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From Behind the Hack: Letting Go

Last time we met, we talked for quite a while about setting up and starting the delivery. This time, we take the next step, and actually send the rock out onto the sheet.

Yes, that’s right; we’re talking about the Release.

No, you can’t talk about the Release independently of the Delivery and the Slide. I’m going to assume that you have read last month’s article – in particular, establishing the Line Of Delivery and the Point of Control – those ideas are understood to be in play here. If you haven’t read last month’s article, stop now and go back and read it here. I’ll be here when you get back.

OK, great. Let’s get into the new stuff….

In The Slide: It All Starts Back In The Hack

As we all know by now, the Skip will ask for one of two possible turns: In or Out, Right or Left, Clockwise or Counter-clockwise. You’ll hear several different kinds of references – again, as long as you know what the Skip is asking for, let’s not get caught up in one terminology or another. I’ll use In-Turn (Clockwise for a Right-handed thrower) and Out-Turn (Counter-clockwise for the Right-handed), which is considered to be the standard.

Recall that we talked last month about starting the rock with the handle pointed in the direction the Skip is asking for, and then releasing it later. This is that later.

Yes, this is old news, but we’re going to go over it again, because:

  1. It never hurts to recall the basics
  2. I made cool pictures.

To Review:

The IN-TURN: Start your slide with the handle of the rock pointed at 10 o’clock, and release with the handle at the 12 o’clock position.

The OUT-TURN: Start your slide with the handle of the rock pointed at 2 o’clock, and release with the handle at the 12 o’clock position.

You’ll notice that the Line of Delivery does not change. This is consistent with everything we’ve covered so far – the path traced by the center of the rock MUST be on the Line of Delivery until after you let go.

The Release: When/Where

Let’s assume that you have reached the Point of Control, and your slide is continuing along the Line of Delivery toward the near Hog Line. So far, so good. Now, do you have a release point in mind? Why not?

We all know that the rock has to be released before it crosses the near side of the near hog line, but that leaves a lot of possible space in which you could let the rock go. Does it make a difference where between the front of the house and the hog line you release the rock?

Actually, it kind of does.

We’ve already established repeatedly that the release should come after you’ve reached the Point of Control – that is, you are balanced over your sliding foot and moving smoothly down the sheet. So, let’s say the release is too early if it happens before you reach that balanced condition, or even if it happens at the same time. You have to be established, which is something we talked about last month. If your release point is too late, there is a much higher probability that you will wind up forcing the rock off line and/or crowding (or even crossing) the hog line.

There are two main things to consider when finding your release point – you want to be comfortable, and you want to be consistent. It actually all works together – the more comfortable you are, the more consistent you will become, and the more consistent you are, the comfortable you will be. It sounds like a vicious circle, I know. Just pick one to be first, and then watch the second one come along for the ride.

Consistency helps in other ways, too – the Skip needs to be able to trust that your shots are consistent when they are trying to read the ice. They are trying to balance a number of possibly changing conditions, and your delivery (and release) shouldn’t be one of them.

By far, the most important point in picking a release point is that you are consistently comfortable and in control of your slide – ON THE LINE OF DELIVERY – before you start letting the rock go. Let’s leave it there for now.

The Release: How

As you slide along the ice, on the Line of Delivery and after the Point of Control (yes, that is the magic combination), all your weight should be on your sliding foot. Your hack foot leg should be extended behind you. Balance is critical at this point; ideally, you don’t want to be leaning on either your broom or the rock. Especially the rock – it is NOT one of your points of balance. You’re remembering to keep your shoulders and hips square to the LOD and you’re aimed at the broom, right? And of course your eyes are up and looking ahead of you, aren’t they? I knew they were.

Up until this time, your throwing arm should be comfortably flexed and the position of the rock handle should still be turned as it was back in the hack during your set-up. You should have a gentle but firm grip on the rock, with your wrist high over the center of the rock. Your fingers should also be gripping the rock’s handle over the center of the stone – back in the hack, if you were to pick the stone straight up and place it back down on the ice surface, you should hear one thump as the running surface hits the ice, not two or more. This grip does not change as you transition from the hack into the slide.

