Thursday, April 3, 2008

Training: Train the Way You Play

As a roller derby team gets closer and closer to its first bout of the season, training should begin to feel more like an actual bout. Work/rest ratios, movement patterns, and intensity levels should all approach those of an actual competition. By practicing this way, the skaters’ bodies get a chance to make the adaptations that will result in improved performance of the necessary skills at a high intensity level for 2-minute intervals repeatedly.

Work/Rest Ratios

A jam can last up to 2 minutes, the more inexperienced or less skilled either team is, the more likely it is that a higher percentage of the jams will go the full 2 minutes. If a team trains for worst-case scenario from a work perspective, which is a hard-skated 2-minute jam every jam, that team should never be unprepared. As far as rest time, it also makes sense to plan for worst-case scenario. Assuming that skaters don’t skate every jam, this would be 30 seconds (time between jams) plus the shortest time in which a lead jammer might call off a jam. I would guess that to be enough time for one jammer to get through one time, and reach the back of the pack on the second pass (30 seconds?). Multiply that time by the number of jams a skater would sit out, add another 30 seconds (time between jams), and you should have a starting point for worst-case scenario rest time. Worst-case scenario work time + worst-case scenario rest time = the highest intensity, realistic work/rest ratio.

Movement Patters

Training movement patterns (the way a body moves when it performs a task) as opposed to muscles is a component of sports-specific training. The movements that roller derby skaters perform during the work periods at practice should, more and more as the season approaches, be the specific movements that they will perform in bouts. Bouts aren’t just steady-paced skating. Skating in bouts involves acceleration, deceleration, hitting, pushing, pulling, and maneuvering. It also involves falling and recovering. Practicing all of these things, separately and in drills that combine them together, will teach the appropriate muscles to fire and control movement. Muscle memory will be developed. Adaptations will be made to allow the muscles to perform the movements better, more powerfully, and for longer. So, general exercises and drills such as duck walks, lunges, grapevines, etc., should make way for falling/recovering, running toe-starts, crossovers, maneuvering sidesteps, and so on. The practice feel of practice should start to fade and skaters should begin to feel the roller derby in their skating. And, if enough time is allotted for this type of training, they should not only feel the roller derby in their skating, they should feel the improvement in their roller derby.


Entering the in-season portion of the roller derby training year, the intensity at practice during drills and scrimmage should approach that all-out intensity that skaters will put out on the track during competition. In the 2-minutes that a jam can last, there shouldn’t be a lot of voluntary fluctuation in work intensity. Every skater should be busting her ass the entire time. Jammers are sprinting, maneuvering, hitting, and being hit. Pack skaters, although not sprinting full out at every second, should be maintaining good derby posture, hitting and blocking, maneuvering into optimal pack position, whipping, or recovering from a hit. These things combined, should require maximal effort. There shouldn’t be downtime for any skater on the track during a jam. This 100% effort in combination with the worst-case scenario work/rest ratio discussed earlier makes for the highest intensity roller derby-specific workout/practice skaters should do in-season. Skating in practice with the same intensity that will be put forth in bouts develops the specific muscle fibers and energy systems that will fuel skaters throughout the 60 minutes of competition. This approach should result in skaters who can repeat derby movements effectively over the course of many jams.

A team should train the way it is going to play. Doing so results in adaptations and improvements that translate to improved performance specific to roller derby. Designing practices that incorporate roller derby bout specific work and rest periods, movement patterns, and intensity levels should take a team into its season as prepared for victory as it can be.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Strategy: Offense? Defense? When Confusion Results in Paralysis

Roller derby is a high-pressure sport. It is one of the few team sports where a participant can be playing offense and defense at the exact same time. If both jammers are arriving at the pack togetehr, blockers have to make a choice: intentionally stop the other team’s jammer, or help their own jammer. For some skaters, a number of factors will be subconsciously weighed almost instantly and a decision will be made in time to make an impact one way or the other. But, for other skaters, this pressure situation results in inactivity. The opportunity to make an offensive or defensive difference passes by while the skater tries to figure out what to do.

