Füssen Junior Camp 2018: The Campers

  • Scott Arnold's yellow team enjoying the camp © WCF / Christian Leibbrandt

Feature writer Michael Houston continues his series on the 20th Anniversary of the Füssen junior camp. Here he meets the campers to find out more about its success...

In the run-up to my interview with one of the classes at the Füssen Junior Curling Camp, I did not know what to expect. I often envisaged it as a teacher and student set up similar to my school days where kids would be somewhat silent, and the instructors would hold a more authoritative position in the room. There were elements of that, but the atmosphere of the room was rosier than I even expected from a summer camp.

I’m introduced to the group via a Skype call with instructor, Scott Arnold. It has been 36 hours since the camp has started and yet formalities are yesterday’s business. Before being introduced individually to the 20 curlers in the room, Scott gives a shout out to two of the girls in the group, who he calls the “Norwegian House Mafia”, a play on the famous music group, Swedish House Mafia. It’s clear to see that although there will always be a level of authority, that the instructors and the campers have respect for each other, while also joking around.

Although you have a teacher of sorts, the students are friends with their instructors. Those who know they are going for the last time often stay in contact with them. There are inside jokes that’d be too intrusive to ask about; there is laughing because the teens know each other inside out; and there is a liberal view on voicing your opinion. While in school days many would be worried about being chastised by classmates, here, people are comfortable enough to speak to me without the fear of being judged by their peers. Without a question being answered, I already had an idea of what the kids thought of this place.

In the room, there are ten different nationalities. The usual suspects of Canada, Sweden and Scotland are present, but also smaller curling nations like Hungary are here too. It’s a good mix of young adults who all take curling seriously. Everyone in the class has been curling for at least four years, with the most experienced one being a curler for 12.

Speaking of which, the most-experienced curler has also been here the most times. Czech Dominik Švarc has been at Füssen five times and can still remember his first year at the camp, “It was so amazing because I’m a little bit shy and my English is not so good,” he says, “My first time I was a little bit scared, but I enjoyed it and I’ve made a lot of friends here from different countries. I think my friend from the Czech Republic helped me relax too.”

It’s a similar theme here. The apprehension to fit in can be worrying, but most have dealt with it well. Bor Zelinka, one of Hungary’s top junior curlers, echoed many of Dominik’s points, “I was really scared because it was my first time at camp, but I had friends with me from my country which made it easier,” he says, “We came together and had a lot of fun.

“It helped being on the bus because everyone was sitting having fun and we had games to get to know each other and a lot of activities to help us fit in.”

For first timers, there is a simple solution – steal your friend’s friends. It’s a simple, yet effective technique for becoming familiar with the group as Norway’s Anne Foss found out, “In the beginning it was a little overwhelming, but so far it has been great. My friend Sara [Holmen] has been here before, so I just adopted all her friends.”

Her Norwegian House Mafia teammate Sara is a little more familiar with Füssen. When asked about what she enjoys the most about the camp, she mentions the international friendships made, “It’s about getting to meet a lot of people from all over the world.” When pushed on what her favourite activity is she speaks about Puck curling, which is played out similar to lawn bowls, with a puck being used instead of a jack.

And, there’s a lot more activities to enjoy too when not on the ice. Bor’s teammate, Emilio Spiller, loves a bit of singing and cooking, “I think on Thursday, we have a barbeque party - that’s the most fun part of the camp,” says Emilio enthusiastically, “Plus the bus ride is great. There is music playing and everyone is singing.”

It’s also Emilio’s second year at the camp and says that it was great just to get back and see old friends, “It has been great to see everyone as we haven’t seen each other for a year. We have a Snapchat group too to keep in touch with each other.”

The camp is a lot more than a fun week of hanging out with old friends. It proves beneficial during the summer break for young curlers, “We’re not on the ice very much during the summer,” says Angus Bryce from Scotland, “The national training centre is open all the time but it’s quite a trek.” For Angus, it takes nearly two hours from his home in Kelso, to the national centre in Stirling. Opportunities like this aren’t taken for granted, “It’s a good jump start on the season.”

Chiming in is Germany’s Kris Nonck who adds to Angus’ answer, “It’s good we get to continue our progress and keep getting use of the ice, so we haven’t had to stop our progress over summer.”

Having the facilities is useful, but what has been learned? According to Scott, they’ve learned a lot, but not the Scottish accent as I am often translated by Scott, even to native English speakers. Kris has already seen progress in his sliding, “Today we had some practice on sliding for five minutes where we made minor adjustments to the way that we slide.”

Emilio has seen a mix of healthy eating and technique as important to his development, “Last year we learned a lot about delivery and balance which has improved my technique and it was awesome to talk about nutrition, that was a very interesting part,” he says, “My diet is definitely better than before. If you prepare for a tournament, you have to eat foods like pasta, which has really stuck with me.” As he says this, a Red Bull can is spotted at the seat beside him. I guess it works for some.

Even those from some of curling’s most prestigious families are learning. Benny Kapp, son of Andy Kapp and nephew of Uli Kapp – past European champions – stills finds the camp to be a great source of education, showing its influence, “I’ve learned a lot about nutrition and strategy. You learn so many things and it has been great to improve.”

Again, it’s not just the technical learning that has been useful, but life lessons too, as explained by one of the Canadians in the room, Alex Szeller, “Even though we’re all from different countries we all share similar interests. Even though we’re from different cultures, we can all get along.”

Alex found that out in a surprising way, when she was in a local curling camp in her home country, in a story that shows the universal appeal of Füssen: “We have a camp in Toronto that’s similar to this one, but it’s for Canadians and every year some international kids will come,” says Alex, “There was a guy at the camp last summer who was from Serbia and I had just gone to Füssen a few weeks before.

“I was speaking to him about Füssen because he was European, and it turned out that we had the same friends from the camp, but we had never been at the camp at the same time!

“So then after the camp we exchanged numbers and I ended up showing him around the city and we still text to this day.”

Although Füssen is about learning technique and maintaining a quality of curling that can sometimes fall away over the summer, the life lessons and the friendships made that last a lifetime make it so special to the curlers too.

Alex’s fellow countrywoman, Meesa Lydiate sees it as the perfect opportunity to connect well to some top professionals to continue to progress as an athlete, “For me it was about widening my contacts,” she says, “In Canada you have to fend for yourself. You have to find your team, find your coaches and it’s all about who you know. So, coming here and meeting some Canadian coaches or international coaches and knowing them makes it easier to approach them in the future.”

Whether it be the bonds that Alex has made, the healthy eating that Emilio has undertaken, or the potentially necessary contacts that Meesa has built up, there is so much to take from the Junior Curling Camp. You never leave empty-handed.

You can follow the junior camp and the World Curling Federation on Twitter, Instagram (@worldcurling) and Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) and by searching the hashtags: #curling #wcfcamps

Written by feature writer: Michael Houston