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From Behind the Hack: Sweeping

Sweeping – It’s not just a chore anymore

“Sweep first before your own door, before you sweep the doorsteps of your neighbors”  ~  Swedish Proverb

The Rules

Before we go any farther, let’s get one thing straight…. Here are the actual WCF Rules that govern sweeping at all levels of play, from the newest Newbie League, to the Olympics:


(a) The sweeping motion is in a side-to-side direction (it need not cover the entire width of the stone), deposits no debris in front of a moving stone, and finishes to either side of the stone.

(b) A stationary stone must be set in motion before it can be swept. A stone set in motion by a delivered stone, either directly or indirectly, may be swept by any one or more of the team to which it belongs anywhere in front of the tee line at the playing end.

(c) A delivered stone may be swept by any one or more of the delivering team anywhere in front of the tee line at the playing end.

(d) No player may sweep an opponent’s stone except behind the tee line at the playing end, or start to sweep an opponent’s stone until it has reached the tee line at the playing end.

(e) Behind the tee line at the playing end, only one player from each team may sweep at any one time. This may be any player of the delivering team, but only the skip or vice-skip of the non-delivering team.

(f) Behind the tee line, a team has first privilege of sweeping its own stone, but it must not obstruct or prevent its opponent from sweeping.

(g) If a sweeping violation occurs, the non-offending team has the option of allowing the play to stand, or of placing the stone, and all stones it would have affected, where they would have come to rest had the violation not occurred.

OK, now that that’s out of the way, the next question becomes, “What does this mean?”

  1. No snowplowing – the broom must move side-to-side across the front of the rock as it moves.
  2. Don’t sweep a rock that isn’t moving. If a rock gets hit, you can sweep it as soon as it moves.
  3. ONLY ONE PERSON FROM A TEAM CAN SWEEP BEHIND THE TEE LINE. Any player from the DELIVERING team can sweep any stone (either their own or an opponent’s stone) behind the tee line, but only the Skip or Third of the NON-DELIVERING team can sweep behind the tee line, whether their own stone or an opponent’s stone. Again, ONLY ONE PERSON FROM A TEAM CAN SWEEP BEHIND THE TEE LINE.
  4. Behind the tee line, each team has first rights to their own stones, but don’t keep the other team from sweeping the stone if you’re not going to.

Here we Go….

Even before we get into the details – and believe me, there are plenty of details; we could talk sweeping for hours and only then still only be getting started – let’s focus on the first things first – HOW TO SWEEP.

This ain’t your grandmother’s sweeping, unless Sandra Schmirler is somewhere in your family tree. Even then, sweeping’s still come a long way.

Body Position

Start by placing your feet shoulder-width apart, with your hips slightly turned to face in the direction you want to go. Generally, you will find your outside foot (the one farthest away from the center line) just a little bit farther down the sheet than your back foot. That’s an OPEN position, in which you face the direction you want to go. That’s a good thing, because moving backwards into a bunch of stationary rocks tends to be a bit troublesome for most people. Some people tend to be comfortable moving more sideways than forward as they sweep, but the open position is the best place to begin and adjust from there.

Now position your hands such that you’re holding the broom in both hands, with the brush head on the side closest to the rock (somewhat obvious, I know, but one step at a time). Place your hands such that you divide the handle into thirds – one third above your “low hand”, one third between, one third above your “high hand”.

Next, keeping your back straight and without bending forward, start to squat down until your knees are at about a 90 degree angle. Once you have that, lean forward onto your toes, and place the brush head on the ice directly under your head. You want to stay as upright as you can, but still maintain the position of the brush head under your head.

Congratulations, you are now in sweeping position.

“But how the heck am I supposed to move like this?!”

Yeah, this is a somewhat strange position to be standing in. For those of you that keep the open position, you will find that you can basically walk forward beside the moving rock. Yes, as the rock gets faster, so should you.

For those of you that tend to keep a more “sideways-facing” position, the best way to move is with a shuffle-step, where one foot is always still on the ice, and one is always moving. Slide your front foot in the direction you want to move, only about 12 to 18 inches at the most to start with, and then shuffle your back foot to meet it. Repeat ad nauseum. Don’t worry about the brush head quite yet…. Get used to the body movement first.

When practicing this – and yes this does need to be practiced – start at one hack and go to the far end. Once you get to the far end, stay facing the same side of the ice sheet and go in the other direction. You will have to lead with what had just been your back foot, so you can get used to moving in either direction. The more steady your pace, the easier it will be.

