To help new and intermediate skaters get acclimated to gameplay and learn new tricks and strategies to be effective on the track.
Don’t look at your feet
Bend your knees
Your arms are unnecessary for roller skating
Get natural at transitions
Get comfortable changing levels
Effective derby playing is about space: creating space, clearing space, holding space
Do less than you think you need to
Don’t say you can’t do it. You can do it, you just haven’t yet
Building a base
Updated derby stance (tailbone tucked under, hips low but not too low)
Changing levels to complete hits and leans. Opening ribs/sides to maintain contact
Targeting and Blocking Form: By targeting certain parts on an opponent’s body you can effectively control their body with very little effort. It’s best to maintain contact with your opponent until you’ve moved them where you want them to go.
Chest/sternum: targeting an opponent’s chest or sternum with a solid, sustained push will allow you to move them in the direction you’re pushing. By aiming your hit low and finishing high you can lift them off their base and make them easier to move.
Shoulder sockets: aiming for an opponent’s shoulder near where the arm connects to the torso will cause the opponent’s upper body to twist. By following through with the hit you can force the opponent to open their hips and give up their space. This target works both from the front and back, but when attempting this hit from the rear be careful to make legal contact.
Ribs to armpit: When attacking an opponent from the side start by aiming for their ribs with your shoulder and moving the point of contact up towards their armpit. This will lift your opponent off their base and allow you to move them or knock them over.
Crazy Legs and lateral T push
Push from line to line, ending on your edges
Buddy pushes on your back, you must use your edges and plows to stop them
Picking up the opponent’s leg
From a stopped position, put the top of your thigh under the bottom of their thigh. Position your torso around their waist line. Use your tricep as a brace against their ribs. No pinning of arms or legs. Dip a little, use a small step and stand up to move them out of the way
This is to teach you how to be confident getting from your wheels to your toe stops and back again. To start, break it down into small stages:
Stand still, drop your toe stops
Roll forward slowly, drop your toe stops. Use the momentum to take a step if necessary. This is currently about STOPPING, not moving.
Roll forward slowly, drop your toe stops. Use the momentum to hop straight up. Practice landing on your toe stops or your wheels.
Roll backwards, reach a foot backwards and grab the ground with your toe stop. Use this momentum to move you a couple steps.
To Practice: Start at the jammer line, push twice, transition onto toe stops for multiple steps, transition back to your wheels. You can practice doing this straight forward, backwards, and also so your body is angled when you’re stepping – transition to your toe stops and turn your chest to the inside of the track to run.
Building up the Tripod
Effective butts: lateral movement, getting hips in front
In a tripod formation, the skaters in the two wall need to focus on lateral movement, seaming, and keeping their hips perpendicular to the track. The two wall is the first line of defense when absorbing the jammer’s impact and should attempt to maintain contact with the jammer for as long as possible. Skaters in the two wall should look for offense coming from the front.
Effective bracing: arms on outside, spreading wings, leaning back, one toe stop, avoiding offense
Being an effective brace is about communication, supporting your teammates, and being prepared to make adjustments. The brace should allow their teammates to push into them instead of pushing back into the two wall. This limits the two wall’s mobility and leads to a higher likelihood of direction of gameplay penalties. When bleeding off speed the brace should attempt to use only one toe stop so then can maintain their lateral mobility. The brace should not only communicate where the jammer is moving, but also relay if offense is coming from the rear or sides. If it seems like the jammer will break through or clear the two wall, the brace must be prepared to rotate or break off to catch the jammer and prepare to reform the tripod.
Message me at Derbyamerica at gmail.com or Chief at Anxiety83 at gmail.com if you have questions or need further information!
If you’ve ever taken a class or practice with me, you have probably heard you say this. Roller derby is a series of weird skills and strategies that will undermine your confidence and sense of self-preservation. Usually our brains do this subconsciously, or at most, it brings up the “status bar” of attempting to do a skill.
RollerCon for me this year, was not me coming in and overcoming physical barriers, this year it was all about the mental mind fucks of not knowing where I belong. In our jammer pod in Tampa, we have all adopted dessert names, and I chose Cronut since I’m always in identity crisis. For those who came into RollerCon (or any other mixed scrimmage event) with trepidation, you are not alone.
Usually at RC I come in knowing that I’m not the best, but I’m solidly competent. I’m a decent coach, I’m good at skating, I’m a good blocker, an OKish jammer, a pretty reasonable ref, and an occasionally funny announcer. I’m not the best at anything, but gosh darnit – I can hold my own with the big guns on any of it.
Jammer paralysis. Blocker doubts. Ref misgivings. Announcer stage fright. Coaching faux paus. All this during a year where I just wanted to show my friends that I’m really good. I just wanted my friends to agree that I am just as good as they are, and can hang. I Just wanted to look at everything and go “Yup! I’m still relevant. I’m still growing. I’m still good.” And midweek I found myself in panic mode thinking:
WHAT THE FUCK AM I? WHAT HAPPENED?
Ok, the background. This year at RC I ….
Played in 8 (?) 30 minute games
Officiated 1 B&W scrim, 1 30 min game, 2 full length games (OPR Fury Road/Matrix & JR East/West)
Announced 2 30 minute games
Taught 4 hours
Took two 2 hour classes
Helped the SM of the Drag Show get sorted (before getting a concussion & having to pull out from helping)
Spent around 6 hours at the Roller Derby Elite Booth
…..And this was a light year of activity for me.
I didn’t have any full-length games to play this year, and was taken off of the rosters of games I had previously been rostered. Between the removals, the lack of games, and my guilt over switching schedules, I was already in a bad headspace coming into the Con. Match that with low performances in front of my friends on day one, having the jammer star taken out of my hand in 3 different games on day one, and feeling overall ineffective, I was a train wreck.
RollerCon is supposed to be fun. I’ve always gone because it was fun. Let me say that playing with AA skaters this year was, overall, NOT fun. And I hate that.
