Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Learning derby through video 1

**UPDATE March 1, 2012: The video used in this post has unfortunately been removed from YouTube due to silly copyright rules (music playing in the background at the venue where it was shot).  I will try to re-make this exercise with a different video but it can take a little while.  I apologize for the inconvenience.**
Alternative names: --
Objective: To learn roller derby strategy and how to apply it
Typical length of drill: Up to 30 mins
Materials needed: A computer and some working internet (Hey, you've got that right now!); working sound is a big plus
Skill level required: None
Description: In this exercise you are going to be watching the same 10-minute video three times in a row and making some specific observations concerning different moves and strategies.  Please note that the video in this exercise was specifically selected with brand new skaters/derby players in mind.

Step 1
Watch the following video: "Roller derby: Lock-in game 4"
After watching it, jot down a couple of observations that you made.  Did you understand what was going on?  Did it feel chaotic?  Did you notice specific moves or strategies that you want to try yourself?  Did you feel like the teams were evenly matched?  Were there players that stood out to you as being really good?

Step 2
(For the purpose of this exercise do NOT read the list in Step 2 before completing Step 1)
Take a closer look at the following moments in the video and use them as learning points:

01:05 In the first jam, the white jammer (WJ) takes the cookie (meaning, as she gets to the pack for her initial pass she tries to take the outside).  The black jammer (BJ) decides on an alternate route THROUGH the pack.  Who comes out of the pack first?

01:38 The BJ comes speeding (easily) through a loose pack and she's calling off the jam right as she enters the pack. Why is she doing this instead of waiting until she has passed all the white blockers (WB)?  Because (we can assume) the WJ is right behind her and the BJ wants to score before calling off the jam but she also wants to keep the WJ from scoring (that's right, you ARE allowed call off the jam in the middle of the pack).  Because you score points until the end of the FOURTH whistle the BJ can still score points for the WBs that she passes while the jam ref is whistling, and hopefully the WJ will not have passed any black blockers (BB) before the end of the fourth whistle (the BBs can help this by speeding up when the whistle starts to blow).  In addition, as soon as the BJ passes one WB she instantly is awarded points for all the WBs in the penalty box ("ghost points") and/or outside the engagement zone; in this video it looks like there is 1 additional point for the BJ to gain.  Right before the BJ gets into the pack you can hear someone in the background yelling "white to the front!"  This is because the BJ is coming first, and because of the risk of ghost points.  Think about it: When the back of the pack is all BBs and BJ enters first with a WJ following close behind, the WJ might actually score a point or two before the BJ even gets to the front of the pack to pass even one of the WBs.  What do you think that the BJ should have done if the WJ was right on her tail and the back of the pack had been all BBs?  What if it was all WBs?  At what point should the BJ call off the jam?

02:38 Observe how low the WJ is as she cannonballs past some of the BBs.  Is it effective?  Do you think that it would be easy to notice/block someone that low?

02:50 Watch the WB with the neon green number on her shirt.  She blocks a BB out of bounds and then she manages to get the rest of the WBs to slow down and essentially trap the BB once she returns in-bounds.  The other BBs are still speeding to get the WJ but it only takes a few seconds for them to get more than 20 feet ahead of the pack.  Because the pack is defined as "the largest group of Blockers, skating in proximity, containing members from both teams" the pack in this instance is all the WBs and the one trapped BB.  This means that the BBs ahead of the pack have to let the WJ go so as not to receive out of play penalties.  What are some situations where you think that repeating the WB's action would be an effective strategy?  In what situations would it be a bad idea to trap a player from the opposing team and slow down the pack?

03:50 At this moment you see all the WBs get down on one knee before the whistle blows.  Why are they doing this?  Because skaters can only be considered part of the pack when they are upright and skating.  Because a pack is the largest group of skaters from both teams, if there are no white skaters that can be considered part of the pack then there is effectually no pack at all.  When the pack whistle blows, if there is no pack, then the jam whistle must be blown immediately.  The action of creating a no pack situation before the pack whistle blows therefore effectively forces the jam whistle.  Who does this strategy help?  When do you think that this would be a smart strategy to put into play?  What is the black team's bench coach yelling at his skaters when he notices what the white team is doing?  Why do you think he is suggesting that particular counter-strategy?

