The 27-in-5: A Metric for What Exactly…?

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If you play derby, you know the 27-in-5. If you play WFTDA, you probably know it intimately. Maybe you have a love/hate relationship with it. Maybe it’s just a hate relationship.

**Please forgive the above HUGE SPACE. WordPress formatting kills me sometimes.**

The 5 minute skating test has been a staple in the WFTDA minimum skill requirements for a long time. (Since the beginning???) It used to be 20 laps in 5 minutes. When I started skating it was 25 laps and the current expectation is that skaters should be able to get 27 laps around the inside of the track in 5 minutes.*

Granted, this expectation applies specifically to WFTDA charter skaters — those that will play in sanctioned bouts for rankings — but even non-chartering teams use this metric as a guideline for training and graduating their skaters.

As a former Fresh Meat Trainer for my league (and former Fresh Meat for myself), out of all of the MSRs, the 27-in-5 is the skill I see most often tripping up skaters.** By far. By, like, a mile.

So, being the obnoxiously inquisitive individual that I am, I wondered: What is the point? What is this test even measuring? Is it reliable/useful/relevant anymore?

The 5 Minute Problem

A test that lasts 5 minutes in a sport that never lasts more than 2?

I know what you’re thinking, “An entire bout actually lasts 60 minutes, Prime.” Yes, you’re right, of course. But roller derby isn’t soccer (football).

Even if you play every jam for an entire game, you get a 30 second break in between each one. 30 seconds may not seem like a lot, but imagine getting to have a 30 second break — where the clock stops — halfway  through the 27-in-5. Or, more realistically due to most skaters NOT having to play every jam, a break that’s longer than that.

That’s probably an imperfect analogy because you have to deal with the lose of your momentum and getting back up to speed. But it certainly raises the issue of whether skating at a certain speed for 5 minutes actually determines whether you’ll be able to play an entire bout.

REBUTTAL: Baseline cardio fitness is a thing. And having a good baseline of cardiorespiratory fitness makes you a lot more likely to be able to adapt to the energy demands of roller derby. This test measures overall cardiorespiratory fitness for skating. It’s certainly reasonable to think that any skater, at any time, regardless of exhaustion level could whip out an 11 second lap speed.

The Irrelevance Issue

I could easily just post my diatribe against the paceline here to illustrate why the 27-in-5 is irrelevant to the current state of roller derby. TL;DR summary = there isn’t a lot of skating in circles in roller derby anymore. At least not like that.

Also, the 27-in-5 is a measure of SPEED only. Derby game play is much better served by high levels of quickness and agility than high levels of speed.

REBUTTAL: The 27-in-5 is the perfect way to teach and gauge the form of new skaters. While speed skating form and derby skating form aren’t equivalent, learning good speed skating form can make figuring out derby form a lot easier. And skating in circles over and over and over and over and over again sure teaches you how to forget about your skates and just skate. And, again, it’s certainly reasonable to think that any skater, at any time, regardless of exhaustion level should be able to whip out an 11 second lap speed.

The Elitist Problem

The 27-in-5 may very well be the thing holding back a very dedicated and talented skater in your league from getting rostered. I, personally, passed all the rest of my minimum skills MONTHS before I got my laps — and that was back when you only had to do 25!

There’s a reason why the skill exists and part of that reason IS to separate the “elite” skaters from the non-“elite” skaters. But…does it alienate more people than it should? I can think of 5 specific skaters (off the top of my head) (that I know of) that left my league because they continually struggled with this skill.

Roller derby prides itself on being inclusive. This skill might not be. Due to biomechanics, body size (both small and large), cardiorespiratory issues, etc. a skater that can easily kill it in a bout might not be able to complete the 27-in-5. All things being equal, if a skater is stable and safe, does it matter if they can’t do 27 laps in 5 minutes?

REBUTTAL: Derby is hard and requires a certain amount of skill. The skill is ONLY necessary for chartered skaters, so teams can adjust that with non-chartered skaters or skaters that are on home teams. That one skill certainly doesn’t HAVE to hold back any of your freshies.

The Stick-tui-tiveness Argument

Piggy backing off the above issue, the 27-in-5 is currently the only MSR that has a large mental toughness component to it.

It’s a difficult skill for 80%+ of the new skater population and seeing your future leaguemates struggle with this skill can give you a lot of insight into what kind of teammate and business partner they might be. As well as how they might handle the pressure of a bout and all the unexpected things that happen during one.

Every league wants skaters that are tough, can push through hard things, and never give up. The 27-in-5 acts as a screening process for some of those characteristics.

