How to Play
So, what's this curling thing anyway?
You probably know it as that sport from the Winter Olympics with the stone throwing, the sweeping, the yelling, or maybe the pants. Check out this video for a quick introduction to the fundamentals. Being a good curler requires skill, sound strategy, a lot of teamwork, and, most importantly, the ability to think on your feet. All of these elements layer together to make a sport that's surprisingly tense, complex, and addictive.
Curling also has a rich culture and history. It dates back to Scotland in the Middle Ages and has retained a strong tradition of camaraderie and sportsmanship. At many adult competitions, for example, the winning team buys the losing team a round of drinks after each game and the two teams will then relax, drink, and chat with each other. Curling enjoys the greatest popularity in Canada, where it was introduced by Scottish immigrants. Since its inclusion in the Winter Olympics in 1998, it's had a steadily growing following in the United States, especially in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest. These days, however, you can even find dedicated curling clubs in warmer places like Phoenix and Atlanta.
What does the sweeping do?
Curling stones glide along the ice on top of a thin film of liquid water. Sweeping melts the ice and gives the stone a little extra water to glide on. This has two effects on the stone's trajectory: it makes the stone travel further (since there's less friction) as well as curl less. Sweeping is an extremely important part of the game. In some cases, sweeping a split second too early or too late can mean the difference between a great shot and a terrible miss. It's also really good cardio.
There's more to it than just this, but we'll keep the nuances a secret to entice you to join us for a practice!
How do you decide who should be the sweepers and who should be the throwers?
Everyone on a curling team plays multiple roles within each game, which adds to the complexity and fun. Teams consist of four players, and each player on the team throws two stones in each end (curling lingo, analogous to an "inning" in baseball). When one player throws a stone, two others focus on sweeping, while the last team member directs both the thrower and the sweepers. The particular skills required can change a lot depending on your place in the team's throwing order and what you're doing when not throwing. Successful teams require many different skillsets to come together to make great shots.
How often does the MIT team go curling?
We have ice time at Broomstones Curling Club in Wayland, MA once a week, on Fridays from 4 to 6 pm. It takes about 45 minutes to drive to the club (though this can vary depending on traffic), so we leave a little after 3 and return to Cambridge at around 7. Additionally, we compete in 6-7 regional tournaments (“bonspiels” in curling lingo) per year, against other colleges throughout the Northeast. Curling season runs from late September through early April.
Does MIT compete in a collegiate league?
Yes. College curling is not an NCAA sanctioned sport, but it is governed by the US Curling Association through an organization called “College Curling USA.” Basically, teams compete to earn points at bonspiels and, at the end of the season, the top 16 colleges in the standings receive an invitation to the College National Championship in March (2019's is being hosted at our home club!). One of the main purposes of the college championship is to grow the sport, so about half the points are for participation (sending teams to tournaments) and half are for performance (how well you do at those tournaments).
At northeastern regional bonspiels, we often play against teams from Harvard, Boston University, Bowdoin, Maine, Yale, RIT, RPI, Colgate, Hamilton, Penn, and Villanova. On the national level, we also compete against teams from Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, and Minnesota, among others.
Is MIT competitive at these tournaments/"bonspiels"?
We’re happy you asked. We’ve qualified for nationals each of the past six years, and have three third place finishes and one-fourth place finish in that time. We were also the 2011 national champions.
Is this primarily a graduate or undergraduate club?
The composition of the team has varied over the years, but recently has been a relatively even mix between graduate students and undergraduates studying everything from chemistry to political science to civil and aeronautical engineering. It’s a great opportunity to meet people you might not otherwise interact with while you’re at MIT.
I've never been curling before. Do I need prior experience to join the club?
Absolutely not! In fact, most people on our team, and on other college curling teams in the Northeast, did not start until they came to college. Our curling facility provides instructors that specifically work with people new to the sport. Also, new curlers are welcome (and encouraged!) to compete with us at regional tournaments right away. These tournaments can be the best way to improve your game quickly through multiple games over the course of the weekend.
Is there any equipment required?
We’ll ask that you bring a clean pair of athletic shoes, so you don’t track dirt from outside onto the ice (curlers are very particular about their ice conditions). It’s also highly recommended that you curl in pants that stretch (sweat pants, yoga pants, or similar). Curling in jeans, while technically possible, is not the most comfortable of experiences. Finally, dressing in layers is helpful. The air is pretty cold (about 40 F / 4 C) but you tend warm up as you play.
The curling-specific equipment will all be provided by the club! That consists of grippers to put over your shoes to gain extra traction on the ice, a step-on Teflon slider that you use while throwing, and a broom.
How much does it cost to join?
We try hard to keep costs as minimal as possible. Trying curling for the first time is absolutely free. If you choose to continue after the first try, we ask for $25 at your second practice to cover the ice fees we pay Broomstones, and $5 every practice after that to help cover transportation costs (gas, rental cars, etc.) up to a maximum of $50 a semester.
Curling in college is a relatively cheap way to learn the sport and improve your skills, as adult membership usually runs hundreds of dollars. If money is in any way an issue, please let us know. We don’t want that to be the reason you don’t curl.
Is transportation provided?
Yes. A few of our members own cars and we carpool to the club every week. If you have a car and are willing to help drive to practices and/or tournaments, please let us know.
That all sounds great, but I’m busy with problem sets, research, other activities, generally being an MIT student... and only think I can come every once in a while. Is that OK?
Totally fine. More than fine, in fact. We have some members who are very into the sport and come to most, if not all of the practices and tournaments, and some others who are much more casual and only come to practice when they can.
At the same time, curling is easy to learn, but hard to master. While you can definitely enjoy yourself if you only come every now and again, coming more regularly really helps if you want to get good. We also encourage everyone on the team to come to at least one tournament, since that’s where you see what the sport is really about, and also when the addiction usually sets in.
I’m an undergrad/grad student/post-doc/researcher/alumnus, can I join?
To play in competitions that qualify for the national championship this year, you have to be a full time student (eiher undergraduate or graduate). If you’re a non-student affiliated with MIT, you’re still welcome to come to practices to learn to play the sport, but you unfortunately can’t join us at the college tournaments.
Sounds like the best club at MIT. How do I get in touch with you?
Very astute observation. You can let us know you're interested (and join the mailing list) by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org .