Roller Derby Coaching – Part.1 How I Session Plan


I’ve been coaching Roller Derby with Durham since the beginning, with zero previous experience of being a coach myself, but I had the wisdom and knowledge of our previous coaching team as a guide.

Let’s start off by saying coaching isn’t easy – Coaching is actually really hard! Being able to make a session that; covers varying experience and skill levels, keeps everyone engaged and involved, and most importantly allows everyone to continue to learn. Initially I found this incredibly daunting, and I still do – but not so much with the team, guests being in attendance however does still throw me (Dying inside anyone – Just me then?)

But this isn’t a blog about how I cope with coaching new people, this is how I plan my sessions, in case it helps anyone else out there who’s new to the coaching world! I’ve linked a load of other resources – in the side bar (under Coaching Resources) that have made, not just my coaching life easier, but have also supported many of our coaching team here at Durham over the years.

The key is to coach SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) and BREAK IT DOWN – you wouldn’t make a goal something like; new skater’s to be able to hockey stop in their first week on skates, right? Yes it’s timely and specific but it’s far from realistic or attainable, some goals have larger time frames – but for the purpose of this let’s focus on a single session.

First off I figure out my big goal based on our coaching focus meetings, and my knowledge of our skater’s ability level’s – that could be as simple – and I say simple in the most general sense – as getting all the pre-mins skaters able to plow effectively, to larger tasks such as everyone being able to competently do strategy X.

This is where I start and then I work backwards. So let’s take a more strategy based goal such as; Blockers are able to execute successful pushback‘s off the line, to catch an opposition Jammer, within the session.

In order to be able to do this all the skaters need to be able to do a number of skills (please note, our league is of mixed ability attendance to advanced/intermediate sessions). The skills needed; in no particular order:

  • Skate Backwards
  • Hold a Tripod Formation
  • Backwards Plow
  • Take Impact
  • Communication

I then use this to plan the session in a structured and practical order, I take the easy wins first, then escalate in stages:

  1. Warm-up & Communication Drills: Always warm-up your skaters in every sense of the term. It’s always handy to run basic communication drills with your skaters. It’s surprising how many of us don’t find our voices until partway through a session/game/drill, so warming up the vocal chords and reminding people they have a voice is as important as their skating muscles.
  2. Skating Backwards & Backwards Plows: If you can combine sections then do, as we all have limited resources, and time on skates is one of them! By running some time to enable the intermediate level skaters to practice their skills, and ensuring your advanced skaters are always given an escalation is one way of keeping everyone pushing themselves – whilst also supporting each individual skaters growth and development.
  3. Tripod Formation & Impact: Working in mixed ability groups works well for us as a league due to the step-up from the intermediate skaters. But for this to work you also need the buy-in from advanced skaters to help up skill them which is really important – and this helps to grow a teamwork ethic. But there are times, such as in the run up to gamedays where this may not be appropriate – but always MANAGE EXPECTATIONS, a team is also made up of individuals and as a coach this is really important to remember!
  4. End Goal – Push-back off the line: I tend to try to run the end goal of the session for around 25-50% of the total session length – I find that even though I run up to the final goal I will still need to further break it down and escalate. I also encourage feedback between drills – you can find that if anyone doesn’t understand a part of the strategy this is where that penny drop moment occurs (I think I know this because I’m usually this person?) – so encourage it, but limit it to time:
  • Push-back with one wall and one Jammer
  • Push-back with one wall and two Jammers – to ensure they are able to avoid getting in their own Jammers way
  • Push-back with two walls and two Jammers – only one wall can WIN the drill, make this clear in advance or give the other wall a different focus so they can win, but not in the skill in progress
  • Full scale drill – Scrim based, winner takes all. This is where you can see if the learning took place

This type of planning structure may not work for everyone, but I need a broken down plan in advance with all the sections timed and noted – it can be very easy to go off on a tangent, we’re only human, but for me having a well thought out plan allows me to know what my aims are and how I’m getting there.

It also allows me to use it as a marker of progression, not just for the team but for me as a coach. If I ever leave a session and don’t feel like I learned something about myself as a coach from the skaters I’ll be shooketh!

How do you coach better, or what did you wish you knew before you started coaching?

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