I haven’t written too much this year (it’s been an interesting ride), and I am sorry for that. After my second ACL surgery I dove into studies of a Sommelier. In the past 7 months I have achieved certification of WSET2, Level 1 from the Court of Masters Sommelier, and my Cicerone Certified Beer Server. All those notecards left little time for writing.
I was seeking inspiration for a derby topic the other day, and Facebook delivered. This idea came from Noah Tall in Fayetteville, Arkansas: “Why not do team and wine pairings?” Talking to others they agreed it would be a neat idea, and I decided to do my pairings a la the embodiment of the team in a beverage.
So here we go! With all the Champs excitement I thought I would start with MRDA Champs and then after this weekend I’ll do the WFTDA Champs! ENJOY!
PS: this task is way more daunting than it sounds!
Cava comes from Catalanya, Spain and is [most often] a blending of indigenous grapes. It’s bubbly, refreshing, and a ton of people haven’t experienced it. Is it as expensive as Champagne? No. Is it just as fancy and satisfying? Absolutely. My saying in my wine bar is: “When in doubt – Cava.” When I’m thinking about favorite MRDA teams, when in doubt: Austin Anarchy. They too are light and bubbly (have you picked up Wombo yet? Goldie Gloves has a whole FB album of “People Picking Up Wombo Combo”). Plus, Austin is always a great addition to a party.
DERBY CLUB LE CRES LATTES MONTPELLIER ie The KamiQuadz Pairing: Chilean Carmenere
“The Lost Grape of Bordeaux” has found a home in Chile and it is delightful. Lost Grape? Yes, Carmenere was thought to have been wiped out by Phylloxera in the 1800s. Turned out it survived just elsewhere (Chile). When picked early it has green notes (Cabernet Franc is one of its parents, and Cab Sauv is a half-sibling), when it develops more fully, it has velvety tannins, chocolate, and red fruits. The KamiQuadz are a green team with lots of depth and experience, but most of us don’t know them. I expect that as the years progress, French men’s roller derby will continue to be saved by this new bastion of play and I expect the green to turn to rich fruit rewards.
GOLDEN STATE HEAT Pairing: White Claw
WAIT WAIT – HEAR ME OUT!!!
Just like White Claw, Golden State Heat came out of NOWHERE this year to put everyone on the ground. Teams play them and wake up the next morning wondering what the hell happened and what their name is. White Claw is booze + sparkling water; it’s a blend of two things coming together in harmony and busting up a scene of regular acts for something refreshing and different – just like Golden State Heat. With all the deliciousness I don’t see either one of these things fizzing out any time soon.
NEW WHEELED ORDER Pairing: Dry Mosel Riesling
This aromatic wine always catches people off guard. They expect it to be one thing, but then they are served with something completely different. Dry Rieslings are refreshing, like Sauvignon Blancs, but without the grapefruit pith that can come with it. People always seem to forget about Rieslings, but it pairs easily with some of the most difficult foods (like vinegar and asparagus). NWO is a team that [American] people forgot about this year until Champs came around. They served up game play that people were not expecting, and for the second year in a row, NWO came out and broke expectations with adaptability and finesse.
DENVER GROUND CONTROL Pairing: Coppertail Unholy Belgian Trippel Ale
Belgian Trippels (the best ones) are light in body, sharp in spirit, and they hit you harder than you ever thought possible. Trippels are crafted with precision in mind, and tradition behind them, especially this one. Coppertail is in Florida, but Unholy rivals the best Belgians in the world. It might not be everyone’s go-to beverage of choice, but they are remarkable to all of us that pay attention. Ground Control has a long derby history behind them in their coaching staff, and one can tell that they focus on routine and perfection. Their jammers defy gravity, and every blocker can annihilate you.
SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT ROLLER DERBY Pairing: Merlot
No, I was not going to say Southern Comfort; that would be taking the easy way out (Plus I had a bad experience with SoCo in my younger years and I really didn’t want to think about flavor profiles).
So why Merlot? Merlot is the underestimated monster of the wine world. Merlot was a queen, and a movie (Sideways) came along and kicked it off a pedestal. That said, Merlot is a critical grape for blends of the Old AND New World wines. Not only that, a 2004 Saint Emilion would make anyone weak in the knees. My point? Despite hardships, SDRD keeps on giving amazing derby and producing exceptional players from their program. Merlot has incredible balance and versatility, as does SDRD. Wine Enthusiast called Merlot “the best red wine you’re not drinking”; SDRD could be the best MRDA team you’re not following.
