3 times (ish) when role definition may not be the best choice

Let’s take a minute to talk about role definition and training.  

by which we mean creating clear roles in your squad, allocating those roles to specific skaters, and aligning skater training to their roles.

Skater role specialisation a great idea.  I mean, it’s how other sports do it.  It allows your players to get really strong at the skills they need for a specific role. It allows them to excel as a role.   It gives players focus.  It makes for straightforward lesson planning.  It means you don’t really need a Line Up Manager (in the original sense of the bench role) and you can put analytical and specialised coaches on the bench. 

Plus, all the best teams do it, why shouldn’t you?


There are some times when, actually, putting your players in a specific role and only training for that role are going to come back and bite you in the butt.


1)      You’re a team of new skaters

So you can all just about stop safely and your skaters are now focussing on certain skills for a certain role?  

What to do instead: Focus on learning the sport and not on winning the games.

That’s not saying you won’t win games, it’s just maybe not your be all and end all in the first year. Take the time to work on all the skills and all the game knowledge and all the goals. 

Yes, of course, break them down. Don’t sit down with your budding athletes and say “now is the time for you to go learn all the things”. 

Have them play the roles they like best, but encourage them to train multiple roles. They might realise as their skills develop that they actually prefer a different role. Forward facing is a right pain if you’re not strong enough to hold a jammer on your back, but once you’ve heard your first jammer whimper as they struggle to get past, you get a whole new perspective. (Sorry, can you tell I’m a blocker?)

Train everything to build game play understanding and skill quickly while the learning curve is still high. Don’t label anything as “harder” or “for certain types of skaters”. Just get them to do all the skills with no bias. Build your skaters and your derby players before you build your blockers and jammers and offense.   

2)      You only have 12 skaters (or fewer!) on the team.

In which case you do not have the depth of squad to specialise. What happens when you’ve got a game scheduled and Big Bertha is sick, Amino Acid hasn’t made attendance, and the only person you’ve really trained as a brace has last minute child care issues.  Or, people go on holiday.  Or…. Or… Or… 


There’s nothing worse than coming up into the last 4 weeks before a game and realising that no one who’s available has ever trained as a pivot.   Just train all the things.  Yes, I know that means that those skaters might not be as good as they could be at the role they then play, but you have to build your best team.  And if you think of it as an investment in your future – all that “all rounder” play they get this season is going to give you some awesome baseline skaters for when your team _is_ in a position to specialise. 


What to do instead: Train a team of all-rounders.  Everyone jams, everyone pivots, everyone blocks and offends.  Where possible, assign roles by session or by drill to allow skaters to fully focus on that role and not swapping every two run throughs.

In the 4 weeks before a game, play people in their game roles (if you’re really short, give them two game roles to train).  The narrowing in of focus will start to bring their brains into a game space.  And, if you’re lucky, it will also improve attendance as skaters hone in on their game role.

3)      Skaters are leaving because they’re bored or done or *shrug*

If you have the best inside bum in the world and they’re starting to talk about leaving, consider de-specialising them.  (Obviously, this would need to be done as part of a conversation with the skater, don’t just do it TO them.)  But if they aren’t getting the same rush from popping jammers into the infield, and they think they still want to play but they just aren’t motivated to come to training, make it easy for them to stay, without all the “but we really really need you”.

What to do instead: Give them a challenge.  Give them a different role or let them play with all the roles.  If this will impact their spot on a roster, make sure they understand that and feel happy with that trade off.  Likelihood is, if they can be re-inspired, they’ll be successful at whatever they pick up. 

There’s something to be said about players doing what the team needs them to do. But if what you need is for them to do something they don’t really care about all season long, that motto only takes you so far.

If this means you’re down a great inside blocker, just remember, you’d be a down a great inside blocker if they left and this way you get to keep a great skater.


The ish – Your players are showing signs of wear and tear.

If you’re looking out over the track and can’t spot one player who isn’t laden in physio tape, you might need to step back. 

Specialisation won’t be the only reason folks are injured (in this full contact sport on wheels) but it certainly drives the possibility of overuse injuries like stress fractures and tendonitis if not being properly managed. 

If you’re an all out competitive team, knowing that off-season as coming may get your skaters through the last few months, but then they really need to use the time to repair. And if not, mixing it up a bit sooner or being a bit less stringent about roles in training, might ease up on those rotator cuffs.


Whatever decision you make, make sure to bring it back to GOALS

Specialising in roles can be a game changer.  It not only improves team relationships on track but facilitates drills, training, and athlete focus.  There are different approaches (if you haven’t already, definitely check out The Apex’s article on role definition for your players.) but in the grand scheme of things, you introduce specialisation and role definition to train a winning team. 

But there are limitations as well.  And if your team or leagues’s goals are not founded in winning, you might not need to specialise your skaters.  Always refer back to what your team wants to achieve and make sure that the choices you’re making as a coach will help your skaters meet that ultimate goal. 

PS Yes some teams DO have goals that aren’t about winning.