coaching

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

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

Be a Better Coach, Pt. 1

Photo © Pixie Light Photo

Photo © Pixie Light Photo

Coaching wasn’t something I ever planned to do. It wasn’t a goal of mine. I don’t think I even considered it a possibility in my future. It seemed like a lot of work and responsibility (which, spoiler alert: it is!) that could easily overwhelm me.

Fast forward to two years later and it’s my favorite part of the week. It didn’t start out that way, though. Just like skating, coaching did not come naturally. No amount of attending practices, researching, or rehearsing could prepare me enough. I was now assisting in piloting the growth of skaters and athletes! How did I get here? What do I do?

So, I’m going to share with you what I wish I had when I started. A road map to being a better coach.

EMBRACE THE SUCK.

You probably aren’t going to start off being a great coach. If you did, congratulations! I’m a little jealous of your talent, skills, and wisdom. Stop reading this blog, you obviously do not need it.

If you are like me, you are probably going to have trouble finding your “style.” I cringe reading my first practice agendas. They aren’t awful, they just aren’t… good. There’s no flow. There’s more down time than I would ever allow for now that I know the proper limits to push. The drills didn’t always have an end goal.

The written agenda was not the only thing that was a struggle. Instructing, leading, and assisting 20+ humans did not come naturally either. Oh– and to be CONFIDENT? Ha! I was timid. I was distractable. I was unsure of myself, my body, and my words — even if I knew the drill backwards and forwards.

So, embrace the suck. You can’t start out perfect. Sometimes you can’t even start out good. That’s okay! You are learning while teaching, probably. It’s difficult to navigate! As long as you aren’t coaching a bunch of aholes, it will smooth out.

ASK FOR AND ACCEPT FEEDBACK.

Coaching and learning in general involves a lot of trial and error. If you want to speed up the process and make it better for all parties involved, ask for feedback. What drills do the team like? Are you spending too much time talking, or not enough? What skills does the team feel needs the most work? The list goes on and on…

Be open to constructive criticism. You are likely going to get different views and opinions from many of the skaters. Remember to take it with a grain of salt. If they dislike something, ask them to describe why and what they would like to see or hear instead.

Have open discussions after practices in regards to what is going well and what isn’t. Invite skaters who are not on the team to come and give some outside feedback. Ask other coaches about their experiences over the years and see if there is anything you would like to emulate.

You do not have to be alone in your journey to improvement. So many people would like to see you succeed, especially your team! Don’t be scared or worried to reach out for help.

There are plenty more stops on this road map, so keep your eyes peeled! Next time I will cover staying organized and managing expectations.
Posted by Jax in coaching, roller derby

Writing A Practice Agenda That Flows

One of the things that is most exciting about Roller Derby (that also makes all of our lives very complicated) is that most teams/leagues are self-coached. We don’t have professional coaches that we call in (at least not often). We have ourselves – skaters who take on the role of coach. Sometimes, coaches have extensive backgrounds in coaching other sports, personal training or physical therapy. And sometimes coaches are like me, with no background and endless enthusiasm for this sport. This blog is for those coaches.

Photo © Andrew Potter Photo

Photo © Andrew Potter Photo

I ran my first practice for the Ypsilanti Vigilantes August 4th, 2015. I had no prior knowledge to coaching or training and I was terrified. I shadowed their previous trainer for one practice before the hand off was made. At the time, I wished I had shadowed more. Now I know that no matter how many practices you attend, and how many you watch, running one feels like a whole new world.

There is so much to think about when writing and running a practice! Since that day in August I have written and run a practice nearly every Tuesday. I have also led several clinics on roller derby for other leagues in Michigan. It’s safe to say I have found my personal groove when it comes to writing practices.

I pride myself in running a well thought out practice that flows to meet the team’s needs. Here is how I do it:

Warm ups – I personally do not enjoy lengthy or slow warm ups. I feel like not a lot of people take them seriously so their bodies aren’t truly warm. It’s also a big time suck. Warming up your body is important! It prevents injury! So Coaches and Skaters, please, do take it seriously. I recommend setting aside no more than 15 minutes for warm up, and spend it on a dynamic warm up, not static stretching. Tell your skaters to use that time to truly activate their muscles while working on simpler skills to wake up that roller derby brain.

Individual Skills – After warm ups, we focus on individual skills. This could be footwork, lateral movements, backwards skating, absorbing impact with a partner, etc. Basically: a skill the team already KNOWS or has tried in the past that you need to sharpen.

New Skills – After individual skills is a good time to introduce a new skill. When you put a new skill at the beginning of practice, this gives the skaters the opportunity to continue working at this skill throughout the rest of practice in other drills. Try not to do more than one, maybe two brand new skills a practice. They can take up a lot of time and there is so much to learn always! Make sure to revisit these skills in future practices so they aren’t lost forever.

Endurance (Optional) – This is a good time to put in some individual endurance. There are SO many options here. Three of my favorites are: ✪ 6 Stride Hell: Skating briskly, sprinting for 6 strides on the whistle to build those explosive muscles. ✪ Get The Fuck Up: Skating laps as quickly as possible, on the whistle skaters lie on their back or their front, whistle blows again and they pop up as fast as possible and return to sprinting. Sometimes you get annihilated on the track, and you should be able to bounce back and return to game play as quickly as possible and this is good simulation. ✪ Jammer Wall Push Ups: Jammers must push a braced wall of 4 blockers a half lap. They are not allowed to escape, only push to build strength. They cannot push in the same seam, they must try different options every few seconds. Blockers should be focused on sitting as low as possible, actively practicing edgework, tight seams, and communication.

Building Blocks – This is the most important part of practice! It should be the bulk of your team’s time at practice. This is group work. It can start as 1 vs. 1 and build to an end at 4 vs. 1. You can mix it up with 4 vs. 1 with 1 friend playing offense. It can be just plain roller derby, it can be practicing new offensive plays, it can be blocker walls spread out across the track with jammers coming in with speed and attacking a seam. It can be anything you want it to be! The most important thing is that skaters are working together to learn and achieve a set goal.

Group Endurance – I love to end on group endurance. It is important to know how your body will perform when you are tired because you are going to get tired during a game. Also, underlying bad habits come out when your body goes into auto-derby mode. This makes it easier to spot skills that need to be fine-tuned at future practice. What do I mean by group endurance? I mean playing roller derby NON-STOP! One option is 2 minute jams (call offs don’t exist!) and anyone who is not participating must be skating endurance laps around the outside. Another option is endless roller derby, where 5 on 5 are playing playing roller derby for an undetermined amount of time. The trainer will switch out skaters at their leisure, but none of the skaters on the track can stop or call off the jam.

Stretch – Now is the time for static stretching, circled up as a team to end practice.

I am sure my practice flow isn’t perfect for every team. Take some time to talk about what is working and what isn’t working for your skaters when teaching new drills. Ask how effective they feel a drill is and if they would like to see it on a regular basis. It’s important to know your team’s goals when you write an agenda and to check in every now and again to see if you are helping them meet their needs and potential.

Or if you really just don’t want to, you can hire me to write one for you.

Posted by Jax in coaching, roller derby