What is Curling?
Curling is an Olympic sport in which teams of four throw 42-pound stones down a 150-foot sheet of ice. The sport of curling originated in Scotland, in which teams would throw small stones along the surface of frozen lakes and were swept with brooms made of corn bristles.
As the game of curling evolved in Scotland, the stones used to play the game became larger and were eventually fitted with handles. The sport continued to spread across Europe and later expanded into North America during European immigration in the 1800s.
The sport of curling originated in Scotland and was played on frozen lakes in the wintertime. Curling got its nickname, the roaring game, because the stones sliding on the lakes made a loud noise. Curling clubs began forming in the 1800s. As those from Europe migrated to North America, curling came along with them. In the late 1800s, curling clubs began popping up across Canada. From there, the sport continued to evolve in both North America and Europe, ultimately developing into the game it is today.
In a game of curling, teams of four players alternate throwing eight curling stones each, for a total of 16 stones, down a 150 foot long sheet of ice. This process repeats for a total of eight to ten times, each of which is known as an end.
At any time during a curling game, each team has one person throwing a curling stone, two people sweeping the thrown stone, and one person at the other end of the sheet strategizing and directing the sweepers on when they should be sweeping the curling stone.
On a curling sheet, you will see the houses (concentric sets of circles) at each end of the sheet, along with the hacks - where the players start delivering their stones from. In front of each house there is a hog line. Curlers must release the stone before reaching the closer hog line. A stone must fully cross the farther hog line in order to remain in play.
From hack to hack, a curling sheet is 144 feet long and approximately 15 feet wide. On some curling sheets, there is space behind the hack, which is why it can be as long as 150 feet.
Although curling may seem easy, the equipment used in the sport is relatively complex. In general, there is equipment for playing the game, preparing the ice, and measuring stones.
To play a game of curling, curlers will use:
To prepare the ice before/after a curling game, curlers will need:
- Rock Box
To measure stones during a game, curlers will use:
Positions and Roles
The Lead is responsible for throwing the first two stones for the team. After throwing those stones, the Lead sweeps the remaining stones.
The Second is responsible for throwing the third and fourth stones for the team. When the Second is not throwing, they take over the position of sweeping.
The Vice (also known as Vice-Skip or Third) sweeps the first four stones and then throws the fifth and sixth stones for the team. After the Vice throws, they strategize and direct the sweepers while the Skip throws.
The Skip is the strategist and is calling what shots the team will throw. During a shot, the Skip will direct the sweepers on when and when not to sweep the curling stone. The Skip takes responsibility for throwing the last two stones for the team.
Athletes and Players
While most people believe that curling is a sport only played in Scotland or Canada, it has grown to be a worldwide sport. Countries large and small now have curling teams including:
- United States of America
- Great Britain
Below is a small list of the top curlers in the sport. All of these players have been elected into the Curling Hall of Fame by the World Curling Federation.
Lingo and Terminology
As a curler, fan, or audience member, there are a number of terms that you should be familiar with. A list of ten terms, along with their meaning, is listed below.
Biter: A stone that is just touching the edge of the house or one of the rings in the house.
Cutter: A stone that curls more than an average stone as it travels down the ice.
Draw: A type of shot in which a stone doesn't make contact with any other stones as it travels down the ice.
Hack: The foothold that curlers use to deliver a stone from.
Hit: A type of shot in which a stone makes contact with another stone, usually removing it from play.
Hog Line: The line that runs along the short side of the curling sheet and is 21 feet from the tee line.
House: The set of concentric circles at each end of the sheet. From largest to smallest the circles are twelve, eight, four, and one feet in diameter.
Runner: A stone that curls less than the average stone as it travels down the ice.
Pebble: Frozen water droplets that are sprayed on to the ice and make the playing surface textured.
Tee Line: The line that runs along the short side of the curling sheet and divides the house in half.
Rules and Regulations
In curling, there are a number of rules that players and spectators should be aware of. The most common rules and scenarios are explained in the table below.
Hog Line Violation: A violation is called on a curler if they release a stone after the hog line. The stone must be removed from play immediately.
