Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Are these phrases a part of your derby lexicon?

I think if you spend any extended time around skaters, you start hearing the same statements.  I know I have, and I know that I am also guilty of saying them myself.  Some of them are so common that we don't even realize that they might have a negative impact on other people you're skating with.

1.  "I just want to skate"  Ooh ooh....I don't want to skate, I'd rather permanently do committee work instead!  Well duh, who doesn't want to skate?  I personally would rather skate over just about anything that happens when I'm dealing with my league, but that isn't always the reality of the situation.  We all work our asses off so we can skate, and unfortunately sometimes that means doing the humdrum crappy jobs of running a league, dealing with drama, or raising money.  Suck it up sweetheart, you have to do the other crap in order to skate.  Our sport just isn't at the point where we can say realistically "Can't someone else do it?"  The answer right now is no, so get your butt in gear and get to work!  If you think the league work gets done by magic pixies, I implore you to get a new helmet.

Self motivation...not for other denigration.
2.  "Shut up and skate"  Yes, I hear this one too, and I'm pretty sure there are several versions of this statement floating around as stickers, pins and t-shirts.  Mostly, I hear this phrase when someone is being a little whiny about some part of practice.  I usually say it to myself, especially if I'm tired, or pissed at a ref call, or just being down on myself.  I even made a graphic about it, and I use it to motivate myself.  When I hate hearing this phrase is when someone is muttering under her breath at a newbie who is being "whiny."  Yes, newbies are whiny by nature.  Their skin hasn't toughened up yet, their feet haven't transformed into hooves, and they're just discovering that derby is a lot harder than they thought it was. We have all been through it, but it kind of sucks to tell a newbie to just shut up and skate....although maybe if she hears it from someone else, she'll learn to say it to herself.  I don't know.  I guess I'm split on this one, but think before you slam a newer skater with "Shut up and skate."

3. "If you can't play nice, then play derby" Puke.  Anytime I hear anyone say this I know they're probably going to be a douche on the track, and worse yet, be proud of it.  Is that vinegar I smell?  I know a lot of derby skaters have had limited experience with sports, so they think that being aggressive means being an asshole; I argue you can play hard and not be a jerk.  That means not screaming at the refs, not losing your temper at the other team and not making every hit personal.  If you can't, take yourself off of the track please.  The rest of us would like to play a sport.

4.  "There's no crying in roller derby"  Lies. Go hide your lying face and shut your lying mouth.  I say this one in jest sometimes, but I've cried over derby.  I try not to do it in front of people, and mostly on the ride home...or over a Snickers bar.  Plenty of people cry in derby, around derby, on top of derby, under derby, BECAUSE of derby, so stop lying and accept it.  Now, to be fair, if you cry at every damned practice, I might suggest that you rethink your desire to play derby.  Also, please don't cry when you lose.  Someone has to lose in a game, and eventually that might be your team.  Learn to lose gracefully and with some least in public.  You don't have to do a happy little jig for the other team, but crying just seems kind of....lame.

But that's just my opinion.

Monday, May 27, 2013

There's a Reason It's Policy

I get a lot of emails and messages about situations in leagues all over the world.  It's interesting to know that many leagues have had similar problems, but it's sad too, because so many issues could be easily headed off by having clearer communication within the league.  So many leagues have policy manual that is established, but someone wants to make an exception for a skater because she's "awesome", or "returning", or is a "sweetheart", or "is so talented we can't possibly skate without her."  Baloney.  If your league has a policy, then it has to apply evenly to every skater and volunteer with the league.  If it's an unfair policy, then it's time for the league to tackle it.

Dilbert Comic found here

So, how do you make successful policy?  Here are some tips to help avoid the pitfalls of bad league policy.

1.  Don't make policy for one skater.  I know it's tempting, because you have this one pain in the ass skater who can't make her volunteer hours, but is an amazing jammer.  It's soooooo tempting to make a rule just for her, but any rules or policy made specifically for one skater will come back like an evil, rabid zombie to bite you on your derby butt at some point.  Avoid the potential derby butt rot and don't give into temptation! 

