Friday, November 30, 2012

Accepting and grooming new skaters

It's the end of one season and the beginning of the 2013 season; most leagues are starting to recruit and train new skaters to keep their leagues going.  Of course many leagues have stringent skating requirements, but have you ever stopped to think it might be a good idea to approach skater recruitment and retention in a more holistic approach?  I mean, who wants to train twenty people and have half of them drop out because derby wasn't a good fit, or they were overwhelmed, or they had health issues?  As a league, you have limited practice time, and you should definitely try to maximize yours on skaters who are ready, willing and able to commit to derby.

1.  Do an interview.  When I proposed this question on Facebook, I got a lot of responses from many leagues who do interview potential skaters.  Charm City and Gotham were just a few of the leagues that answered, saying they interview potential skaters.  Most people agreed that it's a great way to weed out the potential drama queens, the crazy, or the skaters that didn't seem to be fully committed.  It's important to sit down in a more intimate setting and talk to the potential skater; it's also important for the skater to talk to you and ask questions.  Did any of us really understand just how much of an effort it takes to maintain a league?  When I joined the league, (waaaaaaaay back in 2009...ha), I wasn't exactly sure what I was getting myself into.  I didn't really talk to anyone; I just skated and was invited to join the league, so I had a pretty interesting time trying to figure out just exactly what I had signed up for!

2.  Ask your fresh meat to get a physical.  Hoo boy, I can just hear the outcry of "I'm a grown-ass woman!  I do what I want!  DIY!  It's none of your business if I'm healthy."  Just settle down there and listen to my reasoning.  Roller derby is a sport, and if you're involved you know that you have to work your butt off to play on any kind of competitive level.  Many skaters come into derby without much sports or athletic experience; they haven't ever strenuously trained athletically, and because of that, they may be blissfully unaware of any potential health conditions lurking.  Let's face it, schools make it mandatory for all of their athletes to get a physical before participating in their sports program; maybe derby should do the same.  Here's a blog that points out a similar thought.  Also, it's HARD playing derby; if your skaters are using derby to get into shape, they have the wrong idea from the get go.  You have to get in shape for derby.....period.

3.  Give them big sisters.  Yeah yeah, I know.  It's not a sorority.  I agree completely, but fresh meat need help navigating the tricky path of derby leagues.  It's a long, hard road, being fresh meat; if you can give them someone who cares if they show up for practice, you have a better chance of retaining them.  If you're like me, and the name "Big Sister" makes you instantly break out into Greek hives, then call them something else; you're all clever, think up something.  Veteran skaters paired up with fresh meat can help them by motivating them to come to practice, talk to them about the odd customs your league has (and you know you do) and the ins and outs of gear.  All of these things help make fresh meat feel like they belong to the league, and we all know how lonely and isolated it can be when you're learning how to do a hockey stop or fall small.  My big sister was Daisy Rage, and I can tell you, she scared the hell out of me because she was such a great skater.  We most certainly didn't braid each others hair or have sleep overs, but she helped me with my mohawks and a pretty major injury I had to deal with in the first few months of scrimmaging. 
See?  Isn't she a badass?  Photo by A Boy Named Tsunami

As derby becomes more and more competitive and athletic, leagues are looking to the long-term future; that means recruiting the right skaters and keeping them in the league.  The above suggestions might give you a chance to be more successful in your league's recruitment and retention of skaters!  Bring it on, 2013!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A checklist for the end of the season

So, I know a lot of teams don't really take a break from derby, but I'm going to pretend that everyone is going to step away from derby for a little while.  During your off time, you should be organizing your physical, mental and spiritual stock piles to be ready for the next season.

1.  Get a new mouth guard.  Please, for the love of your teeth, gums and health, GET A NEW MOUTH GUARD.  You know how the fire department advocates changing your smoke detector batteries twice a year?  Do the same with your mouth guard!  It's really not ok to have one for more than six months, which is why I'm a fan of the Sisu mouth guards.  The longer you keep your mouth guard, the more bacteria it harbors....get rid of it!  Start the new season out fresh!

