What do you do if you get an invitation from a friend to learn a Winter Olympic sport? If you’re me, you say, “Bring it on!” and drag your family along.
Would it be luge, ski jumping or speed skating? Nope, the invitation from Mike Wimpy was for curling! If you’re thinking that curling is nothing more than a shuffle board game played on ice, well, not so fast.
You don’t get to be an Olympic sport by simply pushing around a bunch of rocks on the ice. Curling is a game of strategy, tactics and skill. And people play it right here in Kansas City.
What better time than a humid, sultry summer day to learn a sport on the ice. We bundled in warm layers of clothing, slipped on the required rubber-soled shoes and headed to the Line Creek Community Center. No need for equipment; they provide it all.
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We began our lesson by watching an instructional video. One of the first things we learned was the “spirit of curling.” It stresses that “curlers play to win, but never to humble opponents.” There was a serious emphasis on sportsmanship, and it was highlighted more here than any sport I have participated in. What a refreshing start!
Basically, in order to curl, you need ice, a broom and a stone. There’s a target on the ice called the “house,” and the aim is to get your stones closest to the center of the house.
The “hack,” which looks a bit like starting blocks for sprinters, is where things began once we were out on the ice. Learning to throw the stone takes practice.
The stance ends up looking a bit like bowling and ballet with one leg bent and the other leg extended back. Our instructor, DeeAnn Moore, demonstrated for us on the ice, but it wasn’t quite as easy as she made it look.
In order to achieve the form I wanted, knee pads would have spared me a couple of bruises. Ouch. Ice is about as forgiving as concrete, and I considered a helmet that many of the players wear as well. Each of us fell on the ice at some point, so protection is probably a good idea for any age.
Skill and agility are required for throwing. After a few tries I was able to slide, balance, push, and then let go of the rock. I’m pretty clumsy so this was no small feat. Achieving that final twist of the handle before letting go — which makes the stone “curl” — is when I began to respect and embrace the sport.
The four players on a team rotate through positions: a thrower, two sweepers and a skip. Sweeping was the most physically taxing job, and it was pretty easy to work up a good sweat even at the frigid temperature in the arena.
The skip stays down at the target end and directs the thrower and coaches the sweepers. Directing the thrower is probably more fun if we could just get the stone even remotely close to the house. I guess that’s why they say curling is “easy to learn but difficult to master.”
So those are the basics. Competitively, there’s so much more. Plus, there’s a lot of science involved in this sport — like how the stone travels farther when “swept” or how the precise twist of the handle upon release causes a specific amount of curl.
Sports often translate well to business strategies. No sport does this better than curling. The ubiquitous interview question, “tell me about your management style,” is covered by curling at any management level.
As a leader, you’re in the hack, getting ready to launch. You need to balance and look for smooth ice. You need to be able to make the twist at the right time and keep the trajectory toward the goal.
As a manager, you may have to be the sweeper, who clears the way for the team to make it all the way into the house. And as you rise up to the C-level, you’re more likely to be the skip in the “house,” directing from a better vantage point and coaching the sweepers to knock out the competition and hit the target.
The local curling club has tons of information on their website, KCcurling.com. Watch the videos (my favorite are the science links) and learn the game. While you’re there, sign up for a free lesson at the upcoming open house.
Curling is a great sport for nearly all ages and abilities. If you’ve ever wanted a shot at an Olympic winter sport, take the hour and a half lesson and you will be ready to play. But let’s be clear, if you think curling is just shuffle board on ice, be prepared to be humbled.
Freelance columnist Lori Allen writes in this space once a month.