Tuesday, July 29, 2014

From Freshmeat to Team Mate: Getting My Gear!

Last post, I mentioned that I would tell you all about picking out my own gear.  In the process of drafting, I realized that this is probably going to have to be broken into several posts.  There's just too many things to talk about! Today, we'll start with picking out the required safety gear.

Since our team's in Western Massachusetts, there are only a couple of options for places that you can go and actually try on Derby gear before purchasing.  There's the Pro Shop at Ron A Roll Skating Center in Vernon, CT, though they only have a small selection of Derby gear in stock.  You can pick up hockey helmets at most sporting goods stores like Dicks or Modells, and some skateboard shops like Theory Skateboarding carry a small variety of knee and elbow pads that can be used for Derby. For most of us in Southern New England, though, the best place to go and get gear is definitely at Bruised Boutique in NH.

An interior shot of the Bruised Boutique store in NH. 
Bruised Boutique is the world's largest Derby store and is the only one is the area that is devoted to just Derby gear and accessories.  It's almost a rite of passage for Derby skaters in our area to go with a veteran team mate to pick out their first set of gear. I was lucky enough that within the first six weeks of my Freshmeat period, my awesome coworker who you know as Duck N. Shover (who writes our "Officials' Review" posts) and his lovely wife, Astra Knot, who also happens to be our Team's 2014 Chairperson were willing to take me to Bruised to get my gear.

A few days before we actually drove up there, I spent some time checking out their online store trying to make a list of things I desperately needed and trying to figure out exactly how much I was willing to spend.  I quizzed other POD skaters to see what they loved about their gear and what items they would swap out if they could.  I knew, no matter what, that I had to buy at least the essentials: A helmet, elbow pads, wristguards, knee pads, a mouthguard, and the ultimate - SKATES! The question was, should I buy cheaper "freshmeat" versions of the gear, or should I invest now in better equipment?

As a Derby skater, I want to have fun, of course, but I'm also really concerned with being safe.  It was very important to me that I get a decent helmet to protect my head, especially since I knew I'd still be falling a lot. Derby skaters are starting to be very cognizant of the importance that Derby helmets be rated for multiple impacts since we do fall and protecting the head is a number one priority when playing.  In fact, many players are actually switching over to hockey helmets which are designedto be even safer, but for my first helmet, I wanted one that would be safe and also look pretty. I'm not afraid to admit it.  I went with a Triple 8 helmet in purple since that's our team color.  The foam padding on the inside is also removable for washing which is a great feature to help keep it from getting stinky!

Next, I focused on knee pads.  Knowing that I was still falling a LOT in practice, I wanted to get really good knee pads.  This was a place that I was happy to spend a little extra money to get better equipment.  Now, Derby knee pads all pretty thick and sturdy, but as I mentioned before, they also have a hard shell on the front and this feature can vary from pad to pad.  When I was using the Freshmeat gear, I had been using a pair of 187 knee pads, which I liked a lot.  I knew I wanted to stick with that brand, but they make different kinds, so I researched how they differed.  I decided to go with their most expensive type - the 187 Pro Derby Knee Pads - because they have removable, replaceable shells on the front.  This set is about ten dollars more than the regular ones, but when you fall several times really hard on your knee pads and finally crack one of the shells, rather than having to replace the whole set of knee pads, you can just buy the replacement shells for the front. It can save some decent money in the long run.

For elbow pads and wristguards, I was less concerned with getting top of the line gear.  Personally, I feel
like while you absolutely need these items, you should be way more concerned with your knee pads since you do the hardest falling onto those.  I could spend a little less here.  Mostly it was about fit and comfort.  I tried on a couple of brands for the elbow pads and found that some of them had different shapes for the hard shells on the elbow.  I really liked the flatter shape of the Triple 8 pads, as opposed to some of the ones that felt more like cups, and so went with those.  In the wristguards, there are several different styles, as well.  Some are one solid piece that slides over the wrist and then has a strap to hold it in
place.  The ones I chose open flat so that you can place your wrist into it then tighten the three different straps (one on your hand, one on the small of your wrist, and one on the beginning of your forearm) to hold it in place.  I felt like I had more control in adjusting the tightness in these three different spots to get the most safety and comfort out of the guards. Since these Triple 8 ones were some of the cheapest in the store, I'm already noticing wear and tear on them. I may have to get replacements soon, but I think I'm going to stick with the same kind when I do.

Next time, I want to finish up with safety gear and tell you about getting my very own skates!

