What do my stats mean?

stats

Stats! Our NSOs collect them, we await them with trepidation, then we stare at them, trying to work out why was that one so low?! I thought I’d done way better than that! And, sometimes, we decide that stats aren’t important anyway, I’m just gonna keep playing my game and doing my best. All of which are absolutely fine to think, by the way. But before you beat yourself up over a pink sheet of numbers, it’s worth really understanding what exactly you’re looking at. Stats don’t always carry surface meaning.

I should caveat this post by saying I’m no statistician; this is just how I have been interpreting game stats for myself and my teammates. This is a work in progress, as I haven’t found anything online that specifically defines how to interpret each stat. I’m still working out the finer points, but if anyone has any corrections, suggestions or observations for this post then pleeeeease do let me know!

I’d recommend reading this post with a stats sheet in front of you, and using this post to interpret each individual column, as this is a pretty dull post to read through otherwise ;)

stats-we-trust

Things I’ve learnt about the stats sheets

  • They can be hella misleading! Do not judge your skill as a derby player on stats alone. There are thousands of variables for each game that will affect how well a particular game goes.
  • Stats are most useful for finding patterns: whether you’re calling it off in time, common penalties you get; finding your jammer style (do you jam regularly, get 4 and call it, or do you jam more occasionally and get a whopping 25 points in a jam), how you should arrange future lineups.
  • Some of the stats encourage you to compare yourself with your teammates. I repeat: stats can be misleading. Stats don’t really account for skills such as sportsmanship, teamwork or strategy: derby is a team game, so individual stats do not always carry the weight that some people choose to give them!

GUIDE TO STATS: What does each heading mean?

After a game, the Head NSO takes all the stats, and puts them into a spreadsheet workbook. This workbook uses some clever maths to generate the ‘Game Summary’ tab, which is an interpretation of all the stats into a meaningful pile of data. This ‘Game Summary’ is the tab we’re going to look at in this post.

The first 4 columns are fairly self explanatory:
Jammer/Pivot/Blocker: This will tell you how many times you were on track as jammer/pivot/blocker.
Total: How many jams you played in the whole game.

% Jams skated: This is the percentage of the game you were on track for. Typically, blockers will have a higher percentage here, as jammers tend to need a little more breathing time between jams. It can also be an indication of fitness, or the choices made by a LUM. You might’ve had to sit out for injury. Or, if you had, say, 5 penalties at half time your percentage score here will probably be low, as it’s likely you didn’t get played as much in the second half. Etc.

Points: This is a column for anyone who jammed. It tells you the total number of points you won for your team in the whole game. Higher numbers are obviously better here, BUT the highest number doesn’t necessarily mean the best jammer. Remember, it’s about points DIFFERENTIAL. You might have 100 points in this column, but if you gave away 101 points when you were jamming, you’ve done worse than someone who got a total of 1 point as a jammer, and gave away none. More on that later.

PPJ: This is your average number of points per jam, when jamming. It cannot be a negative number. Again, this does not define how good your jamming was, as it does not account for points differential. It does however carry implications for fitness and penalties: if you played a clean game, this number will be higher (as you’re on track scoring points for longer), and similarly, if you have good endurance, you can score more points per jam without tiring yourself out.

Something else to bear in mind with PPJ, is how much you were on track overall. Say you blocked for 30% of the game, and you only jammed once in the whole game. You weren’t that tired so you could score a mammoth 25 points in one jam. Your teammate, however, was the jammer for 50% of the game. She consistently got 4 and called it. Her PPJ will be much lower than yours (e.g. 4, compared with your 25), even though she may have a much higher total points score overall.

Lost: This tells you how many times you were Lead jammer and lost it (by getting a penalty when you were lead). Ideally, you want this number to be 0.

Lead: How many times you were lead. The higher the better!

Called: Tells you how many jams you called off as Lead. This should be similar to the number in the ‘lead’ column. Reasons for it being lower:
1) You got a jammer penalty.
2) You forgot to call it off
Or 3) The other team’s jammer got stuck in the pack and you continued to lap the opposing jammer, not needing to call it off to prevent the opposition’s progress – meaning the jam ran the full 2 minutes.

No Pass: A number in this column indicates if you failed to complete your initial pass. This may be due to a penalty on your initial pass, or you may have got stuck in the pack. Ideally you want 0 here.

Lead%: Works out what percentage you were Lead, when jamming. Ideally 100%.

Lead+/-: When you were lead, how many points you scored for your team, minus how many points your opposing jammer scored. You shouldn’t have a negative number here. If you do, it could be because you called it off too late when you were lead (allowing the opposing jammer to score more points than you overall in that jam), or you got a penalty(s) as Lead jammer, allowing your opposing jammer to score more than you in the full 2-minute jam.

