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I atent dead.

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Can't believe we've done four sessions already (out of 12).

New things: We've been doing jumps, and jumps over little cones! And slaloming (or stepping) between cones. And one-knee falls with a 180 turn at the end. The girls have also been doing pace lines (everyone follows each other in derby position and take turns at being in front directing the pace) and pace lines with weaving in and out, but I've not been doing those much. Instead I've been getting a little extra help with basics, and my T-stops and plough stops are improving. It's just doing them under pressure that's harder.

The skating surface we learn on is really quite slippery, so I've invested in some new wheels. Atom Poison hybrid wheels are softer than regular wheels and should be more grippy on that surface - lots of other people who practice in that hall use them. I also got some knee gaskets - which sound odd, but are just neoprene sleeves that go under your knee pads and give you extra protection and keep your pads from slipping too.

We finally found a hall to do extra practices in, which has a wooden floor, good for harder wheels. Also turning up to Friday rollerdisco in Vauxhall guarantees some pretty empty floors, so that's worth doing too. Outside skating isn't quite practical yet, but will become more so. Although I tried yesterday and got about 15 feet outside my front door :-)

Things to work on: being happy to glide on one foot for longer - will make T-stops easier and crossovers and Gotham glides possible. On Sunday I was exaggerating my regular side to side skate and being on each side longer as a precursor to this.

It's still interesting and fun, although my knees are complaining and I really need to build up stamina. The instructors seem to be quite pleased with the standard of the (rest of the) skaters doing basic skills and they're a good bunch of people.


If you want to see the *other* London league play, the London Rockin' Rollers are having a bout this Saturday at York Hall in Bethnal Green - details at http://www.londonrockinrollers.co.uk/

Sean and the Roller Derby - basic skills 2

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Today we had different coaches, but went over mostly similar stuff - T-stop, plough stop, 1, 2, 4-point falls, skull crushers, figure 8s, gliding on one leg. But a few new things, including practising the right position for a crossover with a partner. And jumps! Both stationary and moving. No core fitness drills this time. And a relay race at the end. I felt more confident this time, although I can't do everything - I guess there's fewer unknowns now we've been a couple of times. I was definitely better at skull crushers - skating without lifting your feet from the floor, using your thigh muscles to push your legs in and out instead. My knees feel the fallout from the falling drills now though...

And afterwards a bunch of us went to the pub for roast lunch :-)

We're still looking for somewhere to skate between sessions though - roller discos don't let you practice baseball slides...

After that I went to regular league Sunday scrimmage, and spent the time penalty tracking, trying to listen to the refs and write down the penalties they're shouting out, and avoiding the refs skating around the centre of the track.

Next weekend is bout weekend - I'm penalty timing for both bouts again. In the morning there's mixed scrimmage - and the scouts for Team England in the derby World Cup will be out looking for national talent. The derby World Cup takes place in Toronto towards the end of the year.

This weekend's bout:
http://www.londonrollergirls.com/details/11-season-3-bout-5

Derby World Cup:
http://www.bloodandthundermag.com/WorldCup2011.htm
sheep guitar
If you're reading this and are into roller derby, we need NSOs (non-skating officials) for the April 10/11th tournament between London, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Baltimore at Excel. No experience necessary, training given. Apply within:

https://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?formkey=dEc1NXhtc0h1QXJud0pnRVNKYTkzc1E6MQ
sheep guitar
So last Sunday was the first proper basic skills lesson. It looked like maybe 10 or 15 people dropped out after last week's 3 hour introduction. I know 1 or 2 more will be joining us next week though.

I started off by helping the local guy put away the cricket nets and fake grass! Then it was two hours of drills punctuated by core fitness exercises. We went over a number of things from the previous week - three sorts of falls, two sorts of stops - also some skating on one leg. I wasn't amazingly good, and had to rest every now and then, but I wasn't embarrassingly bad. I hope. It's the first time we were in a gym rather than the concrete floor at Earls Court, which made it easier for some things.

I'd skated a couple of times since the previous weekend - at a tiny roller disco in Manor House and a larger one in Vauxhall - but it's often hard to practice derby moves at these places, especially deliberate falls. The weather's not quite good enough to skate outside just yet, so it's still a bit difficult to get useful skating time in.

