While every position in roller derby is important, the position of pivot is especially critical—and also unusually challenging. She’s the one who calls the shots, helps her teammates execute strategy, and has to change course instantly as events unfold on the track. The pivot is typically a skilled, experienced skater with good track awareness and the confidence to make a call and get her teammates to execute a strategy with her. Many players find the position of pivot intimidating—not only being responsible for yourself, but for your whole team!
So how do you go from being a blocker to being a pivot? Being a pivot is a big job, but with hard work, focus, and practice, anyone can learn to lead the action on the track and work more closely and effectively with her teammates.
For the purposes of this article, I’m using the terms “pivot” and “track leader” interchangeably. (Some teams give the stripe to the skater best able to become a jammer after a star pass, which isn’t always the skater who’s best at calling plays.)
Here are some skills you should develop to become a good pivot.
It’s absolutely necessary for the pivot to have a strong understanding of the sport of roller derby. How can you call the right play if you don’t know what’s happening or why?
Study the rules
It’s really important for the pivot to know the rules of the game so she makes the right decisions and doesn’t inadvertently break the pack or call for another action that would get her or her teammates a penalty. Prospective pivots should know the rules inside and out.
Watch roller derby
Once you’ve got the rules down pat, watch as much derby as you can to see what it looks like in action. You can watch it in person or online at WFTDA.tv. Paying attention to what the pack is doing can help you hone your instincts.
Once you’ve developed a sense of who does what when, and how pivots respond to common scenarios (a power jam, when the jammer escapes the pack, when you’re down to only two blockers on the track, etc.), visualize what you would tell the pack to do in each situation. You can even write it out if that helps you. This will train your brain and get you ready to take what you’ve learned to the track.
In addition to knowing what to do, a pivot must be able to recognize a situation as it starts to develop. For example, if you see your last blocker losing the opposing jammer at 19 feet, you should already know that your next move is to play offense for your jammer who’s only 30 feet behind the pack. Learning to recognize these scenarios will help you be a great pivot.
When you’re blocking, get in the habit of looking around and figuring out what’s happening. Where is the pack (the largest number of skaters from both teams)? The jammers? Who’s in the box? Once you can always answer those questions without thinking about it, you’ll be in a great position to assess what your pack should do.
Pay attention to what your pivot calls for when you’re in the pack, and what your track-facing manager calls for when you’re on the bench. For example, if your team has two skaters in the box and your jammer is lead, she might try to run the jam longer to spring your blockers. But she can only do that if the two remaining blockers pick up their speed (without breaking the pack) so the other jammer doesn’t score while you’re trying to shave seconds off the penalties. By paying careful attention, you can identify the scenarios where your team’s leadership makes decisions in a certain way and sock that information away for when you’ve got the stripe.
It’s not enough to know what to do, you’ve got to be able to tell your teammates, too!
Loud and proud
The most important part of communication is very basic: be loud. VERY LOUD. No matter how loud you think you’re being, BE LOUDER. You should also be ready to repeat yourself a few times. There’s no such thing as too much communication in roller derby.
The name game
If you’re trying to get someone’s attention, use her name, THEN say what you want to say. There’s a lot happening on the track at any given time; this can help ensure that your message gets through.
Time is of the essence
It often takes a while for your teammates to hear you and act on what you’re saying, so try to call plays at least a few seconds before they need to be executed. The more time you give your teammates, the better.
A few last tips
In general, having all the skaters doing the same thing is going to be most effective, even if it isn’t the 100% most optimal play.
It’s Just Practice
Pivoting is definitely a skill that takes time and experience to develop, so don’t stress about it if you don’t get it on the first try (or the fifth!). Don’t get down on yourself if you mess up, or take it to heart if your teammates get a bit snappy with you. Just think about ways you can improve for next time.
Any other tips for prospective pivots?
For more derby wisdom from Em Dash, check out her book, Derby Life: A Crash Course in the Incredible Sport of Roller Derby.