The Trials of Playing Up: A Personal Derby Narrative

I was about to hop on Twitter and post this epic book of information, when I realized that I was typing “this should be a blog post” and so it shall. Nobody needs repetitive 144 character ramblings of something that I openly admit is supposed to be a narrative.

What you’ll find in this post:

  • What it’s like to play for a D1 league at every level
  • Suggestions of handling those crappy moments when crap is hard

What you won’t find in this post:

  • Peer reviewed articles (SHOCK AND HORROR – I know)
  • Research

In case you’re wondering, yes I’m working on the skills posts that I told you about, but I also have the last of 5 reports due tomorrow, so I can’t handle brain anymore today. Let’s dive in!


The Beginning – Basic Skills

I started in March or so of 2015 with a rec league out in California.  It was a moment I had been waiting for since I had last wanted to play roller derby, but seriously injured my knees during tryouts (who even knows if I have an ACL/PCL at this point). Raised a rink rat – and oddly playing bouts at my childhood rink now – I had a natural flair for the quad skate that never developed on inlines.  As much as I had tried when I was younger, I just always failed – but I’ll be darned if I wasn’t able to do the crossovers on quads when my classmates were struggling to stand in gym.  [That’s right, my grade school had quad skating as a gym activity]

Before I had started up with the rec league (North Hollywood Rolling Ravens), I had actually sold my entire setup the prior Halloween. I had been desperate for money and someone wanted it for a costume. I cried for about an hour after I sold my derby gear because I had never wanted anything more.  At any rate, I’m competitive so I quickly transitioned to a local D1 league – Angel City Derby.  I tried out after some time in their learn to skate sessions and made the league, which was only the beginning of the journey.

I went through my first round of basic skills and was crushed when I didn’t move up to the second level.  Of course, this wasn’t because I hadn’t passed – it was because I wasn’t available for the assessment and wasn’t given an option at the time to do it a different day. To my knowledge, that wasn’t the case after some changing of the guards, but that’s what had happened to me.  I was very frustrated, and acted out the first night of practice that I was still in the first level.  One of my coaches suggested that I take the time to really hone in my skills, and after some thought – I decided to do just that.  The next assessment – and the final assessment for minimum skills were a breeze. There’s also just no joy in the world than making one (or now multiple) Hollywood Scarlets smile as you nail the skills by splitting a cone or hashmark on the track with your precision.

My first season

As I’m sure is not surprise, playing my first season at ACD was extremely challenging in a way that I wouldn’t change for the world.  If you don’t play for a D1 league, imagine going to rollercon every single practice.  Things are well-planned and the training and attention to detail is top-tier.  Yes, we had practices that weren’t stellar; people are human.  However those practices were few-and-far-between.

Before I even started on Rising Stars (their subpool/beginning learner option), I made it a goal to get 8 scrimmages in on my own. I was lucky because California is one of the most densely derby-populated places on the face of the planet (I feel like there’s a map for this).  There was an open scrimmage every week, plus additional fun scrimmages throughout the holidays.  The skill level ranged from beginner scrims where we broke down what had happened every 3-5 jams, fun/intermediate scrims where nobody really cared what happened, and then the one advanced scrim that I attended which was kind of like putting a camera on the track during a champs bout (no, really – people were zooming past me and just avoiding me – thank you for anyone who was there and did that because I barely survived that scrim).  I crushed my goal, attending 11 scrims between November and late January, and gained a lot of experience that the other people who were just hanging out over the derby hiatus didn’t have. It really set me up for success – that and the hours of footage review that I would do every week on Wednesdays.

Starting on Rising Stars, I paid close attention to skills and strategy, but was frequently in my head.  Knowing what I do now, this was natural development (Fitts and Posner – oops, guess I lied about sources), but felt uncomfortable at the time.  I continually pushed during practice and off-skates, taking suggestions from everyone I could find and basically making people my mentors throughout the year.  Everyone was happy to help, and I got noticed to the point that I began attending local travel team practices at the request of leadership so that I could prep for bouts that weren’t technically mine.  I had become the liaison for the Rising Stars (consider it like a captain position, but not quite as heavy input), and served as an alt or low rotation player for competitive bouts.  This was the beginning of my entire life in derby.

Playing up in D1

Year 1

The reality is, if you’re in a D1 league, you’re likely going to play up for most-of if-not-entire derby career. It’s a mind f**k. But when you’re in the same league as someone who is derby famous – it’s just reality. Once you’re 8-10 years in, you’ll likely be the goal, so buckle up and enjoy the ride!

My start was quick and exciting. I made the local travel team half-way through my first season and – by some random coincidence – ended up co-captain my first season. Don’t worry, that wasn’t for skills, it was for organizational qualities. I hope you laughed if you know me personally because I am honestly the least organized person that I know.  I was rostered and played, and felt incredible heading out of my first season. I was a rockstar in my mind, but hyperaware of where I was and how much growth I still had to make. Perhaps that’s what made pushing so much easier than later years.

At the end of my first season, I needed a change personally due to a toxic relationship that I was in, so I put myself first and moved back to Chicago just before the 2017 season .

Year 2

The transfer to Windy was an experience.  I vividly recall saying that I was definitely C team material because of where I had been learning and playing previously, but Windy was in the middle of a rebuild, so levels were easily skewed in deference to who might pan out. That was me.  I was targeted for A/B travel team by the captain, who saw the push that I had and the skills I had gained, and had suggested that I not “sell [myself] short” by only putting down the C team as my target.  Understanding basic social skills, I read that this meant I had misjudged my level and followed suit.

And I made the travel teams at Windy.

I was rostered as a B skater, but leadership took a chance on me early in the season and threw me on the charter to see how I handled it. I rose to the occasion as much as possible, but struggled with strategic awareness and body movements that *anyone* in their second year would struggle with. Still, I pushed myself hard to level up quickly.  Admittedly, this was probably what slowed down my enjoyment of the sport that year because I couldn’t be at my level and learn where I was.  At the same time, I skated at The Big O and went with the charter to Seattle for playoffs, which I had never dreamed possible as someone who was in their second year of play. I was constantly under the stress of trying to be there for my team and to improve for the sake of the team and the league. I rarely stopped to say “hey, let’s play”, it was “hey, let’s sports”.

Going to the major tournaments (e.g., Big O and Playoffs) was a wakeup call about how I was feeling about myself. I was grateful for even being there, but hypercritical about my skating ability and success or failure in the eyes of leadership during Big O. I had sustained a head injury during a scrim vs. Arch prior to playoffs and absolutely could not process the way that I had in the past, so I wasn’t even rostered at playoffs that year.

As someone constantly recognized for leveling up play, pushing, and making progress, this was my first taste of pushing hard but not getting what I really wanted.  I took it in stride and accepted the fun vacation that I got out of it, and even threw my skates on for open track time.  My logic there was that I had put in enough work to justify being on that track, even if I couldn’t be useful on the track for my team – and I did just that and was happy with it. I still have the video of me skating the track and the stadium where it was held as a memory (and I’ll likely be buried in that skater pass).

Shortly after that season, I was voted MVP for the season by my team as a blocker and overall – so it was easy to see that someone saw my work who wasn’t me.

Year 3

Year 3 was a different kind of challenge. I had become thirsty for the charter and wanted to progress even more, so I pushed myself to do more off-skates, train harder, become better and overall shoot for that charter spot once again.  I attended nearly every practice (this is my trend – 100%+ attendance), watched footage, and worked on off-skates. I researched how to be better as a trainer constantly and integrated what I knew about the brain into my practice.

It seemed to be that, no matter how hard I pushed, I wasn’t playing quite as much or wasn’t making that jump to the charter that I wanted so badly. Again, this is typical development, and I had identified it as such at that point because I had done some much research into sports development theory.  I was patient. I persisted.

Towards the end of the season that year, I made a breakthrough by letting loose. I rarely get penalties, but this was the first time that I stopped thinking about my body and went into autopilot with my motor skills and game play. My coaches recognized it and told me to shoot for the charter again the next year because the spot could be mine. I felt good coming out of that season, but didn’t go to playoffs because I choked on our final scrimmage.  And so it goes for D1 play. I doubt that I would have even been rostered if I hadn’t choked, but I was disappointed.

