Roller derby skills: finding your ‘Good Thing’

Roller derby skills: ploughing

Ploughing… lots of ploughing.

I don’t read sports psychology books, but from my own experience (taking ages to pass my laps and 18 months as a bouting skater) I think so much of derby is about how you think and how much confidence you have in yourself. Finding your ‘Good Thing’ (i.e. thinking of one key skill you’re great at) is a good way of building up your confidence.

I’ve heard skaters at scrimmage, who’ve not long passed their minimum skills, say things like “I’m not really good at anything”. This makes me sad. I think this sometimes happens partly because there are lots of strengths that people don’t realise they have, because they aren’t on the minimum skills tests.

There are lots of really important ‘soft skills’ that are essential for derby: communication, track awareness , working together with team mates, being a good listener, taking instructions and putting them into practise, strategy knowledge and generally being in the right place at the right time! That might all sound a bit fluffy or mundane, but these things are really important once you get into scrimmaging and bouting.

Key roller derby skills

Gathering together some ‘Good Things’

While I was still a ‘fresh meat’ skater, I realised (from doing lots of games of Queen of the Track!) that I was good at being stable. So at my first scrimmage I thought; “Well, I’m not going to know what the hell is going on, but I’m just going to stay on the inside line. All the time. For every jam. Forever.”

I knew it was important to protect the inside line from watching bouts and as I felt I was a substantial and stable skater I reckoned I was bound to get in the opposing jammer’s way at some point. I tried to focus on this one thing and hoped it would be useful – which I think it was!

So that’s the advice I’ve tried to give other skaters if they’ve said to me they don’t feel confident: find one ‘Good Thing’ you can do well, or think you could be good at, and focus on that.

Still clueless about what your Good Thing could be?

Think about your body: If you’re a bigger skater then you might naturally be good at positionally blocking – you can get in the jammer’s way. Brilliant! If you’re smaller then you can aim to get through small gaps in a wall as a jammer. If you are tall and have long legs then maybe you can plough well and can try to cover a large space on the track. If you’re short then you could be good at getting low and dodging underneath people trying to block you.

Think about how you are in your everyday life: Are you a good listener? Are you good at working in a team? Are you able to stay calm under pressure? Are you confident at communicating? Are you a great team leader? These are all things that you can bring into derby – so think about what you are like naturally as a person and use this on track. If you feel like you are not the best physical skater in your team, but think you could be good at one of these things, then use it and your team mates will be fighting to be on track with you! Honest.

Roller derby skills: communication

Rarrrgh! (i.e. communication)

So how do you bring this onto the track?

If you’re a fresh meat skater – celebrate your small victories each week: even if it’s just being able to skate on one leg for a whole lap instead of those ten seconds you managed 3 weeks before. Tell yourself what your Good Thing was for that week, every week. Don’t compare yourself to other people (it’s hard not to I know!) There will always be someone who can do certain things better than you, but there will be things that you can do better than others too. That’s what makes a great team.

If you’re new to scrimmage, think of one thing you were good at during fresh meat, like ploughing or being agile and just focus on doing that – on every jam! Don’t worry about being a little selfish by focusing on yourself and not knowing what else is going on during scrimmage – that will come with time.

If you’ve been scrimmaging for a little while and still feel like you haven’t found something that you’re good at, then just pick one thing that you want to do on each jam. And do it to death! If you’re blocking you could decide to try and communicate where the jammer is or always be the one to tell your team mates when the jammer is coming out of the box. If you’re jamming you may just want to aim to survive a big hit from a more experienced player – this is a great feeling!

Roller derby skills: positive attitude and being a good team player

Team spirit!

At whatever level, I’ve also found it’s great to share your Good Things with your fellow skaters or just keep a note for yourself if you’re a bit shy about it.

Myself and a few others in the B team still tell each other what we think we did well at the end of scrimmage or after a bout. If one of us feels like we’ve not really done anything great that week, one of us will always have seen something that the other person has done well and will tell them.

I’ve had skaters say to me “All I do is get in front of other people so they can hang onto me for blocking” and they think this is not a big deal. It is! In my opinion, things like this or communicating with your team mates might not sound or look as ‘cool’ as something like backwards blocking or skating really fast, but these are the things that will make your team mates glad to be on track with you.

So don’t underestimate these key skills – get good at them and OWN them. Cool stuff can wait.

And if you still think you can’t do any of these things very well, have no idea what your ‘Good Thing’ is, but you keep coming back to fresh meat sessions or scrimmage week after week?

Then you have one of the most important things you can have as a derby player:

YOU ARE TENACIOUS AND YOU DON’T GIVE UP!

Blog by: Lula Bruise #226

Images by:
Ian Woodward
Joe Ehlen
Frieder Kesch

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