I’ve been playing roller derby since 2009 but since 2013 I’ve been coaching the Bonebreakers Roller Derby Bern Since then I have felt like a New Yorker cartoon. A geared-up derby athlete standing on a deserted island labeled Switzerland. I’m waving her arms frantically at a small plane on the horizon. The caption, “HELP! Over here!! I’m over here!!!!”
The Rule 56 Roller Derby Coaching Summit heard my S.O.S. They plucked me off my deserted island and dropped me into Leeds for a weekend. I was there with pen in hand to take ALL the notes, learn ALL the things and get answers to ALL my coaching questions.
While I expected my weekend to be full of “ah-ha!” moments, I felt like with every session I was learning or being reminded of something profound.
I had moments of “oh yes, I AM doing that. YAY I’m a coach!”, immediately followed by other moments where I thought, “oh I should do that it would make me a better coach to my team.” Everything I heard placed a new tool in my coaching toolbox.
I sat in session after session being validated a coach but also being given a way to make my team better.
From Smarty Pants explaining that coaching was an exchange, your team gives to you as you give to them to Ballistic Whistle reminding everyone in his Explorative coaching session that “there’s no point being the best player at training if you’re not trying to make your team the best in the world.” Or the reminder that you are a bus driver and your team are the passengers and that while they are setting the course, it’s your job as a coach to get them where they want to go.
My biggest takeaway from the weekend happened during a session titled “Competition and the key goal.”, lead by Nadia Kean (aka Smarty Pants.) My team is at a point where they are bouting regularly but have yet to win a game. Before every bout someone claims their pregame goal is “to win”. While I knew on one level this was a great goal I also knew this was not specific enough. After this session, I knew how to teach my team to set better, clearer goals, and that this would help lead us to a win.
Smarty Pants reminded me that thinking isn’t “one size fits all” in roller derby. All my players think differently, approach game day differently and winning versus not losing versus playing well all mean different things to different players. As a coach, it’s my job to teach my players how to play in the way that is best for them, not in the style that is best for me. I need to work with their habits. Ask why when they keep doing something I’ve told them not to. Encourage them to try, to trust and if they need you to set up a safety net of commands such as “stay with, come, hold” so you can reign them in lovingly.
Then it happened, the moment where I got a bit misty-eyed. Smart Pants reminded me that being given the title of “coach” was a privilege. It was a privilege to put on my skates and facilitate a players enjoyment of roller derby. That even in moments where we might be falling out of love with the sport that we are entitled to nothing in roller derby. It’s all a privilege and we should all be grateful for the opportunity to put on our skates.
I left Leeds with an overflowing tool box of coaching tips and tricks and A renewed sense of knowing what I was doing as a coach. Best of all, I left with a sense of gratitude for the sport I coach. I am privileged that the Bonebreakers want me to be their coach and I will always be grateful to Rule 56 for reminding me of that.
Tatiana Warkentin (Jam Buster), years coaching 3.5, years playing 7.5, from Bonebreakers Roller Derby Bern in Bern Switzerland.