Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why Don't More Retired Skaters Come Back and Coach?

I asked the Facebook Universe "Why don't more retired skaters stick around and help coach or train their former leagues? I got a lot of heated responses, but this one was the most interesting and detailed. The skater asked to remain anonymous.

Photo by Joshua R. Craig

I retired for two reasons, I needed to heal from an injury and because derby was no longer fun any more for me. Derby for me had run it's course. It was fun till the last year and a half. I came into my league as a transfer from a competing league. I worked hard and made the allstar team about 6 months after I transferred in. I rode the bench most of my first year as an all star. I often was thrown in to jam because i was small and fast; I never really got tips or pointersabout jamming and never really got the opportunity to block.

I discovered little events and scrimmages outside of the league, learned and practiced with other
leagues to augment my own league’s training. I was invited to guest skate with a different league
and got my first multiple point jams with that team, which made me sad. That should have been
with my own team, but they didn't know my value. I became determined they would see that I
was worth training, and worth their time.

This was a theme that went on until I retired and they realized what i did for the league.

I was captain of a home team during my first full derby season with my league, and then i got to
be captain of our all star team my second year. I was captain for the following 4 years of the all
star team. I was voted in because i was fair, and I was levelheaded. I tried to always give good advice and I was fully aware of my skill level and pushed myself and others correctly during practice. During those four years, I was also on training committee developing plans, running practices, doing line ups, doing stats, developing ref relations, helping with recruiting refs and skaters, marketing the league, doing outreach with the community and in WFTDA. I wanted people to connect me with my league, especially in the derby community.

During that time I alienated my family and non derby friends, and lost two jobs because
of being distracted by derby and it's workings and not focusing on what was TRULY

I stepped back, I thought, and I reevaluated my involvement and wasn't captain the last part of
my derby career. The training level dropped, the cohesion of the team dropped, but I refused to
step in and stop it. It was how they wanted to run things. Despite the drop in our training, we
were doing well rankings wise. I thought I’d try something new, and worked on interleague
relations and marketing. I was the only one from the league to go to WFTDA meetings each year,
despite asking for support, but I was still able to get my league heard and made valuable
connections for us.

In 2012 I decided that I would start preparing for retirement. I had accomplished a lot of things,
and our schedule for 2012 was good. We would play a lot of great leagues and I would go out on
a high note. During 2012, we got really good, and our teamwork was wonderful. Our practices
were strong and prepped us well. We had a lot of new people things were good and our team was
competitive. I was very proud of where the team was headed and felt confident that they would
be ok without me. It was during the summer that i realized in my heart I couldn't leave yet; so I started looking forward to skating the next year. .

2013 started out well, everyone was focused and ready to work and move up to be at D1
tournaments. It was my goal. I wanted to play at a tournament my whole career, an actual
WFTDA tournament, and it was all within reach.  Then, egos got big and the team work crumbled; people stopped working together, and they started focusing on the "super stars." They started to basically take orders from the divas of the team, who were talented but needed to  remember they were a part of a team.

During a game, I took a fall on a metal grate and hit my knee just right. I was out of the game for 15 minutes, then back in because the bench coach looked desperate and everyone else had quit. After
that game, I found out I had nerve damage to my knee. I had to stop skating in order to let it heal. Unfortunately, my team was dropping like flies; this person wasn't eligible to skate because of attendance, this person hurt their thumb, this person had cramps, and this person was butt
hurt about another game. I felt I couldn't let my team down by not skating.  Plus, in my head I rationalized "it only hurts if I fall, just don't fall." So without fail, I went to the doctor every
two weeks for therapy and played the entire rest of the main part of the season.

I took off in August to rest, and it was that month i fully realized what i had been missing. My
friends and family that were there before derby were still there and EXCITED to have me back
around, and i had fun. I felt important again. I felt valued. I missed that feeling. I realized that I
would need to stop derby in order to keep that feeling, but I was determined to finish out the
main season. During that month, 3 people from the team retired. A lot of the team just assumed that I would do what I did in 2012 and reconsider my decision to retire, even though I had made it clear at the beginning of the year would happen, and that i was preparing people to take
over my jobs when i finished my last game in November.

