Friday, August 31, 2012

Derby Commandments: why they aren't accurate.

There's been this cute "Derby Ten Commandments" meme going around Facebook lately, and while I love the sentiment, it just doesn't really hit the problems we're having with derby the way it should, so being the person I am, I've decided to rewrite it!

Found here.
1.  "Thou shall not be a douchebag." I feel like any sport where you have a commandment like that means that there are a ton of douchebags, which makes me feel really awful about being a part of derby.  I'd like for the commandment to be "Don't be a self centered jerk!" instead, because that's usually the issue people have with other skaters.  Self centered behavior includes not coming to practice often because "you don't have to", or not doing your volunteer work for the league because you're "too important for all of that."  Self centered skaters suck the fun out of being on a team, and I'd like to remind them that no matter how freakin' awesome they might be at skating, try jamming when your four blockers decide to do nothing for you.  Some people honestly don't know when they're being selfish and self centered, so we all need to do a gut check and really examine our actions.

2. "Thou shalt not create drama."  I suggest we amend that one to say "Thou shalt not knowingly ADD to drama."  We are people; there will be drama.  Sometimes you can say one thing to your league mate and all hell breaks loose!  All you can try to do is not add to the drama by gossiping about it and taking sides.  Most of the time drama fades away if people don't keep feeding it.  Do not feed the drama llama!  It bites!

3.  "Thou shalt not take hits personally or give hits revengefully."  This one can be summed up by "Always be professional."  Part of why people get mad and take things personally is because they don't treat the sport as a sport, they treat derby as an identity.  Take the personal part out and you will be a way better skater.  Those who can't will get kicked out of games for being out of control.  As our sport develops, there is less room for temper tantrums, revenge hits, and bad behavior in general.  People get hit in the face on the track all of the time, and for the most part it is unintentional.  Get over it and keep skating; if you can't, then maybe this sport isn't for you.

4.  "Thou shalt not covet another's derby wife."  Personally, I feel like if we're going to have a commandment about coveting, it should be "Thou shalt not covet another skater's skill."  You can want to get as good as another skater, but some people just like to complain that they haven't had the same opportunities as a great skater, aren't as tall as so and so, aren't as short as so and so....blah blah blah.  Stop coveting and complaining, and start working your butt off to get better.

5.  "Thou shalt always respect your league mates and other visiting teams or opponents."  This one is a little tricky because you want to respect your league mates, but familiarity breeds contempt and sometimes your league mates can be a little contemptible.  Who doesn't have a bad day?  Also, some opponents make it very difficult to respect their behavior.  I would change this commandment to "Don't get butthurt and act on your butthurt."  You can be polite and keep your interactions with jerks to a minimum.  If an opponent is being a jerk on the track, I smile because I know she's frustrated.  If my league mate is being rude to me, I just move away from her until she calms down. 

6.  "Thou shalt always uphold a positive image of roller derby to the public."  This is another tricky one, because it depends what your definition of a positive image is.  I personally do not think that being a drunken mess while wearing your league's jersey is a great representation of derby, but others don't have a problem with it.  I would make this commandment say "Be a diplomat for the sport."  Derby is still so new and people are going to have misconceptions.  Try to clear those up without adding to them.  My own parents had a slew of ridiculous notions of what derby was, but after being exposed to it, they now support me and are proud of my accomplishments in my sport.

7.  "Thou shalt always give positive reinforcement and constructive criticism to other skaters."  I agree with the sentiment of this one, but I would change it to  "Give honest and constructive feedback to skaters.  Thou shalt not blow smoke up their butts."  False praise is WORSE than no praise.  It destroys people's confidence in the long run.  Keep telling someone that they're amazing and awesome, and when they play against someone who completely annihilates them, they don't understand what happened.  It makes people not trust your feedback.  If someone has an amazing booty block, tell them!  Don't just make a blanket statement like "You're a really awesome skater."  That helps nobody.  I coach the guys at Collision, and I make sure each one knows his strengths and what he needs to work on.  Accurate feedback is the best feedback you can give.

8.  "Thou shalt always be trying to improve your skills and help train others."  This one is perfect as it is.  If you're not improving your skills, you're stagnating, and nobody wants that.  Also, the best way to know if you've really grasped a skill completely is by teaching it to someone else.

9. "Thou shalt never steal from another skater."  I hope people in derby don't steal from each other, but we do have a terrible problem with borrowing stuff from each other and not giving it back.  I would amend this commandment to be "Thou shalt never steal nor borrow indefinitely from another skater."  How many people have lent out wheels to another skater months ago and haven't gotten them back since?  I know most of us don't mean to keep stuff indefinitely, but it happens. 

10.  Thou shalt always win at the after party." How about we change that one to "Thou shalt not be a poor loser or winner."  I don't train to win after parties, but I do train to be an athlete and portray a high level of sportsmanship when I compete.  Someone is going to win, and someone is going to lose, but neither people need to be sour about the outcome.

So there you have it, the updated version of the Roller Derby ten commandments.  I probably could have gone on to add ones like "Thou shalt not crop dust your teammates" or "Thou shalt poop before each bout and discuss it with your team" but I think you can fill those in for yourselves.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Derby discoveries

Yes, I know there is a Facebook group dedicated to "What I learned from Derby" but derby definitely teaches some universal truths to all people involved.  Here are a few that I've learned in my time on the track.

