Thursday, 12 May 2016

#TBT - 5 Misconceptions of Curling - published on in September 2014

As I sit down to write this blog the sports headlines are littered with racist owners, videos of vile domestic abuse incidents and drug arrests. Outside of the unveiling of the stops on the Rogers Hometown Hockey tour (shout out to my hometown of Brandon, MB which is stop #8) there is not much good out there.

I am here to change that. I figured with the lid lifting on the World Curling Tour for the 2014/2015 season this month I would take a few minutes and debunk a few misconceptions about curling and curlers in general. I will try to put a lighter spin on some of these to brighten your day.

The majority of the readers here on the GSOC website will already know the ridiculousness of a few of my points, but I am hoping that through social media this information will get to some non-curling aficionados and their eyes will be opened.

#1 No we do not sweep our kitchens or garages for practice
I was often asked this at my old firm by a few managers higher up on the food chain. At the time I was fairly new so being the good employee I was, and someone who didn’t want to get kicked down the corporate ladder by calling their superior an idiot, I just smiled and provided a sarcastic “yeah all the time”. 

The art of sweeping has come a long way in the last 6-8 years with actual scientific research being performed on sweeping. It has led to the advent of new brush heads and curlers watching tape of themselves sweeping in order to change techniques to improve their ability to affect a shot.  

Teams take sweeping very seriously in an effort to find any advantage they can obtain in order to win just like any other high profile sport. It is actually an insult to think that brushing up some dirt off of your floor is all you need to do in order to improve.

Besides like most men out there, I have a high powered leaf blower to clean out my garage. Why would I clean my garage by manual labour when I can have air flowing at 200 mph do it for me?

#2 We don’t yell “Hurry Hard” throughout our everyday lives
I know “Hurry Hard” is the expression that most everyone associates with curling. I know that many stakeholders in the game use it to draw interest in the sport through their marketing. But to answer your questions; no I don’t yell at my kids to “Hurry Hard” to do their homework. I don’t yell at my dog (aptly named “Brier”) to “Hurry Hard” to go fetch the tennis ball. And I definitely do not yell “Hurry Hard” at my wife for any reason whatsoever.

Besides yelling “Hurry Hard” in curling means I probably threw it tight or dumped my in-turn, it’s not exactly something I am proud of out there. I prefer when I just get to say “clean” or “don’t fall on it boys” to my sweepers … it means I probably made my shot.

#3 – No you can’t pick up curling this fall and be in the Olympics in four years
I normally do not get to irrationally angry at sports talk radio. They are paid to have opinions (they don’t have to be my opinions … I get that) and they are paid to try to stir up interest and controversy.

But in February I remember listening to an American radio station on my satellite radio and being angry at a former NFL QB (he of the sparkling 63.2 lifetime QB rating in the NFL). Mr. Kanell decided to tell everyone that he felt like he could start curling this year and be good enough in four years to represent the United States in 2018 in Pyeongchang.

Sure you are athletic Danny, sure you may be able to pick up the sport to some extent if you had the time and desire to try it, but here’s an idea. Try to make 17 or your first 19 shots and then throw your 20th knowing if you miss your team loses and it is looked at as your entire fault. Let that marinate in your brain while you sit in the hack. Then come back and tell me that you were right and curling is easy.

None of this takes into consideration learning the strategy of the game, which guys who have played at the highest level for 20 years still discuss on a regular basis. Nobody has the magic secret, it is not that easy.

That type of idiocy to suggest that curling can be mastered in such short order is mind boggling to me coming from a former professional athlete, someone who should know how hard every sport is to conquer at the highest level.

So stick to being a talking head for College and NFL Football Danny, we’ll stick to trying to compete in the Olympics.

#4 – The ice is bad for both teams it should affect you the same way
Before the pitchforks come out I am not going to say that whining and complaining about the ice conditions is a good thing. I know many fans hear the comments about the “ice being garbage” on the live microphones and they hate hearing it, so I am not saying you should give us curlers a break on that one.

I get it … we GSOC players are spoiled by playing on ice like what Mark Shurek provides us, but what I am here to say is that when a team says that the ice conditions were difficult it probably just means that a facet of their game was taken away. It isn’t so much that players can’t make shots it is more that they can’t trust what the ice is going to do so they are less willing to try the harder shots.

Also for those outsiders to say “well both teams have to play on it” I have this to comparison to draw. Say you have a basketball game and one team has a 6’4 point guard and four guys between 6’9 and 7’3. They face a team with a 5’10 point guard and four guys between 6’3 and 6’9. In order for the little team to have a chance they are probably going to have to make a bunch of three’s early to get the big (probably slower) guys outside so they have some room to maneuver and get closer to the basket (where higher percentage shots are available) to win.

Now take away the three point line. What incentive does the big team have to go outside to protect against the long (lower percentage) shots? The little team is going to get boat raced since they do not have any avenue to attack the big team with. The behemoths’ will sit back and swat everything that comes their way on defense and have a steady stream of post-up baskets at the other end.

The same goes for ice conditions. Say two teams are playing and one is excellent with finesse and the other team is not great drawers but they are exceptional hitters (we can all figure out teams that fall into these categories). If the ice is straight then the finesse team can’t draw behind guards, or freeze on rocks behind guards. It is much easier for the hitting team to win right since the finesse team has nowhere to hide? That is what teams mean when they discuss ice conditions. The best ice gives everyone a chance to play the way they would like to, to trust that every shot is available. The bad ice eliminates a large portion of the shots available.

(It does bring up the need for teams to adapt their strategy when ice conditions are not great and not just complain, but that is a topic for another day).

#5 – Curling is Canada’s game only
This topic is not really light hearted or one I can make fun of. It is just the truth and something we as Canadians have to accept, even if we don’t want to give up our sacred hold atop of the curling universe.

Sure Canada has the most curlers in the world and we probably always will. But like most sports borders are falling. Teams from across the globe are getting better and trying to steal Canada’s throne atop the game. Countries are sending over multiple teams to compete on the World Curling Tour in order to improve not only their current top teams, but create a pipeline of successful teams and players.

Look at last year’s Players Championship in PEI which named teams based on the season’s results. The men’s draw had 3 of 12 teams from outside of Canada and the women’s draw had 4 of 12 (not to mention that the Swiss teams that were in PEI were not the Men’s World Bronze or Women’s World Gold Medallists). These teams are no longer cupcakes that we get to pad our records with; they are tough competitors and here to take our championships.

The sport is growing and becoming worldwide and that is a good thing. Non-traditional curling countries can bring fresh new ideas to the sport which will help growth. But the true benefit to the growth of the game is the competition. It is what drives teams to get better and we have seen that in curling over the last 10 years. The World Curling Tour is truly becoming the WORLD Curling Tour and we are all better for it.

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