Monday, April 20, 2015

Etiquette for visiting other practices by Sesamean Streak

Etiquette for visiting other practices
by Sesamean Streak, Smoky Mtn Rollergirls

The (well, ONE) beautiful thing about roller derby is the presence of teams spread across this country and the world.  Though my travel has been work-related and within the US, I get excited to find out where a conference will be and who I can visit. Visiting other team practices can be invaluable, and sometimes you can find a “home away from home” with a team who you really have fun with (Med City Mafia, I’m talking to YOU).  Here are some tips for preparing for and visiting another team’s practice. 
Photos by Tiffany Sanderson

Is there a team there? The internet makes it pretty darn easy to find out teams in an area where you will be. Search and find out which one(s) you would want to visit.  And DON’T be intimidated!
Check dates prior to going- If they have a practice schedule posted ( like Duke City did when I visited Albuquerque, NM)  it makes it easier to email someone and see if you can join a certain practice-or if there aren’t any at all for that time. If there is a bout when you will be visiting, I feel it is better to go cheer than to ask about crashing a practice around bout time. That being said, I have seen teams who don’t mind either way because it will be a home team bout OR the league is so big there is another practice you can join. 

Ask ahead of time- I cannot stress this enough.  As soon as I know about a trip, I start messaging/emailing the team. I want to give them as much time as possible to discuss it with their coach and/or trainer, ILC, and whoever else would need to be involved. It also gives them time to decide which practice may be appropriate for you. 

Be honest about your skill level and how long you have played-
the last thing you want is to go and feel really stupid about how you play with another team.  I have always been very honest about my playing history and experience. When I attended an endurance practice with the DC Rollergirls a couple of years ago, I knew I would probably die.  I ended up on the floor a lot of the time, but I
never gave up.  I learned a ton- and they were great to skate with. 
Me with the DC Rollergirls!

Find out the rules set they play under-
is it WFTDA or USARS, and which do you play with? Some teams might not want you to attend a scrimmage practice if you play by a different ruleset. No big deal, it’s just the way it is and sometimes they may feel it would be difficult to adjust. 
Don’t take over their practice-only offer up drills/advice/criticism IF ASKED. Remember, you are a guest and thankful for the opportunity. 

Be open-minded- even if you NEVER jam at your team’s practice (does that happen?), if that is what the team/league you’re visiting does go for it. 
Ask about a visiting skater fee-some teams charge a small fee to visit. This is normal, and it is usually bigger leagues that do this. But, you do want to know ahead of time so you don’t look stupid or show up empty-handed.  Usually, they will tell you when you are making arrangements.
Make sure you have insurance (no brainer)- this may sound obvious, but just make sure you are covered and don’t put another team in jeopardy.  They usually ask you about this when you visit or during your pre-visit correspondence. 

Give them time to respond- don’t harass them if they don’t get back to you within one week. Sometimes, leagues are extremely busy, or don’t check their facebook/emails regularly. They may take a while to get back to you. I usually wait 2-3 weeks before checking back in; but honestly, I only needed to wait that long once.

Ask if it is a closed practice/scrimmage- usually this applies if you have family with you in a strange place and they are driving/riding with you. They may not have anywhere to go while you are at practice. I am not saying to take your three children to a practice with you- but if you have one or two family members traveling with you, it is ok to ask about them hanging out.  I made the mistake of not asking about this when I visited Rat City in a cab- my poor mom and her friend ended up walking around the neighborhood in pouring rain until I was done. Luckily, they found a cupcake place that had been on the show “Cupcake Wars” and were pretty happy about it.

Work for getting merch or a t-shirt exchange – most people want a memento of visiting a practice, and what better loot than an awesome t-shirt? Most teams have a merch person who will gladly bring you a t-shirt you can pay for when you visit. Some will even do a shirt exchange for your team merch. 

Unpredictable things happen- sometimes a practice is cancelled last-minute, there is a team emergency or death within the team’s family, or other unforeseen circumstances may occur. Don’t get too bummed about it- just tell yourself it didn’t work out this time, but you may be back! This has happened to me twice, and the only time it really sucked was when the team didn’t tell me they moved practice. So, while on vacation, I traveled 30 minutes to a practice spot and waited for another 30 until I realized nobody was coming.  This leads to the last point….

Get a contact number- a cell number of the person coordinating your practice visit is super-helpful, if only for them to let you know if something comes up last-minute.  It is also a good idea to let that person know that someone from your league may contact him/her to ask about you attending that practice/scrimmage.

