To help new and intermediate skaters get acclimated to gameplay and learn new tricks and strategies to be effective on the track.
Don’t look at your feet
Bend your knees
Your arms are unnecessary for roller skating
Get natural at transitions
Get comfortable changing levels
Effective derby playing is about space: creating space, clearing space, holding space
Do less than you think you need to
Don’t say you can’t do it. You can do it, you just haven’t yet
Building a base
Updated derby stance (tailbone tucked under, hips low but not too low)
Changing levels to complete hits and leans. Opening ribs/sides to maintain contact
Targeting and Blocking Form: By targeting certain parts on an opponent’s body you can effectively control their body with very little effort. It’s best to maintain contact with your opponent until you’ve moved them where you want them to go.
Chest/sternum: targeting an opponent’s chest or sternum with a solid, sustained push will allow you to move them in the direction you’re pushing. By aiming your hit low and finishing high you can lift them off their base and make them easier to move.
Shoulder sockets: aiming for an opponent’s shoulder near where the arm connects to the torso will cause the opponent’s upper body to twist. By following through with the hit you can force the opponent to open their hips and give up their space. This target works both from the front and back, but when attempting this hit from the rear be careful to make legal contact.
Ribs to armpit: When attacking an opponent from the side start by aiming for their ribs with your shoulder and moving the point of contact up towards their armpit. This will lift your opponent off their base and allow you to move them or knock them over.
Crazy Legs and lateral T push
Push from line to line, ending on your edges
Buddy pushes on your back, you must use your edges and plows to stop them
Picking up the opponent’s leg
From a stopped position, put the top of your thigh under the bottom of their thigh. Position your torso around their waist line. Use your tricep as a brace against their ribs. No pinning of arms or legs. Dip a little, use a small step and stand up to move them out of the way
This is to teach you how to be confident getting from your wheels to your toe stops and back again. To start, break it down into small stages:
Stand still, drop your toe stops
Roll forward slowly, drop your toe stops. Use the momentum to take a step if necessary. This is currently about STOPPING, not moving.
Roll forward slowly, drop your toe stops. Use the momentum to hop straight up. Practice landing on your toe stops or your wheels.
Roll backwards, reach a foot backwards and grab the ground with your toe stop. Use this momentum to move you a couple steps.
To Practice: Start at the jammer line, push twice, transition onto toe stops for multiple steps, transition back to your wheels. You can practice doing this straight forward, backwards, and also so your body is angled when you’re stepping – transition to your toe stops and turn your chest to the inside of the track to run.
Building up the Tripod
Effective butts: lateral movement, getting hips in front
In a tripod formation, the skaters in the two wall need to focus on lateral movement, seaming, and keeping their hips perpendicular to the track. The two wall is the first line of defense when absorbing the jammer’s impact and should attempt to maintain contact with the jammer for as long as possible. Skaters in the two wall should look for offense coming from the front.
Effective bracing: arms on outside, spreading wings, leaning back, one toe stop, avoiding offense
Being an effective brace is about communication, supporting your teammates, and being prepared to make adjustments. The brace should allow their teammates to push into them instead of pushing back into the two wall. This limits the two wall’s mobility and leads to a higher likelihood of direction of gameplay penalties. When bleeding off speed the brace should attempt to use only one toe stop so then can maintain their lateral mobility. The brace should not only communicate where the jammer is moving, but also relay if offense is coming from the rear or sides. If it seems like the jammer will break through or clear the two wall, the brace must be prepared to rotate or break off to catch the jammer and prepare to reform the tripod.
Message me at Derbyamerica at gmail.com or Chief at Anxiety83 at gmail.com if you have questions or need further information!
You know how there are teams and groups where people are willing to go the extra mile, even without threat of punishment? Have you ever seen a rec sport team or a school group where people are putting out information to the public without being asked? Where members are talking up the team in their local coffee shop or favorite dining spot? Where members get sponsors just because they were at their favorite spot and talked to the owner about how great the team is and the owner asked about sponsorship?
You know that feeling when everyone is in for the same goals, everyone feels valued, and they all believe in the mission of the team?
Why should we value the buy-in of our members?
The more a person buys into a team, the more likely they are to perform league duties without being begged, they are more likely to train hard, and are more likely to have a positive attitude at practice. I am speaking of skaters, coaches, announcers, officials, EMTs, and every other piece of the derby pie. We all matter, and we all make the derby machine run. When we feel valued, we are motivated to work harder on and off the track. When your membership works off track the result is:
Increased membership & volunteers
Increased in transfers
Increased membership & volunteer RETENTION
Increased sponsorship opportunities
Increased attendance at games
“I’m happy at practice, and I want to tell everyone, so I do! SQUEE!” When we value our people, and they work harder on the track, the result will be:
More effective practice sessions, thus an improvement in game play
More effective official training, bringing up the level of all who participate
More realistic scrimmage/game situations, with a more complete production element (when you have full officials and announcers show up to a scrimmage night, it is incredible)
Volunteers will travel outside of the league and bring back valuable information and experience to increase the quality of home scrimmages and games.
So how do we increase buy-in of our roller derby league, individual teams, and yearly tournament events?
Do you have rules? By-laws? Stick to them. I don’t care who they are. If you want a special exception to be made, take it to a vote. “But that’s too hard!” It shouldn’t be, because you shouldn’t be breaking the rules to begin with. If you’re going to try to as leadership, you should have to do extra work. By-Laws should be reviewed regularly, and as situations come up within a league culture, the league or representatives of them can discuss actions and revisions. Nothing will destroy the buy-in of your membership like breaking the rules for certain people.
Integrity also needs to be in how we treat one another, on and off the track. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If a league is going to do something, do it. That’s everything from donating money to the charity you’ve partnered with to being honest with skaters who are seeking feedback and a path to charter teams to following through on events and appearances with sponsors.