As November approached, people didn't have eligibility or they didn't pay their dues and thought it was ok because they were allowed a pass before because they were "special." Instead, this time they were not, and instead of being a good member of the team, they just quit. This got me to thinking, "What am i doing? I am hurt, and I've been playing hurt most of the year. I gave up time with my family and friends who cared about me and love me to be here." People on the team didn't put in the effort at practice, they whined about endurance,  faked injuries during endurance and miraculously healed in time for scrimmage. They didn't listen during explanations of drills, and then complained they don't know what's going on.  They ignored advice from their coaches and trainers, but when a guest skater said exactly what was said weeks earlier they made it their new mantra. They whined about being hit too hard, and practice being too difficult and too competitive. And I was done.

The only reason I had stayed as long as I did, was a sense of responsibility to my team, but my team did not have the same commitment to the sport. I wrote my retirement letter and sent it out the night before the last game. It was positive despite all the feelings of disappointment I had and encouraging. I went out and had fun during my last game which was not the type of game I'd like to end my career with, but I was having fun. I wasn't letting the bickering and egos on the bench effect my last time on skates for the forseeable future. I got MVP, something that rarely came my way in my career and because no one else would do it, I skated the last jam, to a standing ovation. It was great. The next day I laid in bed instead of going to a circular league meeting and thought about the last 8 years of derby. I thought of all the good times, few were moments with my own team, and many with other teams and leagues.

That first week, people didn't realize I was gone. 2 weeks into the new season, I started getting emails asking me WFTDA questions, and other league questions. Later, I found out they had pushed my replacement too hard and she quit. I told them politely that I  am retired, and gave them information about people who could help them, and continued on my merry way. They left me alone and it was great reconnecting with friends and family, doing hobbies, finding new ones, and working
with my doctor to get my knee better. Then, I was invited to a derby friend's party. I still liked people in my league, so I was excited to go. I felt a little ambushed by the derby people there, because as I sat down,  I was basically told by other derby people who were invited that I just left the league in a lurch, nobody knew what was going on, and how could I do that, and I was an awful person. I realized they hadn't even said Hi.

After that, the barrage of emails started up again, asking WFTDA questions,  saying that people that I told them to ask wouldn't  help them. I finally had to be blunt and  say, "Stop, you ran off the person I trained. It's not my fault no one else knows how to do these things."

Up until the party,  I was considering nsoing and helping them by being a bench coach.
Two things stopped me; their lack of respect for people in authority, and  the fact that I liked my freedom from derby. I realized I was happier without derby, without the drama constant drama. I was happy being with my family and friends, not having to worry about a teammate getting too drunk at an afterparty and having to babysit her all night, or worrying about someone not making attendance.
I was happy with out the back biting of people who were unhappy with themselves and projecting it onto others. I was happy being me with out having to consider if what I was doing would effect the team or the team diva.

Derby is much like high school, and I hated high school. Once I was done, I was done.
Same with derby. People in derby didn't respect authority; they wanted to be Roller girls and not
a team. They had no sense of self worth and used derby for that self validation. I was already a
well developed person before derby, and remain one post derby. I could not spend my time and
effort watching, evaluating, and giving advice that would be ignored and then getting blamed for
losses because people didn't listen.

For teams to retain retired skaters as coaches or even refs, they have to treat people better and with respect during their time with the league. No one is going to experience freedom from league drama and disrespect, and then decide to come back for it on a volunteer basis.

Again,  this is my experience. Sorry it's so long ,but it's something that just comes down to respect,
and valuing your members while they are there. If they don't feel valued, or that they will be
respected or treated respectfully or even listened to, they are not going to come back and help the league. That's a shame, because the more skaters that retire and not come back to help, the more cumulative knowledge and experience the sport loses.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Talk Derby to Me By Killy from Philly

Sometimes I am lucky to have people who volunteer  to write a blog post about a topic they feel passionately about. Here's Killy from Philly's take on being a better communicator in derby.
“You can never talk too much.” It’s true on the track during a jam but it pays to be smart in how you communicate off the track. Here are some lessons I have learned from my nonprofit management consulting job that is helpful in communicating in a league.
Photo by Tyler Shaw

