Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why Don't More Retired Skaters Come Back and Coach?

I asked the Facebook Universe "Why don't more retired skaters stick around and help coach or train their former leagues? I got a lot of heated responses, but this one was the most interesting and detailed. The skater asked to remain anonymous.

Photo by Joshua R. Craig

I retired for two reasons, I needed to heal from an injury and because derby was no longer fun any more for me. Derby for me had run it's course. It was fun till the last year and a half. I came into my league as a transfer from a competing league. I worked hard and made the allstar team about 6 months after I transferred in. I rode the bench most of my first year as an all star. I often was thrown in to jam because i was small and fast; I never really got tips or pointersabout jamming and never really got the opportunity to block.

I discovered little events and scrimmages outside of the league, learned and practiced with other
leagues to augment my own league’s training. I was invited to guest skate with a different league
and got my first multiple point jams with that team, which made me sad. That should have been
with my own team, but they didn't know my value. I became determined they would see that I
was worth training, and worth their time.

This was a theme that went on until I retired and they realized what i did for the league.

I was captain of a home team during my first full derby season with my league, and then i got to
be captain of our all star team my second year. I was captain for the following 4 years of the all
star team. I was voted in because i was fair, and I was levelheaded. I tried to always give good advice and I was fully aware of my skill level and pushed myself and others correctly during practice. During those four years, I was also on training committee developing plans, running practices, doing line ups, doing stats, developing ref relations, helping with recruiting refs and skaters, marketing the league, doing outreach with the community and in WFTDA. I wanted people to connect me with my league, especially in the derby community.

During that time I alienated my family and non derby friends, and lost two jobs because
of being distracted by derby and it's workings and not focusing on what was TRULY

I stepped back, I thought, and I reevaluated my involvement and wasn't captain the last part of
my derby career. The training level dropped, the cohesion of the team dropped, but I refused to
step in and stop it. It was how they wanted to run things. Despite the drop in our training, we
were doing well rankings wise. I thought I’d try something new, and worked on interleague
relations and marketing. I was the only one from the league to go to WFTDA meetings each year,
despite asking for support, but I was still able to get my league heard and made valuable
connections for us.

In 2012 I decided that I would start preparing for retirement. I had accomplished a lot of things,
and our schedule for 2012 was good. We would play a lot of great leagues and I would go out on
a high note. During 2012, we got really good, and our teamwork was wonderful. Our practices
were strong and prepped us well. We had a lot of new people things were good and our team was
competitive. I was very proud of where the team was headed and felt confident that they would
be ok without me. It was during the summer that i realized in my heart I couldn't leave yet; so I started looking forward to skating the next year. .

2013 started out well, everyone was focused and ready to work and move up to be at D1
tournaments. It was my goal. I wanted to play at a tournament my whole career, an actual
WFTDA tournament, and it was all within reach.  Then, egos got big and the team work crumbled; people stopped working together, and they started focusing on the "super stars." They started to basically take orders from the divas of the team, who were talented but needed to  remember they were a part of a team.

During a game, I took a fall on a metal grate and hit my knee just right. I was out of the game for 15 minutes, then back in because the bench coach looked desperate and everyone else had quit. After
that game, I found out I had nerve damage to my knee. I had to stop skating in order to let it heal. Unfortunately, my team was dropping like flies; this person wasn't eligible to skate because of attendance, this person hurt their thumb, this person had cramps, and this person was butt
hurt about another game. I felt I couldn't let my team down by not skating.  Plus, in my head I rationalized "it only hurts if I fall, just don't fall." So without fail, I went to the doctor every
two weeks for therapy and played the entire rest of the main part of the season.

I took off in August to rest, and it was that month i fully realized what i had been missing. My
friends and family that were there before derby were still there and EXCITED to have me back
around, and i had fun. I felt important again. I felt valued. I missed that feeling. I realized that I
would need to stop derby in order to keep that feeling, but I was determined to finish out the
main season. During that month, 3 people from the team retired. A lot of the team just assumed that I would do what I did in 2012 and reconsider my decision to retire, even though I had made it clear at the beginning of the year would happen, and that i was preparing people to take
over my jobs when i finished my last game in November.