Average Lead +/-: Average PPJ as Lead jammer. This should also, ideally, be a positive number for the same reason as above.

Now, jammer AND blocker stats:
Pts for: How many points your team got whilst you were on track (blocking OR jamming)

Pts against: How many points your opponents got whilst you were on track (blocking OR jamming)

Total +/-: The important column for this bit. This is the points differential. How many points were scored by your team whilst you were on track MINUS how many points your opponents scored whilst you were on track. This should ideally be a positive number, if your team won the game.

Typically, the winning team will have more positive numbers here, and the losing team will have more negative numbers here. A negative number doesn’t mean you’re a bad blocker though! It might just mean that your team didn’t win this game, or that your lineups did not suit the way you play. Regardless, the higher the score here, the better.

The way I like to look at this stat is a bit narcissistic, but helpful as an overall gauge of how my personal game went: if we were a team of 14 Stegs (e.g. I replace each of my teammates with a clone of myself), we would have won or lost the game by this many points. If my Total+/- score was +14, then Team Steg would have won the game by 14 points. If my score was 0 in this column, Team Steg would have drawn with the opposition. If my score here was -20, Team Steg would have lost the game by 20 points. It’s therefore a useful indicator to show well I PERSONALLY was matched against the opposition team.

(Like all stats, the ‘Team of Stegs’ interpretation is not watertight, for a million different reasons that I won’t go into now, but as an overall indicator of ‘did I play well or badly against this team’, it works pretty well.)

Now, the ‘differential’ stats – these are where stats become really useful for personal improvement (and really depressing if you felt you’ve played a bad game!)

Jammer +/-: Only people who jammed will get this stat. Losing teams will have more negative numbers here, but still, the higher the number here, the better. Higher numbers mean that as a jammer, you probably didn’t get many penalties (or, you got so many points that your penalties didn’t affect the game very much), that you were calling it off at the right time, and that you were concentrating on points DIFFERENTIAL rather than maximum amount of total points you can score. For LUM and Bench managers, these are useful scores to see who should jam against this team in future: typically, the higher the better.

In this way, we can use this stat to see whether we are jamming efficiently, by seeing if we have called it off at the right time when we were Lead. Remember, you only need to score 1 point more than your opposition to win the game. If you’re lead, it’s often better to score 4 points and call it, if your opposition jammer is close on your tail.

My personal goal, from a psychological point of view, is to score as many points as I can before the other team can score 1, and if I’m lead, call it before they have scored any – therefore guaranteeing that I will win each individual jam if I am Lead (and get no penalties). Sometimes, this means getting 0-0, even if I’m Lead. Sometimes, it’s only 4-0 when I call it. But I’d rather have 4-0 than, say, 6-2, even though the points differential is the same (+4). Like I said, purely psychological: there’s nothing more crushing for your opponents when they look at the scoreboard and see that their team’s score hasn’t changed in 3 jams

Something to note: A losing team is likely to have a lot more negative numbers in this column. Negative doesn’t necessarily mean bad though, it might simply mean that your team lost the game, and even your mega strongest jammer got a minus score, because overall she lost more jams than she won. That’s not bad playing, that just means you weren’t on the winning team this time!

Average jammer +/-: On average, per jam, how many points you won/lost. If this is positive, you did your job well!

Pivot +/-: People who wore the pivot panty will get this stat – it measures your blocking score for all the time you were wearing the pivot panty. Your blocking score is how many points your team scored whilst you were on track as PIVOT, minus how many points your opponents scored whilst you were on track as PIVOT. Higher score is better. The losing team will typically have more minus numbers. Remember, the pivot is also a blocker! Not sure why these stats remain separate. Possibly something to do with star passes?

Average pivot +/-: On average, per jam, how many points you won/lost. If this is positive, you did your job well!

Blocker +/-: Anyone who blocked will get this stat – it measures how many points your team scored whilst you were on track as a blocker, minus how many points your opponents scored whilst you were on track as blocker. Higher score is better. The losing team will typically have more minus numbers. Remember, a pivot is also a blocker! Not sure why these stats remain separate. Possibly something to do with star passes?

Average blocker +/-: on average, per jam, how many points you won. If this is positive, you did your job well!

Total +/-: This is the total number of points that were scored with you on track, minus the total number of points scored against you.

As mentioned before, the important thing to look at is not how many points you won overall, but your points DIFFERENTIAL, i.e. how many points you gained, vs how many points the opposition gained. For example, you might win 25 points as a jammer in one jam. But if your opposition scored 24, you’ve only effectively scored +1 point, and tired yourself out.

