Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The dumbest penalties you can earn on the track.

Let me warn you that the following blog came from a screed I had while driving home after reffing a coed invitational.  I was extremely tired due to the fact that I had practiced for four and a half hours with my league, driven for an hour and a half, reffed two games and drove home while dodging deer.  Of course, I was muttering to myself the whole time, so I decided to share it with all of you!

Number one, please for the love of your teeth, KEEP YOUR MOUTH GUARDS IN!!!!!  There is nothing dumber than getting a major for not having your protective gear on, and that includes your mouth guard!  I know that getting on the track, getting off of the track, trying to speak clearly, and drinking water are complicated things, but there is NO EXCUSE for forgetting to put your mouth guard in!  Leaving your mouth guard jammed in the vent hole of your helmet is tantamount to leaving your purse on the roof of your car and driving away!  I will say this, it seems like most people get this penalty ONCE in their career, and then they never forget.  Try to learn from some other player's mistakes!  If you are constantly fiddling with your mouth guard because it is bulky and you can't breathe well with it in, then it is time to upgrade to a better mouth guard. 

I don't smile big often, but when I do, I like having teeth in my head!  I also like shiny silver pants!

Number two, putting your hands on someone on the track.  Now, I'm not talking about forearms or accidentally taking a whip off of the wrong teammate; no, I'm talking about attacking someone on the track because you have lost your s***.  Look people, we play a full contact sport where we can slam our bodies into people at a high rate of speed and cause some serious mayhem.  Why the HELL do you feel the need to punch someone?  This includes shoving someone, throwing your helmet or slapping someone.  If you have this kind of anger when you play derby, maybe it's time to start investing in counseling or possibly time to take up another sport! Derby is crazy enough without adding your own brand of psychosis, so save that for the shrink's couch and play the game.  Playing well is the best revenge you can have.

Remember, Rock em Sock em Robots or whatever that crappy movie was is not derby!

Getting an extra minute thrown onto a penalty because you mouthed off to the ref.  Sigh, I'm guilty of this one at times, even though I have never earned that extra minute. (Knock on wood).  We all need to shut our mouths when it comes to the refs.  As refs grow more comfortable and confident with the rules, they are not taking kindly to our "feedback on the track."  If you keep your mouth shut and let your captain and coaches know why you might have a disagreement with a ruling, and you need to let them deal with it.  Remember, most players don't know every single penalty we commit in the heat of the moment, so even though you really feel you're innocent, you may not be.

Dumb penalties are rare, and hopefully if we remind ourselves how stupid it is to hurt our teams by sitting in the box for a stupid decision, they will become extinct!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Paper Dolls: Sally Spangles

The first in a series, Sally Spangles!  Please go to this link and download it there.  If you do share it, please give me credit and reroute people back to my blog!

Sally Spangles

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bench coaches: the secret weapons of derby

I know, I know, we all get into this sport because we want to skate fast and hit people, right?  Then we learn that derby is way more complicated than we could ever imagine, and we start working on our skills and strategy.  We practice, we struggle, we cry, we sweat and curse the people who designed practices to be such a torment.  What kind of sadistic bastard would do this to us?  Oh right, the coaches.

First of all, I have nothing but love for derby coaches.  These people volunteer their time, energy, their money sometimes to help our teams to become amazing.  Coaches don't do it for the glory of skating in a bout; they really take their supportive roles seriously.  Coaches can make or break a skater, team, league and a season.  It takes a special person to be able to break down skills and drills, give feedback and know where each skater fits into a team.

Unfortunately, some leagues don't put enough emphasis on finding and training amazing bench coaches.  Many times, injured or unrostered skaters end up filling the role of a bench coach at a game, and even though I understand that we all want to help our teams, sometimes this isn't the best way to conduct a game.  Injured skaters DO know and understand their team and their game, but if they aren't trained to do so under pressure, they are more likely to make errors in line ups, strategy, and dealing with majors and minors.  I also think these skaters can be put to better use, as you can read below.

 So, what makes a good bench coach?  Here are some of the aspects I believe that all excellent bench coaches should have in order to help their team perform at its best!

1. Have a Calm demeanor.  I know some bench coaches are famous for yelling and screaming at the game, crowd, refs or players, but if you can keep your bench calm, you can keep them focused.  The best way to do this is MODEL the behavior for them.  If your team trusts that you are calm and in control of the situation, they will listen to you and follow your directions.  Would you rather have an agitated bench or a calm bench? 

