Slow play - Utica Curling Club

Slow play - Utica Curling Club
Instructor’s Corner
Roger Rowlett & Mary Jane Walsh
Why is my team so slow? How long should it take to play a game?
—Mark N. Thyme
Slow play is a common problem at curling clubs everywhere. The pros of course play with a game
clock—in the past, 73 minutes per team to complete 10 ends, and today 38 minutes of thinking time for
10 ends, or 30 minutes of thinking time for 8 ends. You go over your allotted time, you forfeit the game.
Any way you slice it, an 8-end game should take about 2 hours to complete using these timing rules as a
guide. (The pros get some additional time between each end; this is usually not the case for club
Some clubs use total time game clocks to force the conclusion of play after a set time—for example,
ringing a bell after 1 hour 50 minutes, signaling you must finish the end you are in and no more—but
such rules are not entirely in the spirit of the game. If one or both teams play slowly, the game may not
complete the normal number of ends: this can dramatically affect strategy, such as trying to retain the
hammer in even ends. In the worst possible case, an unethical team can stall with the lead to shorten
the game by an end or two.
So why do so many club games stretch well beyond the 2 hours required for complete 8 ends of play?
There is not necessarily one reason for slow play, but many. What are they and how can they be
Not being on time
It goes without saying that you can’t finish on time if you don’t start on time. If the ice is ready, there is
no reason not to go on the ice early, shake hands with your opponents, and take your practice slides
before the official game start time. If hammer and stone colors are not pre-selected, this can be
accomplished ahead of time as well, maybe even in the warm room. The U.S. Curling Association rules
put a premium on getting started on time: you are penalized one full end for being one minute late, two
ends for being more than 15 minutes late, and forfeited if more than 30 minutes late (Rule 11.i.i). Club
rules are often more lax, but that should not be an excuse to hold up a game for everyone else. Get to
the club on time.
Slow decision making
Slow decision making is a major contributor to slow play. Decision making has to be pretty snappy to
keep a game moving. Let’s do some math. To throw eight ends worth of stones will require 128 x 24
seconds: that’s 128 stones that might require as much as 24 seconds each to be released and come to
rest. That’s 51 minutes right there. Add 8 more minutes total to clear the stones after each end, and you
are up to 59 minutes just to make shots and clean up after every end of play. That leaves each team
about 30 minutes to think about how to play 64 shots: that is, you have an average of 28 seconds to
decide on a shot. If one team takes an extra 10 seconds on every shot making decision, that’s an extra
10+ minutes. Ideally, a team will want to reserve some extra thinking time for the more complicated
thirds and skips stones, when houses are often messier and/or critical, game-changing decisions must be
made. This means calling more routine shots earlier in the end more quickly.
Skips can help their teams play faster by managing time better:
The first shot of an end should not be a mystery requiring extensive thought. A skip should
already know what kind of end strategy, and therefore what initial shot sequence to call, based
on score and end of play.
For routine shots—say an obvious takeout of shot stone—the skip should put the broom down
and call the shot right away. Save thinking time for more challenging shots later in the game.
Veteran skips will often have the broom down for the next shot before all the stones have come
to rest.
Use simple broom- and hand-signals your team understands to communicate shot-calling. There
is no need to make extensive “John Madden” diagrams on the ice or yell up and down the ice.
Don’t skip by committee: this is a tremendous time-waster. Most teams are not a democracy:
the third may occasionally provide input to the skip; the front end should normally not provide
strategic input unless asked. The only thing worse than a bad game plan is four game plans. (The
“Three Tenors” was a good concept. The “Four Skips” is a disaster.) And arguing up and down
the ice about which of four game plans is the right one. Don’t be “that” team.
If you are finding as a skip that you need lots of time to make strategy decisions, maybe you are
trying to call too complicated a game. Playing a more open game with more takeouts and fewer
draws is usually easier to call and may speed up your flow, not to mention cause less decision
Not being ready
It would be too easy, and disingenuous, to blame skips entirely for slow play. Arguably, teammates are
just as culpable for slowing the pace of a game. Remember, 10 seconds per shot saved will shorten the
game by 10 minutes; if your opponents do the same, that’s 20 minutes saved! The best way to save this
kind of time is to simply be ready when it is your turn to play:
Be in the hack and cleaning your stone before the skip calls your shots. As soon as the opposing
player before you releases their stone, circle back to the hack from your position between the
hog lines, retrieve your stone, remove your gripper, get your stabilizer, and get ready to make
your shot. Don’t be the guy who gets caught every end: “What, it’s my turn to shoot? Where is
my stabilizer?”
When you make your shot, by all means participate in the execution of the shot, but when your
role is done, stop admiring your handiwork and get to the sidelines or retreat to the boards. If
you stand in the middle of the ice, gawking, the other team can’t call their shot and deliver their
stone until you move out of the way.
Set up stones for all your teammates, not just your skip. You will be amazed at how much time
this saves over the course of a game.
On the other hand, do not set up stones for your opponents. This may seem like a gracious, timesaving courtesy, but more often than not it is an annoyance and a time-waster for your
opponents. You do not know what shooting order the opponents are using, and by moving rocks
from the rock nest, you may be creating a trip hazard by putting stones where your opponents
do not expect them. Let the other team deal with their stones.
If you are playing lead, you should not be clearing stones at the conclusion of the end. The
seconds and thirds can handle that quite well on their own. Leads should be back on the boards
getting ready for their first shots.
Not clearing the ice promptly
A major source of wasted time in a typical league game is players of the delivering team lingering on the
ice after a shot is concluded.
When your team’s shot is completed, hie thee away from the center of the sheet toward the
sidelines, where you can make your way back to the delivering end in preparation for the next
shot for your team. (And when you get back to the other end and the opponent’s stone is
delivered, keep going back and set up your team’s next stone.)
If you feel you must have a conversation with your skip after the completion of a shot, assemble
at the sideline at the far hogline, or continue to the boards so that your opponents can call and
deliver their next shot. Don’t be the guy having the strategy conversation in front of the house
while the other team is trying to call a shot.
Being overly fastidious
Every club has its obsessive-compulsive members who must have things in perfect order when
competing on the ice. While this type of behavior is often commendable in other areas of life, in curling
it can be a cause of slow play.
The stones do not have to be in numerical order, nor do they have to be in a perfect geometrical
arrangement at the beginning of each end. If your teammates are finding and setting up your
stones, this “pre-arrangement” of stones does not save any time.
Some individuals have elaborate pre-shot rituals. It is perfectly normal—and competitively
necessary—to have a set pre-shot routine. However, if your routine takes more than a handful
of seconds, you don’t have a routine, you have a ceremonial ritual. (Break out the incense.) I
once put a stopwatch on an opponent skip who had an incredibly agonizing pre-shot ritual:
almost 60 seconds from arrival at the hack to release of the stone. For this team, the skip alone
was responsible for prolonging the game by 15 minutes or so.
If you and your team can successfully implement even a handful of these suggestions, you should be
able to shave many minutes off every game. And you won’t feel rushed. The nice thing about a wellpaced game is how much fun it is. Heck, you might even find you curl better. One thing is for sure: win
or lose, the sooner you finish, the sooner you will get to the bar afterwards for a refreshing beverage!
Good curling! Have a question for Instructor’s Corner?
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