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.

 

 

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.

 

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.”