1.  Derby girls (and guys) stink really bad, unless you've been working out with them.  I have discovered that when you are bench coaching derby girls and you aren't sweating in your nasty gear, being in a group huddle can be a nauseating experience.  Speaking of derby stink, I don't care how much you wash your gear, spray it with Febreeze, drizzle it with vinegar, baste it in tea tree oil, it still is going to build up a hideous smell.  Sometimes you're just going to have to buy new gear to defeat the funk.  Derby funk has made me more aware of other kinds of funk in my life, like my dogs, garbage and Axe body spray surrounding the douchebag in line at the grocery store.  Agh.

2.  Some people will never ever ever get over the high school mentality.  It's a sad but true fact. Some people must have been horrendously unhappy in high school and feel the need to reenact their emotional drama out again and again.  There is no need for the cool kids' table in derby society!  I have learned to avoid derby drama hotspot situations, but there are some others out there who seem to be drawn to drama like it's gourmet chocolate.  I used to have a coworker who just lived to eavesdrop on people's personal phone calls, just so she could spread gossip.  Avoid, avoid avoid!

3.  It's not how many times you get knocked down, but how fast you get up.  Once again, it's such a cliche, but it is true. That's the optimistic part of the lesson.  Derby has also taught me that I really don't like getting knocked down either, but that's a different story; in both derby and real life, I strive for stability.

4.  Always take care of your feet.  When I was a teacher, I made sure my feet were happy because I was on them 8+ hours a day.  Now that I'm turning them into horse hooves with my hours and hours of skating, that I need to make sure I'm paying attention to the skin, the nails and the bones in my feet.  I stretch my feet every day by picking up a towel with my toes, which is a gross mental picture, I'm sure, but it helps keep your arches from collapsing.  You don't have to have a pedicure every week, but you should maintain your foot health.  Here is a site for foot health and I promise it won't send you to some creepy foot fetish site!

Sometimes derby feet aren't gross, but most of the time they are.
5.  You can't win them all.  Derby is a game, and there will be someone who wins and someone who loses.  If you get butthurt because you lose a game, then you need to reassess why you're doing derby.  Your self esteem shouldn't come from outside sources.  Did you play your best?  Were you a good teammate?  Did you learn something?  All of those things should be why you should feel proud of yourself.  In real life, nobody is getting out of here alive.  In the end, death trumps all, so did you live your best life?  Were you a good person?  Did you learn something? 

6.  You don't have to love everyone on your team, or in your life.  I don't have to be bestest friends with forty girls, which is a relief because that's a lot of estrogen to deal with, but I do have to be able to work on the track with them.  I have found some very good friends through derby, and I hope to keep them in my life after I hang up my stinky gear for the last time; derby is full of women from all sorts of walks of life, age groups and backgrounds.  Not everyone is going to be full of love for each other.  They just need to be full of mutual respect, just like you would for a coworker at the office.  On the track, you all have the same goal, so you can all work together and get it done!

7.  Don't compromise your morals and beliefs.  Any sport gives the players, coaches and everyone else involved "opportunities" to bend rules or give in to temptations.  I have come through almost four seasons of not compromising my morals no matter what the situation is.  That would be the biggest defeat for me, to have given in to the temptations that are out there.  I live my life in the same way.

8.  Life will still be here even when derby isn't anymore.  I had a life before I started derby, and I will have a life when I finally hang up my skates.  I love this sport and most of the things associated with it, but I also love my art, my family, my dogs and my life!  I think Joy Collision said it best in the DNN interview.  Joy Collision said "I'm definitely going to retire … If I was ever to leave my derby job, I would maybe consider coming back and skating if it felt right. But honestly I've had a pretty full derby career, I've pretty much run the gamut. I've played a lot of derby and I would feel comfortable walking away. That's OK. That's fine with me. I've had a lot of fun. I would still coach it and I'll be involved and I'll volunteer … I'll still be into it. But I don't have to play it. I'll just find another hobby." If Joy Collision can say something like that, then you can too. 

So many derby folk are worried about what their life will be like when they retire, and I know it can be a hard transition, but eventually every derby skater will have to make it.  Will you have a life to go back to?  Yes!  Absolutely!  Can you take lessons you learned in derby and make your life experience better?  Of course! 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Random Crazy Things That Can Go Wrong

Everyone has had an oopsie on bout day.  Sometimes it's an individual issue, like forgetting your skates to an away bout and having to borrow a pair from another skater, (ew) or a team arriving late for check in!  Sometimes these accidents happen, but planning ahead for weird issues can cut down on the silliness that can ensue!

1.  Coaches, bring your big girl panties!  Make sure you have your helmet panties with you at all times.  It's also helpful to have a kit to bring with you for all away games, including tools to fix skates, skate parts,  aspirin, tampons, whatever!  Bad things can happen during a game, and the more prepared you are, the better the chances will be that you'll be able to keep your skaters skating!

2.  NSOs, check your equipment!  I was recently at a bout where the penalty box timer's stopwatch was malfunctioning.  That was a frustrating experience which could have easily been avoided by a pre-game check.  It sounds stupid, but it would have been a much better experience for everyone involved, because instead of trusting the stop watches at that point, I had my team count out loud if they went to the box.  Awkward.  Also, make sure your scoreboard is up and working! Computers crash at the worst times, don't they?

3.  Coaches, bring your rule books.  Sometimes you have to argue a call with a ref, and it's much better to be able to have the rule book in your hands in order to make your argument more cogent.  Our bench coach KG Bebe had a rule book with color coded tabs highlighting any problematic areas she thought could arise.  It was impressive.  It was intimidating, and the refs looked a little glassy -eyed when she promptly marched to the center of the track during a time out and whipped it out to make her point; also, the other team's coach looked very lost and a little less professional up against that onslaught.  It was great for me, I was the captain and just had to stand there looking serious while she did all of the talking.

