Curling is a game of precision. The two teams involved in a game are vying to have the stone(s) closest to the center of the rings at the conclusion of each “end” (a portion of the game consisting of each team throwing eight stones). Whichever team succeeds is the team that gets the points for that end.
Much of this precision depends on the ability of the team member throwing the stone. However, the sweepers also play an important role.
After a stone is thrown and is proceeding toward the “house” (the targeted set of rings), two teammates usually accompany it down the ice. Known as “sweepers,” these teammates will sweep in front of the stone using brooms.
Sweeping can accomplish three primary purposes:
1. Sweeping clears any dust or debris out of the path of the stone. The slightest object can cause the stone to be diverted off course.
2. Sweeping can make the stone travel farther. If the stone is thrown without enough weight to reach its intend ed target, sweeping can cause enough friction to create a thin layer of water on top of the ice. This allows the stone to travel a little farther than it would have otherwise traveled.
3. Sweeping can make the stone travel in a straighter trajectory. The path a curling stone takes tends to curl (bend) as the stone proceeds down the ice. Sweeping can reduce or delay this curl. This becomes vital when a stone must navigate around other stones to reach its intended destination.
As the stone is traveling down the ice, the skip (the leader of the team) will typically be standing in the house and instructing the sweepers as to when to sweep and how hard. The player who threw the stone may also give instruction to the sweepers.
Occasionally—if the stone appears to need some additional sweeping—the skip may step forward to help the two sweepers.
Once the thrown stone (or any hit stones) crosses the tee line that intersects the center of the rings, the opposing skip may jump in and begin sweeping. In doing so, that skip may be to trying to make a stone travel out of the house and out of play. Alternatively, the skip may be guiding a stone behind or out from behind a guard.
Curling involves a lot of skill and strategy, much of it coming down to sweeping. The ability of a team to sweep effectively can—and most likely will—make the difference between winning and losing.