Venturing up to the a-little-bit snowy and cold North, Luce Cannon and I joined the first ever UK roller derby coaching conference, organised by Rule 56.
It was held at the beautiful Eiger Music Studios in Leeds, with a large main hall for the ‘big’ talks and a couple of smaller breakout rooms. 120 people from around 80 leagues attended, and the vibe was friendly and enthusiastic, as you’d expect from a derby event. A tightly packed schedule – with no lunch break (!) but the most gorgeous food – featured topics from building junior roller derby and a debate around the usefulness of minimum skills, to learning styles and team culture. Notebooks in hand we sat down for the opening talk by coaching legend Smarty Pants (Nadia Kean) of Texas.
Smarty Pants spoke about needing to unlock our athlete’s particular minds and/or accommodate their different mindsets on gameday. Ballistic Whistle spoke about working around all the strong individuals and their various motivations and needs to build team culture, and Stef Skinner from Auld Reekie spoke about getting creative to keep your skaters engaged – creating a bit of a common theme of working with our skaters’ diversity and personalities. There was also some blocking-like-a-cheetah and wrestling moves, and a controversial discussion about scrapping minimum skills (which we aren’t, but will discuss further!)
Smarty Pants! - Photo Credit: Jason Ruffell
The day ended with a talk by Inline Skating World Champion Jenna Dowding, who told us her story of repeatedly being refused entry at a skatepark for being a girl and having to fight her way, including overcoming injuries, to the top. I’m too cynical for the more inspirational kind of talks but I concede she was pretty damn cool. Luce Cannon on the other hand had a massive girl crush and was thoroughly disappointed Jenna couldn’t make it to the skate park later on. However, not too disappointed as she was still contemplating Ballistics explorative coaching ideas to see how this could work with our league. There is huge opportunity to encourage buy-in, fully prepare our teams and make us train smarter rather than harder… and the opportunities for a junior league and expanding on the already established rule sets and structure to create opportunities to have a smoother transition for Fresh Meat... watch this space.
The evening’s R&R was at the huge wooden floored Works skatepark, with a massive bowl, lots of funtimes and a nice little ramp in which I FINALLY NAILED DROPS INS HELLS YEAH.
Folk were also treated to the comedy sight of derby girls trying skateboards for the first time (it’s hard!)
The second day had a few breakout sessions to discuss and get ideas on specific questions over the future of derby coaching, such as certification or standardising minimum skills. It’ll be exciting to see if any concrete initiatives arise out of this – we always have great ideas, but putting them into practise in an entirely volunteer run community isn’t easy!
The Crowd - Photo Credit: Jason Ruffell
The day also featured a few talks from non-derby people – Vicky Huyton from the Female Coaching Network, and two more academic presentations about maximising performance (with z scores and everything), and the injury process. One thing that struck me was that the injury speaker came from a rugby background, and from interviewing mostly male injured athletes, found that many felt left out, stigmatised and unsupported by their peers. Although there’s always room to improve, I think we do pretty well in the roller derby community of taking care and involving injured skaters, from the many NSOs on crutches to Team Metal Legs to leagues maintaining welfare committees to help facilitate support. Yay us!
The weekend was a much needed forum to get us thinking about our roles as coaches in roller derby – a massive thanks to Rule 56 for recognising this need and bringing us together. We need to be more aware of our responsibility to do things well and safely, engage and keep people in sport, and put the effort in to help build our skaters and teams. And we want to do this, right? We love our sport and want to make it the best. The weekend also made me remember that we aren’t pro. We don’t get funding, we are all volunteers and we do it all ourselves – we are different from the rest of the sporting world and I think this is mostly positive; and we can take from other sports what we like rather than having to go down the same roads, and make our sport what we want it to be.
All the historic goings on of Bath Roller Derby!