A Quick Break

There has been a lot of discussion here about physical movements, body positions, that sort of thing. For a video that shows the sweeping position, and gets into some of the (sideways) movement aspect as well, go to:

Using the Brush

Once we have that under (some level of) control, let’s talk about the brush head. It should be on the ice, directly under your head (you are looking right at it, right?), facing and moving perpendicular to the path of the stone. The questions, now, are three-fold:

  1. How hard do I press down on the brush head?
  2. How fast do I sweep?
  3. How long do I have to keep doing this?

OK, so only the first two…

You can think of the pressure on the brush head as corresponding to the three basic sweep calls. From least pressure to most:

  1. “Clean”: Basically no pressure at all, but the brush head is still in contact with the ice surface. Here, we’re not doing more than getting rid of frost, dust, brush bristles, broom straws, puppies and/or small children that have wandered onto the ice, that sort of thing. But stay ready to lean in and apply more pressure – you never really know when that call is coming…
  2. “Sweep”, “Hurry”, “Yup”, “Omaha”, etc.: Medium pressure – enough to start warming the top of the pebble. Depending on the light and the type of brush you’re using, you may actually see the surface of the ice begin to shine a little bit as you sweep. There is a moderate bit of exertion here.
  3. “HARD”: All your weight is on the brush head. This is really going after the rock, trying to turn that high guard into a button draw. If your arms are not sore after sweeping this way, even for the depth of the house, you’re not doing it right.

The movement of the brush head across the face of the stone is always a topic of discussion. Let’s hit some of the high points:

“Do I HAVE to move the brush head across the face of the stone? What about back and forth in the direction the stone’s moving?”

Remember the rule that the movement must be across the face of the stone, side-to-side, and that the sweeping stroke finishes to the side of the stone? Violations of this particular rule can be referred to as “snowplowing”, when the brush head moves down the ice in the same direction as the rock, like a snowplow clearing the way in front of a car driving down the road. A lot of snowplowers are just trying to keep up with a fast-moving rock, but that doesn’t make it right. If the rock is too fast to keep up with, the rock is too fast to keep up with. With practice, though, you’ll find it’s not so hard to keep up with even a hit-weight stone.

“Should the brush be held with the short side facing the rock, or should the long side of the brush face the rock?”

Here you have to ask yourself what you want to achieve…. but the short side facing the rock (the conventional form you see most often) is considered to be the most effective method. Remember that you want to change the effect of the ice on the rock. By changing the temperature of a larger area in front of the rock at one time, you stand a greater chance of affecting the stone, and for a longer period of time before the stone passes that “swipe” and has to go on to the next one. Some people argue that by orienting the long side of the brush head to the face of the rock, you can get closer to the stone, but those benefits are not as great as those you will encounter by affecting a larger area of the ice with a given brush stroke. With more practice and experience, you can sweep in the conventional orientation right next to the rock, whether the shooter is delivering a high guard or a control-weight takeout.

“Do I HAVE to sweep all the way across the face of the stone; when the skip calls stop, I stop, right?”

Yes, you REALLY DO have to sweep all the way across the face of the rock, side-to-side. And don’t forget that the last sweeping stroke must finish away and to either side of the rock. It doesn’t matter if the brush stroke moves toward you or away from you, but it must move away from the rock. Just think – if you stop sweeping in front of the rock, whatever your brush is pushing out of the way (you are still cleaning the ice even when you sweep hard) is left directly in front of the rock, allowing it to maybe pick – and then who-knows-what is going to happen. You really don’t want that to happen to one of your own rocks, so don’t let it – finish your brush stroke to the side of the stone.

Taking the Stone

I know that there is a lot of talk that a pair of sweepers should figure out what works for them – who’s on the left of the rock, who’s on the right of the rock, who’s closest (referred to as “Taking the Stone”), who’s farther away, what if one sweeper has a pad brush and the other has a bristle brush, all that kind of thing…. I don’t think we’re going to be able to cover all the details of this here, but there are a few general rules of thumb to consider:

