Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wheelchair curling? Let's scrap it and start over.

If the WCF were structuring wheelchair curling from scratch, using the experience of the past ten years, the sport would, or perhaps more personally, should look very different. It really doesn't convert from the able-bodied game with any authenticity. Lack of sweeping not only removes a major purpose of the four person team format, but reduces the range of available shots and the possibility for shot accuracy that viewers of regular curling expect.

While shot clocks and time constraints have helped, two and a half hour 8 end games are still lengthy investments in a sport rarely achieving 60% accuracy. Of course, coaches continue to hope that with more and better practice, throwing skills will increase, and at every tournament brave words are spoken at microphones, praising the skill of the competitors as we spectators remember the shots that succeed while quickly forgetting the underthrows and overthrows.

It is my feeling that accuracy levels have plateaued for the best wheelchair curlers, at a point far below what can be achieved when using brooms.

Wheelchair curling in Canada is in a difficult place. It has failed to capture the imagination of wheelchair users, perhaps because for many there is just too much on-ice down time. The sport is driven by the perceived requirement to field a competitive national team, forcing inappropriate 4 person mixed gender teams that stifle growth while coaches pretend that performance will continue to improve given time.

The national team is run as a private club with no public or plausible pathway to membership for anyone outside of the small group of Western Canadians presently serviced with money and coaching to win medals.

But that offers an opportunity for the rest of Canada to ignore a system that ignores them, and start a sport that answers many of the present system's failings.

Redefine wheelchair curling as a two person a team sport, where you are either throwing or skipping, and not sitting around pretending your stopwatch is supplying useful information.

Decide who can play. Should it be just full-time wheelchair users, or people who could not otherwise curl without a wheelchair, or anyone sitting in a wheelchair? Avoid the eligibility voodoo and counting of angels on pin heads that Kate Caithness presented to such a sceptical if not hostile reception at the WCF's Meeting last Spring. You either need a wheelchair always, or always on the ice, or not at all.

Ignore the still developing "stick curling" rules which inexplicably allow some sweeping. Keep the "one end throwing, one end skipping" format.

Then decide whether to stay with 8 rocks an end, or 6, or 6 with two rocks pre-placed by the house or some other combination that holds games to around an hour. Four wheelchair curlers could play a 3 game round robin in not much more time than one game of 4 person team curling.

Then come up with a bracing solution for the throwers. Opponents could brace, but able-bodied volunteer rock wranglers might be needed.

Then reduce the length of the sheet for every second under 14 that it takes a T-line line draw to travel between the hoglines. If it takes a 10 second heave to reach the T-line, the game is corrupted. You can't change the ice; you can change the throwing position to compensate.

And finally when time clocks are available, set a time limit, and penalise a point for every minute used over the limit.

Perhaps I am dreaming, but the present system seems a dead end, designed and run for unnecessarily narrow ends. It excludes all but a pampered few, pays no attention to the development of the sport across Canada and offers no opportunity for outside influence.

If the national program exists outside of the sponsorship of provincial associations, they should feel no obligation participate in it.

Had the people who initially decided to create the sport had the opportunity to see how their initiative has been drowned by a national thirst for international medals, they might have made different decisions.

What we need is a sport that answers the desire for winter recreation for wheelchair users. Wheelchair curling as presently defined fails, so needs to change.

What do you think?

For those uninterested in change, or sceptical about its prospects, I'll have some ideas on how to improve individual performance in the next column.


Dean Gemmell said...


A very well-organized, thoughtful opinion. I'm certainly not about to tell wheelchair curlers what game they should play but I have long thought that a fairly direct translation of the sport — minus sweeping — might not be the only way to go.

Sometimes people forget that all sports evolve — basketball had baskets instead of nets, rugby led to a version of American football, curling bears little resemblance to the game played on frozen lochs.

I'll do what I can to spark some more conversation.

Anonymous said...

I do agree that two person play is the answer. I would suggest 8 ends, 8 rocks, and a player that throws the first 4 rocks, and a skip that throws the last 4. Cutting the number of rocks MAY take the game too far from its able-bodied roots. The games would go much faster, more entertainment for players and fans, and improved performance at the competitive end.

Further, it would immediately double the amount of teams to allow for larger events, without causing any further problems of dealing with more wheelies.

As for eligibility, I think this has been a non-starter. I simply do not see any particular advantage if Kevin Martin sat in a wheelchair and played.

Lety's not get caught up in the Crip mentality.

. said...

Interesting points. To be fair, those who believe the sport should be reserved for wheelchair users have more than "crip mentality" behind their arguments, though personally I would remove all physical eligibility rules.

I like the idea of each team member remaining at their respective end of the sheet throughout the match. It quickens play and makes players throw in all situations. I'd go further and prohibit the thrower from crossing the point of delivery, and forbidding the skip to come closer to the thrower than the hogline.

What do others think?

Anonymous said...

Having a more seasoned skip in doubles would allow for more competritive teams with a skip throwing the final four.

Anonymous said...

I beleive there is room for both 4 person traditional teams as well as the 2 on 2 format. I previously curled for 48 years as an able bodied traditional type of curler so that is why I am still partial to the 4 person team and somewhat of a traditionalit. In wheelchair curling I also skip so I do not endure the lengthy periods of inactivity between throwing rocks. I have never heard anyone on my team complain about that.
There also is nothing wrong with 2 on 2 type of play. There are many variations of how that could be played. I beleive there is a Mixed World Championship that uses that format with options of who throws first on the team and how the stones are pre-positioned. If wheelchair curling was to adopt a 2 on 2 format I would suggest it use the same rules that are used at the World Mixed 2 on 2 with of course no sweeping in the wheelchair format.
At our club's weekly curling, if a team is short we just adapt accordingly and sometimes it may be 2 on 2 or 3 on 3 and so on. It never creates any problems. Depending on the experience of the 2 on 2 teams they may or may not change ends.
I will be the first to admit I am waffling on this topic (must be the influence of living in Ottawa and listening to politicans). I can see using 2 on 2 in club weekly curling but I would still like to see the provincials, nationals and worlds remain 4 person teams.
2 on 2 at the club level wud require more ice for the same number of curlers at the same time slot but would develop curlers faster as they would throw more rocks, at least in theory.

Anonymous said...

You actually may have hit on something. How about a domestic program that is two person, and feeds into the international, more traditional program?

Domestically, players will get double the amount of rocks thrown, improving their learning curve, and they will not get as bored as front ends are today.

I don't know how Sonja spends her time on the ice

Bruce Cameron said...

As I was in a rush when I posted my comments, I obviously clicked the wrong "button" and what shows up as anonymous was actually me saying there may be room for both "formats".
On further deliberation I still feel there might be room for both but I would not go beyond club play and some spiels with the 2 on 2. If u go to more official competitions such as provincials, nationals and so on I see some "technical logistics" with the 2 on 2.... what is the gender mix ???? what gender is the alternate or do u have to carry two of each gender.
We whine about the 4/5 person selection method for a Team Canada, can u imagine the uproar when u effectively cut that selection process number in half.....
I would like to see some actual, relatively long term stats on exactly how long it takes to play a 2 on 2 game of 8 ends throwing all eight rocks, throwing only six rocks and the same type of stats playing 6 ends. I also beleive the time will vary depending on whether the two players stay at their respective ends and throw all 8 or 6 rocks or whether they split the throwing up and move up and down the ice.....
An interesting topic but all input shud be solicited and then well thought through prior to "jumping"