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From Behind the Hack: Weight Control

He Ain’t Heavy; He’s My Brother

This month it’s time to talk about weight control.  No, I don’t mean counting calories and all that – let’s talk about being able to deliver the weight that you really want for your shots.

 What ARE the weights?

I realize that the desired weight for a shot can be anticipated from the Skip’s call for a given shot, but knowing what the Skip wants only takes you so far.  The goal is to be able to DELIVER, figuratively and literally, on that request, each and every time it’s given, no matter if it’s a lonely high guard or a blistering nuclear missile into a packed house.

Suffice it to say that there are two types of weight: Draws and Hits.  Let’s start there, and just define the different weights that you might see called for each of those two types of shots.  Of course there are variations on the theme, but we’ll deal with that later.

 Draw Weights

There are four weights that can be lumped into the Draw bucket, all defined by where the rock stops. These are listed in INCREASING force.

 Guard: A shot that stops between the far hog line and the front of the house.

 Draw: A shot that stops on the tee line.

 Back: A shot that stops resting on or at the back line.

 Hack: A shot that stops at, but not beyond, the far hack.

 Hit Weights

Hit weights can be defined by where the rock could be expected to stop, but that gets cumbersome and isn’t much more than a thought exercise.  Let’s scale them in terms of each other, and to some extent, what their effects can be.  Again, these are listed in INCREASING order.

 Board: A rock that comes to rest 4-6 feet beyond the far hack.

 Control: A takeout shot that is slow enough that the sweepers can influence the curl, but still fast enough to move a rock that is hit; sometimes referred to as a “Quiet Hit”.  It’s heavier than Board weight (maybe not by much), but sweepers can still stay with it and work on the rock.

 Normal/Takeout/Hit: Several names, all the same thing.  This is your general, all purpose, garden-variety takeout weight, one that ends up with the hit rock moving enough to leave play.  This is heavier than control, but lighter than peel.  I know that doesn’t mean much now, but that’s the best definition we’ve got.

 Peel: The Big Weight….  This will take out the rock you hit, and the shooter will go too.  This weight will take out multiple rocks; it’s the nuclear option.  Let’s be real; sweepers tend to let these go on their way, and stand back to watch the resulting carnage.

OK, so that leaves us with EIGHT possible weights that you could hear the Skip call.  That’s great for the elite level players (who can deliver any of those weights on demand), but more often than not, you will actually encounter only a subset of these – maybe four or of them, depending on what position you play.  Seconds and Thirds have more of a tendency to see more varied weight calls, but every shooter should have a variety of weights in their bag.  More on that next.

Finding Weight

Before we start talking about how to adjust to throw different weights, let’s nail down what it is we’re working to achieve.  Realizing that sweepers can affect the length of the rock by as much as eight feet or more, and that the house is only 12 feet deep, you can see that there becomes a bit of overlap between some of the weights I’ve listed above.  So, let’s cut the list a bit and settle on consistently being able to deliver only three different weights: Guard, Draw, and Hit Weight (personally, I like “Hit” a bit better than “Normal”).

In other words, you want to be able to consistently, and on demand, deliver shots that are:

(a) short of the house,

(b) in the house, or

(c) through the house.

If you think of it like golf, this is the “Three-Club Bag” – those three shots that you’ll come back to again and again and again.  Everything else is a refinement of one of these three basic weights.

(Hey, wait-a-minute – he said “consistently” again.  Dang it, does that mean we’re going back to the release?)

Yup; A-plus and a gold star for you.  That’s where you set the differences between the three weights – at the application of force to the rock, the start of the slide.  Yes, you set your weight in the hack.

Since it’s easier to make corrections up and down (as compared to down and farther down, or up and farther up) – Let’s pick the Draw weight to be what we want to compare everything to.  This is convenient, since Draws to the tee line are:

– used in timing and describing ice,

– one of the most frequently called shots,

– often demanded of any and all positions on the team, and

– let’s face it – they score points.

So – it’s pretty clear that tee-line weight is our starting point.  Call it the Default – the baseline, the weight you go back to time and time again.  From now on, when we refer to “Default Weight”, we’re talking the good-old button draw.

