Tag: made

The reality of returning to roller derby after injury

The reality of returning to roller derby after injury

They always tell you that coming back from injury is hard. They always tell you to ‘ease in’, ‘listen to your body’, and that ‘it takes time’.

No matter how many times you hear those words, it never truly sinks in until you’re three weeks back into a full derby schedule competing for a travel team position with a D1 league.

August 31, 2015 was my last practice of the season pre-injury. 7 months later I had surgery.

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8 days post ACL reconstruction with hamstring graft. “Gotta be weak before you can be strong”

4 months later I was back on my skates. In another 2 months, I could hit people! But the thing we all dread happened: I incurred a different injury a month after contact clearance.

Luckily, it was a medium sprain and not a major tear. Once I returned home from Europe (it happened on day 3 of a 5 week trip) I was able to secure the blessing from my ortho (as long as I wore my SECOND KNEE & DonJoy when skating), and made my way back into training.

I was lucky. We all say that we’re going to come back quickly, but I actually did. I worked hard, set goals, and was lucky enough not to go through any major set backs.

On January 4, 2017 (with a desire to throw up all over the place), I went back to Tampa Roller Derby for the first practice of the New Year.

The thing about returning from injury [that the non-injured don’t realize] is that you relive your injury over and over again in those first practices. All you think about is “What happens if I feel ______?” and “Oh gosh, that person is coming at me fast”. At some point, you contemplate the injury, and the possibility of re-injuring (especially if you have already experienced a re-injury).

No matter how many people you ask about “How do I conquer the mental hurdle of attacking practice after injury?” you will never find a true answer. You may get those answers in the first paragraph. Maybe someone will talk about how they visualized success (this was something I did), or how they tried to distract themselves through the first practice. There is no trick that I have found to click your mind into being confident returning back to practice.

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I spent my time during injury reffing to keep my skating skills, reflexes, mind, and eyes sharp. Plus, being a Zebra is kind of fun. Photo by Phantom Photographics

Step one to coming back: Don’t beat yourself up for being scared or tentative. That said, if you are SKATING scared, you need to knock it off. Skating scared is how you hurt yourself or someone else. So if you’re on the floor and you can tell that you’re stiff or tentative, remove yourself. Go to the side of the rink, and get your legs under you a bit. There is no shame in nervousness; there is no shame in taking a step back.

The caveat is this: Eventually you have to trust yourself and try. Just like how we all have to be able to define the difference between “injury” and “effort” when it comes to pain; we have to be able to discern trepidation from actual physical inability. Yes, it’s scary. The mind is a powerful place.

I was so scared on my first night of real hitting. I kept thinking about what it felt like for my left leg to be “plucked” when I would hit someone to the outside. My ortho told me to stop being scared and play my sport. I pulled aside a skater who I trusted and asked them if I could hit them a bit at a standstill. It gave me confidence that it wasn’t going to pop at first contact. From there, I moved into the drills. I primarily made hits to the inside, gaining back my confidence.

A team mate told me that I can’t play derby if I’m afraid of hitting. So the next time I was up, breathing steadily, I took my old inside position, and just played roller derby. Did I hit as hard as I used to? No. But with each repetition I gained confidence. With each scenario, I focused more on derby, less on my leg. Trust your PT, trust your training.

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Don’t trust your quad strength? Add in this exercise! Increase the height continuously. I love using treadmills, they’re tall, they have tread on the sides, and you can increase the incline for more challenge

The thing they don’t tell you is how much it’s going to hurt to come back.

Not your injury (well maybe your injury depending on circumstances), but everything else. You see, I spent 6 years getting beat up by my friends 3-5x a week. I started with lower impacts at the beginning, and worked my way into D1 leagues. The hits are heavy and precise [mostly]. Coming back from injury, I hopped right back into the level I left, there was not a gradual ramp up. I went from 0 impact to 100% impact.

Yes, you get bruises. We’ve all seen the grape-shaped prints of our friends blushing into a nice purple shade on our arms and shoulders. We all get pad burns from our team mate’s Velcro. We get bumped in the nose by a stray helmet. These are typical and expected.

