My 3 favourite C words

I live by a triumvirate of Cs when working with athletes, whatever level they are.  I'm always working on each piece of that big C puzzle because every aspect can always improve.


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Coach humans.  Coach athletes.  Coach skaters.  

Coach people.

I don't just coach the skills, though those are nice and easy and defined.  It's so easy to coach a nice pretty plow stop.  There are clear success measures.  You can define them, hear them, see them, and, most importantly, correct them.  All nice and straightforward.

I also aim to coach the person.  To develop the drive, persistence, determination, free thought, engagement, and love of the sport.  To coach the self-belief, the desire, the understanding of what it means to be an athlete. 

The two cannot be separated.  Every discussion about skill will impact the person.  And every word I speak in my role as coach is taken as intention.   


In every part of my existence, Communication is the epitome of and driver of success.  It is not always easy (particularly when project managing IT people, trust me) and it is not always pleasant (particularly when explaining to a skater why they haven't made a roster) but long term it will build a team. 

Communication helps us live our values as skaters, as teammates, and as coaches.

Things that are very very hard without honest and direct communication:

  • Trust
  • Accountability
  • Transparency
  • Relationships
  • Development

You can see where I'm going with this.  But I'm pretty sure that the majority of derby drama can be avoided by bringing better communication into the picture.  G'wan and challenge me.  But iDerby doesn't count.  Seriously. That is not communication. 


Confidence for skaters and confidence for coaches - absolutely hand-in-hand.  Confident coaches build confident skaters.  Confidence means we're better prepared to accept challenge and take on feedback.  Confidence gives us a baseline to build a collaboration between coach and athlete, to listen to each other, and try new things. 

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And you know what helps build confidence for coaches and athletes?  COMMUNICATION!  Yes.  It all comes full circle.  Also external validation.  Sometimes having someone else who is not your mom tell you you're doing the right thing can definitely help.  




Be your own coach

So, I don't mean "coach yourself".  I mean, "be yourself". 

Recently I was reading a post on the Top 5 Coaching Tips on Connected Coaches
Most of the tips I would consider as fairly standard: “always smile”, “create a rapport”, “stay positive”, “have integrity”. 

But challenging the generally positive tone was a post from David Turner (@David_T_scUK), an Athletics coach for England.  He highlighted a "do not" which struck a chord for me as part of the roller derby coaching community.

“Never copy what another coach is doing, unless you know exactly why they are doing it.”

Well.  Crap.  Cause you know what – that’s often what we do in the roller derby community.  We go to classes at RollerCon, we hire in a one-off coach, we go to the local boot camp and then we write down as much as we can and bring it back to our league and we put it into our session plans.  I’ve been there. 

Half the time not only are we not clear exactly why we’re doing something, but we’re not totally sure that we’ve replicated it quite right.  Skaters dash between skating and scribbling crib notes into a notebook.  We try and do diagrams then come home and look at them, turn the book upside down, ask our mates… “Do you remember how to set this drill up right?”

But we crack on because we think it’s got to be better than what we were doing before.

I don't mean that you should not share resources or borrow drills or pick up on an ace development programme that someone else has written!  Knowledge sharing and learning is the driving principle behind Rule 56.

What I mean is don't copy blindly; make sure you understand the whats and whys before you implement them and then adjust them to suit your team. Be your own coach.

In order to be your own coach, you need to know inside and believe that your ideas and actions are valuable and worthwhile (a very important tenet in Nadia Kean's 6 principles of coaching) .  

If this isn't something that comes naturally to you (and it wasn't to me, particularly when I was starting out), there are some ways that can help build your confidence.

Keep a coaching diary. 

This is just like those training diaries you keep to remind yourself that you are making positive changes every session.  

Having confidence in your own coaching can be hard when you don’t feel like you’ve been trained to coach properly and you’re struggling with your own skating progress (probably cause you’re in the infield coaching during most of the sessions). But if you’ve been coaching and you have seen successes, then remember those moments and trust in those.  You know your team and you know how to get more from them.  And you know yourself.  If you're not sure, look in your coaching diary - you'll find you in there.

Find a mentor. 

