Thursday, September 22, 2011

Reverse Fire Drill

Alternative names: None (weaving / pace line variant)
Objective: 360 degree awareness, upper body flexibility, pacing, weaving, trust, c-cuts
Typical length of drill: 5 minutes or however long it takes
Materials needed: One passable object per approximately 8 skaters (Nerf balls recommended)
Skill level required: Generally people who are ready for contact have the skills needed for this drill
Description: This is an intermediate weaving or pace line.

As with the Squeezebox, I use this as a warm up drill when we will use drills later in practice which build on the skills. This would include blocking/hitting from the front, pack awareness, game awareness, pacing, and lateral movement. This drill moves the balls in the opposite direction of the Fire Drill. Skaters should already be familiar with and skilled at skating in a weaving or pace line.

All skaters line up in a single pace line about two arm lengths apart. The activity of the drill will enforce this.

Distribute Nerf balls through the line about one for every eight skaters. You can use other objects as well. For advanced skaters, weighted medicine balls work. Other objects could be stuffed animals, shoes, swim noodles, cones, other balls. I prefer Nerf balls with new skaters because they are easy to see and they are easy to grab with wrist guards.

As the pace line starts, the balls are passed forward. This requires skaters at the front of the line to be constantly looking back to know where the balls are in the pace line. Once a ball reaches the front of the line, the skater takes the ball and weaves backward through the line. On reaching the back of the line, they pass their ball forward and the drill repeats from there.

If a skater can tag the back of the skater in front of them without the front skater knowing the ball is there, the tagged (front) skater must leave the line and complete some activity, I usually require 10 push ups, then return to the line.

Additional notes:
After we started doing the Fire Drill at Pioneer Valley, it was simply a matter of my natural habit to always see if we can do something backward from the way we do it forward. Thus this drill was born. As with many things, this drill is a little more difficult than it is in the "forward" direction.

Coaching Notes
Encourage skaters to reach back for the balls in both the right and left directions.

Make sure skaters are making eye contact with the person behind them as they receive the ball. Encourage skaters to turn at the waist and to pass the ball, not throw it.

As a coach, intermittently I will remind the group to know where all the balls are, to remind them to look around. Be specific! If I have a green and two yellow Nerf balls in the line, I'll say "where are the yellow balls?" or "who is carrying the green ball?" The activity of having to look for something, identify it, and observe it's current process will help skaters learn the mental skills of judging and processing time passage on the track.

Especially when working with new skaters, encourage them to be in the right position at the right time. If they've fallen behind when receiving the ball because they haven't continued skating while reaching back, they'll have to catch up to the skater in front of them to hand the ball off. Use this as a learning opportunity of illustrating the need to be where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be there and also to keep skating when looking behind you. Skaters cannot forfeit one activity (keeping up with the pace line - aka keeping up with the pack) for another (reaching back for a pass - aka giving a teammate whip).

Skaters in line must be told to keep their line and to keep it straight. Early feedback in developing this drill is that the skater weaving back must be able to feel they can trust their line to be where it's supposed to be when it's supposed to be there. Newer skaters will have a tendency to flinch and try to get out of the weaver's way. Ultimately that will lead to crashes, so this should be kept to skaters cleared for contact. This is a great opportunity to teach this pack skill - stay where you're supposed to be and skate in a way your team can predict where you'll be.

Encourage people to keep up with the line. Newer skaters will also tend to slow to allow the weaving skater to go in front of them. This creates bad habits. If a weaver misses a spot, they should go for the next one. Skaters should keep pack pace.

Pre-instruction on how to weave includes the following tips:

  • Be looking back over your shoulder closest to the line as you weave
  • As you're crossing through the line, you should already be shifting your weight to skate back through the next gap
  • You do not actually skate backward, the pace line is simply moving in the forward direction faster than the weaver
  • You are not moving slower than the weaving line, you're actually moving faster - laterally. This makes your forward movement slower than the pace line.
  • Recognize this weaving movement is the precursor to blocking and hitting from a forward vantage point
  • Trust your line to move as it should
  • If weaving is too easy, then jump/hop through the line
  • Always anticipate your next move
This drill works well in both derby and non-derby direction. I usually run this drill for half the time or at least one full cycle of the line in derby direction, then lead the group in a figure 8 to reverse direction and run it again or the remainder of the time.

Participants may be split into lines of appropriate speed keeping the faster line to the outside and the slower line to the inside. At Pioneer Valley, we have 10' markers that are only about 2-3' wide. For a single line, the line must stay over those markers. For two lines, the inside line stays between the inside track boundary and the inside of the markers while the outside line stays between the outside of the markers and the outside track boundary.

Side Note
While you have balls out on the track, an added benefit we have at our practices is we throw the balls around while doing warm up or cool down laps. This is not a pace line thing and is helpful for all levels of skaters.
  • Develops hand eye coordination
  • Develops a sense of learning to aim for where someone will be (especially with slow Nerf balls) not where they are
  • Takes attention away from the activity of skating and helps skaters gain comfort on their feet
  • Encourages sub-conscious speeding up and slowing down to catch the ball
  • Encourages full track awareness (Where are the balls? Is one being thrown to me?)
  • Helps skaters learn to get low to pick up dropped balls at speed

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