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. 

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