VANCOUVER MURDER Pairing: Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon
I was not Bourbon fan about 3 years ago. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t have the tasting ability for it. After a trip to Louisville I fell for Angel’s Envy. On the first sip, it’s a bit of a punch to the senses; to experience it fully you’ve got to do 3 sips in a row (and really “chew” the bourbon). Then, you’ll experience the nuances. You have to take your time to truly appreciate how well crafted and deliberate it is. Finished in port wine barrels, there is a deep respect for flavor and quality. It took me a couple years to really appreciate how well the Murder work together. At first you think it’s just about flash, but then you look deeper and you realize that there is a dance Vancouver executes in every jam. Maybe not everyone will see it, but pay attention and keep going back to the Murder, like you would with a bourbon. You’ll discover more each time.
TEXAS MEN’S ROLLER DERBY Pairing: Frosé
You can make it with a rosé of Sangiovese for a more cherry variety, or with a Loire Valley for something more chalk-driven. Stir up a frosé with a Vinho Verde for a pool pounder, or use a California rosé for strawberry candy. There is a Frosé for all occasions, and if you know what you’re doing you can make them for anyone. Here’s my point: Frosé is super likeable, great in hot weather, and totally underestimated as to their greatness. I am hard pressed to find anyone that HATES Frosé. That’s Texas. They work great together, they get you buzzed, and you’re always excited for more.
MAGIC CITY MISFITS Pairing: Orin Swift Machete
This is a blended red wine with Petit Sirah, Syrah, and Grenache sourced from no less than five AVAs in California. It has deep notes of cassias, ripe red cherries, and stewed blackberries. It has a velvet texture that makes you go back for more and more. Blending is critical to the success of many wines, since you cannot always harvest the best grapes from single sites. As long as all the aspects are quality and work together to create a symphony, what does it matter which AVAs the grape comes from? Machete is a dance of flavors and wine-making techniques that has some of the best people in the industry almost mad about how good it is. MCM is a blend of friends and players, though the majority of their roster have been a part of the Florida roster for a few years. They are fast, they are undeniable talented, and they work incredibly well together. You might be mad about it, but they’re just doing good at the derby.
ST LOUIS GATEKEEPERS Pairing: Romanee-Conti Grand Cru
This single vineyard Pinot Noir is considered possibly the greatest that ever was, or ever will be. Pinot Noir is a very difficult grape to grow effectively; it takes time and finesse and care to get the best out of it. Sometimes it can take years for a grower to fully understand the complexities of the grape. The Gatekeepers have spent a decade (or more) cultivating their teamwork, style, and nerve under pressure. They are what other teams aspire to and use as a model. They have layers of complexity and courage, and no matter what adversity befalls the team, the roots seem to expand and flourish.
This is a team of legend and a team that no other will ever be like, now matter how they try to emulate these behemoths.
Here we are, continuing our journey through the world of jamming. I know talking about things to do at home, or without wheels on your feet is boring (but it’s important so do it anyway). So let’s talk about practice and game time and what you can do to increase your jammer prowess.
Practice on different surfaces
Sounds basic, but hear me out.
Our mental game is a huge part of our successes and failures as jammers, and one thing I have seen more skaters freak out about is the floor. If floor surfaces were not so scary to people, we would not have people buying multiple sets of various durometer wheels and frantically researching flooring before each game. I’m one of them!
It’s a bit of a dig, but when someone mentions that they do not ever change their wheels I respond with “I’m not good enough at roller skating for that”. This is both true and false. I’m pretty good at roller skating at this point, but I know that my biggest weakness is my inability to release pressure from my wheels. I’ve been working on it for nine years. I understand that I am better at asserting more pressure into my edge than I am at letting off the pressure.
This means I am better on a slicker floor when I can press into my wheels and dig than I am on a sticky floor where I must RELEASE pressure to slide. Having ‘grown up’ at Olympic Skating Center in Enola, PA, you would think it would be opposite. It has one of the most beautiful polished maple floors in the country, and it will rip through tights like nothing, and leave scars of road rash that we bear 5 years later. I never achieved a hockey stop on this floor. Hell I could barely plow stop. Some people can play on Poisons regardless of surface, regardless of game. I am not one of them. I have accepted and embraced my need to adjust my gear the last two years and the results show.
How I adjust my gear is based on the surface, and I know what to do because I have sought out every kind of floor I can, and travel games have put me on everything from polished concrete, to sport court laid on springy astroturf, to what looks like a basketball court, but is actually a foam mat. While team mates panic, I have it handled.
If we can take out the scary part of floor surfaces changing, we can bolster our confidence. When we feel confident, we perform better. The easiest way to take the scary out of floor surfaces is simply by skating on all of them. Not just once, but whenever you can. I miss having an outdoor hockey rink within reach. The polished concrete was so vastly from the maple floor that I practiced on in Harrisburg, that I felt like I could practice my skills in a new way and it taught me how to control my body weight differently.