2.  Define ambiguous terms.  Ambiguous terms are the downfall of policy.  What's "a returning skater", "captain's discretion" or "adequate attendance"?  Ambiguous terms like "Captain's discretion" can really give way too much power to just two people in the league.  I mean, if I have Captain's Discretion, does that mean I can dictate that every roster I choose be made up of blondes?  It might, especially if you don't define the parameters of it.  Just FYI, if I made such a stupid pronouncement, I would accept wigs.

3.  Include responsibilities.  Whose job is it to enforce the policy?  Whose job is it to make sure people understand the policy?  What are the timelines on your policy?  Do you have good and realistic deadlines?  Sometimes people make policy and forget to assign a responsible party for that policy.  That, my friends, is useless policy.

4.  Make it accessible.  Make the document accessible for all people involved in your league; no skater, coach, volunteer or ref should have to beg to find the policy.  Also, if it is easily accessible, there is no reason for skaters not to be familiar with the policy.  It goes both ways, people.

5.  Make it searchable.  With modern technology, all documents should be searchable.  Let's face it, most people aren't going to read over an entire policy book in one sitting.  Even if they do, they're probably not going to remember all of it.  They're going to read what is relevant to their situation.  Find someone in your league who is competent enough to handle the documenting part of your policy manual, so people can find the information they need when they need it!

6.  Keep it simple, stupid.  You cannot write policy for every situation in your league, and nor should you try.  Policy is for the day to day running of your league.  It should be about the stuff that is common and repetitive in your league.  Writing policy for every possible thing that "might maybe could happen" is a waste of time and effort.  Also, save the lawyer language for some other time.  If you make it too complicated in phrasing, then most people aren't going to read it or use it...and that's useless.

7.  Keep it up to date.  Review your policy once a season.  It's necessary because some policy might have been written when your league had a different agenda.  An example of this is your league was struggling to get enough skaters to form a team, so your attendance requirements were low to non existent.  Four years later, you're a thriving league and working on being a competitive one.  Maybe it's time to rethink that lax attendance policy.

8.  Avoid zero tolerance policy.  I say this with some trepidation, because it lets in that whole "oh let's just make an exception for so and so" mentality.  Unfortunately, I've watched school districts have to eat their words with their zero tolerance policies on everything from sexual harassment to weapons issues.  Having a ridiculous zero tolerance policy will most likely blow up in your collective faces at some point, so be smart about your policy, but not psycho!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Recovering from a Derby Weekend

This last weekend was a rough one for me; me had three games with three other teams in one day in a venue that doesn't have air conditioning.  Because we were hosting a tournament, the entire league had to be ready at set up at seven thirty in the morning, and we played the first and the last games of the day, with the final game starting at 8:30 pm.  It was a lonnnnng day, but any derby day can really take it out of you with the set up, or travel, or heat, or pressure.  How do you recover from derby insanity after the final whistle has blown?

You know you are going to have a marathon day coming up, so you should be doing stuff to prepare your body BEFORE you even put your skates on.  You should be getting enough sleep the days before your game, eating well, and drinking water.  I cannot stress how important water is for your endurance and performance.  Most people walk around in their daily lives on the verge of dehydration, and that's a nono for anyone who considers him or herself an athlete.  Guess what can dehydrate you?  Too much salt, not enough water, too much caffeine and alcohol.  People always roll their eyes at me when I say it's a good idea to cut alcohol the week before a game.  "Oh Q, you're just a prude."  Yes I'm a prude, but I'm also giving you good advice.  Just try it once and see how it works for you.

Take care of your needs
I need to eat when I'm playing games, and I hate junk food; actually, I don't hate it, but it doesn't make me feel great when I have to eat crap on the road on the way to a bout.  It's better if I can pack the foods I need to eat to feel good, and that means I have to be organized and prep for my trips or day.  I am NOT an organized human being, so it takes a lot of effort for me to prep my food needs, but I have learned through trial and error to make sure I'm ready.