Shortly after, I became captain for my hometeam in an effort to keep us on track for the year an to continue to help us rebuild. We had a lot of transfers that year, and I was stressed about how my skills would fare against new people – so I pushed again to try and improve as I moved towards tryouts. I was stretched thin. It’s no wonder that I nearly broke my ankle at an off-season practice for Travel Teams when I got hit by one of our formidable All Star blockers, and it was a wakeup call for me to say the least.  I woke up the morning after and had to use my hamper as a walker to get to the bathroom. I knew then that my year would be different for 2019.

Year 4 – Hell year

I’ve laid out before my disappointment with parts of last season, but I doubt that I’ve ever truly gotten into it in-depth with people. As the hiatus prior to tryouts presented me with a nasty sprain, I underperformed at my tryout for that year, and didn’t make the team that I had been on for so long. I was disappointed, but it was other things that had played into my decision to step back from derby for part of the season and focus on other things. A majority of it was my mental health, and for some reason I wanted to start a business.  So, I distracted myself and just played for fun.

What I didn’t tell anyone on the internet was that I had made the cusp of the B team despite my injury.  These skaters were to have some practices playing up, and was honestly a miracle given the fact that I had a hard brace (think of a walking boot inside of a skate) on during my tryout.  I left it behind to work on me because derby had stressed me to the point that I needed to heal – both physically and mentally.

The time that I took off was for-sure the hardest as our travel teams played out a beautifully competitive season against opponents that I desperately wanted to play. They played in fun venues, and I watched my skills deteriorate from under-use. As mid-season tryouts approached, I bowed out of regular rotation at practices because I started to become a danger on the track to the brand new skaters who I would routinely launch from my controlled hits. It was time; I was ready.

I asked to be considered for the B team, but wasn’t surprised or upset when I made the C team the second time around. I had let my skills deteriorate to grow my heart and brain to a place where I could handle playing-up again. And that’s ok. I had stopped off-skates for a while because I was too depressed to do it. And that’s also ok. But when I started on that C team, I came out swinging. I remember my skating being powerful the first scrimmage we had, and during early practices – to the point that I was told to tone it down a notch. I did, but ended up ramping back up again.

My first bout with the C team, I was lower rotation. I was frustrated, but reminded myself that I was new there and had let my skills slip, so I was where I should be.  I also reminded myself that this was a chance to prove that I deserved more play time – so I pushed again.  And I jumped rotation by the end of the bout, and jumped rotation again by the end of the season – often playing back-to-back jams in the last bout of our year.

Year 5 – Recovery and outlook

So, here we are.  Half-way through my hometeam season for the year, and speaking from experience. Where am I now? I’m moderate-to-high rotation on my hometeam. This means that I go out with the higher level players more frequently because I have the skills and knowledge to execute and help us win.  It’s a nod to my work thus far, but definitely not a signal to sit back and relax. I played the best I ever have last night at our bout – and this is what I was told, not just how I felt.  I jumped rotation again by the end of the bout because of performance, but again it doesn’t mean I can rest on that.

I’m in the B/C heat (just by looking at where everyone was last year) for our tryouts – meaning that I need to prove myself again, but I’m ready. My skills are where they are, and my brain is in an even better place than last year (yes, thank you and please let’s keep it that way).

While I’ve never been one to expect to be rostered or expect play time, I feel that I can handle it a lot better now because of what I’ve been through. I’ve been to the top and the bottom. I’ve been through hell and back again. I’ve been the one watched by people and envied, and I’ve envied my friends who get to do the cool things while I skate in circles on my endless basics.  So what have I learned?

Never expect anything

Be grateful for what you have at all times – and I mean that. When I look at how things went for me, I was grateful even as I was at the “top” of my trajectory so far. I didn’t expect play time, but was excited when it was there for me.  I never expect MVP (and honestly I never get it), but I’m always pushing for it even if I don’t get it.  The reason that this is important is that you’re more flexible when you have the flexibility of disappointment or alternative outcomes in mind. I think of it this way: if I was planning on x, y, or z then violating that outcome puts me in a place emotionally where I wasn’t planning and that’s going to set me off. It doesn’t matter if it’s work, derby, love life – anything. That’s when we become upset.  So, train yourself to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Do this, and you’ll reduce the likelihood that you’ll experience that dissonance in the future.

Keep pushing, except when you shouldn’t

Playing up means that you’ll always end up slightly disappointed or needing to push harder.  This is just the way it is. When I think of the challenges that I’ve endured so far, I can see now that I continued to push too hard instead of knowing when to take a break – which is as dangerous for your trajectory as it would be to not push in that situation. It’s a delicate balance, but you can base it on how you feel.

If you are:

  • Depressed about derby
  • Anxious when it comes to doing the things you need to do to set yourself up for success (read: practice, off-skates, footage review etc)
  • Getting jealous in an unhealthy way of other people or getting entitled to your spot where you are

You need a break. You need at least a few months of not derby, and I’m downright serious. You need to go learn how to use a loom or to try out long distance running or literally anything that isn’t going to trigger those emotions so that you can separate yourself from where you were. I didn’t do this. I let myself become wrapped up in where I had been instead of where I was going, and this lead to a forced break instead of one that is calculated.  Periodize your life. Accept that your life as an adult has seasons just like derby (should).  Accept that you will have rough times when you can’t devote yourself to the sport, and know that it isn’t forever. Do that, and you’ll get so much better in the end because you wont burn out

Ride the wave

Find the fun stuff in your league and surrounding leagues.  Go to rollercon, take a class, chill with your lower-level skater, or go to an open scrimmage. You never know how much that will help you until you do it.  Enjoy the good times while they are here and you’ll always have that to hold-on to.

When I’m sad or frustrated, I take out the broken keychains that came attached to my MVP awards in 2017 and look at them. I remind myself that I was seen and that people continue to see me. I take out my skater pass from playoffs and hang it on my wall. I look at footage from Big O. I take out old emails that have been sent to me about my progress and I read them. It’s these things that will save you from the hard points and remind you that where you are is where you should be at that time. It’ll keep you going and keep you grateful for what you have.

Trust the process

This one’s hard for me. I do trust my leadership, and I’m also super anxious. But when I trust the process, it’s just 10x easier for me in the long run. Our leadership is strong for both hometeams and travel teams at Windy – so trusting them is ultimately the right move in the end. Trust your leadership too. Put onto them the responsibility that they are supposed to have, which is to care for their skaters and ensure that everyone progresses. Hold them to this when they are not fulfilling their end of the bargain, and know when to ask for more opinions.  But in the long run, trust the process.


What’s next

Welp, tryouts are coming. I tryout in 5 days. I’m intentionally taking time off of practice before we hit tryouts because I know that my skills are ready, and I don’t want to be possibly injured a second year in a row. I trust where I’ve been, and I’m fine with whatever outcome happens on the other side of that tryout. I’ve planned out trajectories for the season that include multiple outcomes so that I can work on my plan day-1 regardless of where I fall.  If I make the B team – I’m derby come hell or high water for the season. I’ll have work, but I’ll be focusing on derby first. If I make the C team – I’m derby come hell or high water through the way that our pipeline works. That means a different set of off-skates, different types of practices to attend, and ultimately a different structure for my weekly schedule.

I’m ok with either option.

What I’m not doing is giving up. I’m not giving in on my 5th year. I’m not “ok” with just staying where I am. I’m not listening to what my brain has told me in the past. I’m pushing forward. I’m coming in hot to this season, and I don’t plan on a speed check.

And with that, let’s go.

The Simple Solution to Change for your League

Well, well, well – word, we meet again.  My computer just decided to come out of hibernation and update out of nowhere and I’m apparently following suit.

First, I’m very sorry for not updating more but absolutely-not sorry in the slightest.  To be quite honest, I desperately needed a break, and the only one who identified it was my old coach, Laci Knight – who basically said “when do you have time for you”? It took some hard listening with my eyes and heart instead of my ears to realize what she meant, which lead me to only writing when I felt the absolute urge to do so.  I’ll be continuing with that trend moving forward, however I have a couple of posts that I’m thinking about right now. Get ‘em while they’re hot!

