What do you mean “other” sports?   You might think that rowing and roller derby are pretty different sports.  Actually, no two ways about it, they are different sports.  But there are key principles in common.  These principles are probably common across other sports too, but I’ve not coached those ones, so you get to hear about rowing and roller derby.     

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


      Pushing through the finish   You don’t stop rowing 10 foot out and coast over the finish line, right?  And in roller derby we have to train to the whistle.  Jammers are capable of scoring points right up to the end of the fourth whistle that signals the end of the jam.  That means they have to play to the finish.  In rowing, it’s hard to stop paying attention in the boat, the rhythm of the team and the stroke keeps all rowers working at generally the same pace.  In roller derby training sessions, it can be easier to relax in drills.  Even though we’re working together, we’re not connected.  Blockers don’t chase down the jammer.  Jammers don’t sprint chase around the track to make sure they get that one point before the other jammer calls the jam.  The team dynamic allows for individual action (or inaction).  If you have skaters who don’t follow through, put them on track with skaters who not only follow through but also take people with them when they do.  It’s not quite like stroking a boat, but it helps skaters realise when they aren’t as engaged as they thought they were.  Lesson to take away: Skaters need to play as hard in the last two tenths of a second as they played in the first minute, because it can make all the difference.   If you want them to play to the finish, you need to train them to the finish.    Comparing splits to hits   In rowing, your aim is to make the boat go faster.  To practice doing this you get on an erg and you watched the little numbers flash on your Concept2 monitor (it might be Concept3 by now, it’s been ages since I’ve been down the club).  The main things you’re thinking about are your stroke rate and your splits.  You want those splits to be as low as possible and the first thing people will do is row faster to lower their splits.  But, actually, that’s not the really the most effective way to train.    The goal is to improve your technique to bring those splits down without changing your stroke rate.  (yes, this is a simplification).  You do this by identifying how to load your legs to increase your power, by moving your hands faster at the catch, by engaging your core and transferring energy at the right time.  In roller derby, your aim is to move someone out of the way.  There’s no little machine to help you gauge your progress.  You’re thinking about getting another human being over a line.  And the temptation is to hit them at speed.  The faster you hit an object, the more power behind it, right?  Maybe, but much like increasing your stroke in rowing, it’s not really the point.  You want to be able to drive that person off track whatever speed you’re going.  So the goal is to improve your technique.  You do this by identifying how to load your legs to increase your power, by moving your body faster at the catch, by engaging your core and transferring energy at the right time.  Oh wait… this all sounds familiar…  Lesson to take away:   Power should come from control and timing, not speed.   The better the technique, the greater speeds they can perform at, and eventually become unstoppable.     Individual impact      

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     In rowing the boat either runs smoothly, or it doesn’t.  If someone is out of sync with the stroke or late to the catch it can feel horrible in the boat.  But as a rower, you can’t always identify who or what the reason for the boat shudder and that’s because usually it’s due to more than one thing and more than one person.  To feel the boat glide, everyone has to be in sync.  Similarly, in a wall, every single person has a role to play and if one person isn’t quite as quick or one person isn’t quite as strong or one person over compensates or, as is more likely, small versions of all of the above, it can feel like the whole wall falls apart.  In both situations it’s not always easy to identify which part of what isn’t working.  It’s also hard for people to accept that due to the inherent complexity the cause lies in the team rather than on one individual not doing their part.       Frustrations about not understanding why things aren’t working can build into blame or self-deprecation or, most often, a hardy collection of both.  None of the above is helpful in fixing walls (or boats).  The conversations with athletes either rolling or rowing, interestingly, tend to be very similar, you can talking about timing on “the catch” or power in “the drive”.  It all still makes sense.         

