Monday, May 26, 2014

Why go to outside coaching?

Last weekend I attended the Smarty Pants training clinic held in Virginia, at the Pivot Center.  If you live in a cave and have no idea who she is, you really should check out her site here.  I am not going to get into her strategies and secrets, but I will tell you about her awesome coaching style and how her clinic blew my derby mind, and that surprised me because this is my sixth year in the sport, and I thought I'd seen it all.
All the hitting.

And that's really the problem in our sport, the part about me thinking I've seen it all. As soon as we think thoughts like that, we stop growing as derby players. To be fair, I've been on the fence all year whether or not to retire next year, so I have been stuck in this weird place in my derby development. Part of me wants to just retire next year and leave the aches and pains behind, and part of me (the crazy part) wants me to keep doing this derby thing. I've had an internal debate going on for a couple of months, but being at the Smarty Pants clinic made me want to continue playing derby.

Yes, her clinic was that good.

Of course, not everyone has that profound of a reaction to a clinic or a training they go to. I've been to several over the last six years, and I've found some really excellent teachers, and some that are amazingly talented, but can't teach what they know.  Teaching people, coaching people, is a skill that many people do not have; of the many clinics I've gone to, the four that stand out as excellent are Smarty Pants, Carmen Getsome, Quadzilla, and Bonnie D'stroir. I can't recommend these coaches enough, and if they are anywhere near you and offering a training, you should definitely go. It's going to be completely worth it!

But how do you know a clinic is good? Here are some telltale signs that a clinic is going to teach you amazing things that may change the way you feel about derby in general, and is going to be worth the money you spent on it.

I wish my league had a space like this.
1.  The clinic is in a space that can support a derby track.  I've been to some trainings where the space itself is not conducive to derby in general. The track is a mini track, or it's hot as blazes, or they only have one bathroom. Most legitimate coaches go to legit places to teach. The Pivot Center is a really great space, with a great floor and bathrooms. Hooray!

2.  It isn't so crowded that you can't all participate for most of it. This doesn't count when you're at Rollercon, because I feel like the classes there give you a taste of what each coach can give you. In fact, that's where I first got to experience Smarty Pants as a coach, and I knew that if I had a chance to learn from her again, I would. If you are going and paying for a specific coach or coaches, the training should be limited to a workable number of people on the track.

3.  The coach has some street cred. They don't have to be on Team USA, but they should be experienced enough in derby to offer sound advice. I'm not saying they need to have close to a decade in derby experience, but some time in the trenches will help. It also means that they should be experienced at leading training. It helps if the league they come from has had some success too.

4.  The coach is great at explaining what he or she knows. This is a definite skill, and many people are completely incapable of it. Some coaches think they're being very clear, and they've lost half of the attending class with their incomplete explanations. You can find this out by watching videos they post, or reading articles they write, or follow their blogs. If they can't explain themselves in any of those ways, they probably aren't going to be the best coach to learn from.

5.  The coach has a clear plan. There should be a method to his or her madness, and they can lead you through the process. If this is their first clinic, you might not be getting the smoothest presentation of their ideas; teaching, like any other skill, takes practice for it to be good.

6. The clinic is honest about the level it is teaching to.  I've seen and been to some clinics that promise they are teaching to the intermediate and higher levels, and yet it turns out that the actual level of the information is more toward the beginner level. As derby develops, people are getting better at figuring out the exact level of the information they want to teach. Now, if you sign up for an intermediate or advanced clinic, and you aren't at that level yet, the fault lies with you. Be honest with yourself about where you are in your derby development.

7.  You leave the clinic with your mind blown. It doesn't have to be an overall mind implosion, but something you heard, saw, or experienced changed the way you think about derby. It took me a week to process the things I had learned at the Smarty Pants clinic, which is part of the reason I didn't write a blog last week. I feel like every clinic should offer one mind blowing experience that will make you change how you skate.

8.  The clinic is about teaching, and not the coach's ego. Some ego in derby is desirable, but if the clinic is going to be all about how awesome he or she is, then it's probably a clinic you can skip. If I want to stroke a derby player's ego, I'll go and see her game, but I won't pay for a clinic where I just hear about how awesome he or she is.

9.  You've heard good things about derby clinics from people who have previously attended. If you're not sure about the quality of the clinic, ask people. Go on Facebook and check with your extended derby network! If you ask for feedback about someone's clinic, most of us are eager to supply an opinion. We all know and understand just how expensive clinics can be, and you want to get the most bang for your buck.

I try and attend an outside training each year, and I've been incredibly lucky so far with my experiences. I'm also going to suggest that you don't let one bad experience at a clinic color your opinion of attending another outside training. Not all clinics are created equal.

Now go find Smarty Pants and get some amazing training.


  1. i couldn't agree more with all of your points about what makes a good clinic. And even more so about Smarty Pants teaching style. I was very fortunate to have her and Mercy as coaches for a Left Turn Clinic in PHX. Mind blown almost covers it.

  2. I'm so pumped. She's coming to train us in like a week!! can't wait to go!