Sunday, June 21, 2015

Uniforms don't have to be uniform

One of these things is not like the other....
Every year I see leagues struggling with the horrible task of obtaining new uniforms that won't piss
everyone off. Good luck, ladies, it's a virtually impossible. I've been through this tedious process twice, and it's been nothing but hurt feelings, grumpy players and nobody is happy with the final results. PERFECT! Isn't that what we were looking for? Ugh. Even the word "jersey" used to make me want to run away from the committee. Why can't roller derby be like figure skating, where everyone wears sequins? Or fringe? Or lame onesies which look horrible on every human ever? I'd be ok if everyone looked equally terrible, but that's not going to happen either.

The problem with uniforms is that there is no one style that flatters everyone. Bridesmaid dress designers have been trying for YEARS to design a dress that fits tall, short, thin or wide ladies, and they fail miserably. Jerseys have the same fatal flaw. I'm six feet tall, with no boobs, and wide shoulders. What flatters me isn't going to flatter my teammate who is five foot nothing with a huge rack. It shouldn't fit us the same! Only a crazy person would make a claim that it would flatter us both. (And yet I constantly read reviews of uniforms "flattering every figure in the league." Liarpants) When a league makes a decision about new jerseys, they tend to take the all or nothing approach. Either you all agree to wear this one style, or you don't get new uniforms. Generally what happens is that the majority wins and you all get to deal with your new look. Ugh.

I really wasn't digging the style of our newest jerseys. They were tight and clingy, which I hate, and they were fairly low cut. The strangest thing was that the white ones seem to be even more low cut than our black ones. I'm certain that wasn't the case, but somehow when I wore the white one, I felt way more exposed. Of course I was seriously disappointed in the new jerseys because our old ones weren't the greatest either, and I had high hopes for the new ones. Sigh. That's what I get for being an optimist! Kidding! I started to really look at what other teams did for uniforms, and I remembered when we played Killamazoo, some of their uniforms had a different cut than the rest of them. In fact, one of my favorite players, Javelin, had sleeves on her jersey, and nobody else did. Aha! There was a way to possibly make a silk purse out of a sow's ear!

With permission from my league, I decided to look for different options. My search led me to Derbyology and the storm style jersey. It wasn't as low cut and it definitely wasn't as clingy; the best part was the price was almost exactly what I would pay if I stayed with what the league ordered. I have a preexisting relationship with Cub and Bear who run Derbyology, but I have to say that even if I didn't, I would have ordered from them anyway. They had no minimum number of jerseys I had to order, and their turn around time was great. I've worn my new jerseys all season, and they don't pull from velcro and the printing has held up great!
All photos by Johua R. Craig
 So, I was able to get something I felt comfortable with, and it fits in nicely with what my league ordered. In fact, many people don't even notice I'm wearing a different style jersey. Win win! After this experience, I really think leagues should try to be a little flexible with the styles you choose. I know that one of the reasons leagues want to order from the same place, is that they might get a better deal with large numbers ordering, but letting people have a choice probably won't upset the final number too much. Most people in my league are happy with their jersey choice for the most part; I think I've been approached by one other teammate who was serious about getting info for ordering a different style. I'm sure there's a control freak aspect of jersey ordering, and that's ok too. Maybe leagues should look at ordering from places that offer a variety of different styles, and that way the "look" of the uniform won't be that radically different.  Relax people, as long as they look pretty close, nobody is going to get bent out of shape and say you don't look like a cohesive team.

But, I still think all teams should seriously reconsider rocking some fringe.

Just sayin'.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Losing Your Emotional Crap in Derby

We're all human, and that means that sometimes we have to deal with emotions, even where we don't want to be doing anything other than concentrating on derby. Derby is an extremely physical game, but there is definitely a mental and emotional component that can't be avoided.  Sometimes our emotions overwhelm us when we least expect them to, but dealing with emotions in derby can be so important if you want to improve your game.

