I’m not a freshie anymore but I’m not a veteran either. I’m in that uber-challenging phase where I’m slowly learning to swim with sharks.
What’s better than getting my feet wet at scrimmage?
I’ve heard and read that derby is better learned when played. My first real experience with scrimmaging can be summarized in three words: WHAT THE F***! It’s a pretty common reaction. Hits are rough and the game goes way too fast. I repeatedly ask myself whether I’ll ever manage to get out of the pack during that jam… My arms are flying in directions they shouldn’t be flying, my stance is jacked, my mind is scrambled, and my feet decide to toe-tap dance instead of running as far away and as fast as my jello legs can possibly take me. Oh, and let’s not forget the being horribly out of breath situation! Blocking air is what I do best. I saw that jammer coming but heck… She was gone before I could decide where to go.
I’m not allowed in the kiddo pool anymore, where I can see and feel the ground below, and water only rises up to my waist. Now I have to mingle with skaters of all levels, which means more speed, more strength, more obstacles. Veterans delectably lick their lips ready to devour me alive. I’m the easy target. Even when they go at only 50 percent, I silently pray that my body holds and stays in one piece.
That stuff is scary! Yes. The good about it is that everyone felt this way at the beginning. So chill out. I got a few tips for you to make the experience a little less dreading.
1- Don’t hold your breath
Breathing is critical. I know you’re freaking out but you gotta exhale. Holding your breath will only hinder your capacity to withstand high impact hits. Focus on your breath while you get hit or inflict a hit. The way I think about it is: breathe out your fear. The more you practice exhaling, the better you will feel, and apprehension will be replaced by confident aggression.
2- Keep your feet moving
The jammer will push you as hard as they can to get you out of their way. As a blocker, your first instinct is to keep your feet planted, usually pointing forward, which is very ineffective. I just kept gliding until the jammer had enough of using me like a push cart and bam, they were gone. Practice keeping your feet mobile while in a wall, whether you’re bracing or butt probing. Small lateral movements make a huge difference on how strong you are as a link.
As a jammer, keeping your feet mobile is essential. Agility is your friend. Don’t overdo it though. Toe-tap dancing in excess will wear you out and not take you very far. I call it the toe-tap stalling.
3- Stay with your wall
Find a partner and stick with her. When you find yourself alone on the track, find someone from your team, and follow them everywhere they go. Being alone is bad news. You don’t want to be trapped as a goat by the other team, do you? If you’re not familiar with the trapping the goat strategy, it’s very simple. If the opposing team traps one player from your team, they are the pack, and they control it. So stay with your folks! If you get trapped, get out.
4- Commit to your next move
Don’t hesitate. Whether you want to hit, push, or escape, don’t change your mind half-move. Hesitation will kill you. Well, not literally, but you’ll definitely lose your momentum, and become the juiciest middle of a blocker sandwich.
5- Fall small
Yes, I still fall and spread like a starfish sometimes. Try to stay compact though. Recovery from a fall or out of a body pile is much easier when you’re already in position to spring back upwards.
6- Recover fast
Look up, and face the direction that gets you the fastest out. Don’t go backwards while turning clockwise if you could have easily made a move to the left and forward. You know what I mean… We tend to do weird stuff when we’re panicking. Take a breath, gather your senses, get back up and go! Every second counts.
Your team should shout out instructions at you. Even if it’s just “GO” yelled in such fashion you feel like everyone wants to murder you, just go, okay?
8- Speak up
If you feel like a lost giraffe, call out your teammates. You can yell at them in the same murderous tone if you want, but make it short and sweet. Remember tip #3? Find your closest teammate and ask her what to do. She will probably just grab you, and instruct you to move, stay, bridge, brace… Listen and go!
It’s hard to do when chaos rules on the track, but being as stiff as a stick won’t really make your life easier. Remember tip #1. Mostly try to relax the muscles of your upper body, such as your shoulders. Suck your stomach in to keep a tight core but loosen the muscles of your limbs. You will absorb hits much easier if your body is like a squishy octopus. You will move much easier too. Remember the freshie days of skating like a constipated giraffe? Yeah, don’t do that.
10- Have fun
The most important tip of all is to always enjoy yourself! Laugh. Laughter helps with everything. Be silly! Derby isn’t supposed to be a torture. If it is… Well maybe you need time to reset? Sometimes taking time off helps. Don’t beat yourself up. Making mistakes is part of the learning experience. You won’t do everything perfectly. Let go, skate, and take it all in like a sponge!
I hope these tips will make your life a bit easier on the track. Those are the tips I’ve been told by vets when I didn’t know what to do with myself. If you have more tips, please, please, share them!
Find me on Instagram! @kikindateef