Every skater wants to contribute something. It doesn’t feel good to know that you let an opportunity to help your team slip away. So, maybe upfront while skaters are developing the track awareness, skills, and strategy-mindedness to be able to make good decisions on the fly, some of the inaction causing confusion could be minimized by assigning blockers an offensive or defensive role. When a blocker skates out on the track she has a specific job. She has one focus. She is either looking to stop the other jammer, or she is looking to take her jammer through the pack. These roles can be assigned according to a particular skater’s natural inclinations (some skaters just naturally focus on one jammer or the other), her skills (a super hard hitter who isn’t uber maneuverable might be a better choice at clearing a path for her blocker than being an obstruction for an opposing blocker), or her position in the pack at the start of the jam.

There is a lot to think about on the roller derby track. It can be overwhelming. Giving skaters more focused roles, with fewer things to consider may ultimately help them to make a bigger impact. As they become more proficient and more experienced, their derby brains will naturally start to function more automatically. More factors will be weighed more quickly, leading to better decisions and added opportunities for them to make a difference they can feel, and their fans can see.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Roller Derby Training: Structuring a Roller Derby Season

Solid preparation is the key to a successful roller derby bout season. This is true of admin side of the season as well as the performance aspect. Having been there, I know that the "What should we do today?" approach to coaching, although less time consuming, doesn't necessarily get the best results.  In the long run, it will be less frustrating for both skaters, and coaches if the training season is scheduled, at least somewhat.  Rather than coaching day-to-day, breaking the season into blocks of time, with each block having focused objectives, will be more organized.  The progression of activities will feel logical as basic skills will be taught, honed, and then built upon. Skaters will feel more confident trying advanced skills when they have the confidence that mastering basic skills will give them.  

To develop this type of schedule, it is helpful to know specifically when the season will start, when down/recovery time will occur, and how often your team will be having practice.

Example generic practice format (working backwards from in-season):

Time: 1st to last bout of season 

Objective: Bout specific fitness, improvement of positional and derby specific skills (weaknesses identified in bouts), packwork, and scrimmage

Time: 6 weeks before 1st bout

Objective: Bout specific fitness, improvement of positional and basic and intermediate derby skills (correcting technique and adding speed and power to movements), advanced derby skills, scrimmage (can start with 50% and work up to 100% for technique development, strategy and rule adherence)

Time: 10 weeks before 1st bout

Objective: Longer fitness intervals (max to 2x bout), derby specific (falls with recovery, whips, skating in a squat) strength development, intermediate derby skills, intro to advanced derby skills 

Time: 10 weeks+ before 1st bout

Objective: Longer fitness intervals (2 – 4x bout), general (pushups, squats, planks) and derby specific (falls with recovery, skating in a squat) strength developing exercises, basic derby skills, intro to intermediate derby skills 

Within these blocks you can have practices that touch on only 1 or 2 skills.  Following practice would have a short refresher and practice of those skills, and then move onto the next skills.

Suggestions for breakdown of skills were made in a previous post, Roller Derby Training: A Breakdown of Derby Skills.

Monday, March 17, 2008

My Name Is Aurora Gory Alice, Therefore I Am Aurora Gory Alice

Of course I want to win, but what I really want is to make opposing skaters wish that they had never been born.  I want them to curse their luck when I skate on the track and spend every second of every jam I skate in wishing that that jam was over.  And when the bout is over, I want them to know from tits to toes that Aurora Gory Alice handed them their asses.

Seriously, when my skates are on, that is who I am.  And, being Aurora Gory Alice is fun, for me and for the crowd.  I encourage you to own your name. If you don't have a name yet, come up with a name based on who you want to be on the track.  Roller derby is an escape. One of the unique aspects of derby is that, when you are skating, you can totally be yourself, or you can become someone else. It is just as much attitude as athleticism. That is what drew me to it. And, I don't think this showmanship is just good for the egos of the boldest skaters; I think it is a way for quieter, shyer, nicer skaters to come out of their shells and skate with confidence.  There is no "I'm sorry," in derby. I think this alone is an invitation to skate with some abandon.  For some skaters, dropping their inhibitions will make them faster, more aggressive, and harder hitting.  Those are good qualities for a derby girl. 

