As I write this, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts has just ended, and like everyone else in the Canadian curlingspere, I’m a bit lost. Where my free time all week was spent glued to TSN, I am now going about my daily routine a bit lost. The urge to turn on the TV and check the score is hard to resist. That’s what nine days of exciting curling coverage will do to your daily routine: curling addiction sets in very quickly.
Happily, in this week between the two big shows – the Scotties and the Brier – I do have my own game to think about. Yes, it’s just a regular league game at my local curling club. And it’s true, there will be no television cameras recording my less-than-perfect delivery, or media scrums plying me with questions about my team, our (generally) losing record this season, or our hopes for the playoffs which are creeping up quickly.
But something will be different this week. There’s something about watching the Big Kids play – in this case, the best women curlers from each province and territory in Canada – that changes the way I approach my very recreational game.
Okay, I’ll be honest. My strategy with every shot is to (a) not bobble and disgrace myself, (b) hit the broom, and (c) throw the correct weight. I assume my skip has got the call right, and I just try to do my job and give her the shot she wants. (We won’t mention the number of times I surprise myself and get it all together). As a front-end player, I’m not in on calling the strategy of the game. But after watching the teams at the Scotties, I’m going to pay more attention to the ice, to the way my opponents are playing. I’m going to think about what I would call and where I would put the broom if it were my job to build the end. No, I’m not going to holler my advice down the ice to my skip (who would probably not hear me anyway, since we play in an echoing 6-sheet club with a full complement of teams). But on those pauses between shots, as I stand on the side of the sheet leaning on my broom, I’m going to raise my strategy antenna and call my own imaginary game.
Heather Smith-Dacey is my hero. Suzanne Birt, too. Oh, let’s just name them all – all those incredibly skilled curlers who float out of the hack, smoothly, strongly, steadily. They let go of the rock with precision. They slide forever. They’re strong, mechanically perfect, and so very effective. Yup, that’s going to be me in my game this week. I hope someone has a camera, because I’m going to be throwing it like the Big Kids.
One of the most interesting aspects of the high-level competition at the Scotties was watching the way teams interact, both among teammates and with their opponents. Yes, there were a few dramatic stories that captured our attention, but there were lots of little stories too. A skip turning to her third and sharing a self-deprecating joke after a lousy shot. A lead sweeping so hard that the microphone picked up every ounce of effort and broadcast it for everyone to hear. Grimaces of disappointment, and supportive pats of encouragement, sometimes even between opponents.
Curling is a great game, but it can be a cruel game too, as we all know. So many things are out of our control: the ice conditions, the opponents’ skill level or thought processes. But the games I enjoyed watching the most were the ones with teams who actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. Enjoying the battle, in some cases. Give me intense competition and three teammates to share it with. That’s fun, win or lose. And at the end of the game, let me shake hands with four players who tried to win as hard as we tried. That’s the attitude I enjoyed the most over the nine days of competition at the Scotties.
I’m stepping out on the ice tonight with the image of those elite curlers floating around in my head. For a couple of hours, (though I’m sure I’ll be pulled back to reality pretty quickly), I’m going to imagine I’m a Big Kid, too.