Isn't KG Bebe fierce?  Photo by Jim Rhoades

4.  Bout production, are you ready for anything?  I personally have never seen vomit on a derby track, but I have had the experience of leaving quite a bit of blood on the track after breaking my nose during practice. Luckily, we were at our practice space which has bleach etc etc.  Now, do you have the same things at your bout venue?  If you need to review the guidelines for cleaning up bodily fluids, then you can find them here.  I have a feeling that a lot of derby bout production hasn't really thought about the fact that blood, and vomit can happen in derby, and we need to be ready to clean it up.  Don't rely on your people to clean up messes like that with Lysol wet wipes!

5.  Bout production, how well do you clean out your water coolers?  Be honest.  Do you clean them out after each bout, or do they end up being thrown into a storage unit without being wiped dry?  Putting them away wet allows mold and all sorts of nasty stuff to grow, which could make skaters really sick.  Do your own team and the visiting team a favor and make sure your coolers are clean and creepy crawly free!

Weird stuff happens all of the time in derby, but if you can anticipate and head off some of the craziness by being aware and prepared.  Of course, you can't think of everything, like the venue flooding, or a tornado touching down, but some things can be headed off at the pass!

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Oly Hub-bub

If you've been living under a rock, here is a funny, albeit biased encapsulation of the whole Atom Matrix kerfuffle.  Is kefuffle a real word?  Who knows?  Also, is this really the worst and most horrible thing that has ever happened to roller derby?  I know this might surprise some of you, but it's really not the "worst, most terrible thing ever."  I feel like the most awful thing that is plaguing roller derby right now is that "Not skating crap", but that's a different subject completely.  Let's all calm down and discuss it like adults.
But please, fill out this butthurt form if this situation offended you personally.  Do you feel better?

First of all, if your league was Oly, would you take these skaters in?  It's a great question and it speaks to the goals of your league.  What is the mission statement of your league?  Are you there to win at any cost?  Does the phrase "Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary" make allotments for mercenary or gypsy skaters?  Let's take Oly out of it completely, and come up with a hypothetical situation.  Your league has made it to regionals, and suddenly you find out that Suzy Hotrod will be relocating to your area a month before the event.  What would you do?   Would your team really say "It's so awesome that you're joining the team, but we're sticking with our original roster."  Would you?  Kudos if you would, but I would be tempted!  I know it's a different situation.  These skaters are not moving to their new league, but sort of commuting. I personally think it's kind of a kick in the face to the skaters who have been working all year with a team, but who knows what their league discussed before this whole incident happened.  Maybe they're taking one for the team; isn't that one of the tenets of teamwork?

Secondly, how would you feel if you were Arizona?  I'm not sure what was discussed with their league either, but would you be willing to accept these skaters back if they choose to return after regionals?  I'm not a very forgiving person, but I'm also realistic; maybe next year they would gel better with their new team.  I'm not sure anyone gave the mixing of Atomatrix, Hockey Honey and Joy Collision the time it needed to settle with the Arizona team.  Remember, transfer skaters are just like any other skater; there are no guarantees of how long they will stay with any league.  We've had people transfer into our league and stay forever, and we've had people transfer in and stay for three months.  It's just the way the world works right now.

PS...both of these teams should tell everyone to STFU because really, it's none of our damned business to begin with.

What would you do if you were Atomatrix?  Your livelihood depends on your skating reputation, and your skating reputation depends on national recognition.  Would you jump ship to further your derby reputation?  The more derby press coverage she gets, the better chance she has of selling her wheels and booking guest coaching gigs.  Douchey or not, it's reality.  There is no rule against what she and the rest of those skaters are doing in the WFTDA.  Should there be?  I don't think so.  Atomatrix posted a statement on her Facebook page last night; most of it pointed to personal reasons, but this sentence was interesting.  "Yes, I do feel in skating Oly is "home" and there are no rules against skating remotely. If this changes my plans would have to change. Maybe 1 day our sport will go pro and athletes at the highest level of the sport will have more options." Roller derby is in a weird place in its development; nobody is paid to play.  We have no official draft, and teams are based on geographical situations.  I know that skaters have moved to play with more competitive leagues, which may be the most extreme thing I've ever heard of, but once again, it's completely legal. Do I dream of the day where skaters will be paid to play?  Hell yes. Would I like for derby to have a draft system like the NHL?  Heck yeah!  But we don't right now, so we're in this strange place between being a professional and an amateur sport.

What do you want to do about it?  Are you really ready to demand that the WFTDA take a more stringent stance on roster selection?  I'm not excited by that idea at all.  More rules aren't always the answer. Just because a league does something you disagree with, doesn't mean it's time to call in the rule makers.

People are all riled up about this particular situation because there is a clash of philosophies going on here.  Is derby a sport or is it a community and a lifestyle?  I feel like this gap is getting larger and larger, with the top tiered teams becoming more and more like a professional sports league and the less competitive leagues are trying to figure out where they fit in to the new derby.  Situations like this are going to keep coming up; last year everyone had their panties in a moist, sweaty wad because Dutchland forfeited to Gotham.  "It's not fair!"  is all I read in the blogs and on Facebook.  Guess what, it was legal, and they thought it was tactical at the time.  This is the same kind of situation; it's legal and it's a tactical decision. You may not agree, but it's their choice.

Now please, somebody do SOMETHING about the crappy conga line that is ruining derby!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Is your league healthy or anemic?

How healthy is your league?  That's a misleading question because what I'm really asking is how healthy is the ecology of your league.  Imagine that your league is a living, breathing organism; now, is your league thriving and growing, or is it anemic?  Worst yet, is it a toxic organism that's devouring itself?  Here are some questions to ask yourself about the health of your league.  Having a problem with one of these areas probably doesn't mean your league isn't healthy, but if you notice you have at least three of these issue, your league might need some drastic medicine.

