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
You’ve joined roller derby. You’ve worked your butt off (or up, in the case of some of us) to pass the 27 in 5. You’re not a complete bambi on skates, and you have fallen in love with a star. That star just happens to be on a helmet cap. You don’t know if it’s the challenge of breaking a wall, the thrill of hearing “tweet tweet”, or the praise you receive from your peers when you get back to the bench, but you have decided:
You want to be a jammer.
I am here to help. Here are 10 things to help you begin a successful career of five point passes and high lead jammer percentages. It will not be easy, it will not be quick, but with diligence, you can prevail.
Recognize your weaknesses
Chances are you have many of them, especially if you’re coming into this sport as a true Skater Tot. Don’t be afraid to make a list of the things you’re not good at. Watch the other jammers in your league (and in footage) and watch for things you can’t do that make other people successful. Write it down!
Now also make a list of things you’re good at. For those of us who are our own worst critics (guilty), you may want to ask your captains to help you. I’ve asked, “What are you good at?” To many skaters and gotten the snap back with, “NOTHING.” Remember: There is no perfection in derby. And even if you are good at roller skating, doesn’t mean you’ll be good at jamming right away. Don’t allow the frustration to overtake you.
When making your lists, think about these categories: Physical Fitness, On Skates Skills, Strategy, Mental Game. Knowing that you’re good at analyzing situations or have a background at team sports does give you a leg up. They are just as important to derby as toe stop runs.
Now that you have your list, you can start doing some goal setting. I’d go into it here, but I talk about goal setting in another blog post (or two). Check out “Building You as a Better Skater”
It is in the details
Jammer awareness is full of little details. If you don’t know where the other jammer is or how many points you’ve scored on this pass, how can you make effective decisions when you’re lead jammer (let’s face it, we can’t always refer to our bench coach) as to whether you should call it off? How can you be successful if you constantly get hyper focus in a pack, causing you to lose track of extra blockers who are out to get you?
This is something you can train at practice and in life. When I’m moving through a crowd, I will make a note of a single person (maybe they’ll have a red hat on). As I move, I work on using my periphery to understand where they are, how quickly they’re moving, and what direction they’re going. This works great in grocery stores and busy streets. When someone new walks into a room, try and notice something about them without looking directly at them. You’ll become better at looking using your periphery.
At practice, always be aware of where people are, how they are moving, and what indications they make before coming in to make a hit. Most blockers have a ‘tell’, and the most aware jammers will learn them quickly so they can move out of the way before contact.
To keep yourself calm, practice breathing during your jamming. Make a conscious effort of breathing in and out when you’re in a pack, and steadying your breaths while making your lap. Sometimes I’ll count my strides to keep me calm. Practice this during endurance drills. Find a place of Zen where it’s just you in the track. If you can do it during endurance practice, it’ll translate into your laps and gameplay.
For all the other little details? Well, refer back to your list of what you’re good at and not good at, and fine tune. You’re not good at getting through walls: Is it because of power, body positioning, or foot work? And go on from there!
3. Walk the [imaginary] line
Jammers need to know how to navigate small spaces and squeeze through spaces on the inside and outside line that mere mortals cannot even detect. When you’re practicing your footwork, you should always be imagining a balance beam next to your opponent, you don’t want your feet straying away (and over the boundary line).
To practice narrow spaces, use a partner whenever possible. If you don’t have a buddy to work with, grab some cones, and make two rows of them to create a narrow lane (I like using short cones for this). Ideally, the cones should be no wider than the length of your hand, but when first practicing it’s ok to make the gap wider.
Footwork you should practice include running on your skates, a step through 180 turn (you have to pick up your feet), a foot to foot transition, a shuffle step (on toe stops), a crossover step (on toe stops), and stepping over the leg of an opponent to keep going. These basic pieces can be used in different combinations to get you through and around anything a pack can throw at you. Check out some things to start with: BEGINNER JAMMER FOOTWORK VIDEO
Colors and space
When you look at jamming from a very rudimentary standpoint, it is a navigation of space through packs of various colors. One color is friendly the other is foe. The brains of jammers must be able to react quickly to changes in space as well as recognize friendly colors near the space. Weaknesses in depth perception or color recognition can be the difference between a four point pass and being nailed out of the air on an apex jump.
When recognizing your color for offense, remember that you want to go where that skater is about to NOT be, not where they’re going to be when playing offense. You want to occupy space that they no longer occupy. So ‘following offense’ really means follow their movements – don’t run into them, go where they JUST were.
A drill that I love for recognizing space and moving through it quickly involves the whole team (this is great for blockers too). Divide your team into three groups. Denote the active part of the track with cones (it shouldn’t be too big of an area, maybe one corner or half the straightaway). Group 1 will ‘jam’ first, starting from the opposite corner. Groups 2 and 3 are told to pick a spot within the boundary. Set a timer for 2 minutes. Group 1, in a line, begins to sprint towards the group standing still. The jammers must navigate the spaces at a sprint. The goal is to get through the pack without slowing momentum, unless it is to redirect their energy, or toe pick past an opponent. This continues for 2 minutes. Then, Group 1 switches with Group 2, and so on.
The next level is to let the obstacles take one step in either direction from their original spot. THERE IS NO INTENTIONAL BLOCKING ALLOWED. The next level is to allow one of the two groups to move laterally across the track. The final stage is to ‘split’ the groups by handing out colored coins to wear, so that each group has both black and white. Now, the obstacles are allowed to make one move to either side of their original spot, AND are allowed to make contact. Obviously, they are only supposed to hit those of the opposing color.
You can also make this more interesting by spreading out the obstacles, and adding in color cones that the jammers are supposed to make contact with throughout the course. You know, just for more fun and challenge.
On your own, you can practice color and vision challenges to sharpen your senses. I’ve found a good memory game and article about improving vision here. Anything you can do at home to improve your periphery is great. Have a friend grab some small colored balls, and sit in a chair looking forward. Have them toss the balls from behind to in front (along the side of your head). Work on catching the balls of specific colors. You must keep your eyes forward! Use your periphery!
Bursts and balance
I f**king love science, and physics is the reason derby does what it does. The sport is a constant transfer of potential to kinetic energy, of friction coefficients, of balance, and of trajectory. To be a successful jammer there are two things you must master:
BURSTS OF POWER (which will cause both acceleration and deceleration)
While I could not find any articles directly related to roller skating, I did do a fair bit of reading just now about bicycles, and why it’s easier to stay on them when they’re moving rather than standing still. It has to do with torque, center of gravity, angular momentum, and the experience of the rider in controlling all of them. This is why newb skaters look wobbly while balancing on one foot, but vets can coast around ‘shooting the duck’ no problem.