1. Pick a system and stick with it:
Smoke signals, bat signals, announcement circles, internal website, email blasts, FB posts, yahoo groups, Google hangout, pick your poison whatever it is but stick to it. All official league business should go through a designated system. We all get too many emails, messages, tweets, FB posts, whatever. Add 40-60 league members about tons of derby activities and you’ll get chaos. By all means you should communicate when you’re late to practices just courtesy on FB or text messages. If it’s official business and you expect someone to remember it, you want a conversation or information to be “official”, make it easy on yourself and your league and stick to one.

2. Know the limits of your forum: Emails are great but it’s not for everything. Having a strategy discussion or resolving a personnel issue over email is really not easy. Don’t do it. Do it in person or pick up the phone. Emails are great for posting ideas but not great for back and forth conversations. Same for Facebook, Yahoo group, etc. Doing it right the first time will save you time from misunderstandings later.

3. Have meetings regularly and run them well: Nothing replaces an in-person meeting. It’s hard to schedule. We’re all too busy. But the longer you wait to have a league level meeting, the worst it will be. People will be saving their comments about last year’s fundraiser or whatever. We all want to be heard and feel heard but a league meeting is not always the best time for it. Pick a time period, stick to it, and pick a good facilitator who’ll keep the meeting on topic and moving.

4. Figure out who you should talk to before/when you need to do it:
Do you know who does what in your committees? If you have a marketing question, should you email everyone on the committee or just one person? Do you default to asking the same league leader your questions? If you are unsure, then a league directory might be helpful. And you’re really an overachiever, shoot for a directory with pictures and job description. It will help your league avoid bottlenecks in communication, save your captains/league/committee chairs so many messages and everyone some frustration. I promise.

5. Conduct annual anonymous surveys: In my work with non-profits, it’s valuable in having an opportunity for everyone to give feedback where they feel like it will be heard and without judgment. There will be some complaining but a lot of that can be managed with the questions and way you report it back. The benefits outweigh the negatives. It helps air out frustrations before they fester into drama, creates buy-in, focus on priorities when the league is running a thousand activities at once. In derby, as it does in real life, we’re often too busy putting out the latest fire. Sometimes the long term strategic stuff gets put on the backburner. This exercise will keep the organization honest and focused. It doesn’t have to be complicated but know what’s working and not working is a good place to start.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Be a Better Teammate

Many people come to derby as their first experience in a team sport. Team sports are their own animals, and even if people have come to derby after being involved in a more individual sport like tennis, team sports really takes the idea of all for one, and one for all kind of mentality. That means the decisions you make as an individual can and might have an impact on your team's health and survival. Whoa. Am I exaggerating? Not really.

1. When you miss practice, everyone misses you. Yes, that's the truth. When you don't come to practice, your team suffers because you are not there to make them stronger. You're not there to learn the strategies, and you're not there to work with your walls or jammers. Teamwork begins with building trust, and if you aren't there, how can you build trust? If your team is in any way competitive, you need to be at every practice possible. Now, if you're on a very non competitive team, showing up to every practice ever is your decision. It will make you a better derby player in the end.

2. Work on your weaknesses. Don't try to hide them from your teammates, but try and work on them. the best way I've ever been motivated to work on my skating flaws is holding myself accountable for them. How do I do that? I share my flaws with my teammates and tell them what I'm working on, which can be pretty terrifying. Opening up and sharing your weaknesses is a scary concept, but it will definitely keep you striving to improve those shaky skills. Hold each other accountable, and soon your whole team will be improving.

Don't be the a-hole
3. There are no super stars on teams. Of course there are very talented players, and there are amazing strategists, but everyone has a job to do on the team. Stand out on your team because you are an excellent teammate. Be supportive, be a bedrock of support to your team. Build them up, and by doing so, you can all become mighty.

4.  Cross-train. Our sport is demanding, and to be your best and strongest teammate self, you need to be working on your strength and endurance outside of derby. OUTSIDE of derby. There is not enough time to bring everyone's fitness level up to the group standard. As teammates, we have to take some responsibility for our own training. Endurance is one of those things we can do on our own time, and SHOULD do on our own time. 

