Coaches are teachers. Most teachers get their education in the classroom and learn how to teach through years of training under professionals and real time experience in the classroom. Most coaches get their education on the field or the track and they learn how to coach informally while working under other coaches and through trial and error. Although neither is a better way to get experience than the other, teachers do benefit from learning methods of teaching that have been proven to work. Teachers approach every subject that they will teach from the perspective that regardless of the content, there are proven methods that should be used while teaching. Coaches almost approach coaching backwards when compared to trained teachers- they have content and strategy about their sport, and have to make sure that they coach to the athletes properly if they want their ideas to get across.
Many coaches will eventually develop a style of coaching that is unique to them and that style will inevitably be influenced by their personal experience working with athletes and running practice. This was the case for me, without a formal background in coaching, or teaching for that matter, I started coaching sports and had to create my own personal method of coaching in order to do so. Over the years, by trial and error, I became the coach that I am today.
When I was about 10 years into coaching rowing I listed all of the rules I coached by and my key ideas
I’ve always felt an obligation to share my ideas about coaching with others so in 2010 I compiled all of my coaching ideas, which I referred to as “concepts”, into a manual called “Coaching Roller Derby Notes”. I made the manual available to the public and coaches still tell me that they reference the first and second additions. When I first started writing this book I didn’t feel that the eleven concepts were deserving of having their own section. I felt that I had outgrown them, they were a steppingstone for me and thus should be referenced in the book when applicable, but not presented as a package deal.
Since starting this book, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided that I want to take you, the reader, on a journey and as part of that journey I’d like you to be exposed to my ideas in the order that I created them. I want you to not only learn about my ideas, but also gain as much insight as possible into why I recommend them, and when and how they became important to me. Molly and I decided that not only should my original 11 concepts have their own section in which they are presented in their original format, now it seem like the only appropriate way to start the book.
To give you a reference of where I was coming from when I compiled these ideas, it was in October of 2010. I put them together for the attendees of a class I lead at Rollercon, the largest derby convention in the world. I was 29 years old; I’d been coaching rowing for 10 years and derby for 7 years. I had just played my final game with TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls and was months away from trying out for Texas Rollergirls in January of 2011.
Below is the exact replica of the abbreviated version of the original document I made available to the public. Before you read the eleven ideas that I thought were most important for being a good coach and leading a strong team, I want you to jot down 11 ideas of your own. Once you’ve done this, and then read what I thought, it should be interesting for you to compare and contrast my list to yours.
Hello Everyone! November 2010
This is the abbreviated version of the notes I have compiled on coaching. They are specifically about derby, but really these ideas are universal to many sports. These are my insights and I claim responsibility for them. Read them. Go at them. Try them. Prove them right! Prove them wrong! Let me know what works for you or your league! I have made many great decisions while training, coaching and captaining derby. I have also made some very poor decisions. The good news for y’all is that you get to read about what has worked best for me and the athletes and coaches I have trained. If you are interested in the extended version please let me know.
Concept I: We are all Unique!
Each skater is a unique individual who will need to learn in their own style at their own pace. As derby is a team sport, the coach/trainer/captain will need to perfect the skill of teaching to skaters who have a diverse range of learning styles and who are most likely at different levels in their ability.
Concept II: Humans are Limited Capacity Processors! Humans are Limited Capacity Processors. This basically means that we can only take in so much information before we are at “capacity.” What happens when we reach capacity? We need to absorb what we have learned before we can learn anything new.
At practice, the coach/trainer/captain must do their best to teach just the right amount of information which can often be challenging as each athlete will vary in the amount of information they can absorb.
Concept III: Multitasking! Eeek!!!
Although we live in the age of multitasking studies have shown that humans are not actually that great at doing multiple tasks at once. Why do I mention this? Because playing derby is basically multitasking. The following recommendations compliment both Concept I and II.
How to teach multitasking to non-multitaskers:
When teaching a skill break it down into small steps: very small steps.
