Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Magazine
• derby fuel
• lifting for derby
• building a better stats book
• let communication be your guide
• gear review
• DIY trophy ideas
• plus more, including the WFTDA roller derby world summit recap, junior derby training and conditioning, how to run your league
Midge Mayhem, Denver Roller Derby
Roller derby: the ever-evolving sport of talent and strategery. An internet search for WFTDA roller derby from 2010 will give you some amazing videos of people skating really, really fast, mixed in with some really incredible hits. WFTDA roller derby today presents a lot more variables: defensive braced walls, shifting pack speeds, ridiculous skating skills, and offensive. If you’re a jammer these days, you want ALL THE OFFENSE.
Communication among teammates is not a new concept. All team sports require communication to some level. In the game of football (or as Americans call it “soccer”), players have a keen sense of where their teammates are on the field. When the need comes to pass the ball, they can trust their teammates will be in a particular place because they’ve practiced and communicated beforehand. The same holds true for other sports like hockey, basketball, and rugby. American football is questionable to me, though their ability to celebrate seems very well practiced.
While the idea of playing offense isn’t new to team sports, and really not even new to roller derby, the game has changed in such a way that offense is becoming more and more a necessity. The switch from offense to defense has to be instantaneous. A second or more off could cost your team the crucial jam that you need in order to get lead so you can score points so you can win the jam in hopes of winning the game.
Yeah, and REALLY HARD. You know what else is hard? Communication.
Don’t get me wrong. Communication is wonderful when you and the other person are on the same page. You can joke, tell stories, share meaningful personal experiences, have thought provoking discussions: communication is beautiful... when done effectively.
Have you ever been in a situation where someone is trying to have a conversation with you, perhaps ask you a question, but they’re speaking in a different language? Maybe you know a few words in their language or just shake your head as to say, “Sorry, bro. No idea what you’re talking about.” And instead of the person trying to change their communication tactic by pointing to a map or a picture they just repeat themselves but VERY LOUDLY BECAUSE YOU PROBABLY JUST COULDN’T HEAR THEM THE FIRST TIME THEY ASKED. Or, perhaps you were the person who starting talking VERY LOUDLY BECAUSE MAYBE YOU WEREN’T LOUD ENOUGH THE FIRST TIME.
Now, unless your teammate is hearing impaired, increasing your volume shouldn’t be your go to tactic when trying to communicate in a more effective manner. That being said, let’s review a few possible options:
ask productive questions
Just like relationships, breakdowns in communication come from unmet expectations. Let’s say we’re at the start of a jam, and we’ve taken the back wall; you’re blocking and I’m jamming. The whistle blows. Immediately you hit the blocker next to you and then run forward pushing the brace forward at least 10 feet! You’re feeling great when all of the sudden you turn around and see I am still back at the jam line stuck behind a triangle of blockers.
The jam is over and we go back to the bench. In that moment, I might ask, “What were you wanting me to do in that moment when you ran forward toward the brace?” Perhaps you respond with “I was moving the pack forward for you!” To which I might respond, “Oh. I was expecting you to wait a split second longer so I could take the hole you created hitting the first blocker. But by the time I got there, you were already running forward with the brace.”
Asking questions gives both you and your teammate the ability to understand what happened during a particular moment on the track, as well as the opportunity to start a conversation to lead to a more successful outcome next time around. However, tact is still necessary when asking questions. For example, “What did you do that for?” is a very vague question that can be taken as accusatory. Add in a little emotion, and now you are both just frustrated with each other. Not the communication we’re aiming for.
listen to your teammates
Perhaps you have a teammate that needs to verbally communicate a specific movement, while you’re the type of person who needs a specific movement to be visualized in a drawing or real-life moment. Give your teammate the ability to talk through what they’re trying to accomplish. Once they have come to a conclusion or some sort of resolution, try verifying what they just said out loud by visually walking through the scenario.
We all communicate differently. Learn how your teammates communicate and be willing to listen to them, even if their means of communication doesn’t seem convenient to you at the moment. Come game time when the pressure is on, time is limited, and a strategy needs to be adapted, you can efficiently and effectively come up with a plan together BECAUSE COMMUNICATION.
remember the cookie
You know those practice nights when you’re pretty sure you’ve forgotten how to skate or play roller derby or maybe both? You just finish a drill, you come off the track bent over and out of breath, thinking through the four things you just executed poorly. And then you look up to see your coach walking towards you, and your heart sinks to the bottom of your stomach. Fun fact: this happens to everyone. Another fun fact: this is when you need a feedback cookie! (...yes, I realize the name could use some work...)
The concept is for every piece of critical feedback, there should be one or two pieces of positive feedback. Whether you’re the giver or receiver, start with something positive (“You covered the line really well”) followed by something to be improved upon (“Watch for overcommitting because you’re taking yourself out of bounds”) followed by something positive (“Your hockey stops are on point, so try to hockey stop to keep yourself in bounds”).
Communication is no easy task, especially when there are at minimum 13 other people all with different communication styles. Just like you practice derby skills with your teammates, don’t forget to work on communication skills. Initiating verbal communication will inevitably lead to better on-track communication, and ideally the ability to read each other’s movements without batting an eye. As Dominique Wilkins said, “You are only as good as your team.” Why not do everything you can to make your team great?