RollerCon 2019 with Merry Khaos, at MVP5 on Wednesday at 5:20pm
This is my outline before the class goes off. Things may change during the class, in which case I will come back in and edit. For now… enjoy!
To help skaters learn how to work with each other better on the track, and to understand that teamwork takes time and patience to build
Understanding where the other people are on the track
Learning that if you know what your teammates are going to do, then if you get caught they will be able to survive without out (and vice versa)
Teamwork = success
Look at each other, not the floor
Always going to the next thing
Teamwork takes time! Neon Genesis Evangelion, Voltron, Korra (pro-bending) all have episodes that show how hard it is to achieve high-level teamwork, because it’s not all about you. So don’t beat yourself up if you and your buddies just aren’t syncing all the time.
Warm-Up (in pairs):
One foot slaloms, but in sync
Leg openers (again, in sync, and within easy arm-reach of your buddy)
“Sprint” around the track, but at each corner, you’re switching sides
Mirror drill: Pairs will face the same direction, about an arm length apart. The person in front “leads”. They must stay within the track, and can move within a 5-10 ft rectangle (depending on how much space we have). They may do any move.
Spoke of the Wheel
Lines of 4 (or more if I need)
Goal: Keep a wall while moving around the track.
Secondary goal: On whistle blast, inside drops to outside, with line filling the gap
Groups of 4
Box Drill Round 1:
1 whistle rotate right
2 whistle rotate left
Long whistle speed up
4 whistles stop
1 whistle front skaters transition
2 whitle front & back swap
Long whistle switch line (outside/inside)
4 whistles stop
Round 1: Whistle indicates switching from inside to outside line WITHOUT rotation
Round 2: Whistle indicates rotation
Round 3: Add a jammer who will pop off and challenge different parts of the track, triangle must adjust
If there is time
Pairs will trade spots between each pair of the paceline. The person on the outside goes behind the person coming from the inside
Pairs race to the front of the line and plow stop in front in sync, and matching the pace of the line
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
Blockers have the task of creating unbreakable defense while assisting their jammer through packs of unbreakable defense. Blockers must have their head on a swivel, legs of granite, and the mind of a mathematician. Blocking is more than “Look! A star. I hit them now.” How can you work on your blocking chops? Check it:
Learn how your body works
I’m awkward. No one would ever argue that. My foggy, klutzy way of moving through space developed when I was 10 and just continued through adulthood. One of my favorite jokes is that I’m better on my skates than I am on my sneakers (and it’s funny because it’s true).
I didn’t really start understanding how my body TRULY works until I took two Movement classes for my theatre major in my early 20s. Not only were we challenged to move through space feeling every inch of our body and understanding where the tension and support was coming from, but we were forced to write a weekly movement and action diary. Until you really tune into how your foot placement affects the stretch your triceps, you do not truly understand the mechanics of this wonderful machine we’re all given. We would drop inhibitions in class, with our peers, and just move in the strangest ways we could. And we’d freeze, and we’d FEEL where things were. And we’d move more frantically. And after 45 minutes of this, you start to really understand how it all works on you, because it works a little differently on all of us.
Move. Write it down. Really feel the momentum of the strange dance. Take a couple minutes a day and just move around in strange interpretive dance ways and feel the stretch of your muscles and the support of your soft tissue.
Yoga will help you drive home control of the muscles once you understand how they all connect. I did not know what it really meant to ‘engage my core’ until I started working on inversions. Yoga will help you hone in on muscle awareness and control, it will strengthen your body and your mind. Yoga is not easy, and practicing yoga daily can be a game changer for your flexibility and mental control in stressful situations. If you’re feeling really adventures, get into the world of acroyoga or aerial dance. You will learn how all the muscles in your body work very quickly!
Practice your fancy feet
The biggest misconception I run into about blocking is the idea that blockers don’t need to practice footwork because “I don’t jam”. OK, first of all you DO jam, you just don’t have a target on your helmet.
Secondly, you have to jam in order to be a successful blocker. You need to understand what a jammer goes through when hit by friendly fire, or when team mates continually reform the pack in front of them when they’re trying to break on their initial pass. It feels like what I imagine drowning feels like. By jamming semi-regularly, blockers learn the internal debate within a jammer’s mind, and thus are better prepared to react to them when playing defense.
Tangent. Sorry. (I hate when people say, “Oh no, I don’t jam”. There is no quicker way in a RollerCon scrimmage line for me to hand you a star. You have been warned.)
I say that all blockers are jammers because we often end up at the back of the pack, with the need to get to the front. If you do not know how to get through a wall of blockers, you will be goated and rendered less effective. Actually, a mantra when I jam is: “JUST GET TO THE FRONT”. I’ll say it myself when I take the line (my team mates can vouch). I get to the front all the time as a blocker, so it should be no different when I’m jamming.
Footwork translates to maneuverability. It can be a clusterf***k in the pack sometimes. If you don’t know how to move your body in a way to keep you with your wall, and in a strong position, you will be defeated. You need to be able to smoothly work in your team’s formation and then move around other obstacles that get in your way. If you do not practice your footwork, you will be clunky and slow. You will be more likely to commit a penalty, or simply take yourself away from the action of being effective.
So practice your footwork and put on the star. I promise you won’t die.
In 2011, Oh Chit came to Harrisburg practice, and while doing scenario work, she popped to the front of the pack and began skating backwards. OUR MINDS WERE BLOWN. Slowly, over the next year, we saw more people engaging backwards hits as last ditch efforts to catch a jammer, to protect their point, or to give direction to their wall. It was widely accepted that only the best skaters should be skating backwards, and only after a lot of practice should you utilize a backwards blocking technique in game play. Why? Because derby is really hard. Derby while skating backwards is ridiculously hard.
Today in derby, it’s not uncommon to have skaters turn around specifically TO block. Why?
“I’m better that way.”
No. You aren’t. I’m not even sorry to break this news to you. There are maybe a handful of skaters in the entire world that are better blocking backwards than they are blocking forwards. Even they are exceptional at blocking forwards.
Think of how your body feels when you skate forwards compared to when your backwards. Here’s an insider tip if you haven’t started jamming yet: JAMMERS LOVE SPACE. The way your body balances when you’re skating backwards tends to create space between your hips and the opponent. If you give a jammer space, they will utilize their footwork and levels and get by you (or at least get your point). You can’t combat this with standing straight up, because that just knocks you down on your butt.
