Roller Derby; ‘A newish coach in a new sport’…my journey in developing as a coach


About the Author: Maha El Nasser

“I’m an American transplant in the UK.  I’ve had quite a few years to try quite a few sports.  The sports that I find myself in love with, I have been coaching in varying capacities over the last 10 years.  I started by herding 5 year olds through a capoeira roda, got my Level 2 in coaching rowing, and now roller derby.  I love roller derby because there is no standard skater.  The women who are successful in roller derby today do not fit into one age bracket or size bracket or body shape bracket, even as the sport athleticizes itself away from the traditional counter culture of its original revival.  

I am the Head Coach of the only recreational roller derby league in Yorkshire.  Which means I’m in charge of a team of coaches and their development.  Of the lesson planning.  Of designing and running assessments.  Of making sure that 52 adult women learn roller derby, skate hard, and have fun twice a week.”

Here is my first blog for the FCN:


roller derby 2

As a newish coach in a new and still developing sport, my coaching training has been a combination of scanning the internet and blogs and youtube to develop my repertoire of coaching techniques.

As with any skill, knowing how to do something (even being amazing at something) does not necessarily mean you can teach something.  Knowing one way to explain something doesn’t mean that you will be able to transfer that skill to everyone.  Different words, examples, and approaches resonate with different athletes.

The techniques of coaching, I understand.  I’ve coached enough sports to know how to approach new skills, manage behaviour, rally engagement, adjust training plans, and break down big skills into little skills.  I can always improve, but I know what I’m aiming for.  What I’m missing is all the different words that help translate the little skills into success for each learner.

For me, being a good coach is knowing what one thing to say to someone to make a new skill “click” in their head.  Yet, over and over I hear myself saying “A lot of this is just about practice.  You do it enough and you’ll find that place where it works.”  If that’s not the most frustrating thing to hear as a new skater, I don’t know what is.  Maybe “Get lower”?


I want to be the coach that is always able to say “it’s all about practice, but try such and such” and make the whole process move along that much more quickly.

Until now, there’s been no formal roller derby coaching training in the UK.  There have been opportunities to fly to the States to attend coaching conferences but money is tight and so is time off work.  You can attend “boot camps” and watch others coach, but they don’t always focus on how to bring it back down to basic skills.  So, I’ve taken to listening.  Listening to the other coaches.  Listening to the newer skaters.  Listening when I’m training with my team. Listening during drills.  Listening when they ask each other question.  Listening when they dekit.  Listening when they try to blame the floor.  Or their wheels.  Listening all the time.  To the point that I might be getting a bit creepy.

Every single person in my league will explain how they do a skill differently.  They will all be thinking something different about their bodies, something different about their skates, something different that _they_ need to focus on to make the skill work.  Or work better.  And each small piece of information might be an “aha” moment that I can use to translate a skill for somebody else.RebelRoses_teamphoto_rollerderbyonfilm

Gathering a breadth of knowledge that goes beyond how I learned to skate will not be an overnight endeavour.  But every time I borrow, pilfer, and repeat a thought or a focus to a newer skater, it starts to embed.  And every time I hear that “click”, I love my job a little bit more.

-Maha El Nasser #56, Leeds Roller Derby



A little bit about Leeds Roller Dolls: 

Leeds Roller Dolls began as Yorkshire’s first women’s roller derby league in 2007.  We’ve expanded from one (nearly) team of women to a full club with two competitive women’s teams, , a junior league, a recreational league, an officials development league.  We even have a brother league – Aire Force 1.  The club is run by the members as a cooperative and the coaching staff for our 10 sessions a week are all skaters, primarily competitive team members who balance their own training with that of the club.



  1. This was an excellent blog! As a relatively new derby coach, I’ve aimed to take a similar approach to the one you described here. Listening as intently as possible to the skaters in my sessions [whether they’re speaking directly to me or not] is something I’ve found to be invaluable–and it typically doesn’t receive as much emphasis as mentoring from more advanced coaches does. I’ve definitely found that takeaways from accomplished coaches and input from the skaters on the receiving end of your coaching are both essential pieces of the pie with regards to improvement. Thanks for writing, I look forward to reading more!


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