Sunday, August 24, 2014

What do you owe your competitive team?

This blog post was inspired by a recent blog I read by Punchy O'Guts. She discussed what it means to be competitive, and I just fell in love with her whole blog post. People often say they want to play on a competitive level, but do they always put their money where their mouth is? I contacted her about writing a blog post on the same subject. You can find hers here.  Seriously, read her blog, she's a smart and honest lady.
Punchy O'Guts, photo by Brian Fitzgerald

Throughout the last couple of years, the WFTDA has slowly been cranking up the competitive level in derby; with the introduction of the new ranking system, derby started to get more serious, and leagues have to look deep inside their souls and see what kind of commitment level they want to have to competitive sports.

Derby is in its awkward teenage phase, and skaters are trying to figure out what kind of commitment level they want to....well....commit to. Some people are gung ho, willing to commit just about everything they can to make their team the best it can be, while others haven't completely jumped on the "give everything you can to derby" bandwagon. It can be a serious point of contention when you have the "gung hos" and the "I dunno about all thats" on the same team.

I guess I fall into the gung ho category, especially because I've always had a competitive drive in my training; I don't like to do things halfway, but as I've gone through my years playing derby, I realize that not everyone's "Halfway" is defined in the same way. People think their commitment level is exactly the right one for whatever team they're on, and sometimes they don't realize that it isn't.

How can you tell if your commitment level isn't on par with what your team is asking for? Ask yourself these questions.

1. How is your attendance? Is it awesome? Is it good enough? Is it crappy?  If you're skating for a competitive team, they most likely have a minimum practice attendance policy. Yes, you can probably skate by (ha) with the minimum, but why would you want to do that? People who only go to the minimum of practices have the minimum improvement, the minimum endurance and the minimum time building a confident relationship with your teammates on the track. If you desire to skate for a competitive team, you need to start seriously considering getting to practice as much as possible. Have you heard of the old 10,000 hours rule? One of the Collision guys reminded me of it this week. Basically, if you're too lazy to click on the link, the idea is that you have to do something for 10,000 hours to be an expert at it. Whew. That's a lot of time on skates, and if you're barely making minimum practices, you're probably further away from expert level than someone who comes to as many practices as humanly possible. You can take it or leave the advice, but the longer you're on skates, the better you're going to be, and that means coming to practice.

2. Do you practice how you will play in a game? I know, everyone has had those off practices where you just couldn't commit to the drill, or weren't feeling your best. Hell, I had one last night where I couldn't stop yawning for the first half hour because I was exhausted from real life. I finally got my head back into the game and the practice, but it hurt my performance that night. I know people who actually say during practice, "well, in a game, I'd never do such and such" even while they're practicing a drill where they're doing EXACTLY the such and such. If you want to play for a competitive roster, give each drill, each skrill, each scrimmage the same kind of intensity you would give during a game. Believe it or not, we actually do play how we practice, and if you're half assing it the entire time, it's not going to help your game. If that's not what you want, then maybe you don't want to skate on a competitive team.

3. Do you constantly try to improve your skills, or are you ok with the level you play at now? I call it the "good enough" scenario, and it's ok to think that way if you're not playing with a competitive team. But, if you want to play on a competitive level, you really can't just rest on your laurels, impressive as you might think they are. If your team is competitive, then it has a goal to be the best they can be; are you helping your team by getting better, or are you being stagnant? Unfortunately, I see a lot of people who are ok with staying at the level they currently inhabit, until something changes. Maybe they get a talented transfer skater in their league, and suddenly people are worried about their spots on the roster.

4. Do you work on your fitness outside of practice? Some people go home from practice, and they don't exercise again until the next time they strap on skates. Being a semi athlete isn't going to cut it in competitive roller derby anymore. You have to work on your endurance, work on your strength and work on your flexibility. I know that leagues often have endurance practices, but if you're just relying on practice to get you where you need to be on a competitive team, you're not doing yourself any favors.

