Tag Archives: roller derby

Adios, Plateau: Training Your Roller Derby Brain

Getting better at roller derby doesn’t always happen as fast as we’d like it to. We struggle with specific skills, we hit plateaus, we don’t make rosters, or we warm the bench more than we’d like. Progress can sometimes be so agonizingly slow that we start to wonder if we’ll ever be any good at this ridiculous sport.

The good news? Yes, you CAN become really good at roller derby! But, it’s going to take more than just showing up for practice and going through the motions.

Commit to your training. No, REALLY commit to it.

You might think, “I’m going to practice, I’m making attendance minimums. That should be plenty, right?” Well, not exactly. If you’re waiting in the draft pool, or wanting to climb up higher on your team’s roster, you’ll need to do more than the minimum to get there. In fact, you’d be wise to do more than the skater next to you.

Your teammates and coaches are there to support you and give you feedback, but all the advice in the world won’t magically make you a better derby player: you have to be ready to take action based on that advice, and to maintain that effort for an extended period of time. We’re talking weeks or months, depending on your goals–if you’ve got your eyes on WFTDA championships or Team USA, you can expect years of tough and consistent training to get there.

So, ask yourself: when you get training advice, are you going to say, “that’s a great idea,” and then keep doing the bare minimum? Or will you actually go to those extra skills practices, or do that off-skates training routine, or study that bout footage?

Get specific and focused with your goals.

Okay, so you’ve decided that you’re 100% amped to put in that extra training time. What are you going to work on? It seems like you need to work on everything, right?

Well, not exactly. Trying to work on all of your skills and strategies can get overwhelming fast, and you probably won’t see particularly fast progress on any of them, because you’re dividing your time and attention between so many different things.

Instead, pick out a small number of things–as in, maybe two or three–that you can focus on. Everyone has different things they’re good at, and others that they struggle with, so identify a specific part of your game that you’re struggling with, and make that your focus. Not sure what to work on? Ask someone you trust who knows derby and has seen you skate: this is where your teammates, coaches, and leaguemates can help you.

Be nice to yourself.

It’s nice to win MVP awards, get praise from your coaches, and hear compliments from other skaters, but there’s one voice that’s more powerful than any external motivation: Your Own. And, if your internal monologue is full of negative self-talk about what a terrible skater you are, then you simply aren’t going to play as well.

Giving some attention to your mental game can make the difference between zipping through that pack, or getting recycled backwards over and over. It may sound corny, but talking to yourself in a positive way actually does help you perform better. It’s science!

Be kind to yourself, and tell yourself that you can do the thing! Then after that? Do it again. After that? Keep doing it, until becomes a habit. Better yet, think about what you need to feel confident, and create a key phrase, action, or routine that helps you tap into that confidence, so it’ll be there when you need it.

Focus on the things you can control, not the things you can’t.

You can’t control everything in roller derby, no matter how much you might want to. Maybe there’s drama between different players or teams or committees, or politics that you get dragged into. Maybe there aren’t any spots open on the team you want to join. Maybe there’s a flashy new transfer who paid their dues at another league, and now they’re getting rostered ahead of you. There are a lot of things that can happen that affect your derby career, and you may not be able to do anything about them. It’s normal to feel frustrated by that.

The thing is, if you spend your energy being upset about things you can’t change, it becomes very easy to start blaming outside forces when you don’t get what you want. And, when everything starts being someone else’s fault, then you have less control, and then you get more frustrated, and it all turns into a vicious circle of crappy feelings, and you still aren’t getting better at derby as quickly as you want to.

And, energy you’re wasting on things you can’t control is energy you aren’t using on the things you CAN change. Maybe you can’t force anyone to put you onto a particular team, but you CAN train hard and improve your skills so they’ll want to draft you. Maybe you don’t get to decide how many jams you play in, but you can fine-tune your mental game and become a positive presence that your team wants to have on a game roster.

You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it. You have the power to take negative energy and channel it into positive results, and that can make all the difference in becoming the derby player you want to be.

By Shaolin Spocker

Shaolin Spocker helps new roller derby skaters figure out where their strengths lie when lining up in a wall | roller derby for beginners

Photo by Regularman

Shaolin Spocker skates with Rose City Rollers, and is going into her fourth season with her incredibly smart-and-pretty home team, the High Rollers. She likes Star Trek and pie (both baking and eating it), and actually knows kung fu, but has received decidedly more high-fives for hitting people in derby than she has anywhere else. You can check out her web design and photography work–both of which she does better and far more often than blogging–at her creative design studio, Upswept Creative.

Finding Your Happy Place In Your Walls

Lining up for a jam in walls with your teammates always gives you a little extra security—these are the people you practice with all the time and hopefully enjoy being around, after all—but sometimes, you’ll get the feeling that things seem to work just a little bit better when you line up in a particular way.

Different parts of a wall have different strengths, and when game time comes around, you can choose the position that plays to your strengths.

Or, if you don’t have teammates yet, maybe your fellow blockers in scrimmage have asked you where you like to line up—the inside? the outside?—and you weren’t quite sure what to say. Read on to learn more about where to line up in a wall, and why.

Where Can You Be In a Wall?

A very long-standing and common way to break it down is to assign blockers to lanes. Assuming you have a four-wall, Lane 1 is holding the inside line, Lane 2 is middle-inside, Lane 3 is middle-outside, and Lane 4 guards the outside line.

With the advent of braced walls and more dynamic formations, assigning yourself to a lane might seem less clear. So, we’ll touch upon that, and talk about wall positions in a way that (hopefully) still translates and makes sense.

Lane 1, or Nearest to the Inside Line

Guarding the inside line is of perhaps the gravest importance—
it’s the shortest path around the track, and nobody likes making it that easy for an opposing jammer to get through. So, if you’re in this position, you should have Lane 1 on lockdown.