CONFESSION: I can’t shoot ducks. Ever. If there is ever a skill that I will not be able to do – it will be that one.
To practice balance, not only do you just have to spend time on your roller skates doing goofy things, but you have to train all your stabilizer muscles, strengthen those ligaments and challenge your body to do new and interesting (and sometimes very scary things).
Incorporating heavy lifting, plyometrics, and yoga into your cross training program will help you erase instability and build your bursts of power.
6. Levels and Leverage
Along the lines of speed, balance, and understanding your body is the concept of understanding your levels and leverage. Being able to duck under a block, under stray arms flailing, or past a wall is excellent.
Knowing how to leverage your weight and body against opponents is super handy. Can you press your chest into a blocker and use that energy they put into you to bring your hips and feet around them? Can you bounce into a blocker and use the energy to move you forward? Can you put the levels and leverage together?
Practice (slowly) leaning onto a buddy who’s blocking you. Now see if you can create movement in your skates to move around them with this energy. Do it again, but this time, when you’re almost around them, press harder into them, duck, and snap your hips to get past them. The pressure and ducking will create momentum. You can use this momentum to steal points, or to get yourself out of a pack. After you get your hips around, practice planting your toe stop to spin out of the contact. If you practice right on the edge of the track, you can work on spinning out of the contact and avoiding the cut track at the same time.
7. It is not all about you
You are one of five players on the track from your team. You cannot play as an individual. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen teams make over the years is to give jammers the idea that they’re by themselves on the track.
As a jammer, it is your job to understand what your pack is planning for their defense, offense, and what formations they prefer to run. You are not just offense, but you are defense. For example: If your pack is blocking a jammer who is pushing them into bridging, it’s YOUR job to get your ass back to the pack as part of defense. You will hit the line of blockers, and either break through and they will chase you up OR you will push the wall up, far enough (hopefully) that team’s bridge will be ‘pack is all’.
If you don’t know how your team skates and strategizes, you will not be as effective at reading holes. How many times have you run into your own blockers? Yea. You should probably skate with them more often and learn how to communicate your own plan. Some teams use hand signals or code words to communicate between jammers and blockers, but the best way to use offense is to observe your team mates and know their tendencies.
As Smarty Pants once said, “Blockers make the points, jammers collect them.” So what this comes down to is LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR. No one wants it, no one appreciates it, and even Bonnie Thunders practices. You are not Derby Jesus so lace up and leave it at the door.
8. See the game, be the game
All the derby will help you. I know that not everyone can dedicate hours each day to watching the sport, but if you want to get better at the mental side of roller derby – you must watch it. You must understand how those better than you move and succeed and fail. You must be able to think critically about aspects of the game that you have not encountered. Watching footage, even one game a week split up into four 15 minute chunks will help you.
And don’t just watch the kind of derby that you play. There is WFTDA (of ALL levels), MRDA, JRDA, USARS, UKRDA, RDCL, MADE, and Renegade. Go to bouts, watch streaming tournaments, participate in open scrimmages – both flat and tilty. See the games, analyze the games, be the games.
When you’re at your home league, don’t be afraid to step out of the jammer box.
Practicing as a blocker will dramatically improve your jamming game, because you’ll understand the blocker psychology. You will have first-hand experience of how a blocker reads incoming movement, and how a good blocker will deal with different styles of jammer – because you will be doing it yourself! Then when you jam, you can use this insider information to your advantage when it comes to jukes, deceleration, and avoidance measures.
Like I said, ALL THE DERBY.
9. It’s not your gear
No matter how long you’ve been in the game, we’ve all fallen into the trap of “Well if I just had ______”. While, yes, having better/different plates, boots, wheels, etc etc can dramatically change aspects of your game, upgrading gear in the soul hoping of becoming a better skater is silly. Improving your skills will help you pass your 27 in 5, not faster bearings. Working on lateral motion will help you avoid an oncoming block, not different wheels. Strengthening your ankles will help you power through your crossovers, not a more expensive boot.
You must work on your craft and know how to manipulate your tools before gear changes will truly mean anything to you. Personally, I couldn’t tell the difference between a wheel with an overhang and a wheel with a square edge until about a year ago. I didn’t know why I couldn’t control my 45 degree plates until I had switched to my 10 degree plates and understood what my body needed to do to plow and edge appropriately. I didn’t know why I had trouble with my 10 degree plates, until I put on 15 degree plates and could feel the movement and control in the trucks in comparison. It’s more than equipment – it’s about your self-awareness in the equipment.
I know skaters who have certified and bouted in rental skates. Sometimes, it’s not your gear, it is user error. Admitting that to yourself can be one of the harder realizations one can come to in derby.
10. You can’t climb Everest in a day
There is so much to improve at, and it is easy to become impatient in this sport. What goals do you have? All the goals? Well you can’t meet them all at once. That’s just the nature of training and sport. Do not look at the peak of the mountain and think “WHY AREN’T I THERE YET?” Rather, focus on the little steps on the way up the mountain. You can’t reach the summit until you reach 1000ft, right? This is the same with training and learning.
You won’t be a D1 level jammer overnight. Sometimes you won’t over a year, or two years. Do not get frustrated, do not quit. Set goals, work hard, and then drill, drill, drill. Challenge yourself against new opponents, and challenge yourself to think outside your safety zone. We all want to be the greatest, but diligence is the key.
Didn’t do so well at practice today? It’s ok. You have to fail a whole bunch in order to start succeeding. You’re not going to be perfect (or even good) at all the skills you try right off the bat. You’re going to run into things that hang you up. Do not let that frustration eat you alive. Recognize where you’re having trouble, break down the movement into smaller chunks, and then drill, drill, drill.
And enjoy the journey along the way! You’ll meet some of your greatest friends in the sport, and through struggling with a thing together.
Kristie Grey (Merry Khaos) has been playing roller derby since 2009 and has coached almost as long. She has worked with over 20 leagues in 11 states (and Canada). She has coached on and off skates at Beat Me Halfway 2014 & RollerCon (2012-2015). Active in health and wellness, she is an active Herbalife Health Coach and [when the knees allow] rock climber and power lifter. For questions, booking, requests of topic, or help with a nutrition plan, message Khaos at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com
If you say “I can’t do 180 turns” with intention, you will not be able to do 180 turns. If you say, “Today is going to be awesome” with intention, your day will be awesome (yes, even if negative things happen during the day). Your words can change the course of your progress, your game play, your mood, and the attitudes of people around you.
So to use the words “I don’t care” (IDC) is profound.