What I didn’t expect was how sore my chest and shoulders were from being braced. I have spent my off time doing push-ups, pull-ups, bench press, and every other shoulder/back/chest exercise possible. It didn’t matter. Also, the debilitating stiffness brought on from absorbing impact as a blocker seeped its way into my back, core, hips, and legs. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve run, deadlifted, squatted, sprinted, or jumped. There is no way to train on your own for being run into incessantly by world class blockers and jammers.

I actually just recommended to a team mate who is 12 weeks post op, that she should get a foam bat and she and her girlfriend could take turns hitting each other with to prepare them to come back to derby! Could be a fun destresser, and no foam bat is going to hit anywhere as hard as Tazmaniac coming in full steam.

What else I didn’t expect is the continued feeling of dehydration, mental exhaustion, and hunger. I’ve been on Team Always Hungry for a long time now, but my body is craving more food than ever. Even when I drink a gallon of water a day, it doesn’t seem to be enough. My body can’t seem to get enough protein and good fats! I crave them always.

I knew my body was going to experience some bumps, but after 2 weeks of 3-4 practices of 2-3 hours each, I feel like I have been run over by a truck. I may have been. Her name may have been Dakota Dynamite actually….

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Tampa always relies heavily on bracing and positional blocking. It’s up to one or two blockers to absorb the impact of full steam jammers. Photo by Phantom Photographics

They also don’t mention that you ARE going to injure something else. At least, you’re very likely to. Will it be as serious as your first injury? Probably not. Even ‘easing’ into full game play, there is an element of ‘jumping ahead that happens’. I was not going to spend 6 years getting back to D1 level play, but those 6 years had prepped my body, joints, and muscles for it.

If you had a knee or ankle injury, prepare for a hip flexor, hamstring, or groin muscle to be in pain. If you had a shoulder injury, chances are your other shoulder is going to ache more than usual. It’s the nature of imbalance. Subconsciously, we favor. Even when we’re diligent, it’s common to pull something else. Your whole body tightens unless you are forever diligent. If your calf and feet are tight, your hip flexor may pull. If your hips are tight, your hamstring may suffer.

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A scene all too familiar to many of us. At least I had SKIN WARS to keep me company.

The social side of returning to derby can be odd.

Some people will come back to cheering crowds of friends, and open arms. They will have felt missed, and like their team was with them through the whole recovery process. Most of us, somewhere along the way, lose touch with people and leagues a little bit. Sometimes we do on purpose.

I know many people that have said to me, “Wow! I can’t believe how involved you’ve been while injured” (I jam coached Molly Rogers RG, reffed, and announced) “I couldn’t do it when I was injured, I was too sad.”  Pulling away was their defense mechanism. For me, being involved was my way to keep sane.

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I went to Sting of the Hill to ref, but when I had free time, I got to work with the golden voice of Sweet Willy T. Staying involved kept me happy.

Most of us actually come back to leagues that are happy to have us, and excited we’re back but they’re not throwing parties for us. You should not anticipate a great homecoming or outpouring of affection. Know that people want you there, but they are not going to fall all over you upon your return. For me, it felt like I was transferring in again. I had been gone for almost a year and a half, living on the other side of the state. Many people were still there, but many were new. I have had to re-earn trust, demonstrate commitment, and show that I am healthy and able-bodied.

Just because you had to earn respect among your peers once, don’t think you don’t have to do it again. Just because you were on the A team before, don’t expect them to just save you a space; always expect to work for it.

Be hungry to work for it.

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From the moment I found out I was going to have surgery, I focused on the end goal of returning to play. Stay hungry.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from coming back it’s that you’ve gotta have a plan of recovery for after each practice day. Incorporate yoga before you come back. If you’re tight when you show up, it’s just going to get worse for you. Keep doing your PT every day. Incorporate new PT as your back, hips, and legs tighten and react to the new world of pain. Drink all the water now, so that you’re already hydrated when you get to practice down the road. If you haven’t flipped or rotated your mattress in a while – DO IT. It can make a world of difference. If your pillow is too small or flat, go to Marshall’s and nab a new one. It’s worth the $15.

Get a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, and make a foam roller out of PVC pipe. Use them liberally.

Use this time to get new gear. What hasn’t been replaced in a year? Get a new one. Just do it. Also, pick up some compression gear and impact gear; obviously I’m a big fan of Steaks Roller Derby Accessories. If you have been contemplating shin guards, go check out the soccer goodness of ArmourFlex Sport.

