It’s been a long ass time since I’ve written a blog post. I know all two and a half people who read this occasionally have been anxiously waiting, so I’m sorry for the hiatus. I’ve been spending the last year getting comfortable in my role as Head Trainer and Coach, and wanted to absorb as much knowledge as I could before pretending like I know what I’m doing in front of internet strangers. But like everything else in my life, upcoming events have forced me to get my shit together and just get on with it. I recently developed a training committee to help train the FM, and we have an upcoming training meeting to review the new curriculum I designed as well as go over feedback for trainers, potential new trainers, and the plan going forward. So this blog post is for you, training committee, and whoever else on the internet might find it useful.
Before I go any further, let me explain my background a little so we can agree that there might be a tiny little bit of merit to my advice in this. I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Child Development, with a focus on teaching adults about how kids develop. I worked for about four years teaching toddlers and preschoolers basic life skills like writing and not biting each other, and eventually moved into a position overseeing the professional development of caregivers, particularly in regards to their lesson plans for the tiny toddler terrors.
The past year of acting as a Coach and Head Trainer has been amazing, and based on feedback, pretty successful. Our team rating took a hit because the year I came on just to happened to be the year we had to play teams that were a LOT better than us and who had full rosters. However I’ve seen a huge amount of improvement in the team and in individual skaters, and have gotten a fuck ton of feedback regarding my training. My cumulative experience has given me a lot of insight into how to work with, train and motivate others, so I’m ready to put it into writing for my league and whoever else gives a shit.
There’s a fuck ton of thing that go along with being a good trainer, but for simplicity’s sake I’m going to put this in list form.
1.Basic Knowledge and Basic Resources
I really fucking hope that this point isn’t a surprise to anyone of you, because if it is you’re fucked. In order to teach anyone about anything you have to be somewhat competent in the area you’re teaching. You should have played roller derby for a while before stepping into a training role. You need knowledge about rules, equipment, skills, officiating, physical fitness, NSO’ing, and so much more shit to be an effective trainer. All of these things tie together when you’re teaching people about this incredibly complicated but amazing sport. If you see a newbie struggling with plow stops, you have to be able to recognize that it’s because they’re wearing those bullshit hybrid wheels (I fucking hate hybrids so much) on a sticky floor, and can’t slide into the plow to save their life. Or to save their ankles, which they will eventually break if they don’t get different wheels. If you have a high incidence of ankle injuries in your league, you need to do appropriate off skates workouts to strengthen ankles. If you’re working on packwork, you need to know the technical pack definitions as well as what refs are looking at when they make those calls.
I think that this is most important in the basics of skating in FM. I’m a very technically focused trainer who will stop a drill just to point out the specifics of a plow stop, if I see multiple people struggling with it. If you don’t understand the very basic and effective ways to do basic skills, then you’re setting your team up for failure. When I see people plateau with their skills, it’s often because they took shortcuts with basic skills or weren’t taught the most effective and safe way to do them, so they struggle with later skills at higher levels. If no one taught you about angling your foot in a one sided plow stop in order to use your edges, how the hell are you supposed to stop a jammer who’s pushing on you? If no one ever noticed that you’re carrying your weight on the balls of your feet and showed you how to balance it on your heels instead, how are you supposed to correct your constant falling when someone puts pressure on you? It’s imperative in roller derby in general, but especially in FM to know the how’s and why’s of skating.
Something I think that is underrated, though, is the fact that you have to be able to use your resources. No one knows everything. There might be weird situations with rules that you’re not sure about, or maybe Rogue Runner had an awesome video where she talked about muscle lines and you want to know more. You have to be able to look up information in order to fill those gaps, which means having a working knowledge of resources available to you. This could be internet blogs, other trainers, refs, even your local fucking library. It’s your job to sift through all of it and build your knowledge base so that you can relay it to your players.
Also useful to having a working knowledge is having a variety of experience to pull from. I have been lucky enough to have NSO’d bouts, officiated scrimmages, bench coached, captained and trained both large groups and small groups. I can tell you from first hand experience how hard it is to watch feet, hips, elbows and 10 foot lines all at once as a ref (spoiler alert: you fucking can’t). I know what it’s like to get sassed as an official and to be sassed by a shitty, aggressive official. I know what it’s like to be a new, lonely, isolated skater and I know what a struggle it is to balance league needs and individual needs as a leader. I know what it’s like to teach people hard skills and what a struggle it is as a skater to get over your fears and take that apex jump. I pull knowledge from all of these instances in order to be an effective trainer. If you can NSO or officiate for a scrimmage, do it to get some perspective. It helps. I promise.