Average +/-: Overall, for the whole game, this is the average number of points that were scored with you on track, in any given jam. Doesn’t matter whether you were blocking, jamming or pivoting. This stat takes into account how many jams you played. Using the Team of Stegs analogy, this is the typical number of points Team Steg would get for each jam in the game, ish.

V.T.A.R.: (Versus Team Average Rating) – i.e., how you compared to your teammates, regardless of whether your team won or lost. I THINK this algorithm takes the whole team’s stats, and takes an average for each column (e.g. points for, points against). It then takes YOUR stats, and subtracts the team’s average scores. This then gives you an indication of where you sit compared with your teammates. This is pretty much the Team of Stegs analogy written in stat form. So, if you have a positive number, you did better than average for your team. If you have a negative number, you did below average for your team. And if you have 0, your performance was average for the whole team.

VTAR Pts For: How many points your team got whilst you were on track, minus the team average. (higher number = better)

VTAR Pts Against: How many points your opponents got whilst you were on track, minus the team average (lower number = better)

VTAR Total +/-: VTAR points for, minus VTAR points against.

VTAR Jammer Avg +/-: Performance in comparison to your team’s other jammers.

VTAR Pivot Avg +/-: Performance in comparison to your team’s other pivots.

VTAR Blocker Avg: Performance in comparison to your team’s other blockers.

VTAR Avg +/-: Average VTAR points for, minus average VTAR points against. Takes into account how many jams you played, so this is a little more meaningful than the VTAR Total +/-.


Okay, now we know what our stats mean, let’s have a look at a few scenarios:

Stats say: Your jammer score is the highest on your team, but your blocker score is really low.
This does not necessarily mean you are a bad blocker! For example’s sake, let’s assume Suzy Hotrod is the jammer on a team of brand new rookie blockers. When Suzy is jamming, she is scoring billions of points for her team, and as a result, is boosting the stats for her blockers on trackat that time. Her jammer stats are through the roof – she doesn’t even NEED those blockers, but they are basking in her stat-boosting glory!

However, when Suzy is then blocking for her rookie jammer teammate, she’s doing awesome offense, and people are flying everywhere. But Suzy’s rookie jammer still doesn’t manage to get through the pack. Suzy’s blocking stats will reflect this, by saying she had zero effectiveness as a blocker.

Stat implication: Suzy Hotrod is a great jammer and a really sucky blocker.
Reality: Suzy-jammer cannot be on track with Suzy-blocker, therefore Suzy-blocker’s stats will suck by comparison to her teammates’ blocker stats. The strength of your jammer will affect your stats as a blocker.

Obviously this is a very extreme example, but you can see that if a team has one or two star jammers, they can hugely throw the stats of each jam out of kilter. Stats are not always reliable! And, more importantly, roller derby is a TEAM game. It proves that you cannot win the game with one or two star skaters; you need a team of players who work well together. The best teams should have relatively even stats across teammates, whether the team wins or loses.

Stats say: My jammer points-per-jam score sucks!
There are a few things to look at here: 1) how many penalties did you get? 2) How much were you on track?
Penalties: Obviously, the more penalties you receive, the less you are on-track winning points. More penalties = less time scoring points. If you got a lot of jammer penalties, each powerjam you give away is going to lower the PPJ average for you, and your teammates who were on track at the time.
How much were you on track? If you jam a whole game 1-on/1-off, you are likely to have a lower PPJ score than someone who jams the occasional one, and has the explosive strength to get a whopping 25 points in one jam. Their PPJ will naturally be much higher, as this stat doesn’t account for amount of time you’re on the track.

There are thousands of potential scenarios, obviously, but these two are a good example of how you can work backwards to decipher what might’ve happened in a game in order to make your stats appear how they are. The most important thing isn’t to wear your stats like a badge of honour if you do well, or fall into a pit of depression if they’re not great. The important thing is to look at your stats across a game, or a number of games, and spot patterns. Say, you have noticed that you lose points in jams, even when you’re lead. This suggests you need to work on either: calling it off at a more strategic time, or playing a cleaner jamming game so you don’t get penalties.

I’m sure there are lots of people who can tell you lots more about your skating just from looking at your stats, but for now, I hope this is a good introduction to improving your personal game strategy using stats!

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Monumental update

I’m still here! Just been doing SO MANY derby things all my free time has been spent sleeping and doing my actual day job (booo). But stand by for the most enormous of updates!

berlin_bombshells_bear_city• WAY back in November, Petra, HellCat, Conway and I went to BERLIN to a bootcamp with the gorgeous Berlin Bombshells. I learnt how to hockey stop, and promptly forgot/couldn’t do it on our home floor. Whilst in Berlin, we stayed in Isy’s friend’s awesome converted warehouse, visited Master Blaster’s Skate shop and stroked Marylin Monroe’s furry eyebrows in Roses Bar.

