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
I know my friends within the Mid-Atlantic Region have been antsy for this list, so I’m going to publish this one first. The Mid-Atlantic included any Maryland/DC/Delaware teams. All voting was based on where the skater PLAYED, not where they LIVED. As long as they played as an active member of a team from the region in that season (regardless of rule set) they were eligible for vote.
I am writing from the perspective of 2013, keep in mind! Most of the people on these lists have had pretty incredible seasons thus far as well. With all of these articles, remember – maybe not everyone gets a picture. Sorry. You have no idea how much time it takes to find photos for 60 skaters that are 1) good and 2) from a photographer I have permission to credit. ❤ PS THANK YOU ALL PHOTOGS FOR THE HARD WORK YOU DO!!! You are awesome, we love you, and I highly suggest that everyone who reads these articles check out the photogs listed [and buy things from them].
Serious Snowflake – Salisbury Roller Girls
Long of leg and strong of hip, Snowflake uses muscle to get by her opponents. She’s not afraid to jump an apex, but often you’ll just see her push right through a blocker (sometimes with a pirouette just to be sure she gets by). Snowflake is one of those skaters that brightens a bench; always excited to learn and play more. She got a chance to try out the bank track on the East Coast Outlaws this season versus the Penn Jersey Hooligans, and her skills have earned her a spot on the Maryland All-Stars.
Uvetta Work – Charm City Roller Girls
This woman is terrifyingly gorgeous on the track. I love watching her be a rock in front of jammers and when she jams for her home team I can’t help but giggle (and be glad I’m not the one bouncing off of her). She is a critical, dominant piece of the Charm City blocking core.
T – Free State Roller Derby
You’ve gotta be good to have your derby name be just a letter. Almost pixie-like in her jamming, T is around you before you realize she was there to begin with. The apex is nothing more than a small obstacle to jump over for her, and before you know it, she’s back around the track and taking your point.
O’Chit (Rebecca Simon) – Charm City Roller Girls
Power. That is Chit. Watch her hit someone. Chit has mastered a bursting pop that will take girls off their skates. Her control with her edges is amazing and her positional blocking is nothing short of pure intimidation. Watching her jam is fun simply because of the amount of strength she can put into her wheels to cut back and forth and through walls. It’s no wonder she’s a member of the Maryland All-Stars.
Jackie Treehorn – Free State Roller Derby
Standing 6’Forever on her skates, Jackie is still considerably new to the sport of roller derby. The amazing thing about Jackie is not her ability to take up half the track or her booty blocking – it’s her adaptability and her eagerness to learn. She is a Maryland All-Star who once was top heavy with blocking, but no longer relies on her shoulders for strength. She understands that her hips are where the magic happens, and is a rock in any wall.
Thee Mighty Isis – Mason-Dixon Roller Vixens
Isis makes an impression whenever she is on the floor. Like Treehorn, Isis commands attention in a wall and is a leader on the floor. Far more agile than teams will give her credit for (before the bout), she is able to recycle through packs to punish jammers. With the star she is a battering ram who also can roll off of hips and duck past opponents. She is a secret weapon in the Maryland All-Star arsenal.
13. Warren T Voider – Harm City Havoc
Still relatively new to the sport, Warren is a key jammer in the Havoc roster. While other jammers on his team rely on pure agility, Warren is able to jam like a blocker to get through heavy walls. His footwork is just as good, and as a blocker, he is starting to become a real leader in the pivot position.
12. Battery Operated – Charm City Roller Girls
“Bops” (as she is known to her team mates) has been an important player in the All-Star line-up and to her home team, The Modtown Mods. As a blocker, she is a leader on the floor, a strong piece of wall work, and has the feet to always be waiting for a jammer at the front of the pack. She is also a wonderful team mate – serious and pointed when the time calls for it. Joking and laughing when given the opportunity.
On the Mobtown Mods.
Photo by Tyler Shaw
11. Dual Hitizen – DC Rollergirls
Dual is another skater who can blend into the crowd sometimes, because she is so good at her job when she’s blocking that you don’t notice her. The jammer just can’t get through. When she jams, she doesn’t even do anything too magical. She simply gets by you. No no, don’t worry it’s not you. It’s her. She’s magic that way.
10. Sin Diesel – Harm City Havoc
This man has been around for a while; he was one of the founders of MDC, Harm City, and has coached for several women’s teams (including Team Maryland). He has always been strong in blocking, and quick footed with the star. Being a member of the Cinderella Team Argentina at the MRDWC leveled him up. Before he was a part of the pack, but now you can see him play as a pack member. Regardless of the experience of his pack, he no longer takes all the responsibility onto himself, but rather directs and trusts those around him. Harm City has benefitted from Sin’s experience and leadership far beyond what I can express in a short paragraph. He looks like a new skater. It’s really awesome to watch.
