7 easy tips to improve your jamming

A jammer skates around a roller derby track

So you want to be a better jammer. Here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way that are so easy you can implement them at your next scrimmage:

 

Use your lap time to take a breath … unless there’s no time

A lot of newer skaters think that as a jammer you must fight through the pack, then sprint to do it all over again. And I really like that assumption. For the most part, that’s exactly what jammer should do.

But there’s something to be said about taking a breath. If you’ve fought and fought and fought through a pack and you’re finally out of the engagement zone (without fear that someone will come pull you back), if you need to take the extra [literal] 2 seconds it will take for you to catch your breath, reset and be a strong, penalty-free jammer when you have to fight through that pack again: Do it.

Don’t be lazy. This isn’t an excuse to lallygag, it’s a strategy. If those couple of deep breaths are going to keep you clean and better prepare you for the 2-minute fight, take it.

Sometimes the game clock says you have 8 seconds and it’s a tied game. This tip is not for that moment. It’s for almost every other moment you’re jamming.

Aim for the weakest … or strongest

Maybe it’s obvious to aim for the weakest blocker on the opposing team. She’ll fall out of her wall, you’ll slip through and there will be points and glory and confetti. So do that.

… unless …

Unless you’re a bulldozer of a skater. One of those super strong women who frequently gets back-block calls off the line even though you feel you’ve hit cleanly (but with force). If you’re that skater, try aiming for the gap by their strongest blocker(s) because they’re less likely to fall when you hit them legally, but with force.

Look at their feet

At the jam start, whose feet are in a plow stop, whose feet are in a hockey stop and whose feet are pointing straight ahead? Aim for the people whose feet are pointed straight ahead, whose wheels are ready to roll right out of play.

Be patient with yourself / figure them out

Ever go into your first jam of a bout, get denied lead and think, “this might not be my day.”? If so, this is for you. You got to let that shit go. Give yourself two jams to figure out the other team β€” and *use* them. Really think, “ok, when I hit X that didn’t work, maybe I need to try my line work.” Address whatever issues came up and try a few approaches early so you can quickly figure out their weaknesses and exploit them all game long. I will accept “losing” the first two jams if it means winning the next 38. Be patient with yourself.

The mental game of struggle v failure

Struggle is a big part of jamming at all levels. We’ve seen Champs games that have 2-minute-no-lead jams. It’s not because those jammers suck. Struggle is part of the job of jamming. In the moments you feel struggle, know it’s *not* failure. When you’re pushing a wall of strong blockers and they’re not moving much, that’s not you failing β€” it’s you trying and learning and working. This is the work of a jammer. It’s normal. If you can embrace it, you’ll be happier and go farther.

If you’re going to pass, do it kindly and clearly

Desperate times call for desperate star passes … wait, no …

It’s often the exhausted jammer who will get the Star Pass Violation penalty … or just be flat-out not-so-nice to their pivot by offering a poorly positioned pass. Don’t be that person.

If you’d like to execute a pass:

  • Alert your pivot
  • Make sure your pivot has a chance to get to the front of the pack
  • Be upright and in bounds
  • Only pass if your pivot is upright and in bounds
  • If complete, be helpful, either as offense of as a blocker. Your team still needs you.

And on a not-so-PC note: Think about your pivot. If you’re unable to make it through this pack, is s/he the type of skater who could make it through? Hopefully yes. But if it’s a “no” it might be less damage to your team’s score for you to suffer through the two minutes. It also means you should talk to your bench coach when you get back and ask for a pivot whose skill set is different than your own, so that if your skills aren’t working on a wall, maybe hers will.

Practice stupid shit

Play at practice. Play at warmups. Even on your own. Play with your one-footed turns, your 360s, play with your backward duck walks, dance on your toe stops, skate without toe stops β€” anything that’s challenging, weird and fun. Do it. Even if it seems useless, it’s not. When we practice weird shit, we inherently get better at the normal shit, our balance gets better and we as competitive humans love to play … and love is important.Β 

A jammer skates around the roller derby track in green shorts
Breath on your laps. Photo by Joshua M Hoover, used with permission.

Other game changers:

  • Cross train like a mother.
  • Watch high-level footage. Having a visual of what “success” looks like is a proven way to reach proficiency. The more footage you watch, the better you will get.
  • Work on your mental game (books, meditation, however you do you).
  • Jam ref. You’ll learn so much more about how to be a great jammer and secret tips only refs know. Seriously.

 

Got tips? I could sure use em πŸ˜‰ Drop em in the comments:

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Team USA tryout approaches, skater Grim D Mise turns to … a beauty pageant? Well, yeah!

In less than a week some of the best roller derby skaters in the East will try out for Team USA. Which means it’s time to catch up with Maine Roller Derby skater Grim D. Mise (read this first.), who I’m following through the tryout. The plan is to chat with her the day before the tryout, the day after and once she hears the results.

Here’s Grim:

I last talked with you in Mid-May. What’s changed since then?
I have new muscles in strange places.

Which places?

