RollerCon2014 Merry Khaos New Skater Survival: Scrimmage Tips

I designed this class for beginners and intermediates (though advanced skaters could possibly get some tips and tricks out of it). Often, as you learn the sport of roller derby, there are little pieces that are missed. I’m talking about finesse pieces of the game; so you may be told “become a wall”, but you’re not told to “become a wall pretending there is a skewer through the four of you”. Little details make a skater great, and when you don’t have the little details [that no one told you about], you may be the one on the track getting yelled at by vets.

Before we got into anything we did a review of EDGING. Get into your proper derby form. Feel where the pressure is. Chances are it’s straight down through the middle of the wheel. We want to think about our wheels like the edge of an ice blade. Pushing through your EDGES, instead of the middle of your wheels, are how you get better at carving, stopping, and juking (and derby in general). Move around on your skates and feel where the weight goes when you’re on your edges.

General rules for roller derby that everyone should know and practice:
– YOUR ARMS ARE UNNECESSARY FOR ROLLER SKATING. Practice “Bonnie-Thunders-Floppy-Arms”
– GET NATURAL AT TRANSITIONS. Do them and do them and do them. Every chance, for hours, both directions
– DON’T SAY YOU CAN’T DO IT.  You can do it, you just haven’t YET

Proper Form

Often when we say “Drop into good derby stance”, people bend their knees, or lean over, and stick their butt very far out. For your form, you want to work on your legs being at 90 degrees, your tail bone TUCKED under your spine, and your back flat and strong. No, you will not be able to maintain this at every moment during skating, but we want you to develop that tucked tailbone and strong back. The legs at 90 degrees will build strength for you to use in skating.


Crossovers are critical to the ability to play roller derby because they are the basis of roller SKATING. You don’t just do crossovers when you are making a lap or going fast, you need to be able to do crossovers within packs, and have the confidence to keep your balance and make the moves during game play. Crossovers are two parts:

If you are bad at crossovers right now, here are things to practice:
Getting lower: The more leg you have to use, the more strength you can put into your push.
Balance: Get a big push and then pick up a foot. The one foot glides we do for certifications are there for a reason
Confidence: Do Drunken Sailor steps. In this drill, you bring your leg as far and big off of the floor as possible, in order to crossover to the ground as far as possible. Then you do it with the opposite leg. When you get good at it, your legs will be making HUGE arches and you will continue in a straight line, despite veering off from side to side as you do your crossovers.
Back foot push: We have all done the ‘eggshells’ (when you keep all 8 wheels on the ground, and your feet go in an hourglass shape on the floor to propel). With the back foot push, it’s the same idea. All 8 wheels stay on the floor. Your front foot does ZERO work, it simply guides you. The BACK foot makes an S shape behind your front foot in order to propel you forward. Notes on this: Your back foot should not come next to you front foot at any point. If you can’t do it, bend your knees. You have to wiggle your hips a bit to make this happen and it is A VERY DIFFICULT DRILL – especially if your hips are tight.

Side note: here is what a basic ‘eggshell’ or ‘swizzle’ looks like:

Crazy Legs Drill

Two lines of cones should be placed about every ten feet in a line, and just wider than the track. Skaters are to ‘lead with their knees’ and move their feet in small, edging motions to get across the track. Toe stops are not to be used (in fact, I would recommend doing this drill during a practice where no toe stops are allowed). This is not a shuffle step, or a crossover. They are small, sometimes gliding, steps and stops where you control your speed and balance with your edges.

Your hips are always faced forward. Once a skater has reached the cone by going across the track, they should move up to the next cone at a diagonal, and use a one foot plow stop at that cone, in order to move across the track again. The first time through, the crazy legs should be moving to the right, and they’ll be gliding to the left. Reverse it for the second time through.