2.  Wash and dry your gear.  That's right, please take it out of the car or the bag you've kept it in all year.  After you wash you gear and it's dry, take the time to inspect it.  Maybe some of your gear is in good shape, but I'll bet your wrist guards might need to be replaced, since they seem to fall apart at the drop of a hat.

3.  Check your skates.  Are your bushings worn out?  How about your pivot cups, do you see any cracks?  If so, the off season is a great time to replace these things.  Learning how to maintain your skates is the best thing you can do to be a self-sufficient skater!  (Check those toe stops too.)

4.  Have a bearing cleaning party.  I know, I know, cleaning bearings is boring, tedious and something a lot of skaters avoid.  Maybe you could get together with your team and support each other and maybe teach each other the best ways to do it.  Hey, in these bad economic times, maybe a bearing cleaning party would be better than a gift exchange.

5.  Think about getting a new helmet.  How many hits have you taken on that helmet?  Really?  Are you sure?  Derby girls have a great ability to forget pretty serious falls and hits to the head.  I've heard of some people putting a hash mark on the inside of their helmet for each serious fall they've taken so they know when to get a new helmet.   A yearly swap-out of helmets might not be a terrible idea, especially with so many derby girls getting concussions from our sport.  But Q, that's so expensive!  Yeah, but my brain is priceless, I would hope your brain would be priceless too.  Also, think about having a game helmet and a practice helmet, especially if your league has a special color or type of helmet they use in games.

My new mantra.

6.  Contemplate all of the things you've accomplished this year.  I'm pretty sure that most skaters don't take the time to do this for themselves.  Have you improved your endurance?  Have you worked hard on lessening your penalties?  Acknowledge the good things you did this year! 

7.  Start thinking about what you want to accomplish next year.  Without a plan for your training, all is luck and coincidence.  Write down some goals and make them happen...captain!

Just to wrap it up, use your off season time to get yourself organized and relaxed, but don't just sit on the couch!  It's not your league's job to get you into shape for each season, that's YOUR job.  That means your gear, your mind and your body need to be ready for derby when it starts up again. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

New rules. "I'm not touching you"

I know this is going to be hard to believe, but I do not like causing arguments among derby folk; I know that's a shocking thing to admit because I do have strong opinions about everything derby related...sorry....not really.  If you don't have strong opinions about something that costs this much, or takes this much of a toll on your body, then why do it?  So, if you are offended about what I'm going writing about today, I'm sorry.  I don't mean it as a personal attack, but I do really want some of you to stop and think about what I have to say.

Just in case you feel like you'll need this at the end of this blog.

Last week, the new rule set was released by the WFTDA: huzzah!  This is a momentous occasion because for some players, these are the only rules they have ever known.  The WFTDA took a long time to release this set, in hopes that the rules would be well thought out and not chock full of loop holes that slow the game down even more.  I know I was looking forward to seeing how no minors would impact the game, but instead of thinking about what kind of impact the new rules would have for skaters, all I heard about was how skaters and coaches are joining in and trying to anticipate loopholes so they can be the first people to take advantage of the newly found loopholes.

Wait, what?

Why aren't you working on learning the new rules, and for some, the old rules, so you can skate cleanly and effectively?  I guess that's too boring now; all of the cool kids seem to be trying to be on-track lawyers instead of amazing players.  Compare the idea of people focusing on the potential loopholes in the ruleset to the kid that isn't allowed to touch you by parental decree, but who stands there with his hand in front of your face saying "I'm not touching you!" Yes, legally the one kid isn't touching the other one, but we all know he's ignoring the spirit of the law to honor the letter.


Personally, I feel like coaches should be focused on how to tweak their training programs to deal with things like one whistle starts, cutting an opponent being a major, and whether or not your team is going to get thrown into the penalty box for the hyper vigilant multi-player blocking calls that are going to happen now. Those things are the BIGGER picture!  Whether or not you can be the first to game the rules really shouldn't be your primary objective, at least in my opinion.  Should your team ignore the fact that there are ways to "game the system?"  No.  Let's face it, I'm sure there are hoards of people meeting feverishly to find the new "passive offense" in the rule set.  Good for them, but wouldn't it be even more amazing for your team if you put all of that kind of effort into planning your training regime instead of focusing on the one tiny, stupid aspect of it all?  I know many people say, "Other sports do it all of the time."