So today, I wanted to talk about systems change and the problem-solving process within our greater roller derby world, and yes – the simple solution to get your league on track. Let’s start with a familiar scenario:

You’re at a league meeting and people keep talking about the same issue XYZ that they’ve been talking about for ages.  Leadership, often being overloaded with what they have to keep the league running says “thank you so much for your input – you are heard, and we need to make some changes”. The room goes from loud to quiet as a majority of members strike a familiar tone of pleased or jaded dependent upon how many times they’ve seen this happen. While leadership genuinely cares about what’s happening and the concerns of the membership, they have to get that bout going for next month, and there is barely enough in the bank for most leagues to keep a practice space running – let alone plan for bigger things. And don’t forget about the most important thing in roller derby: rankings.

Quarters 2 and 3 pass, and you’re at the end of the year with the same questions being brought up, and the concerns being brought to the top of the list. Perhaps, with the off-season, leadership has more bandwidth to do things, so small tweaks are made – some take, and some don’t, but concerns aren’t brought up until 4 quarters later (a full year passing) when the situation has hit a boiling point again.

Does that sound right? For some leagues, this is not the case, and for many leagues this is something that’s being actively worked on even without a clear path of how to adjust. But what’s the secret? What’s the easy thing? Let’s look at the background behind the problem solving model for systems change!


Problem Solving Model Background

So, I’m a school psychologist. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you might have caught that, but not quite sure if you did. Basically, I’m the problem solver in the room for our meetings at schools, although the position often possesses more hats than a haberdasher[1]. Part of what I do on a daily basis is to utilize the problem-solving model on both a macro (e.g., classroom or school) and micro (e.g., individual student) scale.

The problem-solving model is pretty straight-forward, and was derived as a 4 step model based on the work of George Polya[2], who is often referred to as the father of modern problem solving.  His widely published and wildly popular book, How to Solve It, rose to fame in 1945 and for good reason: it put into words a process that is easily expanded to other areas with minimal change.  He basically said that there are 4 basic principles to problem solving[3]:

  • Understand the problem
  • Devise a plan
  • Carry out the plan
  • Look back

While I’m admittedly having trouble with when this came into vogue within education, I can say with confidence that it has been a part of the Response to Intervention or Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports process for quite some time[4], and is used as a common way to support students before they arrive at a full evaluation (i.e., me and my team of rock star humans) to determine a need for support services.

The beautiful thing about this problem-solving model is that it’s easy to follow outside of education as well, and can strengthen your problem solving processes within your league.  So, what does that look like?



Although the original problem-solving method was more a list of check-points, the much more applicable setup is a cycle.  The reality is that change is a process and not an event.  Your systems are constantly changing to fit your needs, so you should treat it as such.  Below, we will review how to go through each one of these steps, but if you’re short on time – check out this video. The video breaks it down to a great acronym: IDEA. I encourage you to play along with us by defining a problem of your own and working out an actionable plan for it so you can experience the wonder of using this process. Here we go!


Step 1: Identify the problem

Problem identification is important in this process, and often the one thing that most people excel at.  We can identify the problem easily.  An example might be: work is unevenly distributed among skaters and leadership.  What is easy is to identify the symptom.  We see burnout and we see people doing uneven amounts of work, but what is even easier is to assume that this is also the root cause, when it is not.

When identifying the problem, make sure to start at what you observe and ask why.  Once you answer that, ask why again. Keep going until you run out of answers, and that is likely the root of the cause.  You may have to do this more than once for complex issues because, honestly, we do not live in a vacuum where every problem is solved by a single answer.  It’s best to keep an open mind and focus solely on answering the question, or it’s easy to get caught in the very-scientifically-named existential spiral hole.

Once you’ve fully defined the complexities of your problem or concern, you can move-on to targeting solutions by developing the plan.

Step 2: Develop the plan

Plan development is not as tricky as it seems. You should already have gone through the varied root causes that are creating the symptoms that we see on the surface, which makes you more-likely to correctly identify the best solution.  For instance: a person with a headache could be experiencing it for any number of reasons.  But someone who is suffering from dehydration will not be similarly soothed by the same solution as someone with a migraine, and that person will not have their headache quelled in the same way that someone with a sinus headache might, or even a stress-induced headache.

So, it’s time to develop the plan.  I like to start with each solution and create sticky notes (yay sticky notes!) for each need of how it could be achieved, and then try to work them together. Some people come across a much easier solution, and those people can probably do a pro-con list, or whatever other method of sorting out a plan works best for them.  Just remember that your goal at the end of this must be SMART[6]:


Make sure that you’re specific about what you want out of your plan – or what issue you want to solve by using the goal. By whittling down the symptoms to root causes, you can usually easily identify what is the most important and work on that as a main goal.  Keep in mind that this is not infallible.

Example: League ZZY has difficulty with skater involvement in volunteering activities because leadership is taking on a large amount of responsibility, and the skaters not on leadership have no incentive to participate in larger projects

(These examples are all made-up, but are very true to issues faced by a lot of leadership teams)


Once you’ve been specific, it’s time to take a measurement. This is not “good” or “bad”, but a number. The reason that Waze and Maps tell us “in 1000 ft” is that a block is completely arbitrary, which 1000 ft is the same no matter where you are (sorry metric friends – I see you).  You need to start somewhere, which means you have a number. This same number is how you’ll measure improvement over time.  This also relates back to the process for measuring.  For instance, is this observation that’s happening in practice, or is this a league feedback form that’s collected each month? You should have this setup from the beginning to ensure that you’re basing your solution and monitoring off of something consistent. It does not work to measure in a different way each month. Pick a thing; do a thing.

Example: Based on the above problem, League ZZY decided to measure the number of volunteer hours that were completed by non-leadership members and found that only 20% of members were completing 1 hour per month or more.  Their hope was to raise this to 60% of members over the course of the full calendar year


Your actionable goal should be broken down into steps.  While you can also break your overall goal down into percentage benchmarks, I like to break down into what I need to do to get there.  My favorite way to do this is through a Gantt chart[7].  This has been hit-or-miss depending upon who I’m working with, but overall breaks down the long-term goal into phases with steps that are tracked over time. Some favorite ways to track this include:, Click-up, airtable, and good-old google sheets.

Taking-a-look at a whole goal, it can be daunting to break it down, so I say: start from the end and work backwards.  When I do this for myself, I take-a-look at my personal goal and break it down bit-by-bit. For instance, let’s say I wanted to run a marathon (lol never). I wouldn’t say “I’m going to run 10 miles every day” right off the bat.

Example: Having identified the problem of league member involvement as being low at 20% of non-leadership members, the leadership team decided that they wanted 60% of members to be involved by the end of the next calendar year.  The team decided to check in quarterly to review progress, with smaller goals of 30% (quarter 1), 40% (quarter 2), and 50% (quarter 3) over the next year. The leadership team determined that they would need to ramp up expectations and rewards over time to keep people interested and participating for the first year to reach their goal.


I think this is a huge thing for most leagues.  We can come up with the best goals and the best plans, but none of them will work if we aren’t reasonable.  Will it be reasonable to go from 20% participating to 100% participation in a year? No.  Equally: will it be reasonable to do so without adequate resources to sustain your plan (e.g., you can’t give dues credits if you don’t have enough money in the bank)?

The term reasonable also interacts with the actionability of each portion of your plan because it has to be reasonable in order to be actionable to an extent. In my case, I would ask myself the following questions:

  • How much time do I have to complete this?
  • How can I evenly break this up, or fit this in with how my life naturally flows?

By focusing on breaking the goal down like this, I’ll end up with a better set of actions instead of just assuming that I’m perfect because (spoiler alert) I am not perfect. The same idea goes for larger organizations.  I’m going to wager that your league will have less bandwidth available as they go to Continental Cups, Playoffs, Champs, or even into an intense strength factor game. These are not times to say that “the same as the last portion” is reasonable.  It’s ok to adjust, but take a look at these factors when making these decisions.

Example: League ZZY identified the problem of a lack of skater involvement at only 20% and wanted to raise that to 60% within one calendar year.  To keep up with the goal, they estimated a 10% increase each quarter, which appeared reasonable as-long-as rewards were slowly increased to create incentive, and consequences were held strong (e.g., not being rostered) despite frustration from skaters.



