Monday, January 26, 2015

I'm Grumpy and These are the Things I Hate in Derby

I'm tired and sore from yesterday's practice, the weather is crappy, and there's nothing good on television, so I'm Grumpy Cat in this post. Read at your own peril! Actually, I'm not that grumpy, but I feel like complaining, so here it is.

THE THINGS I HATE RIGHT NOW IN DERBY!

1. Velcro. Seriously, why can't we come up with a better way to keep our gear on? I know, it's cheap, and it's easy (like your mom), but for all that is holy, can we please find a better way? How many times have you seen people messing around with their velcro during a jam? How many velcro scratches have you gotten during a game? Isn't it awesome to discover them in the shower? NOPE! Yes, Velcro is a space age material; well, it's time for a new invention, folks.

2. Foam rollers. THIS IS WHERE EVIL LIVES! Seriously, screw those things. According to every top athlete and trainer, they're the way to go, but I know very few people who consistently use their foam rollers. You know why? They HURT. Sometimes I'm sore and need to use my foam roller, but dammit, it hurts worse than the muscle soreness! Foam rolling literally feels like I'm abusing myself; I keep telling myself that I'm doing my body good, but I can tell you that my body does NOT believe what my brain is trying to sell it. Of course I've tried it after a shower, after a work out, and after a glass of red wine. Guess which one is the most successful?

3. Smells. Derby stinks.  Sniff your gear right now, I dare you. Even if you air it out, wash it on a regular basis and spray it down with whatever concoction you love, it still smells like death. Ever coach a practice and not skate? I have never smelled a funk worse than derby stank, and I have two very gassy dogs at home. VERY GASSY DOGS. I've taken a shower, sniffed my wrists and then immediately jumped back into the shower because I still smelled like derby. Also, toe stops smell so bad when you're doing toe stop drills. Gag. What do they make those bad boys out of, old diapers and napalm? Horrible. Because of derby, my work out clothes will never smell good again. Gee, thanks.

4. Losing toenails. I had nice feet before derby, and I was ready to develop callouses and hooves, but it really bummed me out when I started to lose a toe nail. I feel like a leper. Has anyone lost a toe nail and actually painted over where it "should be" with nail polish. Yep, I have. I did it at ECDX in 2012, and I would do it again in a heartbeat, because it was the only way I could wear flip flops with pride. Screw you derby for taking my toe nail. I'M TAKING IT BACK!

5. Derp faces. I don't think there is one pretty picture of me while playing the game of derby; to be fair, I was already kind of awkward and derpy before derby, but derby has just made it worse. I realize that because I play derby, I'm photographed more than normal people are, but it would be awesome to have at least one photo per bout where I'm not making a poop face. Just one! Also, I feel fat in every photo. Once again, I know this isn't rational, but it is something I think about when I'm clicking through all of the actions shots. I could be doing something amazing on the track, but the voice in my head is saying "ooh, lose weight." Come to think of it, that's not a derby problem that's a me problem. On to more derby problems.

6. No such thing as the perfect wheel. I WANT A WHEEL THAT WORKS EVERYWHERE!  I'm so tired of trying to figure out what wheels will work for what floor. Most of the time, I tend to skate in my normal set up, but some floors are beyond my average wheels. Wouldn't it be awesome if there was this amazing wheel that could do everything? Yes, I realize that's a day dream, but I am being unreasonable and grumpy and I WANT IT NOW! MAKE IT HAPPEN! I hate investing in a wheel, and finding out that I absolutely hate it; ain't nobody got time and money for that! Give me some unicorn, magical wheels! NOW!

7. Getting my boobs grabbed in a game. Whoo hoo, we skate backwards now, and whoo hoo, I get my boobs grabbed a lot. Unfortunately it happens on a pretty regular basis, and it's just awkward. When I do it to someone else, I feel like I have to apologize after a jam. Maybe I'm too polite, but the whole thing is just awkward. Butts, on the other hand, are absolutely fine to grab. Absolutely, I understand that what I just said is a double standard for body parts, but this is my list. Go write your own.

