Coaching Various Skill Levels at Once

Today’s post will be a quickie, and will touch on one of the biggest questions that face coaches: With smaller leagues with highly varied skills, how do you meet everyone’s level of challenge in one practice?

This post will cover definitions of the types of advanced or beginning skaters you may have, as well as how to work your drills so that everyone is getting the appropriate level of challenge.

Advanced Skaters:

This is a relative term, so you need to know exactly what you’re dealing with. Your most advanced skater might be strong on the track, but missing some essential basics (can they truly plow stop on a dime?) Other advanced skaters may have years of speed or artistic skating in their background, with excellent footwork and stopping abilities, but might lack game play finesse.

Either way, your league will lose your advanced skaters, or stagnate as a whole if you don’t have a progression path for your advanced skaters. As far as skater retention is concerned, unless your league is in the top 100, consider your advanced skaters an endangered species.

Intermediate:

This will be most of your league. These skaters have skills and finesse (with plenty of room to grow) and represent the median skill level of your league, therefore, they get the most attention and needs met at practice.

Newbie:

Still working on passing Minimum Skills, or they just passed and are trying to use the skills in a sentence at practice. Newbies benefit most from skating with partners or packs more advanced than they are. There will be a need for lots of skill review and practicing the skills in different ways than when they were just working on passing a test. Newbies are less of a retention risk, but more likely to get injured; practices must allow them lots of opportunities to safely practice new movements to keep them on the track and away from urgent care.

 

Setting Up Practice:

Your practice will always get best results (and league unity) when the entire group is working on the same thing during the whole practice. The differences between each level is not so much in intensity as it is in element. Advanced skaters will have more elements to their routine than intermediate skaters. Do not just tell advanced people to push themselves. Give them a specific progression. Beginners may need several elements removed from their practice, so that they are focusing on only a couple major pieces of the drill.

When you plan your practice, set a base skill set that you are working on with the intermediate skaters in mind (if that’s the bulk of your skaters). Then, decide what elements will be added for advanced skaters, and what is the simplified version for newbies.

For example, if we need to practice holding a jammer within 20 feet for 15 seconds or more, it would look like:

  • Intermediate skaters: Be able to hold a jammer within 20 feet for 15 seconds or more with a 4-wall
  • Advanced: Be able to hold a jammer within 20 feet for 20 seconds with a 3-wall
  • Beginner: Be able to hold a jammer for 3 seconds when the jammer is engaging on their part of the wall

The nice thing about having the clearly defined objectives for each skill level is that you can run the same drill, but have different objectives for each turn, depending on the level of the skaters. As the coach, you have to be on top of who is practicing what, and reiterate it before each turn as necessary. While this may feel like micro-managing in the beginning, everyone will quickly get used to it.

 

Now we are going to look at some basic strategies to structure a mixed drill, depending on a few common types of issues.

Homework

Use: When a base skill (such as a plow or blocking technique) needs improvement among some skaters.

Step 1: Have entire group demonstrate the base skill (eg. plows on whistle) to determine the advanced, intermediate, and beginners. Take note of where the deficiencies are in skaters who need improvement. Remember that advanced skaters may also require refining on the skill.

Step 2: Group the advanced skaters together and give a progression for them to practice (for example, stopping within 5 or 10 feet from a true sprint, or plowing with only one skate on the floor, etc.) Give detailed instructions and allow them to practice on their own.

Step 3: Group everyone else together. Provide detailed coaching on how to improve the plow based on what you saw during Step 1. Have individuals work on plows, then add challenge by grouping an intermediate skater with a beginner, and having them attempt to plow in a loose line (in a skewer, but not necessarily touching). Coach gives direct feedback to skaters during this time. Intermediate are encouraged to provide feedback and coaching to newbies, too.

Step 4: Coach checks on advanced skaters, gives feedback and if needed, modifications

Step 5: Coach has advanced skaters and intermediate skaters switch groups. Advanced skaters are now working with beginners, while intermediate skaters are working on some progression you set for them for plows. This practice time is only about ⅓ or ½ what was spent on Step 2.

Step 6: Put whole group together and practice plows again. You should see some improvement. Any skater who cannot execute the plow enough for further progression in upcoming drills for the night can use Fifth Wheel to continue practicing.

 

Fifth Wheel

Use: For skaters who do not have the skill set to properly execute a drill. For example, a non-contact newbie skater who is at a practice where a contact drill is being practiced

Setup: For this example, we will use the drill of a 4-wall “catching” a sprinting jammer at the pivot line. The wall holds the jammer until the jammer passes jammer line.

Play: The 4 blockers will set up as normal on the track. The non-contact skater will be on the outfield, acting as a “fifth wheel”, pretending to be involved in the drill. Their goal is to use skate skills to follow the walls movements (can be either an individual skater, the wall, or the jammer). This allows the non-contact skater to practice the practical applications of sprints, stops, laterals, changes in direction, stance, and other skills to be “part of the wall” (or the jammer’s shadow).

Depending on the flow of the drill, it may make sense for the shadow to be behind the pack. Experiment!

 

Variety Pack

Use: Getting lots of reps on a specific drill with all levels, without randomizing the skill level of each rep

Example Drill: 3-wall or 4-wall is working on containing a jammer from the start line to pivot line for at least 15 seconds

Setup: Have everyone line up, with beginners in the front, intermediate in the middle, advanced in the back

Use the advanced skaters to demonstrate the drill, then have them go practice on their own while the beginner and intermediate skaters get about 5 minutes of detailed instruction about how to make the drill successful, as well as some practice runs and modifications. Bring the advanced skaters back.

