That Jam!!

There has been a lot said about the mental side of Roller Derby, indeed fellow Blogger and team mate, Treble Maker, has a book out all about Mental Toughness available here. More specifically she talks about Jamnesia in posts such as this one in her blog. Jamnesia being the practice of forgetting what happened in a Jam before you start the next one. At Sci Fight III this year, I unintentionally demonstrated how important it is to not just practice it during a Jam, but also during those 30s of a penalty.

As mentioned in my ‘I’m Back’ post I had the pleasure of playing in Sci Fight III for Tattoine Twin Sun Terrors. For the most part, due to the high quality Jammers we had, I played as a blocker, however I did Jam occasionally and one occasion forms the inspiration for this post.

I call it ‘that jam’ because it really did stick in my memory that much and it struck me as perhaps the inspiration for a post Treble could do, however as Quady has inspired me to get this blog going again.. I have decided to do it myself.

The jam in question occurred at the end of our second, and closest, game when our LUM put me on to Jam for the last one of the game. I had been blocking for the entire game so this was the first one I had had been Jammer for and I was aware the game was winnable with us trailing by just 5 points.

This is where the first lesson I learnt, and am passing on, comes in… Yes it was a crucial jam but the situation was brought by the team as a whole and it, as a result, wasn’t just my job to win the game.. it was the job of the whole team throughout the bout. Now as I lined up I wasn’t particularly stressed and this is the first lesson. I know a lot of, especially part time, Jammers get stressed by the pressure of trying to score. In short DON’T.. your LUM put you out there to have a go and do your best. If you end up on the back of a 25-0 Jam, don’t feel bad as long as you gave it your all and did your best then the result wasn’t your fault. Your blockers didn’t help you get out well enough, your pivot wasn’t there for your panty pass, or simply the other line was formed of 5 better players than your 5. So on that Jam line, just chill, plan your attack and do your best.

In this Jam my best produced lead Jammer and coming to approach the pack again I bagged a natural grand slam bringing the scores level. This is where the second lesson comes in, great my team has done an awesome job, they’ve held the Jammer – who in this case was a very talented Jammer – for enough time for me to get 1.5 laps on him. But I’m not winning the game on my own, if I skate properly, do a good job and still end up with us losing – so be it. It’s not my fault…

Unfortunately I let the pressure I put upon myself get the better on me, and feeling the pressure of him being half a lap behind I didn’t control my approach to the first opposing blocker well enough. I rushed it, didn’t slow enough, and earned a back block penalty. So the lesson I learnt was to remember that it’s a team game, give myself time and if I end up having to call the jam without scoring then it doesn’t matter – I’ve done my best. In short, treat each scoring past as a single isolated situation, ignore the score, read the track and the pack, regulate your speed accordingly and if ultimately you don’t get through it’s down to a combination of factors and nothing to feel bad about.

As you can imagine I entered the penalty box utterly distraught, but what happened next is what I am passing on for all you to think about.. Even during a Jam forget what’s happened and focus on the next move. Initially I sat in the box head in my hands, feeling awful.. but once the PBT said ‘stand’ I was instantly planning my next move… use those 30s to get over the penalty and form a strategy for rejoining the game and again do your best.

In this Jam I managed two more scoring passes after leaving the box, I was absolutely devastated, I felt I’d lost us the game.. I was in tears.. but now I recognise that not only could I learn a lot from the Jam, but that the result wasn’t down to me, and more importantly that I hope that it gives you all a bit of inspiration and focus on how to work through a Jam.

As a Jammer, at the start of a Jam, simply focus on your plan, now you may decide to go 5th blocker off the line, in which case you need to be aware of the opposing Jammer, but the rest of the time ignore the Jammer and focus on your plan for getting through the Pack. Be aware of offence and use it, and of the pivot if you lose lead, but ultimately focus on you and getting through the pack. The other Jammer is your equal, don’t be overawed by them.

Approaching the pack for the scoring pass, DON’T RUSH!! read the pack, slow accordingly and adjust to the fluidity of the pack, control first, plan second, points third.

Practice Jamnesia in the box, use those 20s your sitting to refocus, then the 10s standing to plan your rejoin.

And last but not least, don’t ever do what I did and think it’s your fault if you don’t score enough points. You are part of a team, your working as a team, and you win and lose as a team. The saying there is no ‘I’ in team is right in any team sport, but in my opinion easy to forget in Roller Derby.. You have up to 14 people, and 5 on track to work with AS A TEAM – Don’t forget that, give Jamming a go and have fun!

I’m Back!!

So it’s been 18 months since I posted and a lot has happened. I’d almost forgotten about this blog until a friend said he had read it and enjoyed it. He asked me to resurrect it so I thought why not, so I’m back!!

Unsurprisingly a lot has happened since I announced I liked to NSO, so this post will be a quick summary of what I’ve been up to.

