Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Spoonful of Sugar: GIving derby advice/feedback

One of the most difficult things about being in a young sport is how fast it changes.  What is considered good and sound advice one minute may be defunct the next.  How do you know who to listen to, and when?  When I first started skating in 2009, our league detested the use of toe stops.  We were told "learn to stop without them!"  In fact, most of us skated with toe plugs in place of them for a really long time.  I wonder what the current rookies in our league would think of that advice; everyone is using toe stops now, including our former jam skaters.  In fact, we have made the turn around toe stop a part of our level one assessments, and everyone in the league has embraced them at this point.  Who knows what the future will bring?  Maybe toe stops will be considered verboten again.

If you are a veteran skater, I really do feel that it is in your league's best interest to give feedback to those who ask or are struggling, or to your fellow vets!  In derby, we don't have the luxury of professional trainers and support staff.  A lot of derby is developed through the "Let's try it and see!" method; some strategies work, and some don't, but helping your league improve should be foremost in everyone's mind.  Even though you have the best intentions, sometimes giving advice can be a tricky task to pull off.  Remember, people are physically and mentally exhausted during derby, and feelings are raw.  If you follow the following guidelines, you may be more successful that the advice you give is being well received.

1.  Are you giving feedback, or are you being critical?  It's a fine line, but the difference can be huge to the person you're trying to help.  In your advice, are you using phrases like "You always do such and such" or "You never do such and such."  Extremes like "always" and "never" automatically sound harsh to the recipient.  You could rephrase your advice in a question, like "Have you thought about trying this move?"  Questions come out a lot less negative, and if you don't put the recipient on the defensive, you have a better chance of the person actually listening to you instead of getting pissed off and ignoring you.

2.  Choose your timing.  Are you frazzled and annoyed with the skater/practice/yourself?  If you are annoyed, your timing and tone are probably not going to be the best to convey relevant advice; in fact, you're probably going to alienate the person if you sound pissed or aggravated.  Worse yet, they may never listen to your advice again, even when you're calm because they think you're mean. Also, do you yell out your advice while everyone is listening?  Public advice giving may not be the best way to help someone improve.  First of all, if your teammate is in the middle of a jam, she may not even hear you, and if she does happen to hear you, that means the rest of the people at practice can too.  Would you like to receive feedback in that manner?  Probably you were given advice like this when you were new, but was it the best way?

3.  Don't get offended if they don't take your advice right away.  Some people can glom onto advice right away and apply it to what they're doing at that very moment, while others need to process things.  Your advice might have rocked their world, and they need to figure out how to incorporate it into their playing style without taking four steps backwards.

4.  Consider the advice you're giving.  What may be awesome for you might not work for someone else.  Being six feet tall, sometimes my derby experience isn't going to be relevant to someone who is barely five feet tall, and vice versa.  I don't discount feedback from anyone, regardless of their skating style, or physical body type, but some of it just isn't as relevant to me as it could be. 

5.  Does the person really need you advice, or are you just bothered by something the person does?  There is a difference, and if you're honest with yourself, you will be able to tell.  Try to take your personal issues out of any advice you give, and you will find that you will be much better at helping your fellow teammates!

Finally, I asked about giving advice on my Facebook page, and I think that Shawn Dell-Corley, coach of the Regulators and member of the Wrecking Balls wrote "TALK.... to your teammates and coaches.... no one can solve a problem they don't know about."  Remember, 99.99 percent of all skaters want to improve.  Nobody wants to be a weak link in the team, and they aren't "being slack" or "being stupid and clumsy" on purpose.  I have yet to meet a skater that is happy with her present skill level, and most of us are dying for advice and feedback; just make sure it's feedback and not a bitch session!

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