Return-to-Play Training

Originally published May 2020
Informal Assessments

When returning from a break, many skaters are excited to get right back into playing derby, and that’s totally understandable! We all want to play our favorite game, but prioritizing everyone’s safety is necessary in order to ensure that we can all continue playing without injuries. My league and many leagues have started a discussion about a return-to-play (from quarantine) training plan. WFTDA is working on this (a tier system with safety guidelines), but I wanted to put together a curriculum and share my thoughts about how to safely return to training as a way to offer more resources. 

First, get familiar with your state’s safety policies or guidelines about social distancing. In Washington, we are reopening in phases that last at least three weeks, which create limitations regarding our possibilities for practice. Once you know your state’s guidelines, you can plan accordingly. 

Second, review your league policies. Do you have any policies that state specifics about returning from a break? Do those apply to the current situation? Would the policy make things difficult or unsafe to return from quarantine? For example, if your policy states that skaters who are away longer than xx days will need to be reassessed on MSRs, you might want to rethink that policy. Just assessing everyone to see if they are safe doesn’t provide a training protocol for everyone to practice together safely after a break. Plus reassessing every skater could be a lengthy process that puts significant strain on a training committee. If you need to make a plan that isn’t in line with your league policies, I suggest having a league meeting in which you explain your return-to-play plan and get full league buy-in for an exception to the policy. 

I created a template for returning-to-play that could be adjusted to meet your state’s and league’s policies. This can be used for any return-from-break, as well. In short, it focuses on four stages of training (more details on these stages are below):

1. Non-contact practices 

2. Contact/Non-scrimmage practices

3. Scrimmage scenario practices

4. Scrimmage practices

Return-to-Skate Curriculum & Drills

The following curriculum was designed with safety as a priority. It progresses from simple/low-level drills to harder/more complex drills. Any of the practices can be repeated. 

Non-Contact Practices

These practices focus on the basic derby skills, while attempting to build endurance:

  • Edgework
  • Speed Control
  • Lateral Movement
  • Forward-backward Agility
  • Toe-Stop Footwork

Non-Contact Drill Info & List

Informal Assessments

If you use the four stages I’ve suggested, I would informally assess all skaters overall before moving from one practice to the next and one stage to the next. Each practice can be repeated for as many times as you need. Make sure the majority of skaters have the skills down before moving on. This will ensure that everyone is in a place to succeed. For phases, do the same: make sure the majority of skaters are ready to move on to the next phase. Prior to moving to contact, I would watch all skaters, looking for overall stability issues: 

  • Can they quickly move laterally while staying in good form (knees bent, chest up, facing forward, and without popping up)?
  • Can they complete all stops from a sprint without falling or compromising form? Do they stay low before, during, and after the stop? If it’s a forward-facing stop, are they still facing forward at the end of the stop? 
  • Can they execute edgework drills without going on their toe-stops? 
Contact/Non-Scrimmage Practices

These practices focus on engaging in contact and continual endurance:

  • Taking contact to the back & jammer hitting walls
  • Positional blocking — catching & guiding
  • Three wall vs Jammer 
  • Three wall vs Jammer w/offense

Contact Drill Info & List⇦ 

Informal Assessments

Prior to moving from contact to scrimmage scenarios, I would look for stability issues, as well, but within contact: 

  • Can skaters take contact to the back without falling or rolling forward? 
  • Can skaters initiate and complete a block (or jammer contact) without falling or teetering? 
  • Can skaters move laterally in a wall without falling over or teetering?
  • Can skaters abruptly change speed and move forward/backward in a wall without falling or being able to touch one person in their wall? 
  • Can jammers legally engage blockers without back blocking? 
Scrimmage Scenario Practices

These practices focus on continued contact and scrimmage skills, while building scrimmage endurance.

  • Tripod & One Offense
  • Offensive plays
  • Jam Starts w/One & Two Offense
  • Power Jam Offense & Defense

Scrimmage Scenario Drill Info & List⇦ 

Informal Assessments

Prior to moving from scrimmage scenarios to full-on scrimmaging, I would informally assess the following:

  • Overall, do skaters look like they are in control of their bodies during scenarios — are they able to stay up and in bounds? avoid penalties? control speed?
  • Do skaters look like they are retaining information about strategies? Do they understand the strategies and can they execute them consistently? 
  • Are skaters able to stay focused and engaged in coaching directions?
Scrimmage Practices

Practices focus on implementing scrimmage skills, strategy, and building scrimmage endurance. 

  1. Scrimmage scenarios & 30 mins of scrimmage (45-60 seconds between jams and a 5 min break after 15 mins of scrimmaging)
  2. Full practice scrimmage (45 seconds between jams and a 5 min break after 15 mins of scrimmaging)
  3. Full practice regulation scrimmage


  • Ask skaters to pay attention to their bodies and slow down (longer breaks between jams) or stop if they get tired. 
  • If skaters look tired and their play starts to look sloppy, stop scrimmaging and work on drills. 

A Note on Training Varied Skill Levels

Because many leagues have a mix of skaters at various skill levels, I think it’s really important to offer practices that provide levels to a drill. I wrote a lengthy blog post about training varied skill levels, but the general idea is to create drills with beginner, intermediate, and advanced options. All skaters start with the beginner level of a drill. Once they consistently execute the skill properly, they can move to the next level. Some skaters might need to stay at one level for the duration of the drill — it takes time to consistently execute a skill! 

Example of a drill with three levels: Crossover lateral to powerslide

  • Beginner: focus on learning the footwork and staying low the entire time without popping up
  • Intermediate: focus on staying forward-facing the entire time and complete the stop at the edge of the track boundary  
  • Advanced: focus on getting lower as you reach the track boundary and add blocker arms; once that is easy, add more speed without compromising form

I also think it’s really important to pay close attention to newer skaters (those who have been training for a year or less), lower skilled skaters, and skaters who are returning from injury throughout your phases. I suggest asking a coach or several coaches to watch those skaters during practices and look for stability and safety issues. If someone is continually falling or teetering, I would remove them from contact drills and have them work on a foundational skill related to that drill. For example, if the contact drill was jammers vs a three wall and a blocker kept falling or grabbing onto skaters when moving laterally, I would ask them to work on lateral movement (shuttle skating instead of stepping) and getting lower with their lateral movement. 

Other Resources

WFTDA Skate of the Union 2020 | provides info about the first tier of their Return-to-Play protocol

WFTDA Risk Management Guidelines

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Edges Practice Plan
Originally posted Aug 2020