Fury counts as anger too. Go see Mad Max.
To discuss emotions in derby, I'm taking a page from Yoda, so stay on target and hold on tight to your light sabres, we're going in.You need to identify your emotions if you're going to be honest with yourself and learn to control them.

Anger is a buffer emotion. When we're angry, it's because it's the easiest emotion to manifest, especially if we feel hurt or sad or scared. Anger is the acceptable way to express that we're unhappy. When you're "angry" you don't seem weak; when you're feelings are hurt, or you're sad, you are vulnerable, so many people opt to express the anger instead of dealing with the hurt."I'm pissed that I didn't make this roster!" Are you mad, or are you hurt? I'd be hurt that I didn't make a roster, especially if I had an expectation that I was going to make it. When we feel anger, our bodies release adrenaline, which jacks up our blood pressure and gets us ready for a fight; it makes us feel stronger, but it also shuts down the reasoning part of your brain. It's hard to control your decision making skills when you're pissed off, and people end up making giant mistakes out on the track. Of course, making mistakes might be what made you angry in the first place, so now you're caught in a vicious cycle.

Instead of getting pissed off and sabotaging yourself, try and channel that anger into focusing on your game and your teammates. I know it's easy to get pissed because you feel like you've been back blocked around the track by a hard hitting jammer, or tripped by opponents, but if you take that anger that's growing in your gut and turn that energy into a positive. Don't focus on the opponents or the refs; turn to your teammates to help you remain calm. Focus on them. Communicate with them, and them only. I know it's tempting to grouse at the opponent who just put her elbow in your solar plexus, but let it go and talk to your teammates. We usually can get out of angry mode if we distract ourselves with something else. Distract yourself with positive attention to your teammates.

Fear. “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Or something like that. "She's in her head" is a phrase that gets bantered about in derby; I truly feel that derby gives you plenty of opportunities to face fear. People fear jamming, they fear screwing up, they fear getting injured and they fear rejection and failure. Some people really fear looking foolish too, which I don't understand since we all look foolish at some point in our derby careers; isn't that half the fun of putting on skates?

Sometimes we just have to own our fear and talk ourselves through it. Remind yourself what you do well. "I'm a strong jammer" "I'm a great anchor in my wall" "My plow stop is super effective" "I recycle well." Say something positive to yourself about yourself. Remind yourself you're not out there by yourself, and your teammates could probably use some reassurances too. I feel a million times more confident when I'm close to my teammates and we're making eye contact on the track. Communication helps calm us all down, and when we're calm, fear can't find as great of a foothold.

Are there times you're going to be angry? Sure. It's how you deal with your anger which makes it controllable. Are you going to be afraid? Absolutely! Fear can be managed with your teammates though. The most important thing you can learn by playing derby is that you are a part of a bigger group, and that can take some of the pressure off of your emotional well being.

Game on!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Let's Talk About Concussions in Derby

Photo by A Boy Named Tsunami
I was minding my own business this morning, just reading through Facebook, when I saw a post about worrying about directional hits in derby. The link is here. If anyone knows me, my entire career in roller derby, since 2009, has been with a WFTDA league. I support the WFTDA, but that doesn’t mean I don’t question things we do, such as rule changes. I am an active member in my league, and I am allowed to critically think about what my organization does; if that weren’t true, we wouldn’t vote on rule changes, representation or policy. That’s what makes up a healthy organization; if you can’t discuss your opinions about the organization itself, it’s not worth belonging to. If you don’t feel passionate about your sport, then maybe it’s not the sport for you. I don’t love the polarization over rule sets in our sport. WFTDA, USARs MADE, whatever, they’re derby. If you don’t like one version, don’t play it, but you don’t have to attack the others. That particular article has a bias against the WFTDA rule set, but it did start a discussion about game safety, so I’m glad I read it, and OF COURSE I have an opinion.