Do it again, but this time, keep your head over your shoulder. Pick ONE shoulder to look over the whole time. Move across trying to keep your eyes on that spot behind you for as much of the crazy legs as possible. You can also reach your hands behind you, pretending that there is someone on your back, and you are just making a one second contact in order to know where they are.

The very last gif on this page has an example of the “3 second check”. This is Tony Muse (Peter Pan) of Your Mom executing in perfectly. Look for the gif with the description: The “less-than-3-second-hand-check” rule can effectively widen your wall by up to a few feet on each side. Just be careful it doesn’t turn into a forearm block.

Start Low, End High

When jamming against a wall or individual that you are trying to get around on the edge, it is helpful to start low and end high. This was the best gif I could find, and though she trips at the end, she got all of her points and you can see she was starting to stand up into the block:

The idea is to hug the blocker with your body as you come through. You want to be as close to them as possible so that way they have no space to wind of for a hit. This is not a hit from the jammer, you are curving yourself around the blocker to get by them.

As Jonathan R of NYSE comes in for jammer on jammer action, Don Juan of Bridgetown Menace gets lower, in order to put his foot in front of Jonathan, leverage against him, and stand up to push off.  Photo by Hispanic Attack
As Jonathan R of NYSE comes in for jammer on jammer action, Don Juan of Bridgetown Menace gets lower, in order to put his foot in front of Jonathan, leverage against him, and stand up to push off.
Photo by Hispanic Attack

Pair up and take turns being the ‘jammer’. Do this slow at first; have the jammer start an arm length from the blocker. The blocker should be in a defensive position. When contact is made, the blocker should lean into the jammer. The jammer needs to make contact on the blocker low, leading with the shoulder (NOT THE HEAD), and try to curve around the body of the blocker. It is difficult to do at low speeds, but we are looking for form and the feeling first. You can increase the speed as you go, so that as the blocker is leading in, the jammer has something to hit against. As the jammer makes contact with the blocker, they press into their legs to stand up, leveraging themselves against the blocker, and establishing themselves in front of the other person.

Getting By the Swing

When an opponent is telegraphing that they’re coming in for a hit you have two options: burst past them, or hit the breaks.

Burst past: In your pairs, have one skater take small swings at the ‘jammer’. The jammer’s job is to change their speed the moment before they are hit by hopping forward. It is a burst of acceleration to get them past. I couldn’t find a gif. But watch Quadzilla of Puget Sound skate, he does it often.

Hit the Breaks: The swings will continue here, but this time, instead of the jammer bursting past the blocker, this time you will practice coming out of your derby stance, and (essentially) standing straight up in order to let the blocker swing by you. The goal is not necessarily to hit your toe stops, you are just putting all your weight into your toes to slow your momentum.
DISCLAIMER: Even when you’re good at this, sometimes you misjudge and you end up with an ass in your quadriceps and it hurts like hell. Often, even if they hit you, they will continue to move past you, however, so you can then begin running like hell again and escape them.

Hit the Breaks and Hop: This time, instead of the jammer just stopping dead in order to let the blocker swing by, they are going to hop the other direction, parallel to the blocker’s motion. So if the blocker is swinging from outside to inside, the jammer will hop from outside to inside. The jammer wants to be as close to the blocker as possible when they do this. These are last ditch moves.

As the Dutchland blocker moves to the outside, Rainbow's Revenge hops to the in, where a huge hole is waiting for her. Photo by Jim Rhoades
As the Dutchland blocker moves to the outside, Rainbow’s Revenge hops to the in, where a huge hole is waiting for her.
Photo by Jim Rhoades

Roll Off of Hits

This is something you see often in derby now, but no one tells you how to do it. Look at Mace as she rolls off of the hit by Akers:

In your pairs, start with a ‘jammer’ who will be moving around the blocker. Do this first at a standstill so skaters understand the physics behind it. The jammer will be tight to the blocker, the jammers’ shoulder against the blocker’s shoulder. The blocker needs to offer resistance, and the jammer is to snap their hips perpendicular to the blocker and push through their outside edges of the back foot to propel around the blocker.

