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?

 

 

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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.

 

 

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.”