Wednesday, May 30, 2012
When people ask for more detail about the hitting and physicality in derby I break it down into a few categories: Form, Timing, and Power. All of these things combined with strategy and team work create a force to be reckon with!
Here is a bit of a break down:
The first step is always form. I think this is the case regardless of what sport you do. If you don’t have proper form anything you do will be off. For Derby this means you must get low! We hear this in practice all the time and I have heard it being yelled at home team and travel team practices too. Form for a Derby player is similar to being in a squatted position all the time. It’s often described to new skaters by having them imagine having to use a porta potty, a really horrible one. You don’t want to sit on the seat so you now have to hover over it. That’s pretty close to how our stance is. Another less disgusting way to think about it is to imagine sitting on a invisible chair. This stance allows you to be able to look behind you to the left and right. You need to have your weight in your heals and your chest needs to be up and not pointed down. All of these things are important. I’m currently trying to break the habit of having too much weight forward over my toes. I have to focus on making sure my chest is up and forward. I tell new girls to picture in their minds that they have Lady GaGa’s gun bra on and they don’t want to be shooting their own feet but out in front of them. Sounds easy right? Try doing a wall sit for just 2 minutes. Being in this good derby stance allows you to be able to do the tight turns and quick movements that are needed to hit or move around the track. As a blocker you need to be low to make perfect contact with an opponent’s legs. If you can sweep in an sit on your opponents thigh just right you will utter control her! As a Jammer being able to be low and agile in this stance gives you the ability to easily fake people out and juke around them. This stance also gives you more stability to be able to take a hard hit.
Next is timing. Once you have the form down you have to time when to go in for that hit. On the flip end of that you have to time how to avoid or take that hit that’s coming at you. I think this is a huge challenge for a lot of people, including myself. There are several ways to do legal hits in derby and several ways to block another player. Each way requires you to know exactly when to come in at another player. You need to adjust your speed and movements just right to really be effective. When many skaters start out they often go in for a hit and either swoop right past their target, slowly crash into them, or ends up trying to hit them from the behind which usually doesn’t work.
The hip check is a “bump” delivered using the hips while skating immediately next to the target. Really this hit should be right on the targets mid thigh. You don’t want to be to high up or it’s ineffective and to low could get you a low block penalty if the ref things you got them at the knee. You also can’t be too far behind them because if you catch the thigh more on the back of their leg you could actually give them a push forward which helps them and not you. When you first learn this you often end up in the wrong place and feeling like you will never get there. Repetitive practice at this while skating helps with the timing.
A Stern Buster is just that if you’re on the receiving end. This is when a blocker has say a Jammer right up behind them trying to push her way through. The blocker pops up with the back of her shoulder right up into that Jammers sternum hopefully sending her flying backwards. Sounds pretty terrible right? It is and it’s very effective if done right. The timing on this is hard because the opponent needs to be in the right place and your form has to be spot on. If it is executed just right that blocker can do a lot of damage. Yes this can knock the wind out of you but it’s worse if you get hit with it and fall straight back on your tail bone.
Many other hits are similar to these two but could be used to push someone out of bounds or out of the way of your Jammer. Many times you don’t want to know an opponent out or down because you need to keep them in play. At this point you are keeping her by positionally blocking her until your team mates can join you. Then you all work together to keep her where you want her. You do this my what tends to be called “Sitting on her” because that’s basically what you are doing. You time it so that you have the back of your thigh nearly on top of hers or are just about completely sitting in her lap. Your teammates will position themselves so that you’ve boxed her in.
These two things are hard to get but can be achieved through lost of practice. What I find hard currently is power. How do you gain power? The great thing about derby is that every body type is useful and effective. This means I’ve been hit by all types. You can’t underestimate anyone because the least suspecting person may lay you out. This is my current struggle. I skate a ton but need to build strength but I also get bad leg cramps when I skate a LOT. Apparently I’m over working my legs. When I’ve asked the professionals (aka a sports doc) how to overcome this I’m told I have to build up the strength in my legs without over doing it. Considering I skate about 6 days a week, 3 of those days are derby practice and 1 day is my speed class, I’m trying to find a way to give my legs a break. I also started 1 day of off skate work outs. This day is focused on core and overall strength. I also try to remember to stretch as often as I can. The days that I skate that aren’t practice I try to take it easy. I focus on certain skills that are less strenuous to allow my muscles some time to recoup.
It’s hard to give my legs a rest when all I want to do is skate. I’ve been spending most of my time focusing on my form right now. I’ve been told that the power and strength will come. I have to try to not push my body harder than it can handle and find patience. This seems to be a hard thing for many derby girls to do. I’ve known a lot of skaters who push themselves through the pain or skate with an injury. They just want to skate and want to practice and don’t want the pain to get in their way. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to be out on the track and having a cramp, sprain, or other injury keep you from being out there. I’m trying to learn patience with my body. Everyone progresses differently and builds muscle at different rates. I know if I can mast the form and timing that when I get the strength I’ll be that much more effective on the track. I think one of the hardest lessons to learn is to listen to your body. I didn't realize when I started Roller Derby how demanding I would be on myself, both mentally and physically. It's been an amazing experience so far and I love every moment of it. Now to see if I can remember this on the track.