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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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