Blockers have the task of creating unbreakable defense while assisting their jammer through packs of unbreakable defense. Blockers must have their head on a swivel, legs of granite, and the mind of a mathematician. Blocking is more than “Look! A star. I hit them now.” How can you work on your blocking chops? Check it:
Learn how your body works
I’m awkward. No one would ever argue that. My foggy, klutzy way of moving through space developed when I was 10 and just continued through adulthood. One of my favorite jokes is that I’m better on my skates than I am on my sneakers (and it’s funny because it’s true).
I didn’t really start understanding how my body TRULY works until I took two Movement classes for my theatre major in my early 20s. Not only were we challenged to move through space feeling every inch of our body and understanding where the tension and support was coming from, but we were forced to write a weekly movement and action diary. Until you really tune into how your foot placement affects the stretch your triceps, you do not truly understand the mechanics of this wonderful machine we’re all given. We would drop inhibitions in class, with our peers, and just move in the strangest ways we could. And we’d freeze, and we’d FEEL where things were. And we’d move more frantically. And after 45 minutes of this, you start to really understand how it all works on you, because it works a little differently on all of us.
Move. Write it down. Really feel the momentum of the strange dance. Take a couple minutes a day and just move around in strange interpretive dance ways and feel the stretch of your muscles and the support of your soft tissue.
Yoga will help you drive home control of the muscles once you understand how they all connect. I did not know what it really meant to ‘engage my core’ until I started working on inversions. Yoga will help you hone in on muscle awareness and control, it will strengthen your body and your mind. Yoga is not easy, and practicing yoga daily can be a game changer for your flexibility and mental control in stressful situations. If you’re feeling really adventures, get into the world of acroyoga or aerial dance. You will learn how all the muscles in your body work very quickly!
Practice your fancy feet
The biggest misconception I run into about blocking is the idea that blockers don’t need to practice footwork because “I don’t jam”. OK, first of all you DO jam, you just don’t have a target on your helmet.
Secondly, you have to jam in order to be a successful blocker. You need to understand what a jammer goes through when hit by friendly fire, or when team mates continually reform the pack in front of them when they’re trying to break on their initial pass. It feels like what I imagine drowning feels like. By jamming semi-regularly, blockers learn the internal debate within a jammer’s mind, and thus are better prepared to react to them when playing defense.
Tangent. Sorry. (I hate when people say, “Oh no, I don’t jam”. There is no quicker way in a RollerCon scrimmage line for me to hand you a star. You have been warned.)
I say that all blockers are jammers because we often end up at the back of the pack, with the need to get to the front. If you do not know how to get through a wall of blockers, you will be goated and rendered less effective. Actually, a mantra when I jam is: “JUST GET TO THE FRONT”. I’ll say it myself when I take the line (my team mates can vouch). I get to the front all the time as a blocker, so it should be no different when I’m jamming.
Footwork translates to maneuverability. It can be a clusterf***k in the pack sometimes. If you don’t know how to move your body in a way to keep you with your wall, and in a strong position, you will be defeated. You need to be able to smoothly work in your team’s formation and then move around other obstacles that get in your way. If you do not practice your footwork, you will be clunky and slow. You will be more likely to commit a penalty, or simply take yourself away from the action of being effective.
So practice your footwork and put on the star. I promise you won’t die.
In 2011, Oh Chit came to Harrisburg practice, and while doing scenario work, she popped to the front of the pack and began skating backwards. OUR MINDS WERE BLOWN. Slowly, over the next year, we saw more people engaging backwards hits as last ditch efforts to catch a jammer, to protect their point, or to give direction to their wall. It was widely accepted that only the best skaters should be skating backwards, and only after a lot of practice should you utilize a backwards blocking technique in game play. Why? Because derby is really hard. Derby while skating backwards is ridiculously hard.
Today in derby, it’s not uncommon to have skaters turn around specifically TO block. Why?
“I’m better that way.”
No. You aren’t. I’m not even sorry to break this news to you. There are maybe a handful of skaters in the entire world that are better blocking backwards than they are blocking forwards. Even they are exceptional at blocking forwards.
Think of how your body feels when you skate forwards compared to when your backwards. Here’s an insider tip if you haven’t started jamming yet: JAMMERS LOVE SPACE. The way your body balances when you’re skating backwards tends to create space between your hips and the opponent. If you give a jammer space, they will utilize their footwork and levels and get by you (or at least get your point). You can’t combat this with standing straight up, because that just knocks you down on your butt.
