Quicker Transitions and Reforming?

Posted on: June 14th 2016

ask booty - quicker transitions

Q. Hi Booty! I’m a fairly new player, and I come from a completely non-athletic background. One area I have been consistently struggling with is turn stops, and making it back to my wall quickly when we get broken up. How can I help myself, especially outside of practice?! 
– Katie

A.  This is a great question, and a skill you’re not alone in needing help with! First there’s the transition/stop itself — getting yourself safely and quickly turned around and facing the right direction — and then you have to accelerate, avoid overshooting your wall, turn around again, and get into a strong blocking position next to your buddies. Phew!  That’s a lot of things to think about!

Without seeing you skate, it is hard for me to say for sure what the biggest piece of the puzzle will be to help you nail those transitions. Every skater has a different tip for how to improve the footwork and overcome the natural fear and awkwardness of turning in your skates. (Turn your head and shoulders where you want to go, point your arm where you want to go, only lift your back two wheels, pick your feet up quickly instead of trying to hang out in side stance, etc., etc., etc.). And one or more of those tips will eventually produce that ‘Aha!’ moment where it all comes together.

However, I’ve got a few tricks to share with you besides the actual footwork, that should help improve this complex set of skills. 

Part 1 – The Footwork

You have to be able to execute the transition or stop itself quickly, as soon as you hear the whistle / see the jammer knocked out / hear your teammates call ‘go back!’. So practice that skill on your own as much as possible – in your kitchen, on your driveway, in your parking garage, wherever you can find some skate-able surface to just get out there and practice for 10 minutes at a time. Transitions are a real stumbling block for many skaters, so don’t fret if it doesn’t come right away. Consistent practice will get you there! Keep your eyes up, and look the way you want to go.

Part 2 – Reversing your Direction

The next piece to master is changing your direction and momentum as quickly as possible. We’re going to use some science to help us get there! One way to make this switch happen faster is to lower your centre of gravity. Think of your body like an upside-down pendulum, with your head at the end. The longer the chain to the pendulum, the slower and further it will swing, right? So you must shorten the length of your pendulum to make the change in direction happen quickly! In short, get low (but now you know why).
long pendulum - Roller Derby Athletics
Long vs. Short Pendulum

Part 3 – Reversing your Direction even Faster…

Learn to engage your core to improve your agility. If your core is not working for you, it’s working against you. Back to the pendulum analogy – imagine a weight (in other words, your head and upper body) swinging from a thin chain, and compare that to a pendulum swinging from a rigid arm. Now push on the middle of the system. Which weight moves more? The rigid one, of course! Check out my Pre-Hab on How to Engage Your Core to learn how to turn on your core engagement so that your body is working for you, not against you.
better roller derby transitions
Flexible vs. Rigid Core

Part 4 – Accelerating Out of the Transition

If you’ve mastered a low, core-engaged derby stance during your transition-stop, you’re half way there! Now you need to haul ass back to your teammates. So practice your ‘goes’ as much as you practice your stops. When you’re at practice doing stopping drills, make sure to work on accelerating out of every stop, not just slowly rolling out of it. Try taking three fast steps as though you’re trying to overtake another skater. Once again, being low in your stance will help you master this.
better roller derby transitions
Putting the science to work…

At Home… 

Most of the tips I’ve given you here are things that you can work on at practice or in your skates at home – just doing things a little differently than you may already be. But you asked specifically what you can do outside of practice! In addition to working on your transition footwork in your skates whenever you get a chance, here are some off-skate suggestions for you – 
  • Work through the How to Engage Your Core video frequently, to help learn that engagement muscle memory!
  • Practice quick changes of direction, off skates! Good ol’ wind sprints or shuttle sprints will help. Set up two lines about 5 to 10 meters/yards away from each other. Run to the far line, plant your foot and touch the line as you turn away from it and sprint back. Repeat! Below is a great example of NFL prospects performing a shuttle run speed test. Notice their body positioning – super low, sideways to the line. This is exactly how you want to perform your turn-around-accelerate on skates! Practice it off skates to improve. Start slow, and build up speed once you get comfortable with the footwork. Beware of slippery surfaces when trying this!

I hope these tips will help you master the transition and quick re-form into a solid wall, Katie!!

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