“Then they put skates on. It was chaos. Chaos punctuated by Facebook breaks.”

coaching crutchesAbout the Author: Maha El Nasser 

“I’m an American transplant in the UK.  I’ve had quite a few years to try quite a few sports.  The sports that I find myself in love with, I have been coaching in varying capacities over the last 10 years.  I started by herding 5 year olds through a capoeira roda, got my Level 2 in coaching rowing, and now roller derby.  I love roller derby because there is no standard skater.  The women who are successful in roller derby today do not fit into one age bracket or size bracket or body shape bracket, even as the sport athleticizes itself away from the traditional counter culture of its original revival.  

I am the Head Coach of the only recreational roller derby league in Yorkshire.  Which means I’m in charge of a team of coaches and their development.  Of the lesson planning.  Of designing and running assessments.  Of making sure that 52 adult women learn roller derby, skate hard, and have fun twice a week.”




I’m all about the discipline.  And order.  And process.  And timing.  I am the living embodiment of the cliché “running a tight ship”.  And when I coach in my club, I put all those principles into practice.  From the day they join it is ingrained in them that if they hear the call, they get back to the coach and listen.  If they lose focus, they will be called in to reset and then be made to do the drill again.  If they don’t put everything they have into endurance, I will be skating next to them and whispering encouraging words of “do this, prove to yourself you can do this” in their ears.  And while it’s not quite the army, it is a little bit like the army.



Recently I’ve starting picking up coaching opportunities outside of my league.  Mostly because I really ROLLER SKATINGlike coaching.  Also, it can sometimes be a fundraiser for the club or help us to engage new members.  I arranged a partnership with a local  community centre: we would provide an eight week Learn to Skate course for a group of young women and girls.  It was a gold star type project, ticking almost all the boxes that Sport England likes to see on funding applications.

The first session with the group, everything I had ever known was chucked into the air.  Like torn to bits and spewed like confetti into a stuffy gym that reeked of teenage sport.

First of all, none of them had any idea what roller derby was and they weren’t particularly bothered.  They kinda came along because it was something on offer.  Which was fine.  I could work with that.  Then they put skates on.  It was chaos. Chaos punctuated by facebook breaks.  My lovely intake plan that I use in the club, my whistle, my stern but friendly demeanour – all lost in a whirlwind of young girls flinging themselves around on wheels while the coaches tried to chase them down and make sure all the safety gear was on properly.

An hour and a half later we had managed to cordon off a few of them and teach stride while the others continued to chase each other frenetically around the hall.

I went home.  I had a glass of wine.  I re-evaluated everything.

Those who know me know what a big step changing my approach was going to be.  But if I was going to keep coaching the group and not make it a miserable experience for the both of us, I had to match the sessions to what they needed from it.  They didn’t NEED to do an effective plow stop.  They didn’t NEED to push themselves to train hard.  They didn’t NEED to have an ultimate goal.  They needed to roll around and learn a few new things and have fun.  Anything that fell out of that was gravy and it wasn’t going to happen if I sat in the centre with a whistle, white-knuckled with my lesson plan looking dazed and trying to enforce my understanding of order.

The solution: No plans, just ideas.  No milestones, other than make sure they have fun and don’t break.  And more coaches.  Many more coaches.

By the fourth week, I think we got it balanced.  A 1:2 coach to skater ratio and each working with a set of girls to achieve specific tasks, changing the focus often, and incorporating segments of the session where they could just play on skates.  Encouraging them to take videos and post to Facebook meant that they were keen to try new tricks, get to their phones and straight back again.

Out of the 15 girls that came, two were keen to continue, but never quite made it into the formal programme.  From a SportEngland perspective, we might not have achieved all our goals, but from the community centre’s perspective, they were happy with the levels of participation which was almost double most of their programmes.  And from a coach’s perspective,  I am a lot more confident in the knowledge that I can adapt.  That is the most important lesson I’ve learned so far as a coach – trusting in myself to be able to do not just what I know and want, but what is needed.