I hadn’t really thought about it until recently. Now that I’ve noticed it, it sticks out to me whenever I play. In retrospect, I have been combating IDC for years, I just didn’t realize it. When my line is on deck in scrimmage, if no one takes the initiative to start talking, I would begin the conversation. I would be the one to ask the jammer what they wanted from the blockers, as well as asking the blockers where they wanted to position themselves. Sometimes one person would have an answer.
Everyone else would say IDC.
And not the IDC that turns into, “What would be best for this situation?” or “Let’s force everyone to pick a spot and talk about it on the line.” It was the IDC that starts in a passive voice and ends with them turning away to stare vaguely off at the current jam.
These are the IDCs that end in randomly taking lanes, and do not include communication. It is the IDC that ends confusion about who is doing what. Too often, an IDC skater will make very conscious decisions about their plan in the upcoming jam, but will not tell anyone else. They end up playing offense for the jammer, dropping back to clear a line, or running cross track to be a brace, but their neighbors aren’t expecting to cover their lane. Sometimes we can read the lines well enough to adjust on the fly, and most times the whole thing falls apart.
Now let’s talk the mid-jam IDC: Whether on offense or defense, I have experienced skaters using IDC when figuring out power jam strategy. On your home team, hopefully you have designated strats and people with pre-determined roles. In mash ups, you have to learn each other’s strengths on the fly. I have stopped asking “Do you want to play offense?” Instead, I say things like “Outside attacks” or “You and me up lane 2”. Derby moves too quick for IDC and I’ve gotten IDC mid-jam, too often.
Outside of practice, when meeting up with people to do off skates workouts or extra skating, when I ask the question “What do you want to work on today?” I do not appreciate the IDC as the answer. I am immediately taken down a notch on my enthusiasm if you don’t care what you work on.
The moral is: In derby you need to care. If you don’t care, why should anyone around you care? If you don’t care what your position is, why should the player next to you? If you don’t care about your training schedule, why should I? If you don’t care about what’s about to happen in the power jam, why should your team mates?
People are influenced by those around them. Skate A may not want to appear pushy or out of line, so if Skater B states they don’t care what position they play, then Skater A is more likely to also throw out IDC. Now you have two people out of four who FOR SURE do not know what lane they will be in, and thus cannot mentally prepare for the next jam.
Apathy is a feeling that spreads, not dissipates.
If your answer for team play is IDC, eventually it will spread to your drill work, your outside training schedule, and your overall attitude if you do not take steps to combat it. It’s easy to get lazy. It’s easy to stop pushing yourself. IDC encourages the lazy.
It’s is easy to spot: in larger teams those with IDC syndrome often get passed in skill as eager, hungrier skaters pursue excellence. In smaller teams or teams without a proactive coaching staff, IDC can spread through the ranks. You see it first with the all-stars, and it trickles down from there.
Your newer skaters (and officials) keep the league healthy. They are the plankton of the derby food chain.
Just stay with me on this one: new skaters come in and are (usually) less skilled or experienced. They are the little guys. Some will get eaten up (in plankton terms) and leave the league before they certify. A few in each newbie class will survive. They grow bigger and evolve into the bigger fish. If they don’t get eaten along the way (injury, personal issues, league drama, etc) and they develop their skills – they join the top of the food chain. The bottom is wide with plankton/new recruits. The top is narrow with seasoned vets/apex predators.
Now let’s say that top of the food chain carries around IDC.
They are setting an example for the rest of the chain that you can become an apex predator without caring. You can be an all-star by being apathetic along the way. While you may have a handful of skaters sprinkled throughout the league that know how to shield themselves from IDC, you will get the other skaters who become sucked into it.
Why? IDC is easy. IDC doesn’t take any work. IDC is a cake walk.
“They don’t care what they eat or how they train, and look! They’re our top jammer.”
“They don’t care what lane they’re in, so I shouldn’t care what lane I’m in.”
“The all-stars are going this fast.. I could go faster, but they are all-stars, so I guess that’s how fast I should go.”
The apathy spreads. The practices slow. The culture of the team becomes a culture of “that’s good enough.” The direct result of this is that either your plankton are pushed away from your food chain altogether because they want to be around people who care, or you only attract plankton that succumb easily to IDC.
If skaters hold IDC on the track, it will inevitably effect their off the track participation. A skater that says IDC about the sport they love in the middle of a jam, will probably not be the one super stoked to drive to a fundraiser on the other side of town on a Wednesday night. Why? IDC means no investment.
IDC is the draining of passion. It is an internal apathy that is easily spread to others like a disease. If negativity is cancer, than IDC is the flu: feverish, tiresome, easily contagious, and hard to eradicate. It may not kill you, but it sure as hell will slow you down.
How do you fight IDC?
If you are an individual fighting against it, continue to fight with some easy steps:
1) Set goals!
Having a focus of what you’re striving to achieve immediately makes you care more. Set long term goals (6months or a year), mid-length goals (30 days out), and goals for each practice; the smaller goals should fit within the larger ones, like a Russian Doll set!
2) Practice positive self-talk
If you care and have confidence in yourself, then you will hope over the IDC syndrome. It is impossible to be confident and focused yet not care. I like writing positive mantras on my mirrors in dry erase marker. Every time I brush my teeth, I get to read something positive.
3) Grab an accountability partner
Having a friend keep you honest is a great way to keep you both on track and away from the IDC monster. As soon as you start expressing negativity, they can [quietly] help steer you the right way
4) Remember that you’re here to have fun! If it’s not fun, why are you playing roller derby?
If you are an individual and you’ve just had an epiphany that you are part of the IDC virus, practice all the things above, as well as doing the following:
1) Set internal alarms for IDC
When you find yourself saying these words make yourself stop, and ask why you are saying it. Do you really not care, or do you not know another way to express what you’re thinking? If you really don’t care, why is that? Do you feel you are masterful at whatever is being asked, or do you not want to put into the effort of thinking about the scenario?
If it’s a “I don’t want to put the effort in” answer, then force yourself to think about what is happening, evaluate your weaknesses, and pick something to work on. Express that instead of IDC. It is also possible that when you’re saying IDC, what you REALLY mean is IDK (“I don’t know”). IDK is fine! Communicate that you don’t know where you want to go or what you want to work on, and let the other people help guide you.
2) Write down a list of your weaknesses and your strengths
IDC can come from a lack of understanding where we’re at and how to improve. If you know you need to work on your strengths backwards blocking in lane 4, when you’re in scrimmage scenarios you can ask to be put in that situation. Confidence and skill comes from repetition. If you do not know the specific reps you need to do, IDC is an easy answer to thinking about it.
3) Ask yourself if there are external influences for causing the IDC
Money problems, feeling helpless at home, or having a job where you lack order can all attribute to getting to training with an IDC attitude. Can you identify these places where you feel helpless, or have stopped giving 100%? If you can understand, and quarantine, these things in your mind, you can come to each training practice and leave that piece of the outside world at the door.
