Smirkcules, benching Birmingham Blitz Dames (Photo: Cinderwrecker)
Smirkcules has had an extensive Coaching career in Roller Derby, starting out with London Rockin' Rollers in 2010, before moving to Croydon Roller Derby, and then moving the considerable geographical distance to Newfoundland, coaching 709 Roller Derby there. After a few years coaching in Canada and Australia, he arrived back on British shores in time to coach Birmingham Blitz Dames to top of the Tier 3 table in British Champs 2015. He's also an ex-skater for Southern Discomfort!
As well as all of that, he's a fairly prolific announcer, and announced at the Road to Dallas event in 2014 where Team Wales last battled it out against the UK's other teams (and Team West Indies). He's co-announced with Team Wales Manager Dorkmistress, at other events, as well as being involved along with her in the short-lived Team Sealand, placing him in good stead to collaborate in his current role as Team Wales Head Coach.You've got a whole host of coaching experience, in the UK and Canada and Australia, but not especially in Wales. Why did you apply to coach Team Wales specifically?
Wales is where I took my first guest coaching session and where I've returned multiple times to coach, announce and watch matches. It's also where I played the majority of my games in mixed scrims and co-ed matches, before injury knocked me out as a player for a long time. I have a lot of friends and derby colleagues I like working with in Wales. I have a lot of love for Wales and as a roller derby coach I like working with the Welsh derby community in different ways. In my personal statement during the application process I summed it up with the following: "I am really excited to be applying for the position with Team Wales as I enjoy working with passionate, hard fighting athletes who give their all."
And that's still true today. I'm really looking forward to our tryouts on April 24th to see these passionate fighters turn up and give their all to earn a spot to represent Wales.
Part of the Head Coach role is sitting on the selection panel for skater tryouts. What will you be looking for in Skaters trying out for Team Wales? (And what advice would you give those thinking about trying out?)
There are a number of things we'll be looking for. We're looking to build a squad of skaters who can work and develop together. Boiling it down as simply as possible I'd say the two main things are: ability and attitude.
We're looking for skaters who can perform at the highest level comfortably and confidently. Who have the capacity for moments of greatness. But we're also looking for skaters who are determined and have a strong work ethic, who don't mind doing what is asked of them at any time. Skaters who know and play roller derby as a team sport.
These two aren't mutually exclusive. Skaters should be able to demonstrate both of these during tryouts. So if you are coming to tryout or want to sign up, I'd say put your best skills on show and work hard during your session. The expectations are high because they will one day be up against some of the best skaters in the world and we are building a squad to work together and compete at that high level. So as long as skaters understand this and give their best, they'll do fine.
In common with Team Wales Manager Dorkmistress, you've also done a lot of announcing, including at the Road to Dallas pre-World Cup event in 2014. How did you feel announcing Road to Dallas?
I've done a lot of things in roller derby; coach, player, bench staff, NSO. The only thing I've not done in a bout is ref. Announcing is fantastic because you act as the middle person between the game and the crowd. You have to know both of these aspects well to get a good vibe going and ensure the game isn't compromised by your announcing whilst also keeping the crowd informed. It's a challenge but a lot of fun.
Announcing at Road to Dallas was great! It had four great national teams playing, one of which was making their international tournament debut. I love watching Team Scotland's packwork. Team Ireland showed some great high speed derby. West Indies was a new team to watch. Team Wales included skaters I like to watch play at anytime. So was really exciting and fun day. For anyone wanting international experience in the crowd, NSO or reffing, these smaller scale events are great opportunities if they come around. The audience was fantastic for Road to Dallas for all the teams playing. Was great derby to watch and commentate on and a great crowd to work with and for.
The other component of being Head Coach is, well, coaching Team Wales. What principles are you going to be adopting to take the Team as far as they can go in the World Cup?
Well I don't want to give too many secrets away just yet but I have a personal coaching style and play mentality I refer to as the Complete Game. This involves not letting any moment go wasted. Every second counts and I want the team to make every second matter. Essentially I want to create a squad of ruthless, fierce warriors who are a challenge to any team they come up against, giving no quarter and expecting none in return. The image and motif I often use to describe it is a bunch of elite guerrilla warriors getting in, getting the job done and sticking the knife in.
We don't know much about the potential location of the 2017 World Cup. Where would you like it to be, and what teams would you most like to see Wales play at it?
My top three locations would be:
Wales – home crowd and Wales is a very welcoming, friendly place that people should visit. Derby just makes it better. Finland – I love Helsinki and if at the end of the year, lots of snow and winter fun. Australia – Outdoor tournament anyone? BBQs, beaches and huge love of sport! Lots of Summer fun if at end of year again.
The three teams I'd love for Wales to come up against at the next World Cup are:
Norway – I'd like to have another game against them as I think the game against them in 2014 was a good match up. Be good to see how both teams have progressed since then. England – Classic England vs Wales matches in every sport are always exciting so let's make it happen in roller derby. Finland – I like Team Finland. I think it'd be a tough game but exciting. Dream Final:
Wales vs Australia – The team I coach vs the nation I was born in competing for the world cup. Couldn't ask for more than that!