Be a Better Coach, Pt. 4

Photo © Down’N’Out Photography

Coaching has made me better. It’s made me a better human and it’s made me a better athlete.

What are the benefits that can come from taking on the role of Coach?

It keeps you hip and trendy!
Roller derby is constantly evolving. It seems like almost every month there’s a hot new strategy, trick, drill, or important blog post. As a coach, you owe it to your team to submerge yourself in everything new and improved. Even if it’s a strategy or trick you don’t want to teach your team… knowing about it can benefit the team. For example: Just because your team doesn’t block in a cube, doesn’t mean your opponents won’t. Just because you avoid being a flat wall, doesn’t mean your opponents won’t. Grow your knowledge and you’ll become a better skater and coach for it.

You will learn, constantly.
Can you tell me, immediately, off the top of your head, what foot you jump from when you jump the apex? Do you REALLY know what “use your edges” means? Can you explain that when someone asks? What does engaging your core actually mean? Where should your weight be when you are doing a specific drill? Just because you have a set of skills and can demo a drill… doesn’t mean you actively know what you are doing with your body. A lot of the time we are in auto-derby mode, completing the action without dissecting it. Being a good coach means finding the answers, even if you don’t have them immediately. Sometimes all you have to do is slow down the action as you demo it and you’ll figure it out. Other times, someone you are coaching will already have the answer! Remember, you have unlimited resources to help you and those you coach grow.

You stay grounded.
Don’t forget where you came from, no matter how far you’ve climbed the skill ladder. It is incredibly encouraging and heartwarming to hear from a skater you admire that they too struggled with a particular skill. Stay in touch with your roots. Be open about what your past and present challenges are. When you aren’t afraid to talk about failure, struggle, and the grind it takes to achieve success… those you teach won’t be afraid to consistently try and work towards their goals.

Family.
I imagine being a coach can feel similar to being a parent. These 20+ skaters are my family. It is my responsibility to help them grow and find success. When they’re happy, I want to celebrate. When they’re having a hard time, I want to show them it will be okay. When they’re being an asshole, I want them to cut that shit out.

Pride. Overwhelming pride.

Photo © DeFord Designs

Watching others success and knowing you played a part– no matter how small or large– feels SO good. Seeing someone nail something they’ve been struggling with for months, noticing the light bulb pop on when they have a breakthrough, seeing them celebrate with themselves or others… it’s all pretty great.

Every single week, I look forward to running practice. Even if the practice isn’t what I hoped for, I can guarantee something good happened in those two hours. I played a role in that something good and that feels pretty incredible.
Posted by Jax in coaching, roller derby

Don’t Be A Dick

Roller Derby,

We need to have a talk.

Recently someone asked me why I decided to join this sport. It’s because of the camaraderie I saw within the team that extended to the opposing team. These two teams were talking, dancing, and high fiving each other when they weren’t fiercely competing on the track. That blew my mind. It felt like not only the team was a family, but they were welcoming and loving of their opponents.

Lately, a lot of feelings have been bubbling to the surface and I need to say something.

#CoachBo says Don’t Be A Dick.

“Don’t be a dick” is something I say a lot when I’m teaching a brand new drill or a drill in which one partner needs to dial it down.

Let’s be honest though, we need to apply this phrase to the community as a whole. I am pretty deep into roller derby. I am a coach, a skater, a trainer, and my partner is a referee. I have played, coached, and spectated various levels of roller derby in the past 4 years.

I have experienced uncalled behavior on the track. I have been pushing a wall and had the opposing brace look me in the eyes while repeatedly shouting, “Fuck her up! Fuck her up!”

I have experienced uncalled behavior while coaching. I have had an opposing coach shout about uncalled penalties and when I met their gaze, they screamed, “Yeah, I fucking said it.” You know what I did? I smiled. Then they broke their clipboard in a fit of rage. I am passionate about my team and fair treatment, but I know that type of behavior gets us nowhere.

