roller derby

Controlling Your Hits

Hitting the shit out of people is not only essential to playing roller derby, but also one of the funnest aspects of the sport.  To this day one of the most exhilarating moments I’ve had in this sport is the feeling I got when I hit someone so hard that, over the din and chaos of the track, I heard the entire audience go ‘OOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHH’.  Because we’re apparently violent sociopaths, when you land a hit right and knock a bitch down like a sack of potatoes it’s a rewarding and wonderful feeling.

Quite often  I see hits that are desperate looking and over committing to the hit.  Skaters who hit like this approach hitting in an all or nothing way, doing everything they can to get a hit in.  As a jammer I love those kinds of hits because they’re easy to see coming, easy to avoid and easy to counter-block.  If I get into a solid position and counter block just a little then the opposing blocker’s weight takes her down for me, and I’m free to go on my point scoring way.  Good hits are not doing whatever you can to hopefully land a hit.  Good hits are practiced and calculated movements that take out specific skaters in neat, penalty free ways.  A good hit compared to an all or nothing hit would be like a surgeon excising a titty tumour with a scalpel versus a fucking food mixer.  The first is precise and calculated, the second is making a mess and just kind of hoping shit will work out (it won’t).

It’s worth noting, also, that hitting with that all or nothing style is fucking dangerous.  Falling in a pack is fucking dangerous to you and everyone around you.  Hitting someone sloppily is extremely dangerous to that person.  We want to win the bout not cripple opposing skaters for life, so be conscientious of how your skating can potentially affect other players and practice good form.

I’ve seen drills aimed towards teaching the proper form of hitting, but I don’t think it’s something that gets the explanation and attention it deserves.  I think that understanding the importance of WHY we need good form is important enough that it should be explained early on before fresh meat are cleared for contact.  Bad habits die hard, so it’s best to stop them before they get started.

If you’re doing any of the following, then odds are you’re blocking like a reckless idiot:

  1. When you hit your outside foot comes off of the ground and you’re balancing on one foot
  2. You’re pawing at the ground like a god damned horse with one of your feet
  3. If you fall after you’ve landed your hit
  4. If you fall when you don’t land your hit
  5. You usually get penalties when you hit
  6. The jammer is in front of you when you hit her out
  7. Your hits kind of annoyingly push her forward instead of hitting her out
  8. She doesn’t fall down because you hit like a weakling who has somehow not died yet despite Darwinian principles.

If those things don’t happen when you hit, good job on hitting effectively.

For me there are multiple aspects of an effective hit, so here are what I consider the most important:

Timing:

Timing is hard to get right.  If you hit too late the jammer just slides past you.  If you hit too early you end up pushing the jammer forward, which is the opposite of what you want.  This is a matter of practice.  For this there are a few drills I like to do to help people practice their timing.  I’m including some drills to help with this and the other basic aspects down below.

Keeping your fucking arms in:

Sometimes during drills I make my players plank every time they commit a penalty, so you better believe there are some washboard abs on my team.  Despite how much planking sucks I still see these bitches push their elbows out like they’re doing the fucking chicken dance on skates.  Elbows. Forearms everywhere.  It’s craziness.  When people hit they instinctively throw their elbows out and get a penalty for it.  When people fall they instinctively reach out and grab other people as they go down.

Here’s a tip: Hold your hands when you hit.  I saw one of the players on my team do it without even realizing it, and it was really effective.  It keeps you from grabbing, and makes it a little harder to throw elbows out.  Another thing you can do is swing your arms the opposite direction of where you’re hitting. It gets your elbow and arm out of the way.  In my head I tend to think of it as a whimsical ‘whooop there it is’ as I swing my arms and hips.  Like I’m busting a sweet dance move that has the ulterior motive of hurting someone.

Keeping your weight centered because you’re not a god damned wrecking ball:

Oh my god you guys.  So often I see people, especially newer people, throw the entirety of their body weight into a hit like they’re cosplaying as a shitty wrecking ball.  Stop doing that.  You fall like a hot mess regardless of whether or not you land the hit.  The area on the floor between your skates is your base.  If your center of gravity goes past your base you will fall.  If you take one foot off the floor then your base is reduced to the space between the wheels on the skate still on the floor.  That means that you’ll fall as soon as you lean to hit someone.  It’s basic physics, guys.  Do not throw your body weight over your skates.  Do not depend on their body being there to keep you from falling over.  Similarly, since you want to have a wide base you want to keep both feet on the floor.  If someone solidly counter-blocks you while you have one foot off the floor you will go down, because you can’t compensate with only one foot.  Even though the majority of your weight will be on the foot closest to the opposing player, you need to keep your other foot flat on the floor to brace for counter-blocks and maintain a wide base.  Don’t paw your foot like you’re an impatient fucking horse.  Keep it on the floor.  If your foot is pawing at the floor then you’re not controlling your foot.  If you’re not controlling your foot you’re more likely to low block someone with your sloppy epileptic looking foot or fall and then low block someone with your awkward giraffe legs.

Hitting with your entire body:

I wish I could count how many times I’ve had my skaters do the dreaded banana because they go in and hit with their shoulder, and only their shoulder.  It seems like newer skaters and even some veteran skaters default to only hitting with shoulders or only with hips.  You should be hitting with your entire body.  Tuck your arm out of the way and make contact with the entire area from your hips to the top of your ribs.  If you only hit with your shoulder or your hips then you leave the rest of their body to adjust and absorb your hit.  You remember how we talked about keeping your center of gravity over your base?  That’s what you’re allowing them to do.  If you hit with your entire body you literally leave no room for them to physically adjust and absorb your hit.

Pop it lock it bitches!

One of my favorite techniques to have people practice with hitting form is popping it.  What I mean by that is getting low and popping up into your hit.  If you do this right then when you make contact you force the opposing skater up a little bit, which means they are less balanced and fall over more easily. I like to think of this in terms of very flamboyantly starting an imaginary lawnmower.  While skating I get low enough to touch the floor on the opposite side of the player they are about to hit.  Then, as if jerking up to start a lawnmower, I pop up with my shoulder, but keeping my hands off to the side.  Starting gas powered lawnmowers is a quick motion, so the desired effect is that I pop up quickly with my arm out of the way, ribs open and making contact with my entire side, pushing the opposing skater up and over.

