Dryland training for brushing footwork

In the Curling Canada High Performance Program coaching manual, under “Technical Development: Sweeping”, you will find the following quote attributed to Darryl Horne:

Without doubt sweeping is the most under-coached, under-practiced, under-appreciated, and under-rated aspect of the game.

I could not agree more. With nearly three years of smart-broom testing of bantam- and junior-aged players in Ontario I can safely say that the number of top-quality brushers amongst (even) championship teams needs to increase. Which brings me to the work I am currently doing as the coach of Team Emma McKenzie, a U18 women’s team based out of my home club of Elmira.

With a lineup change this season, the team’s two front-end players – Jessica Filipcic and Alison Poluck – are now in a position to brush in the optimal “closed” position. However, both of these players have brushed “open” over the last two seasons, and the change to the closed position is going to require some practice. In Jessica’s case it was clear that no-one had ever taught her how to brush properly, and consequently Jessica’s normalized mean brushing force – the ratio of the vertical force applied through the brush divided by her body weight – needed improvement.

To assist these two athletes with learning the correct footwork for brushing in the closed position, I built a “footwork trainer” (see photograph above) that these young women could use through the spring and summer in order to gain sufficient speed, stamina, and muscle memory in order to achieve significantly better results once ice is available in mid-August.

The trainer itself is simple to construct: two 30-inch wood pieces of 2×6 glued and screwed together, a 2×4 attached to the top, two 18-inch 2×4 pieces to mount the 24-inch threaded rods that serve as the axles for the 7-inch lawnmower wheels. Total cost, all in, is about $100, the most significant items being the wheels – I used lawnmower wheels with stainless steel bearings – and the cast-iron handles that I found at my local Lee Valley store. You’ll note in the video that Alison’s trainer is modified from my own – her father Anthony built it based on mine as a model.

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. A training key is to ensure that the trailing foot continues to move in the half-moon motion throughout the trial, rather than being “dragged” in a straight line following the lead foot.

For each of these athletes I set out a measured straightaway of 93 feet (near hog-line to far tee-line) to practice. The goal is to achieve optimal form – no “bouncing”, moving in a straight line, arms perpendicular to the ground, head position past the hands – and vary the speed from 24-25 seconds for the 93 foot distance (draw weight) to 8-9 seconds (hit weight).

One point that has drawn my attention, both with these athletes and myself, is that with the trainer it is quite difficult to cross-over one’s feet without stopping altogether – a crossover step becomes quite awkward. I think the trainer might be very useful for accomplished athletes who still struggle with the proper footwork when brushing closed, and invoke the crossover step out of habit.

I am very anxious to see how the athletes’ work with the fitness trainer, coupled with other brushing practice over the summer, will translate into better technique when they hit the ice in August.

My thanks to Alison and Jessica for making themselves available for doing the video. In addition, I would like thank John Newhook, Jim Waite, Bill Tschirhart, and Jennifer Ferris for their comments. Most importantly, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Spencer Nuttall, second on the current CIS champion Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks Varsity Men’s curling team and one of the best brushers in the game, for his comments and feedback.

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