I don't care about other sports; I care about derby.  I have no control about how football strategy happens, or the newest d-baggery in soccer, but I would like for derby to have fewer "masterminds" and more talented skaters please.  I'm not going to actually shun you for getting together and putting all of your time and energy into figuring out what the newest "passive offense" crap might be, but for most leagues, putting that time and energy into training better skaters might be a better investment.  In the end, which would rather be remembered for, your amazing skating or how you figured out how to do the new "back block flop?" Just my two cents.

Now. if you need to, go and fill out that butt-hurt form I posted up top and let's move on to a less controversial topic, like sparkly helmets!

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Dangers of Derby Facebooking

Oh boy, Facebook!  Facebook is the best way to connect to a lot of people.  My own "friends" list is really stocked with mostly derby folk, and I love being able to talk to derby peeps from all over the world!  Unfortunately, Facebook can be a double edged sword and what you post on there can be read by your friends, your friends' friends and their nauseum. Sometimes we aren't making the right judgements when it comes to what we post. I think people forget just how close knit the derby community really is, so in the best interest of stopping TEAM BUTTHURT from forming, please try to avoid the footfalls of posting offensive crap on Facebook.

1.  Don't be a passive aggressive poster.  We've all posted vague posts on Facebook.  It's sort of like taunting a bull from behind the protective wall, but trust me, there is always someone on your team or league, or the team you just played that is going to take your passive aggressive post personally.  Even if you WANT certain people to take your vague posts to heart, I guarantee that at least three other people you didn't intend to will as well.  If you have a problem with someone, and you aren't brave enough to confront them directly, then just don't post it. 

2.  Don't make fun of another team you are going to play or have played.  It's just better to focus on your own team's accomplishments.  Don't even bother with enumerating their defects or how you stomped them, or whatever it is you want to write about how much you hated playing them.  Remember, even though the personnel of the team may switch out, but reputations rarely do. Leagues have long and bitter memories of how they are treated, so be careful of what you post about them. 

3.  Don't post injury pictures.  Now hold on Q, I've seen you post them.  True, but most of my family is not on my Elektra Q-tion page, and it can be rather shocking for "civilians" to witness some of the spectacular bruises and other various injuries we accumulate on a regular basis.  My mother still doesn't know how badly some of my bruises and injuries have been.  Neither of my parents have no clue that I've broken my nose, cracked my sternum and badly sprained my ankle, and I would like to keep it that way.  I'm also pretty careful about how I post on other people's pages if they have a derby injury.  I never know who might be monitoring a teammate's page, so asking things like "How are you feeling, lady?" is better than saying "Oh my God!  That was the craziest derby injury I've ever seen!" 

4.  Don't post stuff about the WFTDA that hasn't been released to the public.  Hey, if you're not on a WFTDA league, then you really don't have to worry about this one, but those of us who are should remember, WE HAVE SIGNED A CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENT.  Don't be stupid and post something about the rules changes that hasn't been announced!

5.  Don't post inappropriate pictures of teammates while they're wearing the uniform.  Ok.  This one is tricky, but if you have those special pics of your teammates at an afterparty doing something that would be slightly or more than slightly embarrassing to the league, then DON'T POST IT!  Now, you  can't stop people from posting their own embarrassing pictures, but you don't have to add to the situation!
Ok, this isn't's just funny.

6.  Don't post crappy things about your teammates.  Just don't.  If you don't like what someone is doing, then please have a grown up conversation with them.  Don't air your league's dirty laundry out on Facebook.  Remember, your heartfelt drama becomes someone else's soap opera entertainment when you post about it on Facebook.

7. Don't post nasty things about volunteers.  Yes, refs are volunteers.  Stop being a douche and posting about how they piss you off.  They aren't there to make you look awesome; they're there to keep you safe.

I could keep writing more "don'ts" in this  blog, but I'm hoping that you can see the many pitfalls of bad Facebook etiquette.  We're all human, and everyone is going to make a misstep every once in awhile.  Just try to keep the mistakes to a minimum!