I have experienced uncalled behavior directed at the team I am coaching. Just this season they have been accused of cheating, stacking the roster, and bringing biased referees. This is a problem on so many levels, the biggest I take issue with is that it is diminishing all of the hard work each athlete has put in to improve their game this season. While I don’t feel I NEED to defend them, I am frustrated with these accusations. I will say that their roster has had minimal turnover since I have begun training them. Not only that, but the only skaters who have been added to the team are newer and have worked their ass off to just make it through try outs and earn a spot on the team. Their hard work and dedication is the reason for their rapid improvements, nothing else.

I have watched my partner experience uncalled behavior as a referee. Name calling, lewd gestures, and lots and lots of shouting. You name it, it’s likely he’s experience some sort of rude behavior.

I’m not a saint, myself. I have shouted penalties at the referees as a coach. I have rolled my eyes at a referee when I disagreed with a call. I’ve even said, “How?!” while sprinting to the box. I have frustratingly repeated a referee call at a skater who is engaging with me while out of play. I once uttered, “What the fuck?” after being thrown off the track due to an intense high block.

I’m not writing this to complain. I am writing this as a call to action.

We have to do better. We have to BE BETTER.

We do this sport for fun. We actually pay out of pocket to do it! We spend countless hours and a good amount of money every month just to participate.

Yes, we are competitive. Yes, this is an aggressive sport. BUT– There is a clear difference between playing aggressive and just being an asshole. This sport is also very much a mental game. I do think there are appropriate ways to get to the opposing team, and inappropriate. I have experienced skaters saying, “We’ve got her. She’s tired. Good.” and well it felt awful, I didn’t feel even close to the way I did while someone barked, “Fuck her up!” at me. Play mind games if you so choose, but don’t be a dick.

Our volunteers are just that… volunteers. Our referees don’t get much from this sport. Sometimes I struggle with how they can possibly find enjoyment in their jobs, but I am so thankful they show up and do the work to keep us safe. There’s no reason to stop in the middle of the track and shout at them. They are (in my experience) very open to questions and feedback. You can definitely ask why you received a penalty after serving it. To your coach OR the referee! I understand in the heat of the moment, or after, that you may disagree with a call… but when has shouting at a referee every gotten you your way? I have yet to see a volunteer retract a call simply because a skater disagreed and had a tantrum about it. We have to be better.

Our Non-Skating Officials don’t even get the enjoyment of skating while they volunteer! They are dedicating their time to make sure the game, scrimmage, or practice runs as smoothly as possible. We shouldn’t be talking down to, arguing with, or mistreating these humans. Make it a habit to thank them. You wouldn’t be able to do this sport if they didn’t show up, and a lot of times it is very hard to find people to fill their role.

Choose to be better. Practice your mental game for the situations that trigger uncalled behavior. Ask your friends to keep you in check. Hold yourself and your team accountable. We are human and we make mistakes. That is fine and everyone in this sport is pretty understanding of that. We are less so understanding of the same mistakes happening again and again which are spreading toxicity. Be better in practice. Be better in scrimmage. Be better in games.

I love you, Roller Derby. I want us to have a long relationship, but it has to be healthy.

xoxo,
Jax

Posted by Jax in coaching, mental game, roller derby

Offense Freeze Tag!

🚨 NEW DRILL, WHO DIS? 🚨 Offense freeze tag! 4 blockers vs. 1 jammer on the track. They are all going 100% real roller derby. The rest of the skaters are spread out 20+ feet apart, facing forward or backward. They are inactive until they are touched. Once touched, they have 10 feet to play aggressive offense to try and free the jammer. Once their 10 feet is up, they recycle to the very front of the stationary blockers in hopes to have a turn at offense again. Jammers must push, bait, and drive the wall to get to their offense. They MUST MAKE CONTACT with their blocker for offense to happen. Blockers can try to keep the jammer from making contact with their offense to try and keep themselves safe to block without distraction. Drill ends when jammer escapes thanks to their trickery, their friend's offense, or when whistle calls the drill dead. #rollerderby #drill #rollerderbydrill #coach #train #offense #jammer #blocker #aggresive #halp #dosomething

A post shared by Star Pass Fitness (@starpassfitness) on

🚨 NEW DRILL, WHO DIS? 🚨

Offense freeze tag! 4 blockers vs. 1 jammer on the track. They are all going 100% real roller derby.