Not everyone can spend time on their own to go to other rinks, so even putting your skates on at home or encouraging your team to go scrimmage or practice somewhere else from time to time can help you break away from the barriers of “Oh s***, I can’t slide/grip/jump on this floor!” Sometimes we encounter the mental hang up, but we do not even realize it. Learning how to deal with things (whether it means changing your gear or your style) will improve your ratios pretty quick.
Speed DOESN’T kill
If there is one lesson I have learned this season is that speed is your only true ally as a jammer. If you are faster than the blockers (in physicality, awareness, and prediction of game flow) you will win [mostly] all the jams.
When I was a baby jammer, I thought speed meant “How fast can I get around the track?” But even when I hit a 6 second lap, I was not getting as many point passes as desired. Going to the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup in Calgary I started to pick up on what true QUICKNESS really is: It’s micro movements. It’s the stuff you do not see until your eyes adjust to a higher frame rate. It’s the slightly stronger push in your duck run at the last second.
It’s the difference between a juke that gets you through and one that gets you put out of bounds.
It’s the difference between cruising into a pack to get picked off and sailing through on the outside line easily.
It’s the difference between blockers keeping you locked, and you popping them open through the middle.
But it’s more than just having speed on your wheels. It’s about how fast you can transition from skating to duck run, or duck run to hockey stop, or wheels to toe stops. Transitioning from wheels to stoppers gives you an added edge over your opponent, because of the change in acceleration it causes and your ability to maneuver in different ways. Being able to drop, at speed, onto your toe stops can let you hop, spin, jump, and high step. It can also give you a chance to run an angle to outpace blockers when they’re not expecting it.
If you are not comfortable skating fast and transitioning to your toe stops: Get going. Start practicing it.
Do speed work. On skates, off skates. Do it in your office. Do it before dinner. Do it when you wake up in the morning. Integrate it into your life. That might sound extreme, but it’s not as hard (or as ridiculous) as it sounds.
Training your muscles to twitch is the greatest tool a jammer can have. You have heard people yell “Pick up your feet”. If you can’t twitch, you won’t be able to fake out your opponents, juke, or change direction suddenly. Picking up your feet means you can generate speed and mobility. Picking up your feet means you are generating momentum, not losing it. It means you are faster than you were when you were planted and coasting into a pack. Picking up your feet while approaching a stopped tripod is absolutely terrifying, but it lets you hit with momentum. It gives you a chance to explode a wall. It gives you more options: Do you hit with speed or do you redirect at the last second. Maybe you aim for the middle and drop the toe stops to run the inside line. Maybe you hit a seam and slide through the blockers.
Side note: You may have to spend time practicing what to do after you hit a seam and burst through it. Moving your feet will keep your momentum moving forward. It has happened where a jammer (hi) was so surprised that they did the thing and it WORKED, that they stopped moving their feet and immediately fell. So don’t be surprised if that happens.
Talk to your blockers
Some people think that being a jammer means floating out in the ether by yourself, getting to control your own destiny. The best jammers will never think of themselves as an autonomous unit, but rather a part of the pack they are matched with. Success of the team depends on the ability for jammers and blockers to communicate, adapt, and work together.
As a jammer you need to understand how your team fields blockers and the strategies preferred by each. Many teams will do packs one on, one off. Some teams set up blocking pairs and rotate through pairs. Some teams use blocking lines that seem random, but [hopefully] have an underlying method. Every pack is going to prefer different tactics and be good at different things.
For example, we have two packs that primarily play for my team. One pack is very good at stopped derby, the other team is very good at rotation and movement. If my team is playing a ‘long game’ strategy and I am going out with my pack that prefers a stopped pack, I need to understand that I have a different responsibility as a jammer. Not only am I playing for points, but I am part of the defense.
Hold up, I don’t mean that I’m responsible for blocking the jammer, I mean that I am responsible for 1) doing as many laps as possible while the jammer is being held by the blockers, 2) not breaking up the defense for selfish point gain, and 3) whenever I enter the back of the pack, I need to create forward movement so that my own blockers are not forced to bridge or get drawn out of play. By me forcing the other pod forward, I help my own blockers maintain a pack.
Before I go out for a jam, I check in with my blockers. If it’s scrimmage, I’ll ask “What are you working on?”, if it’s a game I ask “What are we doing?” In practice, you get a chance to learn your habits, what works for you, and more importantly what DOESN’T work well for you. I like using practice time to work on different goals. Often that includes my improv ability, which is why I like letting my blockers work on their goals, and then I can adjust my plan accordingly.
When we go into a game situation, I work with the blockers to analyze what has or has not been working against our opponent and how to incorporate that into our own game strategy while also helping me to get the f*ck through for lead jammer. It’s all about getting lead.