Run the drill, starting from the beginner skaters in a 4-wall together. Depending on the size of the group, have that same wall block anywhere from 4-5 different jammers from the group, making sure to give them exposure to all levels of jammers.

Cycle through each group, making sure the skill level of the wall is similar. The skill level of jammers can be varied.

Depending on the level or success of the wall, you can change them to 3-wall or 2-walls to increase the challenge. If a newbie jammer is hitting an advanced wall, have the advanced wall work on precision and complete legality of contact.

This is also a good time to made individual modifications for each wall:

  • Intermediate skaters: Be able to hold a jammer within 20 feet for 15 seconds or more with a 4-wall
  • Advanced: Be able to hold a jammer within 20 feet for 20 seconds with a 3-wall
  • Beginner: Be able to hold a jammer for 3 seconds when the jammer is engaging on their part of the wall

If a newbie wall is taking an advanced jammer, you may want to stop and give them instructions on how to handle an especially pushy or agile jammer.

 

In closing, when working with a mixed level practice, you will get better results when the entire group is working together. You can tailor your feedback or drill intensity directly to whoever is practicing at that moment. Advanced skaters should have designated time to practice on their own before they are required to help new people. As the coach, you must assess each rep that is about to happen to make sure that you are assigning the correct areas of focus to each group.

Feel free to contact me with questions or feedback!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Detoxing the Toxic Team, Mate.

Let’s just start by saying that Rollercon 2016 was amazing! Thank you to everyone who attended my classes, and to everyone who attended in general.

I’ll be posting guides to all of the classes I led over the next few weeks. This post will zoom in on the one question that came up in 90% of the seminars I led or attended, including a skating class.

How do we work with the “toxic teammate(s)”?

Below are some of the strategies I’ve learned. There are no quick fixes to improving the health of your league; and a lot of the work will have to be done by the so-called “non-toxic” folks. Since toxic behavior is contagious, it’s safe to assume that everyone needs to check their behavior in order for things to improve.

Step 1: Get this song stuck in their head

Step 1: Get this song stuck in their head

Find out if the person is actually toxic, and what may be driving the toxic behavior

There is a difference between someone who is toxic, and someone who simply disagrees with you all the time. Find out where the disagreements are occurring. Are they legitimate, even if you don’t agree? It’s it the delivery, or the behavior driven by the differing point of view that’s messing up your team dynamic? Are you disagreeing with them just because you don’t like the person?

My wholly unscientific observations are that folks identified as “toxic” tend to fall in one of these categories:

  • They are long standing members, or possibly founders of a league, who have been carrying a heavy load of league work for years and years, and have trouble giving up control of responsibilities or accepting new ideas, often have a clique of long standing, trusted teammates
  • Folks who don’t have the most developed social skills, and/or are inexperienced in navigating diverse groups of strong willed people
  • Folks who have very little experience expressing themselves in a constructive way
  • People who are participating in derby to fulfill an exclusively personal need, and therefore are not driven toward teamwork of any kind

Conspire to Spread Healthy Communication

Guess what, friend.  Most of the work in detoxing your league is going to be on you, the ostensibly well-adjusted teammate, rather than the toxic person(s). You’d better round up some allies to help.

Identify the people in your league who exhibit the kind of attitudes and behaviors that are healthy for the league. Even if they aren’t formal leaders, their presence in your “positivity contingent” will make a huge difference in shifting league culture. More often than not, the folks who are in a healthy place tend to avoid meddling in league drama, which is how they keep their sanity. Your job is to recruit them and encourage them to take more part in league interactions.

I realize that I used the word conspire, but I am not suggesting rounding up bodies and staging a coup. The idea is to demonstrate to others in the league, especially new people, that your organization is capable of doing things in a respectful and productive manner. Every positive interaction that a new skater gets from your league will instill their trust in your organization, making them more likely to get involved in league work, and to be a good teammate by placing the needs of the team above their own.

Adult skaters tend to come to derby with the assumption that everyone shares the same code of personal conduct; that “common sense” is the golden rule. This is a naive assumption. Set the tone of your league through positive reinforcement, rather than assuming that everyone should know better.

The more people you get on board with the practice of good communication, the more likely you will outnumber the toxic elements, forcing them to use healthier methods of working with your league.

Isolate Shit Behavior, But Don’t Isolate the Person

You cannot have a solid team or organization if you diminish any one person to being a scapegoat or a black sheep. If someone routinely exhibits crappy behavior that derails whatever you are trying to do, respond by only addressing the valid points, and don’t touch the crap.

"And just let that hang there for a moment like the bad fart that it is..."

“And just let that hang there for a moment like the bad fart that it is…”

I learned this tactic because it was used on me, when I would come to committee meetings, with many valid points that were loaded with personal malware. From that, I learned what behavior is “legal tender” that will get me what I need, and which passive-aggressive behaviors or comments are a total waste of my time. It also made me trust the person who reacted to me that way, because I saw that she was treating me fairly and with dignity, even on my bad days. Trust is the foundation to superb teamwork, on and off of the track.

