I have been in roller derby for nine years, and have coached for nearly as long. The number one question I get asked (outside of “what skates should I buy?”) is:
How do I get better at roller derby …
… when everyone has a head start?
… when my team doesn’t practice that often?
… when I’m stuck at a level in-between the new skaters and the vets?
… when I’m already one of the best players on my team?
Pick whichever ending you want. Everyone wants to get better at roller derby, for their own reasons and situation. There are a million answers I could give you, and I am going to give you some of those answers in a group of STEAKS Stories. You can do some of them, you can do one of them, you can do all of them, but each of the posts will help you create a more rounded vision of roller derby, a more complex understanding of the game, and/or a more competent physical approach of the sport.
Today let’s talk about WHAT ANNOUNCING CAN DO FOR YOU.
First I understand that not everyone thinks of announcing as critical, important, or a thing they could do given their level of anxiety. However, every sport has broadcasters and people who analyze on the fly. Announcers give colour to the game for those listening, they give stats to the people who love the numbers, and they weave storylines of entire seasons into the relevance for one match-up. How can announcing help you, the player?
I have my own experiences to go off of, but also reached out to the announcing community to see where they have improved over the course of learning to be on the mic in-between their own practices.
COGNITIVE PROCESSING & COMMUNICATION
The entire job of a play-by-play announcer is to repeat the action happening in the game in real time. If you have ever tried to do it, you know it is exceptionally hard. You have to see all the shapes in current form, how their forms are moving and interacting with each other, be able to pick out key changes of motion, notice penalties pulling away players and what that does for the shapes in motion, all while processing what is happening, what could happen, and then say all of those things as well.
Now imagine if you were so good at doing this, that you started to notice patterns with shape movement and flow. You began to recognize trends in gameplay styles across teams and what it meant for the offence and defence that played against them. Not only were you able to recognize these things, but you were able to talk about them in real time.
Practising play-by-play in a safe, third-person environment will help you understand the game of roller derby from an Xs & Os perspective.
UNDERSTANDING OF COUNTER-MANOEUVRES
In digesting all the material that you do while announcing, you see all kinds of formations. All kinds of strategies and counter-strategies. As you get good, you will start to see what works and what does not. Take these into practice. As you’re scrimmaging, you will begin to recognize the patterns around you, like those you saw in the games you’ve called and will be able to respond appropriately, based on what you saw and that you found effective.
It can take a minute, but it definitely develops. Roller derby is a series of fast-paced things happening. To know in advance that reacting to A with B could result in C, and anticipating C means that you’re ready for D; it puts you ahead of the game.
SEEING NEW STRATEGY AS IT DEVELOPS
The best part about analyzing roller derby is that as new strategies or “tricks” are fleshed out, you get to see the trial and error in real time. For example, I still see teams look confused when their jammer is trying to “eat the baby”. The jammer on the track knows what they want their team to do, but I will watch the opposing jammer and/or the opposing team and/or their OWN team look on in confusion. For those of us who have been watching a ton of derby, we have seen the numerous viable outcomes to this situation.
And standing around staring at each other is usually the least successful of these. To understand all the situations in roller derby, you have to see as many of them as possible. Becoming an announcer, especially one that does tournament play, will show you so much more roller derby than you might consume on your own. Plus you will be consuming the roller derby with a different perspective than you would if you were simply on the sideline having a beer and cheering for your favourite people. It forces you to be impartial. It forces you to break the boxes you have put roller derby in and to see something new.
SEEING BEYOND YOURSELF
A few people I talked to mentioned that before they started announcing, they saw roller derby only from the perspective of themselves, and doing THEIR best. Once they got deeper into the world of announcing, they started to see how individual people come together to work as a seamless unit. When you have the ah-ha moment of seeing yourself as a working part of the machine, and not just another player doing their best, it changes everything.
Suddenly you understand that a thing that might make you look cool is not the best thing for the team strategy at that moment. You are not the wheel, you are a cog in the machine, and we are all better together.
YOU MEET MORE PEOPLE
In every role I have picked up, I have met new friends, new players, new officials, new people overall. Every person gives a new flavour to the sport. You will gain new connections, get new angles on the games, and have more people to go to when you have a question about your own performance or something you saw in gameplay. Overall, it is just fun.
I know the prospect of talking in front of a whole lot of people is super intimidating for folks. Not everyone has the big and boisterous Roller Polar Bear personality for pumping up large crowds or the Tara Armov knack of always saying the right thing at the right time, the right way. We don’t all have voices of gold like Brom or Rich Mahogany. We can’t all be comedy deadpan perfection like Kent the Politician and Julia Sleazer. We can’t all be as endearing as GoGo Boots, as lovable as Battered Sausage, irreverently funny as Very Cherry, an instant classic like Tronchatoro, or just flat good like Mike Chexx.
But that’s ok. We all bring flavour, and fear, and knowledge to the mic. It is a terrifying thing to pick it up the first time, but you have to call your first game before you can be an old pro. Check it out, ask your friends, and get involved! Most tournaments will have announcers and will be more than happy to bring you in and work with you, show you the ropes, and get you learning. Even if you just start in production, or sponsor reads for a while, that is great experience that will put you around amazing people.
But we’re curious what you think. Are you a player that started announcing? What was hard for you? What did you learn along the way?