Blog

A walk in the mountains.

 

Our life in roller derby has always reminded me of a walk in the mountains. A challenging journey that takes us above the humdrum world. An all-encompasing adventure. We can look around on this journey and see others walking alongside us, some ahead, some behind, some on other mountain slopes altogether. Our friends and our enemies all walking together, and a thousand others we don’t even know.

Photo by Wicked Shamrock Photography

Photo by Wicked Shamrock Photography

Some have been walking for years, they walk because they simply want to walk.

Some have just started their journey and are jogging to get as far as they can, to catch up to those they see ahead of them, full of fresh energy and not yet settled into their steady pace.

Some drop in, 2 miles ahead of us and it doesn’t seem fair.

Some run a few paces then have a little rest, then run a few more. Flip flopping from wanting to get to the top and doubting it’s worth the effort.

Some hang out by the lodge, not really on the journey at all, but enjoying the company of those setting out or heading back.

There are those that walk because they have to get to the top, only to crest every peak to be met with another, higher and threatening more effort than the last. Each milestone becoming a disappointment at not reaching the top yet, rather than a benchmark of achievement.

There are those that find that they’ve been walking for so long that they don’t know how to do anything but walk. Their beards have grown long, they have nothing but the mountain left and they don’t even know if they like walking anymore, it is just who they have become.

There are those that chase the walkers ahead, desperate to be where they are.

And those that help the walkers behind so that their journey not be a lonely one.

There are those who stumble on the mountain and get hurt, and can no-longer walk any further.

And those who decide to set up camp right where they are because right here is the best it will be.

There are those that walk the shortest distance but with the biggest heart and truly double in stature.

There are those that find themselves; and even those that lose themselves.

But the big secret is that there isn’t a top, there is just the journey. We’re all on it for different reasons, and we’ll all end it when it is time, and start a new walk over on those other mountains in the distance.

Double Threat

 

“Some days I have ‘blocking days’ and some days I have ‘jamming days’ but I rarely have a bout where I am good at both.”

 

Have you ever said this? I’ve said it a lot in the past. This year I decided to have a proper look into the area of being a ‘Double Threat’ (those geniuses that can both jam and block). Why do we have days where we are more successful in one area than the other? What’s the difference? Why do some skaters easily switch between the two and others find it an almost impossible task?

 

Blocking and jamming can use very different skills. A lot of skaters wish they had a different skate setup for jamming and for blocking. In the imaginary world in my head, we’d all have pit-stop assistants to do wheel changes and cushion changes in the 30 seconds between jams. If you think about it, the movements as a blocker tend to be lateral and about resisting force, whereas a jammer’s primary function is to move forwards and apply force.

Ultimately though, I feel like equipment can be used as an excuse as to why we’re having a jamming day or a blocking day rather than the actual cause. When looking at the psychology of the two roles and in particular, something called our Arousal Levels (hereby shortened to AL) I got much closer to understanding this issue.

Your optimum AL is the where you perform at your best. The point on the spectrum from 1(alseep) to 10 (SO SO SO SO HYPED) where you really get into the zone and you tap into your very best playing. More often than not, the AL you need to be to block and the AL to jam are different. This is where you’ll find the root of your double threat issues stem from.

Let’s look at some examples to help build the picture.

Skater 1 is best blocking at a high AL. She likes to be at a level 8 for blocking because it’s the only way she can find enough power and aggression to make stuff happen on the track. When she’s at a lower AL she struggles to move people around and is slow to react to the different strategies being implemented by her team. When she jams, however, she needs to tap into a more cautious part of herself or else she panics, so jamming at AL8 gets her sent to the penalty box for track cuts. She needs to be more of an AL6 so that she can process her decision making and allow her team to work for her. If she’s in a blocking/jamming rotation and keeping a consistant AL8 she’ll become a liability as a jammer, whereas an AL6 and she’ll be ineffectual in her blocking. Step 1 for skater 1 is to develop her ability to self asses her AL at any given time so that she can feedback that information to her teammates and coach. Step 2 is to learn how to adjust this AL between jams- hyping herself up a little for blocking and calming herself for the jams.

Skater 2 is the opposite. She likes to be at a level 9 for jamming as it’s the only way she can truly spark those fast twitch muscle fibres and have the sense of urgency to get through the pack first. When blocking, however, a high AL makes her run away from her teammates and over commit to her hits. She ends up all over the track (and in the penalty box a lot). She works best at a level 7 as a blocker. Yet, for her team, she’s much more useful as a jammer and so it is more important that she is a high AL for that than completely reigned in as a blocker. She can use the same techniques as Skater 1 (just in reverse) OR she can aim to keep her AL high for the duration of the game, but have an Anchor within the pack. Someone that can communicate with her throughout the jam in her high AL state and that she’ll listen to and respond to.