There is nothing wrong with answering no to some of these questions. Maybe you can't commit to a more competitive team right now, and that is perfectly fine. I always will say that real life has to come first; it's essential that we be human beings first before we be roller derby athletes. If you can't commit to the kind of training a competitive team is asking for, then that team isn't a good fit for you at that point in your life. If somebody has to step down from playing on the competitive league in my league, I have a lot of respect for them for making that decision. What boggles my mind is when a player can't make the requirements of the team, and then expects to be placed on a competitive roster over others who are making and exceeding the team's standards. Don't be that skater!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Let's ban the word "retired" from derby

Can I tell you that the word "retired" in roller derby is one of my pet peeves? I'm getting to the point in my derby career where my skating days are numbered. I'm an older skater, and I'm not sure just how much longer I want to keep putting my body through competitive derby. Maybe I have one more season in me, but maybe not. I'm listening to my body and I will go from there, but I can tell you that when I'm done with derby, I won't "retire."
Riva Derci photo by

Retiring, to me, means that you're old and no longer able to keep up with the other players; I can still keep up, the question for me will be whether or not I should keep up. I've put a large part of my non derby life on hold these last few years, and I'm itching to get back to. I'd like get back to my art,  my non derby friends, and everything in between. I see some of my derby friends who have "retired" and they're not just sitting around and eating bon bons.

 My derby wife, Riva Derci is training to run half marathons, and Rigor is training at Crossfit and raising money to do a Make A Wish Trailblaze challenge.  In her words "I am writing to tell you about the Make a Wish Trailblaze Challenge, an epic event to help grant wishes for children of Central and Western NC with life-threatening conditions. In August 2006 I was hospitalized for paralysis of both my legs, and vowed to learn to play rollerderby after I was discharged from the hospital (while still struggling with my walker.) When I started skating 2 years later, my goal was to just be able to play one game. Eventually I ended up as a captain of the local All Star Team. Upon rollerderby retirement, I took up Crossfit to continue to push my physical strength. Last year I climbed from sea level to a glacier in the Olympic National Park in Washington. While all these have been personal achievements, I was captivated when I heard about the Make a Wish Trailblaze Challenge--a 28.3 mile one-day hike to raise funds for granting wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. In talking about my experiences, I realized that many wish children will not have the opportunity to take on a mountain or experience the wilderness. It provides me with great strength and courage to know my actions are contributing to such a worthy cause. On October 11th, rain or shine, I will take each and every step of that 28.3 miles to bring hope to these children. Can you help me with this hike with your contribution?" You can donate to her challenge here.

Even she used the word "retired" and she's anything but! I know "retiring" probably sounds nicer to some people than quitting; quitting gets a bad rap in our society. "Don't be a quitter" is a rallying cry in most sports, or athletic endeavors. Endurance drills get tough? Don't quit! Jamming is impossible? Don't quit! Quitting has a negative connotation, but that's what I will be doing when I decide to leave derby. I will be quitting, because I absolutely loathe the idea of "retirement." I'm up for calling it something different; leaving....sayanoring....taking a powder...whatever, but when I go out, it won't be on retirement.

'Cause I ain't goin' out like a granny.  ;)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Roller derby isn't always positive thing.

When people share their stories about derby, sometimes they're inspiring. Sometimes they're helpful, and sometimes they're brutally honest. 


Roller Derby made me something I didn't want to be anymore..... 
By anonymous

So everyone has this story of how they started roller derby and how they joined a league. They talk about their journey and the mile markers they accrue. Heartache sometimes follows, and anger arises from time to time. Your best friends become your worst enemies and your enemies become your friends. You talk about how roller derby changed you sometimes for the better. But does anyone ever mention how it changed you...for the worse? Well I'm going to tell you that story; it's not pretty and I'm not proud of it. It's not an admission of guilt but more as a learning tool. Hopefully by reading this someone will realize a few things about themselves. It doesn't make you evil or horrible; it just makes you human.