Jammers want to keep contact through the push. This is a way to use the leverage of another skater to get them through on an edge of the track OR if a blocker has caught the jammer, and the jammer is trying to move around them. After both players have practiced this in slow mo, have them do it moving.


Shoulders as Jack Hammers


Blockers will use their shoulders to put a player down, or knock them to the side or out of bounds. Jammers can use them to break walls. Please note that if the blockers you’re coming up against are bent over (that is to say, there is no back to nail), than this is not a useful technique.

To practice using your shoulders independently of your arms, start by grouping into three skaters. Have two skaters sit on the floor back to back, tight. Then, the third skater should sit down, their spine in the gap between the other skater’s arms. Their legs out, it should look like a T. The third person should then practice her can opener hit by throwing her shoulder backwards (one side at a time) into her partners. After some time, have them rotate. This will help skaters learn how to JUST use their shoulders and if they can do it backwards, they can do it forwards.

To practice breaking through a wall, have two skaters form a wall and the third is playing the role of jammer.

NOTE: When doing drills like this, the walls should be tight, but not ridiculous; especially when a skater is just learning the skill. We want everyone to get reps in and know what a successful rep is like. As they improve, the wall can get tighter and more challenging. This falls under Rule #1 kids.

Jammers will hit the LEGAL piece of the wall with their shoulders to break open a gap and stop through.  Blockers need to be engaging their core, tucking their tailbone and giving their jammer a strong back to hit!

See Through the Hole

Have a wall of two blockers, and one jammer, for this. The goal is for the jammer to make as LITTLE contact with the wall as possible. Start this drill at a standstill, with the jammer tight to the wall to replicate a jam start. Jammers should focus THROUGH the wall, not looking at either of the blockers. They should then work making their bodies perpendicular to the blockers, and side step through the wall. It’s most effective (I have found) by focusing on edges, but utilizing toe stops to push out and away from the wall.

Once you do this for a bit and become successful at it, have the wall roll, and let the jammer get a little bit of speed to try this. Again, at first, the wall should be tight but not impossible. As people get better at this, the wall can become tighter. Remember, this is NOT A HIT.


That two wall is now going to get hit by the jammer. Just like with the last drill, you will do this first at a standstill, then moving. Up the intensity as you see fit for your own team. For all of these, you want to start close to the walls. When you do them rolling, the jammer can get a little space.

Hit in the Ribs

Have the jammer aim for the “notch” that exists in every body. It’s approxiametly where the natural waistline is/the bottom of the rib cage. The jammer should be starting low, and completing this sharp, strong hit by pushing downwards into the floor as hard as they can, in order to launch into the ‘notch’, as they move their feet to get through the small gap created.

Hit in the Hips

This time, jammers will not be starting super high. Sometimes when blockers line up, there is a bottom that is sticking out of the wall a little bit. You want to aim for that with your hips. Jammers should practice stepping forward and into the wall in order to hip check the exposed ass out of the way. You are essentially stepping through the wall and assisting yourself through with one sharp, well placed hit. When the blocker is moved, the jammer should then quickly finish stepping through the hole.

Goosing the Line

Disclaimer: Not for every jam!! Not for most jams, actually. If you do this moving, do it slow at first.

Here is your target zone:

Look at how much ass is available!  Photo by Jim Rhoades
Look at how much ass is available!
Photo by Jim Rhoades

If you are having a hard time breaking through a wall, or you know that you are coming up against defenders who have beaten you and you need to play the ace in your sleeve, this is it. You use the boniest part of your shoulder, as you are in a deep squat, and then aim to the fleshy part of the SIDE of the blockers ass. This only works if there is a significant piece exposed. There are a bunch of nerves in the ass, and if you strike it sharply, you’ll get a reaction from the blocker. Yes, it’s legal, as long as you hit where the Xs are (not the tailbone!). Make sure to keep your head out of the way. If you’re using your right shoulder, tilt your head to the left as you strike.