“Well I just hit them to stop their momentum!” Yea, that’s great, but what happens if they juke before you touch them, is your lateral backward movement STRONGER than a full speed jammer facing forward?
You might THINK you’re better when you’re backwards, but if you do some self-analysis, you will find that you are probably just more comfortable that way because you can see everything, or maybe because you’re not good at plowing and backwards blocking gets you out of having to use your plows and hips.
Backwards skating is most effective when you do so as a brace for positional blockers, and when you have the strength to support, the awareness to communicate, the mobility move the wall where it needs to go, and the strength to fill gaps with a positional block when jammers start to break through.
Positional blocking also teaches you control. Big swinging hits are fun, but they are a bit of a relic. It is important to know how to make a big hit, and know when a big hit is a necessary technique to engage. Keep in mind that when you swing for the fences on each opportunity, you strike out more often than knock it out of the park.
Positional blocking wins derby.
It keeps your body on their body. When you are sitting on a jammer, you own them. You know where they’re going because the moment they move, you can feel it and react. Plus, when you’re facing forward, your team mates can EASILY come up and support you in a wall, or sweep the jammer out of bounds. When you’re chest-to-chest with a jammer, it’s VERY difficult for team mates to give you the support necessary for success.
So this means: Practice your plows, balance, and control. Stop insisting that you’re better at backwards blocking. You’re not. Practice looking over just one shoulder when you’re positionally blocking: whichever shoulder will open your view to more of the track (so when you’re on the inside line, look over your right shoulder, when you’re on the outside line look over your left shoulder). Being a strong piece of a wall will make you an invaluable piece of any blocking line.
TO PRACTICE: Grab a buddy. One person is the blocker, one is the jammer for a set amount of time. The jammer’s goal is to get around the blocker WHILE MAINTAINING CONTACT. The blocker’s goal is to control the speed of the jammer by keeping them behind, or being able to walk the jammer to the line. Contact must be maintained, and no backwards blocking is allowed. Speed control is a MAJOR focus!
Stop on a dime
Practice your stops until you’re sick of stopping (and then do it more): Two foot plows, one foot plows, 180 toe stops, hockey stops. Not only do you need to be able to stop so that you can control your opponents, but also for pack control.
The second level of derby-brain involves pack strategy. If you cannot stop on a dime, you’re going to make your bridge at 11 feet, not 10. If you can’t stop on a dime, you may end up being a bridge for a crucial few seconds while your team mates are trying to draw the pack to the back. If you can’t stop on a dime, you’re going to be more concerned with stopping in game play, then actually playing the game.
Stopping on a dime allows you to walk a player to the line, but not go out of bounds. Being able to stop on a dime means you can join a wall and not glide past it. Being able to stop on a dime means you’re less likely to get knocked out of bounds, because you aren’t going out of bounds.
If you can’t stop on a dime by yourself, you’ll have a hard time charging into a block and stopping your gained momentum.
TO PRACTICE: Drill this stuff. Repetition, repetition. If you’re having trouble with a two foot plow, try a one foot plow. A one foot plow does not look like a two foot plow, and you’re simply pressing into one foot more. Rather your weight is primarily on one leg, and the other leg shoots in front to apply pressure to the floor through applying pressure directly down on all four wheels (kind of like a kick stand).
If you keep hearing people say “Get lower”, it means you are not activating your core enough. Often we spread our legs out more and think we’re getting lower when we do that because WE see the world get lower. Have someone video tape your plow stops so you can analyze your stance and practice putting your weight and pressures in different spots. “Play with the floor”.
For your 180 toe stops, check out this video (production quality is low, but people have told me has helped).
Always play with the amount of pressure you’re putting into the floor, and practice on different surfaces! (Especially for hockey stops)
Protect the line
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t let a jammer slip by on the inside line, and it is FRUSTRATING. Covering the line doesn’t just mean that you’re standing with your skate on the line and you never move. Derby is dynamic. You need to be able to support your team mates while still confidently protecting that inside lane. Lateral movement and keeping your head on a swivel are critical components for lane 1 defense.
Knowing where the line exists is crucial as well. You have to understand your space on the track. Every time you do a drill, be aware of the line. Respect the line. Just because you’re not ‘in game play’ doesn’t mean you get to cut track, or ignore your boundary. Being conscious of the existence of the line, in every drill, will help your muscle memory and subconscious be aware of the line when it matters most.
