It doesn’t matter how much you research or plan. You will never be fully prepared to coach junior roller derby. Training kids to find their inner derby player is a fun (and terrifying) experience full of uncertainty. That said, there are a few thins I wish I had known before I started coaching.
I was lucky enough to help train the Savannah Junior Derbytaunts before I moved to Houston. Now I’m one of the trainers for Houston Junior Derby. Things are a little smoother this time for two reasons. 1) I’ve gone through this before. 2) There are WAAAAY more derby players involved in the organization process. Below are the five things I wish I had known the first time,
- Expect everything to go wrong. You may have prepared the perfect practice, but if the kids are struggling with a skill or play, you will need to come up with another plan. Maybe you need to spend more time on that drill, or maybe you need to find a way to break it down more. I like to plan a loose practice with a few possible side notes in case my juniors hit a wall (figuratively….. except that one time. It was a slick floor).
- Watch your mouth. I’m not talking about profanity. Whoever is in charge of organizing your junior league can make the call on whether or not profanity should be used with juniors. I don’t think it should be (and both leagues I’ve worked with agree), but I don’t decide for everyone. What I mean is that you should watch your tone and the kinds of words you use to communicate. You’ll want to be encouraging while also giving positive and constructive feedback. I’m not saying to baby your juniors. You should always push them to improve, but don’t be a bully about it. When they do something correctly, celebrate. When they do something wrong, tell them specifically what they did and how to fix it next time.
- Juniors are people, too. I knew this, but I wasn’t really prepared for ALL the things that my juniors could be dealing with. You are going to be dealing with kids who have learning disabilities, developmental and family issues, etc. These kids have real lives with real issues outside of practice. One junior’s parents could be divorcing. You may find out that another is on the autism spectrum. Remember that derby practice may be their safe place; the one place they can feel a little normal in the middle of a chaotic world. Juniors with learning and developmental issues may just need you to switch up how you instruct them (visual aids, speaking literally, etc.). Kids dealing with other issues may just need a hug or a high-five.
- Ask for help. If your junior league is attached to an adult league, get other players and refs involved. If it isn’t, get the parents involved. Never feel like you are the one who has to do everything. There are plenty of people willing to help organize fundraisers or bout day production. But you won’t know who they are unless you ask.
- Keep it fun! Remember how excited you were when you first started playing derby? There was a rush knowing you were joining something new and revolutionary. That’s how these juniors feel. This is their sport. They get to define how it grows and changes. So don’t make it feel like a job. Play some games! Have relay races or do rules trivia with little prizes. Ask around your league to see if anyone has a stash of old or misprinted stickers and patches they’d like to donate. You can also check with local skate shops for promotional stickers or raid your local dollar store for nifty little gifts.
I know there are some junior derby coaches out there who may have more to add. Please send me a Facebook message or tweet or just leave me a comment.
For those of you just starting a league, good luck and feel free to shoot me questions or insights. Two websites I use for my lessons are All Derby Drills and the Junior Roller Derby Association trainer’s manual. The JRDA manual has suggested lesson plans that are pretty darn helpful.