I also have learned through trial and error that I need to have my mental game organized too; I need to have my gear ready with few to no mad dashes in panic looking for my wrist guards...mouth guard....socks...I dunno....did I pack my helmet?  Let me stop the car, run around back and check.

Who's laughing NOW!!!!!!?????
At the tournament this weekend, I knew I was going to be at the venue for more than twelve hours, so I brought an inflatable mattress, much to the ridicule of many people.  Guess who had the most comfortable between game rest?  Me and half of my team, because I think just about everyone I knew took a nap on there at one point.  You can't always bring an air mattress, but having a pillow on hand and a warm hoodie can really make your down time more comfortable.

By the way, you should be drinking water before, during and after your game, and possibly more than you think you need!

Post Recovery
First of all, go get some more water and drink it while you read this next part.  You're probably dehydrated and don't even know it.

Make sure you stretch after a game; I watch derby girls and boys everywhere play the game, strip their gear off and start celebrating.  Unfortunately, they're feeling no pain because they're full of adrenaline...which wears off after a while and then you wake up with a leg cramp from hell at three in the morning.  OW!

Eat some protein after your bout.  It's important to replenish your body after derby; if you're doing it right, you're leaving it all on the track.  Here is a pretty simple guide for nutrition after exercise, with special attention to how many carbs and protein you need.  By the way, in case you didn't know it, alcohol is not a protein, but bacon is.

Finally, if you're one of those obsessive derby players, you might have trouble getting a good night's sleep right after a bout; are you rerunning the game in your head?  I do that.  It might be an occupational hazard, but I do take a benedryl to help me get to sleep.  Benedryl isn't for everyone; some people have better luck with melatonin, but I'll stick with my generic benedryl, and count the derby sheep instead of the points I should have stopped from happening.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Coaching Styles

I was lucky enough to play in the Got to Be NC Tournament this weekend, and I got to experience a lot of new things.  I played in three games against three hard hitting teams, I was able to announce the men's bout and I had my pants yanked down in front of everyone and their brother.  Awesome.  Thank goodness I wear full coverage panties when I play in games!  Whew!  In spite of all of the distractions and fun, and wardrobe malfunctions, I observed something as all four teams played in the tournament; even though every coach is a unique individual, their coaching style can be broken down into common categories.  The Screamer, The Cool Head, The Erupter, and The Usher.

The Screamer
Seems like many men who coach women's roller derby do a lot of yelling.  This might be because roller girls often have the attention span of a cracked out squirrel.  OH SHINY!  I personally do not like The Screamer type of coach because if he's always screaming over every little thing while I'm on the track, I have no idea what I should be marking as "urgent".  Is he yelling because he's just yelling?  Or is he yelling because the opposing jammer is standing up in the box and we need to be aware of our next move?  Is he yelling because his underwear is too tight?  Who knows?  Ever have that annoying neighbor with the car alarm that always goes off?  Screamer coaches are like that to me.  They become background noise, which I eventually ignore.  Maybe they feel so passionate about the sport that they end up yelling and screaming about everything on the derby track, but after an hour of that kind of coaching, I would cease to care if he was passionate or not.  I wonder if refs take The Screamer seriously when they have an issue.  I'm sure referees would never say, but I would think they wouldn't.  JUST MY OPINION.

The Cool Head
I'm having a unique experience this year because our league has a Cool Head coach; he doesn't scream and yell or lose his crap while coaching, but he is intense.  The interesting thing about having an intense coach like that is the fact that he can say something and you feel like he's put a lot of thought into it, no matter if he has or hasn't.  Of course I give my coach the benefit of the doubt, but maybe not all Cool Heads are as thoughtful, but their presentation is awesome.  I'm sure some derby players think that the Cool Head doesn't have the passion that The Screamer has, but I would rather have less chaos on my bench.

