RC 19 On Track Teamwork

RollerCon 2019 with Merry Khaos, at MVP5 on Wednesday at 5:20pm

This is my outline before the class goes off. Things may change during the class, in which case I will come back in and edit. For now… enjoy!

 

Objectives

To help skaters learn how to work with each other better on the track, and to understand that teamwork takes time and patience to build

 

Focus

  • Understanding where the other people are on the track
  • Learning that if you know what your teammates are going to do, then if you get caught they will be able to survive without out (and vice versa)
  • Teamwork = success
  • Look at each other, not the floor
  • Fluid movements
  • Always going to the next thing

 

Reminders:

Teamwork takes time! Neon Genesis Evangelion, Voltron, Korra (pro-bending) all have episodes that show how hard it is to achieve high-level teamwork, because it’s not all about you. So don’t beat yourself up if you and your buddies just aren’t syncing all the time.

 

Warm-Up (in pairs):

  • One foot slaloms, but in sync
  • Leg openers (again, in sync, and within easy arm-reach of your buddy)
  • Transitions
  • “Sprint” around the track, but at each corner, you’re switching sides
  • Mirror drill: Pairs will face the same direction, about an arm length apart. The person in front “leads”. They must stay within the track, and can move within a 5-10 ft rectangle (depending on how much space we have). They may do any move.

 

Spoke of the Wheel

Lines of 4 (or more if I need)

Goal: Keep a wall while moving around the track. 

Secondary goal: On whistle blast, inside drops to outside, with line filling the gap

 

Groups of 4

Box Drill Round 1:

  • 1 whistle rotate right
  • 2 whistle rotate left
  • Long whistle speed up
  • 4 whistles stop

 

Round 2:

  • 1 whistle front skaters transition
  • 2 whitle front & back swap
  • Long whistle switch line (outside/inside)
  • 4 whistles stop

 

Triangle Drill

Round 1: Whistle indicates switching from inside to outside line WITHOUT rotation

Round 2: Whistle indicates rotation 

Round 3: Add a jammer who will pop off and challenge different parts of the track, triangle must adjust

 

If there is time

 

Pacelines 

  • Pairs will trade spots between each pair of the paceline. The person on the outside goes behind the person coming from the inside
  • Pairs race to the front of the line and plow stop in front in sync, and matching the pace of the line

 

Header photo by Phantom Photographics

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Derby Lessons from the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup

I recently got home from my latest gypsy romp in the world of roller derby, starting in Calgary, Alberta and ending in the grand Las Vegas derby mecca of RollerCon. I watched, I studied, I contemplated, I watched again. Not only did I learn a lot through watching the elite athletes from 20 nations, but it hit me in the derby feels. There was more than just tactic and technique I saw, and after a few weeks to let it all settle,  I wanted to share with you all things I realized through the adventure in Calgary. Editing note: Please excuse formatting inconsistency. WordPress continues to be the worst platform in which to write and create. 😀

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Fans during Finland v. England. Photo by John Hesse

Here are my take aways from the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup in Calgary, Alberta:

  1. Bashing the snot out of each other on the track isn’t always the most effective derby strategy – unless you can mix in control… then it’s highly successful

Germany, Argentina, Mexico, Finland, Italy – they are bruisers. They are teams with hard hits and fast feet. Their blockers will leave welts the size of a softball with ease. They play the “let’s kick their ass” game. Teams like USA, Canada, England, Scotland, Belgium are just as brutal and imposing, but there is a game play different: they beat their opponents to a slower speed and then catch them in a net of positional blocking. The successful teams at the World Cup were able to balance brutality and control.

Just trying to beat a jammer senseless alone often has the undesired result of pushing them forward and through the pack like a pinball. I watched many jammers face (what I call) a turnstile of blockers facing backwards. The blockers would, one at a time, take a ding at the jammer, who would rebound off the hit, regain their feet, collect the point and move onto the next. It wasn’t successful at stopping them, merely bounced them about a bit.