2. Build them Up, Don’t Tear them Down
Oh man, another super basic thing that somehow we all struggle with occasionally. Some way more than others.
Look, this tends to be one of those things that everyone agrees with, but somehow so many people lack the basic insight to understand that they do the exact opposite of this. I have a natural talent for giving good feedback, and it’s helped by having worked with kids for so long. If you’re critical of kids, your day will be a nightmare because of the negative environment you’re creating. You have to make it rain praise, because it creates a positive feedback loop that builds confidence and relationships. Amazingly, we never grow out of this, because it happens the same way with adults.
The thing that a lot of people forget about feedback is that it’s more of a tool to motivate people than it is to make them perfect. You want to recognize their successes and sympathize with their struggles. Sure, Becky may be cutting every time she tries that Apex jump, but her form is getting better and she’s getting less afraid. When she’s more comfortable with the form she’ll be able to focus on the cutting part, so praise her for her form getting better until she’s ready to work on a new aspect, like cutting. Sure, Andi may be having a hard time with toe stop running, but it’s because she broker her ankle last year and is scared, so praise her for trying and tell her that it’s already getting better and is going to be great once she practices more and works through her (completely understandable) fear. People get incredibly discouraged when you only focus on negative things, which is especially true in this demanding and physical sport. You need to help people be positive and give them something to look forward to, and feedback is a CRITICAL part of this.
Two simple ways to accomplish a good balance are the sandwich method and the two-to-one method. The sandwich method is simply sandwiching negative feedback in between positive feedback. An example would be ‘You guys are doing a really good job noticing what’s going on in the pack, but you’re not reacting to it quickly enough. I see you guys looking, which it actually the hardest part, so if you can get your body to react quicker you’re going to be a lot more effective and have a longer time to block.’ Do you see how that’s a sandwich? Your pack awareness is good-Your reactions are too slow- You’ve got the hardest part down already. Positive-Negative-Positive. The two to one method is just giving two compliments to every one criticism. Super simple stuff, it’s just a matter of counting and self-awareness.
It’s also worth noting that the way you word things is important. ‘Becky, stop looking down when you plow stop.’ is way more negative and less supportive than ‘Becky, I see you focusing on your plow stop, but I’m telling you that it’s pretty good. You have the muscle memory down, and looking at your foot is just bringing your weight forward. Take it slow and try to focus on a spot on the wall while you plow stop.’ There’s not an easy way to teach talking to people like you’re not a raging asshole, so it’s largely a matter of self-awareness. I’ve had really good trainers before who I hated training with because they never realized how condescending they were, and that’s a shame.
3. Have a Plan
My team practice is very structured, but I think best example I can use for this is in the newly re-done FM training plan that I made and just started implementing. I ask at the end of every practice, FM and team, for feedback regarding drills and the overall practice, and the overwhelming theme I’ve gotten from feedback is that the skaters love having a plan. The team loves having training goals, drill goals and set intensity levels, so they know what to expect, and the FM love having a training plan that builds on itself. My experiences in my former league support this, too. When we didn’t have training goals practice was kind of all over the place, and we never worked on anyone skill long enough for it to be useful.
I’ve found that identifying a theme to work on for a few weeks (which is dictated by team goals that everyone decides on) works for the team, and having a set progression of skills for FM to work on is really motivating for people. On a smaller scale, having a few goals for each practice and each drill also give players something to work on. Your drills should tie into each other and build on each other, and each drill should have a clearly defined goal. Are you focusing on edges in this juking drill, or maybe octopus hands in the juke? Is this apex jump drill building up to using it in a scrimmage drill, or is it more for working on explosive power and balance? You should have a plan for what to work on and be able to identify the goals, whether it’s for a season, a week, a practice or one specific drill. When players know what to work on they tend to be more motivated and work harder. It’s your job as a trainer to foster that, and having a plan is a key part of it.
