curling · family · interview · kids and exercise · team sports

Curling Together: Interview with Dale Curtis and Joanne Tarvit

Joanne Tarvit has grown up curling competitively, just like Dale Curtis, her mother. This interview shares what it’s like for them to curl together as a family, what curling teaches kids, and how women can thrive in curling at any stage of life. The full recorded interview is below the edited transcript.

Would you describe how long you’ve curled and your greatest curling accomplishment? 
Joanne and Dale. Used with permission.

Dale Curtis: I’m not sure I want to say! It’s probably been 55 years. I think I only missed one season when I was living down in the United States. My greatest accomplishment in curling would be when I went to senior women’s nationals in Ottawa as skip. 

Joanne Tarvit: I’ve been curling for 28 years. Mom had me on the ice when I was about 5 and I don’t think I’ve missed a season. My greatest accomplishment in my curling career would be winning back-to-back silver medals at the Canadian National Championship with a group of girls from Brock. They’re a great team.

How long have you curled together, and when did you start?

Joanne: This is our fourth season playing together weekly at the St Thomas Curling Club, but we’ve been playing bonspiels together for 20 years.

Dale: I introduced Jo to curling when she was 3 or 4 years of age. My brother David, her uncle, was Icemaker at two different clubs in Brampton and we lived close together. The ice was installed in September or early October, and I would often help because it can be a 24-hour job. Jo would come with me. David would actually sit her on the rocks and push so she could ride them down the ice! 

Then we got Jo on the ice at 5, and I was an instructor in the Little Rocks program. The rocks the children use are about half the size and weight of the regular rocks that adults throw. It was a bit later, when she was skipping a team of kids at 9 or 10, and was handling the pressure of it all, that I thought, oh she can really do this!

Joanne: At our home curling club in Brampton, it was my mom, uncle, and grandparents as well! I felt a lot of pride knowing that my family was curling there and now, it was my turn. So I absolutely loved it as a kid. I was so lucky that mom was willing to come out, not just for those two hours on a Sunday afternoon for the Little Rocks but really anytime. I would want to go throw and she’d be like, yep let’s go and practice. I had a parent who not only loved the game but was really good at the instruction side of it as well when I was young. 

As I got more into the competitive side of the game, around 12 and 13, I started to feel a little more pressure, but only because our whole family has many provincial championship banners hanging out at the club. It was a constant reminder. At one point in our life we had three generations, all playing on the same team in a bonspiel, so those are some really special memories for us.

What does curling teach kids like Joanne who play at a young age? 

Dale: A curling team is only four players, so the team dynamics are much different than hockey teams or basketball teams. Curling teaches kids about their responsibility to the team, to the importance of committing for the season. 

The game itself is played over at least two hours, so patience is involved, too. When the game is not going your way, you have to learn to control yourself emotionally, to set little goals for yourself. Emotional control is so important because the game is not over until it’s over. Kids have to learn that their body language on the ice affects their teammates. It teaches young people about sportsmanship. So I think curling really does teach a lot of life skill lessons for young people.

Joanne: I will add there is kind of a leadership element to it as well, one that doesn’t necessarily have to come solely from the skill position, like a captain. Every player in curling has a unique role, so they need to be able to bring positivity to their position. Curling has really helped me in many aspects in life, knowing that I can bring something positive to a team or group of friends, or just collaborate well with whoever I work with.

Is it challenging for kids to acquire those self-regulation and interpersonal skills in curling? 

Dale: Yes, and you see it in the youngsters when they’re first starting out. We have a lot of broom banging when kids don’t make their shots or the game isn’t going their way. I think that’s why Jo likes the sweeping aspect to the game rather skip because sweeping offers an emotional release.

Joanne: Absolutely I was a broom slammer. I’ve slowly moved away from it, but every now and then I’ll still let one slip. So self awareness and being able to use strategies to work through that frustration, because you still got another rock to throw or you’ve got six other rocks that you have to have to play. You have to learn to be able to forget quickly. Curling has been the catalyst that has helped me learn that whenever I am stressed or any kind of anxiety comes up, my best release is any kind of physical activity. 

Now that you are both adults, what is it like curling on the same team? 

Joanne: We have been able to play together since I was 10. And now into my 30s being able to do that still and at a fairly good level has been a ton of fun. We could be continuing to do this for the next 20 years if mom wants to. It’s creating memories. We talk about bonspiels and events all the time around the dinner table. I think one thing we do have to be careful is that not everyone in the family curls so not that our dinners shouldn’t be solely about curling, but it does tend to happen.

