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.

      Why You Should Be Developing Mental Toughness In Your Newbie Skaters   by  Treble #909 , guest blogger  Everyone and their mum has read or heard about mental toughness these days. We all know it’s an important part of our own athletic development and can help us achieve the things we want in life.  However, it seems like developing mental toughness is something you do on your own time outside of practice. Or people think it’s only something you need to worry about when you’re a “serious” athlete.  It’s my belief that not only is working on your mindset something you should be doing from the start, its also something you, as a coach, can help your skaters develop.  But coaching is already time consuming, right? Why do you need to be worrying about your n00bs’ brains too?  Let me try and convince you.   Learning derby is hard enough  Cast your mind back to your first ever practice… you probably turned up in fabrics that were not designed for sport, didn’t know your elbow pads from your arse knee pads and strapped on a pair of loaner skates with wheels that barely rolled and toe stops that were permanently glued to the boot.  For me, it was terrifying. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know what roller derby was. I wasn’t as fit as I thought. I couldn’t stand up for more than 30 seconds and my limbs would just not do what I wanted them to.  What would have been be super unhelpful at that moment in time would be negative thoughts like, “I suck at this, I’ll never be any good, this is too hard, I can’t do it.” I would have given up and never come back.  Many people do give up because they think, “This is hard so it must mean that I am terrible and should give up” instead of thinking, “This is hard and I can’t do it…yet! But I want to get better.”           Baggage and barriers  How many of your new skaters have never played sport before? How many of them have come with body confidence issues? How many are scared of performing in front of people? How many are not used to competition?  My guess is “quite a lot”.       

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Photo by Travis Saylor from Pexels  
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


         Those people can come with certain mindsets and thought patterns which can affect learning. They may be too worried about looking stupid to try something new. They might take competitiveness as a personal attack or “losing” as a sign of failure. They may feel they are being judged by coaches and veteran skaters.  Instead you need to create an environment where they don’t feel judged and know that people are watching them to help them improve and competition is friendly and everyone’s on the same team.   Mental resilience makes learning more fun  When your skaters are focused on progress rather than avoiding failure, they will not only enjoy practice more but they will work harder, longer and with more intensity. They will also try new things and recover from setbacks quicker.  The first few months and years of new skater training is full of new challenges, potential for failure and probably quite a bit of physical pain. If you don’t have mentally tough skaters, they will quit and all your coaching efforts will have been in vain.  But if those new skaters experience all those challenges as fun, they will stick around and seek out more!           Mentally tough skaters make your job easier   That’s because they: • Take feedback as intended & don’t see it as a personal attack • Want to work on their weaknesses • Spread positivity rather than negativity to their fellow n00bs • Enjoy hard work • Take responsibility for their own progress • Turn up to practice week in week out         

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


         So have I convinced you that incorporating mental toughness and mindset into your coaching is a good idea?  If so, join Rule 56 in November for my webinar on how to use your language, environment and actions as a coach to develop a mental toughness mindset in your new skaters;  Coaching Believence - Empowering New Skaters To Believe In Themselves    Treble's session at  Derby Stance  is sponsored by  Roller Derby City     You can also see Treble's wealth of knowledge and experience with new skater support on her blog:  Up Your Game

Guest blogger : Treble #909
It’s my belief that not only is working on your mindset something you should be doing from
the start, its also something you, as a coach, can help your skaters develop.

But coaching is already time consuming, right? Why do you need to be worrying about your
n00bs’ brains too?

Let me try and convince you.

      Accessibility in roller derby  At the moment in the derby community, we’re bursting a lot of our own bubbles.  People are sharing stories that show us how we’re not as inclusive as we pride ourselves on being and we’re not as safe a space as we thought we were.  It can be disheartening.  It can be easy to want to turn our heads away, look at our team and feel like what’s happened over there is an isolated thing, nothing to do with us, and oh let’s forget about it.  On the flip side, other folks get caught up in the chastising, denouncing, social media furore.  Again pointed fingers, but louder, making an example, trying to tear it up and restore our derby world to what it should have been with the healing balm of a facebook comment.  Somewhere in the middle is our reality, one which doesn’t put derby on a pedestal but still acknowledges a virtue in wanting to be that welcoming place of sanctuary and activity for the misunderstood, the vulnerable, and the never before put skates on their feet.  In that middle ground is where we can start to back up this flood of realisation and disappointment with practical actions and next steps for derby.   As coaches, we have a great power to make small changes and help drive derby towards the culture we wish we have always had.  I attended a conference last week on Physical Activity and Mental Health.  I went because I see derby as a space where those with mental ill health come and can find a place within an understanding community.  It may be another derby myth that we have more athletes with mental health issues; it may just be that we generally feel a bit more ok talking about it.   What I came away with from my day of learning wasn’t the answers to managing that skater who throws things or that one who isolates themselves or that one who only comes to training every three weeks.  I didn’t learn a whole lot of new about how activity improves mental health.  What I did get was space to think and listen and see the connections.   And the realisation I came to (potentially late to the party) was that all the things we know about derby (it’s expensive, it’s impossible to get a venue, it’s on roller skates) actually add up to roller derby being inaccessible to pretty much every group at high risk to mental ill health.   So instead of coming away to write a blog about supporting our players with their mental health, I'm full of thoughts about that step before.  Getting (and keeping) people active and roller derby being part of the approach to support increased physical activity in our communities.   When we talk about our community in roller derby, we tend to mean our skating community.  Skaters, officials, skating officials.  Games.  Champs. WFTDA.  Also fans, but only insomuch as they help us keep the other community going.   If we’re thinking about roller derby as part of a sporting movement to keep people active, we need to look at different concepts of community.   You might not really think about this other community, the one down the street.  That’s ok.  I didn’t really either.  I wanted to learn roller derby, play roller derby, compete at roller derby, WIN at roller derby.  Not to mention, eat, sleep, breathe roller derby.   But with coaching and thinking about how we build our sport and make it stronger, I think a lot about community and the idea of roller derby outside of the league context.  What is our 'on the ground' community?  And what opportunities or barriers are there to keeping them involved?  Cultural accessibility     