REBUTTAL: MSR stands for “minimum skating requirements” not “minimum got-my-shit-together requirements”. It’s not really the place of the WFTDA MSR to create emotional intelligence or stick-tui-tiveness metrics. Your league should be screening for those things in other ways.

What to do…what to do…?

Here’s the truth: The 27-in-5 may be outdated, but there’s not necessarily a better skill out there to test (what I assume) it tests. It’s easily measurable and replicable across multiple venues. It provides immediate feedback. And it’s easy to manage. All good things.

But let’s stop vilifying skaters that are capable in all ways, except this one.

  1. Set-up expectations for skaters beyond the 27-in-5. If your league is large enough or not yet a WFTDA member, consider rostering skaters that are safe/stable even if they can’t pass the 27-in-5. At the very least — smaller leagues, listen up — give those skaters the opportunity to attend practice as rostered skaters even if they aren’t. You’d be surprised how many additional laps a skater can add after a month of practicing at a higher level.
  2. But make those expectations solid. Don’t ever put it down to the training committee’s “feelings” on a skater. I’m sure they have the best of intentions, always, but they are human. Create your own set of MSRs for situations where you might want to move up a skater that can’t complete the 27-in-5 (or another skill that doesn’t affect their safety/stability).
  3. Consider testing other variations of the 27-in-5. Wouldn’t it be amazing if leagues could approach WFTDA with data on better minimum skills? I mean, we’re in the trenches, let’s test things out that work for us right now. For example, does a 14-in-2.5 seem like it makes more sense? Test it. What about 10 laps in 1:35 (the expectation for refs)? Does that seem to be a better dividing line? You won’t know until you try.
  4. Never forget. As a veteran, it can be easy to forget what a total pain in the ass this skill is. It’s been YEARS since I’ve had to worry about not being able to make 27 laps in 5 minutes and a lot of that is because I’ve been skating for YEARS. I forget how traumatic and depressing doing this skill over and over again can be.
  5. Mix it up. In line with #4, if your group of freshies or your team is really struggling with this skill, stop doing it for a while. Pick other forms of endurance, work on higher level skills, get into scrimmage scenarios. Then come back and try again.

Think I missed something? Want to argue with me or tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about? Click into the Facebook post above and let me have it.

* I don’t know the reason as to why the increase in laps was made in the first place — especially from 25 to 27 — if anyone knows the reasoning behind it, let me know!
**For reference, the leagues that I’ve been affiliated with have all been small WFTDA member leagues. For that reason, all Fresh Meat had to pass MSRs before they could be rostered. Your league may be larger and not have that constraint.

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About IronOctopusFitness

Online athletic training and nutrition coach, full-time mom, okay skater, and connoisseur of all things tea, chocolate, and roller derby. I'll help you unleash your inner athlete by building a strong, capable body that can withstand whatever life throws at you.

37 Comments

  • Naughtymaudie3000 says:

    This is required reading for our training committee this week.

  • Assaulty says:

    Thanks for this article. I like the 27 in 5 because it highlights a very underrated skill in derby, which happens to be the most fundamental: stride.

    The proof is in the wildly successful speed skaters who blow people out of the water. In derby. (Erin Jackson, Justin Stelly are a couple examples). It’s not necessarily speed that is giving them the advantage in derby, it’s the ability to maneuver and adapt to changing scenarios on the track, and surprisingly, it’s the stride, form, endurance, and explosive power (needed for elite level stride) that tips the balance.

    I like the idea of trying new ways of testing skaters who are great in all areas except for laps… however I strongly believe, after my own struggle, coaching entry level skaters for 5 years, and receiving a game changing coaching session with Automatrix, that speed skating fundamentals will get our athletes there faster than cutting corners (or time) around that oval.

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      I’ve been seeing this answer come up a lot. That the laps are teaching you about your skates and how to stride/find your form. Those things take time, though. I’m much better at my laps now than I used to be (which I mention in the article). And a lot of training committees don’t have the knowledge to teach it well. How do we overcome that?

      • Urrk'n says:

        I’m a skating/derby coach and I have a course that teaches all the fundamentals of derby/speed skating skills. I believe using the 5 week course helps improve the skating skills of new recruits faster which then makes them reach their 27/5 sooner.

        • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

          That seems to be a slowly building consensus. That learning to properly LIVE in your skaters increases your chances of getting the skill. And I think knowing how to teach form appropriately is key for training committees. Is this covered in your “Train the Trainer” package? And if so, can I mention it on Facebook?