So when I became aware of the differences in my own optimum AL for jamming and blocking it opened up a whole new way to stay in control of my bout day performance. It stopped feeling random and was something that I could develop strategies to cope with.

These strategies are going to be different for everyone but a good place to start is with breathing, self talk and visualisation. I find that increasing my breathing is an easy way of upping my AL and deepening my breaths can calm me down. Likewise with self talk- stepping onto the track as a blocker with the word ‘control and calm’ has the effect of keeping AL lower, but ‘aggression and SMASH’ builds it back up again. Finally, for those moments between jams, having a really small visualisation can be helpful. And if all else fails, I find a bit of a slap around the chops works wonders for pumping me back up. The best thing to do is experiment at training with the different levels, and talk to your teammates if you are unsure about when you are performing at your best.

Of course, this stuff doesn’t just work with double threats. It can be just as useful if you are struggling to perform consistantly at training, when whatever AL you rock up with is usually the AL you carry throughout all of the drills.

You can never ask for more than being able to reliably play your best, no matter what level that is. The less that that is dependant on outside circumstances, the more confidance you will have in yourself, and the more effective you will be on the track.

Now, where are those pitstop assistants…..

 

 

 

Motivation

 

It’s January! The time for resolutions, new seasons and good intentions!

The perfect time to take a self reflective look at motivation.

 

In the run up to Championships last year I had some great sessions with a Sport Psychologist over at the Dynamic Sports Academy. Number one on my list of questions to get to the bottom of was what’s my motivation. My motivation to work hard. To get to training. To put the hours in. To make the sacrifices. To meet struggles head on. And in learning that, to identify what my motivation sappers are.

 

You see, we’re all different. Our motivations are different. And if you go to training hoping to piggy back on the motivations of others without acknowledging what motivates YOU, well you might just wake up one day and be in the throws of what we call ‘meh’, or the lack of motivation.

 

Now this is my blog so I’m going to talk a little bit more about what motivates me and the discoveries we made during those Sport Psychology sessions. What I’m NOT saying at any point is that MY WAY IS BEST AND I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD. Or DO WHAT I DO AND YOU WILL HAVE ACCESS TO AN ETERNAL WELL OF MOTIVATION.. ahem.. sorry for the shouting.

 

So, it turns out that I am a fairly strong example of an intrinsicly motivated person. You see, motivation can be split into two main types. The intrinsics and the extrinsics. Instrinsic means that I enjoy the journey and the act of training in and of itself without the need for external rewards or reaching goals. Whereas an extrinsicly motivated person would go to training in order to be good enough for an upcoming bout and for the rewards that come with being their best. They tend to be more goal orientated. You know those skaters in your league that put their very hardest work in at training in the run up to a bout but if there are no events on the horizon struggle to keep their foot to the pedal? They’re likely to be extrinsicly motivated and need those bouts to push through the hard work required to be an athlete.

 

Anyway, back to me. I love training. I love getting better at things. I love the process of mastering a new technique, skill or strategy. I love new things and starting things. I love experimenting and have a natural curiosity. These personality traits are what I’ve been indulging in my journey with Roller Derby. They are the key to everything that I can call a success along the way. When I talk to skaters that find going to training a chore, a hoop to jump through or an emotional struggle, I count myself lucky that I have never felt like that.

 

However, when it comes to bout day, the skate is on the other foot, as they say (sort of). You see, it may sound like the best thing ever, to love training for the sake of training, but the flip side is that external motivators can often feel like external pressures. I notice this most in the couple of weeks before a bout. My motivation to train and experiment and explore within roller derby begins to evaporate as the event gets closer. Because bouts can feel so much more about being done with the learning process. In those final weeks before a big event, training shifts towards evaluating where we are at and reinforcing what we already know. The opportunity for big ‘aha!’ moments or epiphanies ebbs away as repetition is increased. And I start to get bored. And then unmotivated. And then I panic that I’m just not ready. So I have to whip up my very best positive self-talk, tell myself that bouting is just another form of training and an opportunity to learn, and that other people’s expectations of me are not my concern. I have to say to myself that the months of hard work that have come before are what make me ready for this now. And finally, ‘where did I put my passport?’.