 

USA MRDA
Team USA is successful through their use of power to slow a target, and then controlled blocking to maintain power, as demonstrated by Percy Controll and Cory Pain

From a jammer perspective, the skaters who were able to use their shoulders like jack hammers to bully their way through a wall, around an edge, or to level a backwards blocker were the ones who scored a lot of points. AS LONG AS they had the footwork to capitalize on the hole. I would see jammers come in hot to a pack and use their shoulders to drill a hole, or duck to get around a pack, but without the proper burst to get past the blockers, they would end up as a smear on the concrete.

Ireland Japan
Noblet comes in hot and uses his shoulders and power to push out the Japanese blocker. Photo by Brangwyn Jones
  1. Offense is a thing

If anyone from Puerto Rico or the Netherlands are reading this they’ll flash back to me LOSING MY MIND during NO-ffense. When blockers watch their jammers get beat to hell on power jams it makes me very protective of those jammers. Yes, sometimes they need to do it for themselves, but sometimes you need to stop the tough love thing and HELP. You have 30ish seconds with which to score as many points as humanly possible. “Blockers make points, jammers collect them.” (Smarty Pants) So go make some goddamn points!!!

Plus, you only have so many jammers. Protect them like they are delicate lilies; whether it’s day 1 of a 4 day tournament or the 7th and last game of the weekend.

 

  1. Americans are super lucky that the rest of the world speaks multiple languages.

So many times I had people come to the Elite booth that were from Europe (and not England) and they spoke fluent English. Actually, most of the teams were made up of people who spoke multiple languages. Every now and again I’d have someone come up who was not English speaker, and I felt dumb and lost. Dammit, Americans: Teach your kids multiple languages! I have made so many friends from the World Cup because they happen to speak my language.

netherlands, mrda
Myself and my new friends from The Netherlands (from left): YouPiler, Slaapzack, and Lone Star. Thank goodness the Dutch speak so many languages!!
  1. Champ UnKind and I agree: Uptown Funk should be played during every half time

Why? Having to do with #3, dancing breaks borders. There is nothing more phenomenal than a Sunday morning early bout and seeing participants from the Netherlands, Spain, and Puerto Rico grooving together. Hell, maybe if Uptown Funk was played in the streets we’d all love each other more because we’d see that we’re all the same. And we just wanna dance.

Want to see why? Check out the short video I shot. Nice moves, Spain!

  1. After hours, don’t trust the shirts on the backs of MRDA players

I kind of knew this already, but after several “Oops I’m an asshole” moments [that I was able to play off (thank you, white wine)] I learned to ask this question first: “Are you actually Flustercluck or is your jersey lying?”

Honestly, I love the tradition of swapping jerseys! It shows community and camaraderie that stretches across oceans. I kind of wish WFTDA skaters did this. A few of the men I talked to were confused as to why we don’t. Maybe we’re too protective over our kits. It’s a thing of pride and friendship to swap out at the end of a hard tournament with someone you respect. But yea, always ask if the person in the jersey is the one whose name is on the back.

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Disaster Chief (Puerto Rico) and Jamie Gray (Ireland) are lying to you.
  1. THE KEY TO SURVING THE LAVA AS A JAMMER….

Ok, so my big Sherlock mystery from this weekend has been this question: “Why are some jammers so successful taking outside lines, while others get splattered when they try to do [what seems to be] the same technique?”

As I have been re-watching games, I have spent most of my energy looking into this. The jammers of Team England, particularly Sully, Fish, Alien Al, and Giggity all were able to attack the lava (the absolute edge of the track/tape) and come out on the other side often unscathed. Meanwhile, teams like Italy and Japan had jammers that would attack in a similar style and get constantly recycled.

alien al team england
Alien Al, yet again navigating the edges successfully; without heed to opponents or physics. Photo by John Hesse

The first thing I noticed as a difference is the acceleration going past engaging blockers. Team England jammers are excellent at bursting with speed a split second before passing opponents, which throws off the blocker’s timing. To achieve this, more pressure most be applied into a toe stop or edges as the blocker you’re attempting to pass is ALMOST hitting you. The chance of survival increases significantly when the burst is timed so, while other jammers would get flattened for their hesitation.