Build on ideas by starting with a basic concept and keep adding to it, slowly and step by step.
Repeat, repeat, and repeat.
Remind athletes of what the main objective is throughout practice. For example, while doing a blocking drill ask, “How do you win a derby game?” implying that practicing the drill will help lead to that goal.
So far, we have discussed a few key ideas: we are each unique in how we learn, humans can only learn so much and we are not that great at multitasking. Although the above ideas are all true and important, they may only be put to use in learning environments in which the athlete/student may blossom. Learning environments that tend to be the most constructive are those in which athletes feel safe and comfortable. Elements of trust and respect must be incorporated in your league’s training program and must be a prevalent part of the coach-athlete relationship.
Concept V: Your Training Program must Compliment your League
If your league is still designing its training program, you may consider a dynamic that is similar to your league structure.
***Regardless of the structure of your training program outside trainers and training camps will help your league develop new skills/strategies/concepts and stay in the loop.
Concept VI: Unified and Happy Teams Win
Things to keep in mind when building a unified team:
Coaches/trainers/captains should never show that they have a favorite team/skater.
Teams that touch one another (slaps on the back/ass, pats on the shoulder, putting hands in the middle) tend to perform better on game day.
Call skaters by their names. If your coach/trainer/captain is not good with names, make sure skaters have their names on their helmet or shirt while at practice. This is especially important with fresh meat- know the names of the skaters you are training.
Have a good attitude. The flow of practice depends on the trainer and the skaters/athletes having good energy. If the coach/trainer/captain is in a good constructive mood, they will pass that positive energy on to the skaters.
Remember most skaters join roller derby to have FUN. Yes, fun.
A reminder mentioned before, the coach/trainer/captain should take time to exchange information/feedback with skaters/athletes while at practice.
Concept VII: Focus on what you have rather then what you don’t have
If your league/team is having a hard time increasing your number of skaters my recommendation is that you focus on the skaters that you do have and not the skaters that you are lacking. If you have a league/team of 50, but only 20 skaters come to practice regularly, it sounds like you have a very strong team of 20. Do not ignore the fact that 30 skaters consistently do not come to practice, but don’t put all your energy into trying to get them to attend.
Concept VIII: Skills/characteristics that can be taught v. those that cannot be taught The previous idea leads us into this next one, and pertains to personality traits/work ethic/skills that can be taught v. those that must come naturally to the skater. This idea is important, especially when your league/team has tryouts and you are interviewing potential skaters.
Any skater/athlete can learn to skate fast, have endurance, agility, awareness in the pack, skater skills, transitions, blocks, etc. These skills are teachable.
Not every skater/athlete will learn how to have dedication, desire, patience, or how to be a team player and come to practice.
Concept IX: Have Realistic Expectations
Both the coach/trainer/captain and the skater/athlete must have realistic expectations and goals that are attainable. Unrealistic expectations/goals can lead to a skater/athlete quitting before they realize their potential or a coach/trainer/captain becoming frustrated with the skaters/athletes. Also, remember Concept I? Each skater/athlete is a unique individual who will have their own personal goals. Because derby is a team sport, it will be necessary for skaters to maintain their personal goals while working toward their league/team’s goals.
Concept X: Being Challenged is Fun
As we have discussed above, most athletes point to fun as the reason for playing sports. Behind fun, performing at their maximum ability is the second reason most athletes participate in sport. With this in mind it is important that the coach/trainer/captain incorporate enjoyment into practice. Now, this does not mean that practice needs to be laid back and easy- for many people being challenged is fun. See if you can make your practice a perfect combination of fun and challenging.
Concept XI: Winning is Uncertain, Playing Good Derby is Not
I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is if your league/team incorporates some of the above concepts into your training program, you might win or continue to beat the competition. Now, for the bad news… you could also lose. Losing, like winning, is a big part of being a competitor, but your chances of losing are greater as there is really only one winner in most competitions. Thus, your eyes must focus on a goal that is greater than winning: playing good derby.