PACELINE, SCHMACELINE: 5 Reasons to Ditch It

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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…

Have you watched roller derby recently?

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.
  • USARS

Disagree with me? Comment below and let me know.


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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.

18 Comments

  • V says:

    Pacelines have been best for learning the timing for hip checks/contact in general IMO. Freshies spend so much time on learning timing, and pacelines have always helped speed that process along. But other than that, I just liked it for the repetition — because repetition is key to learning anything.
    Ways my team has combated people zoning out: add extra activity for the actual line to focus on while people are weaving/hitting/whatever. Squats, 180s, 360s, etc. This also teaches skaters to be aware of their surroundings so they don’t get hit while caught off guard. For waterfall pacelines, the line is expected to hold out an arm/hand for a whip in case anyone needs it (this also helps any freshies struggling to keep up with the line).

    Great read, great info! Thanks!!

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      The paceline for newbies IS an amazing learning tool. I think we, as a sport, need to be more creative when it comes to building drills that improve us. Not just “put a paceline on it”. Thanks for responding!

  • Speed Knight says:

    #1 zoning out? blame the coach.
    Pacing is whent the skater can concentatrate in proper technique while warming up.
    The main reason people are able to “hang” at a certain point,is their improvement in eficiency.
    Coach should be reminding or correcting form,while pacing

    #2 It has absolute carry over to today’s game. Proper technique reduces effort,without reducing speed. Jammers can use extra energy to fight the blockers

    #3 We can say that, for every single drill or exercice out there. There is anotherone better!
    Not every drill has to mimic the game to improve the players or the team

    #4 You are right about the asymmetric muscle growth. But WFTDA’s new rule,about clock wise direction, on the second half,will fix that.

    #5 No induvidual skill , will make a player better .
    I can close my eyes and think of a very strong player, that could stop a train,but she can’t keep up with the pack,when the going gets fast.

    Pace line is a great tool,for newer or older skaters alike. Coach should be watching and working the different faces of it and there will be improvements, every time while warming up .

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      Good points, I like hearing everyone’s take on it. And I do agree that good coaching can alleviate some of the problems with the paceline. However, quickness — an incredibly important sports skill — is built by exposure to specific game scenarios which are less likely to occur in paceline drills. (I also think the article about WFTDA changing the direction at the half was satire.)

      • Dawn says:

        Ya… I was really happy to read about the second half of the game changing direction….. then I did some research and didn’t find anything. Must be a fake story. Funny! I believed it and now I’m just laughing…. The shape of the track would have to change, or more lines would have to be put down….. OK, I was gullible!!

  • Dianne says:

    I’m assuming this is from a WFTDA stand point and not a USARS? We practice 8 second pace lines with drop backs. There is no time zone out. You’re also working to sync with your teammates so when it does come time run you’re already in the motion of skating away.

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      Pacelines do have a bit more carry over in USARS, but I want to encourage every team to make sure they’re using the right tool for the job. I happen to think that tool is rarely a paceline, but USARS is a different animal. You’re right.

  • Durakillbunny says:

    I completely agree. My body is so bored during pacelines it goes to sleep!

  • B says:

    Drills are for isolation of a specific skill. Sometimes that isolation is closely related to game play and sometimes it is a physical attribute. Some individual skills are difficult to organize without getting in a line. Practicing the timing of hitting 8 times in a row is more difficult in a pack, but the drill is about hitting not organizing oneself to get in position in a pack then hitting. Two different levels of skill and both drills are useful.
    Pace lines as mentioned are great for freshies because their minds are almost already ‘full’ just trying to keep their balance, focus on the specific skill at hand much less the confusion of a pack. My stance is the basics that are good for beginners can be used to sharpen any skill level. Its your opportunity to focus on the specific skill at hand. Practice is always on your focus in the format of pack work, pace line, footwork drills , or whatever is being isolated in the drill at hand.
    I like when a skill is built up from being done not skating, moving as individual alone, in pace line (against/around one other person repetively), in pack, in game simulation, then scrimmage. And then you rinse and repeat so you can do each level better with more and more distractions.
    Lifting weights and running are not derby gameplay skills, but they can improve strength, endurance, balance for derby and as such not wasted effort.

  • Ella says:

    As a coach (retired), I found the pace line redundant and pointless (to a point). But our training team was responsible for the warm ups. I like the idea of it because it’s what is usually first done before anything else (usually). I like that it gets everyone together, clear the mind, and begin. I don’t think it needs to last 5 min or go balls out, but I think it should still be a part of it.

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      I see your point and think it’s a good one. The paceline is just overused and it’s frustrating to see!

  • Fred says:

    My understanding of endurance training has always been that speedwork needs to be done on a solid base of long, slow distance. But it’s difficult for a lot of leagues to have track time dedicated to this. Do you think that a skaters endurance base should come from individual running or cycling ( or one of a myriad of other sports) outside of skating?

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      That’s true! Long, steady state cardio is important for building a good cardiovascular base. Typically players that play more explosive sports (i.e. hockey, derby, football) build their base during the off-season. The focus during the season is maintaining the base and improving the sport specific focus. Most skaters with a balanced cross training program that regularly attend practice are doing enough for maintenance during the season. Skaters that think they lack a good base SHOULD DEFINITELY start doing some long, slow cardio as part of their off-season training. (Or incorporate it 2-3 times per month NOW and then do more during the off-season.)

  • DeeRailya says:

    Pace lines are my kryptonite. Because I don’t have gameplay to focus on, I get inside my head too much. I worry I’m not going to be able to keep up. I fear being passed by my teammates and being left in the dust. I kick the puppy. My breathing gets out of control and I feel imminent failure is on the horizon. I would much rather participate in pretty much any other form of endurance than pacelines.
    Practice like we play. Pacelines hurt my soul, playing roller derby does not.

    • IronOctopusFitness IronOctopusFitness says:

      Gah! I’m sorry. I think they have some training uses, but I like other forms of endurance and skill training MUCH, MUCH better (obviously). A lot people go after the mental toughness piece, but I’m not sure that carries over equivalently either. I’ve been hearing a lot of good reasons to use it, but I think if your team really despises it — or it’s soul crushing — there are lots of other alternatives. Maybe if you find some, your team can use them?? Good luck!

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