Maybe you’re just beginning or you struggle with how to push your league to take the next step.  Find yourself a coaching mentor:  someone that isn’t one of your own coaching committee or skaters.  Ask questions.  Do what they do for a while, knowing you have access to that information of “why” they are doing it.  And then eventually, take all that learning and do your own stuff. 

You might be able to find a local skater to mentor you or, if you need more dedicated time, some of the best roller derby coaches in the world are for hire. 

There are people out there, go and find them!

Take a class. 

With training comes not only more awareness of how to coach and what to question in your methods, but it confirms all the things we're doing right.  It provides the confidence that folks need to develop their coaching.

I will never stop banging on about certifications/ qualifications/ courses until we get them (or make them ourselves).  Proper ones.  That are run consistently,  and are recognised and are available and are actually about roller derby. 



As our first webinar about sports psychology approaches this Wednesday, we thought it would be a great time to focus on a derby role where a good understanding of the psychology of athletes is crucial for success: the line-up manager. And that’s my bag!

At the beginning of last year, Leeds Roller Dolls’ A team put a shout out for an assistant line up. I was in rec league at the time and thought it might help me understand the game a bit better so volunteered. Due to unforeseen circumstances, after one practice shadowing the LUM, I was thrown in at the deep end to take over her role.

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One of the first things I did was simply observe the players at a couple of practices to try and understand what made them tick: how they responded to success and failures; who worked well with each other; who players listened to; how they behaved before and during scrim etc. I had a notebook full of scribbles that nobody got to see. It wasn’t personal, but insight into my team and how I would need to communicate with each one…as best I could.

Obviously I already knew the players to a certain extent as some of them coached me in rec and I had watched them play as a fan. This was useful but also a hindrance, as I quickly had to shake the imposter syndrome and learn to take charge…this took a couple of games, especially as I am not particularly forthright and we had some strong personalities.  

I was thrown in at the deep end with a game within a couple of weeks of taking on the role. As daunting and terrifying as it was, it meant I had to step up. Sixty minutes felt like a very long time. And the jams seemed ridiculously short as I tried to remember everything I had learnt in a short space of time, even though I was only expected to do the bare bones of the job: basically ensuring we had the right amount of players on at a time.

This was then built on each game so I could eventually be involved with the tactics. I now have a methodical system of jottings to keep track of track time, penalties etc. And players take on some of the responsibility of box watching, as we use a number system so they know first pull.

I was very lucky when learning as I had two very supportive captains who were on hand to answer any questions and gave me a lot of encouragement. Our bench was also key in filling me with confidence, and we worked very well together. And the team were all very grateful that I’d stepped in so did their best to be as understanding as possible when I hesitated or made mistakes, and also gave lots of encouragement. That’s not to say that they didn’t get frustrated but I am still learning not to take that personally: it’s a work in progress!

Another thing I did early on was read blogs from other line-ups. All of them spoke about the importance of understanding your players’ psychology.  As line-up you’re often the one that players turn to if they’re struggling. It’s very tricky when you’re trying to plan your next pack but sometimes it can be the key to how that player performs in their next jam.

As line-up you’re often the one that players turn to if they’re struggling. It’s very tricky when you’re trying to plan your next pack but sometimes it can be the key to how that player performs in their next jam.

As I said, our players have very different needs. For example, I know that it’s really important for one of our jammers to talk to me in between jams: it calms her nerves. I don’t need to say anything back every time, just listen…or pat her bum – go figure! I felt another player once just lean against my back without saying anything. Sometimes they just need a look, a smile, or some gesture. And some players I know to leave alone.

We have a system where we have a chair (if there is one) which players can sit on if they need the space. Or I can ask them to sit there if I feel they need to regroup. They unclip their helmet until they’re ready to join the game. It’s very simple and takes away any drama. I know it sounds like the ‘naughty chair’ but it really isn’t – even if a player is collecting penalties. However, it works because we have built a safe and trusting environment.   

Another thing that blogs taught me was to be prepared for anything. So I have a LUM bag. What’s not in that bag isn’t worth having. There are the staples, which sit on the bench or in my pocket: tape, marker pen and glucose tablets. But the bag includes: skate tools, plasters, toilet roll, ibuprofen, gel, hand bac, Vaseline, tampax – you name it, I’ve got it. Sometimes I feel like the mum of the bench with my bag of tricks. “Ecky have you got? Ecky can I have?” There are games when I hear my name so much, it’s still echoing when I get home.