When you’re practicing, you should always be diligently keeping tabs of other skaters on the track. Upping your ability to look around and know where people are on the track while doing scenario work will translate to jammer and opponent awareness during game play. If you don’t know where the blockers are, you won’t know that they’re about to throw an offensive block. If you can’t keep track of the jammer, you won’t know that she’s seen you step off of the line.
TO PRACTICE: Work on your lateral movement across different widths of the track. Sarah Hipel has a great video of a cross over step into a slide, which will help you learn how to control change of direction. See it here. Edgework (that fancy feet stuff) will assist you in being able to move across the lanes.
You also need to understand how much room you can leave on the inside (or outside) line when you’re blocking. Don’t be afraid to line it up. When warming up, take a spot with your foot on the line, defending to your max. Now, move laterally with one step (whichever kind of step is most comfortable for you), and stop. That is as much space as you should leave at any point. If you come off the line more than that during game play, it is up to you to communicate to your team mates that you no longer have the line.
Lift heavy things
I won’t spend a ton of time here, since we always are harping on cross training. Lifting heavy is becoming more accepted in our community as an important piece of the cross training puzzle. Without too much physics talk, you can think of it this way: If you can apply 250# of pressure into the floor to lift a bar, do you think your legs will be able to apply a lot more pressure into your wheels to push an opponent out of bounds?
I wrote about changing up our ideas about cross training and weight training in my PERSPECTIVE SHIFT blog. Give it a read if you’re willing after this 3000 word adventure!
Leave your comfort zone behind
Do everything you can that you don’t like doing. Use your left leg to plow stop. Put your butt down lower than you think is necessary when you’re doing a pace line. Practice skills that you’re bad at. Jam. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for blockers to know how to jam. Don’t be afraid to fall. Being a good blocker means being willing to get a little uncomfortable – with your body position, with your endurance work, and with how you receive criticism.
Leave your ego at the door. Receiving criticism is outside of the comfort zone for many athletes. We get so caught up in trying to defend what we were trying to do, that we don’t listen to what our coaches and refs tell us. Instead of retorting when someone says, “Next time do _______”, say “Ok.”.
Have you fouled out for forearms usage, or do you always have team mates asking you to watch your direction while initiating a block? Maybe they’re not crazy. Maybe the refs aren’t out to get you. Maybe you actually do these penalties, and you have been too bull headed to admit that MAYBE you have been making a mistake. You need to step into the discomfort of admitting that you are not perfect and have things to improve. Don’t get angry because you were called on a forearm (again), but consider that maybe your metric for the penalty needs to be adjusted.
It is uncomfortable to be wrong. It’s ok. There is no perfection in derby. We all have things to work on, and everyone on your team wants you to succeed. They’re not telling you things to be mean, they’re telling you things so that you improve.
All the footage, all the derby. I will harp on this in every blog ever because you cannot improve your game unless you open your eyes to ways you can improve your game. If you never see other options of blocking or working with your team, you may get stuck in a rut. It’s possible you’ve been practicing a blocking technique that doesn’t translate to your body. By watching other skaters you will pick up pointers in tactic and skills to improve your own game. The more you understand the game of derby from the outside, the more your eyes will be open on the inside of the pack.
Watch all the derby, even the rulesets you don’t understand. Even the kind of derby you may have no desire to play. Watch it anyway. Understand it. Embrace it.
Your team is on a journey together. You can only work on blocking so much as an individual. You must rely on and trust your team mates to improve. Love and lift each other up. Have on your Big Kid Panties at practice – everyone is learning. If they back block you, tell them outside of the heat of the moment. Don’t call them out when it’s happening. Support and teach each other, and together the whole community will grow!
Now go forth and practice!
Khaos Theory Blog is run completely off my own funds. Make a donation now to keep the blog going!
Thank you to Phantom Photographics for the photos used in this blog. Please visit and support these photogs and more.
Kristie Grey (Merry Khaos) has been playing roller derby since 2009 and has coached almost as long. She has worked with over 20 leagues in 11 states, and five countries. She has coached on and off skates at Beat Me Halfway 2014 & RollerCon (2012-2015). She currently skates with Tampa Roller Derby. Active in health and wellness, she is an active Herbalife Health Coach, rock climber, and power lifter. For questions, booking, requests of topic, or help with a nutrition plan, message Khaos at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com
Things that are awesome: tournaments. Things that are not awesome: being injured at tournaments.