And here’s another story. I’ve been pretty close to completing ‘Insanity’ workout programme about 3 times. I stopped about 3 days from the end each time. Then finally I promised myself that I would complete it, and I did. What surprised me is that I felt NO different on completing the task as I had on stopping before the end. Zero sense of achievement or accomplishment. I realised that completing things, for me, is pretty overrated. I tried that once. I don’t need to worry about it any more…

So, knowing this stuff, how can it actually be used for good and not evil? How do you become a master of your motivations rather than a slave?

 

Number 1: Work out what you want out of life/Roller Derby. I want to be the best player I can be and to consistantly be pushing on the boundaries of my skill level.

 

Number 2: Think about times you’ve felt unmotivated and try and identify the possible triggers. Just before a big game or early in the season?

 

Number 3: Identify ways to tap in to your motivators in order to achieve your ambitions. I get bored easily so I like to think up a new trick or skill to play around with every week at training. I don’t need a coach to teach me something new, although this is quite a gift whenever it happens, but rather a tiny bit of imagination is all it takes. It just needs to be something to put that sparkle in my eye on the way to training.

 

Number 4: Sometimes you’ve got to do what you don’t feel like doing. Be prepared to identify your feelings and still do things you don’t really fancy doing if it’s in the best interest of your team/sport/you. I don’t like bouting, but I do it, and afterwards I feel really good for confronting that fear. I also don’t always feel like going to DSA every Monday because two years in it’s not quite so new and exciting as at the beginning (and we know how faddy I am) but I know that it makes me a better athlete and I can indulge those fads elsewhere, with other crazy workout routines and schedules as long as I keep DSA my constant. I also know that I shouldn’t spout out ridiculous new strategies 3 days before a big game because it will just be confusing for the team so I know to zip my mouth and save them for later.

 

Number 5: Understand that other people are different and that’s ok. This is pretty key to getting along with your teammates and shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s also incredibly important to remember whenever you’re being a coach as it is integral to getting the most out of the people around you.

Ultimately, your motivation is your problem. Accepting responsibility for it yourself and making changes when you need that little boost is down to you. Once you understand what bumps you off the metaphorical track in the first place you’ll soon discover how to haul yourself back onto it.

 

Happy January!

 

Crowd Noise

I was at  a bout on Saturday and got myself into my usual spectator frenzy of yelling stuff at the skaters on the track. (Watching bouts just gives me so many feelings.) This got me thinking about what the most common instructions from the crowd are and the reasons why these instructions seem so simple when viewing the game from the comfort (!) of a bleacher but in reality have solutions that need to be tackled for weeks before a team steps on the track. So here’s my rundown.

 

Slow the pack!

Easier said than done right?- especially if your jammer needs a helping hand or if you are trying to wall up with your teammates that are ahead of you. Also tough if you’ve not practiced all of your stops and speed control moves on the specific floor you are skating on during warm up. It’s often easier to keep on rolling than to risk falling on your face, thus the pack keeps on rolling. If you’re confident stopping/slowing, then perhaps it’s your blocking form? Are you bumping opposition skaters diagonally and they’re just riding out your hits rather than moving them laterally on the track? This often serves to really speed up the pack, because once you get a taste for hitting other blockers but they keep escaping your clutches, it ramps you up to have one more try, and one more, and NOW YOU ARE SKATING SO FAST!

 

Wall Up!

Transitioning from offense to defense is a critical skill. Offense usually splits us apart, whilst for defense we need to be nice and close together. The problem often happens when different blockers realise they need to make this switch at different times. It’s also usually the skater near the back of the pack that recognises that their team need to switch to defense first and if they’re AT the back of the pack, then they may find that running forwards to their teammates takes longer than it would for their teammates to put the brakes on a little and get back to them. It’s the responsibility of the first person that recognises that the defense needs to be reformed first to vocalise this to their teammates, and the responsibility of the teammates to trust this instruction and make it happen.

 

Pick Up Your Feet Jammer!

This is my favourite to yell. Mostly because I yell it at myself ALL THE TIME. I know that feeling of getting stuck to the floor, of matching a blocker’s speed and then gradually letting them slow me more and more until I feel totally scuppered. I also know that telling myself to ‘pick up my feet’ at training didn’t actually help me to change my footwork habits. What DID help was pretending to tap dance through the pack- throwing in constant and ridiculously excessive foot movements, lifting front trucks up, back trucks up, whatever I could to break the habit of coasting. Slowly over a few sessions I then started to identify which of these movements were useful, and how propulsion works when moving my feet. When I had that down I could look at the transition points- when to conserve energy and how to burst forwards with those dancing feet. Seeing a jammer coasting behind a blocker (especially when they aren’t tired) I will them to get all Gene Kelly and dazzle their way past.