9. Susy Pow – Charm City Roller Girls
A member of Team Australia, Susy Pow made her way onto Charm City All-Stars easily with fast feet and agility in her blocking. She made the biggest splash when CCRG made their way to Salem, OR and used Susy as a primary jammer. Susy’s jamming style is unusual: she is light and fluid when she takes a hit, but extremely solid when attacking a wall. She also jumps apexes like it’s her job. Maybe it is! In Salem, she jammed 41 times over the three games. Her lead jammer average was 61%, and she scored 146 points during the tournament.
8. Frightmare (Stephanie Griffith) – DC Rollergirls
I love Frightmare: hilarious off the track, aggressive as hell on the track. She doesn’t care who you are, she’s getting past you. And you’ll just have to learn to live with it. When she pivots, she commands her pack. When she hits, she is able to nail those little nerve spots with her hips and shoulders; she is able to stop the blockers that look like they should blow her up. I love Frightmare.
7. Lady Quebeum – Charm City Roller Girls
(It’s pronounced ‘Kaboom’) Here is another skater that makes me happy to be on the track. “LQ” has been around CCRG for a long time, and the all-stars have utilized her long legs and head for strategy effectively. She is able to keep skaters focused on the track, and is amazing at following direction from others. Her leadership on Team Maryland helped the skaters grow as a unit quickly. CCRG is happy to have her back on her wheels too – at the end of last season she suffered a tib/fib fracture. Cleared to skate again, her tenacity will surely get her back on the All-Stars quickly.
6. Truth Hurtz – Harm City Havoc
Feet of fury and will of fire: this is Truth Hurtz. A critical piece of the Havoc jamming crew, but powerful in a blocker position, Truth’s footwork is blinding. He is able to squeeze through cracks in the wall you didn’t know were there and can outrace opponents on the outside line all day. He’s menacing at his least, he’s impossible to handle when in his groove.
5. Buster Skull – Salisbury Rollergirls
If you’ve read my writing about Buster Skull in the past than it’s no secret that I am a fan. Buster is absolutely tenacious on the track, whether blocking or jamming. Her work as a blocker within the pack has evolved significantly over the years; now she is able to trade blows with the biggest skaters without flinching. When she jams, she fearlessly attacks walls and has an ability to break packs without looking like she’s putting in much effort.
4. Hittsburgh – Charm City Roller Girls
Have you ever been hit by truck? If you would like to be, Hitts can provide that experience for you! Solid on the track, her can-openers can easily put the opposition on their ass. Backwards or forwards, getting by her with the star is challenge, her mobility is top-notch, partially because she is excellent at working within pairs and diamonds. Her blocking has also been super useful to the ranks of Team Maryland. When she wears the star…well… she likes the edges. It doesn’t matter if I tell you that though: she’ll still able to tip toe past you.
3.Nuckin Futz – Charm City Roller Girls
The woman is made of vapor (very, very quick vapor). A student of herself, Futz was able to study her own patterns and make huge leaps in 2013 in her jamming. The Salem WFTDA Divisional playoff had no idea what it was in for when she stepped to the line. She found the smallest crevices in walls, patiently waited for her blockers to create a little chaos, and juked behind teams of blockers so quick that they weren’t sure where her hips even were (much less know where she was going). You want to study a jammer who can be lighting quick to the side and then stretch her stride long out of the pack? Go study some Nuckin Futz.
2. IM Pain – Charm City Roller Girls
Co-Captain of the All Stars, Pain is known for her strength in jamming and effortless ability to rack up points. With a background in speed skating, it’s no wonder that she can outrun most of the blockers she comes against, and has extra-sensory vision for the inside line that reveals holes that the rest of us mere mortals cannot perceive. I watch her and wonder how she gets through packs sometimes. She makes everything look effortless. When faced with injury at the end of the season, Pain shifted her leadership role to one off track. Her persistence and dedication also earned her a spot on Team Maryland.
1. Holly Go Hardly – Charm City Roller Girls
Not everyone understands Holly’s level of dedication, drive, and determination of the 2013 CCRG co-captain. Holly is an absolute monster blocker on the track; I have never met someone who can hold her balance in such awkwardly appropriate ways while still being completely effective against opponents. When her walls are as strong as her, she is solid block that doesn’t move. When her team is not as experienced, she can arrange blockers into walls, and direct and brace as the game progresses. Her body awareness also allows her to use her hips in ways that many people have not figured out yet. She is able to make herself long across the track as she drags opponents to an edge, or knocks them out of bounds with a bursting, backwards strike. Now again she puts on the star, usually for funsies, and she spins and maneuvers around blockers; always when they think they have her in their trap.
Holly is never afraid to push herself to failure. She falls. She’s struggles. She improves. She never goes 50%. She never backs down. Yes she can be a little intense and overwhelming when you’re in a high stress situation, but yes, I admit it: I may have a bit of a derby crush on Holly Go Hardly. And I’m super stoked that I got to play with her on Team Maryland.