The key to developing this plan is in the timing.  This is one of the last criteria, but in-truth is woven throughout the full process as you have to have a goal that is time-sensitive in order to be actionable and reasonable.  For all of my examples, you’ll notice that my actions are based on time, and this is true across all projects that cross my path.  The problem with not being clear about a set time is that things are too loose and never get done. I assume you’ve seen that happen with initiatives before in leagues? I sure have – and it’s a shame. The easiest way to make this happen is to set a date for review. I recommend monthly or quarterly to give enough time to collect your data.


Example: League ZZY identified the problem of a lack of skater involvement at only 20% and wanted to raise that to 60% within one calendar year.  To keep up with the goal, they estimated a 10% increase each quarter, which appeared reasonable as-long-as rewards were slowly increased to create incentive, and consequences were held strong (e.g., not being rostered) despite frustration from skaters. League ZZY then set a date to review each quarter, and a final date to review at the end of the year.


Step 3: Execute the plan

Ok, so this is the hardest part.  Do. Not. For. Any. Reason. Change. Your. Plan. During. A. Measurement. Period.

If you measure quarterly, you do the same thing the whole quarter. If you measure monthly, you do the same thing the entire month.  You cannot waver on what is being executed because it will mess up your data, and you won’t find what works. Just do it. If you get backlash, then that’s good data. Did it not work? Equally good data. Did it work? Great data and an easy talk about it later.  But – above all – do not change your stuff between measurements.


During each phase of execution, you’ll have things that work for you and things that don’t. Write them down, take note, gather feedback, and save it.  You’ll use it in the 4th step.


Step 4: Assess your results


Assess your results. This is my favorite part because it’s the most interesting to me.  On a base level, take-a-look at your data. I’m talking the data points.  Take out all of the numbers and have your math-y-est person slam them into excel and make you a pretty graph.  You need to graph a thing to watch the change over time (whether you like it or not).  At each check-in (your measurement points), take a look and ask yourself and your team the following questions:

  • Are we on-track?
  • How do we know that we are, or that we are not on-track?
  • What elements of that last measurement period were successful?
  • What is one element that might need to be changed? (there could be none, or several, but stick to one)
  • How can we adjust that element for success?
  • Does the adjustment fit into our greater resources/plan?
  • What is the effect we will look for in the data next time to determine if any changes have been effective?


The simple answer to your league’s difficulty with change


Wow, Hedonic. That didn’t seem simple at all! You’re right, it’s often not – but it’s also intuitive if you just remember one thing:


Anticipate Change

If you do nothing else but know yourself and your league to be fallible, then you will be successful.  The problem that comes from problem solving is to assume that it’s a single event.  We assume that our changes live-on after our decree and are simply in effect for years to come. Honestly, this is also why we end up with the OG skaters who say “but we have always done it this way”, while your league is left out to dry. The reality is that you should just always anticipate change. If you and your league embrace that change is a natural process that is constantly occurring, then you will readily embrace the problem-solving process, its 4 steps, and its never-ending cycle of consistent improvement and teamwork.


[1] “At various times throughout its history, the term “haberdasher” has referred to a dealer of hats or caps, a seller of notions (sewing supplies such as needles and thimbles), and apparently (perhaps somewhat coyly) as a person who sells liquor”;







How to train when your body needs a break

You’re new! You’ve been floating through life – and by some miracle happened upon the magic of Roller Derby.  Flabbergasted by the blinding awesomeness, you went out and bought your first setup and started skating with your local league right away, and isn’t it great?!

But the skating is full of movements that you don’t realize will tax your body in ways you’ve never been taxed before.  The pushing will drain your muscles, the gear will wear on your skin, and the swiveling will wreck your joints.  Before too long, you’re struggling to get to practice and actually practice.  Does that sound familiar? I bet it does because I was this person as well.  We all come across a point-in-time when we are so in love with derby that we forget that we are breakable human beings who need other things as well. Take my advice – there are other ways to benefit your derby career that aren’t showing up to practice or even putting on skates.


Mobility and Pre-hab

One of the most neglected areas of our physical training is that of mobility.  And don’t worry, I heard your eye roll and “I stretch regularly” all the way through the computer screen – but hear me out.  Mobility and Stretching are very different [1], and my guess is that you only do one regularly.

Stretching is great, but stretching (or flexibility) is the temporary ability of a muscle to give and extend when needed.  Kind of like a rubber band. In comparison, mobility focuses on the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion.  While you want to stretch your muscles, you especially want to focus on mobility, which doesn’t require skating at all.  For all of you “I can’t side surf” people out there – I’m looking at you.

There are some people whose physiology will not be helped as greatly by the same mobility that may unlock a skill for others – but the point still stands that you need to get your range of motion on point.

Another consideration is pre-hab for your body.    We have all heard of that person who had to go to physical therapy and rehabilitate their joint/muscle/entire body – but have we talked a lot about pre-hab? These are pre-emptive movements and exercises to prevent serious injuries from happening. Some injuries will happen regardless of how much you do in advance, but those annoying injuries that can take you off-skates for a week-or-two here and there – those can probably be prevented with simple movements.

Suggested Resources: 

Dr. Kelly Starrett is a great resource. I will admit that some of his stuff can be a little cringe-worthy, but he does know his physical therapy, physiology, and mobility very well.  Yes, he has a full business with programming for mobility called MWOD, however if you’re not in the business of paying a monthly fee, then check out his free stuff on his youtube channel – it’ll get you pretty far believe it or not!

MWOD YouTube Channel

Conemaugh Health Systems also put out a great resource of exercises you can do as a part of pre-hab that can aid in preventing concussion. Yes, the derby-career-ending injury.  Check it out below!

Concussion Training Instructions PDF

If you want something specific, check out Roller Derby Athletics’ prehab playlist on youtube.  One of my favorite things to do when I first started was to go onto this playlist and use the movements to work on my stability and my ankles (I have weak ankles, and this/off-skates are the only reasons I didn’t break my ankle this past winter).

Roller Derby Athletics Playlists


Watch Footage using SQWR

I can’t even stress enough how much you should watch footage.  I talk a lot about Hebbian Learning in my posts because I believe it’s true – and so does science, honestly.  It’s not the only way of learning, but the theory is largely reinforced throughout literature and anecdotal report.  So, why am I bringing this up?

Cells that fire together – wire together.  Although we focus a lot on our physical bodies doing an action to carry-out game play, a lot of us struggle to make the “why” connection.  This is something that only experience can bring – either doing or seeing.  Each time we do something, we call it a trial.  Our brains require thousands of trials to lock-in a new strategy, technique, or movement.  And while our movements might be limited to actual physical experimentation, we can give our brains a workout by watching footage.  Watching the footage with purpose that is. I recommend altering a study strategy called SQ3R – we will call it SQWR.

SQ3R is actually a reading comprehension strategy that helps you to gather information from what you read.  We will be altering it just a bit because we are watching instead of reading. Either way, get your paper, pencil, and watching devices ready!


Begin by “surveying” the footage.  This means that you’ll need to watch it once for fun. Write down any moments that catch your eye, but don’t focus too heavily on any one thing.  We do this because we need to get the “ooo, shiny” factor out of the way, and also to create a basic foundation of understanding of what’s going on in the game.  Give it a minute (or a day) and go back to what you noted.


After surveying the footage, look at your key points and write down questions.  Why did this technique work? What are the body mechanics? I do that all the time – why doesn’t it work for me? Whatever your question is, make it specific in preparation for really hammering out some productivity. Think about hypotheses and feel free to write them down too.


Watch the footage again – but this time, watch with purpose.  Isolate just one of your questions and watch the footage for moments when you might get some answers. As you come across possible solutions, write them down with a timestamp for reference.


It’s time to Review. Look back through what you wrote and see if there are any patterns. Did this help? Do you need to watch again? It’s likely that you’ll have to watch a few times and you may even have to try out some of what you watched before you solidify an answer.