Hitting Stone With Broom: When sweeping, if a curler's broom hits the stone and the stone doesn't cross the hog line, it is removed from play. If the stone did cross the hog line, the opposing Skip decides what happens with the stone.
Five Rock Rule: If a curler removes a guard before the Free Guard Rule (also known as the Five Rock Rule) expires. The guard is replaced back where it was, and the stone that hit the guard is removed from play.
Contact With A Stone: If a curler accidentally makes contact with a stone that was in-play and moves it, the opposing Skip decides where the moved stone shall be placed.
Free Guard Rule: If it is unclear whether a stone is in the Free Guard Zone or in the house, the Free Guard Rule is still in effect, the official can use the biter bar to check if the stone is a guard or not.
Micrometers: If it is unclear which stone is closer to the button after the end is over. An official can use a micrometer to measure which stone is closer to the button.
Referees and Officials
In curling, there are officials present and national and internationally sanctioned competition. They will not be present for games at local curling clubs. Since curling is a sport built on mutual respect and honesty between teams, curling officials are not frequently involved in the games. There are two times in which an official will get involved:
The micrometer needs to be used to determine which of two stones is closer to the button, or the biter bar needs to be used to determine if a stone is a guard.
A technical timeout is called in which the official will consult with both teams to resolve the issue.
During a game of curling, coaches have very little influence on how the game goes. There are only two circumstances during a game of curling in which the coach can talk to the team. They are during:
A timeout that is called by the team. However, the coach is not allowed to step on the ice. They must remain beyond the sidelines of the sheet.
The fifth end break, in which teams rest and re-group for the second half of the curling game.
Skills and Techniques
The three keys to curling are having good balance, strength, and stamina. While professional curlers make it seem easy to throw and sweep a stone, hours upon hours of practice and training was involved in making that shot. Below is a list of skills that curlers should practice to be an effective teammate on the ice:
Before delivering a stone, square your shoulders with the 'imaginary' line made between you and the Skip's broom.
While delivering the stone, keep your head up and look at the Skip's broom. This allows you to release the stone towards your Skip's broom and make minor corrections if needed.
When sweeping the stone, make sure that your head is over the stone and your back is flat. This will help you sweep with as much power as possible.
Practice sweeping stones frequently. Sometimes, a sweeper may need to sweep during the entire shot, which can last nearly 25 to 30 seconds. It requires more strength and stamina than you think!
There are a variety of curling drills to help a curler improve their balance, stone delivery, or sweeping. Curlers can perform stone delivery drills in which the stone must pass through the two stationary stones. Another popular drill includes pointing a laser at the nose of a curling stone to make sure the player is balanced while they deliver the stone. Additionally, teams may play mock games to practice different game scenarios and improve their curling intuition.
For the team that has the hammer, they are directing play to the outer thirds of the sheet and trying to score two or more points. For the team without the hammer, they are directing play to the inner third of the sheet and trying to force their opponent to score only one point.
Curling is played in the Winter Olympics, which is held every four years. Originally, there were only Men's and Women's disciplines in curling. However, Mixed Doubles curling was introduced as a new discipline to the Olympics in 2018.
At the Olympics, play is organized into a round-robin in which all teams play each other once. After the round-robin, the top four teams from the round-robin compete for the gold, silver, and bronze medals. In this playoff, the top seeded team plays the fourth seeded team and the second seeded team plays the third seeded team. The winners move to the Gold Medal Game and the losers move to the Bronze Medal game.
At a local curling club, there will be leagues offered during the winter season. If you happen to be near a curling club that uses arena ice, there may be leagues offered in the summer as well. Depending on the type of league, teams may be either assigned or you may be required to sign-up as a team. Some of the possible league formats are:
- Open: any combination of four people
- Men's: four men only
- Women's: four women only
- Mixed: two men and two women
- Mixed Doubles: one man and one woman
Clubs and Teams
A curling club consists of multiple curling sheets at a public or private establishment and is registered with a regional curling governing body. Curling clubs can have dedicated ice, meaning that the ice is only used for curling, or arena ice, meaning that hockey players and figure skaters will use the ice too. During a curling season, a curling club will hold leagues for their members to participate in. These leagues could be open (any four players), Men's only, Women's only, Mixed Doubles, and more.