Here are some drills to help:

Paceline hitting: Basically exactly what it sounds like.  Have skaters skate around in a paceline and hit each player as they weave through.  They can do this backwards or forwards.  If your players are having a hard time grasping whatever concept you’re focusing on (don’t hit with just your shoulder, get low and pop it, keep both feet on the ground, ect) then you can have them plank if they do the focus skill wrong until the next person has made it through the line.  When I added that the number of shoulder-only hits reduced dramatically.

Four square blocking: Credit to allderbydrills.com for this one and Sumo Payne. I’m literally just going to copy and paste it for you guys.

Objective: To learn how to skate forward, to the sides, backwards by moving your feet quickly without turning around
Typical length of drill: 15 mins
Materials needed: 4-8 cones (or more if you have a lot of skaters)
Skill level required: Basic skills (skaters need to be cleared for contact to participate in step 2)
Description: Four cones are set up in a square formation, as shown in the illustration that follows.  Depending on how many skaters you have, you may want to put two or more sets of cones around the track/ floor so that as many skaters as possible can practice at the same time.  The distance between the cones does not have to be too big, the idea is to keep on moving your feet all the time, not to Sunday skate.

There are two steps in this drill:

Step 1
For one minute each skater moves around the set of four cones at a rapid pace.  The purpose is to keep your eyes in one direction, to not look at your feet, and to always go through the middle in order to maximize the agility practice (as shown through the blue line in the illustration).  Skaters are to use their hips to move around but should always keep their torsos and eyes facing forward.  Skaters should use their feet while moving around the cones in a random order (back to front to left to front to right to left to back to front etc.).  They should make sure that they pass the cones from all sides and not always from the same side, and to switch direction and choose randomly which cone they are about to pass next.

Illustration of SumMo Payne’s Quick Feet Drill

Step 2
Another skater stands in the middle of the four cones, in a proper derby stance.  As the first skater is moving around the cones s/he gives a hit to the person standing in the middle every time s/he passes her/him.  Skaters should make sure not to hit this person while skating backwards (that’s a direction of gameplay penalty).  Also, skaters should do their best with the hits in a tight space.  Try to make the person in the middle fall.  If there are many new skaters doing the drill, the hits don’t have to be that hard.  Switch the person standing and the person skating around the cones every 1 minute.

Queen of the rink:  You can do this drill in teams or individually.  Basically everyone hits each other or the opposing team until there is one person or team left on the track, and they win.  Players can hit each other down or out of bounds in order to get each other out. In teams this drill focuses more on communication and team work, while individually it’s more about for and counter-blocking.  If you’re having trouble with penalties you can also add the rule of if you commit a penalty, you’re out.

Those are a few easy ones.  Maybe if I go to Thursday night skate (I probably won’t) I’ll take video of what a solid hit looks like and share it with you all.  Maybe.

Using the Track to Your Advantage

I don’t hear a whole lot of talk in my derby world about track layout and how to use it, which is unfortunate because there’s a lot of potential advantage in knowing the ins and outs of track layout.  It affects strategy and game play, so once you know how you can use all of the track like Garey Busey snorts all of the cocaine in any given room he’s in.  Depending on how long you’ve been skating, you might be confused as to what difference the track could make.

The issue actually came up at a roller derby practice tonight.  I shouted at my teammates to get out of the apex (I believe my exact words were ‘Not in the apex!!’, which makes the apex sound hilariously like the shunted hope of butt sex) and then things got confusing.  So while discussing where shit got fucked  up, I asked if they knew what it meant and we had a titllating discussion on the matter, complete with a visual demonstration.

As it turns out, defending in the apex sucks for a handful of reasons.  Reason number one is that the curve of the track is actually a bit wider than the straight part of the track.  Think about that for a second.  It’s enough of a pain in the ass to hold back a jammer without giving them an allowance of a few extra feet.  Reason number two is that the increased distance on the outside makes it harder to keep your wall straight while moving.  This is becausse of the outside having to move faster to keep up and the inside having to move a little slower.  Throw a little pushing behind that factor and that alone makes it way easier to break up a wall.  This also gives the jammer the opportunity to draw the blockers to the outside and then juke to the inside, thereby forcing the blockers to have to move at the speed of light to have to catch her since she has the inside of the track and they are on the outside.  In that scenario, it’s basically like the inside of the track is one of the speed boosters you drive over in Mario Kart.  If someone runs over that and you don’t, you’re going to have a hard time catching up. A third reason is that it gives a good spry jammer the opportunity to jump the apex, which fucking sucks as a blocker. If you’ve watched the WFTDA champs and seen Bonnie Thunders jump that apex, you know how that fucking goes.

Although defending in the apex sucks sweaty herpes balls, there are some ways the apex can work to your advantage.  Such as the making people defend in the apex.  If you know your shit and see an opportunity to push or draw the opposing team into the apex then do it.  You can skate forward if they’re the type to follow the pack mindlessly, you can skate forward slowly so as to destroy the pack without getting a penalty, forcing you to stop and them to come to teh apex if you’re close enough, or you can just fucking push them if they’re in front of you.  Then all of that shit I just talked about becomes your best friend, and you can smile in mischevious glee as you watch those beautiful points being added to your total.

One less ovbvious way to use the apex is when bridging.  This is another pointer brought to us by the lovely Kiki, and is also something we completely fucking forgot about five minutes after she left.  Because the circumference (or distance around the curve, for those of you who are not on good terms with geomoetry) is shorter the closer the closer you are to the inside, this causes the whole going slower on the inside and faster on the outside thing.  Ten feet on the inside covers a fuck ton more of the track than ten feet on the outside. If you’re confused about this point, do this at your next practice: Take four skaters and line them up with ten feet between them on the inside of the track.  Pause. Consider how much track that covers (spoiler alert: about half the total track).  Tell those skaters to move to the outside of the track while maintaining ten feet distance.  Be shocked by how little track that covers (about 3/4 of the apex) compared to the previous positions.