The Eruptor
A lot of people confuse The Eruptor with The Screamer, but they're completely different personality types.  The Screamer is a constant barrage of noise, while The Eruptor might present as a Cool Head before he or she erupts into a seething frenzy of yelling or throwing things.  It must be terrifying to have an Eruptor as a coach; people must live in fear of a volcanic eruption at any moment. I often wonder if the players that have an Eruptor as a coach are always flinching!  What a terrible stress to have at a game.
Picture found here

The Usher
The Usher is a ninja bench coach who does line ups and keeps the bench quiet and under control.  The Usher keeps the bench calm and quiet, keeps an eye on who is in the box, and makes rational choices about lineups.  If an Usher coach has done her job well, you won't even notice all of the last minute decisions she had to make.  All hail the Ninja Usher Bench Coach!

Monday, May 13, 2013

There's Not Always Room for Jell-O Wrestling

I will admit that I joined roller derby in a golden year; it was 2009, and derby was already crawling out of its muck of its origins.  The wheel of punishments was long gone, fishnets were starting to be outnumbered by compression pants, and the game was starting to reward athletic skaters as opposed to barroom brawlers.  It was a great time to start derby. 

Unfortunately, I've been noticing a scary trend lately on Facebook posts from other leagues.  People are bringing back Jell-O wrestling or spaghetti wrestling or baby oil wrestling for league fund raisers.  I've been thinking about this trend for a while, and I absolutely hate it.  HATE IT!   So what, Q?  Who cares what other leagues do to raise money?  Well, I do, and here's why.
For eating, not wrestling.

First of all, I know that we are all hurting for money for our leagues.  With the WFTDA changing the the procedure for rankings, leagues are traveling further and further to play the games they need.  Sometimes this means that a team has to travel far away for up to two to three times a year just to get a sanctioned game that will count for rankings.  That also means that sometimes leagues are packing two or three games into a travel weekend, which means they might have to extend their stay in a city, which also costs megabucks.  Couple that with many leagues seeing a drop in attendance at games, and you have an overwhelming need for money that can drive even the most respectable league to consider selling their respect in order to earn money.

Yes, I said it.  When your league succumbs to doing something like Jell-O wrestling to earn cash, you are trading in on everything you're striving to accomplish in roller derby.  Why are you traveling that far to play those games in the first place?  Is it because you feel like you are an athlete and want to be respected as such?  How do you reconcile rolling around in Jell-O with another skater, usually scantily clad, with being a respected athlete?  If you belong to the WFTDA, you know their catch phrase is "Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary."  Do you think any of these words describe Jell-O wrestling?  Do you think the spectators who come to watch derby girls roll around in food products think "wow, that's a real athlete in there" or do you think they're there to hopefully see someone pop out of her top? Jell-O wrestling is spectacle, and it puts our sport right back to the level it was in 2004. 

Have you thought about what your sponsors think about Jell-O wrestling?  Leagues live and die by their sponsors, and if you have one that is very family oriented, then they may not want to reup their sponsorship next season.  You might be shooting yourself in the foot in the long run to rake in short term cash.  That's not necessarily a great financial plan.

But, Q, it's none of your business how other leagues make money!  Actually, it is.  Every time you join the words "roller derby" and something shady like Jell-O wrestling, you're impacting every roller derby league and derby player.  What you do as a derby league has ripples and consequences for all of us.  Derby is finally stepping away from its past as a "spectacle" and moving towards sport, and if your league decides that making money is way more important that dignity, then you are making it tougher for the rest of us to be respectable. Please don't bring the rest of us into the ring.  If you as an individual want to Jell-O wrestle, fine.  Go ahead and do it!  Just don't drag roller derby into it.

If you were offended by this post, please fill out this form or we can have an actual dialog about it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Clickety click clique! Does your league have destructive cliques?

Roller derby leagues are a just like any group of people on earth; when you get forty plus people together, you're bound to have some people who instantly bond, some people who are casually friends, and a few that aren't going to get along at all.  It's human nature.  We are all united by our love of derby, but sometimes, that's the only connection two people have.