If you are on a coaching staff that has noticed IDC creeping in:
1) Create a time for a team goal-setting session
If the team has goals together, they are more likely to care about their practice time. Use a half hour of practice time to throw out the goal ideas, and from there have the captains and coaches refine goals for the leagues and individual teams.
2) Have one-on-ones with skaters
This is an opportunity to talk about individual goals, team goals, and also why IDC may (or may not) be present in their life. If IDC in derby is a result of IDC outside of derby in personal life, you may be able to recommend resources to that skater (or official) to help them overcome the apathy or negativity in other parts of their life.
3) Make it extra fun for everyone now and again
Throwing in games and contests to practices and outside trainings can up team morale and friendships. When bonds are strong, people care for each other. When people care for each other, IDC tends to fade.
2015 is just beginning. Caring about things spreads good intention through your training, nutrition, game play, and relationships. Not caring about one thing can bleed into not caring about a whole boatload of stuff, which will set you back tremendously. Go forth and be positive and take on this season with all the courage and consideration you can muster!
Thank you Jessica Shutterfly Andrews for all the photos used in this blog!!
How the hell do you run practices when your league has practicing membership from Level CobraSnake to Level NewbornFoal? THIS is the biggest question asked across the world by coaching committees in roller derby right now. How can we keep our vet skaters challenged and satisfied with the training process [so they don’t transfer out] while bringing new skaters up [quickly] to a level to be able to play with those vets?
I had such a huge response to the blog I posted two days ago, about League Rebuilding that I wanted to make sure that my blog about training the leagues that are rebuilding went up quick!
There are fundamental corners to The House that Derby Built: Skills, Teamwork, Strategy, and Health. Without one of the corners, the house will not fall, but it will lean a little funny. Without two of the corners, you don’t have much of a house.
TESTING THE FOUNDATION
First you need to understand where your league is at with each of these fundamental pillars. The first step is to take an honest look at where each skater is individually and as a league. For Skills and Health you can actually do measurable tests to help you with your mapping process.
Set up a practice to set benchmarks and test skills, and I would recommend asking coaches from nearby leagues to come in and help with the ranking process, since the will be more impartial in the process. Create a list of skills (crossovers, one foot glides, lateral motion, hip checks while moving, jumping, counter blocking, 180 toe stops, blocking to the line, etc) and have them ratable 1-10. Move your way through drills, as you would when doing a certification, but make sure you have more advanced skills on the list than a strict certification process.
For Health, you simply create a list of ‘events’ like a football combine. You can test squat strength, bench strength, 100 yard dash, 400 yard dash easily. You can create short ‘obstacle courses’ and time each player through it while rating their cuts, bursts of speed, jumping, and footwork. You can do one foot balance, long jumps, pull-ups, or anything else you think would be applicable to strength and endurance needed for derby.
Once you have your 1-10 data points you can put them into a spreadsheet and simply create a point chart! Boom. You now know where people are. This is not to make anyone feel bad. This is simply a way to benchmark individuals so that the training staff can develop upcoming practices and make recommendations about cross-training. This information is also a great starting point for goal setting! Part of setting goals is that they have to be MEASURABLE. With benchmarks in hand, captains can meet with skaters to create a real list of SMART goals for the skater to focus on in upcoming months.
To benchmark Teamwork and Strategy is harder. Teamwork, though very easy to see the presence (or lack of) teamwork, it is not easy to quantify. You may want to ask those coaches to come and observe your team in a scrimmage against another league to rate overall Teamwork and Strategy. When you map, you will not be mapping for your team, but you will be mapping for groups of skaters, or the team as a whole.
Things to rate from 1-10 in Teamwork could be: Proximity of skaters, holding lanes, communication, mobility of walls, awareness, recycling, and protecting edges.
Things to rate in strategy could be: Offense, O to D/D to O switch speed, Bridging, Jam line start, power jam defense, preventing recycling. Watch some bouts and make notes of how to describe strategy and teamwork and create your list to test (use the words and ideas that I listed as your example).
CREATING THE PLAN
After you map the data, you can analyze it with your training staff. You’ll be able to see weaknesses very easily. Data doesn’t lie. Create the charts however your brain can deal with the data. After playing around a bit, I decided that I like the bar graph, since I can see distinct lines across. I just made up a mock chart for an example (I picked derby names at random, I didn’t actually rate people on things).
From looking at the chart, you can see that some people have strengths, and some have extreme weaknesses. You do not want to use those as your focus. You want to teach to the median weaknesses. Note: This does not mean ignore the strengths, it just means you now know where to focus more of your training energy. Looking at this chart, I immediately notice that NO ONE has even a 7 on narrow plows. Next thing I see is that while we have a few people strong at left foot plows, the rest are not, and no one is strong at right foot plows.
If you have a team that is primarily new skaters, and you are noticing that in the corners of your house, the median score is 1-5 in most areas, than grade on the curve. So you can’t look at the data and go, “Oh man, there are only a couple 7s. WE MUST FOCUS ON EVERYTHING.” Right, ok, so, bring the top grade to 7 and look at the skills from there. If 7 is the top and you’re noticing some skills have more 4/5s and others have more 2/3s, focus on the 2/3s.
You do this with all four of your pillars. Identify your team’s overall weaknesses.
“But we have too many new skaters to do this!” No. No such thing. If your skaters can’t complete skills they get a 1 on the scale. That’s it. Everyone can run, lift, jump on sneakers.
“But we don’t have any place to do the off skates benchmarks!” Really? You know that? I just suggested it and you’re already coming up with an excuse to not do it? Have you called the gyms in your area and asked about it? Tell them what you want to do. Offer them advertisement in exchange for use of their gym to do benchmarks. They can be the “Official Combine Location of the Blankety Blank Roller Vixens”. Local, privately owned gyms or franchises are the best place to start. You may want to approach CrossFit gyms about it, because they’ll usually have sprinting space too, and some of those coaches have experience in combines.
“But we already spend so much time at derby, we don’t have the time for this! We know how our skaters are, can’t we just use what we know?” Cancel practice for a week and do this. If you want to improve and you’re serious about focusing your training program, you need to know what you’re working with and you need to have an OBJECTIVE view of where you are starting. Without data, provided with the help of people who don’t know you from Adam, all you are doing is continuing old habits. Your current training is based on what you think you know about your skaters. Chances are your advanced skaters are not advanced. Chances are your fresh meat have skills you didn’t realize.
“But we’re not Gotham or Bay Area. We don’t need to train like a D1 WFTDA team.” Well I will respond with a Vince Lombardi quote:
“If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?” You don’t have to be a D1 team to want to be successful or to train to be successful.