 Finding the Default – Feel Your Path

I hate to say it, but there’s really only one way to find your Default (Draw) weight – you have to go hunt for it.  That means practice, practice, practice.  It also means getting your delivery consistent, so that your weight shift, hip drop, and leg push are all consistent.  The nice thing about practicing to find weight is that you get a little bit of a reprieve from having to hit the broom all the &^%$ time – when you’re looking for weight, line gets to take a back seat… at least for a little while.

One of the best (and honestly, toughest) drills for starting to find your default weight is to slide with your eyes CLOSED, and open your eyes when you think you’ve reached a certain point – say, the front of the 12-foot ring.  The trick is to see if you’re right.  What you’re doing in the drill is taking away your sight reference, and instead having to rely on the reference of FEEL… No, I’m not getting all New Age on you, but you have to feel the transfer of energy from the hack through you to the rock.

Once you are comfortable with knowing your energy transfer, start shooting with NO adjustments to your release… don’t shove, don’t heave, don’t do ANYHTING other than let the rock go where it’s going to down the sheet.  Now, WITH NO SWEEPERS, see where the rock stops.  If that’s in the house, great!  Now do it again.  And again.  And again.  And again… you get the idea.

 Making Adjustments – Proceed with Caution

If the rock stops outside the house, you know what adjustments you have to make to the weight.  But how do you make them?

We’ve already talked about the weight of your shot originating in the hack, so it stands to reason that this is where we make the adjustments.  In particular, there are three things we can adjust – how far back you set your hips before pressing the rock forward, how long you wait to bring your slide foot forward to actually start the slide (this becomes the hip drop you hear me talking about all the time), and how hard you push with your hack foot.  Be careful with hack push adjustments!  Any error in your foot placement on the Line of Delivery will immediately be exaggerated as you increase the strength of your push.

So adjust your weight with your hip placement and your foot delay – shifting your hips farther back gives more weight to the delivery, as does a longer wait to bring your slide foot forward.  To pull weight back, don’t shift your hips so far back, or move your slide foot just a tiny bit earlier.  How much, is going to be an individual thing.  It’s not that I don’t want to tell you, it’s more that I can’t; you have to find it for yourself.  The adjustments that a large-framed person is going to make are different than those a more petite curler will be asked to perform.  A coach can help you through some of these things, and we can talk in generalities, but you are the only person who will know what really works for you.  If you want to work on it, let us know, and we can do that.

As soon as you get the shot you’re looking for, IMMEDIATELY TRY TO REPEAT IT.  A starting goal should be to be able to perform a draw to the tee line three or four times in a row, before moving on to a different weight to try.  And when trying something different than the Default, always return to the default for a shot or two before going to the next thing – just to make sure you’ve still got it.  Eventually, you’ll have it.  Really, you will – but only if you make an effort to go find your Default.

We all typically throw 12 to 16 rocks a week in league – this simply isn’t enough to really get your weight consistent.  I’m not saying you need to reach Olympic practice shot counts, but take advantage of available ice – when your team has a bye, show up anyway to see if anyone needs a sub, or see if there’s a sheet open for practice – and throw as many as you can…. Just make them all count.  Throw shots, don’t just heave the rocks down there.  Every stone you throw MUST have a purpose.

 Calling Weight

OK, Skips and Thirds, this section’s for you.  Front-Enders, you probably want to at least stay awake for this section, because there’ll be a quiz, in that your Skip will probably assume you understand what it is they’re trying to tell you.

By the Numbers

Originally made popular by the Randy Ferbey squad, but reportedly invented by Arnold Asham, there is 10-point scale commonly in use by high-performance teams to subdivide the playing area, and by extension, the weights that put the rocks there, into manageable chunks.  In this scale, zone 1 is immediately beyond the hog line, and 10 is the back 12-foot ring, with 7 centered on the tee line:

Weight Scale

While it is tempting to dive directly into using this scale, a couple of things need to be reconciled to the “Three-Shot Bag” we’ve already discussed.  Zones 1-3 are Guard weights, zones 4-10 are Draw weights into the house, and zone 11 is beyond the house – and can be considered a Takeout weight, albeit more like Hack weight (or maybe a bit more).

OK, so we’ve lumped the zones into their weight buckets.  But there are more zones than buckets, and you may want that additional level of detail… as you improve with your weight control, and can consistently deliver more than just the three main weights, you’ll probably wind up gravitating toward the 10-zone model eventually.  Some teams use three zones (1-3 / 4-10 / 11+), some use 5 (Front FGZ / High FGZ / Front House / Back House / Out), some use 11 (see the picture), and some use eight – one for each of the weights we discussed before.  Just pick one model that works for you and your team, and stick with it.