The great part of this is that each time you identify a strategy, or technique as you’re watching is another trial for your brain. The more times that you see and connect the answers, the more likely your brain is to recall that information in the future.  Bam! It’s like you practiced something 10 times and all you did was turn on YouTube.



I said this to someone earlier today: learn the art of letting yourself heal early-on in your derby career.  Take a break.  Chill out. Skip a practice (maybe not a lot of practices, but life will go on).  The reality is that your body needs time to heal, and your brain needs time to consolidate the information.

Consolidation [2] is the natural process of letting your brain take everything you saw at a practice or in footage and re-organize it into something that makes sense.  We know about physical healing, but letting your brain re-organize is like spring cleaning – it always, always makes things better.  Give yourself some time to sort through it all and then come back to it later. This can also be helpful in practice when you feel frustrated with a strategy or movement. Just give it a rest and you might get better.

Also, keep in mind that you will sometimes need to take a break mentally. I know that everyone likes to say “be tough”, but this is not about being tough. It’s about knowing your limits so that you don’t have a breakdown at some point.  Take a break; derby will be here when you feel more at peace.


What’s next?

Try these things out.  I know they sound like wild ideas and make no sense if all you want to do is strap skates on your feet.  But at the end of the day, doing that might take you out for even longer. You can still make progress even if you aren’t skating. That’s a fact.




Can Communication Techniques Stop People from Leaving Your League? Yes, And…

We are all burnt right now. Everyone’s edges are fried to an absolute crisp (or baked if you don’t like frying things); we are looking around at each other, ready to snap. In a majority of leagues, this time of year is difficult and conflicts arise easily, just like any high-stress time. As you prepare for playoffs/champs/home team season/planning for next year, it’s important that you keep in mind the keys to successful communication to avoid misunderstanding, and to resolve conflict. The reality is that not doing-so will cost you efficiency, community, and possibly some of your strongest players or best minds in your organization.

Understanding, misunderstanding, and conflict

Conflict tends to arise when something doesn’t fit within our understanding of the world. This could be anything from “your ad said this was on sale” to “why do you drive like this”. When we see something that doesn’t fit what we believe should be happening, it causes us unrest and frustration because our expectations have been violated. This is especially true in teams, and the sheer amount of unrest can culminate in a lack of communication that can easily threaten the success of a team’s overall performance.[1]

During my graduate school journey, and even recently, this topic has been brought up, and perhaps one of the greatest resources I have had to date is the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high by Kerry Patterson.

According to the author, crucial conversations are those that are considered:

  • High stakes
  • Contain differing/conflicting opinions
  • Emotionally Charged

Think back to your last hard scrimmage. Think to your last practice where big decisions were being made, or where you had to talk to someone about their attitude. What was the outcome? How did it feel? Was this a crucial conversation? When you think about preparation for Playoffs and Champs (or those surrounding hot-button topics for your league), almost every conversation can become crucial in some way, shape, or form. Everyone is attempting to speak their mind, and in doing so, the conversations that might otherwise be helpful become a shouting match of individual ideas. Within competitive play, we also see this as we discuss which strategy to use or who to roster/send out. However, in order to actually engage in problem solving, you have to have dialogue.

Kelly Patterson defines dialogue as the free-flow of meaning between two people. When we are able to engage in this type of communication, we create a shared pool of meaning, which can add to our overall understanding and problem-solving capabilities. When we do things like engage in Silence (e.g., withholding information) or Violence (e.g., trying to control others’ opinions and force meaning into the pool of understanding), we actually disrupt the ability to have a shared pool of understanding and, inevitably stop the process of solving the problem and create misunderstanding between two people.

I actually started writing this today because I’ve felt a lot of misunderstanding lately from a variety of angles. I don’t blame anyone of course, because we color our understanding of another person through how we view the world. If your experience has been that your boss is constantly ragging on you to get your work done, the phrase “how’s your week going” can go from amiable to feelings of micromanagement and frustrations of “being watched” It is these feelings of misunderstanding that can help to force meaning into the pool by further convoluting how we respond, what we say, and pushing us further from the shared goals that we have – whatever they may be.

So, I was curious – what is misunderstanding and how do we deal with it? Beyond the scope of the book mentioned above, I found Cahn’s theory of perceived understanding, which is entirely based on how we feel other people understand us. While some studies focused on the increased importance of perceived understanding over time[2], the main tenant of the theory focused on how being misunderstood impacts us as people. A definition by Cahn noted that the perception of being understood/misunderstood is defined as “the communicator’s assessment of his success or failure when attempting to communicate with another person”.

Misunderstanding is Dangerous for your Organization

In a study[3]completed in 2010, researchers used the Parse research method to better understand the effects of misunderstanding on humans, and the conclusions speak louder to roller derby and our difficulties with attrition than one might want to imagine:

  • Feeling misunderstood is disheartening insignificance surfacing with discordant affiliations, as resignation with resiliency emerges with inventive endeavors
  • Disheartening insignificance is an aspect of the experience of irrelevance
  • Discordant affiliations surface when feeling misunderstood
  • Resignation with resiliency is integral to feeling misunderstood
  • Inventive endeavors are ingenious ways of living with feeling misunderstood

So, what does this all say? When someone feels misunderstood, they feel totally defeated, isolated, irrelevant, and disempowered – which is exactly the opposite of what roller derby should be (in my opinion). In your own organization, you can see this happening by someone suddenly no longer making suggestions who used to be very vocal, you can see this in the way that someone perceives the group or team that they’re on, or at times – someone may transfer or start their own organization. While there is nothing wrong with these courses of action, it shouldn’t be ignored by an organization who desires the ability to chart a clear and confident path towards success moving forward. Instead, organizations should try to keep their people and learn how to better problem solve and ensure that everyone is feeling heard, and that the goal of the organization is supported by the pool of understanding instead of the hard-headed plans of someone who desires their way more than the success of the total organization.

Yeah, Hedonic. Me Too! I don’t want this to happen anymore, but what can I do to help?

I’m so very glad that you asked!

Suggested Strategies

  • Start with heart
    • This one is ripped directly from Crucial Conversations.When you start with heart, you come to a conversation level headed, and free from agenda, while still having possible ideas or solutions to contribute. To start with heart, you ask “what do I really want for ______” these things include:
      • For Myself
      • For Others
      • For the Relationship
      • And what would I do if I really wanted these results?

When we start with heart, we focus not on only ourselves, but on the greater good and how we can achieve that greater good. You’ll notice that the path to the goal is also the very last thing on that list and has nothing to do with how to get to your own personal goal or the goal of the organization, but how you manage yourself during conversation.

  • Return to mutual purpose and mutual respect
    • In the event that you begin to notice that someone is engaging in silence or violence, it’s best to return to mutual purpose and mutual respect. When you do this, you remind both parties (yes, yourself included because you could be the one engaging in silence/violence) that what is important here is why you are doing this, and that you respect each other in this problem solving. The trick with this one is to truly mean that you care about the other person instead of just saying “I care about you”.
  • STATE your path (again, from Crucial Conversations)
    • Share – start with the facts. When you start with facts, it’s not colored by your interpretation, which may inflate certain aspects of what happened.
    • Tell your story – Do some homework first to make sure that your facts are true before you tell your story again. Think of it this way: if you said that a committee head didn’t email you anything and that’s why you didn’t finish the program for the bout in time, make sure you didn’t receive an email or communication in some way to the contrary. Also keep in mind that you can use this while having the conversation to retell a story incorporating more understanding based upon what you have heard from the other person.
    • Ask for others paths – ask for others’ paths/understanding of the situation so that they not only feel heard, but it can inform the pool of understanding.
    • Talk – speak using terms that are all opinion based. When we tell a story as a story, it is less likely to incite more conflict because stories are moldable based on perception and interpretation, while facts are simply right or wrong.
    • Encourage testing – let others know that you are ok with what they have to say, even if it’s controversial. By doing this, you reduce the likelihood that someone will withhold information from the pool of understanding and allow for communication to build future success instead of hinder it.

Let’s take a look at how this might sound for a crucial conversation for derby!

Take 1
Rostering – in which the skater and coach have a crucial conversation without using this strategy

Skater: Hey coach, I’m really upset about the roster, I wasn’t rostered for this game, and I’m 10 times the skater that skater Z is. What gives?

