Saturday, October 29, 2011

Two-Point Touch

Alternative names: --
Objective: To practice touching each other as much as possible; to practice effective blocking while going slow; to practice using each others' bodies and senses on the track; to practice team-blocking; to practice communication
Typical length of drill: 15 mins
Materials needed: A WFTDA regulation-size track (or a taped down track that's as close to the measurements as possible)
Skill level required: None, though some skaters may want to use contact in this drill

Description: In this drill skaters will go in groups of three onto the track and work together to block one opponent.  Start by getting all of your skaters into four lines.  Three of the lines are for blockers, and the last line is for the opponent.  The first skater from each blocker line will get onto the track and form a tight-knit group of blockers, and the first skater from the opponent line will start just slightly behind the blockers and try to get by them.  The blockers have one lap in which to work hard to block the opponent and really slow her down.  When the lap is complete they get back into line, making sure that they practice team-blocking 3 out of 4 times, and that they act as the opponent 1 out of 4 times (hence the four lines).  The main idea of this drill is that while they are blocking they should be constantly touching -- a minimum of two points of each blockers' body needs to always be touching another skater.  That could mean you touching someone with both hands, someone else touching you with both hands, or one person touching you with one hand while you touch someone else with your other hand.  Either way, two points on your body should always be touching another blocker.  The blockers are also to use each other, use each others' bodies, and use each others' senses.  That could mean pushing your body off another skater (while remaining in contact with them), holding on to another skater's hips and acting as the group booty while said person is acting as the eyes forward, pushing a teammate's body into the way of the opponent (while still remaining in contact with them, of course) -- basically you use each other and thus all together become one super-human (or super-blocker, really).  While touching each other and using each others' bodies, verbal communication is key.  The blockers should be constantly telling each other where the opponent is and what direction they are going in.  When skaters practice using both verbal and physical communication at the same time like this, it really improves their teamwork and team-blocking skills.

An illustration of the Two-Point Touch drill.  Click the image to view it larger.

I like to tell all the skaters before we begin that this is a blocker drill, NOT a jammer drill, that when you act as the opponent make it challenging for your teammates but not impossible.  Everyone should be learning how to team-block and get an opportunity to practice this skill thoroughly.

Then, after we've done this for about 5-10 mins and I see that everyone is getting it and is doing a good job, I tell the skaters that when they play the part of the opponent they should go all out and really make the blockers work for it.  Since you will encounter amazing opponents in your inter-league games it is imperative that you use practice-time to actually practice playing against people who give you a good run for your money.

Photo by Sean Murphy
Photo by Sean Murphy

Here Team Finland is using this drill in actual game-play against Team Sweden, successfully holding back the Swedish jammer.  Notice how all four blockers are touching a teammate with at least two points of their bodies (including a boob hold in the first picture, tehee).

Additional notes: This is by far my favorite drill at the moment.  I came up with this after seeing the London Rollergirls play against the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls in London a few months ago.  I noticed how extremely effective RMRG was at keeping the LRG jammer or goat behind them by getting into a tight group of three + blockers who just constantly were touching and grabbing and pulling and using each other.  I have always been taught and known the importance of touching in derby, but RMRG's display of touching was really what drove home the point for me.  I can honestly say that after the first time we did this drill we immediately saw improvement in the next scrimmage/pre-gaming drill.  And after having done this (and variations of it) a few times now, our teamwork has progressed tremendously.  Though this drill highlights team-blocking while going slowly, the skills learned apply to fast derby as well, and what we learned going slowly in this drill has helped our fast game a great deal too.

Finally I would also like to suggest that after completing this drill (or after you've completing a few rounds of it) you ask everyone how they felt when they were playing the part of the opponent.  Was it frustrating?  What parts of the body did they have to use to try to get by?  Leagues who do not practice a lot of team-blocking will be surprised by how effective constant touching, grabbing and pulling is, and how much more difficult it becomes to get through the pack when the opponents are really good at team-blocking.  I also like to ask my blockers how they felt doing this, what they felt as they were going through this drill.  It really can be an eye-opener for some.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Red Light / Green Light

Alternative names: none
Objective: To work on starting, stopping, and attentiveness
Typical length of drill: However long you want
Materials needed: an open skating space
Skill level required: ability to stop in any form / ability to control speed in a pack
Description: This drill is an old roller rink open skate stand by!

Anyone who has skated an open skate, at least at a rink in the U.S., has probably played this game in its most basic form. All players line up at one end of the "rink" touching the opposing wall from the caller or the "goal".

There is one person who "calls" the game. When the caller says "green light" the skaters may skate. When the caller says "red light" the skaters must cease all movement. Skaters need to freeze in place. Even moving the arms or falling over after the words "red light" are spoken are considered moving. All skaters who move after the words "red light" must return to the beginning and start over.

The caller is prone to say things other than "green light." Some of my favorites are "green tomatoes", "green thumbs", "purple people eaters." They can also say things other than "red light". You get the idea. Only the words "green light" release the players from their frozen states.

How quickly someone freezes on hearing "red light" is somewhat subjective. I like to institute a count of "one one thousand two" but your mileage may vary.

The first skater to pass the end zone (a line or the caller) wins. This encourages speed in skating.

Making it a Pack Drill

Group skaters into packs of 2 to 4 and make the pack responsible for starting and stopping appropriately. Creating interdependence in the game makes it more advanced.

Additional notes:

Coaching notes
Do not underestimate the power of awareness games to improve the mental acuity of skaters! We know in real bouts being able to quickly process whether a referee blew a whistle (it's a major I go to the box) or just shouted color/number/penalty (it's a minor, keep skating) can make a difference in being there for the play at hand. That's not all. Skaters are always having to quantify and qualify what's going on around them in bouts.

I like to use the original roller rink game for fresh meat who are just learning to stop. It is difficult to encourage skaters to actually get some speed when learning to stop. This game rewards speed and fast, controlled stopping.

Modify this game all you want. Make all skaters go backward. Make them change directions each time they restart. Make them keep all 8 on the floor. Whatever you're working on you can integrate into this game.