And, DO IT! Visit other teams! You will feel so happy about who you meet and what you learn! Thanks to all of the teams who support and welcome visitors-it is appreciated!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Keyboard Reffing, and Why You Shouldn't.

Social media is a blessing and a curse. I've written quite a few blogs naming the pitfalls that many skaters trip into on Facebook and such.  Last year, I saw the drama of a coach commenting on photos from a bout, and basically telling the refs they were biased or plain incompetent. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but it is only a single moment in time from a single perspective. Don't let those thousand words paint a picture of you as a jackass.

Keyboard Reffing, and Why You Shouldn't. 
By Amy Roundhouse

I very rarely say the words “I really dislike this thing about the roller derby community” because I generally love everything about it. However, there's one dislike that has been bugging me more lately as it keeps popping up: keyboard officiating.

We all love looking through post-game photos. Hilarious faces, epic moments, and of course, “Oh look she DID elbow her in the face! HIGH BLOCK! ELBOW!” We sometimes have this tendency to start calling penalties based on only the small, still point of view of a photo, and that is not cool.

Is that a forearm or am I being wingy?

I spoke to another skater about this who wished to remain anonymous, and she had a mouthful to share on the topic: “I'll never understand the need of others to start making officiating calls based on photos and/or sometimes video after a bout. We have officials that work our bouts...let them do their job. Use these as learning opportunities to share with your league, not to comment for the masses, which can be damaging to a skater, team, league, or the sport itself. Individuals are quick to give their 2 cents without a thought or care of the repercussions of their comments. After every bout I see someone that feels the need to do this and, to be honest, it doesn't make anyone look good. I am happy that it is something we talk about as proper derby etiquette (in our league).”

All of her points are great, and ones I agree with completely. First, we have our referees to consider. These volunteers spend their time, money, and energy learning the rules of the sport and applying them to their officiating. By calling penalties based on the very narrow point of view offered by bout photography, you are undermining your officials’ skills, publicly. Penalties are called based on a very particular moving spectrum involving action and impact. A photo can only tell one minor part of a larger situation. If you have an issue with calls, address them during the game with the officials, not on Facebook weeks later.

Secondly, certain comments can be hurtful to other skaters. As a whole, derby skaters want to play their game as cleanly and legally as they can. Most skaters do not want to intentionally shoulder you in the chin, but it happens sometimes. She or he will already eat a guilt sandwich over an illegal hit, they don't need a side of guilt beans piled on their plate by numerous comments on a photo calling them out or whining that it didn't get called. We play a hard hitting sport, and sometimes the hits may be illegal, and sometimes caught in stunningly edited photographic glory, much to the offender’s embarrassment. If you feel the need to vent about a frustrating moment frozen in time in a folder on Facebook, do it privately with  teammates and avoid the possibility of hurting anyone's feelings.

Third, you could hurt your leagues reputation with your comments. It's one thing to sit at a desk with teammates flipping through photos and discussing what you see. It's another thing entirely to leave accusatory comments all over bout photos. If your team plays four games, and after all four of those games a certain couple of skaters spend their time going through the photos trying to keyboard officiate everything they see, people may not see it as “Betty Rollergirl and Jessie Jukejumper always leave very hurtful and negative comments on bout photos,” they'll see it as “Northsouth Rollergirls have a tendency to leave hurtful comments on bout photos.” It reflects on the league as a whole. You may end up losing officials or opponents, and no one wants that. We want the derby community to grow, we want your league to thrive, and we want you to be a part of our sport. Rule number 1 in derby is supposed to be “Don't be a douchebag.” Let's get back to that.

Is there a high block happening?
Obviously I'm not saying don't ever discuss any bout photos online ever. There was a photo posted in the Facebook group iDerby that had over 500 comments discussing whether the action in the photo was legal. Some of it was arguing, but much of it was constructive talk about rules, and there's nothing wrong with that. Rules discussion is always a good thing. But be mindful of what you're posting. Ask yourself, is what I’m about to post helpful? Will it contribute to anything? Could it hurt someone's feelings? Will what I'm saying possibly make my league look bad?

As my anonymous friend said, “Do what is best for derby, then your league, then your team... that should be the order of priority.”

Photos used in this blog were provided with permission by Shon Higgs.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

You should talk about Sexual Harassment in derby

It happens everywhere, even in our sport, and people are starting to open up about it. This is reblogged from Derbylife, and the description of the video is also from their site.

"Todd Bradley, Y.I. Otter, and many other officials and derby folks have a message they want to share with the derby community. They’re hoping to spark a conversation about a hard, uncomfortable topic in the derby world."