I carried on NSOing alongside Freshmeat practice through 2015, before passing Minimum Skills late February 2016. 2016 saw me continue to NSO on a reduced range of events while I developed my game play before taking a break from July to October 2016 due to Surgery.

In the first part of 2016 I opened my scrimmage/bouting career with a massively enjoyable scrimmage at Haunted City Rollers before following it up with Scrimmages at Birmingham Blitz Dames. I then opened my public appearances with a fantastically enjoyable 3x30minute tournament hosted by Central City Rollergirls. I was surprised to be judged Most Valuable Player, starting a trend I carried through the rest of the year.

Alongside NSOing for WHR and at Tattoo Freeze and Sci Fight II, I added open and closed scrims to my CV culminating in an enjoyable pair of games at Liverpool Rollerbirds where I played my first advanced level game, and in the intermediate game bagged another Best Jammer award. I also represented, for what would turn out to be my only appearance, WHR Beaters at a 7’s tournament at Oxford.

On return from my break I threw myself in at the deep end with an advanced level tournament playing for Team Crazy Legs at Gauntlet II. This was followed with a variety of enjoyable, mainly public, games including playing both of a double header against Sheffield Steel Rollergirls. That was a fantastic experience as it was the first time I was pitted, in a full game, against a rostered team. The A team game was memorable and close ending up with a overtime jam as the game finished on 165 each.

In early January I took the opportunity to transfer from WHR to Central City Rollergirls. I won’t go into the reasons for this on a public blog, however it’s a change I don’t regret for a second and am having in a fantastic experience with CCR.

This year I have also played at Rainy City in a fun Mods and Rockers themed intermediate game, followed the very next week by an enjoyable third outing for Team Crazy Legs. We visited London Rocking Rollers and played their rostered A team in a friendly and hugely enjoyable bout. I finished the trio with a trip to Sci-Fight III where, representing Tattoine Twin Sun Terrors, I played alongside about 8 of my new CCR team mates.

At CCR I have also started learning to Referee, an opportunity I never really considered, but I gave it a go for something to try and the head of officials was happy enough with my performance to ask me back and make me part of the officials group within CCR. It won’t replace my intention to play for CCR, but gives me another string to my bow, allows me to keep skating while I finish probation and re-pass minimum skills to CCR level and for times when I am unable to skate due to rostering or game level.

Overall as you can see a brilliantly enjoyable, exciting and fun 18 months. Within the blog I will mix blogs like this with explorations of various aspects of roller derby and kit reviews. Huge thankyou to Quad for prompting this post and of course Treble Maker, who is now a team mate, for inspiring me to start the blog in the first place.

Week 21 : So I like to NSO!

When I started Roller Derby I was not in the slightest bit surprised to hear that Derby Leagues expect their members to contribute to the running of the league and it’s matches. I was even less surprised to hear that part of the requirements included doing some work as a Non Skate Official (NSO) and pretty much immediately volunteered to help out. My sporting background includes Cricket and while some league matches might see a small amount paid to Referees, for the majority of the time all the roles needed to run a club and it’s matches are voluntary – just like Roller Derby.

A NSO is an official working off skates in an official capacity to monitor an aspect of a game. There are a number of positions and they between them monitor all aspects of the game including the line-ups the teams use each Jam, the penalties issues and scores of the teams. In addition there are usually 2-4 people acting as track repair who’s role is definitely ‘official’ but don’t count as an NSO. This is important to know as I believe it’s normal for a league to expect Fresh Meat to do ‘some’ NSOing before they pass minimum skills.

The NSOing positions are as follows :-

  • HNSO – Head NSO, who typically also takes on another role.
  • Penalty Tracker (PT) – responsible for keeping track of every penalty issued during a game.
  • Inside White Board (IWB) – records the same penalties on one or two white-boards so the teams can track penalties.
  • Penalty Wrangler (PW) – this position is very much optional and their role is to help ensure the PT/IWB hear penalties.
  • Jam Timer (JT) – Keeps track of Jam, and Period timing for the bout.
  • Penalty Box Manager (PBM) – primarily responsible for Jammer penalty tracking, may also have some ability to call a limited range of penalties and have some paperwork to do.
  • Penalty Timer (PT) – Two NSO’s who time the penalties for the Blockers.
  • Line-ups (LU) – Two NSO’s who track the line-ups each team fields onto the track during the game.
  • Score Keepers (SK) – record the scores indicated by the Jam Referee’s.
  • Scoreboard Operator (SO) – Operates the score-board so that teams and spectators can see the bout scores.

I’ve so far NSO’d the inside track positions, that is Penalty Wrangler, Penalty Tracker, Inside White Board and Jam Timer so I’ll go into a bit more depth of those positions and why I enjoy them. Because that’s a big thing about NSOing, it’s not a chore, it’s FUN. I’ve so far NSO’d three double headers, all of which were British Championship games, two in which Wolverhampton Honour Rollers have been involved, and one in which the Crash Test Brummies (CTB) mens team were hosting. In addition I’ve NSO’d two closed Scrimmages, once for WHR and once for CTB.

