Monday, June 18, 2012

Roller Derby Didn't Save My Soul

Everybody who has been in derby is familiar with the song, "Roller Derby Saved My Soul."  If you don't, you need to check out a bit of derby history here.  I've seen the stickers, looked at the shirts and and have read the testimonials on Facebook and Twitter about how derby has saved people's souls.

I'm not going to lie, roller derby didn't save my soul.  My soul was firmly ensconced in my body and I had plenty of things in my life that gave it meaning before I tried out for derby.  I joined derby because I was interested in learning something new, skating, and I wanted to compete in a really intense sport. 

Recently on FB, I saw this photo post.  I wish I could remember where I originally saw it, but it has become a meme for derby folks.
Everything in this picture is true about derby, and it is true about every other sport people love to play.
A lot of derby peeps are posting this picture and vaunting the fact that they feel that derby is not just a game.  I disagree.  Derby is a game; it's one of the most exciting games I've ever played, but it is just that, a game.  Since 2009, I've been training to play an amazing sport; it has rules and skill sets.  People all over the WFTDA and USARs have been striving to make derby a "recognized legitimate" sport,  (I put quotes because it IS a legitimate sport) and we are all close to seeing this happen.  I find this incredibly exciting!

Unfortunately, I feel like some derby folk are sabotaging this goal by making derby a special case.  Considering derby as anything else than a sport at this point in its development opens up leagues to a lot of unnecessary problems that other sports teams do not have.  I firmly believe that the level of drama would drop if we all started to treat each other more like sportsmen and women, and less like "family".  I know that is a difficult concept for a lot of people, but think about it this way; you may have up to 100 people in a league, or more.  How many people like EVERYONE they've ever met and want to be best friends with them all?  It's not realistic.  Don't get me wrong, I have met some amazing people in derby, but I would have gotten along with them outside of this sport too.

If we can start thinking of ourselves as teammates instead of families or sorority sisters, we can all behave in a more professional manner and leave the back biting and ridiculous drama issues out of our sport.  I love love love derby; stop by and talk derby with me, you might get bored before I do.  But, it is a sport.  It's not a magic fix to your life, it's not a higher and noble cause anymore than any other sport, but it is a hell of a lot of fun and I would love to see it continue to be that for everyone.

Just my two cents. 


26 comments:

  1. I completely 100% agree with you on this entire post!

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  2. I couldn't disagree more. If my league didn't treat each other like family, we would have disbanded years ago over some of the obstacles the league has faced.

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    1. That's fine. Treating people like family is a double edged sword. If it worked out for your league, that is good.

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    2. I don't think that treating your league as a family and competing as athletes in a legitimate sport are necessarily mutually exclusive.

      I do feel it is important to remind everyone that we are athletes, and that we need to train and compete as athletes, but I also feel that it's the incredible sense of family and community that really sets derby apart from other sports. Particularly in our college town, many of our skaters do not have family nearby. The league has become a family for so many, and we are often there for each other when no one else can be.

      I don't think that the drama should be attributed to treating each other like family, that's not what causes it. What causes drama is the manner in which the league is run, the personalities behind it, and how they manage and lead the skaters. Not all families are dysfunctional.

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    3. I still think teammate is a special bond that doesn't necessarily have the emotional baggage that "family" does. Teammate is somewhere between a co-worker and friend.

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    4. If I only thought of my fellow league members in the same way that I do friends or co-workers, I wouldn't still be around. And I would venture that many of my fellow league members might feel the same.

      There's more to derby than just the skaters. By promoting a sense of family, you create a welcoming environment that makes it possible to recruit and retain a dedicated staff of referees, NSOs, and fans in addition to your skaters.

      I come from a league that has been through a great deal over the course of six years, including the loss of a fellow skater. It's been our strong sense of family and community that have pulled us through, and allowed us to provide the foundation to support our skaters as they strive to become the best team they can be. We are very lucky to still have many of the original founding members still skating and involved with the league, and I think that is at least in part because this is their family now.

      I'm not advocating that derby should be everything to someone, or take over their life, but if you see it in the same light as a professional obligation or social club, then I think you're missing out on a lot. And I think it does a disservice to the derby community to promote the idea that treating derby as a family is somehow holding us back from something.

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  3. So true!

    It is just a game. What also kills me is when people act like you should drop everything else in life to devote every spare moment to derby. I learned a long time ago that it will burn you out to the point of not wanting to even be a part of it. Luckily I have also learned to take breaks when needed and to ignore the voices that tell me I'm not dedicated enough.

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    1. Very true. In my opinion the biggest issue with treating derby as something more than a sport is that then comes along the concept that it should become your entire life. There are leagues that expect that of their skaters, and it's unhealthy and has caused a lot of great people and great athletes to leave the sport for good.