  1. Things tend to go most smoothly when one person is on the left side of the rock, and one is on the right, as compared to both sweepers on one side. That means that one sweeper is likely sweeping “backhanded”, but that is a skill that can be developed with practice. The pair of sweepers need to work together to find the combination that works best for them individually and as a team. And don’t be afraid to switch sides every once in a while, to give the other sweeper a bit of a break. Talk to each other and work it out.
  2. If you know the rock is going to be called to curl in one direction, the sweeper on that side should take the stone – be closest to the rock. That comes into play much more when you start talking corner sweeping, but the sweeper on the right side of the sheet (as the shooter sees it) should be on the inside for a clockwise turn, and the sweeper on the left should take the stone when a counter-clockwise turn is called. That may mean you’ll have to switch who takes the stone after the release, so be ready – more on that later.
  3. When one sweeper has a pad brush and one has bristles, the bristles should be on the OUTSIDE, farthest from the rock. This does two things: First, the bristle brush is most effective on frosty ice, leaving the pad brush coming after it to be more effective as well; and second, just in case the bristle brush throws a hair (and believe me, they will), the pad brush has an opportunity to clear it away before the stone catches the hair and picks. It is perfectly acceptable for sweepers to trade brooms for a given shot, as long as the four brooms that the team starts the game with are the same brooms they finish the game with.

“Waitaminit – Back up a second here. What was that about only sweeping one side of the rock?”

Yes, it can be done, but I will advise you to BE CAREFUL HERE. This is what is known as “Corner Sweeping”, and is probably best left to more experienced sweepers. When you think that you want to give it a try, you have to remember that the sweeping stroke must pass across the full face of the stone, not just on one side. So how do you get the effect of sweeping on only one side when you can’t sweep on only one side? With differential pressure: just press harder on the side that you want more effect on. This is often accomplished by twisting the brush head at an angle, resulting in a “Z-form” sweeping path as the rock travels down the ice, parts of which have more pressure (3, 4) on the brush head than others (0, 2):

Note to Brad Askew: Thanks for making such a great image. No infringement is meant in any way. Please don’t sue me. I don’t have any money anyway.

But if you’re only sweeping on one side, which side do you want to sweep on? Easy – you sweep on the side you don’t want to curl as much. When you’ve got to bury that draw under the tight guard you just passed, sweep on the side AWAY from the direction you want the rock to move. If that takeout is moving too much and you’ve got to straighten it out, put more pressure on the side the rock is curling toward. It’ll still move, but not as much as if you were even sweeping evenly. Think of it as the side you sweep is the side that that rock doesn’t grab so much on, so it grabs more on the other side and the rock curls away from the swept side.

There’s another video that talks about this just a little bit, here:

It’s not just the Front End that sweeps…

All of this applies just as much to the Skips and Thirds out there that are called on to sweep the other team’s rock out of the house to preserve that great end you’ve been building. Just remember – one person only. Refer back to the Rules at the start of the article.

“If more than one rock is in motion, can the Skip take one opponent’s rock, and the Third another?“

Sorry – one sweeper – you’ve got to choose which rock to work on.

“Can the Second, who’s probably a better sweeper than the Skip, jump in and take that one that needs that little bit of extra “uumph” to get past the back line?”

Only if you are the DELIVERING team. If you are NOT the delivering team, only the Third or Skip can sweep – and then, only behind the tee line.

Remember, Front End players generally should not be behind the tee line at all, unless they are sweeping one of their team’s stones that are in motion. Once that rock stops, they need to clear out and start getting ready for the next shot – which includes watching what the other team is doing, just in case you are asked to do the same thing.

For this shot, I’m a Sweeper – Where do I Start?

Okay, so now the world is working as it should: the Skip is calling the shot, the Third is going to deliver that perfect throw to set up the winning end, and the Lead and Second are ready to sweep like crazy…. But where should the sweepers be as the Third is in the hack?

The sweeper that is taking the rock should be closest to the shooter – maybe even as far back as the back line when the shooter’s in the hack. That also means that the first sweeper to take the rock should be the sweeper on the shooter’s release arm side. The farther sweeper should be on their side, at about the tee line. That puts the sweepers in their relative positions with respect to the stone, and gives them time to start moving (when the shooter begins the forward-motion part of their delivery) so that they are in position and moving with the rock BEFORE IT’S RELEASED. Yes, before. It is possible, and not that uncommon, for rocks to need a bit of tender loving care as soon as they are released. Yes, the rules say that you can let the rock go as late as the hog line, but you can sweep as soon as the rock leaves the shooter’s hand, whether that’s at the hog line or back at the tee line. You need to be ready to go at any time, so give yourself the best opportunity to do exactly that.