“Well I just hit them to stop their momentum!” Yea, that’s great, but what happens if they juke before you touch them, is your lateral backward movement STRONGER than a full speed jammer facing forward?
You might THINK you’re better when you’re backwards, but if you do some self-analysis, you will find that you are probably just more comfortable that way because you can see everything, or maybe because you’re not good at plowing and backwards blocking gets you out of having to use your plows and hips.
Backwards skating is most effective when you do so as a brace for positional blockers, and when you have the strength to support, the awareness to communicate, the mobility move the wall where it needs to go, and the strength to fill gaps with a positional block when jammers start to break through.
Positional blocking also teaches you control. Big swinging hits are fun, but they are a bit of a relic. It is important to know how to make a big hit, and know when a big hit is a necessary technique to engage. Keep in mind that when you swing for the fences on each opportunity, you strike out more often than knock it out of the park.
Positional blocking wins derby.
It keeps your body on their body. When you are sitting on a jammer, you own them. You know where they’re going because the moment they move, you can feel it and react. Plus, when you’re facing forward, your team mates can EASILY come up and support you in a wall, or sweep the jammer out of bounds. When you’re chest-to-chest with a jammer, it’s VERY difficult for team mates to give you the support necessary for success.
So this means: Practice your plows, balance, and control. Stop insisting that you’re better at backwards blocking. You’re not. Practice looking over just one shoulder when you’re positionally blocking: whichever shoulder will open your view to more of the track (so when you’re on the inside line, look over your right shoulder, when you’re on the outside line look over your left shoulder). Being a strong piece of a wall will make you an invaluable piece of any blocking line.
TO PRACTICE: Grab a buddy. One person is the blocker, one is the jammer for a set amount of time. The jammer’s goal is to get around the blocker WHILE MAINTAINING CONTACT. The blocker’s goal is to control the speed of the jammer by keeping them behind, or being able to walk the jammer to the line. Contact must be maintained, and no backwards blocking is allowed. Speed control is a MAJOR focus!
Stop on a dime
Practice your stops until you’re sick of stopping (and then do it more): Two foot plows, one foot plows, 180 toe stops, hockey stops. Not only do you need to be able to stop so that you can control your opponents, but also for pack control.
The second level of derby-brain involves pack strategy. If you cannot stop on a dime, you’re going to make your bridge at 11 feet, not 10. If you can’t stop on a dime, you may end up being a bridge for a crucial few seconds while your team mates are trying to draw the pack to the back. If you can’t stop on a dime, you’re going to be more concerned with stopping in game play, then actually playing the game.
Stopping on a dime allows you to walk a player to the line, but not go out of bounds. Being able to stop on a dime means you can join a wall and not glide past it. Being able to stop on a dime means you’re less likely to get knocked out of bounds, because you aren’t going out of bounds.
If you can’t stop on a dime by yourself, you’ll have a hard time charging into a block and stopping your gained momentum.
TO PRACTICE: Drill this stuff. Repetition, repetition. If you’re having trouble with a two foot plow, try a one foot plow. A one foot plow does not look like a two foot plow, and you’re simply pressing into one foot more. Rather your weight is primarily on one leg, and the other leg shoots in front to apply pressure to the floor through applying pressure directly down on all four wheels (kind of like a kick stand).
If you keep hearing people say “Get lower”, it means you are not activating your core enough. Often we spread our legs out more and think we’re getting lower when we do that because WE see the world get lower. Have someone video tape your plow stops so you can analyze your stance and practice putting your weight and pressures in different spots. “Play with the floor”.
For your 180 toe stops, check out this video (production quality is low, but people have told me has helped).
Always play with the amount of pressure you’re putting into the floor, and practice on different surfaces! (Especially for hockey stops)
Protect the line
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t let a jammer slip by on the inside line, and it is FRUSTRATING. Covering the line doesn’t just mean that you’re standing with your skate on the line and you never move. Derby is dynamic. You need to be able to support your team mates while still confidently protecting that inside lane. Lateral movement and keeping your head on a swivel are critical components for lane 1 defense.
Knowing where the line exists is crucial as well. You have to understand your space on the track. Every time you do a drill, be aware of the line. Respect the line. Just because you’re not ‘in game play’ doesn’t mean you get to cut track, or ignore your boundary. Being conscious of the existence of the line, in every drill, will help your muscle memory and subconscious be aware of the line when it matters most.
When you’re practicing, you should always be diligently keeping tabs of other skaters on the track. Upping your ability to look around and know where people are on the track while doing scenario work will translate to jammer and opponent awareness during game play. If you don’t know where the blockers are, you won’t know that they’re about to throw an offensive block. If you can’t keep track of the jammer, you won’t know that she’s seen you step off of the line.
TO PRACTICE: Work on your lateral movement across different widths of the track. Sarah Hipel has a great video of a cross over step into a slide, which will help you learn how to control change of direction. See it here. Edgework (that fancy feet stuff) will assist you in being able to move across the lanes.
You also need to understand how much room you can leave on the inside (or outside) line when you’re blocking. Don’t be afraid to line it up. When warming up, take a spot with your foot on the line, defending to your max. Now, move laterally with one step (whichever kind of step is most comfortable for you), and stop. That is as much space as you should leave at any point. If you come off the line more than that during game play, it is up to you to communicate to your team mates that you no longer have the line.
Lift heavy things
I won’t spend a ton of time here, since we always are harping on cross training. Lifting heavy is becoming more accepted in our community as an important piece of the cross training puzzle. Without too much physics talk, you can think of it this way: If you can apply 250# of pressure into the floor to lift a bar, do you think your legs will be able to apply a lot more pressure into your wheels to push an opponent out of bounds?
I wrote about changing up our ideas about cross training and weight training in my PERSPECTIVE SHIFT blog. Give it a read if you’re willing after this 3000 word adventure!
Leave your comfort zone behind
Do everything you can that you don’t like doing. Use your left leg to plow stop. Put your butt down lower than you think is necessary when you’re doing a pace line. Practice skills that you’re bad at. Jam. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for blockers to know how to jam. Don’t be afraid to fall. Being a good blocker means being willing to get a little uncomfortable – with your body position, with your endurance work, and with how you receive criticism.
Leave your ego at the door. Receiving criticism is outside of the comfort zone for many athletes. We get so caught up in trying to defend what we were trying to do, that we don’t listen to what our coaches and refs tell us. Instead of retorting when someone says, “Next time do _______”, say “Ok.”.