If you think that your toxic league mate does not have any valid points, ever, you may need to consider if you are auto-disregarding them based on past experience, which is something you’ll want to clean up on YOUR side. Toxic people still have good contributions to make to the league, and the idea is to strain out the valuable pieces and give them credit where credit is due.

It is rare that there is a truly isolated person in a league, with zero friends. Sometimes, the toxicity lives in a group of skaters, who clique together. The same strategy applies; accumulate positive interactions with the most palatable members of the clique, using them as bridges to the more challenging people.

Don’t Be a Mixer

Toxic behavior is like cheap, nasty alcohol. When offered, very few people are willing to take that shot. Adding a mixer makes the taste more tolerable, but it doesn’t change the overall nastiness.

How many times have you witnessed a practice, meeting, or game day get derailed by a toxic behavior? It usually starts with one act of shitty behavior, but escalates because well-meaning people react like the “mixer”, forcing everyone to consume the nastiness.

Examples of being the mixer:

  • Toxic person accuses you of shitty behavior, so you escalate by accusing THEM of shitty behavior
  • Toxic person raises their voice, so you raise YOUR voice
  • Toxic person starts to say something you disagree with, so you interrupt them because you already know that their idea sucks
  • Toxic person spreads gossip behind your back to discredit you, so you gossip to your friends about how the toxic person is spreading falsehoods about you

See a pattern here? By being a mixer, you’re actually making toxic behavior more palatable to the league, and you are (unintentionally) sending a message to the league about what kind of behavior is the social currency.

It’s really, really difficult not to treat someone like an ass when they are acting like an ass. In fact, as I am writing this, I am recalling a handful of occasions THIS WEEK where I have been a mixer to toxicity.

If you’re truly interested in detoxing your league, you’ll do your part to end it.

What if your best friend was the toxic person? You would be more understanding about where they are coming from, right? Give that same credit to people who are not your closest comrades.

Be Open to Pleasant Surprises

This one is very important. Every positive interaction with a toxic person is a win, so you should get ’em when the gettin’ is good. The other person is also collecting positive experiences with you, which builds, then reinforces trust.

Let the people who have disappointed you in the past surprise you with the good stuff they bring to the present. Interact with them in different environments, which may bring out other sides of them that you haven’t met yet. Find their motivation for derby, find out why they love the things they love. Be a friend, even if you don’t get friendship back.

I’m not suggesting that you kiss any ones ass, but let your constructive behavior take up it’s due space in the relationship. Unlike friends, you can’t always choose your derby family, and connecting with your teammates will do more to win games than trying to get everyone to conform to your idea of the perfect teammate.

Are you still mad at someone for something that happened 2 years ago? Drop it. Put a statute of limitations on what shit behavior you judge a person for.

Do you let your friends off the hook then they fuck up? Stop it. Hold everyone accountable for their actions using the same set of criteria.

Most of all, remember that people join derby for a reason, and it is obviously not a tea party, but a roller coaster of an experience that fundamentally changes us. Part of being lucky enough to participate in such a demanding, yet rewarding sport is that you get to know all types of strong people who are in the midst of this change, and they will challenge you in so many unexpected ways.

Rise to the challenge, and your league will be great.

 

 

 

 

Rollercon!

I will be leading a few classes at Rollercon this year. Below is the schedule and descriptions. I hope to see you there!

Spit It Out! Finding Your Voice Mid-Jam (All/No Contact)

July 27th 12:00pm – 2:00pm

We’ve all had the experience of trying to communicate during a jam with inaudible or unintelligible results. This class will teach you to communicate clearly and calmly, like that pivot you always want in your pack. Special focus on jammer to pack / pack to jammer communication, reeling in teammates who are far away form you, and using the two-way street that pack communication should be.

 

Tackling Problem Skills Using Deliberate Practice (All Levels – No Contact)

July 23rd 6:00pm – 8:00pm

Every skater has that one skill that is the bane of their Minimum Skills Test. This class will help you tackle some of the common “problem skills” using the method of deliberate practice. You will learn how to break any skill down and practice each step so that you can re-learn the skill from the ground up, reinforce it with a specific practice routine, and end up with the skill as your strong suit! We will be using transitions, mohawks, T-Stops, Snow Plows and hip checks as our example skills. This is a great class for skaters needing to reinforce their minimum skills, or coaches who would like ideas on how to break down fundamental skills.

 

Overcoming Plateaus: Making Derby Work When You’re Not a Natural (Seminar)

July 24th 11:00am – 12:30pm
July 27th 3:00pm – 4:00pm

When struggling with certain aspects of training for roller derby, be it physical prowess, skate skills or mental game, we are often told to “just keep skating” and it will all eventually click. Sometimes that advice just isn’t enough, and we need more specific direction on how to make the most of our practices. This seminar will offer specific tips and strategies on how to take fuller responsibility for your own training and progress, so you reach your full potential sooner rather than later.

I am adding some new content to this one, which I will be posting on the blog after Rollercon.

 

Building Your Team from the Ground Up (Seminar)

July 26th  10:30am – 12:30pm

It’s one thing to have a group of skaters with great skills who are eager to bout, it’s another to have a TEAM that works as a complete, cohesive unit on and off the track. This seminar will talk about the ingredients to a fully functional team, and provide starting points for new teams to build chemistry, trust and coordination among a group containing various skill sets, personality and learning types. Special focus on how to keep momentum after the honeymoon period.

Coaching the Over-thinker

“Stop asking so many questions, you’re over-thinking this! Just do it!”