8. The guilt I feel when I don't clean my mouth guard. Gross. Normally, when I'm not playing derby, my dental hygiene is pretty damned amazing. I floss daily and brush at least three times a day, but sometimes I just grab that mouth guard right out of my bag, where it's been rattling around for forty-eight hours, and just wear it. What the hell is wrong with me? I know better than this! Guilty! I still do it once in a while though. I also chew gum with my mouth guard in. SO GROSS! 

Hmm, looking back on this list, I've discovered that derby has turned me into a stinky, derby, toe nailless, masochistic trench-mouthed pervert. And yet, I still love it more than any other sport I've ever played. Hooray!










Monday, January 19, 2015

How to be a happier teammate.

It's a new season and it seems like every time I open Facebook, I see overflowing positivity from my derby friends about the sport, their teams and their leagues. It's awesome to see such great posts, but I have noticed a trend; over the season, people stop posting such jubilant statuses, and the stressed out drama filled posts start. So, how do you keep that happy happy joy joy feeling going with your derby league all year?
If you use my art, please tag me.

1. Learn to celebrate your teammate's achievements. 
Sometimes this might be the hardest thing to do, celebrate your teammates accomplishments, especially if you don't feel like you're accomplishing anything yourself. Jealousy is a thief of happiness, and if you resent someone in your league or on your team achieving something, you are going to be busy resenting them and that takes a ton of energy. Remember, your teammate's achievements, whether in their personal, business or derby life only enhance your team. They don't take anything away from you. But Q, they could take my spot on the roster! Well, then maybe you need to train harder; nobody is guaranteed a spot on a roster.

2. Learn to forgive.
Derby gives you plenty of opportunities to practice forgiveness. Sometimes we get super duper pissy if someone blocks us the wrong way, or they get away with something on the track, like cutting us. It's easy to get angry and righteous and butthurt, which keeps us from bonding with our teammates. Everyone has a list of grievances that can be attributed to someone on our team, but what benefits do you have in carrying that list around? Dump that heavy emotional baggage.

3. Tell someone on your team something positive.
I always try to high five my teammates when I get off of the track, no matter how good or bad we did out there. Sometimes you need to high five people especially when there has been a bad jam. It's not blowing smoke when your team was trying as hard as possible, but they just couldn't pull it off. I will always appreciate, celebrate and acknowledge true and earnest effort on the track. All of that effort will pay off eventually, and that makes me happy. Also, saying something positive to someone else is going to boost your mood way better than saying something crappy.

4. Don't be a martyr.
I see this happen all of the time in derby; people think they have to do all the jobs and be responsible for all of the things. They take on too much, whether it's league jobs, such as a position on the board or captain or joining all of the committees. People who take on too much feel like they're drowning, and then they lash out at others on the team. "Look at all of the burden I've taken on for the team!" Be realistic with yourself about which responsibilities you can take on at any certain time in the league. Maybe last season you were able to give more time to the league, but this year you have a new job, or a new significant other, or a family member who needs more of your time. Take on what you can, but be able to devote enough time and effort to it to do well.

5. Set realistic goals for yourself.
Want to be miserable? Set unrealistic goals for yourself. We've all been there. "I'm not going to the box in this game!" That's most likely an unrealistic goal because you have zero control over what the refs see and call. "I'm going to make the travel team this quarter." Once again, you can try out for the travel team, but the decision won't be up to you; it's up to the captains, coaches, and whoever else is on the decision making committee. Set goals that you can control. "I'm going to work on my weak turning side until it's no longer my weak side." "I'm going to be aware of where the jammers are when I'm on the track." Those are goals that are realistic and completely within your power to control.

6. Trust in yourself and your teammates enough not to be defensive.
I've witnessed many skaters shoot themselves in the happiness foot by being defensive when given constructive criticism. If you feel like every time you get feedback from your teammates or coaches that it's an attack, you will constantly be on the defensive and prickly. It's hard to bond with people when you're constantly convinced that you are being attacked. If you don't trust them to give you good advice and feedback, how can you trust them to protect you and support you on the track?

7. Stop focusing only on yourself.
Yes, you have to remember that derby is competitive, and you may be fighting for a position on the roster, but if all you think about is yourself, you're not helping your team be better. Being exclusively self-focused never leads to happiness, no matter where you are in life, business or sports, so pull your head out of your butt and look around you once in a while!