Let me say it a little clearer: Don’t lie to people. It’s not nice. People won’t trust you.
Training, rosters, staffing changes, vision of the league, finances, and goals of the team are all things to be transparent about. If your charter team suddenly has new faces on it, while your B-team sits in the wings wondering where that person came from … chances are you have some things to come clean about. This goes for other volunteers too:
Let’s say you’re never staffing that announcer who’s actually pretty ok because you want to give your regulars more opportunities, but you never tell that announcer. You just let them keep signing up on the sheet. Maybe you don’t let the newer refs skate during home team games because you would rather bring in outside officials, but you never tell those home team refs what they need to do to improve. These are cases where you need to re-evaluate your communication and transparency about your goals. (‘You’ as in the grander ‘you’ of leadership).
In this sport, we all control our own destiny, we all get to decide what type of team and culture we give our beloved energy and hours for. We just want to know what’s going on. When skaters feel like secrets are being kept from them, resentment grows. Transparency and communication get easier as we practice it. Just like the sport.
Let me say it a little clearer: Don’t lie to people. It’s not nice. People won’t trust you.
There are plenty of studies that show that clutter raises anxiety. It should be no surprise that clutter and frazzle in an organization can have the same effect on its membership. Tryouts, charter changes, rosters, and training models all need to be structured. We crave structure. It keeps us informed, it gives us goals and focus. Structure allows us to be the best player and team possible!
Many leagues only have new skater tryouts during prescribed times of the year to keep the program focused and moving forward. Why not for your charter teams? Why not have quarterly skill checks that double as charter tryouts, but also to give feedback to your skaters so they all know what they should be working on? Some teams fear to change the charter because of seniority, having tryouts a few times a year can alleviate that pressure to not disappoint people. Overall, there needs to be some sort of path to the All-Stars, even if your team is not competitive. It gives people something to shoot for, and can up the commitment of skaters during practices and over the year. Remember that integrity thing I just talked about? Charters, feedback, and roads to higher levels of play are what we need the most honesty about.
Moving to the back-end, structure in your business is critical. If your league or team has shoddy leadership practices or business framework, then money is just going to fall through the cracks, and people are going to transfer as soon as they are brave enough. Lack of leadership or behind-the-scenes organization leads to last minute decisions, people getting left out of the loop, events being mishandled, and people being mistreated. We’ve all seen that league that might play derby well for a while, but their infrastructure is a hot mess and they are constantly turning over people.
Keep in mind: Just because you have structure, like by-laws, it doesn’t mean the work is done. Things need to be able to change over the years to accommodate the shifting trends of your league. I have seen many teams get stuck in the circle of “Well this is how we do it”. It’s fine that it’s how you do it, but is it the most efficient way to do it, or is that way to protect certain people/convenience/because you like it better? This means everything from charter team structure to board structure to captain expectations and behaviors.
Your people are awesome. Seriously. Even that one skater that is always nosing into people’s drama. Or the one that has severe anxiety and ends up doubting themselves by the end of most scrimmage practices. So is that one super bossy one that really is just covering up their insecurity. And the one that is really tiny that you think can’t be a successful jammer but really is. And the one who chatters when they’re nervous. And the one that always looks mad. And the one that is injured.
They’re all awesome.
Guess what isn’t awesome? Telling people that they’re not good enough because they look mad. Or because talk to themselves. Or because don’t hang out at the pool with the team, but watch the derby instead. Or because they officiate. Or because talk a lot. Or because they’re trans. Or because they don’t fit the social norm. Or because they have a kid and can’t travel to outside tournaments to officiate.
Leadership has to put value and believance in all of their people. If you have a charter of 9 or a charter of 19, you have to value every person and build them up. Not just with words, with actions. Pumping them up at practice is necessary, but when it comes to game day, you need to keep up the high fives and positivity.
If you tell your jammer rotation that you DEFINITELY have faith in them, but then turn around and invite skaters from other teams to jam for you on game day – you are not showing that you have confidence. You have just undermined all your effort to build up the buy-in of your skaters because they were just benched for a ‘ringer’ from another team that didn’t practice with the squad all year. You have been shown that they are replaceable, and that a W on the scoreboard means more to leadership than their development and commitment.
If your team only does charter changes when an old friend comes back, while others continually struggle to get attention by the selection team, what motivation does anyone have to improve?
If leadership always gives feedback as, “Well you’re little so…” or “you’re big for a jammer so…” how is that going to make the skater feel valuable? They have just been told that their body is wrong, and so how can they think that leadership believes in them?
If you tell your announcer that they are great, and experienced and valuable, but then never staff them for home games, how long do you think that announcer will stick around?
Now I ask you:
Would you want to brag to your local coffeeshop about your team after these experiences?
Believe in your people and their abilities and you’ll never force someone to question whether they should pass out those flyers or tell their friends to transfer.
When problems do come up (and they will) having an action plan of addressing it in an adult manner is key. Friends of mine who just moved to us from Albany introduced me to the OUCH / OOPS method that I absolutely love. If you hurt someone with something you say or do, you say OUCH. They are then obligated to take a second, digest what has happened, and say OOPS as the acknowledgement. From there you decide if you want to talk it out now, or deal with it later – either with someone or one on one.
We should also keep in mind to assume the best intentions. We have a lot of people in our sport, and a lot of delivery methods in our voices at different times. I speak way differently on the track then I do in coaching mode, with my team, or even with my pod of blockers. Voices are tricky to navigate, we all have different experiences. One person may hear inflection and be unaffected, and another person is going to hear a voice and subconsciously be triggered remembering the way their father would talk to them before hitting them.
