One of the things that is most exciting about Roller Derby (that also makes all of our lives very complicated) is that most teams/leagues are self-coached. We don’t have professional coaches that we call in (at least not often). We have ourselves – skaters who take on the role of coach. Sometimes, coaches have extensive backgrounds in coaching other sports, personal training or physical therapy. And sometimes coaches are like me, with no background and endless enthusiasm for this sport. This blog is for those coaches.
I ran my first practice for the Ypsilanti Vigilantes August 4th, 2015. I had no prior knowledge to coaching or training and I was terrified. I shadowed their previous trainer for one practice before the hand off was made. At the time, I wished I had shadowed more. Now I know that no matter how many practices you attend, and how many you watch, running one feels like a whole new world.
There is so much to think about when writing and running a practice! Since that day in August I have written and run a practice nearly every Tuesday. I have also led several clinics on roller derby for other leagues in Michigan. It’s safe to say I have found my personal groove when it comes to writing practices.
I pride myself on running a well-thought-out practice that flows to meet the team’s needs. Here is how I do it:
Warm ups – I personally do not enjoy lengthy or slow warm ups. I feel like not a lot of people take them seriously so their bodies aren’t truly warm. It’s also a big time suck. Warming up your body is important! It prevents injury! So Coaches and Skaters, please, do take it seriously. I recommend setting aside no more than 15 minutes for warm up, and spend it on a dynamic warm up, not static stretching. Tell your skaters to use that time to truly activate their muscles while working on simpler skills to wake up that roller derby brain.
Individual Skills – After warm ups, we focus on individual skills. This could be footwork, lateral movements, backwards skating, absorbing impact with a partner, etc. Basically: a skill the team already KNOWS or has tried in the past that you need to sharpen.
New Skills – After individual skills is a good time to introduce a new skill. When you put a new skill at the beginning of practice, this gives the skaters the opportunity to continue working at this skill throughout the rest of practice in other drills. Try not to do more than one, maybe two brand new skills a practice. They can take up a lot of time and there is so much to learn always! Make sure to revisit these skills in future practices so they aren’t lost forever.
Endurance (Optional) – This is a good time to put in some individual endurance. There are SO many options here. Three of my favorites are: ✪ 6 Stride Hell: Skating briskly, sprinting for 6 strides on the whistle to build those explosive muscles. ✪ Get The Fuck Up: Skating laps as quickly as possible, on the whistle skaters lie on their back or their front, whistle blows again and they pop up as fast as possible and return to sprinting. Sometimes you get annihilated on the track, and you should be able to bounce back and return to game play as quickly as possible and this is good simulation. ✪ Jammer Wall Push Ups: Jammers must push a braced wall of 4 blockers a half lap. They are not allowed to escape, only push to build strength. They cannot push in the same seam, they must try different options every few seconds. Blockers should be focused on sitting as low as possible, actively practicing edgework, tight seams, and communication.
Building Blocks – This is the most important part of practice! It should be the bulk of your team’s time at practice. This is group work. It can start as 1 vs. 1 and build to an end at 4 vs. 1. You can mix it up with 4 vs. 1 with 1 friend playing offense. It can be just plain roller derby, it can be practicing new offensive plays, it can be blocker walls spread out across the track with jammers coming in with speed and attacking a seam. It can be anything you want it to be! The most important thing is that skaters are working together to learn and achieve a set goal.
Group Endurance – I love to end on group endurance. It is important to know how your body will perform when you are tired because you are going to get tired during a game. Also, underlying bad habits come out when your body goes into auto-derby mode. This makes it easier to spot skills that need to be fine-tuned at future practice. What do I mean by group endurance? I mean playing roller derby NON-STOP! One option is 2 minute jams (call offs don’t exist!) and anyone who is not participating must be skating endurance laps around the outside. Another option is endless roller derby, where 5 on 5 are playing playing roller derby for an undetermined amount of time. The trainer will switch out skaters at their leisure, but none of the skaters on the track can stop or call off the jam.
Stretch – Now is the time for static stretching, circled up as a team to end practice.
I am sure my practice flow isn’t perfect for every team. Take some time to talk about what is working and what isn’t working for your skaters when teaching new drills. Ask how effective they feel a drill is and if they would like to see it on a regular basis. It’s important to know your team’s goals when you write an agenda and to check in every now and again to see if you are helping them meet their needs and potential.