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Care and Feeding of Photographers: A Boy Named Tsunami

I asked A Boy Named Tsunami to share some of his knowledge about how a league can keep its photographers happy!  You know I'm a fan of keeping your volunteers happy, and yes, photographers are definitely volunteers who cross the line into being a sponsor.  I often get sick and tired of hearing "Well, they are just following their hobby, why should we care?"  Art takes a lot of work folks, and if you don't reward people who work hard at it, you won't have any documentation of your bouts.  Pay attention and please read the following from a photographer.

Care and Feeding of your Roller Derby Photographer:
A Boy Named Tsunami

So your team is the proud owner of a new roller derby photographer. Congratulations! Your team photographer (or videographer) makes the team look good. It’s his* images that your town sees when it thinks of your team in action. He works both during the bout, and then spends time processing those photos during the week – probably as much time as you spend at practice. His contributions help your team succeed.

But why do you have to take special care of your photographer? Isn’t he just another one of the volunteers? Well, yes and no. The photographer straddles the line between being a volunteer and a sponsor. He volunteers his time, AND he gives you something that has tangible (and legal) value – his photos. He’s both volunteer and sponsor at once; that’s why he takes special care.

On the volunteer side:

It’s all about the relationship. As in any relationship, communication is key. Knowing what each side’s expectations and needs are. Photographers need appreciation, just like the refs, NSOs and all the other volunteers who help out on bout day.

Is your photographer on or in touch with your bout planning committee? Photographers need to be involved in decisions that affect them. Are you sectioning off areas near the track for special fans? Make sure they aren’t where the best shooting positions are. Is your new venue going to make it impossible for him to set up his flashes? If you make it harder for him to shoot, you’re not going to look as good in the photos. It’s time to talk.

Does your photographer shoot from center track, or in other high risk zones? It may be time for him to be insured like the skaters and the refs in those areas. Make sure that he and your head referee are communicating about when and where shooting from the center can happen.

Does your photographer get comped into bouts? Get compensated for travel to away bouts? While things like this aren’t always necessary, it should be something that the team considers along with all the other volunteers.

On the sponsor side:

In every sponsor/team relationship, there is an agreed-upon exchange. For instance, a local restaurant may give the team money, in exchange for ad space. A photographer gives you photos. You not only get the enjoyment of seeing them, but the team may also use them for advertising or other promotion of the organization. What compensation does your photographer get? Is it a beer and thanks at the afterparty? Is it ad space to promote his business? Is it cash? I’ve seen examples of all of these. Any of them could be appropriate – as long as both the photographer and the team are in agreement.

Another thing to consider is the use of photos (especially in the age of instant on-line sharing). Do you have a media agreement between your photographer and team concerning the use of images? If not, here’s what the law defaults to: the photographer, or any other GWAC (Guy With A Camera) at the bout, owns the copyright to the photos that he takes. He can: publicly display them, sell prints, and use the photos for any news or other editorial usage online or in print. He cannot use the photos for any business (advertising) purpose without the written consent of the skaters in the photos.  Skaters and the team can only use or distribute the photos with the photographer’s explicit permission. If those rules work for you, great! If not, you and your team photographer need to sit down and talk, and come to a mutual agreement.

Photographers aren’t that hard to care for. Generally, they love the sport of roller derby as much as everyone else in the organization, and they’re willing to do a lot to help your team succeed. In the end, it comes down to communication and coming to a common understanding of each side’s roles. If you pay attention to this, your roller derby photographer should provide you with a lifetime of enjoyment!

*For this post, I’m going to refer to the photographer as male, like me, even though there are a lot of great female derby photographers!

Check out Tsunami's work!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Enigma from KC: Skater profile

Photo by Lesley Etherson
Champs was a crazy crazy experience for me; not only was I at "The Big Show" for the first time, I was also trying to track down interviews and talk to people I didn't even know remotely.  Gulp.  I'm not someone who is that outgoing, but I had a job to do, and people were counting on me.  At times, interviewing these rock stars of derby got to be a little overwhelming, but some interviews were so easy going, I appreciated them even more.

