First a little bit about me. My real life name is Kirsty and I joined Plymouth City Roller Girls in May 2011. Now I am know as Hilda-Guard to those I skate with. I joined the training committee and have now been coaching for a couple of months. I love coaching. I enjoy planning the sessions before hand and I enjoy leading a group through different drills. I have surprised myself in just how much I enjoy it and how the knock on effect of this is that I am pushing myself and taking on more responsibility than I ever would have thought possible. But that is the thing about Roller Derby. It pushes you and you learn things about yourself that you just never thought would be you. All of a sudden you are in a new environment with skates strapped to your feet padded up to eyeballs forcing your body to work all kinds of muscles that you had happily forgotten the existence of. Then, then the mental side of the sport comes into play. You are now in a team, people are relying on you to do your best. To push yourself beyond your physical and mental limits so you can play your part in this team’s success. For me that was something I had never experienced. Not since school had I been forced to push myself beyond my perceived limits and even then I never really cared enough to really push myself too far beyond my comfort zone.
Well I love Roller Derby and it turns out Roller Derby doesn’t give two figs for my comfort zone. So I have pushed myself. For me this has meant making myself have the confidence to coach, to believe enough in myself to lead others. To believe in the work I have done on my own and with my team. To believe what I am saying is valid and important, that PCRG will be a better team with me giving my opinion and leadership. That is not something that comes naturally to me, it is so much easier to make a self-depreciating joke and stand down letting someone else put themselves out there. To give opinion after opinion but not actually put myself in a position of responsibility where I have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. So now I am trying to walk the walk. This means more coaching but also now hopefully Bench Coaching.
What is a Bench Coach I hear you ask? Well the Bench Coach is the crazy lunatic you will often see jumping up and down yelling at her team on the track from the bench at bouts. The Bench Coach or if you are lucky Coaches are the people who keep the players organised. They give the line-ups , they keep an eye on penalties, they know when to call time-outs and they are constantly communicating with the whole team both on and off the track. The yelling is really all about communication. When should the jammer call off the bout. Should the pack be speeding up or slowing down. It is becoming an increasingly important role as the game speeds up and becomes more competitive and a team with dedicated bench coach should be a step ahead of a team without. So with my love of coaching and being a general bossy opinionated soul I thought to myself why that sounds like something I would enjoy. This is how I found myself at PCRG’s mixed scrimmage asking if I could possibly pick a team and have a go at bench coaching.
Luckily the answer was yes and then as a second stroke of luck I found myself another soul looking to try bench coaching. The lovely and wonderful Lydquidator (also known as Lydia) from Cornwall Roller Derby. More generally known for her super NSO skills Lyd was also interested in bench coaching and even better for me has a super knowledge of all the procedural bits that I suck at. Together we chose a team and went to try our hand at bench coaching.
I loved it. Not just a little bit but a whole damn lot. I spent the whole time jumping up and down yelling out instructions, setting line-ups and generally keeping my team organised, calm and focused. Lyd was amazing. She supported everything I did, kept an eye on penalties, told us how and when to speak to the refs and clarified anything we needed to know. W seemed to be on the exact same wave length and more than once I noticed us both jumping and yelling the same thing at the same time.
As it was a mixed scrimmage it was obviously different from being the bench coach to your own team. I didn’t know most of the players so didn’t know who wanted to do what or what experience people had. So I started by asking all the players what they wanted to do. Once I knew who wanted to jam and who was happy to pivot I had a starting point. I then unceremoniously volunteered one of the PCRG rookies to be captain as I knew her and was confident in her abilities to lead. Thankfully Swann-in-a-bout accepted and did a superb job. As I didn’t know all the players I tried to keep things simple but we did have a plan, we had basic tactics and the women knew a couple of basic phrases I would shout to dictate where they should be and what they should be doing. Also as I didn’t know anyone I only had the first 3 line-ups after which time we winged it. I would set up the next jam as soon as one lined up on track. As soon as we lost a player to penalties I would let the players know who would stay on the bench. This all worked beautifully because I was fortunate enough to have a great team of players. They were enthusiastic, focused and they worked really super hard. They also put their trust in me which I am so grateful for. They listened to my ideas and then put them into practice. I was completely awed by the way they all listened to my crazy little ideas and then went out on the track and did every single thing I talked about.
There was one brief point in the second half when we became a little chaotic and started racking up the penalties. At this point I asked everyone to take a breath, remember what we were doing in the first half and stick together. They listened and did such a wonderful job. The fact these women had never played as a team before was quite unbelievable. No one would have guessed it. On the track they stuck to each other like glue, recycled like they were going to save the planet and kept their heads no matter what. It was a huge privilege to watch them play and I loved it.
This blog has been rather long winded and involved huge amounts of I and me, but the truth is the role of bench coach is one of support. Being the eye of the storm, allowing all the players to play the best they can because they don’t have to worry about when they are playing, if they have minors or to decide what tactic to pull when, to know that if it all gets a bit chaotic there is one person who will be looking out for them, telling them to take a breath refocus and keep playing the best game they can. I had the opportunity to be that person for the first time last Thursday with a fabulous group of women and I loved every bloody second of it.