Sunday, January 11, 2015

Coming up with a better way to ask for feedback

Roller derby has come a long way, but we still fall down in certain areas, such as the area of feedback. We suck at giving and asking for feedback. Yeah yeah, we've gotten a little better about it, but I know it's still a sore subject for a lot of skaters. We still don't feel satisfied when it comes to getting feedback. Here are some tips....I've shared some of them before, but I've added to the list. Enjoy.
 
1. Ask for specific feedback.
When you ask for feedback, you can't say "what am I doing wrong?" That's a really vague question, and you're probably going to get vague feedback. Ask specific questions like "My hits don't seem effective, can you watch me and see what I could do to make better contact?" Or, "When I jam, I'm having issues getting through a wall, can you watch me and give me some tips that I could work on?" Give people something to focus on; many skaters suffer from what I call "wheel ADHD." They get on wheels and suddenly can't stay focused on anything for more than fifteen seconds, thirty if you're lucky. Having an objective to focus on will help refine their feedback.
 
2. Know the person you're asking for feedback.
Ok. I'm definitely a "glass is half empty" kind of gal; it's been the story of my life. I focus on the things that I need to improve, not the things I do well. It's been that way when I draw, when I play the piano, and when I write. I see flaws easier than I see positives, so if you ask me for feedback, you will get an overview of the skills you need to work on. If you are someone who doesn't enjoy hearing about what you need to improve, or you need a spoon full of sugar to help that all go down, I'm probably not the person you want to ask.
 
Also know that there are people out there who will tell you that everything you are doing is amazing and don't change a thing. If you think hearing that you are a special special unicorn that farts rainbows is a great way to improve your skating, well, I don't know if you should read the rest of this article. I wouldn't want to crush your cupcake dreams.

You know the skaters in your league, and you know their personalities. Find someone you that will hit your balance of sweet and sour for feedback.

3. Be open to criticism
If you don't ask for feedback, you may never get any, and that means you won't improve as quickly. Some skaters are reluctant to ask for feedback because they don't want to hear anything negative. Others don't do well at receiving unsolicited critiques; I mean, the last thing you want to hear when you come off the track after a crappy jam, is how your plow stop isn't strong enough. I'm going to say that you have to toughen up a little if you want to improve; people are going to tell you things in your derby career that you don't want to hear. Or worse yet, nobody says anything helpful to you because you react so negatively to pointers. I know it can really wreck your ego to hear that you aren't perfect at everything derby related, but if we don't know our faults, then how can we improve?
 
4. Ask more than one person.
Please tag me if you use my art
Don't pester every member of you league on the same day, but ask different people for different feedback. Not everyone does a particular skill the same way, or even at the same level. Asking different skaters for feedback can give you a wider range of things to work on. Don't be surprised if you hear conflicting feedback from skaters. Very few skaters in derby skate the same exact way, so they may have different ways of explaining skills. Yeah, it can be confusing, but it also shows you how many different ways there are to do everything in derby. The hard part getting different viewpoints is having to figure out which one can work the best for you.

5. Video yourself
 When you don't have someone who can watch you skate at that moment, see if you can take video of yourself performing a skill. Remember all of those times when someone told you to get lower and in your head you were like "I AM AS LOW AS I CAN GET!" You probably won't feel that way after you've watched yourself.

6. Ask at the right time
Asking people for feedback when they're busy doing something else, or are completely distracted is just not going to garner you quality feedback. Ask before practice, and find out when it would be best time to ask for feedback. It helps to remind people that you're still looking for feedback periodically during the practice. Even the best of us get the shiny squirrel syndrome and forget what we're supposed to be doing. A nice polite reminder sometimes helps.

7. Know that what feedback you get might not be satisfying.
Please heed what I'm about to say; EVERYONE CRAVES FEEDBACK! Everyone. I don't care what level skater you are, you seriously want feedback. The quality of the feedback you get might not be satisfying at all. You may be expecting a major opus, whereas the person only gives you a Tweet. Just because a skater is amazing on the track, doesn't mean he or she is great at giving feedback. It's a skill that many people don't practice, and it's yet just another reason to ask several people for feedback. Also, sometimes the best feedback someone can give you might sound like they didn't think it through. I had a very skilled jammer once tell me, "never hesitate" when I asked her for feedback in jamming. I was like "Seriously? That's it???" It took me a while to appreciate what she was talking about, and it was excellent advice. Unfortunately, it didn't feel like excellent advice at the time, but as I gained more experience in derby, I realized how true it was.