2. Be Aware.  Whether the bench coach is running line ups or working on the active strategy of the game, she must be aware of the penalties the team is accruing, how the players are performing, and what the other team is doing on the track.  That is an amazing amount of things to be aware of!  I have seen games lost because a bench coach put in a jammer with three minors, or didn't know who was in the penalty box.  I've also seen players demoralized, sitting on the bench because the line up coach kept skipping them due to other player's penalties, or just because she was under such pressure to get a line up out on the track, she goes with what she knows.  Sometimes bench coaches forget to communicate with their jammers, and points are lost because she didn't call it in time.  Bench coaches are like jugglers juggling chainsaws, flaming swords and the occasional grenade!

3.  Anticipate.  Bench coaches have to anticipate what move to make next.  They have to watch the penalty board, their strategy and the other team's strategy.  To help with this, a lot of teams employ an unrostered skater to watch their jammers, and report back who is having a good game at the half.  Another unrostered skater watches the other team's jammers, so the bench coach can know who is the biggest threat on the track.  Lineups can be changed to deal with this information at the half, and that can make or break a game.

4. Be Spontaneous.  As we all well know, line ups last approximately four jams, and then chaos starts to reign due to injury, performance and the ever present threat of penalties.  Bench coaches that are married to a line up they wrote before the game are never going to be effective at rolling with the punches during a bout.  Be ready to think on your feet and have a contingency plan!  Also, see #1!  If you are calm, your team will be calm, even if all hell does break loose!

5.  Be Assertive, Not Aggressive.  A lot of bench coaches seem to be slightly passive when dealing with duties like talking to the refs or calling a time out.  Call a time out if your team needs it.  Walk up calmly and assertively to discuss a ruling with a referee.  People respond to assertive behaviors, and will take you way more seriously than if you are less confident or way too aggressive.  Do your team a favor and be its advocate, but don't go overboard!

6.  Be Firm.  Do you have a trouble maker on the bench?  At times, players let their emotions overrule their better aspects and they act out.  Some players get in their heads and start bringing the rest of the team down, and it is part of your responsibility to intercede with this player.  Maybe she needs to sit out a couple of jams to get her thoughts together, or maybe she needs to take a breath and focus.  Your expectations of bench and game behavior should be discussed prior to the game, so everyone should be clear of what will be tolerated on the bench, and what won't.

7.  Have Great Practice Attendance and Knowledge of All Players.  You can only know your team if you're there at the majority of practices.  Don't expect to be a great bench coach if you only come to the two practices before a game. 

I know that I have basically described my dream bench coach, but I feel the position is so important and can really have a positive or negative effect on any game.  I have bench coached a few times, and each time I do it, I have more and more respect for great bench coaches.  It is a skill, just like everything else in derby!

It also helps to dress for success!  Photo by Joshua Craig. Joshua R. Craig photography

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A rose is a rose: The fine art of choosing your derby name.

So you've joined derby, and now you have to think up a derby name, or maybe you don't.  In the last couple of years, derby norms have changed.  Many skaters have decided to skate under their "real" names in order to help legitimize the sport.  This year, at the World Cup, the majority of Team USA skaters skated under their real names, but not everyone did.  So, for now, derby still uses derby names for the most part, and I'm NOT going to start an argument about whether derby names keep us from legitimizing the sport.  I want to talk about the decision making process you might want to consider when and if you do choose a derby name.

1.  Remember, what you think is funny now, might not be funny in two years.  Sooooo, you've thought up the perfect political name parody to skate under...awesome!  Remember, names that are based on political parody tend not to be as accessible in a couple of years.  The same goes with pop princess names, or internet memes.  Picking a name off of any reality based show falls into this category, so no Snookies please!  Jersey Chore?  SNORE!

2.  Offensive names are going to cause issues.  This year at Rollercon, I met Fist F***er, who by the way was a very nice lady, but she will have issues skating in certain bouts and venues.  Our league is family friendly and we will not tolerate that kind of language on the floor, and many leagues are the same; you have every right to be vulgar, to be threatening, to be offensive, but you will also have to deal with a lot of scorn.  Is it worth the hassle?  Only you can decide that.

3.  Your name is so obscure you constantly have to explain it.  Sometimes it's fun as a fan to try and figure out what the name is referencing.  I have had the "ah-ha" moment in my own league with some people's names, but seriously, if you have to explain how your name is the sublime combination of Schrodinger's Cat meets Scooby Doo, then your name probably has a target demographic of one.

4.  The name is funny because you are being a little immature.  Granted, for some people, having a derby name can be a license to be immature which can be fun, but hopefully you will be skating for more than five minutes.  In the two or more years you will be skating, do you want to be known as "Dingle Berry?"  Try to think of how you might feel about that name in a season or two, when the giggles have worn off. I think a lot of skaters change their derby names because they "outgrow" them.