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
                Photo credit: Jason Ruffell, Roller Derby on Film    
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


     Everyone needs to be reminded that they each have a role to fill and they need to focus on doing that as well as they can.  One way to address the frustrations is to film training and watch it together, looking at the different elements both that contribute and detract from the successes.   (Coach W recently posted about a great coaching app that can help with this :  http://femalecoachingnetwork.com/my-favourite-coaching-app/ )  Lesson to take away:  Everyone has equal responsibility for making it work  and everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.   Help them to break down the different factors that go into a strong wall so that they can be both accountable and aware of the impact that they have on the wall and on their teammates.    First published on the    Female Coaching Network    March 2015

You might think that rowing and roller derby are pretty different sports.  Actually, no two ways about it, they are different sports.  But there are key principles in common.  These principles are probably common across other sports too, but I’ve not coached those ones, so you get to hear about rowing and roller derby.

      When people break...    We coach a full contact sport. On wheels. Shit happens. Of course it does. But every time shit happens during my training session, it’s not so easy to dismiss.  The first time I coached the new skater group, someone left in an ambulance. She fell, twisted an ankle. Nothing broken, but you don’t know that at the time. And, in all honesty, it so easily could have been broken instead of just sprained.  I wasn’t beside her when she fell…. Should I have been? Should I have noticed if the drill was too complicated? Too intense? Not appropriate for her skill level? Was she working with people who were too skilled? Not skilled enough? I refused to coach skating for months after.  At least with rowing, you just have to fish them out of the water occasionally and I was well-trained in the use of foil blankets.  “I just break people” kept going through my head. I couldn’t shift the mantra.  A few years and a few more athlete injuries to my name, I’ve learned some lessons. You can’t dwell. You can’t panic. You can’t step back.  Instead you need to assess what’s happening and respond to it. You need to know that when one of your squad has just broken, a whole lot of other people need your attention too. You need to support the entire team to still feel safe and confident.    There are ways to mitigate against injuries.  There are things you can think about -- like watching for trends and seeing if it ties to particular drills or activities or nights. Is it right before a game? Are people stressed? Are they tired? Were they warmed up enough before starting? Did they feel uncomfortable in the drill? You can ask yourself if there are adjustments you can make to how you run the lesson and work with your athletes to minimise risk.          null   null  
       But you need to be prepared to admit to yourself that sometimes shit really does happen when you put 30 people on skates and get them to hit each other.  I can be very pragmatic when it comes to injury these days. You need to be as the coach. But after a session where someone gets hurt, I often go to bed that night with “could I have prevented it…” on a loop in my head. And I still wake up in the morning with that guilty feeling in my gut.  How do you manage, as a coach, when one of your athletes gets injured?       Originally posted on the    Female Coaching Network    October 2016

I wasn’t beside her when she fell…. Should I have been? Should I have noticed if the drill was too complicated? Too intense? Not appropriate for her skill level? Was she working with people who were too skilled? Not skilled enough? I refused to coach skating for months after.  

