All About Curling

by Tim Colby, with help from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Sport

Curling is a precision sport played on a finely groomed ice surface by people of all ages. Some might say that curling compares to bowls or bocce, but as a long-time player, I would have to say that it is purely unique in overall execution. Although there are small variations played all over, most serious competition follows a single set of guidelines established by each country’s governing body. The World Curling Federation oversees the sport as a whole and the Canadian Curling Association is the main body of the sport here in Canada.

A Brief History

Curling is believed to have its origins in 16th century Scotland, although there are Dutch paintings from the same period depicting peasants enjoying same activities. Whatever the origin, it was certainly most popular in Scotland between the 16th and 19th centuries, for which reason the World Curling Federation — the governing body of the sport — is based there. Curling has been an official Olympic sport, since the 1998 Oympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, where teams from 8 coutries participated. However, curling was a part many Winter Olympic Games over the years, though only as a demonstration sport.

All disputes aside, curling is without a doubt most popular here, in Canada, where there are more than one million registered participants. (The actual number is somewhere near 1.3M, but who’s counting?) The Royal Montreal Curling Club, established in 1807, and still running, was the first organized sporting club of any kind in North America.

The Playing Surface

In curling, the playing surface is called a “sheet” or a “rink.” Either term is valid, although sheet is prefered, since a team can also be called a rink. Check out the dimensions page for sheet details. It is not evident from far, but the ice surface it not completely smooth. Small bumps called “pebbles” are sprinkled on the surface to prepare it before each match. The pebble actually reduces the amount of contact friction the a stone has with the ice, allowing it to glide smoothly along the entire length of the sheet. Changes in the amount of pebble, frost and particles on the ice surface are very big factors in the game and strategy. The sheet is identical at both ends, so that play can continue in the opposite direction.

The Team

A complete curling team would be made up of four players, an alternate, and a coach. At National levels, this is who you might see on the podium. A club team would just be the four players who partipate in a match. The four playing positions are divided by the order of play and role on the team.

  • The lead is so named because they lead-off the end, throwing the first two stones. The lead has an important role to play in setting up the end for his teammates.
  • The second is so named because they throw the second two stones.
  • The third is next and is also sometimes called the vice-skip.
  • The skip is the captain and chief strategist of the team. It is the skip’s job to call the shots for his team and act as its representative. The skip usually throws the last two rocks, although this is not always the case. When the skip is throwing his stones, the vice-skip will be the one holding the broom in the house. The team is usually named for this player.
  • Teams can choose to have and alternate for competitions. They can also be refered to as “the 5th.”
  • Most competitive teams will have at least one coach who watches and critiques every game.


There is basic level of equipment required to play the game.

The Rocks

First off, the rocks (or stones) will always be provided by the club. They remain always on the ice, and at same the temperature. Curling stones are matched pairs, so that each player is throwing a set, minimizing the differences between them.

Each rock should be between 42 and 44 pounds (they will all be very similar at each club), is circular, with a circumference not exceeding 36 inches, and cannot be shorter than 4.5 inches tall. Beyond that, each club’s stones will vary slightly. Glenmore Curling Club’s rocks are slightly lighter; around 40 pounds each.


Each player will need a broom. Brooms vary enormously, and it is the players’ preference as to which they should use. The broom is used to sweep, and as a delivery aid when throwing a rock.  Players can choose a different delivery aid, if they choose. Usually a different broom or a “crutch.”


Proper footwear: A pair of shoes designated solely for curling. They must be kept clean and free of any lose particles. Most curlers by shoes specific to the game. The Teflon (or other material) slider in fixed to one shoe, and the other has a solt rubber sole called a “gripper” designed for the ice. Slip-on sliders and grippers can be used over any shoe, but they sometimes fall off, and are not as reliable.

Other Apparel

Finally, warm clothing that does not restrict movement. There are styles of slacks designed specifically for curling. Some women will choose a traditional kilts. It can be warm, cold or freezing out there, so bring the appropriate attire! The temperature can vary ten or more degrees during the game, so be prepared!

The Game

A common match would be played by two teams and would be divided into segments called “ends”. The number of ends in a match would be set by the organizers of the event. Club matches and bonspiels are usually only eight ends, while championship tournaments would be ten. Each end takes approximated 15 minutes to play, so end eight-end match should be completed within two hours. Each scheduled game time is called a “draw.”

Before and after every game, competitors will shake hands to express the good-natured etiquette that follows the sport. This is accompanied with a “Good game”, “Good match” or “Good curling” introduction. If a team is losing badly, or decides to end the game prematurely, the skip will choose to shake hands, signaling the end of the match.

A coin toss, or similar random action is used to determine which team will throw the first stone. The winners of the toss will then usually choose to take “the hammer” (last rock advantage) for the first end. The team that throws first then gets to decide which colour of stones they will throw. (In some matches, the hammer and colours could also be predetermined by the event organizers.) The teams will now throw one rock at a time, alternating from team to team, until the last rock.

When it is a team’s turn to throw, the skip will decide what the strategy for the shot will be, and indicate this using broom, hand and vocal signals. The player throwing their stone has the responsibility to understand the call, and deliver their rock in line with the skips broom, with the right turn and a sufficient amount of force. The remaining two teammates will move along the ice near the rock to sweep in front of it, when needed. Sweeping melts a very thin layer of the pebble in front of the rock and reduces its friction on the ice. This will change where the rock might come to rest, or how much curling it actually does.

When all of the rocks have been thrown, it is now the vice-skips’ job to determine how many points were scored. Only rocks that are at rest touching or inside the “house” can be counted. Starting from the “tee” (the pin at the center of the house) the teams whose rocks are closest count for one point each until an opponent’s rock is next. So, if there are three yellow stones closer to the tee than the closest blue stone, the yellow team scores three! Since yellow scored, they must also throw the first stone of the next end, giving the hammer to the blue team.

Scoring is recorded on the scoreboard at the end of the sheet. It is the vice-skips’ responsibility to agree on the score after each end. The scoring team’s vice-skip should then mark the score. The board can be configured in the standard style, or the baseball style, as seen on TV. The standard scoreboard is much simpler for the club, as it only requires posting only one plaque. The baseball method requires posting two, and changing another.

Rules and Etiquette

The sport of curling is bound by a number of rules, both written and unwritten (Read: The Rules of Curling for General Play from the Canadian Curling Association). Some of the unwritten rules fall under Curling Etiquette, and are just as important to know.

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