I was in my mid-twenties looking for something in life; I had suffered on and off with bouts of anxiety and depression. Most of my twenties felt like I was a leaf blowing on the wind, never really having a sense of direction. I changed jobs several times. I moved in and out several times with my parents following the loss of jobs and loss of financial security. I wasn't an addict or alcoholic of any sort, I just lacked direction. I hit a stable point in my life and started putting myself out there again. I made new friends as I moved to a new town and got a new job. It wasn't long before a good friend talked me into going skating, something I hadn't done since middle school. She was an avid roller blader and could do some aggressive inlining moves. We traveled to the next town about twice a week for a year to skate leisurely. Having been an athlete previously in my life, it was hard to be reminded that I was out of shape and uncoordinated. Over time I got more comfortable on my cheap skates and locally the Roller Derby scene blew up. I met and talked to a few of the girls and got pulled into coming to a few practices. The team was a baby at the time and we hardly knew what we were doing, not to mention what we were doing was probably dangerous. We didn't have any real knowledge of the sport and tried to do everything through trial and error. No one took us seriously. Finally, after some time, a more established league took pity on us and sent their coaches to help us. 

Just as I was gaining a foothold in derby,  an internal conflict blew up my world. Some of my teammates I was friendlier with defected to another team. I was of course expected to follow, and I did. My first mistake. I burnt some serious bridges there. Soon people were unfriending me on facebook and sending me nasty emails and private messages. It hurt, and instead of being the bigger person, I took the anger from that and I fired back. I made fun of them behind their backs and giggled at their lack of progress. Essentially I became a bully. Where I improved, they just kept going in circles and I found it hysterical. God....I realize how much of a bitch I was then. I would reap what I sowed later for sure. 

Well it didn't take long before my attitude started to grow, and even though I was still a rookie, I thought I knew it all. I started throwing little hissy fits if I didn't make roster or if I didn't get played enough. I even started to get jealous of the advanced players on my team and other teams. I soon got a rep for a bad sport and cheap hitter. I even alienated my derby mom; she still doesn't talk to me to this day. During this time I didn't notice this behavior; because I was a follower. I followed the bigger bullies so I became a lesser bully. I wasn't quite as vindictive or mean as my "friends" but still it was bad enough to warrant to be called "ONE OF THEM." People started avoiding me.

Soon I felt like this team was not good enough for me. Several of the star players left because they were in the military, or due to life circumstances. For awhile it felt good that I was now a senior player, but it didn't last long. My so called friends became the B.O.D and they turned their loaded guns onto me. I was under the spotlight now and under their scrutiny. Eventually I moved away and ended up closer to one team than the other so it was hard to make practices for my current team. So for awhile I traveled back and forth and practiced with both teams and tried to continue to play for one. Soon the stress started to get to me. I decided to leave my current team and join the new team. To make it even more ironic, it was the first team that I ever stepped out on the track with. Yes that's right, the very team that I first skated with that I had made fun of I was back with them. They had a lot of new members and no one hardly remembered what had happened previously. They still hadn't bouted much and were very inexperienced so they welcomed a "VET" player with open arms. 

Vet....sure....that's what I thought I was. I couldn't even skate backwards, my hits were still wrong placed too hard, my cross over were haphazard and wonky and I BARELY made 25 laps because I didn't push myself hard enough. I also took it personal when I got laid flat on my ass and started to become a revenge hitter. I was a peach. So reboot and here I was in my first league again with a larger and much younger team. I had no competition, only possibilities. Out of sheer blind faith and dumb luck I was voted captain. The screw ups just kept coming. I started being verbally abusive to others at practice. I also started facebook stalking people. Right now as I write this I'm smacking my forehead, literally. I even ended up in facebook wars. I took every hit, penalty, and word personally and I took it out on my teammates. It wasn't long before I blew up when a player complained to me about not being on the roster. We tried to talk one one one and there was a giant argument. She was a captain elect for next season so I threw the roster at her and told her in not so many nice words she had no idea how hard it was to be a captain and good luck on her own. I bailed on my team right before a bout. To make it better I went home and deleted every one of the girls who I thought pissed me off from my contact lists and unfriended and blocked them on facebook. Can I have the Miss Congeniality award now? 

