So you've decided that you want to up your derby game. Maybe you have just joined a learn to skate program and are eager to master the skills. Or maybe you are ready to get that competitive edge and join a team. That is great! I have a couple of steps to help improve your skills.
Watch more high level derby
I know this is mentioned in about every blog about derby, but seriously, you should watch more. It is so easy to watch something from the WFTDA.tv archives. Our league tries to organize monthly derby watching parties for everyone. It is a great way to get your league talking about gameplay, strategy, AMAZING moves, and generally talking with each other. When we get really into a moment there is usually a whole discussion about what happened. Someone has to pause and backtrack the game, then we watch it in slow motion while everyone talks in excited voices. It sparks great conversations with our newer skaters about how the sport works. It is so beneficial as a skater to learn the rules of roller derby (it may save you from a trip to the penalty box). The skaters in high level WFTDA and MRDA push the boundaries of what we believe is possible on skates. It's great to be able to break down exactly how a blocking strategy worked or how the jammer squeaked through the pack. You can figure out what skills you need to work on in order to pull off those moves.
Go to extra practices
The best thing to do to improve your skating skills is get more time on skates. See if there are other practices in your league that you are able to attend. A big part of being on a team is learning how to communicate with the other skaters. You have to be able to understand each other in a split second. That sort of thing takes a lot of practice! If you are a newer skater check with trainers to see if there is space to practice individual skills on the sides. If you are not able to practice on skates, there are still so many things you will pick up when you watch a practice. You can learn a lot when your head doesn't have to talk to your feet. A seasoned skater practice usually works on more advanced skills. They spend a lot of time talking about gameplay and strategy. If you are still working on your skills, it is great to see what you want to focus on during your own skate. I have seen so many "lightbulb" moments happen when we have talks about derby at practice. It also gets you understanding where you want/need to be with your skills to play more competitive roller derby. If your league does not have any more practices for you to go to, see if you can drop in with another league in your area, or take a look and see if there are any training camps coming up. If all else fails, try and find some space to yourselves where you can strap on skates and work on your skills.
This is a skill I certainly didn't use enough before joining derby. I remember one training camp where the coach had us make team goals–something we want to achieve for ourselves. It really helps to give a focus and direction to all of your practices. Make sure to set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time based) goals. Usually, I try to make one big goal at the start of the season and then I break it down into smaller short-term goals for each week or even each practice. It's one thing to say you want to be a "better" skater but what does that mean, what does it look like for you?
Okay, so you have a goal in mind. Write it down! It has been proven that people who write out their goals are more likely to accomplish them. Even better–once you have written down your goal, tell a friend about it. You want someone who can keep you accountable and check up on your progress. I try to have something specific in my mind every time I put my skates on. Say, for example, I want to get my 27/5 within the next three months. I would focus on nailing my crossovers, my derby stance, and endurance. I would think about what I need to do to get better at those things, so I can get my 27/5. Setting small achievable goals means you get to celebrate every step of the way!
Crosstrain outside of practice
This is an important one, especially if you are still developing those derby muscles. I strongly encourage everyone learning to skate to do SOMETHING else outside of practice. There are so many great options out there to help build your body up for this sport. I am a big fan of bouldering/rock climbing in the off season. It's a very core heavy exercise that gets me to work on my balance and move my body in new ways. I would also recommend doing some yoga, swimming, crossfit, etc. The possibilities are almost endless. This doesn't mean you have to run out and get a gym membership (especially as some of us are on a budget; gotta get new skates somehow!). You can start small and do some workouts at home. Everything we do on skates can be done in an off-skates workout. There are a lot of great resources online for derby training. My favourite would have to be Roller Derby Athletics. It's amazing how much an extra 20 minutes of exercise during the week can help your skating abilities.
Up the intensity
You want to try your hardest with everything you do. There have been so many moments I have seen people come to practice and they are holding back. It can be due to a number of reasons: maybe it is fear of trying a new skill, or you are stuck in your head from a bad work day. Use your derby practice wisely. I would recommend coming to every practice and giving it your all. Sure it will be tougher training, but you are doing it for yourself. Don't sell yourself short by not working to the best of your ability. It is okay to have those days where things are harder. It means your 100% that day may not stack up to your 100% on a normal day. THAT'S OKAY. The point is that even if you are sick, sore, or whatever, that you are present and ready to do all the things. Don't worry about what other people are doing or if they are watching you. If you come in and do it for yourself then none of those other things will matter anymore.
I see a lot of skaters come to practices and compare themselves to other skaters. I can see the days where they are beating themselves up at practice. There are always going to be those days when your muscles feel like giving up on you, or YOU feel like giving up on you. I remember when I had just passed my minimum skills (2014?) and moved up into the seasoned skater practices. It felt like I was brand new again. I was falling down so much at practice. After a few months I still fell down a lot, but I got REALLY good at quickly getting back up. The biggest thing is to keep yourself motivated and remember to enjoy it!