The paceline. It’s a fixture in derby; a right of passage. The feeling of exhilaration when you can finally hang in the paceline is akin to your first successful big hit. It’s a glorious feeling.
It’s been around since the dawn of time — or at least the dawn of derby. It’s something we can all touch base about and commiserate on, regardless of how long it’s been since we’ve laced up our skates.
It’s a cultural artifact.
It’s also largely irrelevant. A waste of time; as close as possible to being utterly useless.
Although admittedly beautiful when executed properly…
REASON #1 TO DITCH THE PACELINE
You zone out. And even if YOU don’t, somebody does. A lot of people do. My favorite thing about the paceline was the zen nature of it; repetitive and soothing. And while I was being mechanical and sleepy, I wasn’t actually getting any better.
Improvement in anything comes from intentional practice which is hard to come by when you are spacing out. Aren’t there better drills to accomplish the same thing? Drills that don’t lull your entire team into a stupor right before you have to practice or play?
The answer is yes. There are better drills.
REASON #2 TO DITCH THE PACELINE
It has little-to-no relevant carry over to today’s game play. Most of us would agree that if your team is skating one in front of the other on the track as a strategy, you’re toast. In all situations.
In the very beginnings of roller derby, when it was just a marathon to see how fast/long you could skate, practicing skating fast, for a long time, in a circle made sense. But…
Very little of it is characterized by long moments of skating hard and turning left. Even jammers that escape the pack are often using that time to regroup rather than race around to immediately get the shit beat out of them again. I will grant you that there are still times when the pack races away. As long as you grant me that they are few and far between.
REASON #3 TO DITCH THE PACELINE
Everything you’re using the paceline for could be done better by not being in a paceline. What are you even doing in a paceline that can’t be done in another form that more closely mimics game play?
- Individual or Wall Weaves? A pack would be better (and much more realistic) than a paceline. As an individual, it teaches you to anticipate how others move to find the openings. JUST LIKE IN A GAME. In a paceline, you already know where everyone’s going to be. By doing wall weaves in a pack, your wall learns how to adapt to the positioning of others while still reforming in the front. Let’s face it, your wall typically isn’t going to be weaving right next to each other during game play. There’s just not enough room.
- Cardio Endurance? I’ve got news for you, skating laps in a paceline doesn’t get you ready for the way you’ll expend energy during a bout. You just don’t spend time during game play traveling at the same speed for entire jams. In fact, you shouldn’t. Modern roller derby is a game of quick starts and stops, not steady plodding. Holding a mixed tempo practice will be just as effective. Probably more so.
- Speed Control? Skating in Proximity? Warming up? All things that can be done better in a pack setting or individual drills.
REASON #4 TO DITCH THE PACELINE
You’re exacerbating the adaptations that our bodies undergo to play this sport. If you spend a lot of time crossing over in a paceline every practice, you’re making all the things you already complain about worse.
Roller derby will always be an asymmetrical sport where one side of your body works harder than the other. Why put yourself in a situation that actively encourages that?
In order to crossover, your hip flexors and abdominal muscles on the left have to lengthen which, in turn, affects the entirety of your kinetic chain. There are a lot of implications to that in everyday life (most of which can be mitigated by seeing a good physio).
Putting the kibosh on the paceline won’t fix your problems, but it also won’t put you in a position to increase them exponentially either.
REASON #5 TO DITCH THE PACELINE
It might make you fast, but it doesn’t make you quick. It’s true that participating in the paceline might help you get your 27-in-5, but if you’ve reached that goal, what are you aiming for now?
Seriously? Does getting 30 laps in 5 minutes indicate that you’re a better roller derby player? What about 35 laps in 5 minutes?
Being able to cram as many laps as you can into 5 minutes doesn’t translate onto the track. You have to be quick — both starting and stop — to be successful as a blocker OR a jammer. Close your eyes and think of someone who you know that is faster than you in the paceline, but much less effect on the track.
I’m not telling you to call that person out. I’m telling you that person exists. A lot of those people exist.
AND 4 REASONS TO KEEP IT…
- Butts, butts, butts, and the view, view, view.
- Cooling off the venue on a hot summer day.
- Teaching freshies and newer skaters the basics of the crossover and 27-in-5.
Disagree with me? Comment below and let me know.
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