5. Make smart choices in and out of derby. The thing that sets my teeth on edge is when I hear someone on a team say the following words: "I'm a grown ass woman and I can do what I want!" Usually the person who is in the middle of saying it is making a horrible decision. Like "I can trail skate without any protective gear" or "Staying up all night before a game will be fine!" People on your team are counting on you, so try not to make stupid and self centered decisions. I mean, you shouldn't be making stupid and self centered decisions in life in general, but really try not to make them when they will impact your team. In other words, consider the consequences before you make that "grown ass woman" decision. Every decision has consequences, have you considered what the consequences could be?

Finally, if you are not in junior derby, you are an adult. Adults are supposed to be able to think beyond their immediate needs; when you join a team, you need to be able to consider what impact your actions will have on your team. If you don't want that kind of responsibility in your life, maybe playing a team sport isn't your thing right now.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Tale of Two Teammates (kind of a love letter)

Photos by Joshua R. Craig
I have been in derby since 2009, and for the most part, people come and go from this sport, but when you're lucky, some stick with you. During my time on the Carolina Roller Girls, two teammates stand out to me. Both of them for different reasons, and they're both incredibly different, but both exceptional in their own way.

Beth Row has been a close friend of mine since we bonded during some derby travel in my rookie year. Up to when we traveled together, we really hadn't talked much, but when you share a fold out bed with someone, you get to be friends or the worst of enemies. Lucky for me, we became friends, and we've been each others reality checks since we've been in the league.

Beth is one of those amazing people who is a tireless work horse. She's stubborn as hell and won't let anyone tell her that she can't do something. Before she came to me league, some skaters at her original league told her she would never play derby, and yet here she is, seven years later, playing derby like a demon. As a fellow BOD member, she's kept the league on the right path and kept me from losing my damned marbles every other day. She's the yang to my yin, logical whenever I want to be an irrational jerk, and she
 speaks her mind like nobody's business.

When I first met her, I thought she was an uptight sorority girl, but she's proven me wrong so many times. What can I say, the girl defines moxie. One of the many many reasons I think she's an excellent teammate is because she is fatalistic and stubborn, and yet she never lets anything defeat her. She's my Roman Gladiator with her "we who are about to die, salute you" attitude, and I am damned happy to have her on my team.

Jojo Gadget, is a a completely different kind of teammate. When Jojo came into our league, I helped come up with her name. She's always been a positive person and teammate, and although I have only been recently been able to appreciate just how positive and amazing she is on the track.

If you haven't been living under a rock for the last five years, you've heard of Jojo. She's a formidable player on the track and blocks like nobody's business. When I have had to play against her during home teams, I've wanted to just throw in the towel. She's almost impossible to get around, and she's an agile menace. Even after taking a season off to have her adorable baby (yes, she's an amazing mom too) she still hits like a brick house.

The reason Jojo is an excellent teammate is because even though she's probably one of the strongest players on our team, she doesn't have a sense of entitlement or super star issues. If we need to bridge, Jojo is one of the first who will drop to bridge. She communicates and makes sure everyone knows what is happening on the track. If someone in the wall says "jammer is on the outside line" Jojo always answers so you know she's heard. I love it when there's that kind of communication on the track; it makes my heart grow three times bigger. Once again, even though she's one of the most talented players on the team, she never makes other players feel small and insignificant.

Why have a written about these two great ladies? Well, I think it takes all sorts to make up a team. You don't have to be best friends with every single one of them, but they all bring something necessary to the table. What are you bringing to your team's table? What's your strength, and how are you making your team stronger?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Men in Derby

So, I've been reading a lot of blog posts about men in derby; some of them are supportive, and some are definitely against men being involved in the sport as players. I think I've been pretty consistent in my support for men playing derby, but I felt like I need to restate why I personally feel that derby belongs to everyone who wants to play it. These reasons are mine, and mine alone; opinions, everyone has them, right?
Photo by A Boy Named Tsunami

