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Snowstorms, Sirens and Seeing Eye Dogs

It’s April and there is a snowstorm outside my window! Not exactly what I was expecting for my drive up the highway to coach one of the new local leagues. Luckily by the time I arrived in beautiful, mountain-ringed Squamish I had left the snow behind me and could enjoy the view from the window of the Howe Sound Brewpub.

I was meeting up with the girls from the Sea to Sky Sirens for a quick dinner and pre-practice meeting before coaching their 15 strong group of local ladies at Totem Hall. Their stripey socks and league T shirts made it easy to pick out the derby girls from the “regular folk.”

As we sat down and chatted about all things derby it reminded me of what it was like to be at the start of something new. All the enthusiasm, excitement, hard work and set backs, but most of all the amazing things that can be achieved and the confidence that comes with that achievement. The girls I was talking to had been trying to set up a league for a couple of years now, but a lack of members plus facilities issues had made things difficult. Now they had a core group of committed women, a board and a decent indoor facility – they were well on their way.

With the viral like explosion in roller derby in British Columbia in the last year, these girls have so many more opportunities than we did back in 2008 when Terminal City was just getting started. We were pretty isolated except for Seattle (who frankly scared us with their big hits and big American attitudes) and Victoria (who were an expensive ferry ride away). Derby-ers in BC right now have open scrimmages, pick up bouts, bootcamps, tournaments, and other new leagues looking for rookie teams to play – all on their doorstep. It almost made me want to be new again so that I could play too!!

The practice was lots of fun – especially the floor! A rubberized surface that I am sure is perfect for the aerobics/yoga classes that are taught there, but made me feel like I was going to fall flat on my face the first time I started rolling. Once I had got used to it I found it great for footwork drills and definitely a cardio workout!

The girls had asked to work on some team work drills as they were having problems keeping their packs tight, so we did a bunch of stuff based on working with partners and communication. Here are a couple of the drills that I ran.

1) Tight Diamond Drill
This is a modification of a drill that we have done since I started, courtesy of the amazing Miss Chica Bomb. The aim here is not to complete the rotation as quickly as possible, but to do it without losing contact with your team mates at any time. It’s about working together to figure out the most efficient way to rotate and help each other to complete the task.

Set Up
– get into groups of 4
– set up in a diamond formation on the track as close as possible to each other
– everyone has to be touching 2 skaters at all times – best place to be touching is each other hips – these are your points of contact for pushing/pulling.
– each position in the diamond has a number. One is the skater at the front, Two is the skater on the inside, Three is the skater on the outside and Four is the skater at the back
– coach shouts outs a number and the skater in that position moves clockwise to position One. eg. “Two” – skater on the inside moves in a clockwise motion to position One at the front of the pack. Everyone else in the group shuffles round a position.
NB: you have to move through each position in a rotation – no short cuts. eg. if you are in position Three, you have to move to position Four, then Two then you get to position One.

Coaches notes: Remind skaters that this is not about speed, its about working together and keeping the packs as tight as possible. Each position should be covered at all times, no holes for slippery jammers to get through! Encourage skaters to use whips and pushes to help each other maintain/move positions on the track.

Make this harder: Add in a reverse direction ie. moving counter clockwise – this is harder to do because of the force of the track, but it is better for practicing whips. Switch between the two (Regular and Reverse) to really spice it up!

2) Seeing Eye Dog
This is about the other form of team work – verbal communication. Sometimes we have a hard time verbalizing on the track, especially when there is lots of stuff going on around us. I know I do!

Set Up
– groups of 3
– one skater is the “Seeing Eye Dog”, the other is the “Blind Blocker” and the third is the “Jammer”
– SED and BB skate side by side. BB cannot look behind them and can only react to what the SED is telling them to do. Works best if the SED keeps constant contact on the BB so they can use touch as well.
– Jammer skates behind the blockers and moves around the track. Not too fast at first so they can practice covering the whole width of the track.
– BB and SED have to shadow the Jammer. SED must keep up a constant stream of communication: “go out” “come in” “stay there” “speed up” “slow down” “pushing to the out” etc. to be honest it doesn’t even really matter what it is, as long as they are talking about SOMETHING.

Make it harder: Have the BB actually close their eyes and concentrate on the touch of the SED – often you will be able to feel which way they want you to go before they are able to verbalize it (Thanks to Flower Plow’her for this modification. Way to show trust in your team mates!)

Have fun and remember that roller derby is a team sport and the team that plays together WINS together.

Later Skaters


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