So as you can see I am enjoying it that much I’m taking every chance I can to help out, not because I have to (I’ve more than fulfilled any requirements) but because NSOing is a brilliant way to learn about the game, rules, ref signals and even at times connect drills you might have done to live game play. Simply by NSOing I feel I will be a lot less confused when I come to playing because I’ve seen close up what is involved in a game, and because I’ve always inside track NSO’d your constantly watching the game and the referee’s, so lots of chance to learn useful things. In short I love it and highly recommend NSOing to any Freshies from as early as you can in your career.

Penalty Wrangling

I started my NSOing by doing Penalty Wrangling for a British Championship double header bout back in June. I had volunteered as a backup NSO so turned up with WHR’s HNSO and took on the role of PW. This proved to be an excellent position to start in, it’s very low on stress but you are on your feet and moving constantly. I asked the Head Ref for guidance about where he suggested I stood in relation to him and/or the pack and shadowed him, as I heard penalties (in a very noisy bout with music and a crowd missing calls is not uncommon) I then confirm with the PT that they have heard them. If a call is missed we know which skater got the penalty (as they are skating to the penalty box) and can verify the penalty with the refs in the 30s between Jam’s. In these two games I also started to recognise ref penalty signals – this is useful as you can thus work out an unheard penalty purely by the signal and which skater has entered the penalty box.

Pros:

  • Very stress free.
  • Get to see refs in action at close quarters
  • Start to learn and understand the game and penalties.
  • Good introduction to inside track NSOing

Cons:

  • Inside track is very noisy.
  • It can get quite busy so while not pressured it can get busy.

Penalty Tracking

I moved up to PT for my second double header, and again it was a British Championship double header. I also repeated the role more recently in a closed Scrimmage. The double header was super busy, especially in the second bout, but again as with PW if you do miss a penalty your IWB (or even on occasion your JT – although it’s NOT their role) may hear it and ultimately again you have 30s between Jam’s to double check. You are recording the penalties so some accuracy is required but overall it’s not really much harder than Wrangling. You’ll work closely with the IWB and can constantly double check penalties with them and periodically I also called time-outs for the first time. If you are getting overloaded, especially if a lot of penalties go off at once (most I’ve seen is three, and chances of catching all is nigh on impossible) it may be needed to clarify – although obviously you’ll try to get them all sorted in the 30s between Jam’s. For example in the Scrimmage between us myself and the IWB caught too penalties, which went off together, looked at the penalty box and saw three sitting, a third had been called and completely missed. We simply noted the players number and checked with the Head Ref at Jam’s end. I will regularly, at least at every Jam end, if not more frequently, glance at the Penalty box to ensure it looks like I expect it to.
One time-out was called when a number appeared we hadn’t got on the IWB/PT paperwork, we’d even checked our line-up with the coach/LUM of the team in question, so had to call a time-out so the Head Ref could decide if the player was meant to be playing. Ideally you should have a line-up off each teams, but doesn’t seem to always work out that way.
PT will also inform the Head Ref when a skater is on 6 penalties and when they foul-out, some Head Ref’s may like the warning on 5.

Pros:

  • Get to see refs in action at close quarters
  • Start to learn and understand the game and penalties.

Cons:

  • Inside track is very noisy.
  • It can get quite busy so while not pressured it can get busy.

Inside White Board

Again this was a British Championship double header (yes my first 6 NSOing bouts were all Champs games, nothing like diving in at the deep end) and having worked PT you see the IWB at work and thus it’s not hard to pick-up. It’d rate it as the second easiest inside position as in theory the PT is telling you what to write down but as your working very much as a team, chances are you’ll end up listening out for penalties too – so doing a bit of Wrangling too. The IWB’s job is simply to ensure the White board has the correct penalties and confirm with the PT when skaters hit 6. If a skater foul’s out they have a line drawn through their row on the board. When I did IWB the PT/HNSO asked me to do a little dot in the corner to confirm the skater had sat to take the penalty, when I PT’d in the scrim, my IWB also did a second dot to confirm they had left the box. These dots are purely for inside track monitoring, and useful to just act as double checks that everything is correct.

Pros:

  • Very stress free.
  • Good introduction to inside track NSOing.
  • Get to see refs in action at close quarters
  • Start to learn and understand the game and penalties.

Cons:

  • Inside track is very noisy.
  • It can get quite busy so while not pressured it can get busy.

Jam Timing

This in some ways is the most important inside track position as your responsible for all the overall game timings. I’ve done this once, in a full closed door scrimmage, and while I would be happy to do again in any game it’s definitely the position I am least confident about. There are a lot of little things to remember so it’s good to be methodical, but there is time for others inside track (Head Ref for example) to answer quick questions if your unsure, but most of the time your working very much on your own. This is the one position I wouldn’t have liked to do for the first time in a championship bout.