RELAX – This shouldn’t be a death grip by any stretch of the imagination. The tighter you grip the rock, the more likely you are to try force it when it comes time to let go.

Once you reach your desired release point (remember that will be different from person to person), and using that good grip established at set-up, now you simply rotate the handle gently from the starting position to the 12 o’clock position, and simultaneously extend your arm – all over about a broom-length of travel. This extension is NOT forcible – it should feel more like the rock is simply taking off on its own, and you are extending your arm to suggest that the rock stay on the Line of Delivery until the Laws of Physics take over.

This is known as a “positive” release, referring to the fact that you are pointedly applying a rotation to the rock in combination with the forward movement of the arm toward the skip’s broom.

In order to keep the rock on the Line of Delivery, the rock must be rotated such that its center point does not get displaced to either side of the Line.   Any lateral movement of the rock while putting on the turn will result in the rock moving off the Line of Delivery, giving a missed shot. This alone is a major contributor to off-line shots. Your grip being directly over the center of the rock throughout your delivery will help make the proper rotation happen. It all works together.

If all of this has come together, the result of the release should be somewhat similar to releasing someone’s hand after a hand shake, with the rock slipping lightly from the tips of your fingers to travel along the Line of Delivery until the curl starts to break. The spin of the rock, while definite, is actually fairly gentle. We’ll come back to the handshake idea in a minute.

The rock should only rotate about two and a half times over the length of a draw. A more rapidly rotating rock (a “Spinner”) will actually tend to curl less, and a slowly turning rock will tend to curl more, assuming that the slow rock doesn’t “lose its handle” altogether. Throwing a consistent rotation also makes it easier for the Skip to read the ice.

OK, we get it – the name of the game here is consistency, consistency, consistency.

This is why Practice sessions, and the drills that are part of them, are so important. The repetition that comes in drills is where this consistency comes from. There just aren’t enough rocks to throw in a league game to get the same result.

You’ve Got To Have Follow-Through: Don’t Upset Anything

As you may be able to guess, there should be no sudden or incongruous movements as a part of the release, even after the rock is out of your hand.

As you let go of the rock, you should find yourself still in the sliding position, with your hand in roughly a handshake position, and your arm extending along the Line of Delivery toward and through the base of the skip’s broom. You do not want to raise your arm as a part of the release – this interrupts the forward motion of the release, and possibly induces some sideways motion. Just continue the forward extension to its normal comfortable conclusion.

Now that you’ve released the rock, stay in the slide position for a few more feet. This is the Follow-Through, and is just as important as any other portion of the Delivery and Release, as it ensures that you do not shift your position too early and wind up passing that motion to the rock before it’s completely away from your hand. A good rule of thumb is to maintain your sliding position until you come to a stop or you travel halfway down the sheet, whichever comes first.

Establishing a good Follow-Through also allows you to watch your stone and recover from the shot. Watching the shot, even for a while, is a crucial part of evaluating the shot, and allows you to identify changes in the ice conditions and/or possible improvements for your next shot. Use this time to let the Skip know if you felt you were inside, outside, or on the Line – and even an early assessment of the weight of the shot – as if the Skip (and possibly the Sweepers, too) aren’t going to be telling you what they thought, am I right?

And be ready and willing to listen to what the rest of your team has to tell you about what they saw too, OK? Thanks.

Try not to rest your hand on the ice after you’ve let go of the rock. You’ll see people with their release hand resting on their slide foot, their broom or stabilizer, up in the air, whatever – JUST NOT ON THE ICE. I know, we all see people who rest their hands and/or knees on the ice after every shot. This is one of those times your Mother told you about – you know, not doing what everybody else does. Your Ice Techs will thank you, believe me.

Similarly, when you do stand up, make sure you do not touch the ice with your bare hands or your knee(s) for more than a second – that’s all it takes to start melting the surface.

You’ve Got To Have Follow-Through: After The Fire

Once you have released the stone, your part in the shot is done. Now it’s up to your Skip and your Sweepers. You may be able to let them know if you felt any inconsistencies in your release, or if you were inside, outside, or on the Line of Delivery, but the rest of the shot is up to them.