    • William Skatespeare says:

      If there is a game changing secret to achieving 27 in 5, perhaps you could share it. Most (the vast majority) of akaters do not get real speed skating coaching. They are simply expected to do the laps. 🙂

    • AMC says:

      I completely agree – I am a mid level skater on a rec league, but I am also in the Army. And, in my opinion, the 27 in 5 is the same thing as our twice a year physical fitness test of a two mile run, two minute push-ups and sit-ups- it is an indicator of your level of fitness. I hate running, but I workout throughout the year because I know it is a part of my job. Same thing in derby- you workout and keep up your skills, you shouldn’t have that big of a problem with eventually concurring 27 in 5.
      We have bigger skaters in my league that get there, and I am by no means a skinny girl, so I believe it is all about being in minimal shape to meet the requirement and maintaining a level of fitness that will keep all of safe on the track.

  • OKSKATER says:

    We have girls that have passed their test without making the 27/5. Here’s how: The 27/5 is just one skill on the whole test. We score every single thing on the test with a score from 0 to 4. They get a 0 if they don’t attempt a skill and a 4 if it’s perfect. Then the skater must average a 3 to pass their test. Therefore, if they get a lower score on the 27/5, they can still pass the test by making higher scores on the other skills. (I don’t remember exactly what the numbers are on our test but it’s something like this – If you skate 27 or more laps in 5 minutes, you get a 4 on that skill….if you get 25 or 26, you get a 3…and so on.)
    I know every league is different and I just wanted to share how our league does it. I feel like giving our MSR test like this has been very successful.

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      I really like this system! Are you a WFTDA team? It sounds like your league might have a little bit more leeway with rostering eligibility.

  • Mira says:

    I wish my league would think about this!

  • Moto says:

    This is an amazing well thought out article. Thank you.

  • Jesstastic says:

    As the founder of a small league, one which has struggled at times to grow, I have found that on a few occasions we have had to pass people on min skills and have the girl ‘owe us’ 27 laps.. This way we have found they improve on all other aspects of roller derby while they build up their stamina and endurance to be able to skate at the required speed to pass 27 in 5
    This has been within our training and on a few occasions in a game too (low level game that is) .
    I myself struggled to achieve my 25 (when I started) and then after a break came back to it be increased to 27 and thought ‘here we go again’ and found it so depressing thinking about the struggle of the first time. Yet I’m a very strong player on the track (as a blocker not a jammer haha). But a review of this would be good, to change it to something more suited to modern roller derby.
    I feel the same about jumping too.. I mean whilst apex jumping is impressive why do we need to be able to jump 6 inch. I mean come on during the game it is usually so intense that if someone falls over upfront of u would u really have enough time to think about it u should jump it and if u could make it or would u only be able to think ‘fall small quickly’ and get back up.

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      I’ve definitely noticed that getting skaters into more rigorous practices impacts their laps positively. It’s partly getting out of their own heads, but also partially becoming more competent on their skates. Thanks for posting!

  • Beckett says:

    I commented on this when it was being discussed on FB, and I’d like to add some thoughts: While in almost 5 years of derby, I have been unable to pass 27/4 (or 25/5 before that), and I think that a 14/2.5 is a better benchmark, I do understand the need to use MSR as a benchmark for bouting– and right now, WFTDA MSR includes this skill. As someone who spent time on our training committee and did all our bout planning, having SOMETHING as a standard for bouting across the board (from the largest to smallest league) means that you have an idea of what your opponents skills are. We’ve skated as low as 7 skaters on a roster, because that’s who we had skills passed. If we had a team come to us that had 7 skills passed skaters and 7 who weren’t skills passed, those non-passed skaters could present a liability for insurance or just basic safety. Our contract states that all skaters must be MSR passed.

    • Beckett says:

      My business practice (as a derby-owned business) says that to scrimmage with my organization (which is NOT a league), skaters must be skills passed MINUS timed laps (forwards and backwards). That’s what my partners and I decided when we started the business. Even though we disagree on the need for the 27/5 as a skill on the MSR, we agreed that for the sake of accessibility of our business, and our specific goals as a company, this would be how we approached it.

      • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

        Do you run the test anyway? And, if so, does it impact any decisions? (i.e. If a skater can only manage 16 laps, but passes the rest of skills, is that a deal breaker.) I always curious to hear all the different ways of handling it.

        • Beckett says:

          Our business is to put on training camps for skaters as well as to field pickup teams. Our pickup teams require full skills for insurance liability. Out training camps that include scrimmages we do not test skaters. We allow fresh meat and free agent skaters to participate, and make it very clear what skills are required for our scrimmages.

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      Someone else brought up this insurance/liability issue, which I honestly hadn’t even thought about. It makes sense as to why the MSRs exist in the form they do from that perspective. I sometimes worry that teams “fudge” a little and send non-MSR’d skaters (maybe those that are just short of laps) to fill rosters. I don’t know how prevalent that is, but I imagine it happens.