       5 reasons to hold off on Knee Taps   I’ve been to (and run) a lot of new skater sessions.  I’ve worked with coaches planning their new skater skills pathways.  I’ve chatted to folks about their newbie experiences.  There’s a common thread of introducing knee taps early and often.   Here’s five reasons (in the style of BuzzFeed) why you should save your knee taps for later.  1)      New skaters generally can’t do them.    Knee taps done properly are one of those skills (like plowing) that look like they should be easy to pick up, but they are flipping harder than they look, especially if you’re an in-off-the-street-never-done-sports-before-slightly-overweight-and-already-prone-to-picking-up-an-injury skater.   Well, you might say, that’s why we teach them.  And practice them over and over until their knee caps fall off.   But that’s not what I mean.  I mean they physically cannot do them.  They can’t lower their body to the ground in a controlled fashion to allow for a non-impact recovery back into stride. No, they crash.  Onto their knee or knees, skitter across the track until they slow to a halt, and then they stand up for the next one.  Or else they simply land.  Onto their knee or knees, with such an almighty *flump* that it hurts my teeth to think about what’s just happened to their knees.   Which leads me to my next point.    2)      Falling full body weight onto your knees is not good for your knees*.      Anyone who started skating back in the day when the Min Skills called for knee falls rather than taps and who endured repetition training of constantly landing on their knees will tell you (also probably their ACL MRIs will tell you) down is definitely not better than up.   New skaters without the core strength to do a knee tap properly will end up falling on their knees.  Often both knees at once (let’s not talk double knee slides here…  my stomach churns at the thought).   3)      They’re not going fast enough to use them.  Not only do they often not have the strength to perform a knee tap in the first place, they’re usually going so slowly that it becomes a static split squat on wheels.  You can’t tap out of a split squat on wheels on your first day of training.  What are you asking these people to do?! #sadists  4)      They don’t need them.  General straw poll reveals that most leagues don’t introduce contact until near the end of their new skater training, so why do they need knee taps?  Knee taps are not a stopping skill they are a recovery skill.  Anyone who teaches them as a stopping skill please refer to points 1 – 3.   When do we need to recover in roller derby?  Often when we’re ricocheting out of a hit or going too fast to take a curve before we’ve learned to edge.  Save their knees.  Teach edges.     5)      They're a gauge for skater control  If I’ve learned one thing about new skaters…  it’s that they don’t have a lot of control when they first start.  So why are we giving them a more advanced skill (there, I said it) that given their existing body readiness is actually physically impossible to test something that we already know they don’t really have.      What to do instead and when to introduce them?  Instead, spend your first sessions doing things like teaching them to stop and getting them used to contact and proximity to other skaters (yes, I have also just declared that I think you should introduce contact in your first session).   Help them build their core strength by building in the appropriate exercises into your warm ups, cool down, and cross-training homework.  From the  WFTDA Minimum Skills Assessment Companion  :  General fitness can be an issue for some. Skater must be able to do a low single leg squat and support their weight for 3-5 seconds, and recover back to a standing position - and then do those motions on skates - to adequately perform these skills.  Make sure they know the difference between a single leg dip and a single leg squat.  Top tip – the squat is harder.         </iframe>" data-provider-name="YouTube"         A helpful vid from Booty Quake ( Roller Derby Athletics ) offers a progression to single leg squats.  Not only do they help with fitness and knee taps, but they help prevent injury in general by building strength in the right places.           *Disclaimer – this thinking is based on years of observation and personal experience.  I am not a medical professional nor a specialist in bio-mechanics.  If any specialists in bio-mechanics out there would like to chime in on this point, now’s your time to shine.   Cover image created by Kjpargeter  - Freepik.com

Not only do they often not have the strength to perform a knee tap in the first place, they’re usually going so slowly that it becomes a static split squat on wheels.  You can’t tap out of a split squat on wheels on your first day of training.  What are you asking these people to do?!