I am lucky enough to have a circle of friends that would not allow me to skip the recent International WFTDA D1 Playoffs in Jacksonville, Florida. The tournament is in my backyard, but due to my recent knee injury, I had planned on staying home with a tub of chocolate protein shake. I was planning a weekend of crying into my recovery dessert as I watched the stream and recognized my friends from afar, and cheered my team mates on through gurbled self-indulgent sobs.
Luckily, my tissue boxes were spared. WFDTA House Announcer Al B. Damm picked me up, and the now legendary DJ Ito offered up his place to crash in. I was in the building from open until close since both Al and Ito had to be there that long.
In 2012, I played Philly Roller Derby’s Block Party with the Dutchland Blitz. My knee popped in the 3rd jam, and I was put in a leg stabilizer. The next week, I piled into a tiny car with Lionheart, Toxic, and Kitty and we went to Atlanta to watch Champs. A leg stabilizer. At champs. The WORST. I forgot how bad that was until this weekend.
Convention centers don’t have wheelchairs you can use, are usually all concrete, and everything is spread out so that the space looks well used. Here are some tips if you’re planning on attending a tournament and you’re newly injured:
Borrow a camping backpack
I had a normal backpack, but I couldn’t fit as much in as I needed, which are things that are included in the other tips. A camping backpack has more room, and ways to strap things onto the outside.
Bring multiple pillows
Many tournaments have bleachers, but you can’t get close to the action. If you plan on doing ANY trackside sitting, bring a pillow to sit on, and then one to prop your leg on. Use your crutches as a barrier on either side so that people don’t get to close to the leg. Even if you plan on being in the stands, pillows are great for leg elevation and general comfort. Having a blanket or other device to sit on doesn’t hurt either.
Bring a gallon of water
Yes, it means you’ll have to use the bathroom more often, but it means you won’t have to be refilling a water bottle all day (ie carrying a bottle to the water fountain, carrying it back. Carrying anything on crutches is awful). Besides, your body needs a lot of water normally, when you’re in healing mode, water is SUPER important
Pre-make food and bring snacks
OK, OK, I know. You’re not “supposed” to bring in food and drink to these tournaments. It really makes the venue mad, and if everyone did this on a broad scale, it could cause trouble down the line. That being said, the less I had to move, the better. Also, the concession food at this tournament was not anything that a human body should attempt sustainability on. A HEALING human body definitely should not have tried to live off of $8 frozen pizza or $7 ‘nachos’ (chips and whiz).
If concessions would increase the quality of the food they serve, it would be better but until then, I’m going to save money and give my body the nutrition it needs for healing. I had a shake a day, 2 hard-boiled eggs, a small sweet potato, a serving of pre-cooked shrimp, a ham and cheese sandwich, and dried snap peas while at the event. Before leaving for the event, I had a Healthy Choice breakfast each morning since I knew I would be half asleep and unable to cook a big breakfast. I still wanted to be sure I had hot food to start my day. If you can pre-make some protein powder pancakes and heat those up – do it! (Those are also great to pack in a baggie and snack on) Herbalife has some other awesome snacks, immune boosters, and energy drinks that I love having on hand at events with recycled air and lots of people too.
Occasionally stretch and do PT exercises
Do not do your stretches on cold concrete, make sure you have at least a blanket underneath you, and make sure you do your stretches gradually throughout the day. I skipped them on Saturday and was hurting on Sunday big time. Protip: If you’re crutching around and you’re not used to doing miles on your crutches, skip doing lots of push-ups. I did one-foot incline push-ups (to make it easier) and my pecks and back are still angry at me from overworking.
When crutching, tighten your core and activate your posterior chain as part of your motion
What I really mean is “don’t crutch with just your arms”. Even at the right height, I found myself slouching when I use my crutches. When I made an effort to keep the core tight, and my spine aligned, my speed and mobility and comfort increased dramatically. Also, my abs hurt like WOAH the next day, so woooo for exercise!
Look, I’m sure you’re really used to wearing flip flops, but concrete is a cruel mistress when all you’re doing is walking on it, much less crutching and only using one foot. Your feet need the arch support and cushion of sneakers to absorb impact. This is a lesson I learned in Atlanta, since it was hard for me to put on a shoe in my stabilizer. You are going to have to go a far distance, wear sneakers. It hurts a lot worse when the edge of your flip flop catches a curb or crack in the sidewalk and twists. If you’re bend your knee to crutch, you’re going to have to keep your foot flexed to keep the shoe from falling off, which will fatigue the ligaments and muscles more, and cause more inflammation and pressure. Plus, when the shoe falls off, you’re just going to get increasingly more frustrated. (At least I did.)