“Do WHAT, though?”

Practice can sometimes be a struggle if you are an over-thinker or trying to coach one. Without intending to, some skaters complicate the simplest tasks in their minds.

I’ve often been told I am over-thinking a drill, as evidenced by hesitations and missing opportunities on the track, and every time a coach has said that to me, I’ve wondered what on earth I could possibly be thinking about. It doesn’t feel like thinking, rather that I don’t quite have every thing I need to do what’s being asked of me, whatever that is, so I unwillingly freeze up.

I decided to put up an anonymous poll up to find out what is on the over-thinkers minds. The results confirmed most of my theories, but I was surprised on how many people relate to being an over-thinker. Here are some of the main themes that came up, and how to bridge the gap between over-engineering a drill, and just fucking doing it.

Dogs and Cats

There seem to be two main types of derby skaters – Dogs and Cats.

People who skate like dogs are always ready, tails wagging. If you tell them to go, they go full force without hesitation. They spring up at opportunities, and don’t ever seem to pause to wonder if they are doing things exactly perfect to the letter; they just make things happen.

Cats are finicky. They have the ability to move really quickly and attack when they know exactly what they want and how to get it. But in times of uncertainty, they take their time. Try encouraging a cat to walk through a doorway; It’s maddening to watch them assess, re-assess, sniff around, and second guess whether or not walking through the doorway is indeed the right move.

Cats have as much as a place in derby as dogs, but they often just need a couple more bases covered from coaches.

1. Over-thinkers do better when they know the full purpose of a drill

If you asked me to bake a cake and bring it to work tomorrow, I can’t just do that. I need to know how many people there are, am I the only one bringing cake, are there any major allergies I should be aware of, etc. If I just baked a cake without the questions, I’d still be getting the job done, but run the risk of bringing the same kind of cake as someone else, or not bringing enough cake, or spending too much time baking too many cakes, killing the guy with the allergy, blah blah blah. I want my cake-bringing to be successful the first time because I’m a perfectionist who hates wasting my time.

In derby, there are so many opportunities to make mistakes – and that can really wear on the perfectionist or over-thinker, so we prefer any pre-planning we can do to avoid jam-ruining errors. But if we allow our obsessive pre-planning to run wild, then practice will quickly turn into a talk-shop without much skating.

To compromise, there are a couple of points of context that will greatly help everyone:

– What is the point of this drill? Is it related to the first pass of a jam, or the scoring pass?

– What are the broken down steps to this drill? What is the objective of each person in the drill? What is the most important thing we should do during the drill, and what is the “finishing move” to the drill? How do we know we are done?

Over half of the survey respondents indicated that they learn best when a drill is broken down into several small steps. Spending the time to go over these steps, even if everyone “should already know this” can prevent having to re-explain the drill several times. Also, demonstration is essential. If you only use words to explain a new drill, or one that isn’t often used, it will definitely be interpreted 15 different ways by skaters, and this is how the overthinkers get extra hesitant and confused.

2. We fear failure, like, a lot.

Several of my survey questions asked about hesitation. Half of the respondents said that they hesitate because they don’t want to mess up the drill. Many spend their time trying to map out exactly what steps to take to not fuck up.

Chances are your big thinkers are also marinating in anxiety. This was one of the big surprises of the poll: Out of 100 respondents, 85% said that they feel at least a moderate level of anxiety when they find themselves hesitating, with over 25% of them reporting a high level of anxiety.

These moments are also when the “stop over thinking!” comments start rolling out, but this just makes it worse. What will help us instead is some navigation. Though it may seem redundant or over-simplified, give the skater some direction using LITERAL next steps.

I see a lot of hesitation in contact drills, especially with newer skaters. So if we have a hitting drill, and I see someone spending too much time trying to set up the perfect angle to hit someone at, I like to try the following things:

– Have them count out loud. They count 1 and 2 while skating up to their opponent, and at 3, they hit. That gives them only a second or two to set up.

– Make a Skill Sandwich, which is a difficult move sandwiched between two easy moves. For example, if the drill is to knock someone to the infield, I have the first step be to skate up to them and find the target for contact, the second step to do the hit, and the third step to step their right foot back under them stability. Sometimes I have them fall down afterwards (safely). I have them fall down because it removes the need for over-thinking the hit for fear of losing control and falling and therefore “ruining” the drill. Failure is part of the drill.

Every time I do this, the skater makes the hit without hesitation, and usually doesn’t even need to fall afterward.

3. Getting through the “Exercises of Futility”

This is another perfectionist tendency which frequently results in missed opportunities. Lets use the example of jamming. I am jamming through a pack, and have now arrived at the biggest threats who are ready for me the front. Lets say that I’m not going fast enough to juke them. I know how this is going to end. If I try to sneak inside, I am going to get hit out and recycled to the back, and it will drain my energy and make me do WORSE. I see dealing with these blockers as an exercise in futility, so I try to come up with a Plan B, some kind of trickery, meanwhile the seconds are ticking by. The error in my thinking is that formulating Plan B should waste less time than just trying to pass them, even if their blocking me out burns the same amount of time.

There is a reason why trial and error can be an effective way to solve problems, but the over-thinkers seem to have a hard time accepting the error part of it.