Still, tonight I was at the bigger roller disco again, with derby friends from the same group. I still wasn't that confident starting off, but I decided to concentrate on a few things and it got better. In the end I spent a lot more time going round the main floor than I had before, and it was useful traffic practice, including some one knee falls when there were unavoidable collisions! I'd decided that if there was a song I liked, I had to skate around for the whole song and not wimp out.

My knees bent posture is improving, and my legs not complaining quite so much - I've been doing a little bit of off-skate practice on that in odd moments. I only fell a couple of times, but I did it properly, falling forward and doing a one-knee fall, which implies I'm skating lower. However, the nice instructor didn't like my derby posture at all :-) She got me skating properly a week or two back, but I can't kick my heels up in derby, or stand too high.

This was my first foray into the second room, which is up a couple of steps, which I took on my toestops :-) Actually, later on one of my toestops came undone at one point...

So let's see, what can I do?

Derby position: Getting better
Skating forward: Improving lots
Going around corners: Improving, taking small steps. Can't crossover yet.
Plough stop: Kind of, a bit. Needs work.
T-stop: No, can't skate on one leg yet.
One knee fall: Yes, once I realised you have to put your weight on your other leg :-)
Two knee fall: Yes, need to practice at speed.
Four point fall: Yes, pretty much. Need to practice at speed.
Skating on one leg: Only briefly. Needs work.
Lemons/Skull Crushers: Managed to do a couple tonight. Needs practice.
Crossovers: Can push away with one skate, but there's a couple of other steps I need to practice and put the whole together.
Stretches: Can do most of them
Core fitness: Planks only for about 5 secs :-/ But will come with time. Can do other exercises with varying success - best at yes/nos, anything on my back with my legs in the air(!)
Endurance: Still have to take breathers every now and then, but happy that I can go around the disco room for longer than before.

A bunch of us are trying to rent a hall somewhere so we can practice between sessions without having random drunk disco skaters getting in the way. Hopefully we can get this sussed in the next couple of weeks - and/or the weather gets a lot better! Still, sunshine today.

So let's see what happens on Sunday, our next basic skills session. It's still a bit terrifying really, but I've made some good friends and we're doing it together. Funniest thing was doing stretches at home after tonight's outing, and the cats coming and nudging at me while I was trying to hold my stretches :-)
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I'm determined to make a go of this roller derby thing. Several reasons, including that it's making me think about fitness and so on. But also because there's a bunch of things I started doing that I didn't see through to the end, and I want to be able to do that. Not that there's "an end", but there's at least improving my skating and lasting the 12 week basic derby skills course. And I've applied to officiate at the international tournament my league is putting on in April.

Which reminds me. In April, London Rollergirls are hosting a two-day tournament where three of the best North American teams are coming over to compete with them. This will be particularly awesome, and I know the LRG players are working hard to put up some good competition! It's the first WFTDA-sanctioned derby tournament in Europe - they're essentially the governing body of flat-track rollerderby, or as close as you get in this grassroots self-organised sport.

So come along! Tickets not yet available, but details are at http://www.londonrollergirls.com/anarchy-2011
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Saturday was a looonngg day. I got up really early, as some of us were meeting at a coffee shop before the session started. I managed to get there an hour before we were due to meet - I was in West Brompton by 9am - so I pootled about a bit, bought a paper, and went to the coffee shop at 9:30 and had a bacon baguette and some tea(!). People turned up around 10 and we were all nervous together. At 10:30 we made our way to West Brompton Hall where people were setting up tracks for the bout and for the training.

There were probably two or three times as many girls there for the intake than I was expecting. Derby has got really popular in the past year or so! Even Neil Gaiman goes to watch it these days.

The next three hours was spent on a whizz-bang tour of the basic skating techniques one uses in derby, including two sorts of stops, four sorts of falls, skating without lifting your wheels off the floor, derby stance, pace lines, crossovers, and stretching exercises. And a sort of push-up used when you were late back when the whistle was blown :-)

I was glad I'd done the skating I had, so I didn't *completely* embarrass myself. Some of the things I could do, sort of, some of them not but I got the idea. And you learn that your pads really do protect you, when you're throwing yourself at a concrete floor!

But I've got a long way to go. And not being an exercise sort of person, I'm going to have to work out how to get fitter at the same time as learning to skate and also keep up with the hungry derby newbies. The next thing for the group of people I've been meeting to skate, is to find somewhere indoors we can practice the techniques we learn between sessions - baseball slides probably not too popular at roller discos!

