Plog #1: “Forgiveness”

So I’ve been meaning to do a podcast for a while now. I mean, it’s been three months since I’ve written a blog, for which I can only apologize and say, “God, my life…”(Windy City curlers know the details. And no, my turning thirty a week ago, despite my joking about it, is NOT one of the reasons. I happily accept my progression of time here on Earth. Usually.)

One of the biggest hurdles I’ve recently found myself facing is this weird state of writer’s block where all of my “Oh, this would be a great blog!” ideas turn into “Actually, that would make a better podcast topic!” As such, I’ve written nothing. And since I fail at technology and WordPress plugins, the podcast has also yet to surface. But that is something I’m still hoping to work on moving forward into 2015. (By the way, Happy New Year!) To those of you out there I requested an interview of for said podcast – I’m still game if you are.

But I digress…

In an effort to rectify my lack of authoring new material, I humbly offer this placeholder: a plog.

“What is a plog?” you ask.

I have no idea. It’s a word I made up as a portmanteau of “podcast” and “log” in the same way a vlog is a mash-up of “video” and “log” (only I greatly lack whatever the Hell it is that drives people to spout their musings on YouTube in sweatpants and morning hair. You’re welcome). But, since I have a face for radio, you get this instead. Enjoy!

-Eric 🙂

P.S. – Yes, I know in the plog itself I called this whole thing, Into the House. I may not have any answers, but if there’s one thing I learned on the drive home, it’s that my ability to title something on the fly is utter sh*t. That mistake has since been remedied in favor of something much simpler.

(Eric Reithel is the resident blogger, brand-new plogger, and self-flogger for Windy City Curling. His musings are his own and do not reflect the views of anyone with a remotely normal sense of self-esteem. You can find more of them over on his Twitter @TheCraftyCurler.)

The Struggles of Adolescence

“We’re just going to keep chipping away at this rock.”
“I feel like you’ve been saving that one for a while.”
“Maybe. But hey, if the shoe fits…”
“This is going in your blog now, isn’t it?”
“Maybe…”
-Eric Reithel and Matt Galas, on seemingly insurmountable challenges

I know plenty of curlers who, when asked by someone what the sport of curling is like to play, will answer, “It rocks.” (Yes, these people exist, and I love them. Don’t act like you’ve never made a terrible curling pun before.)

Similarly, there’s a bit of a running joke amongst my nerd-friends and I who love playing tabletop role-playing games (RPGs): we apply phrases from our game to real life situations. (i.e. – “I figured out how make the VCR stop flashing twelve: plus-five to ‘Cunning’.” “Who still has a VCR?” “I command you to Silence!”)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with RPGs: basically, each player creates a fictional character to portray that exists in a fictional fantasy or sci-fi world. They will then, with their friends, go on quests or missions; the entire time role-playing ‘in-character.’ To keep the game fair, all characters have Stat Sheets that outline to the players what each character is or isn’t capable of doing.

All new players start out at the same basic level, and have to assign points to their “stats.” For example, if you wish play a warrior, you might give extra points to your character’s “attack” or “defense” stats. If you want to play a rogue or a thief, you’d throw those points into the “Cunning,” “Agility,” or even “Lockpicking” stats, and so on and so forth. As the game progresses, players often achieve goals that “Level Up” their character (moving from Level 1 to Level 2, etc.), where more points are earned to be applied to these varying stats. The higher the level, the more points earned, and therefore the stronger the character.

I have friends who have started to hit the gym who view their weightlifting progress in these completely nerdy (and/or geeky) terms. “I started out only being able to bench 75 pounds. After Leveling Up a few times, I’m now benching 125.”

Within most RPG games, once higher levels are achieved and varying stats are increased, they can never be decreased until the character dies. That’s what makes the joke work.