5.  Your family will be associated with your name if they come to a bout.  The ONE time my parents came to see me play, I got them shirts with their own "derby names" on them.  My mother is Ella Q-tion and my father is Papa ShoQue, which made them smile.  I don't think they would have been smiling if my name was Fist F***er.  You do the math.

6.  You base your derby name on your location.  This one is an easy pitfall to avoid.  Remember, we live in a mobile society and you might be skating in a completely different part of the country in a year or two.  You can represent your city, neighborhood, block, whatever, but remember it might not be relevant if you move from Chicago to Costa Rica!

If you ponder and consider your derby name carefully, it might actually survive the test of time!  I have been skating under my derby name for four seasons now, and I love it.  It really has become my second and more loved name in my life. Hopefully you will create the perfect derby name for yourself!

I love my derby name...just sayin'.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The larger skater blog

 Not to keep the love from the larger girls on the track, St. Knives of Gate City shares some of her wisdom with us!

Protect yourself. When you fall, there's more of you to hit the ground, which means you hit it with more force, which can mean injury. Spring for the good pads and don't stop at WFTDA minimum required safety gear. Tailbone protectors are great (contrary to what I originally thought, a fat ass is NOT a substitute for a tailbone protector). You're also maneuvering more body around with your joints, and derby is a very joint-dependent sport; protect your bendy parts with knee gaskets, glucosamine/chondroitin supplements, and exercises that strengthen the muscles that support your bendy parts. Keep the quads and hams balanced and try not to grow a derby superleg by always going the same direction and/or favoring one leg.

Endurance is key, and this means cross training is a necessity. I know there are heavier skaters who are also super fast and have killer endurance. It's not an across-the-board observation, but I suspect most of them are that way because they don't just skate, they cross train. I have struggled with my speed and endurance, and I know other big girls have as well, especially those who like me are new to athletics. Interval training has been invaluable to me to build my endurance. A minute sprint followed by a minute cooldown, repeated several times, is an easy workout to fit in between other daily activities and in addition to other cross training (strength and cardio).

You have a core--use it. Just because you don't have a visible six-pack doesn't mean there's not a core in there. I remember the first time I could really feel my core doing its thing; I was doing housework, and I noticed when I would lean over it sort of felt like I was wearing Spanx, but I wasn't. That's what your core is: nature's Spanx. And you know how people in yoga or whatever say "engage your core"? I had no idea what that felt like, pre-derby. Now I know. It feels like Spanx. My steadiness on my skates and the power of my hits seems to be directly correlated to how strong my core is.

Don't be married to smaller skaters' wheel suggestions. I struggled along on soft wheels for a long time because that's what everybody else had. It felt like I was skating through mud, and I couldn't dig in to do stops. It wasn't until I started skating on pretty hard wheels (Atom Strokers) that my skills really started to improve. Sometimes people are shocked that I'm skating a wheel that is advertised as having a 98.5 hardness (I have my doubts) on polished concrete, but I can make 'em stick pretty well. It makes sense if you think about physics- we're holding it down with our big bad selves, so we just don't slide out on hard wheels like the lighter girls can.

If you hit a wall, consider losing weight (healthily). That's where I'm at right now. Derby is a fantastic body-positive sport and I've been blessed to be a part of it at my highest lifetime weight. It has helped me learn to love my body and myself. But I've hit a wall and I think to get better, I'm going to need to drop some Hamiltons. It's better for me in the long run, too, so I'm glad I have this motivation.

I love derby, there's room for every body type on the track!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why I'm going to ECDX 2012, and why you should too!

Ok, if you have been in the derby world for more than fifteen minutes, you probably know about ECDX, or the East Coast Derby Extravaganza the Philly Roller Girls put on each year. If you don't, please read all about it here.  Every year, amazing things happen at ECDX, and this year I've decided to attend as an individual skater for the reasons below. 

1.  You will get to see amazing derby.  Not everyone can make it to Regionals or Nationals because of the time of year those two events take place, but since ECDX takes place during the summer months, people tend to be able to take vacation time and attend.  It is so great to know that you can walk from one rink to another and see Gotham, Philly, Charm City, Boston, or any other teams you've been dying to see play.  Of course, if you have a derby crush on any "famous" skaters, this is where you might be able to catch a glimpse of them.  Be cool ladies, be cool.

2.  You might get to see teams you wouldn't normally have access to.  When I went to ECDX in 2010, I was so lucky to be able to see Rose City play my league, CRG.  Because Rose City is on the other side of the country, the chances of me seeing them play live are pretty low.  You never know which teams will show up for ECDX!