What that little four person visual or exercise just did was usd a bridge, which is exactly why I’m bothering to explain the distance thing.  When you bridge, you’re lengthening the definition of the pack so that you can bring the jammer (sometimes a blocker if you feel like being a dick) back further, thereby tiring her out.  You want to bridge as far back as possible because the farther back she goes the more tired she will be, and therefore more shitty of a player she will be.  Having each member of your bridge, with ten feet between each, stand on the inside of the track makes your bridge superhellafragilistic longer.  Depending on how you want to defend once the jammer comes in, the last person can stand in the middle and be a lone man wall, or skate forward quickly to form a two person wall with the next person.  Whatever floats your roller boat, really.

For now that’s all I have in mind for making the track your dirty bitch.  Hopefully I can add more to this at some point, but I felt compelled to churn out at least one more info post, since it’s been super long.  For that same reason I’m not proofreading tonight, so sorrynotsorry about typoss.

-Stein

Offensive Jam Starts

In my last post I mentioned the term ‘awkward salmoning’ and I realized that eventually I have to explain that.  While brainstorming for a general topic under which it would fit, I decided on the subject of starting jams.

This literary conquest didn’t seem too terrible when I started, but holy shit guise, lemme tell you what.  There is not an abundance of accurate information on the interwebs concerning jam starts, and a lot of this is because of the ever evolving nature of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association rules.  Shit used to be a lot different from what we know it currently, so the majority of jam start tips and tricks don’t make any god damned sense.  Someone needs to message google and tell them to update their search algorithms to account for this.  But in the mean time, I’ve done you the solid of wading through the ocean of bullshit jam start articles and picking out the succulent relevant bits.  So enjoy, my friends, and derby accordingly.

Whether you’re a jammer or a blocker, waiting the last few seconds before the jam whistle as you’re crouched in derby position can be nerve wracking. If you’re smart, which I assume you are because you’re making the effort to read this, you can mitigate the stress by reading up a bit and planning out some strategy with your team.  Hopefully this humble blog poost can help you on that way.  There are a lot of aspects to offensively starting a power jam, but hopefully I’ll do an alright job of breaking it down.

The first thing to remember is that unlike power jams, regular jams are both offensive and defensive.  Although I’m focusing on the offensive aspect of it for now, it’s not entirely offensive.  When both teams have a jammer on the track it’s a constant switch between offensive and defensive, so you have to be able to adjust depending on what happens on the track.  If you have an offensive plan that’s contigent on your strongest blocker and the opposing jammer happens to line up right behind your strongest blocker, that plan needs to be flexible enough to adjust for that.

If you you and your team are big on defense and don’t want to compromise your defensive line at the whistle, then don’t worry, I have some shenanigans for you, too.  There are some mischevious offensive tactics that you can employ before the whistle. They involve a certain simile about a salmon that I’ve been referencing.  And alliteration, apparently.

Before  get into how fantastic awkward salmons are I must give due credit to Truckstop Trixie.  This wee wild cat came to us from a bank track league in Texas.  She brought with her the hilarious technique called awkward salmoning, so any and all credit for the move goes towards her.

The excitement of the awkward salmon was brought up during a team discussion of rules, and whether or not certain tactics were legal.  The specific tactic being talked about is also one worth trying out for offensive strategies before the whistle, and was brought ot us by Kiki Urhaz.  She mentioned that sometimes when she jams, she’ll wait until about three seconds before the whistle and poke an opposing blocker square in the asshole.

Do you need to reread that? Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Now that we’re clear on what I typed, I’ll explain.  If you don’t have your imagination pants on still from last time, go ahead and put them on again.  Imagine being a blocker in front of the jammer line, waiting for the whistle.  You’re in derby position, as you should be, watching the jam timer, and you feel a surprising but definite poke that’s centered on your asshole.  You’re probably going to straighten up a lilttle bit and look behind you to try and figure out what the fuck is happening that apparently involves your asshole.  Can you see how that’s ideal as a jammer?  The blocker is temporarily distracted and puts herself in the ideal position to be knocked the fuck over.  Even if she doesnt stand up, that momentary distraction will break her focus on maintaining the wall and give you an opportunity to bust through that shit like the kool-aid guy high on crack.

The team discussion centered around whether or not that’s a legal move, the conclusion of which being unclear in Europe.  Although we play by the same rules as the States, European refs call shit weird sometimes, so starting a power jam with a poke to the brownie maker is a risky move.  Nekromancer, the head ref for the Pikes Peak Derby Dames, Castle Rock n’ Rollers and Team Bionic (basically someone who really knows his shit) said that stateside it’s completely legal as long as the engagement doesn’t last more than three seconds and doesn’t better relative position.  While it may seem like the move betters relative position, it’s not the move itself but rather the skater’s reaction that gives you th e advantage, and that’s what makes it legal.

During one of these discussions Truckstop likened the move to something that the bank track does called awkward salmoning.  You wait until a few seconds before the whistle, shove your hand between the thighs of the blocker in front of you and violently wiggle your hand like a salmon out of water.  Like an awkward salmon.  It has the same effect, and can be used by either a jammer or a blocker who’s trying to make a hole for their jammer.  Or as a hilarious way to get someone to jump up and shriek a little bit.  Or as an awkward way to say hello. I’ve done both, both to people at roller derby and work. No regrets.

If you’re not done yet with creatively innapropriate names for jam start tactics yet then I have one more.  This one is called a ‘dick arm’, and it is not related to the porn remake of Edward Scissorhands (surprisingly).  The core of this tactic is to put your forearms together, lightly clasping your fists (but not interlocking your fingers) and wiggling your way between two blockers enough to drop your shoulder and get your body through.  If you don’t get why that’s called dick arming, then I feel bad for you.  One effective way to start a dick arm is to start at the thighs.  Blockers can mash their hips together all they want, but there will always be space a little above their knees.  You can start there, ram your dick arm in, and wiggle your way up. Alternately, you can start by standing on the line until a few seconds before the whistle and drop your wheels back while keeping some of your body and your dick arm in that spot.  Unless the blockers move forward, they can’t push you back and close the space without getting a penalty.

