Ask Kevlar: Benchmarks and the Responsibilities of Coaches and Skaters

Welcome to another Ask Kevlar! A completely ANONYMOUS roller derby advice column dedicated to discussion about topics that are more often discussed behind closed doors, out of earshot from others. Be you a new skater or well-known, established member of the greater derby community, if you’d like to engage in conversations about the very real ups and downs, conflicts, dilemmas and issues within the sport, please feel free to send your questions to NO topic is too much! League drama, personal/athletic rivalries, skating/officiating/interacting with people you do not like, dealing with negative people or abuse/bullying from teammates or support staff, ANYTHING!

This letter comes from a coach concerned about bench marking:

Dear Kevlar,

I’m seeking advice on how to deal with the new benchmarks. How do you deal with skaters that worked so hard to benchmark, passed and scrimmaged and played games prior to new minimums were released but now it’s a new season and we will be benchmarking under the new minimums. If they don’t pass, how do you take away their right to play when they have already have played? Because they don’t master a backwards crossover or 27/5 they can’t play anymore? I’m really struggling with this. I hope it doesn’t happen but…I can see it. As a coach, what is your approach going to be?

Concerned Coach


Excellent questions, Concerned Coach!

As a coach, I’d recommend your approach be to… coach! With the new benchmarks try to focus on what you can do to provide your team with the resources, knowledge, encouragement and tools they will need to succeed in reaching the new minimum requirements. Outside of practice, direct them to whatever articles, videos, or guides that you think will be most useful. It’s very early in the year and unless your season begins within the next month then the skaters have plenty of time to get to where they need to be. I’d suggest going back to basics during team practice nights for the next little while. A sort of crash course refresher on everything where you all once again go over stops, falls, crossovers, backwards skating, reverse crossovers, jumps, hops, safe hitting, target zones, etc. Sure, some of the girls are going to be less effective at some of the skills than others, but now is the time they can work on that! Consider having your stronger skaters join you in mentoring and teaching those that require some help. If 3 of your girls are REALLY struggling with reverse crossovers, more so than the others, then ask 3 of the skaters who are making better progress to do some one-on-one mentoring. You’ll be getting a hand in preparing everyone for benchmarks PLUS you’ll be fostering confidence and instilling leadership skills in them!

Also, consider having a discussion with them about WHY bench marks exist and why it is important that everybody achieves them. Calmly explain that they’re not there to hold people back and they’re not going to be used as a means of maliciously excluding people from playing. Benchmarks are in place to ensure that everybody out on the track is aware of the importance of safety and is equipped with the knowledge and basic skills required by this high-speed, full impact sport, to help toward keeping them from seriously hurting themselves or seriously hurting others. Of course, just because you bench mark that does not mean you’re now invincible. BAD accidents can, and do, happen in roller derby. I’m not talking about rink rash and bruises. As an independent skating official I’ve witness many broken bones, fractures, concussions, spinal injuries, and more in my travels. This is a dangerous game at times! Girls are skating around at high speeds on concrete floors while throwing body checks at each other. But that’s why our benchmarks exist, to minimize the risk of serious injury through education and skills training.

In the end though, there is only so much that you, personally, can do for them. If you pass a skater who looks like Bambi did when he was learning to walk, then you’d be responsible for putting her and everyone around her at risk. Pretend you are giving a driver’s test to a new driver. Would you pass them if they weren’t stopping for pedestrians, had no idea how to brake, closed their eyes every time they turned a corner, ran red lights and they were crashing into parked cars, running other drivers off the road and took out every road sign and fence in town? I hope not! Same thing goes here, think of the safety of the pedestrians (derby fans and volunteers) and other drivers (skaters and officials). But the person most responsible for that skater’s actual skill, ability and progress is the skater herself. You can’t MAKE her pass her benchmarks. That’s her responsibility. She needs to put in the necessary effort and commitment and if she is under-performing then the most that you can do for her is to help her identify what needs work and make suggestions on how she can improve. However, when it comes down to it, she will ultimately decide if and when she passes and it will be her attendance, commitment, effort, patience, understanding and attitude that contributes to whatever that conclusion may be.

Good luck, have fun and skate safe!


Headshot1Written by Kevin “Kevlar” Dennison

Safety first!


One comment

  1. I wonder if many other leagues are misinterpreting the “reverse crossovers” to mean “backwards crossovers”; i.e. skating backwards and doing crossovers. Yes, you need to be able to skate backwards:

    1.6.4 Backwards skating within track boundaries. Maintains moderate pace skating backward around the entire track.

    But you don’t need to be doing crossovers on the turns.

    The minimum skill document also says:

    1.3.3 Performs reverse crossovers, crossing over the right foot to the outside of the track.

    Reverse crossovers are something different. Meaning skating in a forward motion and crossing your left foot over your right foot to move from the inside of the track to the outside of the track. (Reverse from the usual right foot over left that we use for derby direction forward skating in the turns.) or think of them as “crossovers turning right”.

    While good, strong skating skills will always be an asset, and backwards skating executing solid crossovers is great, it’s not in the minimum skills requirement.

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