Enigma (#10) of the KC Roller Warriors Allstars was kind enough to sit down with me after one of my friends pointed her out in the crowd.  It really is unnerving how different people looked after they took off all of their gear, but her bright, orange hair was a dead give away. 

How long have you been playing derby?  
-I've been playing derby for three years, sort of.  In my first year, I suffered from a spiral fracture, and now I'm bionic.  Now when I skate, I have a plate and it is a paralyzing experience when I get kicked there.  It aches when it rain or when the temperature changes, but I can still skate!  This was my first year on the Allstars, and then I got to go to Champs!

How did you guys prepare for Champs?
-We went in pretty confident.  You can underrate us, but that's ok.  We were here!  We focused on staying together and recycling while stopping the recycling of the other team. 

Because there is a lot more media coverage of derby, how does your team deal with the occasional negative review?
-We usually laugh about the reviews, but the one thing that does bother me is that people constantly compare our team to past teams of our league.  This is our team now.  We've had a lot of people retire, and they're all happy.   We have more people retiring after this season; a lot of them want to have babies, so we will be a different team next season.  We have to focus on our present team.

What do you think about the present day game?
-I think the system is flawed.  There are so many loopholes that make the game not as much fun.  Lots of clockwise blocking due to direction of game play now and a ton multi-player blocking goes on without being caught by the refs.  We were one of the first teams to experiment with passive offense; we used it during the first Minnesota game we played this season, and we caught a lot of hell for doing it.  Now it's part of the normal strategy of derby. 

 How do you handle the stress of being on the travel team and "real" life?
- I'm really lucky, I have a lot of support from my family, even through the injury.  They know that even if everything can go wrong during the day, putting on skates makes it all better.

 Do you have a role model in derby you try to emulate? 
-That's a tough one; we have so many amazing skaters on our team.  Kelly Young would probably be my role model, not just because she's a fantastic skater, but she's a quality human being.  Even as we were going in to play our game at Champs, she was texting all of us to tell us good luck.

Enigma was a refreshing interview because she had a great attitude about derby and is proof that you can come back from a majorly traumatic injury and wind up on the travel roster, representing your team at Champs! I know a lot of people go through ups and downs during our derby careers, but seeing someone overcome a major injury like that should give a lot of people hope!

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Prosecutor: The NSO with FLAIR!

Photo by Lesley Etherson
Well everyone, if you were at Champs this year, you were told that it is officially NSO-vember, and in order to celebrate the unsung heroes of derby, I decided to interview and write about The Prosecutor.  If you don't know who I'm talking about, you clearly weren't watching Champs this year; The Prosecutor was starting the jams with such authority that often she was the secondary star of the show.  A true pet peeve of mine is when NSOs don't have the confidence to start jams with authority; I have been involved in several games where the jam timer just didn't seem to have the chutzpah to start the jam with a strong whistle and gesture, which makes it hard to know what's going on sometimes.

Not so with The Prosecutor.  This lady knows how to start a jam and let's the WORLD know she is starting the jam and when the jammers are cleared to go!  Not only are her whistle blasts strong, but her gestures are easily read by the crowd, the other officials and of course the skaters.  So, where did this mystery lady come from, and how did she get so amazing at jam timing?  Of course I had to sit down with her and find out what made her tick.

When I finally reeled in The Prosecutor, she had just finished NSOing her second day of Champs, so I was super excited that she wasn't too exhausted to sit down and talk to me.   She is a very soft spoken person, and smiled during the entire interview, which made the interview even more fun.

 How long have you been involved with derby, and do you skate? 
 -I've been skating since 2005, and I'm a founding member of the Houston league.  I got involved with NSOing at the second Dust Devil, because they needed officials.  I read the description of the job and thought "I could do that."-

How did you develop your unique style?
-When I was NSOing, we were in an area where you couldn't hear the whistles on the track, so I added the gestures so the team would know when the jam actually started and the jammers would definitely know when they could go.  I feel like it reassures the jammers when I point at them.  Some of the best practices for NSOs are based on some of the moves I came up with, like the time out call and pointing to the team's bench.  Also, in Champs 2010, the jam timers started taking the pivot line during time outs so skaters wouldn't get confused and think the jam had started.  It was a little intimidating at first to stand facing those skaters, but at this level, most skaters won't run you over.-