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  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    It is a game. And like any other game, you will have folks willing to go to whatever length to make a team - women and men of Olympic caliber. Good for them I say. And you will have those who want to have fun. Learn the rules, play for their friends and family. Good for them, as well.
    If roller derby does not make space for BOTH kinds of skaters, it is not something I want to be part of. I left high school a looooong, long time ago.

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  5. I am a serious fan of keeping personalities out of training and off of the track, and in that sense, I feel like when people treat derby like it is a family, all SORTS of drama seems permissible. Remember, what works for one league may cause a serious amount of issues in another.

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    1. But what does that even mean, keeping "personalities" out of training? Each and every one of us has a personality, and we don't become mindless drones when we play a sport. Personality is part of what makes us strong, and is what builds a team. You're conflating issues that have absolutely nothing to do with one another.

      Building a drama-free, competition-oriented league is about ensuring that you are fostering and nurturing the right personalities and the right attitudes. It's not about trying to suppress them altogether.

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  6. I couldnt agree more...I've been in the derby "game" since 2006, when it was "just for fun" and "not really structured". Practices werent necessarily taken seriously, the afterparties were much more important....fast forward to 2012, competition, dedication, afterparties dont happen after every single game, women are wanting to make the travel team, possibly to a National level, even to the Olympics! Fun is a part of derby, but so should hard work. I skate (currently and in the past) with ladies that want to have fun! And they say once it isnt "fun", they dont want to skate anymore...Hmmmm....Derby fans are becoming more and more in tune with the rules, they want to see a competitive sport being played by althletes! I will quote my husband, with whom put it so eliquently...."People dont want to pay $10, $15 or $25 to watch you have fun" Amen honey! Amen!!

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  7. I both agree and disagree. Derby is unlike most other "legitimate" sports in that it is literally run by it's players. That creates a dynamic that doesn't exist in most sports and it does make derby a "special case" in a lot of ways regarding exactly how much time you are putting into it off the track that isn't training. That isn't a badge of honor, that's just a fact; especially for young leagues who don't have a pool of not yet skating rookies, injured skaters, retired folks and volunteers who can take up the mantle and let the skaters focus on skating.

    Conversely, "legitimate" athletes are putting in more time than most would realize with training camps, practices, meetings to go over strategy and watch film, special appearances, etc. Imagine if they had to handle the budget, deal with the arena (or whatever venue in which they play), choose the roster, run practice, etc, etc on top of producing on the playing field/court/etc? And believe me, they have drama too. Anytime you get a large group of people together there is drama. League structure can impact level of drama. Is it too many cooks in the kitchen? Is it a dictatorship? What works for one, doesn't necessarily work for another and a solid vetting of potential rookies can help make sure that you are choosing people who will bring what your league needs on every level, not just on the track.

    I would disagree that members of other kinds of sports teams don't view each other as family. Any group of people who spend a lot of time together, travel together, push their bodies to the limit together...are going to bond. They are doing something that not everyone can/will do. They understand each other in ways that their own families can't sometimes. That makes a family.

    Do I like everyone in my biological family? No. Do I like everyone in my derby family? No. It's not necessary or realistic and I think it's an attitude that varies by league. However, you can still respect someone as a player and a teamate. That carries over in every sport. You both have the same goal. You want the team to be the best it can be.

    Different skaters come to derby for different experiences. Eventually the sport will grow so that there is a niche for everyone. Until that time comes, it's up to individual leagues to set their own tone and individual skaters to find the place that brings them joy/happiness.

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  8. THANK YOU!
    Have you ever heard the phrase "never mix business and (insert family/friends here) "? Derby is a sport, and but it is also a BUSINESS.. You have to be professional. Sometimes that means putting friendships aside to make hings happen..

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    1. It's all a matter of keeping it in perspective. My perspective is sport oriented...I love the sport...the family part just isn't as important to me.

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    2. And that's fine. If you don't connect with your league in that way, that's your prerogative. But I think it's unfair to paint the family or community aspect of derby as what is wrong with the sport, or what is holding it back. That's not the cause of the kind of drama that you're talking about - it's poor leadership and poor attitudes that do it. Not treating derby as a family.

      I've known skaters who came from other predominantly female sports, like softball or soccer, and time and time again I hear that those sports are far cattier and filled with drama than derby is.

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    3. I can't speak for those sports, since I've not been a part of them. I just feel that when we treat teammates as family, we take everything personally. Each personal disagreement becomes bigger than it really is, and I've seen that hold teams back or even split leagues.
      I'm glad that hasn't been the case with your league.