Ever since 2011, when people started changing the direction of the game, I wondered if we were setting ourselves up for more traumatic brain injuries. As derby has progressed since then, it seems like officials have gotten less strict about calling clockwise or directional skating. Part of that might be an interpretation of the rules, but part of it might be because the derby community has accepted the idea that clockwise will happen and it’s normal. I’m neutral about skating the opposite direction on the track, but I do worry that we're upping our chances for concussive injuries. Just as a personal anecdote, I’ve experienced many high blocks in the last couple of years due to people turning around or walls completely stopped. I find this interesting only because I’m a six foot tall skater, and before 2012 I could count the number of high blocks I experienced on one hand. Is this a combination of me getting lower and the rules changing? Probably. I can’t say for sure if it’s one or the other, but I do know I’m not the only one who has experienced this change. I'm lucky. I haven't experienced a concussion as of yet, but I do think that this game comes with the danger of getting one. Is it just inherent in contact sports? Maybe, but we should all be familiar with the dangers of a concussion.

It’s important to understand what a concussion can do to your body; many of you are aware of my
I only see Percy in Time Hop now.
friend, Percy Q-­Tion, who died due to complications from a concussion he received. Percy fell in the shower, but anyone can get a concussion, and when you play a contact sport, you’re definitely upping your odds of getting one. I seriously doubt that derby is ever going to be a perfectly safe sport; no contact sport is, but there are things you should know about concussions before you continue to play. Percy died two years ago, but hopefully we can prevent others from dying from brain trauma in our sport by learning about his injury.

1. Concussion is a less scary word for brain trauma. It’s the same thing. If you have a concussion, it’s brain trauma, pure and simple. You’ve damaged your brain, and that’s not a good thing at all. I know that so many of us have watched movies where the hero gets knocked out, wakes up, and goes about his or her business like nothing is wrong. Well, that’s the difference between Hollywood and reality. You just don’t shake off brain trauma; it has to heal, and it can take a long damned time to do so. It can impact your vision, your balance, and your mood, not to mention if it was severe enough, it can kill you. Concussions aren’t cute and dismissible. You should be taking them very seriously. I know several skaters who cannot play derby anymore due to concussions, and that’s really the least thing you should worry about if you get a traumatic brain injury.

2. Anyone can get a concussion. After reading someone’s comment which basically stated that weak people are the ones who should worry about concussions, my eye twitched. This is magical thinking, folks. That kind of attitude floors me, even though I understand where it comes from. We WANT there to be a reason. People who get hurt "deserve" it because they were doing something dumb, or they weren’t training hard enough, or they didn’t lift weights, right? Wrong. Nobody, no matter how talented they are is above the laws of physics. Concussions happen because your brain keeps moving after your head stops, so if you whip your head around due to a high block, your brain keeps moving and slams into your skull. It’s physics and biology. Yes, you can do neck exercises to help stabilize your head, but that can only help a little. I’d really love for people who think only the weak get concussions say that to an NFL athlete; I seriously doubt that any of them think of themselves as weak. Can I be there when you ask, though? I’ll bring the popcorn.

3. When you play a contact sport, you increase your chances of getting a concussion. Most studies show that 1 in 5 athletes who play a contact sport will get a concussion. Those odds aren't great, and the really terrible bit of information is that once you get one concussion, you are more vulnerable to get more. Thanks, brain!

4. Concussions are the gift that keeps on giving, even though nobody wants this gift. Basically, concussions are the fruitcake of injuries. According to recent brain trauma and sports studies, athletes who suffer a concussion are more likely to injure themselves as they recover from their brain trauma. Ugh. Not only do you have to deal with a concussion, but you also have to be more diligent about other injuries. Unfortunately for my friend Percy, this was extremely true. His balance was impacted after his traumatic brain injury and he fell again, causing another concussion. That last one was the one that killed him.

5. Even if you are aware on the track, you could get a concussion. This is more magical thinking. "If I'm aware, nobody will ever hit me by surprise, and I'll be safe!" Well, brain trauma can happen to anyone, even the most aware player on the track. You can give yourself a concussion by going in to hit someone; if your head whips around or snaps back, you're opening yourself up to brain trauma.  Weird accidents happen in roller derby all of the time, and nobody is ever going to be perfectly safe, no matter how amazingly talented you think you are.