Have you fouled out for forearms usage, or do you always have team mates asking you to watch your direction while initiating a block? Maybe they’re not crazy. Maybe the refs aren’t out to get you. Maybe you actually do these penalties, and you have been too bull headed to admit that MAYBE you have been making a mistake. You need to step into the discomfort of admitting that you are not perfect and have things to improve. Don’t get angry because you were called on a forearm (again), but consider that maybe your metric for the penalty needs to be adjusted.
It is uncomfortable to be wrong. It’s ok. There is no perfection in derby. We all have things to work on, and everyone on your team wants you to succeed. They’re not telling you things to be mean, they’re telling you things so that you improve.
All the footage, all the derby. I will harp on this in every blog ever because you cannot improve your game unless you open your eyes to ways you can improve your game. If you never see other options of blocking or working with your team, you may get stuck in a rut. It’s possible you’ve been practicing a blocking technique that doesn’t translate to your body. By watching other skaters you will pick up pointers in tactic and skills to improve your own game. The more you understand the game of derby from the outside, the more your eyes will be open on the inside of the pack.
Watch all the derby, even the rulesets you don’t understand. Even the kind of derby you may have no desire to play. Watch it anyway. Understand it. Embrace it.
Your team is on a journey together. You can only work on blocking so much as an individual. You must rely on and trust your team mates to improve. Love and lift each other up. Have on your Big Kid Panties at practice – everyone is learning. If they back block you, tell them outside of the heat of the moment. Don’t call them out when it’s happening. Support and teach each other, and together the whole community will grow!
Now go forth and practice!
Khaos Theory Blog is run completely off my own funds. Make a donation now to keep the blog going!
Thank you to Phantom Photographics for the photos used in this blog. Please visit and support these photogs and more.
Kristie Grey (Merry Khaos) has been playing roller derby since 2009 and has coached almost as long. She has worked with over 20 leagues in 11 states, and five countries. She has coached on and off skates at Beat Me Halfway 2014 & RollerCon (2012-2015). She currently skates with Tampa Roller Derby. Active in health and wellness, she is an active Herbalife Health Coach, rock climber, and power lifter. For questions, booking, requests of topic, or help with a nutrition plan, message Khaos at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com
You’ve joined roller derby. You’ve worked your butt off (or up, in the case of some of us) to pass the 27 in 5. You’re not a complete bambi on skates, and you have fallen in love with a star. That star just happens to be on a helmet cap. You don’t know if it’s the challenge of breaking a wall, the thrill of hearing “tweet tweet”, or the praise you receive from your peers when you get back to the bench, but you have decided:
You want to be a jammer.
I am here to help. Here are 10 things to help you begin a successful career of five point passes and high lead jammer percentages. It will not be easy, it will not be quick, but with diligence, you can prevail.
Recognize your weaknesses
Chances are you have many of them, especially if you’re coming into this sport as a true Skater Tot. Don’t be afraid to make a list of the things you’re not good at. Watch the other jammers in your league (and in footage) and watch for things you can’t do that make other people successful. Write it down!
Now also make a list of things you’re good at. For those of us who are our own worst critics (guilty), you may want to ask your captains to help you. I’ve asked, “What are you good at?” To many skaters and gotten the snap back with, “NOTHING.” Remember: There is no perfection in derby. And even if you are good at roller skating, doesn’t mean you’ll be good at jamming right away. Don’t allow the frustration to overtake you.
When making your lists, think about these categories: Physical Fitness, On Skates Skills, Strategy, Mental Game. Knowing that you’re good at analyzing situations or have a background at team sports does give you a leg up. They are just as important to derby as toe stop runs.
Now that you have your list, you can start doing some goal setting. I’d go into it here, but I talk about goal setting in another blog post (or two). Check out “Building You as a Better Skater”
It is in the details
Jammer awareness is full of little details. If you don’t know where the other jammer is or how many points you’ve scored on this pass, how can you make effective decisions when you’re lead jammer (let’s face it, we can’t always refer to our bench coach) as to whether you should call it off? How can you be successful if you constantly get hyper focus in a pack, causing you to lose track of extra blockers who are out to get you?
This is something you can train at practice and in life. When I’m moving through a crowd, I will make a note of a single person (maybe they’ll have a red hat on). As I move, I work on using my periphery to understand where they are, how quickly they’re moving, and what direction they’re going. This works great in grocery stores and busy streets. When someone new walks into a room, try and notice something about them without looking directly at them. You’ll become better at looking using your periphery.
At practice, always be aware of where people are, how they are moving, and what indications they make before coming in to make a hit. Most blockers have a ‘tell’, and the most aware jammers will learn them quickly so they can move out of the way before contact.
To keep yourself calm, practice breathing during your jamming. Make a conscious effort of breathing in and out when you’re in a pack, and steadying your breaths while making your lap. Sometimes I’ll count my strides to keep me calm. Practice this during endurance drills. Find a place of Zen where it’s just you in the track. If you can do it during endurance practice, it’ll translate into your laps and gameplay.
For all the other little details? Well, refer back to your list of what you’re good at and not good at, and fine tune. You’re not good at getting through walls: Is it because of power, body positioning, or foot work? And go on from there!
3. Walk the [imaginary] line
Jammers need to know how to navigate small spaces and squeeze through spaces on the inside and outside line that mere mortals cannot even detect. When you’re practicing your footwork, you should always be imagining a balance beam next to your opponent, you don’t want your feet straying away (and over the boundary line).
To practice narrow spaces, use a partner whenever possible. If you don’t have a buddy to work with, grab some cones, and make two rows of them to create a narrow lane (I like using short cones for this). Ideally, the cones should be no wider than the length of your hand, but when first practicing it’s ok to make the gap wider.
Footwork you should practice include running on your skates, a step through 180 turn (you have to pick up your feet), a foot to foot transition, a shuffle step (on toe stops), a crossover step (on toe stops), and stepping over the leg of an opponent to keep going. These basic pieces can be used in different combinations to get you through and around anything a pack can throw at you. Check out some things to start with: BEGINNER JAMMER FOOTWORK VIDEO
Colors and space
When you look at jamming from a very rudimentary standpoint, it is a navigation of space through packs of various colors. One color is friendly the other is foe. The brains of jammers must be able to react quickly to changes in space as well as recognize friendly colors near the space. Weaknesses in depth perception or color recognition can be the difference between a four point pass and being nailed out of the air on an apex jump.