I hope this helps you gain the feedback you're looking for!


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Things I Learned in 2014

One of the aspects I really love about our sport is that fact that it's always changing and evolving. I am a firm believer in the fact that change and growth are important, otherwise stagnation sets in. Each year that I'm in this sport, I learn some new things, or am reminded of the lessons I've learned in the past that still hold true, even when the sport has seemed to change so much.

Here are some lessons I learned from 2014

1. There is always a point when my derby gear no longer smells clean, no matter what I do to it.
If you want to share my art, please tag me or give me credit. Thanks!
Truthfully, I am a clean gear person. I take my gear out of the bag, air it out, spray it with Notorious RED spray, and I wash it when necessary. I am pretty damned diligent, because I hate smelling like fritos, but even with all of the care I give it, my gear just gets to the point that nothing helps. I'm sure that this is the point when people will post their secrets for clean smelling gear. "I spray mine with two parts vodka and one part gasoline with essential oil extract of four leaf clovers."  Trust me, if it exists, I've tried it. Maybe my sweat is just grosser than normal humans, but I think there just comes a point when my wrist guards and elbow pads make my dogs howl and run away from me. I try to replace them once a year, just so I don't have to scrub my skin of my wrists off.


2. Female and male refs need separate dressing rooms.
I know this is a crappy thing to say, but I never ever thought about how awkward that could be for referees. Part of the reason I never really thought about it was because to me, and to many many skaters, referees are a team unto themselves. Yes, that sounds silly as I write it, but it's true. There are skaters, and there are refs, and refs are zebras. They don't have gender. They are the judges and the people that keep us safe, but I never even thought about them being in a locker room together. Don't they just appear when they're needed? I apologize to every zebra that might have been put into an uncomfortable situation in a dressing room because we skaters think of you as your own herd.  After I read this blog post, I realized how clueless some of us skaters can be. Sorry zebras!

3.  Even though it's a team sport, there's still a lot of "me" focus. 
This doesn't happen in higher level teams as much, which is why they are successful, but it does seem to be an issue with derby and maybe with sports in general. Derby is a team sport, and yes, you are a part of the team, but when you ditch practice, or bring a crap attitude (crapittude) to practice, you're hurting everyone else. Teams have to rely on their players to want to be there, to want to work hard, and to want to train and learn new skills and techniques. Every time someone on the team says "I don't want to do this" or "I don't feel like going to practice today" or "I'm grumpy and tired and I'm going to let everyone at practice know it" well, that person isn't focused on the team. They're using a  lot of "I" statements and impacting the ability of the team to work together. I realize that derby might be the first time many people get to play a team sport in their lives, and it takes a while to realize the pronoun they should be using is "we" not "I", but it seems to be a universal lesson we keep having to learn. The best way to train yourself not to be "me" focused in derby, is to lose this particular phrase from your vocabulary: "I just want to play." Duh. That's pretty much a universal feeling. Most derby skaters don't want to do endurance, work on a committee and plan practices. Most of us want to skate, but the work is what gets us the ability to do it.

4. All leagues are having money issues, space issues and volunteer issues. 
Is derby hitting a slump? Maybe. It's such a demanding sport, and takes so many people to make it happen. At first, many people got involved with derby because it was part sport and mostly spectacle. Fans were interested in the "fun" part and so were many volunteers. Derby is growing and changing, and to make the leap from amateur hobby to a semi professional sport, it's caused some stress and gone through serious growing pains. I think we as a sport can figure it out, and adapt our strategies to keep derby going strong, but I also think it's the end of the million derby leagues. Not every town or geographical location can handle two leagues. Space is at a premium, and so are fans and volunteers. Nearby derby leagues should be trying to consolidate into one super team instead of competing with each other for derby natural resources.