 

Call it off!

This really is just habit and good communication with your bench coach. It’s especially useful to have some kind of mental trigger at different points of a jam that mean that it’s not a conscious decision to look at your bench coach, but rather a habitual one. So every time you exit the pack having the habit of looking back over your shoulder to check whether the opposition jammer is right behind, THEN always looking to your bench coach for an update on the things you might not have noticed. When approaching the back of the pack a quick glance to make sure the situation hasn’t changed and you should know your call off strategy. If you get stuck in the pack for any length of time, that’s when it gets really tricky. That’s when it’s worth another glance to bench before calling off, or even get ready to receive the calloff message from your teammate who may be in a better position to receive it from the bench.

 

Don’t Be A Douche!

Don’t be a douche.

Balance

Photo by Steve Newton

 

***WARNING: PARADIGM SHIFT ALERT***

Somewhere along the line I got it into my head that I should be striving for a balanced life. What. A. Dumbass. Where do we get this idea from? Who sowed those seeds? We often think of our lives as spinning plates and that only when we have the perfect number of plates to spinning ability are we truly going to be a)happy b)successful.

SMASH ALL THE PLATES!

If I were to trust my natural instincts and desires I would rarely leave the house, watch endless tv box sets, bake cakes then eat them in a continuous loop, never workout and never actually do anything- especially if it involved said leaving of the house. My ‘life’ would be boring and rubbish and safe (until I died from over consumption of Victoria Sponge). Therefore I will never feel like my life is balanced until these natural inclinations have spread out to cover the full 24hours of each day.

Yesterday at work I was watching Chase Jarvis Live’s episode with Chris Guillebeau http://blog.chasejarvis.com/blog/live/ and it was the first time I had ever heard anyone say that a balanced life is NOT something to aspire to. Whenever you follow your dreams you’ve got to make sacrifice. Thus concluding that having everything in perfect little boxes without losing out somewhere else is just a pipe dream. The very idea that a messy life, filled with effort, love, passion and smashing plates aligns much more with my idea of what life should be than this one of peace, order and certainty that I felt was the ultimate goal. To haul your way through it from one experience to the next, putting 100% of yourself into everything along the way is both a terrifying and exhilarating thought.

We put so much of ourselves into rollerderby. The worst times for me are when I put so much in and feel like it just isn’t enough. That it needs more of me than I can give. That I’m failing at it. It’s these times when I look around and notice all of the sacrifices along the way, and feel like I’ve put life on hold ever since I put on my first pair of skates. The pressure that I put on myself gets too much, and I get scared, and I chase after that Balanced life. Yet the ever wise Kitty DeCapitate had the following observation that is exactly the point of this post. (sorry Kitty, I’m posting it in it’s entirety here because it’s too good to just let it slip down my timeline)

“One thing I think about a lot is how people spend their whole lives searching for meaning/purpose/something they feel passionately about. We often feel like derby is “not real life” or that we are “putting off real life”. I realised that it IS life. What we are doing right now IS that thing we search for.
We often forget this because it is takes all of our time!
I say lead a life less ordinary! Full to the brim!” Kitty DeCapitate

Throwing yourself through life is scary. Living life fully is scary. But you can’t jump the apex with both feet on the ground and you can always sleep when the bout is over.

 

EDIT and Postscript:

I realised that when reading this you may think that I am talking about throwing yourself wholeheartedly into ONE THING in your life. I’m not. I’m saying throw yourself wholeheartedly into many things that you love.

And finally, as pointed out by Shaolynn, you don’t sleep when the bout is over, you go to the After Party. I’m unclear as to when the sleep happens.

 

Refuelling

I’ve been pretty quiet this year. I know that. I’m not even going to apologise for it. Ok, maybe a little bit, I am British afterall. Soz.

The Brawlicorn loves roses.

Last year was HECTIC! With training and guest coaching, and thinking and planning and trying to get better myself at the same time. The latter half of last year also coincided with the busiest I’ve ever been with work. There were countless occasions where I was working full time, training in the evenings, then working until the early hours of the morning when I got home. And many Sundays arriving back into Heathrow from coaching in Europe to go straight to 3 hour LRG training from the airport. It stands to reason that this year I’d need a bit of me time. A bit of time to refuel. So I’ve been trying to put less of myself out there into the world and concentrate on my own development and wellbeing.

