Around the House: Curling etiquette

I remember it clearly: during one of the first games I ever curled, my skip gave me the evil eye as I slid down the side of the sheet talking to one of my teammates. I looked up and caught his piercing gaze and the motion of his gloved hand, something like a traffic cop ordering everyone to stop. So I stopped, feeling guilty but not quite sure what I was guilty of. The opposing sweepers went by, intent on their rock, and my skip took the opportunity to come out of the house and explain. When the other team is throwing, he told me, I should be standing still and quiet between the hoglines. “It’s probably in the rule book somewhere,” he said.  “But it’s just curling etiquette.” Curling etiquette. That might have been the first time I heard the term that describes the blend of rules and unwritten agreements that govern players’ actions on (and occasionally off) the ice, rules which emphasize the best of the game: sportsmanship, courtesy and respect for your opponent. Oh sure, we all want to win.  But we’re also drawn to our curling clubs week after week for more than just those two hours spent on the ice. We come for the people, the socializing, the exercise – the culture of our game.  And that culture includes curling etiquette. A curling game starts and ends with handshakes.  That may sound like a simple thing, but think of those heart-breaking losses or, on the other side, heart-lifting victories on the national and world stage. The most gracious winners – and losers – are the first to put out their hands to their opponents. Only after that ritual sign of respect can the celebration really begin. That same ritual governs the action at curling clubs across the country. We shake hands before and after the game, no matter whether it’s a friendly jitney, a playoff-deciding league match, or a weekend bonspiel.  For all curlers, it’s “Good curling!” or “Bon curling!” and a firm handshake to start and end the action. The rule book might dictate where you can stand when the other team is throwing and who’s allowed in the house when the score is being decided, but it’s etiquette that shapes the game. Standing still when the other team is throwing and allowing the vices to tally up the score without interference from a gung-ho front end shows the players’ respect for each other and their roles. The Canadian Curling Association’s Curlers’ Code of Ethics says, in part, “I will play the game with a spirit of good sportsmanship.” We don’t need referees to keep us in line; it’s part of the game to referee ourselves on the ice. We do a darn good job of it, too. And although it might be tempting to let the adrenalin flow in a tight game – yes, even if it’s just the Friday Night Social Mixed League – the expectation is that we will refrain from throwing our arms in the air and cheering wildly when the opposing skip misses that crucial last rock draw to the four foot. It’s not just common courtesy – it’s simply curling etiquette. “Sportsmanlike behaviour should be demonstrated both on and off the ice,” the CCA’s rules for Fair Play continue. “This includes modesty in victory and composure in defeat.” Okay, so if you win the Brier, Scotties, Worlds or Olympic gold medal, and your “modesty” slips a little, we might cut you some slack on this one! I believe that when my skip told me to stand still and be quiet all those years ago, he was doing me a favour.  He was teaching me not just the rules, but also the traditions of the game: sportsmanship, courtesy and respect for one’s opponent. And, of course, let’s not forget that other important rule of etiquette. Winners buy the losers a drink, and the losers return the favour in round two. That is how the game is played, and we curlers wouldn’t have it any other way. Note: Years ago, I wrote an essay called “Curling etiquette teaches rules for life” which was published in the Globe and Mail. I received many responses from readers, both curlers and non-curlers, all expressing their agreement: curling etiquette really does teach rules for life.  You can read it here. This week’s burning question: Have you seen curling etiquette in action at your club? Share your story with me at [email protected]