 

Drying out our pads at the venue...

Drying out our pads at the venue…

 

• January saw the arrival of more brand new Fresh Meat – and their subsequent graduation in March, complete with donkey and jockey costumes… I am now both scared and impressed at the rate with which our new rookies are rocketing through minimum skills. In the absolute best way, I feel like I need to up my own game if I want to keep my place on the team, eek!

 

donkey derby

donkey derby 2

• At the end of January, five of us went to BRUGES for Derby Revolution. It was a non-stop skills-fest with coaches like Suzy Hotrod, Sarah Hipel and Mickispeedia (omg!). Amazing classes, sticky as hell concrete floor (with drains and holes to make it more exciting) and a whole ton of amazing skaters. I learnt what happens when you belly flop on concrete (ow), and that ‘intermediate’ means a lot of different things – but most importantly, that over 20 hours of skating in two days is just about the best thing ever. Doubly good as a way of breaking in new skates. This post is so late in the making that they’re actually doing their Summer Revolution RIGHT NOW, and I am incredibly sad not to be there…

That time we met Suzy Hotrod...

That time we met Suzy Hotrod…

Copyright Ian Roofthooft 2014

Copyright Ian Roofthooft 2014

• April was a particularly exciting month – Bath Roller Derby Girls went to PORTUGAL where we played Lisbon Grrrls in our very first public game. Ranked, with the brand new rule set and a proper crowd – it was such a fun game! The final score was 151-132 to Bath, which shot us into the European rankings at 260. Here are some clips from the game, as featured on Portugese youth show ‘Outdoors':

You can also hear us on BBC Radio Bristol here:

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• Following our public debut we’ve bouted a few more times, both publicly and closed. South Wales has a delicious little cluster of roller derby teams who’ve been great fun to play, and following some hard-fought games with both Portsmouth and Swansea Bs we bounced out – and back in – to the rankings, now sitting at a stable 269.

npt

• Fundraisers have been at an all time high, with pub quizzes, car boot sales, clothes swaps and film screenings, including a showing of Murderdrome (complete with zombie usherettes) and a Fresh Meat film by our very own Trevlock Holmes.

Zombie Usherettes!

Zombie Usherettes!

• May brought us the South Coast Roll, where lots of us enjoyed a day’s skate around Goodwood Motor Circuit. S’Mac Down Angel skated a marathon, just for funsies…

sc-roll

• And most recently, we’ve been getting our bootcamp on again! As well as attending Tiger Bay Brawlers’ excellent Double Threat Tour in Newport, we’ve had an introduction to reffing with Sleaze and Rollin’ Rat, and guest coaching from Team USA’s Juke Boxx…

Photo: Sam Bolderson

Double Threat Tour with Tiger Bay Brawlers. Photo: Sam Bolderson

Photo: Daisy Offer

Team Sleaze! Photo: Daisy Offer

ref training with sleaze

Rookie – and not-so-rookie zebras. A terrifying herd – pretty sure there were more refs than players!

It’s been a hell of a year so far, but no resting just yet – the end of this Summer will bring with it special event… stay tuned for details!

Oh, and here’s the treat I promised for reading all the way down. A positively adorable comic from my most favourite comic writer just now, Lucy Knisley.

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The Fresh Plow of Bath-Air

freshprinceNow this is a story all about how, my plow got flipped turned upside down. I’d like to take a minute, or as long as it takes, to tell you how I fixed the problem of impossible plates.

Iiiin West Southern England, I learnt to plow, on a pair of old skates that were plastic all-round. Chillin’ out, maxxin’, skatin’ with mates, til’ one day I thought I’d buy a pair of new plates. So with the help of my guy, and some internet dudes – I stuck a pair of Roll Lines on my rollerboots. I tried one little plow and my feet got scared and said “you’re doing it wrong – now your plow is impaired!”

I tried and I skated on them day after day, but they just wouldn’t bite the floor in the same way. I loosened the trucks, and I switched out the wheels, I dropped my butt down, and I kicked out my heels.

I whistled for some help, and when it came near, the experts said ‘the problem is the bushings I fear’. If anything, I could say that this wasn’t near, but I thought “naw forget it, I’ll try anything here!”

90 days later, I was still plowing sad; I had to do something so I called up my dad. “I need my birthday present of some money real bad; I’ll try another plate, see if that makes me rad”.

I looked and researched, and I tried a few out; Avengers felt good, but I still had my doubts. I really thought the problem was just my technique, but that vanished the second they were strapped to my feet.