The second part that I noticed (and it was Finland that helped me realize), is that many jammers turn their hips to open into a transition a moment too soon. The result is that they are trying to get past a blocker either A) after they have completed their turn, so their hips are a wider target to the incoming blocker or B) After the momentum from the torque of their initial turn has been lost, so the jammer does not have enough energy to counterblock the energy being put into them by the blocker.

team england MRDA
Sully turns his hips to curve around the Finland blocker and (what photos can’t show you), pops off of the planted to stop to snap his hips around the wall before they can push him out. Photo by John Hesse

Ok, let me say that again:

If you turn too early, your hips are going to be square to the track and you’ll be skating in the opposite direction, when you are hit. OR if you turn too early, you will have lost extra energy you gain while spinning. When you are driving, and you make a sudden, sharp turn you feel the inertia playing on your body, right? You feel more force driving you, don’t you? (Protip: It’s not centrifugal that’s a made up word). That’s angular acceleration, and you want more of that happening when Optimus Grime is coming at you full force with dreams of Gold shining in his eyes. Want to know more about the physics I’m talking about? Just go watch this video.

When you watch game play these are minuscule adjustments. I can only guess that the timing change comes through diligence, IMMENSE body control, brevity, and a squad of mercenaries to practice against. Rolling off a hit from Sutton Impact hurts a lot less than taking it square in the ribs, so your body learns and adapts.

^ It may seem to you a basic realization, but finally seeing it with my own eyes made a world of difference. Now to practice it………

France men's roller derby
Poupa Test of France hits his toe stops hard before shuffling further. Photo by Orel Kichigai
  1. International superstars don’t mean everything to a team

Who wasn’t dazzled by Sausarge Rolls, Bled Zepplin, Reaper, Pibe, or Tank? These are men known on the international stage. There were plenty of derby celebs dancing around at World Cup, infamous for their strength, smarts, and prowess. However, there were also a lot of teams with names unknown that pulled together when the time was right and stunned us all.

Mexico came out with skates blazing against Canada, causing everyone to rush to track 2 to see what was going on. Chile, after a hard time in their group play, stunned us all by beating Spain by double. Puerto Rico’s final game involved coming back from a 50 point difference, and holding the game to an 8 point differential at the end, even as 4 of their ‘star’ players fouled out from the game. It was awe-inspiring to watch a pack of 5 people who had barely known each other before the weekend, a few of whom had barely played entire derby bouts in their life, come together into strong defense and rally to keep Italy on their toes and out of bounds.

Team Chile Men's Roller Derby
Team Chile making a diamond against Team England. Don’t underestimate the ‘little guys’. Photo by John Hesse

Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Belgium all played tremendous derby throughout the weekend. Some names rang familiar, but the world now has solid memory of skaters previously unknown to them. These teams came in without huge superstars, and played well together, and did amazing things on the track. They created new derby celebs in the likes of Ashby, Lt Damn, Optimus Grime, Track Vadar, Jones, Skate Plissken, Roche, and Trick or Threat. Ok and please know there are a TON more skaters that I want to recognize, but I don’t want this to become a blog of names ❤

The point is this: yes, having tried and true players on your team is awesome, but don't get hung up on them. I've seen too many teams panic when their star player can't make it to a game, or gets injured. Every single one of us can do amazing things when we pull together with our squad and work as a team. Don't undervalue 'the little guys' in your league. Lift them up and expect the best out of them, and they will give it.

 

  1. “You can either yell about the call or play derby. I suggest you play derby.”

I had to say/yell this at least 12 times during the Cup. Ok we all get peeved on rules stuff. We all see things happen or [not] get called that makes us go “DAFAQ REFS?” however when you’re in the middle of a jam, that is not the right time to stop what you’re doing to throw your hands in the air in disgust. Play the game. Control what you can control. You standing in the middle of the track signaling for a forearm penalty is not going to put the ref in the position to have seen it 5 seconds ago. Move on. Skate hard.

puerto rico
Really, Disaster Chief? France isn’t going to take it easier on you! 😀 Photo by Orel Kichigai
  1. ONE HAND IS EVERYTHING

Dear folks who have mastered the ‘one hand out of bounds’ thing: TEACH ME YOUR GODDAMN JEDI WAYS. I know that a ton of folks have used this since the clarification came out. I was impressed by how many jammers got knocked backwards, caught themselves with one hand VERY out of bounds, only to regain their skates after the blocker had triumphantly removed themself from the ENTIRE PACK thinking a cut was imminent. The jammer, meanwhile, skates forward to freedom. I think Rollomite had the move patented by the end of the weekend.