We do not just navigate roller derby when we have interpersonal reactions, and we have to keep it in mind. Getting mad that someone misunderstood you only exacerbates the issue. We have to be understanding that people will hear us differently, since some of us just have inflection and cadences that do not always jive in the ears of others. People need to be open to the fact that they may have one of those voices that is going to be misunderstood and work to be understanding (while the people around them need to assume best intentions).
I’m pretty sure over the years that I (and a few of my friends) have been held off of teams, rejected from tournaments, and denied access to the pool because of our voices, cadences, and individuals assuming the worst instead of the best. We have to always strive to do better. I always preach self-assessment. That’s for both sides. Don’t assume the worst. If you have a question, you can always ask. Or OUCH it. That said, think about what you’re saying. How you’re saying it. How you can always say it better or different.
So what can we do? What are some action items to make things better?
Changing a league culture and leadership mentality is not something that happens overnight. Having a team of individuals that create a list of league norms and expectations is very helpful. And don’t just make a list. Talk about them. Post them. ENFORSE THEM. Empower everyone in the league to talk about how to make their time better, and how to hold people to the new norms.
League surveys are also a great easy and quick way to get a beat on the way your skaters are feeling. If you’re not doing one at end and halfway point in the year, you should. Ask the hard questions:
Do you feel valued? Why/why not?
How do you feel the tryout structure could be improved?
Describe the league culture in 5 words.
How long do you see yourself staying with our league? Are you considering transferring?
How would you rate the communication of leadership to skaters?
Are you satisfied with the roles everyone has in the league? How do you think they could improve?
Again these are just some example questions, there are a ton you could ask, just depending on where your league is, and how the vibe of the whole place has been recently.
Keep in mind: Officials, announcers, and individual teams can have their own cultures as well. If the overall culture of the league is healthy and happy, but a sub-culture has undercurrents of turmoil, that could spill over into the league culture eventually. Each team is responsible for creating and maintaining cultural norms within their groups.
If everyone is empowered to make it a happy place, and if issues are dealt with as they come up, and if we all assume the best intentions, and feel valued and heard – why wouldn’t you buy into that league?
I truly believe that no one wants the experience of roller derby to be miserable for anyone, and if the buy-in of a team is low, it’s usually just because the people in leadership don’t realize there is a problem. In all my years, the most recurrent theme I have seen is this:
Leadership does not see the issues on the ground floor because they are not on the ground floor, and the system works great for them. Why would they actively change something that they don’t see as an issue?
So that means it’s up to the people who see the issues to raise the concerns. Be brave enough to come to your board with ideas and ways to solve the problems you see. Or at least ask if you can have a round table with them and some others to talk out personal issues. It’s not always fun. It’s definitely not comfortable, but to increase buy in of all skaters people have to be unafraid to say something.
Increasing how much you care about the buy-in of your league will have great results (maybe not immediate, but over time): More skaters, more sponsors, more people at games, more people promoting the events, more people coming to events, more opportunities to do events, etc etc
Alright so go out there, talk to your friends. Believe in your team. Encourage your volunteers. Hear what people say. Be fearless in the face of change. And go make the best team you can!
Maybe you had never heard of me, until someone posted a blog on your wall, or maybe we’ve played in a mash-up scrimmage together in Morristown, NJ. Perhaps we danced at a H.A.R.D. after party, or you were near me and the Wreckingballs as we did push-ups for Maelstrom at ECDX. Maybe you took one of my classes at RollerCon, or Beat Me Halfway. Maybe you’ve been one of my wellness clients.
Or maybe you’re just hearing of me now.
I coach, write, ref, announce, and skate (when I’m not off-skates for this ACL injury). I am a health coach, crazy cat lady (currently lacking cats), and super passionate about derby, rock climbing, and lifting. I like writing about derby a lot. And a lot of you have enjoyed my blogs over the years!
Perspective Shift challenged the way you thought about weight lifting in your off skates programs. The Four Corners of Derby gave your league some ideas on how to deal with different skill levels of training. You learned some training moves for both blockers and jammers. There was that time that you found a piece about alcohol and its effect on athletes it made you think twice about binge drinking on the weekends. And when your league was going through another meltdown, you read about League Rebuilding, and realized you weren’t alone. And remember when I did all those “HIT & QUIT” features of our MRDA athletes? You were so excited to see someone who doesn’t always get attention, get a little bit of love!
I need to get an ACL brace so that I can progress in my PT and get back on skates in June, before RollerCon. I need a vehicle so I can coach, and also so I can get back to my own training so I’m always bringing the best content to my readers and students.
Blockers have the task of creating unbreakable defense while assisting their jammer through packs of unbreakable defense. Blockers must have their head on a swivel, legs of granite, and the mind of a mathematician. Blocking is more than “Look! A star. I hit them now.” How can you work on your blocking chops? Check it:
Learn how your body works
I’m awkward. No one would ever argue that. My foggy, klutzy way of moving through space developed when I was 10 and just continued through adulthood. One of my favorite jokes is that I’m better on my skates than I am on my sneakers (and it’s funny because it’s true).
I didn’t really start understanding how my body TRULY works until I took two Movement classes for my theatre major in my early 20s. Not only were we challenged to move through space feeling every inch of our body and understanding where the tension and support was coming from, but we were forced to write a weekly movement and action diary. Until you really tune into how your foot placement affects the stretch your triceps, you do not truly understand the mechanics of this wonderful machine we’re all given. We would drop inhibitions in class, with our peers, and just move in the strangest ways we could. And we’d freeze, and we’d FEEL where things were. And we’d move more frantically. And after 45 minutes of this, you start to really understand how it all works on you, because it works a little differently on all of us.
Move. Write it down. Really feel the momentum of the strange dance. Take a couple minutes a day and just move around in strange interpretive dance ways and feel the stretch of your muscles and the support of your soft tissue.