Those are a few offensive tactics that don’t involve team coordination as much as how close you’re willing to get to someone’s no-no parts. It’s worth trying out, either in a scrimmage or a match where you’re at an unbelievable point deficit and don’t give a fuck.  If you dig it ask your captains to bring it up with the refs at the captain’s meeting to establish the legality and go for it.  It being assholes and thighs.

While we’re on the topic of things that jammers can do to kick off the jam offensively, it’s worth noting that distance from the jam line is something worth playing around with.  Some jammers like starting right up in there, while other prefer to start a meter or more back,  This gives them more space to jump around and confuse the other blockers with where she’s going.  If you’re not sure what your preference is then play around with it during scrimmages, and see what style floats your boat.

There are of course other strategies that involve a more thorough understanding of WFTDA rules.  One of the more common tactics that you might have seen in some of the many WFTDA matches you’ve been watching is the no pack situation.  Just before the whistle the foremost team might skate forward.  When they do this it destroys the pack and the other team is either forced to bridge the gap thus losing a blocker, or skate forward as fast as possible to reform the pack.  Both of these scenarios assume that the rearmose team knows what the hell is happening, because if they aren’t paying attention or aren’t familiar with the strategy they’ll probably continue to block and get a penalty.  All of these situations benefit your jammer.  If they lose a blocker to a penalty or bridging then that’s one less blocker.  If they skate forward to catch up to the foremost blockers a quick jammer can outskate them and get past with minimal effort.

That tactic is one of the more straightforward ones, but if you’re creative you can come  up with others.  One strategy I came across while wading through that ocean of outdated strategy bullshit was the collective false start tactic, dreamed up by some michevious little peice of shit on a forum.  I say peice of shit endearingly because although this strategy is shady as fuck, I like shady as fuck.  This person brought up the idea of every blocker on the team doing a false start.  False start if when you’re on the track but you’re not in the right position.  When you’re lined up waiting for a jam whistle and your teammate tells you to  watch your wheels, they’re probably politely telling you to not get a fucking false start penalty by letting your wheel wander behind the jam line.

I posted this on our league forum to try and verify whether or not it’s in fact legal, and I found out it is not. Sorry/not sorry to get your panties wet prematurely, guys.  Our beloved referee, John E Crash, hit us with some sweet sweet knowledge by pointing out some clarifications WFTDA had made that would result in this scenario reulting in the jamn not starting and your captain getting a delay of game.  Woops.

Our head NSO, though, brought up another strategy that is sneaky and therefore appeals to me.  If you have enough jammer helmet panties, have everyoine line up in front of the jammer line wearing a jammer panty.  Right before the whistle, everyoine but the actualk jammer can take off the panty and the jammer drops back. This takes time away from the oppposing team to figure out where and who the jammer is.  If it’s done quickly and not clumsily like that time I fell down the stairs last week, it can be effective.

A much more simple way to kick off a jam offensively is to just have one of your outer blockers push in.  Once you get good at it, it can be devastating to their wall.  Have the inside or outside blocker (preferably the one farthest from the opposing jammer’s start position) line up just a little to the side of the blocker in front of them.  When the whistle blows that blocker immediately starts pushing the opposing blocker to the inside, making a hole for your jammer while your fellow blockers are (hopefully) busy holding back the opposing jammer.  It takes a bit of practice to be ale to effectively lock someone and push them.  It also helps if you can throw your ass out and stop them should they get ahead of you a bit and try and get a hit in as the jammer’s passing through.  But again, practice, and a huge amount of awareness about where everyone is.  You have to be able to switch from offense to defense in a heartbeat.

If you want to go with the above strategy of pushing someone in it helps your jammer to let her in the know.  An easy way to do this is to have a code.  You can do it with hand signals, like your offensive blocker making an O with their hands so the jammer can see (and behind her back so everyone else and their mother can’t see), or you can do it with code words, like asking ‘Who’s going to the afterparty?’ and whoever answers is the blocker about to make a hole for the jammer.

You can also experiment with the positions of the blockers as a way to increase your effectiveness, both offensively and defensively.  You can start as truck and trailer or in the London wall, for example.  If you watch WFTDA matches on WFTDA.tv, you’ll notice that not a lot of professional teams start in a four wall.  They’re fond of London walls.

 

As I find more strategies I’ll try to add them on.  There’s probably some spelling mistakes and some shit missing from this article, but since it’s been a while since I’ve published anything you can deal with it.

If you like any of the possibilities laid out for you in this post, play around with them at freee practice or scrimmages or whatever.  It might end up being something your team loves, and could be an asset in a bout.  As always, message me or comment with questions or tips.  To the woman who asked for examples to be posted, the hubs and I are still working on the camera situation, but we’re getting there.

Until next time,

Stein

Helpful Tips I Wish I’d Known Before FM

I’m guessing if you’re looking at this article you’re either newly assessed, fresh meat, thinking about joining the glorious world of roller derby, or completely lost and unable to navigate wordpress.  Congrats to the newly assessed, congrats to the FM with the courage to lace up, congrats to the pre-FM on your stellar taste in sports, and congrats to the person who got here by accident on getting here by accident.

In brainstorming for a decent roller derby topic to write about I considered things I wish I’d known from the beginning.  In a Siddhartha lightbulb moment I then realized that ‘Thing I Wish I’d Known’ is itself a worthy topic.  So I dedicate this to the newbies and hope this will help you in your fabulous journey of kick ass derbying.  For the ease of the reader, I’ve made the important bits bold.

