Monday, June 30, 2014

A Tale of Two Teammates (kind of a love letter)

Photos by Joshua R. Craig
I have been in derby since 2009, and for the most part, people come and go from this sport, but when you're lucky, some stick with you. During my time on the Carolina Roller Girls, two teammates stand out to me. Both of them for different reasons, and they're both incredibly different, but both exceptional in their own way.

Beth Row has been a close friend of mine since we bonded during some derby travel in my rookie year. Up to when we traveled together, we really hadn't talked much, but when you share a fold out bed with someone, you get to be friends or the worst of enemies. Lucky for me, we became friends, and we've been each others reality checks since we've been in the league.

Beth is one of those amazing people who is a tireless work horse. She's stubborn as hell and won't let anyone tell her that she can't do something. Before she came to me league, some skaters at her original league told her she would never play derby, and yet here she is, seven years later, playing derby like a demon. As a fellow BOD member, she's kept the league on the right path and kept me from losing my damned marbles every other day. She's the yang to my yin, logical whenever I want to be an irrational jerk, and she
 speaks her mind like nobody's business.

When I first met her, I thought she was an uptight sorority girl, but she's proven me wrong so many times. What can I say, the girl defines moxie. One of the many many reasons I think she's an excellent teammate is because she is fatalistic and stubborn, and yet she never lets anything defeat her. She's my Roman Gladiator with her "we who are about to die, salute you" attitude, and I am damned happy to have her on my team.

Jojo Gadget, is a a completely different kind of teammate. When Jojo came into our league, I helped come up with her name. She's always been a positive person and teammate, and although I have only been recently been able to appreciate just how positive and amazing she is on the track.

If you haven't been living under a rock for the last five years, you've heard of Jojo. She's a formidable player on the track and blocks like nobody's business. When I have had to play against her during home teams, I've wanted to just throw in the towel. She's almost impossible to get around, and she's an agile menace. Even after taking a season off to have her adorable baby (yes, she's an amazing mom too) she still hits like a brick house.

The reason Jojo is an excellent teammate is because even though she's probably one of the strongest players on our team, she doesn't have a sense of entitlement or super star issues. If we need to bridge, Jojo is one of the first who will drop to bridge. She communicates and makes sure everyone knows what is happening on the track. If someone in the wall says "jammer is on the outside line" Jojo always answers so you know she's heard. I love it when there's that kind of communication on the track; it makes my heart grow three times bigger. Once again, even though she's one of the most talented players on the team, she never makes other players feel small and insignificant.

Why have a written about these two great ladies? Well, I think it takes all sorts to make up a team. You don't have to be best friends with every single one of them, but they all bring something necessary to the table. What are you bringing to your team's table? What's your strength, and how are you making your team stronger?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Men in Derby

So, I've been reading a lot of blog posts about men in derby; some of them are supportive, and some are definitely against men being involved in the sport as players. I think I've been pretty consistent in my support for men playing derby, but I felt like I need to restate why I personally feel that derby belongs to everyone who wants to play it. These reasons are mine, and mine alone; opinions, everyone has them, right?
Photo by A Boy Named Tsunami

1. I didn't join derby because it was a feminist movement; I joined it because it was a sport. To me, derby has always been a sport. It's not a sorority, it's not a DIY movement, and it certainly isn't a way of life to me. It's a sport, and that means that it needs all kinds of people to be playing it and loving it for it to survive. That means juniors, women, men, and whomever else wants to play will make our sport stronger. If a sport isn't growing, it's dying, and nobody in derby wants to see that. The more people that understand our sport, the more people are going to be interested in supporting it by watching it or going to bouts. Right now, the derby community is self sustaining and doing a poor job of getting a foothold in an outside audience. We can't keep surviving this way; we all know it. We need to bring in as many fans of the sport as possible, and that comes from people being familiar with the game.