Six months down the road, I lost some much needed weight and decided I would try to come back. I felt like I had learned my lesson and saw the error of my ways.  I tried to reconstruct some semblance of the friendships I had before. That was the first time I felt the sting of my actions come back onto me full force. So I sunk down my shoulders and took my punishment. Slowly but surely I became a better player. I started to listen to my coach more and communicate and respect my teammates. I made new and long-lasting friendships. My hits were clean and I soon became a player to lookout for because I was good and I worked well with my team, and not because I was mean and cheap. Other teams wanted to borrow me and I did a lot of traveling. This to me was the pinnacle of my derby career. Then tragedy struck in my family, a death. I wasn't the same after that. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks. 

I tried to continue derby, but I lost my heart for it. I didn't really get involved with petty B.S. anymore, but listening to it surrounding me, I really didn't see the point. Depression hit me again and the thing that once made me happy now only made me miserable. It was so negative all the time because that's all I could find in it anymore was the negative. Soon after all of that I started to have some major health issues that would physically make me unable to play anymore. I tried NSOing but it wasn't the same. I even tried being a spectator but it also wasn't the same. So I took myself out of the sport completely, at least for a little while. My jerseys hang on my wall along with my MVP's and I still follow blogs and my close friends to see where the sport is going. I lament a lot looking back and realizing a good portion of my derby career was spent being an asshole to people. I regret that a lot. I am just thankful before it was over I was able to do somewhat of a 180. I didn't sell my gear; it's in storage and believe it or not I still skate 2-3 days a week. I will always enjoy skating. My time for derby has come and gone I'm afraid though. I will always love the sport, but not so much the person it made me at times. In the future I hope to love it as a spectator. For right now though I'm just happy skating once in awhile and getting updates from my friends. Take my story as a learning tool as I said in the beginning. Learn that you are responsible for your actions. Learn that it's okay to be human but don't be an asshole. No one's perfect by any means but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to be. Derby didn't save my soul but it sure pointed it in the right direction.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

So you want to be a leader in your league....

I've been the Training Director for our league for the last eight months, and even though I'm very glad I ran for this position, sometimes the weight of the responsibility that comes with this position makes my job hard. That weight is firmly on my shoulders at all times when I'm dealing with the league, as it should be.

1. Feel the weight and acknowledge it. Yes, any leadership position in your league, whether it's captains, coaches or board members has a lot of responsibility. You have to realize that you always will be ultimately responsible for decisions made in the league. Your league elected you to this position, so you have to be responsible. Think of it like being the adult chaperone on the school bus; if a crisis arises, all eyes will be turned in your direction. Are you ready to give them an answer? Are you willing to put your personal agenda aside to make sure the league is being taken care of? I'm not going to lie, it's hard sometimes.

So many emails
2. Be in communication and reachable. Before I became TD, I was not super diligent about checking league emails; I mean, I had the forwarded to my non derby account, so I could read them, but I was really really bad about checking Google docs and such. My email habits have completely changed, and I try to consistently check my emails for the league as often as possible. Do I spend way more time on emails now? Oh yes. Some days, it feels like that's all I do. (My current inbox has 8,497 emails. Take that all of you OCD people!) BTW, if you are a captain of a team, you'd BETTER be reachable by your teammates.

3. Get used to criticism. Being in a leadership position, people are going to criticize your decisions. Some people are going to mumble their criticism, and some people are going to shout it from the rooftops, trying to incite others to criticize your decisions too. How will you handle the pressure when it feels like people are attacking you?

4. Look for the bigger picture. You may think you're addressing the bigger picture, but we fool ourselves a lot when we're busy or have a personal agenda. You are only the caretaker of your league, not the owner of it, so be sure you're making decisions that are in the best interest of your league, and not in the best interest of your bestie. 

5. Don't give in to lazy. Sometimes it's just easier to give in because you're tired. I'm sure the parents out there understand exactly what I'm talking about. Someone keeps pushing and pushing for a quick decision, and you give in because you're tired, you're busy, you're stressed out, or you're just plain over derby at that point. It's human nature, but try to fight it!

6. Learn to delegate. Nobody can do every little task that leadership positions are responsible for. Derby for the skaters, by the skaters, makes a hell of a lot of work for the skaters, and if you're in charge of herding all of the cats, you're going to get burned out really fast if you don't delegate some of the work to other people.