5. Letting go of jobs in the league is ok. Difficult, but ok.
I was on our BOD in 2014, and I really took pride in being the Training Director; I tried to do the best I could for our league, and I was successful in some aspects, and not so much in others. I chose not to run again for several reasons, but the one that really kept me from doing it again was the fact that in derby, we are trying to train and encourage women to be strong leaders. You can't be good at something unless you're given the chance to practice it. People that monopolize leadership positions are weakening the power structures in their leagues; share the wealth. Give people an opportunity to step up into positions of power, and if they ask for guidance, help them! If you decide not to run for a position, be gracious about it and support those who are. On the other hand, don't try to "force your support" on someone if they don't want it. Be respectful, and let people find their way as leaders; don't smother them and don't abandon them. It's a balancing act, but have faith that they will step up and be great at the job too.

2014 was as good and as bad as previous years for me, but it did teach me a lot. I'm not sad to see it go, but I am looking forward to 2015. Bring it on!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Why you should go to basic skills practices in the "off season"

I'm heading into my seventh year of derby, and sometimes, I'm just tired. Yeah, I know; some people are going in their tenth or eleventh year, but seriously folks, derby can be super draining. I love it, but sometimes I want to hit the pause button and not think about it as much as I do.

This year, during the off season, we offered our newer skaters a solid month of basic skills practices. Everyone in the league was encouraged to come, but not required. These practices were non contact to let people in our league heal and not keep beating themselves up, and quite a few of us took advantage of them. Even though I wanted to work on my basic skills, I still was kind of reluctant to give up any free time to drag my butt to practice during the off season.

But I went, and I'm very glad I did.

Because of our new practice schedule,  we've had to divide our practices up, so our two travel teams practice separately and the come together for a league practice once a week. Our freshmeat have their own practices where anyone can attend, but they focus on basic skills the entire time. Last year, I could only make it out to a few of these practices, so I didn't really spend a lot of time with our freshmeat, but during December, the only practices available were freshmeat practices. At first I thought they would be tedious and boring, sort of like eating broccoli or kale instead of a good cheeseburger, but they weren't. And here's why.

My Little Sister showing her classy side.
1.  Freshmeat is super enthusiastic about skating and derby. Way back in the day, I couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't want to skate all of the time! Any opportunity I could, I was on skates and working on something derby related. Parade? Hell yes! Open skate? Uh, double hell yes! Over time, I didn't answer extra skating's siren call nearly as often because I was getting bogged down with training, volunteer duties, BOD responsibilities, and allstar duties.  I forget sometimes that skating can just be fun!  Beth Row and I were running a Saturday morning basic skills practice a couple of weeks ago; we were pretty sure nobody was going to show up because it was the day of our end of the year party. We were both ready to just bail on the whole practice, when a group of freshies showed up. They were amazingly excited and pumped to be at a ten am practice. That kind of enthusiasm is contagious, and it's the good kind of contagious in derby. Sometimes, vets have to have a reminder of why they joined the sport in the first place. Oh yeah, I like to skate!

Also, we've had more time to bond after practices at crappy restaurants; I might even venture to try karaoke at some point. 

2. Everyone needs to review the basics. Yep, everyone. Even if you've been skating forever, you probably have some weaknesses that you don't have time to work on during your team practices or your league practices. Sometimes people feel like they're supposed to be able to do everything perfectly when they're on the travel team, and admitting that they aren't able to perform every little skill is just not possible. They don't want to look weak. Basic skills practices can be a safe place to work on that left plow stop, or your weak turning side, or a power slide. I've been working on my opposite hockey stop, because I have never had the luxury of time to do so.  Going to basic skills lets me work on my stance, strengthen some rusty skills and enjoy the feeling of success without being under tons of pressure to do things in a contact practice. This month of basic skills practices have given me the opportunity to train my muscles to get lower and retain my derby stance; hopefully, I'll be able to stay low when I'm on the track and blocking!

3.  It's the off season, but that doesn't mean not staying in shape.  Some people take off their skates for the off season and don't even look at them until league practices start up again. Rest is good, and I completely endorse resting from contact and intensity, but keeping your basic skills polished and your ability to skate without huffing and puffing is also something I endorse.  It's a balancing act; you want to take a bit of a break, pay attention to your personal life and rest, but you don't want to become a slug either. Also, I like to eat well during the holidays, so burning some of that off while skating helps me from growing out of my pants.

4. Your experience will help others when you show up. Being a seasoned skater means you've been around the track more than once. It also means you might be able to give a newer skater feedback that could help her master a skill she's struggling with. Having someone with a different perspective watch you work on a skill can jog that "ah ha" moment loose in your brain. Without the seasoned skaters that helped you become a better skater, you would have had a harder struggle, so go out there and share the knowledge with a newer skater!