You should watch this video and open up a dialogue with your league; there may be some skaters, refs or volunteers who have been suffering in silence because they feel like they've experienced sexual harassment.

You may be surprised.

You can find the link to derbylife here.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A hate letter to derby

Photo by Kent Smith
Everyone has a love hate relationship with derby. Sometimes the hate outweighs the love, and sometimes it's a draw.  Quiet Storm of the Ohio Roller Girls has graciously shared some of her struggle with the love hate relationship with derby.

Roller Derby, I Hate You
It was my 26th birthday.  I had made the mistake of eating some of the surprise, happy birthday cake my sister left for me in the fridge for breakfast. Then the stomach flu I had been fending off for a few days decided to rear its ugly head. After spending the morning expelling chocolate vomit into the porcelain throne, I collapsed in a sickly heap in front of my computer hoping to spend a few hours perusing Facebook and delving into my spiral of illness. I had a new email from my team captain. In painfully halting sentences it explained to me that the progress I had shown thus far in my rookie year was insufficient to garner my eligibility for rosters with the team. This was a crushing blow. I had been attending every single practice; dedicating every spare moment to improvement, yet I had begun leaving practice every night exhausted and frustrated. I just wasn't seeing the improvement I had been expecting with the level of time I was committing. It was at that moment I was completely shocked to realize I hated roller derby. 

The second that thought entered my head I was stricken with the most stunning guilt. I was harboring some kind of shameful secret. Everyone I knew loved The Derby. It is a sport built on so much selfless hard work and dedication; my teammates had spent years growing our league into a strong and stable force in the derbyverse. The taboo of hating such a thing stung! After trying to rationalize the emotional hailstorm I was wading through I made the deeply personal decision to allow myself a week of completely hating derby, no forced positivity and no strained optimism. I explained the concept to a few of my fellow rookies. All week long I was jokingly telling them every terrible thing that went wrong derby-wise was irrelevant because I hated Derby, it was the enemy.

Roller derby and I were in the midst of the biggest fight of our relationship. It felt like Derby was continuing to punish me for my hatred of it. That week escalated into a series of closeted altercations between myself and the sport. I accidentally high blocked another player directly into her face and was promptly and verbally put in my place for it. I went home crying and mentally flagellating myself for my sloppy playing. I love and adore my teammates so thoroughly, I contemplated forever hanging up my skates simply to spare them from my juvenile, underdeveloped skating skills I was certain would lead to one of them becoming seriously injured. Then, at my rookie class's first mixed scrimmage with a visiting team, I was ejected early on from the game for jumping at another player. My uncontrolled, sloppy playing struck again. I have never, ever experienced such shame and embarrassment in my life before. I was completely horrified. Not only had I entirely made a fool of myself but I felt I had also tainted my rookie class and my whole team with the stain of my very public disgrace. It's not hyperbole when I admit, it truly was the worst week of my life.

My seven days of roller derby hell afforded me some very surprising revelations. Much like a young child telling their parents “I hate you. I wish I was adopted. I'm going to run away from home.” my verbal and mental abuse toward roller derby clearly did nothing to injure the sport's sterling reputation in its own community. That week, every time I walked into practice, I left it all on the track.  There is no self-pressure to perform when you are completing an activity simply to finish it.  No looking back at the end of practice to seek mistakes and areas of improvement. No over-thinking of strategies or culminating derby dramas. I wrote Derby scathing hate notes, skipped the gym, ate junk food, defiantly cursed it internally during every second of endurance practice. It felt so amazing after months of pent up derby frustration to just hate the shit out of it. People get so burnt out in this community and I feel like it really needs to be said somewhere: You are allowed to hate roller derby sometimes. No relationship can be wine and roses all the time. Nobel laureate and author Elie Wiesel put it succinctly “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.”  After talking to several veteran and retired skaters it became apparent that in order for someone to experience any type of longevity in this sport it requires enduring it through all the emotions that accompany a healthy and evolving relationship. Hatred is a passionate expression. It requires actually giving a fuck. Trying to deny the inevitable hatred and dislike that will sometimes accompany your love for this sport is seriously going to cripple your relationship with it. That week solidified to me, after months of struggling as a faltering rookie, I was where I was supposed to be. I feel a passion for this sport I can't fully explain. For better, for worse I love it. I'm sure I will have many more days in which I will despise Derby and sometimes dislike the way it is challenging and forcing me to grow as an athlete and overall as a human being.  However I fully know the gains I have and will continue to experience are worth every moment of anguish and frustration felt out on the track.

It's okay Derby, I love you but I can hate you sometimes too.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Merit Badges of Derby Doom!