Cross train. Pick up a sport other than derby. Be smart about your choices, but doing something more than just skating will help your body be strong in many ways. Weights. Plyo. Sprints. Other sport. (I am fond of rock climbing personally)

Eat after practice (your body needs the supplies to rebuild your muscles), and eat in the morning (your body needs to be fed after the 7-9 hours of rest). Meal supplements, post-workout shakes, electrolyte support, multivitamins, other vitamins … you may think it’s hogwash, but I can promise you it helps. Your body needs calories, protein, fats, fiber, and carbs to keep up your energy and performance. Drop me a line at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com if you want to talk nutrition and supplement support.

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Most importantly:

EMBRACE THE FUN OF THE GAME.

I really feel that those of us who have come back from long injuries have a really great appreciation for the sport that we get to play, and we should cherish each moment that we get to execute on roller skates. I know that once my nerves about my leg subsided, I settled into really loving and executing. Yes, I still get frustrated with myself, but I am also way quicker to laugh and smile when my team mate levels me or pushes me out of bounds.

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The game and the people in it are way too much fun to be a seriouz face all the time! Laugh and love your sport!

 

I love this game. You have to love it to suffer an injury and spend the next year and a half obsessing to jump back in. Good luck, Fellow Gimps! If you have anything you’ve learned along the way, or tips on how you came back to sport from injury, please share in the comments!!

Do you love Khaos Theory? I need your help to keep it running! I pay for it out of pocket and the domain name is coming up for renewal! Want to help keep it going?
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 (KTD only needs $65 to keep going!! This year I want to expand into video recipes and more HOW TO’s!)

Thank you, Phantom Photographics, for the pictures used in this blog. (Go buy photos or a shirt from him)

Phantom Photograhics

 

 

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Building more than “just” a B-Team

Building more than “just” a B-Team

I have been a skating member for leagues of different sizes, ranking, and cultural expectations. I have visited, coached, and reffed more than 50 leagues in 20 states and five countries. Each league’s BoD was structured slightly differently, each coaching staff ran a different way, each team dynamic was different. There are threads of familiarity throughout each, however. There are commonalities of good and of bad, of support and of discord. When a league is split into separate teams, there can be either an equal share of positive growth, or lines drawn in the sand.

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My time at Charm City was spent on home teams and on the C Team. It gave me a chance to really get my mind right and my goals straightened out. Photo by Tyler Shaw Derby Photography (http://tylershawprintscharming.zenfolio.com/p417558588)

I was given the opportunity to referee and stream announce the B-Team Championships held in Atlanta, Georgia in October 2016. I got a chance to talk to the skaters from different teams and I heard comments that I have heard across leagues across the world. You would watch these teams and think “How on EARTH are they not on the All Star team?” In some cases, it’s a matter of the league having too much talent, so they [essentially] have two All Star teams. In other cases, you hear skaters talking about how they are passed over because of a conflict or lack of commitment seasons ago, negative talk from coaching, or flat out Elitest dismissal from All Star coaches and team members.

I have been pondering this blog for over a month now, to express how we can build a positive environment for our skaters and be sure that no one feels negative connotation in being “Just a B Teamer”. Also, substitute “Home Teamer” or “C Teamer” etc as necessary.

Before I dive in, you may be thinking to yourself already, “BUT OUR LEAGUE IS A MESS TO BEGIN WITH! HOW CAN WE EVEN START MAKING OUR B TEAMERS FEEL IMPORTANT??”

To which I would reference you to another lengthy blog: League Rebuilding: When a middle ground is needed between ‘competitive’ and ‘rec’ derby

Positive Spaces

Creating a positive space for your league members is very important to the mental health of everyone. When I say ‘positive spaces’, I mean track times where no one is insulting each other, scrimmages where abuse towards the refs is not tolerated, and times where league members can talk to their coaching staff about goals and concerns.

Too often I have heard recounts, or experienced myself, stories of the All Stars and B Teams not trusting one another, or shouting when receiving big hits, or sneering on the line when a new jammer steps up. I have also seen All Star and League coaches ignore B Team skaters completely. I have talked to skaters who feel as if they are blown off when they look for feedback, or that coaches neglect to offer words of encouragement to anyone but the ‘superstars’.

