One of the hot topics in Roller Derby, always, is Coaching. In recent times, since the Derby Stance Coaching Summit, we've seen even more collaboration and discussion in the area of UK Coaching - with Rule56's Coaching Webinars a direct follow on from this. However, there's initiatives happening even in the furthest reaches of the UK's geography... as our guest writer, and founder of Derby Form Check, Ronie Walters (of Orkney ViQueens) explains:
One of the great things about roller derby is the grassroots ethos. We all know the ethos: "by the skaters for the skaters". You don’t need to jump through a lot of hoops and regulations to set up a roller derby league, you can just have the idea and get going.
This is exactly what we did in Orkney. Orkney is a small group of islands, off the North coast of Scotland. To get to us you need to get either a plane or a ferry. Obviously travelling to train with a local league is not really an option in this situation, so when we wanted to get started, we had to start from scratch.
The Roller Derby Community is lovely. Everyone is really supportive and I’ve made some great contacts whom I consider friends I’ve just not met yet, which has been awesome. But... it kind of feels like everyone is re-inventing the wheel. Every single league I’ve encountered is using the WFTDA min-skills in some form as their standard for knowing when a skater is safe to play. Every single league runs some form of “fresh meat” training program to get their skaters through those min skills. Yet trying to find a training program to use as a template has been almost impossible.
We went to join the UKRDA to use that as a resource, yet, at present, you have to have been skating for 6 months as a team to be eligible to join – leaving you alone to muddle through until that point.
We were lucky enough to manage to get a couple of people to do the BRSF [British Roller Sports Federation] level 2 coaching course recently in Luton (from what I can gather, it’s not been run for a while) so that was amazing for us, and we learnt a lot from it in terms of coaching cues and coaching skills. We also attended the Rule 56 online coaching pilot, and are excited for the next sessions coming up.
Rule 56, like us, are looking for more joined up approaches to Roller Derby Coaching. They also believe we have some incredibly awesome coaches and skaters amongst us, we just need a more effective way to share them. The more we can share resources and skills, the faster we can progress as a sport, and the better the experience for those coming into the sport as new skaters.
It would be nice if, one day, new leagues starting in the UK could simply go to one place, and find all the information they needed. This could be something as simple as UKRDA offering an associate membership so leagues can have access to the resources they need for that six month waiting period. This could then offer things like policies and constitutions, a clearly laid out min skills program, information on how to test a min skill and tell if your skater has mastered it, a resource for learning how to coach effectively, and access to a library of videos of real skaters complete with feedback on where they can improve, as well as video of ideal form to know what you are looking to get your skaters to. The latter part of this has taken a step forward recently, with the introduction of WFTDA Ed min skills videos. For the first time, there is some standardised indication of what a skill should look like.
However, how do you get from where you are now, to that perfect form? Something I read recently in PEAK, when it was being discussed in the roller derby book club, was the notion of deliberate practice. Peak posits that there is no such thing as people with innate talent or ability. Even the likes of Beethoven or Tiger Woods are great because they have put in a lot of practice. But this is not just about spending time; it’s about deliberate practice. Taking a skill and breaking it down into its elements, then practicing the elements making use of effective feedback to help you master the different parts.
As a new club, we are learning together. We have some skilled skaters, but no-one with roller derby experience, or with experience in how to observe a skater and break the skill down for them with feedback to allow them to practice the elements and build it back up. It occurred to me that if we as a wider roller derby community could share video footage of us skating, we could all benefit from the feedback experienced skaters could provide. We are all individual, and we all learn differently. Sometimes the way someone explains something just clicks for you and, all of a sudden, you master that tricky bit you have been stuck on for a while.
Roller Derby Form Check aims to provide this opportunity. As a new Facebook group, it only has a few videos at present, but with over 370 members, it has the potential to be a very powerful resource. The hope is that gradually people will start to post a video of themselves doing a skill they are struggling with. So rather than a written post of how you're struggling with your 27/5 or you just can’t get transitions but don’t know why, you can film yourself. You will then get personalised feedback, rather than generic answers, or written descriptions which can be hard to visualise.
Our dream for the group is that over time we build a library of people demonstrating common issues with the minimum skills, with a whole range of ways of explaining how they can work to improve from different people. Some of those explanations will hopefully also come with a video of them demonstrating the techniques they are suggesting. Using this, coupled with the “perfect” examples from WFTDA Ed, will really allow for some really powerful coaching resources to develop. We can already see that coaches are finding it helpful to learn additional ways to explain things and break skills down.
So if you are stuck on a skill you just can’t seem to master, no matter how often your coach explains it, post a video. Maybe someone else’s tips will help you. If you are a coach and you have one skater that you just can’t figure out how to help, ask them if they are OK with posting a video and see if other people’s explanations can help them break through.
Derby Form Check is a (closed) Facebook Group, open for registration: https://www.facebook.com/groups/403911146657994/