Our recent Pacific NorthWest tour seemed to do more to help me refuel than anything else I’ve tried. It’s hard to imagine now that I didn’t actually want to go. I’m never ready enough, fit enough, strong enough, good enough in my own head. In fact on the morning of the flight, I couldn’t find my passport and just shrugged ‘ah well, never mind, I’ll just hang out at home instead’. My passport then magically appeared and I cursed it and set off for one of the best Derby adventures of my life. Meeting wonderful people, playing wonderful teams, but most of all, more than anything else, really getting to know my teammates again.

This weekend I’m off to a bootcamp rather than leading one which is the most excited I’ve been for a long time too. I just love learning so much, that it’s easy to start feeling stifled when you do a lot of coaching and not so much concentrating on your own skills. Even more than the classes, I’m looking forward to scrimmaging with lots of new faces, and that generally intoxicating feeling you get when your around people that are wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the whole roller derby thing- with no pressure or responsibility. Like a little weekend holiday back to the olden days.

So that’s where I’ve been, and I think I may just be back. Little thoughts of imminent retirement have been squashed by the bum of a giant unicorn- but that’s a story for another day. I may start posting on here some more now that hibernation is over but I’m still blinking in the sunlight after so much time in the darkness so I can’t be certain of anything.

Blinking.

Juggling with my soul- AKA Oryx playing with a light up ball.

 

Precision: Expectation + Reaction

Duh

I was just eating my breakfast thinking about some new prototype wheels I’ve been testing for the lovely people at Radar  and realised something. Precision is just as much about expectation as it is about reaction.

So I was trying out some new wheels that are pretty different from what I usually skate on. I’d been getting on really well with them during blocking drills, starting to feel comfortable. Then we went into scrimmage. Now scrimmage is the time to switch off some of your mental processes and revert to muscle memory. I sprinted into the turn, then threw in a sharp hockey stop to change direction and WHOOF, fell over backwards. This same move that I have felt so comfortable with for years, was dumping me on my ass. It wasn’t a slide out either, it was a very strange motion coming from my feet upwards. I didn’t really think any more of it, other than how weird it was that I couldn’t execute a simple move I was so used to- no matter what the grippiness or slippiness of my wheels was in the past.

Then last night I was watching this video, of slow motion footage of skateboarding tricks, before bed. I was in awe of the precision footwork and body movements and commitment needed to execute the tricks and it reminded me of the little slide outs I’ve been having with the prototype wheels. Now I LOVE mentally recalling what my body is doing during a different moment in skating and running it over in slow motion in my head. It’s how I problem solve stuff and push my boundaries. I like doing it for my teammates too (whether they ask for it or not). So what I’m getting at is, my body EXPECTED me to stop abruptly in that situation and so it threw my weight further back and started twisting my torso, but due to the completely different wheels, my feet didn’t stop as fast, or in the same way, as I was expecting them to, and so the weight that would have been so perfectly set up for the sharp direction change actually tipped my centre of gravity too far past my left hip and dropped me on my ass. All this is happening so fast that in order to react to it and not fall on my ass I would have to rebuild my muscle memory through repetition OR slow the movement down so that it wasn’t quite as sharp and precise.

We often think that the best skaters are the ones that can react to anything when really, if you want to be one step ahead, your body has to know what to expect so it can set up your centre of gravity and momentum appropriately.

If your feet stop and you then take it as a cue for the rest of your body to stop, the delay in stopping is going to cause the top half of your body to be further forward than the bottom half of your body and you’ll tip over forwards. Like when you’re skating on the street and don’t see that little twig – your feet stop and your body flies forwards and you look like a dufus.

Imagine a wall of blockers with an approaching jammer. If your wall closes their eyes so they have no way to predict where the jammer is going to impact- the force from the jammer is going to knock them off balance. As soon as you allow the wall to ‘see’ the jammer, you build in expectation and everyone in the wall will make adjustments to brace for impact whether they are aware of it or not. (The best jammers will exploit this fact and subvert the expectations of the wall, eg. by juking.)

Think of it as a line drawn in the sand. Before you have mastered a trick/skill successfully you are on one side of the line, and you don’t know how the sequence of movements and balances will feel . After mastering the trick/skill you know what it feels like when your body is performing those movements, and so you can prepare your body with the expectation that you are going to succeed at it.