3.  You will see some new strategy the teams are working on before Regionals.  ECDX is where a lot of teams will try out some new bit of "rules interpretation" and let's face it, don't we all want to know what the latest greatest thing is going to be?  Also, you might get to see a bout where they are trying new and different rules.  Last year, they ran a bout where they had abolished the minor infractions, and I really really wish I had been there to see that one.

4.  Challenge bouts are fun and you can increase your derby network by playing in them.  I had the honor of playing four challenge bouts my first year, and I had a great time!  When I played with the Glamazons, I had the opportunity to play with Swede Hurt from Gotham, Rock Nasty and some players from the Wind Hitty!  How exciting is that!

I was gaga over who I got to skate with!

I got to skate with Cape Fear too!
And the Bootleggers!
5.  It's a lot cheaper than Rollercon.  I'm not knocking Rollercon; I had the honor of attending that last year, but since I live on the east coast, it's a lot easier and cheaper for me to drive to Philly and I can bring food in my car, as opposed to buying airplane tickets and packing my life into two suitcases.  Now remember, ECDX is about the teams competing; you will not have the option of going to classes or workshops, but I really think watching the derby is worth it.

So, if you are on the fence about attending, please rethink it and join in!  Get on the ECDX Yahoo groups and sign up for those challenge bouts!  Yes, I hate Yahoo groups too, but for this, I bow to their use. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Unintended Consequences of Joining Roller Derby

Most people join derby to have an exciting experience, get exercise, learn a sport and meet people.  BUT, there a ton of unintended consequences of joining derby!

1.  When you leave practice, you drive like you play.  This may not seem that bad until you realize you're keeping someone in the next lane over from changing lanes just so you don't give up the inside line.  I'd love to see a study done on derby players' driving techniques after practice or a game.
Outta my way!

2.  Magically, your wardrobe switches to derby t-shirts and yoga pants.  Yoga pants have become more the norm in my house since my thighs and butt have gotten bigger due to derby; at first I loved having a butt at all, but my jeans are getting less and less wearable as I enter my fourth season!  Also, I now have a t-shirt with my name and number on it in every color of the rainbow.  Sometimes I wonder what I used to wear before derby came along.
Why orange?  I dunno, but I have one.

3. You tend to use your shopping cart aggressively. This is very similar to the driving issue.  When I go grocery shopping after practice, I tend to throw the shopping cart around a lot more aggressively than I do when I go on a non derby day!  I think it's worse when I go to Costco, because the floor is so smooth, and there's so much space, and I so want to put on my skates and fly through there!
So cool...I'm going to do this one day.

4.  You start collecting bandanas, socks and panties that you only wear on the outside of your leggings!  Please remember that the panties are ONLY for outside of the leggings!

5.  Your feet slowly turn into hooves.  Feet take a beating in derby.  At first you get blisters, and then you get blisters on top of blisters, and then you progress to callouses; once you hit the callous stage, you get to have your jammer callous on the ball of your right foot.  Cherish this callous!
Don't lie, you have hideous feet now.  Admit it!

6.  You develop a whole different section of friends of Facebook.  I don't know about you guys, but my derby oriented friends on FB have now seriously outnumbered my outside derby friends.  I actually have two Facebook accounts now because of derby.  You also get eight million new email accounts: one for your league, one for ECE, one for your real mail.

7.  You learn a new language.  Eat the baby?  Take a runt/goat?  Booty block? Stroller derby(sucks)? Too bad not every league has the same words for everything!
Put it on your resume, you are now bilingual.

8.  You drool over skates and gear instead of drooling over shoes.  I now spend my time making a dream list of gear I would buy if I won the lottery.  Of course, I'd have to play the lottery...yeah, I'll get right on that.

I refuse to draw a picture of someone playing the lottery.  Move along please.

9.  You triple the mileage on your car each year.  Since joining derby, I have seen more of this country than I ever thought possible.  Of course, I've seen most of it by driving through back roads really late at night hoping the GPS isn't going to lead me the wrong way!  Derby let's me travel to cool places, and I'm glad that sometimes I have a free and awesome place to stay while I'm there!

10.  Suddenly you start to buy more and stronger Febreze.  Everyone hopes they can spray away the nasty smell of pads, but it really is a losing enterprise.  Air them as much as you possibly can and wash them on a regular basis.
Did you know Febreze doesn't have a double e?  I didn't until I drew the bottles.