For example, I'm more than a little nerdy.  I know you're all shocked and outraged, but I like nerdy stuff and nerdy people.  I like comic books, steam punk, art, bad horror movies, and really violent music.  If you're amenable to that stuff, we'll probably hang out, outside of derby.  If you're interested in karaoke, college basketball, shoe shopping and listening to country western music, we're probably not going to be that close, and that's ok!  Just because we are in the same league, we don't have to be bestest buddies!  We just have to be kind to each other and have each other's backs.

Unfortunately, sometimes people take these friend attractions too seriously and start excluding other people in their league.  Allstars exclude B teamers, B-teamers exclude newbies, newbies cling together for support and get defensive, the cool kids exclude everyone else, the  the refs...well, refs are a different animal all together. As cliques develop in a league, they can turn cancerous and start affecting the health of your league.  Let your friendly groups turn into tumorous cliques, and you've got the perfect breeding ground for a mean girl, and ain't nobody got time for that!

So, what if you have one of these bullying cliques in your league?  How do you cope as an individual?

How do you deal with a vicious clique in your league?

1.  Don't try and impress them.   Cliques want you to want to be their friends. No matter how much you think it will help, don't try and impress them.  It's just better to avoid them and ignore them.  I know that's easier than it sounds, but if you try and impress them, they'll just feel more powerful and things will never change.

2.  Don't let your self esteem be reliant on other people.  Easier said than done, but if you are always looking to other people to define your self worth, you are always going to be easy pickings for a clique.

3.  Don't give them too much energy.  Be nice, be friendly, but be distant.  Cliques have an aura of drama around them at all times, and you don't need to get sucked in, even by accident.  Avoid the drama, concentrate on yourself and life in your league will get better and better. 

So, what can you do if you suspect your circle of friends is becoming a pus-spewing goiter of exclusivity?  You can ask yourself these questions, and answer honestly. After that, the next move is yours.

Are you a part of a clique?
Last time I used the Heathers.  This time I'm trying to appease the younger generation

1.  Do you deliberately exclude people from activities?  I'm not talking about an occasional night out once in a while, but do you exclude people on a regular basis and then make a point to mention the exclusion in front of people who are not in your group?  If you do, your group of friends may not just be a group, but a nasty little clique.

2.  Are you and your group of friends creating a pecking order in your league?  So, are you?  If so...guess click clique!

3.  Does your group of friends intimidate other skaters?  Let me ask that one again, do you intimidate other skaters?  Are they afraid to approach your group?  Do you like the fact that they kowtow to your group? 

4.  Is one of the favorite activities your group of friends has is making fun of other skaters?  That's not a good thing, people.

If you think you're in a clique, it's up to you to figure out how things got the way they did, and it's up to you to figure out how to make things better.  Are you going to remain an exclusive group of douchebags, or are you going to evolve into human beings and teammates?  I hope if you're reading this blog, you will be one of those who will step up and stop walking down the path of a mean girl.   Yeah, I said it.  You're on the way to becoming a mean girl if you stay in your bitchy clique.  Trust me when I tell you this, mean girls never prosper. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Are You a Shark, a Dolphin or a Jellyfish?

Skaters are varied and special and individual snowflakes of precious individuality.  Aw.  Anyway, in the soupy sea of derby, we only fall into three classifications when it comes to our development and our study of our sport. Wait, what?  We're supposed to study our sport?  That depends.  How hungry are you?  Are you a shark, dolphin or jellyfish when it comes to your derby appetite?