When recognizing your color for offense, remember that you want to go where that skater is about to NOT be, not where they’re going to be when playing offense. You want to occupy space that they no longer occupy. So ‘following offense’ really means follow their movements – don’t run into them, go where they JUST were.
A drill that I love for recognizing space and moving through it quickly involves the whole team (this is great for blockers too). Divide your team into three groups. Denote the active part of the track with cones (it shouldn’t be too big of an area, maybe one corner or half the straightaway). Group 1 will ‘jam’ first, starting from the opposite corner. Groups 2 and 3 are told to pick a spot within the boundary. Set a timer for 2 minutes. Group 1, in a line, begins to sprint towards the group standing still. The jammers must navigate the spaces at a sprint. The goal is to get through the pack without slowing momentum, unless it is to redirect their energy, or toe pick past an opponent. This continues for 2 minutes. Then, Group 1 switches with Group 2, and so on.
The next level is to let the obstacles take one step in either direction from their original spot. THERE IS NO INTENTIONAL BLOCKING ALLOWED. The next level is to allow one of the two groups to move laterally across the track. The final stage is to ‘split’ the groups by handing out colored coins to wear, so that each group has both black and white. Now, the obstacles are allowed to make one move to either side of their original spot, AND are allowed to make contact. Obviously, they are only supposed to hit those of the opposing color.
You can also make this more interesting by spreading out the obstacles, and adding in color cones that the jammers are supposed to make contact with throughout the course. You know, just for more fun and challenge.
On your own, you can practice color and vision challenges to sharpen your senses. I’ve found a good memory game and article about improving vision here. Anything you can do at home to improve your periphery is great. Have a friend grab some small colored balls, and sit in a chair looking forward. Have them toss the balls from behind to in front (along the side of your head). Work on catching the balls of specific colors. You must keep your eyes forward! Use your periphery!
Bursts and balance
I f**king love science, and physics is the reason derby does what it does. The sport is a constant transfer of potential to kinetic energy, of friction coefficients, of balance, and of trajectory. To be a successful jammer there are two things you must master:
BURSTS OF POWER (which will cause both acceleration and deceleration)
While I could not find any articles directly related to roller skating, I did do a fair bit of reading just now about bicycles, and why it’s easier to stay on them when they’re moving rather than standing still. It has to do with torque, center of gravity, angular momentum, and the experience of the rider in controlling all of them. This is why newb skaters look wobbly while balancing on one foot, but vets can coast around ‘shooting the duck’ no problem.
CONFESSION: I can’t shoot ducks. Ever. If there is ever a skill that I will not be able to do – it will be that one.
To practice balance, not only do you just have to spend time on your roller skates doing goofy things, but you have to train all your stabilizer muscles, strengthen those ligaments and challenge your body to do new and interesting (and sometimes very scary things).
Incorporating heavy lifting, plyometrics, and yoga into your cross training program will help you erase instability and build your bursts of power.
6. Levels and Leverage
Along the lines of speed, balance, and understanding your body is the concept of understanding your levels and leverage. Being able to duck under a block, under stray arms flailing, or past a wall is excellent.
Knowing how to leverage your weight and body against opponents is super handy. Can you press your chest into a blocker and use that energy they put into you to bring your hips and feet around them? Can you bounce into a blocker and use the energy to move you forward? Can you put the levels and leverage together?
Practice (slowly) leaning onto a buddy who’s blocking you. Now see if you can create movement in your skates to move around them with this energy. Do it again, but this time, when you’re almost around them, press harder into them, duck, and snap your hips to get past them. The pressure and ducking will create momentum. You can use this momentum to steal points, or to get yourself out of a pack. After you get your hips around, practice planting your toe stop to spin out of the contact. If you practice right on the edge of the track, you can work on spinning out of the contact and avoiding the cut track at the same time.
7. It is not all about you
You are one of five players on the track from your team. You cannot play as an individual. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen teams make over the years is to give jammers the idea that they’re by themselves on the track.
As a jammer, it is your job to understand what your pack is planning for their defense, offense, and what formations they prefer to run. You are not just offense, but you are defense. For example: If your pack is blocking a jammer who is pushing them into bridging, it’s YOUR job to get your ass back to the pack as part of defense. You will hit the line of blockers, and either break through and they will chase you up OR you will push the wall up, far enough (hopefully) that team’s bridge will be ‘pack is all’.
If you don’t know how your team skates and strategizes, you will not be as effective at reading holes. How many times have you run into your own blockers? Yea. You should probably skate with them more often and learn how to communicate your own plan. Some teams use hand signals or code words to communicate between jammers and blockers, but the best way to use offense is to observe your team mates and know their tendencies.
As Smarty Pants once said, “Blockers make the points, jammers collect them.” So what this comes down to is LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR. No one wants it, no one appreciates it, and even Bonnie Thunders practices. You are not Derby Jesus so lace up and leave it at the door.
8. See the game, be the game
All the derby will help you. I know that not everyone can dedicate hours each day to watching the sport, but if you want to get better at the mental side of roller derby – you must watch it. You must understand how those better than you move and succeed and fail. You must be able to think critically about aspects of the game that you have not encountered. Watching footage, even one game a week split up into four 15 minute chunks will help you.
And don’t just watch the kind of derby that you play. There is WFTDA (of ALL levels), MRDA, JRDA, USARS, UKRDA, RDCL, MADE, and Renegade. Go to bouts, watch streaming tournaments, participate in open scrimmages – both flat and tilty. See the games, analyze the games, be the games.
When you’re at your home league, don’t be afraid to step out of the jammer box.
Practicing as a blocker will dramatically improve your jamming game, because you’ll understand the blocker psychology. You will have first-hand experience of how a blocker reads incoming movement, and how a good blocker will deal with different styles of jammer – because you will be doing it yourself! Then when you jam, you can use this insider information to your advantage when it comes to jukes, deceleration, and avoidance measures.
Like I said, ALL THE DERBY.
9. It’s not your gear
No matter how long you’ve been in the game, we’ve all fallen into the trap of “Well if I just had ______”. While, yes, having better/different plates, boots, wheels, etc etc can dramatically change aspects of your game, upgrading gear in the soul hoping of becoming a better skater is silly. Improving your skills will help you pass your 27 in 5, not faster bearings. Working on lateral motion will help you avoid an oncoming block, not different wheels. Strengthening your ankles will help you power through your crossovers, not a more expensive boot.
