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
1) What pump up song plays in your head when you take the track? Michael Jackson Beat It.
2) What is your favorite city to travel to play derby in? I prefer to play within driving distance so my family can come with me.
3) Who is your favorite WFTDA skater and why? Lacey Ramon aka Carmen Getsome. She’s not only a strong skater but also has a strong mental game. I’ve seen her put the star on in the final jam when her team is down and pull out a win more times than I can count. She always pushes herself to be better and never gives up.
4) When the team travels, which team mate(s) do you room with? It’s always different, I think I’ve shared a bed with all my teammates.
5) Which MRDA skater pushes you to be better [because they’ve beaten you in the past]? Cory Pain challenges me most. His dynamic style of blocking challenges me to be better. He knows my limits and pushes me past them.
6) What is your favorite post-bout food? Bobby Breadsticks
1) What pump up songs play in your head when you take the track? Ben Folds – Draw a Crowd Skrillex – Bangarang Bieber – Baby
2) What is your favourite city to travel to play derby in? Well we’ve never lost a game in St. Louis…
3) Who is your favourite WFTDA skater and why? The WFTDA ref in me is loath to answer this, but I would have to say the great Lorna Brown.
4) When the team travels, which team mate(s) do you room with? Aside from my special man friend Matthew Sutton….different each time, but the fondest memories are probably Lucky Charms out of a plastic cup with Reaps.
5) Which MRDA skater pushes you to be better [because they’ve beaten you in the past]? Once upon a time it was Mr. F but that feels like cheating now he’s with us! Frank Notsohotra is a classic example of a talented player who is also a pleasure to play against, and pushes you to be better.
6) What is your favorite post-bout food? Chilli, chips’n’cheese. Ace cafe for life.
Puget Sound is known for speed and agility. So Disco is known for power and lateral-backwards blocking. Both teams have velocity, and both team has bruisers, but this is a very interesting match up as far as dynamics. I think whoever can keep blockers out of the box more effectively will come out on top in this one.
After a heartbreaking five point loss to Shock Exchange, the men from London do not want a return trip home with no wins on their record. If they can use their strong blockers to grind the speed of Puget down, they’ll have an advantage. Puget is not thrilled at their loss to Texas yesterday, and are looking to re-establish themselves as a tour de force of derby. If they can use their speed (and their smarts) to draw the pack penalties (like they’ve done so well this year to other teams), it will give their jammers space to run and hop around.
1) What pump up song plays in your head when you take the track? It’s different every year. NYSE has a song we warm up to every practice. It’s a great mental exercise to get the team in a mind frame. This year we’ve been playing Panama by Van Halen. 2) What is your favorite city to travel to play derby in? I’ve liked a lot of cities we’ve traveled to. I think the nicest was Tacoma, WA for Champs last season. The Pacific Northwest is beautiful. I’ve always wanted to live there, but never ended up living there, for no particular reason. 3) Who is your favorite WFTDA skater and why? I’m a big fan of all of the NYSE managers: Swede Hurt, Vicious Van Go Go, Miss Tea Maven and Sexy Slaydie. I think I like the way Slaydie plays most. She’s helped me get a lot quicker and I just like the style she uses. If I had to describe it, it’s a style in which you use all of your physical strengths to as much of an advantage as possible. 4) When the team travels, which team mate(s) do you room with? It depends who needs a room. I’ve roomed a lot with Abe Drinkin over the past 2 years. 5) Which MRDA skater pushes you to be better [because they’ve beaten you in the past]? I think it’s probably Tony Muse. Your Mom is at the top of the sport, and everyone wants that for themselves. I think his leadership of that team has pushed me to work harder. I want for NYSE what he has achieved with Your Mom. That makes me work harder, always. 6) What is your favorite post-bout food? Anything, really. I don’t have a post-bout ritual other than stretching, and drinking a bunch of water. If it’s a food I like, I’ll eat it post-bout.