Sharks never ever stop swimming; if they do, they don't get the oxygen they need from the water.  I'm a shark skater.  I go to extra training when I can, visit other league practices, volunteer to go to newbie practices, study reffing...anything to improve my skating!  Shark skaters watch endless footage, and talk way too much derby.  Is there an opportunity for cross-training out there?  If so, I'll be there with bells on, if that's what I need to wear.  Sharks are often very hard on themselves and fear that if they don't keep learning, keep honing their skills, then they will lose ground.  Shark skaters are probably super annoying to other classifications of skaters; I've been told by a couple of people that my schedule would overwhelm them.  To be fair, it hard to stay in the shark mode your entire derby career; even the best of us needs to power down from shark mode for a while and try the dolphin life at times.
Hey, you guys having an open practice I can crash?  Image found here

Some skaters love playing the game, but don't have the same kind of singular devotion a shark has.  These skaters are dolphins; they play hard, but they only stick around to play derby when it's fun for them.  If someone sends them footage to watch, they MIGHT get around to it, but only if they have the time.  Extra training sessions?  Maybe, if they don't have something else to do that day.  Is it close by?  If it's close by, they'll probably be there....maybe.   Dolphin skaters don't want derby to be more than a dangerous hobby, and that's ok.  The derby habitat has plenty of room for sharks and dolphins to coexist.  I believe most derby players tend to change from dolphins to sharks and back again over their careers.  You give what you can to this sport and real life always should come first.

How many of you have swum in the ocean, only to get out because the water was infested with jellyfish?  Go home jellyfish, nobody likes you.  Jellyfish just sort of float around on the track and only digest what happens to accidentally float into their orifices?  Do jellyfish have orifices?  Jellyfish do nothing to get better in derby; they don't embrace new strategies, or bother to learn them.  Sometimes they show up for practices, if the tide brings them that way, but for the most part, they just ruin everyone's day by just flopping around on the track.  It's time to EVOLVE, jellyfish and turn into something interesting that gives back to your team and league.  For the life of me, I will never understand why anyone joins derby to just sort of skate in circles, but to each her own. If you're reading this, please don't be a jellyfish!  Spines are a good thing!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Case Against MVP Blocker Awards

Every once in a while, I get a message from another skater and I have to make it a blog topic.   MVP awards are a curious animal in derby; sometimes I wonder if they are worth keeping around, or do they cause more problems than they are worth?  I've received MVP awards, and often wondered why, and have not received an award when I felt I had a stellar game.  MVP awards often seem to be  given as a whim, instead of after sound decision making.  It's definitely food for thought.  Genea contacted me about her thoughts of MVP awards, and with her permission, I posted her letter to my blog.

The Case Against MVP Blocker Awards
by Genea Morfeld Swan   
Genea skates for the Charlotte Roller Girls

I love being recognized. I love when I lay a big hit and an opponent flies in to the stands and the crowd roars. Who doesn’t? But a GREAT blocker works with her teammates. We make impenetrable walls and recycle repeatedly. Like the legs of a giant centipede, we should march and think as one.

Of course, this isn’t always the case. You have the chaser, the gets-knocked-down-easily-goat, you have that fancy skater who has to do the tricky moves that don’t really help block the jammer or clear the line, the swoosh-out-and-lays-a-big-hit-but-then-can’t-recover-quickly-enough-player. The uninformed crowd loves these types. Those of us on her team are thinking: “WHAT are you doing?”

I recently attended a game where the MVP blocker award was mistakenly awarded to a player who had been ejected for insubordination. The team was flustered by having to choose someone directly after the game and, unfortunately, the selection of MVP was actually made by a player who was skating at the time of the ejection and didn’t see it happen. 

So what IS the thought process of the people making these haphazard and potential rash choices for MVP? 

Sometimes I think it’s a person’s boutfit that stood out. Or just one big play. Maybe that person was able to hold a jammer alone in the front in several consecutive jams, ending up out of play but always racing ahead alone anyway.

Do these things make for a good derby player? Are we unintentionally rewarding this behavior by giving an award to the blocker that ‘stood out’ during the game? What about those players who are talking to their teammates and keeping them together? What about the hard worker whose solid game play keeps her teammates on task and aware of each jammers location to move effectively as one and keeping the pack slow so the jammer can’t get an advantage?

And don’t get me started about the jammers with the fancy skating that don’t net the most points.

In summary, MVP awards are awesome for two people.... But I am not sure they are truly representative of game play that should be rewarded.