Mid-jam, my favorite things to say to the blockers include “Keep them moving!” “Sweep” “POINTS” and “I need the pivot!” Talking to your blockers when you can, and them talking back (I like when they call for me before offense or when they remind me to drive a pack forward), makes a huge difference in game play. We all have to trust each other on the track, and the key to trust in any relationship is communication.
Blaque Jac knows the importance of communication on the track. Photo by Phantom Photographics
Consider shapes and angles
Roller derby is math and science. You always hear your coaches say move your feet and get lower. Hopefully, as you improve, you start hearing them say “run the angles” and “turn your shoulder”. Why? Geometry and physics.
Moving your feet (the basic advice to make any starter jammer better as stated above) simply takes advantage of Newton’s 1st law: An object in motion tends to stay in motion. With inertia on your side, it is easier to get past more stationary objects. I just talked about this but I feel it bears mentioning again! Get lower? The lower your center of mass and gravity, the harder it is for you to fall (this also gives you more leg to gather up potential energy from the floor to transfer to kinetic energy and inertia).
Running the angles means that you are not picking straight lines on the floor, so can take advantage of vectors easier. You are a moving object, with magnitude, and can put that force into something else if necessary. Think of it this way: If you run in a straight line to go between a flat two wall, you have to time your hit, speed, and body movement very precisely to avoid getting sandwiched or stuffed completely. If you come at that same wall at an angle, your timing does not have to be as precise. The angle assists your momentum, and you can take the space of a blocker in a wall to either bounce off of them and through the wall, or to move them completely and keep on your path of momentum.
When I talk about angles, I’m also talking about BODY angles. Think of the shapes bodies take when we play derby. We can be squares, rectangles, triangles, stars, lines, strange quadrilaterals… If we look at what the blockers are doing with their bodies we can be proactive with our own. While warming practice the different ways you can contort. One on one and hurricane blocking (where you can spin around each other) is a handy way to learn how your body can move and contort. The more time you can spend getting out of your comfort zone with body positioning, the better. Why think about shapes?
When coming up against a square, you probably don’t want to be a square. Squares have a harder time getting through because they have generally have more target area for blockers to hit. Dropping a shoulder to make yourself a triangle will allow you the mobility of being square, while letting yourself either duck underneath OR into the blocker coming at you.
“WHAT? INTO THE BLOCKER? I THOUGHT THE IDEA WAS TO NOT BE HIT.”
Something I learned long ago is the Bazooka Method: If someone is pointing a bazooka at you, do you run away? No. You run towards them. Often, this works very well for derby. If you run at a blocker, you take away the angle and momentum they were just planning on having to hit you effectively. I don’t want to give blockers wind up space. I tend to run right at solo blockers and use their bodies to get around safely. They can’t hit me as well, and their team mates often back off a bit because if they don’t time their own hit right, they’ll take out their team mate instead of me.
Back to the shape thing: I have always thought about moving my body differently but never could words as to why things worked. I was chatting at the jammers I coach, and I had the epiphany that our jammers were coming in as rectangles to the pack (we usually say square, but that implies that they are compact). I explained that sometimes we need to make ourselves triangles, lines, or half-moons. Looking at how blockers are set, and how we can shape our bodies to slide through seams at angles or move past blockers while not taking too hard of a blow.
Next time you’re on the jam line, look at the blockers and look at how they are shaped, and how you can counter the shape with your own. Triangles to lean against triangles, half-moons help against parallelograms, lines are effective between to squares, circles can go under triangles.
Move your body in different ways and practice with intent to do something different than normal.
Look at the world around you
Look at the scoreboard, the penalty box, the other jammer before and throughout the jam. Do a quick rundown of your ideal jam in your head. Keep tabs the whole time.
Where you are in the game, the score, how many timeouts you have left, and who is in the penalty box should all factor into your call off strategy. Make sure you talk to your coaches before the game to know whether you are playing a long game or a hit & quit strategy. There are going to be times that you don’t immediately call it off if the other jammer escapes and you will not always be to see your bench coach (or have a bench coach to look at). You should also know what the plan is as far as springing people from the box.
Note: Your blockers should be aware of goals too (go back to the whole “talk to the blockers” thing).
When you are in a jam it is easy to get tunnel vision, it is easy to forget that the rest of the world exists. I joke that I am best when my FoF (Fight or Flight) kicks in, which usually happens around the end of the first period from cardio exhaustion. When FoF hits, our bodies no longer think about the tools, we just utilize them to get the hell out of a stressful situation (the pack). Without practice, this can mean our field of vision narrows instead of widens, and we may go into ‘default’ mode which often means your oldest tricks and not always your best moves.