You must work on your craft and know how to manipulate your tools before gear changes will truly mean anything to you. Personally, I couldn’t tell the difference between a wheel with an overhang and a wheel with a square edge until about a year ago. I didn’t know why I couldn’t control my 45 degree plates until I had switched to my 10 degree plates and understood what my body needed to do to plow and edge appropriately. I didn’t know why I had trouble with my 10 degree plates, until I put on 15 degree plates and could feel the movement and control in the trucks in comparison. It’s more than equipment – it’s about your self-awareness in the equipment.
I know skaters who have certified and bouted in rental skates. Sometimes, it’s not your gear, it is user error. Admitting that to yourself can be one of the harder realizations one can come to in derby.
10. You can’t climb Everest in a day
There is so much to improve at, and it is easy to become impatient in this sport. What goals do you have? All the goals? Well you can’t meet them all at once. That’s just the nature of training and sport. Do not look at the peak of the mountain and think “WHY AREN’T I THERE YET?” Rather, focus on the little steps on the way up the mountain. You can’t reach the summit until you reach 1000ft, right? This is the same with training and learning.
You won’t be a D1 level jammer overnight. Sometimes you won’t over a year, or two years. Do not get frustrated, do not quit. Set goals, work hard, and then drill, drill, drill. Challenge yourself against new opponents, and challenge yourself to think outside your safety zone. We all want to be the greatest, but diligence is the key.
Didn’t do so well at practice today? It’s ok. You have to fail a whole bunch in order to start succeeding. You’re not going to be perfect (or even good) at all the skills you try right off the bat. You’re going to run into things that hang you up. Do not let that frustration eat you alive. Recognize where you’re having trouble, break down the movement into smaller chunks, and then drill, drill, drill.
And enjoy the journey along the way! You’ll meet some of your greatest friends in the sport, and through struggling with a thing together.
Kristie Grey (Merry Khaos) has been playing roller derby since 2009 and has coached almost as long. She has worked with over 20 leagues in 11 states (and Canada). She has coached on and off skates at Beat Me Halfway 2014 & RollerCon (2012-2015). Active in health and wellness, she is an active Herbalife Health Coach and [when the knees allow] rock climber and power lifter. For questions, booking, requests of topic, or help with a nutrition plan, message Khaos at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com
If you say “I can’t do 180 turns” with intention, you will not be able to do 180 turns. If you say, “Today is going to be awesome” with intention, your day will be awesome (yes, even if negative things happen during the day). Your words can change the course of your progress, your game play, your mood, and the attitudes of people around you.
So to use the words “I don’t care” (IDC) is profound.
I hadn’t really thought about it until recently. Now that I’ve noticed it, it sticks out to me whenever I play. In retrospect, I have been combating IDC for years, I just didn’t realize it. When my line is on deck in scrimmage, if no one takes the initiative to start talking, I would begin the conversation. I would be the one to ask the jammer what they wanted from the blockers, as well as asking the blockers where they wanted to position themselves. Sometimes one person would have an answer.
Everyone else would say IDC.
And not the IDC that turns into, “What would be best for this situation?” or “Let’s force everyone to pick a spot and talk about it on the line.” It was the IDC that starts in a passive voice and ends with them turning away to stare vaguely off at the current jam.
These are the IDCs that end in randomly taking lanes, and do not include communication. It is the IDC that ends confusion about who is doing what. Too often, an IDC skater will make very conscious decisions about their plan in the upcoming jam, but will not tell anyone else. They end up playing offense for the jammer, dropping back to clear a line, or running cross track to be a brace, but their neighbors aren’t expecting to cover their lane. Sometimes we can read the lines well enough to adjust on the fly, and most times the whole thing falls apart.
Now let’s talk the mid-jam IDC: Whether on offense or defense, I have experienced skaters using IDC when figuring out power jam strategy. On your home team, hopefully you have designated strats and people with pre-determined roles. In mash ups, you have to learn each other’s strengths on the fly. I have stopped asking “Do you want to play offense?” Instead, I say things like “Outside attacks” or “You and me up lane 2”. Derby moves too quick for IDC and I’ve gotten IDC mid-jam, too often.
Outside of practice, when meeting up with people to do off skates workouts or extra skating, when I ask the question “What do you want to work on today?” I do not appreciate the IDC as the answer. I am immediately taken down a notch on my enthusiasm if you don’t care what you work on.
The moral is: In derby you need to care. If you don’t care, why should anyone around you care? If you don’t care what your position is, why should the player next to you? If you don’t care about your training schedule, why should I? If you don’t care about what’s about to happen in the power jam, why should your team mates?
People are influenced by those around them. Skate A may not want to appear pushy or out of line, so if Skater B states they don’t care what position they play, then Skater A is more likely to also throw out IDC. Now you have two people out of four who FOR SURE do not know what lane they will be in, and thus cannot mentally prepare for the next jam.
Apathy is a feeling that spreads, not dissipates.
If your answer for team play is IDC, eventually it will spread to your drill work, your outside training schedule, and your overall attitude if you do not take steps to combat it. It’s easy to get lazy. It’s easy to stop pushing yourself. IDC encourages the lazy.
It’s is easy to spot: in larger teams those with IDC syndrome often get passed in skill as eager, hungrier skaters pursue excellence. In smaller teams or teams without a proactive coaching staff, IDC can spread through the ranks. You see it first with the all-stars, and it trickles down from there.
Your newer skaters (and officials) keep the league healthy. They are the plankton of the derby food chain.
Just stay with me on this one: new skaters come in and are (usually) less skilled or experienced. They are the little guys. Some will get eaten up (in plankton terms) and leave the league before they certify. A few in each newbie class will survive. They grow bigger and evolve into the bigger fish. If they don’t get eaten along the way (injury, personal issues, league drama, etc) and they develop their skills – they join the top of the food chain. The bottom is wide with plankton/new recruits. The top is narrow with seasoned vets/apex predators.
Now let’s say that top of the food chain carries around IDC.
They are setting an example for the rest of the chain that you can become an apex predator without caring. You can be an all-star by being apathetic along the way. While you may have a handful of skaters sprinkled throughout the league that know how to shield themselves from IDC, you will get the other skaters who become sucked into it.
Why? IDC is easy. IDC doesn’t take any work. IDC is a cake walk.
“They don’t care what they eat or how they train, and look! They’re our top jammer.”
“They don’t care what lane they’re in, so I shouldn’t care what lane I’m in.”