WORK ON BALANCE PEOPLE! And back bridges apparently…

  1. Even if you don’t leave with a medal, you still win at the World Cup

The amount of stories of pride I’ve heard during the event and since brings tears to my eyes. The people who have met new friends, taken on derby legends, and scored little victories with a team of their nation is remarkable. The officials, photogs, announcers, vendors, EMTs, volunteers are not left unaffected. To watch Japan get their first win, to watch Argentina who were the little guys of 2014 finish 6th, witnessing Mexico coming out of the gate with something to prove, to see Australia unseat Canada on the podium, to see England give the USA a run for their money, to witness all the apex jumps, tremendous blocks, and incredible timing, to be in the room when so many proposals happened … it leaves a mark on you. Every person who was a part of the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup in Calgary, Alberta will have friends around the world for the rest of their lives. We took care of each other, cheered, danced, had our hearts broken, and triumphed as one.

If there’s anything I regret about the World Cup is that I couldn’t be on both tracks all the time, and there are some teams I didn’t get to watch as much as others. But that’s ok! 2018 isn’t far away. You should go like the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup on Facebook, and maybe host the next one…..

Netherlands
Anita of the Netherlands. The face says it all. Photo by Brangwyn Jones
Thank you Chinook City Roller Derby. Thank you Roller Derby Elite. Thank you nations of the world. Thank you roller derby for being the best thing that has ever entered my life. It’s hard to believe that my World Cup experience was followed up by as equally of humbling of a RollerCon experience… but I think I’ll save that for another blog.
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Team Belgium during opening ceremonies just one of many teams super stoked to be there! Photo by John Hesse

Thank you to the photogs that let me use their work in this blog! Go visit Brangwyn Jones, Orel Kichigai, and John Hesse!!

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Canada was a fantastic host during the MRDWC, eh? Photo by John Hesse

Khaos Theory Blog is run completely off my own funds. Make a donation now to keep the blog going! 
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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

Continue reading “Derby Lessons from the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup”

So you wanna be a blocker…

Let’s just admit it: Hitting people is fun.

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:

  1. 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.

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Yoga is excellent for body awareness

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!

  1. 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.

London versus Victorian
Footwork in combination with strength is what makes a blocker truly a threat. Photo by Phantom Photographics

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.

TO PRACTICE: Check out some starter footwork on my YouTube channel.

  1. Positional blocking wins derby

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.

Rose City and London
Keeping your hips in front means you control the jammer, you protect your point, and you have more mobility. Photo by Phantom Photographics

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.

Chef MRDA
Chef offers his two wall support by letting them brace on him. If Mohawk Down starts to break through or hits an edge, Chef has the mobility to fill the gap and stop him from progressing. Photo by Phantom Photographics

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.

Pittsburgh and Tampa
Lily the Kid positionally blocks Snot Rocket Science, giving Alli Kat Scratch the space she needs to trap, and potentially sweep Snot out of bounds. Photo by Phantom Photographics

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!

  1. 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.

blocking gotham girls
Violet Knockout is a joy to watch stop on a dime. Her strength in her plow translates to her strength her positional blocking. Photo by Phantom Photographics

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)

  1. 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.

dub city gold coast
Sometimes, even when you think you have the line, a jammer can slide through. Timing and body position is critical for stopping a sneaky jammer. Photo by Phantom Photographics

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.

  1. 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!

  1. 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.”.

bay area wftda
Bay Area’s flat walls are infamous. Team work and trust  are foundations of their work. Photo by Phantom Photographics

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.

  1. Watch footage

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.

Final thoughts…

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!

orlando roller derby
Supporting your derby family as they practice is super important. Lift each other up, give helpful suggestions, and grow together. Photo by Phantom Photographics

Khaos Theory Blog is run completely off my own funds. Make a donation now to keep the blog going! 
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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

Continue reading “So you wanna be a blocker…”

Stuck in the Middle with You – Merry Khaos Class Notes

I got to revisit this class at BEAT ME HALFWAY in 2014, so I’ve gone through the original notes and added in some stuff we did at BMH, but kept in the stuff we did at RC 2014. 😀 Anything BOLD is new content. There’s not too much. 