1. I didn't join derby because it was a feminist movement; I joined it because it was a sport. To me, derby has always been a sport. It's not a sorority, it's not a DIY movement, and it certainly isn't a way of life to me. It's a sport, and that means that it needs all kinds of people to be playing it and loving it for it to survive. That means juniors, women, men, and whomever else wants to play will make our sport stronger. If a sport isn't growing, it's dying, and nobody in derby wants to see that. The more people that understand our sport, the more people are going to be interested in supporting it by watching it or going to bouts. Right now, the derby community is self sustaining and doing a poor job of getting a foothold in an outside audience. We can't keep surviving this way; we all know it. We need to bring in as many fans of the sport as possible, and that comes from people being familiar with the game.

2. Men are already here and have been here from the beginning of the sport. Many coaches, trainers, announcers, volunteers and refs have been present since the beginning of modern derby. In fact, I'd say there are a majority of leagues that have quite a few men in key positions they rely on. Heck, I still know women who have been playing the sport for years who still rely on the men in their leagues to do most of their skate maintenance. (Boo hiss....every skater should know how to do basic skate maintenance) Expecting men to support our sport without having a chance to experience the amazing part of skating is really kind of shitty. Hey guys, give up your time and gas money so you can make sure we get to play games! We don't want you to do it though, ok? On a slight tangent, I'd love to see more women coaches and refs out there; it kills me when I see an amazing player leave the sport and not pass on her wisdom to future skaters. Sigh. That's another blog entry, though.

3. Roller Derby is never going to fix the inequity in all other sports, and it really shouldn't be expected to. Yes, I know there is an imbalance in other sports; women often get the short shrift when it comes to attention, and that's not great, but treating men the same way in our sport fixes nothing. It doesn't make the other sports stop the unequal treatment, and it doesn't make the world a better place for women in general. Inequity is disgusting no matter who is causing and reinforcing it. We should be striving not to be perpetrators of prejudice. Most of the men I know who are involved in this sport are respectful and idolize women skaters. "I want to skate like Bonnie Thunders" has been heard coming from the mouths of the male skaters more than once; do you think that happens in other sports?

4. Co-ed derby is fun. Yes, it's not for everyone, and if you are not comfortable playing against someone of the opposite sex, then you shouldn't be forced to, but it is fun. I learn something new every time I get to play with or against guys, and they learn something new too. I've never had an unpleasant experience playing against or with men, at least not more or less unpleasant than I have playing with women. People can be creeps no matter what gender they identify with.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Toe-stopless Tuesdays

This year, our league has tried something new with our training. Every first Tuesday of the month, we hold a "Toe stopless Tuesday" practice, and yes the name is supposed to be provocative.  All league members who come to practice have to take their toe stops out, or put them up as high as possible, and explore the world of edges! Since I've been getting some questions about it from other leagues, I thought I'd share our new experiment.

So, why did we start messing around with asking our players to take out their toe stops? Well, to explain why we did, I'd have to go back to about 2009, when I joined derby. At the time, my league didn't encourage people to use toe stops in derby. All of our freshmeat skills were based on edges, including sprinting and stops. You could have toe stops, but they were definitely seen as a crutch; I actually had teensy tiny ones after I passed my assessments, but only used them to get up quicker from a fall.  Eventually, our entire league embraced toe stops. But as the years progressed it seemed like our toe stop training overtook our edges training, and everyone who came through our freshmeat program was prodigious at toe stopping all over the place, but their edges were sorely lacking. Hey, we did the best we could with our training, and sometimes you have to sit back and reevaluate what your plan actually is.

The funny thing about practicing your edges is that it's kind of hard to break people away from their
You'll need some of these.
old habits. Team members who relied on their toe stoppers for just about everything were reluctant to take chances during drills or scrimmages on learning their edges. So, we came up with a low-risk method of easing people into "making friends" with their edges.

One of the things we noticed when we started Toe Stopless Tuesdays, getting on the rink might be the most dangerous part of the whole evening. Even if you're constantly reminding yourself not to use your non existent toe stops, people still seem to blank out and fall flat on their faces. Seriously, like two steps and wham! Wipe out central! Another issue with no toe stops is skating bakwards; well, it's more like stopping while skating backwards. That one takes two or three falls to get it into your head. Trust me. You try not forget, but sometimes habit wins. We kind of had a running joke about who would be the first to wipe out; it became a point of honor if you were the first.