You have two stop-watches, one which is the period clock and one which is the Jam timing clock. Some people have said they sometimes confuse the two, but it was fine for me. I kept the Period clock around my neck while the Jam clock was in my hand. The only time I needed to worry about the Period clock was for time-outs – and this is where my signs were terrible, you almost need 5 pairs of hands!! Essentially when a time-out is called the Period clock is paused and Jam clock stopped. You then need to time the time-out for a minute (if it’s a team time-out only) while also signalling the time-out.. yeah not quite worked out how to do that with 2 pairs of hands!!

At the end of the time-out a rolling whistle indicates the game is resuming, in my case I then called the 5 seconds and restarted the period clock. At the scrim I PT’d for, which took place the day after the one I JT’d for, I noticed the JT was waiting a full 30s to restart the game, I’m not sure therefore which is correct, however I have noticed teams are usually promptly setup at the end of a time-out so the 30s isn’t really needed.

Not sure what to put for pro’s and con’s for this one, while the Jam is running it’s a very relaxed position, your just watching the Jam clock and probably the game. Starting Jams is easy too, as soon as a Jam ends I reset and restart the Jam clock, at 25s the JT called 5s then with a blow of the whistle and drop of the hand they start the Jam at 30s – I then keep the clock running and thus a full Jam runs to 2m30s on the clock, but 2minutes for the Jam itself. But Time-outs are a little confusing, so it’s difficult to work-out how difficult a job it is.

Conclusion

As you can see I highly recommend NSOing, not all positions are suited to everyone, and while I’d say it’s not a bad thing to try all positions, it’s definitely the case that some people simply can’t cope with inside track. It’s not hard, but it’s noisy, busy and there is a lot of communication going on and if they have problems with that kind of environment it can be tough. Outside track tends to be quieter and a lot less busy, plus most, if not all, of the positions could allow an NSO to sit – for example if they are injured. As such there is an NSO position for everyone, I love Penalty Tracking – and inside track I feel suits my skills and abilities. If I’m asked to do another position I’ll definitely do it, but I’m more than happy in the crazy world of inside track NSOing.

So go out and get involved, NSOing is vital in making games run and has so many positives it’s something, in my opinion, everyone should do – regularly.

Week 20 : Reflecting on 20 crazy weeks, and Minimum Skills testing!

I decided to keep the blog quiet over the last few weeks because we were going through a period of testing in the league and I wanted to concentrate on that, and then do a reflective post, rather than try to write about things as they happened. There is still one more chance to test, but this isn’t for a little while so I decided the time was right to write and reflect.

Some might remember that 11 weeks ago I failed an assessment due to my form. The result of that has been probably the biggest lesson I’d learnt in Roller Derby, and one I hope will carry me all the way through my career. It’s summed up by the catch phrase ‘less is more’, which currently means take things one step at a time. Ultimately I hope it’ll make me a better skater and mean I am concentrating in small targets, not big ones – like passing minimum skills.

For me when I took my minimum skills, I wanted to come out of them with two results. A strong 27/5 skate and finding exactly where I am with my basic skills. If I passed, then obviously I’d be pleased, but would be very cautious about my first steps into the big bad world of roller derby.

I wouldn’t want to just dive into a cherry popper game at the first chance, I’d rather build up my skills in scrims, training sessions, and boot camps then play my first game when I felt comfortable, or WHR’s training team feel I’m ready. For me I feel that would give me the best start to my career.

As it happens I wasn’t surprised to find I didn’t pass my minimum skills test, but it most definitely wasn’t a failure, for someone who’s been skating for 20 weeks I’m really quietly pleased with where my skill level is. When I do assessments my aim is to do strong, clean precise skills and I simply am not at that level with transitions, and as a result didn’t pass them. That wasn’t unexpected and, alongside continuing to strengthen my form, is going to be my personal goal in the run up to the next test.. and that’s what I’m aiming to continue to do.. work on specific achievable goals.

And much to my delight it’s clear this focus is working. I managed 26.25 in 5 in the 27/5, which technically is a ‘fail’, but I came away really pleased on reflection with the skate. For my 27/5 my aim was to have a solid and strong form, good rhythm, 6 cross-overs per lap and to finish the skate with energy to spare, in other words I wanted to improve my efficiency alongside everything else. To prove to myself that I manage the efficiency goal my aim is to finish the skate, skate a cool down lap and not collapse in a heap!!

For most of the run I was skating 6 cross-overs, although I did feel my pace was a little slow, something didn’t feel right. While skating I couldn’t nail what the problem was, my legs didn’t feel ‘right’ and I think it was a combination of two things, firstly I’d been doing a lot of walking during the day while not eating properly – I’d had a visit to Sheffield and almost certainly walked over 10 miles during the course of the visit – and cycled 3 miles to testing. Secondly I don’t think I got as low as I could which meant I didn’t ‘feel’ quite right, but despite all that I still kept a decent form and handled other challenges well.