6. Brain traumas are different for everyone. Depending on the severity and where the injury is in the brain, the side effects can be varied. Most people recognize obvious symptoms, such as unconsciousness, or incoherency, but there are a slew of symptoms that are associated with concussions. 

  • Unconsciousness 
  • Inability to remember the cause of the injury or events that occurred immediately before or up to 24 hours after
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Trouble speaking coherently


  • Difficulty remembering new information 
  • Blurry vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Changes in emotions or sleep patterns
 I've talked to a lot of skaters who have suffered from concussions, and the symptoms vary; some report extreme moodiness, while others have balance issues and can't concentrate on daily tasks. Each concussions progresses differently, and because of that, it can be hard to pin down whether or not you're suffering from one. That brings us to #7....

7. People who are concussed aren't the best judge of the state of their health. If your teammate is concussed, he or she may not know it. I remember the first time a teammate was suffering a traumatic brain injury at practice; she had no clue what had happened. I'm not even sure she knew she was at derby practice! Thank goodness she went and got medical help, but after that, we made sure to nail down a concussion policy. It's in your league's best interest to have a concussion policy in place. You should have people trained in the basic recognition of concussions and brain trauma. The policy should be in place to help keep your teammates safe, and it should be applied equally to all suspected head trauma incidents. Your league should be talking about head injuries, so you're all vigilant.

8. Helmets will not prevent all concussions. It sucks, but it's true. I wish wish wish we could have amazing helmets that guaranteed to keep our brains perfectly safe from concussion, but alas, it's not meant to be. Of course helmets can protect your skulls from a direct hit, which is incredibly awesome, but your brain can still slam against your skull and get damaged. Just because we wear great helmets, doesn't mean we can't get concussions, but it also doesn't mean it's time to strap a colander to your head and call it good enough. Get yourself a decent helmet and at least attempt to protect your head.

In derby, just like in any sport, an athlete has to figure out what is too much risk. I hope that this post will get you thinking about brain safety and maybe open a dialogue up with you and your teammates.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Referee feedback

Photo by Joshua R. Craig
Ever had to do a ref evaluation during a game? Sometime they're thrown at a team minutes before a game, and then that team has to scramble to find someone to fill them out. At some point, that person might be you; filling out the actual form isn't hard, or even mentally strenuous, but it does have some pitfalls that you might have to worry about. Maybe worry is too strong of a word, but if you want your ref evaluation to actually be helpful, you need to put some effort into them. Even if you're not doing an official WFTDA ref and NSO feedback form, and just giving a ref requested feedback, you should use these guides to help you construct your feedback.

1. Actually watch the ref and not focus on the game. This is the hardest thing ever, in fact, it's harder than saying no to amazing cheesecake, or going to bed early when there is a fantastic show on TV. Watching the ref you've been asked to give feedback to can be extremely difficult because as skaters, we tend to watch the game play instead of the refs. We usually only notice the refs and NSOs when either we disagree with them, or whole heartedly agree with them because that call they just made threw the other team's jammer in the box.

2.  Look for consistent calls. Are they consistently calling out of play? Are the consistently aware of skaters creating the pack? These are great things to point out, because consistency is important in a ref crew. Conversely, if they are making the incorrect calls consistently, that is something to point out. Do they constantly miss define the pack because they keep missing blockers from both teams? Are the calling 9 feet closer to 5 feet? If they are constantly consistently calling the wrong call, that can be room for improvement as well.

3. Do they know the rules? Sounds like a dumb question, but it is an important one. If they're NSOing, do they understand the protocols of the penalty box? Do the refs understand who initiated the contact? Can they keep track of their jammers and keep the the number of points earned? Having a good grasp on the rule set is essential for NSOs and refs.

