Tuesday 22 November 2016
Curling is often stereotyped as the old man’s game, but Scotland are determined to flip this old chestnut on its head, with their legacy programme, aiming to invest in the future of the sport.
The Le Gruyère European Curling Championships 2016 is their first international event in four years and is aiming to increase engagement among youngsters by giving school children the opportunity to watch some of Europe’s best curlers at the games – in the hope that they can inspire more children to take up the sport.
Ailidh Hood, who is the Development Manager of Scotland’s curling body, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club (RCCC), has been in charge of the project and is encouraged by what she has seen so far.
“The kids are loving it, they’re singing the chants, they’re waving their flags and they’ve been engaging with it so far. There’s a lot of school teachers asking how they can get their kids to try curling themselves which is really what the whole point of this was,” she says.
From the Monday (21 November) to the Wednesday (23 November) of the tournament, around 2,500 school children from 62 schools across Scotland came to cheer on the home nation, creating a roaring atmosphere at the intu Braehead Arena, in Renfrewshire, Scotland.
The presence of the school children is rubbing off on the players too. Sweden’s skip and current European Champion, Niklas Edin, has certainly found the noise an extra element to take into consideration.
“You definitely need to think about how you communicate out there,” said Edin.
“You need to speak a bit louder and think about which words to use, maybe not communicate as much as you would regularly since a lot of it will get lost. It’s really great to have such a large crowd out here though.”
It may be difficult for the curlers to hear each other in the wall of noise coming from the youngsters, but Ailidh says that their passion ‘brings life to the event’.
“The kids bring a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of spirit with them. That’s why they have the flags and the song sheets for chants. We’re using the kids as well as they’re benefiting from it to create an atmosphere and to push forward with the future as well.”
However, getting the kids to come into the arena and cause a commotion is only a small part of Ailidh’s role. She oversees the development of curling across Scotland as well as run initiatives nationally to increase youth participation, with two of these projects, Curling’s Cool and Try Curling, being their main focuses.
“First of all, Curling’s Cool is run for around five or six sessions for Primary six and seven children (aged nine to 11),” said Ailidh, “The first session we send a development officer out to the school who engages with the pupils, lets them know about curling and come down to the nearest ice rink to learn the basics.
“The idea is that the end of the six-week bloc they’ll be assigned to either an after school club or the local junior clubs so we hope that they will transfer onto that.
“Try Curling is a nationwide initiative which you can go to on our website www.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org/ - and find your local curling rink and it will tell you where and when the Try Curling sessions are.
“They are free for juniors and around £2-3 for adults and they last about an hour which lets people get on the ice, get a shot at curling and lets them know about other opportunities.”
Going back to the cheering children, Ailidh hopes that these championships will inspire those to become the next generation of Scottish curlers and get them interested in a forever growing sport that is attracting a younger audience.
“The good thing about the kids coming along is you can see that it’s young bodies out on the ice. International athletes are young, they’re elite and they’re actively taking part so we like to use them as role models, as well to go out to the schools to show them that it’s not an ageing sport,” concluded Ailidh.
by Michael Houston, World Curling Federation feature writer