11.  You have a prepared speech ready when visiting the doctors/dentist office when you inevitably get the "are you safe at home?" questions and looks regarding the recurring fresh set of bruises.  Doctors and health workers are trained to look for signs of abuse, and unexpected bruises are a warning flag to them.  Be ready to explain how you got them!  Also, bring tickets to sell after you explain them!

12.  You learn way too much about people's digestive habits.  People belch and fart whenever they want, and you kind of just accept it after a while. 
Guess you had Mexican last night?

13.  Your phone contact list has the most bizarre names ever!  I'm not sure I know the "government" names of some of my fellow derby players.

Of course, I could keep going, but you get the drift.  If you have any to add, please comment below!

PS, forgive my drawings this week, I sustained a wrist injury at derby. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Derby happens: my experiences as a ref. I've started being a part time ref, and sometimes it's hilarious.

This actually happened today.

Friday, February 10, 2012

When Is It Time to Stop? The Scream Weaver Story

Scream Weaver is a vet who skates for the Palmetto State Roller Girls.  She was seriously injured playing roller derby, and raises some profound questions that may be unsettling to the rest of the skaters out there.  How would you handle a career ending injury?  Have you contemplated the fact that this sport could cause you to be bionic in the future?  Read her story and ask yourself, how far will you go for derby?

I doubt I was the first patient to ever burst into tears in the orthopedic surgeon’s office, but by the look on the doctor’s face he hadn’t seen too many. I apologized quickly, mildly embarrassed at myself. He handed me a Kleenex gently, and began to tell me about his years of experience, his success rates for patients like me...

A middle-aged woman in otherwise good health

I giggled between sobs, shook my head, and started to interrupt him, but I couldn’t. Words coated and stuck to the back of my throat, unable to go anywhere. He slipped out of the room quietly, leaving me with his nurse to start the pre-surgical paperwork.

C 6-7 disc herniation with spinal cord impingement

The pain, at least would go away. Truth be told, most of me was willing to hang up my skates for a chance to have full function of my left arm back. The pain was as if a blacksmith had taken a poker from the coals and lodged it in my left shoulder blade. It ran from shoulder to forearm, and unlike any injury I have sustained before or since, I could find no comfortable position to ease my pain.  I spent the majority of time holding my elbow into my side in a weird Bob Dole-esque pose, and the lack of sensation in my fingertips made it difficult to scribble my southpaw signature anywhere. My wedding was in three months. It had to be done.
1 titanium plate
4 screws
No more derby.

It wasn’t as if there was a great spectacle of a career- ending accident (a la Tart of Darkness), that would have been, I don’t know…respectable. I always imagined myself ending my career by landing a massive hit on someone twice my size that sends both of us tumbling across the track and into the stands. Then being wheeled out of a bout venue on a stretcher, giving the thumbs up to my team mates while under the influence of copious amounts of pain killers. I didn’t get that. I simply went to practice and came home. I knew I felt pain in my back, but I was too-cool-for-the-doctor- tougher- than- that-I’ll just take some Advil and I’ll be fine. The next day my body was so overwhelmed with pain that my fiancĂ© (now husband) had to dress me and rush me to the doctor.
Weaver makes surgical steel sexy.
Waking up in the recovery room was my first pain free experience in months. I could tell I was going to be my idea of normal again within 10 seconds of coming out of my medically-induced sleep. Recovery was quick.  So quick, I guess, I surprised myself when I asked my doctor when I could start playing derby again.  He rolled his eyes, but then, he promised me he would do everything he could to help me play again. He was an athlete too, and he understood my love for my sport (and has since become a major sponsor for out team).

5 months later I was cleared to play.

I have my good days. Sometimes I still feel like I am least in my late twenties again. I can still get around the track when I need to, but my days as a primary jammer are gone.  I’m happiest when I am at the back of the pack, with a long view of the incoming jammer.  Three years later, my plate and screws have become a part of what I call my “bionic wonderfulness” – an inherent part of who I am and how I play, but also something different- they made me realize how much I love this sport, and how much I am willing to lose to play it. Since then, I have lost my PCL ligament, torn my meniscus, separated my shoulder, and sprained my ankle too many times to count, but I keep going. When is it time to stop?

