I’ve got a lot of thoughts about Minimum Skills Assessments. (to note, they are very serious thoughts indeed. I’ve written this whole thing and I don’t think I’ve cracked a joke once!)
Just to get us started:
- No, I don’t agree that all the skills currently mandated are necessary for safe competitive play
- Yes, I do think that the use of minimum skills as a milestone to skaters scrimmaging with their peers is one of the biggest reasons for lack of retention in the sport
(if you’ve read my previous blog posts, you totally know that already).
That being said, I do believe in setting standards, having consistent benchmarks for progression across the global sport, and I believe that the WFTDA are the ones to set those benchmarks for member leagues (which, in Europe, basically means everyone since WFTDA is the common language).
So, until such time as the WFTDA completes its review of the MSRs [insert image of waiting for godot], we need to make the process of passing mins as painless and stress-free and supportive a process as possible, which still maintaining a consistent standard.
On the theme of stress-free, let’s talk about the one-off MSR assessments, the big ol’ mins assessment day that only runs every 3 months or so.
What we should be thinking about.
A one-day assessment model ups the stress for skaters. It can get emotional. People can freeze. It’s basically a three hour test with 5 potential judges staring at you, the outcome of which determines your fate in the league.
Because of this…
Their brains get funny
The perception of whether or not your coaches assess consistently or have bias can be as important as whether they do or not. Perfectly lovely and logical skaters get twitchy and think that so and so only failed them on their [insert x] because they don't like them/ didn't see/ is a harder assessor than the other ones...
Make sure it feels fair- get a few coaches in and have two coaches ticking off for each skater. Swap things around so different sets of coaches assess different sets of skills, it just removes any possibility that a skater could "blame" someone and helps gets them focussed back on the fact that they need to work harder on that skill.
(Note: I do not recommend setting up a table at one end of the hall with a “panel” of judges.)
Be mindful of the type of encouragement you give during the session. I'm not saying don't give any, but refrain from applauding/ saying "great job" every time to they do something (even if it was really good for them) bc
1) if they're not achieving the skills but all they hear is praise, it can raise expectations and make them feel like you "lied" to them (like I said, their brains get funny)
2) if you don't give the praise absolutely evenly, the over-thinkers will be counting positive feedbacks and trying to figure out who is passing and whether they themselves are not passing bc you didn't say "yay" at their plow stop.
Find other words to give encouragement like "you really gave that your all" or "That was a good recovery"... specifically pulling out elements that aren't linked to whether it was pass worthy.
Time runs out sooner than you think (which can make the assessors want to rush, but try not to because ^^ stress).
Set in advance how many "goes" you want each skater to be able to demonstrate the skill (2 out of 3? in general? the majority?)
Agree with assessors that if a skater obviously can't do the skill, then you move on as soon as it's evident.
Don't do feedback during the session – make sure to tell the skaters this so they're not expecting it and they don't ask. But leave time for 1:1 feedback at the end where you sit down and answer all their concerns, show them your notes, etc.
They get tired
A three-hour session is long –
Try and space out the "at a brisk speed" elements.
Don't leave 27 in 5 till the end when they’re knackered but also don't put it at the beginning because that's a really objective pass/fail marker and if they don't pass it, you don't want them giving up or feeling horrid for the rest of the test.
Combine prep and explanations for the next drill with water breaks and rest
So how do you run it, make it not stressful, completely fair, and not exhaust them while still working within the time you have...
These are ideas, not a prescriptive plan, take anything that might work for you and disregard the rest.
Do their normal warm up, if they have one, to keep it familiar.
Use some of the skills as part of the warm up.
- Run the stepping section as a little aerobic dance warm up (put on music!). This helps get rid of some of the jitters (some of them...)
- Run lemons races (prizes throughout the day for different skill games can also distract from the assessment element)
- Other good skills for warm ups : one foot balance, one foot glide, pace line (also can be to music)
- Finish off with the 13 second lap
If they've been doing game play/ scrimmage skills in the run up to this throw in like 10 minutes of scrimmage to assess the pack skills. Assess weaving through a pack before the scrimmage as "prep". Then use the scrimmage to look for stopping in a pack, focus, bumping wheels, and avoiding obstacles. You could also get positional blocking from this. If they don't have game play skills yet, then just run this as a pack session and get them to do all the things.
Go straight into
- hitting/ leaning/ etc
27 in 5 slot it in here-ish, split it into two lots and get them to count and motivate each other (prize for the best motivator!).
Use the first minute of laps to assess stance and stride (let them know you're doing this).
After the first couple minutes they get tired and it all goes to shit. You can argue that's when they need decent stride, but as long as they don't default to a dangerous stride when they're tired, it's probably ok.
Some skills lend themselves to being combined in a drill.
Weaving and hops/ jumps -- set up the weaving course on one side of the track (have them queue up to go). And on their way around to rejoin the queue, have them do the hops and jumps on the other side of the track.
Backwards and transitions can be put together in one assessment drill or at least strung together.
Some don’t lend themselves to this at all.
Reverse cross overs – these don’t combine with anything… what even is this? This is not how I cross a track.
Brisk Pace Knee taps and stops
So some people set it up like a relay with cones up the length of the hall split into teams of 4 or 5. Each team member goes twice, first time out it's knee taps (single right, single left, etc), second time it's stops. This can be fun, but if they mess one element up, then they're not at the right speed to assess the next one. Which makes it all confusing.
Another option is getting them all on track skating at the right pace and doing them on the whistle. It's harder for assessors to watch everyone and skaters get tired skating at that pace long enough to do everything well.
OR play the "fetch stuff from the middle" game. Set up teams in the corners of the hall, loads of items (we use peoples shoes) in the middle of the track inside a circle. Skaters have to race to the middle, stop before the circle, grab something (little) and then return to the corner and knee tap on the way. More fun and still encouraging speed. Time to recover between actions. Also prizes!