“Head up” is said almost as often as “get lower” in roller derby, and for good reason. If you’re in the Sad Place and looking at your feet as you grind away, you’re not going to see your offense coming in to disrupt the tripod. If you’re so focused on that gap that currently exists in lane three as you approach the pack, you won’t notice that your friends are holding a SWEET pick on the inside line to let you jump the apex. If we default to our old habits, we become predictable.
How do we practice widening our view? Do it in your every day life. When you’re walking through the grocery store, use your periphery vision to calculate the rate of speed of other shoppers, and how to maneuver safely through the little old ladies navigating the spice aisle. Take note of shoes people are wearing without looking at their feet, or how many kids are running past you without looking directly to count. When you are at practice doing drills, be mentally active throughout. If you’re waiting for your next turn to go, watch the movement of your blockers to understand their speeds and accelerations. If you are in a paceline, do check ins with everyone’s pace, how everyone is standing, and how players move when their endurance is lower.
Always be looking around you. Always be making note. Always be calculating. At first it will be a conscious decision, but after a while it will become second nature. Then when you’re on the track, you won’t have to pull your head out of a tripod, you’ll already know that your offense is coming on the outside line, so you can disengage and dart to safety.
How do practice incorporating more tools? Repetition repetition. Do the footwork drills. Do them again. Do them faster. Do them slower. Do them on shoes. Do them whenever you can. Eventually your body will just incorporate the footwork into your regular movements and you’ll find yourself popping out of packs in ways you didn’t know possible.
Dziubinski just can’t help smiling sometimes. Photo by Ken LeBleu
Jamming is hard. If you’re a week into playing or 10 years, it never really gets easier. We are in a constant state of flux. Jammers improve so blockers change tactics. Jammers learn how to deal with the tactics, and new shapes and strategies emerge. The biggest lesson I learned this year is that I will always have to work to be stronger, faster, and braver. I also learned that the only constant in derby: is change. Go with it, don’t resist it. Always be learning, always be listening, always be adapting, but mostly: always be loving it.
Did you like this blog? How about the others? Consider buying me a coffee from afar so I can keep writing!
You’ve joined roller derby. You’ve worked your butt off (or up, in the case of some of us) to pass the 27 in 5. You’re not a complete bambi on skates, and you have fallen in love with a star. That star just happens to be on a helmet cap. You don’t know if it’s the challenge of breaking a wall, the thrill of hearing “tweet tweet”, or the praise you receive from your peers when you get back to the bench, but you have decided:
You want to be a jammer.
I am here to help. Here are 10 things to help you begin a successful career of five point passes and high lead jammer percentages. It will not be easy, it will not be quick, but with diligence, you can prevail.
Recognize your weaknesses
Chances are you have many of them, especially if you’re coming into this sport as a true Skater Tot. Don’t be afraid to make a list of the things you’re not good at. Watch the other jammers in your league (and in footage) and watch for things you can’t do that make other people successful. Write it down!
Now also make a list of things you’re good at. For those of us who are our own worst critics (guilty), you may want to ask your captains to help you. I’ve asked, “What are you good at?” To many skaters and gotten the snap back with, “NOTHING.” Remember: There is no perfection in derby. And even if you are good at roller skating, doesn’t mean you’ll be good at jamming right away. Don’t allow the frustration to overtake you.
When making your lists, think about these categories: Physical Fitness, On Skates Skills, Strategy, Mental Game. Knowing that you’re good at analyzing situations or have a background at team sports does give you a leg up. They are just as important to derby as toe stop runs.
Now that you have your list, you can start doing some goal setting. I’d go into it here, but I talk about goal setting in another blog post (or two). Check out “Building You as a Better Skater”
It is in the details
Jammer awareness is full of little details. If you don’t know where the other jammer is or how many points you’ve scored on this pass, how can you make effective decisions when you’re lead jammer (let’s face it, we can’t always refer to our bench coach) as to whether you should call it off? How can you be successful if you constantly get hyper focus in a pack, causing you to lose track of extra blockers who are out to get you?
This is something you can train at practice and in life. When I’m moving through a crowd, I will make a note of a single person (maybe they’ll have a red hat on). As I move, I work on using my periphery to understand where they are, how quickly they’re moving, and what direction they’re going. This works great in grocery stores and busy streets. When someone new walks into a room, try and notice something about them without looking directly at them. You’ll become better at looking using your periphery.
At practice, always be aware of where people are, how they are moving, and what indications they make before coming in to make a hit. Most blockers have a ‘tell’, and the most aware jammers will learn them quickly so they can move out of the way before contact.
To keep yourself calm, practice breathing during your jamming. Make a conscious effort of breathing in and out when you’re in a pack, and steadying your breaths while making your lap. Sometimes I’ll count my strides to keep me calm. Practice this during endurance drills. Find a place of Zen where it’s just you in the track. If you can do it during endurance practice, it’ll translate into your laps and gameplay.
