Friday, February 4, 2011

In the pocket - Part Two

The thunderous whir of wheels and bearings spinning at maximum speed hum in your ear. Shouts from in the pack, "Fill that hole!" or "Get to the front!" echo throughout the venue.

You've managed to step into the spot in close proximity to Bat R Up, a woman from Iowa City, Iowa, who lumbers over her competitors with a hitting technique that will knock you into next week with a money-back guarantee. What do you do now?


Pee yourself a little?

Well, you can, but neither will get you very far.

You've managed to get yourself "in the pocket" of a veteran hitter who dwarfs you in size.

You have plenty of options but let's limit the field to just the two of you for now. *Everyone else on the track freeze-frames and fades out with a bass-drop sound effect* ;)

By getting within the sweet spot of "in the pocket" you've limited your opponent's options and her effectiveness to hit. You've taken away much of her ability to gain acceleration and increasing the force of her striking.

My first piece of advice is not to get into a major hitting battle with someone who is easily twice your size. Hitting is about half as effective as booty blocking or leaning, while the former takes more energy it also has a bigger likelihood of taking you out of position to effectively recover. And if there's a size disadvantage, that's a dogfight a smaller player will lose 60 percent of the time.

My second piece of advice is keep your feet moving. This principle shares a fundamental with tons of other sports including boxing and fighting.

In derby, getting caught flat-footed (all eight wheels on the floor without some sort of motion) is an invite to get knocked off your feet. It's harder to control your center of gravity and it's also much harder to react if you need to throw a quick block, get out of the way of a hit or recover if you do take a hit.

Don't get caught flat footed.

A good way to break this habit is to constantly remind yourself to move your feet. Even if you're in warmups or between drills and you catch a quick second to take a breather, make a conscious effort to get your feet in some sort of drill (mankillers, watermelons, scissors, etc.) Essentially what your training your brain and feet to do is make this an instinctual action (just like breathing) so that you never really stop skating on the track.

Remember: Keep your feet moving.

This becomes incredibly important when you start leaning.

The skater on the inside of the turn  has a bit of an advantage because she has the shorter distance to travel. A skater who keeps her feet moving in a lean against a skater who is flat-footed will almost always have the advantage. And obviously the larger skater has a bit of advantage because she has more power in the lean.

I've seen tiny skaters effectively move a larger skater by utilizing her lower center of gravity in a lean, while keeping her feet moving. Sometimes, the surprise factor helps -- a larger skater often cannot counter-lean without making contact with her opponent above the shoulders (illegal in roller derby) -- in a WTF does this girl think she's doing.

A smaller skater can also effectively booty block while in the pocket of a larger skater. Because of the size difference, it's difficult for the larger skater to make much contact on the skater in front of her without changing the smaller player's position (a minor back block) or knocking her down (major back block). Being in front is the superior position against a larger skater because it's much harder for her to make contact with you without committing a penalty.

It's also easier for a smaller skater to control the larger skater because of the proximity to the opponent's hips. A good booty block is one that can take away all of the opponents speed, trap her and control her all by controlling her hips. Humans have a pretty standard anatomy, which doesn't really change from skater to skater. When we want to move somewhere our legs begin in motion starting from our hips and our waist is the pivot point if we want to turn in another direction.

Imagine a giant mixing bowl (one that has a rounded bottom, not necessarily a flattened bottom). Once you set it on the counter or table, simply bumping it will only move it slightly. Maybe it'll wobble a little, but it won't tip and it certainly won't flip over. In order to really move it around you have to pick it up from the sides (on top of the bowl) or move it by reaching inside and pushing it. Think about your booty blocks like that. Your opponent is a mixing bowl and her back is the bottom of the dish, and the top-open part is in between her hips.

With a solid booty block, your butt should be literally seated in your opponents crotch, her legs pretty much hugging your hips. As long as you maintain that contact it's very difficult for her to move without you being aware of it. It's also very easy for you to move her where you need to go.

Having established the booty block, i.e. burying your butt in her crotch, and maintaining her speed by moving laterally-to-diagonally you can also move your opponent. Moving in a direction will gently guide her momentum in that same direction by pushing on her inside thigh muscle. Since our hips are connected via the pelvis, this action will pull the other leg along for the ride.

This maneuver is one that requires a lot of skill and experience, and typically most derby newcomers haven't mastered a really solid booty block until halfway through their first season. Mastering the technique is highly recommended as it will make you a more effective blocker and improve your chances of avoiding or evading any such trap.

By maximizing your potential in the pack while minimizing your opponents, you decrease most advantages your larger opponent may have.

* Bat R is one of the sweetest, most genuine people I've met. But I'm sure many a skater has peed herself a little in her presence.