I also had a bit of bad luck with traffic, caught them at awkward spots costing me momentum and resulting in a bit of time loss. Overall I am feeling I am doing a good job with traffic, just on this occasion a bit of bad luck meant I struggled a bit more to get past people in a timely manner.

Feedback from my trainers/testers was that my form looked generally good, one bit of feedback was that I looked a little inefficient and I agree, and think that was partially down to worn out legs – but is still something I want to work on and improve.

At the end my trainers were clearly really pleased with my progress which was exactly what I wanted, 27/5 will come, if I can do 26.25 in sub-optimal conditions, then I shouldn’t need to worry about the laps.. but for me what was far more important was actually being able to show progress to my trainers. It almost becomes not about me, but about giving something back to the people pushing and encouraging me, and for me the best way to do that is take it on board, listen, work hard and see the smiles on their faces when I show progress.

Another area, and probably the area of focus for me at the moment, is transitions. I didn’t pass transitions, and that fact didn’t come as a surprise, I’ve been working on them hard, but I knew consistency was an issue, and that was exactly the feedback I got. Poor consistency and some instability are the things I need to work on.

I’m going to work on trying to practice both directions equally too, I am sure I’ll still have a ‘strong’ side but I know from knee taps where my left was my unnatural side, working hard on both sides equally can pay dividends. I can do left taps almost as good as right now. I’ve been working on transitions for a while and it has been frustrating me that I struggle to do them spontaneously, or more precisely have a tendency to think about them a lot, especially when I have to do them. They noticeably improve when I relax but I think what I need to do is simply work on a solid, basic, simple transition and just get it reliable. Most likely it’ll be the split-stance front truck transition, as I can do that in both directions.

Anyway I’m super happy with where I am with my skills, and will just keep working and working on all my skills, but with the goal of improving my transitions and continue to improve my cross-overs.

Gear Review : Crazy DBX3 with Apollo plates (First Impressions Review)

The Crazy Skate Company are an Australian skate company who make a variety of Derby, Roller, Inline and Ice Skates. Their Derby range starts with a couple of Junior options, then  the VXi which I suspect is their ‘entry level’ option, before coming onto their premium boots and skates. They provide 4 premium options which are all equal in quality and just vary on specification.

They supply boots in Vegan and Leather options, and in a pair of cuts, which means most people should be able to find a specification that suits them. The Vegan DBX3 and Leather DBX5 options are what Crazy called the ‘support’ cut, while the DB4 (V) and DBX6 are their ‘Performance cut’

The Support cut is higher than the Ruckus, but not a full boot like an Antik, and as such they do feel very snug against the ankle bone (they come just over it, rather than just under it on a classic cut) and push against the achilles at the back more than on a classic cut. This is definitely a little uncomfortable initially but I got used to it and had no rubbing or problems during a 2 hour skate.

They also feature a heel lock system which means the boot is extremely snug around the heal and just above, for me this felt fine, but some might need to tweak by heat moulding. My heel felt very snug and secure with no apparent slip or movement.

Both Casey and one of my friends in Wolverhampton Honour Rollers told me they had to protect the Achilles with cotton wool taped to it, for a couple of sessions, but I got no rubbing in the first session so hopefully won’t need to do that, but if I do it won’t worry me, all part of new well fitting boots.

The Performance cut found on the DBX4 and DBX6, as I understand it, is a bit lower and more traditional. For me, however, the support cut is perfect, in combination with the stiff (heat mouldable) construction of the main part of the boot, flexible toe box adjustment and the height of the boot just felt great out of the box.

In the shop when doing a bit of toe-stop testing I did feel a bit of pain in the achilles from the pressure of the back of the support cut on the tendon, but I suspect the stops were adjusted too high and in practice I didn’t notice any problems at all.

Toe stop wise I went for lil Bloc’s, but could have gone for a triangular arrow, big Bloc’s or Bounce stops. I also selected 93a, slim, 59mm wheels from a wide selection of options, it’s nice to see a manufacturer offering this level of flexibility.

At practice the wheels I didn’t feel comfortable with out of the box, they felt too grippy and I struggled to plow – with assessments due in a couple of weeks I swapped to the Ikons and felt much better. I also adjusted the trucks but they weren’t as loose as the Ruckus trucks and I’ve since changed the cushions to softer ones and will play with that a bit more.