Convention centers are cold. This weekend it was arctic level cold. I found myself unprepared. No blanket, one ¾ length shirt, one hoodie, a slew of tank tops and capri yoga pants. You’re going to be doing a lot of physically-demanding movement walking from the car to your spot, or your spot to the bathroom (that feels like it’s a half mile away), and then you’ll sit and the sweat will make you colder. Just, come prepared.
Don’t drink to intoxication
Alcohol is bad for recovery, even if it’s good for killing the pain. I’m not going to tell you to not enjoy a beverage while getting stoked out of your mind as the two seed upsets the three seed, I’m saying be smart about the drinking. Easing the pain is great, but don’t then act like your injury is fine. Also, crutching while intoxicated is a thing I never want to attempt again. I was off balance, my rhythm was off, and I kept catching the rubber stoppers on the cement, sending me forward. Learn from my mistake, Kids.
Don’t feel ashamed asking for help
I was a bad Khaos this weekend and would often leave my crutches somewhere, and complete tasks without them. What I should have done was call on those who had offered their help. You are injured and it sucks. Most of us have been there, had a close friend be there, or have thought about how we would feel if it had happened to us. While you shouldn’t treat your friends like pack animals to be used to your delight and amusement, if you need help carrying something, or really just want a pretzel or drink from the concession stand – don’t be afraid to your buddy to walk with you, or for you.
Don’t let being injured stop you from enjoying your sport
You may not be able to strap on skates right now, but you can still celebrate and be involved with the sport. Tournaments will have volunteer positions that you can do while seated, so lend a hand! When you’re not volunteering, actually WATCH derby. You can learn so much by just watching how teams deal with one another. Even the blowout games have lessons to be learned in handling your cool in hard situations, how certain movement may (or may not) be effective, and how to adjust strategy when your current plan isn’t working. While you’re injured, you get to be a fan and volunteer for derby, and you can better your game through observation, internalization, and visualization.
I’ll be posting more injury related blogs in the next months, and hope to be doing some writing on analysis. Also, with the Men’s Roller Derby Association Championships coming up next month, I’m going to start my articles previewing the 10 teams going to Champs. Very exciting!
If you’re interested in sponsoring a blog, team preview or a topic, contact me at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com. I am raising money since I currently cannot work. On September 2nd I jumped off of a bouldering wall after a great day of successful climbing and my knee displaced to the right. I have a chip of the tibia, a strain in my calf, a partial tear of the MCL and PCL, a hook tear in my meniscus, and my ACL is completely gone. This will be a long recovery, but I’ll be reporting along the way!
Thank you to all my supporters around the world, and as always, if you have a topic you are interested in hearing me talk about and research, drop me a message. And thank you to Phantom Photographics for providing rad photos yet again. Go on his Facebook and like his page, buy a print, get a koozie, buy a shirt.
I designed this class for beginners and intermediates (though advanced skaters could possibly get some tips and tricks out of it). Often, as you learn the sport of roller derby, there are little pieces that are missed. I’m talking about finesse pieces of the game; so you may be told “become a wall”, but you’re not told to “become a wall pretending there is a skewer through the four of you”. Little details make a skater great, and when you don’t have the little details [that no one told you about], you may be the one on the track getting yelled at by vets.
Before we got into anything we did a review of EDGING. Get into your proper derby form. Feel where the pressure is. Chances are it’s straight down through the middle of the wheel. We want to think about our wheels like the edge of an ice blade. Pushing through your EDGES, instead of the middle of your wheels, are how you get better at carving, stopping, and juking (and derby in general). Move around on your skates and feel where the weight goes when you’re on your edges.
General rules for roller derby that everyone should know and practice:
– DON’T LOOK AT YOUR FEET
– BEND YOUR KNEES
– YOUR ARMS ARE UNNECESSARY FOR ROLLER SKATING. Practice “Bonnie-Thunders-Floppy-Arms”
– GET NATURAL AT TRANSITIONS. Do them and do them and do them. Every chance, for hours, both directions
– DON’T SAY YOU CAN’T DO IT. You can do it, you just haven’t YET
Often when we say “Drop into good derby stance”, people bend their knees, or lean over, and stick their butt very far out. For your form, you want to work on your legs being at 90 degrees, your tail bone TUCKED under your spine, and your back flat and strong. No, you will not be able to maintain this at every moment during skating, but we want you to develop that tucked tailbone and strong back. The legs at 90 degrees will build strength for you to use in skating.
