5 Pieces of Helpful Derby Advice We Need To Stop Telling Eachother

1.  Watch your Arms!  

This well-worn tip has been exchanged among derby skaters for years.  On the surface, it’s good advice.  Nobody wants to have to sit out for an arms penalty.  We all want to hit effectively, and we know that arms have no place in an effective hit (right?)  So what’s the problem?

By telling a skater to “watch their arms”, you are instructing the skater to focus on the wrong area.  I recently saw a post on a skating forum where someone was asking how to correct her frequent arms penalties.  While I have gotten some really great technical advice from this forum, everyone missed the point when it came to penalty correction.  Every single response offered some alternative activity for the persons arms, from clasping hands together, to sponges or paper plates under the armpits, to grasping their own shirt.  These are popular remedies but don’t really focus the skater on their legal target areas.  If you want them to keep their arms out of the hit, then keep their arms out of your technical advice!

Two examples come to mind of good coaching to correct this armsy play.  One was when a coach told me to strike my opponent with the back-side of my ribs (under my armpit, where bra strap is).  The only way to expose that spot is to get my arms out of the way, but I wasn’t thinking about my arms.  It helped me deliver a stronger hit and solve my penalty problem in one training session.

The other time was when I was jamming during a drill and was stopped in my tracks by a tight 4-wall.  My arms were giving that international signal for an incoming rookie jammer back block and I was trying to push with my upper body.  I was told to use my footwork to get past the wall, not my arms.  It shifted my focus to my feet and hips, and my arms naturally found somewhere else to go as I found a more effective way to push through.

2.  “Just Keep Skating!”

Indeed, one of the best ways to master something is to do it all the time.  But if someone has been skating for years, way below their potential, not progressing or improving or changing at all (and not for lack of trying), the last thing they should be told is to “just keep” doing the same thing.

We use the term “smarter not harder” about game play, but it applies to practice as well.  I made up for 3 years of inefficient practice of my snow plows in three 30-minute sessions of deliberate practice once I figured out exactly how I needed to practice the stop.   I finally figured it out by asking a dozen people about their technique, and also by practicing the stop while skating at a slow pace so that I really got the proper positioning and weight distribution down.  After years of being unable to plow stop well, I can finally do them consistently and quickly – and now I am working on stopping even quicker.

“Just Keep Skating” is uninformed coaching that may have been acceptable in 2009, but now there are so many resources online and coaches out there that you can help that struggling skater with specifics on what her next steps should be.

3.  “You Just Need More Confidence.”

This one kills me.  Much like gainful employment, beach bodies, and happiness, confidence is not something you just GET.  People who are naturally confident just DO things, without hesitation and little or no regard to their actual abilities.  For everyone else, confidence is gained when they know they can back it up with skill.

I can confidently speak in front of large crowds in English without a problem.  I am almost fluent in Spanish, but if I had to publicly speak in Spanish, I’d be sweating bullets and stumbling over words in a matter of seconds.

If you’re plagued with lack of confidence, get a list of the minimum basic skills for whatever ruleset you play.  Go through every single one, and analyze if you can do the skill at pack speed by yourself, and pack speed in a pack.  Find holes in your skill set and get to work at filling them.

And for everyone else, next time you see someone skating unconfidently, help them identify some basic skills to practice to help them become more fluent in skating.

4.  “You passed minimum skills, so you should be able to do this”.

Well, if they can’t do it, they can’t do it, and whether they “should” know isn’t going to help you in that moment, will it?  What probably happened is they passed the skill a long time ago but it has not been reinforced in league practices (as they should, because minimum skills are just that – the minimum).  This doesn’t mean you have to drop everything and spend the next hour doing transitions or whatever.  But you can provide direction to those who need it.  Spend 5 minutes practicing the skill – all levels of skaters can benefit.  Give people homework if they need more practice.  Make them accountable without nagging or shaming them.

5.  Whatever That Is You’re Yelling From the Bench 

Seriously.  Even if they can hear you, you are probably interfering with their communication with their pivot.  The only thing worse than one backseat pivot on the bench is a whole chorus of them, all yelling unintelligibly from outside of the jam.  Unless you are the bench coach, do your team a favor and stop trying to direct the teammates who are on the track.  I have been scrimmaging and bouting for four years, and I can count on one hand the times that someone yelling from the peanut gallery has actually helped (rather than distract) me.  Those people have been very experienced pivots who know how wrangle a pack from far away.  Let the pivot and coach run the jam.  If you need something to take control over, try working with the skaters in your next pack to come up with a plan.


Thanks for reading!


3 thoughts on “5 Pieces of Helpful Derby Advice We Need To Stop Telling Eachother

  1. Great advice. I think we are guilty of at least 3 of these. I am definitly guilty of the bench yelling even though I know they can’t hear me. I’ll be sharing this with my Derby Dolls the Boll Weevil Bruisers. Can’t wait for the next post.
    Gholdie Knocks

  2. *looks guilty in the corner* I’m pretty good at a few of those and have to remind myself to shut up sometimes! But, I do try positive reinforcement when people ask for my help and hopefully that is actually useful!

  3. Pingback: Roller Derby Stuff - Link Shovin' 10-03-14 | 909's Fresh Meat Tips

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