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!
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
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
Always going to the next thing
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)
“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
1 whistle front skaters transition
2 whitle front & back swap
Long whistle switch line (outside/inside)
4 whistles stop
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
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
I have been a skating member for leagues of different sizes, ranking, and cultural expectations. I have visited, coached, and reffed more than 50 leagues in 20 states and five countries. Each league’s BoD was structured slightly differently, each coaching staff ran a different way, each team dynamic was different. There are threads of familiarity throughout each, however. There are commonalities of good and of bad, of support and of discord. When a league is split into separate teams, there can be either an equal share of positive growth, or lines drawn in the sand.
I was given the opportunity to referee and stream announce the B-Team Championships held in Atlanta, Georgia in October 2016. I got a chance to talk to the skaters from different teams and I heard comments that I have heard across leagues across the world. You would watch these teams and think “How on EARTH are they not on the All Star team?” In some cases, it’s a matter of the league having too much talent, so they [essentially] have two All Star teams. In other cases, you hear skaters talking about how they are passed over because of a conflict or lack of commitment seasons ago, negative talk from coaching, or flat out Elitest dismissal from All Star coaches and team members.
I have been pondering this blog for over a month now, to express how we can build a positive environment for our skaters and be sure that no one feels negative connotation in being “Just a B Teamer”. Also, substitute “Home Teamer” or “C Teamer” etc as necessary.
Before I dive in, you may be thinking to yourself already, “BUT OUR LEAGUE IS A MESS TO BEGIN WITH! HOW CAN WE EVEN START MAKING OUR B TEAMERS FEEL IMPORTANT??”
Creating a positive space for your league members is very important to the mental health of everyone. When I say ‘positive spaces’, I mean track times where no one is insulting each other, scrimmages where abuse towards the refs is not tolerated, and times where league members can talk to their coaching staff about goals and concerns.
Too often I have heard recounts, or experienced myself, stories of the All Stars and B Teams not trusting one another, or shouting when receiving big hits, or sneering on the line when a new jammer steps up. I have also seen All Star and League coaches ignore B Team skaters completely. I have talked to skaters who feel as if they are blown off when they look for feedback, or that coaches neglect to offer words of encouragement to anyone but the ‘superstars’.
As a coach, a captain, a league-mate, be aware of your attention and energy. It is easy to fall into the trap of only complimenting the top skaters, since they probably are doing rad things on the track. Make sure to be aware of your skaters that are learning and progressing, and offer them compliments (and critique) along the way as well. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to get the occasional “Hey, your plows are looking way better!” to keep them happy, positive, and on track. Being the All Star coach and making a guest appearance at league practice to help with developing skaters (even just once in awhile) can make a huge difference in morale.
Too often I have heard officials talking about abusive skaters on the All Star team. The skaters are know to shout and scream at their team and the officials, with no repercussions; no disciplinary action. To allow top skaters the right to be abusive creates a culture of acceptance of such actions, which then lets other skaters (the proteges) believe it is acceptable behavior. When one level of skater is punished for behavioral issues, and the other is not (the ‘lower level’), you have a recipe for dissent and anger among the ranks, all in the name of “keeping talented skaters”.
This is not a safe space. This not a place where players or officials will continue to come with a happy face to learn. They will become despondent, bitter, and (if lucky) they will transfer. If derby is unlucky, they will quit altogether. Nurture and support people, do not beat them down for imperfection or for penalty calls you did not agree with. Do not tolerate those who do either, no matter how many apexes they jump per game, and no matter how many jammers they soul crush.
Building Cultural Value in Your Other Teams
What are the goals of your All Star team? To win games? Gain rankings? Beat other teams they come up against with strength, strategy, and increasing skills?
Now how do you practice those things? Against one another, of course, but there will come a time where your All Star blockers will understand the fundamental tactics and tendencies of your All Star jammers, and vice versa. Yes, they will continue to push each other, but there comes a point where a team must play against another squad to keep from plateauing.
Who, then, does your All Star team have to compete against on a regular basis?
Yup. Your B Team.
So what I’m trying to say is this: If your coaches, captains, and All Stars promote the idea of “Our All Stars are stellar because our B Team is stellar” you have a happy bunch of skaters who are all striving to push each other more. If you build a structure of ‘everyone getting better so that everyone gets better’, then each skater will build their personal skills with the goal of the team in mind, instead of the self.
Most B Teams I have come in contact with don’t promote any specific B Team cultures. Skaters are subtly encouraged to keep self preservation in mind – either to boost themselves up to the All Stars, or to maintain their seniority on the B Team. Training is not about making the team better, or about the team’s impact on the All Stars/C Team/Home Teams, but is seen as a way to showcase individual talents in order to impress the decision makers.
The other side effect of B Teamers not understanding their effect on the All Stars is this: a division can be created. It is one thing for a skater to say, “I’m ok with the level of play at this level, I can’t give more commitment or more of myself,” or “I love my team, we work well together, I fit in here.” It is another thing to hear skaters say, “Well I have to be happy at this level because the All Stars will never have me,” or “The All Stars only care about themselves, the coaches care only about the All Stars, they don’t see me and I won’t ever get better.” I have seen the ‘self-preservation’ mentality of individuals manifest into an US VERSUS THEM culture within leagues.
It is not healthy for the league to have B Team players feeling as if they are their own island. It is not healthy for them to feel as if they are detached from the All Stars, as if they were left behind, or blotched with some derby curse.
