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House Call: Don’t skip out on skipping

Of all the positions on a curling team, skip seems to be the most intimidating for new curlers. True, the position of skip isn’t a good fit for everyone, but don’t let lack of confidence stop you from giving it a try.

Skip is an important position, but it’s no more important than third, second or lead. Beginner leagues often encourage everyone to try all the different positions. If the regular skip is absent, the player filling in should feel confident and prepared to do so.

But remember, your skip is in charge of calling the game. Unless the skip specifically asks for team input, it’s important to keep your opinions to yourself.

Heather Smith and Chelsea Carey (CCA/Andrew Klaver Photo)

Heather Smith and Chelsea Carey (CCA/Andrew Klaver Photo)

Don’t second guess

When the team constantly second guesses the shot called or the broom placement, it’s not only demoralizing for an inexperienced skip, it also slows down the game. Curling is not a democracy. The skip has a far better view of the house than anyone else on the team. It’s OK to ask for clarification about what the call is, what the turn is, or how much weight to throw, but once you have the answer, don’t second guess the call.

Stick together

Avoid complaining to your teammates about the strategy because this only ends up undermining the skip, preventing him or her from taking chances and learning from both the successful calls as well as the mistakes.

And when you have the opportunity to skip, here’s some basic advice:

Know the Ice

It takes years of practice to read ice accurately and pick up on changes occurring throughout the game. Start by paying attention to how both team’s stones react to the ice. Move in behind the opposition skip to watch their stones coming towards you. (And if you aren’t playing skip or third, learn the ice by moving in behind the thrower to watch the stone’s progress.)

Make note of where the broom is placed for different shots, what type of weight is thrown, and if the shot is made. Also watch how the sheet is running in general. Is the ice heavy (is more weight needed to get a stone to the other end)? Is it keen (do you need to throw less weight than usual)? Watch for changes in the ice as the game progresses.

If you are holding the broom, get as close to ice level as possible once the thrower releases the stone, then move along with the rock as it comes towards you. This will give you the most accurate view of how the stone is curling, whether it’s going to hit its target, and whether you need to call the sweepers on or off. Once these basics are ingrained, you can begin to look at stone rotation, player accuracy, using a stopwatch, watching how nearby sheets are running, and much more.

Just remember not to get so caught up in ice reading that you begin to play too slowly.

Play to your team’s strengths

Even as beginners, your team will have strengths, so use them to your advantage. If take-outs are too challenging, try tap-backs and raises to move opposition stones behind the tee-line. Keeping your stones in front of the opposition’s in the house gives you an advantage because it’s more difficult for the opposition to remove them.

Learn to look for alternate shots

As a skip, it is important to see options instead of doom when a teammate is clearly not going to make the shot called. Look around the playing area quickly to see what good misses you can find. Perhaps you can raise a guard into the rings instead of drawing behind, or maybe sweeping can ensure you don’t tick the opposition’s stone behind a guard. Be confident in your call and don’t dwell on potential plans B through Z before calling a shot, but if things start to go sideways, don’t give up. Always look for the alternates.

Be confident

Showing confidence and leadership when skipping will make your team feel more confident overall. Even after a big miss or giving up a three-ender, take a deep breath, square your shoulders, chalk it up as a learning experience and get on with the next end. Before you know it skipping won’t seem so intimidating and perhaps you’ll even want to play the position regularly.

Sean Meacham, 2014 Canadian Mixed Curling Championship (CCA Photo)

Sean Meacham (SK) 2014 Canadian Mixed Curling Championship (CCA Photo)