Do you NSO in other postions?
-I have, but not at the level I am at jam timing.  I really like jam timing and it is my niche.  I also help organize the NSOs for Houston.-

What do you think about the scrum starts, since you're the jam timer.  Are they confusing?
-Aw, I really liked the pivot line starts, but I celebrate that the sport is not stagnant.  I can't wait to see what changes next.-

Thus ends the interview.
Photo by Lesley Etherson
 Look folks, we all need to have more NSOs like The Prosecutor out there.  She's incredibly dedicated, and strives to make her craft even better.  I know I am a big proponent of training refs, but so many games can be won or lost by improperly trained NSOs.  Time is the third opponent on that track, and if you have NSOs that don't understand the subtleties of their positions, then you won't have a successful bout.  Celebrate NSO-vember by letting your volunteers know how important they are to your league, and how important it is for them to be trained.  Are you training your volunteers?  Do you have a Prosecutor, or a Paris Kills or a Dr. Stats Boy in your league, keeping the jam running on time?  Well, why not?  Take the time to let the NSOs know they have your league's love and admiration!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Top Ten Things I Learned at Champs

10.  There is always going to be somebody in the audience wearing a cape.  At Champs this year, I saw at least two people wearing capes.  What is it about capes people?  I also saw a sock monkey and some girl sporting Loki horns.  You people go all out!

9.  Setting up an interview with Rangeon is awesome, until she's announced as the MVP jammer of the tournament.  After that, I had to wait for every single human being to take a picture with her!  She's so awesome, and she made sure everyone got their chance!

Photo by Lesley Etherson
8.  Sitting on a concrete floor for more than an hour is a no can do in my book.  Good lord I was so happy to be able to get a seat in a real chair for days two and three.  My hat is off to any of you who sat on the floor all day Saturday!  I also have to thank Atlanta for setting up an extra riser between turns one and two; it helped so many backs!

7.   Take advantage of the opportunities.  When I saw someone I wanted to interview, I took the chance to talk to them at that moment.  I also snagged an interview with Amooze Booche by accident because I took the chance to ask her if she was from Naptown.   I'm a shy and reluctant person by nature, so approaching these amazing skaters was a bit daunting at first, but everyone was so open and nice, that I soon forgot about being shy.  Also, that scrimmage on Sunday was FUN!

6.  Always talk to the vendors.  I skate in Reidell's so I make sure I check in with them every time I go to one of these tournaments.  I was super lucky this time, because they gave me free pivot cup replacements for my plates.  Sometimes there are informal recalls in derby, and the supplier will be able to let you know if you need to update your hardware!

5. Sparkly helmets look amazing in person.  The video feed just does not do them justice, but I love the sparkly helmets.  I'm hoping that our team will jump on the bandwagon and get some red sparkly ones soon!

4. You can never drink too much water at Champs.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I was chugging water like a fiend, and I still got dehydrated.  Maybe it was because I was non-stop interviewing people, or the fact that I was screaming like an idiot at the Texas Denver game.  Who knows? 

3.  Nobody looks the same out of their gear and helmets.  After ECDX, I drew a cartoon helmet with a cut out face to carry around and identify people with.  Even with that piece of paper, I was still having trouble identifying people out of uniform.  I want to thank my Facebook friends for spotting people I needed to interview!

2.  You can always see something new in derby.  When I spotted the KC skaters with the tape around their arms, I knew I had seen a story waiting to happen.  I'll be getting more in depth with that when I write my article.

1.  Bonnie Thunders isn't human.  I'm not sure what she is, but I think she's some kind of cyborg or robot.  Actually, I think we need to make a new meme about Bonnie Thunders and replace all of the Chuck Norris quotes with her name.  You know....ghosts sit around the campfire and tell Bonnie Thunders stories.  Bonnie Thunders can cut a hot knife with butter.  Please share your own.

Since I have so much information to sift through, I will be writing about Champs for a while. but I thought it would be fun to share some silly thoughts as soon as I could.