I miss the challenges & scrimmages where we ran every jam because we only got to play 3 times in 30 minutes. This year, people were screaming from the bench to call it off so we could win. This year, I didn’t see people pull back to allow for a fun, even up scrimmage (unless we were shouting “C level!” as officials). I saw dirty (and dangerous) hits and hooks happening from skaters that know better, simply because they were frustrated with not being immediately successful. I was told that I didn’t deserve to be on the track as a blocker in one game, that I wasn’t good enough to jam in another, and scolded about being wrong when I was trying something in a third.
I also heard several pods being lectured about how they weren’t playing derby well enough. Feedback is one thing, but let’s make sure that we’re doing it right.
I remember Smarty Pants being on the bench with me during a black and white early scrimmage before ECDX a few years ago. Were the packs perfect? ANYTHING BUT. However, she didn’t talk us down, she talked us up. What did we do right? How can we capitalize on that next time?
Telling people that they are wrong about derby does not help anyone. It takes them out of the fun, out of the moment of strength, and makes them want to quit. I almost stopped skating a few times this week. I felt like if I didn’t have the respect of those AA skaters, if I didn’t look like I could hang with the ‘Big Dogs’ from the audience, then why am I here?
This was only underlined by the fact that some of my friends have gotten very good at derby and are gaining a lot of notoriety. You at home. You that feel guilty for feeling jealous of your friends being noticed while you continue to work hard and go unnoticed? I see you. There are a ton of us in this community.
We spend so much time at RollerCon oooing and awing the AA skaters, that we forget to acknowledge the hard work and advances made by others. Every year you may feel like you never improve when you go to an event like RollerCon, but I have understood that it just means we’re all getting better at the same rate. This year, I didn’t keep the pace of improvement. I need to work even harder if I want to be at the same level that I have been in the past.
That’s hard for us to accept sometimes: Some of us have to work much harder at roller derby just to keep pace with people who have a knack for the game or have been athletes most of their lives.
For the skaters that are progressing at a quick rate, or that are now a higher level and playing “down” at RollerCon, remember that not everyone has the same story as you. Not everyone has the same training. Not everyone is in the same mental space of “WIN ALL THE GAMES”, especially since what it felt like was “SHOW THEM I’M AS GOOD AS THEY ARE WE CANNOT LOSE NEVER SURRENDER!”
-_- Maybe we all need to stop being so cut throat with this stuff. I personally was a little sad that I got a full uppercut to the face and there wasn’t even an acknowledgement, much less an apology. Yea, it’s derby, shit happens, but come on, yo. We’re not supposed to be ok with injuring each other, ESPECIALLY during a fun challenge that no one gives a shit about 30 seconds later. Just be nice to people.
Imposter syndrome went through the roof because all of this. I know I’m not the only one who dealt with it, and I’m sorry if any of my frustration caused others on the track to question their own ability. That’s the thing about yelling and shouting and putting people down: it spreads like the derby plague. I cried so many times this year just because I didn’t feel like I was good enough. It didn’t matter what track cuts I drew on AA players. It didn’t matter who I cleared, or how effectively I helped to kill power jams. I was told I was lesser and I felt like it.
I was sitting at the Roller Derby Elite booth with my friends Disaster Chief and Peter Pan (Tony Muse) talking about all of this and Tony said, “There was something I was missing, and I had something to learn from everything that happened from this year. Maybe this is all happening because you need to learn something. Maybe you’re missing a piece.” I walked away from the conversation unsure, but when i geared up later I realized what he was talking about.
All this time I had been hyper focused on the physical, but I’ve been ignoring the mental. It’s the same thing that came up at Tiny Tourney. I was missing the fun and the confidence. While my body was getting stronger, my mind was not.
I got so swept up in the competition on the track that I forgot to have fun in a sport that I know I’m good at. I may not be good all the time at all the things, but I am good. The more fun I have, the better I play. I don’t train my ass off to get approval from others (I mean, subconsciously I do but I’m working on that).
When it comes down to it, RollerCon is supposed to be the biggest, baddest, most fun summer camp for adults. And looking back on it, that’s what it was. At the end of everything, the Crew of Cabana 3 made RC everything, even when we had our drunken mishaps or when bogged down in interpersonal ucky.
Every year I am going to have social anxiety. I’m going to let someone down along the way. I’m going to miss calls. Make questionable calls. Do neat stuff. Fall on my ass too much. Build friendships. Strengthen bonds. Learn more about myself. Get defensive. Get happy. Get sad. Get shouty. Teach someone. Be taught. And maybe even make out with someone.
Every year I’m going to come out thinking Ivanna hates me, that I disappointed Val, that I let down Ump, that Tony’s going to stop sponsoring me, and that Suvi wants me off the team. It’s not true though. I am learning that the minor inconveniences, the little things that happen along the way are a drop in the bucket and we all still love each other at the end of the day.
You should love yourself and your friends too. High five each other, hug each other, kiss your friends. You all deserve love after the trials and tribulations brought on with roller derby in the desert. And next year will be even bigger, even better. Next year, our minds will be overwhelmed by even more incredible roller derby and we will struggle and thrive once again.
So my takeaways this year at the end of everything?
I want to play more derby.
I want to use my shoulders more.
We need to listen to each other more.
I’m actually kind of hot.
I want to get stronger.
I need to take more classes (especially from Grime).
I’m terrible at using a hand drill [but everyone should volunteer & try].
I want to get my mind better, and have no idea how to prevent meltdowns in the future.
We should all chill the fuck out a bit.
I want to help build more opportunities for lower level men to play at RC.
I never want to do another RollerCon without a microwave & washer/dryer.
You can never drink enough water. Even when your adult beverages are made with sparkling water.
Cucumber Water beverages at the Westgate are the perfect summer drink.
Ivanna and the team of managers are all made of magic. I think they are unicorns in disguise.
My friends and roller derby buddies are the greatest in the world.
I’m kind of OK with being kind of OK, but I’ll never settle for being as good as I am.
My second Men’s Roller Derby World Cup is in the books and at the end of everything, all I can think is “How long until St. Louis?” In Calgary, I was there as a spectator, vendor, and sponsor. This time I was chosen to announce. I wanted to recap what I experienced this weekend and why I loved the event so much. This was, legitimately, the best tournament I have attended to date. There is a lot of negative energy being thrown around and I am sad that it overshadows all the amazing things that occurred for a week in Barcelona.