Below are some of the top teams that you will see playing at both national and international competitions.
|Kevin Koe||B.J. Neufeld, Colton Flasch, Ben Hebert||Canada - Alberta|
|Kerri Einarson||Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Meilleur||Canada - Manitoba|
|Jennifer Jones||Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman, Dawn McEwen||Canada - Manitoba|
|Brad Gushue||Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker||Canada - Newfoundland and Labrador|
|Rachel Homan||Emma Miskew, Joanne Courtney, Lisa Weagle||Canada - Ontario|
|Satsuki Fujisawa||Chinami Yoshida, Yumi Suzuki, Yurika Yoshida||Japan|
|Niklas Edin||Oskar Eriksson, Rasmus Wranå, Christoffer Sundgren||Sweden|
|Anna Hasselborg||Sara McManus, Agnes Knochenhauer, Sofia Mabergs||Sweden|
|Peter de Cruz||Benoît Schwarz, Sven Michel, Valentin Tanner||Switzerland|
|John Shuster||Tyler George, Matt Hamilton, John Landsteiner||United States of America|
Throughout the curling season, a number of bonspiels (curling tournaments) are held for curlers to compete. Below is a list of some bonspiels that professional curlers attend.,
|Winter Olympic Curling||Men's, Women's, and Mixed Doubles||Every four years|
|Tim Hortons Brier||Men's||Annually in March|
|Scotties Tournament of Hearts||Women's||Annually in February|
|World Men's Curling Championships||Men's||Annually in April|
|World Women's Curling Championships||Women's||Annually in March|
|World Junior Curling Championships||Junior's||Annually in February|
|World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships||Mixed Doubles||Annually in April|
In curling, a tournament is referred to as a bonspiel. There are bonspiels at local, regional, national, and international levels. Here are some of the most commonly televised bonspiels:
Winter Olympics: teams from across the world participate in Men's, Women's, and Mixed Doubles curling disciplines. Teams participate in a round-robin and are followed by a series of playoffs.
Tim Hortons Brier: the Men's National Championship in Canada. Teams from each province, along with Team Canada (the winner of the previous Brier) and Team Wild Card (a team that won a series of play-ins to get to the Brier) compete in pool play followed by a series of playoffs.
Scotties Tournament of Hearts: the Women's National Championship in Canada. The format is the same as the Brier.
Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling: a series of bonspiels throughout the curling season with Men's and Women's teams from all across the world. Approximately 2.1 million dollars in prize money is split evenly between the men's and women's events.
Curling Night in America: a series of televised events in which a Men's, Women's, and Mixed Doubles team from the United States competes against three other countries.
Here is a list of websites that you can go to and keep up to date with all curling-related events, bonspiels, and broadcasts:
- World Curling: World Curling Federation - International Governing Body for Curling
- Curling Canada: Curling Canada - National Canadian Governing Body for Curling
- United States Curling Association: United States Curling Association - National Governing Body for Curling in the United States
- Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling: Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling Website
- International Olympic Committee: International Olympic Committee Website
Which curler is the thrower and which ones are the sweepers?
All curlers throw two stones per end, so no curler is specifically "the thrower." When a curler isn't throwing a stone, they are either sweeping their teammates' stones or acting as the Skip and instructing the sweepers on when to sweep (as well as calling what shot is to be made.)
Why do curlers sweep the stones?
A stone is swept to either make the stone travel farther (preventing it from decelerating) or to make the stone travel straighter.
What are the positions on a curling team?
There are four positions: Lead, Second, Vice, and Skip. Additionally, teams may have a Fifth, an extra player in case one of the four becomes ill or injured, and a Coach.
How heavy is a curling stone?
Curling stones weigh approximately 42 pounds. Due to manufacturing techniques, not every curling stone is exactly the same, making each one unique.
Where can I curl?
If you aim to play in the United States, you can find a list of curling clubs on the United States Curling Association website. If you are in Canada, you can find a list of curling clubs on the Curling Canada website.