Yoga will help you drive home control of the muscles once you understand how they all connect. I did not know what it really meant to ‘engage my core’ until I started working on inversions. Yoga will help you hone in on muscle awareness and control, it will strengthen your body and your mind. Yoga is not easy, and practicing yoga daily can be a game changer for your flexibility and mental control in stressful situations. If you’re feeling really adventures, get into the world of acroyoga or aerial dance. You will learn how all the muscles in your body work very quickly!
Practice your fancy feet
The biggest misconception I run into about blocking is the idea that blockers don’t need to practice footwork because “I don’t jam”. OK, first of all you DO jam, you just don’t have a target on your helmet.
Secondly, you have to jam in order to be a successful blocker. You need to understand what a jammer goes through when hit by friendly fire, or when team mates continually reform the pack in front of them when they’re trying to break on their initial pass. It feels like what I imagine drowning feels like. By jamming semi-regularly, blockers learn the internal debate within a jammer’s mind, and thus are better prepared to react to them when playing defense.
Tangent. Sorry. (I hate when people say, “Oh no, I don’t jam”. There is no quicker way in a RollerCon scrimmage line for me to hand you a star. You have been warned.)
I say that all blockers are jammers because we often end up at the back of the pack, with the need to get to the front. If you do not know how to get through a wall of blockers, you will be goated and rendered less effective. Actually, a mantra when I jam is: “JUST GET TO THE FRONT”. I’ll say it myself when I take the line (my team mates can vouch). I get to the front all the time as a blocker, so it should be no different when I’m jamming.
Footwork translates to maneuverability. It can be a clusterf***k in the pack sometimes. If you don’t know how to move your body in a way to keep you with your wall, and in a strong position, you will be defeated. You need to be able to smoothly work in your team’s formation and then move around other obstacles that get in your way. If you do not practice your footwork, you will be clunky and slow. You will be more likely to commit a penalty, or simply take yourself away from the action of being effective.
So practice your footwork and put on the star. I promise you won’t die.
In 2011, Oh Chit came to Harrisburg practice, and while doing scenario work, she popped to the front of the pack and began skating backwards. OUR MINDS WERE BLOWN. Slowly, over the next year, we saw more people engaging backwards hits as last ditch efforts to catch a jammer, to protect their point, or to give direction to their wall. It was widely accepted that only the best skaters should be skating backwards, and only after a lot of practice should you utilize a backwards blocking technique in game play. Why? Because derby is really hard. Derby while skating backwards is ridiculously hard.
Today in derby, it’s not uncommon to have skaters turn around specifically TO block. Why?
“I’m better that way.”
No. You aren’t. I’m not even sorry to break this news to you. There are maybe a handful of skaters in the entire world that are better blocking backwards than they are blocking forwards. Even they are exceptional at blocking forwards.
Think of how your body feels when you skate forwards compared to when your backwards. Here’s an insider tip if you haven’t started jamming yet: JAMMERS LOVE SPACE. The way your body balances when you’re skating backwards tends to create space between your hips and the opponent. If you give a jammer space, they will utilize their footwork and levels and get by you (or at least get your point). You can’t combat this with standing straight up, because that just knocks you down on your butt.
“Well I just hit them to stop their momentum!” Yea, that’s great, but what happens if they juke before you touch them, is your lateral backward movement STRONGER than a full speed jammer facing forward?
You might THINK you’re better when you’re backwards, but if you do some self-analysis, you will find that you are probably just more comfortable that way because you can see everything, or maybe because you’re not good at plowing and backwards blocking gets you out of having to use your plows and hips.
Backwards skating is most effective when you do so as a brace for positional blockers, and when you have the strength to support, the awareness to communicate, the mobility move the wall where it needs to go, and the strength to fill gaps with a positional block when jammers start to break through.
Positional blocking also teaches you control. Big swinging hits are fun, but they are a bit of a relic. It is important to know how to make a big hit, and know when a big hit is a necessary technique to engage. Keep in mind that when you swing for the fences on each opportunity, you strike out more often than knock it out of the park.
Positional blocking wins derby.
It keeps your body on their body. When you are sitting on a jammer, you own them. You know where they’re going because the moment they move, you can feel it and react. Plus, when you’re facing forward, your team mates can EASILY come up and support you in a wall, or sweep the jammer out of bounds. When you’re chest-to-chest with a jammer, it’s VERY difficult for team mates to give you the support necessary for success.
So this means: Practice your plows, balance, and control. Stop insisting that you’re better at backwards blocking. You’re not. Practice looking over just one shoulder when you’re positionally blocking: whichever shoulder will open your view to more of the track (so when you’re on the inside line, look over your right shoulder, when you’re on the outside line look over your left shoulder). Being a strong piece of a wall will make you an invaluable piece of any blocking line.
TO PRACTICE: Grab a buddy. One person is the blocker, one is the jammer for a set amount of time. The jammer’s goal is to get around the blocker WHILE MAINTAINING CONTACT. The blocker’s goal is to control the speed of the jammer by keeping them behind, or being able to walk the jammer to the line. Contact must be maintained, and no backwards blocking is allowed. Speed control is a MAJOR focus!
Stop on a dime
Practice your stops until you’re sick of stopping (and then do it more): Two foot plows, one foot plows, 180 toe stops, hockey stops. Not only do you need to be able to stop so that you can control your opponents, but also for pack control.
The second level of derby-brain involves pack strategy. If you cannot stop on a dime, you’re going to make your bridge at 11 feet, not 10. If you can’t stop on a dime, you may end up being a bridge for a crucial few seconds while your team mates are trying to draw the pack to the back. If you can’t stop on a dime, you’re going to be more concerned with stopping in game play, then actually playing the game.
