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.

 

 

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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.

 

EXTREME Duck Duck Goose – Derby Style!

Tell your skaters you’re going to play Duck Duck Goose and you could be met with more eye rolls than cheers.

But if you lead in to it saying, “This isn’t some baby Duck Duck Goose. This is EXTREME Duck Duck Goose,” you might pique their attention.

The rules are the same. Have a skater skate around, gently tapping the top of the other skaters’ helmets and saying, “Duck” for each one you tap. They choose one and say, “Goose” and that person is to skate around and get back to their spot, trying not to be caught by the person who chose them. If they do get caught, they get to call “Duck Duck Goose.”

But what makes it extreme? And what good is this to teach your juniors skating skills?

Speed is part of it, as well as precision. I might encourage the very new to just try their best to skate around the circle of their derby sisters, others to only sticky skate around the circle. Skaters that handle it can weave around the circle and advanced skaters can skate backwards or even weave backwards.

But it can also reinforce some of those off-skates drills you’re doing. Have the skaters in the circle stay in derby stance or have them do squats. In time, their legs will be screaming at them and they might be pleading, “Pick me as goose! Pick me!”iu-3

Teaching Hockey Stops

One of the first things taught is how to stop, for very good reasons. Especially in junior derby where some leagues keep skaters of all levels together, one could be on the track with a baby deer on wheels. If she flails or falls, for her safety and yours, you should know how to stop.

After a while, our skaters were hungry to learn stops beyond the plow, T, tomahawk, etc. So enter the hockey stop!

When we teach it, we break it down as seen on this video: https://youtu.be/km1dNyqA-AU

We have the skaters line up. They skate forward while the coach yells “Airplane!” The skaters repeat in their recess voice “AIRPLANE!” While they yell, they skate with their arms out to the side.

Then the coach yells “Twist!” and the girls repeat “TWIST!” while they twist their torsos, arms still extended. It has to be a quick snap. Their bodies are in great alignment for the next step.

This is when the coach yells “Stop!” and they swing their leg out and apply pressure on  on the outer foot’s heel. Don’t overthink it!

Often, the kids are so small, their wheels are pretty hard for their weight. Totally cool in this instance because it gets that slide needed for the hockey stop.

Yeah, yeah, their arms are out. Once they’re introduced to the hockey stop and feel they can successfully execute it, encourage them to not use their arms. “Airplane” can then become just “Skate” or whatever you fancy.

SO Much Better Than “Team A” and “Team B”

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I’ve always been fond of catching two birds with one stone (not literally, thank you).

Part of running a junior roller derby organization is certainly to teach the youths the skills they need to play the sport, but also to learn the rules and LOVE the sport. This is why we encourage them to watch derby. Catch local games, for sure, but maybe instead of watching an episode of a show they’ve seen before, check out a bout on YouTube or on the WFTDA archives.

It can be a struggle, particularly with the younger ones, many of whom are just happy to be on wheels.

Another thing that can be a struggle and is something I try to avoid is letting the skaters pick their own group to work out. Working with people having a variety of skills can sometimes be a great learning experience, particularly in juniors where some leagues allow skilled players to “play down” a level. When they pick their own group, there tends to be someone who gets left out or disappointed. Practice should be a happy time in their week.

So when we have a drill or activity that requires two or more groups, I ask the skaters to “name two (or more, depending on what I need) great roller derby athletes.” This requires the youths to actually watch – or at least research – derby. Then I go around and tap each helmet and say, “Team Librawlian, Team Konky (that’s a local fan-favourite), Team Librawlian, Team Konky.”

Of course, our skaters have caught on to some loopholes and I’ve had to add to the direction with “…two great roller derby athletes that aren’t in this room and aren’t related to you.”

But This Derby Blog is Different!

It’s been four years since I started our junior roller derby team in southwestern Ontario, Canada. What most people don’t know is that it took me a whole year of research prior to the first time I put that whistle around my neck. No, I’m not slow. I’m just thorough.

I’ve always felt that successful junior leagues are run not like adult derby leagues but more similarly to other children’s sport organizations. It took me a year because coaching junior derby meant I was going to be responsible for someone else’s baby…while she is on wheels!

I had played and trained adult derby for years before but my daughter really wanted to play herself. I felt that if she and a couple of her friends were interested, surely there were more kids like her. So I began – yes, for a year – looking online as well as emailing and phoning junior coaches near and far for advice, for administrative tips, and kid-friendly drills and games.

Most of what I found online was a ton of stuff specifically geared toward adult derby. Sure, sanitizing the name of some drills is an easy fix, but sometimes searching for novel ways to teach level 1 skills in an entertaining way has been tough. And what to do about those sticky situations you can find yourself in when you’re looking after a big group of kids?

Today, I’m part of a training committee that helps approximately 50 registered girls in our league, aged 9 to 17, learn about the amazing and empowering sport of roller derby. We’ve been through a bit, so if you’re new to junior derby training or hit a plateau or just want to see what our experience is like, come on in. Do I have a story to tell you!