Coach: To be honest, I don’t see why you’re even asking. This seems pretty clear cut to me of course, but if you want me to be honest with you – you haven’t made as much growth as skater Z has this season, so that’s why they were rostered and you weren’t

Take 2
Rostering – in which the skater and coach have a crucial conversation using this strategy

Night before: skater writes down all of their concerns, and starts with the heart. They check their facts, including previous rosters, emails/expectations that have been laid out by the coaches, previous data from games, and any feedback they’ve received to date for the season

Next day:

Skater: Hey coach, I wanted to talk to you briefly about the roster. I’ve been looking at my season so far, and I feel like my stats are strong, I’ve been working on the feedback you gave me, and I’ve been rostered for a couple of games so-far this year. I’d really like to know why I didn’t make it because my goal is to support the team and to continue to improve as a player in general.

Coach: Absolutely. And, to be honest, you’ve made great progress from the beginning of the season in comparison to where you started. Right now, I can see that you are working on yourself and you’re improving a lot. What the team needs right now is the following skills that you’re continuing to try and master, which are critical for our success in this game __________

The Power of In-the-Moment-Communication (using Yes, And…)

  • Yes, And…

This is something that we did in my prep week for school this year when we were working on conflict resolution and communication in the work place. It’s actually a strategy to not halt a scene during improv. Try something with a friend. Yes, call a friend and ask them to do this (or 2-3).

  • Begin with separating out into 1, 2, and 3 order. Then, pick a topic. I like gear, so let’s talk about gear!
  • Each person talks about their ideal setup for skates. And be as elaborate as you want to about what the color will be, the brand, the wheels, the plates, the cushions – any and everything.
  • Once the first person is done, have the other two say why they can’t have that setup. The person can respond, but the other two always have to say “no” in some way
  • The second person then goes, and the others respond with statements that begin with “Yes, but….”, and the second person can respond
  • The third person then goes and the others respond with statements that begin with “Yes, and…”, and the third person can respond
  • Now reflect. How did that feel? What was the difference between your experiences?

If you’re anything like me, being the person who had “no” or even “yes, but” was frustrating and might have made you feel uncomfortable. The reason why is because “no” and “but” are indicators that we don’t agree or cues to the person who is explaining that we might not understand their point of view. When this occurs, conflict can escalate. We are using this more at work now – and I can tell that it’s already made an impact. Funny how two words can make you feel totally different, right?

Let’s look at this one in action:

Take 1
Line A comes back from a rough jam

Skater 1: So, I don’t think that strategy worked

Skater 2: No, I think it worked just fine

Skater 1: Well, no. I mean, the jammer got out right away and we were supposed to hold as long as possible, remember?

Skater 2: Yeah, but skater 3 went to play offense, which was the entire point of our setup in the first place

Skater 3: Honestly, I’m just thinking about tacos right now

Skater 4: I thought it was fine

Take 2
Line A comes back from a rough jam

Skater 1: So, I don’t think that strategy worked

Skater 2: Yes, and I feel like the breakdown might have been communication

Skater 1: Yes…. And part of that was me for sure. I was so focused on holding the jammer so that Skater 3 could play O that I wasn’t thinking about communicating where their offense was, which could have helped a bit more

Skater 2: It was me too, but we can sort it out next time – it’s just one jam. Perhaps we can focus more on communication than a set strategy

Skater 1: Sounds like a plan

Skater 3: I just really want some tacos

Skater 2: Yes, and a shower beer… but maybe not at the same time


Don’t let bad communication happen to good people. Don’t let your strong personalities with good ideas leave your league because they feel misunderstood. You, your organization, your team, your leadership, your everybody can make this work by remembering to start with heart, STATE your path, return to mutual purpose and mutual respect, and to use “yes, and” when problem solving in the moment.

[1]Team Building: Proven Strategies for Improving Team Performance, By William G. Dyer, W. Gibb Dyer, Jr., and Jeffery H Dyer

[2]The Relative Importance of Perceived Understanding in Initial Interaction and Development of Interpersonal Relationships, by Dudley D. Cahn, 1983

[3]The Lived Experience of Feeling Misunderstood, Barbara Backer Condon, RN; PhD

Don’t Train Players, Train 👏 Decision 👏 Makers 👏

The brain is a beast. It’s complex and – quite honestly- too difficult to really tackle in a small blog post. That being said, I have come across a fascinating article by Seth Allen[1] that faces the subject of brain strategies within sports development head-on. I’ll be summarizing the contents of this article below, as well as providing suggestions for practical application as a trainer, league, or individual skater.

Two Domains

Janelle and Hillman[2] provided a framework for interpretation of developing high-level athletes as having two main domains: tactical skills and decision-making abilities.

Tactical Skills

Of course, skills are skills but encompassed within tactical skills is also strategic knowledge, or the plays that you would use within your league. Research suggests that development of these specific skills and strategies play a very important role in sports expertise[3] – which seems pretty accurate given our observations of top-level derby play. These should be the things that are on autopilot – your main strategies and skills that you use on the daily. Within game play, certain factors (e.g., space, time, what the other team is doing) will limit the number of reasonable options for a given situation. So, you can have the biggest and best toolbox, but what you do with it will be limited by what happens in your game.

Decision-Making Abilities

When we think of a great roller derby team, or a great player for that matter, we think of flexibility and adaptability; there is truly nothing worse than when you’ve been figured out on the track. Decision making requires an enormous amount of brain-power because it forces you to quickly sort through what’s happening in front of you and choose an answer. That means that you need to be able to focus on the most impactful things on the track, isolate, and problem solve what to do next.

Information Processing and Decision Making

In a previous post about skater development (and to a certain extent in the content above), we have established that we need to know how to do something, as well as what to do, and why/when to do it in order to be experts within our sport. The main stumbling block within this is that we as humans have a limited capacity for processing information in the moment. This is why, in the heat of a crazy jam, you may feel like you can’t keep up or like the world is falling apart. Your movements become sloppy or you make poor decisions. If we were able to process everything happening on the track all at once, we would all be VRDL without trying.

Although there isn’t extensive research on information processing, there is a ton of research within a decision-making framework. Tenenbaum (2003) suggests that success in sports is actually the ability to problem solve what is in front of you. Within competitive play, success depends upon taking-in and actively using environmental cues to pull out structured strategies that leave wiggle room to account for change. Because let’s face it – how many times have you looked at your teammates and said “powerjam – let’s ________” and suddenly you realize that the other team is going to thwart your marvelous expectations? (Many. Many times) Without the ability to focus on what is important and react in the moment to what is happening, we run the risk of using ineffective strategies when we need adaptability the most.

Metacognitive Strategies

Metacognition is an academic way of saying “thinking about thinking” – within these strategies, you are thinking about your thought-process/physical process (technique), which allows you to change it. Research from Cornoldi[4] indicates that a person’s metacognition on their own thoughts and actions (including reflection, metacognitive knowledge, conceptualization, attitude, and specific knowledge) can greatly impact an individual’s progress. That means – your potential tends to be what you think it is. So not only is it important to examine our thought processes when we play roller derby – it is equally important to remain open to developing new concepts/strategies, and to give ourselves permission to feel successful about things even when we don’t necessarily feel that the overall goal was achieved. People who are open to this have been shown to increase the frequency with which they use metacognitive strategies, creating flexibility and additional answers to serve during a variety of situations.

What we can do to help

1. Use imagery

Imagery has been used to help individuals and teams to envision how a play will happen, or a skill will feel. The reason that this is important is that it gives the ability to better and more informed decision making over the course of time. While we frequently think of how our bodies need to engage in something to remember how to do it (procedural memory/muscle memory), we frequently don’t consider that our brains also need rehearsal – which can be completed with or without your team. This is a huge strategy for individuals that should be utilized regularly, especially because there has been research completed indicating that it can enhance performance with use.[5]

2. Simplify concepts

Honestly, this is a pet peeve of mine. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come into a practice with a strategy or play that is “new and inventive” when in reality, I find out a week later that it was essentially a tweak to a main strategy that we had been using for the better part of a season. The reason that this is huge and an opportunity for growth, is that we can speed the process of long term retrieval and storage by attaching new memories to large concepts that we have formulated in the past. Incorporating a new idea or tweak to an established set of long-term memories or a major framework is much easier than assimilating a new concept and working with it actively.

