Curling is a unique team sport played on ice. Players take turns sliding (also known as "throwing") stones across the ice towards a target (the "house"), with the object of the game being to have the closest stone(s) to the center (or "button") of the house.
Curling probably first developed in Scotland during the 15th or 16th century on frozen outdoor ponds. Today's game includes plenty of professional bonspiels (tournaments) and is part of the Winter Olympics. Curling is particularly popular in Western nations with cold climates, such as Canada, even though most matches are played at indoor curling clubs.
The structure of curling is unlike any other sport. Curling looks and feels completely unique. In no other sport are ice, stones, or brooms used in this way. It is also unique in its enforcement of rules; curling is famous for having minimal large disputes due to its historic encouragement of sportsmanship.
Curling's completely unique gameplay requires completely unique equipment.
One of the most obvious and essential pieces of curling equipment are the stones. Curling stones must be the correct shape and size: about 40 pounds in weight, a maximum circumference of 3 feet (36 inches) wide, and minimum height of 4.5 inches tall.
The curling lines and circles are also highly regulated. The hacks, back lines, tee lines, Free Guard Zones, hog lines, and house circles all have to follow exact measurements-for example, the radius of the largest circle is exactly 6 feet, while the button is only 6 to 9 inches. In all, a full ice sheet measures up to 150 feet by 15.7 feet.
The brooms, footwear, and optional stabilizers may also be subject to review by the competition organizers if needed, although gaining a competitive advantage via equipment is highly frowned upon by the culture and spirit of curling.
The idea is that the lead has the easiest shot (since there are less stones on the ice at the time of the first shot), and the shots increase in difficulty for each subsequent throw. This means the skip has the most difficult shot because there are already several stones on the ice by the time it is the skip's turn to throw. This is why the skip is often the most experienced player on a curling team.
After the lead throws, they will sweep for the next three of their teammates' shots. The second also sweeps for their other three teammates.
The vice takes up the "target" position for the skip and sweeps only for the first two throws. The skip is the target for the three other players. This position requires holding a brush to indicate where a stone should be thrown while telling one's teammates where and how to sweep.
One of the most basic rules of curling is the hog line rule: a player must release their stone before it reaches the hog line. The delivering side's hog line is located 33 feet from the starting hacks, 72 feet to the next hog line, and a total of 93 feet to the far end tee line.
The hog line rule forces players to throw the stone farther than they carry it, increasing the level of difficulty and making players rely more on skill and precision than strength or speed.
If a stone is not released before touching the hog line, the non-offending team removes it and replaces any stones it may have affected. The throwing team will almost always acknowledge their mistake and the error can be courteously rectified. The throwing team is also allowed to collect the stone before it reaches the tee line if it has violated the hog line rule.
In some professional competitions, the hog line rule is enforced via an electronic sensor that turns red when a player is still touching the stone on or beyond the hog line.
In curling, the phrase "burning a stone" refers to the act of touching a stone and thereby altering its path after it has left the thrower's hand. This is fairly common when sweeping for the stone. When a stone is burned, it is usually recognized and called out by the person who committed the infraction.
The position of all affected stones are then reconciled according to the referee (or, if there is no referee, the skip of the non-offending team). This can include leaving them where they are, putting stones back in their old spots, or removing them from the ice to make the fairest situation possible.
In some official competitions, there are strict codes to enforce when and how play should continue after a burned stone, depending on where and how the stone was touched.
While sweeping is one of the most essential parts of curling, there are certain restrictions on who can sweep and where. The most basic of these rules involves the tee line.
The tee line dissects the center of the button on the ice. The delivering team may sweep for one of their team's stones during a throw, but only in between the tee lines.
Once the stone passes the tee line, one player from each team is allowed to sweep it. The delivering team's sweeper still gets first priority for sweeping position, but they must give room for the non-delivering team's sweeper as well (which must be either the team's skip or vice skip). All sweeping that occurs after the front of the stone crosses the tee line must be done behind the tee line.
One of curling's more complicated rules is the free guard zone rule, more commonly known as the "five rock rule". The five rock rule asserts that no stone in the free guard zone (the space between the house and the hog line) may be removed until after five rocks have been thrown. This means that if one of the first four stones is knocked out of play, it is replaced at its old spot.
The five rock rule was put into effect in the 1990s in response to "peeling", a common practice that involved one team building an early lead and trying to kill off the game by knocking all stones out of play. This strategy depleted the other team's chances and made curling much more boring. Thanks to the five rock rule, it is much more difficult to win a game just by knocking out everyone else's stones.
The object of curling, of course, is to score the most points. Points are scored by throwing stones as close as possible to the button.
Only one team can score in each end of curling. The scoring team is the team with the stone closest to the center of the house. For every stone that is closer to the center than the non-scoring team's closest stone, the scoring team is awarded a point.
|PRO TIP: A curling team earns a point for each of their stones that is closer to the center than their opponent's best stone.|
Each round can end with one or both teams scoring nothing, but both teams cannot score in one round. The game ends at the conclusion of the 10th end.
|REMEMBER: An "end" in curling is analogous to an "inning" in baseball.|
Some traditional curling scoreboards will show the number of points in the middle and the number of the end that each team reached that score on each side. Modern scoreboards are much simpler, though, showing the number of points scored for each team in each end.
Curling matches can last a very long time, which can be problematic for curlers and fans that have multiple games to play or watch.
In international curling matches, there is a time limit of 73 minutes per team. This may seem like a large amount of time, but over the course of a game it can be eaten up. Additionally, each team gets two one-minute timeouts per game and an extra 10 minutes and another timeout each if the game goes to overtime.
One common general rule is that no throw should take longer than three minutes.
The time limit rule is designed to keep teams from taking too long, but only as a means to progress the game, not hurry it. Teams generally take a lot of time to contemplate strategy and prepare themselves to execute it, so the time limit serves as a subtle reminder to get things going.
When a team believes the game is out of reach, they may elect to concede a game instead of dragging out a loss. This often occurs when a team knows they are overmatched and do not want to waste anyone else's time with a non-competitive game.
A competitive curling game technically ends when the opposing team does not have as many rocks as they need points-this is known as "running out of rocks".
Sometimes there are restrictions on when a team can concede. Many competitions stipulate that both teams must play a certain number of ends before conceding.
This forces teams to give their best efforts before conceding a game.
Although curling is itself a very unique sport, the most interesting aspect of the sport may be the attitudes of those who play it. While highly competitive matches are played for gold medals and thousands upon thousands of dollars, the prevailing attribute of those who participate in curling is that of sportsmanship and respect toward one's opponent. The scope of this feature is not seen nearly as much in any other sport, and it is a sort of pride that is pervasive throughout the curling community.
All disputes are up to the skips to handle, and all scoring is done by both vice skips. In official competitions, there may still be an official, but their primary job is usually to measure the closeness of two stones.