For all the other little details? Well, refer back to your list of what you’re good at and not good at, and fine tune. You’re not good at getting through walls: Is it because of power, body positioning, or foot work? And go on from there!
3. Walk the [imaginary] line
Jammers need to know how to navigate small spaces and squeeze through spaces on the inside and outside line that mere mortals cannot even detect. When you’re practicing your footwork, you should always be imagining a balance beam next to your opponent, you don’t want your feet straying away (and over the boundary line).
To practice narrow spaces, use a partner whenever possible. If you don’t have a buddy to work with, grab some cones, and make two rows of them to create a narrow lane (I like using short cones for this). Ideally, the cones should be no wider than the length of your hand, but when first practicing it’s ok to make the gap wider.
Footwork you should practice include running on your skates, a step through 180 turn (you have to pick up your feet), a foot to foot transition, a shuffle step (on toe stops), a crossover step (on toe stops), and stepping over the leg of an opponent to keep going. These basic pieces can be used in different combinations to get you through and around anything a pack can throw at you. Check out some things to start with: BEGINNER JAMMER FOOTWORK VIDEO
Colors and space
When you look at jamming from a very rudimentary standpoint, it is a navigation of space through packs of various colors. One color is friendly the other is foe. The brains of jammers must be able to react quickly to changes in space as well as recognize friendly colors near the space. Weaknesses in depth perception or color recognition can be the difference between a four point pass and being nailed out of the air on an apex jump.
When recognizing your color for offense, remember that you want to go where that skater is about to NOT be, not where they’re going to be when playing offense. You want to occupy space that they no longer occupy. So ‘following offense’ really means follow their movements – don’t run into them, go where they JUST were.
A drill that I love for recognizing space and moving through it quickly involves the whole team (this is great for blockers too). Divide your team into three groups. Denote the active part of the track with cones (it shouldn’t be too big of an area, maybe one corner or half the straightaway). Group 1 will ‘jam’ first, starting from the opposite corner. Groups 2 and 3 are told to pick a spot within the boundary. Set a timer for 2 minutes. Group 1, in a line, begins to sprint towards the group standing still. The jammers must navigate the spaces at a sprint. The goal is to get through the pack without slowing momentum, unless it is to redirect their energy, or toe pick past an opponent. This continues for 2 minutes. Then, Group 1 switches with Group 2, and so on.
The next level is to let the obstacles take one step in either direction from their original spot. THERE IS NO INTENTIONAL BLOCKING ALLOWED. The next level is to allow one of the two groups to move laterally across the track. The final stage is to ‘split’ the groups by handing out colored coins to wear, so that each group has both black and white. Now, the obstacles are allowed to make one move to either side of their original spot, AND are allowed to make contact. Obviously, they are only supposed to hit those of the opposing color.
You can also make this more interesting by spreading out the obstacles, and adding in color cones that the jammers are supposed to make contact with throughout the course. You know, just for more fun and challenge.
On your own, you can practice color and vision challenges to sharpen your senses. I’ve found a good memory game and article about improving vision here. Anything you can do at home to improve your periphery is great. Have a friend grab some small colored balls, and sit in a chair looking forward. Have them toss the balls from behind to in front (along the side of your head). Work on catching the balls of specific colors. You must keep your eyes forward! Use your periphery!
Bursts and balance
I f**king love science, and physics is the reason derby does what it does. The sport is a constant transfer of potential to kinetic energy, of friction coefficients, of balance, and of trajectory. To be a successful jammer there are two things you must master:
BURSTS OF POWER (which will cause both acceleration and deceleration)
While I could not find any articles directly related to roller skating, I did do a fair bit of reading just now about bicycles, and why it’s easier to stay on them when they’re moving rather than standing still. It has to do with torque, center of gravity, angular momentum, and the experience of the rider in controlling all of them. This is why newb skaters look wobbly while balancing on one foot, but vets can coast around ‘shooting the duck’ no problem.
CONFESSION: I can’t shoot ducks. Ever. If there is ever a skill that I will not be able to do – it will be that one.
To practice balance, not only do you just have to spend time on your roller skates doing goofy things, but you have to train all your stabilizer muscles, strengthen those ligaments and challenge your body to do new and interesting (and sometimes very scary things).
Incorporating heavy lifting, plyometrics, and yoga into your cross training program will help you erase instability and build your bursts of power.
6. Levels and Leverage
Along the lines of speed, balance, and understanding your body is the concept of understanding your levels and leverage. Being able to duck under a block, under stray arms flailing, or past a wall is excellent.
Knowing how to leverage your weight and body against opponents is super handy. Can you press your chest into a blocker and use that energy they put into you to bring your hips and feet around them? Can you bounce into a blocker and use the energy to move you forward? Can you put the levels and leverage together?