Stopping on a dime allows you to walk a player to the line, but not go out of bounds. Being able to stop on a dime means you can join a wall and not glide past it. Being able to stop on a dime means you’re less likely to get knocked out of bounds, because you aren’t going out of bounds.
If you can’t stop on a dime by yourself, you’ll have a hard time charging into a block and stopping your gained momentum.
TO PRACTICE: Drill this stuff. Repetition, repetition. If you’re having trouble with a two foot plow, try a one foot plow. A one foot plow does not look like a two foot plow, and you’re simply pressing into one foot more. Rather your weight is primarily on one leg, and the other leg shoots in front to apply pressure to the floor through applying pressure directly down on all four wheels (kind of like a kick stand).
If you keep hearing people say “Get lower”, it means you are not activating your core enough. Often we spread our legs out more and think we’re getting lower when we do that because WE see the world get lower. Have someone video tape your plow stops so you can analyze your stance and practice putting your weight and pressures in different spots. “Play with the floor”.
For your 180 toe stops, check out this video (production quality is low, but people have told me has helped).
Always play with the amount of pressure you’re putting into the floor, and practice on different surfaces! (Especially for hockey stops)
Protect the line
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t let a jammer slip by on the inside line, and it is FRUSTRATING. Covering the line doesn’t just mean that you’re standing with your skate on the line and you never move. Derby is dynamic. You need to be able to support your team mates while still confidently protecting that inside lane. Lateral movement and keeping your head on a swivel are critical components for lane 1 defense.
Knowing where the line exists is crucial as well. You have to understand your space on the track. Every time you do a drill, be aware of the line. Respect the line. Just because you’re not ‘in game play’ doesn’t mean you get to cut track, or ignore your boundary. Being conscious of the existence of the line, in every drill, will help your muscle memory and subconscious be aware of the line when it matters most.
When you’re practicing, you should always be diligently keeping tabs of other skaters on the track. Upping your ability to look around and know where people are on the track while doing scenario work will translate to jammer and opponent awareness during game play. If you don’t know where the blockers are, you won’t know that they’re about to throw an offensive block. If you can’t keep track of the jammer, you won’t know that she’s seen you step off of the line.
TO PRACTICE: Work on your lateral movement across different widths of the track. Sarah Hipel has a great video of a cross over step into a slide, which will help you learn how to control change of direction. See it here. Edgework (that fancy feet stuff) will assist you in being able to move across the lanes.
You also need to understand how much room you can leave on the inside (or outside) line when you’re blocking. Don’t be afraid to line it up. When warming up, take a spot with your foot on the line, defending to your max. Now, move laterally with one step (whichever kind of step is most comfortable for you), and stop. That is as much space as you should leave at any point. If you come off the line more than that during game play, it is up to you to communicate to your team mates that you no longer have the line.
Lift heavy things
I won’t spend a ton of time here, since we always are harping on cross training. Lifting heavy is becoming more accepted in our community as an important piece of the cross training puzzle. Without too much physics talk, you can think of it this way: If you can apply 250# of pressure into the floor to lift a bar, do you think your legs will be able to apply a lot more pressure into your wheels to push an opponent out of bounds?
I wrote about changing up our ideas about cross training and weight training in my PERSPECTIVE SHIFT blog. Give it a read if you’re willing after this 3000 word adventure!
Leave your comfort zone behind
Do everything you can that you don’t like doing. Use your left leg to plow stop. Put your butt down lower than you think is necessary when you’re doing a pace line. Practice skills that you’re bad at. Jam. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for blockers to know how to jam. Don’t be afraid to fall. Being a good blocker means being willing to get a little uncomfortable – with your body position, with your endurance work, and with how you receive criticism.
Leave your ego at the door. Receiving criticism is outside of the comfort zone for many athletes. We get so caught up in trying to defend what we were trying to do, that we don’t listen to what our coaches and refs tell us. Instead of retorting when someone says, “Next time do _______”, say “Ok.”.
Have you fouled out for forearms usage, or do you always have team mates asking you to watch your direction while initiating a block? Maybe they’re not crazy. Maybe the refs aren’t out to get you. Maybe you actually do these penalties, and you have been too bull headed to admit that MAYBE you have been making a mistake. You need to step into the discomfort of admitting that you are not perfect and have things to improve. Don’t get angry because you were called on a forearm (again), but consider that maybe your metric for the penalty needs to be adjusted.
It is uncomfortable to be wrong. It’s ok. There is no perfection in derby. We all have things to work on, and everyone on your team wants you to succeed. They’re not telling you things to be mean, they’re telling you things so that you improve.
All the footage, all the derby. I will harp on this in every blog ever because you cannot improve your game unless you open your eyes to ways you can improve your game. If you never see other options of blocking or working with your team, you may get stuck in a rut. It’s possible you’ve been practicing a blocking technique that doesn’t translate to your body. By watching other skaters you will pick up pointers in tactic and skills to improve your own game. The more you understand the game of derby from the outside, the more your eyes will be open on the inside of the pack.
Watch all the derby, even the rulesets you don’t understand. Even the kind of derby you may have no desire to play. Watch it anyway. Understand it. Embrace it.
Your team is on a journey together. You can only work on blocking so much as an individual. You must rely on and trust your team mates to improve. Love and lift each other up. Have on your Big Kid Panties at practice – everyone is learning. If they back block you, tell them outside of the heat of the moment. Don’t call them out when it’s happening. Support and teach each other, and together the whole community will grow!
Now go forth and practice!
Khaos Theory Blog is run completely off my own funds. Make a donation now to keep the blog going!
Thank you to Phantom Photographics for the photos used in this blog. Please visit and support these photogs and more.
