Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dynamic stretching: Sumo Squat-to-Stand

Alternative names: --
Objective: "To improve flexibility in your hamstrings, groin, ankles, and lower back." (1)
Typical length of drill: 1 min
Materials needed: None
Skill level required: None
Description: For a great, easy-to-understand article on dynamic stretching, check out "Dynamic Stretching Routine and Tips" by Taylor Tollison on Stretching World (which, by the way, is a really great resource!).

"Starting position: Stand tall, with your feet outside your hips. 

Procedure: Bend at the waist, grabbing your big toes.  Keeping your arms straight and inside your knees, pull your hips down until they're between your ankles, and lift your chest up.  Then tuck your chin and try to straighten your legs, holding on to your toes as you straighten out your hips and knees. 

Coaching key(s): Hold on to your toes at the bottom of the movement.  Pull your chest up and your shoulders back and down, and try to drive your hips forward to get your torso vertical, not horizontal.  As you lift your hips, keep your back flat. 

You should feel: A stretch in your groin, glutes, lower back, and, to a lesser degree, ankles." (1)

Kata Strofi, #10. Photo by Mick Dagger, Helsinki Roller Derby.

Repeat 8 times.  I also have a personal "coaching key" to add and that is tell your skaters to try to keep their eyes on the same spot on the wall the whole time.  This will be difficult but the stretch can be felt much better if they try to keep their eyes forward the whole time, rather than looking down at the ground when they stand up.  Our fantastic volunteer is doing a good job of it here!

Additional notes: All text from Core Performance by Mark Verstegen and Pete Williams (1).  This is part of a series of dynamic stretches that we are posting over the next few days/weeks.

Our volunteer is shown here wearing skates because this is one of the few dynamic stretches that you can actually easily and safely do while wearing skates.  Try incorporating it into your pre-practice stretching routine!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dynamic stretching: Inverted Hamstring

Alternative names: The T
Objective: "To improve hamstring flexibility and balance, along with dynamic pillar stabilization." (1)
Typical length of drill: 3 mins
Materials needed: None
Skill level required: None
Description: "Dynamic stretching uses speed of movement, momentum and active muscular effort to bring about a stretch. Unlike static stretching the end position is not held [2].  Dynamic stretching is similar to ballistic stretching except that it avoids bouncing motions and tends to incorporate more sport-specific movements." (Sport Fitness Advisor)  The dynamic stretches in our current series of posts can be considered derby -specific since that is the sport that caused pain in my knee and the sport that my physical therapist was helping me return to.

Although these dynamic stretches can technically serve as warm-up exercises on their own the physical therapist that I was seeing always stressed the importance of warming up a bit before doing the dynamic stretching so that I wouldn't be completely stiff when starting. He said something like a warm shower could even be enough if I was doing the stretches at home.  At practice you could also do something as simple as jogging for a few minutes beforehand.

Suvi Hokkari, #99 problems.
Inverted Hamstring

"Starting position: Balance on your right foot with perfect posture (tummy tight, shoulders back and down). 

Procedure: Bending at the waist, and maintaining perfect posture, grab your right foot with your left hand, extending your left leg back as you fire the left glute. (You might find it easier to extend forward with both hands out, as shown, rather than while grabbing a foot.)  Your shoulder and heel should move as one, forming a straight line.  Take a step back at the end of each rep as you alternate legs. 

Coaching key(s): Your body should be in a straight line from ear to ankle [even straighter than our fabulous volunteer, if you can!].  Keep your back and pelvis flat!  Someone should be able to place a broomstick snuggly across your back. 

You should feel: A stretch in your hamstrings." (1)

Additional notes: All text from Core Performance by Mark Verstegen and Pete Williams (1).  This is part of a series of dynamic stretches that we are posting over the next few days/weeks.

(2) National Strength & Conditioning Association. Essentials of strength training & conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 2000

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dynamic stretching: Lateral Lunge

Alternative names: --
Objective: "To open up the muscles of your groin and hips.  Also to hold pillar strength as you sit back and down." (1)
Typical length of drill: 3 mins
Materials needed: None
Skill level required: None
Description: According to everyone's favorite Wikipedia, dynamic stretching "is a type of stretching while moving, as opposed to static stretching in which one stands still" (which is the kind of stretching that a majority of us utilize).  "This form of stretching prepares the body for physical exertion and sports performance. In the past it was the practice to undertake static stretching before exercise. Dynamic stretching increases range of movement, blood and oxygen flow to soft tissues prior to exertion. Increasingly coaches and sports trainers are aware of the role in dynamic stretching in improving performance and reducing the risk of injury."  Make sure that you warm-up a bit before doing the dynamic stretching so that you are not completely stiff when starting.