I used to be a big fish in a small pond. I thought I was advanced because of how many points I would rack up during games, because of my jammer differential, because of my lead jam percentage, because I could own opposing players with my team. Then I transferred to a Top 20 team and, though I knew I was in for a humbling, I didn’t realize how humbling it would be.

It was awesome.

I have improved so much in the last year through changing my training program up and skating with Charm City Roller Girls (and now Tampa Roller Derby and Tampa Bay Men’s Roller Derby!). I designed this class to pass along the things I’ve done in the last year to take me from true Intermediate to a low-to-mid Advanced roller derby player.

Here is the video that compliments this blog!

TOE STOP SIDE RUN

Each skater approaches the lane on their wheels and must quickly transition to the toe stops, side step (preferably with the grapevine step) through the cones, and then burst out of the cones back onto wheels. When sidestepping, skaters should be facing the interior of the track.

If you have many skaters, make lines before each set of cones and have skaters rotate between inside and outside line as they go through. Skaters should challenge themselves to be as close to the line as possible. Think about where you are looking (not at the ground!), how straight are your legs (knees need to be bent a bit), and how easily you can drop your toe stops (they may need to be lowered).

AMENDMENT: If running on your toe stops is super easy, try different ways of running the line – forward, side shuffle, side-step crossover, and also BACKWARDS through the cones! Try all the new things!

How to set up the toe stop run cones
How to set up the toe stop run cones

BACKWARDS LATERALS

Using the cone pattern shown below, skaters have to move backwards to each cone. THEY SHOULD NOT SHUFFLE STEP, they should use backwards crossovers to get from cone to cone.

At each cone, skaters should use a one foot plow stop to stop COMPLETELY before moving on to the next cone.

Focuses: Stopping as CLOSE to the cone as possible, getting from cone to cone as QUICKLY as possible, and spotting the cone then looking forwards again. We want to work using periphery and not relying on having to stare at an object to get there.

If skaters have trouble with backwards crossovers, have them create small Cs with their feet to get them going. If skaters have trouble starting the lateral, wiggling the butt is a great way to get started. You can also do a pivot on the front wheels to start the motion.

Pattern of movement for backwards laterals
Pattern of movement for backwards laterals

EDGING AT THE LINE

Every skater will need a straight line of clearance on the track. For 30 second intervals (at first, you can bump it up for more advanced skaters), skaters will push off from one side of the track. The goal is to get from one line to the other in one push, and use their edges to stop as close to the line as possible. A video will explain this better, but here’s the procedure:

  • Standing at the outside line
  • Inside foot points towards your destination. Outside foot pushes off of the outside edge of your skates to get momentum. All weight on the inside foot.
  • Put the back foot down on the floor, pointed at the spot you pushed off from, and transition your weight onto that back foot.
  • At the inside line, ‘stomp’ your foot (push into your edges) in order to stop your momentum

Remember to keep your center of gravity low, but you probably won’t be able to do this in SUPER low derby stance.

Do intervals of these. I like to do at least 3 30 seconds worth of practice. This will lead into the next drill.

STEPPING IN FRONT AS A WALL

We’re deviating from the flow of the class at this point, but I don’t care, it makes the most sense to explain this after the edge to edge work.

In groups of four, have everyone number off. This is their number for the whole drill. The groups will skate around the track in a four wall (hopefully winging out in the corners, and practicing all other good fundamentals of wall work as they do so).

The person controlling the drill will stand in the middle and call out numbers at random intervals. When the number is called, that person “has the jammer”. Their job is to tell their team mates. Their team mates job is to step in front of that person as quickly as possible while maintaining their wall. The person who was called IS NOT DROPPING BACKWARDS – EVERYONE IS COMNG FORWARD. The person who’s number was called should do some lateral motion for a three count, and then re-enter the wall quickly and efficiently. The person calling the numbers should do so every 7 or 8 seconds at the beginning and then you can get faster as the drill progresses.