1. Do you have well trained NSOs that consistently volunteer for your bouts?  Yea!  NSOs are so important to roller derby, and yet they consistently move like pink ninjas in the background of our attention spans. Ah, but just wait until you can't find enough people to fill those spots, or worse yet enough well trained people to fill those spots!  Healthy leagues have NSOs that tend to volunteer on a consistent basis, whereas leagues that are anemic are constantly scrambling to find volunteers.  Pump up the health of your league by showing your volunteers some appreciation, and not just once a year!

Dr. Stats Boy is one of the best NSOs I've ever met, and I tell him that every time I see him.  Photo byJoshua R. Craig

2. Do your refs have great training and aren't over worked?  Remember, they're refs and not coaches.  They should show up as much as they can, but they shouldn't necessarily be expected to do the same amount of committee work as a skater. Also, are you making sure your refs are getting trained to be the best refs they can be?  If not, your league might be heading into a a period of general malaise.  Sloppy refs mean sloppy skaters, and that's going to hurt you in the long run.

3.  Do retired skaters feel welcomed by your league?  I know that some retired skaters have a love hate relationship with derby, but does your league open its proverbial arms to them if they want to contribute? I don't mean that they just show up on bout day; are they welcomed to come and guest coach a practice?  Would they feel comfortable moving into a ref or NSO postion?  Is their input important and relevant to your league, or do people move on and forget about them?  If you see your retired skaters only on game day, and only as fans, then your league is really missing out on a great resource.

4.  Do your fans feel special?  Wait Q, aren't our fans supposed to make us feel special? Your fans are excited to watch you, and that's partially why you need to make their experience worth it.  The economy is making people be even more frugal with their cash, and derby leagues have to remember that!  Also, your league needs to remember that little girls idolize us and taking the time to sign a program or a t-shirt or take a picture with a fan is going to go a long way to encourage fans to keep coming back.  Is your league giving your fan a quality experience?  If not, your league might end up on life support.

5.  Is it easy to renew your league sponsors?  Face it, it's a tough economy out there, and if you can keep your current sponsors instead of always hunting up new ones.  If your sponsors are happy, they're going to keep your relationship going.  If not, your league could end up with no sponsors and no extra cash coming in.  No cash means fewer bouts.

6.  Do you have quality vendors at your bouts?  Food and drinks and interesting items to look at help keep your audience and fans satisfied during the pre bouts or half time.  If you don't have quality vendors, you're not giving your audience a quality experience.  Let's face it, if fans can't get something to snack on or have something to drink, they're less likely to show up. 

 7.  Does your league keep skaters or do a lot of them just fade out?  I know it's normal for people to up and leave derby.  Most fresh meat don't stick around to play their first game, and the average derby life span of a skater tends to be 2.5 years, but if your are constantly losing skaters, you might need to reevaluate your training and inclusion of skaters.  Why are they leaving?  Are you willing to offer skaters who leave a survey of why they have decided to leave?  Yes, some skaters will not want to fill out a survey, and others might not feel comfortable expressing their real reasons, but it's a start to figuring out how to keep trained skaters in your league.  Most companies do not want trained workers to leave, because there is always a lag time when they have to train new personnel.  Treat your league the same way; try and keep those skaters who are trained!  Keeping trained skaters keeps your league a lean, mean, skating machine!  Starting at ground zero each season is draining your time, resources and energy.

8. Are skaters willingly coming to practice?  Is attendance anemic at your practices?  If people don't really want to show up to practice, it might be time to look at the atmosphere you have there.  People do derby because they love it; it's an extra activity that people squeeze into their lives, and if there isn't an element of fun in there, they aren't going to keep coming.  Remember, at this moment, derby is a sport in which people are paying to participate.  They are also your customers in a way, so if your customers aren't happy with your product, then it might be time to think about what you're presenting.  Small number of skaters=no league.  Does every practice have to be "fun and games?"  Of course not, but if people are bored, or feel intimidated, or are told not to laugh and have some fun, they aren't going to keep coming. They will put up with those things at a job because they are PAID to be there.

So how did your league score?  Do you have any problems with these symptoms?  If so, it might be time to talk about the health of your league with your league mates. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

To the X-Games....and beyond!

I kind of wanted to start this blog post with a picture of from Toy Story, but I was afraid that Disney would hunt me down and use my severed head as a warning for other bloggers, so I didn't.  Just picture it in your head though.

Here's something even scarier than Disney.  Art found here
 A lot of "derby in the Olympics" talk has been floating around lately, and I do believe that roller derby will be in there one of these days, but I don't think it will be for another eight years or so, which is slightly depressing.  Right now, we just don't have the level of international competition needed to fall under the Olympic standard.  Team USA is just too dominant at this point in derby's development, which is awesome for us, but doesn't make for a very interesting competition for newer fans to watch.  Will this change?  Of course it will.  Derby teams develop quickly, and I am fairly confident that the other nations will catch up and give Team USA a run for its money, but unfortunately, that isn't close enough to get us in the 2016 games.

Another option in front of derby is the X Games.  A lot of people have been throwing around the X Games as a better option for derby because we are considered an extreme sport, and the X Games caters to that exact market.  The X Games already has roller sports included in it, and a ready made audience of Generation X and Y as fans. The X Games are televised on ESPN and have a great market share, and are now adding international dates and competitions.  The order of the X Games competitions in 2013: Aspen, January 24-27; Tignes, March 20-22; Foz do IguaƧu, April 18-21; Barcelona, May 9-12; Munich, June 27-30; Los Angeles, August 1-4. Just think about how their market share of female viewers will improve with the addition of derby?  Just imagine how the coverage would help our sport gain new fans?