Kristie Grey (Merry Khaos) has been playing roller derby since 2009 and has coached almost as long. She has worked with over 20 leagues in 11 states, and five countries. She has coached on and off skates at Beat Me Halfway 2014 & RollerCon (2012-2015). She currently skates with Tampa Roller Derby. Active in health and wellness, she is an active Herbalife Health Coach, rock climber, and power lifter. For questions, booking, requests of topic, or help with a nutrition plan, message Khaos at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com
Not a single skater that has stepped on the track has avoided a blow to their confidence. No matter how long we have skated, no matter how long we have played, reffed, or coached, all of us – at some point – feel the pit in our stomach and wonder, “What is happening?”
Roller derby, whether you’re playing or officiating, is a mental game. Your skills sit on a house of cards known as ‘confidence’. When our confidence is shaken, or we get angry on the track, our skills suffer. How you recover is critical to your effectiveness. If you spend the whole 30 seconds in the box being mad at yourself (or someone else) about a penalty, you will likely not be effective when you re-enter the track.
Steeling your confidence takes diligence. You must practice it the way you practice laps, footwork, apex jumps, and offensive skills. Let’s look at some things you can do to work up your walls both in life, in practice, and when you’re under pressure.
Create a Mantra
Ok, you’ve heard this one before, I’m sure and you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. “A mantra. Yea. OK.” But hear me out : if you create a mantra, a phrase, a motto for life attached to your goals, then throughout the day you can say it to yourself. When you are calm or just happy, repeat it a few times: you’re setting your mind up to associate those words with good feelings.
Quiet, calm, controlled
I am building my life towards my goals
I am not perfect, and that is perfect
I will fly like the Eagle.
You can make it as goofy or as serious as you want, but find a phrase or group of word that resonates with you, and write it on your mirror. Put it on your water bottle. Say it before bed, and when you get up. Then, when you’re struggling with that lift, or you can’t figure out the footwork on a skill, or you feel a penalty against you that wasn’t called – say it then. Calm yourself down. Move forward.
Work on Recognizing When you Get Angry or Flustered
Understanding your emotions off the track can really help you understand them on the track. Many of us walk through our days with emotional blinders on. It takes some internal searching and vulnerability to admit our faults and our buttons.
When you begin to get upset, angry, frustrated, sad – what got you there? Did you rage because you spilled coffee on your shirt, or was it because you spilled coffee on the only shirt you felt body confident in? In which case, it’s not the coffee that you need to work on, but rather feeling better in your skin. Did you feel sad that you weren’t recognized in the meeting at work because you really want praise, or because you know how much work you did and you feel like no one appreciates you?
When we understand the root of our emotion, we can work out the knots. If you constantly look at issues on the surface, you’re never going to fix the problems. Recognizing our deeper issues, and knowing ourselves better can be useful to thwart future negative emotions. Forgiving yourself for transgressions of the past that fuel current insecurities can be very freeing, and can improve your positive outlook overall.
Turn off the TV, Crack Open a Book
Strong mental game comes from positive minds. A study done by the University of Maryland conducted over a 30 year period indicates that those who are unhappy watch more television. They compare it to an opiate that creates a short term positive effect, but a longer term feeling of ‘misery and regret’ (1).
A study done by Emory University also indicates that reading fiction stimulates connectivity in the primary sensory motor region of the brain (ie the part of the brain that deals with motor function and activity) (2). When you think about playing roller derby, you actually activate the same neurons as when you are physically PLAYING roller derby. It’s why we tell you to visualize skills. You strongly visualizing the action and you DOING the action are nearly the same according to your neuron connections. The implication that reading novels could increase the strength of the connections within the brain that control motor functions is great news. It means you can build a stronger physical game by switching off the TV and reading a favorite story.
Finding books in the ‘Personal Development’ section can’t hurt you either. While often criticized for being a money-hungry nonsense, there are many ‘self-help’ style books that will help you peel away the layers of your onion. That whole, “you must learn your triggers” thing mentioned earlier? This is what I’m talking about. The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks is one of my favorites. It is a book about pushing past our own top level of happiness to achieve greater satisfaction in life, and happiness in work, relationships, and health. Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, Do Work that Matters by Jon Acuff is another book to look into. Serious self-development laced with humor will challenge how you think about your work ethic and goal setting.
Study Roller Derby
The good, the bad, the ugly, the awesome: watch it all. Don’t just see the game, see the individual actions of those who are successful and the missteps of those who are not. Re-watch offense, break the defense apart. Look at situations and how players reacted to them. Don’t look at just the formations, but the actual movements of a skater’s shoulders, what their body does to absorb impact, or how their momentum moves when they shift from rolling to running on their toe stops. Go deeper.
You may think that blocker who is facing backwards was successful in her job (Yay look! She knocked the jammer out of bounds!), but did the jammer pass 2 other blockers (and gain points) just because she was facing backwards? Did someone get a multiplayer block because of her formation? Was the jammer able to immediately stand up and swoop to the outside of your ‘successful’ blocker because the blocker had no lateral agility?
Now do the more dangerous thing: Challenge yourself to analyze your own game and ask yourself if you’ve been making the mistakes you see in others. True self-analysis separates the good from the great, because it is scary. It is frightening to admit that we use our forearms to get around blockers, that we leave our skates to make hits when we’re tired, or that our elbows are critical to our [ineffective] backwards blocking style. It is scary to admit that we might be wrong, and that we might have to rewire ourselves to be more effective.
Write it Out
Upset about something? Can’t understand something that happened and it’s frustrating you? Don’t feel productive during the day? Write it out!!