Crossovers are critical to the ability to play roller derby because they are the basis of roller SKATING. You don’t just do crossovers when you are making a lap or going fast, you need to be able to do crossovers within packs, and have the confidence to keep your balance and make the moves during game play. Crossovers are two parts:
STEP WITH YOUR RIGHT FOOT
PUSH WITH YOUR BACK FOOT
If you are bad at crossovers right now, here are things to practice:
– Getting lower: The more leg you have to use, the more strength you can put into your push.
– Balance: Get a big push and then pick up a foot. The one foot glides we do for certifications are there for a reason
– Confidence: Do Drunken Sailor steps. In this drill, you bring your leg as far and big off of the floor as possible, in order to crossover to the ground as far as possible. Then you do it with the opposite leg. When you get good at it, your legs will be making HUGE arches and you will continue in a straight line, despite veering off from side to side as you do your crossovers.
– Back foot push: We have all done the ‘eggshells’ (when you keep all 8 wheels on the ground, and your feet go in an hourglass shape on the floor to propel). With the back foot push, it’s the same idea. All 8 wheels stay on the floor. Your front foot does ZERO work, it simply guides you. The BACK foot makes an S shape behind your front foot in order to propel you forward. Notes on this: Your back foot should not come next to you front foot at any point. If you can’t do it, bend your knees. You have to wiggle your hips a bit to make this happen and it is A VERY DIFFICULT DRILL – especially if your hips are tight.
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 faced 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, in order to 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.
When jamming against a wall or individual that you are trying to get around on the edge, it is helpful to start low and end high. This was the best gif I could find, and though she trips at the end, she got all of her points and you can see she was starting to stand up into the block:
The idea is to hug the blocker with your body as you come through. You want to be as close to them as possible so that way they have no space to wind of for a hit. This is not a hit from the jammer, you are curving yourself around the blocker to get by them.
Pair up and take turns being the ‘jammer’. Do this slow at first; have the jammer start an arm length from the blocker. The blocker should be in a defensive position. When contact is made, the blocker should lean into the jammer. The jammer needs to make contact on the blocker low, leading with the shoulder (NOT THE HEAD), and try to curve around the body of the blocker. It is difficult to do at low speeds, but we are looking for form and the feeling first. You can increase the speed as you go, so that as the blocker is leading in, the jammer has something to hit against. As the jammer makes contact with the blocker, they press into their legs to stand up, leveraging themselves against the blocker, and establishing themselves in front of the other person.
Getting By the Swing
When an opponent is telegraphing that they’re coming in for a hit you have two options: burst past them, or hit the breaks.
Burst past: In your pairs, have one skater take small swings at the ‘jammer’. The jammer’s job is to change their speed the moment before they are hit by hopping forward. It is a burst of acceleration to get them past. I couldn’t find a gif. But watch Quadzilla of Puget Sound skate, he does it often.
Hit the Breaks: The swings will continue here, but this time, instead of the jammer bursting past the blocker, this time you will practice coming out of your derby stance, and (essentially) standing straight up in order to let the blocker swing by you. The goal is not necessarily to hit your toe stops, you are just putting all your weight into your toes to slow your momentum.
DISCLAIMER: Even when you’re good at this, sometimes you misjudge and you end up with an ass in your quadriceps and it hurts like hell. Often, even if they hit you, they will continue to move past you, however, so you can then begin running like hell again and escape them.
Hit the Breaks and Hop: This time, instead of the jammer just stopping dead in order to let the blocker swing by, they are going to hop the other direction, parallel to the blocker’s motion. So if the blocker is swinging from outside to inside, the jammer will hop from outside to inside. The jammer wants to be as close to the blocker as possible when they do this. These are last ditch moves.
Roll Off of Hits
This is something you see often in derby now, but no one tells you how to do it. Look at Mace as she rolls off of the hit by Akers:
In your pairs, start with a ‘jammer’ who will be moving around the blocker. Do this first at a standstill so skaters understand the physics behind it. The jammer will be tight to the blocker, the jammers’ shoulder against the blocker’s shoulder. The blocker needs to offer resistance, and the jammer is to snap their hips perpendicular to the blocker and push through their outside edges of the back foot to propel around the blocker.