So I’m going to run down what made things amazing and then at the end, I’ve got my own list of superlatives. Quad Skate Shop had their own team of amazing people that they awarded things to, but I think some others need some recognition.
The Streaming Crew and Master of Puffins
She mastered the heck out of those Puffins!! The streaming crew for MRDWC was absolutely outstanding. Every time the production quality gets better. Our crew was relentless, and our producer diligent (but with a smile). All those great replays you saw throughout the weekend was thanks to them. As the weekend went on we think they started going stir crazy for all those amazing ‘break-dancing’ replays we got … the one of Mr Testosterone was a personal favorite.
The volunteers started delivering food and coffee to them because we all realized that while the announcers got to take a break – they never did. Stat Man helped to keep the stream alive and fix the bugs when they came through; the stream would not have survived without him and his crew!
Thanks to VMIX.com for the software that got it done. You can go back and watch replays at https://solidsport.com/mrdwc. (Note: I have word that games will be edited and renamed later so keep an eye out for that)
Volunteer Army & Hospitality
Anyone who volunteers at events understands how important volunteer hospitality is. You’re asking people to be in charge of different critical elements of a tournament for up to 14 hours at a time, depending on their position. To ask them to do that without food or drink is ill-advised but not unheard of. Think about doing advanced calculus while on skates, regulating your speed and bursting for upwards of four hours. Do you think you’d be that good at the math a couple hours later if you had no fuel?
So I was thrilled at the coordination of meals, snacks, and beverages. Learning throughout the weekend, they increased their vegan options and labeled gluten-free food. They also had both drip coffee and espresso which we ALL appreciated (even if certain coffee snobs would joke about how the coffee was better in Australia). I mean, the sliced Spanish meat, the veggie paella, the daily croissants. *Sigh* America we need to get our volunteer food game up.
Any time I had a question, all I had to do was find a yellow shirt. Whenever something was going amiss, I only had to look for a volunteer. David Pamies apparently was the mastermind behind most of the event, with support from MRDS Spain, and I am so glad that they were crazy enough to try and pull this all off. At least from the perspective of a participant, the arrangement of managers, leads, and heads helped to keep the event on track the whole weekend. I’m sure there were fires to put out, but the volunteers never panicked.
Even when the espresso machine needed to be descaled.
Also: shoutout to Julia Sleazer who ran #TeamMouth. She had a lot of monkeys to juggle, and despite some really challenging circumstances and difficult situations, she handled all of the things. Also, thank you to Bootiful Banshee for finding Sleazer the proper Rockstars. An unfueled THA is not a happy THA.
Roller derby is nothing without their fans and the World Cup always delivers some of the best. This year teams were not messing around. Mascots were not as prevalent as we were hoping, but the Nederlands did not let us down with their sparkly orange outfits, while the Welsh were yelling something that sounded like the Aussie’s Oi Oi Oi but we never did figure out what it was (we just know they were into it).
Poland, even though they had a hard tournament, were supported with posters and songs about roller derby and food. The announcers decided that next time they shouldn’t be allowed to chant about pierogi unless they are offered some up. The ever popular “REEEEEEAAAA-PER” could be heard throughout the weekend as England battled, but the two best? Finland and Scotland.
So you can imagine how loud the small Track 2 room was when the two fought it out on the final day. Scotland came equipped with an array of general chants to keep the crowd pumped up (and we were wondering if maybe they were taken from other sports, just because of how solid they were). Finland had songs for every one of their jammers as well as some others to sprinkle in. They were a melodic bunch that rarely gave the other team a chance to hype up their own team, so Scotland just had to find the pauses in their rhythm and fill that with the yells of the Highland.
Everything I love about the World Cup happened there as blue and white took on white verse blue, on the blue track that the FIRST MRDWC used in Birmingham. It was two teams, one who had almost upended their bracket, meeting for battle that was fierce, but not ugly. The crowd chanted one after another, they waved their flags and sang their songs. They flinched when Grime hit, and cheered when Keiski jumped. The whole thing just felt right. If I could go back to any game and any atmosphere of the weekend, it would be to see the Power of Scotland face Finland Men’s Roller Derby again, and the fans had a lot to do with that.
This year we had 4 new MRDWC teams: Poland, Philippines, New Zealand, and Colombia. And is the trend, there were skaters who came to MRDWC to play their first full-length MRDA game. While not every team looked as put together as England or Australia, this was the first year that every team at least looked PUT TOGETHER. Even Poland , who did not come out with any wins, had stretches where they were incredibly cohesive and worked as a unit. Every tier of competition has stepped it up. There is no longer such a thing as an easy or assumed win.
Now on the higher end, there are more stories. USA was near untouchable again this year, but for the second tournament in a row, England made them work for every point. While Fish swam through packs, Sully moved them, Reaper lept them, Scraplin muppeted around them, but it was Scooby the Pivot that surprised the crowd early on to get the momentum going for England in the final. Canada, who had previously been an assumed feature on the podium, was upended by France in the quarter finals. It was their first time breaking into the Top 4. Meanwhile, Scotland almost caused the upset of the tournament; having the lead on Australia through most of their final game in group play. Power of Scotland made a definitive statement being the only #2 in group stages with a 200+ positive differential; they are making sure no one underestimates them in 2020.
Speaking of Australia, they made sure to keep everyone on the edge of their seat this tournament. They obviously came here with goals, and every time someone tried to thwart them they responded. It was actually pretty incredible to watch, and gave us three of the best games of the tournament.
While everyone had France on their radar, no one considered what power Scotland contained. Jammer penalties struck them down in the end; 10 jammer penalties attributed to their 60 point loss. Mexico had everyone on edge when they took on Canada (twice) but the guys from the Great White North were not looking for a second upset of the weekend.
I have decided that Finland and Argentina have special genetic breeding grounds for jammers, and I fear meeting up with the Welsh blockers in a game because dear jeebus – there were several times where they hit opponents so hard that we heard the thud of their landing at the announcer dias.
