If there is one lesson you can learn that will improve your play overnight it’s this one. It takes lots of practice but if you get this- everything else will come. It’s simple but it’s not easy.
Take your eyes, and point them …BEHIND YOU! You’ve heard it before, so why aren’t you doing it? Maybe you think you do look behind you…and you do…sometimes. But since you only practice a quick glance to the back of the pack randomly during a drill or jam, that’s just what you do on bout day. If you’re serious about stepping up your game don’t wait until there’s a jammer on your ass to look behind you. If you want to be a better communicator, teammate, or a pivot, you will have a steady stare going on behind you and occasionally you will check out the scenery ahead of you.
And now for a break down:
Next practice is all about looking behind you. Set yourself to swizzle and put one hand out in front of your body. You need that hand out front like an antennae feeling for bodies ahead of you. Turn at your hips and shoulders and check out the scene behind you. Don’t just look, study. By the end of a pace line drill you should be able to write the attendance list for tonight’s practice. Don’t be afraid to amuse yourself. I like to play games like, “Who has the most stripes on their socks?” and “Who’s matching me today?” And my favorite, The-“How long do I have to stare at your forehead before you turn around and look behind you?” Game.
Do it so much that you become very comfortable looking behind you all the time. Then as your skills develop, you're developing along with them the added bonus of having that natural tendency to look behind you.
The next step- Get your peripheral on. Don’t fool yourself, looking behind you may have been the first skill you learned but it’s one of the most advanced skills you can cultivate; it’s an art form. You’ll notice, as you get better at using your peripheral that you don’t have to turn your entire body all the time. A slight turn of the head down and to your left can tell you a lot about what’s happening in the pack while still giving you a full view of the chaos you’re currently dealing with. Move your body out to get a better view while turning your head down and to your left. Then, ever so stealthily, cut inside slightly and grab a view around your right side. Stretch your peripheral vision every time you use it and it will get broader and more reliable. And that’s a promise. The best reward for increasing your peripheral vision is that you gain the ability to hit without telegraphing-and there’s nothing like a surprise attack!
The next step, shhhhhhhh, listen. Can you hear that blocker moving to your right? She’s right behind you and just out of your peripheral, with breath like a dinosaur. You have your eyes attached to a jammer who’s coming up the middle. But you know that blocker’s coming around you because you can hear her trying to flank you. If you take your eyes off that jammer for one second she’s going to juke around you and then she’s gone. So stay ahead of that blocker but get on the jammer, with the knowledge that you’ve got a creeper on your outside. Listen for her skates, listen for her breath, listen for a big inhale-AND- jump out of the way because you’re about to get hit. Practice listening by listening. I know, really great advice! But sometimes it’s the easy shit that we forget to practice.
But but butbut, there is so much sound during a jam- coaches, referees, fans, skaters- all shouting! That’s a valid point, but you’re missing the point. At first, those things distract you. At first. But just like you develop your vision and attention, you develop a careful filtering system for hearing what matters. At first, the only thing you need to hear is the referee saying your number, calling lead jammer, or designating where the pack is. Your coach is talking to the jammer and the pivot. You are listening to your pivot and your teammates, and they are shouting so just keep those ears perky and stay close. Then, you filter out the crowd sounds and you’ll start to pick out the really important shit.
The next step, know what matters. I know it seems like chaos in a pack. Focus on a few things at first, and then gradually add more when you can. Focus first on the opposing jammer. Know where she is, how much time she has left in the box, and what her mouth guard looks like. No joke, I use the mouth guard as an example, but you need to know her …intimately. Zone in to her position like a stalker with a record, man. Then you should have a pretty good bead on who’s in the pack and what they are up to. That goes for both teams. If you have a handle on the opposing jammer and your pack, stretch your awareness and find out where your jammer is. Before long you have the whole scene on lock.
I know it seems so easy, but I want to talk about being a great communicator and a great leader and those things start with a solid foundation in awarebearness. Get this lesson because the rest depends on your ability to know what’s happening. I’ll leave you with a pretty picture.
Someday soon you’ll notice that you aren’t missing the jammer as much as you had before. You thought it was just poor blocking skills or you thought she was just too fast for you. But the truth is, you can see her coming 120 feet away now, and she doesn’t stand a chance.