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Coaching's perspective: a view from the sidelines

Personal accountability matters.
Personal accountability matters.

For the month of January, Shasta Roller Derby of Redding, CA elected their two coaches, Hyde Jobe Itch and Roll Model as their skaters of the month. Normally the category goes to one skater who went above and beyond either on the track or for the work they’ve done for the league. As the season begins, Shasta felt that the contributions their coaches give to the team are as important as any skater can give, especially considering all their coaches do to make Shasta skaters better skaters and to transform a group of distinct, diverse and various women into a team.

The magic of a non-skating coach

The derby coach is the same as any other coach. He/she is a team leader and is especially important come game time.
While embroiled in the complex game of roller derby, trying to keep abreast of everything happening on the track is simply too much to ask of a skater/coach. This is why just about every top team in the WFTDA has two non-skating coaches on the bench come bout time.

Shasta, a small town team about to reach full WFTDA status, owes a lot of their success to their non-skating coaches. Plainly put, without their coaches Shasta would suffer as a team. Both men were brought into roller derby by women who play the sport and both had some experience with team sports (which is more than can be said of many women coming to roller derby). Though nothing could really prepare them for the reality of coaching an all-women's sports league, they are encouraged by watching people improve and seeing hard work pay off. And the fun, of course, the fun.

Putting the I back in TEAM

This season, Coach Hyde Jobe Itch's goal is to put the I back in TEAM. The original phrase, there's no I in TEAM predates the 1960s when it first appeared in print as a sports quote. The idea, of course, is that a team is out there playing a game, together, not as a group of individuals. If one player considers himself more important than the rest, the team will suffer and victory will be harder to achieve. The modern expression, that the I in TEAM is hidden in the A-hole is meant to express the detrimental effect of having a player who behaves as if they are above all other players and that they can do no wrong. Of course, Coach Hyde isn't asking for a resurgence of that player (has she ever really left) but an I of accountability to the rest of the team. In his words, "We always say there is no I in team. Well, out there on the track, you are responsible for your actions, and everyone sees it."

According to Hyde and Assistant Coach Roll Model, the hardest part of coaching women's roller derby is getting everyone on the same page. There are large discrepancies in talent on any sports team, but this goes double for the roller derby of today. Because no little girls grew up playing roller derby (not yet anyway), there's the skating problem. Many derby players come to the game having never roller skated before. This phenomena offers a particular challenge to roller derby. Coach Roll Model explains, "In most other sports you don't have to teach [players] how to run before you can teach them how to play the game."

Coach Roll Model's goal for Shasta's 2014 season is to "get every fresh meat skater up to bout-eligible status, to get every B-team skater up to A-team level play, and to hone A-team skaters' skills until they play together flawlessly every jam of every game. Oh, and an undefeated record. Not too much to ask for, is it?"

Meanwhile, Coach Hyde wants each player to hold themselves personally responsible for improving any individual skills that are particularly lacking. Then if, for example, Suzy Skater gets juked by an opposing jammer because her transitions are too slow, she can't blame the team for losing her point. Did the team get juked or was Suzy Skater too slow to change directions? Ultimately it's not about assigning blame but about taking responsibility. Suzy Skater helps her team by being the best skater she can be. If she's not working hard on her skills then she's not being a team player.

Why roller derby?

Though both coaches agree that the ever changing rules and strategies of roller derby are very complex; too complex for the casual fan and perhaps too complex for the average skater, the game is extremely fun and engaging. It’s a mental game and a physical game. Also, while odds are most small town teams won’t make it to National play, Shasta is well on its way, and that takes equal commitment from every player and from the coaches. Coach Hyde believes derby is empowering for women and the most fun that can be had. Certainly every member of Shasta feels the same. Why else would the skaters and coaches keep coming back for more?

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