What it comes down to is that this is new, and new is scary. What it also comes down to is exposure. Exposure is scary. Skaters (especially self-proclaimed ‘vets’ and those who like to pop into practice when convenient) do not like being told that they need to improve at something, or that the ‘lowly fresh meat’ is actually better than them at a skill. This is not about belittlement. This is about recognition and understanding. Without it, you cannot move forward.
DON’T FEAR TO START AT THE START
If you have to grade on the curve, and you have noticed that you have that moment of “We have to work on everything”, then step one is take it back to the beginning. Begin training the TRUE fundamentals for individuals and teamwork: The mechanics of roller skating & speed skating New derby position (tailbone tucked, feet shoulder width)
Toe stop & duck runs
Holding a lane
Skating without using your arms or looking at the floor
Skating in a pack
Pace lines & Speed control
Lateral motion/Laterals using edges & leading with your knees Carves (short and long)
Narrow & One foot Plows
Stopping with edges
Making a wall
Moving as a wall
Anatomy of hitting Sticky blocking
Transitions both directions
Communication & awareness while in motion
This is the start. These are the building blocks. You cannot do a box drill if skaters don’t know how to control their speed and skate close to other people. You cannot do a weaving pace line if your team doesn’t know how to do a basic pace line. This is your first check list. And honestly? I probably missed things. (I have walked away from this list and come back to it several times.)
“But my vets will be bored!” No, they won’t be. In any drill that involves team play, the vets should be focused on helping their team mates cover lanes, maintain position, and work on speed change. The vets need to be the coaches through the drills with the new skaters. For any individual skill, the vets need to be focused on cleaning up their own abilities. Encourage the vets to work on precision, quickness, reaction, depth of skill, and visualizing they’re in a game situation.
Your vets can plow? They should work on plowing narrower, sharper, stopping quicker, keeping their hips more square, their back stronger, and their head up and looking around while doing it. Your vets ‘know how to roller skate’? Encourage them to make their stride deeper, lengthen their pushes, and focus on breathe work and mental tricks as they go around the track that they can access during game play to calm themselves.
***THERE IS NO PERFECTION IN ROLLER DERBY***
Every skater needs to review and practice these fundamentals. These building blocks are not things to check off a list and never visit again. I recommend revisiting these fundamentals often, even after every skater on your crew can rank at an 8+ with them.
NOTE: Every skater is responsible for their own progress and should be empowered by their team and coaching to take responsibility for practicing fundamentals on their own time as well as whatever happens in practice. Just like with the health section at the end of the blog, it is not the coach’s responsibility to mother each skater to make sure they are keeping sharp on their skills on their own time.
DO NOT COACH DOWN
Just because you are working on fundamentals, it does not mean that you need to treat your skaters like 5 year olds, or offer them drills that do not challenge them. Create drills that push your new skaters. Do not assume that because they are fresh, that means they are incapable. Keep your pace lines challenging. Do not skip a drill that works on something that needs to be addressed because someone thinks the fresh meat won’t be able to do it.
You do not get better unless there is a challenge. Making drills JUST above the median level or intensity will push your largest faction of skaters. Dotting in more advanced drills or more basic drills, will keep everyone confident and working hard.
Let’s say you are working on edgework! You can start with carving long and slow and then short and sharp. Time these for about three minutes, with all skaters moving around the track.
Next, put dummy blockers around the track, facing proper derby direction, near the inside and outside lines. Have them stand NEAR the line, but with some space. Have your skaters carve between the blockers and the line, showing their back to the blocker as they go through (they’ll have to twist their body). After everyone has done it for a few laps, have the dummies take an extra step away from the line, and have skaters get by them by bursting past with a 3 step duck run (which utilizes edges).
Then put obstacles in the track – one in the middle of each straightaway, one at either end (trashcans or chairs work great). Have skaters rolling and approaching the object, then bursting around the object with the 3 step duck run. They can challenge themselves to get as close to the object (without touching it) as they can before they burst around it.
After this, bring the practice back down by practicing lateral motion, leading with the knees, from line to line across the track. You have started with something very basic, upped the intensity a few times, and then brought it back down to a lower intensity, more precision-based drill.
So the moral of the story is – don’t think that your new skaters can’t do it just because it’s harder. You can always offer ways to adjust a drill harder and softer to accommodate for all skaters.
MIXING LEVELS IN PACKS
“Do we have levels mix together in drills?” Yes and no. I will define who skaters should get with as we progress through a coaching plan. This is something that the coaches need to decide. I will say “vets with tots” or “Get with someone of your skill level” or “find someone on your home team” to define who I want them to work with.
You may want to rotate skater partners too, so that way the newer skaters get the advantage of in-drill coaching. Don’t be afraid to spend a longer amount of time on drills and skills. You do not have to rush through practicing; it’s through repetition, repetition that our bodies learn. It takes 5000 SUCCESSFUL repetitions to establish muscle memory. Let them practice in mixed levels, then switch them to equal levels to allow themselves to push and challenge each other.
LESS IS MORE
Less talking, less complication, less spending of energy: in roller derby, less is more.
Do not spend 30 minutes talking about a drill. Do not spend 30 minutes arguing about a better way to do the drill. Do not allow other skaters to try to bully the coach into doing the drill a different way. Explain the drill, demonstrate, try it, observe it, correct misconceptions, do it again, observe it, tell everyone what you’re noticing, do it again, bring everyone to the center, talk about what you observed, take quick questions, move on.
Do not think that you have to bring drills to practice that have 15 steps. Simplification is critical. One piece at a time, and build your blocks. Practice your one foot plows/chomps. Then practice stopping in a two wall. Then practice stopping in a three wall. The practice stopping a jammer in the three wall. Then practice stopping a jammer in the three wall, and having the wall step in front of the person blocking. Build.
Do not think you have to be good at every strategy. Vince Lombardi is one of the most decorated NFL coaches of all time not because his Green Bay Packers could do ALL the plays. It was because they did a handful of plays SO WELL that no one could defeat them. By keeping things more concise, you will give your skater tots less to learn (less overwhelming), meaning they’ll be able to advance quicker and get to the level of working with the vets and having everyone be successful.
Teamwork, communication, being on the same page, and focus. Less is more.
3 FAVORITE PRACTICE THINGS FOR ALL LEVELS
Boxes: Everyone is in a tight box, on the whistle the box completes an action. You can either pick actions before the drill starts, or coach can shout the action before the whistle. Actions can be: rotate right, rotate left, inside line, outside line, hop, front to back, back to front, make a wall, make a line, make a box, speed up, slow down, 180 stop, etc etc etc. Start basic. Work up from there.
