They often come in droves, especially in January. They are weebly. They’ve often never had skates on before. They need attention and nurturing and development. They are the future of the club, or some of them are. The ones that hang on in there. The ones that rise to the top of the determination pile.
How does your club manage their new skaters? Are they welcomed one by one and thrown in with everyone else, left to teeter at the side with an assigned buddy who occasionally leaves their own drills to suggest trying a knee fall? Do you have set intakes where you invite them en masse, give them a good few hours of “this is how you skate” and then shuffle them through the next few weeks of skills? Do you have a set programme or a set league, with their own coaches and their own curriculum?
It will all depend on the size of your club, how much resource you’ve got, how much money you’ve got, how desperate you are for new skaters to fill in the ranks. Different systems work for different clubs and they all have their merits and disbenefits. At the end of the day though, all clubs produce skaters. And skaters, no matter the system, will all develop at different rates. But who coaches these skaters?
In a lot of the clubs I have worked with, it tends to be the next level up on the hierarchy. The not quite as new skaters and the B- or C- teamers that take responsibility for coaching and cultivating the incoming. A-team skaters coach the A-team and sometimes the B-team. B-team coaches the C-team. C-team does the fresh meat wrangling with the occasional guest star appearance from an A-team jammer when there’s a shout out for session cover. The typical coaching development trajectory puts the newest coaches with the newest skaters.
But does that make sense?
Shouldn’t your best coaches be teaching the new skaters? Wouldn’t you expect that new skaters need the most support and the most expertise?
Consider this – you start teaching plow stops on the first day (well, we do anyway). It’s fundamental. It’s necessary. It’s the most difficult skill to master when you’ve not been on skates before.
When skaters try plow stops for the first time they will all, every single one of them, struggle. And when they struggle, they will all, every single one of them, be struggling for completely different reasons.
Experienced coaches can help isolate why they’re struggling and while it might seem like simple adjustments, it can make a massive difference to skater progression.
Yes, we need good coaches all around, but when you’ve only got a few and you need to apportion them out, remember experienced skaters have already learned to understand their body and to assess and make their own adjustments. They need reminders and observations and tips. They need strategic direction and packwork. A lot of this can be provided by the team. And, let’s be honest, your best coaches are probably skating for that team and providing feedback in different ways.
I’m not saying that the best coaches are the best skaters, but the best coaches tend to be folks that have been around awhile, have seen successes and failures and understand how skating works. They have confidence in what they know and they have experience to draw on. Often new coaches are still in the “figuring things out” phase. Figuring out how to explain something. Figuring out how to put a plan together. Figuring out why on earth that skater just won’t point her toes in and not realising it’s because she’s not got enough flexibility in her hip. New skaters need someone who’s got it figured out (well, at least a bit…).
New skater coaching should not be a “throw away” or ad hoc. It should be just as structured and supported as your team coaching. It might mean that you put a lot of resource into skaters that don’t stay, but actually, if you make learning to skate easier for them, likelihood is they’ll stick around a bit longer.
Bio: Maha is an American born Roller Derby coach now based in the UK and is also a qualified rowing coach. She is the Head Coach of the only recreational Roller Derby League in Yorkshire and is in charge of a team of coaches, ensuring they develop their planning and delivery skills as coaches.