When you’re new to derby, it can seem like there is an overwhelming amount to take in. The list of minimum skills alone seems infinite.
But here is a reassuring truth: You only need to do one thing, and the rest will follow – PRACTICE.
You cannot improve without practicing. But equally, you cannot practice without improving. Every time you practice, you’re guaranteed a tiny little success. Even if it feels like you aren’t getting anywhere, you’re progressing.
Any practice is good practice, but by tackling your goals in a systematic way you can reap even greater benefits. With that in mind, here are four steps to making the most out of your personal training.
1) Establish your weak points
Identify what you need to work on the most. This might be things you struggle with, or even things you’ve never been brave enough to even try.
Prioritise the important skills first and take into account your current level of confidence. It helps to try to stay rounded – don’t obsess about perfecting your one-footed transitions if you can’t plow stop yet.
One way to spot gaps in your skill set is to work through the WFTDA minimum skills test list, marking off your confidence with each of the requirements. This will help you spot areas you need to work on, as well as acting as a benchmark which you can use to track your improvement in future.
2) Tackle skills in a systematic order
Despite being assessed separately, many skills rely on a mastery of the same baseline abilities. Concentrate on the most basic skills first, mastering these before attempting more advanced moves.
For example, both the T-stop and the crossover rely on being able to balance confidently on one foot. If you found yourself struggling, take a step back and make sure you’re reasonably comfortable and confident gliding before tackling the crossover again.
3) Engage the mind
Practicing isn’t just about your physical movement. In order to really nail a skill, you must first understand what you need to do, and then be able to reproduce it.
Sometimes just watching a move isn’t enough; complex skills benefit from being broken down and explained step-by-step.
More experienced skaters or coaches in your league can talk you through certain techniques to help you understand the stages. Alternatively, there are hundreds of fantastic resources available online as videos or guides.
4) Analyse, adjust and repeat
The key to developing muscle memory is to repeatedly perform an action. This has the effect of triggering neurological adaptations, meaning your brain is remembering how to make that movement. Each time you do it, this memory is reinforced and it becomes more automatic. Literally like learning to ride a bike.
However, there’s more to practice than mindless repetition.
You need to be able to recognise what works and change what doesn’t. Be aware of your own movements and use trial and error to discover what works best for you.
For example, if you try a plow stop but it doesn’t slow you down, you could try getting lower, or try digging in with more force, or try turning your feet further inwards.
Try something new, then assess if it had the effect you wanted. If it was better, keep trying. If it was worse, try something different.
5) Monitor your progress
Keep a record of what you’re working on and how you’re getting on with it. It’s easy to forget how much progress you’ve made when you’re constantly and gradually improving (and you are!).
At any given time, jot down what you’re working on. What do you think is working well? What do you think can be improved?
By keeping a record, you can check back and make sure you’re following up on your goals. You can identify themes across skills and keep track of suggestions and advice others have given you.
Lastly, it will help you remember to honour your achievements. Crossovers might seem like a nightmare now, but one day soon you are going to look back and wonder what all that fuss was about. It’s true!