Crossing that line takes faith and guts. Remember when you couldn’t do Hockey Stops? Going from not being able to do hockey stops to being able to do them requires the faith that you are going to go from moving forwards to being stopped and will need to adjust your body weight appropriately. But if you try and do one and don’t believe that it’s going to work you’re never going to commit to it in the right way. You’re better off falling over 50 times whilst you adjust your weight than never falling over because you never commit to achieving your goal.

*Warning* Ollieing indoors annoys your cat.

Jamming Skills: Holding Position versus Fleet of Foot.

Photo by Steve Newton


Technical jamming skills can often be split into two main categories: Aggressive Skills and Evasive Skills.

Understanding the difference between these two skill categories can really help when trying to make improvements in your jamming. The game has changed a lot over the last couple of years, and a lot of skaters that had previously fallen into the ‘jammer’ role within their leagues due to their fleetness of foot and good evasive action, suddenly stopped being so successful wearing the star. The evolution of the 4 wall defence and scrum starts leave those fleet of foot jammers with no speed advantage and no lateral space to take. Compounding this issue is the 2013 rule regarding track cuts and the reduction from two opposition blockers to a single opposition blocker being passed out of bounds becoming a minute in the penalty box.

Therefore we’ve seen favour move towards jammers with a bit more of a blocker mentality and an ability to hold their position on the track and to power forwards with targeted aggression.

Obviously the best jammers of all are those that can combine the two skills and pick and choose when to be heavy footed and when to be light footed.

Light footed jammers are amazing to watch, but there is always a moment in the transitioning of weight from one foot to the other that makes them vulnerable to powerful hits. They don’t have the traction with the surface to fight against a hit and the only evasive course of action is to deflect the power into a turn spin or jump.

Conversely, heavy footed jammers can do such a good job at holding their lane on the track that they never actually exit the pack because they are busy digging into the ground with their skates in order to prevent being pushed out of bounds.

Below I’m going to break down some of the hallmarks of the different styles of jamming. If you err more towards one style than the other, perhaps observe someone that has the skills that you are lacking as a jammer and give them a whirl.

Evasive Jammers:

Rarely have both feet on the ground at the same time.

Like to deflect the power from hits rather than absorb it.

Use every ounce of energy every time they go on the track.

Have a tendency to dance around near the boundaries of the track and like to cover the full width of it.

When they do receive a hit often end up out of bounds and recycled backwards as they are often 100% committed to their trajectory.

Are very happy about the change in the rules regarding Apex Jumps.

Prefer the pack to be staggered and rolling.

Photo by Steve Newton

 

Aggressive Jammers:

Usually have both feet on the ground- especially when opposition players are engaging them.

Like to absorb power from hits and not let it move them an inch.

Try to conserve energy.

Have a tendency to stick to the centre of the track and are wary of the boundaries.

Hits rarely move them off the track, but they may struggle with flat walls of positional blockers that are rolling rather than stopped on the track.

Are happy about the change in the rules regarding 1 whistle starts and that jammers cannot cut track around the other jammer.

Prefer the pack to be stopped and full of small opposition blockers.

 

Photo by Derek Bremner.

 

A couple of simple drills to get a taste for the other side could look like this:

Evasive Jammer Drill-

One of my favourites ever is having 2 packs of skaters on opposite sides of the track. One is a pack of human trees (blockers who aren’t actively blocking the jammers that come through) and the other is a pack of jammers. 2 jammers leave the jammer pack and sprint through the blocker pack. Blockers are INNACTIVE (i.e. they aren’t hitting the jammers) however they are preventing there being an easy route through the pack. The jammer that exits the blocker pack first wins. To make this a little harder, you can designate a player or two within the blocker pack with the ability to ‘tag’ the jammers coming through. They touch them with their hand in a legal blocking zone and are marked out with a Pivot cover. The jammers therefore have to navigate the blocker pack whilst also evading the touchy Pivot. If they get touched by the pivot…well, nothing happens, BUT it’s a great exercise in racing, agility and evading all thrown into one.

If you just want to improve your skills in those few minutes before the drills start at training then a good one on one drill is to partner up with someone of a similar skill to you and whilst skating around the track, don’t let them tag your legal target zones. To stop it being a sprinting race, give yourself some limitations like ‘I only have 10foot ahead of them before I have to drop to 10 foot behind them’.