In recent months, I have made a point to reassure skaters facing a challenging drill that it’s perfectly okay to not be completely fucking awesome every time you practice something. No one is judging you if you got owned by the blockers. Falling down happens even at the highest levels of play. So do failures. Remind them of the object of the drill (in this case, jammer, your objective is to get through the pack as quickly as possible, so you must stay active) and use frequent feedback to keep them focused.

4. Trusting the Dogs

I finally got out of my own head the day I honestly and completely trusted my teammates. One time I was going up to jam, and was already spewing defeatist BS about how I probably won’t score, but at least I’m trying. One of my teammates pulled me aside and said “No way. You are going to bust that pack, and you’re going to score, and it will be awesome!”.

She said it with such excitement that I couldn’t really argue with her. I decided to just believe her, and ignore my history as an ineffective jammer.

So… I did. There was no technical minutiae, no Plan B. I got up there, decided to get through the pack, which I did, and I scored some points, despite myself.

The simplicity of just doing what someone tells you to cannot be overstated.

5. Finally, be honest to skaters with feedback

For a long time, coaches struggled with me because they would tell me to do something, I would say “Ok”, and proceed to not do it. I thought I was doing it, but that’s all I was doing – thinking. Coaches should always be upfront with feedback, and let skaters know if they don’t quite have the drill or move down yet. It may require stopping for a little more explanation. It may be frustrating. But I promise, it’s the shortest road to getting what you really need out of the skaters.

TL;DR… In short, here are some ways to help the over-thinkers get into more productive training mode:

1. Make sure the group knows what the context of the drill is

2. Give very literal instructions to skaters when they get stuck to walk them through a drill or move

3. Encourage skaters to embrace failure as part of “Just Do It!”

4. Encourage skaters to encourage, trust and believe in each other. It may need to be a daily reminder.

5. Honest and constructive feedback should be immediately given. Don’t continue a drill if it’s not being done correctly.

I hope this was helpful!

Overcoming Plateaus RC Class Notes

It’s taking me a little longer than expected to prepare my “Overthinkers” post, so in the meantime, here are my class notes from my Overcoming Plateaus Rollercon Seminar.

Overcoming Plateaus

1. Absolutely everything about playing roller derby is about muscle memory, including mental game. The only skills you can count on having on game day are the ones you can consistently do during practice.

2. No matter what your skill level is, you absolutely can reach all of your goals if you’re willing to do the work. The key is not to just grind out more skating practices hoping to randomly acquire more skills, but to be very deliberate and direct about what your next steps are in your training.

3. You must take responsibility for your own training. Roller derby skating is a craft, not a product to be quickly obtained and consumed (unless you are in the stands).

Common sources of plateaus:

• Physical plateaus – endurance/conditioning/gaps in skill set.

• Adjusting to being coached, following directions (and sometimes orders) from your coach, pivot, or teammates.

• Mental game – performance anxiety, over thinking, lack of confidence, anger (at self or at others who aren’t performing to your specifications), or not taking responsibility for your own shortcomings

This seminar will cover some specific strategies on how to fine tune your practice habits and training plan so that you can spend more time skating at your full potential.

Some basic things to get out of the way:

1. Roller derby is hard.
a. You had to learn to even skate first, which in itself is a huge deal. Do not underestimate how big of a deal (and sometimes how long of a road it is) to learn how to skate well.
b. Simultaneous offense and defense requires a high level of mental focus and teamwork, which is not learned overnight, or even in one or two seasons.
c. Our sport is evolving and escalating so fast that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost by the increasing skill demands of skaters

2. You’ll probably never develop as fast as you’d like to
a. Rushing through basic skills makes it difficult to adapt to the advancement of the sport.
b. If you have skills that you dread or have a lot of trouble with – make it a priority to learn them, even if you have to do it on your own time, or in creative ways
c. Practicing doing things the “right way” (or most effective way) is going to help you in the long run, rather than practicing in ways that seem effective in the short run.
d. Be progress focused, rather than “on a schedule”
e. Be nice to yourself during this whole journey.

3. Analyze the people who are really strong skaters
a. Look at their skating as individual skills rather than just attributing it to “awesomeness” or them being “a machine”
b. Take what they do, and do smaller versions of what they do to try to emulate their abilities
c. Watching what strong skaters do in practice may help you more than watching what they do in bouts (skill wise)
d. There is a huge difference between looking at other skaters’ skills sets, and comparing yourself to other skaters. Focus on the former and avoid the latter like the plague.

4. Elements of a strong skater:
a. Versatile
b. Deep Skill Set
c. Powerful
d. Playful

Physical Plateaus / Building Your Skill Set:

1. Minimum Skills are just that: the bare minimum to keep up in our sport, and is also made up of the most underrated tools.
a. Strong skaters practice their basic skills well beyond the scope of the “minimums”, and they practice them throughout their career.
b. The best skaters beat their opponents almost entirely by using the most basic skills. Stops, laterals, various transitions, jumps and strong skating form are major examples.
c. This is very important for bout preparation, as adrenaline, fatigue, and excitement will often cause people to get a much sloppier, especially toward end of game

2. Filling the skills gaps using deliberate practice (solo practice)
a. Set clearly defined goals and absolute numbers to set the purpose of your practice
b. “100 reps” example / highly focused on technique
c. Take a break if your technique starts to get sloppy
d. Practice isn’t over until you’ve met all of your practice goals

3. Deliberate practice means:
a. Breaking down the skills and practicing the broken down pieces
b. Practicing at a slower or less “awesome” feeling pace if necessary
c. NEVER practicing on autopilot – each attempt is being doing with full focus and attentiveness
d. Jerry Rice: “Today I will do what others won’t, so that tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.
e. Deliberate practice means that giving 100% does not necessarily mean go 100% hard. It means do 100% of the skill, all parts of it, and increase the intensity as you become more fluent.
f. Autopilot is your enemy. Never practice on autopilot.