Do you have a good sense of where you are in relation to the inside line? If you’re the person who always knows exactly how close the inside line is, even in the turns, you should be holding that line! On the other hand, if you tend to drift off the line without realizing it, you might let someone else handle that job.

Are you awesome at finishing your hits? We’ve all felt the frustration of hitting a jammer, thinking they’ve gone out, only to see them just barely squeak past in-bounds. If you’re working in a narrower wall, like a three-wall or a braced wall, finishing your hits all the way to the line will make sure that nobody squeaks past your wall.

Are you comfortable with transitions and bracing? If your team likes to start in a flat wall and then transition to a brace, you could be a great candidate for Lane 1. Players who start on the lines are usually the first to transition into a brace position, whether it’s as a lone bracer, or part of a wheel or diamond formation. (Don’t worry if you don’t know what that is. It’s kinda advanced stuff.) Being quick with transitions and comfortable with facing backwards could be an asset to a Lane 1 player.

Do you pivot often? If your team relies heavily on passing the cap, the inside lane is a nice place to be, if you’re the pivot receiving that cap pass.

Lanes 2 and 3, or the Middle Lane(s)

The middle lanes are the solid core of the wall. If you’re in a middle lane, you’ll need to be strong and also adaptable, so you can support your blocker friends in covering the lines.

Do you have really great forward-facing stops? I like to play on the lines, and one of my favorite qualities in a Lane 2 or 3 blocker is when they have awesome, hard plow stops, so I can easily support their blocking. Jammers who don’t want to risk running up the line often hit and push the middle gap hard. If you can take those hard hits and still stay slow and dug into your edges, a middle lane might be for you.

Are you extra-good about having your head on a swivel? Every blocker needs to have their head up, looking around, and to keep aware of what’s happening on the track. But, while Lanes 1 and 4 have their respective lines as a boundary to fall back on, middle lane blockers need to keep alert to both sides of themselves. If your track awareness is on point, you might try a middle lane.

Are you good at closing gaps and cinching together with your blockers? You have blockers on both sides of you, so you’ll need to be especially on-point with closing up gaps and gluing yourself together with your adjacent blockers, while still staying stable and in control.

Is hammer-and-nail your bread and butter? Middle lane blockers are all set up to deliver that strong hip check out of bounds when their blocker friend on the inside or outside line is holding the jammer.

Lane 4, or Nearest to the Outside Line

It’s not quite as easy for a jammer to sneak up the outside line as the inside line—it’s a longer path, and they’ll need more speed to pull it off—but there are a lot of similar skills to the Lane 1 position that’ll serve you well with holding the outside.

Got a good sense of where the line is? Momentum can make it easier to stay on the outside line than the inside, but it’s still important for you to be glued to that line when the jammer’s sniffing around.

Okay with transitioning and bracing? Again, if your team likes starting flat and flipping into braced walls or wheel/diamond formations, the Lane 4 player is likely to be making that transition.

Do you love hitting to the outside? It’s pretty common for derby players to be more comfortable with hitting or making C-cuts towards the inside line. If you’re good at finishing your hits all the way to the outside line, however, then Lane 4 could be a great place for you—especially if your team tends to work in a narrower wall that covers less track, and particularly if you can consistently finish to the outside without following your opponent out of bounds yourself.

Dedicated Brace

It’s becoming more common, especially at higher levels of play, to start with a backwards-facing brace in your wall, and that means someone has to volunteer to brace. It’s not exactly a “lane” in the strict sense, but it does ask for some pretty specific skills.

Do you have the gift of clear, consistent communication? One obvious advantage of being the brace: you’re facing backwards, and can easily keep your eye on the opposing jammer! Your team will want to use that advantage as much as possible, so you’ll need to be comfy with talking to your wall a lot and calling the shots.

Is your backwards lateral movement pretty reliable? A brace will be more effective at supporting their wall when it can shuffle side-to-side to give support where the action is, i.e. where the jammer is pushing. So, if you’re at least decently comfortable with backwards lateral movement, you could be a great brace.

Got strong arms? Yeah, you’re going to need them to support your blockers. Wet noodle arms are not helpful for support or wall-slowing.

BONUS: Are you fearless when it comes to chest-to-chest contact? Ideally, your forward-facing blockers won’t let this happen, but it *is* possible that the jammer will punch and make contact with your chest… which just happens to be a completely legal blocking zone. Scary! Nobody likes trying to stop a jammer chest-to-chest, but if you’re willing to do it in a pinch, be that bracer. (Hint: being lower than they are will often get you most of the way there!) (Editor’s note: Spocker may have taken some strong contact like this in the past.)

Hopefully, you now have a few simple metrics to help you get a better handle on where you might work best in your wall on bout day. Ultimately, you need to use a variety of skills to be an effective blocker, so being strong or weak in one particular skillset doesn’t mean you have to stick to one specific part of the wall.

Maybe, now that you know what you’re good at, you can take some time to work on lanes where you’re less comfortable! As you get towards higher levels of play, you’ll need to have a greater ability to be dynamic and adaptive in your walls, so it’s definitely worth your time to try different positions during practice. Push yourself and try it!

 Shaolin Spocker helps new roller derby skaters figure out where their strengths lie when lining up in a wall | roller derby for beginners

Photo by Regularman

By Shaolin Spocker

Shaolin Spocker skates with Rose City Rollers, and is going into her fourth season with her incredibly smart-and-pretty home team, the High Rollers. She likes Star Trek and pie (both baking and eating it), and actually knows kung fu, but has received decidedly more high-fives for hitting people in derby than she has anywhere else. You can check out her web design and photography work–both of which she does better and far more often than blogging–at her creative design studio, Upswept Creative.