4. Can they skate confidently. I know that we, as skaters, tend to be hyper critical about skating ability; we train so much to be great at what we do, but refs need to be confident on their skates as well. Do they need to be able to skate on one foot around the outside curve while spinning around? No, but it's important that they can keep up with the pack and jammers, and not worry about their ability to stop when needed. There have been several refs I've watched miss calls because they were looking at their feet instead of watching the game. Refs need to have great awareness as well, you never know when a jammer will get her world rocked and thrown into a ref at the worst moment possible.

5. Are they professional? I've dealt with amazing refs who had great interpersonal skills; they could diffuse angry bench coaches by listening and making them feel like their needs were being heard.  Conversely, I've dealt with ref crews who were dismissive, or seemed flustered, or were even arguing amongst themselves. I know refs are human too, but keeping a professional front helps keep games go smoothly. And speaking of smoothly, I do tend to wonder when a ref crew has to have tons of official time outs. If a ref crew is calling official time outs every other jam to either get the score straight or correct calls, communication has broken down and the game is definitely impacted.

Is reffing and NSOing an easy job? Oh heck no! I've dabbled in both during my derby career and I have immense respect for the people who volunteer to keep the game going safely and efficiently. We all should, but both refs and NSOs should be open to constructive feedback. We all want to improve our skills, and I am sure that the dedicated women and men who ref and NSO are trying to do the same. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

So you made the twenty. Now what?

"Any skater/athlete can learn to skate fast, have endurance, agility, awareness in the pack, skater skills, transitions, blocks, etc. These skills are teachable.
Not every skater/athlete will learn how to have dedication, desire, patience, or how to be a team player and come to practice."-Smarty Pants

So, you’ve made your team’s 20 person roster. Huzzah! Look at you go, gurl! You should be very proud of yourself, because your hard work has been paying off. Unfortunately, now the really hard work begins.

This is my seventh year in roller derby, and my derby career has had its ups and downs. One of the more disappointing downs I ever had was being on the rostered twenty for my team, but barely making it on a game roster, or getting much play time at all. I know that every member of the team helps the team train to win, but sometimes it was really depressing to know that I would be taking days off of work, paying for hotels and airfare and maybe skating in one or two jams. I know that many people experience the same situation in making the charter roster their first time, but it can be quite demoralizing if you let it get to you.

If you find yourself in this situation, there are a few things you can do to possibly increase your chance to make a game roster and get more playing time.

  1.  Find your friends. Because twenty skaters are on the sanctioned twenty, that automatically means six people are not going to be rostered. You’re all in the same boat, so find someone you can work with and help each other get better. Share your experiences, and celebrate your victories. Root for each other, because in the end, you’re hoping to have the chance to be their teammate on the track.

  2. Come to every practice ever. Yes, it’s a fact that some rostered skaters will skip a practice here and there; it’s not awesome, but it happens. If you haven’t made a roster yet, or have barely played in many jams when you have, you need to get to all of the practices. Show your coaches and captains that you are dedicated and in it to win it. Practicing hard is going to get you to a higher level of skills, but it also allows you to have time for your teammates to build confidence in your abilities to understand strategy. If you’re not there enough, they can’t trust you to do your job on the track. Being familiar with how your teammates play on the track is so key to fitting into a competitive team.

  3. Cross train train train. You can’t do everything you need to do to develop into a competitive athlete at practice; cross training is a way to improve your endurance, strength,
    This was running. I hate running.
    agility and flexibility off skates. You won’t be able to build yourself up without cross training outside of practice; find a work-out buddy to help keep you on schedule!

  4. Go to outside training. Is Smarty Pants holding a clinic near you? How about Quadzilla? Learning from people outside of your league is so helpful! First of all, these trainers have no preconceived notions about your abilities or potential. Their feedback is based on what they see you doing now, which can be supremely helpful. Also, it gives you a list of skills and ideas to work on, which doesn’t have to be announced to your league at large. Sometimes it’s easier to hear feedback from people who are removed emotionally from what’s going on in your league than your own coaches. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't seek out feedback from your coaches either.