Lateral Lunge

"Starting position: Stand with perfect posture.

Procedure: Step out to the right, keeping your toes pointed straight ahead and feet flat.  Squat by sitting back and down onto your right leg, keeping your left leg straight and the weight ont the right leg's midfoot to heel.  Squat as low as possible, keeping your left leg straight and holding this position for 2 seconds.  Return to the standing position and repeat.

Coaching key(s): Keep your feet pointed straight ahead and flat throughout.

You should feel: A stretch in the inside of your thigh." (1)

Doris, #404. Photo by Mick Dagger, Helsinki Roller Derby

My physical therapist had me do this stretch 8 times on each leg (so a total of 16 times).  I think this is a good starting point for anyone doing dynamic stretching for the first time, and even after having practiced dynamic stretching for 3 years I still do all of the sets in 8 repetitions. 

Additional notes: When I was in college I was hit by a car.  No, I was not rear-ended, I was a pedestrian.  I was crossing the street when out of the corner of my eye I saw an old mint-green car coming right at me and in my panic I turned around to face the car and its driver, I put my hands out and screamed "Stop!" while running backwards but after taking only two steps, WHAM! I flew onto the hood of the car.  I'm still amazed that I didn't actually get seriously hurt in that accident.  What I DID get though, was knee problems.  These knee problems were not an issue at first because I was totally unathletic, artsy fartsy feminist in college and I could never even DREAM of one day being interested in sports, so it wasn't until I started roller derby that these knee problems manifested themselves and really got in my way.  This is where the dynamic stretching comes into the picture.  After skating with New Hampshire Roller Derby for a few months my right knee started to really hurt, and not just at practice.  It was hurting in the mornings, it was hurting when I was walking to work, it even hurt during 'intimate moments' with my refband some times.  It was a total drag.  I went to the doctor and was prescribed physical therapy.  This was exactly what I needed.  In my multiple months of PT not only did my knee pain go away but I also learned a great deal of new exercises and stretches.  My physical therapist encouraged me to show all the other skaters how to do the dynamic stretches he had taught me because they really benefit EVERYONE.  The stretch in this post is one of them.  The text has been shamelessly copied from Core Performance by Mark Verstegen and Pete Williams (1).

We will be posting more dynamic stretches in the coming days/weeks, complete with demonstrations by skaters from Helsinki Roller Derby :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Alternative names: --
Objective: For jammers (and blockers) to practice breaking through walls; to boost self-confidence
Typical length of drill: Unknown
Materials needed: None
Skill level required: Only for skaters who have experience skating in a pack and can take a light, but solid, hit
Description: Depending on the number of skaters, break into groups of 6-8.  Three blockers form a wall with the innermost blocker riding the inside line.  Initially, blockers should be about 8 inches (ca. 20 cm) apart.  The remaining skaters line up behind the wall.  Once a pack pace is set, the first jammer tries to break through the wall.  The first few attempts, while the blockers are farther apart, are used to help the jammer gain confidence and get used to getting low, turning the shoulders, and stepping through.  Jammers MAY NOT pass on the outside, but rather MUST go through two blockers.  Blockers, DO NOT throw hits or blocks.  Just maintain the line. Once through, the jammer immediately sprints around the track to the back of the line.  The next jammer begins as soon as the first is through the wall.  As jammers gain confidence and skill, blockers should close the gap between them so that the jammer must get through a smaller space.  Rotate Blockers and Jammers as needed so that everyone gets a chance.
Additional notes: This drill was submitted, and created, by London Derriere of the K-Town Derby Girls.  It's cross-posted at Derby Dancing, London Derriere's own blog.  When asked where the name came from, she says: "it actually comes from the Old Testament... the whole battle of Jericho when Joshua's army marched around the city and the walls fell."  Very appropriate for a drill focused on breaking through walls! :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

What's in YOUR training department bag?

Alright, so, this is not a regular post that fits within my self-inflicted strict format but I think it's a very worthwhile discussion to have amongst coaches: What is always in your training department's training bag?