So that was pretty knackering. But still interesting and fun, plus the trainers were really good at the techniques they were demonstrating, and helpful and nice to me. Extra points to Katy Peril and Vigour Mortis for their help and suggestions.

After I got changed, and checked in with the head NSO (who's in charge of the non-skating officials for the bouts in the afternoon), I went to meet my skater friends in the pub for an hour, where we compared bruises and debriefed/decompressed.

Then it was back to the venue to prepare for the bouts. London Rollergirls have four teams - the Ultraviolent Femmes were playing the Harbour Grudges first, followed by a game between the Steam Rollers and the Suffra Jets. At 4 o'clock the doors opened, and the first bout started at 5.

The next few hours passed in a bit of a whirl. Both games were pretty evenly matched, and all teams were missing some key players due to injury, so it was quite exciting. I was timing penalties, which meant keeping an eye out for penalty calls and girls skating to the penalty box so you are prepared to time them sitting out. Which doesn't always mean you get to follow the actual game, because you're trying to handle your segment of it the best you can. On the other hand, you get the best seats in the house, between the two team benches and right between the jammer and pivot lines :-)

We had three people doing penalty timing - a manager who handled the jammers and handled the odd extra thing, and one person to do the two blocker seats for each team. If when a blocker skates in and all their team's seats are full, they have to go back out again and come in later to do their penalty.

The actual timing isn't really arduous - at 50 seconds you tell them to stand ("red 14 stand") and at a minute you tell them they're done ("red 14 done") and you stop the stopwatches between jams - but you could have one blocker standing, one blocker sitting and one just arriving to sit in the seat of the standing player, so it can get busy and you have to be alert. And if they leave before you've said "done", as one of the Steam Rollers did, they have to come back in for another minute plus the time they missed from the previous time. You have to get the referees' attention and get them to tell the player to come back in again. Also sometimes a referee will have given them two minutes, so you also have to be aware that the referee might be trying to communicate that to you while you're seating the player.

If you're on Facebook, there's a picture of me doing it here: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=500946758324

In the end the Harbour Grudges won 116-100, and the Steam Rollers won 112-105 - both really close games when you consider you could easily get 10-15 points in the last jam if the opposition jammer was in the penalty box.

And so to the afterparty, where I caught up with the Croydon girls and a few others I hadn't seen, and thanked my two trainers for helping me out earlier, and left about midnight, tired but happy as they say. Now to the hard part - training and learning the roller derby...

Sean and the roller derby - 2 sleeps to go!

sheep guitar
Tonight I actually skated. What I've been doing thus far could be classed more as staying upright on skates. But tonight I did it properly.

Me and the girls went to the Thursday night roller disco at Vauxhall Renaissance Rooms. We got there as soon as it opened at 8pm, and had the skating area to ourselves for a while. I was bumbling around, doing my thing, when an instructor came up and decided to show me how to do things properly. Well, she kind of got in my face, so there wasn't any backing out :-) It was nice to get someone to observe how I was actually skating and give me some feedback.

Firstly I was still standing up and leaning forward too much, so she got me to imagine I was skating from my chest, with my head up and looking forward. Then she showed me how to pick up my feet properly, which I wasn't doing. And a couple of refinements once I had that going, not keeping my foot tense and straight when I picked it up, but allowing it to relax, and making sure I picked up my feet straight up and didn't roll my wheels when I did.

Once I was doing this kind of stuff, it helped me with my balance, oddly enough, and being on one skate was OK. Also looking forward and counting out loud the number of times you picked up your feet correctly helped me not think too much of what I was actually doing, if that makes sense.

All this made a huge amount of difference to my mode of progressing forward on wheels, and by the end I was just about able to go around the rink along with everyone else at the same speed and not feel like I was getting in the way.

And when I got home I realised I hadn't fallen over once!

I'm feeling a bit more confident about Saturday now. I think some of us are going to meet up beforehand and go down together. I spent last night at Decathlon getting a new kit bag, shorts, socks and shirt, so I'm not skating in jeans and T-shirt on Saturday!

And if you want to watch the game, come down to Brompton Hall, Earls Court, at 4pm. It's going to be a great day.
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Five sleeps til Saturday intake. A ref is having a brief talk with the newbie refs tomorrow, (i.e. me), so I'll find out more about it.