Until then...
Nikki Tesla #134 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Officials' Review: The Perpetually Full Penalty Box

One of the most dramatic changes from the 2013 to the 2014 Rules of Flat Track Roller Derby was reducing Penalty Time from 1 minute to 30 seconds. Skaters rejoiced, fans cheered, NSOs kibitzed… nervously. The basics of Penalty Enforcement and Standard Practices for timing penalties did not change, but the prospect of juggling a watch and paper work for up to 3 blockers, and maybe even a jammer, in 30 seconds got officials thinking that we may need to practice timing penalties beyond scrimmages. To do this, we at Pair O' Dice City Rollers created a drill that could be done anytime we had 3 or more people:

The Perpetually Full Penalty Box

Objective: Training NSOs on the procedure for timing penalties and preparing them for the various, hectic, possibilities they could encounter while working in the Penalty Box.

Length of drill: Can vary depending on the number of NSOs training.

Participants: 3 or more.

Materials needed: 1-2 stopwatch(s), a clipboard, a pen/pencil, a copy of the Penalty Box tracking sheet (from the Stats Workbook), 2-3 chairs or a bench. 
Optional: more stopwatches, whiteboard and marker (for the Next Step scenarios below).

Skill level: The skill level can be varied for beginners and seasoned officials, at least 1 person should be familiar with the paperwork and procedures of the Penalty Box.

How it works:

  • 1 person takes position as the Penalty Box Timer (PBT), with a stopwatch and paperwork.
  • The other 2 participants take turns as skaters entering the box and serving penalties.
    • If they are not wearing shirts with numbers, assign (single digit) numbers
  • The PBT times the skaters penalties and releases according the Rules and Practices.
    • This continues for a full Jam, 2 minutes, or until a point at which the PBT feels they need to reset.
    • The timing and frequency of skaters can be adjusted to increase the intensity of the drill.

The penalty box area at a Gotham Girls Roller Derby bout
in New York City on May 6, 2006.

A sample (progressively increasing in intensity):

Jam 1
  1. Skater 1 enters the box
  2. Serves a full 30 seconds
  3. The box is empty
Jam 2
  1. Skater 1 enters the box
  2. (a few seconds later) Skater 2 enters the box
  3. They serve their respective 30 seconds
  4. The box is empty.

Jam 3
  1. Skater 1 enters the box
  2. (a few seconds later) Skater 2 enters the box
  3. Skater 1 is released at the end of her/his 30 seconds
  4. (before skater 2 is released) Skater 1 enters the box again
  5. Skater 2 is released at the end of her/his 30 seconds
  6. Skater 1 is released at end of her/his 30 seconds
  7. The box is empty.

  Jam 4
  1. Skater 1 enters the box
  2. (a few seconds later) Skater 2 enters the box
  3. Skater 1 is released at the end of her/his 30 seconds
  4. (before skater 2 is released) Skater 1 enters the box again
  5. Skater 2 is released at the end of her/his 30 seconds
  6. (before skater 1 is released) Skater 2 enters the box again
  7. Repeat the rotation until the end of the Jam.

Next Steps:
  • End Jams early and/or have skaters enter Between Jams.
  • With 3 people: have the NSO take the position of Penalty Box Manager (PBM) and the skaters serve as Jammers to practice Jammer-in-Jammer-out-(Jammer back in) scenarios.
  • With 4 people: add an additional skater into the rotation to practice the 1 skater standing with 2 skaters seated.
  • With 4 people: add a PBM to practice the procedures for when a skater leaves the box prematurely.
  • With 5 or more people: add a PBM and an additional skater to act as a Jammer to practice full (for one team) scenarios.

If you can think of any other variations or scenarios share them in the Comments section below.

Happy Timing!

Duck N. Shover - POD’s Head of Officials & Interleague Liaison

-Nikki Tesla #134

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Derby Experience

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

From Freshmeat to Team Mate: Falling Down and Getting Back Up Again

Great illustration by Dusty Melling
So, one of the best known things about Derby is Falling.  Whether it's because you lost your own balance or because someone else hit you, you will fall down. A lot.  When I joined the team, one of the first things anyone ever said to me is "Mentally prepare yourself. You will be falling a lot. A lot.  Most of the time, though, it's okay and doesn't even hurt."  At first I was skeptical, but outside of a really bad hit, they were

In Derby, you fall down.  You fall down a lot.  BUT... you also learn how to fall and with your pads and the right technique, nine times out of ten, you really don't feel it!

You may be skeptical, but those pads really do make a HUGE difference.  I had no idea, having never seen any up close before gearing up from the freshmeat bag, but derby knee pads about three inches thick with a hard shell on the front.  When you fall properly on to these pads, landing on the shell, not only do you get a really good cushion, but you should theoretically slide a little on the floor, which also helps to distribute the impact.

The 187 Killer Pads Pro Derby knee  pads
that I bought at Bruised Boutique
Now, coupling these nice, thick pads with a proper falling technique is the ultimate goal.  In Derby, we now refer to learning the art of falling down and getting up again as learning RECOVERY.  The focus is on acknowledging that you will fall and learning the best ways to control it and then to get up again as quickly as possible.  You do not want to make yourself a target for other players (or even refs) to fall over on the track!

