Feature: Inspiring the next generation of curlers

  • Young fans getting autographs at St Jakobshalle Photo: WCF / Richard Gray

As the very best curlers are competing for the World Men’s Curling Championship 2016 title, there are countless young curling fans watching at home or in the stands of the St-Jakobshalle in admiration.

Switzerland has hosted a total of nine World Curling Championships two of which have been in Basel.

SWISSCURLING (Swiss Curling Association) is made up of 160 clubs, and approximately 8,000 registered curlers who curl in 44 Curling Rinks and 20 open-air rinks.

World Curling Federation sports journalism trainee, Marilyn Santucci, asks: how do SWISSCURLING encourage the next generation to participate in the sport?

Patrick Kaeser is a former world junior curler, who now works as sponsoring manager for Swiss National Television. Kaeser also works with SWISSCURLING. He is head coach for Youth Olympic events, head coach for junior summer camps and trainer and coach for the national junior squad.

According to Kaeser, in order for curling to gain popularity in Switzerland, it needs to set itself apart from other sports.

“There was a big change in curling in the past few years – our sport is more professional, it’s more athletic and it’s more entertaining then some years ago. This change was important and I hope this will go ahead like this. Due to the big amount of different and new sports, we have to fight for an interesting curling worldwide. If we cannot make our sport more popular the interest will go down quite fast,” he said.

In order to raise interest with the younger Swiss demographic, programs and other initiatives have been created to target this market.

“At the moment there is no large national campaign from the National Curling Association to bring kids to curling. But a lot of local curling clubs put a lot of work and enthusiasm to promote curling in their region. As an example, a lot of clubs organise local school sport activities. The curling rink of Berne [largest club in Switzerland] invited 20 school classes for a free curling lessons last season. The demand was great,” he said.

He continued, “Marco Battilana, head junior coach from SWISSCURLING will put more focus to some projects which brings more kids and young people to our sport in the next few seasons.”

2015 World Women's curling champion, Nadine Lehmann, a Swiss curler who currently plays third for Team Alina Paetz, is also in Basel to take in the action.

When asked what she thinks would help encourage youth to participate in curling, she expressed that taking advantage of big events like the World Men’s Curling Championship is key.

She said: “I think such a big event here in Switzerland is a good option for schools to have classes at the arena. Teachers bring the students here to watch curling, so the kids can see the players and talk to them. This is a good way to show young people what curling is.”

She continued, “they should do more on-ice activities with the kids. They play football with them, and I think they should go on the ice and play curling with them as well.”

Swiss curler Yannick Schwaller, who is the 2014 world junior curling champion, sees a rise in interest among youth. “I think most young curling players come to the sport because of their family, but I think Swiss curling has seen a lot more curlers in the past year,” he said.

Stephan Schaub, former Curlingzentrum Region Basel curling school director, in Arlesheim, has seen a constant growth in Swiss curling for some time now.

He said: “I think it’s growing like it grew 15 years ago. The difference is on one side, younger people are interested in playing and a lot of people are too old now so they have to stop. This is why the curling population is more or less the same size. I think that’s a good sign because 20 years ago, nearly every curler was 40 years or older and I think more and more curling players will be mixed.”

In winter for example, the curling school in Arlesheim offers curling sessions for young curlers once a week. Every Wednesday there is a junior afternoon and children from primary school and high school can go and practice.

At the same time, Schaub doesn’t necessarily see the purpose of recruiting large number of young curlers,

“I think this is a good curling motto: quality before quantity. I think Switzerland in its entirety is this motto, quality and not quantity,” he said.

All in all, Patrick Kaeser sees the potential of hosting word class curling events, like the Men’s World Championship, in Switzerland,

“Large curling events like the European Championship in Champéry and the Worlds in Basel are very important for support curling in Switzerland,” he concluded.

by Marilyn Santucci, Journalism Sport Media Trainee