I put in a call to the above mentioned Tart of Darkness, Head Referee for the Palmetto State Roller Girls. Tart’s accident was spectacular- I am not afraid to say that. On June 1st, 2008, she tripped over sprawled out legs and landed on her right arm. I saw the fall, but didn’t realize what happened until I heard her scream. As then-president of the league, I followed the ambulance to the hospital, and sat with her during x-rays and morphine drips.  Two hours later, I was calling her mother to tell her about Tart’s shattered elbow and arm.  She told me that night that she was done with derby.  Her tone was somber, but emphatic, and she was completely at peace with it. She gave her right arm for the sport. What else could I ask of her?
Courtesy of Shannon Stewart
I asked her if she could think of anyone who had plates like we did, and kept playing; thinking that surely I had missed SOMEONE. What about ___________. Her answer was always the same- nope, no metal, just a cast/surgery. She says I’m the only one crazy enough to keep skating. I can’t believe it. The lure of this sport is just too strong to keep certain people away from it. Skaters center their entire universe around derby- derby practice, derby bouts, derby social functions- and having that ripped away is a traumatic, identity changing ordeal. One that can’t be overcome by everyone.
 I keep asking around about skaters like me- those who have earned their “heavy metal” from derby and keep at it. I hear about those who have had plates due to prederby accidents or surgeries (Palmetto State had a girl with steel rods in her back from scoliosis), but I can’t seem to find any whose “bionicness” is derby-earned.
So, I ask you, where is the heavy metal? Does it affect your play? Do you think about it during the game? When is it time to stop?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Advice for the newbie refs!

This blog is dedicated to the newbie ref and was written by a good friend of mine, Percy Q-tion of the NEO Rock-n-Roller Girls!
Newbie Ref

So, "someone" convinced you to check out this roller derby sport. They talked you into attending a bout or 9, or sweet talked you into volunteering. However you got interested & excited about it, at least you decided to volunteer by slipping on some black & white stripes to become a member of the Zebra Herd.

So now what??? You volunteered & have contacted the Head Ref (the newest boss in your life) to find out about how to get up to speed to start blowing that whistle. Show up at league practices learning the same skating skills as skater newbies & bring the basic gear you need (skates, pads, helmet, Fox 40 Classic whistle, striped shirt). Be prepared to throw yourself on the floor for falls, skate backwards, slalom skate, be knocked down, and build your endurance. Attend as MANY practices possible to participate in drills. Exercise on your own to assist preparing for reffing. Being a ref for a double header needs endurance, stamina, and a fit body.

Okay, I've attended 5 or 6 practices, and I'm READY to make calls. Accept that it might be a few MONTHS of attending practices before the Head Ref will put you in the Officiating Lineup for a bout. Some leagues have ref by-laws or training guidelines that indicate how many practices need to be attended before being eligible to be listed in the lineup as a ref. Don't just be a spectator as you go through your probation period, volunteer as an Non-Skating Official (NSO). This is yet another key training point to BECOMING a ref. You aren't a ref just because you raised your hand to volunteer, you have to become a ref.

I've been doing this for a few months, what else can I do to learn about derby? Being put on the lineup for a bout is tied to 2 of the most important things.
  1. Skills to skate as a ref (click HERE to see what you should be able to do)
  2. Understand the WFTDA rules, calls, hand signals, and penalties
Spend the time you are becoming better at your skating ability to read all of the documents on the WFTDA Officiating and the WFTDA Rules websites. Remember, you need to perform the skating skills, know the rules intimately, be familiar with the calls you will verbalize, the hand signals you will use, the officiating standard practices, and  ask your Head Ref and the other experienced refs in your league for guidance and training.

Get involved & watch derby whenever you can.  There are probably some other leagues close to where you are, go attend their bouts (as long as they don't conflict with your league schedule). You can overdose on derby on DNN. It certainly replaces watching the local news. When I started, the WFTDA Officiating Clinics didn't exist, but now they do. GO ATTEND ONE IF YOU CAN (click HERE for more info). I will be attending the one in July 2012 in Raleigh, NC hosted by the Carolina Rollergirls.

As a side note, some personal thoughts to know as you BECOME a ref:
  • It isn't an easy path you've chosen, be prepared to be yelled at, criticized, and cussed at by others. Don't take it personally, you chose to participate in an aggressive sport, it is going to happen.
  • Leave what calls you make on the track, on the track. Don't bring your calls into your personal life.
  • Even if you are in a relationship with a skater, leave it off the track during practices & bouts. You both have different mind sets to fulfill your duties to the league.
  • Besides your skating gear, I suggest that you get a stopwatch, a whistle on a lanyard, and a finger whistle. You never know when you will need them at a practice or during a bout.
  • LEARN TO USE YOUR TONGUE TO BLOW YOUR WHISTLE LOUD AND QUICK. You'll learn what the different whistle "chirps" are needed by reading the rules. PRACTICE.
  • Be prepared to be taken out by a skater or another ref during a practice or bout. It is going to happen.
  • Never stop learning as much as you can about derby & reffing.

Thanks again for volunteering as a ref... Maybe one day we'll run into each other... Good luck...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

That bearing cleaning blog: Clean up your act!

