DEAR BLOCKER AND JAMMER,
What is the most effective method of learning how to break up a wall? What’s your top secret for getting, or getting your jammer, through?
There are no secrets in derby, it is about mastering your body and practicing over and over. We are all different sizes and it is about finding what works for you is essential. I am almost 6 feet tall, and how I effectively break apart a wall will differ from someone 5 feet tall.
In general, I think it is a good start to practice entering a wall with speed to be able to slightly split it apart/shift the blockers’ positions and then use the weakness in the wall to diagonally move the wall out of effective blocking positions.
Don’t get stuck in just pushing, because then the wall can easily just use you as a part of their wall; you have to continue to work that wall and shift your weight to create an imbalance in their counter blocking. Dare to reset and reattack and don’t be predictable (that’s my secret).
An important part in learning how to break up a wall is choosing best the point of contact, meaning how you’re engaging the wall. Our hips and legs are usually the strongest points of our body and being able to utilize them for both power and contact points will make for effective engagement. However, where you’re coming into contact with the wall is vital. Aiming for the hip of an opposing blocker with your hip will most likely be much more effective in getting that blocker to move than if you were to engage their side with your side. Of course, height and size differences play an important variance, one that you as a skater need to test.
Pay attention to how you’re engaging with various blockers, your speed, your contact, their positioning; make note of what is and isn’t effective, or what perhaps needs to be tweaked slightly to be effective. If only there were a “top secret” for getting through walls! What is worth pointing out, though, is the idea that breaking up a wall doesn’t equate to hitting or moving a wall. Insert the “juke”: making a movement that causes the blocker to commit to a position on the track while you go through the hole that just opened up. Another concept worth noting is that breaking up a wall isn’t always just one movement. A succession of movements, often different movements, is often necessary.
Putting the pieces together to determine what movements are most effective against which blockers in certain scenarios, whether on your own or with an offensive blocker, is an extremely difficult task that takes practice and patience. Recognizing patterns, communicating with your offense, and having self-awareness are all key elements to being able to effectively break up a wall. But if you find the top secret, definitely pass it along!
DEAR BLOCKER AND JAMMER,
Our league has limited access to our practice space, as do many others in our local derby community. What training advice can you give to teams who don’t have access to a flat track for practice? What kind of drills can you recommend to advance in the game and build skating & teamwork skills with limited resources?
This is a super great question, because practice space is something I know lots of leagues struggle with, and I do think way too many leagues think that their success will stand and fall on that.
I think that sometimes finding smaller halls that don’t fit a track is a great way of getting more practice time in, and you can have great practices without a track. You can measure out parts of the track and run a regular practice; you have to be a little smart about it. We used to have a practice space that pretty much just fit two straightaways or one turn. We used tape that was easy to remove and measure out the right width of the track and go at it. Most drills can be done in smaller spaces. With some planning, skill, footwork, blocking, and jamming exercises can all work. The only thing you can’t practice is a scrimmage. So, I would highly recommend finding a place at least twice a month that is big enough to lay out a full track for a scrimmage and to put together all the straightaways/turn work drills you have worked on in the smaller space.
You can even run drills in a parking garage if that is what you can get into. Analyze what you need to get better at as a team if it’s linework, draw/tape outlines, and do drills along it. I think it’s your own imagination that has limits, and I KNOW it is frustrating not having the practice space that we dream of, but don’t let that stop you from becoming the most awesome derby player ever.
Inadequate or limited access to practice space can be demoralizing. The ability to creatively and effectively plan your practices is key in ensuring your team is getting the most out of the time you do have while at your space. Because this is a team sport played on roller skates, the two primary aspects to prioritize at your space are skating-specific drills and roller derby-specific drills. The length of time spent doing drills in either category should fluctuate throughout your season while catering to the needs of the team. Having a high-level concept of how to split that time throughout your season is imperative. Pick a focus for one or multiple practices, and develop drills you can build on with your skaters. For example, one practice could be focused on transitions: 30 minutes dedicated to individual transitions, 30 minutes of blocker/jammer pairs working on incorporating those transitions in a small area, 30 minutes working on full blocker packs working on transitions together against a jammer.
The biggest thing I can say is to make your time on skates count and count as a team. If your team needs to discuss strategy, get together beforehand and walk through concepts together. If available, and not too costly, skating at a local skating rink will make your skaters much more comfortable on skates. If you have a garage, work on simple footwork drills. There are a lot of great resources for all sorts of on-skate and off-skates/dry-land drills. Hockey and inline skating videos on YouTube are invaluable, and there are plenty of things to do with just your body weight. Find things to help build the muscle and stability needed to make skating that much easier. Whatever you do, make your time count!
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