Wow Hedonic, that sounds a lot like your post about developing skills that build upon themselves to create a more cohesive pipeline over the course of a full derby career. Yes. Yes it does. It makes the most sense cognitively because it’s how we have been finding that the brain works according to modern neuroscience and neuropsychology.

3. Consider using a structured strategy to increase tactics for skaters who struggle with their skills or specific strategies[6] an example of such a progression was listed as follows:

  • Visual strategies and attention allocation (where to look and where to focus attention)
  • Selection process (what is and is not relevant)
  • Anticipation (what will happen next)
  • Processing for making decisions (long-term fluid problem solving)
  • Decision-making elaboration (which action to choose)
  • Action initiation (how and when to execute the action)
  • Action alteration (keeping alternatives in alert
  • Action evaluation (feedback)

4. Consider using sports psychology to alter the negative voice in your head

This is also for individuals, but we have used it as a team with success as well. How many times have you left the track and said “wow, that was awful”? Probably more than once. The problem with that – as has been touched upon above – is that you interpret things with a negative guise, which will influence your likelihood to use those strategies that were tried moving forward. When we say “that didn’t work”, we lump all of the strategy or the entire jam together into one concept. The issue with that is that we can’t isolate what did and did not work, so we can’t put our attention on what needs to actually change. What I love using for this is “good, better, best”. This is a strategy from The Champions Mind, which I suggest that literally everyone reads or listens to on audiobook. This strategy forces you to look at the following in order:

  • Good – What went well during that jam/game?
  • Better – What are 1-2 things (focus on 1 if possible) that could be better?
  • Best – What can you change to be your best going into the next jam/game/situation?

Try it – I can almost guarantee that by the 4th or 5th jam you do this, you’ll be hooked!

Thoughts and Takeaways

What this article suggests is that we need to train our players to be decision makers in addition to some main strategies that can be adapted within play. We can do this by sticking to some flexible main strategies (think about the standards from my last post) that can be altered in the moment to adapt to what’s in front of us. Not only that, but thinking an analyzing our thought processes and performance in a constructive way can actually help us to improve more quickly and with better results.

If you have any comments, thoughts, or questions – please feel free to contact me! Also, feel free to share this with anyone else you think might be interested. I love talking about training, so you’re sure to have a steady stream of information from me moving forward.

[1] Expertise in Sport: A Cognitive-Developmental Approach, First published 1/1/2007 in the Journal of Education

[2] Expert performance in sport: Current perspectives and critical issues. In J.L. Starkes and K.A. Ericsson (Eds.), Expert Performance in Sports: Advances in Research on Sport Expertise (pp.19-49). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

[3] McPherson, S. L., and Kernodle M.W. (2003). Tactics, the neglected attribute of expertise: Problem representations and performance skills in tennis. In J.L. Starkes and K.A. Ericsson (Eds.), Expert performance in sports: Advances in research on sport expertise (pp. 137-167). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

[4] The impact of meatcognitive reflection on cognitive control. In G. Mazzoni and T.O. Nelson (Eds.), Metacognition and cognitive neuropsychology (pp. 139-159). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

[5] Gouious, G. (1992). On the reduction of reaction time with mental practice. Journal of Sport Behavior, 15(2), 141-157.

[6] Tenenbaum, G. (2003). Expert athletes: An integrated approach to decision making. In J.L. Starkes and Ka.A. Ericson (Eds.), Expert performance in sports: Advances in research on sport expertise (pp.191-218). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Your Training Wardrobe: Or what education can teach us about long term development in roller derby

From early childhood, everything is a race. We race each other on the playground, we race to get to the end of school, we even race to get our drivers licenses. Why should roller derby be any different? The last post that I made was about zones of proximal development for a skater, and the development of a skater’s career over the course of time. Today, I’m focused on something totally different: how the league views its skaters’ development and supports (or fail to support) that development.

It Starts with Goals

In the world of education, we use goals to measure progress over the course of a year. These are referred to as standards – whether state standards or the now ubiquitous Common Core – these goals are set up in such a way that we can see a clear, linear progression from a very young age to much later in life. They call even bigger ideas “strands” because you can follow it from beginning to end, and the entire strand is connected by a common theme. For instance, if I look at College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading – the entire strand is comprised of smaller skills or concepts that add up to someone being ready for college/university by the time that they graduate from high school. Some of these things include: Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, and Range of Reading/Level of Text Complexity. Each area is loose enough to allow for flexibility. After all, I don’t typically see 7-year-old humans reading War and Peace – so naturally there’s room for progression from beginning to end. There are so many more things that go into standards and common core than just “it’s a progression”, but for the purpose of this post, I’ll let you go check everything out for yourself if you feel so inclined.

Linear Progression

Why are standards important? Well, to be quite honest, it’s darn near impossible to make a bunch of progress in a really short amount of time. There will be another post in the future about how memory works, but for now – trust the school psych when I say that a year is not enough time to drag someone from reading picture books to reading complex text about your country’s history. The brain simply doesn’t work like that. The reason we use standards is to allow us to see what steps we need to make in order to meet our end goal that was stated for that strand. For this example, it’s being ready for college/university or work at the end of their primary/secondary education. If we break this down yearly, we can chart a clear course for progress over each round of teaching (which we refer to as a school year).

But why does this matter for derby?

I know that you’re about a page in so far (per MS Word) and you haven’t really read a darn thing about roller derby – frustrating, right? Here’s the big takeaway: the most advanced derby skills, strategies, and concepts are complex chains of very basic things. All too often, we see a league that is disjointed. Your top team plays by themselves. Your B team can kind of handle what your A team is doing, but not quite, so you just set your hopes lower. Besides, they’re probably still feeling out some of the basic strategies anyway. Your bottom team couldn’t possibly do what your top team is doing because it’s too advanced, so you teach them strategy that is 2, 3, or sometimes even 4 years outdated.
Full stop.

What happens when a league does this is that those people build a concept over time of how to play roller derby, and suddenly *poof!* it’s a brand new game. That means that every time someone moves up to the next level, they start from square 1 of learning a given style/strategy/skill/how to play and it delays their progress, as well as the overall progress of their new team. That being said, this will also disrupt a pipeline that you have for your skaters.

Conceptualizing Standards for Roller Derby

I know that part of you is saying “but wait – how do I know that we won’t need to change our strategy moving forward; roller derby is a constantly changing game”. Yes. This is true. But what I’m suggesting is not that you totally focus on a specific strategy and run with it for all-of-time. What I’m suggesting is that your training should be like a wardrobe.


Your staples in your wardrobe are things that rarely go out of style. They’re things you can depend upon regardless of what the newest hot fad might be. These might be things like jeans, shorts, or button-down shirts. The overarching idea is a constant, dependable, and always functions as the base of what you do. There are times that you might have to move away from a staple. Like maybe your outgrow that piece or it becomes too worn to function. This is also true for strategy and skills within roller derby. Take a look at Bay Area’s recent move away from the 4-flat structure. They utilized the 4-flat and still maintained a very positive rank for a long time after a majority of leagues had moved away from that 4-flat setup. However, when it was time to move to a new staple within their training wardrobe, they made the ultimate decision to change. So is a staple forever? No. Is a staple relatively stable and rarely needs to change? Yes.

Accent Pieces/Strategies/Fads

Outside of your typical staple strategy, everything else is an accent used to highlight, refresh, and increase the personality and effectiveness of the base of your training. New offensive strategy? Great! It’s an accent! New technique when jamming? Awesome accent to what you as a league typically do within competitive play. The reality is that you want to train to what’s going on at the time – of course – but a framework through which the game is viewed/played/conceptualized should not fluctuate with the newest and best thing. Great example: having all of your players get on the track at the last second. This is a fun strategy and can throw the other team off, but it is an accent at best if you decide to use it at all.

When trying out new things, you should always play with them like you’re trying something new in your wardrobe. Try it. Does it feel good? Does it not feel good? Is it effective for you? Does it fit your style at all, or is it something that might just work better for other leagues? Don’t make your final decision to do away with your staple strategy in deference to this new fun thing until that new/fun thing has demonstrated great effectiveness within competitive play for a sustained period of time.