Taking 5-15 minutes at the start of the day to ‘Mind Dump’ is super helpful. Turn off all the noise. Put away the cell phone. Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Set a timer. Now just WRITE. It can be in list form, in prose, or a combination, but just write EVERYTHING in your head! Write what you have to do today. What you wish you had done yesterday. What upset you at practice. What you wish your girlfriend had said when you had argued. Vomit all of the things from your head onto the piece of paper.
Read over it. Create new lists of important things that you can gather from it. And the rest?
ON SKATES PRACTICE
Get to Practice Early and Develop a Routine
Rushing into your practice space and barely getting on the floor in time for warm-ups is not a habit of mentally-strong skaters. Creating a space bubble where you can refocus from your day into derby mode is very important. You can take the time to breath, think about your last practices, think about your current goals, and create goals for the day. You can take the extra minutes to chat up your captains and get feedback, or simply sit and focus on the upcoming challenges as you nom on some last minute energy.
If you start your practice frenzied, you likely will remain that way. So get there early, do a warm up, get your head straight, and most importantly: LEAVE YOUR BAGGAGE AT THE DOOR. I forget who said it first, but I was told to leave all the shit from my day at the door of work, practice, or rehearsals; “Don’t worry, it’ll still be there when you’re done, because no one wants your shit.” Part of an acting warm up we did in college involved invoking this phrase: “I will be here and present. Anything going on in my life will still be there in three hours. I can do nothing about it while I’m here, so there is no use in worrying about it.”
So yea, leave your baggage behind, the 27 in 5 is hard enough without a pack of stuff weighing you down.
Don’t Engage in Gossip
Ok, honestly this could be applied to the ‘real life’ section too. Gossip brings stress and disquiet. Do not engage in the ‘she said, he said’ BS that sometimes comes along with groups of people being in a hobby together. Talk to your friends, interact with your team mates on a social level –it’s a great bonus to this sport we play! We see our team mates more than our other friends.
However, refrain from the toxicity of gossip. Otherwise your mind will be so busy processing how Johnny Ref kind of almost cheated on Jane Ref with Betty Skater, and she’s such a bitch anyway and then you’ll be thinking “oops there goes the jammer”, or “oops was that a cut?” or the worst: “I’m not going on the floor with her.” Skaters and refs that get hung up on gossip and butthurt only keep the team from progressing to the next level of team work. It doesn’t matter who has done what outside of practice. When you play on a team, when you ref on a crew: you are all equals. Don’t let petty BS get in the way of building awesome walls or running a smooth game.
Anyway, what other people choose to do is none of your business. Just skate and let skate! You’ll be happier in the end, I promise.
When you ‘Mess Up’ Recognize the Error, Forgive, and Correct
You are your own worst enemy. Chances are that when you “mess up” in your own head, no one else is as concerned. We’re back to self-recognition on this one. Look at what you did, think about how you could have done better, forgive yourself for the mistake made, and incorporate the new information into executing the drills better. If a team mate offers you advice, or comes to tell you about something that happened in a drill, do not get defensive. Do not talk. Listen. Absorb what they’re saying, don’t immediately spew out the thing you were trying to accomplish; they know what it was. It’s why they’re talking to you right now.
A team mate saying “Don’t turn around”, “you should come to the line in this situation”, or “You keep skating away from us”, isn’t people being mean. Turn off the butthurt and listen to the feedback. Mentally strong players are not defensive. If you are receiving criticism that you feel is backhanded or incorrect based on a solid logic: than thank the skater for their feedback anyway. You do not need to incorporate everything you are told, but should give serious consideration when given feedback; especially if it is not the first time that you’ve heard it. Admit you might be wrong, forgive yourself, and correct it.
As a ref, know that you’re going to make mistakes. Even level 5 refs call off the jam when their jammer isn’t lead, or get hit by ghost blockers while head reffing. Just like with players, take feedback, question every action, and incorporate feedback with a level head and open mind.
Focus on Your Breath During Every Drill
Our breath and heart rate match each other. When we feel out of breath, we pant. When we pant, it triggers panic in our minds, and our heart rate skyrockets. When we are mad, we breath heavier, our mind becomes dizzy, our heart rate rises. Elevated heart rate may be advantageous to an extent for our muscles, reaction, and blood flow, but only to a point. I don’t think I need to reference any of the material out there that says that elevated heart rate and shortness of breath is linked to anxiety, fear, and anger. These are things we do not want you feeling.
During each drill, think about the air you take in and breathe out. Count your breaths, when you come off the track and are short of breath, force yourself to take longer, slower inhalations. When you get called on a penalty, exit the track immediately and instead of wasting your breath on mean words, use your breath to calm your heart. When a team mate says something you don’t appreciate, do not retort. Just breathe.
When at home, a couple times a day (at least), take the longest breath in that you can, hold for as long as you can, and then let it out for as long as you can. It will force you to tune into your lung capacity and how it feels to really be at the end of your air. It will improve your cardio conditioning, because you will be training your heart to work on air less often. When the time comes, you can use this breath practice to bring your heart rate back under control.
For refs, controlling your breath and increasing your endurance means your brain will remain functioning during fast paced and high stress games. You want to keep a clear mind to see each action clearly. Keeping your breath under control is step 1.
Know Why You Are There
Are you playing derby because you love the sport and want to be the best at it you can be? Are you there because you love competition and athleticism? Are you there because your bestie drug you to tryouts? Are you there because you want people to look at you in a certain way when you say, “Oh yea, I play roller derby”? Do you really love the intricacies of the rules and have an interest in keeping skaters safe?
No reason is wrong, however knowing why you’re really there can play into your mental stability when things get hard. When you cannot complete a skill, but you only practice once or twice a week, because you play derby as a recreational hobby to change up your routine, cut yourself some slack. If you are focusing on a skill you’ve had trouble completing, and you’re in the game to be the best the game has to offer, take a step back and look at what you could improve. Maybe break down the skill into smaller pieces and build.