I will start the discussion by listing a few things that I feel should be staples in any good training department/coaching bag:
  • Minimum 20 small cones
  • Two sets of helmet panties in different colors (one set = 1 pivot panty and 1 jammer panty in the same color scheme)
  • 1-3 stop watches
  • A rule-book
  • A long piece of rope (bonus if it has 10-foot and 20-foot markers on it) 
  • Measuring tape
  • 1-2 permanent markers (with which to write numbers on arms)
  • Blank line-up sheets (for scrimmages where skaters/volunteers can get practice managing)
  • Blank penalty tracking sheets
  • Several rolls of masking tape
Now what do YOU have in your league's training bag?  What are items that you don't see on this list that you think should definitely be in a coaching bag?  Please add your comments below!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Alternative names: Charlie Sheens
Objective: Conditioning; to practice stops/slides/falls
Typical length of drill: 7 minutes timed
Materials needed: 6 cones
Skill level required: None
Description: Have all of your skaters line up at the short end of your space next to each other with their backs against the wall.  Along the wall on the long end of your space place one cone about 20 feet (ca. 6+ meters) ahead of the skaters, another cone about 20 feet ahead of that, and a third cone about 20 feet ahead of that.  Place matching cones along the other wall.  These will serve as the markers for the skaters.  Depending on the size of your space you may simply want to divide it into thirds and place the cones at the divides.  The diagram below the description should help you visualize.  For the duration of the drill the skaters are going to sprint to the cones and do a specific fall/slide/stop, then sprint back to the wall to turn around and repeat.  Tell the skaters in advance what fall/slide/stop you want them to do at which cone.  This should be selected based on what your skaters need to work on.  In the diagram below I have suggested the double knee slide at the first cone, a single knee slide at the second, and a baseball slide at the third.  I like to have them practice turning toe stops or transitions when they get back to the wall.

       *skaters start*

o  double knee slide  o

o   single knee slide  o

o    baseball slide     o   


So, here's what it looks like: A timer blows the whistle to start the drill and starts timing.  Skaters immediately sprint to the first cone, do a double knee slide, sprint back to the wall, do a turning toe stop, sprint to the second cone, do a single knee slide, sprint back to the wall, do a turning toe stop, sprint to the last cone, do a baseball slide, sprint back to the wall, do a turning toe stop, sprint to the first cone, do a double knee slide, sprint back to the wall, do a turning toe stop, etc. etc.  This continues for the specified time.  If they are pushing themselves they should be quite tired at the end of the 7 minutes, and they should have gotten the chance to practice your choice of falls/slides/stops quite a few times. 

Additional notes: This is another classic drill that's been around for a very long time.  This one can be done both on and off skates and is practiced in many different sports (I even remember my high school sweetheart doing this at wrestling practice).  I learned the derby use for it while skating with New Hampshire Roller Derby.  There are many different variations on this one as well which will be posted over time.  This drill can also be used for warm-ups.  Please note that because all the skaters will be doing this at their own pace it should not be a problem that they are all lined up next to each other at the start, everyone will quickly be at different speeds and parts of the track.  This is also a good way to practice looking ahead while skating and dodging other skaters :) 

Whether or not they are open about it, many skaters' lives have been touched by suicide and it's not something you want to remind them of at practice.  For this reason I suggest you call this drill something else (and please share your creative names with the rest of us in the comments below!).  I have playfully given it the nick-name Charlie Sheens because after only 5 minutes you want this to end...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Learning derby through video 2

Please note that this is a follow-up post to Learning derby through video 1 and it makes a lot more sense if you read that one first!

Alternative names: --
Objective: To learn roller derby strategy and how to apply it
Typical length of drill: N/A
Materials needed: A computer and some working internet, and preferably working sound
Skill level required: None
Description: Once you've learned how to be an active viewer, start watching roller derby videos where ever you can find them.  First watch a video all the way through while jotting down on a piece of paper the moments that you want to re-visit (i.e. "01:50 good blocking, 02:32 effective wall," etc).  Then go back and watch these moments thoroughly while writing down what everyone appears to be doing and why.  Scroll back and forth around that moment, a little bit before and a little bit after.  Observe what leads to a certain situation, and what the consequences were of the blockers' actions, the jammers' actions.  You might notice what the referees are yelling -- do you notice the same penalties that they are calling?  If you hear what the bench coaches are yelling, does it make sense to you?  Do you see the skaters following instructions?  If not, do you think that they would have done better if they HAD listened to the coach?  Worse?  To help all of the useful information stick, write down a short paragraph about each moment.  What worked, what didn't work, what would you like to try yourself, what do you wish your teammates did more often (maybe you should try doing that more often too), what strategies you learned, etc.  Write down questions that you have and see if you can either answer them yourself a little bit later, once you've read more rules or watched some more derby, or take them to your coaches and see if they can answer the questions for you.  You can learn so much from watching if you make it a point to be an active viewer!
Additional notes: Check out the sidebar on the right for links to different websites that feature full and partial roller derby games that you can learn from!

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.