Charting the Course

Cool – so you found your staples and you’re ready to chart a course towards success. How do you do that? Work Backwards.

Let’s take a very basic strategy that can be manipulated at the higher levels to find greater success: the tripod. This is a very basic version of what you can do to break down a skill, but it gives a solid idea of what something like this can look like based on the structure of standards that was discussed before.

SKill Progression

Here you have a conceptual breakdown of a skill that is used frequently in high-level derby, and a very basic breakdown of some skills required to make that skill progress. I only chose two skills at the pre-min level because honestly – there’s so much that you can put into these and so much that you can do that I’d rather let you run wild with it if you’re interested in this idea.

Translating to Practice (literally and figuratively)

What you can see from each of these levels is that there is a clear goal – usually by the end of the season, or at very least by the end of that level. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from working in education – special education specifically – it’s that your goals drive your plan. Take a look at what comes out of these types of discussions and see how it can help you in planning for your season. On that note, if you have no goal, then do you really have a plan?

Parting Thoughts

Look at your training program. If you set your league up to progress in a logical way, then you will be able make the changes you need at the top levels when you need to make them because you will have created great derby players who are able to work with staples of the game and add-on new strategy without thinking about it. If you have questions or thoughts, please feel free to leave them below, share this post – message me, what have you.

Skater Development and the Role of the Trainer

Ok, so is a very interesting thing because how often do we really talk about development over the course of a career? Most new skaters look at seasoned skaters and think “you were born with skates on your feet, right?”


Seasoned skaters face-planted, scraped by in practice, and even regretted their performance (and sometimes still do). Many have suffered from imposter syndrome or been stuck on a plateau and been unable to break through. It’s natural. This post will examine development over a career as well as the role of the trainer within this whole mess.

Fitts and Posner

Possibly the most popular of theories for sports (that I’ve come across in my research) has been a stage theory from Fitts and Posner (1967). This theory basically states that there are three main stages of development when it comes to sports: Cognitive, Associative, and Autonomous


The cognitive stage is where a lot of our pre-minimum skills training comes into play. When we are in the cognitive stage, it’s basically “what to do”. Skaters are looking at basic actions and trying to mimic them to the best of their ability. You can tell a cognitive stage skater by their largely unstable movements, and inconsistent performance. A majority of the action at this stage is gathering information through what we hear/see and translating it to what we do.


The associative stage is when we see our B/C and bubble skaters emerge. At this stage, we are working toward becoming more fluid, focusing on practice and “how to do it” as opposed to what to do. We are translating derby life-skills to the track and attempting to apply them in a meaningful way. You can tell an associative stage skater by their technically functional-to-proficient performance, but difficulty with consistency and significant conscious effort to get the same level of performance as someone at the autonomous level. It’s important to note that the associative stage can last for a very, very long time (even years) while others may move more quickly through this stage.


The autonomous stage is our A level or chartered skaters. These skaters are technically proficient and command a level of play without seemingly thinking about it. Given that these skaters can operate within game-play on auto-pilot, their problem solving ability is free to deal with true-to-game track situations and problem solve around them. Within this stage, a skater should be able to easily chain together movements to create complex strategies and have little difficulty doing so. You can tell an Autonomous skater by their consistent achievement of desired outcomes on the track, and ability to move with technical proficiency during a majority of scenarios. Because truly, are we proficient and effective if we don’t have the basics down?

Stages Comparison

Stage Typical Level Description
Cognitive Pre-minimum skills/ Sub Pool · Movements aren’t consistent

· Learning “what to do”

· Typically requires a lot of brain power because the skater is acquiring a new skill


B/C Level Skaters · Movements are more consistent than the cognitive stage – can be executed, but inconsistent across multiple attempts

· Learning through practice and “how to do” or track application

· Basic movements are automatic but sometimes unrefined/exact; in contrast a lot of cognitive power is used to string together complex movements


A Level/Chartered Skaters · Movements are consistent and technically correct

· Can perform skills and basic strategies across a variety of situations

· Able to problem solve and string together complex movements/strategies to achieve an end goal

Development in Education/Learning Theory

Lev Vygotsky

Vygotsky was a psychologist known in the Education field for his theory of Zones of Proximal Development. I won’t go super deep into his history, but his theory deserves a fair amount of space. Vygotsky’s theory of learning/development basically says that we learn through social interaction. That means that we can learn from our peers or from a teacher/trainer, however we will never fully progress outside of our current ability without someone helping to pull us through. One way to do this is through direct training, and another way is to mix groups or have peers training. We will stick with what trainers can do for now and address group learning/leveling of groups in another post.

The biggest thing that we have to realize about ZPD theory is that someone will not develop outside of their current ability level without someone else helping to pull them through.


The visual above is an example of zone of proximal development (ZPD). The inner circle is where the skater is currently performing. This is what that individual can do without assistance from a trainer. The zone of proximal development is the blue region. This is only accessible through what we call scaffolding (assistance to move to the next level). The grey area is what the skater cannot do even with assistance. While I’d love to say that I can help someone who just passed minimum skills to be an A Level blocker, I cannot no matter how hard I try (sorry friends). What the does not mean is that all hope is lost. In essence, we create new experiences and understanding of the world by bringing in more information from what we are learning and applying it to what we have learned already.

Let’s take a closer look at the zone of proximal development and the role of the trainer

Training and Scaffolding

As a trainer at any level, it’s important to help our skaters to reach further into their proximal zones of development – without that, we are not creating progress towards truly becoming better skaters. The way we do that is different at every stage, but the process is the same across all stages. We call this “scaffolding” essentially, it’s providing the skater just enough instruction or the right environment to ensure that their stage of learning can flourish. To bring this all together: this is important because, as we continue to pull the skater towards a higher level within their zone of proximal development, the new zone for that skater to achieve increases, bringing them closer to the next stage of development. So, while skater M may not be an A level blocker right now, enough rounds of working on similar skills at an appropriate level and in an appropriate way will help that person to progress as needed to reach that ultimate level of achievement.

All-in-all, being a trainer is not presenting a drill or just making a practice plan. It is looking at the skill level of your skaters and providing a method of training that is effective for their current level to help them reach the zone of proximal development, which looks different at every level.

Concrete vs Abstract

When we begin to talk about the way that we train the levels, it’s important to talk about concrete and abstract methods. Concrete methods are basically a direct way to teach. Operating mostly through association (Hebbian Learning: cells that fire together, wire together) where there is a clear “yes” and “no” to the question/skill/problem. This is best used with those skaters who are in the concrete stage of their career. It’s important to remember that there are multiple ways of teaching a single skill, so the “yes” and “no” may look different for each person/body type/way of learning/skating style – but the overall outcome should be the same. As we progress through the stages of a given career, we free up more-and-more space to think, which allows us to problem solve what’s in front of us. This means that we can become more abstract – presenting a problem and allowing skaters to use what they know to come to a better answer. It’s clear that this is effective for those who are in the autonomous stage, but what do we do with those who are still in the associative stage?


The Associative Beast

The associative stage is a beast because so many of us can get stuck there without even thinking about it. However, what most don’t consider is that those within the associative stage (and any bubble skaters) can take on a variety of training techniques to make progress. So, our associative skaters do not have to sit in reps-land forever. In fact, many may benefit from using a problem-solving approach within a practice setting as a means of scaffolding to the next level within their derby careers. The same could be said about cognitive skaters – giving them little questions or letting them problem solve may help them to make better connections in the long run.

Great! What Now?

So, how do we use this in a meaningful way? Honestly: this is what the entire blog is about, so I cannot (without MAAAAAANY pages of information) give you everything at once. Use these questions to help you get started.

  • What stage is your group currently in?
  • Is what you’ve written appropriate for that skater/stage of skaters?
  • What is your ultimate goal for the drill and is it within the skaters’ zone of proximal development?
  • If not – what can you change about what you’ve written to make your practice more beneficial for the skaters you’re training?

If you like this post, then feel free to leave a thought, comment, question or share with anyone who might be interested as well!

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