GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT // ZAMBONI TRAX Curling and cocktails? Sold!

By Brad Whitlock, U.S. Curling News columnist,

great success with their alternative Learn to Curl format they call “Curling and Cocktails.” Sharon wrote me when, earlier this year, I pro-


posed we blow up the old Learn to Curl (LTC) for- mat and get innovative. “In one hour, we teach the basics of curling and then offer the opportunity to play two ends of curling. Aſter coming off the ice the students get a cocktail and snacks while so- cializing with other curling newbies,” says Giese. It turns out Nutmeg is just one of many clubs

that enthusiastically incorporate alcohol in to their LTC events. “Cupid’s Red Hot Curling Party” sounds like

it could go many different directions. But, Bar- bara Feist of the Evergreen Curling Club assures me they get adequate curling instruction accom- plished while having a really good time (all while charging $50 for the experience.) “We send groups out for 30 minutes on the ice initially,” explained Feist. “Ten it’s off to the warm room for drinks, music, hors d’oeuvres, and socializing,” she said. “Aſter that, they’re ready for game play, complete with on-ice music. Evergreen pitches the event as an alternative to the usual humdrum Valentine’s Day romantic dinner routine. You know the drill – you wait forever to get in, then you wait forever to order, then you get over-cooked food. Yeah, we’ve all been there. I’d rather be curling.” Let’s Play a Game!

Many clubs wrote me addressing two points I’d

brought up previously – make sure it’s a fun ex- perience and make sure the new curlers don’t get cold. Tey achieve this by limiting lengthy on-ice times and getting participants into game play as soon as possible. Russ Lemcke of Cape Cod Curling Club has

helped form eight new arena clubs in the north- eastern U.S. “We concentrate on getting them hooked so they’ll sign up right away. Te real training can come later,” he says. Easing newbies into leagues is important, says

Roger Smith of Bismarck’s Capital City Curling Club. “When scheduling LTCs we include one more session where those who signed up for a league are strongly encouraged to return for a

ait! Curling is a beer sport! Yet, Sharon Geise of Nutmeg Curling Club swears they’ve had

more advanced session. Tat would include rules, etiquette, sweeping, traditions and more time on delivery.” Green Bay Curling gets its students quickly in

to games by stretching the LTC over four weeks. Aſter a little bit of instruction, the students get to participate in a four-week “Try It” league where teaching and coaching is mixed in with continu- ous game play, says Harry Maier. Not only is this approach low-key and non-intimidating, it’s a bargain (they only charge $10 per night.) David McDowell of the Fairbanks Curling

Club, a relatively new curler, thinks it’s actually helpful to play first (with minimal instruction), then get a more formal LTC session. “My experi- ence with being on the ice before any LTC course was valuable to me because I needed to find out what I needed to know about curling. I think I would not have gained as much if I took a LTC class during, or before, my first draw.” I suppose that follows the old adage of “you don’t know what you don’t know….” Mini Bonspiel Seals the Deal

One club actually ends their LTC session with

a mini (one game) bonspiel. Still emphasizing fun as well as getting the newbies off the ice to warm up frequently, John Dackaert of the Detroit Curl- ing Club says this has been wildly successful for them. Te bonspiel is part of a LTC program, de- signed by Mike Grudzinski, past club president, and includes discussions, visual aids, handouts, and some video of the pros in action. Dackaert credits the mini bonspiel as the key element to getting new curlers to join the club. “Our success rate in signing up new members AND keeping them for more than a year has steadily increased since Mike introduced the mini bonspiel,” says Dackaert. Several hundred high school students pass

through the Kettle Moraine Curling Club each year as part of their physical education (PE) cur- riculum in Hartland, Wis. Te club spreads the instruction over three sessions of about one hour each. “We try to talk less and do more. Get a rock in their hand,” sums up Jim Ellis of Kettle Mo- raine Curling Club. Being a former high school PE teacher, he’s adept at keeping instruction mov- ing for students with limited amounts of class time. As with Detroit, the new players are hustled into game play and seem to thoroughly enjoy that. And, the club heeds the potential “I’m cold” issue

by taking breaks for refreshments and not staying out on the ice too long. Retention is Key

Of course, all this is for naught if your new

curlers you just groomed don’t return and become members. Many of you emphasized to be sure to put the close on the attendees (in a fun way). Chris Apel, membership director at Milwau-

kee Curling Club, says they try to keep the on-ice instruction at 60-90 minutes at most and then adjourn for food and drink where they use this time to discuss what they’ve just learned and ex- plain membership opportunities. He says, as an example, that in October 2016, they converted 30 percent of their LTC attendees to new members. Blockbuster Success

If you get really good at this, you could end

up like Broomstones Curling Club near Boston. Tey have lines around the block during Olympic times with people waiting to get in to try curling. Tey call it “Olympic Open House.” As Herb Kupchik, former president of Broom-

stones explains, “It started in 2002 and just grew every Olympic year. By 2010, we had 600 people waiting to try out curling. Tey waited in line over an hour in bad weather.” Brian McCafferty, current president of Broomstones, says that by 2014 the club knew they had to streamline the process. So, they had attendees buy tickets on- line with specific time slots to attend the event, park in a lot away from the club where there was plenty of room, and bussed them to the curling club while Broomstone members talked to them about curling. Wow, wouldn’t you like to have those problems?! You might say some of this sounds like “open

house” and not “LTC.” If the idea is to get new blood into the club and grow the membership, then I say who cares what we call it? So tune up your LTC format now. You’ll retain

more curlers, grow your club, and you’ll be ready for the onslaught of Olympic wannabes showing up at your door. Q

USA Curling (( 7

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