Since the beginning of the season, a big sign on the front lawn of our club has been announcing Learn-to-Curl sessions available every week. Last year’s Olympics frenzy, with its raucous, anthem-singing crowds and fascination with the curlers themselves, brought more attention to our sport, and clubs have been happy to step up and meet the need. Mine included.
It seems as if there are new curlers out on the ice with a patient volunteer coach pretty well every night of the week at my club. I see them, a crocodile line of newbies, sliding cautiously and awkwardly up and down the sheet as they try to get the feel of that unfamiliar patch of Teflon under their shoe, or making an effort to use their brooms for sweeping – rather than for balance and support.
When I coached young curlers, I was always amazed to see how unconcerned the kids were during their first outing. Step on the ice and fall down? No big deal. Worry about getting cold? Nope. Kids don’t have the built-in fear-of-embarrassment-or-injury filters that adults do.
And adults certainly do!
For those of us who started curling long after the effortless, fearless days of youth were past, you know what I’m talking about. It’s cold out there. And make no mistake, that ice may appear gleaming and bright, but it’s also really hard if you fall on it. And let’s not forget navigating around hunks of granite and edges of walkways as well. Anyone who has succumbed to the forces of gravity during a game will tell you that perils abound. We’ve all seen those heart-stopping falls that occur from time to time during a fun game – heads hitting the ice or boards, limbs twisting awkwardly. Not pretty, and as we all know, a hazard of the game.
The first time I stepped on the ice, I was wearing a pair of borrowed curling shoes. Real shoes. Real slider. The two other newbies with me were wearing half-sliders, which meant I was already in over my head. Sid, the veteran curler who was leading us, had us slide up and down the sheet, and of course, the poor guy spent the first five minutes picking Jean up off the ice. That stupid slider! Every time I put any weight on my left foot, off it went to the side, right out from under me. It didn’t matter that I was athletic, enthusiastic and very determined. I was a terrible curler!
But gradually I did get my foot under me. I got the feel of the ice, the rhythm of push-slide-push-slide, the sense of when to rely on my gripper and when to let the slider do the work. Of course, delivering a rock presented a whole new set of challenges, but eventually I got that too. The fear – yes, I admit it, I was afraid of falling and looking stupid in front of Sid (in real curling jacket with pins and crests) and the others – was quickly replaced with the astonishment of realizing I had just delivered a rock into the rings and swept a rock all the way down the ice. Better yet, I was still standing.
When I see adults going through their paces in the Learn-to-Curl sessions at my club, I think back to my own first voyage towards Planet Curling. The skills needed on the ice are only one part of the package, of course. But if that on-ice thrill takes hold, the rest follows: playing with a team, challenging yourself in a game and forging strong friendships with the people who quickly – maybe even unexpectedly – become your friends.
We were all newbies once. So bravo to all the adults who have decided to take that first step onto the ice – gripper foot first, of course!
Note: Have you heard of the Getting Started in Curling for Adults program? Take a look here for information on this very effective, well-designed program aimed at helping adults learn and enjoy the sport through a season of instruction and on-ice coaching.