Double Pace Lines: Especially if your league needs some long endurance work, double pace lines can be beneficial to teach speed control, footwork, skating proximity, and awareness. You can have individuals weave, teams weave and lead, teams race, individuals block, teams weave and hit between the pace line, and more.
Games: Soccer (use an empty water jug instead of a ball), dodgeball, tag, and more! Get your team distracted from what they are doing by making them do something that isn’t roller derby. It’s amazing how the footwork, stops, awareness, avoidance, cuts, spins, toe stops, and communication improve after just one session. Plus – it’s really really fun!
So that “health” corner of the house? Here’s the tough thing: You cannot make people do anything outside of practice time. If a skater wants to live on McDonalds and potato chips and watch 5 hours of television on their non-practice nights, that is their prerogative. Doing the benchmark combine may be the shock some people need to start developing some outside healthy habits, but you cannot count on that (You would think being winded after a lap and dreading the 27 in 5 would be enough motivation, but not everyone motivates the same).
YOU CANNOT WANT IT FOR THEM.
You can give all the Braveheart speeches you want, but each person makes their own decision of what to do with their body. If you are a decided rec team, what you can do is make recommendations as a training committee of how people can train for roller derby outside of practice. If this blog hasn’t tired you out completely, check out my SHIFTING PERSPECTIVE blog about training for our sport.
Some leagues I have come in contact with have an ‘extra practice’ that they must complete each week on their own – it’s a set of workouts that they can do at home or in a gym. More serious leagues (or leagues that want to become more serious) are requiring their all-stars to have gym memberships (these leagues usually also have some kind of agreement with their local gym for discounted rates). In the future, some may require a level of baseline fitness in order to qualify for all-star rosters.
Every league is different. Do not be afraid to adopt these health requirements for your league, simply because it is unprecedented in your area. Do not be afraid to not adopt such policies because you do not believe it would be right for your league. Either way, it’s a discussion that the league as a whole may want to have.
My first league was not a D1 level of play, but it was understood that we did NOT drink alcohol the week of a bout.
Nutrition is as critical a part of fitness as the weight lifting, yoga, land drills, sprints, etc. As a Derbalife coach, I spend a lot of time simply teaching skaters what is and is not good fuel for the body. Creating a voluntary fitness challenge with rewards within your league could be a great way to get your skaters to do something good for them (and their skating) without the league instating rules and policies. It can be something people ELECT to do.
I guarantee the people who lift weights and do extra conditioning work outside of practice will, in the long run, excel past those who do not.
PROTEIN! HYDRATION! VITAMINS! EATING BEFORE PRACTICE! EATING PROTEIN AFTER PRACTICE! CUTTING DOWN ON SUGAR! These are things that can play a huge role in a skater’s success on the track.
Wow you’re still here? Well done!! I hope I have addressed your questions, concerns, and issues at least a little bit. This is a difficult problem for a league to have.
If your league is looking for bodies all the time, then you will continually have to rotate in fresh skaters into your tots. It’s imperative that you develop a new skater check list for each player to practice and complete and be tested on before they make their way onto the track with the vets. This way you can be sure that each player that is introduced to your team have spent time building up each corner of their house before they mix it up with more advanced skaters.
Remember that you are not the only league going through this training process. Pick goals, plan out your trainings a few weeks at a time, keep communication open, and evaluate and adjust after each chunk of training plans.
Skate hard, skate fast, be excellent to each other and do it for THE LOVE OF DERBY!!
Like me, Merry Khaos, on Facebook! Like DNA Coaching on Facebook! Want me to come out to your league to help with this stuff? Need nutrition and fitness help for you or your league? Drop me a line at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com and let’s chat about Derbalife.
Living in a house with powerlifters and bodybuilders, and going to a ‘sweat on the walls’ gym has opened my eyes about training in the last eight months. Not just training for personal gains, but the way roller derby, as a sport trains itself on the track and off. There have been many conversations breaking down the conventions of training in roller derby, and comparing to the conventions of other sports.
Along with rhetoric, I have seen my own progress jump dramatically since beginning a 5×5 powerlifting scheme. I was able to track a noticeable difference in a new league from January (first practices) to May (home team champs), and for me the proof is in the pudding.
We are a new sport. We’re still trying to figure out how to play the game, much less how to train for it. I’ve noticed some habits and some structure about our training process that is not helping us improve ourselves and will not help the sport as we pass it on to our daughters and sons. I wanted to share some things, quickly, that I have been pondering. I’ll be doing expanded writings and I am restructuring the training book I was writing to reflect these new insights.
I think I’m going to get a lot of finger waving at the end of this article. We, as a community, have not be super stoked to hear that we may need to change things. We certainly don’t like hearing that there are ways outside of our league to look at training, business, or the basics of derby. Trust me. I have seen the wrath of derby girls faced with change. However, here I go again, putting my ‘radical’ ideas out there. Feel free to post at the bottom how much you disagree with everything. 😀
When looking at our history, I believe the protocol of training today is largely based on what the women of 2008-2010 did for their own training. Stick with me on this one: This is when the sport started to boom. Suddenly, women of all ages and skills were coming into a rapidly evolving sport. At this time, the average age of the derby skater was PROBABLY between 28-32 years old.
Many of these women had never played a sport before; their way to train to improve was to simply skate more (and that definitely has to be considered in a training plan when you have no experience on roller skates). Some of us caught on that we needed better fitness in order to compete with the women who already had a few years jump on us. This led many of skaters to begin using that derby buzz word: Cross training.
Most of us didn’t know what cross training really meant, or how to approach off skates training for roller derby. So this misconstrued system of Insanity training, land drills, and long distance running started cropping up as part of our system of preparation for bouts.
This brings up my first point:
We need to stop training for fitness
Most of the derby skaters I meet do their ‘cross training’ in the form of high fitness workouts (CrossFit WoDs 4x a week, P90X, elliptical training, Zumba, hours of yoga). Ok, before you get angry let me explain where I’m coming from:
If you are skating 3 times a week at practice, and then going to the gym and doing 2-4 days a week of high cardio work, you are really just burning muscle (and some fat) and [if you’re eating right] getting cut muscles. To look cut is rad, but does not help your explosive power or your recovery from one burst of power in a jam to the next (and it certainly does not help when you get slammed by that 200# blocker looking to take your legs out). Elliptical training does not help prevent bone injury. P90X won’t help you break a wall.
Training like you’re trying to lose the Freshman Forty is not the way you should train for roller derby to be successful in the long term. Training in a way that is purely fun or aligns with your social conventions does not make you better at any sport. These workouts that we’re talking about should be done as secondary conditioning and accessory work. They should not be your primary source of training off skates.
