Monday, February 17, 2014

I was too judgemental.

I was sitting around chatting with on of my teammates when I realized that I was a derby snob. I've been working on this, because I know not everyone in derby is committed to the sport at the same level; I have been crazy committed since I joined in 2009, but I'm realizing that staying at the "crazy commitment" level for your entire derby career might be asking too much of yourself and your teammates.

But let's start at the beginning.  I joined derby when it was a little more wild wild west than it is now. Fast derby was the norm, people sometimes got into fist fights during a game, nobody was talking about stroller derby, and the term "fresh meat" had some seriously scary meanings attached to it. Being called fresh meat before a scrimmage was down right terrifying. Vets would gloat "there's a fresh meat in scrimmage today." It was enough to make you pee your pants. The people who trained me were hardcore derby girls. They weren't necessarily dedicated athletes, but they were hardcore dedicated to derby. I learned from them, and I took int all in because they seemed like they understood derby far better than I ever would.
Is she a real derby girl? How can we tell?

As time went on, I scoffed at the women who came into derby and basically only wanted to wear a jersey and call themselves derby girls. I'm not going to lie, in the past, I've turned my nose up at them more than once. How dare they call themselves derby girls when they barely show up for practice, and rarely seem to break a sweat when they do show up. I'd sneer when I saw them at every photo opportunity, dressed in their derby best, or at every after party. I'd roll my eyes when one of the "wannabes" would get ridiculously drunk or make a spectacle of herself at an afterparty. In my head I'd think "She hasn't earned that right." Like REAL derby girls have earned the right to make fools of themselves.

You see the flaws in my thinking.

I had this philosophy for years; it's not awesome to go around and be a secret snob in the past time you love. It may be an easy line to draw, segregating wannabes from real derby girls, but what about the ones that don't want to be hardcore allstars, or practicing five days a week? What about the part time derby girls?  Not every person who steps into a pair of skates and braves the oval is going to want to train like Bonnie Thunders. Are part time derby girls less legit?

Honestly, if you would have asked me that question three years ago, I probably would have said "Go hard or go home!" I wasn't very enlightened or forgiving. Like I said, my derby training came from some very hard core people, and I've had more time to think about things as I've become a vet myself.

I have grown to believe that this sport is big enough to allow people to be part time derby folks.  Football, soccer, hockey, basketball, all of these sports have weekend warriors in them.  People get together and play once a week or even twice a month at the most. Do the professional hockey players, football players or soccer players sit and worry that some guy in a "sports team jersey" is pretending to be a professional athlete? Of course not! I'm guessing that professional athletes either A) don't think about it at all, or B) are happy someone is buying their sports paraphernalia. I think derby has grown past being an underground sport that needs to be protected from fakes and wannabes.

We want people to want to be us. Imitation is the sincerest from of flattery; as our sport is embraced by a wider audience, we're going to see more "wannabees." If we have personal issues with wannabees, we need to learn how to get past them. I don't have time to worry about who is a REAL derby girl anymore and who isn't.

*Caveat. The only reason I would care about part time derby girls if they complain about not making rosters over someone who is dedicated and working her ass off. Derby, much like anything in life, is one of those activities where you get back what you put in.


  1. And what about when they think they should get special privileges? Like when they think they shouldn't pay full dues because they only want to come once a week? The people who don't come to meetings and vote but then whine about the decisions made. Because these are the people who are going to be passively aggressively posting this all over Facebook today - telling those of us who go to practice, who pay our dues, who don't whine when a league decision doesn't always go our way - that WE are the problem. :/

    1. I think thats a separate issue, and a very valid one to say "Well if you didn't like it, you should have shown up to the meeting/discussion/vote"

    2. You would think so wouldn't you? Alas the people who want to be casual derby girls usually think they should have special exceptions, pay per practice, that kind of thing, leaving the rest of us to foot the bill. I have no problem if someone only wants to come when it is good for them, but I have a major problem with that person thinking they don't have to pay dues or are automatically on the roster. They also whine that things are too official, there's too many rules, they don't like the charter (the one they voted in) and so on ad nauseum. I wholeheartedly agree with this article if those people are being reasonable and living up to other league expectations such as dues, but when they're not, you bet your ass I'll be judgemental, because they are expecting special treatment when they don't pull their weight in the first place. The girls and guys who are there every week working their asses off don't get special treatment so why should anyone else!?

  2. I think this is where having good organizational structure really comes into play, and it can take time to develop. It's not unreasonable to ask people to make a commitment, but generally people react better when they know (more or less) what they're going to commit to and what they're going to get beforehand, and with derby, it can be really hard to tell sometimes. Some organizations aren't large enough to really accommodate more than one or two levels of commitment, which I think is okay. A highly competitive league with limited space and practice time can't reasonably be expected to accommodate a small group of skaters looking for a rec league experience, and I think that that's okay, honestly. It's a bummer, but it's okay. I agree that judginess doesn't help anyone that much, but I think it's also okay to say "our organization isn't structured to accommodate the level of commitment you want to provide at this time."

  3. I've had a few conversations in the past that have gone along the lines of:

    Them: "Oh my friend's a derby girl!"
    Me: "Yeah cool! What's their name?"
    Them: " *Insert name here* "
    Me: ".......Sorry, but that person just doesn't skate with us!"

    Such a conversation killer..

  4. I enjoy derby mainly as a hobby, no I don't train 5 days a week & go to the gym, but I always work hard to improve my skills as a skater as that is what is important to me. We have lot's of girls who come along and join our team as a hobby because they enjoy the skating. In my team I'd say there are about 5 skaters who take it seriously because they have high ambitions. this is why derby is great because skaters with differing ambitions can skate along together & it's fun.

  5. Thanks for writing this Q. I'm clearly a wannabe because my life doesn't have room to be serious about derby right now. From the wannabe seats, it looks like there is a movement in derby to be taken more seriously. That's understandable- there are a lot of amazing athletes who deserve serious respect. But sometimes the secret to looking strong is realizing that there is nothing to defend. A defensive attitude makes people seem insecure, which is the opposite of what they intend to communicate.

    Avoiding a defensive outlook has other benefits. The more open and inclusive you can be, the more support you will have. Why does the Carolina Ballet take the risk of putting hundreds of kids on a professional stage for Nutcracker? Yes, they are adorable. Sure, a few of them will become the next generation of professional dancers. But they also bring in all their family and friends, which generates a wider audience and a bigger circle of support.

    I appreciate that some leagues just don't have room to provide opportunities for people who have recreational goals. But I hope they won't look down on them either. For every wannabe that expects more from derby than she gives in commitment, there are many more who want to participate for fun and fitness and apply what they learn in pursuit of other areas of excellence.