Practice (slowly) leaning onto a buddy who’s blocking you. Now see if you can create movement in your skates to move around them with this energy. Do it again, but this time, when you’re almost around them, press harder into them, duck, and snap your hips to get past them. The pressure and ducking will create momentum. You can use this momentum to steal points, or to get yourself out of a pack. After you get your hips around, practice planting your toe stop to spin out of the contact. If you practice right on the edge of the track, you can work on spinning out of the contact and avoiding the cut track at the same time.
7. It is not all about you
You are one of five players on the track from your team. You cannot play as an individual. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen teams make over the years is to give jammers the idea that they’re by themselves on the track.
As a jammer, it is your job to understand what your pack is planning for their defense, offense, and what formations they prefer to run. You are not just offense, but you are defense. For example: If your pack is blocking a jammer who is pushing them into bridging, it’s YOUR job to get your ass back to the pack as part of defense. You will hit the line of blockers, and either break through and they will chase you up OR you will push the wall up, far enough (hopefully) that team’s bridge will be ‘pack is all’.
If you don’t know how your team skates and strategizes, you will not be as effective at reading holes. How many times have you run into your own blockers? Yea. You should probably skate with them more often and learn how to communicate your own plan. Some teams use hand signals or code words to communicate between jammers and blockers, but the best way to use offense is to observe your team mates and know their tendencies.
As Smarty Pants once said, “Blockers make the points, jammers collect them.” So what this comes down to is LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR. No one wants it, no one appreciates it, and even Bonnie Thunders practices. You are not Derby Jesus so lace up and leave it at the door.
8. See the game, be the game
All the derby will help you. I know that not everyone can dedicate hours each day to watching the sport, but if you want to get better at the mental side of roller derby – you must watch it. You must understand how those better than you move and succeed and fail. You must be able to think critically about aspects of the game that you have not encountered. Watching footage, even one game a week split up into four 15 minute chunks will help you.
And don’t just watch the kind of derby that you play. There is WFTDA (of ALL levels), MRDA, JRDA, USARS, UKRDA, RDCL, MADE, and Renegade. Go to bouts, watch streaming tournaments, participate in open scrimmages – both flat and tilty. See the games, analyze the games, be the games.
When you’re at your home league, don’t be afraid to step out of the jammer box.
Practicing as a blocker will dramatically improve your jamming game, because you’ll understand the blocker psychology. You will have first-hand experience of how a blocker reads incoming movement, and how a good blocker will deal with different styles of jammer – because you will be doing it yourself! Then when you jam, you can use this insider information to your advantage when it comes to jukes, deceleration, and avoidance measures.
Like I said, ALL THE DERBY.
9. It’s not your gear
No matter how long you’ve been in the game, we’ve all fallen into the trap of “Well if I just had ______”. While, yes, having better/different plates, boots, wheels, etc etc can dramatically change aspects of your game, upgrading gear in the soul hoping of becoming a better skater is silly. Improving your skills will help you pass your 27 in 5, not faster bearings. Working on lateral motion will help you avoid an oncoming block, not different wheels. Strengthening your ankles will help you power through your crossovers, not a more expensive boot.
You must work on your craft and know how to manipulate your tools before gear changes will truly mean anything to you. Personally, I couldn’t tell the difference between a wheel with an overhang and a wheel with a square edge until about a year ago. I didn’t know why I couldn’t control my 45 degree plates until I had switched to my 10 degree plates and understood what my body needed to do to plow and edge appropriately. I didn’t know why I had trouble with my 10 degree plates, until I put on 15 degree plates and could feel the movement and control in the trucks in comparison. It’s more than equipment – it’s about your self-awareness in the equipment.
I know skaters who have certified and bouted in rental skates. Sometimes, it’s not your gear, it is user error. Admitting that to yourself can be one of the harder realizations one can come to in derby.
10. You can’t climb Everest in a day
There is so much to improve at, and it is easy to become impatient in this sport. What goals do you have? All the goals? Well you can’t meet them all at once. That’s just the nature of training and sport. Do not look at the peak of the mountain and think “WHY AREN’T I THERE YET?” Rather, focus on the little steps on the way up the mountain. You can’t reach the summit until you reach 1000ft, right? This is the same with training and learning.
You won’t be a D1 level jammer overnight. Sometimes you won’t over a year, or two years. Do not get frustrated, do not quit. Set goals, work hard, and then drill, drill, drill. Challenge yourself against new opponents, and challenge yourself to think outside your safety zone. We all want to be the greatest, but diligence is the key.