As anyone who has ever objectively started a career, hobby, or passion knows: this is not the case in real life. If it were, adages like “two steps forward, one step back” wouldn’t exist because none of our learned skills would ever degrade over time without constant maintenance, practice, or care. And yet, there is something motivating and appropriately analogous to measuring life in terms of “Leveling Up.”

It breaks down the steps of progression into smaller, more attainable blocks. Using it allows someone to turn a seemingly-impossible goal into a slow progression of achievement. It celebrates the little victories along the way, while refusing to view minor setbacks as “total losses.” But where the analogy lacks is that, unlike in an RPG, real people don’t often start the same hobby at the same skill level, nor progress at the same rate.

Take curling, for example (which is apropos, given that this a blog for Windy City Curling). Everyone (more or less) starts out curling at a Learn2Curl, where they are taught how the game is played. But rather than getting to assign their own stat points to various skills and abilities within the sport, life has taken the summation of their existence so far and already done that for them. Some people begin with better “Balance” than others, while some come into the sport with a pretty solid “Sweeping” rating, others have a solid “Cunning” rating and pick up the “Strategy” better. The kicker is that the exact abilities of any given player are not definitively quantifiable, nor are they ever constant.

For the players that survive the tutorial into actually joining a club to continue on with Curling, more observations will be made to define in which stats we need more effort or focus. Some of us will realize we need to work on our “Posture,” others “Weight Control,” and others… well, any number of other stats you can think of. And as we improve and consistently work on our abilities, we will see progress.

But, as I said, just because a stat or ability increases, it isn’t automatically retained for life. In fact, it’s a constant struggle to even ourselves out across the board. When one goes up, another might dip down. As we focus on “Weight Control,” we may actually focus on this so much that we neglect our “Line of Delivery,” which may suffer. That’s normal.

Luckily for most of us, these stats never go down so much that they’ll completely wither away into oblivion. Sure, we may have a moment’s worry of, “I never used to struggle with my line until I changed how I come out of the hack when I was focusing on my weight…” but this is often followed with, “So how do I fix my line with my new delivery technique WHILE still retaining weight control?”  As we progress forward in search of an answer to this question, eventually a connection is made, our game improves, and we “Level Up.”

But that’s the technical side of the game.

I’ve done a lot of reading on the sport of Curling. (More than I care to admit, I say with humor.) And yet, in all of my research and asking around, I noticed a trend: everything put into print about this incredible sport of ours – with rare exception – fell primarily into two categories: 1.) Literature on the “Curling Greats” who changed the face of the game with performances at a pinnacle of the sport in whatever point in time they played, or 2.) Knowledge and advice for people who were ABSOLUTE newbies to the sport (aka – this).

There’s a third category that is, in my humble opinion, sorely lacking: 3.) Moving past the ‘Newbie Gains’ into the realm of ‘Mid-Gainer’ (if I may steal a few terms from weightlifting – which, no, I do not do).

Allow me to explain in RPG analogy: All Curlers begin somewhere in the Level 1-5 range of overall skill. The game is new and exciting. There’s a whole world of possibilities just waiting to be explored. As the beginners get the absolute basics of the sport down pat, their natural talent allows them to quickly “Level Up” into the Level 6-10 range as being able to consistently make simple draws, guards, and hits settle into the body. Before long, they’re in Levels 11-14 as they understand the concepts of why Skips are picking their shots. They’re getting a natural sense of when they need to sweep or not sweep – without even needing to hear the call.

But then something happens.

All the while they’ve been flying up through the ranks, having fun, and getting better, they’ve also been talking to players who’ve been around for a few years, or watching international curling matches streamed on YouTube, or whatever the case may be. And then, right around Level 15, a revelation: they understand the scope of the complex skill and intricacy that exists in this sport. Something ‘clicks’ and they can intellectually ‘see’ the level of finesse required. Not only that, they realize they have the potential to achieve that skill and finesse. They may only be a Level 15, but the distance from where they are to where they want to be seems much more quantifiable – even if that endgame is Level 100.