Probably one of the first lessons I picked up on is the quality of the gear we wear.  With how expensive the start-up cost of skates and gear is we tend to get cheap shitty gear to start.  I totally get it, because I totally did it.  But don’t.  There are a few pieces of equipment that are absolutely worth the initial high cost, because you’ll end up buying better ones after a few weeks anyway after your body starts to feel the derby hurt.  The most important on that list is, I think, is knee pads.  Anyone who’s been through a round of FM can tell you that you do a lot of shit on your knees, like giving back alley blowjobs to refs to get out of penalties. KIDDING, guys. Kidding.  We just roll our eyes and give dirty looks. (which you should know is a sportsmanship no-no if you read the previous post)  But aside from being targets of easy blowjob jokes, FM fall a lot. The degree to which FM fall is equivalent to the degree of offensiveness in my one asshole relative talking about jew bones at Auschwitz as souvenirs (I think he’s Jewish, which makes it even more fucked up.).  THAT’S A LOT GUYS.  That sweet ass 180 degree derby stop you saw someone pull off like a god damned fairy didn’t get to be glittery and fairy like overnight.  There were a lot of falls involved in getting to that point, and our knees take a lot of the brunt.  Tailbone injuries and knee injuries are really common chronic issues in derby life, and a lot of the knee pain can be avoided by buying good, sturdy pads.  I highly recommend some form of killer 187 pro pads.  They feel awkward at first because of how bulky they are, but you get used to it fast.

Another piece of equipment that’s worth a higher initial investment is the mouthguard.  In most sports mouth guards are big clunky things that make you feel like you’re cradling Zeus’ dick in your mouth.  If you’ve watched a lot of derby you might know that talking and communication are really really ridiculously good looking big things, which you cannot do with that Olympian dick your mouth.  You also need to take out that mouth guard to drink water, which you should be doing frequently at practice.  I don’t know about you guys, but our league practice arena is a gross warehouse we share with hockey dudes, who have no qualms with teabagging the benches in between underwear changing.  That’s not an environment in which I would want to risk the hygiene of my mouthguard.  I recommend the SISU mouth guard.  It’s a thinner mouth guard, but it still does a stand up job protecting your teeth. It mold to your upper set of teeth and leaves enough room that you can talk and drink water.  It’s recommended by most derby girls for good reasons.  The thing you should cheap on out to start with is your skates.  A long as they fit you, roll, and have toe stops, you’re good to go.  By the time you’re proficient in skating, your skates will be worn to shit and it will be time to get a new pair, anyway.  By that point you’ll be able to understand and appreciate a more individualized setup, so spending more later on makes way more sense.

As long as your helmet fits and doesn’t have cracks in it, it’s a decent helmet.  There’s not as much variability in the quality of helmets as there is mouthguards and knee pads.  Elbow pads and wrist pads, because they don’t take as much impact during falls, are the equipment that you’re better off cheaping out on.  I still have the shitty elbow and wrist guards from FM.  The elbow pads need to be replaced, because at this point they can’t pass safety checks without being duct taped and they give me derby burns all the time, but they held out for a solid year and some, so they put out their money’s worth.

Speaking of derby burns, the manner of attire is something I wish I’d had a heads up on.  You’ll often see derby girls skating around in short shorts that leave little to the imagination, and no doubt at some point you’ll want to emulate that.  But before you go investing in a closet full of booty shorts, know this:  The girls who wear short shorts often pair them with tights.  This is because your thighs are prone to derby burns, which are the result of falling, sliding, and having skin scraped off as you slide.  They take eons to scab over and are incredibly uncomfortable as a result.  So when you’re stocking your derby closet, don’t skimp on leggings and tights.  My closet is overrun with black capri leggings, which I use not just for derby but for all of my workouts now.  Get yourself a few pairs of those, they will serve you well.

Speaking of things you should get, thongs.  You’re probably calling bullshit on me right now but I swear to god you will get tired of the panty lines and get thongs eventually. They have taken over my underwear drawer at this point because of how often I derby and work out.

To help you not get derby burns, it helps to of take a hard look at what kind wheels you’re on, and whether they’re appropriate for the floor you’re using.  I wrote in an earlier post about the virtues that wheels well matched to a floor can do in not breaking your ankle like David Tennant opting out of further seasons of Doctor Who broke my Whovian heart.  If you haven’t read that post and don’t know much about protecting your ankles, then you need to go read that shit.  Look in the archives of the page, and it’s titles ‘Saving Ankles’.  Following those guidelines can save you some nasty surgeries and painful physical therapy,  as well as the slipping and sliding that causes derby burns.

Derby will consume your time like my inner fat kid consumes cupcakes, but you will get out of it everything you put in.  With that being said, it’s important to maintain balance in your life.  Don’t make excuses to skip practice every week, because that’s not fair to you or your teammates, but don’t skip important shit with your family every week for derby, either.  Find a balance and stick to it.

Don’t eat like a teenager.  It’s common, almost cloyingly repeated logic that your body puts out what you put in, but it’s especially obvious when you do something as physically demanding as roller derby.  My best practices do not come after I’ve consumed a bag of cheetos and a Dr. Pepper that day.  I feel crampy and easily tired out.  When I eat healthily I can feel a difference in my body, and it reflects in my endurance and general play.  As a general rule cut out pops and sodas, and limit your intake of sugary delicious goods.  The easiest way is to just not buy them, so you don’t have that temptation in your home.

Get to know the rules.  It helps to a huge degree in your game if you study the rules early on.  You have to pass a written rules test to assess, but starting early and keeping on the rules is the way to go.  When you do assess and are cleared for scrimmages, you can do sneaky shit like tricking the opposing jammer into getting behind you when they don’t need to, or jutting your hips backwards at the last second to get them called for a cut.  It can help you form and debate strategy, like your jammer using a blocker to back block the shit out of people to make a hole through some tough defense, or the legality of awkward salmoning people before the whistle (I’ll write on article on awkward salmoning at some later point, for those curious).  More than anything, though, it helps you to not get penalties, either by making stupid mistakes or getting shit pulled on you by other rule savvy sneaky bitches.  All in all, getting to know the rules can only help you and make you look like sneaky, savvy billy rollin’ badass.

Watch derby games.  Take a chill day, night, or hour or two to relax and youtube some roller derby videos.  WFTDA has a library of WFTDA sanctioned bouts you can go through  and stream at WFTDA.tv.  There’s some matches on youtube, too.  It’s good to watch a mix of both amazing teams like Gotham and some lesser known up and coming teams, so you can see a mix of derby styles and moves in different skill levels.  I can’t emphasize enough how much you can learn in strategy, skills, rules and countless other things if you watch derby and pay attention to what the players are doing.  You can see what derby is supposed to look like, analyze your weak points, and then set goals based on that.