Didn’t do so well at practice today? It’s ok. You have to fail a whole bunch in order to start succeeding. You’re not going to be perfect (or even good) at all the skills you try right off the bat. You’re going to run into things that hang you up. Do not let that frustration eat you alive. Recognize where you’re having trouble, break down the movement into smaller chunks, and then drill, drill, drill.
And enjoy the journey along the way! You’ll meet some of your greatest friends in the sport, and through struggling with a thing together.
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
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.
What is your favorite city to play derby in? Definitely St. Louis, MO (Ohhh, the irony)! AND my of course, my hometown, Milwaukee, WI!
Who was your first WFTDA derby crush? First WFTDA Derby crush: Rice Rocket- Texas RollerGirls
Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? If I had to pick just one skater, (because my whole team inspires me and pushes me to work harder), I would pick my teammate, Atomic Mel Down! She plays the same position as me, but in another pack, so it’s easy to vibe off of her when we line up against each other at practice. She is strong, feisty and always gives 100%. I’m scared of the Red Dragon!
Which MRDA skater and why? I really have to give credit to my first two coaches, Streak and Powder. They not only pushed me personally as a skater, but they pushed the whole team to realize that our possibilities are limitless.
Also, I will always and forever crush on Percy Control (SLGK), Sugar Boots (YMMRD) and Screecharound (SLGK).
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? Erin Jackson (Baybee), Fancy Schmancy and Jamsterella.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? Olive Garden!
What song pumps you up? Arch Rival plays A LOT of music in locker room prior to a game. I would say GDFR has been the pump me up song of the 2015 season.
What is your favorite city to play derby in? I have found year after year that Milwaukee is a blast.
Who was your first WFTDA derby Crush? Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? Honestly, I have no idea who my first WFTDA derby crush was….I’m currently crushing hard on the Arch Rival All Stars. I have been skating for six years and I have never had to work as hard as I did this season. Our blocking line up is amazing this season which requires me to be focused and give it everything I have at every practice. Knowing that everyone on my team is fully committed to reaching the same goal is inspiring in itself and naturally makes me want to work harder to be the best that I can be for my team.
Who is your favorite MRDA skater and why? Percy Controll of the St. Louis GateKeepers. His dedication and hard work go unmatched. He strives to better himself and others around him on and off the track. He is committed to bringing St. Louis roller derby to a level to which it has never been. Given his role and the success of Arch Rival and the St. Louis GateKeepers in 2015, I would say he has been pretty successful!
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? Arch Rival loves each other! Who my roommates are going to be is always a surprise. We mix up roommates whenever we travel to enhance team bonding. We all end up partying in the same room once skating is done anyway.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? Does beer count? It’s loaded with carbs…
Luna Negra “The Lunacorn” #911; Rat City Rollergirls
What song pumps you up? I cannot pick one! This question makes me crazy!
Alright by Kendrick Lamar
Fragile by Techn9ne, Kendrick Lamar, ¡Mayday! and Kendall Morgan
Ambition, by Wale Featuring Meek Mill and Rick Ross
Flawless, Beyonce and Nicki Minaj
What is your favorite city to play derby in? Seattle. I love this city. I am so grateful that I get to travel to play a sport that I love, but the derby community in Seattle is so great! There is a lot of love and competition. The junior teams here are so competitive. We all work together to push each other and everyone is pretty nice.
Who was your first WFTDA derby crush?/Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? My derby crush is Freight Train, Texas. She skates with such power, grace and determination. It’s beautiful to watch.
Really, I have to say it’s the junior skaters that inspire me to work harder. These kids have moves and drive like I’ve never seen. They work so hard and they don’t hold back. I strive to play and practice like them. They are truly my heart and inspiration. Once they age into adult derby the game will be on a whole new level!
The kids are amazing….They are my derby heroes. Truth. Gal of Frey from Eugene Reservoir Dolls. Afro Jamurai and B. Moye, from Mob City LykkaLive Wire, Threatening Thunder, Elly/DisLykeHer and Lil Fist Fight, from Seattle Derby Brats, also, Mad Taco and Frank the Bunny from I5.
Even though….Lil Fist Fight is my kid, she hits me really hard. She doesn’t hold back on me. I try to steal her moves, but I can’t do them. We talk trash to each other quite a bit. She challenges me every day to be the best. I am biase and don’t tell her, but she is my favorite skater.
Who is your favorite MRDA skater and why?
Quadzilla challenges me every day. His skill is amazing. He is so quick and light on his feet, yet strong. I just watch in amazement.
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? My roommates are Astrid Suchy-Dicey AKA Belle Tolls and Sintripetal Force. All that happens is overanalyzing everything, eating, reading, sleeping, laughing and perhaps a prebout/postbout freak out or two. It’s fun.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? Patron, ice cream, and a steak or hamburger in that order. Don’t tell the kids.