A NOTE: I have not done this drill yet where there is at least one person/group that does not understand the “Count to three and then get back in the wall” concept. There is always a person who will hang out behind the wall and look at you confused (and sometimes angry) when another number is called and they’re not in the wall. If you figure out a way to eradicate this, please send me an e-mail.

HIPS IN FRONT

Back to solo stuff! This is something I go over in the video. You want to pair up and have partners (first at a standstill, then rolling) work on moving their hips in front of an opponent. The skaters should be hip to hip, and then one person at a time will work on stepping just in front of the other person and moving their hips to establish position. There’s a big of a hip swaggle that happens. You have to get a little sexy with your partner.

CREATING SPACE TO KNOCK A JAMMER OUT

Jammers are really good at leaning on our backs and making it impossible for a goon defensive skater to come out of the wall, and knock that jammer out of bounds. Often times, there’s just no room for us to get our shoulder or hip in front of the jammer to walk her out of bounds. So, we need to know how to create space between ourselves (the wall) and the jammer who is leaning on a seam to get through.

These are not supposed to make HUGE impacts. When you’re practicing these, if it feels like the opponent isn’t going very far, it is ok! You’re just trying to create a breadth of air. These may not be used all the time, but you want to be able to know how to use them.

CAN OPENER (Johnny Crash, any number of other names)

In pairs, have one skater leaning on the back (legally, no back blocks!) of the other skater. The skater in front will practice throwing her shoulder backwards to pop the opponent off of her shoulder.

BOOTY POP (Twerk, and any other silly name you want to give it)

Same set up to practice as the can opener, this time, instead of using the shoulder, you are going to pop your hips backwards into your opponent to create space.

A NOTE: For both of these, you must have proper derby form. That is to say, strong back, tailbone tucked. If your ass is exceptionally extended behind you, you will have no booty to pop. You will have no contact with the jammer before you throw the can opener.

TAKE IT UP A NOTCH: Next time you practice walking a jammer out of bounds with a wall in front, have your skaters practice these techniques to create space. When I am blocking, if I can’t get my shoulder in front of a jammer, I will yell to my wall, “Pop her!” and they know to throw a shoulder or hip to make room for me.

BREAKING WALLS

JACK HAMMER SHOULDERS

Just like you can use your shoulders to attack people while blocking backwards, you can attack a wall with ‘jack hammer shoulders’. In groups of 3, have one blocker press up against the seam created by the two wall.  (S)he should use her shoulders [independently] to hit the legal pieces of the opponents to create some space and hop thru the hole. Bonnie Thunders does this ALL THE TIME.

ASS IN THE GAP

This is something that not everyone will do well, or should do at all. This is another tool for the tool belt. You will have your two wall (like above), and the jammer will get a little bit of speed (the two wall should be rolling), and right before she gets to the wall, she should transition backwards and thrust her ass into the seam.

In order to do this successfully, you must fold yourself in half and propel yourself into the seam, you cannot turn around and attack the seam at a full stand up. It doesn’t work. Snot Rocket Science (Steel City), Holly Go Hardly (Charm City), and Skinny Guinea (Brandywine) are some skaters I’ve seen do this in bouts. I am trying to find gif footage!!

YOU’RE FACING THE WRONG WAY!

Ok, so we love backwards blocking these days. However, many many many skaters use it too much, and incorrectly. If you are backwards, and catch someone, you have two options: 1) Hold that skater until your friends come to your rescue or 2) pop them a bit as you turn around to face normal derby direction [which is where you have more power and control and are less likely to incur a pentalty].

To make the opponent hurt, and give you a second to turn around, you will pair up. The jammer will press into the blocker. The blocker will practice the quick succession of throwing a shoulder into the jammer (as practiced before), turning 90 degrees, and popping the jammer in the sternum area, completing the turn to establish contact with the booty of the blocker. There is no 3rd hit necessary. Shoulder facing the jammer, shoulder at a 90 degrees (at full speed it’ll look like a hockey stop with your feet), finish the turn and establish position. It is quick, it is sharp, and you have to bob with your legs on the second hit a little bit.