Last, but not least, be patient with yourself!  I’m a perfectionist, so I’m hard on myself when it comes to … well, everything.  I get frustrated when I can’t get a drill right, or have a bad day at practice.  The truth is we all have bad days, and the best players played like shit when they first put skates on.  If you’re struggling with something, ask for help, and be patient with yourself.  Hit that son of a bitch skate floor hard, with love and determination, and eventually you’ll get it.

I’m sure this list will only grow as I continue to skate, but for now I hope it serves to help someone as they start derby.  If there’s something you’d like to add to this list, feel free to comment. As always, thanks for reading.

Stein

PS. I’m not editing this as thoroughly as I edited the last few, so if there are mistakes you should probably build a bridge and deal with it.  Because you know what they say: people in glass houses sink ships (5 points if you catch that reference).

Tips For the FM In All of Us – 27 in 5 and Crossovers

The first time I stepped out onto a roller derby rink in skates seems like both eons ago and yesterday.  Eons ago in the sense that my knowledge of roller derby has evolved tremendously, but yesterday in the sense that I still struggle with a lot of the issues that all fresh meat do.

The fact is that all roller derby girls need work on basics, and anyone who says otherwise is a god damned liar.  Freshies should take comfort in the fact that the best leagues in the sport still do basic balance and agility exercises regularly.  So while I write this blog entry with freshies specifically in mind, hopefully the chicks with radio frequencies scribbled on their white t-shirts (I seriously thought that’s what they were at first, and I know I’m not alone) won’t be the only ones gleaning some sweet juicy knowledge from this reading.

I’d originally planned on covering lots of different sweet juicy aspects, but realized quickly that the length of that blog entry would be approximately as long as a preschooler’s rant on anything, so I’ve decided to focus on two of the bigger issues facing fresh meat.

One of the most formidable things we have to accomplish as fresh meat and often even as vets is the 27 in 5.  Oh my lanta is that shit hard.  It sometimes feels like the longest five minutes of your life, and just when you feel like you can’t push your miserable aching thighs anymore, you have to push them harder.  I was that bitch blessed with long legs who got her 25 in 5 (back when it was 25) in two months time starting from when I first put on skates. I know, I know, try to hold back your seething hatred and jealousy. If it makes you feel any better, take comfort in the fact that I have a small torso, so should I ever get knocked up I will look like a whale that’s been beached, dead and bloating for at least two swelling summer days.

In my time skating I’ve learned a few things that have helped me push my numbers higher.  Kiki Urhaz, the trainer who I reference frequently in my posts once said that even without endurance vets should be able to get their 27 in 5 without an issue.  I like to think the lessons she taught us after that stuck, because the first day back from a four month period where I did zero endurance because of a foot surgery I got my 27 in 5.  If you can refrain from making that effigy of me to shove needles into long enough, I’ll tell you the things that helped me, and will hopefully help you get to that holy grail of 27 laps.

The single most important thing that Kiki taught us was to lengthen our strides. Let me say that again, because it’s a point that cannot get enough emphasis. LENGTHEN YOUR GODDAMN STRIDES.  What I mean is that when you’re doing your crossovers, push your foot out as long as you can until you’re pushing off with the edge of the front left wheel.  Both of your feet should be making long strides and pushing off the floor for the maximum amount of time they can.  Quite often we make the mistake of assuming that quicker steps mean better laps, but the opposite is true. Slower, drawn out steps with the maximum amount of push help us get the most laps, simply because it doesn’t tire us out as much.  If you’re dying thirty seconds into your five minutes, evaluate what you’re doing.  Odds are you’re taking short steps, and that constant stepping is tiring you out faster than the octobirth tired out octomom’s vagina.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Easier said that done, you long legged bitch.’  I know, I know. But I wouldn’t talk about it if I didn’t have some drill suggestions to back my shit up.

There’s a couple of drills I’ve done to practice and reinforce the idea of long strides.  The first came from Olympic speed skater Dan.  Don’t wait up for a last name, because I don’t fuckin know it.  Olympic speed skater Dan, whose expertise was most suited to helping us get that 27 in 5, had us propel ourselves around the track using only a total of six strides.  Three strides per half track was all we had to push ourselves.  For every additional stride we took, we had to do five pushups.

Ok, alright, I made that last part up. Olympic Dan didn’t do shit about us taking extra strides, but that’s stupid and nullified the effect of the drill.  Intense core workouts are a great motivation to make people push themselves (holla at’ya Smokin Okie), so don’t give your team or yourself the opportunity to be lax about this exercise by being apathetic about people taking extra strides. Enforce that shit by giving them delicious abs and a better chance at their 27 in 5.

Another drill that taught well the value of long strides was Ms. Urhaz’s drill. Kiki had us skate slowly along the track, taking our time to get our feet out and push for as long as humanely possible.  We took our time to stretch our legs out and get the feel for what it meant to push with every part of our feet, until the tippy tip of the left front wheel leaves the ground and you’re pushing with your other foot.  If you’re having trouble with Olympic Dan’s modified drill, then do this one for a bit and then try his again.  Different people learn different ways, so it might make one of the drills click if the other is done first.  For me, Kiki’s drill is what made Dan’s click, but it may be different for others.

I hope that explanation shed light on the importance of lengthening your strides.  If it didn’t, reread this shit until it does because lengthening your strides is, in my opinion, the most important aspect to getting your 27.  And if you disagree, I know a certain Olympian who would tell you to check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Of course, I type this knowing that some people struggle with crossovers more than anything else in the beginning.  Crossovers are the foundation to a long stride, and should be happening the entire way round the track once you get up enough speed to get your 27 in 5.  Chin up, folks who are struggling with it, it’s just a matter of practice and repetition. I believe in you!  I especially believe in you if you tackle the matter of practice with some of the drills I’m about to outline for you.

