Published on October 21st, 2013 | by Lilo and Stitches0
Lilo & Stiches by Sean Hale
Coaching for Dummies
Starting to coach your roller derby team can be nerve-wracking. So much of what we learn in roller derby we figure out for ourselves, and every league, from brand new teams just figuring out how to cross-over to seasoned vets working out their latest strategies, is self-taught.
For that exact reason, taking the reins as coach is a daunting thing. The first session I coached, I was extremely nervous. All I could see were the blank faces of my pals, each of them tired and stressed from long days at work, and everyone either looked super bored or seemed to be having their own conversations. I couldn’t even explain a drill without choking.
Luckily, that passed and now coaching is a huge part of my life as a roller derby player. If you are thinking about getting involved in coaching (or are a new coach starting out), I would completely recommend it. Coaching is a hugely rewarding experience, both in being able to help your team achieve their goals and for your own progression as a skater.
Every coach has to start somewhere, but it doesn’t have to be terrifying — here a few things I’ve realised that have made coaching easier for me over the years.
1. It’s not you, it’s them
The first thing to remember when coaching a session is that the session really isn’t about you. It’s about the people who get to skate that day. You don’t have to be super funny, or have a million anecdotes — all you have to do is allow your teammates to skate, and help them to learn. Once I got past waiting for everyone to laugh, or make approving noises, every time I explained something, coaching became less about me and more about the coaching itself.
2. Bitchy resting face is actually a thing
When people are listening to drills, they aren’t thinking about their faces… which means that when you are explaining something, you are going to get the full force of people’s resting facial expressions pointed right at you. These range from ‘totally zoned out’ to ‘really confused looking’, to ‘skeptical’ to ‘downright aggressive’. They aren’t pissed at you. They aren’t bored. They’re listening. I promise.
3. The chatty one
On a similar note, it’s pretty likely that no matter how exciting you are making practice sound, there will always be somebody talking at the back. It’s likely they haven’t realised that they are talking while you are talking. They are probably even talking about the drill! Don’t feel bad about telling them to be quiet. After all, you’re the coach!
4. Respect my authority!
Get used to wielding a little authority when you coach. Even though these are your teammates, don’t feel bad about taking on a position of leadership for the duration of practice. Project your voice, and if you can’t project, use a whistle if you need to. There is a pretty thick line between being authoritative and being an asshole and I can bet you aren’t even close to crossing it yet.
3. Keep it simple, stupid
A lot of new coaches get excited about all the amazing new drills they are going to squeeze into their sessions. The enthusiasm part and the imagination part are great — just don’t try and do every single drill at once. Skaters need time to learn a skill properly, and if you are more concerned about fitting everything in, chances are there will be someone who hasn’t quite got it yet.
4. Basic skills aren’t boring
In a similar vein, never underestimate the importance of practising your basic skills. Athletes practice the basic motions of their sports day in, day out and so should we. If you don’t polish your plow stop on a regular basis, it might get rusty! On top of that, to really nail advanced skills, you’ll need a strong foundation on which to build. Never be afraid to break a skills down into its most basic parts, and to build it back up from there.
5. Be a boy scout
If you are nervous about coaching, the best thing you can be is prepared. Plan your session in as much detail as you need to make it a success. If you are just getting started, working out all the details of your drills on paper beforehand can really help. Got an idea for a new drill you’re not sure will work? Ask a couple of pals to test it out with you during a warm up, so you can be sure.
6. Explain every drill. Every time.
Until you can be sure that 100 percent of people understand something (which is very rare), always explain a drill as if no one has ever heard it before. Explain the drill, how it works and why it is useful. Don’t skimp on the details — tell people what size groups they will be in, tell them if they’ll be switching out positions, and demo the skill several times if you need to . Don’t let them head for the track until you have said all these things. It won’t eliminate them completely, but it will cut down on the number of questions you get after everyone gets on track.
7. Criticism is OK, as long as its constructive
Telling a teammate they are doing something wrong is a scary thing, but if you’re the coach, it’s your job! Remember that everyone at your session is there to learn! People are okay with not being good at something, as long as you can tell them how to do it better next time. Even Bonnie Thunders has to get feedback from her coaches!
What are your top tips for new coaches? Share them in the comments.