TO THE LINE! (PARTNER ASSIST)

In pairs, you will practice a cannonball to the line. I like having one person practice for a length of time and then switching. The pair will start in an ‘unsuspecting’ two wall. The person throwing will push their partner to the line, catch their arm, and keep them in bounds. They will then reset into a two wall. The person being thrown will be loose enough to be thrown, extend the ass over the line as FAR as possible (fold yourself over like when you put your ass through a seam as described above), and keep your skates in legal ground. Immediately reset into a two wall ON THE LINE. Then move back towards the center of the track to do it again.

See video for more explanation of this move!

NOTE: Do not anticipate being thrown on this!! Try and simulate how it would actually happen in a bout. You’re not going to be set up for a cannonball with the jammer approaching, so don’t practice it here.

Crazy Legs Drill

Two lines of cones should be placed about every ten feet in a line, and just wider than the track. Skaters are to ‘lead with their knees’ and move their feet in small, edging motions to get across the track. Toe stops are not to be used (in fact, I would recommend doing this drill during a practice where no toe stops are allowed). This is not a shuffle step, or a crossover. They are small, sometimes gliding, steps and stops where you control your speed and balance with your edges.

Your hips are always facing forward. Once a skater has reached the cone by going across the track, they should move up to the next cone at a diagonal, and use a one foot plow stop at that cone. Try and get as close to the cone as possible. Then, move across the track again. The first time through, the crazy legs should be moving to the right, and they’ll be gliding to the left. Reverse it for the second time through.

ADVANCED VERSION:

Do it again, but this time, keep your head over your shoulder. Pick ONE shoulder to look over the whole time. Move across trying to keep your eyes on that spot behind you for as much of the crazy legs as possible. You can also reach your hands behind you, pretending that there is someone on your back, and you are just making a one second contact in order to know where they are.

The very last gif on this page has an example of the “3 second check”. This is Tony Muse (Peter Pan) of Your Mom executing in perfectly. Look for the gif with the description: The “less-than-3-second-hand-check” rule can effectively widen your wall by up to a few feet on each side. Just be careful it doesn’t turn into a forearm block.

http://rdjunkies.tumblr.com/tagged/defense/page/25

FINAL THOUGHTS

Don’t be a drill dick. There’s a lot of skills in here that involve some practice. Don’t make your two walls ridiculous – make them realistic. No two wall is glued at the hips and body from the moment the jammer approaches, because if they were – the jammer would just go to the outside, and that two wall would be rendered ineffective. Keep some space. These drills are just as much practice for the blockers as it is for the jammers.

Blockers should practice keep their brakes on as jammers challenge them, and keep it challenging (but not asshole level).

Outside of derby: Start lifting weights. If you want to know why, read my blog about PERSPECTIVE SHIFT!

This was a class about getting to the next level, so I gave a similar speech in the class and I will type something similar here:

Roller derby is not always fun.

I know that we like to think it is. We like to tell ourselves that derby is a blast and amazing and fun all the time. Guess what? If you really want to improve, you are going to have to train. If you train, it’s not going to be fun all the time. Getting better is not fun. Knocking a bitch over in a game is fun. Winning is fun. Knowing that you just deadlifted twice your body weight is fun. Pause squats are not fun. Falling is not fun. Persistent sweat, pain, and failure is not fun. However, it is necessary for improvement. I did not get awesome at footwork magically. I simply did things over and over and over. I fell. I pushed. I lifted. I flipped tires. I cried. I bled. I sweat. I bruised.

It is not always fun, and that is ok. If you’re not ready for it not to be fun, than you may not be ready yet to advance to the next level. Everyone has to decide their level of commitment and level of training they are willing to accept. (And sometimes, team mates, you have to be accepting that your team mates may not be at the same level of commitment that you are.)

Go forth and be awesome!! Thank you again for anyone who came to my class at RollerCon 2014, make sure you tell them that you love me and you want me to teach more! If you want me to come to you, or if you want me and DNA Coaching to come to you – drop me a line at DerbyAmerica@yahoo.com … I also am a health coach with DERBALIFE and it has changed the effectiveness of my training. Get with me for more info!

VIDEO LINK ONCE MORE

Thank you to Keyesboard for the featured image on this blog!!