Source : Middlesbrough Roller Derby

Source : Middlesbrough Roller Derby

As you will know, Leeds Roller Dolls merged with Hot Wheel so I had to get to know some new players and they have had to adapt to my systems. Like the players on track, we are still gelling, and I am trying to get to know what makes them tick. However, it was a lot easier stepping into the role for the second season as I had earned the respect of my previous players, which the new players saw and accepted.

They have also been very grateful and send lovely messages of appreciation, which is great as you often feel like the invisible member of the team as LUM. Which I guess you should be if you’re doing it right.

I have also had to work with a new bench coach. Luckily he’s very calm and patient and we work as a team. And also there’s the added bonus of extra bench crew now. This has been fantastic as I often now have another person who is there to gee on the players and take on the extra ‘mum’ duties of redoing numbers and attending to minor injuries.

As I said, I am still learning not to take it personally when players get snappy. And I am constantly striving to become more tactical. This has meant a couple of mistakes with timings but I won’t do make them again.

I would say the compliment I get most from players is about my calmness, which they really appreciate. They like to come to the bench and not have the drama from track. And also have that reassurance before they get on track that you are making the right choices and they don’t have to question that.


What do you like in a coach?

Things I like in a coach: 

  • being really directive, confident, and self-assured (but not a dick, obvs)
  • making me sometimes do push ups (I like push ups)
  • running intense sessions that involve a lot of moving and a lot of sweat
  • telling me exactly what they expect from a drill or skill and when I do it right. 
    (I don't like being told I'm doing it wrong; I'll assume it's wrong until told otherwise).

It took me awhile to be able to really understand why I liked some training sessions better than others and why some frustrated me more than others.  And it pretty much boils down to those things up there ^ ^ ^. 

When I started coaching, guess how I coached...  

Well... I was really directive and a bit bolshy.

Annnnd I dished out loads of push ups.

Annnnnnnd I didn't stand for a lot of dithering about and pushed people constantly.

Annnnnnnnnnd I explained things quite specifically and gave lots of feedback. 

So, I pretty much ran sessions the way I would love them if I were skating.  Which makes sense to a point... like when you go to someone's house, your mum always says to behave like you would like them to behave in your home (i.e no swinging from the chandeliers). 


It didn't take too terribly long to figure out that not everyone likes to be coached the way I do... not everyone likes push ups (*wtaf?*) and some people don't want me to drone on about weight distribution, they want to go and distribute their weight without me. 

What's taking a bit longer is figuring out how to still be me, but a me that supports everyone, not just the people just like me.   

I'm a work in progress.  But aren't we all?  

What do you like in a coach?  



What you wish you knew...

As part of her prep for our next collab webinar series, Smarty Pants has started chatting to other coaches to find out what they wish they knew when they started coaching.  

What do you wish you knew when you started? 

I remember that first day, looking out at a sea of faces (or even worse, only a coupla faces) all waiting for me to blurt out something quite clever and revolutionary?  

Hindsight #1 - most of them aren't waiting for any such thing... you know that right?  They're either wishing they hadn't eaten quite so much right before training or they're waiting to be told to warm up... 

I remember the prep before hand.  Sketching out to the minute exactly how each drill was going to run.  And wondering if introducing a new concept without enough time to practice it might turn them off roller derby forever? 

Hindsight #2 - things never go to plan.  I still map my sessions out but I go with the flow of the session.  I diverge, I come back, I truncate, and I extend.  I following my conceptual running order.  I don't watch the clock; I watch the athletes.

I remember fumbling over my words and thinking I was confusing things all the more.  

Hindsight #3 - Sometimes this is true.  So now I just stop babbling and I show.  And then I ask them to explain to me what they're seeing.  And we find the words together.  

What I wish I knew when I started coaching is that coaching is a collaboration.  

The coach, the athlete, the team working together make the session successful.  Not taking all the onus for success onto yourself as coach doesn't mean that you don't have a lot of work to do.  Collaboration is so much harder than a dictatorship.  There are so many skills and pitfalls and, dear god, personalities

What makes coaching hard is never what you think will make coaching hard.  But it is what makes coaching worthwhile.