I was driving through the neighborhood the other day and saw a gaggle (flock? swarm? huddle?) of Girl Scouts doing some community service project and it got me thinking about derby. I mean, what doesn't get me thinking about derby at this point in my life? Anyway, I started thinking about all of the merit badges the Scout organizations have for people to earn and then I started thinking about the anti-merit badges people seem hell bent on earning in derby. Remember, you do NOT want to earn these merit badges!

1. Eye rolling merit badge- Congratulations! You have earned the eye rolling merit badge! Your eye rolls are amazing, especially when the coaches try to introduce a new skill or strategy. Your eye rolling is magnificent when you instantly reject feedback, so you have rightfully earned this badge for your sash! Wear it proudly, and try not to get dizzy.

2. Consistently the last person to get geared up merit badge- My oh my, you are dedicated dawdler if you earned this badge! Your determination to be the last skater on the floor has not gone unnoticed by your captains and coaches.  They can tell you are really in for the long haul on this one! Just sit there and admire this merit badge while the rest of your team is warming up.

3. I'm not trying that hard merit badge- You definitely have the right attitude for this badge! Don't try your hardest at practice; you might not do as well as you think you can, and you must save face no matter what.  Effort is for suckers, right?

4. I'm sitting out of endurance because, I can merit badge- Oh you, you're so amazing during scrimmage, but when somebody even mentions the word "endurance" you're sitting down and taking your gear off. Why bother with endurance, you skate ok, right?

5. It's all about me me me merit badge- Me me me me me! Let me sing the song of my people! MEEEEEEE! Did you see what I did there? Look at how awesome that block I made was! What do you mean my wall was good...did you see what I did?

6. The cameo merit badge- Hey, why go to practice when you're awesome? The rest of your team needs to the practice, not you! Who cares if they can get better with you being there; that's not your problem, right?

7. Refuse to change merit badge- This is how you've always played derby, and anyone who gives you feedback be damned! You've been playing derby for x amount of years, and how dare someone tell you how to play this sport you've been owning! Learning new strategies is for chumps.

8. Creating drama merit badge- This badge signifies your artistry in creating drama where there originally was none! Creation is the highest achievement in human existence, and drama is one of the noble pursuits. Derby isn't fun without drama, so we're lucky to have you!

Yes, I could have gone on forever, but the point is not to want to earn one of these merit badges of doom. Derby can be tough enough without being that kind of teammate.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

what your helmet choices say about you (not serious)

Most of the time when I write about helmets, I drag out my soap box, get my megaphone charged, and shout about head injuries until I'm hoarse. But today, I'm going to psychoanalyze you by what helmet you wear; after being in derby for seven years, I can tell you that the color and type of helmet you choose for yourself tells me all about you.

Ok, not really, but it's fun. Two things, this is done for fun, and if your team skates with a certain color of helmet, that doesn't count. It has to be the helmet you're drawn to without team alliances impacting you.

So here we go.

White helmets: You probably see yourself as the good guy, and you want other people to see you that way too. White helmets, you need to not worry about what other people think of you so much. By the way, you should call your parents. They're worried about you playing derby, and they'd love to hear from you.

Purple Helmets: Perverts. Nothing more needs to be said.

Blue Helmets: You like to dance to the beat of your own drummer, and sometimes brush your teeth in the shower. If you are a ref who wears a blue helmet by choice, you're probably in your first or second year of reffing; you've got long way to go, baby.

Pink Helmets:  My bet is you're a Lisa Frank fan and probably laugh at fart jokes. You wear pink because you're making a stand that pink can be tough too, even though everyone else hate your stand and your pink helmet. Your coach makes you be the pivot just so she can cover up your helmet. Go stand next to the purple helmets.

Green Helmets: All people who choose to wear green helmets are insane. The brighter the green, the more cuckoo you absolutely are. If you are drawn to dark green helmets, you're just a little you maybe have too many cats, and if you're wearing a neon green helmet, you probably want to be a cat. You also probably like to jam. (crazypants)
Look at those control freaks and the crazy helmet.

Red Helmets: You are a secret poet who writes long and moody odes to your derby blisters. You'd rather read a book in bed than scroll through Facebook. All people who wear red helmets are closeted control freaks. Don't hide in the closet anymore, we all know your dirty little secret,  bossy pants.

Brown Helmets: You are the anti Elvis and the anti-unicorn. Your favorite food is tacos and for fun, you play naked croquet at midnight with your neighbors. You probably love blocking one on one and your favorite sound in the world is a crunchy plow stop.

