“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…..