  5. Talk to your coaches and captains. Have you discussed the areas where they see room for improvement? I don’t mean harassing them right after a roster has been released, but asking them what they think you should work on? Sometimes people can’t always put into words what they’re thinking, but they should have some concrete feedback to give you other than “you’re just not ready yet.”

  6. Play with your B team. In fact, play all the derby you possibly can. In our league, our six non rostered allstars are encouraged to play as much as they can with our Bootleggers. Nothing replaces game experience; where else can you get a full ref crew, NSOs and crowd noise to deal with? Nowhere. Go to invitationals and open scrimmages too. The more experience you get, the better your track awareness should be.

    So, let's say you do all of these things, and seven Bonnie Thunders clones suddenly show up to your league and they get rostered before you. That's an exaggeration, but it can happen. You can work your tail off and never make a roster. At that point, you need to ask yourself if you are ready to keep working for possibly no pay off. Nobody can answer that question but you, and your answer may change from season to season or even roster to roster. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

MVP Awards: The Good, the Bad and the Enh

Moar cowbell!
What do you think of when you hear "Hey, we need to choice an MVP for each team?" Usually, this request comes after a game, when you're either reeling from a defeat, or ready to uber celebrate a hard earned victory. Sometimes people have no idea who deserves the MVP award. Often the decisions are made under the gun and not made well, or are made over politics. It seems like 50% of the time the right people get the MVP awards, while the other 50% of the time people choose favorites or "the person who was the least douchey on the track." Hey, I've had my share of MVP awards, and some were definitely not given to the best player on the track (because I was the one who received it.) Even though I don't always agree with receiving an award, I cherish my MVPs, because when I'm not feeling awesome about myself, I have these tangible reminders that someone didn't think I completely sucked at some point. I know that most of your motivation should come from yourself, it is nice to get the occasional ATTAGIRL.

Bootleggers do internal awards for their players.
Our B team, the Carolina Bootleggers, has internal awards it gives out for every bout. They are recirculated, so they aren't permanent, but it's a true honor to be named by your teammates for doing well in a game. The internal Bootlegger awards are the Brute Boot in black and silver, the Brain Boot, in pink, and the Golden Boot, for team MVP. You get to keep the Boot awards until the next game, and then they go to another teammate, or possibly return to you. Whenever I was a Bootlegger, I really loved those awards. I think every team should consider doing internal awards for their own players. It can be the one thing that keeps someone who needs that tiny bit of motivation working to get better at derby.

May the Fourth MVJ
So, the first question you have to answer is, do you want to do MVP awards? It's usually up to the host team to make this decision and then provide the awards. If you're hosting, you can either say yea or nay to them. If you do decide to provide them, you should find the most creative person in your league, and let them create! Some of the best MVP awards are the most creative and unique ones. If your bout (and yes I still say bout) has a theme, try and make the awards match up with the theme.  If you're playing a team that has a mascot they're fond of, maybe use that mascot in the award itself. When we played the Charlotte Rollergirls this year, we knew they loved sharks, so we made the MVP awards from toy sharks. Sometimes it's the little things that count.

I think some of the coolest MVP awards are the ones where the recipients can wear them to the after party. Evidently, the newest rage is making MVP capes to wear to the after party. Trucker hats are pretty popular too. T-shirts would be great, but they can be pricey, so think about some cool and wearable ideas that won't necessarily break your league's bank.

Low Maim loved her awards from the lock in.

I've got to say, I've seen some pretty spectacular failures when it comes to MVP awards.  Be careful with what you create as an award. Sometimes, people like to show them off to family and friends, or at least have them where they can be seen in their house. At times, I've seen teams make awards that were definitely not rated G or even PG. One team gave out an MVP award that was a Barbie doll perched lasciviously on top of a golden sex toy; yes, it was hilarious, but honestly, do you want to bring that home and put it up on the mantle? Probably not. Keep in mind that the MVP award will probably be a reminder of a derby memory, so maybe keep them less risque instead of putting glitter on a dildo.