I, pulled, up to a session exactly at 8, and I yelled to my teammates ‘check out ma new plates!’ I tried one little stop and the wheels screamed loud. My mojo was back, I was plowing and proud.

(I realised after writing this that my experience with plates isn’t actually that positive, in terms of a learning model. I do truly believe a good skater can work ANY equipment, with enough practise and the right technique. And I desperately want to say that four months of very dedicated training improved my plow at least a bit, and that the Roll Lines are great and wonderful in every way. But it just seems they didn’t suit me at all. They were beautiful to skate in; very responsive and smooth, and great in every other way – but despite trying every technique under the sun, I found it impossible to get any friction out of the wheels when plowing in them. The Avengers (whilst feeling obviously different from my original plastic plates) were not like this at all. I had to adjust my plowing angle, but that was it. I adapted to them pretty much instantly.)

P.s. Does anyone want to buy a pair of Roll Lines? :D

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Wikko Skates

Okay I’m a bit late to the party here, but I just had to re-post a link to this article on Rollin’ News
(Quick preview, there is a custom skate manufacturer in Helsinki who makes THESE:

wikko9

And these and these and these…)

You can also find out more about Wikko Skates on Facebook.

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Good communication or friendly fire?

Lately I’ve been finding it hard to moderate my communication on track – as games get faster and opposition seems stronger, I find myself shouting lots, and not always in the most effective way.

In the last 6 months, my internal monologue has moved from ‘don’t fall down, don’t fall down, don’t fall down, CORNER!’ to ‘lane 1, lane 3, lane 4, (don’t fall down), bridge, bridge, HUSTLE, (CORNER!)’.

Progress.

Economising communication

“Excuse me teammates, I know you may be otherwise engaged, but I could do with a little assistance up front.”

But with this comes a great big new challenge: externalising the internal monologue, and filtering it appropriately for the track – being concise, correct, calm, audible, (and polite!) all in a split second is hard. ‘Please excuse me, I’m your jammer coming past in lane 1‘ comes out differently when you’re pumped full of adrenaline and need a quick reaction.

But whilst urgent communication is important on track, so is team morale. If you get frustrated and shout aggressively at a teammate, I think it’s important to take the time to say sorry after the jam, rather than ‘DON’T DO THAT NEXT TIME’. And important to accept similar apologies from your teammates as a simple lapse in voice-control in the heat of the moment. I’ve been on both sides, and both times felt shit about being a bad teammate. We all make mistakes, but I think a quick recognition of ‘oops’ after the jam can make the difference between two people having a bad 20 seconds, and a bad whole game.

On-track feedback is something else I’ve been thinking about recently, and I’m interested to know what other leagues do. As a skater who also coaches, I find it hard to switch between the two modes in scrim sessions. I catch myself calling ‘penalty warnings’ when I’m in a pack – not to alert the refs, but to get skaters to check their play and make sure we’re not developing bad habits. In my head, it’s the right process for team learning.

In reality though, it can be kinda demoralising. It’s frustrating hearing ‘Steg, watch your forearms’ from teammates when I’m scrimming. It’s frustrating because I know they’re correct, so I check myself, feel a bit butt-hurt, but am suddenly more conscious of forearms – and I know my teammates are helping me become a better player. Overall it’s positive.

It occurred to me, though, that not everyone takes criticism in the same way. And this is my quandry: is it better to develop the mental toughness to take immediate feedback on track when it’s relevant – or should we be saving all our comments until after the jam/after the scrim, when it might feel less relevant, but can be said with the right tone of voice? It seems like a small decision for a team to make, but one that can massively effect the morale – and expectations – of teammates in training.

I also think that as a team grows with newer skaters, it’s important to be clear about what ‘appropriate’ communication on track actually means, and that everybody feels confident within the team environment to know that ‘LANE 1, GET OUTTA THE WAY’, doesn’t mean your jammer hates you, it just means they’re economising their energy for skating. And if there is feedback to be done, it should be given – and taken – in a positive way. Roller derby is an emotionally and physically tough sport; let’s build each other up, keep working harder, and optimise THE HELL out of our communication with teammates.

tin can phone

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Failure, success and Pegasus

BeFriendswithFailure0003

This isn’t a post about coping with failure. For starters this comic already did it better, and secondly I realised I’ve actually been confusing failure with ‘failure to constantly achieve’. 

I’m talking about The Derby Lull. Specifically, the unquantifiable skill wilderness (skillderness?) that exists between passing-minimum-skills and being Suzy Hotrod. How one minute you’re acing your minimums, learning a skill a week and feeling hella cool, and then suddenly BAM you’ve passed and there’s no standardised measure for success any more. Just a whole load of complicated rules and gameplay and LEFT TRANSITIONS.

