Bracing for the Win

Here’s a link to a quick game we play that might help reinforce a myriad of blocking skills like bracing, walling, and even communication.

Triangle Tag is quick and simple to set up. You need no equipment.

Three skaters form a triangle. You can have a wall of two with a bracer at the apex or have all three bracing (for some skaters, I find this brings them more success because many kids like to touch things with their hands).

You’ll then have a tagger outside of this triangle and this skater will try to tag the bracer either by getting around the base of the triangle or busting through their wall.

For sure, you can turn this triangle into a box and delineate whom should be tagged. But, perhaps you’ll have my experience that younger or beginner skaters find it clearer to be able to spot the top of a triangle to either tag or protect.

Getting to Know You

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Our little ones love to just skate. Some of them would be happy to just go around and around the track for hours if we allowed it. But how much would they learn from that?

Another things our little skaters love? To talk about themselves! They love to share with us stories about their day, their lives at home and school, their likes and dislikes.

So here’s a drill you could use as a warm-up or to reinforce good skating stride skills, speed and being able to stop well. You need to coaches and that’s it.

Coach A will be on one side of the room and Coach B will be on the other. The skaters will be along the wall on the end where Coach A is. She’ll say a statement (like, “I have red hair,” “I’ve been on an airplane” or “I can have a conversation in a language other than English”). If the statement is true about the skater, the kid will skate to the end of the room where Coach B is, stopping without ramming into the wall. Not all will be release and that’s okay. Coach B will have her own statements to say. So what you’ll get is a constant back-and-forth motion of skaters.

You’re the Best…But Not Really

Recently, our league held a juniors-only bootcamp coached by two members of Team Canada. Levelled 1, 2 and 3 skaters came from far and wide for this unique-to-our-area opportunity.

The skaters had a great time learning new things and meeting new friends. The coaches were warm and encouraging. And the kids were challenged; it was a bootcamp after all.

But there was an instance when one skater came off the track, visibly upset about something. Upon some discussion, it turned out this 13-year-old was emotionally shaken and bruised. It turned out that, after an hour of the bootcamp, the skater – who was the best on her team – was upset because she wasn’t the best overall.

It was a humbling exercise for her, no doubt. She had tested to level 3 in her league and, amidst the other level 3 skaters at the bootcamp, she was finding she couldn’t complete the drills properly and her skill set was letting her down.

With her mother, we talked with her about her choices for the day. She could either continue to feel miserable due to the emotions she added when she compared herself to others, or be open to the opportunity to learn something, even if it meant swallowing your pride a little. Even the Team Canada coaches must have had their ego bashed at some point in their derby life, right?

Look to others as an inspiration and look to yourself with belief and love and, yeah, humility. Embrace not just the stuff you’re great at, but also the things you have to work on…even if they seem so easy to others.

BEING special is relative but FEELING special is something everyone wants. At 13, this skater must be dealing with all sorts of grown-up thoughts she needs to sort through. As coaches, we must be very conscious of emotions and societal pressures in order to nurture the kids left in our care. Their time with you might be the brightest point of their day.

Shootin’ Dice Warm-Up Drill

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Is it possible to get youths excited about strength-training? It is when you can approach it as if it was a game, I think!

Our skaters typically can’t wait to put their skates on. After all, weekly, they only have the time during practice to be able to wear them. So we came up with this warm-up to incorporate a little bit of off-skates training in with their warm-up.

You need a set of dice (or more if you have a big group). We got our foamy sets from the dollar store. It’s a good size and of a good material. The skaters can easily toss it. It’s soft so if it rolls on someone, it won’t hurt. And it’s sturdy because, well, they’re kids.

On a separate piece of paper or bristol board, write out what exercise each roll will be. So, for example, if the skater rolls a one, she looks to the paper and reads she has to do squats. A two is push-ups. Three is a fast feet run on the spot. You get the idea. I recommend rolling just one die out of the two or more that you have. This way, others aren’t waiting too long for their turn to roll.

So while the skater who rolled is doing her exercise, her partner is skating a predetermined amount of laps (we ask for three laps). When the laps are done, they skate in the middle of the track where her partner is doing exercises and they trade positions.

We usually run this drill for 10 minutes.

 

Go Tag

Here’s a quick game you can use. It’s like off-skate training you can do on skates!

Divide your skaters into two lines. Everyone in the line will be doing squats. Meanwhile, you have a “chaser” and a “skater.” These two juniors begin skating around the two lines of squatters with the chaser trying to catch the skater.

As the chaser skates around the squatters, she can at any time tap one of the squatters and shout, “GO!” The tapped player now becomes the chaser and the original chaser takes the empty spot in line and proceeds to squat.

When the skater is finally tagged, the chaser now becomes the skater and you can pick a new chaser.

This game works best when you change the chasers frequently, which will likely happen because this gasses the kids out. Even when you think you’re getting a break by tapping a new chaser, you don’t really get a break because you then need to squat.

A terrific way to enforce agility, stopping, strength training, evasion and speed.