I'm sure there would be issues to consider.  What is the X Games' policy on transgendered players?  Would a team that played in the X Games be allowed to compete in regionals?  What rule set would be used?  Would banked track also be an option?  I don't have the answer to any of the questions, but maybe it's time for us to start talking about it seriously as a community.  If you're interested, Jean Gravy of the Richland County Regulators has started a petition; you can sign here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sore winners suck too.

Derby is just approaching its teenaged years when it comes to the timeline of established sports, and the teenaged years tend to be fairly awkward.  In our sport, there are games that have a point differential of hundreds of points at times, and I fully believe this is because there can be such a gap between an established league and one that is just getting off of the ground.  Since derby has no "mercy" rule, sometimes a team can crush another.  Recently, I've seen scores of 300 to 13, which is a rough game to be on the downside for, but it was a learning experience, I'm sure.

If you find yourself outclassed in a game, it can be extremely frustrating, but it can also be a time to give yourself over to the experience and learn from it.  I have been in this situation many times, and even though it sucks to be beaten so badly that the other team is jamming their fourth string jammers and they're STILL getting grand slams on your team, you can never learn as much as you can when you play against better players.  If Gotham sent out a request for a pick up team to play them right now, I would be there with my skates on, quaking in my boots, but I would be grinning from ear to ear!  Think about taking on your opponent and booty blocking them for a whole three seconds!  It's the small victories that keep us coming back and smiling!

Unfortunately, a few teams who are winning, even by large, ridiculous margins turn into ungrateful jerks on the track for some reason.  It never fails to amaze me when a team is winning by a hundred points or so and is losing their crap at the refs because minors aren't being called to their liking.  Maybe I'm one of the few people who notice this because I watch players' faces when they're sitting on the bench or playing on the track, but it makes me root even harder for the underdog, who is usually struggling to keep up with the pounding they're taking.

So, if you find yourself dominating another team, how do you not become a sore winner?  Take a moment to think about whether or not you're sounding like a douche canoe when you start complaining about the game.  Is the other team playing dirty or dangerously?  Then, yes, you totally have the right to complain to your captain so he or she can bring it up to the refs.  Is the other team making mistakes because they are completely outclassed by your team?  Well, STFU. If you're running your mouth on the track about trivial things then you aren't focused on your game.  Be gracious and play to the best of your abilities; think about how classy Team USA kept their behavior on the track.  When Team USA played the other countries last year, they were CLEARLY the dominant force, and yet you didn't see one of them erupt with frustration, even if the other team was back-blocking them the entire way around the track.  Finally, be modest in your self congratulations.  If you destroy a team, you know that they weren't on the same level as you, so don't crow about it too much.

As derby matures, maybe the disparity between teams will stop being so ridiculous, but for now, we are going to have epic mis-matches.  Sometimes it seems like we are constantly being tested as players to not only just play our game, but to keep our uglier natures under control.

We've all been on both ends of this picture...metaphysically speaking of course.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Derby Bingo

This is just for fun...things seen or experienced at a typical derby bout.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What I Learned from the Olympics

I'm not exactly the most avid sport's fan on the planet (other than derby) but even I have been casually watching the  Olympics.  It's been a spotty observership for me, but watching international competition has taught me some new things and reinforced other ideas for me.

My awesome and yet crappy version of the Olympic rings.  Boom!  (This is just one reason why I never throw out my old wheels)

1.  Controversy is in every sport.  Well, that's both comforting and sad.  Controversy is universal....yea?  From badminton teams throwing games (tsk), to people arguing about a runner with prosthetics being included in Olympic play (Serious TSK), to the teensy weensy uniforms of the Beach Volley Ball teams, sports can be loaded with ridiculous amounts of controversy.  I think it's interesting that sometimes the controversy outshines the sports; for instance, who cares if someone might have had an erection while receiving a medal?  Who is looking that closely at pictures?  And let's be honest people, getting a medal would be exciting!  I happen to know that many athletes have erect nipples when they are competing (both guys and girls), and yet nobody has been harping on that particular phonomena.  By the way, in my humble opinion, I never want to hear anyone complaining about booty shorts in derby again; after watching beach volleyball, I've decided that anything people wear in derby is positively MODEST in comparison.

PS...who cares about an athlete's hair?  Really?

2.  Age is just another number.  Check out the American Women's Soccer team!  Their captain is 37 years old and kicking major amounts of booty.  Don't tell me that international level competition is only for the young!  I think that derby has a lot of "older" skaters, and most of us are happy to hear that we aren't yet over the hill....yet.

3.  Don't count anyone out.  Remember at the beginning of the Olympics when people were pooh-poohing Michael Phelps?  He didn't do amazingly well straight out of the gate and people were ready to write him off completely.  My, aren't fans fickle?  Isn't it interesting that he came back with a vengeance?  How many times have you as a derby skater dismissed a player because he or she didn't wow you immediately? 

4.  Endurance wins games. The Olympians stretch and work on endurance constantly.  They work on their flexibility so they can avoid career ending injuries; this includes icing their joints after practice, stretching after strenuous activity, and not slacking off when it comes to endurance.  I personally have great endurance from speed practice and riding my bike, but I haven't been so awesome about consistently icing my joints after practice or working on my stretching.  Ah well, it's a new goal to strive for!

5.  It's all about the team.  None of those Olympians got there on their own. I watched them thank the officials, teammates, coaches and trainers.  You may be awesome...but you're only one small part of a team,  Without your teammates, you couldn't be playing derby.  Just remember it's not always all about you.