 

Aggressive Jammer Drill-

A lot of the ‘holding position’ stuff is more low key and good to practice one on one during warm up and cool down at training. Find someone that’s about your size and start side by side near the track boundary. Practice staying on the track as they increase the force they are trying to push you off with. Digging in with your skate – usually the one next to the boundary rather than next to the blocker, will give you the greatest control over your position. Resist the urge to just spin off them if that’s what you normally would do because then you aren’t learning how much power you can fight against. What happens when you point the foot furthest from the blocker towards them? How about if you bend your knees more? Learn to identify what part of your body they are applying all the driving force to. Gradually work your way up to skaters that have more body mass than you, are taller than you, shorter than you and skaters that have different blocking techniques.

 

The information gained by doing this kind of one on one research will then feed into your decisions on the track for when to use energy being evasive and when you can just brace a hit out and roll on through.

So if you’re finding that you’re getting stuck at training when you are jamming- whether it be stuck in the pack or stuck in the penalty box, perhaps it’s time to work out whether all of your skills sit in one jammer style and it’s time to try putting some new tricks up your sleeve.

Trials and tribulations of Intraleague.

 

The Intraleague model of playing competitive Roller Derby has always struck me as rather odd.

We train together as a single unit about 85% of the time, yet Roller Derby has this model whereby we then split into teams and play each other in front of an audience. I understand why it came about back when there were hardly any teams, and vast distances between teams of equal strength. The second part of this statement hasn’t really changed, so we keep on with the Intraleague season.

On a graph of Achievement Goal V Performance Goal I’m well over on the Achievement Goal side of things. It’s the little achievements and learning process at training week in and week out that keep me coming back. If anything, the pressure of ‘performing’ during bouts really stresses me out. I’d happily train all year long, 4 days a week, and just play that one game for the Hydra than bout every 6 weeks. (for anyone verse with the Enneagram system of personality typing I’m a 6).

Throughout my years playing roller derby I’d find the anxiety before home team games far greater than before the 3rd/4th place playoffs at a WFTDA tournament. I think that a lot of it stems from the idea of ‘exclusion’ from my peer groups. Back in primary school, how often did you feel out of favour with your friends- on the outside looking in? Lonely and envious that they were off having fun without you.

We’ve got a name for it in Brawling. FOMO. Or the Fear Of Missing Out. It doesn’t matter that you are on a team with 13 other awesome people because three quarters of the whole league are off in their little maroon, navy or green clubs without you. And even worse than that, they are THE ENEMY. They’re off in their little groups plotting and scheming how to publicly dominate you on the track. They’re discussing how to exploit your weaknesses and convincing each other that ‘you’re actually not that fast/agile/hard hitting/awesome’. You look at your own team and start to feel like your little group might not be as strong as the 50 skaters that aren’t on your team.

Feeling like your team is the underdog is one of the most dangerous barriers to keeping your league harmonious and happy. It’s poisonous to the growth of your travel team. It begins with home team skaters grouping together into little teal units at training. It advances to coaches keeping drills and strategies for themselves and their selected friends because they need something to give their team an advantage on game day. And it gets really toxic when your fellow league mate sprains an ankle the week before you play them and you feel happy instead of sympathetic.

For these reasons I believe that being a home team Captain and a travel team Captain is an almost impossible tightrope to walk. You’re ultimately selling short one of your teams. It’s not something that I would ever do again.

Next there is my pet hate- the Great Skater Arms Race. How ridiculous can this get? You’ve got up to 14 skaters on your bench, but if the team you are playing against puts their top 5 on the track 80% of the time, if you have an ounce of competitive spirit in you, you want to match them toe to toe. It becomes like an arms race, where your best couple of players don’t even leave the track for the full hour in persuit of victory. Even if you think the other team might do this you might pre-empt them with your lineups.

Finally, there’s the Home Team Blowout. Home team blowouts are annoying and boring. On the one hand- no-one wants to manipulate rollerderby and the outcome of games. We’ve spent long enough telling people that it’s not staged or set up for that. Yet, in my experience, teams have to be really really closely matched in skill to NOT result in a blowout. And you just can’t predict this when deciding on home teams. You never have 4 equal jammers, or 4 equal positional-blockers-of-death. If you account for keeping partners together on the same team it makes the job even harder.

So, with all of that said and done, why am I feeling excited about this year’s home team season, instead of the dread of every previous year?

 

Well I changed up my priorities and we changed our teams.

I stopped thinking about my performance in home team games and started thinking about how I could help the members in my team that I don’t skate with on a travel team to make progress. I also set myself very different goals for my home team skating than for my travel team skating.

