Shoulder-to-Shoulder Blocking is Useless

When I learned blocking skills (way back when dinosaurs were alive) I learned this: shoulder blocking = shoulder smashes shoulder and hip blocking = hip smashes hip. Sure, I understand the legal target zones and what parts of my body I could use to block with, but the endless possibilities of blocking combinations didn't register. Shoulder to shoulder. Hip to hip. We all did it that way. 

Well, we did it that way until we learned about the sternum block. And by "learned" I mean "our opponents were quite effective at teaching us the value of blocking to the front of the torso." Also, many of our skaters developed shoulder problems, I think from ramming their shoulder into another shoulder. And, as the game evolved and skaters learned more skills (spinning, leaping, and avoiding blocks), we found that shoulder-to-shoulder blocking was, well, pretty much ineffective. 

This is me trying to take down a jammer with a shoulder block.

shoulder block fail 2.jpg

I'm all "I'm gonna get you, Hysterica!" 

And she's all "no, you're not, dipshit! You're blocks are ineffective!"  (Disclaimer: She didn't really say that, but that's what I'd be thinking if I were her.)

In the next sequence, the pivot is making contact with the side of the jammer, which allows the jammer to twist around her and sprint away as the pivot crashes to the floor. 

shoulder block fail.jpg

At this point you might be thinking something like there are still instances when a shoulder-to-shoulder block is effective. I've seen it! 

Well, yes, so have I, but from what I've found those instances are when you are blocking a skater who 1) is just learning to block, 2) doesn't have a good sense of balance, or 3) is already off balance and near falling. And in those cases, any block would take down the skater. In fact, you could probably blow on her and she'll go down. 

I don't see much reason to defend shoulder-to-shoulder blocking, because I view it as useless and sometimes dangerous to a skater's health (because of all the shoulder problems). I came to that opinion after analyzing why shoulder-to-shoulder blocking is used and how it could be replaced. I've come up with four reasons that I hope will be helpful to you!
 
1. Skaters are taught that way and it becomes a bad habit.
I'm not trashing on coaches/trainers. I think this happens because many of them are new to the sport and don't have enough information. Plus, some coaches teach fresh meat skaters how pass an assessment, rather than how to block and play derby effectively. Though coaches will find they can pass more skaters in less time, they are developing a lower quality player. Take the time and give skaters the best training you can!
 

2. Skaters aren't fully seeing and taking advantage of all the target zones. 

 

blocking target zones

When skaters are taught to block shoulder-to-shoulder, they are subconsciously registering the side of the torso as the best target. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure you'll do more damage when you block to the front of the torso. At least I've received and delivered the most effective blocks to the chest, stomach, and crotch (I love playing against men!). Instead of shoulder to shoulder, aim your shoulder block into the chest (aiming for the belly button to allow more room for error). Instead of hip to hip, aim your hips into the crotch or stomach. Learn how to block with your ass and your back - they are amazingly effective!

And don't be a one-hit wonder! Try blocking combos: hip to crotch, then a few shoulder to chest blocks, then back to hip blocks, or ass to stomach, then shoulder to chest, then chest to chest, then hip to crotch. Hear this in your mind when you're doing it!

 

3. Skaters aren't fast enough to catch an opponent or they wait too long to go for the block.

The shoulder-to-shoulder block is sometimes the last ditch effort to make contact, kind of like when a skater throws an elbow out, just trying to make some kind of contact with the skater sprinting around her. Sure, you're not always going to be aware and there are times when you'll scramble to play defense, but if you can get under your opponent and throw on the breaks, you'll have much more control, like in these photos.

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4. Skaters aren't agile and in control enough to positionally block an opponent, so they resort to obvious, committed blocks, usually the shoulder-to-shoulder block.

Besides trying to start an offense revolution, I've been coaching a lot of skaters about committed vs non-committed blocking. In short, committed blocks are the ones in which a skater fully commits to her block in a way that momentarily takes her out of play (she falls down or flies off the track). A non-committed block is a controlled block in which you can easily transition into another position. (Really, this is a whole other blog entry that I need to write.) Positional blocking is non-committal, and can be improved by developing agility, lateral movement, speed control, and balance. You want to catch your opponent by sitting on her, then slow her down with a forceful quick stop and throw in a block before you come to a complete stop. You need the agility, lateral movement, and speed control to keep her trapped and not moving forward. 

That's what I've come up with so far, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

The most important thing I hope you take away is this: don't waste your time with shoulder-to-shoulder blocks. They're dumb. 

Seriously, though, there are so many ways to effectively block. Experiment with that. Recognize when your skills are out-dated or ineffective and start the process of de- and re-programming. Or just build on the skills you have. 

Breaking bad habits and forming new ones is really, really, REALLY difficult. I mean, at least it was for me.  Following a goal plan is hugely beneficial. I wouldn't have made any progress without one. If you need help developing a goal plan or you just want to talk about blocking techniques, please don't hesitate to contact me!