These groups come, almost exclusively, twice. However, unlike the older students, their sessions are longer. The young kids come for hour and a half sessions rather than only an hour. This extra half hour per session is absolutely necessary. Two hour long sessions are not sufficient to teach them everything and get a “game” in. The elementary schools are wonderful about bringing parent volunteers when it is stressed that they are required. They come in groups anywhere from about 16 – 24 students. Usually the ratio of kids to adults for these classes is about 5:1 or 4:1, the paid instructor excluded. This allows the instructor to split them up into small groups and have a parent at each hack with a small group. It really helps the students’ progress and should help the instructor feel more comfortable. Ask each student to bring a helmet and clean indoor shoes.
Session One – Full instruction
When the students first arrive, emphasize the importance of keeping the entrance to the curling club clean. Ask all students to use a boot cleaner to clean their shoes. Following this, they are asked to change into clean, indoor shoes before gathering in our “teaching corner.”
- In the “teaching corner” we have a TV or board, which can display our ice surface, benches, and enough room for discussions and demonstrations
At the Sherwood Park Curling Club (SPCC), we have a two-gripper policy. Having all new curlers wear one gripper per foot makes both the curlers and the instructors more comfortable on the ice. It also helps to keep the ice clean. Young students are really good about bringing clean shoes, but this keeps the ice even cleaner. We have bins with grippers of all sizes and ask all students to find grippers that fit snug enough that they will remain on their feet throughout the session. The instructor may choose to pair up the grippers beforehand and help the kids choose the right size. If they are not helped, this becomes a lengthy process. Ask the students to pay attention to the sizes that they wear the first session as it speeds up the process the following session.
Once everyone is equipped, talk safety and ice etiquette.
- Explain the purpose of the grippers. Grippers grip. All students and instructors without proper curling attire are expected to wear two grippers at all times.
- Although everyone is wearing grippers, emphasize the importance of not running on the ice – this seems obvious, but it is something that comes up time and time again especially with young kids. They get really excited when they get out there and they often forget this rule.
- At the SPCC, we have foam that separates our sheets. Kids like to step on this foam, which flakes it off and makes it likely that they may trip as the rubber of their grippers catches really badly. Ask them not to step on the foam or walk too close to it.
- Because we ask everyone to wear two grippers, at the SPCC we use step-on sliders. These are wonderful for allowing new curlers to get up quickly and easily after a fall. Ask all students to avoid sliding on the sliders unless they are in their delivery position sliding out of the hack. Also ask students to be aware of where the sliders are at all times. There have been a few accidents because students were not aware of the slider on the ice or because they thought it would be funny to fling it down the ice at their classmates.
- Talk about the rocks next. First bring up the cost. Rocks are expensive and it is important to make sure that everyone is aware so that they will be respectful of them. The SPCC has posts in the middle that it is important to emphasize awareness of as well as removable hacks that cannot be hit with the rocks.
- Talk about how to safely stop a stone if it is going somewhere that it should not. Reach down and grab it by the handle, slow it down with a broom, or use your foot to stop it. Always add a caution when stopping a rock with their foot and let them know that the rocks are heavy and even those of us with good balance on the ice get caught off guard once in a while. Ask young students to avoid the last way, as many of them do not weigh much more than the rocks.
- Following this, talk about how heavy the rocks are and how there is zero tolerance for them being lifted off the ice. Younger kids are typically not an issue.
- Talk about the brooms. This seems obvious, but often they are used as hockey sticks, golf clubs, swords, and batons. Make it very clear what they are to be used for. This year a “rest position” was added to the program. This is when the broom is flipped head up, with the butt end on the toe of the shoe. This works well when the instructor is trying to teach. There is no one trying to sweep – it gets very loud if 20 people are all brushing their brooms on the ice. Younger kids really like the rest position if the instructor tells them that this is how the pro curlers on TV hold their brooms when they are not in use.
- Finally talk about the ice itself. It is important to discuss how much work goes into repairing ice if it is damaged. Explain how we do not flood after every game like arena ice and how damage done takes a long time to fix. Give everyone permission to yell at their classmates if they do not get off the ice immediately after falling (most kids really like the yelling aspect and it really helps to preserve the ice).