“The all-stars are going this fast.. I could go faster, but they are all-stars, so I guess that’s how fast I should go.”
The apathy spreads. The practices slow. The culture of the team becomes a culture of “that’s good enough.” The direct result of this is that either your plankton are pushed away from your food chain altogether because they want to be around people who care, or you only attract plankton that succumb easily to IDC.
If skaters hold IDC on the track, it will inevitably effect their off the track participation. A skater that says IDC about the sport they love in the middle of a jam, will probably not be the one super stoked to drive to a fundraiser on the other side of town on a Wednesday night. Why? IDC means no investment.
IDC is the draining of passion. It is an internal apathy that is easily spread to others like a disease. If negativity is cancer, than IDC is the flu: feverish, tiresome, easily contagious, and hard to eradicate. It may not kill you, but it sure as hell will slow you down.
How do you fight IDC?
If you are an individual fighting against it, continue to fight with some easy steps:
1) Set goals!
Having a focus of what you’re striving to achieve immediately makes you care more. Set long term goals (6months or a year), mid-length goals (30 days out), and goals for each practice; the smaller goals should fit within the larger ones, like a Russian Doll set!
2) Practice positive self-talk
If you care and have confidence in yourself, then you will hope over the IDC syndrome. It is impossible to be confident and focused yet not care. I like writing positive mantras on my mirrors in dry erase marker. Every time I brush my teeth, I get to read something positive.
3) Grab an accountability partner
Having a friend keep you honest is a great way to keep you both on track and away from the IDC monster. As soon as you start expressing negativity, they can [quietly] help steer you the right way
4) Remember that you’re here to have fun! If it’s not fun, why are you playing roller derby?
If you are an individual and you’ve just had an epiphany that you are part of the IDC virus, practice all the things above, as well as doing the following:
1) Set internal alarms for IDC
When you find yourself saying these words make yourself stop, and ask why you are saying it. Do you really not care, or do you not know another way to express what you’re thinking? If you really don’t care, why is that? Do you feel you are masterful at whatever is being asked, or do you not want to put into the effort of thinking about the scenario?
If it’s a “I don’t want to put the effort in” answer, then force yourself to think about what is happening, evaluate your weaknesses, and pick something to work on. Express that instead of IDC. It is also possible that when you’re saying IDC, what you REALLY mean is IDK (“I don’t know”). IDK is fine! Communicate that you don’t know where you want to go or what you want to work on, and let the other people help guide you.
2) Write down a list of your weaknesses and your strengths
IDC can come from a lack of understanding where we’re at and how to improve. If you know you need to work on your strengths backwards blocking in lane 4, when you’re in scrimmage scenarios you can ask to be put in that situation. Confidence and skill comes from repetition. If you do not know the specific reps you need to do, IDC is an easy answer to thinking about it.
3) Ask yourself if there are external influences for causing the IDC
Money problems, feeling helpless at home, or having a job where you lack order can all attribute to getting to training with an IDC attitude. Can you identify these places where you feel helpless, or have stopped giving 100%? If you can understand, and quarantine, these things in your mind, you can come to each training practice and leave that piece of the outside world at the door.
If you are on a coaching staff that has noticed IDC creeping in:
1) Create a time for a team goal-setting session
If the team has goals together, they are more likely to care about their practice time. Use a half hour of practice time to throw out the goal ideas, and from there have the captains and coaches refine goals for the leagues and individual teams.
2) Have one-on-ones with skaters
This is an opportunity to talk about individual goals, team goals, and also why IDC may (or may not) be present in their life. If IDC in derby is a result of IDC outside of derby in personal life, you may be able to recommend resources to that skater (or official) to help them overcome the apathy or negativity in other parts of their life.
3) Make it extra fun for everyone now and again
Throwing in games and contests to practices and outside trainings can up team morale and friendships. When bonds are strong, people care for each other. When people care for each other, IDC tends to fade.
2015 is just beginning. Caring about things spreads good intention through your training, nutrition, game play, and relationships. Not caring about one thing can bleed into not caring about a whole boatload of stuff, which will set you back tremendously. Go forth and be positive and take on this season with all the courage and consideration you can muster!
Thank you Jessica Shutterfly Andrews for all the photos used in this blog!!
Our goal is to win every game we play. Keep it simple, sexy. – Jonathan R
And New York Shock Exchange is making a good case that they’re going to do exactly that at Champs this weekend. As one of the oldest leagues in the world, and the first champions of the MRDA, NYSE has a long tradition of work ethic and dominance. Coming into Champs with a full, healthy roster (and a fire in their eyes from dropping to the #3 ranking) means that NYSE is going to battle every team like it’s the final.
Being an East Coast girl, I’m pretty familiar with the men of NYSE. Their friendly rivalry with Mass Maelstrom is the best we have seen in MRDA the Northeast. Getting the opportunity to go to Coney Island and see the evolution of NYSE over the years has been awesome.
Part of why [I think] Shock Exchange has continued having success while other founding MDC (Men’s Derby Coalition) teams have dropped to the wayside is not just the fact that they have access to an enormous metropolitan area’s worth of skaters or that they have Gotham Girls as their Big Sisters. It’s that the coaching staff has remained open minded about new strategies and training opportunities, while the skaters themselves continually re-dedicate themselves to the goals of the team. NYSE has always been on the forefront of new strategy and pushing the boundaries of what their sheer amount of skill can do. When I asked captain (and Team USA skater) Jonathan R why he thinks Shock has remained at the top, he had a very similar idea:
We have a continuous drive to be better and push beyond barriers. This is exemplified in our commitment to having regular practices in perpetuity as we seek out new ideas.
That being said, NYSE has had [in the past] the same kind of problem that Puget Sound has. The older teams have a style of gameplay that can only be labeled “SuperStar”. NYSE, in the past, has simply been more talented on their wheels than their opponents. NYSE would rely on their jammers to do all the work, and their blockers would spread out, take swings and make huge hits (with a high rate of success) and it was enough to win.
As other teams have started closing the gap in the last couple years, NYSE’s style has shifted. You still see shadows of the SuperStar play, but now you have power blockers like Buster Cheatin’ and Chris Szabo pulling the team together into walls. Walls which thwarted Mass Maelstrom by a significant amount both times they met this season; Walls that saved them against the Bridgetown Menace at RollerCon.
