Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Fresh Meat Problem.

Ah, every league struggles with how to treat their fresh and meaties.  In the old days,  a lot of fresh meat was was brutally beaten into shape and then tossed to the wolves in full on scrimmage.  Thank goodness derby has changed and evolved, but I often wonder if the swing has gone the other way just a little too much.  It's a really difficult line to walk; you don't want to beat the crap out of your fresh meat and destroy their egos, but you don't want to coddle them, build them up to where they whine about every little hit, and then put them in a game where they aren't ready to for combat.  Combat is definitely how I tend to think about derby games; you are going to be hit, targeted, have serious strategy used against you and the possibility of receiving an injury.  How do we train people to be prepared for combat without being too harsh or too easy?

At her first invitational!
Many leagues deal with their newer skaters in different ways.  Some leagues have separate practice times for fresh meat, and some leagues don't have the space or practice time to be able to do that, so they kind of get pushed into the corner while the "big girls" play.  If your league has the space and time to have separate practices for your fresh meat, this is the best thing you can do to keep your league going!  Train your fresh meat, because they are the future of the league!  I truly believe that fresh meat training needs to be done by those who understand the game the best, and therefor shouldn't be just thrown at any skater who happens to be injured at the time.  It takes a special kind of person to be a good trainer.  Please read the following excerpt from an email a trainer of fresh meat shared with me.

"I've trained fresh meat for about a year and a half now... there are two things I've learned about training them. First, don't accept anyone's bullshit or insecurities. THEY are the ones that had enough brass to get some skates and try for it, and that's the hardest part. The reality of derby isn't for everyone (it's not just looking cool in a slutty costume, it cracks me up when this dawns on someone after their first "real" practice). If they make it back for at least three practices then I want them to fight for whatever it is that got them there. Eventually every single person I've worked with has gone through a hard time, asking themselves if it's worth it, if they can hack it, etc. For my part, as a trainer/coach it's my job to let them each know I have faith in their abilities. Some people aren't ever going to be an all star, might never even get rostered, but if they can handle that kind of reality and still want to try because it's something they enjoy then shut up and do it. Yes you can get up, yes you can lift your foot off the ground for more than a millisecond, yes you can do a crossover with some level of success... all that crap feeds into a person's level of self confidence, and if someone believes in themselves enough and has at least one person in the background that they trust saying they are capable of something then they're already a better skater. Every once in a while I'll shut down my "watch derby/think derby" channel and instead just compare a skaters' athletic abilities with her self confidence... It's really surprising how many mediocre skaters there are that succeed because they have spines made of diamonds. Then there are those that come off as terrible skaters but actually have some great skills, just no brass.

Second thing, kinda tied to that, is stay positive. As a trainer. I'm human, there are days I'm hard on myself and don't think I can do anything personally, but if I walk in the door and try to tell my baby birds they can fly it's going to get ugly. Some people do take longer to get to some levels and it's frustrating, even to me. A while back I had a friend that was dying from lung and brain cancer. It was awful to get my daily message from her sister about it, then somehow put on my happy face and go tell people that they needed to lift their right foot higher... I mean seriously, she's literally drowning to death in cancer cells plus she can't recognize her own family anymore, and you are telling me you CAN'T LIFT YOUR F-ING FOOT?!?!?! Um, yeah, it was hard to not scream that at a couple people. What's funny is there aren't a lot of people that knew about it, I didn't talk about it and tried really hard to keep that away from derby. I tested my patience, but worse it made it hard to still be positive and encouraging. I had to remind myself that cancer sucks, dying sucks, my friends dying sucks, that's my life right now. The skater in front of me has a little voice in her head telling her she's not good enough to do this one tiny thing that seems big and scary. I can dwell on the suck or I can be the only voice she hears aside from her own. I can be part of the reason she finds a pinch of good in some piece of life.

I like to think I'm a good coach for fresh meat because I focus on encouragement and seeing what someone can do. I know where just about every skater I've trained is right now in their derby career, I follow what they accomplish, and I get all lame and teared up sometimes when I go to an event and see them do something that I know for a fact I taught them. Once my baby birds leave the nest I can't really teach much more, but I love to watch them fly."

 Even a dedicated fresh meat coach is still at odds with her philosophy.  Is there an answer that makes the fresh meat feel accepted and loved without coddling them?  It's so hard because we all are so new at derby.  We don't have the traditions and tried and proven coaching plans for ANYONE.  As derby progresses, hopefully someone will crack the code on the best way to train everyone!  Until then, we all just have to keep on trying the best that we can.


  1. Love this. I think if you can find one thing each girl does well during a practice, and praise her on it, that goes a long, long way. I can take a lot of criticism if I get just a little bit of praise.

  2. Inspired. Freshmeat for 60 days & counting. Thank you for making this such an awesome sport.

  3. When I was fresh meat, words of encouragement were SO helpful! I had OK skating ability when I joined but I was afraid to do crossovers or transition. At the end of every practice (we were all fresh meat just a year ago, with the exception of our President) our President would tell us how awesome we had done and it always surprised me ("what? I did something right? awesome!"). It helped encourage me to keep going. We weren't coddled, but it was all about positive reinforcement, and that's what made me want to keep coming back. Now that I'm helping to train fresh meat I try to do the same thing. In my experience, throwing a new girl to the wolves is just dangerous for everyone. As trainers we need to be patient and supportive, just like a momma bird. Honestly, I'm still new at this training thing, but I can already see how that positive feedback we give as trainers has translated to more freshies coming back and trying harder.

  4. I don't train because I am rubbish about explaining, but I always tell people who are frustrated that they have two choices: quit or get it. If you keep trying, it WILL happen, you may be frustrated as heck but it will come. We are lucky enough to have an unaffiliated program that is non-contact and founded by a retired skater - I always tell people who are stuck and can't pass their contact skills to try it because it provides fun activities that push you and you don't have to sit anything out - I think that integrating that into regular practices is challenging but very worthwhile.

    I think a big struggle is recognizing people's limitations without stereotyping them, because the unsparkly fact is that the same amount of work will get two people to two entirely different places. I've been in sports for 15+ years so I am pretty cold-blooded and objective about where I am lacking and where I am strong, but I'm not sure that is that common. And even so I have dealt with a lot of frustration and hurt feelings.