The rest of the skaters are spread out 20+ feet apart, facing forward or backward. They are inactive until they are touched.

Once touched, they have 10 feet to play aggressive offense to try and free the jammer. Once their 10 feet is up, they recycle to the very front of the stationary blockers in hopes to have a turn at offense again.

Jammers must push, bait, and drive the wall to get to their offense. They MUST MAKE CONTACT with their blocker for offense to happen.

Blockers can try to keep the jammer from making contact with their offense to try and keep themselves safe to block without distraction.

Drill ends when jammer escapes thanks to their trickery, their friend’s offense, or when whistle calls the drill dead.

Posted by Jax in roller derby

Be a Better Coach, Pt. 3

Trainer

If you don’t love the team, don’t coach them. If you don’t care about the well-being and growth of the individuals on the team, do not coach them. If you aren’t showing up with their best interests in mind every practice, do not coach them. If you have a problem with building someone up so they can better themselves and eventually leave the team (if they so choose), put down the whistle and notebook. Your job is to help them succeed in their chosen path.

The secret to success is love. It’s the team loving each other. It’s those individuals loving the sport. And it is you loving those individuals.

What do I mean by loving those individuals?

FIND THE COMMON DENOMINATOR. 
What are the goals of the team? What are the goals of the individuals? How do you align them?
Check in often. Almost EVERY WEEK I am asking the team what they feel they needs the most work. It’s not because I don’t know– it’s because I value their opinions as well. It’s not about what I want to work on. It’s about what they need to work on! Your goals NEED to align with the goals of the team! Don’t screw them out of the work they find valuable just because you found a new, fun drill you want to watch and try.

GET TO KNOW YOUR ATHLETES.
Some people LOVE negative reinforcement and some people will give up if that’s what is presented to them.  Getting to know what pushes your athlete’s limits, motivates them, and makes them feel confident is incredibly important. Learn how to properly talk to EACH INDIVIDUAL. Some skaters you will need to yell at and chastise. They will respect you and push themselves harder in return. Some skaters you will need to encourage gently and check in with. They will work hard and grow faster because of your kindness. Recognize that the team is made up of all different types. You CANNOT treat everyone the same and expect the same results. If that bothers you, find some other way to spend your time because teams need more understanding coaches.

GET TO KNOW THEIR GAME DAY HABITS.
I sent out a survey after a few games to check in with my skaters and what they needed to be on their best mental game. This tool provides a great reference for me. During a game I am scattered between watching, shouting what needs to happen on the track, and checking in with skaters at various intervals. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook someone who appears collected, but on the inside is freaking the fuck out.

BE AWARE OF VISUAL CUES.
Photo © David Randall

Photo © David Randall

Both at practice and on game day your athletes are reacting to many different stimuli. Pay attention to if your skaters look confused, concerned, upset, exhausted, etc. Work to know your athletes reactions. There have been plenty of times where a skater tells me they are good to go, but out of the corner of my eye I see them making pained or uncomfortable faces. Is that just how your skater reacts to anxiety, or did something happen? You need to know them individually to know if they truly are okay, or if they WANT to be okay and to live up to expectations. Check in during and after the situation. Practices and games can be draining, and it feels so good to have leadership reach out to let you know they are proud or happy you stuck it out.

ACCEPT THEIR FEELINGS AND CRITICISMS.
Shit practices happen. Shit moments in coaching happen. Shit opponents and shit games happen. The team needs to feel comfortable bringing their issues to you. If you aren’t accepting of feedback and criticism, this can cause the team to harbor negative feelings and things can begin to implode from the inside. Be willing to look at everything from all angles, get some outside unbiased opinions on the situation if need be, and work to compromise.

DO NO HARM, BUT TAKE NO SHIT.
Not everyone will love you. Not everyone will even LIKE you! People will disagree with you. As long as the entire team isn’t feeling this way, let it roll off your back. You will not be able to meet EVERYONE’S needs ALL OF THE TIME. Don’t run yourself or the team into the ground trying to please everyone. Remind them that you only have so much time and energy to volunteer to them. Everyone needs to contribute to succeed. A team should aim function like a well-oiled machine on the track and behind the scenes.
Next time we will talk about the personal (almost selfish reasons) to pursue coaching!
Posted by Jax in coaching, roller derby

Be a Better Coach, Pt. 2

If you aren’t an organized coach, now is the time to learn. I won’t guarantee it will make your job less stressful, but these tips have certainly helped me along the way.