Though there are several different types of "recoveries" that you learn and get tested on in Derby, the one thing they all have in common is that they involve falling forward.  While as I mentioned in a previous post, that all players are required to wear helmets, mouthguards, elbow pads, knee pads, and wristguards, there are no rules about any other equipment.  There are players that wear padded shorts to protect their tailbones in accidental backwards falls, but the general practice is to learn to fall forward so that you will be protected by the required gear.  Thus, as a freshmeat skater, you will spend at LEAST one practice on learning the three basic fall "recoveries." (I know I did. This practice WIPED ME OUT!) You will learn:

*Single Knee Taps - These are honestly my least favorite, though probably the most useful in a game situation. The idea here is to recognize when you are losing your balance, and to just tap your knee, one or the other, on the floor long enough to help stabilize you then pop back up to full skating, without touching the floor with your hands (Fingers make excellent targets for other skaters' wheels...).  Easier said than done, LOL. Originally we practiced these by skating back and forth up and down the rink just alternating knees on the floor.  My quads were screaming! I also could only do about three or four before I'd lose my balance completely and need to reset before doing any more.  Having practiced these for months now, though, I can say that doing one for the purpose it's truly intended is both useful and much easier than it was when I first started.

One of POD's skaters landing in a double knee slide
during a bout with Elm City.  
*Double Knee Slide - This is sometimes referred to as the "rock star slide." Here, again, you should
Here's a pic from a game we had with the Elm City team.
See how the Elm City player on the left has positioned
her legs to recover to standing? *We just try not to use
our hands like this...
recognize that you are on your way to the floor..Then the best practice is to squat so that you are already halfway to the floor and then allow yourself to land on both knees and slide forward.  Ideally, you should land on your knees in a staggered motion, not at the same time, which helps to lesson the direct impact on your knee joints.  You also should keep your arms up and close to your chest to avoid either landing on your own hands/fingers or potentially creating a smooshed finger situation if someone else rolls over your fingers on the track.  To recover from this type of slide, you then bring one knee up, creating a 90 degree angle with the track and use the leverage pushing on that skate (and your quad muscles in that leg) to propel you up again to regular skating position.

*Four Point Fall - This final fall and recovery is both the easiest in a way and the toughest.  This is a full fledged fall to the ground.  It is called a four point fall because four parts of your body should land on the floor if you do it properly.  Again you should be able to recognize that you will fall. Then, the goal is to first fall on to the knees as if you are doing a double knee slide (points one and two) and then to continue falling onto your forearms (points three and four). Hands should be fisted and arms bent at a ninety degree angle so that you land on the flat of your forearms with your thumbs on the top of your fists.  Your head should be tucked down near the forearms, but not between them, so that you are both protecting your head if another player trips on you, but you are not smashing your face on the ground. Recovery builds on the same principles as the earlier falls - bring upper torso upright, then bring up one knee, brace and lift to skating

A POD player lands in a four point fall during a game,
tucking in to avoid injury. 
The best principles for Recovery in Derby, no matter how you fall, are to FALL SMALL and to RECOVER, RECOVER, RECOVER (ie. get up quick!) The less time you spend down on the track, the better for all players involved.  You are much less likely to get accidentally run over and if you're like me, you want to be back in the action! So, falling safely, making yourself a small target, and then getting up and back in the game as quickly as possible are things that we actually practice because you know that you'll be doing them in a game.  Even the best Derby players fall.  They just fall better than the rest of us. *grins*

Now that we've talked about falling and recovery, I suppose I should go a little more in depth about my safety gear!  Next time, I'll talk all about how I picked out my skates and such up at the Bruised Boutique in New Hampshire. It's an awesome derby gear store.

Until next time...
Nikki Tesla #134 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Officials' Review: The Inaugural Post

Welcome to Officials’ Review, POD’s bimonthly column covering general rules discussion and Skating and Non-Skating Officials training. Our goal is to start conversations among skaters, fans, and our fellow officials about how how we can all help make derby happen.

For our inaugural post, we are going to start with the basics, the Ref and NSO positions.

Roller Derby’s Skating Officials, or Referees, can easily be identified on the track by their black and white striped shirts and their bizarre hand signals (more on those another time). During a game, their main responsibility is to assign Penalties for illegal and unsafe actions.

On the Inside

  • The Rear Inside Pack Ref defines the pack and determines when skaters are Out of Play, which affects blocking and scoring.
  • The two Jammer Refs each focus on one Jammer, reporting points scored to their Score Keeper.
  • The Front Inside Pack Ref helps to define the pack and assess when skaters are Out of Play.

On the Outside

  • There are three Outside Pack Refs who rotate around the track watching for Penalties and being the Jammer Refs’ extra sets of eyes for points.