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    4. I'm with Elecktra on this one. I've seen it time and time again. Where it all starts with the selling point of family and derby love.. sounds great right? Everyone is happy and getting along, then the business side comes in. Anyone at the head of this, has to make decisions best for the team, best for the league. This does not always coincide with what some people think that they deserve or are owed. Pumping up the family stuff and not the sport / business stuff as much, leaves people open to feeling slighted when stuff doesn't go their way. Then the gossip starts, then the drama starts..and it snowballs from there. Add on the fact that when people leave the league for one reason or another, because the family /personal stuff is pumped up so much.. friendships are destroyed because the remaining skater feel betrayed or abandoned. don't get me wrong, Derby love is great.. but depending on how it is presented to people coming in, it can potentially cause more emotional chaos down the road than it needs to..
      An example in training would be a skater who has been around for a long time, shows up whenever, doesn't work very hard when she is there,returning from an injury ect, then starts the poor me, the coaches hate me trip, gossips all about how she is being held back from more intense and dangerous drills for no good reason. Talks back to the trainers and coaches, doesn't listen when being shown how to properly perform a move /skill / drill. If you keep up with the "we're all happy family" you end up with frustrated training staff and people in the rumor mill not knowing full details, joining her bandwagon. And yes a lot of that is ppl running it as well, not putting a stop to things and/ or playing into " she's our sister, we don't want to hurt her feelings" instead of backing the coaches and telling them, to work if they want to advance.. ect. as one example

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    5. Jennifer - you hit the nail on the head! What you described actually happened. Derby is what you decide it is for YOU.
      I'm all for Derby Love but after a painful lesson I experienced personally, my position is its a sport, a business and a group of interest specific people who enjoy what I enjoy. My family is family.. I have a handful of close friends that I met through derby but as Electra stated, I too would have naturally gravitated to them anyway.

      Great post and lots of interesting perspectives.

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  9. Agree, but maybe it is more a matter of labels. Even if we just looked at each other as teammates, there would be hurt feelings, best friend cliques, and drama. In a league where the skaters are not only responsible for competing, we are expected to do our part in the production, promotion, fundraising, training, etc to keep the league moving forward. If everyone doesnt do their part, the ones that do all the work develop resentments. I'm reminded of the story of the Little Hen. A few do all the hard, non skating work, but everyone wants a piece of the benefits. In other recognized, legitimate sports, there are people who cover the business end, so the athletes can do their file job-train and compete. Not so in derby, at least not now. Personal drama is just that-personal. People choose to either be a dedicated league member, with all that entails, or they choose to complain and create drama within their own private group. It brings an entire league down, and leads to hard feelings. If we could respect each other as teammates, AND business partners, much of the drama would not have time to fester. We would be too busy!

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  10. As in physics, starting conditions matter. I came into my league a strong and self-sufficient but sad and lonely person - I had recently begun to recover from a brutal illness, during which I was coldly dismissed from job I had put my heart and soul into and found out, sadly, that all my local friends were of the distinctly fair weather variety. We've also had a good number of moms who felt like they had lost themselves for years in caring for other people. For someone who came in with all their little duckies in a row, I'm sure their perspective is different. That's fine. To each her own, as long as everyone is pulling her own weight and not being a frosted flake or a douche.

    I'm still a coldly calculating person who busts my ass training 6+ times a week, lugs metric fucktons of crap to bouts in my crappy car, and organizes a bitching staffing and training spreadsheet. I doubt anyone in my league has a clue how much it really means to me. But it does. And you better believe that when a newer member is down because she is realizing just how out of shape she is or is bawling in a corner because she just failed an assessment, I am the person to go talk to her.

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    1. That's a good teammate. That's what I'm saying...more teammates, less bitches and drama.

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  11. Agree that this meme is a bit over dramatic. Agree that derby is a game. Also agree that while I AM completely in love with derby and desirous of "family" like relationships with my teammates, the predominate driving force in my best derby relationships has been built on teamwork and less on the wordplay of "being a family." ...even though it's pretty much my favorite thing to cheer in the huddle. Our league is large. I like to think it's pretty balanced in terms of everyone getting along like a real sports league, and I like this very much.
    Derby didn't save my soul, rugby did, 4 years earlier during my freshman year at college. But I completely understand that feeling of finding a wholly brutal physical pursuit to make you feel whole. Still, this meme (as Q stated) so much like any sports meme out there alludes to the idea that we're doing something tougher than anyone else out there. All I want to say is that we're not serving our country abroad here, ladies. We're not in harms way. Let's cultivate recognition, but let's not be NFL-like promoters about it :) Simple awesome derby pics and personal, goal pushing comments do just well.

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