Which drill you do should be based on what aspect of the crossover is throwing you off the most.  If you don’t know, try to do some crossovers and pay attention to what’s holding you back. It could be that you’re freaking yourself out and are afraid to fall. It could be that the feeling of your legs being crossed is just awkward (we know how you like it, no judgement). It could be you’re so used to your balance being centered between both of your feet that you don’t know how to switch your center of balance from one foot or the other.  There are a surprisingly wide range of possibilities for what’s keeping you from perfecting your crossover, so it’s absolutely worth putting some critical thought into.

I’ll just say this and get it out of the way: If you’re afraid to fall, just fuckin’ fall. Take one foot off the ground, fall and tuck your shit in like Buffalo Bill. Once you do it enough times your misplaced anxiety will realize it’s not actually anything to be afraid of and go away.  If you continue to avoid crossing over or continue to hesitate, that’s shit’s going to stick around like herpes.  Make that fear your bitch.

One of the basic drills for crossovers that addresses getting used to crossed legs is what my league calls not being a dirty whore.  Just kidding.  We call it a grapevine.  You’re essentially just sidestepping over your own foot.  Let’s say you start with your right side parallel to a wall.  Balance your weight on your left foot as you bring your right foot over your left and plant it on the ground.  Your legs should be crossed. Swing your left foot around back to a normal position.  Repeat until you’ve sidestepped your merry way to the opposite wall. Do it the other way now, with your right foot balanced on the ground and your left foot stepping over your right.  This motion also does a pretty decent job of addressing switching your balance between feet, so it’s a drill that vets should be doing as well.  In my grapevine research I realized that other leagues have different drills called grapevines. I’m not saying they’re wrong and need to re-evaluate their nomenclature, but they’re absolutely wrong and need to re-evaluate their nomenclature.

One handy-dandy drill I came across in my research for crossover drills comes from the skating coach of the Nashville Rollergirls, xlracer.  My favorite part of this exercise is that you can do it at home.  Since my husband is not ok with me skating on our hardwood floors my time on wheels is limited, so I appreciate having effective drills that will placate that sexy beast.  I also love it being cheap, because you only need stairs, and the fact you do it barefoot, because my inner dirty hippie is not fond of shoes.  To do this drill you essentially go up the stairs in a low, parallel position, without putting your feet on the same step.  So if your right foot is starting closest the steps (as you stand parallel), step up with your left, and pull your weight up with your left foot. Then take your right foot and put it on the step above where your left foot is, pulling your weight up with that right foot. Then take your left foot, and put it on the step above the right foot, pulling up with the left foot.  Repeat, stepping on every other step with each foot. Your feet will cross over each other as you do this.  Keep low, maintaining your derby position, and you’ll be doing a pretty spiffy fuckin’ crossover.  Do this drill over and over and you’ll see it translate quickly to your crossovers on the track.

Another drill comes to us from Powersnatch of the New Orleans Rollergirls.  It’s essentially skating counterclockwise in a circle around a cone in four stages, maintaining a 10 foot radius from the cone.  The first stage requires that your left foot be as stationary as you can manage while you push yourself around with your right foot, sticky skate style (meaning all eight wheels stay on the ground like they’re sticking to the floor).  As with almost any drill we derby girls do, maintaining a low derby position is important.  Once you get used to that, start pushing with your right skate so that it comes off the floor a little, still maintaining the ten foot radius.  Remember to keep your head up.  Looking at the floor increases your chances of ending up on the floor.  Once you get comfortable with that, it’s time to throw in an arm swing and stepping over.  Lift your left arm behind you a bit and swing your right arm out as you’re pushing with your right foot.  When you have a comfortable pace, start stepping over your left foot with your right foot in as smooth a motion as you can manage.  Your right arm should swing back as you cross over, and forward as your foot moves back to its normal position.  Don’t skip the arm swinging, it’s incredibly helpful.  In her explanation Powersnatch emphasizes leaning to the inside of the turn, even if it feels like you’re going to fall over.

If those aren’t enough for you here’s one more for your insatiable derby appetite, coming all the way from Gotham.  Even though I’ll always be a little disappointed in any drill that comes from someone in Gotham not named Batman (can you imagine that mofo on skates?  That would have made The Dark Knight Rises so much better), shoutout to Megahurtz for posting this on the interwebs where I could find.  It’s called the ‘Tuck and Hydrant’.  Skate around the track and as you near the first turn lift your inner leg and coast the entire turn on that skate.  At the second curve lift your outside leg and coast the entire turn on your inside leg.  Once you get comfortable doing this, you want to progress towards the drill namesakes, the tuck and hydrant.  The tuck is what you should eventually progress to as you lift your inside leg on the first curve.  It’s when you lift your inside leg and point it towards the outside, behind your outside leg.  If you’re bending your knees like you always should be, then she describes it as “if you are trying to sit on your inner leg.”  The hydrant is the eventual progression of lifting the outside leg on the second turn.  It’s called a hydrant because it looks like a dog pissing on a hydrant to some degree. You lift your right leg to the side and behind you as you coast.  Megahurtz advises to “remember to also lean into your turns and, swing those arms!! When you use your arms to balance you, it allows you to put MUCH more into your pushes.”

If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a few links to some crossover drills you can watch, from the same thread as Megahurtz’s comment:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78CsjXhsrY4

http://www.gothamgirlsrollerderby.com/t … c-training

As you do any of the drills I’ve listed here for laps or crossovers, there’s a few final things to always keep in mind.  First off, remember to stay low.  Get low, then get even lower, and stay there.  There is no such thing as getting too low in roller derby. A 90 degree angle in your knees is the power stance, which, for those of you who aren’t mathematically inclined is really fuckin’ low.  My thighs are hurting just thinking about it, because that’s how much it burns.  But in a good way that will make for great sex and better derby later, so just focus on that part while your thighs are temporarily screaming about being in the fifth circle of hell.  Second, lean into the curve.  It will keep you from slipping as you skate.  Third, look at the corner of the track where you’re going, not where you are.  You want to keep your sight about one and a half curves ahead of where you are.  If you’re entering curve one, look at the end of curve two.  If you’re leaving curve two, look at the beginning of curve four.  This keeps your shoulders squared with your desired direction, lining up your momentum so that it moves your speed along instead of hindering it.