Even more incredible is that most of these teams only have practiced together a couple times, and some of them players do not have a team to work with regularly. I keep crossing my fingers that countries that don’t have MRDA will use their national team as a competitive year round (kind of like what Texas Men’s did after State Wars). The 2020 competition is going to be ri-goddamn-diculous if teams continue improving at the rate in which they are.
Your team better step its merch game up. I was astounded at the incredible artwork, variety of items, and extra stuff that teams were doing to raise money. England: your Yorkshire tea saved my voice and my energy level on my morning calls. You have converted me. No more English Breakfast at home (I don’t know if I’m giving my Earl Grey yet though).
The Polish team had a phrase you could say (which they recorded) to earn a 2€ discount. The Philippines were tagging people with stickers at the end, there were handmade Viking like helmets at the Sweden table, Finland’s baseball tee looked impossibly comfy, the Mexico table had upped their game with hoodies, Belgium had shirts with beer or frites on them, and Spain just had an assortment of things that made me wish I had allowed more room in my baggage.
Overall, the teams did an amazing job of providing fans with plenty of things to buy, and I am proud of myself for not dropping 300€ on it all (though I’m sure the teams are sad).
Well at least for a hot second, the rules (and how to understand what they say) was on the mind of everyone. Two very important games had extra jams called for by Head Refs. Like or hate the choices that they made, they were completely within the realm of the ruleset.
Outside of strange game-ending situations, just having a tournament of this size brings rules questions to the forefront of the mind of the general population. From the new hand signals (I saw so many leg blocks called) to questioning the reasoning behind certain calls and no calls, MRDWC gave people [mostly] constructive ways of scrutinizing the ruleset and possible flaws within it.
Don’t mistake me, I know most of the shouting was about the no call back block, the ‘obvious’ cut track, or why someone was or wasn’t ejected from a game due to ‘poor’ officiating … but outside of the fever of gameplay, the conversation tends to be positive.
Spirit of the game and the jersey swap
*Whiny voice* I waaaant this. I wish the jersey swap was an accepted practice among WFTDA skaters because I think there is nothing better than seeing skaters talk with people that impressed them or that they idolize and then GETTING THEIR SHIRT. For skaters, especially from smaller and remote leagues, to get to swap with guys from Australia, France, and the USA, it just raises everyone’s enthusiasm of participation in the game. It makes everyone feel a little special and a little hungrier to get better. If you knew Shrooms was walking around with your jersey on, and you’re from a small town with small derby, it might just compel you to work harder since ‘he’s watching’.
I’ve done one jersey swap since I started playing. My friend Rosie Derivator from Atlanta swapped with me at B Champs last year and MAN did we get a lot of side-eye, shocked looks, and questions. I still wore it during her final game to cheer her on anyway. Having the extra fan in the crowd that gives a f*** about you in particular always feels good.
The only downfall to the jersey swap to the casual observer is that you can never be sure at the after party who is lying.
My team selection and superlatives
So, talking about how amazing all the players were this weekend, I decided to make my own charter based on the players. Here were the rules I set for myself: no player that was chosen for the MRDWC team could be selected, and I had to pick only one skater from each team. Yes, that means more than a 20-person charter but I DO WHAT I WANT! I ended up with 8 jammers, 16 blockers, and wow it was difficult to narrow down! I even conferred with the other announcers to get it right. Even with nods to all of these players there are still a TON more that had super successful weekends and should be proud of themselves.
Maybe it does not mean much coming from some American who talks too much on social media, but I feel like more people from this weekend deserve an award.
Best Blocker – Shrooms (Eng) Best Jammer – Sausarge Rolls (Aus) Best Triple Threat – El Majestic (Col) Most Underrated Jammer – Goofy (Ita) Most Underrated Blocker: U2 (Jpn) Most Improved – Slaapzak (Ned) Best Debut– Uncle Dad (Can) Most Fun to Watch – Omar (Eng) Dynamic Duo– Ballistic Whistle and Chambers (Aus) Favorite Comeback Story – Simard (Ire) Favorite OR Explanations – Shref Best Almost-Appearance– Roller Polar Bear
Best Dressed Fans: Netherlands Favorite Uniforms: Spain, Poland, New Zealand, Wales, Columbia Team to watch for in 2020: Team Belgium Best “Fun Facts” section of rosters: TIE – Finland and Australia Best Game of the Tournament: Australia vs France
I have been a skating member for leagues of different sizes, ranking, and cultural expectations. I have visited, coached, and reffed more than 50 leagues in 20 states and five countries. Each league’s BoD was structured slightly differently, each coaching staff ran a different way, each team dynamic was different. There are threads of familiarity throughout each, however. There are commonalities of good and of bad, of support and of discord. When a league is split into separate teams, there can be either an equal share of positive growth, or lines drawn in the sand.
I was given the opportunity to referee and stream announce the B-Team Championships held in Atlanta, Georgia in October 2016. I got a chance to talk to the skaters from different teams and I heard comments that I have heard across leagues across the world. You would watch these teams and think “How on EARTH are they not on the All Star team?” In some cases, it’s a matter of the league having too much talent, so they [essentially] have two All Star teams. In other cases, you hear skaters talking about how they are passed over because of a conflict or lack of commitment seasons ago, negative talk from coaching, or flat out Elitest dismissal from All Star coaches and team members.
I have been pondering this blog for over a month now, to express how we can build a positive environment for our skaters and be sure that no one feels negative connotation in being “Just a B Teamer”. Also, substitute “Home Teamer” or “C Teamer” etc as necessary.
Before I dive in, you may be thinking to yourself already, “BUT OUR LEAGUE IS A MESS TO BEGIN WITH! HOW CAN WE EVEN START MAKING OUR B TEAMERS FEEL IMPORTANT??”
Creating a positive space for your league members is very important to the mental health of everyone. When I say ‘positive spaces’, I mean track times where no one is insulting each other, scrimmages where abuse towards the refs is not tolerated, and times where league members can talk to their coaching staff about goals and concerns.