1) What pump up song plays in your head when you take the track? Song wise it’s either Adagio in D Minor or Heroes (Branchez remix) by Alesso 2) What is your favorite city to travel to play derby in? I really loved playing in Des Moines, it was so peaceful and calm and the surrounding area was picturesque, even though it was very flat I really enjoyed the peace and open space. 3) Who is your favorite WFTDA skater and why? My favourite WFTDA skater is Lexi Lightspeed, her footwork and track awareness is absolutely incredible! 4) When the team travels, which team mate(s) do you room with? When the team travels I spend a lot of time with Reaper, we shoot videos on long drives of us singing and we call it Shreaper FM. When it comes to rooming with teammates it all depends on who’s willing to share with me! 5) Which MRDA skater pushes you to be better [because they’ve beaten you in the past]? Sully from Lincolnshire Rolling Thunder springs to mind, he’s just a super talented skater who popped up on the UK scene as another young talent. We get on pretty well so it’s always good to play against him.
Apart from that I’ve gotta say my teammates, we always push each other to be better and our team mentality has been on point. And then finally, although they’re not skaters, I have to mention our bench staff in Rob BG and Betty Swollox, the focus and commitment they have to the team is second to none and they’re constantly giving us the advice and guidance we need to strive and push to get better. 6) What is your favorite post-bout food? Post bout food is probably a really crispy apple, at least that tides me over until I can find as much cooked meat and pasta as I can possibly find.
NYSE is a continual powerhouse, and SoDisco are a dominant force in the UK. Shock has added some talented skaters since Mohawk Valley Cup, including Stankus (Quadfathers) and I Don’t Care Bear (Jersey Boys). SoDisco got some heavy hitters back, including Mr. Furieux and Ballistic Whistle. Both teams have a jammer rotation far deeper than its typical 3-man line-up would indicate.
NYSE has, in the past, had better grinding wall work then SDRD, but the UK boys have been closing the gap of experience the past few years. Both teams have big hitters (Geoffrey vs Sutton, and Abe vs Spectral should keep us all entertained). This is sure to be a highly physical bout, NYSE doesn’t want to lose their place on the podium, and So Disco is hungry to be the first international team to medal.
Stream the 3/6 bout live on WFTDA.tv at 1pm CST on Saturday, October 17, 2015.
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.
(Sorry for the cliché opening. I’ve been hoping for a reason to use it for years.)
Seriously though, they are. Only they come bearing red Bonts, not red coats (and if we’re lucky some Blue Coat … and limes, but that’s another issue all together). Southern Discomfort is my new favorite derby team, and with the sheer amount of talent on the roster, I’m sure no one is surprised.
Their skaters qualified to play at the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup on Team England, France, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland: Seven chartered skaters appeared at the Men’s World Cup. Several others from the So Disco league were also featured during the WC, even though they don’t appear on the SD charter. It’s very possible that they are the MRDA team with the MOST skaters on World Cup teams (just based on what I’m seeing). Thanks to Flapjack for helping me come up with some of the World Cup info!
From London, England, So Disco has been together since 2010, when players from the south of England (who would get together to play men from the north of England) decided to ban together and start the first men’s team in the UK. Like their sisters, the London Rollergirls, SD didn’t have the luxury of being able to travel to close, competitive teams.
“I think our coach Kitty sums it up best when she says that the distance can actually work in your favour. We don’t always know what other teams are up to so we have to assume that they are flat out training and playing. This means we have to work harder than that in order to compete.” – Samdroid
The first look most of MRDA had of the team was this year during the week of Spring Roll in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The lads crossed an ocean for an infamous “7 games in 9 days”, where they took on 3 of the 4 top ranked MRDA teams (Shock Exchange was the only one they didn’t get a crack at). The start of the tour was tough because of the extreme jet lag felt by the team, and they ended the adventure playing the GateKeepers. They looked like the Walking Wounded by the time the bout finished up, they had all put so much into that 9 day stretch.
“I think this was a great experience for everyone. Those tight knit situations, being on top of each other for nine days can either bond you together or split you apart. For us it was a great bonding experience, it was great to play so much derby together and really get to know our rhythms. We met a lot of really lovely people who put us up, gave us lifts and food and were so hospitable. The toughest games were the first couple in Des Moines, where we were playing at the equivalent of4am UK time. Not a lot of people can remember those two clearly and the final game at Spring Roll was tough just because we had been so beat up. That was one just to get through.”