Unlike the Refs, Non Skating Officials, or NSOs, are a bit harder to pick out of the crowd, but that’s kind of the idea. Depending on the game NSOs can be found wearing bright pink (WFTDA) or blue (MRDA). POD’s NSOs wear all black for added stealth. The NSOs are responsible for keeping the official Time and Stats of the game, all while hopefully having little impact on the game itself or the fans’ viewing experience.

On the Inside

  • The Jam Timer signals the start start and end of the jams, as well as maintaining the time for the period and timeouts.
  • The Penalty Wrangler relays penalties, called by the Refs, to the Penalty Tracker.
  • The Penalty Tracker keeps the official record of the penalties, relays them to the Inside Whiteboard Official, and notifies the Refs when a skater is close to Fouling Out of the game.
  • The Inside Whiteboard Official maintains a record of penalties, which should be visible to the teams, and helps to keep track of skaters’ trips to the Penalty Box.

On the Outside

  • The Penalty Box Manager times and releases the Jammers, maintains a cue if all penalty box seats are taken, and oversees communication between the Penalty Box and other officials.
  • Two Penalty Box Timers time and release the Pivots and Blockers, while keeping a record of all skaters’ trips to the Penalty Box.
  • The two Lineup Trackers document the skaters participating in each jam, and keep track of when skaters enter/exit the Penalty Box.
  • There are two Scorekeepers, each paired with a Jammer Ref. They keep a record and running total of points, which they relay to the Scoreboard Operator.
  • The Scoreboard Operator updates the scoreboard (usually a program running on a computer) with points from the Scorekeepers and adjustments to the period time from the Jam Timer.

These descriptions just highlight the basic functions of the Ref and NSO positions. In our upcoming posts we will dig deeper into what the officials do and we’ll nerd out on rules! We’re going to try to give a variety of perspectives, as well, from NSOs’ to Refs’ to Skaters’ takes on different aspects of everything behind the scenes that makes derby actually work.

If you are fan of zebra print and/or clipboards and want to get involved in the derby world e-mail us at: PODCityOfficials@gmail.com.

See you next time!

Duck N. Shover - POD’s Head of Officials & Interleague Liaison

-Nikki Tesla #134

Monday, July 7, 2014

Some Summer Funzies

Our team, the Pair O' Dice City Rollers take two breaks during the year.  Once at the holidays, because everyone likes to spend time with family, and then again at the beginning of official summer to let players get their kids settled in to camp, to take vacations, etc.  Our summer break is actually going on right now.

Just before our break, though, we got to do a really fun practice...one that both reminded us of the sheer FUN of skating and how much we'll miss getting together for two weeks, and one that was just silly enough to make us feel less guilty for wanting to enjoy a little break from regular practices.

So what did this "FUNZIES" practice consist of, you ask?

Some of the POD players playing the "road kill
ball toss" game...
Skill-building fun games, of course!

First we played freeze tag...with a twist. We divided up the playing zone into two distinct areas.  In one, you could only skate forwards, and in the other, you could only skate backwards.  It was hilarious! Awkward at first, but soon we were all zooming along without even thinking about our skating and transitions from one direction to the other. The tricky part was actually having to army crawl through everyone else's legs to unfreeze them! Believe me.

Soon, we took this to the next level and played it as "zombie tag." When playing this way, the original "it" doesn't just freeze their prey, they convert them into "its" as well, until it's a case of last skater skating!

After some decent reydrating, we moved on to a game that doesn't have an official name.  In some places, it's just a ball toss game, in some it's played with a stuffed toy rather than a ball, so it's called, "road kill."  In any case, we divided into teams of three and had two objectives as we skated round the track.  One was to pass the ball at regular intervals between our own teammates and second was to try to intercept the other team's passes.

More of the "road kill ball toss" game.  
Again, we got so into it that we totally lost track of all the practice skills we had to employ in order to make the game work! We were transitioning, orbiting around one another, creating mini-walls, and throwing in mini-hip checks all over the place.  It was a blast!

Finally, we ended practice by taking turns on a quick obstacle course.  The more veteran skaters were aiming for not only speed, but challenging themselves to work harder on each skill, while some of us newer skaters were just trying to make it through without falling, LOL! The course started out with wide, tightly angled slolams leading into a jump.  Then we had to plow stop before doing some kind of fancy footwork weaving through cones.  Next, we had to run on toe stops through a narrow gap and then sprint for a hip check on an "opponent."  The final challenge on our turn around the track was to weave through a mini landmine field of helmets as if they were an opposing pack.

I'm proud to say that on my third time through, I managed to complete each obstacle successfully...if not necessarily as gracefully as some of the other skaters. *grins*  All in all, it was a night that really reminded each of us of how FUN it is to just skate and to hang out with each other, which really are the best parts of being on a derby team, after all!

-Nikki Tesla #134