Just remember – simpler is better at the beginning.  While going to the more detailed model right away keeps your language consistent, not being able to achieve it right away can lead to frustration.

I can’t tell you where the balance point is, but I think I’ve found mine in calling the shot – I give the desired weight in terms of the three primary weights, but I verbally tell the shooter in which of the 11 zones I want the rock to stop.

Talk with your hands

Staying consistent with the focus on breaking deliveries down into only three weights, I tend to call weights with three hand signals, using the hand that is not holding the broom to tap my torso at the following heights, corresponding to the three weights:

Guard: Hand at the Waist

Draw: Hand at Chest height

Hit: Hand at Shoulder height

While there is a bit of risk here, in that it is possible for the shooter to deliver a shot that is a little bit too light to be swept into the desired finishing zone (try sweeping zone 4 draw beyond zone 7), these hand signals are consistent with the three weights we’ve been discussing so far.  As shooters become more adept at delivering other weights consistently, combining these three hand signals gives you much more flexibility.

Whatever method you use, the trick is always the same – MAKE SURE EVERYBODY ON THE TEAM IS IN AGREEMENT AS TO WHAT SIGNAL MEANS WHAT.

I personally tend to lead the call with the weight, as well as repeat it just before setting my hand to indicate the turn – this is because I’m using the hand that isn’t holding the broom.  So, in my case, you get four parts to the call:

1) Weight Hand Signal and desired End Point (saying desired weight, by number 1-11)

2) Turn and Target Aim point

3) Weight Hand Signal and Target Aim point (and repeat desired weight, by number)

4) Restore hand to indicate turn, if needed

Every skip may do this a bit differently, and that’s perfectly acceptable.  As long as your skip is consistent (ugh, that word again), it doesn’t really matter how the call is constructed, as long as everyone on the teams knows what to expect.  Just find what works for you and your team… and keep doing it every time.

Talking Weight

The most important thing about managing weight during the shot – after the rock has been released – is communication.  The Skip needs to make sure that the sweepers understand what weight is desired (and yes, that may change, especially if you’re going to Plan B), and the sweepers must keep the Skip aware of what the rock is actually doing.  The Skip can see the rock coming toward them, and sure, you can judge weight from that to a point, but the sweepers have a much clearer view of what the rock is really doing…. SO TELL THE SKIP WHAT THE WEIGHT REALLY IS, PREFERABLY IN TERMS OF WHERE THE ROCK IS GOING TO STOP.  Yes, for a while you’ll be guessing, but there are ways to have an educated guess, at least.

Most High Performance teams will have only ONE of the sweepers using a stopwatch at any one time.  No, it hasn’t always been this way, but it’s where we’re going, and frankly, it works better, as long as the person with the watch is consistent.  The other sweeper is judging the speed of the rock, certainly, but they are doing it based on their own speed and a sense of the performance of the rock based on practice, practice, practice.  While this “Qualitative” view of the weight seems a bit odd to a lot of people, especially at first glance, it is complimentary to the quantitative view provided by the stopwatch time.   We’ll discuss HOW to time rocks in a bit.

Two Sweepers, one weight

It doesn’t do a Skip (or anyone else, for that matter) a whole lot of good if one sweeper is saying the shot is a Guard and the other is saying the shot is through the House.  Yes, we’ve all seen that at least once.  Don’t deny it.  This is why the Skip is better off if the sweepers actually AGREE on the speed of the rock before they speak up.  Take the time and talk to each other about the speed, compared to what the Skip called – and speak with one voice as soon as you can.  While there is a bit of time to make your judgment, you only really have until about the halfway point down the sheet before a choice has to be made – at the latest.  A good skip will be asking your opinion even before that, so come to an agreement as fast as you can – it’s really not that hard.  SING OUT – there’s usually a lot of noise from the sheets playing around you, so make sure you’re heard.

Listen, too

Weight calling is not a one-way street; we’ve seen that already.  Sweepers also need to listen for changes in the shot, if the desired shot isn’t possible.  While the overall actual weight of the shot isn’t going to change once the rock is released, where the Skip wants to put the rock can and frequently does change – so be ready for it and be prepared to sweep or not sweep at the Skip’s mercurial discretion.  Eventually, it will make sense – maybe.