So how did I fall in love with So Disco? By watching them play Mass Maelstrom on Friday night at Spring Roll. We all know I’ve been a Maelstrom fangirl since SR ’13, so of course I was track side (especially with this unranked international team as the first match up). After the first jam, I knew that we were in for an amazing bout – So Disco flat out muscled the Maelstrom jammers for the first half. It is a feat to keep Jurasskick Park in a pack, but combination of men like Spectral Aberwraytion, Hooks Linger, and Rolling StoneR on the floor kept all the Maelstrom jammers fighting for every inch. I loved the acrobatics of Mr. Furieux, the backwards agility of Sutton Impact, the airiness of Reaper; I loved watching Ballistic Whistle toe up against Wes Turn (two jammers with very similar styles and amazing footwork).
Right so fast forward: The game was tied at the half (TIED!), but the second half proved too much of an endurance game and Maelstrom ended up winning by 50 points. Eventually the offense/defense switched helped establish MM’s hold on the game. I was sold on Southern Discomfort at that point though. It was over.
All told, So Disco went 3-4-0 during their run in the states. They beat Twin City Terrors, Capital City Hooligans, Denton County Outlaws, and CT Death Quads, while they fell to Your Mom, the GateKeepers, Mass Maelstrom.
When rankings came out in June 2014, SD anxiously waited to see whether they had broken into the top 8 on their ranking appearance. “Disappointed” is how players described their feelings when the rankings were released with Southern Discomfort sitting at the 9th position. With unranked Denton County Outlaws slated to play the #8 Deep Valley Belligerents in August, SD still held onto hope that they would make it to champs thanks to their hard work (and their victory over DCO at Spring Roll). See my Denton County blog about why this mattered.
In the meantime, while the rankings were left up the good folks of Denton County and Deep Valley, So Disco focused in on the Men’s European Cup. With determination in their eyes (and their training), they took what they learned during their time in the states and implemented it into their gameplay. And, quite honestly, they dominated. No one else at the MEC even came close to defeating them. Then the next good news came: Denton had soundly defeated #8 Deep Valley before the final rankings for Championships were due. When the September rankings were released, So Disco found themselves at #7 in the MRDA. They had punched their tickets to Maritime Mayhem.
In the first round, So Disco gets another shot at the St Louis GateKeepers. With both teams at full strength it should be interesting to see how this shakes out. Both teams have exceptionally strong blockers and equally as wiley jammers. Both have fluid walls and communication. This could be one of the best bouts of the 2014 MRDA Championships. I doubt that Southern Discomfort walked away from their loss at Spring Roll without some lessons (or the footage on DVD to watch over and over and over).
In the fan survey I conducted, a handful of people said that they’d be rooting for Southern Discomfort during the tournament and believe that Mr. Furieux could be named the Tournament MVP because “Dude does not fall down ever.” (WildStyle, Capital City Hooligans). Casanovacaine is giving it to #666, Reaper “because he has skills and flare and is an all-round lovely chap. And has fought through injuries to be stronger and better.”
The countdown is on for the MRDA Championships, keep an eye on their webpage for info as it’s released. If you want to get more info about Southern Discomfort, visit their webpage! To support their GoFundMe and get some wicked So Disco merch, you need to visit their Fundraising Page ASAP.
When asked if there was anything else the world should know about So Disco, Samdroid simply replied:
“We’ve discovered that we’re not particularly keen on elephants as a league, which is quite interesting.”
It’s almost here: The 2014 MRDA Championships. This week, skaters, officials, announcers, and fans will descend Tacoma, Washington for Maritime Mayhem, hosted by Puget Sound Outcast Derby. I figured that I should do a preview of the teams, like last year, to get us all amped up about the tournament. Coming in as the Eighth Seed is a new team (to the MRDA and the tournament): The Denton County Outlaws.
Fun fact: Denton County is debuting in the Top 8. A feat not easy now that there are so many member leagues. BOOM. Nice work, fellas.
I got to watch DCO play at Spring Roll this season. Truth be told, most of us watched their bouts because they (as well as the Cincinnatti Battering Rams and Southern Discomfort) were giant wild cards in the MRDA at that point. Most of us fans had not seen any of the teams play and we were curious at the showing they would make. Denton was of particular interest, since many of us had watched some of their vets play on Dallas Deception, Magic City Misfits, and Team USA previously.
