Give it a shot: Experiencing Adult Learn-to-Curl Leagues

Simon Barrick is a competitive curler and coach. He’s also a sport researcher, currently completing his PhD in Kinesiology at the University of Calgary. To complete his Master’s degree at the University of Waterloo, he turned the microscope on adult Learn-To-Curl leagues – the Getting Started in Curling for Adults program was introduced by Earle Morris in 2007 with the support of Curling Canada – to explore what the experience is like for adults new to curling. Here’s what he found out.
The curling shoes of two league participants - illustrating their friendship and sense of belonging to the sport (Photo courtesy of S. Barrick)

The curling shoes of two league participants – illustrating their friendship and sense of belonging to the sport (Photo courtesy of S. Barrick)

Simon Barrick writes: Adult learn-to-curl leagues may very well be the next great innovation in Canadian curling. Anecdotally, these leagues first surfaced in the mid 2000s. Today, they are cropping up in greater numbers, and with October well underway, there is likely one coming to a neighbourhood curling club near you. But what exactly is an adult learn-to-curl league? Well, as the name suggests, these leagues are geared to adults new to the sport (or re-entering the sport after a prolonged absence). Participants receive weekly instruction from trained instructors about the delivery, sweeping, etiquette, and strategy. By the end of the program (either eight, 12, or 26 weeks), new curlers have acquired the necessary skills to progress into experienced club leagues (e.g., men’s, women’s, mixed). For my Masters thesis, I combined my passions for curling and research into a study of two separate adult learn-to-curl leagues. In essence, my role was to understand how these leagues tick! During the study, I observed the leagues in action and interviewed various participants, instructors, and organizers. This research provided insights into why individuals enrolled and what they experienced in these unique leagues. For instance, social connections were a primary driver for new curlers to enroll. Many participants joined with family members, friends, or work colleagues; or they viewed the league as an outlet to make friends. Moreover, there were some surprises. Despite the extensive and high-quality coverage curling receives on television (e.g. the Olympics, Brier and Scotties), it was primarily the influence of family or friends that drew in these new curlers. Beyond the social connections, participants also valued acquiring and improving their skills, as well as establishing a strong sense of belonging to their club. However, some participants faced obstacles. Some were anxious about their future in curling as club memberships reach capacity and others felt their perspectives were not always welcomed within dominant club values. My research found that clubs and learn-to-curl leagues must provide new curlers with a safe, inclusive environment to try curling, support the transition into more experienced leagues upon graduation, and foster an accepting club-wide environment where all individuals are welcomed. In summary, successful adult learn-to-curl leagues require commitment from various club personnel. But the work will pay off! These leagues provide an opportunity to rejuvenate and transform all Canadian curling clubs. It all boils down to creating an engaging program, advertising to your local communities, recruiting passionate and knowledgeable instructors, and exposing new curlers to the wonderful camaraderie, physical activity, and competition that this sport has to offer. Here’s some parting advice for those reading this article who are not already involved in adult learn-to-curl leagues. For organizers, go ahead and plan one! And for those looking for a “Canadian” activity to survive the winter doldrums, join a league! But before you begin organising or participating, contact a neighbouring curling club running a league, your provincial/territorial association, or Curling Canada for information. There’s no need to re-invent the house! To read Simon’s completed Masters thesis, please go to: Experiencing Learn-to-Curl Leagues: A Qualitative Case Study Analysis of Adult Introductory Sport Programs. Want to know more about Adult Learn-To-Curl programs? Check out Curling Canada’s resources, here.