Over the course of the game, the ice changes – keening is some areas, frosting in others, curling more or curling less depending on a wide range of factors, so keep in mind that the weight you need to throw a draw in the first end is probably not the weight you need to throw for the same draw in the fourth or fifth end.  The change may be small at first, but it will be there – all you can do is be ready for it, and know that you can make the adjustments you need to.  Yes, you can.  I know you can.  It just takes practice and attention to the game.

Measuring Weight

We can spend a more time in the future talking about how to time rocks, but here the main thing to worry about is that any description of the overall performance of the ice, expressed in terms of times, will be a reference (somehow) to the TEE-LINE DRAW weight of the ice.

Again with the consistency

For those of you that are compelled to get the watch out (and there are a lot of us), whatever time you take (back-to-tee, hack-to-back, back-to-hog, tee-to-hog), make sure you use the same one every time, and that everyone on the team is using the same measurement.  That makes things a LOT simpler when it comes to looking for a way to characterize the ice, and to see the changes in the ice over time.  It also keeps the Skip from having to remember who uses which time – that’s just too much.  Yes, Skips are astounding in their ability to keep it all straight, but they are only human, after all.  Just don’t remind them of it.

I personally prefer to hear tee-to-hog times, as they’re long enough to not be affected by small variations in how fast someone’s finger is or isn’t, where they are standing and how clear their line of sight is, things like that.  They’re also short enough to let the sweepers get back to the real business at hand as soon as possible – sweeping.

The Big Things about Timing

If you’re the one with the watch – there are four things to always remember:

  • Always use the same lines for your interval. I don’t entirely care what it is, but it MUST be the same, for all shots and all shooters.
  • Your forefinger’s reaction time is actually faster on the buttons than your thumb. Thank you to USA Swimming for this little tidbit.
  • Always start/stop the watch when the LEADING EDGE of the rock first touches the line in question. Not the handle.  It’s just too hard to judge accurately.  When a tenth of a second represents several feet at the far end, that difference is significant enough to become an issue.
  • Most watches measure to hundredths of a second. DON’T GO THERE.  Stick with tenths.  Like I mentioned before, there is a pretty good chance for slight irregularities/fluctuations in measurements.  Rounding the hundredths out of the picture is another way to at least try to eliminate some of it.

The shot is the most important thing.  Yes, times are nice, but that’s also part of the reason we have a sweeper without a watch.  Don’t ever let not having a time keep you from judging the shot and talking to the skip.  If you miss a time, don’t sweat it.  Just make your best judgment, don’t call a number you don’t have,  and STAY IN THE SHOT.

Is there a Perfect World?

Is there such a thing as “Perfect Ice”?  In reality, no, but we can definitely come very very close.  The standard you will most often hear is 23 seconds tee-to-tee, with no sweeping.  That has become a de facto benchmark that ice will most often be compared to, and it is the standard that most ice makers try to achieve.

So which ice is faster (keener; requiring less weight) – 23-second or 25-second?  Twenty-five second ice is faster than twenty-three is faster than twenty.  It sounds counter-intuitive, until you remember that we’re talking about a fixed distance – tee line to tee line – and not a measurement of velocity.  If you only have to push the rock so hard that getting the rock to stop ON THE TEE LINE takes 25 seconds, it stands to reason that that ice is keener than ice where you have to push harder (taking the shorter twenty seconds) to get the rock to travel the same distance.  Less friction, less force needed to get there, and let it take the time it needs to get there.  Think about it – as the game progresses, we know the ice gets keener – and a draw at the start of the game is in the back of the house in the later ends.  It’s just another way of saying the same thing.

Just like I mentioned above, remember that ice will change over the course of a practice session or a game.  Just be ready for it and know that it’s coming.

In Conclusion

OK, Pencils down.  I know that’s a lot to cover.  Where have we been this time?

  1. Find your Default in the Tee-Line Draw
  2. Consistently correct weight comes from a consistent delivery, so Practice, Practice, Practice
  3. Communicate the weight – Skips to the Shooters, Sweepers to the skip
  4. Watch for changes as the game goes on, and be ready to adjust

Oh, yeah – back to the counting calorie thing?  We’ll talk about that eventually, but there are other things to discuss first.

Slide straight and shoot true,

– Coach