Then, another revelation: “I have no idea how to get myself there.”  And right there is where a wall exists. (At least, there is for me.)

As a player, I’ve recently realized that while my Natural Talent has carried me this far, this is as far as that train goes. I’m at the end of that line; dropped off at a junction where my next options are either, 1.) happily staying place in Casual Curler City, 2.) getting frustrated, giving up, and taking a return trip back to Normal Life on the Quitters Express, or 3.) progressing forward to who-knows-what on the slow-moving Hard Work Highway.

Where skills and levels were once gained quickly, suddenly the gap between Level 15 and Level 16 seems more like a pole vault instead of a hop, a skip, or a jump.

Not only that, but here’s where I have found further frustration and discouragement: When I was a Level 1 watching the Olympians, I just tended to view what they could do as something on a higher plane of existence far beyond anything I could ever achieve. There was no way I could quantify their skills because I lacked the vocabulary and experience to do so. Now that I feel I’m sitting around Level 15, I have enough knowledge in my head to know that those elites aren’t on a higher plane; they’re traveling around in the exact same world I am. They’ve just been doing it so much longer, and traveled far and wide on countless quests and missions, that their stats and abilities place them at that 100th Level. And what once was a great big world of possibility for me now seems like an overwhelmingly large landscape too vast and wide to ever fully explore or visit.

I mean, if the experience gap between Level 15 and Level 16 is a pole vault, the gap between Level 15 and Level 100 feels like the Grand Canyon. You can see the other side, which is where you want to be, but how do you build a bridge over the Grand Canyon? When viewed with this perspective, to say, “It’s humbling,” is putting it mildly.

And yet – for as small as I feel – I feel as equally (if not, more) encouraged to keep going. How? Because those Level 100’s that I once thought played this sport on a higher plane I realize now throw stones in same world I do. Sure, I may not know any of them personally, but I do know quite a number of other higher-level players solidly sitting anywhere from Level 30 to Level 70. And those folks have been there for me this entire time, always offering their advice, their wisdom and their encouragement. I trust that wisdom because they all had to get there the same way I will: Hard Work, Practice, and Dedication. And let’s be honest: these things are really easy to put in when your passion for something is strong.

Not only that, I get to play with some incredible fellow curlers who are in the same place as I; Comrades-in-Brooms to share in the adventure who inspire me as I watch their progress and improvement week-after-week.  Yes, getting to where I want to be may seem like a Grand Canyon’s width away – but at least I can now see the other side. Where there once was a false self-imposed planar separation, there now exists only a distance I feel I can progressively reach. Sure, I don’t know how to build that bridge yet, but I know enough things now to feel like I – or any one of us – can.

And who knows? Perhaps one day one of us, too, will be over there with those elites. Until that day, I’m going to keep practicing – building my bridge one piece/one Level at a time. And as I figure things out, put two-and-two together, or even have a new suggestion to try, I’ll jot it all down in this blog – from one beginner to another.

Why?

Because I have only found one author so far who, like me, has made an attempt to fill this vacant information gap: Gabrielle Coleman. Having written two incredible books, Break Through Beginner Curling and Introduction to Curling Strategy, Gabrielle has done a fantastic job of taking her personal experiences and converting them into as much practical curling knowledge for the Beginner-Shooting-to-Become-an-Intermediate as anything I’ve ever read. I highly recommend them.

And yet, despite what has clearly been an exhaustive and impressive effort on her part, with the rate that the sport of Curling is growing (especially here in the United States), it’s not enough. There are too many of us at this stage in our game, and we all learn in too many different ways for just these two books to be a catch-all solution. For the number of experienced Level 30+ players out there in the Curling World, how multiple plans-of-attack designed to help Teen-Leveled players move into the Level 20’s don’t already exist is surprising to me.

So I’m offering a challenge to anyone out there reading this blog who may be higher up in their game than I: Help us.

