Coaching the Rec League
My club has three levels of skater; they are not totally divided by ability. Instead we divide by intent.
We have our junior league, 8 -17 year olds, who are all learning to skate and play the game. We don’t have enough of them to compete yet. When we do, we’ll probably have to change the structure. But for the moment, it’s working.
We have our competitive league, 18 years all the way to 40 years, who know the game and commit four nights a week to training and cross training and doing admin for the league. They represent our club in league tables and for the time they’re in competitive league, they find that roller derby is the be all and end all. And if it isn’t, you lose traction fast.
And then we have our recreational league, 18 years to past 50 years, a mix of abilities and commitment to the sport. Some folks are there in passing. They have their eyes set on the competitive league and the rec league is a step in their ladder. Some have already spent five years devoting their lives to roller derby. Now they just want to skate and relax. Some really just want a sport they can come to a couple times a week or a couple times a month, maybe to lose weight, maybe to socialise. No pressure skating. And some are wide-eyed, wobbly and have absolutely no intentions other than to get through the next hour without falling on their coccyx again.
I coach this latter rabble and I love them..
I feel a lot of guilt about not coaching our competitive league – we need coaches. It’s a dilemma I bandy about every time a plaintive call for more coaching support emerges from the training committee.
As a competitive skater I bend to the negative side of realist. I dissect errors and pull out things I’ve done wrong. I self-deprecate when it’s warranted and I spend a lot of time being overly aware of needing to improve my mental game. That feels like a never-ending battle.
As a competitive coach, I find I do the same thing. Never mind the terrible mind games of having to coach your own teammates, that deserves a whole post of its own. When I coach skaters who will be competing and I watch their game, I see what needs to be improved. I coach them the way that I coach myself, by trying to make everything better. But what is understood by a constant stream of “try this and that and this and that” is a feeling that nothing is right. I transfer my own self-analysis onto others; my positivity is secondary and my focus is improvement. Because you can always get better.
As a recreational coach, my brain switches. The end game is different. The end game is individual to each skater and I can tailor how I coach to each individual. I can push and cajole and support and applaud and help everyone get to where they want to be as a skater. I’m not setting the objectives and I didn’t write that end goal. There are fewer metrics by which we measure our successes, which makes each success feel more valuable in its own right, rather than just a constant step up a scale which always has another step. Success isn’t a score or a tournament invitation or a ranking. Success is a feat, a feeling, a moment.
I’m not saying I don’t value the competitive skating context. I thrive on competition and as a skater I would not want to be anywhere else other than trying to skate better and play better and be better. And I’m not saying that rec league skaters don’t feel failure or need measurable goals. Ohhh they do. But who I am as a coach is so much more the kind of coach I want to be when I can step back from the intensity of the competition and focus on the thrill of the game. It might change when I am no longer a competitive skater, but, for the moment, coaching is my skate break from the constant self-analysis and my own personal inability to step out of that critical space.
In coaching the recreational league, it keeps me grounded to the joy I find on wheels. It gives me balance.
Bio: “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.”