7. Be ready to speak your opinion, even if it is in the minority. Our BOD is filled with dedicated and strong willed women who have definite opinions about important issues, and everything else.  We don't always agree, but we listen to each other. Just don't get butthurt if people don't love love love every opinion you have. No person group of people an be on the same page about every damned thing. We aren't pod people.

Being in a position of power will reveal your character, and how you deal with pressure. Sometimes the discovery process isn't pretty, but it can be a real eye opener. I suggest you take the opportunity to run for a leadership position if you haven't, but don't take it lightly. It is real work.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ginger Clobbers talks about anorexia and roller derby

I was driving a group of roller girls to a game one day, and we started talking about eating disorders. It shocked me to realize that as we talked, three of the four women in the car had dealt with an eating disorder. I myself have never had an eating disorder, but it made me wonder how many women in derby have had to struggle with it. My teammate, Ginger Clobbers took on the topic for this next blog post.

Hello, my name is Ginger Clobbers, I play roller derby, and I have an eating disorder.

Photo by Joshua R. Craig
An eating disorder isn’t really about food or weight – this is just a distraction from other, deeper issues. For me it’s about control; some part of my life may be in chaos, but the one thing I do have power over (and no one else!) is my body and what I put in it. I developed an eating disorder in part because of the environment I grew up in. I was a figure skater and dancer, and I was heavily influenced by body image.

I began my skating career at the age of 4. Eventually I started taking private classes, and I was hooked. My parents shelled out the money for the fancy figure skates, all the private sessions, the outfits, and the countless hours of ice time, all because I loved it so. I competed against my peers, locally and on the regional level. By middle school I practically lived at the ice rink, going before school and right after. Meals were eaten and homework was done in the rink snack bar. It was a lifestyle, and yes, an obsession.
I had two coaches, one male and one female. Both were good teachers who taught me a lot about skating and work ethic. They were both very strict; if I was on the ice, I was to be working. There was no time for goofing off; this was serious business. And I wanted nothing more than to please both of my coaches, so I worked my ass off.
My male coach was very judgmental of all his skaters, both on and off the ice. He would judge our bodies and talk about a girl’s flaws in front of all of us. He would also critique what we ate. A coach should promote healthy eating to better us as athletes, but he didn’t teach us about nutrition and how to make good choices. Needless to say, food and body image became an issue for me.
 When I was 13 I fractured my L4 and L5 vertebrae and had to take a break from all exercise. I put on a little weight because I went from constant exercise to doing nothing. When I recovered I tried to return to skating, but the fire was gone. I loved the skating, but I didn’t like the environment and the cutthroat competition. There was constant rivalry on and off the ice. A bunch of girls, each out for themselves, constantly competing on every little thing - who successfully landed a jump first, who the coaches liked best, who weighed the least.

I felt lost without this thing that had been such an integral part of my life for so long. I also started high school, which is a big change all on its own, but I had also been separated from all my school friends. They went to public school, and my parents sent me to private school so I could get a better education. To avoid dealing with all these changes and losses, I obsessed with losing the extra weight I was carrying. I was an avid runner, and I did a lot of exercise videos. I have always eaten a healthy diet, but I cut out all sweets and greasy foods. The weight fell off quickly, and I got lots of compliments. I liked the compliments. A lot. I hit my target weight, the one the doctor said was right for my height and body type, but I wasn’t satisfied.

Photo by a Boy Named Tsunami
I still saw the flaws and imperfections. I examined my body in the mirror every day and weighed myself obsessively. I counted calories, the ones I took in and the ones I burned through exercise. I began limiting the maximum number I could eat in a day but slowly increased the number I must burn. I put more foods on the Do Not Touch list. But in my mind there was nothing wrong with that. My weight loss plan was working; I was losing the inches and pounds at a steady rate. And yet it was never enough.