Following the safety discussion, always provide an off ice demonstration for the young groups. It is too hard to demonstrate on the ice because the kids get really excited and stop listening. This demo highlights:
- Start each delivery from behind the hack (bring in two removable hacks if possible)
- Step on the hack before stepping on the slider – lot’s of kids almost fall on hacks because they step on the slider first
- Keep their hack foot on the back (raised) part of the hack – Compare it to a relay racer’s starting block and explain that they want the ability to kick out of the hack with force, which is difficult if they put their foot too far down
- Crouch ALL the way down into the hack – many try to start far too high. They should be starting comfortably in the hack and get their butts down.
- Place broom with the plastic/wooden side on the ice flat in front and keeping fingers on top of the handle throughout the slide – don’t curl knuckles underneath
- Keep the slider foot FLAT all the way through the slide, even in the start position
- Use a “push and go” approach rather than trying to teach kids about weight transfer. For the purposes of school groups, this works just fine.
- Push with the hack (power) foot and bring the other one FLAT under your chest – Show them how getting too far up on the toe leads to tipping forwards on to the knee
- Keep the laces of the trail foot down to the ice rather than dragging the toe upright
- Once in the slide position, push hips toward the ice to get as low as possible while still keeping the slider foot flat
- Use the broom to help balance – lean forward on it if necessary
- Once finished the slide, kick the slider back to the hacks and walk back along the edges. Emphasize staying out of the play area and explain that it is partly to keep it clean and partly because you would be in the way of the thrower.
- Once back to the hacks, keep brooms in rest position while waiting for their next turn
Once the demo is finished, ask for questions and assuming there are none, head out on to the ice. The younger kids don’t bring their own brooms, so the instructor should set brooms out in advance for the kids. Tell them to leave them alone for the first few minutes we are out there. Ask them to stay on the carpet until the lead instructor, teacher, and the other parents are out with them.
Once everyone is on the ice, start with a discussion about the ice. Have everyone step on the curling ice and give them a chance to get their grippers cooled off and get used to the feel of the ice. Talk about the pebble and why it is important for the game. Following this, discuss all the parts of the ice and all of the terminology that may come up throughout their lessons. This discussion includes:
- Hacks – Reminder of the term and a discussion of why we have two hacks at each end and an explanation of which hack right and left handed throwers use. Explain that they always want their power foot to be in the hack and the slider to be on the outside of the hack
- Back line – Mention that as soon as a rock crosses the back line it is out of play. This is particularly important for our removable hacks because the rocks cannot hit them.
- T – line
- Center line
- The house and its components
– 12 foot
– 8 foot
– 4 foot
– Pin – Discuss that there is actually a hole drilled in the ice and its purpose. The instructor may choose to talk about the measuring device and when we would need it.
- The four foot lines – Talk about the fact that they are non-regulatory but why they are useful to club curlers (not all clubs have these lines)
- The hog line – Talk about it being important for throwing (release before you cross) and after you throw (rock has to completely cross the hog line to be considered in play
- The Free Guard Zone – Talk about its purpose (to throw up guards)
After this discussion, take them to the far end and explain how it is the exact same set up because we play ends of curling. Explain what an end is and how club curlers play 8 ends and how the teams on TV sometimes play 10 ends. Also talk about how long games typically take.
Finish the walk through with a discussion of the scoreboard. A fun way to teach the younger students how the board works is to make it inclusive and ask them questions. Students often mix up the score numbers and the end cards. Explain all the parts and then make up a scenario, “if in the first end of play, yellow scores three points, where would the first end scorecard go?” Hand it to one of the kids and have them place it on the scoreboard. Do the same thing with blue and finish with giving one of the teams a second score. It is at this point where they have to add the points together that mistakes sometimes get made. However, they usually figured it out. This interactive way of doing things gets the kids engaged and helps them learn this concept.
Once finished this discussion, have them all walk back to the home end and gather at the sides of one of the sheets. Do a second demonstration reminding them of everything that was discussed off ice and showing them exactly how it is done. Something that the instructor may choose to do is ask questions about what they are doing throughout the demo to make sure that they were all listening and engaged off ice. This gives them a chance to start making some noise on the ice as the instructor may tell them to shout out any answers that they know. This is an effective way of getting everyone engaged.