It’s February now and I still can’t transition left at speed. Or hockey stop. Or do any of the things I’ve been practising my arse off at for months, with REALLY GODDAMN SLOW progression. Only it occurred to me today that I have absolutely no excuse to feel crap about these things. Of course the learning curve is going to plateau, at least until you do something about it.

Any excuse for a fabulous as fuck picture...

Any excuse for a fabulous as fuck picture…

So what can we do, short of hiring the derby Pegasus to bring back the glittery, shimmering awesomeness we felt when we learnt (and re-learnt) to plow stop?

The trick, apparently, is learning to appreciate the art of consolidation. Everyone needs time to collect what they’ve learnt, assess it, and analyze where to go from here. After lots of talking to skaters and coaches at bootcamps, online forums, and reading a whooole load, here is my selection of people’s bestest tips that have been helping me with the lull:

  • Get feedback. Talk to your coaches – and your teammates – about ways you can improve as a skater. This doesn’t just have to be skills feedback either; this can be based on attitude, gameplay, teamwork for example.
  • Set goals. Achievable, measurable goals for every single training session, scrim or bout. Want to learn to juke like that awesome jammer who always gets past you? Set yourself the goal to copy how she jukes. Practise it, a lot. Then try to work a juke in each time you scrim.
  • Get your head in the game. Really in the game. Read up on tactics in your spare time. Don’t just rely on coaches to give you strategies, work things out for yourself and look into new ways of walling, recycling, jamming. Your input will be greatly welcomed, and is important for building a stronger team!
  • Watch derby! Go to bouts, use WFTDA.tv and watch in your lunch break. Watch one skater at a time. Or watch for strategies – try to take one thing away from every bout you watch (even if it’s just ‘holy shit, that’s how to psych out a jammer.’)
  • Find a bootcamp and go to it – with team mates, or even alone if you like. Sounds weird but I tend to focus much better – and learn quicker – when I’m desperately trying to be accepted by peers I don’t know.
  • Be critical. Think back to when you learnt a hard skill, and work out what made that learning experience a success. Work out how you can apply that to a technique you’re struggling with. Even if it’s just recognising that you need to practise it 100 more times. Knowing that it’s achievable with practise will give you the push you need to keep going at it.
  • Write a list of what you want to achieve with roller derby. What skills you want to learn, in order of achievability. What goals you want to set yourself. Then work your way through that list – skip any that you like; this is your list. Keep adding to it.
  • Sweat every session. You will know when your body is pushing you to learn something new, or do something better. Remember the first time you attempted 25 in 5 and nearly coughed up a lung? Give it your all: try to get that feeling back for at least one drill every session. Effort in = results out.
  • Focus. If you’re finding something easy, get lower, go faster, do it on the other leg, do it backwards. Don’t just chat to your mate because you find this drill easy.
  • Challenge somebody else. We are derby girls, we like a bit of competition. Set each other goals – when you sprint laps, try to overtake each other, jump higher, push and encourage your teammates too!

Don’t wait for the Pegasus, BE THE PEGASUS.

Magnificent.

Magnificent.


(I realise Pegasus is a specific winged horse, but no-one knows what an alicorn or a pterippus is (including me before I Googled it). So let’s hear it for generic Pegasi! *tiny cheer*)

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Skates do not a skater make

pedal-skates-classicMy year of saving, training and researching is up – I finally have new skates! It’s exciting, it’s enthusing it’s, well… it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster actually.

Ever had that feeling where you get some new equipment, (camera/running shoes/skates etc) and you suddenly go from being elated and excited at all the new things it can do, to feeling kinda overwhelmed and like you now have to live up to your gear because EVERYONE CAN SEE YOU HAVE FANCY NEW SKATES and goddammit you better be good enough to rock them, or everyone will judge you?

Yeah. That.
(I should add that this was all dialogue in my head, not a thing that happened.)

Don’t get me wrong – I adore my new skates, now that I’ve had 2 months of getting to know them. But it was pretty different at first. Good different, in a lot of ways – metal plates respond fast. But also pretty challenging; I went from being able to pull a sharp, loud, instant-stopping plow on my old skates to just …not. My plows were completely broken – and subsequently my whole derby skating style was screwed. A bit of research and some excellent Facebook help suggested that technique was likely at fault, and suddenly I was back to square one. It made me realise two very important things: 1) Not being able to stop is awful and scary (Fresh Meat, I have a whole new load of respect for you – I’d been forgetting what it felt like to be honestly scared for your life when learning stops from speed) – and 2) pretty much every useful derby technique involves an element of plowing.

