Family success stories are great – but for curling to thrive, more people (especially youngsters) from outside the sport’s traditional community need to fall in love with it.
The Roaring Game Blog spoke to Fiona Kennedy, development manager at the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, about the Try Curling initiative and its impact in Scotland.
And yes, I did also get down on the ice while in Perth… more on that later.
Curling family dynasties are great for players, fans and journalists – the headlines are almost too easy to write.
First this week, in Canada, we had the Scotties all-star team… all with Brier-winning dads.
Then, back in Scotland, we had Gordon Muirhead skipping his way to another Scottish Seniors title, after his kids Glen and Eve had won the men’s and women’s titles respectively at the the Scottish Championships the week before.
They’re fantastic stories, part of what makes curling a delight to watch and write about.
But it’s just not sustainable for the future of the sport – in Scotland or worldwide – and so players need to be found in non-curling families.
There have been some success stories. Sophie Jackson, who is skipping the Scottish women’s team at the World Juniors in Copenhagen from tomorrow, had no family history in curling – she got into it through her school.
But more need to be found and nurtured.
Fiona Kennedy, RCCC development manager, is responsible for the governing body’s schools programme, summer camps (for adults and juniors), seminars and workshops, and disability curling projects.
As she puts it: “It’s all about trying to get more people curling through these different programmes.”
She manages the development officers and groups at ice rinks across Scotland, who put the projects like Try Curling and virtual clubs – into practice.
Try Curling is an absolute beginner’s guide to the sport, with sessions running throughout the country. It involves how to (safely) get on the ice, how to deliver a stone and how to sweep – with a game at the end too.
Asked how well Try Curling is progressing, Fiona said: “Really well. This year so far we’ve had 146 sessions offered – not all of them run but most do, depending on the time of day and where they are.
“I think our numbers are going to be about 800 participants at the moment, more by the end of the season.”
There is a ‘huge mix’ in terms of the people who come to the sessions, Fiona said.
“We have some specific Try Curling sessions – some are open to all, some areas are now doing specific ones as well.
“For example: stick curling, those who are maybe not as confident on the ice, are older or have a disability, so they can use a stick to deliver; junior specific; wheelchair specific.
“So it can be anyone in an ordinary Try Curling session but we are trying to do specific ones to target different audiences.”
Try Curling has been running for three years or thereabouts, Fiona said – she is relatively new in her RCCC role, so it was well established when she came on board.
“It had huge success off the back of the last Winter Olympics,” she added.
“We’ve kept it going and hope to retain it for the Europeans later this year in Glasgow and the next Olympics, and other events.
“It’s been a very successful programme in terms of a pathway for people to follow.”
That pathway takes Try Curling attendees onto beginners courses hosted by ice rinks – six to eight hours’ coaching – and then either into a club, or into a ‘virtual club’.
This, Fiona explains, is an in-between set-up, where you are a member for two years, still benefiting from coaching to really build up the skills needed to play matches, giving you every preparation for entering a club environment.
As already mentioned, this is a big year – the first of five big years – for curling in Scotland, with the European Championships coming to Glasgow (Braehead) in November.
After that, Aberdeen hosts the World Juniors in 2018, Stirling hosts the World Wheelchair Championship in 2019 and Glasgow hosts the World Men’s Championships in 2020.
That means looking at ‘legacy’ – using high-profile events to boost the sport in the country and drive up participation.
Fiona said: “We have a legacy project, a big one with Europeans this year.
“We’re looking at branching out and upskilling some of the people in the Glasgow and Renfrew areas, and getting children along.”
That legacy will be stretched through to 2020, with programmes designed to target regions and different audiences.
“The makeup of those will be slightly different, but I think we’d be stupid not to try to utilise these events and make sure we get in as many people as possible – even just raising the awareness of the sport, if not getting them on ice,” Fiona added.
So, as promised, my own curling taster session in Perth.
Sadly, residing in southern England, I have not been able to put my affection for the sport into practice since I caught the curling bug in 2013 – my nearest rink is Fenton’s in Kent, 165 miles away!
Therefore, I had the rare treat of getting on the ice thanks to the RCCC staff at the Scottish Championships, with Simon Elder on coaching duties.
Simon, who coaches in Perth on Try Curling sessions and the schools programme, took four of us through the basics.
It was a condensed session before the Championship semi-finals, so aside from a little bit of sweeping practice, the focus was on the stone delivery – stance in the hack, body position when sliding out and making an in-turn or out-turn rotation.
It was tough. Unfamiliarity with the ice and a lot of thinking (which body part goes where?) meant there wasn’t much force in my slides… and I hogged every stone. Comfortably.
Still, Simon remained patient and helpful – pointing out the key things I was doing wrong and passing on the tips to improve.
The men and women I was watching in the Championships had been doing this for years, which made all of it second nature.
It’s fair to say I have a long chase ahead of me!