Once the demo is finished, have them line up against the edges and practice their runner’s lunge position. This is a good step, especially for brand new curlers, because it gets them feeling exactly what position they have to get into out of the hack. Then split everyone up into groups. Depending on how many parent volunteers the group has, split them up between 4-6 hacks. Use the hacks at both ends; typically only three sheets per group are used at any one time. Have the sliders already at the hacks and have them practice slide until the lead instructor feels that they have all figured out the proper position.
Once they have the delivery position figured out, gather them all up around a hack again and demonstrate how to slide with a rock. Before they throw, the instructor may choose to add a transition step where they slide with a rock without releasing. This instantly improves their slides and gives them more confidence moving into the more difficult steps. At the SPCC, we also have stabilizers to slide with. Students typically have more success with this than trying to teach them how to hold a broom properly. Tell the students to keep the front of their handle facing down the centerline in preparation for the discussion on turns that follows. If this is not mentioned, some automatically hold their rock backwards. Tell them to focus on keeping the rock out in front of their body instead of next to them. Because we have people sliding at both ends, emphasize the importance of not releasing their rock yet. It is important to have a parent per hack because sometimes they do accidentally let go of the rock and it must be caught.
After they have all gotten this under control, bring them back for a discussion on turns. Depending on the length of the lesson and the group, the instructor may not make it this far and instead begin with turns during the next lesson. With the extended sessions, it is quite rare not to get to this point unless the group really struggles with balance.
Choose a student to be the target. They love being volunteers. The students pay more attention if it is a fellow student. Start by talking about what it means to be a good target. Have the broom up on its end, padded side up towards the thrower. Hold the broom right in front of the body and separate the legs so that the broom head is visible. Often times they stand with the broom off to one side. Explain that this is a bad target because the skip is larger than the broom head and the chances of the thrower aiming at the student are pretty good.
Have the target stand on the t-line in the house while the instructor discusses line of delivery and turns. Start with line of delivery. They almost always stand right on the center line, so explain how to line up to the target – point your hack toe and make sure their knees and shoulders are lined up once crouched down. Have the target move over a foot in one direction and show them that the instructor is no longer lined up toward the broom. Stand up and readjust in he hack with body positioning to show them the difference. If there is one thing that is noticed across all groups, it is that once they start playing games, line of direction is what gets ignored more than anything else.
Now discuss turns. Start with the simple explanation of how to differentiate between an inturn and outturn. Use the wrist as the reference. When starting the inturn, the wrist points in to the ice. When starting the out turn, the wrist points out to the ceiling. This way of explaining things gets them to use the terms inturn and outturn and they typically understand it.
The rocks at the SPCC have a red sticker at the front of the handle; this is used as a reference when discussing turns. Have the target hold up a hand and tell them that the thrower will point the red sticker (front of the handle) at the hand that the skip holds up. When the thrower releases their stone, they will turn the handle to 12:00. Make sure to tell them not to re-grip their stones when they are throwing an outturn. Little kids are particularly bad for this when they are learning. Use the term outturn to convince them to leave their wrist facing out. Have the target move to the hog line and pick a line of delivery for the instructor to throw at and a turn for the instructor to throw. Have the class point to tell the instructor which way to turn the stone and remind them that when the instructor releases, they should turn the handle to 12:00. Make it very clear that the turn should be held on the stone until the thrower is ready to apply their release. The instructor should vocalize while throwing the demo rock and say the word “hold, hold, hold, and release.” Tell the target that it is their job to catch the stone.
Have the students split back up into their groups and have the parent or instructor at each hack be the target for the kids. This way the instructor can be sure that the rock will be caught. Tell the kids that they get the rock from the parent and walk it back to the hack so that rocks are not flying back towards the hacks. Warn the parents to never kick the rocks back to the hacks as they could damage the hacks or hit a child who isn’t paying attention.
Have them finish this with about fifteen minutes left in the session and get them to put the rocks back to the side of the sheet in the correct order and grab themselves a broom for a discussion on sweeping. Emphasize the importance of keeping their brooms in rest position while the instructor speaks. It gets loud very quickly if all the students try along with the instructor. This was originally why rest position was created; it makes the sweeping lesson much easier.
