Saturday, 15 March 2014

Week 38: Practice 2.0 (Beta Testing)

I apologise for the late post. I have, once more, been knocked down with another stomach bug (I swear NSOing can be more dangerous than skating!) and it has taken me until today to be able to concentrate on writing.

This week we had a bit of a change around. As it's a new year, we've got a new Coaching Coordinator who was ready to resculpt our training structure. Their main aim is to get rid of the bottle neck that we seem to have at Level 1. Not that it's a bad thing, as it shows we're getting more and more skaters in, who are staying! But it just means that we're being deprived of training time and space on the track, and the higher levels are looking a little empty.

Warm up and stretching was normal. We skated round the track, did squats on the whistle, knee-taps on the whistle, a couple of speed laps and then stretched. During stretching we were told what was going to happen to our practices and how our sign-offs would be changing, etc. Basically, our sign offs are going to have a few skills removed as they're not necessarily essential to pass on to Level 2 and less skills to learn, means less to pass, which means people should move on to the next level quicker. The other change is that our rotation has been extended from 6 weeks to 2 months. This is mainly down to our venue often cancelling our practices at short notice, meaning we used to lose a week of skills in our rotation. Two months also means that we have longer to practice skills, thus increasing our chances to pass sign offs and move up quicker.
After the warm up, the rink was then split into 4 sections. We had Level 0 (newbies), Smacksons (Men), Level 1, and Level 2, each with their own coaches. At first it seemed a little odd, having such a small section for practice, and not having a track, but we practised stepping first, so that didn't make much difference. The one thing I noticed instantly was the cosiness of it, though. Not in a cramped way, but in a more sociable, intimate way. At the end of each skill, we were able to stand around in a group and discuss it and everyone was allowed to voice their opinion and tips. Not that we didn't do this usually, but there used to be so many of us that it was hard for everyone to have a say and, unfortunately, other conversations would start in little groups so often people were spoken over or ignored.

We had a go at 15 second balance, which was fine, and then moved on to lateral hops. Now this is where cracks started to appear. We only had the width of the track to practice lateral hops and lateral hops cause you to gain speed pretty quickly, so if you tried doing more than two, you'd end up slamming into the wall or have difficulty stopping. For higher experienced skaters, this might not be a problem, but we're still learning how to stop and to control our speed to it wasn't the best thing. We had to limit our hops, which meant that we didn't really get a chance to practice them. Even more so as we had to be split into three groups because there were still too many of us to safely do it at once. However, another positive came from this way of skating - reassurance and help. As were were split into groups, and because we had to line up along one side while waiting for our go, you found yourselves watching your fellow skaters more. This then sparked remarks like "She's just stepping, she needs to pick that other foot up" etc, which led to advice being given and improvements made, and skaters going "Can you watch me? Am I doing it right?". Again, not that this didn't happen on the track, but sitting down in the middle of a track while other skaters went around you, made it harder to watch and harder to give advice as they'd be gone again before you could get it out. I also found that being on the track could feel a little lonely as the people in the middle would talk amoungst themselves and the people on track were focusing on what they were doing, so you only had the coaches to pass advice whilst you were skating.
Next was gliding and this is where I think the track is the most useful. With the new setup, you found yourself using half the track to pick up speed and then the other half gliding, and then having to stop. This meant that you didn't come to a natural stop, so unable to test how far you could actually glide, and there were no corners so you couldn't practice going round them like you have to do for sign offs. Admittedly, I think it's a great way for people to get to grips with glides when they are first learning but maybe not for when you want to get to sign offs standard.

We then had a short while to practice stops, where I only did a plough stop and got a "Yeahhhhh, Honey!" off our coach! (Still not convinced though. It's taken me so long that I'm waiting for Sign Offs to make me believe!) We then had a track laid for skills that really needed a track such as pace-lines, pack work, crossovers, etc. We were told that if we had other skills to practice then we could go over to the end of the rink and practice there. I didn't quite like that, though, as it felt like we were intruding on the newbies which I can imagine might have been a little intimidating, so when the track skaters needed extras for a pace line, I dived straight in! I love a good pace line!

We were then given a chance to practice crossovers while a few of the coaches helped out the ones who were less confident with them. I gave some advice to one of the newbies who seemed to be struggling and then continued to practice mine on my new wheels, trying to get them big and wide and to push with both feet. A little later we were told that the boys were going to come on the track so unless we "want to skate really fast" we were advised to leave the track so they could get some practice in (they are notorious for showing off!) but I took it as a challenge to see if I could hold my own against the boys. I think I did pretty well. I managed crossovers on almost all the corners and kept at a relatively fast pace and it was good to get a proper skate in as I hadn't really felt like I'd had a good work out that session. When it came to cool-down stretching, I was out-of-breath, drenched in sweat, and feeling like I was going to throw up (although, in hindsight, I believe that may have been the stomach bug) and I had a chat with some of the other skaters to see how they felt about the new arrangement.
I think the new layout will work well. It's not that great yet in the Level 1 section as we've still got so many skaters but once that bottle neck is cleared, then I think it will be a good thing. It's good for the Level 2's as they get to practice more of their skills than constantly going back through the Level 1 skills. I'm not saying they shouldn't work on the Level 1 skills, practice makes perfect, but it just doesn't seem fair for them to be constantly working on the skills they are able to do and neglecting the ones they need to learn. It also isn't fair on the people who can't do those skills to have people who can take up their track space. I think the Men prefer it as it gives them space to practice the skills they need to work on as they have a different coaching structure to the ladies. Level 0 still get to keep their area at the bottom to work on skills and build confidence. It might have it's teething issues, it's bound to, and no-one likes change but, from what I remember, we had a little moan about the last time the practice structure was changed and we ended up loving that one!


P.s. We also had our AGM that weekend where awards are given to the team skaters for "Best Blocker", "Most Valued Player", "Most Feared", etc. I was given a certificate for officiating, along with everyone else who had NSOd over the year, but was then surprised with the "Special Recognition Award"! They had brought it in this year to recognise people who had put in extra effort to the league. I think it was for this blog and my NSOing and the times I've helped out, but I was a little overwhelmed to listen properly! But I wanted to say yet another thank you to the Brawds for giving me that award and to just say that I do all of that because I love to. I love my league, I love roller derby, I love watching it grow and helping it grow and, afterwards, I just love writing about it! So, thank you, thank you, thank you!!

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