Anorexia and other eating disorders warp a person’s reality and self-image. Even at my lowest weight of 85 pounds I still thought I needed to lose a little more. I swear to you that I would look in the mirror and still see a chunky girl staring back at me. And despite the outcries of my family and friends, and all the doctors and therapists I was dragged to, I didn’t see that what I was doing was wrong. Which is why these things are so difficult to treat. I had to hit rock bottom (being hospitalized for 3 weeks and almost dying), to understand that things had to change, and that maybe I wasn’t in a good state of mind to decide what was best for me. I had to choose to get better. Making that choice and pulling myself out of that pit was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I almost didn’t make it. But now I know I can do anything.

I am not ashamed of my disorder, I’m not angry at the lot I’ve been given, and I like to talk about it. Talking gives it less control over my life, and maybe there are others out there I can help with my story and experiences. I’ve learned many things from my struggles, including to ask for help when I need it, to forgive myself when I fail, that I’m not alone, and that I’m incredibly strong.

 I’m able to keep the disorder under control most of the time, but it’s something that will always be with me. I struggle in times of stress. I’m aware of the triggers that will get me in trouble and try to stay away from them. Eating what makes me feel healthy and satisfied is key – a well-balanced diet with the occasional treat. If I get a craving I satisfy it. I don’t count calories or put myself on any kind of restrictive diet. I can’t do workouts or sports that focus on numbers to gauge progress, such as weightlifting. I also avoid weighing myself on a regular basis.

Finding derby has been extremely helpful in many facets of my recovery and has added new issues I’ve had to learn to deal with. Roller derby is the first team sport I’ve ever played, and I love it. The pressure of winning or performing isn’t all on me. How wonderful it is to be on the track with teammates I can trust to do their part and be there to support me, and to be there for them! Working together towards a common goal is a million times better than being out there all on my own and fighting against the ones I train with. The wins are that much sweeter, and the losses aren’t so bad when we know we played together and gave it our very best.

Body image within derby is much healthier than what I was used to. Women of all body types are successful players, and strength and fitness is celebrated over size and weight. Seeing woman celebrate their big butts and large thighs, and being surrounded by others who also struggle to find pants that fit right has been the biggest boon to my own self image. I still have a small sense of dread when I must shop for a new pair of pants, but buying that larger size doesn’t reduce me to a quivering mass of despair as it once did. I’ve finally learned to love my body, because I know what it can do and how strong I am. I’m more physically fit than most people out there in the world, and I can skate hard and hit hard on the track. 

Being part of a team has also given me an added responsibility to stay healthy. That’s not to say it isn’t important to take care of myself for me, but I’m also no good to my team if I’m starving myself and over-exercising. I can’t be at my best when I’m straining my body in such a way, and I owe it to myself AND my teammates to be at my best. I have those I can turn to when my resolve waivers, and I know they will support me and won’t judge.

I’ve recently come to realize that derby does provide me with some pitfalls, which I was blind to for some time. I let myself believe that derby would solve all my problems, and this was a mistake. I won’t be able to play derby forever, and there are times when my training may plateau or I may get overwhelmed with all the sport requires of me. The latter happened recently, and I found myself falling back into old habits. Before I fell too far into the hole, I was able to remember that my recovery, and my sense of self-worth, comes from within. I can’t rely on other people or things to keep me above water; there’s no easy fix or magic cure-all. I don’t want to lose my love of derby because I expected more from it than it could provide, nor do I want to lose the respect of my teammates by looking to them to keep me going. I’m relieved to have had my eyes opened before things went too far.

I’m a very competitive person; I wouldn’t be playing derby if I weren’t. But this natural desire to be the best is something I have to constantly temper so as not to regress. I still don’t have a good solution to this one, and I just take it day by day. But I try not to compare myself to others or judge myself against my teammates. It helps me be a better player and teammate when I’m focused on my own progression. Putting the team first also helps keep things in perspective. 
Although anorexia is a part of who I am, I don’t want it to be my identity.

I write this not to elicit pity or concern but to shed light on a topic that isn’t always easy to talk about. And to let others in similar situations know they are not alone. Eating disorders exist in many forms and in all walks of life, even that of an athlete. If you know someone who is struggling with food or body issues there are ways to reach out. Many local and national organizations exist with resources and hotlines that can help direct you, such as this one.

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.