Start a Google Drive folder! Name it after your team. Use it for all important documents. Rosters, feedback, goals, surveys, schedules, training, and of course practice agendas.

 

When you write practice agendas…

Take the time to explain the drills rather than just jotting down the name of the drill. This way, if an emergency comes up and you need a fill in, you can provide your substitute with a solid agenda they will be able to decipher.

Save every agenda. I have a google document shared with both captains of the team I coach, so they can review past and current agendas at any time. I can also reference what drills I ran last week and make sure everything is consistent.

Copy and paste! The best thing about saving every agenda and having drills explained thoroughly is… I only need to write it ONCE. Afterwards I can just copy and paste into my newest agenda and the process of putting together a practice goes a lot faster.

When scheduling your life…

Keep a calendar. A google calendar, a written calendar, whatever. Something you can easily have on you and check to see if you will be busy that day. Being a skater and a coach means your schedule can get tight, and days can blur together…

Make a spreadsheet. I love spreadsheets. After our game schedules for the year are announced I compile and color code them. I print this out and give it to my parents (because they like to go to EVERY GAME POSSIBLE, it’s the best), and keep one for myself.


In case you want a reference or you are interested in stalking me.

I compiled this at the beginning of the season. I recently started running lines for Arbor Bruising Co. as well, so this schedule is no longer accurate. I am pretty much coaching every weekend until I die at this point. I can’t complain, hanging out and assisting so many humans in being their strongest selves gives me an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride.

 

Now that you are so super organized, what does your team expect of you? How do you manage that?

Let’s be honest here. I am a people pleaser. When I started coaching I was trying to incorporate everything for everyone to make sure they were getting what they wanted, even if it wasn’t what the team as a whole needed. I realized how impossible this was immediately.

Poll the team frequently. Ask them what they want to work on. Discuss if this is a goal that is for just that individual, for the team, or something that needs to be reevaluated in the future. Be realistic.

Make shit sandwiches. After every game I ask the team to make a shit sandwich. I want to know what they felt well, went poorly, and end on something else that went well. I compile the list to see what we need to work on. Especially if multiple people are saying the same “shit,” it’s a good indicator of what needs to be added to practice!

Be transparent. Answer questions about why you chose a drill, or why you think something may be above or below your team’s skill level. Do not leave the team wondering and assuming. They want to know you have the best of intentions, and I’m sure you do! Let them know that.

Establish your role. When I started coaching I had a lot of people bringing their feelings to me about things beyond my control. I do not mind being supportive and a sounding board, in fact I enjoy helping solve and soothe. Unfortunately, it becomes heavy very quickly. You are suddenly supporting 20ish humans growth and feelings. Redirect feelings to the appropriate resources. You do not need to shoulder the weight of everyone! Questions about the roster? Ask your captains. Usually your trainer has a minimal role in this. Feelings about other practices that you do not run? Talk to those trainers, or even the head of training.

Coach vs. Friend. I am close friends with some of the humans I coach. Sometimes it feels like walking a fine line. Know that it is perfectly possible to do both, but make sure you are explaining where your feelings are coming from. As a coach, you probably understand why a team decision was made. You may have even had a part in it. As a friend, you can still feel empathy for your friend if it upsets them. Leadership will often say, “taking off my _____ (captain, trainer, board member, teammate, WHATEVER HAVE YOU) hat off… this is how this makes me feel.” As leadership you will make decisions that your friends won’t always agree with. That’s normal! It’s okay! Hopefully you and your friends can be mature enough to look past it and realize that these roles are not mutually exclusive.

If you already knew all of these secrets, damn you and congrats! If not, I hope that I was able to provide some insight in my growth as a coach and a trainer.

Next up, I will talk getting to know your team because everyone is so very different. It’s cool AND challenging!

Posted by Jax in coaching, roller derby