But take a bit of time to think about the shot you just made – honestly and objectively. Did you hit the broom? Did you have the right weight? Are there other improvements you could make? What feedback did you get from the Skip and/or the Sweepers? If the shot was good, try and remember what it felt like so you can do it again. If not, try and figure out why, so you can make minor corrections next time. Yes, I said minor corrections. There’s no benefit to making a complete overhaul every time you get in the hack.

Corrections and Weight Control

As I just mentioned, once you have established a reasonable level of consistency in your Delivery and Release, any corrections that you apply should be minor. Large changes lead to large errors, and tend to lead to large problems that can be difficult to correct expediently. Small changes, though, are easy to put in – and easy to undo if they turn out to not help.

Weight control can be approached in the same way.

(Oh, great, he’s going to talk about consistency again.)

Yes, I am. In this case, the idea is one of “Default” Weight, or the “Default” Delivery – your consistent baseline delivery that you can evaluate changes from – usually a draw into the rings on your home ice.

(But why aren’t you specifying a button draw? Isn’t that a better yardstick to measure against?)

That kind of consistency only comes after a more general level of consistency is reached. Start by identifying a more general baseline that you can achieve regularly, and then apply more stringent conditions later. Once you are confident that you know and can deliver the weight to put a rock in front of the house, in the rings, and behind the house consistently, go ahead and make the target areas smaller and more refined. No problem. There’s just no reason to start there.

When you’re trying to establish your default, practicing, or even throwing in a game, you don’t always need to worry about throwing shots to stop on an exact precise point. Remember sweeping can add as much as eight feet to the path of a rock, but there is no way the Sweepers can shorten the path of a heavy rock. It’s easier for them to correct a throw that’s a little bit light.

Once you zero-in on your default delivery (say an in-the-house draw), the other two weights (in front of the house/behind the house) become relatively straightforward adjustments. You can think of “Guard Weight” (short-of-the-house) as about ten feet shorter than your default. “Long Weight” (Hack weight to bumper weight, or through-the-house) can be thrown about ten feet farther than default. At least to start with, it can be just that simple.


In The Slide: On the Line of Delivery, in balance and control, before the hog line. BE CONSISTENT!!!

The Release: Slowly extend your arm, using only two or three fingers to positively guide the handle until you release at 12 o’clock. You don’t need to shove or spin the rock; it’ll go on its own. Induce no lateral motion to the rock. BE CONSISTENT!!!

You’ve Got To Have Follow-Through: Hold your release position for several feet after the rock leaves your hand. Let your teammates do their jobs. Watch and evaluate your shot. Listen to and consider any feedback you may get. BE CONSISTENT!!!

Corrections and Weight Control: Find your default; after that, small corrections are the answer. If you have to be off-weight, it’s better to be light than heavy. BE CONSISTENT!!!

There – this, in combination with the discussion of the slide last month, takes us through the basics of the Delivery. Yes, there’s more we can get into, and we will, but we have a lot to work with right here and now.

So – with the Fall Season coming up quickly, let’s get out on the ice and start practicing – it’s time to get consistent.

Slide straight and shoot true,

— Coach –

Extra Credit

All these things having been said, once you have the consistency and control (yes, that means weight, too), there are a few other advanced points that you may want to consider when picking a release point for any given shot:

  1. Remember that we said releasing the rock tends to take between 4 and 5 feet of travel to complete? That means your release should start no farther down the sheet than about the middle of the Free Guard Zone. The exact point will vary from person to person – you’ll find your “No Later Than” point pretty quickly.
  2. Take-outs are generally released earlier than draws. This is because you don’t want to give up your initial energy to deceleration any more than you have to, in order for the rock to keep the higher forward velocity that the take-out asks for. The longer you slide before you let go of the rock, the more the rock slows down.
  3. For a given type of shot (draw or take-out, for example), a shot released at the top of the house will travel a different path and have more time to curl than a rock released near the hog line.

Don’t sweat these too much right now. B and C are fairly advanced refinements, and let’s not dwell on them here.