Regardless of why you’re there, sometimes taking a skill to a smaller level can boost the confidence you need to advance. You can’t do a foot to foot transition at speed? Try stepping through your transitions, so that your 180 turns are clean, smooth, and your feet are “on a balance beam” during the transition. Can’t bring an opposing skater to a stop with a plow? Work those plow stops, and have your buddy push gently on your back as you work on controlling your speed and balance. Take it to a place you can be successful, and add difficulty and speed from there.
WHEN YOU’RE UNDER PRESSURE
All of the pieces we’ve talked about come together on game day: forgiving yourself of mistakes, breathing through difficulty, analysis of gameplay, and calming yourself when you want to be frantic. When you study the game, and you think about the game, and you visualize yourself playing the game, your body has an easier time moving through the game. They call it practice for a reason. When the pressure comes on, your body will do what it knows. Your body will default to muscle memory, and emotional memory. If you haven’t practiced 180 toe stops 10000 times, then you won’t execute a 180 toe stop without thinking about it. If you haven’t practiced calming your body down, than you won’t be able to when tension is high on the track and personalities are exploding on the bench.
This is your time to be the rock. This is your time to be the positive force the team needs as an example. You communicate with your walls, which you can do because you haven’t made enemies through gossip. You can last through playing 75% of the jams, because you have worked on your cardio conditioning. You can orchestrate your blockers through complex situations, because you’ve studied the game and asked questions of your coaches. You can celebrate a win, or accept a loss with good graces, because you do not dwell on mistakes, but rather understand that one person does not make a team, and even Gotham loses once in a while.
Read books, watch derby, be nice, breathe more, listen to calming music sometimes, eat food that gives you energy, create a warm up routine, leave your emotional garbage outside the rink, and don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, ask questions, or to challenge your own skills. Don’t be afraid to turn away from a crowd of poisonous people in favor of healthy habits on and off the track. When you are getting frustrated because you can’t do something, bring it back to a level that you will have success and work up from there.
Practice, stay calm, and move forward with an open mind, eager attitude, and love in your heart for yourself, and you will build your mental resistance over time.
Kristie Grey (Merry Khaos) has been playing roller derby since 2009 and has coached almost as long. She has worked with over 20 leagues in 11 states (and Canada). She has coached on and off skates at Beat Me Halfway 2014 & RollerCon (2012-2015). Active in health and wellness, she is an active Herbalife Health Coach and [when the knees allow] rock climber and power lifter. For questions, booking, requests of topic, or help with a nutrition plan, message Khaos at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com
(1) Phys.Org “Unhappy people watch TV, happy people read/socialize, study says” http://phys.org/news/2008-11-unhappy-people-tv-happy-readsocialize.html
(2) Emory University eScienceCommons “A novel look at how stories may change the brain” http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-novel-look-at-how-stories-may-change.html
What song pumps you up? Anything I can sing and dance to. I mostly love acapella with my teammates
What is your favorite city to play derby in? I really loved skating at Craneway Pavillion, in Richmond, CA. It was like something out of a dream.
Who was your first WFTDA derby crush?/Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? I think my first derby crush was Miss Fortune. I wonder how many skaters know that name! Lol!
Which MRDA skater and why? Oh man, that’s hard. I’m a big men’s derby fan. I have so many favorites. I had to choose someone that is not on my Denver team. I fell in love with Dylan Botts and Michael Jensen when I attended my first MRDA Champs in 2013. But to tell you the truth, I fell in love with A LOT of skaters that weekend. The talent in the MRDA is unreal but if I had to choose one, it would be Jamie Williams of Bridgetown Menace. If you want to talk about someone that is inspiring, Jamie Williams is 100% that person.
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? My bedmates are Stacie Wilhelm and her pillow boyfriend she uses to keep her and I apart. She gets me.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? Post game is whatever I can shove in my face the soonest. But I shove it in my face really athletically. Pre-game I love a good eggs benedict in the morning.
What song pumps you up? B.I.N.G.O. by The Puppies. Give it a listen – your life will never be the same.
What is your favorite city to play derby in? I don’t have a favorite city to play in (unless you count Richmond, CA only because of one of B.A.D.’s home venues, the Craneway Pavilion. It’s one of the most gorgeous and scenic venues I’ve ever played in), but I enjoy playing in Florida as it means that my family and more of my friends can watch in person.
Who was your first WFTDA derby crush?/Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? If I recall back to 2011, my first “derby crush” was former DC Rollergirls teammate, Yankee Scandal. So fast and agile on her skates, full of smiles, and such a considerate and supportive teammate.
Honestly, every single member of my team – skaters and coaching staff – inspires me. When you have 20 plus other women pouring in countless hours of sweat and tears to work on their own game as well as team cohesion, practices are intense and can be emotionally and physically draining at times. But they push me to work harder and become a better, stronger, bigger, and faster version of my self with each rep, each drill, and each practice.
Additionally, every blocker I’ve encountered throughout my derby career has inspired me to work harder on footwork, strengthen my drive, and play smarter. Thank you fiercely competitive opponents!
Which MRDA skater and why? Can’t say I’ve ever “derby crushed” on any MRDA skater-gents. I enjoy watching men’s derby though and have played with/against various guys. I think it’s fun and challenges me to adapt and play derby with a slightly different physical and mental approach based on sheer size difference.
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? It changes every trip and I like that. Gives me the chance to bond with more teammates.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? If I have another game that day/weekend, I go for my chocolate almond milk protein shake and something Thai — chicken, rice noodles with some veggies and lots of garlic and ginger.
But if there are no more games to be had, I make it a priority to hunt down a juicy cheeseburger or pizza accompanied by a whiskey beverage, cider, or glass of vino.