Those were just a few of the lessons I took away from being inundated with the Olympics.  Now, I know it's just a matter of timing of getting roller derby in there one of these days; I think the Olympics needs derby, because half of the team sports they have on there are variations on the same theme.  Soccer, hand ball, field hockey, water polo all seem to have the same basis; they just play it on a different surface.  I think derby will break them out of that rut!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Control your rage, grasshopper

I've been lucky to see some amazing derby lately; I was at ECDX this summer, I watched CRG take on Atlanta this weekend, and I've been lucky enough to watch some great footage online.  Most of the time when I watch derby, I'm trying to figure out the strategy of the team, the style of the skater, or all of the skills I absolutely lack on the track that I covet.  I vow that I'm going to practice my power slide, or my backwards blocking at the next practice, and I make that my attainable goal.

All of those things are perfect to do as follow up when you're at practice, but there might be one key issue some of us have ignored. The great players, the really great players keep their rage and frustration in check most, if not all the time.  Read that again.  They keep their RAGE and FRUSTRATION in check most of the time.  I truly believe that this is why they become the top tier players in the world; they don't let their emotions rule their actions on the track.

None of these players are super human; Suzy Hotrod, Bonnie Thunders, insert amazing skater here, have great skills and understanding of the game, but what keeps them beyond the reach of the rest of us is the fact that they know how to accept the frustrations of this game, and how they don't let their emotions interfere with their jobs.  Your job on the track is to play derby and be an asset to your team; your job does not include throwing a fit at the refs or your teammates!  I have seen each one of these players "make a mistake" and by that, I mean the jammer got past them at one point or another, but none of them let that mistake impact the level of their play.  You can see it in their faces that they're focused on the next pass the jammer will make, and what their next move is.

How many times have you made a "mistake" on the track and let it mess with your mind the rest of the jam?  How many times have you seen your teammates do the same thing?  Sometimes you can actually see the frustration on a player's face, and you know her game has momentarily gone completely out the window.  I love it when I see that look on the opposite team, but it crushes my security when I see one of my players giving in to her inner demons, especially if it's someone I admire.

But Q, that's an unfair standard to hold someone up to!  Everyone has a bad day!  I agree, but I have noticed that these exceptional players manage to keep it together on the track no matter what is going on.  They rarely have a bad day, and I never see them screaming at their fellow teammates.  They keep their game faces in place and manage to stay professional; they might be raging inside, but their demeanor on the track never slips.  Who knows...they might go home and punch holes in the wall after a game, but they keep it to themselves.

So how can we have better game faces?  It first comes down to the fact that you have to acknowledge your frustration and what causes it.  Most players aren't angry at others, they are angry at themselves.  Shocking.  Most derby players are hardest on themselves!  Unfortunately, a lot of derby players don't know how to express themselves well and end up projecting a lot of those negative feelings on the rest of their team, because they're afraid to mess up.   To quote Yoda, "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering."  Please don't let your fear make other people suffer! 

It takes honesty with yourself to understand why you're letting the game get to you, and you aren't going to fix yourself overnight.  It's going to be a long process, and it starts with you.  What are you afraid of?  Are you afraid of making mistakes?  Looking foolish?  Not pulling your weight on the team?  I guarantee that everyone who plays derby has had those fears, but if you continue to let your fears boss you around, you're NOT going to be a good team player.  Learn to forgive yourself when you make a mistake; nobody in derby is perfect.

It is ok to laugh when your teammate gets her shirt ripped by a mega whip, but only after the jam is over.  Picture by A Boy Named Tsunami

Monday, August 6, 2012

Herp-a-derby: the dumb things we all do

Oh derby, I really really love you, but sometimes you make fools out of us all.  I've often wondered if there is a correlation between putting wheels on your feet and a natural drop in IQ.  Maybe it's all of the questionable head injuries we receive while playing this sport, but every once in a while I worry about derby players!

1.  How many times have you skated out to start practice and you have forgotten a key bit of protective gear, like your wrist guards or elbow pads?  I myself have skated out after I've put on my gaskets and didn't realize I had neglected to put on my knee pads.  Derp!  Have you ever forgotten to put your mouth guard in because it was jammed in the vent hole of your helmet?  These things seem funny, but you can really get injured if you neglect to wear your gear.  Do you and your teammates a favor and check each other out before you start skating.   You usually can tell when someone doesn't "look right" when they come out on the floor.  Even funnier than this is when you forget to take derby gear off before you get into the car.  It's not as dangerous, but it's pretty derpy.

2.  Jammers going before the second whistle.  I blame slow derby for this, especially with the advent of scrum starts! As we've all become accustomed to scrum starts, we've also learned to anticipate the second whistle coming immediately after the "No pack" call.  Unfortunately, some jam timers are a little slower on their second whistle, and I've seen it trip up several jammers, and it's usually both of them at the same time!  Nothing is more amusing than watching two jammers try to yield to each other; it's like this really weird and formal ritual that happens on the track.  This weekend, I saw two jammers both go to the box because they both false started, and I also saw two jammers yield to each other.  Ah derby, you make us dance your derpy dance.

3.  Smelling your stinky pads.  DERP!  This is socially inappropriate behavior that has been trained out of most of us, but in derby, it's the norm to smell your pads before you put them on.  Even MORE derpy, you ask someone else to smell how bad your pads smell.  Derpa-herpa-derp! Stop doing this in public!

4.  Not checking your toe stops.  This is a dramatic derby derp.  I like to think of it as a derpy time bomb; eventually your toe stop will come loose, and usually it happens when you're jamming.  Yea toe stop carnage!  Now, have you ever tried to skate after you lose a toe stop?  Woof! 