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Namur Roller Girls’ B Team still has plenty of talent. Photo by NSP 189 (http://www.facebook.com/nsp189)

As a coach, a captain, a league-mate, be aware of your attention and energy. It is easy to fall into the trap of only complimenting the top skaters, since they probably are doing rad things on the track. Make sure to be aware of your skaters that are learning and progressing, and offer them compliments (and critique) along the way as well. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to get the occasional “Hey, your plows are looking way better!” to keep them happy, positive, and on track. Being the All Star coach and making a guest appearance at league practice to help with developing skaters (even just once in awhile) can make a huge difference in morale.

Too often I have heard officials talking about abusive skaters on the All Star team. The skaters are know to shout and scream at their team and the officials, with no repercussions; no disciplinary action. To allow top skaters the right to be abusive creates a culture of acceptance of such actions, which then lets other skaters (the proteges) believe it is acceptable behavior. When one level of skater is punished for behavioral issues, and the other is not (the ‘lower level’), you have a recipe for dissent and anger among the ranks, all in the name of “keeping talented skaters”.

This is not a safe space. This not a place where players or officials will continue to come with a happy face to learn. They will become despondent, bitter, and (if lucky) they will transfer. If derby is unlucky, they will quit altogether. Nurture and support people, do not beat them down for imperfection or for penalty calls you did not agree with. Do not tolerate those who do either, no matter how many apexes they jump per game, and no matter how many jammers they soul crush.

Building Cultural Value in Your Other Teams

What are the goals of your All Star team? To win games? Gain rankings? Beat other teams they come up against with strength, strategy, and increasing skills?

Now how do you practice those things? Against one another, of course, but there will come a time where your All Star blockers will understand the fundamental tactics and tendencies of your All Star jammers, and vice versa. Yes, they will continue to push each other, but there comes a point where a team must play against another squad to keep from plateauing.

Who, then, does your All Star team have to compete against on a regular basis?

Yup. Your B Team.

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Tampa Roller Derby’s Sea Sirens (C Team) are so dangerous with skilled players like Cookie Jarr’d, that they have been known to beat all star and B teams from all over the state. Photo by Phantom Photographics

So what I’m trying to say is this: If your coaches, captains, and All Stars promote the idea of “Our All Stars are stellar because our B Team is stellar” you have a happy bunch of skaters who are all striving to push each other more. If you build a structure of ‘everyone getting better so that everyone gets better’, then each skater will build their personal skills with the goal of the team in mind, instead of the self.

Most B Teams I have come in contact with don’t promote any specific B Team cultures. Skaters are subtly encouraged to keep self preservation in mind – either to boost themselves up to the All Stars, or to maintain their seniority on the B Team. Training is not about making the team better, or about the team’s impact on the All Stars/C Team/Home Teams, but is seen as a way to showcase individual talents in order to impress the decision makers.

The other side effect of B Teamers not understanding their effect on the All Stars is this: a division can be created. It is one thing for a skater to say, “I’m ok with the level of play at this level, I can’t give more commitment or more of myself,” or “I love my team, we work well together, I fit in here.” It is another thing to hear skaters say, “Well I have to be happy at this level because the All Stars will never have me,” or “The All Stars only care about themselves, the coaches care only about the All Stars, they don’t see me and I won’t ever get better.” I have seen the ‘self-preservation’ mentality of individuals manifest into an US VERSUS THEM culture within leagues.

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Jacksonville Rollergirls have been putting concerted effort into creating a positive place for their B and C team skaters. Photo by Phantom Photographics

It is not healthy for the league to have B Team players feeling as if they are their own island. It is not healthy for them to feel as if they are detached from the All Stars, as if they were left behind, or blotched with some derby curse.

And, shocking to say, it’s not helpful when coaches and captains ignore that such feelings have manifested. Keep your eyes open and be diligent when you are in places of higher standing, since it is so easy to shield yourself from negative vibes while going “Lalalalala everything’s great!”. It’s easy to think that everything is going swimmingly, but I implore you to listen to the heartbeat of your league. Keep an ear to the ground and be open to critique and criticism. Your league could be sprinting up in the rankings, while still harboring negative practices that will effect the longevity of those rankings.

