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.
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.
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.