I also learnt pretty quickly that high-end equipment does not necessarily fix problems, although it can emphasise strengths once you’ve nailed a technique.

Anyway, fast forward through 2 months of quiet frustration and trying to convince myself I hadn’t wasted loads of money…  After a difficult closed bout and a session of tripping over *everything*, I was sprinting out my frustration when a little glimmer of magic happened. My plow made a tiny squeak. And then it squeaked a little more. And then my plow on my right foot started getting decent bite and holy crap I was stopping. My plow’s not quite back yet, but I have newfound confidence that determination and ruthlessly practising WILL get me there; I have to stop being scared of failing, scared of people judging me, scared of my SKATES, and just keep skating.

So that’s my lesson for today: even if it takes over 50 hours of training time to get just one skill back, a little bit, stay positive, keep trying, and goddammit, keep skating!

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Bushings – or, how you can revolutionise your skating for under a tenner.

Equipment snobs. We all know one. I am sometimes one, unwittingly. But this isn’t a post about having awesome skates with mithril lining and adamantium plates. Nope, this is about bushings, or, how one small (cheap) change to my skate equipment hugely affected my rate of learning and style of skating, from completely raw meat until now, a year and a bit later. (I should point out here that I have basically zero disposable income, so anyone looking for expensive solutions to their skate troubles, look away now or get gored by the Narwhal of Frugal Skate Maintenance.)

narwhal

About 4 weeks into my fresh meat I realised I’d made a brutally persistent enemy. CORNERS. I’d built up sufficient balance to go forwards at a decent pace, but corners were terrifying – I just couldn’t get enough turn to go round them without risking flying off track. I didn’t even realise this was the problem until coach Isy kindly took me aside and loosened my trucks. Within 2 hours of training, my skating style changed from apprehensive-robot to wobbly-humanoid. And within two sessions I could plow and sticky-skate pretty much out of the blue. No expensive equipment, no new wheels, just a few turns of the truck nuts.

A year later, and I’ve learnt lots more about skate equipment, including the missing link in my skate frustration: bushings.

Just like wheels, bushings come with durometer ratings: e.g. Suregrip ones range from 72a (real soft) to 93a (hard). The colour corresponds to the hardness, but the colours differ across manufacturers.

Bushings (also called cushions) are the little rubber cylinders that go between your skate plate and trucks. Their job is to flex as you lean on your skates, which allows your axles and wheels to tilt, enabling you to turn left and right. As you might expect, the more flexible or ‘squishy’ the cushion, the more easily your skates will turn. Stock skate setups (particularly for beginner/intermediate skates) will typically ship with freakin’ hard bushings, because they are more stable and can give you the feeling of greater control. Ace, right? Well, sort of.

Let’s take this stock setup, and analyse it. You can go fast in a straight line, and your wheels are always facing forwards, allowing them to turn continuously. Little weight shifts will not really turn your skates to the left and right. Cool. Stable.

Now think about a roller derby track. It’s oval-shaped. You’re turning like, all the time. So you have a few options. You can keep these hard bushings, and lean like fuck to turn round corners, just so you can be stable on the straightaways. Except every time you hit a corner you have to sloooooow right down so you can turn enough. Second option: loosen your trucks a little bit. Just a few half-turns of the nuts on the bottom of the trucks can give you the turn you need to make those corners. Problem now is that the ‘snap’ you get coming out of corners is reduced, and it’s harder to get back to your usual skating stance on the straightaway. Your trucks can also feel a little ‘wobbly’ underfoot.

This is actually a skateboard truck, but the idea is the same.

This is actually a skateboard truck, but the setup is the same. A common setup option is for each truck to have a cylindrical cushion (nearest the boot), and then a conical cushion as its partner (nearest the floor, with the point of the cone pointing at the floor, and the smaller cushion cup (^”top cup washer”) also on the side nearest the floor.

Which is where bushings come in. Softer bushings have a similar effect to looser trucks, except without the wobble and the rattle. And they spring you back again after a corner. Just like wheels, bushings come with durometer ratings: e.g. Suregrip ones range from 72a (real soft) to 93a (hard). You can also get ‘conical’ bushings. These are apparently better for the ‘snap’ after corners, and will typically make a pair with a cylindrical cushion. (<< see image for explanation). And just like wheels, it is common for heavier skaters to prefer harder cushions – but like everything in roller derby, it’s a) relative and b) personal preference.