5.  Leaving the track when you're called on a minor.  This is soon to be a a quaint derpy antique, but a lot of newbies tend to think that any ref call means they're going to the box. I've also seen seasoned players with a guilty conscience do the same thing: DERP!

6.  Jammers who call of the jam by daintily tapping their hips. a world of derby scrums, walls from hell, and booty blocks that never quit, waggling your fingers at your hips to call off the jam may seem cool to you, but the refs can't always see you calling the jam.  We teach our jammers to tap helmet and hips repeatedly, and I flap like the gangly flamingo I am to make sure the ref sees me.  You can tap your hips like a refined little school girl, but don't get all agitated at the ref if he doesn't see you right away.  DERP!  Conversely, jam refs, if your jammer is about to take flight calling off the jam, please acknowledge it!  I've seen jam refs just keep pointing and skating at their lead jammer while she's practically airborne! 

There ya' go.  Derpy.  Derpy sneaks into derby and sucks our good sense out of our brains.  Don't be a victim of derpy derpitude!
Beth Row wore her helmet on the plane...on purpose because she didn't have room to pack it, but it's still derpalicious.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Derby Pet Peeves: How to Run a Good Drill

One comment I got over and over when I asked about derby pet peeves was the fact that people didn't give a new drill enough of a chance in practice.  Sometimes people are just negative and not in the mood to cooperate, but sometimes, it's how the drill has been presented to the team.  If you are a coach, captain, skater coach, or someone who just runs practices from time to time (which could be anyone!), please read this and see if you are sabotaging your drill even before you present it to your team.

Introducing a new drill takes a lot of prep work; if you are one of those people who comes up with a brilliant thought in the car and hasn't really taken the time to think it through, maybe tonight's practice isn't the time to spring it on the team.  Talk to the teachers in your league, and they'll probably tell you that planning a lesson takes time and forethought.  Ask yourself some questions about your drill.

-What do you need for your drill?  Do you need cones, blocking pads, panties?  Will you need people in different colored shirts?  Do you need someone to time the drill?  Do you need a whistle?  Nothing sucks worse than starting a drill and then realizing you don't have a key piece of equipment!

-How many people can realistically do the drill at the same time?  If the drill only can occupy five people at a time on the track, and you have a league of 60 or so, you're going to have a lot of people standing around and therefor losing focus. You can't get pissed at people for talking and getting distracted if they're loitering around for a while.  If you're really savvy, you'll have an alternate drill going on (if you have the room). Another good way to keep people engaged is to have one group give feedback to the group that was just on the track.  This can help people stay focused when they are waiting to engage in the drill.

-Do you really understand the drill?  A lot of peeps are coming back from Rollercon with notebooks crammed full of drill ideas, which is totally awesome, but sometimes, drills get lost in translation.  Make sure you really understand how the drill was run, and why it was so successful! 

-How long do you think the drill should last?  Generally, on a good day, people invest about 15-20 minutes of focused attention to a drill, and then their attention span starts to wander.  Now, factor in standing around time, practices that come after a full day of work, and the emotional temperature of the league.  Sometimes you will be lucky to keep people focused for ten minutes, and sometimes you can get more out of them.  Look to refocus the team when you see the signs of restlessness. 

-Can you expand the drill by adding more of a challenge to it?  If the team catches on to the basics of the drill, can you up the ante and keep them interested in it by adding a challenge to it?  If you're working on a defensive drill, and they've mastered the basics, can you add an offensive player? 

-Do you have a follow up drill that reinforces the same idea?  You will be a master coach if you can theme your practices!  If you can help keep the team focused on the larger goal, such as "aggressive offense" by giving them different drills that reinforce the same idea, you will be doing your league a favor.  If you're just throwing several concepts at them, like footwork, endurance, offense, and walling up, are they going to retain the basic theme of the drill?  Probably not.

-What does the drill look like when it's done successfully?  Did you effectively demonstrate the drill?  If you can have people who understand the drill demonstrate it, that would be great.  That way you could talk it through while they demonstrate it.

-Do you know what you want to be the final objective?  Good question, do you know what behavior you want to see while they are practicing?  Do the team members understand what the goal is?  What kind of behavior do you want to see after the team has run the drill? Sometimes people change the drill's objective when you aren't paying attention; if the drill is to improve a jammer's footwork, and the blockers take over the drill, you need to remind the team that everyone will get a chance to be the "star" in the drill and everyone needs to play his or her part at the time.

-Is this drill teaching any bad habits? Sometimes a drill has unintended consequences.  Are you reinforcing the wrong thing?  An example of this could be letting people cut the track because the drill slows down too much when they stop to come in behind a blocker?  Make sure the good habits outweigh the bad ones.

-Were your directions clear?  We all think we're great at explaining things until we actually do it. Sometimes it helps to have the people you just explained the drill to explain it back to you, that way you can see if any miscommunication happened.  Also, hearing the directions twice can help some people absorb the information better.

Finally, remember that not every drill is going to run perfectly.  Take the time to keep track of which drills had the most success and why?  Ask for feedback AFTER the practice, when people have had time to reflect, and so have you.  Trying to do your best for the league is awesome and it's ok not to have a stellar practice each and every time.  You can only plan for so much, but planning is the beginning of designing great drills.

Now go and thank your coach for being awesome.