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
          
             
                  
             
          
             
          

          
           
              Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire  
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


     This is our big buzz word at the moment.  It’s an important one.  It’s a relevant one.  People are paying attention.  BE BETTER.  BE NOT RACIST. DON’T BE PART OF THE SYSTEM.  Ok.  Let’s make sure we are better, not racist, not part of the system of indirect discrimination.  How do we do that?  The first thing that’s taught on every equality awareness course I’ve ever been on is you have to acknowledge difference in order to support equity.  Don't be embarrassed to acknowledge difference, to talk about difference, and to ask people what they want or need to succeed.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “I’m not racist.  I don’t care what colour you are. why can’t we all just be people?”  Inclusive is not just treating people how you want to be treated.  If you do that, you end up with people just like you.  And you’re great.  But so are other people.   Recruitment and new skater nights.    Start by thinking about your visibility in those communities. How are you getting the recruitment message out?  Will the people you want to reach all be on Facebook?  Will they be in your circle of Facebook? Will they already have found derby and be in UK Roller Derby events group.  The answer to all of the above is : probably not.  So who do you want to reach?  What does a good “representative of your community” derby league look like?  Figure this out and then start considering what is unique about each of those parts of your community.   Is roller derby even really an option for them?  At a previous job, I was in a project aiming to encourage more angling (sport fishing) in the Sikh community, because they were under-represented.  The Sikh faith has strong beliefs around not causing the suffering of animals.  There aren’t formal edicts against eating meat, but many Sikhs opt for a vegetarian diet.  And fishing for fun can still result in not so much fun for the fish, even if they’re put back.  So maybe there are Sikhs who want to fish for fun, but they would definitely need some different messaging.     A place to start is working with trusted institutions or groups in the community.  Understand the community needs and challenges.  Talk to them about how roller derby could look for them.  Work with them to send the message or co-run the event.  As great as we are, we do tend to be a bit insular about partnerships, joining forces, and learning from other groups.  The whole point is to open ourselves up here; talking to people who know more is a great way to do it.  Where are your new skater nights held?  Do you even have new skater nights?  Do you jump straight into try outs?  Do you need to hold them in your practice space?  Can you take new skater nights to different parts of the community where you want to increase visibility of the sport?  Think about your approach.  Is your message only “hey we’ve got a cool sport and some skates and you can borrow them so you should come skate”.  Can you target your messages more by community?  From my experience in West Yorkshire, if we want to encourage representation from the South Asian community, we need to know that they are primarily Pakistani or Bangladeshi and majority Muslim.  So there are there are other messages we can include that make it seem more accessible.    Things like making it a female-only space.  It feels exclusive to do that these days, but for certain communities, that’s really important.  Not just that the event is for women only, but that the space itself will not have men in it.   And also:    Being prepared with solutions for head scarves.  Bigger helmets that can fit over might be a solution.  Sometimes being secure in the space means they will opt to remove them.   Not promoting that “all you need is active wear”.  Be clear that as long as clothing is loose fitting, you can make it work.  Encouraging people to come in groups or pairs.  Having a representative from their community attend as a support or even as a participant.   Making it easy to get to on foot or clearly explaining how to get there on the bus as part of the message.  Setting the sessions not at standard dinner preparation time.  Find out when people in the community tend to have free time.  See if you can make that time work.  Having someone responsible available to watch children.   Not holding recruitment nights during Ramadan.   Not all of these are appropriate to every community, it's just a snapshot of the work I've done to look at being more inclusive in my part of the world.  The most important thing to do is question all the elements and ask people in the community.   You'll find that not everything you consider is possible or at least not possible without some planning or changes.  Your league is the only one in a position to make a decision about how much you want or can build a culturally accessible event (or multiple events to meet the different needs of a diverse community).  What happens after you get them trying roller derby and they decide they like it?   Manage expectations about success.    Not theirs, yours.   Inclusivity also needs to be about creating a space where people can attend sometimes. It sure does mess up your 12 week new skater programme, doesn’t it?  Maybe you don’t want them because if they can’t commit now, how will they commit to the team? You don’t have that time to waste. That may well be the case.  But then, maybe you need to not focus on inclusivity.  Instead, you focus on winning the derby.   It might be about creating a space where people never actually play a public game.  They just come for a kickaround (what do you mean there’s no ball?).   Can roller derby exist in the five-a-side kickaround context?  Should it? As a community we seem to strive to be the elite.  We don’t have a strata of participation levels.  We have strongly competitive leagues and leagues that are trying to be competitive and they are all playing to win.   These are only some examples of things to consider.  There will be more.  They will change depending on who you’re aiming to talk to.   As a coach, you can make and support these small changes that make a difference to a whole lot of people.  Other media and information you might find interesting  Oppression in Roller Derby, Off the Track S1E3 , WISP Radio Broadcast  Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation (UK) , Sport and Recreation Alliance  Stay tuned because we haven’t even scratched the surface—there’s still Financial accessibility, Geographic accessibility, Physical accessibility, and Talent accessibility (I’m sure there’s a better name for this, but it’s what I’ve got at the moment), and just, you know, accessibility accessibility.   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!

I attended a conference last week on Physical Activity and Mental Health. 

What I came away with from my day of learning wasn’t the answers to managing that skater who throws things or that one who isolates themselves or that one who only comes to training every three weeks.  I didn’t learn a whole lot of new about how activity improves mental health.  What I did get was space to think and listen and see the connections.