PHEW. I think that’s it!!! If you took this class at RollerCon and you know that I missed something, please comment on the blog so I know and so that others can see it too! I’m sorry that it was so wordy, but I wanted to make sure I explained thoroughly for anyone who didn’t get to come to the class. I hope you enjoyed it, and make sure you tell RollerCon in the feedback form that you want to see more classes with me next year, and make sure you like my athlete page on Facebook. Also, DNA Coaching is booking boot camps all the time! Contact me at if your league would be interested in hosting us.

New Skater Survival 101: Rollercon on skates 2013

This could also be called: “How to look like you know what you’re doing in scrimmage when the vets are watching” but I thought that name would be too long.

Teaching new skaters is one of my true passions. I love seeing the ah ha moments of men and women when they finally understand how someone accomplishes a feat they see on the floor. We often overlook telling our new skaters these skills for several reasons: 1) We flat out forget! It’s been a while since we were learning! 2) We tell ourselves that they’re not ready. This is BS everyone can do these skills and they will help EVERYONE be a stronger skater. 3) We don’t do them ourselves.

Training is much different now than it was in 2009, and new skaters have the advantage of not having to go through the learning curves of training that the rest of us did. So, enjoy. I’m sorry that there aren’t more photos. I did my best!! If you have any questions, or want to increase your level of awesome on the floor by upping your nutrition, drop me a line at


Skill 1: Back Foot Push. Start by doing a regular “eggshell” push (keep all 8 on the floor and bring your feet in and out in an egg shape). To practice the back foot push, your right foot goes in front of your body, and (keeping all 8 wheels on the floor) you push with the left foot, which is behind your right foot. It is easier the lower you get, and I bob up and down when I do it to gain momentum. The back foot should be making figure 8s behind your front foot. Your front foot is just guiding, the back foot is doing all the work. Imagine a line running directly under your body, like a tightrope: your front foot should be centered on that line, your back foot should be curving back and forth over it. This will strengthen all the small muscles and stabilizers in your legs and hips so that you can develop a strong push. Remember: when you’re doing your crossovers you must STEP with your right foot and push with your left. YOU MUST BEND YOUR KNEES MORE TO ACCOMPLISH THIS.


Step with the right, push with the left. Copyright 2013 by Bob Dunnell. Please do not remove watermarks from this photo. To purchase prints of this photo, please visit the following link:
Step with the right, push with the left.
Copyright 2013 by Bob Dunnell. Please do not remove watermarks from this photo.
To purchase prints of this photo, please visit the following link:

Skill 2: Derby Position the better way – B in V. When squatting and practicing derby position, over arch your back to keep your head upward: the desired effect will make you look like a chair, and your behind will be approximately the height of your opponent’s no-no area. Practice hip motion & laterals from this position, particularly when ‘sitting’ on someone. Feel their motion under you. Now control THEIR motion.

The first step to being able to do this position successfully is not cheating your squats. When you bend your knees, don’t lean over, push your butt back. If you lift weights, or do CrossFit, it is that active hip positioning that you want for your behind – like you’re about to deadlift. If you don’t lift weights, time to start and get some instruction on it! Not only will it teach you the proper body form, but it will strengthen what you need to consistently and strongly execute your skates and positional blocking.


Skill 3: One Spot Blocking. Get in your good B in V position. Look over one shoulder at a spot on the floor where you can see hips and legs of your approaching, opposing jammer. I do my best not to focus on the spot so much as look at it and use my periphery while I have my head turned. Practice watching that spot and moving laterally. When an opponent is behind you, move laterally to keep her behind you. If she bursts, burst over and up a little. “But if my head is one way, how will I see where she goes?” If the opponent disappears from your sight over your right shoulder, she can only be one place: to your left. I have a tendency to look over my right shoulder when guarding the inside line, and over my left when in the middle or outside line. The lines are a barrier so you don’t need to worry about that extra space, so focus on the larger area of the track.


