Several Ontario teams have acquired or built dryland footwork trainers to better develop their closed brushing footwork technique during the summer months, so that they are trained and ready-to-go when ice becomes available in the fall. Note: the Junior curling season will be here before you know it; the first week of the Trillium Curling Camp at K-W Granite is only six weeks away! What follows are some training tips and coaching hints for those teams using a footwork trainer this summer.
The idea behind the footwork trainer, of course, is to mimic the ideal brushing footwork when brushing in the closed position. I originally designed the trainer to copy the two-stone on-ice footwork drill, as shown at right. In this photograph, Kirsten Marshall of the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks varsity women’s team demonstrates the two-stone closed footwork drill intended to develop confidence in keeping a body position with the feet behind the hips when brushing left closed. Note that Kirsten’s feet are behind her hips, her back is flat, and her hands are directly underneath the chest. Once this body position becomes comfortable, and the athlete masters the closed footwork, the athlete is much better able to advance their brushing skills in the early season and become both more effective, and efficient.
In use, through trial-and-error we have found the best practice surface to be the midfield of a softball diamond. An asphalt or concrete surface hinders effective foot movement, which is required to produce the “half-moons” that optimally both propel the brusher down the sheet, and get one’s feet outside of the hip line to provide greater force through the arms and hence the brush head. A ball diamond or a fine gravel driveway permits practice with good foot movement, and moreover the athlete’s footwork evidence can be seen in the gravel after each attempt, augmenting any video taken during the training session. At right is Alison Poluck demonstrating the use of her footwork trainer in her grandmother’s gravel driveway.
When using the trainer, you should (if possible) mark out a 93-foot distance on a flat, level stretch of (preferably) gravel. While a gravel driveway or path can work, a softball diamond infield is often ideal because it offers lots of room and, if properly maintained, is firm and level. For the 93 feet, simply mark off 31 paces and set a marker at the beginning and the end – two pylons will work, but any sort of marker will do. Note that 93 feet corresponds to the distance between the near hog line and the far tee line.
Using a footwork trainer with the correct form is hard work. 20-30 minutes of training 3 times a week is a good initial target. Give yourself a 45-second to one-minute break between each training run.
Draw weight from hog-line to far tee-line on keen ice is roughly 24 to 25 seconds. So make 24 seconds be your initial target time to negotiate the 93-foot distance, which is equivalent to brushing a draw weight shot. Moving on gravel is more difficult than being on the ice. Though a gravel surface affords better traction, there is also much greater friction and hence more force is required to propel you, and the trainer, forward. Nonetheless, athletes should practice at both draw weight and with hit weight speeds. Your mastery of the correct footwork at different speeds will pay handsome dividends when the season starts. Your goal over the summer will be to reduce that overall time to approximately 11 seconds, or perhaps down to 10 seconds, to simulate brushing a normal-weight hit shot. When training, attach your curling stopwatch to your athletic gear so you can monitor how you are doing.
You footwork should leave behind “half-moons” in the gravel dust after each run. See the photograph at right.
When practicing your technique with the footwork trainer, you should try to develop smooth, powerful footwork at both draw-weight and hit-weight speeds.
- Review the online video below of Alison Poluck (brushing left closed) and Jessica Filipcic (brushing right closed) of Team McKenzie.
- During a run, each of your feet will move in a “half-moon” motion, where for a portion of the movement each foot gets behind your hips. Stay on the balls of your feet at all times, with your feet pointing forward (perpendicular to the line of travel). Both feet must be in contact with the ground at all times.
- It is important for both of your feet to perform the same half-moon motions – each foot should duplicate the action of the other. In particular, watch to ensure that your trailing foot performs the half-moon motion; a common error is to simply “drag” the trailing foot in a straight line.
- Similarly, you must “lead” with your leading foot. You must initiate a forward half-moon step with your lead foot before pushing off with your trailing foot to propel you forwards. The forward motion with the leading leg requires strong abductors and hip flexors. When these muscles are weak, the athlete can “fall behind” the trainer because the forward motion initiated with the leading foot is neither far enough, nor quick enough.
- Keep as much of your body weight as possible on your hands. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders (with your arms straight down). This permits your head to go past the handles of the trainer, again copying the ideal body position when brushing on the ice.
- You need to bend your knees enough so that your back is flat.
- Moving the trainer in a straight line for the 93 feet requires practice. Working with a training partner can help keep you on-line.
- You should strive to ensure that your back stays as motionless as possible during a run. In particular, you should try to avoid having your hips move up-and-down with every step, which is a symptom of straightening your legs during the footwork motion. Your knees must remain bent in order to keep the back flat during an entire run.
When practicing with the trainer, it is a good idea to practice with a partner so that one of you can record video of the attempt. Each recording can be analyzed by your coach for evaluative feedback. Even a short, ten-second clip is sufficient for this purpose.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact the author.