The Apollo plate is interesting, it’s a ‘plastic’ plate, but unlike most plastic plates it’s made of a fibreglass/Resin composite rather than pure Nylon as found on most budget end plates. I went shopping looking for an Aluminium plate as I wanted something I was confident in, but I’d always been curious about the Apollo. So when Casey said she’d not heard of any breakages she simply backed up my thoughts that the material they use ‘should’ be pretty strong and thus was happy to go for them. They also use an allen bolt for securing the toe-stop allowing a greater range of adjustment and easier securing of the stop. They are also build to the same angles as the more expensive aluminium Venus plates and thus a lot of the components swap straight over including lighter kingpins and cushions.

With the Apollo plate you don’t get extra cushions but the Apollo and Venus plates use exactly the same cushion/truck setup, so Venus cushions fit just fine and are approved by Crazy, they have a choice of two styles of ‘bottom’ cushion, a wide and narrow cone, and if you want the extra agility of the narrow cone you will need to also buy new caps for the bottom cushion – something I’m likely to do. The top cushions are standard across the range.

Unlike Sure grip cushions as I used on the Ruckus, you have 6 options of cushions, 2 rubber options ( the Apollo comes with the harder of the two), 3 PU options and 1 ‘snap back’ option – I get the impression that in effect is the softest option. So fine-tuning the 20 degree plates to your tastes should be pretty easy to do. My first experiment is to mix rubber and the PU soft options, I don’t currently have the middle PU option but may get some if I can’t get a comfortable setup with the options I have. I suspect Middle PU plus soft might be the final combination, but time will tell.

So how did they feel?

I REALLY liked them, they didn’t quite have the agility I wanted but that’s understandable and not something I’m worried about as I was skating on them pretty much un-tweaked, but I had no pain that I remember throughout practice and they reacted really well to what I wanted them to do.

The Lil Bloc’s were nice and stable and felt comfortable on my toe stops straight away which was good as they had been the hardest choice. I liked the Rookie Ruckus toe stops and never have through ‘oh I’d like this’ so faced with a choice of stops I really went with Casey’s judgement and I think she was spot on.

I will probably sell the Crazy wheels, mainly because I have ones I’m comfortable with, however they’re probably pretty good wheels just don’t have the time with assessments coming up to properly test them, and more importantly, I am comfortable with the Reckless – so why change? If I hadn’t upgraded the Ruckus wheels I’d probably be sticking with them.

Despite being sub-optimally setup I managed to do a 5.5s 10 cone weave and sub 13s single lap, speed/power seemed really good and I was able to do all my skills with little problem. Plows will need a little practice but I think I rely on my truck setup to a degree and I expected some skills to need work due to the new skates. As such I definitely see this as something normal for new skates, rather than a problem, and indeed I suspect my Plows will be up to my old standard, or better, soon.

When I went to practice I went with the knowledge I might need to go back to the Ruckus for assessments as they are what I’m comfortably.. after one practice I think that’s extremely unlikely!!

Overall, based on 2 hours skating, I really am happy with them.. comfy, adjustable, fit like a glove – just what I wanted. I think the approach Crazy have taken with their boots is really good, they seem to have looked at how Roller Derby works, what a skater needs out of a boot, and designed their boot very much to that brief.

I’m not saying other manufacturers haven’t, but when I look at Bonts they just seem to low/soft to give me to the support and instant transmission of power I want, Antics look interesting, but for me Crazy seem to have really done a superb job. A hugely adaptable design, with a flexible width toe-box, highly heat adjustable boot and excellent support and heel lock system, what’s not to like?

Gear Review : Rookie Ruckus

Rookie are a UK based company who have been making skates since 1978. Most of their skates are aimed at markets other than Roller Derby but the recent addition of the Rookie Ruckus gives them an entry level offering suitable for Fresh Meat skaters. The review is a mix of facts about the skates and my experience as a Fresh Meat skater.

I bought mine as my Fresh Meat skates very early on having used Reidell R3’s from loaner kit initially. The R3’s were size 11 and while they fitted width wise, length wise they were too long and I found I really struggled to go round corners in them, that all changed when I got the Ruckus, firstly I set them up out of the box by loosening the trucks, almost all the way off, and secondly they fitted me properly with my toes almost reaching the end, the plates were substantially shorter and sat under the right parts of my foot.

Rookie Ruckus are the cheapest of the skates that could be considered derby suitable at around £80 in the UK, but are probably the best of the 3 main options. Their direct competitors are the Riedell R3 @ £100 and the Sure Grip GT-50 @ £120. Given the price difference it’s a big statement to say they are ‘probably the best’ so I guess I better explain why. Firstly my local skate shop, Skate Hut (www.skatehut.co.uk), near Birmingham, UK, sells them as the ‘go to’ option for Freshies on a budget – that a shop recommends the cheapest option is no bad indication of which skate is better.

It is that plus the spec of the skates that really makes them a better starter option, of the three they are the only one to come with an Aluminium plate. Now it is a generic plate, but they are still the only Aluminium plate before the Sure Grip Avengers. They are also surprisingly lightweight (although I didn’t realise that until talking to Casey at Skate Hut recently), come with 88a wheels, a perfectly usable toe-stop and 4 cone cushions per skate.

