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.

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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?