Too often I have heard recounts, or experienced myself, stories of the All Stars and B Teams not trusting one another, or shouting when receiving big hits, or sneering on the line when a new jammer steps up. I have also seen All Star and League coaches ignore B Team skaters completely. I have talked to skaters who feel as if they are blown off when they look for feedback, or that coaches neglect to offer words of encouragement to anyone but the ‘superstars’.
As a coach, a captain, a league-mate, be aware of your attention and energy. It is easy to fall into the trap of only complimenting the top skaters, since they probably are doing rad things on the track. Make sure to be aware of your skaters that are learning and progressing, and offer them compliments (and critique) along the way as well. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to get the occasional “Hey, your plows are looking way better!” to keep them happy, positive, and on track. Being the All Star coach and making a guest appearance at league practice to help with developing skaters (even just once in awhile) can make a huge difference in morale.
Too often I have heard officials talking about abusive skaters on the All Star team. The skaters are know to shout and scream at their team and the officials, with no repercussions; no disciplinary action. To allow top skaters the right to be abusive creates a culture of acceptance of such actions, which then lets other skaters (the proteges) believe it is acceptable behavior. When one level of skater is punished for behavioral issues, and the other is not (the ‘lower level’), you have a recipe for dissent and anger among the ranks, all in the name of “keeping talented skaters”.
This is not a safe space. This not a place where players or officials will continue to come with a happy face to learn. They will become despondent, bitter, and (if lucky) they will transfer. If derby is unlucky, they will quit altogether. Nurture and support people, do not beat them down for imperfection or for penalty calls you did not agree with. Do not tolerate those who do either, no matter how many apexes they jump per game, and no matter how many jammers they soul crush.
Building Cultural Value in Your Other Teams
What are the goals of your All Star team? To win games? Gain rankings? Beat other teams they come up against with strength, strategy, and increasing skills?
Now how do you practice those things? Against one another, of course, but there will come a time where your All Star blockers will understand the fundamental tactics and tendencies of your All Star jammers, and vice versa. Yes, they will continue to push each other, but there comes a point where a team must play against another squad to keep from plateauing.
Who, then, does your All Star team have to compete against on a regular basis?
Yup. Your B Team.
So what I’m trying to say is this: If your coaches, captains, and All Stars promote the idea of “Our All Stars are stellar because our B Team is stellar” you have a happy bunch of skaters who are all striving to push each other more. If you build a structure of ‘everyone getting better so that everyone gets better’, then each skater will build their personal skills with the goal of the team in mind, instead of the self.
Most B Teams I have come in contact with don’t promote any specific B Team cultures. Skaters are subtly encouraged to keep self preservation in mind – either to boost themselves up to the All Stars, or to maintain their seniority on the B Team. Training is not about making the team better, or about the team’s impact on the All Stars/C Team/Home Teams, but is seen as a way to showcase individual talents in order to impress the decision makers.
The other side effect of B Teamers not understanding their effect on the All Stars is this: a division can be created. It is one thing for a skater to say, “I’m ok with the level of play at this level, I can’t give more commitment or more of myself,” or “I love my team, we work well together, I fit in here.” It is another thing to hear skaters say, “Well I have to be happy at this level because the All Stars will never have me,” or “The All Stars only care about themselves, the coaches care only about the All Stars, they don’t see me and I won’t ever get better.” I have seen the ‘self-preservation’ mentality of individuals manifest into an US VERSUS THEM culture within leagues.
It is not healthy for the league to have B Team players feeling as if they are their own island. It is not healthy for them to feel as if they are detached from the All Stars, as if they were left behind, or blotched with some derby curse.
And, shocking to say, it’s not helpful when coaches and captains ignore that such feelings have manifested. Keep your eyes open and be diligent when you are in places of higher standing, since it is so easy to shield yourself from negative vibes while going “Lalalalala everything’s great!”. It’s easy to think that everything is going swimmingly, but I implore you to listen to the heartbeat of your league. Keep an ear to the ground and be open to critique and criticism. Your league could be sprinting up in the rankings, while still harboring negative practices that will effect the longevity of those rankings.
Changing the culture of a league is not easy, but it can be done with persistence and positivity (and maybe some stern stuff on the part of leadership). Separating the All Stars from the B Team can cause an elitist attitude to manifest which will be felt by your developing skaters, who are the core of your league.
Part of the culture change comes along with the idea that the A and the B teams are not separate. Might there be skill differences? Absolutely. I have written before that the best way to improve as a skater is to practice with those better than you, and if you are curious about combining skills you can also check out this blog: The House that Derby Built: 4 Corners of Training with Mixed Levels.
Combining forces of A and B squads have many advantages to a team. See above for cultural implications.
When skaters practice in the same space, they can inspire each other. They can challenge each other. They can give feedback to each other. They learn the same skills and strategy. B Team skaters can learn from All Stars, All Star skaters can be infected by the enthusiasm of B Team skaters. Also, skaters get more track time.
“But Khaos! There will be more people, that means LESS track time”
Actually no. If you have all your skaters coming to two practices instead of one, you’re already giving them more time on skates. There’s no reason you can’t split the track to work across from each other. Attendance low? Use the same side of the track and just alternate in A team or B team walls/jammers. Most of the skills and drills we do only require part of the track anyway. Managing two to three teams of skaters (who will probably only have 10-15 people showing up to practices anyway) is not too hard if you break it down.
PLUS it has been my experience that when you’re drilling over and over and over and over in a good, quick rotation, skaters get fatigued and then you cannot drill over and over again. By having more bodies, you can run drills longer, more effectively. People can get short rests while their teammates practice, and it also gives the team a chance to OBSERVE what everyone else is doing.
“But Khaos! We need to practice WITH our teams!”
You can have each team practice with their lines while still encouraging a team environment. It also makes it fun when you can have lines of A and B face off in certain drills, or if you tell the B Team jammers to go play with the All Stars and vice versa. Nothing helped me grow in blocking quicker than learning how to stop jammers like Lauryn Kill and Taz with my Bruise Crew team mates. Could the B Teamers be a hot mess at first? Sure. Persistence, diligence, patience, hard work … it pays off.