I hear all the time that Curling is growing. The Olympics are driving the number of participants of this sport through the roof. New clubs (be they paper, arena, or dedicated) are popping up all over the place. The USCA is implementing a High Performance Training Program to hunt down players with potential and then hopefully hone their skills enough to make them the next wave of Level 100’s by the time the South Korea Winter Games roll around. Everyone wants to keep this snowball rolling and growing. All of this is fantastic!

But now that you have us first- and second-year curlers hooked on your awesome sport, we need more than baseline introductory guides and details on the “greats” we hope to possibly one day be. Heck, even if our goal is simply to enjoy League Night and not be the weak link on the team, there’s no means out there for us to find that will help guide us to that end.

So to you Level 30-and-Above players out there, we need you to remember the struggles you faced back in your past – technical, strategical, emotional… it doesn’t matter what – and we need you to articulate how you moved past them. Then share that with us in a guiding and advisory way. You were us once. You knew as little then as we do now. The difference? You acquired wisdom. Sure, you may not have all of the answers (Lord knows I sure don’t), but I’m willing to bet that you have enough to help. I would love to know what those answers are, and something tells me I’m not the only one.

-Eric 🙂

(Eric Reithel is a resident blogger for Windy City Curling who, because he is a teenager in Curling Skill Level and maturity, prints out inspirational quotes and song lyrics that he hangs on his wall at work for motivation – much to the chagrin of his employer. You can ask him what they are, or anything else for that matter, on Twitter at @TheCraftyCurler.)

The House Rules

Proper Etiquette at Windy City Curling

All games should start with a handshake and a “Good Curling!” between every player.

All shoes, brooms, and other equipment should be clean of debris before stepping onto the ice to keep the sheet as pristine as possible. Street shoes worn outside should not be used for curling.

The team to begin with Hammer advantage is determined by a coin toss between thirds.

Be safe on the ice:

  1. Do not chase after a rock moving too fast for you.
  2. Never sweep while moving backwards.
  3. If a rock is moving towards someone with their back to it, warn them.
  4. Should you start to fall, try to tuck your chin to your chest to protect your head.

Play with a good sportsmanlike attitude.

Commend all players on a good shot.

You are allowed to be happy about a good shot, but don’t overdo it. Be humble.

You are allowed to be unhappy about a bad shot, but keep it together. Be civil.

If possible, try to lift your hands and knees up from the ice after a delivery slide to prevent your body heat from degrading the pebble or leaving an imprint.

For the Non-Delivering Team:

  1. Sweepers should remain still, off to the side, and between the hoglines.
  2. Once the opposing team has delivered their stone out of the hack, the next player on-deck to shoot should ready their stone in front of the hack and clean it. If need be, this is also the time to put a slip-on slider over your shoe.
  3. The Skip and/or Vice should be waiting behind the back line of the house to give the current Skip peace and space to focus on their game.
  4. Any player on a non-delivering team should be standing with their brooms parallel to the ice, especially anyone behind the house at the playing end.
  5. Any talking while the other team has the ice should be kept to a non-distracting volume.

For the Delivering Team:

  1. Be ready to deliver your stone once your team has the ice.
  2. Sweepers should be alert, paying attention, and ready to sweep when needed.
  3. Every member of the team should actively help the current shot.
  4. Leads and Seconds can greatly help the pace of the game by readying the stone for their Skips and Vices (especially if they are currently engaged in a strategic discussion).
  5. Move to the sides of the sheet as soon as your shot comes to a rest to yield the ice to the other team.

Be mindful of your movement within eyesight of someone delivering a stone, and don’t deliberately distract an opponent.

Be mindful of games on other sheets:

  1. Be respectful of both teams when exchanging dialogue with players from other games.
  2. If you see a player on the sheet next to you already in the hack, wait to deliver your stone until they have done so.
  3. Try to be aware of moving stones on adjacent sheets. Be alert for any stray stones that may come your way.