      Progression Accessibility  Let's talk about progression for new skaters. Particularly new skaters who don’t fall into our tidy timescales for achievement.  (Read: any skater who is three years into their derby “career” and still hasn’t passed their mins or been cleared to scrimmage.)    There’s an obvious answer here about coaching skill, how much time we allot to our new skater programmes, and who we put in that place.  That is not to say that in some leagues these aren't the right people with the right skills.  But, it feels like a lot of the time that when that happens, it’s luck rather than design.      Not every league can pick and choose their coaches and not every league has the funds for dedicated time and space.  We get that as a sport.  It’s part of what makes us roller derby and it’s part of what builds our community.  It offers a lot of opportunities for people to step into new roles and to develop, but on the flip side it can prove inaccessible to those participants who need more support to be involved.   What about when sometimes people just don’t get better, no matter how much time you spend with them.  How can we blame the system for letting them down or keeping them out of sport?  Let’s stop a sec :  All leagues that actively cultivate and promote a derby space for skaters that will never be playable on a regulation home or charter team, raise your hand.    Yes yes, how very negative, everyone will eventually be playable.  Yes, true.  We must believe in the power of persistence and hard work.  But how much of that message in itself is damaging to our players’ mental health and to our sport as a whole?  Sometimes, actually, it doesn’t happen.  But the constant setting of milestones and limits on skater involvement based on these milestones doesn’t help grow our sport.  Minimum Skills (MSRs to some) are a massive milestone, applied differently across the sport. In the UK, many leagues have a  no scrim until you pass mins  rule. Average amount of time to pass mins is 6 months to a year.  And that’s for the skaters who fit the trajectory.  What other sport doesn’t let you play the sport until a year after you’ve joined?      Expectations   Change the wording.  Change the progression.  New skaters, fresh meat, newbies…  all these words are applied to anyone who hasn’t passed Minimum Skills.  What happens when you’re four years down the line and you’ve still not got your 27 in 5?  You’re not a newbie.  You’re an extremely persistent individual who for whatever myriad of reasons hasn’t passed their mins.   Introduce Contact Early   I work with leagues on their new skater programming and I find that most leagues I work with start contact at the end of a 12 – 24 week programme.  Or they don’t introduce contact until certain skills have been ticked off.  This sport is contact.  Why are people not even engaging with contact until they’ve been “playing” for 3 months? There are ways to bring in contact from the beginning, even with brand new, teetering on their wheels, hanging on to the wall skaters.    This also helps identify the individuals who don’t like being hit.  I’m all for accessibility, but if you don’t want to be hit, roller derby is not your sport.  This is a good time to present all the other amazing ways to be part of the community   Build a culture of play   Let them play the game as soon as safely possible.     I’m not saying pit them against Rose City’s Wheels of Justice, start a bit smaller.  Start em in their flat feet if you have to (I’m not keen on sock derby, but I know loads of people who think it’s fab).  But get them playing.  Play builds skill.  It also saves your team the 'hassle' of having to teach strategy and game play from SCRATCH the first time you let someone scrimmage with you.     

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     Create a step change between zero skills and MSRs.  Find what you feel is safe.  If you don’t have time to sit down and analyse what you think is safe, then sit tight because I’ll be posting the outputs from one of my EDC sessions soon and it’s all about safety skills.   Let them play each other.  If there aren’t enough of them to play each other, find another league with similar level people, agree what’s safe, and set up a scrimmage.  Or use one of Luludemon’s new rulesets that need fewer people.  While they won’t be building up to WFTDA strategies, they’ll still be building their skills, muscle memory, and an understanding of common game play.   Development pathways   New skater programmes are often set up in chunks of time.  There’s an expectation that at the end you pass your mins and play with the “big girls (and boys et al)”.  A lot of leagues don’t have a space for those who don’t pass so they’re sent back to the beginning.  And again.  And again.  As much as I value drilling the fundamentals, there’s only so many times you can be sent back to learn Stride 2 and work your way through another “new skater” programme without losing a little heart.  Do you have the resource for a rolling intake?  Can you stage progressions?  Can you integrate game play sooner?   This next one is maybe outside the bounds of a single coach, but if you’re bought into this, start the conversation with that league down the road…    Work together to keep people in sport.   If you’re in a place with a cluster of teams, maybe run  one big new starter cooperative  with dedicated coaches and times and get them playing and when they’re ready to be drafted to a team, they go to the one that’s closest or meets their style or times.    Step outside the elite competition mindset.   Yes, the dream is real, it’s true we all still could win the Hydra.  We can all still try for the national team.  That’s amazing about our sport.  But don’t let possibility stop us building something meaningful at non-elite level.  If each league buys into the concept of running challenge teams of pre-mins skaters, how much more opportunity opens up across the board?  How many smaller or struggling leagues would be able to compete at this level while building up enough skaters to play regulation games?  How much more roller derby would there be!      Note- I’ve obviously not seen every derby place and team in the world.  If you have overcome these accessibility issues, tell us! Get in touch and share your successes.  Shed some happy light in this space!      Related posts from Rule 56:  Who coaches your newbies

New skaters, fresh meat, newbies…  all these words are applied to anyone who hasn’t passed Minimum Skills.  What happens when you’re four years down the line and you’ve still not got your 27 in 5?  You’re not a newbie.  You’re an extremely persistent individual who for whatever myriad of reasons hasn’t passed their mins.