Changing the culture of a league is not easy, but it can be done with persistence and positivity (and maybe some stern stuff on the part of leadership). Separating the All Stars from the B Team can cause an elitist attitude to manifest which will be felt by your developing skaters, who are the core of your league.

Practice Spaces

Part of the culture change comes along with the idea that the A and the B teams are not separate. Might there be skill differences? Absolutely. I have written before that the best way to improve as a skater is to practice with those better than you, and if you are curious about combining skills you can also check out this blog: The House that Derby Built: 4 Corners of Training with Mixed Levels.

Combining forces of A and B squads have many advantages to a team. See above for cultural implications.

When skaters practice in the same space, they can inspire each other. They can challenge each other. They can give feedback to each other. They learn the same skills and strategy. B Team skaters can learn from All Stars, All Star skaters can be infected by the enthusiasm of B Team skaters. Also, skaters get more track time.

“But Khaos! There will be more people, that means LESS track time”

Actually no. If you have all your skaters coming to two practices instead of one, you’re already giving them more time on skates. There’s no reason you can’t split the track to work across from each other. Attendance low? Use the same side of the track and just alternate in A team or B team walls/jammers. Most of the skills and drills we do only require part of the track anyway. Managing two to three teams of skaters (who will probably only have 10-15 people showing up to practices anyway) is not too hard if you break it down.

PLUS it has been my experience that when you’re drilling over and over and over and over in a good, quick rotation, skaters get fatigued and then you cannot drill over and over again. By having more bodies, you can run drills longer, more effectively. People can get short rests while their teammates practice, and it also gives the team a chance to OBSERVE what everyone else is doing.

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The Molly Rogers have been practicing with mixed skill levels, to the advantage of A and B skaters alike. Photo by Phantom Photograhics

“But Khaos! We need to practice WITH our teams!”

You can have each team practice with their lines while still encouraging a team environment. It also makes it fun when you can have lines of A and B face off in certain drills, or if you tell the B Team jammers to go play with the All Stars and vice versa. Nothing helped me grow in blocking quicker than learning how to stop jammers like Lauryn Kill and Taz with my Bruise Crew team mates. Could the B Teamers be a hot mess at first? Sure. Persistence, diligence, patience, hard work … it pays off.

What’s the pay off? 30 All Stars to choose from instead of 14. Especially with the opening up of charter changes, as games approach that require different styles of skaters, you can more easily tweak a team to be a powerhouse. Also, life happens.

People move. People retire. People transfer. People get injured. If you have to “move up” a B Team skater, don’t you want them already on track to be successful with the All Stars?  Would you prefer taking a month or two for the process of “training them up”?

You know what I’m talking about: “We’re rebuilding. A bunch of our All Stars left, and we moved up some B Team skaters, so we have to spend a lot of time getting them up to speed.”

Why not have them up to speed? Why not be able to bounce back the way Philly, Rocky Mountain, and Windy City have over the years? Why not have players ready to step into All Star roles easier?

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Not only has Tampa’s Bruise Crew raised the level of play within the league, but friendly rivals Dub City has benefitted from the tough competition. Dub’s A & B team are now solidly placed amongst as the 3rd highest ranked WFTDA league in Florida (#82), and several Dub City members are part of Team Florida

Should A and B be separate sometimes? Sure. Why not? It’s good to have a team only building session now and again to focus down on the specific needs of your team. On a week to week basis, the teams that practice with the travel skaters combined tend to be the more successful leagues.

Language Counts

I have already mentioned this but it should be stated again: Being a B Teamer should not be considered a slur. You’re not “Just on the B team”, you’re a member of a team and are striving to be strong and to improve. You are the reason the A team is successful. You are not “JUST” a B Team skater.

League members and leadership need to be ready to correct the language when it happens. “Eh, it’s only the B Team,” or “No, I won’t pair up with her, she’s only B Team” … just stop. This kind of language is not helpful. It is not positive for anyone (and makes you sound like a bit of a jerk actually).