4. Be Flexible
I’m putting this point right after having a plan, because no matter how well planned out something is you have to be flexible about it. You can plan an amazing practice with amazing skills, but if your players are struggling with your drills you have to be flexible enough to break it down to basics and work back up. If you don’t have enough players to run your drill, you have to be prepared to do another drill or change something about it so you don’t need as many players. If you have a player who’s not comfortable with a drill then you have to be able to simplify the drill for that player so they can still participate. It can be as simple as instructing your players to not go 100% so they don’t kill the newly assessed skater, or making your players hold socks during a drill because their multiplayer blocks are fucking everything up.
You can also leave some room in your plan for players to choose drills. I like to leave ten minutes at the end of practices during medium or low intensity weeks and have players choose a game to play, or a skill to work on that they haven’t in a while. It gives me an idea of what they want and gives them a sense of control and fun over practice.
A really important aspect of being flexible is being able to adapt to the learning styles of different people. Some people are audio learners, some are visual, some are kinesthetic, and still others learn in different ways. If someone isn’t getting what you’re teaching, you have to find a different way to explain it or show it, or maybe give them some individual attention for a few minutes after training, if they’re up for it. Be patient and be flexible, because no matter how they learn, they’re still your responsibility to grow and nurture so you have to find some way to teach them.
5. Be Aware
OH MY GOD THIS IS IMPORTANT. You need a lot of awareness to be a trainer, and that awareness breaks down into awareness of others and self-awareness.
Awareness of others is important because it allows you to be a responsive trainer. If you don’t see that your players are getting bored with your stop on the whistle drill, people are going to stop coming to practice because your trainings suck. If you don’t see that a player is getting frustrated with a skill that you keep pushing, that player might just get frustrated enough to quit. If you don’t see that players are getting tired before you do a transition during a jump drill, someone is going to get hurt. To be completely honest with you, this is a skill that is incredibly hard to learn, but it can be learned. You just have to really focus on the environment around you. It also helps to have someone who is maybe better at it to help you along and point things out until you can start doing it on your own, if it’s something you struggle with.
And self-awareness. Man, the important of self-awareness cannot be overstated. I’ve seen some trainers who had the potential to be great but weren’t solely because they didn’t have any self-awareness. A really really key part of this is to be able to reflect. I’m not making that up, there’s a shit ton of literature that explores the idea of self-reflection in teaching, and it is far too much for me to cover a fucking wordpress blog. For your convenience, here’s a short article on reflection in teaching that explains it in terms way better than I can shit out for you:
In terms of reflection and self awareness, the most important advice I can give you is to accept feedback. You know how Meghan Trainer is all about that Bass? Well, I’m all about that feedback, and it’s helped me tremendously in growing as a trainer. I have a pretty good idea of what my strengths and weaknesses are, and I’m able to capitalize on my strengths and help develop my weaknesses so they’re not a continuous issue. This is largely because I seek feedback in what I do, and reflect on what I can do better. Regardless of how much I may want to write someone’s feedback off because I hate their fucking face, I confront the idea that maybe there’s a bit of truth in what they’re saying. Or that maybe how fucking stupid that person’s face is could be irrelevant to my responsibility to them as a trainer, so I need to adjust my approach to this person regardless of whether or not I think they’re right. If you want to be a great trainer you need to use every tool you have, and whether or not it’s comfortable for you, negative and positive feedback are a tool for you. Use them. Be better.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Have Fun
Finally, my favorite. I am a fun person, and my practices reflect that. Even if you’re not someone who is always making hilarious and outdated movie references like me, you can still make practice fun. I just went to a conference in Berlin where Rhonda Housekick of the Rhein-Necker Delta Quads talked about this, and it echoed a lot of what I believe or had already been doing. You can be creative and fun about the way you learn skills, no matter your skills level. In fact, you actually need to in order to retain players and keep people’s enthusiasm for derby intact. One of my favorites is to play dodgeball. We bastardized it so we play it on a roller derby track, with the balls for one team lined up behind the other, and you have to race around the track to get them. Being behind people is the most advantageous, so it ends up being an endurance drill. You can play human tic tac toe, freeze tag, or whatever else. You can have people hit each other off skates or sing karaoke while they do one on one blocking. Be creative and have fun, because at the end of the day this is a sport. We play for fun, so have fun and help others have fun.
Those are the basic points, and I’m not re-reading this to edit it because I have to do homework and sleep and other responsible adult things. So I hope it helps you, minor grammatical errors and all. As always, if you want to know anything else, let me know.