Protect our granite! Stop moving stones from hitting a hack, striking the scoreboard, bumping the back wall, or soaring into another sheet. If possible, try to anticipate a big weight delivery or a hit that may send them that direction.

Remember to be safe on the ice. (See bullet-points above.)

When an End is Finished:

  1. Only the Thirds shall determine the score. All other players should remain out of the house until this is done.
  2. The scoring Skip that is to start the next End should immediately head to the playing end of the sheet to call their first shot, instead of helping clear stones.
  3. The Lead to deliver the first stone of the next End should get their slider on (or gripper off) and ready their first stone in front of the hack while the other players clear away stones.

If it impossible for a team to win or tie, it is customary for the trailing Skip to concede the match by offering a handshake to the leading Skip. Don’t drag out a competition longer than necessary.

Conclude all matches the same way they began: with a handshake and a “Good Curling!” between every player.

During Open Curling and League Nights, ice time can be used for practice after a game, if desired. During a bonspiel however, the ice should be vacated as soon as possible to allow the ice-makers ample time to pebble and nip the sheet in anticipation of the next draw.

Did we mention to be safe on the ice? 🙂

Have fun!

Be Like These Celebrities – TRY CURLING!

Do you try and sing like country superstar Toby Keith? Do you have the athleticism of 49ers tight end Vernon Davis? Do you put the pedal to the metal like Indy racer Dario Franchitti?

Well, maybe you could out curl them.

Windy City Curling offers “Learn to Curl” classes every Thursday. This gives you a great chance to learn the great game of curling – just like several celebrities are taking up.

toby-keithToby Keith started following curling during the Turin Olympics. The crooner and his band refer to themselves as the “Redneck Curlers.” Nashville Curling Club president Sean Gerster stated that “They knew the turns (in-turn and out-turn), knew about strategy and understood the game.”

c03-curling-28-4_3Vernon Davis was urged to try curling by the San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club. “This is probably one of the craziest things I’ve ever done,” Davis said. “I thought snowboarding was crazy. This is even crazier.” Davis was hooked on the sport, and even served as Honorary Team Captain for the US Curling Team in the recent Sochi games.

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 9.29.15 PMScottish racer Dario Franchitti first tried curling to experience the “other sport invented by the Scots.” He compared racing to curling in two aspects. The conditions of the ice, just like the conditions of the track, play a vital role in the game. And, just as a racer needs his pit crew to lead him to victory lane, the skip needs his sweepers to bring the stone to the house.

Other celebrities that have gotten into curling include George Clooney, Kristy Swanson (the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and even Ron Burgundy.
ron-burgundy-curling-Don’t miss the chance to learn to curl at Windy City Curling!  Curling takes place every Thursday night – just visit http://www.windycitycurling.com/events/open-house-learn-to-curl/ for more information!

TV : Lakeshore Public Media

Lakeshore Public TelevisionOn September 23, Krystin Estes from Lakeshore Public Media (WYIN, PBS Affiliate) joined us at Windy City Curling for a Learn to Curl session.  Her show, Jump in the Lake, showcases various unique activities in our area.  She was excited to give it a whirl, but just like the majority of people coming to curl for their first time… she wasn’t sure what to expect.

When she arrived, she was greeted by several members and immediately started socializing during our pre-game broomstacking.  In a blink of an eye, after three hours of instruction, practice and playing the night was over.   We had a fantastic time with the crew and the other Learn to Curlers that night and just wanted to say Thank You to everyone involved.  And I wanted to give a special thanks to our members, Eric Reithel and Greg Stewart, for leading the group.

Our segment will air in primetime next week on Friday evening (Oct 11) at 7pm on the “Lakeshore Report.

If you know of anyone wanting to give curling a try… have them sign up on our website by finding an open evening in the right hand column and they can use the coupon code JumpInTheLake to get their Learn to Curl discounted to $40/person.