“No I’m not going to game this weekend, it’s just the B Team.” NO. Bad. One, because you should go and support your B Team, since chances are they are supporting the All Stars (through attendance, bout production, and volunteering) and two, because they are your family. They are the future of the league. They are the next Luz Chaos, they are the up-and-coming Serelson. What potential could you be harboring within your B Team that you don’t see because they “have only been skating a couple months and are not good enough to skate with us.”

Final Thoughts

Being on the All Stars is not always strictly about skill level – it’s about skating styles, how one meshes into the team’s strategy, how coachable one can be, attendance, drive, and sometimes (yes it’s true) social integration.

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Most of the Manchester Roller Derby Furies (I couldn’t get them all in the selfie!). Lots of enthusiasm, lots of coachability, lots of fun to coach.

If you are a B Team skater and you have not made it onto the All Star team (yet), and you’re starting to get salty, don’t immediately jump to the “THEY DON’T LIKE ME AND OUR CULTURE SUCKS” conclusion. If you’ve read my blogs, you know I’m all about self-analysis and honesty. And it is HARD to look at yourself and ask, “Self, what could we improve on?” It’s possible that it’s not your league that is the ‘problem’ but maybe your attitude, your dedication level (as compared to the stated goals of the All Stars), or your style of game play as compared to your team mates.

There are many different structures to travel team practices and schedules that can work, but my observations and opinions are based in my experience across a range of countries, levels, and cultures. The teams that were most successful in achieving strength, consistency, and meeting their league goals were the ones that unified, not divided. The teams that realize that the B/C/D Teamers are the lifeblood of the league and the future of the All Stars, those are the leagues that I have found the most positive team environments over time.

You don’t have to take my word for it though. Do your own research. Talk to leagues with different structures, ask players how they feel about ‘being left behind’ by their league mates, and observe differences you see overtime between those leagues that nurture their travel teams together, and those that create derision through culture and language.

THANK YOU TO MY PHOTOGS: Phantom Photographics, Tyler Shaw, and NSP189

Khaos Theory Blog is run completely off my own funds. Make a donation now to keep the blog going! 
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Kristie Grey (Merry Khaos) has been playing roller derby since 2009 and has coached almost as long. She has worked with over 20 leagues in 11 states, and five countries. She has coached on and off skates at Beat Me Halfway 2014 & RollerCon (2012-2015). She currently skates with Tampa Roller Derby. Active in health and wellness, she is an active Herbalife Health Coach, rock climber, and power lifter. For questions, booking, requests of topic, or help with a nutrition plan, message Khaos at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com

Continue reading “Building more than “just” a B-Team”

So you wanna be a jammer….

So you wanna be a jammer….

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.

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Jamming isn’t easy. It takes hard work, persistence, and dedication. (Lambo R Feeties takes on Chuck Taylor during the State Wars final) Photo by Phantom Photographics
  1. 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”

  1. 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!

mrda mec lrt belgium
Details. A fraction of an inch further to the in, and Sully of Lincolnshire Rolling Thunder would be out of bounds. Manneken Beasts’s R.A.T.T. know it too. Photo by NSP189

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

jammer footwork
BEGINNER JAMMER FOOTWORK YOUTUBE VIDEO
  1. 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.

roller derby junkies
The white blocker is clearing the way for the white jammer (who is just behind). White jammer takes the inside line, seeing what her blocker is doing. This is a screenshot from the AMAZING RDJunkies.tumblr.com SEE THE FULL VIDEO!!

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!

  1. 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)
BALANCE

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.

ANYWAY!!!

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.

Giles and Bittercup roller derby
Training your muscles and edges so that you can burst past blocks is critical for jammer survival. Giles (Victorian) hustles past Bittercup (Texas) using this technique of running on her skates. Photos by Phantom Photographics

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.

ana cheng tampa roller derby
Ana Cheng dips underneath a block. Her attention to her body allows complete control over her movements and levels. Photo by Phantom Photographics

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.

Grim D Mise bank track
Grim D Mise balances on a foot to get around the apex. Many flat trackers join Penn Jersey for their scrimmages & BBQs. I know I always feel stronger after spending time on a banked track. Photo by JPaden Photography

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.

Mr McWheely Spring Roll
Keep working and you will see it pay off! Photo by Mr McWheely

Now go do some laps!

Thank you to Phantom Photographics, JPaden Photography, NSP 189, and Mr. McWheely 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 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