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House Call: Master Your Mind in the Hack

Take a moment and consider what goes through your mind as you’re setting up for a shot in the hack. Start by imagining your skip at the far end holding the broom. Envision your teammates standing close at hand, waiting to sweep. Imagine your opponents: maybe you like them, maybe you don’t. Maybe they’re standing where they should be, maybe they aren’t. Maybe they’re laughing obnoxiously, or the next thrower is standing creepily close behind you. Imagine the ice, the smell of the rink…

Now, think about what you’re telling yourself as your sit there preparing. Does it sound like any of the following?

There’s no way I can make this shot, it’s too hard.

I hate that turn; can’t I throw the other one?

I wish the opposition would stop horsing around; laughing, standing too close, insert other annoying antics here, so I can concentrate.

Okay, body, work with me here. Toes, knees, hips, shoulders, nose squared to the hack. Keep hips square in backwards motion, keep eyes on target… blah, blah, blah.

“Remind yourself you don’t have to make the shot alone. You have sweepers to help and you have someone holding the broom who should know what the alternatives are if it doesn’t work out. Let them worry about the alternatives.”(Photo of Glenn Howard leaving the hack by CCA/Michael Burns)

If any of these thoughts resonate with you, it’s time to start being a little nicer to yourself. You may think: well it’s true, so why shouldn’t think it? You may think: just because I have these thoughts doesn’t mean they’re affecting me. However, the bottom line is negative thoughts or obsessive thoughts about your delivery and shot-making ability can be crippling to your game.

A couple of tricks you can use to rid yourself of these hazardous thought patterns are as follows:

There’s no way I can make this shot, it’s too hard.
It might be worth your while to question this type of thought. Would you say that to your best friend or a teammate before they stepped in the hack? Of course not… so why is it okay to tell yourself that? I’m not saying this will rid you of negative thinking, but do take time to question negative thoughts like this. Then you can begin to program them to be more positive.

Furthermore, I firmly believe in playing the easiest shot available and trying to force my opponent to play the hard shots. However, there isn’t always an easy shot to call or play… especially if you’re the Skip. But defeating yourself before you start is no way to approach a tough shot. Remind yourself you don’t have to make the shot alone. You have sweepers to help and you have someone holding the broom who should know what the alternatives are if it doesn’t work out. Let them worry about the alternatives. As the thrower, you need to focus on positive self-talk, such as “I can do this,” or, for some, it’s better to think nothing at all.

I hate that turn; can’t I throw the other one?
When your skip gives you a particular turn it is generally for good reason. Sure everyone has a favourite turn but it is important to be comfortable with both turns. By avoiding a particular turn all the time, you will not only annoy your skip, you’ll also create an even deeper aversion to your “bad” turn. My advice is to persevere. Force yourself to play the more awkward turn as often as you can. Perhaps even take a private lesson and focus on it. Eventually your fears will fade away and you’ll be a more balanced player for it.

I wish the opposition would stop horsing around, laughing, standing too close, (insert other annoying antics here) so I can concentrate!
My mother had a wonderful saying when she was coaching my junior curling team way back when. If we were paying too much attention to our opposition or perhaps certain cute boys on other sheets, she would firmly tell us, “Tend to your own knitting girls.” This always stuck with me. Ultimately you cannot control what is going on around you in a game, but you can be in charge of yourself and set an example for the opposition.

Okay body, work with me here. Toes, knees, hips, shoulders, nose squared to the hack. Keep hips square in backwards motion, keep eyes on target… blah, blah, blah.
If you’re constantly correcting your delivery and trying to remember all the things you’re supposed to do or not do, you WILL drive yourself bonkers. Perhaps you only allow yourself to think about what you need to do in your delivery up until your toe touches the hack. Once in the hack, clear your mind, focus on the broom, and just throw. Often this short mental vacation prior to sliding can make all the difference.

They say curling is the ultimate mind game and, whoever they are, they’re not wrong! The ideas I’ve presented here will not likely cure you of all negative self talk but perhaps you’ll start to be more aware of what you’re talking yourself into. Once you are aware of these thoughts you’ll find it easier to start to control them.

Saskatchewan’s Lana Vey sits in the hack at the 2012 Scotties Tournament of Hearts (Photo CCA/Andrew Klaver)