Exhibiting showmanship isn't just good for the skaters.  The fans will love it too.  The crowd wants to see extreme characters.  They want to choose a favorite skater based on more than a name and appearance.  Maybe this is not true of every fan, but it is a statement I make based on fan feedback that I received after my team's first bout.  The ability for a team's skaters to transform into their derby personas can make the difference between a well-skated, competitive bout, and a downright, through-and-through entertaining event.  One of those bouts is complimented, one is raved about.  The difference is that of a spectator vs a fan. A spectator is a seat-filler for a bout. A fan buys tickets for the next event in advance and guarantees the security of follow-up seasons.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Some Suggestions For Establishing Eligibility Criteria for Skating in Bouts

Establishing eligibility criteria for skating in bouts may be a good way to avoid some of the hard feelings that result when skaters get “cut” or aren’t allowed to skate. When the criteria exist and are published, skaters shouldn’t be caught off guard by the decision, and coaches shouldn’t be asked, at least as frequently and emphatically, to defend their decision. Coaches are even less likely to be questioned if the skating criteria are as objective as possible.

Whenever possible, make the eligibility criteria quantitative. Where there are percentages involved, such as with attendance, make every ten percent worth one point thereby creating a one to ten scale. When there will be a more subjective scale for criteria, such as with skills, try to make the scale as narrow as possible. For example, rating a skater's skills on a scale of one to three as opposed to one to ten takes out some of the guesswork of what the ratings actually mean. Be sure the scale is wide enough to differentiate skaters, though. If skaters who are clearly at different skill levels end up the same or close in ratings points, the scale may need to be widened. This is also true if large numbers of skaters end up tied in points.

For skating skills, a scale of one to three may look something like this:

1- Skater is not able to perform skill
2- Skater is able to perform skill
3- Skater performs skill exceptionally

If this scale does not allow for clear differentiation of skaters of different ability levels, a scale of one to four may be more appropriate.

1- Skater is not able to perform skill
2- Skater is able to perform skill
3- Skater performs skill with proficiency. Performance and appearance is above average.
4- Skater has complete command of skill. Performance and appearance is that of a top skater.

If you decide to establish eligibility criteria, decide if exceptions will be made if you’re short on skaters. If there will be exceptions made when league membership is low, you may want to include a statement indicating this. State specifically what the exceptions will be, and in what order they will be made if there are multiple exceptions. Include this right along with the criteria.

Coming soon: Suggestions for actual eligibility criteria.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Importance of Establishing Eligibility Criteria for Skating in Bouts

When bout time rolls around, the potential for hard feelings and broken hearts escalates.   The cold, hard truth is that not rollergirls are created equal. Skaters may feel inadequate, cheated, or generally sore if they are not allowed to bout. And, as a coach, I can tell you that the time will come when, for one reason or another, some skaters will have to be told they can not skate. This blow can be lessened if the skaters know upfront what criteria they will have to meet in order to be eligible to skate in bouts.  The earlier the criteria are published, the more likely skaters are going to be to make the necessary adjustments to their non-derby life to meet them, and the less justification skaters will have to feel cheated when they are told that they are not going to skate. For some skaters, the established criteria will mean that they will need to spend more time on skates outside of practice. For others, it may mean a readjustment of their work schedule to allow them to attend an extra practice per week.  

Setting criteria helps reduce frustration.  If skaters don't know what their target is, they can't make adjustments to hit it.  And, for the coaching committee, it is difficult to choose a team without knowing all the standards the players are being held to. If all the coaches are making their decisions based on different criteria, coming to agreement can be a lengthy, exhausting process. In this situation, the selection process becomes very subjective and very hard to defend when questioned. The trouble is, without the criteria, coaches being confronted and questioned pretty much becomes a certainty.

Look for a post soon with some guidelines for establishing criteria, as well as one with some suggestions for actual criteria.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Roller Derby Training: A Breakdown of Derby Skills

Here is a really quick and basic breakdown of roller derby skills.  These are just suggestions.  You may disagree with the categorization, or know of more skills you feel should be added.  That is fine.  Make it yours. The point is that putting the skills into categories of progressing difficulty will be helpful when you start to think about structuring your, or your team's training.

Basic derby skills:  Skating, derby posture, 1-foot gliding, crossovers, propelling, weaving, toe and t-stops, walking on toe stops, falls

Intermediate derby skills:  Snowplows, pushing/pulling, 1-foot carving, pacing, pack skating, hitting/blocking, pushing an opposing skater (sustained block), booty blocking, whips (regular, cross-body, underhand, whipping yourself), running toe starts

Advanced derby skills:  Turn-around toe stops, lateral stepping, jumping, skating backwards, going from forwards to backwards and back again, 360 and leg whips, double hits, hip checks, forming walls, sacrificing your teammates (pushing one or more of your skaters into contact), strategy