The R3’s and GT-50’s both come with much harder wheels, and for many years the R3’s came with poor design of toe stop (I’ve heard they now come with round stops, the same as the Ruckus and GT-50). They also come with a cone/barrel combination for the cushions, which allows less movement of the trucks than the default Ruckus setup.

As such, unless your practising on a very sticky floor, the Ruckus skates can work out of the box much better than the competition, and even then for starting you can live with the 88’s on a sticky floor, better than R3 and GT-50’s 96’s on a slick floor. The cushion setup also means that you can get a bit more movement out of the Ruckus trucks than R3’s/GT-50’s – although to be fair all 3 skates probably benefit from a cushion upgrade sooner than later.

Indeed the cushions were the first thing to upgrade, moving from the default black rubber ones to a mix of yellow and purple sure grip ones. These made the trucks, for me, much nicer and I felt contributed to improved plows (my favourite stop) and skull crushing. I do, however, seem to run my trucks looser than many of my league-mates and this is a hugely personal thing. That said I’m running far from as loose as possible, the setup is very much a middle-ground cushion wise so plenty of room to get even more movement if I wanted, or less. Heavier skaters will probably go for a harder cushion combination, while lighter ones may go the other way, but with 4 Sure Grip hardnesses to choose from there is plenty of scope to customise your setup – just remember to order only cone cushions.

My second upgrade was to the wheels, I was clipping wheels a lot – which as a skater wasn’t a problem but the default wheels are 44mm wide, so while improved skating would definitely contribute I definitely wanted to go narrower. I narrowed my choice down to Reckless, 38mm, wheels and Heartless 35mm wheels. I ended up plumping for Reckless (bought from another fantastic skate shop – For Heaven Skates – www.fhskates.co.uk ) and ended up with 62mm Ikons. I didn’t want to go straight to an extreme narrow wheel such as the Heartless and then find I was uncomfortable with the narrower setup. In the event I’m really happy with the Ikons, and went for 93’s in hardness. Much to my surprise feeling straight at home despite the reduction in grip from the narrower/harder wheels.

It’s worth remembering that wheels on ‘Fresh Meat’ skates tend to have less grip for their given duro than quality wheels of the same duro, so going harder but not loosing appreciable grip is logical.

So overall the Ruckus for me are fantastic starter skaters, they needed a bit of tweaking to get completely comfortable with. The toe-stops needed raising, trucks adjusting and after playing with wheels (I borrowed some GT-50 wheels) quickly learnt that the default wheels where pretty good, so overall a very good skate which I’ve been more than happy with. The tweaks are the kind of thing you’d do on any skate, different skater styles, weights and floors means changing cushions, toe-stop height and wheels are all standard things for skaters to do.

However I was hitting one problem, my feet are a very very strange shape, they’re wide, probably a bit flat, but narrow strangely. This put R3’s out of the equation because of their width (they’re narrow) but GT-50 might have been an option, however the Ruckus fitted. But in order to get the length right, the width was very snug and unfortunately my right foot big toe nail paid the price – and as a result was getting some pain on the right foot. This is very much an issue with my feet and NOT the boot, but prompted me to upgrade sooner rather than later.

I would definitely have been happy to take these skates through the Fresh Meat program and am confident I could have passed Minimum skills in them without a problem (well other than my own skill levels!!) however a combination of the fact I get lazy changing between indoor and outdoor wheels, and the slight discomfort/pain in the right boot caused entirely by my wonky feet, meant I have upgraded.

But I am really happy to have started with these skates, they do the job and when setup correctly really are nice to skate on. I’ve never felt held back by these skates and I’m sure they are plenty good enough to take into bouting if needed.

Week 17 : New Skates.. new adventures.. How to buy your skates.

This week your getting a triple helping of blogs. Firstly a bit of a guide about the process I take when it comes to buying skates and why I do, what I do. I get the impression that a lot of Freshies don’t appreciate the importance of skates and thus buy them without doing any ground work and either are held back by them, or find themselves upgrading sooner than they should need to.  The importance of a well fitting boot is that a poorly fitting one will give you problems of some variety, the list below gives some of the things that can be effected by incorrectly sized/fitted boots.

  • Agility
  • Power
  • Stability – While it’s a valid mount, the short forward mount is a good example of how this can happen.
  • Pain
  • Lost toe nails
  • Problems with toe-stop work.

I have upgraded fairly soon, but in my case it was due to having the cash available thanks to selling off stuff and getting lazy about changing wheels between indoors and outdoors. So this blog will take you through the process I took to buy my second set of skates, while the other two blogs are mini-reviews of two sets of skates, the Rookie Ruckus and the Crazy DBX3’s with Apollo plates.

