I have just experienced the first World Cup as the assistant coach of Team Finland. Both me and the head coach Estrogeena Davis were both skating and coaching. I ended up being mostly the bench coach at the world cup, and I learned so much during the weekend I thought I'd bring it out in my blog. I love sharing everything I know about derby, and even if there are a million ways of doing things (both on track and off track), I'd like to share my version of 'how to bench coach your team to success'.
Team Finland was placed 10th after the seedings. We made it to quarterfinals and ended up playing for 5th place against Team Sweden and won. So I guess we did something right!
I have been fortunate to travel around the US before the world cup to learn even more. I definitely got some good advice for the tournament from the leagues I visited. Also, being at the West Regionals gave me more self confidence when I saw the teams dealing with disappointment, taking risks, making new strategies etc.
While in Denver, I ate at a Chinese restaurant and a fortune cookie told me:
"For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them". Amen to that! I kept this in mind when preparing myself for the very first World Cup, hosted by Toronto Roller Derby and arranged by Blood & Thunder Magazine.
Like said, me and Geena were both skating and coaching. I skated against Australia and Canada and was the bench coach for four bouts. The rest of the teams we played against were Germany, Ireland, France and Sweden. We lost the bouts to Australia, Canada and Germany but won the last three.
|Team Finland singing the National Anthem: "Maamme"|
DAY 1 - Thursday
We had a team practice on thursday morning and played our first bout in the evening. We made several mistakes against Australia and were spread out as a pack a lot. Since it was the first bout, I don't have much memories from the track, I was so concentrated on understanding what the heck was going on. Comprehending where we were at, with whom, doing what and why was a pretty overwhelming thought on day 1. Our team captain Suvi Hokkari had to sit down this one since she had hurt her chest the previous day scrimmaging with team USA. Team USA doctor was kind enough to adjust her and help her out with making a silicon padding -plan for day two (later on we found out she had a fractured sternum. She played 5 bouts!).
Gladly DNN was there to do an awesome job as usual. I will link the recaps here to make sure all details are told correctly from each bout! Here is the Australia - Finland recap by Justice Feelgood Marshall.
DAY 2 - Friday
We played against Germany (recap by Lex Talionis) in the morning. I was bench coaching for the first time on this tournament. I was shocked by how little space I had. I am used to running around the track, screaming instructions to my skaters. Now I was entering the penalty box all the time and was running where I wasn't supposed to run. Officials were very patient with me. The head ref told us in the half time that our designated alternate must not enter the penalty box or be wherever she shouldn't be. Hehhe. Live and learn!
|the famous shiny pants that were given away...|
Ireland (recap by Justice) was a fun team to bout against. Our girls did so much better than against Germany. Team Ireland was on our wishlist when we thought about teams to play against before the world cup had started. Team Ireland was glad to play us too. We had a very fair, fun bout with a lot of hugs and handshakes with Violent Bob, their head coach.
|Tigre Force & lineup manager Claire Leah Threat|
DAY 3 - Saturday
We knew there was NO WAY to win Team Canada (recap by Justice)! So we decided to let two of our jammers rest for the France -bout and exhaust our blockers instead. I knew I wasn't on the roster for Team France -bout, so I was especially the one that was willing and able to give this bout all that I got as a skater. I started and finished the bout as a jammer. LOL. That's pretty much how it felt like. LOL. But it was fun and I scored points!
We wanted to win France (recap by Justice) though. Winning them would take us to play either New Zealand or Sweden for 5th place. But at this point we knew we were going to be placed somewhere between 5-8 so we already felt like winners. So no stress, but yes, we wanted to win France. Bench coach wise I felt good coaching after playing cos I knew exactly how the skaters felt sitting on the bench. I was on a good mood and at the right mode, got some very good energy and right amount of adrenaline in my blood. So even if our team still had a lot to learn, I think this was one of our best bouts in the tournament.
DAY 4 - Sunday
Ah, we got to play our beloved Team Sweden (recap by Lex) for 5th place! They defeated New Zealand so a rematch was written for us on the stars. We played Team Sweden in Helsinki, October 8th to practice for the World Cup. We lost to the team then, but we learned a lot from it and were able to take the win back while 1000 people were watching live and 4000 watching online.
Bench Coaching - what did I learn?