DCO definitely came out swinging. They played the Carolina Wreckingballs (ranked 16th at that time) first. They came out with a definitive strength and speed that the Balls just couldn’t handle. Game 2 of Spring Roll brought them against a different kind of Wreckingball: the lads from London, Southern Discomfort.
Side Note: After the game against the Carolina Wreckingballs, the lady fans of the Balls decided that Denton won the “Team Sexy” award for 2014. “Bout Sexy” of Spring Roll went to the Denton County Outlaws v Southern Discomfort. (For those who have been reading my writing, you may recall that 2013’s SR winner was Bridgetown Menace v Mass Maelstrom.)
So Disco was able to [mostly] capture the jukes and ducks of DCO jammers (it was a blast watching Haterade give them a hard time though). The walls of Denton blockers just didn’t have the same experience as their competition, but it was a phenomenal bout. DCO only lost by 99 points (super impressive considering So Disco had lost to #4 Mass Maelstrom by only 53 points the night before). DCO rounded out their Spring Roll with a definitive win against the Canadian powerhouses on the Mont Royals.
The Outlaws have only been together since March of 2012. They skate out of the House of Quad (just north of Dallas), and get to share the space with North Texas Derby Revolution and the Rolling Rebellions, a junior league. While they have picked up vet skaters, newbies to derby like Keith Rucker are making their mark on DCO. Vet TJ Binkley says:
“Keith is our under-rated jammer. He is a rink rat but fairly new to derby. [He] has some moves …that he shouldn’t be able to. The guy is fearless.”
When mid-season rankings came out, DCO was still unranked, since they had not played their 5 sanctioned MRDA bouts. The world of men’s derby (ok, maybe just me and a few other people who are rankings nerds) were waiting with baited breath to see how DCO did at the Arizona Rattleskates’ Southwest Sausage Fest.
Well let’s talk rankings for a second. In the WFTDA there is a fancy new equation that helps the organization calculate rankings. In the MRDA they’re still doing things a little old school. So the member teams vote. That being said, if a team has established wins that calculate out properly, they tend to move upward. Here’s what we need to look at:
Southern Discomfort played 3 of the 4 top teams in the MRDA and lost to them, but … only lost to Maelstrom by 50 points (almost a tie in derby standards). Denton lost to So Disco by 99 points. DCO was slated to play Deep Valley Belligerents at SW Sausagefest. DVB was ranked #8 at mid-terms. Right. So if DCO could beat DVB, that would mean that they were better than the #8 ranking and since So Disco had beaten DCO by a larger margin, it would mean they were at least better than at least the 8 seed. (Ok, so maybe me and So Disco were waiting with baited breath for Sausagefest).
Sorry. Back to writing about derby now. //EndRankingNerdMoment
As you may have figured out, DCO DID beat Deep Valley. The walls of DCO had strengthened since I watched them play at Spring Roll (through the magic of the interwebs, I got to watch the stream of Sausagefest). The walls were more fluid and worked as a unit to contain, play offense as they were playing defense (yay!), and kill penalties. Deep Valley simply couldn’t contain the DCO jammers. I wish I could give you stats on this one, but it seems that the stats package hasn’t been uploaded to FTS. Womp Womp. I will say that I particularly enjoy watching Lucky Charmer magically break through packs and Phillip Stout working with his team mates to destroy opponents.
So let’s talk Champs. Denton is facing off in the first round against Your Mom Men’s Roller Derby. To say they’re the underdog is a bit of an understatement. Especially since one of their primary jammers, aforementioned Haterade, is out recovering from surgery. Binkley says the guys aren’t looking at their underdog status as a negative stance though:
“Our main goal is to have fun and learn from each game. We just want to the rest of MRDA that we belong here. Whatever place we finish in at the end of the tournament accomplishment since this is our first time being ranked. I know the DCO guys will soak everything in and come out of this tournament that much stronger. [Denton County is] extremely excited to be a part of the years champs. It’s every team’s goal to make it to champs. I’m just happy to see our goal come to life!”
Regardless of how this weekend turns out for Denton, you can be sure they are going to come out with fast feet, spins, hops, and powerful blocking.