When we do toestopless Tuesday, we usually don't do any contact; mostly we work on transitions, and stopping. In fact, almost every drill we use tends to come from hockey sites I go creeping on, like this one. Hockey has some perfect drills for edges; I'm sure some of you know this already, but I'm just offering some info. Hockey drills are tough to master, but they're really fantastic for derby.

Has this training paid off? Honestly, I see that people in our league are more aware of their edges than they've been before, and that's a great first step.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Facebook Pitfalls Part 2

Every year I've been writing this blog, I see people making big bad derby mistakes while using Facebook. I know that people don't mean to mean to "do Facebook wrong" but when you see it happening over and over again, you want to just stop the train wreck. This is not an accusation; everyone posts and can post whatever he or she wants on Facebook, but there are things you should avoid so you don't necessarily put you or your league in an awkward position. Some of this advice is probably a repeat from one of my earlier blog posts, but most of it bears repeating. Here's a link to the original if you're interested.

First of all, please don't vague post. Yes yes, we all know how frustrating it is to be angry about something in your life, derby or otherwise, and you just need to get it out of your system. What's vague posting? A good example is "I am so tired of some people's attitude." Posting like that could be about real life, work life or derby, and is bound to make people uneasy, which is the whole point to vague posting. We have all been there, but when you vague post, other people get paranoid; I know that might be what you wanted to happen, but I can almost guarantee that the people being impacted by your post aren't the people you're mad at. This is next statement is universal with every bit of advice in this post; not every emotion or experience belongs on Facebook.

Don't be abusive towards officials. It happens all of the time; you've had a rough game and you didn't like how the officials called penalties. (Shocking, I know.) It's ok to be frustrated, and it's ok to talk about it with your teammates in private, but do NOT talk about it on Facebook. First of all, we as players and coaches don't know what the refs witnessed and saw during the game. We see our version of it, and they see theirs. As derby has progressed over the years, I believe we are seeing better trained refs who don't have a personal agenda; thank heavens for that! Secondly, don't comment publicly about refs and their bias on Facebook because you never know who can see it! You may  think that your posts are just going to friends that are sympathetic to your views, but Facebook is like electronic lice. Posts jump around and land every which way, and you have no idea who is going to read them. How embarrassing is it to post a screed about a terrible ref crew and have someone from that league call you out on it? Just don't do it; the WFTDA and MRDA both frown on posting nasty things about officials, and well they should! Just. Don't. Do. It.

Don't post snarky comments about other leagues. Just like the above paragraph, you have no idea who can read your posts, and who is friends with whom. Don't start a war over being snarky. Talk about it with your friends in meat space, not on Facebook!

Don't post about how hung over you are on FB if you're ditching practice. Well, you can post about it, but don't think you won't get the stink eye from your teammates. You will, but probably not from everyone, but you'll get them. And guess what? You earned them; not because you were hung over, but because you decided to post about it on Facebook. Don't post about stupid crap unless you're willing to be judged on it. That's pretty much a given on just about everything you post on Facebook.

Don't unfriend league members if you're both still in the league. I know, people get all excited and add everyone in derby when they join a league, but it's a serious jackass move to unfriend them while you're both still active in the league. I know that people fight and argue and have issues, but you still have to work as teammates, and something petty like unfriending someone is going to have a chilling effect that can travel to the track. There are a lot of ways to avoid someone you might be angry at on social media; you can unfollow their posts, or hide them, but don't block them on Facebook. That's just being petty; what happens if you stop being mad at them, and now you have this ridiculous awkwardness between you? It might feel right at the time, but seriously reconsider what the long term consequences might be.

The final bit of advice I give is a warning. Don't get into ridiculous fights on Facebook about derby. I know, it's hard to stay out of a stupid argument, but most of the time, it's just not worth it. You really need to define for yourself what is a worthy battle, and what isn't. Everyone has strong opinions in derby, and you don't have to throw down yours at every provocation. Pick your battles.