If you’re still here, thanks for reading through, and I hope you found something on here useful. If I didn’t credit someone properly, if you have something to add or want something clarified, comment or message me. I am also open to taking suggestions on what my next entry should focus on, should anyone have anything specific they’re struggling with.

 

Write ya next time,

Stein

PS Seeing as how this blog is getting a few more views than I anticipated, I tried to make the format a bit simpler and easier to navigate.  Here’s hoping that five minutes of effort is helpful to someone in the blogosphere.

 

 

July’s Roller Charity

For those of you who read my last blog entry about charity, it’s not news that our roller derby league sponsors a charity every bout we have.  We host a raffle with donated prizes at every bout and give the money to our chosen charity.  Our last bout was St. Baldrick’s, which I shaved my head for. Our league raised about 4,800 US dollars for the charity, which is pretty stellar.

Since I’m officially the Roller Girls of the Apocalypse Events Charity Organizer (I just get shit together for the charities) I’ll be regularly posting every charity we do, just in case someone finds it a worthy enough cause to donate.

At this upcoming bout in July, we’ve chosen to raise money for a cause closer to home.  One of our league member’s son was diagnosed recently with autism, and they’re trying to get him a service dog to help him cope with his autism.  I don’t know if you know this, but getting a service dog is fucking expensive.  Six thousand Euro was the estimate she gave me.  Since I don’t have hair at the moment to shave for this cause, we’re putting a lot into the raffle and online fundraising.  If you’re interested in helping a roller derby sister out, here’s her online fundraising page:

http://www.gofundme.com/ahj8iw

Her goal on the fundraising page is only $4,000, which isn’t the full cost of the service dog.  Hopefully we can surpass her goal and her son can get his service dog.

As always thanks for reading, and extra thanks if you donate.

 

Until next time,

Stein

Power Jam Defense

If you don’t know what a power jam is, then it’s pretty weird that you’re here.  You should consider reading the first few paragraphs of my previous post about power jam offense, and then go and put on your excited pants in preparation for this titillating piece on power jam defense.

Have you ever seen, maybe on a medical television show, someone get CPR who has a huge bleeding wound? If you’re having trouble with the visualization, it’s like a little gory geyser that spurts out blood every time the chest is pumped.  That little gory geyser is a pretty accurate metaphor for what can happen in a power jam when the defending team doesn’t have their shit together.  It’s a continuous bleeding out of points, and can make a devastating difference on the score board.  If you want to keep from being that sad metaphor, it’s important that you have a basic grasp of what to and not to do.

Probably the primary rule that underlines most strategies in a power jam is the speed, for which the ideal is contingent on whether you’re offense or defense.  If you read my previous article on power jam offense and graduated 1st grade, you can probably use  process of elimination to figure out what I’m going to say.  That’s right, my rock ‘a’ rollin’ friends, you want to go fast as defense.  Just like going slow is advantageous offensively in a power jam, gong fast is advantageous in a defensive power jam.  Going quickly around the track makes it so the other team’s jammer has to go faster in order to catch up and score points on you thus minimizing how much she’ll be able to lap you and score points on you.  It also acts to tire out the jammer, which is overall a great strategy, and something I’ll probably end up writing another blog post about altogether. Maybe. Eventually.  For now, though, I’ll leave it at that.

An important addendum to hauling ass around the track is to be conscientious of the pack definition.  What I’m saying is don’t destroy the pack, because then you get to haul ass the penalty box.  When you increase your speed, don’t pretend play like you’re a pack of Usain Bolts and just take off.  You’ll destroy the pack, and the referees are going to call a penalty on one of your team members on the basis of your sudden increase in speed.  You want to increase speed in a gradual enough way that the rearmost skaters are going to have to run forward or be called for destruction of the pack.

I just now tried to find a demo video on youtube for a visual of how to increase pack speed without getting a penalty, but alas, I could not find it.  So if you’re unclear on a good pack speed, get together with your refs and have a pow wow about penalties and increasing pack speed.  Referees are a sadly under utilized resource, so take advantage of them if you have them.

If you’re up against a good team during your defensive power jam, it’s probably a safe assumption to expect some counter strategy geared towards slowing you down.  The most common way roller derby teams attempt to slow down the defense is to get a heifer, where they essentially attempt to capture one of your skaters in order to form the pack. When they form the pack, they can control the speed and keep you from going fast around the track.

Regardless of whether or not the other team is attempting to get a heifer, it’s good practice to know what to do in that case.  The most common counter strategy for that situation is to skate in something called a Kill Line.  Sounds intense, doesn’t it?  A Kill Line is a line with the best blockers in the back, closer to the other team, and the not so best in front, farther from the other team.  This way it will be harder for the other team to get a heifer, and if they do, your blocker will have a better chance of fighting her way out of the trap.  Additionally, it’s advantageous to skate as close together as possible in order to leave the other team as little space as possible to get between you and your teammates.  Also, you’ll want to stay closer to the inside of the track than the outside, because it will be harder for the other team to get ahead of you and pick off a heifer if they have to do it coming from the outside.  And finally, be aware of the other team so you don’t destroy the pack, keeping about 9 feet in front of them.

If the other team succeeds at getting a heifer, you have a few options.  One is to let your blocker fight her way out , which is a decent strategy if the heifer is a good blocker.  It’s a bad strategy though if the heifer is as good at getting around people as the federal government is at budgeting, in which case you should skate behind the other team and form your wall there, enabling the heifer to just skate back and join you.

Or you can just Regina George it and block without that heifer.  If you don’t have enough time to form a wall up behind the other team, you might have to channel your inner mean girl and let the heifer suffer while you get your block on.

That covers the bulk of power jam defense.  There’s not a lot of intricacies in it, but being able to recognize what’s happening on the track amidst all the chaos and react with the most appropriate strategy takes practice. As always comment or message with corrections, questions, or whatever.

Until next time,

Stein

PS, for those who caught on in one of my previous articles, I’m finally back on skates.