First discuss the purpose of sweeping. In this case, tell them that sweeping makes the rock go farther, “faster” (at the same velocity for a longer period of time) and straighter. Don’t bother with directional sweeping because it won’t make a difference for them and would be confusing. Also talk about how sweeping keeps the ice in front of the rock clean. The instructor may choose to make an attempt to explain what a picked rock is and how frustrating they can be.
Then talk about how to be an effective sweeper. First and foremost, tell them to stay in front of the face of the rock. Too often sweepers across beginner groups and leagues sweep like mad, but off to one side. Explain that this does nothing to help the rock. A discussion of the size of the running surface of the rock can be helpful, that way they won’t sweep in wide strokes. Also talk about staying close to the rock. Sometimes groups lose focus of where the rock is and before long are ten feet in front of it. Following this, discuss how the two sweepers need to decide, before the rock is thrown, who will be the inside and outside sweeper and who is on which side. It is important that they are not clashing broom heads down the ice because it makes them less effective and increases the chances of a stray broom burning the rock. It is important to emphasize that in curling the sweepers are NEVER allowed to touch the rock.
Next, talk about getting pressure on the broom head when sweeping. The instructor can demonstrate by leaning on the broom with the majority of their bodyweight. Tell them to get their head over the head of their broom and lean on it. Explain to split their broom into thirds (power hand near the bottom and other hand near the top). Tell the hockey boys to keep their thumbs pointed down, the bottom hand is not in a face off position.
Finally, tell them that when we sweep, we do not walk down the ice or cross our legs over one another as we move. Instead, tell them to point their toes at one side of the rink or the other (depending on which side of the center line they are on) and shuffle down the ice. Sometimes this shuffle turns into a hop for some of them, but it keeps them from tripping as they sweep down the ice.
Finish the first session by throwing a demo rock all the way down and tell them that the demo will require two volunteers to sweep the rock down the ice. They all volunteer but tell them that the instructor will pick the two “best” sweepers out of the class. To decide this, have them all line up on a sheet of ice and sweep down to the other end. Help by correcting form, footwork, hand positioning etc. Once down at the other end, ask them who is out of breath and who found that to be exercise. Usually about half raise their hands and the other half say that it was really easy. Explain that sweeping properly end-to-end is extremely hard work, even if you are in really good shape. Have them all sweep back to the home end.
The instructor should pick the two sweepers that they think put in the most effort and have them sweep a demo rock down to the other end. Have all the kids follow and they go nuts cheering their classmates on.
Have them put their brooms away and meet in the house on one of the sheets before they head back inside. There has been great success with a “curling cheer” with the younger students. It has been a fantastic thing that the kids ask for when they come back for their second session. Have everyone put their hands in and shout “3, 2, 1, Curling!” It has been a very successful way to finish sessions.
Once inside, have them take off their grippers and put them in the correct bins and the instructor should chat a little bit about the next session before they leave.
Session Two – Full instruction
When the students arrive, the instructor should still pair off the grippers for the younger students as it streamlines the process of finding them. Most are really good about remembering their size and style.
Head right out on to the ice and start with a reminder demo. Have them walk the instructor through the process just to make sure that they are all remembering what to do and when. They are usually very good about this.
Following this, have them split back up into groups, one parent per hack, and do some practice slides with the broom down in front. Have them do this for five to ten minutes or until the lead instructor feels that they have the slide position back under control.
Bring them back together and have them stand along the edges while the instructor reminds them about their turns. Just do a quick discussion and reminder about line of delivery and turns before throwing one demo rock and having them split back up to practice this for a few minutes. Again, have the parent or instructor at the hack hold the broom for them.
Once they all have a handle on turns and line of delivery, have them bring all the equipment back to the home end in preparation for the “game.” With the young kids, always play a modified game. With only two sessions, there is not enough time to teach them how to properly throw and score a real end of curling. Instead, play a game where the play area is split into points. The free guard zone, or anywhere else out of the rings but in play, counts for one point. Anywhere in the 12-foot counts for two points. The 8-foot counts for three points. The 4-foot counts for four points. The button counts for five points. Covering the pin gets the thrower ten points for their team.