4. Cross training will save your body:
a. Short routines of basic moves will make a huge difference – consistency trumps intensity.
b. Commit to cross-training 2-3 days per week, you can increase intensity over time as your body adjusts.
c. Find exercises that will strengthen your body to better do the skating skills you want
d. Stay consistent and you’ll be amazed how quickly it shows up on the track
e. When it starts to feel easy, find new routines to do. Stay sore.
f. BMW example. Well made, high performance cars can simply do more than a basic sedan. Build your BMW.

5. Speaking of staying sore:
a. You will grow so much faster as a skater if you skate through the reasonable discomfort and soreness that comes from training (as opposed to injury). This is what being an athlete is. Pushing limits.
b. Work on keeping up with people faster than you are. For blocking drills, get hit by the hard hitters and practice hitting the people who are really stable.
c. Try to block the fastest, most jukey jammers.
d. You will fail a lot, but once you get it, you’ll have it GOOD. You’ll be less fearful of failure.
e. “I have plenty of time” mindset will keep you from getting wound up and making errors.

Mental Game / Becoming Coachable

6. Coaching is not the same as teaching.
a. You may know what is needed, but your coach can see if you’re actually doing it. Trust the coach.
b. Telling your coach “I know” means you are not actually being receptive to the feedback. Even if you are frustrated or disagree, just follow their direction anyway, you might “accidentally” do something amazing.
c. If the coach is teaching a technique that is not your strongest version of the skill, practice their technique anyway. This increases versatility in game play.
d. Trust is everything. Trust your coach, trust your pivot, trust your teammates, and trust yourself.

7. Dog vs. Cat
a. Dogs are never too tired to do something for a treat
b. Dogs move swiftly and are constantly ready just in case you may want to give them a treat or take them out
c. Cats operate on their own time, spend way too much time deliberating if they want to walk through a doorway
d. Be a dog. You’re never too tired for derby.

8. If you’re having difficulty:
a. Practice forgiving yourself for making errors. This is a skill that must be practiced just like a skating skill. Dwelling on mistakes takes you straight out of the game.
b. Michael Jordan missed shots 9,000 times in his career (at least). If you miss jammers, whiff hits, or otherwise make mistakes, chalk it up to your 9,000 missed shots and be ready to try again.
c. Don’t make excuses. Don’t even bother speaking them out loud. Nobody cares about why you failed to do something you were supposed to do. They only care that you are willing to try again.
d. Pinpoint where exactly you are having the trouble. This will help the coach figure out what your next step should be. Be very specific.
e. You cannot change bad habits in one practice. You CAN make small, deliberate modifications to your practice habits that will turn into real change over time (usually weeks or months).
f. Anxiety: Using the 1-2-3 system to pull yourself out of a bad practice. If you’re having a 1 (shitty practice), what can you do to make it a 2?
g. Understand that overcoming a bad practice will help you in a tough game where everything is going wrong.

9. Goal setting:
a. “Goals are a bit like babies – they’re fun to make but extremely difficult to maintain.”
b. Find the 3 most important skills needing work and focus on those
c. Goals should be precise and measurable. Absolute numbers work well. How will you know when the goal has been reached?
d. Get feedback from coaches and captains on what your next goals should be
e. Make them your obsession.

10. Ways to check your skill level:
a. Off-skates?
b. Slowly?
c. Pack Speed?
d. In the middle of the pack?
e. During scrimmage or game play?
f. While being engaged by tough opponent?

11. Motivation
a. Watch your favorite derby clips before practice
b. Visualize doing badass things, with proper technique. Don’t forget to include your teammates in your visualizations!
c. Make lists of things you have accomplished in the past month or few months
d. Buddy up with someone to work on goals together
e. Take pride in your accomplishments – derby is a privilege. Many people wish they could do what we do.

“ People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.”

Communication Drills (Spit it Out!)

FINALLY.

Here is a collection of drills and strategies that I covered in my Spit It Out! class at Rollercon 2013. Since then, I have become increasingly interested in gesturing, establishing clear channels of communication, and combo drills that work on speed control and communication. I have added more drills as well. Please feel free to email me if you need clarification on anything.

Chatty Cathy (Warm up drill, focuses on speaking up and speed control).

