The 15th figure


April 15, 2014 by alinedecat

A team roster is made of 14 skaters, that, we all agree on. But does that mean it is made of 14 players? Who do you consider being part of a team, and not only symbolically? This is the questionning that we recently came up with in my team, and it was actually interesting to share and maybe have other derby people’s opinion about it.

The exact position of a bench coach and a line-up manager, regarding their team is actually pretty blurry. Or more accurately, opinions about it may vary. So, are they part of the team or aren’t they?


Me as line-up manager for Blackland Teenage Terrors (with Madame Denfer #23 as bench coach) Picture by Thomas Pihl


As part of a league, the first reaction to this question is always to consider that “of course, they are part of the team!”, because we all know how precious they are (I think everyone will agree on that), but that is more likely the answer to a question that meant something like “are they family?” or “could we be as successful without them?”. Same answer would probably be given for your officials, or freshmeats, or injuried skaters, but as a matter of fact, during a bout, they are obviously not playing, which means they aren’t part of the team I am talking about here.

I have had the opportunity to be a bench coach a few times in my life, but mainly for my own team when I was offskate for a few months, and for our junior team, and I am currently still in charge of line-up managing for our junior team. And I can say, both positions definitely need a lot of experience and hard work, and also:

  • Knowing the rules
  • Knowing the skaters, their strengths and weaknesses
  • Knowing your strategies
  • Clear communication skills
  • Having the ability to adapt and react to a given situation
  • Having mental selfcontrol

Now that is funny. As a skater, this is also part of what I am aiming for. And how could a bench coach and a line-up manager possibly work on these elements?

  • Attending practices
  • Watching the skaters work together and take notes
  • Watching team footages
  • Watching opposing team footages
  • Watching top team footages
  • Study rules over and over

And, oh yes, as a skater, I also try to do all of these.

So, the requirements don’t make the player, of course. But you can’t deny the bench coach and the line-up manager are asked a lot of things in common with skaters. But then why questionning?

And that’s the thorny part: they have no skates.

We could leave it to that, and just decide that a player must have skates on to be considered as so. But derby loves to get around the rules, right?

In my opinion and experience, I have seen bench staff members litterally lead their team to victory… or defeat. For some bouts, I have even been amazed by one of them more than any actual skater of their team, for his or her excellent communication skills, reactivity, mental strength, strategy and vision of the game, and those are some of the most important qualities in Roller Derby.

Of course, they don’t have to be female in female Derby, nor male in Merby, and of course not juniors in Junior Derby. But they’re presented on the roster, they usually have a name and number, and, maybe the most important point; they can be captain or alternate. When I said earlier that being offskate could end the debate, the ability of being a captain also could, in the opposite way of thinking.

If you want to make things clear for yourself and/or for your team, here is how we defined our position regarding this, with this simple question:

We said yes, without a doubt.

Please give us your opinion and comments!


3 thoughts on “The 15th figure

  1. Arno says:

    Hello to all of you,

    I will try to make myself as clear as possible in the following words. (My english is a little like a mexican donkey, sometimes it goes and sometimes not, often because of alcohol).

    So, I will speak as a coach and as a son of a coach. I coach for now perhaps 2 years the Liège roller derby team in Belgium and my father is a basket-ball coach well knowned in Belgium.

    So, yes! Indeed! The coach is a complete part of a team, as I’ve seen it during long years to watch the different team my father manage in differents leagues, and as I know live it. And, it’s in a lot of point similar to a quastion people ask me about classical music “What’s the role of the maestro? Why is he there if musicians can play the music that is ritten down on the sheets in front of them? He makes no sound so, why the hell is he there?”

    And the answear is, for both questions, maestro and coach, very the same for me. He is a sort of catalyzer, a vector to concentrate everyone energy in a group movement, in a “together victory”.

    And he is suppose to help all the girls in a team to be equal. The first time I saw a roller derby training, it was coached by one of the player. And it was very difficult for her to have the autority needed to manage the all team, just for one training. So, I think that yes, coach, bench manager, bench coach, what ever the name are part of the team, but not really of the family. They have to keep a certain distance to be sure to save that kind of authority he or she need to manage the team and sometimes shout on girl and it will not be taked personnaly.

    I don’t think I’m very clear, because even in french it’s hard to explain. But for me, yes, they diserve to be thanked, but perhaps not as MVP or prices like that. The work a coach accomplish have to be seen on a long period, not just on a match.

  2. Great read, thank you! As a coach I am obviously bias, but I have seen many a game both won and lost because of the bench coaches. I just had an article published in 5 on 5 that spoke on coaching and I hit on a few of the things you mentioned above. I personally think that all skaters should bench coach/manage lineups at least once because it gives them good experience and a better respect for the “job”.

  3. Max says:

    Great article! I always feel that the bench staff are fully a part of the team but I’d never award them – or vote for them – to be MVP. Mainly because it’s so hard to see what influence the opposition bench have during a game. You don’t see or hear the team speeches and hear their instructions!

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I'm Aline Decat #61, skater for Gotham Girls Roller Derby and Team Belgium Roller Derby. I am also coach for Track Advantage - coaching company and I founded the Blackland Rockin'K-Rollers and Europe's first junior league, the Blackland Teenage Terrors.

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