Monday, March 7, 2011

Look Ma! No hands!

Alternative names: Hands-free scrimmage
Objective: To get your skaters to focus on strategy and positional blocking
Typical length of drill: 20-60 mins (depends on how long you and your skaters wish to go for)
Materials needed: A WFTDA regulation-size track (or a taped down track that's as close to the measurements as possible); pinnies/vests for the skaters OR ask them to bring both a black and a white shirt to practice
Skill level required: None

Description: This is a very simple "drill" -- all you do is play the game of roller derby like you normally would EXCEPT your skaters are not allowed to use their hands.  All the skaters should put their hands behind their backs and keep them there for the entire duration of each jam.  They can hold their own hands, put them in the backs of their pants, or just keep them loosely on their back so that there isn't a big injury risk in case they fall.

HRD plays without use of hands. Photo by Marko Niemelä.
Skaters should rely on VERBAL communication and should focus on moving their bodies to the right place at the right time (aka strategic places).  They should find ways of working with a partner (or partners) in the pack without having to rely on the use of hands.  Blockers should be able to build effective walls without the use of hands.  Jammers should work on their footwork/agility and moving through the pack without the help of traditional assists.  Playing roller derby without the use of your hands makes the game much more difficult but you will notice that it at the same time involves your brain a lot more (or rather, makes skaters use their brain a lot more than they normal might; derby is naturally a very brainy sport).

For the purpose of this drill there should be minimal hitting.  I also find that people don't rely on hitting as much during this drill and the few times that they DO hit, they are doing it for a purpose (which is, in my opinion, what effective hitting is all about).

If you so choose, you can give penalties to skaters who use their hands during this game, i.e. 10 push-ups or 15 crunches in the penalty box.

Using your hands gives you an advantage over the other players. Photo Marko Niemelä

Additional notes: This "drill" rules if I may say so myself.  It can really clear the skaters' minds.  Whenever I've done this drill the skaters have actually skated slower and put a lot more thought into everything they do as a result of having the use of hands taken away.  The skaters have really enjoyed it, felt that they were focusing more and they've felt better about their performance.  The drill forces them to think more about the importance of vocal communication and footwork, and since they can't constantly touch their partner with their hands it makes them have to use more creative ways of partnerwork.

I'm sure I didn't come up with this idea by myself but I can't for the life of me remember where I got it from so I apologize if I'm not giving credit where credit is due.  This is not really a difficult activity to come up with though so I'm sure many leagues out there already practice it.  Please comment on your own experiences with this drill and tell the rest of us what you think it's good for!

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