2. Men are already here and have been here from the beginning of the sport. Many coaches, trainers, announcers, volunteers and refs have been present since the beginning of modern derby. In fact, I'd say there are a majority of leagues that have quite a few men in key positions they rely on. Heck, I still know women who have been playing the sport for years who still rely on the men in their leagues to do most of their skate maintenance. (Boo hiss....every skater should know how to do basic skate maintenance) Expecting men to support our sport without having a chance to experience the amazing part of skating is really kind of shitty. Hey guys, give up your time and gas money so you can make sure we get to play games! We don't want you to do it though, ok? On a slight tangent, I'd love to see more women coaches and refs out there; it kills me when I see an amazing player leave the sport and not pass on her wisdom to future skaters. Sigh. That's another blog entry, though.

3. Roller Derby is never going to fix the inequity in all other sports, and it really shouldn't be expected to. Yes, I know there is an imbalance in other sports; women often get the short shrift when it comes to attention, and that's not great, but treating men the same way in our sport fixes nothing. It doesn't make the other sports stop the unequal treatment, and it doesn't make the world a better place for women in general. Inequity is disgusting no matter who is causing and reinforcing it. We should be striving not to be perpetrators of prejudice. Most of the men I know who are involved in this sport are respectful and idolize women skaters. "I want to skate like Bonnie Thunders" has been heard coming from the mouths of the male skaters more than once; do you think that happens in other sports?

4. Co-ed derby is fun. Yes, it's not for everyone, and if you are not comfortable playing against someone of the opposite sex, then you shouldn't be forced to, but it is fun. I learn something new every time I get to play with or against guys, and they learn something new too. I've never had an unpleasant experience playing against or with men, at least not more or less unpleasant than I have playing with women. People can be creeps no matter what gender they identify with.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Toe-stopless Tuesdays

This year, our league has tried something new with our training. Every first Tuesday of the month, we hold a "Toe stopless Tuesday" practice, and yes the name is supposed to be provocative.  All league members who come to practice have to take their toe stops out, or put them up as high as possible, and explore the world of edges! Since I've been getting some questions about it from other leagues, I thought I'd share our new experiment.

So, why did we start messing around with asking our players to take out their toe stops? Well, to explain why we did, I'd have to go back to about 2009, when I joined derby. At the time, my league didn't encourage people to use toe stops in derby. All of our freshmeat skills were based on edges, including sprinting and stops. You could have toe stops, but they were definitely seen as a crutch; I actually had teensy tiny ones after I passed my assessments, but only used them to get up quicker from a fall.  Eventually, our entire league embraced toe stops. But as the years progressed it seemed like our toe stop training overtook our edges training, and everyone who came through our freshmeat program was prodigious at toe stopping all over the place, but their edges were sorely lacking. Hey, we did the best we could with our training, and sometimes you have to sit back and reevaluate what your plan actually is.

The funny thing about practicing your edges is that it's kind of hard to break people away from their
You'll need some of these.
old habits. Team members who relied on their toe stoppers for just about everything were reluctant to take chances during drills or scrimmages on learning their edges. So, we came up with a low-risk method of easing people into "making friends" with their edges.

One of the things we noticed when we started Toe Stopless Tuesdays, getting on the rink might be the most dangerous part of the whole evening. Even if you're constantly reminding yourself not to use your non existent toe stops, people still seem to blank out and fall flat on their faces. Seriously, like two steps and wham! Wipe out central! Another issue with no toe stops is skating bakwards; well, it's more like stopping while skating backwards. That one takes two or three falls to get it into your head. Trust me. You try not forget, but sometimes habit wins. We kind of had a running joke about who would be the first to wipe out; it became a point of honor if you were the first.

When we do toestopless Tuesday, we usually don't do any contact; mostly we work on transitions, and stopping. In fact, almost every drill we use tends to come from hockey sites I go creeping on, like this one. Hockey has some perfect drills for edges; I'm sure some of you know this already, but I'm just offering some info. Hockey drills are tough to master, but they're really fantastic for derby.

