Reading Between the Lines: Roller Derby Feedback

Do What I Mean, Not What I Say

I’ve talked about how coaching is easy when you’re training right. But let’s be real. Not every coach in derby knows the intricacies of the game and its movements on their first day. Quite frankly, if your coach does, you’re the luckiest.

Roller derby captains and coaches are generally not sports performance experts and they’re maybe not natural teachers. Our sport is new, it’s small, we have no formal training, and we’re on a budget. Derby leadership are regular people doing their bests. Sometimes they might give you the “wrong” advices. If you want to succeed, it’s your job to read between the lines.

Here are three stock pieces of advice. They come from a good place — one with solid foundations — but maybe don’t make sense for you, specifically.

Strengthen Your Core

A blocker with the men’s team I coached tended to fall when the jammer came in hot. His captain recommended he work on his core as a way to improve his game. Now, imagine a superfit human with visible abs and the core strength to match. That’s this guy.

Dude was bummed out that his captain believed he had a weak core and was bewildered by the advice. I reminded him that generally, a strong core helps skaters absorb the jammer’s impact. Because roller derby brings sport to new athletes, core work tends to be go-to advice.

The most important thing was to look at what his captain meant. He meant better absorbing impact from an attacking jammer. Core strength is a big part of that, but not the only factor. So he practiced sinking into the hit, closing holes before the jammer could hit them, and narrowing the gap between his body and the jammer’s as they approached. Those things made him more stable in absorbing impact, and in combination with having a strong core, showed his captain he could be that stronger player.

You’re Too Small

A farm team skater with my old league was told she was too small and should bulk up. Comments about body size can cut deep. But the reality is that all things being equal, smaller players must have better skills than larger players to yield the same outcomes. So yeah, she could build up muscle but she’s not gonna outsize a 170-lb opponent. So she has to outplay them.

Playing big means better absorbing impact and resisting against unwanted movement from the pushes and punches. (Basically in the same vein as “strengthen your core.”) Also, it’s covering the same ground a bigger human could cover via agility. Our newb showed captains she was serious by putting on some muscle, but she also succeeded through figuring out what the speakers meant.

Stop Thinking Too Much

My lifetime BFF and teammate “thinks too much” in gameplay. She’s gotten feedback to stop thinking so much and just DO. If you read my previous post on translating drills and skills to play that kills, you may already see where this is going.

The feedback doesn’t actually mean that a skater should think and plan less. Every athlete must first read a situation, then make a plan, and finally do. It’s that they should practice reading situations and make options more automatic what to do about them so they can move on to executing faster. Plus anyone can train to increase their reaction time!

In reality, with more practice assessing situations, an athlete reacts more quickly as the thought process (read and plan) is streamlined. You can practice reading situations both when you are in them and also (to get more reps) by viewing tape. Watch skaters and try to predict what they’ll do. Finally you can decrease your response time by drilling specifically for reaction time — on or off skates. So think as much as you want! But do it right and super fast!

Bonus: Get Lower

This one gets me every time. We hear it so much it’s lost all meaning. What does this mean? I wrote a whole post on it!

So friends, when your roller derby leadership says something that sounds suspect, remember to hear what they mean, not what they say. Then take their advice!