Dress Codes and the Junior Skater

This autumn, one 9-year-old skater came to practice wearing a shirt with pretty cabbagey roses bordering lettering that read, “I love you but fuck the government.”

No word of a lie, I didn’t notice what it read until we were a good 30 minutes into the practice when we were on knees in a circle to discuss the next drill. Some of the skaters were whispering to each other but one actually pointed to the skater in question.

My back was up. My first thought was the 9-year-old, who is a beginner skater, was being mocked or something.

Then I saw it.

I finished what I wanted to say, had the secondary coach take over while, and then discretely took the child aside and explained that her shirt has a word on it that some people would find offensive and we’d have to get some duct tape to it.

“Oh, yeah. My mum laid this shirt out for me to wear.”

“Er, really? Okay, then do me a favour and leave this tape on the shirt until your mum sees it. If she wants, tell her to contact me please.”

Dress codes are something juniors live with at school.  We don’t really have a hard and fast rule on what not to wear because the girls figure out quickly what kind of clothes works for them in practices. Spaghetti straps? We see them a lot. Bra straps showing? Support garments are great. Short skirts, tight pants and shorts? That’s athletic wear and, hey, being itchy with sweat-laden clothes sucks.  Heck, we still have a couple of old school juniors who wear patterned opaque nylons. And they love the face paint during bouts.

About four years ago, we were in a Canada Day parade and a 10-year-old came to the start wearing full-out makeup (blush, eyeliner, lipstick – the works). She also wore a bikini top, and fishnets with the underwear on top. On the bum, the underwear read, “Dirty.”

The junior had seen adults wear something like this. I never batted an eye when I saw a teammate dress this way back then. Live and let live. But seeing it on a child, then and there, my opinion changed. Anyone can be watching. Everyone is watching. Is dressing provocatively a good thing overall for this sport?

I’m not sure what went on at home (the child arrived without her guardian) but we just weren’t comfortable with that. So we happened to have a large t-shirt which we insisted she put on (she did).

Tricky situation, sometimes, how to juggle what is acceptable at home versus what you may want for your junior organization. I’m curious about how other junior leagues handle this.

Tried and True Wall Defence

img_0967The easiest defensive move you can teach children, in my opinion, is the wall – blockers lined up across the track with the sides of their bodies touching. Since we teach the skaters to play positional blocking only to start, this is typically the introduction – and cornerstone – to effective blocking.

We do lots to reinforce this. One that I do to start feeling what it’s like to have someone skate with you is to pair them up and place a track marker (we use cut-up strips of yoga mats) or a piece of paper between wherever you want them touching (shoulders, hips, thighs, etc). Don’t let it drop!

The skaters will get the feeling of having a teammate push on you to make that wall, as well as reinforce the skill of adapting their speed to what’s going on during play. You can always add skaters to this drill and have them appreciate what a 3-wall and ultimately a 4-wall can do. Throw in a jammer and let the fun begin!

You don’t want them forgetting this during a game, so sometimes during a warm-up, we have them skate around. Coach will blow the whistle and tell them to get into a wall of two, three or four. The skaters will use a number of skills to form a wall like skate faster and stop, skate backwards, jump sideways, etc. A coach or a designated skater can then try to jam around them. Call these things out quickly and get their brains working too! How important is getting to the lines, skaters?

Or have them in groups skating around. Fast, slow, whatever. Blow a whistle and they’re together. A simple drill, I know, but throw in kids that aren’t as skilled with ones that are and you have some teamwork skills being worked on.

Of course, in time, they’ll be ready for more defensive plays. We have them in groups of four all the time, calling out three or four all-level moves blockers can make. We do this over and over and over again, and have this drill pretty much in every practice with the skaters who know them. This teaches them to be quick and to reinforce their knowledge of these moves. Put them in groups of five with one jamming and I feel you add some urgency. Whatever it takes to get their hearts pumping, right?

 

 

MVP! MVP!

I’ve been noticing a trend around awarding the MVP. To my league, it’s something we talk about at halftime. “Start thinking about skaters on the other team that are getting your number. Ask yourself why and see if you can correct that. If not, consider that player for MVP.”

Among the leagues we play, we typically have the skaters and bench coaches choose the MVP for the other team. My league strives to award the Most Valuable Player to, well, the most valuable player. And the coach has the final say. But what we often experience is our strongest skaters never see MVP.

Why is that? Is it because of sore feelings? “Let’s give it to so-and-so instead because she didn’t do much to upset us.” Is it because they’re trying to be magnanimous? “Let’s give it to so-and-so because I bet she never gets MVP.” I’m really not sure.

Either way, it’s wrong.

MVP ought to be given to the skater who the team would have done much, much worse without. Let’s face it, there’s always a standout.

You could argue that it could mean the same player gets the award many times over. But I’m okay with that. Chances are, that superstar skater you have has worked hard to get where she is. And others on her team should look up to that work ethic. Of course, if she has a bad attitude or something, then as a coach, you should have a talk about leadership with her.