Jammers want to keep contact through the push. This is a way to use the leverage of another skater to get them through on an edge of the track OR if a blocker has caught the jammer, and the jammer is trying to move around them. After both players have practiced this in slow mo, have them do it moving.
Blockers will use their shoulders to put a player down, or knock them to the side or out of bounds. Jammers can use them to break walls. Please note that if the blockers you’re coming up against are bent over (that is to say, there is no back to nail), than this is not a useful technique.
To practice using your shoulders independently of your arms, start by grouping into three skaters. Have two skaters sit on the floor back to back, tight. Then, the third skater should sit down, their spine in the gap between the other skater’s arms. Their legs out, it should look like a T. The third person should then practice her can opener hit by throwing her shoulder backwards (one side at a time) into her partners. After some time, have them rotate. This will help skaters learn how to JUST use their shoulders and if they can do it backwards, they can do it forwards.
To practice breaking through a wall, have two skaters form a wall and the third is playing the role of jammer.
NOTE: When doing drills like this, the walls should be tight, but not ridiculous; especially when a skater is just learning the skill. We want everyone to get reps in and know what a successful rep is like. As they improve, the wall can get tighter and more challenging. This falls under Rule #1 kids.
Jammers will hit the LEGAL piece of the wall with their shoulders to break open a gap and stop through. Blockers need to be engaging their core, tucking their tailbone and giving their jammer a strong back to hit!
See Through the Hole
Have a wall of two blockers, and one jammer, for this. The goal is for the jammer to make as LITTLE contact with the wall as possible. Start this drill at a standstill, with the jammer tight to the wall to replicate a jam start. Jammers should focus THROUGH the wall, not looking at either of the blockers. They should then work making their bodies perpendicular to the blockers, and side step through the wall. It’s most effective (I have found) by focusing on edges, but utilizing toe stops to push out and away from the wall.
Once you do this for a bit and become successful at it, have the wall roll, and let the jammer get a little bit of speed to try this. Again, at first, the wall should be tight but not impossible. As people get better at this, the wall can become tighter. Remember, this is NOT A HIT.
CREATING SPACE WITH BLOCKING
That two wall is now going to get hit by the jammer. Just like with the last drill, you will do this first at a standstill, then moving. Up the intensity as you see fit for your own team. For all of these, you want to start close to the walls. When you do them rolling, the jammer can get a little space.
Hit in the Ribs
Have the jammer aim for the “notch” that exists in every body. It’s approxiametly where the natural waistline is/the bottom of the rib cage. The jammer should be starting low, and completing this sharp, strong hit by pushing downwards into the floor as hard as they can, in order to launch into the ‘notch’, as they move their feet to get through the small gap created.
Hit in the Hips
This time, jammers will not be starting super high. Sometimes when blockers line up, there is a bottom that is sticking out of the wall a little bit. You want to aim for that with your hips. Jammers should practice stepping forward and into the wall in order to hip check the exposed ass out of the way. You are essentially stepping through the wall and assisting yourself through with one sharp, well placed hit. When the blocker is moved, the jammer should then quickly finish stepping through the hole.
Goosing the Line
Disclaimer: Not for every jam!! Not for most jams, actually. If you do this moving, do it slow at first.
Here is your target zone:
If you are having a hard time breaking through a wall, or you know that you are coming up against defenders who have beaten you and you need to play the ace in your sleeve, this is it. You use the boniest part of your shoulder, as you are in a deep squat, and then aim to the fleshy part of the SIDE of the blockers ass. This only works if there is a significant piece exposed. There are a bunch of nerves in the ass, and if you strike it sharply, you’ll get a reaction from the blocker. Yes, it’s legal, as long as you hit where the Xs are (not the tailbone!). Make sure to keep your head out of the way. If you’re using your right shoulder, tilt your head to the left as you strike.
PHEW. I think that’s it!!! If you took this class at RollerCon and you know that I missed something, please comment on the blog so I know and so that others can see it too! I’m sorry that it was so wordy, but I wanted to make sure I explained thoroughly for anyone who didn’t get to come to the class. I hope you enjoyed it, and make sure you tell RollerCon in the feedback form that you want to see more classes with me next year, and make sure you like my athlete page on Facebook. Also, DNA Coaching is booking boot camps all the time! Contact me at DerbyAmerica@yahoo.com if your league would be interested in hosting us.