What’s the pay off? 30 All Stars to choose from instead of 14. Especially with the opening up of charter changes, as games approach that require different styles of skaters, you can more easily tweak a team to be a powerhouse. Also, life happens.
People move. People retire. People transfer. People get injured. If you have to “move up” a B Team skater, don’t you want them already on track to be successful with the All Stars? Would you prefer taking a month or two for the process of “training them up”?
You know what I’m talking about: “We’re rebuilding. A bunch of our All Stars left, and we moved up some B Team skaters, so we have to spend a lot of time getting them up to speed.”
Why not have them up to speed? Why not be able to bounce back the way Philly, Rocky Mountain, and Windy City have over the years? Why not have players ready to step into All Star roles easier?
Should A and B be separate sometimes? Sure. Why not? It’s good to have a team only building session now and again to focus down on the specific needs of your team. On a week to week basis, the teams that practice with the travel skaters combined tend to be the more successful leagues.
I have already mentioned this but it should be stated again: Being a B Teamer should not be considered a slur. You’re not “Just on the B team”, you’re a member of a team and are striving to be strong and to improve. You are the reason the A team is successful. You are not “JUST” a B Team skater.
League members and leadership need to be ready to correct the language when it happens. “Eh, it’s only the B Team,” or “No, I won’t pair up with her, she’s only B Team” … just stop. This kind of language is not helpful. It is not positive for anyone (and makes you sound like a bit of a jerk actually).
“No I’m not going to game this weekend, it’s just the B Team.” NO. Bad. One, because you should go and support your B Team, since chances are they are supporting the All Stars (through attendance, bout production, and volunteering) and two, because they are your family. They are the future of the league. They are the next Luz Chaos, they are the up-and-coming Serelson. What potential could you be harboring within your B Team that you don’t see because they “have only been skating a couple months and are not good enough to skate with us.”
Being on the All Stars is not always strictly about skill level – it’s about skating styles, how one meshes into the team’s strategy, how coachable one can be, attendance, drive, and sometimes (yes it’s true) social integration.
If you are a B Team skater and you have not made it onto the All Star team (yet), and you’re starting to get salty, don’t immediately jump to the “THEY DON’T LIKE ME AND OUR CULTURE SUCKS” conclusion. If you’ve read my blogs, you know I’m all about self-analysis and honesty. And it is HARD to look at yourself and ask, “Self, what could we improve on?” It’s possible that it’s not your league that is the ‘problem’ but maybe your attitude, your dedication level (as compared to the stated goals of the All Stars), or your style of game play as compared to your team mates.
There are many different structures to travel team practices and schedules that can work, but my observations and opinions are based in my experience across a range of countries, levels, and cultures. The teams that were most successful in achieving strength, consistency, and meeting their league goals were the ones that unified, not divided. The teams that realize that the B/C/D Teamers are the lifeblood of the league and the future of the All Stars, those are the leagues that I have found the most positive team environments over time.
You don’t have to take my word for it though. Do your own research. Talk to leagues with different structures, ask players how they feel about ‘being left behind’ by their league mates, and observe differences you see overtime between those leagues that nurture their travel teams together, and those that create derision through culture and language.
Khaos Theory Blog is run completely off my own funds. Make a donation now to keep the blog going!
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
REBOOT: I’m slowly moving some of my more popular articles from my Examiner.com site over here to WordPress! Some of the photos are from a couple years ago, some of the info may be referencing events from a few years ago, but the info is still awesome and useful! (at least I think so). Every now and again I make a more modern note, but I’ll let you know where I’ve added in. 😉
BUILDING YOU AS A BETTER SKATER
At the Northeast Derby Convention this past weekend, common questions among attendees included: “How did she get so good?” “Has she been skating forever or is she just naturally talented?” “Will I ever be that good at derby?” “How can I improve quickly to an elite level of gameplay?”
As you progress through the lists, thoughts and derbys please remember that the background for all of this should be enjoyment. Drop the ego and HAVE FUN! It’s just f***ing roller derby, and I think we all forget that sometime.
Everyone has a tip to offer, and some of these probably sound familiar. Being in my fourth season, I have been through a lot of ups, downs and across many plateaus. So here is my humble insight.
Be a goofball on your skates
Step one to getting better is spending time on your skates. Any vet will tell you that. What they may forget to tell you is that it’s not just a matter of skating circles. Getting better on your skates means that you are challenging your balance and your confidence; it means you are pushing yourself to improve.
The easiest way to challenge yourself is simply to goof around when you roller skate! Throw yourself forward and backwards. Hop. Go to open skate or an outdoor rink with your friends and skate backwards, turn, play games. The more comfortable you can get on your skates in odd positions or pulling a balancing act, the better you will be able to control yourself during drills and gameplay.
Play and watch ALL the derby
When I say “ALL the derby” I mean beyond your own scope of derby. Yes, if you’re a WFTDA skater, you should absolutely be eating up WFTDA game play to understand how the mechanics and flow of game and strategy work (also to see how skills are being newly applied to the game). That being said, I cannot express how much I have learned in the last three months because of:
Playing MADE rules on a bank track, watching junior derby, watching men’s flat track, scrimmaging men with MADE rules on the bank track, going to open flat track scrimmages, watching the All Star bout at NEDC.
Being a woman, playing derby with boys really helped me to challenge my own perception of strength and balance. It can be intimidating to go up against a man who is a head higher than you and significantly bigger (and has a bit of a temper, but I still love you Yosemite Slam) AND you’re on a bank track against him… But then you play anyway. Then when you’re on the flat track against another team – they don’t look nearly as scary or intimidating. (Note from today – I feel like I can take on anyone now that I’ve gotten past Sutton Impact and Tink as a jammer at RollerCon.)
You never learn when you’re in your comfort zone. Just like with going to open scrimmages with new people and throwing off your balance at open skate, playing and watching unfamiliar types of derby will teach you techniques and strategy more than you think is possible. Seriously. I love that damn tri-block.
No. Really. Go to the events and trainings.
