When I started roller derby, the first two things my FM coaches told me were:
- wear your roller skates until they become an extension of your feet, and
- watch roller derby.
To feel less like Bambi and more like Bonnie, I therefore decided to clean the house, full gear on, in my roller skates. I took them off once I had to sweep the staircase though. Well, at least I didn’t kill myself, so I considered this challenge a successful one!
Once the house was clean, I sat down with my computer and navigated to the all mighty WFTDA.tv channel. The amount of games was a bit overwhelming. I didn’t know where to start! My league vets told me to watch only the past two seasons, because of the rule changes and all that fun stuff. I didn’t know the rules yet, but I believed them. So I narrowed down my quest to the 2014 and 2015 championships.
Well, let me tell you, the first game I watched, I paused every few seconds to ask: Ugh, what happened there? I could barely follow the jammer of one team, let alone, both teams. Blockers looked like a muddled body pile, and I certainly didn’t understand offense or defense, out of play, no pack, and penalties, gosh all these penalties!
Deep breath. The first time I watched football, I didn’t understand either. And don’t even ask me about baseball, rugby, hockey… Yep. No matter the sport, it gets better by watching a lot.
So here’s how I did, and am still doing it. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but at least watching derby now feels less and less like rocket science.
- Before you push play, decide which part of the game you’d like to focus on. You want to watch jamming, follow the jammers. You want to learn blocking, follow the blockers. In particular, follow the skaters whom you think are close to your body type, or skating style (at least what you’d like to eventually achieve). Watch how tall girls make it out of the pack versus smaller jammers, and how blockers of all shapes and sizes move from one side of the track to the other while maintaining their momentum, and hitting without getting penalties.
- Once you’ve decided who you’re going to follow, that’s it. Don’t try to multitask or you’ll lose track, and maybe get discouraged. You can watch the same game over and over and focus on a different element each time. That’s the beauty of having these games online. You can watch the same game a hundred times and find something new each time.
- At some point, you’re going to have to know the basic rules. What it means to be in a power jam. What it means to have lost the ability to become lead jammer, or lost lead jammer status. Watch how the lead jammer controls the jam. Watch how the jammer communicates with her blockers. Watch what happens when the jammer is stuck behind a wall for a very long time, and cannot seem to get out. Will she pass the star? Will she stash it? Understand the role of the pivot. Why is the team taking a time out? What’s an official review?
- It’s helpful for some peeps to write their questions in a notepad, so these questions can be answered later, either by studying the rules, asking a vet or coach at practice, or watching another game! I don’t keep a notepad, but I usually ask my questions at practice, or in Facebook groups. The resources are there, and people love to answer questions. Just ask.
- To strengthen my knowledge of derby, I’ve also taken on NSO roles at many of my league bouts and scrimmages. Being an NSO helps tremendously because the rules you’ve just read on the WFTDA website finally come to life on the track, and you’re witnessing it live! I’ve kept score, I’ve timed penalties, I’ve repaired the track… Whatever I can do to help when I’m not playing gives me a solid foundation of what happens on the track. When I watch a game later on, I see similar moves, and formations, and tada! Lightbulb moment!
To me, becoming a well-rounded derby player is a three part exercise:
- There’s the physical component of derby by practicing on and off skates, and improving overall physical conditioning;
- There’s the mental component of derby by learning the rules, watching games, and NSOing;
- The most crucial element which is to put physical conditioning and mental preparedness in action together once you’re playing the game.
Physical conditioning without knowledge is like punching a brick wall, and trying to make a hole in it. The wall might break at first, but there will come a day when the wall will stand and how hard you punch won’t help a bit. On the opposite, knowing the rules by heart without any practical application won’t really achieve anything either. Once you mix the two together, magic happens!
Watching derby has definitely helped me, and is still helping me greatly, because I get to study the best teams of the derbysphere right from my couch, and then I try to apply what I learned at practice. It might work, or not, but watching opens so many possibilities. There are teams out there who are absolutely masterful at certain skills. Watching them is learning from the best.
I also read it’s good to watch derby on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be a full game, just fifteen minutes of it can make a huge difference in your day.
The big O is around the corner! This tournament promises some great roller derby! So what are you waiting for?