We need to redefine ‘beauty’ within our sport
Oh yea, roller derby loves say that “every shape is beautiful.” Our at home ‘lose weight’ training mentality shows that we are more generally more concerned with 6 pack abs and long, lean limbs than any of us realize. We are fighting the conventions of beauty, especially those of us over 30; we get easily concerned with the myth of a slowing metabolism and how our younger team mates, or the folks at the pool of ECDX will view us. We are more concerned with society’s vision of beauty than we are with what it means to be strong and at low risk for injury in a contact sport (ie having some cushion and mass).
And it’s not just women. Men are not safe from these social norms of beauty and sex, and I have many friends that end up questioning themselves over it, regardless of their strength or abilities.
At RollerCon, there was a very short challenge bout with shirtless men: Magic Mike v Chippendales. On social media sites, admittedly, I was part of the sexist storm of commenters. (One, it’s fun. Two, men in our sport is still pretty new. As a derby-obsessed, straight, single woman of not as many years – it’s nice to be able to turn the male gaze away from the sexy derby girls in fishnets and pigtails and put the female gaze on the shirtless men sweating and hitting each other.)
Side note: I was just excited to see an all-male challenge bout. The shirt off thing was just an added bonus.
Leading up to it, I had several men contact me asking if there was any way to adjust their fitness or nutrition to get better abs in the couple weeks leading up to RC. (I had to disappoint them and say, “unless you want to do some drastic changes and not drink before the bout, there’s no magic pill to shed all the fat in a week”) After the bout, I was asked a question by a skater who is arguably one of the top 5 male skaters in the world: “Did I look gross out there? You know, with my shirt off.”
**Mouth Gaping Open**
First of all – do you know who you are? Are you sure? Secondly, yes, you look great! (I was trying NOT to look too much, actually. I know many women who did NOT restrain themselves.) I wanted to yell at him: “You may not have the photoshop-crafted abs of an Ambercrombie ad, but that’s ok. Know why? DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE?” Seriously! That bout was sexy in every way, but mostly because highly skilled men were playing roller derby. They could have been playing in parkas and it would have been an amazing bout (though you’d probably have to burn the parkas afterwards due to all the sweat).
We need to release the ideals of Western beauty and embrace the awesome of each of us. If you’re skinny: fantastic! If you’re not: fantastic! If you’re jacked naturally: great! If you have skinny arms: that’s cool! Now let’s lift some heavy shit, flip some tires, put on our skates, and hit each other without worrying about being judged by our team mates about our body.
I have written about this before. It’s a struggle for me big time. I’m single in a growingly co-ed sport. I also powerlift. I am trying to be highly competitive at roller derby. I had the internal conflict months before RollerCon: do I want to look awesome in my bathing suit, or do I want to be able to get past Tink on the track?
There was a moment where I thought to myself, “Oh wait.. it is hella sexy to be able to get past Tink on the track. So, in theory, if I accomplish THAT, I will look AMAZING in my two piece, because it’ll be ME.” (At least that’s what I keep telling myself)
When I really think about it, beauty conventions vs training modes may be our biggest adversary.
We need to start training for a contact sport
No football player is doing 5000 burpees to prep for the season. No rugby player is only doing yoga to prepare for the pitch. No hockey player is trying to cut to a ridiculous body fat percentage mid-season. Roller derby is a brutal, physical sport. We need our training to reflect that physicality and hardness.
Like any other sport, there are a variety of pieces to the training puzzle. I am not implying that anyone should cut their WoDs, or their yoga, or their P90X completely. To be successful, the incorporation of weight training and conditioning must be included in our system of norms as the primary ‘cross training’ piece, with the other stuff as accessory work. We need to train for strength, not weight loss.
Side note: Many skaters come in, as I had said, with no athletic background. Many come in overweight and out of shape. For many skaters, fat loss does need to be a part of their training consideration. Too much weight in a roller sport means extra strain on knees and hips, and the higher probability of injury. However, let’s not get obsessed with getting from 23% body fat to 19% body fat [like I was].
“The improvement of performance in athletics over the past few years has been phenomenal. For example, twenty years ago the average football lineman weighed 250 pounds and ran a 5.2-second 40-yard dash. This was considered to be nearing the genetic limit for a player. Now running backs that weigh what the lineman used to weigh are running 4.4-second 40-yard dashes! Strength training has made the single, most positive contribution to this type of improvement. Today strength training influences every athletic program in the country, no matter what the sport – male or female. Athletes now find it necessary to lift weights and participate in conditioning programs to better prepare themselves for the competitive rigors of the athletic season.
Just a short time ago, most coaches thought that strength training would cause athletes to become muscle-bound and would be counterproductive to good technique. Now it has been proven that athletic performance depends either directly or indirectly on qualities of muscular strength. We must remember that strength builds the foundation for ALL other athletic qualities. For example, if you do not possess great relative body strength (strength in relation to your body weight), you will never be able to run fast. This is due to the fact that all aspects of proper running technique require high levels of muscular strength. In other words, if you can’t achieve the proper knee drive, arm swing, posture and push-off, you can’t be fast.” (DeFranco)
You call it extreme, I call it “what it feels like 185# on my back”
Let’s be real honest here: Weight training isn’t fun. It’s fun when it’s over. It’s fun when you successfully lock out twice your body weight on deadlift the first time. It is fun when your friends tell you that your arms are awesome (Your derby friends will say this, of course. Your lifter friends will comment about the improvement, but will never imply that you are at the pinnacle of your journey). Not every hockey player likes to lift weights, but they do it because it is necessary for improvement. Every player of every competitive sport lifts weights because it is necessary.
“But Khaos! We’re on roller skates. Look at how successful all the speed skaters are in our game. They don’t lift weights. If we just spend more time on our skates, we’ll be successful.”
“Weight training for speed skaters is not all that different from what you see in other athlete strength programs. The key for skaters is to build up strong legs and core. They also put quite a bit of emphasis on balance.As for the legs, squats of several varieties are important, as are leg extensions and hamstring curls (and so much more). The upper body work is also important and typically includes a tremendous amount of midline work. It is typical to see these athletes utilize some basic strength programming including supersets and dropsets in different capacities and arrangements.” Read the whole article here (it’s got a lot of good training tips in it!!) (Chasey)
Also, can I make a note that the top men’s team in the world, Your Mom, does not spend all THAT much time on their skates? They don’t have to train their skaters how to do crossovers, they can do that on their own time (and I’m talking the none speed skaters too, folks). And Gotham? They have weights in their warehouse so they can make weight training part of the weekly program. The focus is more on the strategy, the training, the understanding of the game than it is on using practice time to go over 360 turns.