The world of roller derby is so much more expansive than it was when I joined in 2009. Back then, we felt lucky to get a guest coach for the night and we all dreamed of having the money to make it out to the only collection of trainings available – Rollercon. The times, they are a-changin’!
Leagues are now able to bring in guest coaches or boot camps whenever they want. Elite leagues also hold camps throughout the year to train and coach skaters. And just because you’re a vet doesn’t mean you can’t benefit. I did a Team USA boot camp last summer next to Holly Go Hardly (most would say she ‘doesn’t need’ training , but there is no perfection in roller derby and some of us always strive for more). At NEDC this weekend, when coaches weren’t coaching – they were in other classes!
Do you know how many friends were geeking out about being in a class with Demanda? Or Punchy? Always strive to be better and take the training when it is available – if it’s not available, seek it out or bring it in!
Read and absorb
Bout recaps, new skill explanations, boot break-downs. Read it all. Absorb it. Seek it out. Funny memes. Blogs. Discussion groups. The more knowledge you have about derby off the track, the more you can apply to your footage viewing, your live consumption of derby and your own on-the-track game.
Derby News Network, DerbyLife, FiveonFive Magazine, Rollout Magazine, Blood & Thunder, Inside Line, Elektra Q Tion, RollerDerp Tumblr, Khaos Theory and more… they are are all great places to hear about thoughts on derby, derby related life and how derby works itself into other aspects of the world. Go and read some stuff.
Do that thing you hate
When I joined roller derby I decided that suddenly, I didn’t have to do cardio outside of practice. I thought I could use the occasional weight machine at Planet Fitness – and that would be enough. I avoided anything outside of derby, made faces at it, and was absolutely convinced that I could just skate more and that would be enough.
In 2012 I decided, finally, to become a runner and cross-trainer. And in 2012 I became the derby player I should have been previously.
Cross-training gives your body a chance to develop the muscles and stabilizers that derby doesn’t work on. It doesn’t work on them, but can utilize them. Incorporating strength, interval training, plyo metrics and other sports (I’m a fan of rock climbing and kick boxing myself) will give your body extra balance, strength and endurance that you can use on the track. Show me one elite skater that hasn’t cross-trained.
That’s what I thought. Want to learn more about real crosstraining for derby means? Check out my Shifting Perspective article.
Watch yourself play through footage
Watching yourself can be brutal.
Don’t get me wrong, I know it. Nothing like having a game that you feel awesome about only to watch the footage and think to yourself “Why didn’t I go there? What was that? How come I didn’t do ______” and so on. It’s also very easy to get caught in the trap of “Why didn’t the ref call that?” or “Did you see that terrible call?”
Watching video should not be an exercise in negativity. It should be an exercise in study and analysis. You need to be able to watch what you and your team mates did and deduce what worked and what didn’t. To be able to think about how you could move or position differently in the future. To think about where you are and what you need to work on next.
Visualization after you watch video can really help you incorporate your findings. Take 10 minutes after you watch bout footage (and you can do this with any team’s footage, not just your own!) and play out the scenarios in your head. Imagine your reaction, the quickening of your breath, the sliding of your wheels against the floor. Create the images of what you see and how you feel and what you do next in different situations that you saw in the footage. Imagine yourself conquering the situation and bursting past the blocker, spinning through a wall or blocking a jammer out of bounds. Visualization is an amazing tool to give to your unconscious.
Remember that watching bout footage with your team mates of OTHER bouts is super important too! Not only will it help you talk through the strategy of other teams, but it’s a bonding experience for you to all know derby a little bit better. You can talk about what teams did that work, didn’t work, or what you think you could incorporate into your own blocking or jamming styles. Team derby-time is awesome.
We all love scrimmage night. All of us. It’s why we put on our skates and deal with freshmeat training and months of knee fall and hip checking drills. We may say that there are other reasons that we do the roller derby thing – but let’s call a duck a duck. We do it for the PLAY TIME. Taking advantage of your scrimmage team with your team I very important: here you learn how to interact with each other. You build bonds of trust and you learn how to react and rely on each other.
Another important piece of this puzzle is taking advantage of OPEN scrimmage nights that other teams have. Why? At open scrimmages you can learn how to react quickly in new situations. You can learn how to adjust to new floors, new opponents and new obstacles. Also, it’s a great way to make friends in derby and learn how opposing skaters play (could be useful in future games, don’t you think).
Plus, remember why we are part of derby? PLAY TIME!
Embrace your inner zebra
Yes. I said it. Go visit another league to get practice at it. Volunteer to help your league if you’re team doesn’t have a bout coming up. Reverse the roles now and again so that you can see the game from a new perspective. Remember, you aren’t learning anything inside your comfort zone.
Not only will you get a new perspective on gameplay, but you’ll have a new found respect for refs. Part of being a ‘better derby skater’ is keeping your cool on the bench during a bout. Not getting riled over penalties will help you keep an even demeanor and a clear head in each jam.
Best way to understand the refs is to put yourself in that spot. I bet you’ll be surprised at how hard it actually is. Aside from that all, you get to give back to the sport that has given you so much. When you’re not skating, help others to skate! Don’t have the attention span for a zebra huddle? The NSOs could use a hand, too.
Goals are your friend
I have found that setting goals is best to do with a buddy. Captains and coaches are preferable, but if you have someone in your league that you trust that you want to go on this journey with, that’s awesome too. Remember that goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-specific).
To set a goal such as “Block better in the next bout” is a goal that you cannot hope to measure and it’s certainly not specific. Say instead: “Practice blocking techniques 3 times a week for a half hour for the next 4 weeks.” Through the practice of it, you will become sharper and thus, “Block better in your next bout”. It’s a matter of phrasing and giving yourself something to focus on.
For example, the photo is from May of 2012. I had decided that I wanted to be the top scorer for Harrisburg Area Roller Derby against Providence Roller Derby. (In 2010, I had the star taken from me because I couldn’t break their walls. This was redemption year.) Instead of making the above statement my goal, I worked on the strength in my legs, running and plyometrics. The photo is me and Craisy Dukes getting our MVP awards for that bout. And yes, I was top scorer.
