House Call: The Line’s Divine

If you’re relatively new to curling, you likely play front end on a team and never consider line call. And then, against all odds, it happens. Skipper calls in sick and your second’s out of town. You call in a spare but they have to play lead. Your third moves up to skip and suddenly… Holy Cow… you’re playing third! Before we get started allow me to explain what exactly I mean by “line call”. Line is the arc the rock makes as it moves down the ice towards its target. Calling line is telling the sweepers when to go and when to whoa in order to either hold the line or let it bend.

Sweepers Mark Nichols and Jamie Danbrook rely on Ryan Fry to call the line on Brad Gushue's shot at the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier (Photo Michael Burns)

Don’t get caught unprepared. Remember these few simple tips about calling line and you’ll be in great shape! 1. Communicate with your sweepers. I cannot emphasize this one enough. From the moment the thrower releases, the sweepers need to be telling the person in the house where the weight is. It doesn’t matter if their judgement is off, it will get better with practice. Also the sweepers should continue to provide weight updates to the skip all the way down the ice. The skip or third’s job is to call the line… not the weight! 2. Don’t be afraid of a little volume. It’s loud out there with other games going on and your sweepers need to be able to hear you. Calling line leaves no room for milquetoast Muppets: you must be assertive. Let your sweepers know what you want and why. 3. Watch for the break. What I mean by this is that at every club, on every sheet, there is a breaking point. This is where the rocks will really start to curl. Here at the Calgary Winter Club it’s just before where the far benches are. If you wait to call your sweepers on after the breaking point you’ve waited too long. It is important to watch to see where the breaking point is and call your sweepers on before then. 4. Put yourself in a position where you have the most accurate view of the line and follow the line as it moves. Usually the best way to do this is to call the shot standing up and squat down once the thrower releases. Then follow the line of the rock along with your broom. This puts you down at rock level so you’ll be able to see how things are moving. Following the line with your broom gives your sweepers an idea of what’s going on. 5. Never, ever help your sweepers on a take-out… ever! In fact, let’s all raise our brooms together and solemnly swear to the Curling Gods not to do this. Line is critical on take outs and far more important than the three or four unbalanced strokes you might get in, that is if you manage not to knock you teammates over in the process. Stay in house and call line. That is where you are needed. 6. Try not to fight back and forth with the thrower. This just confuses the sweepers. The person in the house has the best view of the line and the rocks in the house. The sweepers need to know who to listen to. Make some sort of agreement and duct tape the thrower’s mouth if you have to! 7. Be on the lookout for plan B, C, D, and even E. If you know the shot called isn’t going to work out don’t give up. Start looking for ways to miss in a positive manner. Maybe you can peel off a guard instead of getting the one in the back, or perhaps you can call your sweepers off and hog a light rock instead of letting it junk up the front when the last thing you want is junk. The alternate shots are endless as long as you’re looking for them. These are just a few key pointers to get you started. As you spend more time in the house you will grow more and more comfortable. I recommend you jump at every chance to try a new position and gain more experience. It will make you a more well-rounded player and you won’t be so terrified the next time you get thrown into the third position – or even skip!

Kevin Martin calls the line from the house (Photo Michael Burns)