Oh yeah, and have some fun.  



Sunday, December 21, 2014

World Cup Musings by Tricky Lake (DC Rollergirls)

I was unable to go to the World Cup this year due to lack of funds, but Tricky Lake of the DC Rollergirls as going and offered to write up her experiences as a fan.


I left for the Blood and Thunder Roller Derby World Cup armed with a press pass and a list of people I wanted to interview about a range of subjects.  I never used that list.  Instead, I arrived at the world cup and was completely over run by world class derby.  I sat glued to the tracks for four straight days.  The players, the groups of fans singing and chanting for their country, the intense game play, the screaming of the crowd...these things all lead to an immersive experience that left me both awed and inspired.    Much has been said about the play and the game play in the weeks since the world cup.  Today, I focus on the people who came to see the world cup and the energy of watching.

The different groups of cheering, screaming, chanting, singing, costume-wearing, stomping, horn blowing fans made the entire world cup experience that much more intense.  I have been to tournaments before and I’ve seen the way that some teams do have fans that come out in droves to support their teams (“Boston, Boston, Pinch Pinch Pinch!” and the New Skids on the Block both spring to mind). The crowds that attended this event brought the energy in the room to a whole new level.

The first group of fans I noticed were from Team ZA, as the South African team called themselves.  They had stuffed lions on their head. Frikkin.  Lions.  And capes.  And they all sat in a big group and cheered together for their team. I remember thinking to myself how impressed I was by this.  Little did I realize just how high the level of coordinated singing and chants would get by the end of the weekend.

Team France, Team Ireland, Team England, Team Canada, Team West Indies, Team Scotland, Team Chile, Team Portugal, Team Mexico, Team Wales, Team Argentina and I’m sure more that I didn’t bear direct witness to all had coordinated crowd songs and cheers to help urge on their teams.  There was a fun moment before a Team France bout where their fans, sitting in the stand on both sides of the track, were singing one of their songs back and forth to each other several times.  As you can hear in that clip, vuvuzelas were alive and well in the crowds for the entire weekend.  You really could not go anywhere near any of the play without the incessant background honking.  I heard surprisingly few cowbells.  I would have thought there would be more considering that they’d be more compact for travel than a vuvuzela but I digress.

Team Australia’s group of cheerleaders (because really, that’s exactly what they were) were the obvious favorite the entire weekend.  There were several of them (about half a dozen) in coordinated green and gold sequin dresses that spent every Australia game standing as a group on the sideline leading cheers, doing coordinated dances during time outs (that included lifts), rocking out between periods to get pumped music, and just generally improving the fan atmosphere.  Everywhere you looked all weekend, there were some team Australia fans either in green and gold or holding a blow up kangaroo.  At some point, one of the kangaroos was kidnapped by an opposing team (the theory was that it was team England but I never confirmed that).  The kidnapped kangaroo showed up during the last day and gave birth to a smaller blow up kangaroo.


And the antics of the Team Australia dresses did not end with the world cup.  One of the dresses followed Smarty Pants home.  With Quadzilla.  And quite a few others.  

Mascot tomfoolery was well represented during the weekend.  My favorite moment of this was during the last day when a cut out of Scald Eagle was stolen and draped in England’s flag.  Some of the Team USA skaters managed to steal her back and started running through the crowd with her.  Brazillian Nut decided that this would not do and jumped, not unlike a spider monkey, onto the face of the skater holding the cut out and wrested it away from her.  All in front of an arena full of fans screaming encouragement.

Team West Indies had a large coordinated group of fans and were a definite crowd favorite by the end of the weekend.  A large group from England set themselves up as a cheering section for team West Indies complete with pineapple mascot.  This was Team West Indies’ national anthem.  So much dancing.  (By comparison, this was how Germany listened to their national anthem.  Poised and ready for the first whistle on the jam line).  


And of course, this wouldn’t be America unless we heard the ever swelling chant of “U-S-A!  U-S-A!  U-S-A!”  

