So – you want to get better at roller derby?

As a beginner’s coach, I often see people focused on ‘minimum skills’ or leave practice saying ‘I must get better at skating!’. Heck, I say it to myself most weeks. (And on a good week, when I’m not so busy with work, I train up to 4 days a week!) But what does it REALLY take to be better at roller derby? Below are a few pointers in the right direction…

Are you attending your team training sessions enough? If you can’t make it one night, are you outdoor skating or skating at a local rink?  I appreciate a lot of this blog will be stating the obvious, but to get better at roller derby you need to get better on skates. The amount of skate time you can achieve each week will improve your overall level of skill and understanding of the game. Our team training sessions are fast paced and we cover a lot of skills, tactics, positions and game play. If I miss a session, I know that I have missed valuable learning opportunities and the chance to ‘get better at roller derby’. If you do miss a training session with your team, you should ask your teammates/coaches what has been covered and attempt to research the tactics and new skills in your own time. This will make sure you’re ready for the next session and you don’t miss out on learning something new! My final thought for this point? Attend as many sessions as you can!

Skate Skills (inc. contact skills)
Roller derby is played on skates, so a key (and obvious) area to focus on is your actual skate skills and style. Improving your basic skating will ultimately improve your personal game and ability on the track with your team. If skaters as individuals are strong, the stronger the entire team will be. Use warm-up time and any spare time on track to practise those latest moves that you haven’t quite nailed yet. (For me, this month’s focus is hockey stops and power slides!) Don’t give up on something just because you can’t do it yet! I tried to side-surf for months, using the wall for stability, then one day it just clicked. I also try to skate with different members of my team week-to-week, to get used to different styles of skating and to learn things from individual members. If you’ve seen someone on your team do something cool, or if they’ve mastered a skill you are working on, go and skate with them for a while and ask them for tips – it really helps. Don’t shy away from skating with those big hitters too, this is a contact sport and eventually someone is going to make that ‘big’ contact with you. You may as well get used to it and learn how to deal with it during a training session (and not in front of an audience!)


Watching live games or  archive footage  – and if you have chance, reflecting on your team performance.
Watch games and support roller derby as it happens, if you can’t attend in person, see it streamed somewhere on the internet. It really is a valuable experience because it’s fun – and because you can learn an awful  lot from watching others skate. I try to go to as many live roller derby events as possible, not only to support the teams but to watch how other teams skate together; to identify individual skater skills and styles and observe different tactics and general game play. I like to make mental notes and think about whether there is something I’d want to include in my own game, or if there is a skill I’d like to improve on.  Watching archive footage is also really useful; I sometimes like to ‘pick a skater’ in each jam and just try to watch that one skater. It’s really interesting to watch people in a team sport as an individual in this way because you can try and follow their thought processes and decision making progress (right or wrong) and again, relate it back to your own game play. If you have the opportunity to watch back games you have played in yourself,  it can be cringe-worthy but is a great way to see if what you thought you did  actually happened. Sometimes you might surprise yourself and think ‘wow- I did that?!’. After watching the footage give yourself a list of positives and negatives, things you did well and things you need to improve on. I often revisit footage and think ‘I need to get better at skating’ but with each game I play, I can see that I am improving.

Don’t focus on ‘minimum skills’, focus on advancing your skills
Often I see people worrying about passing their minimum skills tests which is great because it shows they care about progressing and realising that goal.  However, minimum skills are just that, the minimum amount of skills you need. To get better at roller derby you need to focus on advancing your skills all the time. Everyone has space to improve their game in some way and you should always be finding new skills to work on, or rules and tactics to get your head around. Minimum skills is your first bench-mark but what precedent are you going to set yourself after that?


Getting involved with your team
Roller derby is a team sport, so you need to be a part of your team anyway. Can’t skate for a while? Want to learn the rules but struggle with reading them? A great way to be better at roller derby is to get stuck in to some of the other roles and things you can do with your team. A key thing I have seen helping our most recent beginners intake progress is that they have got stuck in with supporting the team at events, socials and are trying out different NSO roles. Talking to people who know the game, discussing games together, discussing rules and tactics, are all great ways to get better at roller derby – and if you do NSO, you get to see the inner workings of the ‘machine’ with a  front-row seat thrown in !

Key points

  • Attendance, attendance, attendance.
  • Skate skills.
  • Watch roller derby.
  • Aim to advance yourself.
  • It’s a good thing to strive to improve but don’t let it hamper your motivation!
  • Get involved with your team.

In the mean time, I must get better at roller derby….
Off to practice I go!

Cherry Revenge #26