Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Sweeping to success

The evolution with the game of curling has taken drastic steps in 2015-2016, with the much conversed change being the new sweeping techniques that essentially all top teams across the world have picked up to remain competitive. The relevance of this change had created a shroud of controversy, pitting players against one another, with the broom heads being a large part initiating these disagreements. Evolution in sport can widely be viewed as a positive, but the lack of conformity amongst all teams is where the subject becomes very grey.

From my vantage point, there are two angles that need to be examined, first and foremost the brushing equipment that is used has to studied and it's equality has to come to the forefront. In golf, reputable manufacturers such as Taylormade and Callaway are constantly revolutionizing the golf equipment, so why is it we should squawk when some of the most respected curling manufacturers, to name a couple Hardline and BalancePlus come out with equipment that may not cross the line, but certainly tows it? Some after scampering through this article and using already preconceived notions on the subject matter will scribe that the equipment being used today goes against the long standing principles the greats before their time followed. At it's core, curling is a feel and strategical game  and the hard core purists out there will point out that the new technology has all but eliminated the feel portion. Manipulating rocks with sweeping techniques and felt on brushes has made the game "too easy" and let me tell you, for someone who has spent his entire life curling, the game has never been easy, possibly due to a lack of skill on my part but in all reality due to the fact that the game we've grown to love is a challenging one, and the challenge entices fans to gravitate towards it. The Olympics have changed the outlook with the sheer potential of reaching that pinnacle is forcing teams to look for that competitive edge, and here is the next issue I have with the current state of affairs, this "code" the players seem to think exists. Charley Thomas, skip of one of the more successful younger teams in Alberta has taken a metaphorical stand on the issue and is(has) exploited the aforementioned lack of conformity going on with the head bodies of the sport. The MAJORITY, majority being the operative term here of players who consistently compete on the World Curling Tour have banded together in lieu of finding a way to keep everybody on a level playing surface.  Thomas reportedly wasn't brought in on the agreement conjured up by the players so the scolding he received for playing within the rules, ethical or not is completely unfair. Curling is not a sport that you can become millionaires from so if you're given an inch, take it and Thomas most definitely did. Before the provincial playdowns of Junior and Mens/Ladies, Curling Canada(formerly the CCA) and the World Curling federation finally came to an agreement pertaining to conformity, so we can for all purposes close the book on this particular angle but it's just silly that it got to this, this is sport people, as the great Herm Edwards once infamously said "You play to win the game". To all curlers out there, Thomas and anyone else who abided by his principles did nothing wrong, they played to win the game.

The second and final angle is something that's important to me, and that's perception. I respect that research has been done and proven that the one sweeper technique can be advantageous to rock placement, but it looks awful when theorizing the long term health of the sport. When a casual viewer watches on T.V and views one sweeper going balls to the wall while the other one twiddles his thumbs, this is not a good look and in fact it may turn people away from future involvement in the sport. Are junior curling instructors teaching learn to curl participants that one sweeper is the to go? What parent would want to invest valuable financial and time resources to watch their kid throw two rocks after which  sing Sweet Caroline while his "teammate", which I think is becoming a stretched out term with only one sweeper being necessary throws a rock. The junior curling programs will ultimately dictate whether the sport of curling survives and we need complete participation from all parties, from head bodies to the current top athletes to ensure the long term health  of the sport is looked after. What can we do to counteract this proven research? One suggestion I have is to teach our youngens to sweep from the same side especially when learning the art of directional brushing,  A sense of feeling more useful from all four teammates will come from this and that encouragement for teams to be teams again is imperative.

Innovation is paramount to bring Curling back to it's  collective roots, and the current top players buying in is the only way this will come to light. The stars the kids look up to, the Jennifer Jones, Brad Jacobs', and Kaitlyn Lawes of the world need to be pioneers because who is anybody kidding, the game is in a troubled state, the enjoyment from both the future player and fan need to be brought back.

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