Do a demo throw for this game where the lead instructor is the “skip” for the thrower. Pick one of the students who had success with their slide and delivery and have them throw the demo stone. Choose two sweepers and have them sweep the stone for their classmate. Hold the broom on the near hogline, just as the instructors and parents did for the practice throws, but this time let the rock go by. Wherever their rock lands, over the hogline or not, the instructor (as the skip) gets one push to get it as close to the button as possible. This makes it more fun as more of the students will get points. However, the instructor should make it very clear that if they throw all the way through the house, they cannot push it back in to play. If they are going to make a mistake, it doesn’t help them to be heavy.
Once all the students have seen the demo, split them into two or three sheets (depending on the size of the class and the number of volunteers) and choose a parent to skip the other sheet(s) that the instructor is not on. Split the kids into teams and have them play a “game” against one another. They usually have time for two ends. Depending on the class sometimes we play a King’s Court style, winner vs. winner or sometimes we just play the same team back to the home end. Something new that has been tried this year is a competition between sheets. They like that because they get to be on a big team with all of their classmates. This game can be played in many different ways that make it fun.
At the end, have them put the rocks and the equipment back and meet in the house on a sheet, the same as the last session. This time, talk a little bit about the etiquette of curling and have them all shake hands with their peers to get an idea how it is done. Then talk a little about the social aspect of curling. We have sponsors that allow our young kids to have hot chocolate and doughnuts on their last day, which is 100% recommended. The kids adore it. They go upstairs and talk about curling. Depending on the instructor’s schedule, they can choose to talk about programs that are available and if there happens to be curling on, make sure it is on the TV’s. No matter whether or not the child liked curling, they all walk away loving the experience if there is a social after their last time on the ice.
Finish on the ice with the same curling cheer as the previous session and have them put back all their equipment before heading upstairs for their snack.
Often, many of these classes force me to adapt my regular plan in lieu of something different. This is dependent on the class, the instructor, the number of students, the number of volunteers, the ice conditions, and a whole host of other variables. Here I’ll just mention a few instances for reference and how I adapted my program to fit the situation.
First, I mention that the majority of the time I am only on ice with the older students for 2 ½ to 3 sessions. I had a class that came in four times in a row one week and they were terrible. Grade 10 boys who had no desire to be there and no respect for the sport. Because of this, and because their instructor was fairly passive, I was forced to remain on ice with them for all four of their sessions. I was little more than a babysitter, but felt it was necessary to keep the equipment from being damaged.
Second, I’ll mention the opposite. I had a class of co-ed grade 12 students who had all been to the rink for the previous two years. They picked up on everything so quickly that I was able to get through all of my instruction within 1½ classes. This allowed them to play 3½ days of games. This was the first group that I set up a playoff bracket for, as they were extremely well behaved and needed no help on the ice. I created the playoff to make the sessions more interesting for them.
Finally, I’ll mention an ice dependent scenario. One morning I came in and found out that the plant had gone down the evening before. The ice was extremely greasy and dangerous to be on. I was uncomfortable setting up for the session. Unfortunately, it was a group of grade four students coming in that day who had no prior curling experience. I was forced to modify that session in a few ways. First, I told the class everything about what was happening. I didn’t dumb it down for them, but explained it all very clearly. I warned them all that running on the ice was not just a bad idea, but in fact very dangerous. They all listened very carefully and took me very seriously. Everyone was very careful on the ice. Second, I was unable to discuss sweeping with them. I was extremely uncomfortable with the idea of them sliding around trying to sweep on greasy ice. Instead, I had them play a short game (hogline in) for the final half hour of their session. They loved it.
These kids loved the fact that I spoke to them straight. They all asked me about the ice when they came back. They remembered everything I had said and were quite concerned and curious as to whether or not it was fixed.
Our school groups have been extremely successful, but there is not one right formula. I have tried a great many different things and have found what works best for me. These plans can provide an idea, but not a clear formula. As seen from the examples above, many different things can alter any plan created. A few things (highlighted throughout the report) have worked very well and I would recommend them. But for the most part, a lot of trial and error have gotten us to the point where we are today.