Shock’s style of teamwork in a pack is a bit unique to other teams (again, more similar to Puget). While they work together, and move as one fluid unit, they don’t have the contact with each other that other teams do. When watching Southern Discomfort (for example), the men link to teammates until engagement begins. While NYSE always clusters near each other, the links are never as prominent (I have noticed). The downside is their partner may be slightly further than desirable, the positive is that it saves them on the multi player blocks, forearms, and high blocks that plague many Top 8 teams. Plus, the skill and awareness of the skaters let them get away with this kind of ‘dropped arms’ linkage to one another.
We shall see what happens at Champs with this. Mass Maelstrom is coming in with a bit of a chip on their shoulder and are focused on squarely and definitively beating NYSE. Their fluid diamonds and tight packs could be trouble for NYSE. If NYSE wins, they will square off against Southern Discomfort or the GakeKeepers. GK was the only loss of the year for Shock, while Shock was the only top 4 team that So Disco didn’t skate against when they came across the pond in the spring. All teams that face NYSE really have one thing to worry about if they want a shot at winning: NEUTRALIZE THEIR JAMMERS.
Particularly Jonathan R and Carnage Asada. Based on what I saw at RollerCon, they better keep a tight beat on I A M Havoc as well.
I don’t even know how to explain how good Jonathan R is. It almost makes me mad when I watch him skate because I can’t wrap my head around how his simple, concise moves can translate into COMPLETE OBLITERATION OF THE DEFENSE. The man rarely looks like he’s even working. He is fluid, has complete control over physics (he may be a Time Lord), and even when he’s making RollerCon look like a CSI crime scene – the man is smiling and cheering on his team.
Carnage Asada doesn’t have the same ease to his skating that Jonathan R does. Highly effective with long legs and toe stop action to die for, Carnage’s plan is to make you over commit on your hit. He is patient and quick, breaking down a line one by one. Defenses are constantly having to shift from long fluid blocks and holds to contain Jonathan R, to the staccato speed of Asada. It makes them lose their rhythm. It simply works.
Havoc is up and coming for sure. A new Shocker, Havoc had been on the Dow Jones average to develop is skills. If Carnage and Jonathan had a jamming love baby – it would be Havoc. No, seriously – don’t make that face at me. Havoc has fluidity in his ducks and jukes, but can stop on a dime and use lateral motion to throw off the opposition. Still adjusting to the speed of the game, Havoc hasn’t always had success against teams, but in the GateKeepers bout at RollerCon the entire crowd got to see him Level Up.
In fact, I would say all of the NYSE rolled over experience point to gain a level during that GK bout. I’m going to say the thing that everyone has been thinking and whispering but no one has said in a public forum before: NYSE, in the past, has relied too heavily on jamming skill. Particularly Jonathan R’s magic feet. When he suffered a nose bleed at RC, the GK’s score steadily rose, Shock looked a bit lost without their fearless leader. But then they figured it out. Then, the entire bench of Shock had this moment where every single skater stepped up and made adjustments and did whatever they had to for success. Every jammer that was a secondary brought their game to the level that Shock needed it to be.
If that team shows up for Champs? If Shock Exchange has maintained that level of “We need to do this as a team, we can’t rely on our jammers alone” – there is no question in my mind that they will smash through the first two rounds of their bracket while barely breaking a sweat. If they don’t work as a team, if they allow Maelstrom’s blockers to dominate in offense and defense, NYSE is going to have a hard bout ahead of them.
Regardless, Shock is coming to play and I have a feeling we all are in for some amazing hard-hitting, strategy-driven, blow-your-mind roller derby.
Make sure you check out Shock Exchange’s Facebook to keep up with all the awesomeness that they have happening. The Dow Jones Average, NYSE’s B-team, is in the middle of an UNDEFEATED season! If you can get to a bout, you need to. Also, NYSE is raising money for SHOCK DOWN UNDER!!! They’re going on a tour of Australia with bouts and clinics on the docket, and they need a little help getting there. The FB has all the details and how you can support the strengthening of Men’s Roller Derby around the globe! Get hooked up with some rad NYSE merch at their online store.
I have worked with a lot of leagues at this point in my career.
I have been a member of and guest coached small leagues, rebuilding leagues, D1 leagues, crumbling leagues, thriving leagues, and leagues in identity crisis. I’ve been with leagues that have had 9 transfers out in the off season, and ones with 9 transfers in during the off season. One reoccurring theme I have come across before guest coaching is this: “We have so many different levels, we don’t know how to coach our team.” A subset of this is: “We have vets who don’t show up, and when they do they don’t want to work as hard as our fresh meat.”
I am going to do my best to be clear and articulate and write this blog in an organized fashion (I really need to do outlines like real writers). I am going to mainly talk about the subset. This is the question I’ve gotten from several leagues recently: We have a league that is small already (under 25 who actively pay dues) and our schedule is built around a core of 14 skaters who started the season with us. However, they haven’t made attendance in months, when they do they don’t do the drills, and they belittle the newer skaters who are working to improve. How do we structure our training, and how do we deal with game day rosters when 8 of our 14 have not made attendance and our fresh meat are not yet prepared to skate?
My answer about training:
If you have a core of fresh meat that are showing up and are dedicated to working hard and building skills and teamwork, why would you tailor your training to girls who aren’t showing up? Create your training schedule (yes, I am a HUGE proponent of building training schedules in 4 week chunks) based around the team you have, not the team you HAD. Maybe this time six months ago you had 9 advanced beginners, 5 beginners, and 2 newborn foals, but now you have 2 advanced beginners, 8 beginners, and 5 newborn foals that show up on the regular. Why would you build your training schedule to include backwards blocking and diamond formations? You need to build the basics first. There are basics of roller skating/footwork, basics of teamwork, basics of roller derby, and basics of cross-training. Each needs time and nourishment.
When ‘sporadic vets’ decide to show up, they need to fall in line and do the drills of the day and have respect for their coaches, team mates, and the process. If they’re not coming to practice regularly, they probably need the fundamentals as much as the Skater Tots do (especially the fundamentals of teamwork). Packs of skaters are jenga puzzles – if you have one piece that is not in sync, the pack is wobbly. If you have more than one skater not in sync, the puzzle is going to fall. The only way to develop teamwork and trust is through time, experience, and work. Wall work is not a magic thing that just happens for 60 minutes of game play. The teams that can maintain strong, appropriately fluid walls, are the ones who have spent hours drilling it. Texas is Texas for a reason.
“But we don’t want to be Texas.”
Really? Why not? (JOKING!!) Honestly though, do you all feel that way or are you just being defensive in the name of what your league has accomplished thus far?
