Game Etiquette Basics

This is part 4 of the New Member's Guide, a series of articles that help prepare new club members for their first season.

By now you have maybe played a game or two, and have noticed all the things your teammates ask you to do during a game.

Curling is a game of traditions and etiquettes, and a lot of these are learned through experience rather than through specific rules.

A lot of the etiquette comes back to keeping the game flowing. Your teammates will help introduce you to them and give you suggestions as you play.

Here are some of those etiquette items, and you will probably learn more as you continue to curl.

Looking for a Spare

If for whatever reason you will miss a game, that is okay. It is courtesy to let your teammates know as soon as possible and make sure you have a substitute player ("spare").

Some leagues are structured so that there are more than 4 players on a team. In this case, talk to your team members or your skip to see if someone else on your team can play instead of you.

Otherwise, ask your skip if they would like you to find a spare, or if they will find a spare for you. If you need to find a spare, you are encouraged to ask someone on the bye team first if your league has byes. Otherwise, each league has a spares list, and you can arrange for a spare by calling or emailing people on that list.

Starting and ending a game

Traditionally, every curling match starts with the teams shaking hands. In COVID times, broom taps or waves in lieu of handshakes have become common. Greet your opponents using whatever method you are comfortable with and wish them “good curling”. You will end the game with a handshake / broom tap / wave and an acknowledgement of “good game”.

Call your own fouls

Curling is a self-refereed game, so you need to call your own fouls.

For example, the most common violation is when your broom touches the rock while you are sweeping. This is called "burning the rock" and you need to let everyone know right away. That rock is generally removed from the game, but if it has reached the house and moved other rocks, it is up to the opponent team's skip to decide what should happen.

If you’re not certain but feel that you might have committed a foul, let a teammate know what happened. They’ll let you know how to proceed. There’s never any shame in owning up to a possible foul in curling.

Sportsmanship

Compliment the other team on good shots. Do not cheer if the other team misses a shot.

Throwing rocks

The general etiquette around throwing rocks is to get ready.

For example, normally at the end of an end, everybody helps clean up the rocks; but if you are the lead throwing right away, you would be expected to not clean up but get ready to throw instead.

If you are one of the sweepers, you would help get the next rock for the thrower, so they can focus on getting ready. Also, rocks are labeled 1 to 8, and generally thrown in that order, so when you help fetch rocks, make sure to retrieve the right numbered rock!

Protecting the ice

The ice is cold, and you are warm. It takes very little time to make an impression on the ice with knee or hand contact, and rocks will change direction on it.

So the etiquette is to avoid kneeling on the ice or touching the ice, especially after throwing a rock. Take your time setting up your throw and sliding, and get up when you are done with your slide.

Throwing ritual

Many curlers have a little ritual that they do to prepare for their throw, and this helps set up for a consistent delivery. Here is a common ritual, and you will develop your own as you curl!

1. Retrieve the next rock if it is not by the hack yet.
2. Take aim at the skip's broom.
3. Get into the hack.
4. Clean the rock.
5. Rock delivery routine, which is usually broken down into 3 or 4 steps.

Opponent’s throw

As soon as you are done with your throw or with sweeping, it is your opponent's turn to throw, so you need to be standing at a place that does not interfere with their shot.

The rule asks that you stand between the two hog lines, and to avoid interference you need to stand as far to the side of the sheet as possible and not walk across the sheet while their skip is communicating to their other 3 players.

The best place to stand is near the throwing hog line on the side. Walk towards the hog line while the opponent is setting up for their shot, and stop and be still wherever you are when they begin delivering the rock to avoid distracting the opposing team.

Once their rock crosses the throwing hog line, you can cross the hog line and help get the next rock ready to go!

Sweeping

As with the opponent's throw, you want to stand to the side of the sheet while your thrower is setting up so they can easily see the skip.

Since we were just all standing at the hog line waiting for the other team's throw, it tends to be natural for a sweeper to wait there for their team's rock to be thrown. The down side is that you tend to end up trying to catch up to the moving rock when it is thrown.

Instead, the best place to start sweeping is the tee line (the line that crosses the button). While your thrower is setting up, help them retrieve their rock. And when they throw, you can walk with the thrower's slide. This has the advantage of helping you get a sense of how fast/heavy the rock is -- Are you walking slowly? Or almost jogging? Communicate this with your team even if you are just guessing -- a guess is still good data that will help the skip make decisions on what to do with this rock.

Usually, one person sweeps closer to the rock and the other person sweeps ahead of that. It is a good idea to decide who sweeps closer ("taking the rock") ahead of time.

For safety, avoid sweeping while walking backwards which is called "butt sweeping" and can be dangerous. Make sure you are facing the way you are walking and sweeping so you can see rocks in front of you.

Also for safety, walk and don't run. If you need to run, it is unlikely you will make a difference sweeping it. Walk with the rock and sweep according to the skip's instructions.

Skip’s Rocks

When it comes down to skip’s rocks, you will often see the skip and third take time to discuss the next shot. Some new curlers want to inch up to the house to see the layout of the rocks and see what is going on, but the common etiquette is for the front end players (lead and second) to leave them the space to talk, and prepare/wait for the skip's shot from the throwing end of the sheet.

Pull out your skip’s next rock so everything is ready to go when they arrive. You and your sweeping partner can always chat about what you think the strategy should be!

Usually the skip will let you know in person what the shot is when they come over to deliver their rock.

Scoring

After all the rocks are thrown, the thirds will look at the house to determine the score. The etiquette is to stay out of the house while the thirds figure out the score.

After they have agreed on a score, either help clear the rocks for the next end, or, if you are the lead to throw first the next end, prepare for your throw by getting your slider ready and grabbing your stabilizer.

Moving your equipment down the sheet

Curling comes with many types of equipment like stabilizers and sliders, and all of us sometimes forget them somewhere after our delivery; and then, in the following end where we throw from the opposite side, the equipment is not there!

Create a system for yourself to help you move the equipment down to the other end of the ice after your delivery. Usually this means moving your equipment halfway down the ice and moving it down to the other end when you have a chance.

If you forget a piece of equipment at the other end of the sheet, it’s most efficient to ask one of your sweepers to go retrieve it for you. While they are doing so, you can visualize your throw, clean your rock, etc.

Play time, and conceding

A full league curling match lasts 6 or 8 ends and the goal in league play is to complete all 6 ends in 1.5 hours or 8 ends in 2 hours.

Sometimes in league play, a game score becomes so lopsided that the game really isn’t much fun any longer. A team can choose to concede a game if they wish. The skip is the person who makes the decision to concede. A skip offers a hand-shake or verbal notification to the other skip to signal that they are conceding the game.

Since we have multiple leagues in a day, we can’t afford to let league games run extra long. A buzzer will sound to indicate that a league’s playing time is nearing its end. When the buzzer sounds, your game will finish the end that’s currently being played and play one more end. You can help to avoid having to end the game before all ends are complete by doing your part to keep things moving along as described above.

Socializing and Community

One of the things that makes curling very special is the sense of community. Socializing is a big part of the curling culture, and curling tradition encourages everyone to sit down together after the game.

Of course, this is a tradition and not a written rule, but you are encouraged to take the time to socialize with your teammates and other club members. After all, this is a community!

Can't get enough curling? The next article Want More Curling? talks about how you can be more involved.