Sunday lunchtime I had a skating lesson with Ballistic Whistle, the head coach/head referee at London Rollergirls. We met at a flat area outside Emirates Arsenal Stadium. It was really quite blustery, which wasn't ideal, but at least it didn't rain like it was threatening to earlier in the week. We found an area a bit out of the wind, and he had a look at how I was skating.

Turns out I was much too upright, and trying to balance by leaning forward at the waist, instead of bending my knees and "sitting down" more. This was also putting pressure on my front wheels which was why I was having trouble rolling for any distance, cos I was just slowing myself down.

There were various exercises we went through, like stepping side-to-side with proper weight transfer, and front-to-back, and a way to propel yourself forward without taking your feet off the ground, which I was failing because I had my weight over my front wheels when they were supposed to be moving in and out. And some standing on one leg things, and skating forwards taking one leg off the ground. And at the end, the basic static technique for a cross-over, which is the best way to skate around corners.

What I took away from it in essence were two things. Firstly, posture, low centre of gravity, not leaning forward at the waist, and sat down and back a bit. I was having back problems skating and standing, and I think this posture will help that too. And secondly that just about anything in skating is going to require you lift one or other skate off the floor at some point, so being able to skate on one leg is actually a crucial and useful skill and building block.

I think the blustery weather wasn't helping very much, but I did get a lot of useful material, even if I didn't get as far as jumping, which was also on his list :-) Well, he said you never know how good people are until you see them skate.

So Monday night I went up to Manor House with a few of the girls trying out on Saturday, to try some of this stuff out in a more controlled environment. And it really did help. I consciously altered my skating position, and was able to do glides and more time on each skate rather than tiny steps like before. Not perfect, but I could see improvement, and I'd got a bit demoralised after Thursday's rollerdisco and watching the LRG A-team skate up close on Sunday afternoon :-)

Another skate with people on Thursday night at the big crowded rollerdisco, and then a 10:30 for 11am start on Saturday morning... And after 3 hours of skating induction, a couple of hours off and then penalty timing for two consecutive bouts. I'll be knackered by afterparty time! Fun though.
sheep guitar
Today I had both a one-to-one lesson with the head coach/ref of LRG, and learned a new NSO skill at LRG practice.

Let's start with NSO fun times. Head NSO Danger wanted to practice "penalty wrangling". So she had me and someone else do penalty tracking for scrimmage at practice. (Scrimmage is a set of jams, much like a full bout, but without worrying about half time and generally with a much reduced NSO crew)

What happens in roller derby is that the seven(!) refs are rolling around following the skaters and shouting their penalties at them. There are generally two penalty trackers, one for each team, who listen for the refs and write down the penalties. As well as shouting "colour number penalty" e.g. "pink 99 back block", the referee will do a hand signal for the type of penalty, and blow a whistle if it's a major penalty, and then direct the skater concerned off the track to the penalty box to sit for a minute for a major penalty.

The penalty tracker notes the minor and major penalties on a form and also lets the refs know if a skater has just accumulated 4 minor penalties - the skater would have to go to the penalty box for a minute like for major penalties. The penalty tracker also lets the jam ref know at the start of the jam how many minors their jammer has accumulated, so they know when to send them off.

Because in a fast and noisy environment it's easy to miss a penalty call, we also have a penalty wrangler, who follows the refs and makes sure that penalty calls don't get missed by the penalty trackers. They often have to keep several penalties in their head at once before checking with the penalty trackers. Or they just take notes on their clipboard :-)

There are also two outside whiteboard people at opposite corners. There are three refs taking it in turns to skate around the perimeter, and if they spot a penalty they let the whiteboard people know. The whiteboarders then communicate it to the penalty trackers or wrangler.

The other relevant person in the middle is the inside whiteboard operator. They update a visible display of how many minor and major penalties each skater has, so that coaches and bench managers can plan their strategy. For example, the coaches and managers will want to know when a skater is on three minors, so that they can control when that skater sits out for her one minute. For example, you don't necessarily want your jammer to start a jam and then get sent off for one minor penalty. This gives rise to the convention of the "poodle", where a skater deliberately starts in the wrong position so she can get sent off straight away for her one minute of accumulated minors. This then clears her sheet for later on.

Phew. Initially it's disorienting being in the middle with all the refs rolling around and the shouting going on. But you learn to pick out the calls and watch for hand signals. Unfortunately most of the time they're shouting away from you, at the track, so it's not simple. Still, it's another NSO skill to practice, and a new one for me.

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