  • Ryan "cap'n Merica" says:

    Very awesome read I coach a all female team a Jr derby team and am part of a men’s team i was a career marine in the infantry that being said people may want to try and build up to 27-5 and not start there what I am doing or have been doing is start slow do 6-1 once every member of my team freshie to vet is completing it with ease move up too 12-2 and so on and so forth as it stands we are 4 months in and getting ready for freshies and vets alike to be working at 18-3 is it more then 27 yes but it’s less of a mind game and it’s fast effective and builds skaters confidence and is a great starter to practice

  • Special Order says:

    Some thoughts about this.

    Endurance wins bouts. Not endurance in a 2 minute jam, endurance that lets you dance your butt off after the bout. If you are running a 5k race you don’t just run 5ks, you run twice or triple that at a pace you want to run your 5k.

    Speed on the track for all players can be an advantage. If both jammers get out around the same time, you can speed up the pack and give your jammer time to overtake theirs. Or at least get in front and stay in front to save points!

    Learn what turning early, or late does to your lap times. Loosen you trucks or tighten them to improve your lap times. Go all out for as many laps as you can, the take a comfortable pace to recover, then go all out again.

    Passing a hurdle that seems impassable at first, builds your character and confidence.

    It’s a minimum skill. Anyone that has passed this skill should be pushing to reach 30 in 5. Also, your league should be doing annual min skills testing. It may not be a requirement but it will show skaters what skills they have put less effort into during practices.

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      I don’t disagree, even though a lot of people think I do. I want to see leagues finding ways to help skaters pass this skill, whatever that looks like. Keeping safe, stable, but slow skaters in non-contact situations isn’t the answer.

  • IV says:

    I think the test is less about fitness and more about comfort on skates. Most of the skaters struggling probably suffer from one or more of the same problems:
    1. Skating with the legs instead of the body. A lot of new skaters try to keep their upper body centered, and move their feet under them. That’s not the purpose of a stride. Just like walking or running, the weight should move with your feet. When you cross your weight should land with your right foot, and when you push out the weight should land with the left foot. Learning to move your weight so that your legs can push it in the direction you want to go is critical. This is probably why you see people improve just by practicing – as they get more comfortable, especially on one foot at a time, they are more willing to shift their weight.
    2. Not leaning into the corners. This is about weight transfer again. If you don’t lean in you can’t push your weight with your left foot in the corner (as such a push would go to the outside of the corner), so you are already trying to pass the test on one leg.
    3. Pushing back instead of sideways. We evolved to walk/run, which involves pushing straight backwards. If you do that on skates your wheels just roll and all that energy is lost. So many new skaters turn their feet just a little bit and capture some small amount of energy, but they’re still wasting most of it.

    If you want a solution, I would recommend the cross-and-hold drill from speed skating. Cross over, then hold that position for a couple of seconds. Make sure that your left foot is to the outside of the right one rather than behind it. Make sure the weight is on the right foot. Now stride out. Hold that position for a couple of seconds. Make sure all the weight is on the left foot and you didn’t push back with the right foot. Continue. This can be done rolling in circles or not rolling and just striding a line across the floor.

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      This does to be the general consensus: that finding a way to better teach the skill could help significantly. Do you mind if I screenshot your idea and share it?

      • IV says:

        Go for it. Also, if anyone is having too many problems with the first item which makes cross and hold too hard, consider just working on getting them to do a one foot glide first. Skate forward and after each stride balance one one foot for 3-5 seconds. You can also try one footed slaloms, even with widely spaced cones. It’s amazing how quickly people improve just from being comfortable shifting their weight over one foot.

  • Spry Bergeron says:

    Love all this discussion!

    In our league, we say a skater who can meet all the MSR and:

    Skate 23 laps in 5 minutes can be taught to scrimmage and is eligible to be teamed/rostered for a home team.

    Skate 25 laps in 5 minutes can be taught to scrimmage, is eligible to be teamed/rostered for a home team, and is encouraged to participate in other leagues’ open scrimmages.

    Skate 27 laps in 5 minutes can do all of the above and is encouraged to try out for our WFTDA charter.

    Also, this year we’ve started to assess the 5-minute laps in a paceline (so many skaters struggle to understand pacing <he strides and the breathing), so the skaters can focus on their breathing and strides without worrying about their pace (since the trainer sets the 23, 25, or 27 lap pace), and it's helped everyone reach their pace goals!

    Cheers,
    Spry

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      Great break down! I love how concrete it is! Thank you for sharing. Do you mind if I share this on my Facebook page for other leagues to see?

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