I am currently spending some quality down time in the States with family. It’s been a pretty hectic couple of years for one reason or another and I was long overdue some personal me time. I can already feel the nagging itch inside me to get back to Tiger Bay and get shit done, and I’m excited and full of energy and ideas. This trip follows on from my first RollerCon experience (which is a whole other blog post, but let me just say – it was INCREDIBLE.)

The reason for my sudden urge to write is based on a conversation I had with a lovely skater I met at a recent practice I attended here in Mississippi. She asked me very openly and honestly – “to become a better derby player what is the one thing you recommend I work on?”. After having spent three practices skating alongside her and with her league, there was no hesitation with my response.

Stops and speed control.

This is often the answer to skaters who are desperately trying to improve and aren’t quite sure why they’re not. Being able to stop urgently and efficiently during gameplay and being able to control your own speed and the speed of a jammer is absolutely crucial. If you aren’t nailing your basic stopping skills you will never be the best player you can be.

Yeah I hear ya, basic skills can be boring and repetitive to work on especially when you have a million and one new drills you want to try, but they are a ‘basic skill’ for a reason. Without this foundation to build upon, anything else you work on will become a weaker version of what you’d like it to be – because you don’t have the bare essentials to work with.

How can you truly work on hitting out the jammer and urgently recycling her if you can’t transition both ways? How can you truly work on positional blocking if you can’t plow stop? How can you truly work on keeping a jammer slow and controlled if you can’t use your edges? How can you truly work on containing a jammer for X amount of time within X amount of feet if you’re in a wall with no brakes? How can you truly look like a massive badass at practice if you can’t hockey stop? The list goes on and on…

The key word there is ‘truly’. Of course you can still work on these things and, I’m sure, get them done in a roundabout way, but if deep down you know the fact you can only transition left is slowing down your re-entry to the track when you get hit to the infield, you have to do something about it. As you start playing against stronger skaters and teams, it will be these vital seconds that make all the difference.

Coaches: Any drill you work on or strategy you implement, ensure you break it down to the most basic level. What basic skills does this move/strategy/wall require your skaters to use in order to carry it out effectively? If your skaters are at a point where they don’t have these skills, ensure you are working on them also. Tell individual skaters the specifics of why they may be struggling with this move/strategy/wall and give them the breakdown of skills to work on in their own time. Include some stopping drills within every practice, just 5-10 minutes at the start of each session can make a huge difference in just a few weeks.

This was quite a speedily written post (pun totally intended) and I’m sure I may have missed some essential points. So if you have any questions following on from this, please do get in touch. I’d love to hear from you!

Photo: Alex Baumans