I get to block more- which is fun fun fun- ask any primary jammer! A change is as good as a rest.

And speaking of change, we mixed up our home teams in a BIG way. We pretty much built them up from scratch again- this being the first year where 90% of the league agreed to moving teams if it were required. Perhaps it’s this loss of allegiance to their individual home teams that has helped the atmosphere across the board, or perhaps it’s the novelty of developing friendships and bonds after so long wearing the same uniform. Whatever the cause, the result is one of a more integrated and relaxed league.

I also had a brilliant pep talk from my home team Captain Shaolynne Scarlett. She said that for the home season, if I go to the penalty box for some ridiculous show-pony move, I get a thumbs up from the team. I’m such a careful jammer that I often miss out on opportunities because I balance out the risk of going to the penalty box with the chance of pulling something awesome off. Breaking that natural instinct in my home season this year is already turning out to be a whole heap of low-pressure fun.

Our league is pretty broke this year.  Several trips to the States to compete against US teams combined with a ruinously expensive home venue over the last couple of years has really put us in financial jeopardy. What better fundraising than moving to a much smaller sell-out venue and raising money through our home season again? Beats a hundred ‘fundraisers in a bar’.

Who knows when it will all end. It’s only really this year that I’ve really realised that I can’t keep playing a full contact competitive sport at the highest level forever. One of these days, a game is going to be my last. Going into each one and really trying to absorb all the wonderful things about it – the atmosphere, the crowd, the comraderie- has been on my priorities list for this season.

Finally- turning those Performance Goals on their heads and making them into Achievement Goals. The bouts aren’t the end in themselves but just another opportunity to learn stuff.

“We compete, not so much against an opponent, but against ourselves.” Bud Wilkinson

PREastern Regional Playoffs: Part 1

I’ve got so much to say about my experience of Eastern Region Playoffs 2012, but it seems such a daunting task to summarise the entirety of the trip that I think I’m going to have to spread it out over a few posts.

This first post is actually about Pre-Eastern’s and my preparation for what would be the most (and almost only) epic experience with London Brawling this season.

I say almost only, because just 4 short weeks preceding our flight to New York, we had the honour of hosting Team USA in London. I’d been training pretty hard all year, right up to Team USA’s visit and knew it was going to take a lot to get through two back to back games in the jamming rotation. The first game as a primary jammer for London Brawling and the second game as a primary jammer for Team England. I almost did it too, and then 6 minutes from the end of the second game sustained a glorious hit that partially tore my left quad.

Photo by Agata Exumbra.

Hold on a second! Recovery wasn’t on my pre-regional tournament to-do list! I kind of flipped out a bit, not knowing what to do with all my nerves and upcoming game anxiety. I had planned to spend the following couple of weeks after the US game building my cardio up. I had also planned to refine some of my footwork techniques. Now I was faced with possibly not being able to skate at all.

The thing is, at the same time I was having a massive crisis of confidence over my skating. This is usually what happens to me in the days following a bout, but I normally have the option of working really really hard at training to kick those feelings in the head. Barely able to walk for days, and with no idea how long it would be before I could put weight on my leg again, never mind take a hit to it, I got swallowed up by a blackness.

It was only with the combined effort of multiple people did I start to see the sunshine again. Stefanie Mainey ‘encouraged’ me to see the league Physio (she kind of strongarmed me into going because she’s awesome). The physio taught me the difference between the pain of the injury and the pain of the tightness of the inflexible scar tissue so I’d know when I was healed. DSA coaches taught me when to go home and have a sit down and a cup of tea instead of lifting weights. Once the initial tear had healed, M.A.T helped me to get all the muscles that had taken on new roles during the recovery process working properly again. Flamin’ Aggro pointed out what an idiot I was for thinking that I wasn’t any good to the team anyway. Ballistic Whistle supported me going a little AWOL as I took time to heal up. My husband persuaded me NOT to take my skates to training if I was just meant to be resting, sitting on the sidelines and watching.

You see, I am usually the one that pushes through pain. I skated in a bout 2 weeks after separating my shoulder (and that took about 6 months to heal). But when faced with the prospect of doing more damage if I went back to training too soon I had to just suck up the Cold Turkey. I kept reminding myself that I’d been training all year for this tournament and so the final three weeks were pretty insignificant.

It also graced me with a sense of perspective. After almost not being able to play at all, when we got to Vermont I was honestly just pleased to have skates on my feet at all and to have the chance to experience it with my amazing teammates, through the wins and the losses.