Columbus Curling Club –

In November 2008, the Columbus Curling Club completed their own two-sheet dedicated curling facility in leased warehouse space.  Their total upfront cost for this project was $150,000 and took 5 months to complete. Within a year, they expanded to 3 sheets and are currently beginning plans and fundraising to purchase their own building.
Contact: Stu Cohen

Evergreen Curling Club LogoEvergreen Curling Club –

Congratulations are in order to the Evergreen Curling Club in Portland, OR for following this model and beginning their construction this year.  They plan to be open and ready for this season in October!  Their plan was name “Dedicated Ice in a Year (DIY)” and they accomplished it based on the results from the Columbus Curling Club.

Their project was estimated at roughly $385,000 in startup costs for a 4 sheet facility.  Based on expectations, they decided to start with 2 sheets (saving $32,000) and use their great members for volunteer work ($79,000) reducing their startup costs.

Contact: Bruce Irvin

 View a Presentation of their Model (pdf)

Future Curling Clubs

While every curling club will not be able to follow this model precisely, it now has a proven track record with the success of the Columbus Curling Club and the current construction of the Evergreen Curling Club.

Depending on your clubs variations and special circumstances, you can adapt this to your club’s needs and available resources and should provide a successful path to creating the community you desire.

We will be hopefully going down this path in the next few years and will update this and provide more information as we come across it. We would also LOVE to hear from you if you have any insight or experience that may help us or any other club.

Best of luck, and Good Curling!

It’s more than Curling; It’s Community

I was lucky enough to be introduced to curling in 2006 after the Olympics. Luckily my friends and I found a club, Waltham Curling Club, that was within a few hours of us and they had an Open House.

It was awesome.

The club members there were so inviting and welcoming.  They just loved the sport and loved sharing it with us.  We instantly felt like we belonged. I literally was giddy on the way home and when my friend suggested joining, I don’t think I could have blurted out my response any faster.  Yes!

So the three of us joined.  The first season was great.  We jumped right in and played in a league and every member there was ready to help teach us about the game.  We received countless hours of coaching and advice sessions.  We “broomstacked” with everyone as often as we could.  We were hooked.

The other members suggested a “bonspiel.”  So, we went to our first bonspiel. We signed up for the Watermelon Open at Pardeeville Curling Club (which might be the best first bonspiel for anyone to go to).  When we arrived, we were nervous because we had no idea what to expect.  They couldn’t possibly be as nice and welcoming as back home, right?  A bonspiel will be much more competitive and not friendly.  Oh were we surprised.  It was nothing like we could have ever dreamt of.   From the moment we arrived at the club, we knew we were in the right spot, the right bonspiel, the right sport.

We were used to highly competitive sports and were just amazed at the camaraderie, sportsmanship and community of curling.  In other sports you always would say nice shot or good game… but you don’t necessarily mean it.  In curling, you do mean it.  You want to see them make an amazing shot.  You want to congratulate them when they do.  After the game, you want to broomstack (where the winners buy the drinks). You really enjoy the companionship from the team that just beat you.  You want to share stories.  You want to be a part of the great community.

Looking back, I guess I wasn’t “lucky” to be introduced in 2006… I was unlucky to not be introduced so much earlier!

If you ever talk to a curler, I’m sure you will get this great feeling.

If you ever have the chance to curl… do it, no matter what.  You won’t regret it.  You will love curling, but more importantly you will love your fellow curlers.

It’s more than curling; it’s community!