Every bout was different. The skaters acted differently on each bout. The nature of the bout was always different as well. Some bouts went by without having to pay attention much to the penalty board and some bouts were difficult to handle because the skaters were in the box all the time. I noticed paying attention to different things on each bout. We had good plans with the lineup manager before the bout, but they changed slightly during each bout. But it was important to list duties to one another before the bout, then it was easier to ask if I needed more help or if I needed to take care of some other things than what was previously planned.
The last five minutes were always the most difficult for me. It was very, very hard to have my brain set for the last five minutes. There was always so much to think about: the clock, point differential, time outs, penalties etc. I screwed up almost every end of the bouts. That's why I was more than happy we had gained enough point differential (lead) in the bouts and that the skaters became such professionals that they were able to make their own, wise decisions in the end, that I was there only to confirm or back up their decisions.
At the last bout I was pretty much coaching only the jammers. This was the first bout we used the 3rd base coach. We got to use one since there were two piles between the track and it was sometimes impossible to see the pack or jammers. Our 3rd base coach Kati was giving instructions to the pack, as she was repeating what signs I gave to her and vice versa. It was not easy to get used to having her there though, since I had already adjusted my way of coaching within the weekend, having her there was easily forgotten and I barely looked at her during the bout, ooops...
My faith in the skaters grew bout by bout. I really started to trust the team to make the right decisions and be independent and less dependent on my advice. It was fun to watch the team grow up from thursday morning to sunday evening. They were a whole different team in the end. All the things we had taught them during the past year, were now working and they succeeded in the most perfect way. The skaters did the hard work and it showed. The audience noticed it too and we got such good feedback after the bouts, it still feels so good to remember all the compliments we got.
"The bench is as calm as you are". This advice I received from my friend Danger Girl. We had some difficulties with keeping the bench calm. It happens so easily when one skater loses trust on her bench coach and/or lineup manager, starts to shout instructions on track and gets worried about other skaters doing time in the box etc. it is very important not to lose nerves but to try to keep the skaters calm.
I don't know why the trust issues sometimes take place. I am afraid that demanding respect is not gonna help the lost situation. Respect is earned, not demanded. If the skaters do not trust you as a bench coach, you're in trouble... you will know from the look in their eyes if they trust you or not.
The challenge in a national team is also the fact that everybody comes from a different league with different policies, different styles of coaching etc., and to coach them into a one working unit is definitely a challenge!
In the end, no matter how much pressure you have coaching the bouts: do NOT forget to have fun too! If nothing else brings a smile on your face: try dancing or wearing something funny...
|Team Sweden taking a timeout...|
Outcome & feedback
Team Finland was placed 5th in the World Cup, total of 13 leagues participated. One of our skaters skated her first bout at the WC. Since we did so well despite having only 16 skaters + me, we must have done something right.
We learned so much between thursday morning and sunday night. Derby News Network wrote a lot about us and they commented on our nerd derby, the Finnish trick, and wondered why we kept calling the jams off when the OJ was in the box, being sent there on her initial pass... well, we all have our reasons.. :)
I learned so much at the WC. I know so much more about being the bench coach now. Most of the things I learned are stuff that works for me, but I don't think it's the only possible way of doing things. I guess there's as many different coaching styles as there are different coaches. But whatever info, guide, notes or advice I had before going to Toronto, I am about to write a whole new guideline of my own.
I am determined to tell the next Team Finland coaches all I've learned as an assistant coach and as a bench coach. Who knows if I will apply as a coach again, but just in case I will make good notes on what I learned so that the next coaches doesn't have to start all over.
The chemistry between the lineup manager and the bench coach is important. How to deal the duties: how to rotate the duties if something goes wrong? How to keep your own sanity if the other one goes crazy? How to put much info into brief sentences, or even just a few words? What kind of communication works best?
I think the bench coach duties are hard to teach, one has to live and learn and grow into the position.
Team Funland or Team Winland?
We gave two nicknames for our team: Team Funland - that we used every time we had to cheer up or whenever we decided to play our best derby, no matter what, and focus on having fun. Team Winland -nickname was of course used every time we won.
Dancing became a big part of our team spirit and it showed to the audience as well. We made the audience happy with our smiles and dedication to having fun.
We were not the only fun team: Team Canada had a brilliant dance too and Team New Zealand made us all cry with the Roller Derby Haka!!!