Further, awarding the MVP to someone who may not have done well may only reinforce a mediocre effort or, worse, give that child a big head. It could also cause strife within the team when those who tried hard see that a weaker skater is awarded. They may understand when the more experienced skater wins but giving it to the new person who constantly got goated? That kind of reeks.

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To get around this and bring the positive mojo back to our skaters in the dressing room is the Sugar Shaker Award. It’s just a simple sugar shaker filled with candy and is given out in our dressing room after the game.

The Sugar Shaker Award goes to a skater who made the game sweeter. Maybe she pushed everyone to work harder or helped to keep morale high. Maybe she had an amazing 20 point jam. Maybe she was always the one at the right place at the right time to block. Sure, it may not be the superstar you have on your team but it usually is someone pretty close. This reinforces the value of people who play hard and bring a lot of positivity to the team dynamic. Because we go around to each skater and ask who they’d nominate and why, it lends to positive peer feedback – like a verbal hug from your derby sisters.

 

 

Attitude is Everything

iu-1Lately at practices, one of our skaters has been asking some seemingly odd questions.

“How can you tell if a kid is faking an injury on the track?”

“Is it true you won’t level up a skater if they act too immature to play contact?”

“If a skater got mad at someone on the track in a game and just didn’t want to play anymore, would you let them lace off?”

This is coming from a skater who bawls when she trips (and then proceeds to blame her skates, what she’s wearing, the floor, the person who was skating a metre away from her, and her mom for buying regular Cheerios instead of Honey-Nut).

I’d like to think we’ve developed a nurturing culture in our league; a safe place for the skaters to discuss whatever’s on their minds but also an arena for parents to share too. Often do we have parents letting our coaches know, “My daughter’s having trouble in school” or “She didn’t get enough sleep” or “She’s just coming off of a track and field tournament.” Obviously, more of a warning than idle chit-chat.

In this case, the message came through another parent: this mom was having issues with her daughter’s behaviour so she was taking roller derby away from her until further notice.

And we were having issues too. She was getting belligerent with the coaches. She was bossing other skaters around and just generally not saying things that were very kind as a way to put others down and prop her up. Let me say, when she was gone, it was nice to go through a whole practice without having to stop and reprimand.

When the skater came back, she was respectful and as sweet as sugar. And then came the questions.

How can we tell if someone is faking? We strive to have lots of eyes on the skaters (a lead coach who makes the practice, a second who helps to demonstrate and supplies additional pointers or runs a secondary drill for skaters at different levels, and helpers who are there to encourage and be that watchful eye). Someone can usually see how a fall went down. It was a good opportunity to review the rule of “out three if we take a knee.”

Will we not pass someone who’s immature? Maybe! The higher the level, the more important collaborative work is, and the harder it’s going to be to play. And there’s always another skater who is better than you. Always. If you can’t accept that, maybe it’s not your time yet.

Should a coach agree to scratch a skater if her feelings are hurt during a bout? Well, practices are about you: your goals, your skills. Games are about the team. You’re playing for what’s on the front of your shirt, not the back. If your attitude is going to get in the way of the safety of the game, yeah, maybe you should just leave. But know that you’d be letting your team down if you can’t get it together.

This isn’t the first skater to have attitude. But we found that by continuing to work with the parent(s) and phrasing any disciplines in a constructive, caring way, those difficult skaters learn how to work together and know when to put others first.

Sometimes it takes ages, but the benefits are awesome. It’s a lifeskill that you hope you’ve imprinted on this skater that will take her through her adulthood.

It’s so much more than teaching them to plow stop.

 

Halloween Games

To me, Halloween is like a holiday for children. I try to make it special for my neighbourhood kids but also for our skaters. So every year, we invite them to wear a costume they can safely skate in and we put together a bunch of festive games that also sneakily teach and reinforce skills.

Pumpkin Roll has the skaters down super low, rolling a pumpkin from one end of the room to the other. Pumpkins aren’t perfectly round so this will challenge them to stay low for longer than they think. I usually have teams break in half, with one half of the team on one end of the room and the other at the other end. This way, the pumpkin is rolled up by one group and rolled down by another. This maximizes the number of kids playing. Another way to ensure kids aren’t waiting around is to have them do the rolling in pairs or in threes. Balance and core engagement will be key, as well as a little strength because pumpkins can be heavy!

To have them sticky skating or toe-walking or just generally going slowly, the Ghost Walk game uses paper plates and balloons. Every skater has a paper plate with a balloon on top. They’re to take that from one end to the other with the balloon staying on the plate. Skating fast and dragging the balloon through the air is cheating. We encourage two hands on the plate with the arms extended so they can’t use their chests or face or whatever to propel the balloons forward. Why is it called Ghost Walk? Ghosts move slowly.

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Zombie Tag is a tough one. Choose your fastest skater who will be the zombie virus. She’ll skate around and try to tag others. If they are tagged, they become zombies. They will now have a paper plate on the floor that they must drag around with their skate – they’ll look like they’re shuffling zombies! The zombies, too, can tag someone. Game ends when everyone is infected or you run out of paper plates.