Once they’ve started moving, the sweepers should stay with the rock as long as they can – of course, the preference is to stay with the rock until it stops moving completely, but I know that sometimes that just isn’t realistic. BUT – just because the rock has reached the front of the house, or the tee line, or whatever, doesn’t mean there might not be that last-second frantic attempt to get just that last couple of inches out of the throw…. Sweeping becomes even more critical at the end of the shot, as the rock is moving more slowly, and the effect of any sweeping can be effectively magnified, as the changes you make to the ice have more time to act on the stone. This is generally referred to as “finishing the stone”, and can easily make the difference between a rock that’s completely buried under a guard, and one that’s exposed enough to be hit and removed. As long as you can stay with the rock, stay with the rock. Your Skip will thank you for it. Maybe not right away (even though they should), but they will – eventually.

“Back up again. You said the first shooter to take the rock…. And you mentioned switching who has the rock…. So you can switch which Sweeper is closest to the rock – _during_ a shot?”

Sure. In fact, this is a tactic that high-performance teams will occasionally use to help themselves out. Remember that different brushes can have different effects, and you may want to switch which brush is where to loosen the frost, or to really clean that dusty surface. It may be that you want the rock to curl in one certain direction (as in Corner Sweeping, like we discussed above), and the person closest to the rock is on the wrong side to achieve that to the greatest effect, or maybe the stronger sweeper just happens to be on the outside this time. So what do you do?

One sweeper (the one that wants to move, usually) calls “Switch!” and the sweepers switch who takes the rock – the one closest to the stone moves away, and the one farther away moves in to take the stone. Total distance and time to switch? Maybe a step or so – certainly not very much. Once you hear “Switch!” halfway across the Club, figure out which sweepers called it, and then actually look at them, it’s already done and over with.

Now, do you want to do this often? No. Within any given shot, you probably want to switch no more than once. Do you switch during every throw? Certainly NOT – that accomplishes nothing but telling your opponent in no uncertain terms that you don’t have your act together. Do you really want to admit that? You’re better off figuring out a lot of those sorts of things ahead of time, and then just following the plan. But be ready and able to adjust if you have to, is all. It’s all part of the sweepers talking to each other, just as much as they talk to the Shooter and the Skip.

“Our lead tends to throw light. Can I sweep even though the Skip hasn’t said to yet?”


Let me be clear on this – Yes, you can sweep before the Skip says to, but be ready to stop if they say so. If you see that the shot is light for what’s been called, TELL THE SKIP WHAT YOU BELIEVE THE WEIGHT TO BE and start sweeping! How can you tell the shot is right for what’s been called? Well, you’re watching the call and understand what the Skip expects, of course, and one sweeper is timing while the other is using the “Mark-One Eye Ball” weight evaluation method, right?

The Shooter may have input for you about the shot, too – especially right after they release the stone…. But after that, it’s the Skip’s call you’re worried about. And do you only tell the Skip what you understand the weight to be one time? NO! Most Skips will (or at least should) be calling for weight estimates several times during the course of a shot – especially on ice that’s a bit tricky, like we all know arena ice can be. When the Skip calls you off the sweep, stop, keep moving with the stone, and TALK – the Skip will tell you if and when you talk too much. Most Skips would prefer a chatty bunch of sweepers. You see the rock differently than they do, and you, as a sweeper, have a perspective that they need to know about. But it’s still the Skip’s call at the end of the day.

A lot of sweepers will, in the absence of any other call, sweep to clean. That’s OK, and it has the additional benefit of having you in position to start really sweeping right away when the call comes…. and it will. Just stop if the Skip says to. So go ahead and clean. No, this is not a public service message from your Significant Other asking for help with the housework, but it is one from your Shooter and your Skip, who are just as important, right?

But you’ve got to go actually DO it.

I told you there were a lot of things that could be talked about for a long time when it comes to sweeping. We’ve touched on a lot, but we haven’t touched on them deeply. If you want to dig into any of these in more detail, let me know and we can either set up a practice session, or I can help you identify a couple of things to try in your next League game.   Just let me know.

To wrap things up:

  1. Body position
  2. Brush head pressure and speed
  4. Go Practice. It’s the only way you’re going to get better at this stuff. Like shooting, this is physical, and your muscles need to be able to remember what you want them to do. To get there, you have to go do it first.

Slide straight and shoot true,