  • Skater get one partner, and skate in a wall formation, matching each others speed. Not touching, but skating hips in a row.
  • For one minute Skater 1 will be chatting to her partner non-stop, telling her a story or about her day or whatever. If unable to think of something to say, “Blah Blah Blah” is ok.
  • While Skater 1 is talking, Skater 2 is doing sharp speed changes (accelerating, decelerating, stopping abruptly)
  • Object of drill is for Skater 1 to keep up with Skater 2’s changes in speed (tight wall, hips in a row) while still talking.
  • After 1 minute, allow skaters to rest for 15 seconds, then have them switch roles.
  • For best results, partners should be looking at each other to help stay in a tight formation.
  • The skater doing speed changes should not be talking or indicating to the chatter of what she’ll do next.
  • There should be NO coasting, only active acceleration and slowing or stopping

Sentry (New drill, pace line, focuses on signaling/gesturing and speed control)

  • Skaters form a pace line, at whistle the skater in the back weaves through pace line at full speed.
  • Each skater in the line formation is a sentry, and is practicing their awareness of the weaving skaters by frequently looking behind them. As the weaving skater approaches, each sentry will decide whether or not that skater can pass.
  • If the sentry does not want the skater to pass, she holds her hand up in a firm “Stop” signal (palm out, fingers aimed to ceiling) and makes eye contact with the weaving skater.
  • Upon being signaled, the weaving skater comes to an abrupt, complete stop (snow plow or hockey stop, NO toestops)
  • Pace line continues at normal speed – no slowing
  • Weaving skater hustles to get back to the sentry who stopped her
  • When she arrives, the sentry signals jammer to proceed past her (using clear gestures)
  • Ideally, each weaving skater get’s stopped 4-5 times during their trip through the line
  • Strong emphasis on sentry awareness of who is coming through the line, and if the weaving skater has been stopped enough times to get to his/her 4-5 stops.

Numbers Pace Line (communication pathways, urgency)

This is a basic drill that can be modified in a dozen different ways.

The base model of the drill is a double pace line. Start with the coach skating on the infield, calling different sequences of numbers, such as 2, 3, 1. Skaters need to immediately arrange the pace line in a 2, 3, 1 formation, repeating the sequence down the line.

Once they are in the formation, call a new sequence, such as 4, 1, 3.

Modifications:

  • Coach calls numbers from the front of the pace line
  • Coach calls numbers from the back of the pace line (note: sequences must always be formed from the front of the line)
  • Coach assigns a skater to call the sequences from wherever she is in line
  • Coach can approach a skater and tell them to get the attention of another skater at the front of the line and make her/him join them, thus destroying the sequence and requiring everyone to reform accordingly
  • You can also send skaters to weave through the pace line while the pace line is making their formations. To make this extra challenging, once weaving skaters arrive at the front, the whole line must re-form according to the sequence, resulting in a chaotic situation requiring constant communication
  • You can also time how long it takes the line to switch from one sequence to another, encouraging fast acting teamwork

This drill helps a team find out:

1.) Who the natural pivots are (meaning they are effective at directing skaters, rather than just having a loud voice)

2.) Which are the fast reacting skaters who quickly act on changing scenarios

3.) Which skaters pause to observe what others do first before filling in where needed

4.) Where communication breaks down. Is it front to back verbal communication? Back to front?

Communication styles/roles:

Pivot – Can quickly assess and direct skaters into appropriate action

Bullhorn – Skaters who are comfortable speaking loudly and clearly, so they have the range to reach skaters who are far away. They don’t necessarily call the plays, but are capable of echoing the pivots directions to help wrangle the pack.

Advisor – Soft spoken skaters have an important role in communication, as they tend to be observant, and tend to prefer talking to their partner, who can then bullhorn to the rest of the pack if needed

Workhorse – These are the skaters who follow direction without hesitation or question

(Over)Thinker – They pause to assess before springing to action, are often best paired with a good pivot. Once they fully “get” a play, they are likely to act quickly when they see familiar scenarios, and with practice, can develop into solid workhorses.

Knowing your teams communication and styles can help you set up packs, pair people up to make the most out of their strengths, and teach each other how to sharpen their pack communication so they can win jams and games. Your set up may vary depending on the team needs.

Inside Pivot: 

Disclaimer: This is an advanced communications drill that is not terribly popular with skaters, because it can be very challenging and sometimes ego bruising. It’s important to stress that it’s ok to make mistakes, and to try to push through moments of feeling flustered in order to sharpen their communication skills. Celebrate small victories.

Drill Setup: 2 packs and 2 jammers, ready for a lightning round. One pack has their pivot directing them from the infield. The skaters with the “inside pivot” cannot act without verbal instruction from their pivot, who is not actually skating the jam.

Something that helps this drill go more smoothly is to encourage the inside pivot to “tell a story” rather than give a GPS style turn-by-turn description of what to do.

For example:

“Skate up to front. Inside. Hit Jammer! Chase her. Stop. Back up. Join Pack. Help our jammer. Hit someone!” is a play-by-play, and it’s easy to fall behind of the action.

“Defense, I need you up front and walled up before jammer is 20 feet from hitting pack. Good. Ready for defense. You got her, now SLOW. So-n-so, hit her out and back up. Player2, our jammer is 20 feet away, clear the inside for her.”

While the second example may seem more wordy, and truthfully may not reflect how a pivot will talk while in a pack, it exercises their ability to describe whats happening and give pro-active instructions in the pack, which will allow skaters time to act on it. It also gets people familiar with what words skaters use when they give directions.

Thanks for reading, I’ll try to get my next post up before March!

How to get shit done when nobody is getting paid – Part 1

Most of us don’t join roller derby leagues to brush up on our bout production, ticket taking, or administrative skills. We came to fucking skate.  But a couple months into joining a league, it becomes abundantly clear – one does not simply skate in roller derby, and that we sometimes feel at odds with how much freakin’ work it takes to run a league.

The magic and empowerment of our sport is directly related to the DIY aspect of it. As the sport grows, production values escalate, and training needs become more demanding, we need to train up our ranks to be able to handle business so that we can continue to run our sport in our interests. It’s a fine balance – we don’t want Roller Derby to turn into an insufferable bureaucratic nightmare that feels like our dreaded day jobs, but on the other hand, a little professionalism can go a long, long way.