One thing that’s unique about playing together is that we’ve watched each other play, well, for my entire life, at least, and so we know what it looks like when each other has a really good throw. We are able to provide that deep level of feedback. 

Dale: For me, there’s not too many people that I would even ask about how I’m throwing. Jo’s coaching and training has given her as much of a critical eye as I have, I would say. So I trust the feedback I’m getting from her, probably more than anybody else in the club.

When I’m skipping and Jo’s throwing I trying to give her feedback as to what I’m seeing. I can be far more direct with Jo, and possibly not always as positive, in part because most other people are not curling at the same level that Jo is. So I think, maybe that comes with the territory—the higher elite curlers want more direct feedback.

Joanne: Once in awhile it’d be nice to know that I’m doing something right, mom! [laughs]

But, yeah, every game we play is an opportunity to practice and to learn. Mom has a very important competition coming up, so I have been trying to use these games to remind her of habits for keeping sharp. It’s a long season, and you can get what we call “lazy on technique.” So, I help to support her competitive game when we play.

Are there advantages or disadvantages playing together as mother and daughter?

Joanne: Like any kind of teammate, any relationship dynamic, you’re going to have good days and you’re going to have your bad days. There’s the odd day that we’re really not on the same page, and there’s frustration there. But I think, because we’re family, it rolls off the shoulder, so we’re like, “All right well, love ya.”

Having played with mom and watching her, I know her body language and style of strategy. When it comes to calling shots not a whole lot has to be said at times. But I’m also really comfortable at letting her know when I don’t think that’s the call here, and we should go with something else.

Dale: We know each other so well that I think that, at times, our emotions aren’t as much in check with each other as they would be with another teammate. We can be more raw with each other. If I’m in a bad mood, Joanne’s going to know about it, whereas if it was another teammate they may not know that I was in a bad mood as much.

Why is curling a good sport for fitness and health? 

Dale: Curling is a wonderful sport to get involved in from a social aspect and from a fitness aspect. It is something you can do at any time during your life that you know we can adapt body types, to the skill at any at any age.

Joanne: Yes, the incredible thing about it is that you can start when you’re five or you can start when you’re 60. It’s a welcoming sport—there’s a spot for everybody in curling. And it’s more of a workout than most people think actually! I know when I come up from sweeping I’m usually huffing and puffing and working to get my heart rate back down.

The amount of empowerment that really comes with playing as a female I think is a ton of fun, because we can play the game right alongside the men, right alongside anybody. It really doesn’t really make a difference who you are in this sport. Everyone can play.

How important are role models for women who curl? 

Joanne: Growing up as a young female we always were able to watch the Scotties, which is the national curling event. It always had air time and it was on every single year, and I think that’s unique when it comes to women in sport. For young girls who are playing hockey, I feel like the only time they get to see their idols play is every four years of the Olympics. So I felt very fortunate that I got to watch my idols every year compete at the Scotties and they’ve just constantly been adding women’s events to slams. Today, it seems like once a month you’re watching women on TV play. Other women play on TV, so I had something to watch and strive for.

Dale: I sort of went through the same thing when I was growing up. My mother ran the junior program at our club. I played with my mother in a regular league at the club for many, many years, and we did bonspiels together. It’s part of our family tradition that we’ve grown up with, and I’ve learned that nothing has to stop curling! I remember when my brother and I would miss our family Christmas dinners because we’d be playing or training and it was never really questioned. We were supported.

No matter what your life situation is, you should still be able to play. I curled when I was pregnant. As long as you’re healthy, you can just modify your delivery a bit so there’s no issue. I mean your body balance is actually lower as you go through your pregnancy, so it makes it quite easy really as long as you’re healthy and can keep your leg strength up. It’s great!

Joanne: Yeah I blame mum for my cold hands and feet, nowadays, because she played so long into her pregnancy with me that I was so close to the ice all the time!

What’s one piece of advice you have for each other about curling? 
Elan, Joanne, and Dale

Dale: I just hope that if Jo wants to continue her competitive path that she’s able to find a team that can showcase her talent, whether she makes it to the Scotties or whatever. I hope she continues to love the game and pursue what she loves. Whether it takes her to a high competitive area, or to continue doing club curling, she should do what she is passionate about.

Joanne: For mom’s upcoming competition, I’d say just soak up the experience! I know how competitive my mom is because I get it from her. So I say enjoy it and not worry too much about the wins and losses. They’re going to come either way because it’s sport and it happens. You’re playing on a world stage, so make memories and enjoy every single moment of fun.

Oh, and have a good sharp release every time.

See the full video recording of our interview [32:50].

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