And, shocking to say, it’s not helpful when coaches and captains ignore that such feelings have manifested. Keep your eyes open and be diligent when you are in places of higher standing, since it is so easy to shield yourself from negative vibes while going “Lalalalala everything’s great!”. It’s easy to think that everything is going swimmingly, but I implore you to listen to the heartbeat of your league. Keep an ear to the ground and be open to critique and criticism. Your league could be sprinting up in the rankings, while still harboring negative practices that will effect the longevity of those rankings.
Changing the culture of a league is not easy, but it can be done with persistence and positivity (and maybe some stern stuff on the part of leadership). Separating the All Stars from the B Team can cause an elitist attitude to manifest which will be felt by your developing skaters, who are the core of your league.
Part of the culture change comes along with the idea that the A and the B teams are not separate. Might there be skill differences? Absolutely. I have written before that the best way to improve as a skater is to practice with those better than you, and if you are curious about combining skills you can also check out this blog: The House that Derby Built: 4 Corners of Training with Mixed Levels.
Combining forces of A and B squads have many advantages to a team. See above for cultural implications.
When skaters practice in the same space, they can inspire each other. They can challenge each other. They can give feedback to each other. They learn the same skills and strategy. B Team skaters can learn from All Stars, All Star skaters can be infected by the enthusiasm of B Team skaters. Also, skaters get more track time.
“But Khaos! There will be more people, that means LESS track time”
Actually no. If you have all your skaters coming to two practices instead of one, you’re already giving them more time on skates. There’s no reason you can’t split the track to work across from each other. Attendance low? Use the same side of the track and just alternate in A team or B team walls/jammers. Most of the skills and drills we do only require part of the track anyway. Managing two to three teams of skaters (who will probably only have 10-15 people showing up to practices anyway) is not too hard if you break it down.
PLUS it has been my experience that when you’re drilling over and over and over and over in a good, quick rotation, skaters get fatigued and then you cannot drill over and over again. By having more bodies, you can run drills longer, more effectively. People can get short rests while their teammates practice, and it also gives the team a chance to OBSERVE what everyone else is doing.
“But Khaos! We need to practice WITH our teams!”
You can have each team practice with their lines while still encouraging a team environment. It also makes it fun when you can have lines of A and B face off in certain drills, or if you tell the B Team jammers to go play with the All Stars and vice versa. Nothing helped me grow in blocking quicker than learning how to stop jammers like Lauryn Kill and Taz with my Bruise Crew team mates. Could the B Teamers be a hot mess at first? Sure. Persistence, diligence, patience, hard work … it pays off.
What’s the pay off? 30 All Stars to choose from instead of 14. Especially with the opening up of charter changes, as games approach that require different styles of skaters, you can more easily tweak a team to be a powerhouse. Also, life happens.
People move. People retire. People transfer. People get injured. If you have to “move up” a B Team skater, don’t you want them already on track to be successful with the All Stars? Would you prefer taking a month or two for the process of “training them up”?
You know what I’m talking about: “We’re rebuilding. A bunch of our All Stars left, and we moved up some B Team skaters, so we have to spend a lot of time getting them up to speed.”
Why not have them up to speed? Why not be able to bounce back the way Philly, Rocky Mountain, and Windy City have over the years? Why not have players ready to step into All Star roles easier?
Should A and B be separate sometimes? Sure. Why not? It’s good to have a team only building session now and again to focus down on the specific needs of your team. On a week to week basis, the teams that practice with the travel skaters combined tend to be the more successful leagues.
I have already mentioned this but it should be stated again: Being a B Teamer should not be considered a slur. You’re not “Just on the B team”, you’re a member of a team and are striving to be strong and to improve. You are the reason the A team is successful. You are not “JUST” a B Team skater.
League members and leadership need to be ready to correct the language when it happens. “Eh, it’s only the B Team,” or “No, I won’t pair up with her, she’s only B Team” … just stop. This kind of language is not helpful. It is not positive for anyone (and makes you sound like a bit of a jerk actually).
“No I’m not going to game this weekend, it’s just the B Team.” NO. Bad. One, because you should go and support your B Team, since chances are they are supporting the All Stars (through attendance, bout production, and volunteering) and two, because they are your family. They are the future of the league. They are the next Luz Chaos, they are the up-and-coming Serelson. What potential could you be harboring within your B Team that you don’t see because they “have only been skating a couple months and are not good enough to skate with us.”
Being on the All Stars is not always strictly about skill level – it’s about skating styles, how one meshes into the team’s strategy, how coachable one can be, attendance, drive, and sometimes (yes it’s true) social integration.
If you are a B Team skater and you have not made it onto the All Star team (yet), and you’re starting to get salty, don’t immediately jump to the “THEY DON’T LIKE ME AND OUR CULTURE SUCKS” conclusion. If you’ve read my blogs, you know I’m all about self-analysis and honesty. And it is HARD to look at yourself and ask, “Self, what could we improve on?” It’s possible that it’s not your league that is the ‘problem’ but maybe your attitude, your dedication level (as compared to the stated goals of the All Stars), or your style of game play as compared to your team mates.
There are many different structures to travel team practices and schedules that can work, but my observations and opinions are based in my experience across a range of countries, levels, and cultures. The teams that were most successful in achieving strength, consistency, and meeting their league goals were the ones that unified, not divided. The teams that realize that the B/C/D Teamers are the lifeblood of the league and the future of the All Stars, those are the leagues that I have found the most positive team environments over time.
You don’t have to take my word for it though. Do your own research. Talk to leagues with different structures, ask players how they feel about ‘being left behind’ by their league mates, and observe differences you see overtime between those leagues that nurture their travel teams together, and those that create derision through culture and language.
Khaos Theory Blog is run completely off my own funds. Make a donation now to keep the blog going!
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!