Has this training paid off? Honestly, I see that people in our league are more aware of their edges than they've been before, and that's a great first step.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Facebook Pitfalls Part 2

Every year I've been writing this blog, I see people making big bad derby mistakes while using Facebook. I know that people don't mean to mean to "do Facebook wrong" but when you see it happening over and over again, you want to just stop the train wreck. This is not an accusation; everyone posts and can post whatever he or she wants on Facebook, but there are things you should avoid so you don't necessarily put you or your league in an awkward position. Some of this advice is probably a repeat from one of my earlier blog posts, but most of it bears repeating. Here's a link to the original if you're interested.

First of all, please don't vague post. Yes yes, we all know how frustrating it is to be angry about something in your life, derby or otherwise, and you just need to get it out of your system. What's vague posting? A good example is "I am so tired of some people's attitude." Posting like that could be about real life, work life or derby, and is bound to make people uneasy, which is the whole point to vague posting. We have all been there, but when you vague post, other people get paranoid; I know that might be what you wanted to happen, but I can almost guarantee that the people being impacted by your post aren't the people you're mad at. This is next statement is universal with every bit of advice in this post; not every emotion or experience belongs on Facebook.

Don't be abusive towards officials. It happens all of the time; you've had a rough game and you didn't like how the officials called penalties. (Shocking, I know.) It's ok to be frustrated, and it's ok to talk about it with your teammates in private, but do NOT talk about it on Facebook. First of all, we as players and coaches don't know what the refs witnessed and saw during the game. We see our version of it, and they see theirs. As derby has progressed over the years, I believe we are seeing better trained refs who don't have a personal agenda; thank heavens for that! Secondly, don't comment publicly about refs and their bias on Facebook because you never know who can see it! You may  think that your posts are just going to friends that are sympathetic to your views, but Facebook is like electronic lice. Posts jump around and land every which way, and you have no idea who is going to read them. How embarrassing is it to post a screed about a terrible ref crew and have someone from that league call you out on it? Just don't do it; the WFTDA and MRDA both frown on posting nasty things about officials, and well they should! Just. Don't. Do. It.

Don't post snarky comments about other leagues. Just like the above paragraph, you have no idea who can read your posts, and who is friends with whom. Don't start a war over being snarky. Talk about it with your friends in meat space, not on Facebook!

Don't post about how hung over you are on FB if you're ditching practice. Well, you can post about it, but don't think you won't get the stink eye from your teammates. You will, but probably not from everyone, but you'll get them. And guess what? You earned them; not because you were hung over, but because you decided to post about it on Facebook. Don't post about stupid crap unless you're willing to be judged on it. That's pretty much a given on just about everything you post on Facebook.

Don't unfriend league members if you're both still in the league. I know, people get all excited and add everyone in derby when they join a league, but it's a serious jackass move to unfriend them while you're both still active in the league. I know that people fight and argue and have issues, but you still have to work as teammates, and something petty like unfriending someone is going to have a chilling effect that can travel to the track. There are a lot of ways to avoid someone you might be angry at on social media; you can unfollow their posts, or hide them, but don't block them on Facebook. That's just being petty; what happens if you stop being mad at them, and now you have this ridiculous awkwardness between you? It might feel right at the time, but seriously reconsider what the long term consequences might be.

The final bit of advice I give is a warning. Don't get into ridiculous fights on Facebook about derby. I know, it's hard to stay out of a stupid argument, but most of the time, it's just not worth it. You really need to define for yourself what is a worthy battle, and what isn't. Everyone has strong opinions in derby, and you don't have to throw down yours at every provocation. Pick your battles.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Derby injury

It's not rational, but this is generally how I react (in private) when I see one of my teammates suffering from a terrible derby injury. Injury can happen at any point in your derby career, so how do you handle it?