When I started Roller Derby I managed to fund a basic setup, consisting of Rookie Ruckus skates with Triple-8 knee and elbow pads and SFR wrist pads. I picked up some cheap Smiths Scabs off a league mate allowing me to have indoor and outdoor knee pads – good considering my attraction to the floor – then upgraded the wheels to Reckless Ikon 63a’s.

Most recently I managed to sell some computing gear allowing me to upgrade my boots. Now the upgrade was for two reasons, firstly the annoyance of having to change wheels to go indoor or outdoor, and secondly some pain I was getting wearing the Ruckus.

During the Blog I mention suppliers by name, I do this because I’ve been a satisfied customer of them and see no reason why shops with good customer service can’t benefit from a bit of free advertising. When it came to upgrading I had a tight budget due to being limited to what I’d made, preferably less, from selling some computer parts – and thus I knew my options might be limited.

I’d done some research and my ‘plans’ were either :-

Vanilla Renegades with Roll-Line Variant M plate.
Sure Grip Rebels with same.
Football boots with same.

The latter really appealed to my geek side and it’s something I want to try but I don’t make these choices on a whim, and definitely research and spend time over them. So after speaking to Casey @ Skatehut (www.skatehut.co.uk) I popped down and we got cracking on working out something that would be a good upgrade and within budget. The process we went through was broadly similar to how I bought my Freshie gear. Once again I went to the shop with a good idea of what I wanted, I understood skates, how to adjust them and had read articles on different plates.

I’d chosen 15/16 degree’s as my likely preferred king pin angle as I didn’t want something that sapped power, and agility is something I think I probably have already. In the event I ended up with a 20 degree’s but I trust Casey’s judgement and the boots I ended up with are lovely, and in the end if I really don’t get on with the plates, I can sell them and put a Variant M or Blaster on.

So having done my research I arrived in store probably expecting to end up with some Sure Grip Rebels, my feet are wide and thus I believed they’d fit well. Turned out my feet are not that straight forward. The Rebel’s fell foul of my wonky feet, they fitted for width, but had getting on for 1cm of space at the end of my foot, not ideal for toe-stop work.. so they got put to one-side. In fact in a sign of good customer service Casey at Skate Hut (www.skatehut.co.uk) basically refused to sell them me – she knew they wouldn’t work so refused to sell me unsuitable gear). It was at this point I realised I really needed to be sensible and go for a derby boot, my feet mean it’s tough to get a good fit, and going football boots for an investment meant to last which might not fit my feet properly was a bad plan.

Casey knew from experience that Jackson’s boots wouldn’t fit, Reidell’s probably would but they are very pricey, Luigino probably wouldn’t have, but also are pricey and the shape of Isis meant I didn’t even entertain that as an option. Antiks probably would have fitted, but were also out of budget. As you can see choosing skate boots is not straight forward, custom options will always fit – and are surprisingly not much more than the standard boot – but for me even that ‘not much more’ was out of budget.

A case in point was Bonts. Their default boots proved to fall foul of the same problem as the Rebel’s, however Custom boots would have worked, but would have pushed my budget to the max and would have needed me to put my Ruckus plates on the Bonts. This was a solution I’d have gone with if needed, however if would have meant only having one set of skates – when I wanted two, one indoors, one outdoors! But it is testament to the Ruckus plates that I’d have been happy with this as a solution.

Vanillas were plausible, however out as they aren’t stocked by Skate Hut, however Crazy’s are and it is worth mentioning that Casey is a fan of them, indeed she was wearing a Crazy T-shirt (which she bought herself!) when I visited. But the one thing I’ve learnt is Casey knows what she’s talking about, so I was more than willing to try Crazy Skates when she suggested it.

Given I’d only seen the Venus packages I didn’t realise they did them with the Apollo plates, but they do, I tried them on, they fitted – pretty much perfectly. Skated on them and despite being poorly setup (as expected for off the shelf out of box skates) felt really nice straight off. Turned out they were comfortably inside budget too, so that’s what I plumped for.

In all I was probably in the store for 2 hours trying on boots, discussing options, going backwards and forwards between skates before plumping for the Crazy package. It did mean going for a ‘plastic’ plate, however in Crazy’s case the Apollo is definitely designed with derby in mind, being a fibre/resin/nylon composite it’s stronger than a typical Nylon plate (indeed Casey knows of none that have broken) and reflects a need to go skate shopping with an open mind.

I’ve always liked the look of Crazy boots so it was almost a match made in heaven, but if they’d not fitted, I’d have looked at other options. But take your time, understand your options and areas you might be able to compromise on, in my case if the Crazy’s hadn’t fitted I’d have had to go custom Crazy, or Bont, with the Ruckus plate, then added a Crazy Apollo or Roll-Line plates at a later date.

So in summary, if your shopping for skates. Do your research, understand trucks and kingpin angles, make sure to try pairs on and don’t go shopping set on a specific boot, it might not fit.