bushings1Anyway, this is all great for going round corners and all, but my favouritist most magical thing about softer bushings is how they can revolutionise your stopping power and agility on track.
Imagine you are skating in a straight line, leaning on the insides (arches) of your feet. Your weight is pressing on your 4 inside wheels, which squishes your bushings and turns the axles so your toes are pointing inwards. Hey presto, you’re making a plow. Now imagine this on ridiculously soft bushings. The tiniest little lean inwards will give you a plow with minimal effort. Now expand the movement. Go fast and do a big, wide plow shape, pressing down on your 4 inside wheels. The super soft bushings are forcing your trucks to push your wheels into the exaggerated position below, with minimal effort. Now this wheel position just so happens to be great for stopping without a) sliding like a motherfucka, or b) throwing you to the ground…

bushings2

This is totally meant to signify two skates doing a plow, but it’s 3am and Photoshop won’t start up… Apologies.

Mega soft bushings might be a little too much to start with, but they exaggerate the point. A lot of people don’t actually like the ‘squirrely’ feel of suuuuper soft bushings, which is why it’s a good idea to try out different ones to see what suits, or taper down through them slowly. (At £10ish for a full set it’s not a major expense, unlike, say, new plates etc, which can often be the temptation if you want ‘more agile skates’.)

Speaking of which, agility. Whilst skate style is immensely a personal thing, it fair to say that agillity is largely centred around being able to jump around, stop, and change direction quickly. And, as you can imagine, being able to turn your wheels with minimal effort has an effect on your agility. Not just turning, but tiny plows when you’re juking or dancing through a pack. And not just for jammers! Blockers need to be great on lateral cuts and blocks – guess what, they help with that too. Minimal lean for maximum turn. I am by no means saying that soft cushions will solve all your derby problems, or that softer is right for everyone, but they made a massive difference for me – and are a good first step before spending a whole load of money on new plates or wheels.

P.s. while I remember, if you get conical bushings, ALSO BUY SMALL CUSHION CUPS! They are the metal washer things that sit on top of your bushings. If you’re changing from the manufacturers cylindrical cushions to the bottom 4 of your cushions being conical (^^see the skateboard truck pic) no-one ever tells you that you also need 4 of the smaller cushion cups too! They’re like, £3 for a set but really annoying to wait for in the post when your conical bushings have arrived without them.

Bear in mind you can also mix and match cushion hardnesses for super-customisable turney-ness. Typically, the softer cushion would go nearer the floor, but that’s not bible, just seems to make sense that the bit near your foot is more stable.

72a = soft = SUPER TURNEY

93a = hard = SUPER STABLE AND STRAIGHT

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“Ugh, zombie blood stains like a bitch.”

AMAGAAD BRDG HAD A HALLOWE’EN SCRIM! And my kitten naughtily ate half a bowl of cinema blood and got green paint in her fur and was the most ominous drooling nightmare zombie kitten you could ever imagine. And then 30 rollergirls had ghost and spider cakes and hit each other a lot and there were zombie brides and Nan’imosity even made a splicer pipe.

Look away now if blood makes you queasy, but make sure you at least glance the exceptionally badass golden skull awards HellCat made. Ace.

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Roller Grrrls comic: Star Wars, you just got one-upped

Roller derby is EVERYWHERE. There I was, casually trying not to lose all self-control over Batman panties and Boba Fett prints at the Bath Comic & Sci-Fi Weekender, when OMGROLLERDERBY happened again.

Not only did Dave, Barry and I have a lovely chat with a fellow named Dan from the Portsmouth league, it turns out that Gary Erskine of Marvel and DC fame is also responsible for the about-to-be-released Roller Grrrls comic.

Steg and Gary Erskine

When the best thing about a photo is neither Ewoks nor Tiny Jabba…

After talking us through his thoughts around the comic (which sounds excellent by the way), he showed us the Roller Grrrls Sketchbook. The concept sketches and initial drawings for the comic are fantastic; this is no brief insight into the sport of roller derby, this is a project that manages to capture the spirit, personalities and issues that surround roller derby as a lifestyle. For a sport that is all too easy to stereotype, Erskine seems to have dug that critical bit deeper and put together something that is meaningful on and off track – and not just to roller derby fans. Plus it looks awesome; the style is so well-suited to the content – these girls are real superheroes.

Promo from the sketchbook...

Promo from the sketchbook

roller-grrrls-magazine

Sketchbook achieved!

I can’t wait for the release of the full comic later this year – in the mean time, check out the Facebook page here. The Roller Grrrls sketchbook is available to buy here for the very reasonable sum of £5, but given the (gorgeous) heavy stock and consequent postage, your team may benefit from a bulk purchase…

Finally, big salute to Gary and his wife Mhairi for self-funding this exciting project in a thirsty UK market. This is exactly the kind of thing British roller derby needs!

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