So you have made the leap and have decided that you want to play roller derby. Congratulations! Welcome aboard! You are about to learn a whole bunch of new stuff, and a lot of it is not going to make sense to you. Yet. But it will, I promise. My advice; be patient, come to practice, and work hard. Everyone is going to progress at different levels and it is easy to get frustrated. Here are some of the most important things that you should be practicing, both on and off the track.
Good Stride: When skating, your legs don’t move straight back and forth like walking, but more like side to side. Your toes are angled out a bit and you push back and away with each stride. Each leg should extend fully so with each push you should feel it in the booty.
Crossovers: Crossovers are the most efficient way to maneuver around corners at high speeds, and most skaters push hard though their crossovers, actually gaining momentum on the corners.
Balance and Posture: Skating stance = knees bent, torso upright, and head up! Your feet are flat on the ground, your weight is centered over your whole foot, only slightly more to the balls of your feet. Your hips are directly over your heels. Your back is upright. Bend with your knees, not your back. Look straight ahead, not down. Learn to feel your skates instead of having to watch them. Bounce up and down on this position and get the feel of your knees doing the work. The lower your center of gravity, the easier it is to maintain your balance, but you don’t want to compromise your back. NEVER SKATE STRAIGHT UP! Bent knees limit backwards falling, which can be dangerous.
Stopping and Starting: Stopping is important for avoiding accidents. Starting is important for recovering after a fall, and catching up to assist the pack. Skaters need to be able to safely start and stop at a rate of speed that suits their position, game play, and skill level. Speed can be extremely dangerous if its out of control. Types of stops include T-stops, turn stops, and snow plows. Types of starts include duck walks and toe starts.
Falling: Learning how to fall is extremely important for injury prevention. It is important to practice falling so you know how to shift your body into a safe position in that split second before you hit the floor. It must become second nature; simple falling drills will imprint the motion in your head and muscles. Your goal is to fall quickly and smoothly, with a fast recovery. Some pointers for falling would be to bend your knees and keep your butt down, slide, and fall small. Some falls that you will learn as a Firecracker are single knee drops, double knee drops, and the rockstar slide.
Maneuvering: The ability to maneuver around other players on the track is key to effective offense and defense. Jammers need to maneuver through the pack while maintaining their speed. Jammers and blockers must maneuver effectively to dodge blocks, fallen skaters, and position themselves better for giving blocks.
Observation: All skaters need to have awareness of where the other skaters are on the track in order to execute plays based on the jammer’s location and to avoid blind-sided blocks. Skaters should be able to look around on the track, over both shoulders like an owl, while staying at a consistent pace even during crossovers. You should be able to feel your skates without having to look down at them.
Blocking: Blocking is the foundation for defense in this game. Without it, derby wouldn’t be a contact sport; it would just be jammers racing around the track. Blocking creates holes for the jammer and inhibits the opposing jammer from scoring points against your team. Learning how to block properly will prevent unnecessary accidents and allow for safe and clean, but fierce hits. As a Firecracker, you will not have full contact until you pass your basic skills test, but you can best prepare for blocking by practicing these skills: Low stance, squats, and positional blocking.
Another important part of learning how to play derby is to WATCH DERBY. All kinds of derby. As much as you can. A great site for this is http://rdjunkies.tumblr.com/. It has a ton of excellent video of bouts, moves, tips, and tricks for your viewing pleasure.
Again, come to practice. All of these things take time, but they will take a considerable less amount of time if you are practicing regularly. See you there!