Yellow Helmets: Oh my, you are a special little snowflake, aren't you? You love the spotlight, and are known to break out into the song "Everything is Awesome" while waiting for a jam to start. You worry a lot about dental health and really wonder if you shouldn't floss more. You love to flash your winning smile when you're lead jammer.

Multicolor or patterned Helmets: We didn't want to tell you this, but everyone is sick of your knock knock jokes in the locker room. Also, your impression of Tom Hanks from A League of Their Own, is tired, so so tired. Multicolor helmet wearers are capable of playing every position on the track, but they are drawn to the outside for some reason. Also, they tend to be hoarders of derby gear. Throw out those four year old mouth guards, and maybe you'll have more room in your gear bag.

Black helmets: Black is the basic girl helmet color. You like pumpkin latte spiced coffee, yoga pants, and selfies. It's ok, go back to your Pinterest account and skip the rest of this article; you'll feel better. I'm sure there is a Buzzfeed quiz for you to take out there.

Hey, this was done in good fun, and I hope I made some of you chuckle. I've worn several different helmets in derby, and now am sporting a black hockey helmet. I don't care what color it is that you decide to wear, as long as it is a protective one. Remember, you need to have a functioning brain to be able to appreciate silly humor.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Shit you should never say (or email) to your captains and coaches.

 We all say and do silly things at times in derby. I've been told by a few players that "they didn't get
Coaches should be hugged. Photo by A Boy Named Tsunami
into derby to think." Honestly, I totally understand that sentiment, because sometimes I don't want to think much either. Sometimes I just want to be a brute brute brute and not worry about strategy, game plans and social niceties. Thinking is so so hard. Unfortunately, when we don't think about what we say to coaches, we're setting ourselves up either piss them off, or make them feel like you don't care about the effort they're putting in to make practices successful. Do we try and say these things on purpose? Probably not, but as a captain and training director, I've heard my fill of the following statements. Try to avoid them at all costs!

1. Never email a coach and ask "Are we doing anything important at practice tonight? If we aren't, I might stay home because I've been really busy....blah blah blah." If you email this to your coaches and captains, the only reaction you should expect is serious eye rolling. I really have never met a coach or a captain that believes any practice they planned are unimportant. How would you like to be in charge of an event and have one of the participants say "Is this really worth it?" I'm pretty sure you would find it pretty insulting. Coaches are volunteers, and they're there to help the league get better; don't make them feel like they're wasting their time.

2. "I can't" What coaches and captains hear is "I won't" or "I'm scared" or "I don't want to take a risk." Recently at the Team North Carolina tryouts, one of the coaches made the entire group do fifteen push ups because someone said the "C" word, the C word being "I can't." We throw that phrase around a lot in derby; I can't jam, I can't do endurance right now, I can't block like that, and I can't cross train. Try to not verbalize the "I can't" when you're working on your sport, and focus more on the "I will."

3. "I don't think this drill is relevant" before trying it. Ah derby players, we're so very very strong minded and opinionated. Sometimes we think we know it all, especially when we've been playing derby for more than a few years. We get into a mindset that we have such limited time to practice, or even play this sport, that we don't want to waste any of it. Maybe we should be more open-minded and have faith that our coaches have really worked at creating a drill that is beneficial. I mean, at least TRY it first. Maybe it won't be the best and most perfect drill ever, but drills evolve through tweaking; if you don't give a drill a chance, how do you know if it sucks or not?

4. I didn't give this drill 100%." The only thing that makes this more annoying is when someone says it and then basically laughs about it. I know that we have defensive coping mechanisms built in, but it really can make a coach feel like you're not trying hard because you don't care, instead of not trying your best because you're afraid to fail.

5."I know!" When a coach is giving you feedback, and instead of accepting the feedback, you say "I know!" We don't like to accept feedback, especially when it is about something we're doing that isn't perfect. We want to let our coaches know we know that we're STILL doing it wrong, but what we think of as acknowledging feedback actually sounds like we're dismissing it.

6. I can't jam. GUILTY OF THIS ONE! I used to be a jammer, a long long time ago, but alas, I don't think my skill set works as a jammer with this rule set. When anyone says "I don't jam" what it usually means is "I'm not your best choice for this position" or "hey coach, how badly do you want to win this game/scrimmage/jam?" Sometimes coaches want to see what you can do, sometimes coaches want to see what walls do against you, and every once in a while a coach has run out of willing jammers and is desperately trying to get someone, ANYONE out to jam. Don't leave your coach in the lurch, as one of my favorite skater coaches used to say, "you can do anything for two minutes."