Vision boards are awesome too. I’m a big fan of writing down your goals and putting them in places you can see them so that you’re reminded of them daily. Mixing that with positive images and mantras, your goals will crumble under your powerful skates!
Nutrition nutrition nutrition
Just like with cross-training, I thought I had my pulse on “good eating”.
Truth be told, 90% of us in derby have no idea what we’re putting in our bodies or why it’s not good for us. Yes you have some folks that are uber informed (I am now) and then others who like making a joke out of their lack of nutrition (go ahead and have that burger and Red Bull, I want to see how many times I can lap you).
I thought my diet of farm food and whole grain was awesome. I couldn’t figure out why, after 2 years of skating, NOTHING happened with my skill level or my body.
Turns out I didn’t know everything.
There are lots of diets, regiments and philosophies that have been coming into the world of roller derby. It was only a matter of time. The health and wellness industry in America alone is a multi-billion dollar one. Some programs are based in science and research, some really are not. I, personally, confine myself to dietary restrictions for performance reasons that I have imposed on MYSELF. We all have different goals, and your program should reflect those goals and desires.
Here’s what I will say about nutrition (and yes this is coming from a Derbalife coach – this is our philosophy):
Protein. 35-40% of your calories should come from protein. If you’re really looking for a quick adjustment to your diet and want to go at things hard? Think of consuming 1g of protein for every pound that you weigh.
Hydration. Half your body weight in ounces. Minimum. Daily. When in doubt, drink a gallon. We’re made of water. How can we function as humans if our cells don’t have water? How can our body flush toxins (like the by-products of lactic acid) if we’re not hydrated? This is just good sense, people. No, you will not be at risk for water overdose. Unless you drink that gallon in a very short period of time.
Vitamins. Guess what? You’d have to eat about 3500 calories of fruit and vegetable to get your recommended daily amount of the 65 vitamins and minerals the body needs for function. Now couple that with the fact that your body needs it throughout the day (it flushes vitamins it can’t absorb at the time), so that one-a-day you’ve been taking is mostly ending up in the sewer line. Oh yea, if you’ve been eating poorly for the last X number of years, it means your body isn’t even able to capture all the vitamins you put into it because, chances are, the good bacteria in your body isn’t healthy. Vitamins need to happen 3x a day MINIMUM in a dose of about 30% of your RDA.
Metabolism. Keep the furnace going throughout the day. You should be eating small meals 4 to 8 times a day (depending on your size and activity level). When you go 5 hours without eating it means the metabolism shuts off. Vitamins aren’t being distributed. Protein isn’t being used. Calories aren’t being burned. No good at all.
Quick burning carb are bad if you’re trying to lose fat. Complex carbs are good – like in vegetables, sweet potatoes and quinoa. Quick burning carbs like bread (yes, even stone ground, whole grain), pasta and corn spike your blood sugar and turn to fat in your body more often than are burned off. That being said, in sports like roller derby, it doesn’t hurt to have a little extra padding. If you’re weight lifting or doing lots of activity, don’t be afraid of adding in carbs.
Look, if you want to talk nutrition more (Derbalife or not) send me an e-mail at DerbyAmerica@yahoo.com. It’s kind of what I do when I’m not writing things like this.
Have an amazing mindset!
The biggest piece of the derby puzzle is confidence.
If you do not believe in yourself, then you are never going to be successful. I’m sorry if that is harsh, but I have seen too many people self-sabotage because of their own self-doubt or because of toxic influences coming from their personal life.
You are good enough to play this sport. Every single woman, man and child can be as successful and strong as they want to be. It just is a matter of time, effort and having the mindset to go along with it. You are not going to be Suzy Hotrod overnight. It takes a combination of all the things listed here (and more) to get you to that level. It takes years of dedication and focus. If you want it to come quicker, you have to work harder.
If you quit the moment you get tired, or your feet hurt or you sweat … guess what? Your league has plenty of Non-Skating Official positions that are ready for you to help with. Everyone has a different gauge on accomplishment and everyone has a different bar they want to conquer. What commitment is really necessary for you to hit yours? Take a hard, honest look at what you are doing now.
Take a good, honest look with how you handle situations. Do you invite negativity into your life? Do you spend more time complaining about the stuff that happened or looking forward to the way you’re going to overcome it? Do you have the attitude of “This will make a great story one day!” or “Why do bad things always happen to me?”
In life and in derby, the cancer of negativity will kill your hope, drive and spirit. You must be diligent to be a happier person with a positive outlook. Maybe you can’t do a 180 toe stop. Do you say “I try really hard but I can’t do it.” Or do you say, “I’m going to work on it UNTIL I can do it.” That’s the difference. That’s the key.
Need a help with this part of the puzzle? Personal development readings, audios and videos are amazing for your mind. May I suggest some Les Brown, Jim Rohn or Eric Thompson? May I suggest TED Talks? Reading books likeThe Slight Edge and The Big Leap.
Believe in yourself the same amount your coaches do and you will do amazing things.
So about 7 months ago I began writing All Star Articles for 2013 for several regions of the world. Then as I began writing them several things occurred: I realized I bit off FAR more than I could chew, the platform I was posting on (Examiner.com) changed a whole bunch of policies and it became miserable to post on (and unenjoyable to read), and the site also lessened the quality of photograph appearance, so many of my photographer friends were very upset at how their work was presented. For these reasons the articles fell to the wayside. I was frustrated and angry with the site and with the whole process.
I am not going to write articles for each individual skater, but what I WILL do is release all the lists and include whatever pictures and quotes and snippets I have for those folks. I’m loaded up with Sugar Free Monster (ran out of my Herbalife LiftOff….) and have energy to burn so hang tight.
This might be the way I release them next year too. I don’t want to let the All Star vote fall away completely, but I don’t know if I can handle the full shebang next year. I may do some pre-votes as well to help narrow down choices and actually get a lot of people voting. If you have recommendations on how I could streamline the process or increase voting numbers , please let me know! Last year I simply posted a lot on different social sites asking people to send me an e-mail with their list of favorite skaters. I know there is going to be a better way.