The long way to the Minimum Skills (and some shortcuts)


October 16, 2014 by alinedecat

A new schoolyear has begun, a new season, and for most leagues, that also means a freshmeat day, with hopefully loads of freshmeats, eager to hit that track (among other things).

Now, the one question I heard most coming from new recruits -and I’m still never sure how to answer to remain realistic but yet not discouraging- is clearly “how long will it take before I can play?”.

Picture by Vincent Steinier.

Picture by Vincent Steinier.

Now, I think there is no way to answer that question, with even only medium accuracy. And it’s actually no surprise, since it depends on so many things, like age, experience in skating-related sports, health, shape, will, experience in other sport, personal life etc etc.

I personally estimate the time, for someone starting from zero, in between 400 and 700 hours of skating to reach a correct skating level for playing roller derby. But once again, this is no exact number, just a general idea, and then a pretty discouraging one, usually.

But what I can do, is give some paths to help you get those minimum skills way faster than just by showing up to practice.

1. Do other sports. Even not skating related in any way. There are so many things from other sports you can use in derby. Think about it; the agility and footwork (dance, tap dance, gymnastics…) power and reactivity (athletics, basketball, tennis…) taking and giving hits (rugby, american football), and I’m not even mentioning the team spirit you will amply use in roller derby.

2. Wear your skates as much a possible. Yes, even watching a movie in your couch or sitting at your desk. Why? Because to master agility, you first have to master the skate itself, like it was part of yourself. You have to be aware of the size, the weight, the shape, the mobility of what you henceforth want to become a part of you.

The idea of a skilled skater is a skater that doesn’t even think about her skates. You too can forget them, at least when you are not skating. It’s a first step.

3. Know the sport. Watch games. Know the rules. Inform yourself. It’s much easier to define what you are aiming for. Or why you have to master that skill. It also helps mentally a lot to know where you are going to.

4. Skate often rather that much at once. I clearly recommend that newbies skate 30 to 60 minutes every day instead of attending a 3 hours practice once or twice a week.

First, sleeping helps you integrating what you have been working on A LOT (students should second me on that). During your sleep, your brain classifies all informations gathered during the day, including the skating.

Second, if you are not from an athletic background, you will probably not be able to make full profit of those 3 hours. So either you won’t be trying your best for the whole 3 hours, or you will be exhausted by the second half, and not only is that useless, in this case, it is also dangerous.

5. Practice offskate. From just repeating the moves to heavy endurance and power drills, everything is useful.

Some of the Minimum Skills ask for the first one, like transitions, grapevines, crossovers. You don’t want to have to think about which foot goes where when you’re on skates. Practice it offskates until you can hold a conversation and look at the person you’re talking to while doing it.

Other ask for endurance and/or power, like the 27 laps in 5 minutes, the one lap in less than 13 seconds, the knee taps. The problem is not skating when you can barely skate 20 laps in 5 minutes without almost passing out.

6. Quit smoking. See above.

7. Ask why and how. Even for a skill you already master. I swear having me in a class must be annoying as hell, I’m the one raising my hand after every sentence the teacher says, whatever the course and topic are. And I will never quit doing that. And as a coach, I love to answer those questions too, and highly value that interest.

“How come my arm goes this way when I do this with my feet?” “Why do you want me to turn my head first for transitions?” “How can I improve my plow stops, even if I can already brake good enough for the MS-test?” That will help you understand the mechanics and logics of the movements. You can either ask your coach, or yourself. The reflexion is as important as the answer.

8. Know your skates. Know what you expect from them. We’re not talking rocket-science here, but if you can’t plow properly, does it really make sense to have those super grippy wheels on that super grippy floor? Or for instance, if you are still stuck at 26 laps in 5 minutes after 6 months of trying hard, you might want to lose the cheap bearings for better ones. Once again, ask “how” and “why”.

9. Forget the word never. And automatically add “yet” to “I can’t do that”.

Don’t underestimate the power of enthousiasm!


So, I hope this helped, and don’t hesitate if you have any questions or remarks, and please share your own experience!


3 thoughts on “The long way to the Minimum Skills (and some shortcuts)

  1. What a great article! Wish I had read this before I became a freshie…and got injured. There’s so much good info here, I’m passing it on.

  2. fairleyx says:

    Reblogged this on Whips 'n' Lashes Roller Derby Journey and commented:
    I always love to read other people’s hints and tips, especially when they have been there done that. Decat#6 has some pretty good tips for all of us freshmeat out there that are trying to push ourselves to pass those mins and be at our best!

  3. Vee Small says:

    Thank you this is so informative. I so thought I was ready to move up but its only this week that I have mastered my transition stops mainly because I was doing them wrong and it was only pointed out to me over the weekend. Also my plough stops are going to be the death of me trying to get these right I try and practice everyday but the weather has been really bad as of late. The thing is I have been kept back with the newbies and some of these girls have these skills down pat and I am still struggling. All I can do is try harder and that is my advice to anyone its not going to be easy the one thing I loved about Derby is that it does not matter how old you are or your size you just want have to want to learn and that’s what I am doing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

%d bloggers like this: