There comes a time when a coach should stop talking. This time comes more often than you might think. Probably about 87.2% of training time, the coach shouldn't be talking.
First we'll look at why coaches should be quiet. And then we'll look at what coaches should be saying the 12.8% of the time we've allotted to them.
Skaters need to learn not just how to skate and play roller derby, but how how to fix the things they’re doing wrong without me gliding around after them chirping “Look up! Chest up! Shoulders back! Bum down!”
I find that the thinky learners will mostly be doing this anyway. Sometime too much – paralyzed mid-hockey stop because they know their weight is meant to be somewhere else.
But all skaters need to be shown how to assess their own skills and their own next steps. Being able to make their own adjustments means they’re not always relying on you to come and tell them how to fix something. They’ll get more of their training time back. They’ll be able to concentrate on improving and training rather than asking and waiting. They might even start watching roller derby, see something they want to be able to do, and be able to piece together the weight distribution and movement needed to make it happen. They’ll be independent. Independence as a learner is a powerful thing.
So how do you train skaters to be more conscious of their skating, especially when most of them haven't ever really paid attention to their feet before (this is why they keep looking at them; they don't trust them yet...).
1) Lists. (I love lists.) Give them a mental list of things to check when a skill isn’t working.
When training a skill, I break everything down into conscious movements or attention, Even “be aware of your core” is its own step so that it doesn’t get lost in the flotsam of a block. These steps can be translated into a hierarchy of self-checks list for when you’re not there with them.
These should be short lists. They should be easy to remember and they should reflect everything they’ve heard since they put skates on their feet for the first time. Luckily most skills have a very similar initial hierarchy.
When training skills, a brilliant way to get them practicing these lists is to pair skaters together. One skater does the skill and the other provides feedback. Give them the initial tools for feedback and then leave them to it.
This is your chance to skate about the place looking quite wise and trying not to intercede too much. It kind of feels like cheating but it isn't. You can use some of your talking time to prompt questions and thought.
The main health warning on this method is that you need to make sure they don't get bogged down in talking.
Let them know that they need to watch without saying anything for 1 minute then they get 30 seconds to chat it out and then try again. 30 seconds is surprisingly more than enough time for one or two points on your list. Any more than that and it all gets lost in the bluster anyway.
Give them something specific to try out and report back on.
So thinking back to hockey stops. If the point is that they should be finishing the stop with the majority of weight on the back foot. You could get them to lift their front foot after they do the stop to check their weight distribution.
Or if they’re working on forward facing blocking without over-committing weight, have the pusher step away periodically.
Or if they’re working on not tipping forward in their chest blocks, have them only use their edges.
Whatever is, the key point is that they are given a task and you ask them what their findings are so they’re trying elements of the skill consciously and able to reflect on what works.
So, when do you get to talk?
You get to explain the skill.
You get to give them the key points and the adjustment hierarchy.
You get to prompt their thinking with questions. "Have you tried...?" "How did it feel to...?" "What do you think would improve...?"
AND you get to give them all the motivational comments possible.
If you coach advanced skaters, this translates even more to game play. The lists are just at a tactical level instead of a skills level.
Introduce the scenario, highlight what went well, and if they're missing something big, ask them about it and give them something specific to try out.
But above all, stop talking so much!
Disclaimer: These percentages may vary. We absolve ourselves of any issues that come from our ‘finger in the air’ maths.