Holly Go Hardly doesn't need to snap her head back & forth to know where her opponent is. She keeps her head steady, and sits on her opponent to feel her movement. Notice how the inside & outside line blockers are looking? Wonderful! Photo by Tyler Shaw - Prints Charming Derby Photography
Holly Go Hardly doesn’t need to snap her head back & forth to know where her opponent is. She keeps her head steady, and sits on her opponent to feel her movement.
Notice how the inside & outside line blockers are looking? Wonderful!
Photo by Tyler Shaw – Prints Charming Derby Photography

Skill 4: Football Tackle. To break a wall, think about starting low and driving up, as if attacking a tackling dummy in football. Turn your shoulder to break any tension between the wall (and to avoid back block calls). It is ok if you don’t hit the opponent, but I will often aim for any weak spots in the wall (if an opponent has a butt sticking out a little bit or if someone’s ribs are a little exposed). Hitting that weak spot will temporarily open a spot in the wall that you can then burst through. KEEP YOUR FEET MOVING.


Skill 5: Shoulder in Glut. Still can’t break the wall? Use the pointy part of your shoulder and thrust upward into the flat part of your opponent’s glut. Even if it doesn’t move them completely, it may surprise them and open a hole. Again, your shoulder should be turned, and you should be moving your feet while you do this so that when the whole opens, you are there to take advantage.


Skill 6: Looking at the Hole. You go where you aim, right? Don’t look at the blockers as you approach, look at the space between them. Use your periphery vision to keep check on those coming to clean your clock. Keep your feet moving, your breathing steady and just go for the spot between the blockers (turning your shoulders). Having good, strong footwork and balance is really important for this, because you need to trust that your body is going to do the right thing at the right moment if you get hit. It’s about speed, burst and trust. Turn your brain off and just do it.


FOR SKILLS 4,5,6:  You can practice these in groups of three, have 2 people set up a wall and have the third person work on the appropriate wall breaking skill. You can also set up your team in pairs around the track and have one person at a time go through each pair to get practice in successively accomplishing each wall break. You can do it stationary or moving.


Skill 7: The 180 Hip Snap. Why use extra time to spin on wheels, when you can leave the ground? Snap your hips and leave the ground for a MILLIMETER… this should not be a hop or jump. It’s about confidence. You should land with a wide base. Start practicing this by getting on your toe stops (with one foot forward and one backwards at least ‘shoulder length’ apart) and bounce so that your hips change from forwards to backwards. You should be able to do this all day. From there, get on your wheels, and keep your base wide, practice the same motion of just snapping your hips to come off the ground.

If you’re not brave enough to commit, you may feel your front wheels staying on the ground. OR you’ll land before your skates have turned the other direction. Breathe, get your eyes off the floor, bend your knees and just snap. If it helps, try it off skates first!!


Skill 8: Running through a Pack. Ok, this is scary, I know. Most of us don’t believe that we can actually pick up our skates while in close proximity to other people. To practice running, first do it solo. Push on your skates as normal to get up to 50% speed, then – run! Actually pick your feet up like you are running a sprint on sneakers. I will say that having your feet turned out (in a duck run) is going to help you with stability and speed, but don’t be afraid to experiment with balance and foot position!

To practice this in a group, have skaters create a very tight double pace line. The lines should be able to touch each other easily forward and to the side. It should be a tight fit. One at a time, skaters should take turns running and picking up their feet to get through the middle of the double pace line. Hands down, eyes up, feet moving, shoulder turned.

Here are some videos that can help demonstrate a couple of these ideas at least… The quality is not the most amazing, but it gets the point across…

Skating Solo & intro to 180s

Lateral Spins and Hit/Reset

Tricks for the Toolbox