Most of the leagues that bring the scenario of a handful of rogue vets to me will present me with “but we don’t want to be competitive, so doesn’t that make a difference?” And then when I dig a little deeper, what I find is that a handful of people don’t want to be competitive. SOME people don’t want the challenge, but there are more people that do want the challenge and the improvement, but maybe they’re used to being quieted at meetings or at practice. Maybe they are the ones being belittled during drills.
I rarely meet any skater that shows up 2-3x a week, pays $30+ per month and DOESN’T want to be competitive. The skaters that skate for funsies or as their gym membership are usually the ones that, in the long run, don’t make attendance, don’t come to league events, don’t participate in fundraisers, and therefore should not be making a roster.
Yes, even if that skater is ‘more skilled’ than the others on the team.
Remember how I said that packs are jenga pieces? I would rather have a team of 9 pieces that know how to skate with one another because they’ve shown up to practice, than a team of 14 pieces that have one or two ‘superstar-exception-to-the-rule’ in every pack. They make each line unstable. They do not know the strategies that have been worked on in practice. They fall out of their lines. They become rogue, big hit blockers (or “Points for the other team” we can also call them), play offense inappropriately, don’t have experience with specific scenarios, don’t know how to communicate or receive communication from the others in their pack, and, in general, cause dissent in the league.
Yes. If you have a girl who is ‘super talented’ or ‘vet’ who gets on a roster AND significant play time despite chronically breaking league policy and attendance, how will that bolster team morale? What it shows is that the coaching and training committee rewards talent and time claiming derby girl status. It shows that the coaching does not value sweat, work, and time on the track as a team. Resentment is a cancer.
“But we only have 9 players that show up to practice and that qualify to skate! Should we borrow?” No. You play those 9. “But we’ll lose!” Ok. So what? It’s just f***ing roller derby. “But what about our fans?” Will your fans value seeing a consistent group of core skaters whom they can cheer for and get behind (and one day have “I remember when…” moments) or would your fans rather have an ever rotating roster of borrowed skaters in sharpie-written t-shirts?
Your team will attract the kind of players that your practice and rosters nurture. If you nurture individual skaters who can come and go as they please, mouth off to coaches, skip drills that they don’t like (though they’ll tell you it’s because ‘it’s too easy), and disrespect their teammates, you are going to continue to attract those skaters that are in it for the derby name, disrespectful, lazy, and unreliable.
If you nurture a positive, athletic environment with a schedule and focus; if you nip negativity in the bud and encourage skaters to improve and push themselves, you are going to attract skaters that are willing to work during the paid practice time and invest themselves in the league. If you respect the process of roller derby, you will draw people to you that also respect the process of real, strong, athletic, revolutionary.
Ok, conjecture aside. Your league has mostly skater tots (again), some mouthy advanced beginners (who don’t want to admit that they are still beginners), some awesome intermediate-advanced beginners, and a couple orbiters that don’t really fit anywhere. ‘Vets’ are inconsistent at practice. We have issues. What next?
Before we get to track time, let’s look at league policy and communication. Confrontation is hard. I have never met so many leagues with so many people in the BoD who do not like to talk about the elephants trampling the team. Call a league meeting. Tell everyone that it is going to be a roundtable discussion on the future of the team, policies currently in place, and policies moving forward. This is not a time for league voting. There will be people who get riled (and you should have a moderator designated who is good at cooling people off and putting out fires to slow the conversation down when people get heated). Have every skater bring a list of no more than five things they would like to address, and have each skater bring a list of at least three things that they feel are going well with the league.
NOTE: NO ALCOHOL AT THIS MEETING.
Before things start, it may be a good idea to do a team building exercise. I very much like this one: Write each person’s name on individual note cards. Hand out colored writing implements to everyone there. Each person gets a note card (if there are people not there, some people will start with multiple). One person has a stop watch. You have 30 seconds to write down a positive word or phrase about that person. At 30s your timer says “Pass” and everyone passes the cards to the LEFT. When the cards have made a circuit, put those cards in a box. You will pass them out AFTER the meeting is done. (PS this is a great locker room exercise too.)
After your meeting is done, hand out these cards. You can even go around the room and have everyone pick out one word or phrase that they are going to choose to embody during upcoming bouts or practices.
Move forward from your meeting with the positive idea that despite change being scary, you are going to be steps closer to a more smoothly running league. All the things that people brought to the table? Well the BoD should have brought their own list of topics. Talk about what the BoD has brought to the table, and after the meeting create a master list of things that people want addressed. This is where committees/BoD will focus their efforts in the upcoming weeks. This is not an easy or clean process, but this is step one. You are playing 52 card pick up, and this is stage where you’re taking the pile of messy cards and working to shuffle them back into a one deck that can work as it’s supposed to.
COMMUNICATION AND RESPECT is critical for this process. Mediation is necessary. No name calling. Set ground rules for the meeting. If people who show up to the meeting (which you may see faces you haven’t seen for a while) are breaking ground rules set at the beginning of the meeting, the mediator is allowed to throw the Insubordination sign and ask them to leave (or at least to sit outside an cool down for a moment).
No one in roller derby wants to be angry at their team, no one comes into this for ‘drama’. A league meeting doesn’t have to be ‘drama’, but each team is a business. So think of it as a business meeting. A State of the Union meeting. A “let’s talk about what is good and what is bad and how to move forward from here”. I say this is not a place for league votes because things can get heated, and if you have people showing up that haven’t been there in weeks, they may come in with blinders on. You want people to have a chance to digest.
I am also a fan of people having to be in good standing with the league (dues paid, committee hours accounted for, attendance in, etc) in order to be allowed to participate in any league vote. I know. I’m a Maverick.
Make sure you have some sort of Team Gathering scheduled in a couple weeks after the league meeting that is not derby, and just hangout time! We want to remind the skaters that it is more than a league – it’s a family. And family members may get mad at each other now and again, but it doesn’t mean they stop loving each other. This one, alcohol is allowed (though it’s bad for gains, I’ll allow it)
Training different levels at once: This is going to be a separate blog. Once I’ve gotten to this, I realized that I have written so much already, your eyes probably want a break. Thank you for reading through, and I hope you have gotten some good ideas on how to move forward within your league. Any anger, resentment, fracturing OFF the track will be directly reflected ON the track. When I watch a team play, I can almost immediately tell when they have poor league communication, attendance issues, or unchecked egos.