Here are some things that I have learned in the past several years about how to make things work with donated time.

Respect Peoples Time

If you only have room for one piece of advice, make it this one.  In order to gain the trust of your league mates and volunteers, they need to know that they will not become an indentured servant with heaps of endless disorganized work cutting into their skating (and sanity).  Think of your volunteer project like asking your league mates to help you move.  If you make it easy on them by being fully packed, ready to start when they arrive, and staffed enough to keep the move down to 2-3 hours, your friends are likely to be happy to help next time you need a favor.

Now, we all know that being fully packed and ready to go is easier said than done.  The challenge is determining how much time it will take to do something, accounting for bumps in the road, and knowing how many volunteers you will need to do the job.  As the committee or project leader, putting in an extra 30 minutes to work out the time aspect of a project, whether its putting on a bout, an event to promote your league, or holding a meeting will save everyone time and encourage people to work efficiently. I believe this is the absolute KEY to keeping a loyal volunteer force without accidentally enslaving yourself in the process, either. Without that pre-planning, you are at risk of being that person whose house looks like a landfill on moving day, and no amount of pizza and beer (or promises of a derby revolution) is going to make it seem worth anyone’s time to participate.

Plan the entire year with the league, too. You have your games, but what about training camps, parties, or open scrimmages? How many larger scale league promoting events do you think you’ll need to keep your league rolling? Decide what your big events are, commit to them, and start the planning earlier than you think you need to. Resist the temptation to take on last minute large scale events or projects, unless you are positive that your league mates and volunteers have the capacity to work them. It’s worth mentioning that people often think they have capacity, when they really don’t.

Clearly defined tasks make time management easier

So… how DO you plan the time out?  Make a list of everything that needs to be done.  Don’t lump things together into mega tasks – break it down the same way you would a skating skill.  For example, if you need to go out and promote an upcoming game:

– Find some places to go pass out fliers (festivals, bars, farmers markets, etc.) (45 min)

– Recruit skaters to pass out the fliers (1 hour)

– Find someone who is good at talking to people to head up the “chatting up” and ask them to help (30 min)

– Make sure we have enough fliers (30 min)

– See if someone has an iPad to show derby clips to show people who are unfamiliar with the sport (or do on the spot ticket sales) (1 hour)

– Find awesome clips (they don’t have to be from your own league) to show new people (1.5 hours)

– Obtain tickets to sell on the spot (1 hour)

– Event will last 2.5 hours

Making this list took me less than 5 minutes, and I spent 2 minutes guessing how long it would take to do each item.  Next, I would call a 10 minute meeting after practice to divvy up these tasks. Sell them on the short amount of time it takes to do something. Follow up with everyone after a couple days or a week to ensure that it’s been handled or see if someone needs more time or some help. Don’t let the overachievers agree to take on the whole list. Give them a couple of things, and they can take something new on once they are finished with the first task.  If someone can’t finish and needs to pass it along, they are more likely to be forthcoming about it rather than hide from you because they feel they are letting you down.

Deadline is not a dirty word.

Don’t be afraid to use deadlines. Be realistic when setting them, and make sure they are actual dates and/or times.  “As soon as possible” is not a real deadline. Set soft and hard deadlines so that you have time to troubleshoot or re-assign something if things aren’t progressing as needed by the soft deadline.

Don’t load up on toppings.

If you work in design of any kind, this may sound familiar. The client says they want a certain number of things, you agree to do those things, and halfway through the project, all of the things have now changed, and suddenly there are new things piled on top of the existing things, and all of the things have become an unmanageable mess that has eaten away your budgeted time and there is probably now a mutual distrust and distaste between you and your client.

Because running and growing a league is such a mammoth undertaking, it’s possible to slip in to “client from hell” habits and run down your best volunteers (many of them overachievers), especially when things change mid-stream. If someone agrees to research a place to hold a fundraiser, their job is done once they have given you a list of places. It’s not implied that they will also make arrangements with the venue, negotiate the cost, be the main point of contact, or anything else. Once they have the list, you can ask if they can to do the next thing. Otherwise, delegate to the next person.

Things tend to get overwhelming when good volunteers get more and more tasks piled on them because we know that they will get the job done. As someone who has been in this position, I’ve learned it’s a two-way street. On one hand, it’s up to the overachiever to get better at saying no and knowing her limits. The flip side is that often the overachiever tries to turn down extra work, and while crickets chirp as the task goes undone or unclaimed, s/he ends up having to bust it out last minute, which I’m sure isn’t stressful at all.

This is how you burn people out, shortening their career as a loyal league member.  As such, I’ve learned….

Don’t ever fucking do anything on your own.

League work is like derby in this sense. You have better odds at winning if you’re working together. It may seem more cumbersome at first, but if you recruit newbies in your league to help you out, they’ll come out of it knowing how to do something for the league, and will likely feel more empowered to volunteer for things as they come up. Even if their initial role is to be copied on e-mails, do a simple research task, or even tag along for a larger job and observe or brainstorming ideas over beer, it’s still better than leaving them in the dark while you do everything yourself.

I hope this post was helpful!  Stay tuned for the next post, which is probably going to be my class notes for my Spit It Out! Rollercon class on communication.

Cheers,

Assaulty