Four straight days of high level roller derby.  That’s a lot for anyone to take in.  But being a part of a crowd that continued to build in size and energy for four days until culminating in one giant arena bout between some of the best players in the world was magical.  I really feel like the crowd and fan engagement I witnessed during the world cup speaks highly for the future for our sport and the world showing up to watch us play. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How to be a better BOD member

I took on a board position this last year, and now that I'm done, I can look back and think about all the opportunities I missed to make my experience better. Don't get me wrong, I did the best I could with the position I had; our league had some serious changes this year. We got a new space, a space of our very own, something we had been working for for years! Exciting times, but with every opportunity comes new and interesting dilemmas. We had to figure out how to schedule the space for practice, deal with the extreme temperatures, the floors, etc. On top of that, we had a lot of skaters retire the last two years and we lost two of our dedicated coaches. This last year was probably the most stressful I've ever had, and yes I change some of the things I did and didn't do, but I am also proud of the things we accomplished.

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Yes, I think I sent out 847,952 emails this year dealing with BOD stuff and Training particularly. I could have sent more, and maybe should have sent more. It can be a little daunting to open your inbox and see seventy new emails about the number of volunteer hours the league members need to be able to skate. It's tempting as hell to skip them, but you should read every one of them and try to respond in a timely manner. Yes, does that mean you'll be reading emails at bedtime? Probably. Also, if you are not one to check your email regularly, and by regularly I mean at least twice a day, then maybe you shouldn't take a BOD position. There's nothing worse than thinking an email subject is dead, and then have a BOD member that doesn't read her email on a daily basis chime in two days later.

2. Realize your job is to make things better for the league. Personally, I loved working on Training issues this year, and I absolutely HATED dealing with  disciplinary issues, or league members not following the rules. Every time we had to deal with one of those issues, I kept thinking "man, this job would be great if people just followed the rules." But people do what people do, and that's just something you have to deal with when you're in a leadership position. As a BOD member, you have to slog through a lot of crap before you can deal with the things that will advance your league. Real life is messy, and so are people....and so is derby drama sometimes.

3. Find some organized people who can help you. Lord have mercy, but I would have shot myself in the face had I not had someone on my committee to help me herd all of the cats. As a BOD member, you cannot herd all of the cats by yourself; it's just impossible, and it will make you insane. I am not as organized as I should be; I admit it, but it helps so much to recognize some skill that you lack, and find someone to make you a better leader by helping you shore up your weakness. Find the people that make you better at your job and recruit them to help!

4. Learn from your mistakes. There were several times in my term as Training Director where I would sit myself down and say "Well, that didn't work." After I figured out what wasn't working, I had to figure out why it wasn't working, and what, if anything I could do to get it to work. Sometimes, the answer was "nothing." Sometimes the answer was "better timing" and sometimes the answer was "better planning." You're not going to make awesome decisions every single time, but you can learn from your boo boos. If you don't acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them, you're going to keep making them.

5. Know your limits. Nothing sucks worse than a BOD member who takes on so much responsibility that she eventually feels crushed by everything she has to do, and starts to become Bitterpants Betsy. "I've put so much time and effort into this league, and nobody appreciates it." Well, they do, but nobody appreciates a self-appointed martyr, especially when they get publicly bitter. Work needs to get done, but it doesn't all need to get done by the same person all of the time. Don't take on all the work ever and then complain because you're not getting respect and all the adulation from the league. If people think you're going to do all the work, most people will let you do it. I didn't have this issue with my particular job on the BOD, but I watched a couple of my fellow BOD members get themselves pretty wound up about how they did all this work, and nobody cared. This is a dangerous behavior pattern to develop.

6. Don't forget you're being watched even when you don't think you're being watched. People are watching you, and well they should because you are in a position of power. If you post a snarky Facebook status, people in your league might assume you're being passive aggressive about them. BOD members have to behave better than the average league member because you are being scrutinized; try not to have public meltdowns, do your league duties with a smile, and don't cause issues that have to be taken up by the rest of the BOD because someone in the league complained about your behavior. Is it fair? Nope, but it happens. I'm very glad that I only had to hear about this kind of thing from other leagues, but everyone should take heed and remember they're under a microscope.

Are there other lessons I learned? Of course, but I doubt they would be as universal as the ones I listed. If you are new to a leadership position in your league, congrats! The hard work is totally worth it, and I wish you nothing but success.