Ok.  So, I've been approached by several skaters to write a blog on cleaning bearing.  I hate doing it, but I end up cleaning them at least once every couple of months.  This weekend I skated in a really really dirty warehouse, and my bearings were SCREAMING at me during practice today, so I broke down and cleaned them while watching the Super Bowl.  To be honest, I was just watching the ads anyway!

The things you will need
1. A container that you can use a solvent in.  I use one of my paint brush cleaning glasses.
2. A push pin
3. Biodegradable cleaner
4. Skate tool
5. Chop stick
6. Sewing machine oil or speed cream
7. Bucket
8. Soap
9. Brush or old toothbrush
10.  Bearing press (optional)
11.  Gloves

First, put on your gloves.  Then, take your wheels off of your skates with your skate tool; take this opportunity to check out your nuts (stop giggling) and see if it is time to replace them.  If you didn't need a tool to change them out, then it is PAST TIME!  Also, look at your wheels; how are they doing?  Is it time for a new set?  Do you have any tread left on them?  How much gum is on them? Any chunks missing?

All clean now!  I'll sterilize my poor bucket later!  Where did this long, blond hair come from?
After I take my bearings out with my bearing press, I dump all of my wheels into a bucket of warm, soapy water and scrub them down because they usually pick up all sorts of detritus when I'm skating. Today they were especially disgusting, so I used an old tooth brush to scrub all of the gum, Skittles and hair.  I also take this opportunity to wipe down my axles and plates because they too are usually pretty grimy. 

If you've never cleaned your bearings before, each bearing has a rubber shield on it that you need to remove before you clean it.  If you use Bone REDS brand bearings, the shield is red and you're going to use the pushpin to pry it out of there; stick the point of the push pin into the outer edge of the rubber shield and pry it up.  If you want to mess around with putting that shield back when you're done (I don't) then you need to clean them off and put them to the side.  I throw mine out because I find that it's way easier to clean my bearings without the extra annoyance of messing around with those shields.  Does this mean I clean my bearings more often because they get more dirt in them?  Yes.  Is it waaaaaay easier to clean them this way?  Hell yes!

Bearings are in the dish, paint thinner next!

Before you put your bearing in the container, knock off the disgusting dust and everything that is clinging to them.  Just for grossness' sake, you realize that 80% of dust is made up of human skin cells!  Ew!  Also, this is the time to check if you have any rust on those bearings.  If you see rust, it might be time to buy some new bearings. Now comes the fun part, cleaning the bearings.  There is something very satisfying in seeing all of the crap come floating off of the bearings when I pour the paint thinner in the bowl.  Depending on the amount of crap I see floating in there, I may change the fluid once or twice so it won't re-deposit on my bearings. 

Guess I was ridin' dirty!

When they've soaked for a while, usually I keep them in there for an hour or so, I use a chop stick to take them out with and put them on a paper towel to dry.  Drying is KEY in this process because if you get impatient and decide that they are "almost dry" then you will have issues with rust, and nobody wants that.  I've heard that you can use a fan to blow over them if it's a humid, or even a blow dryer, but I would avoid using compressed air since you can blow dust back into your bearing.

Once the bearings are dry, check to see if they spin well.  If everything is good, then take a little of your sewing machine oil or speed cream and SPARINGLY lubricate the bearings.  It doesn't take much to get the job done, and if you use too much your bearing is sticky and a gigantic dust magnet.  At this point, I check the spin of each bearing and then I put them back into my wheels, open side turned into the center so it's protected.  If you are one of the anal retentive people who puts the shields back on your bearings, you need to do that first, and you want to turn the shielded side so it faces out.  Side note, if you do put the shields back in, make sure they aren't damaged because they can interfere with the movement of the bearings. (Just throw them out you crazy OCD people!  You'll be much happier!)

This might be a good time to rotate your wheels as well. Check out this blog to see the whole wheel rotation or just read the following advice. Most people wear out the front left wheel the most, because this is the direction they're constantly leaning while skating in a rink. The most effective rotation is: exchange wheels (of the same skate) from front to back and left to right. Therefore, your left front wheel swaps with your right back wheel, and the right front wheel swaps with the left back wheel. Do the same on the other skate. 

So, there ya' go. That's how I clean my bearings. I'm sure a million people have a million different ways to do it, but I've had the same set of bearings for three years now, so I'm happy with my method.  If you have suggestions, please list them in the comments, and we all can skate on happier bearings!