And always have a sense of humor. A sense of humor is the most important thing you can bring to practice! Photo by A Boy Named Tsunami

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Derby Pet Peeves: Part the First

So, I was tossing around the idea of writing a blog about derby pet peeves, which was mostly going to be about aspects of the game I didn't really appreciate, like slow derby.  I innocently posed the question on Facebook, and my inbox started blowing up!  Now, the funny thing about that is that my alert tone on my phone sounds like it something from Silent Hill, and I was in public most of the morning.  The bad part about this response is that there are a lot of frustrated derby folk out there, and a lot of them are more than a little angry about some things in derby.  Hopefully, by airing out some of these gripes, we can make the sport a little less frustrating!

And in no particular order.....

1.  "I don't jam."  I'm sure this irritates coaches and players and captains in every league; you hand the jammer panty to someone and they say those three, little, annoying words.  When a coach or captain hears them, they almost have a rage stroke and want to punish the person who said it somehow.  I know it's tempting to to bench them, or force the panty on them anyway, but take a deep breath and consider what these words actually mean.   For most people, these words mean "I'm scared to jam" or "I suck at jamming and don't want to let my team down."  I would probably compare the fear of jamming for some players to the fear of public speaking for most people; most people rank the fear of public speaking higher than the fear of death.  What?  Yes.  Most people would rather face the prospect of death than be EMBARRASSED by screwing up a public speaking situation.  Jamming is the same fear for a lot of players; they don't want to screw up, and the don't want to be embarrassed by being shut down for an entire jam, or worse yet, go to the box for something stupid.  Of course, there are those freaks of nature who love to jam, and I thank the derby goddesses for creating those people, but for most it's a little stressful.

So how do we fix it?  Well, it might come down to how your league views practice; what are your expectations at practice?  Do you foster an environment that allows players to try and fail, or do you have an environment where people are snide, snap judgements are made, and feedback is mostly negative?  If there is a lot of snarkiness and eye rolling at your practices, I wouldn't want to jam either.  In fact, I wouldn't want to step out of my comfort zone at all.  Think about if your league allows players to fail, to screw up, and to learn; if it doesn't, then don't be surprised by people refusing to jam.  If you feel like your league fosters learning, and you still have people saying "I don't jam", then maybe make it a policy that every practice everyone will jam.  Constant exposure might make the fear more tolerable, and the next time you hand them the panty, you might just get a groan instead of downright refusal.  Hey, it's start, right?

2.  Yelling at the refs.  Hoo boy, who hasn't done this?  I know I have, and it's one of the things I've been working on for a while now; I think that reffing derby is one of the hardest things I've ever done on the track.  It's confusing, and fast, and you have to worry about fifty things at once!  I know this in my rational brain, but sometimes that derby brain kicks in, especially after I really disagree with a call, and I say something.  Of course, I usually immediately regret it, but sometimes it's out before I can stop it.  It comes out of frustration, which is a constant thread in this blog entry.  People are feeling the pressure of their penalties, and a lot of skaters are trying to correct their actions on the track; if they've really been concentrating on not repeating their offending behavior, and they get called for it, they are going to feel frustrated, because they feel like coaches and captains are noticing when they screw up.

So how do we fix it?  Well, first of all, we the players need to STFU while we're on the track.  That's step one, and it is the hardest.  Just shut it and go to the box, even if you really feel like you didn't commit a penalty.  Talk to your coach or captain about the call when you return to the bench.  Let them bring it up to the refs if they see a pattern.  Keep a notebook by your water bottle, and vent in there; just shush!  Also, if you really have a question about why you were given a penalty, you can ask the refs after practice or the game.  They may not remember the situation exactly, but if you approach them in a calm manner, they most likely will be willing to discuss it with you.

3.  People wearing Tutus and glitter.  GUILTY!  I have a derby tutu, and I love it.  I also wear pink furry leggings and sometimes shiny silver pants.  Of course, I wear these items during certain games, like invitationals or home teams vs home teams; I tend to "dress more sport-like" when I'm playing in more competitive games, out of respect for my teammates.  Some people don't like it when you "dress silly" and I can respect that, but it doesn't make me any less of an athlete.  Are you going to give Demanda Riot crap about her warpaint?  I'm not, but I'll sit back and watch you do it.

If your league really has an issue with players "being frivolous" in what they wear, adopt a total uniform.  Teams are starting to "normalize" normalize their uniforms, especially during competitive play; it's better to blend in as much as possible, including helmet colors, jerseys and bottoms.  Our captains always tell us what uniform we are wearing, including leggings/bottoms.  The one thing I do ask is that you don't hate on someone for wearing something silly once in a while; the fans love to see a little flair out on the track, especially the little girls who look up to us like we're super heroes.
I've also rocked the stars and stripes while reffing.  Photo care of TCP Carolinas

4.  Drama.  Booooo.  I hate drama, as does every person who answered my Facebook question, yet it persists in almost every league I've interacted with.  Hmm.   Here's the problem with drama; being a human is dramatic.  We love to gossip and clique together, and what's more exciting than gossiping about other dramatic humans?  We spend a lot of time together, putting a lot of effort into something we all love, derby.  Drama is going to happen.

So, how do we fix it?  First of all, the fix has to start with you.  The only person that you can control is YOU; are you gossiping?  Stop it.  Are you listening to gossip or repeating it?  STOP IT.  Listening to gossip is just as bad as spreading it.  When you're at practice, are you focused on derby, or are you socializing?  Socialize after practice; at derby, it should be mostly business...sweaty sweaty business!  Maybe people will notice and follow your lead.

Whew.  Those were just four of the pet peeves that got listed as answers to my question on Facebook.  I'll post another blog about pet peeves later because they're STILL COMING IN!!!!!  Remember, we all do feel passionately about this sport, so don't let the pet peeves overpower the fun you have!  If these pet peeves irritated you....quick!  Everyone look at this cute baby goat video!  Everyone happy now?  Good.  Go and skate!