order of operations: the cutting edge

In the last issue of fiveonfive, I wrote the first Order of Operations article about breaking down new drills and complex/advanced skills into manageable chunks for skaters; essentially emphasizing the importance of baby steps. This next article focuses on skills that may seem daunting to new skaters and coaches. I will break down the skill into manageable pieces and will include an applicable drill that focuses on the skill to wrap things up. This article is focused on new to intermediate skaters, but even the most amazing skater/coach may find some useful juicy tidbits of information.

Before we get into today’s skill, I’d like to tell you a little about my skating journey. Growing up in Alaska, we didn’t have many paved roads and even if we did, most of the year they were covered with ice/snow or gravel. Roller skating rinks were few and far between so getting to visit one was a rare treat. Fast forward 20 years… there are even fewer roller skating rinks in Alaska, but I had a car and could drive to the rinks to go stumble, fall, and get up again whilst children whiz past me skating backwards with light-up wheels. It didn’t matter though, because I had a whole posse of new-to-skating adults stumbling, falling, and helping each other up skating with me. We were the new intake of Rage City Rollergirls Fresh Meat, and we were tenderizing ourselves quite nicely.

Photo by Jules Doyle

Through my travels to different tournaments, boot camps, and conventions, it seems that many (if not most) roller derby skaters had a similar journey. Some were more prolific skaters as children, then hung up their skates for the past decade or so until they watched “Whip It” or their first bout, and others basically grew up in roller rinks, playing roller hockey or competing in speed skating events, but they tend to be the minority. It was daunting at first to watch skaters like Suzy Hotrod, Atomatrix, and Hockey Honey skate so beautifully and efficiently when I felt like a toddler in strap-on skates. Now, after five years of skating, I am one of the most highly skilled skaters on my league and have no trouble transitioning either direction at full speed, jumping over fairly high and long barriers, or doing one-footed “ballerina turns.” The reason I am telling you this isn’t to brag, but to show you that middle-aged dogs can learn new tricks.

Teaching adults is different from teaching children. Adults tend to question more often, especially when what they are learning is difficult for them to do (Why do we have to turn both directions?), so be prepared to answer the question, “Why are we doing this?” Children are more fearless, usually because they haven’t yet broken a bone or taken a sternum check. Easing safety fears becomes a bigger concern with adults. Both children and adults need repetition, praise, and a coach who can adjust their teaching style to what each skater needs in order to thrive. Because of this, teaching adults can be more complex, but it is just as rewarding. With those thoughts in mind, let’s move on to today’s lesson.

Using edges is vital when skating, whether you are talking about roller skating, ice skating, or even skate/longboarding. Our edges allow us to turn, change speed, and stop, so basically they are part of almost every facet of skating. Just a few examples of skills where edges are used include weaves, duck walks (panther crawls), plow stops, cutting, and hockey stops. Today, we will be focusing on the last two items in the list, cutting and hockey stops.

Cutting is different from weaving, yet I have seen some skaters get confused and do a combination of the two skills. Weaving is akin to skiing moguls: knees bent and together, skates parallel, and ankles, hips, and upper body loose. Knees move together and lead the rest of the body back and forth on the track or around whatever obstacle is in the way. Where weaving is more about keeping the body in more of a compressed state, cutting opens the body up.

When cutting, it’s as if the skater has taken a huge step forward and stays in that position; knees bent and apart from each other, weight slightly more on the rear leg, chest and shoulders open, and head turned in the direction of movement. The skater should imagine a weight dangling from their groin and use that image to sink their groin towards the track. Once all of this is aligned, it should be easy to then turn in the direction of whichever skate is forward.

Here is a basic drill I like to use when teaching and/or practicing cutting.

Set up cones about six-eight feet apart on the straightaways about two feet from the edges of the track alternating inside/outside. Have skaters split into two groups, each group lines up single file around turns two and four, respectively. This drill can be done with one group, but I find it is better to have two groups if there are eight or more skaters so there isn’t too much time standing around during the drill. Skaters cut through the cones, leading with the skate closest to the cone and switching in between cones. While going around the cone, skaters should open their chest and twist their upper half in the direction they are turning to help cut faster. As a coach, if I see a skater looking down at the cones when going around them or just having trouble being able to turn around the cone, I tell the skater to look back at the line they came from. This helps keep them from staring at their skates, cut at more of an acute angle, and open up their chest without thinking about it.

I also use the above drill to teach and practice hockey stops. Hockey stops tend to strike fear in many inexperienced skaters with premonitions of snapped ankles; however, once learned, they can actually be fun. The trick is to ease a skater into performing the stop and, if done with finesse, you can even get a skater to do a hockey stop before they know it Here’s how: have the skaters perform the drill described above until they are comfortable with the exercise. Next, adjust the cones so they are about six inches closer to each other yet still the same distance from the edges of the track (don’t pull the cones toward the center of the track, make the distance squatter not skinnier). This forces the skaters to cut at a sharper angle than they were in the cutting drill. Now, ask them to try to come to a stop right after cutting around each cone. Give skaters a couple rounds through the cones to practice on their own, then suggest skaters flick their outer hip and heel once they have cut around the cone to see if that helps to stop them. Usually, after a bit of practice, most skaters will be able to come to a quick, controlled stop on one side, if not both. At this point, the skaters are essentially performing a hockey stop.

There are usually a couple skaters who will not be able to hockey stop. So here is another method for teaching/practicing hockey stops:

Have skaters line up along one side of the room with enough room between each other so they can perform a plow stop without getting in each other’s way. The skaters are going to skate across the floor, performing a plow stop, either on the whistle or at specified places on the floor. In order to turn the plow stop into a hockey stop, skaters will first start to plow stop with only one skate/leg. Skaters will end up bringing the leg they are stopping with around and in front of them more than they would if they were using both legs. Once they have practiced this a few times, have them continue to practice the one-legged plow stops, but now when they bring that leg around instruct them to also rotate the rear skate so it ends up parallel with their other skate when they stop. They should end up having turned 90 degrees when they come to a stop, once again, essentially performing a hockey stop.

Well, that’s a quick and dirty overview on edges, along with a couple of examples showing how we use them in roller derby. If you have any comments or questions and would like to get in contact with me, I prefer to be contacted through this email address: 2N1SkateShoppe@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

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