We need to properly warm-up and cool down for practice time
A 2 minute dynamic stretch is not enough to get our bodies primed for the hell we put it through on roller skates. We are not teaching our new skaters how properly warm up before activity and subjecting all of us to the probability of injury. On the other side, it is rare that I have been a part of a practice of any league that has a proper cool down.
When I was with Harrisburg Area Roller Derby, we had an amazing volunteer who was dubbed Full Commando. He was our Yogi. At the end of each practice, we would spend 15 minutes doing yoga designed to bring down our heart rate, stretch us out, prep us for bed (Harrisburg practices ended at 11:30p), and prevented future injury. When our sister-in-arms, Stella Stitc’Her broke just above her ankle, she had minimal ligament damage. She told us that the doctor had attributed to the flexibility developed through skating and yoga at the end of practice.
We need to understand that sometimes, less is more
I came from the P90X-obsessed mentality of “If I’m not wasted at the end of my workout than it wasn’t a good workout”. I have come to learn that you can put in excellent work, and an appropriate amount of excellent, hard, teeth-grinding work … and sometimes you feel like you have more to give at the end of the workout. And that’s ok. In theory, everyone should be running a specific program (do what the numbers on the sheet tell you – don’t make it up as you go). Programs are designed for certain things on certain days. Deload weeks in weight training may be boring, but they allow your body to rest so that you can perform stronger the following week.
This also touches on the subject of CrossFit. Those of us who have done work in a CF box may have the thought ingrained that you have to go until failure. True progress does not [always] require that. Look, imam just leave this editorial (written by a certified CrossFit coach) RIGHT HERE about the “keep going” culture created in CF gyms. There should be pain and struggle and a question as to whether you’ll finish your rep, but having been lifting for a while now – that last set of 10 pause squats feels SIGNIFICANTLY different than that last 5 minutes of “Super” Angie.
If I didn’t get enough people riled with that section, let’s see if I can stir the pot with:
We need to restructure our season
And in turn, how our rankings are created. Have you ever encountered any sport where athletes train 11 months out of the year?
Roller derby athletes do not have the benefit of the pre-season/season/post-season/off-season structure that other sports have firmly in place, that determine their intensity and type of training. Derby is forced to ignore the season and mash all of their training, as best as possible, into each week of the year.
Strictly home team players are the only ones that [seem] to get any kind of break from gameplay, but it is the travel team skaters that you want to be fresh. January through June is when most travel teams smush most of their game play into, right?
But now with the new WFTDA rankings, more all-star teams are pushing their seasons later into the fall to be sure they maximize the equation in place currently. Plus, if you do make a divisional tournament, your now have an extra 3 game week of intense play put onto the end of your season [a month or two later]. If you make champs, you again have another intense weekend ahead. If you play on a home team (which most leagues require of their travel teams), then you have extra competitions layered into your already intense season.
Men are running into this too. The MRDA ranking system is still shaking out its bugs, and as of right now the majority of rankings come from the January – June season. However, July and August are the months where you get your final shot to break that Top 8 for champs. There are teams playing tournaments into these months for a shot to increase their rank. Then? They won’t play until October.
From what I understand, USARS has a similar schedule for their championships. Oh, which some flat track teams have been participating in. Add one more piece of your season in. Then there are also the extra tournaments…
The last couple years we have another element to think about: mash-up teams. All-Star mash-up games and tournaments are being placed in the only off season that organizers can find: the winter. This means that players on your top tier are never resting. Their only chance for a recovery period is if they actually injure themselves.
This is a real problem. This is seriously going to hinder our sport from achieving maximum levels of top competition. We are destroying our athletes. This needs to seriously be taken into consideration. We are the only sport I have found where ranking competition can (and does) take place in any month of the year.
Recently, I took a couple weeks off to start to heal up my ankle. I skated a scrimmage here or there, but really nothing major. I was concerned about getting to RollerCon and having no idea what I was doing. They say you lose it a bit as you stay away from the sport. You know what actually happened? 7 out 9 bouts I felt on top of my game like never before. Coincidence? Maybe. Rested? Definitely.
SUBTOPIC: Rest is cool
In general, derby doesn’t like to rest. #NoRest. But recovery in your weekly routine is critical for healing, progress, and injury prevention. Teams that play a 4 game event on Saturday/Sunday and then turn up for practice on Monday BECAUSE IT’S REQUIRED are at a greater risk for injury. Your muscles need to a chance to rebuild after a game. Teams really need to look at their practice schedule and include ‘deload’ time before a game (like not scrimmaging), and recovery time right after a game (like canceling practice or doing a couple days of non-contact, lighter skills, and team work basics).
We need to stop encouraging a culture where unhealthy eating is cool
That’s great that you got cheese fries and a beer after practice. It won’t help you recover. That’s awesome that you’re taunting your friend who is drinking her shake for the first time that you’re eating a burger while they’re trying to limit saturated fat. You’re making her feel bad for a healthy decision just because you don’t want to make it.
Not everyone is going to be into eating like an athlete, and I understand that. But can we please stop this culture of “Doesn’t bending over for a cupcake count as a squat?” No. It doesn’t. It’s fine that you don’t want to be at the peak of your game, but don’t mock others for their athletic nutrition. And if you do mock? Don’t be offended when they lap you during cardio, start getting more play time on the team, or transfer to a better league because the current league has encouraged the bully culture.
The sad thing is that it’s usually our friends making the jokes. They think their being funny. It’s not funny.
One more thing to make me unpopular… our AFTER PARTIES. Can we please talk about not encouraging our athletes to drink copious amounts of alcohol, while providing fried bits of vegetable-like substances, and dinner rolls? Can we talk about an after party that is for the fans, not for the athletes so much? You can try and tell me (and yourself) all you want that beer is a fine post recovery drink, but guess what? It isn’t. Plain. Simple. It doesn’t count. Here’s a short read for you.
Ok, this blog ended up being WAY longer than intended, but I needed to start putting these things out to the universe. I feel very strongly about starting this health and strength revolution, and I’m glad to know I do have some other people on my side. For our sport to get to the next level of athleticism, and to be one step closer to professional play, we must take a hard look at our training: How it is structured, why it is structured that way, the culture that supports/negates it, and our behavior to our fellow skaters. We need to put these things on the table within each league so that, one by one, we can revolutionize roller derby for the betterment of the sport and our athletes.
My name is Merry Khaos, I am a member of DNA Coaching and a health and wellness coach with Derbalife. We are currently booking boot camps for the next 15 months. Send me an e-mail at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com to get the ball rolling on having us come to your league. Want to incorporate a “how to train for roller derby” day? Let’s do it! I am also available to help you piece together a nutrition plan and training schedule so you can smash through your goals. Let’s work hard together!