With one week left, what’s the plan for training?
Rest! Well, kind of. I’m still skating, I’m still Crossfitting, but the intensity is a lot lower. I’ve put my body through a lot over the last few months and what it really needs now is a chance to rest before the big day. I’ve also been extremely sick for a week and I’m only just now recovering from whatever virus I had. For the 2-3 days leading up to tryouts, I plan to continue with light cardio but I’ll mostly be stretching and foam rolling religiously.

What Grim calls "rest." Photo by CrossFit Vindicta
What Grim calls “rest.”
Photo by CrossFit Vindicta

How are you preparing mentally?
Visualization is one of my favorite tools of mental training. I think about roller derby pretty much non-stop and I often joke to my leaguemates about how when driving home, I get carried away with visualizing doing awesome and amazing things on the track and I constantly drive past my road. It happens at least once a week.

Most recently at the Northeast Derby Convention in May, I was invited to participate in an all-star scrimmage as part of, “Team Smarty.” Yes, that Smarty. It was a tremendously fun and helpful experience to be able to have before the Team USA tryouts. Skating with/against skaters of that caliber quickly exposed all of my weaknesses, and some that weren’t very apparent to me. One of the biggest being, self-doubt. Until that scrimmage, I honestly thought I was as confident as I could get on skates and I firmly believed I had a fairly solid mental game. NOPE. Turns out I had some work to do.

At North East Derby Convention. Photo by Joe Medolo.
At North East Derby Convention. Photo by Joe Medolo.

So I entered a Pin-Up girl contest at Northeast Chop Shop in Windham, Maine. What? I know. There’s logic to this decision, I promise. Basically, I had to figure out what filled me up with so much anxiety and doubt. I can list all the reasons here, take up a page or two doing so, or I can narrow it way down and simply say that I had to figure out how to get comfortable being uncomfortable, and being a contestant in a pin-up contest was a situation I was highly uncomfortable being in. Entering that contest was an opportunity to learn how to deal with my mental hang ups. My goal for the contest was to make it through without crying or throwing up. If I could do that, I would have felt successful. So what happened?

Photo credit: Mad Stork
Photo credit: Mad Stork

I told myself to have fun. I took home first place, some sweet prizes, and a SATIN SASH! I made some friends too (one of whom plans to try out for Maine Roller Derby in the Fall!). Focusing on having fun took off so much pressure that I was finally able to feel comfortable. Sometimes a situation calls for unconventional methods. This one certainly worked out better than I had imagined it would.

Are you going with anyone else from Maine?
Yes! My super ultra hyper amazing teammate, Spry Icicle (you know, the one who actually scored points against Gotham that one time we scrimmaged them?) is trying out as well. She’s MRD’s head of training and she’s swell.

Do you have any pre-derby rituals you know you’ll do?
This is a ritual both Spry and I share, but yes, we listen to music and paint our nails. For myself, there are two constants to this ritual: Metal and sparkles. Otherwise, I eat what I feel like eating and I might watch my favorite motivational video once or twice. I might also hula hoop.

Are you going to do anything else while you’re down there? Anything derby?
We are going down to Pennsylvania early to watch all the outstanding derby at the East Coast Derby Extravaganza. I’m going to be working the Turn Two Skate Shop table for most of the weekend while at the event, but I’ll be sure to catch as much of the action as possible.

Are there any skaters you’re hoping to see at the tryout?
Yes! Aside from obviously being excited to share the track with current Team USA skaters, some of my Rogue-mates (my banked track team, “Team Rogue”) will be there and a few of the Boston ladies are trying out as well. Also, and I hope her plan wasn’t to fly under the radar and then blow everyone’s mind away the day of tryouts, but Buster Skulls will be there and she’s got a killer shot to make the team.

You’re the jammer on the line for Team USA and you get to pick your four blockers. Who are they?
I’m pretty sure I may have suffered a slight brain aneurysm thinking about how to answer this but I’d love to see this blocking line up: Slaydie, Smarty Pants, Sassy, Bonnie Thunders.

Anything else you want people to know?
I mostly just want people to know how grateful and endlessly appreciative I am for all the support they’ve given me. I’m so lucky toΒ  have friends and family like I do. It feels really good to have a whole state behind me and that feeling is something I plan to tap into during tryouts. Rock Coast Rollers, Central Maine Roller Derby, Bangor Derby, Maine Roller Derby, Derby Lite: Portland, Maine and New Hampshire Roller Derby (I know you’re not a Maine league NH, but you gals continue to inspire us Mainiacs and you’re always genuinely supportive) — THANK YOU!

Lastly, (here’s where it gets a little mushy) my fiance has been one of my biggest supporters since we met almost three years ago. I decided to stop drinking in preparation for Team USA tryouts and AJ joined me. He’s a huge source of strength when I need it most and without his loving encouragement and support, I’d be lost.

Barf! Grim and soon-to-be Mr. Grim (or TUGBOAT). Photo by Kissy Kicks.
Barf! Grim and soon-to-be Mr. Grim (or TUGBOAT). Photo by Kissy Kicks. (JK on the barfing. Sorta.)