05:38 BB #333 sees the WJ getting an arm whip from a teammate on the outside of the pack and she speeds along the inside line to then swiftly cut across and block the WJ.  What do you think the BB's thought process was that lead up to this action?  Where on the track do you think the WB should have given the WJ a whip to make it more difficult for the BB to block it?

06:20 Observe the WJ: She gets into a cannonball to go under two blockers arms and then pops back up and keeps skating.  When do you think that you could use a move like this?  When (if ever) do you think that a blocker could take advantage of a maneuver like it?

06:50 WBs make a wall at the front to block the BJ, how do the BBs destroy the wall? One BB gets the inside line and manages to push the whole wall to the side, opening up a hole on the inside for an agile jammer.  A few seconds later the BB almost repeats this motion again.  Why do you think that it is so important to firmly hold the inside line at all times?  To look around you all the time?  How does the jammer benefit from having the inside line opened up rather than the outside?

08:50 BB #180 unsuccessfully pushes her teammate into the WJ.  What do we learn from this?  It is crucial to always skate low so that it's not easy to get knocked down when a teammate pushes you, it's important to always communicate with your teammates so that they know if they are about to get pushed and they can brace themselves, and it's important that when you do push a teammate that you push the hips and NOT the shoulders so that it's not as easy for her to tumble over.

09:05 The WJ is in the box and BB #180 knocks a WB to the inside of the track and then successfully gets her teammates to stop, slowing the pack to a crawl.  Why is she doing this?  Who does it help?  When should they stop skating that slowly?

Step 3
Watch the video all the way through again, from beginning to end.  Now do you feel like you have a better understanding of what's going on?  Did it feel less chaotic?  Answer the same questions that you answered after watching it the first time.  Write down what you think worked, what didn't work, what would you want to try yourself, what strategies did you learn (if any), etc.  Take the time to really thoroughly observe and get yourself involved with the game you are watching.  Being an active viewer can really help you become a better player.
Additional notes: I came up with this exercise when I realized that although nearly everyone loves to watch derby on video, many people don't actually know how to glean useful information from the videos.  There is *so* much going on in derby at all times that you don't always know what to look at, particularly if you are a new skater.  I think that watching live derby is absolutely great for learning, but derby on tape is almost better because you have the ability to go back and forth to watch the same moments over and over again, and that truly gives you the opportunity to see cause and effect.  You can pose questions to yourself and then look for the answers in the video.  If I do A what is the result?  When skater X did B, she caused skater Y to C -- how can I use that in the future?  What were the events leading up to strategy D being put into play?  How can *I* repeat that?  If you can activate your brain while watching you can really learn so so much from watching derby videos.  The questions and comments that I pose above are just there to help you get into the mindset of being an active viewer.  It's meant to give you ideas on how to make derby videos useful tools.  I hope you take what I've suggested and run with it, do what you think works best for YOU.

Because the video depicts "referees, coaches, and players from around the world" and not any specific league, I have not asked for permission to use the video in this particular exercise.  I have assumed that since it is publicly viewable on YouTube it isn't a problem that I point people in its direction.  If anyone has beef with this, please let me know.  Many thanks to Penalty Cage Pictures for posting it so that it can be used as an educational tool.


  1. Thank you for posting this. I haven't b een able to watch the video three times yet, but what a great idea! Thanks again for sharing.

  2. The video has been removed is there another way to view it

  3. Oh poop! I will look into it. Thanks for letting me know!

  4. Any luck finding the video?

  5. Haven't had a chance to get to this yet as my team has had several away games. Will work on it as soon as I have some time!

  6. Any updates on the lost video? This guide is absolutely invaluable but is helped significantly with the video.

  7. Hi Kahuna, thank you for the reminder, I am getting in touch with the original host of the video as we speak. I apologize profusely for letting this go on for so long.

  8. So I finally know what has happened to the video: YouTube removed it for copyright violation (there was music playing in the background at the event). This means that I will need to re-create the exercise with a different video that will not disappear, and that can take a while. Please bear with me. If you know of a good, 6-10 minute videoclip that I can use, that is not at risk of being removed from the internet, please e-mail me right away!

    1. I hope this gets fixed...there are other Roller Derby Lock In game 1,2,3,5, & 6. Hopefully this can get updated because I love the idea of being able to watch it over and over with learning points. :-)

  9. any luck with getting this fixed?