Thoughts on brushing for the 2016-2017 season

On June 27, 2016 the World Curling Federation published its preliminary findings from the “Sweeping Summit” that was held at Kemptville, Ontario in mid-June. The summit included representatives from various brush manufacturers, provincial and national sport organizations including the WCF, and a variety of elite players from a number of countries including Canada. A preliminary analysis of the data gathered at the Summit prompted the WCF to publish a set of recommendations it plans to ratify at the WCF’s Annual General Meeting this coming September. These recommendations are as follows:

Following the conclusion of the Sweeping Summit, the participating athletes made the following unanimous recommendations to a joint meeting of the WCF Competition and Rules Commission and the WCF Athlete Commission:

  1. Only WCF approved sweeping equipment should be allowed for use at WCF Championships and events.
  2. A single fabric from a single source should be used on all brushes approved for use at WCF Championships and events. The preferred fabric identified at the Sweeping Summit is a woven product with no external waterproof coating or artificial texturing.
  3. The brush head construction should include a hard plastic base of minimum and maximum dimensions, foam of a specific density and thickness and no other internal components or features, such as foil, inserts or ridges.
  4. Three specific fabric type brush head constructions were extensively tested and unanimously recommended.
  5. Each player should have their own brush and swapping of brushes between players should not be permitted.
  6. Only one brush head should be allowed for use on each broom in each game, unless replacement is approved by competition officials in cases where environmental challenges produce less than ideal playing conditions.
  7. The only sweeping technique requiring enforcement should be the rule prohibiting depositing debris in the path of the stone, or “dumping”.

After discussion and deliberation, the recommendations from the Sweeping Summit were supported by the two Commissions and forwarded to the WCF Board for consideration.

Following several weeks of consideration and consultation with stakeholders, including curling equipment manufacturers, the WCF Board also supported these recommendations in principle.

Further discussions are ongoing and work continues to develop the detailed proposals which will be voted on at the WCF Annual Congress in Stockholm in September.

The WCF’s press release went further, and described the anticipated changes to the practice of the sport once these recommendations are implemented for competition. Note that the WCF’s statement addresses only competitive play, and we expect no direct impact on the sport’s recreational players. With respect to equipment at the competitive level, the WCF release went on to state:

Equipment produced under these recommended standards has been demonstrated to be capable of having a reasonable impact when used by elite athletes with a high fitness and skill level and this equipment is specifically intended for use in WCF Championships and events. It is also likely these standards will adopted by other competitions contested by the same elite athletes.

The recommendations from the Sweeping Summit were developed following performance tests conducted in controlled conditions and the keen observations of the resulting effects by some of the best curling athletes in the world.

There were a number of fabrics tested which performed within acceptable margins but the single recommended fabric produced particularly consistent results, regardless of which of the three recommended head constructions or techniques were used.

The recommendation for a single fabric from a single source is intended to add an additional measure of security to protect the integrity of the field of play in elite competition. By requiring all teams to have the same fabric on their brushes and for construction of the brushes to be within a particular set of specifications, any difference in sweeping performance becomes the difference in the athletic ability and skill of the sweepers.

The immediate focus for the WCF will be to continue to work collaboratively with the manufacturers to understand the implications of these recommendations in terms of creating equipment for elite level players in time for the 2016-17 season.

Implications of the WCF Sweeping Summit

The formal report from the WCF sweeping summit will not be available for some time, and research into brushing will continue even after the release of the 2016 report. Nonetheless, the direction of the WCF is clear. So – what does the WCF’s statement mean for competitive play in the 2016-2017 curling season?

  1. We expect that the new WCF-approved fabric brush heads will not permit the degree of stone manipulation, in terms of line, that we have seen in the past two seasons. What this will mean precisely in terms of brushing tactics is unknown. However, we expect to see a re-emphasis of brushing for the purpose of carrying a stone further down the sheet, rather than for “directional sweeping”. Moreover, we expect the new brush heads to be slightly less efficient in terms of the friction the brushes create, and the ability for the brush head to reflect that heat back into ice.

    The level playing field that a standard fabric offers is this: teams who wish to improve the impact of their brushing on shot-making now have to improve that efficiency the old-fashioned way, through better team fitness and better technique. We encourage teams interested in improving their fitness levels to work with a qualified fitness trainer, such as Leah Will or Stephanie Thompson, whose articles are syndicated on the Ontario Curling Council site. In particular, Stephanie’s four favourite exercises for powerful sweeping is a great read, and players should view all of Stephanie’s fitness videos for additional tips, such as this example:

  2. Sweeping studies undertaken prior to this summer’s WCF Sweeping Summit showed that Olympic-caliber men could briefly raise ice temperature by +0.75C to +1.75C, thereby lowering the ice surface’s coefficient of friction. Since female athletes are frequently at a disadvantage in size and weight to male athletes, it was found that Olympic-caliber women could raise ice temperature only +0.50C to +0.75C. Hence optimal brushing technique is vital for female players at all competitive levels. Proper body position and correct footwork using double grippers are important to ensure that the maximum force is available through the entire brush stroke, and thanks to the smart brooms now available this force can be measured. Keys to optimal brushing include:
    • Brushing in the closed position;
    • Maintaining a flat back throughout, minimizing “bouncing” of the hips which will rob the brush of pressure;
    • Both hands should be gripping the lower half of the broom, so that one can apply force to the brush head effectively with both hands;
    • A stroke rate of between 3.8 and 4.2 strokes per second;
    • Brush head displacement (stroke length) no greater than six or seven inches;
    • Eyes over the brush head (or past it);
    • Brush handle as perpendicular to the ice as possible to maximize vertical force; and
    • Proper footwork, keeping one’s feet outside the hips as much as possible to maximize the applied force throughout the entire stroke.

    Recently I wrote about a dryland footwork trainer that can help players develop the proper footwork and “muscle memory” off-ice, which can help correct common footwork faults, such as cross-over steps, before the athlete steps on the ice for the first time in September.

If your team or coach would like assistance in developing your team’s brushing technique, including video and technical analysis with a smart broom, contact Jennifer Ferris at the Ontario Curling Council to set up a training session for your team.

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