Friday, February 3, 2012

For the Rookie skater: advice for the "not so fresh meat"

So you've passed all of your assessments and are now wearing your big girl panties and are bout eligible!  Congrats!  That's an amazing thing you accomplished, but it's time to face some facts about derby, and all of them aren't the nicest things to learn.

First of all, you have been passed to play on a team; this doesn't mean you are the most amazing derby player ever and nobody can give you advice.  I know that a lot of rookies were sort of "clucked" over when they were learning the basic skills; many veteran skaters are very supportive.  "You can do this!" or "Great job!" is often directed towards newbies when they learn their falls or start to get the hang of a plow stop.  Yes, newbies do need positive feedback to keep them struggling through the difficult beginnings of a derby career, but often that kind of positive feedback begins to peter out when a newbie is cleared for scrimmage.  People are focused on themselves, their progress and they don't always have the time or the patience to shepherd rookies through a scrimmage.

Look!  Positive and forceful advice!  It is possible!
 Also, what feedback you might get on the track might not be in the sweetest and most dulcet tones you'll ever hear.  When you were a newbie learning to do stops, the people who were giving you feedback were NOT getting hit on the track; their adrenaline wasn't pumping high and fast, and they weren't frustrated with either your or their performance.  Things change when you're in the middle of a scrimmage, and a veteran skater yells "Get up front!" furiously at you.  It sucks when someone yells at you because you aren't doing something the right way!  We all hate getting that kind of feedback, but trust me rookie, now is NOT the time to be questioning why she wants you up front.  Do not resist someone's advice on the track, even if it is an ego crusher; I promise you that if you ask for an explanation after that jam, the veteran skater will tell you what was going on, and most likely, she was trying to implement a strategy that you might not understand yet.  I've seen rookies totally resist a shove from their own teammates because they didn't understand that the jammer was sneaking past them on the outside.  It's incredibly frustrating to have a teammate balk at advice on the track!

Team work means communicating and trusting your partner.

On a side note, sometimes there are skaters that relish knocking the snot out of rookies; I don't know why this happens, but it seems like each league has at least two of the skaters, and they will reset your clock.  Maybe they don't feel like they're strong enough as derby players, so they pick on the less experienced skaters, or they're "testing you",  or maybe they just think it's funny.  If you observe scrimmages, you probably will be able to pick these skaters out pretty easily; then you can keep an eye on them and make sure you're ready for any hit.

Now that you're a rookie, you might have to ask for more feedback than you are getting; derby peeps tend to get distracted by the shiny shiny jammer, or their own progress.  It helps if you ask a vet to watch you in a particular jam and give you precise feedback; it is awful to get feedback like "Stop falling down so much." or "You looked good out there."  Those statements are not good feedback; tell your observer what specific skill you are working on, you one that you feel you need help with, and they will be able to focus their feedback better.  "I feel like my hits aren't effective; can you watch me hit and point me in a better direction?"  "I'm always running twenty feet out front, how can I stop that?"  Ask a couple of vets to watch you, but don't get too butthurt if they don't have better advice than "Stay with your partner" or "Keep your feet moving."  Sometimes, you might not be ready to fully understand the feedback, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't listen.

See that player yelling?  I guarantee she isn't saying "Please" and "thank you!"
 Make specific goals for yourself and honestly hold yourself to them.  Even if you don't share them with anyone else, be brutally honest with how you're doing.  Over the break, I told myself that I was going to work on my right turn fast toe stops; my right turn is my weak side, and I loathe loathe loathe turning that way, but I knew it will make me more versatile, so I practiced it.  I didn't officially share my goal with anyone else, but I still held myself to that high standard, and I succeeded.  Some goals might be easier to conquer than others, but everyone in derby is always striving to improve herself, so you should be too.

Watch amazing footage whenever you can.  Find a skater you want to emulate and then watch watch watch her do her thing!  DNN has 24 hour streaming now, so why not take advantage?

Finally, take advantage of skating at invitationals if you can, or outside training.  Sometimes rookies get stereotyped in their own leagues.  "So and so is always easy to distract" or "Whoosy what's it can't take big hits."  If you decide to skate in an invitational, you may be skating against and with people who don't know anything about your style.  They don't make assumptions about your skill, and you won't be able to do that to them either.  One of the skaters in our league says she treats any unknown skater as if they skated for Gotham.  I've learned to do the same.  Also, outside training may give you a new and better way of improving yourself.  I try to go to outside training at least twice a year: this year I'm going to Bonnie D'stroir's boot camp down in Charleston.  Yes, you can be jealous!  But seriously, you should take advantage of outside training whenever you can, and maybe you'll be teaching those vets something at the next scrimmage!

All photos by A Boy Named Tsunami...cause he's just super awesome like that.