As November approached, people didn't have eligibility or they didn't pay their dues and thought it was ok because they were allowed a pass before because they were "special." Instead, this time they were not, and instead of being a good member of the team, they just quit. This got me to thinking, "What am i doing? I am hurt, and I've been playing hurt most of the year. I gave up time with my family and friends who cared about me and love me to be here." People on the team didn't put in the effort at practice, they whined about endurance,  faked injuries during endurance and miraculously healed in time for scrimmage. They didn't listen during explanations of drills, and then complained they don't know what's going on.  They ignored advice from their coaches and trainers, but when a guest skater said exactly what was said weeks earlier they made it their new mantra. They whined about being hit too hard, and practice being too difficult and too competitive. And I was done.

The only reason I had stayed as long as I did, was a sense of responsibility to my team, but my team did not have the same commitment to the sport. I wrote my retirement letter and sent it out the night before the last game. It was positive despite all the feelings of disappointment I had and encouraging. I went out and had fun during my last game which was not the type of game I'd like to end my career with, but I was having fun. I wasn't letting the bickering and egos on the bench effect my last time on skates for the forseeable future. I got MVP, something that rarely came my way in my career and because no one else would do it, I skated the last jam, to a standing ovation. It was great. The next day I laid in bed instead of going to a circular league meeting and thought about the last 8 years of derby. I thought of all the good times, few were moments with my own team, and many with other teams and leagues.

That first week, people didn't realize I was gone. 2 weeks into the new season, I started getting emails asking me WFTDA questions, and other league questions. Later, I found out they had pushed my replacement too hard and she quit. I told them politely that I  am retired, and gave them information about people who could help them, and continued on my merry way. They left me alone and it was great reconnecting with friends and family, doing hobbies, finding new ones, and working
with my doctor to get my knee better. Then, I was invited to a derby friend's party. I still liked people in my league, so I was excited to go. I felt a little ambushed by the derby people there, because as I sat down,  I was basically told by other derby people who were invited that I just left the league in a lurch, nobody knew what was going on, and how could I do that, and I was an awful person. I realized they hadn't even said Hi.

After that, the barrage of emails started up again, asking WFTDA questions,  saying that people that I told them to ask wouldn't  help them. I finally had to be blunt and  say, "Stop, you ran off the person I trained. It's not my fault no one else knows how to do these things."

Up until the party,  I was considering nsoing and helping them by being a bench coach.
Two things stopped me; their lack of respect for people in authority, and  the fact that I liked my freedom from derby. I realized I was happier without derby, without the drama constant drama. I was happy being with my family and friends, not having to worry about a teammate getting too drunk at an afterparty and having to babysit her all night, or worrying about someone not making attendance.
I was happy with out the back biting of people who were unhappy with themselves and projecting it onto others. I was happy being me with out having to consider if what I was doing would effect the team or the team diva.

Derby is much like high school, and I hated high school. Once I was done, I was done.
Same with derby. People in derby didn't respect authority; they wanted to be Roller girls and not
a team. They had no sense of self worth and used derby for that self validation. I was already a
well developed person before derby, and remain one post derby. I could not spend my time and
effort watching, evaluating, and giving advice that would be ignored and then getting blamed for
losses because people didn't listen.

For teams to retain retired skaters as coaches or even refs, they have to treat people better and with respect during their time with the league. No one is going to experience freedom from league drama and disrespect, and then decide to come back for it on a volunteer basis.

Again,  this is my experience. Sorry it's so long ,but it's something that just comes down to respect,
and valuing your members while they are there. If they don't feel valued, or that they will be
respected or treated respectfully or even listened to, they are not going to come back and help the league. That's a shame, because the more skaters that retire and not come back to help, the more cumulative knowledge and experience the sport loses.


  1. I totally agree with this sentiment! It's so hard to want to come back when you weren't treated well while you were there. I was president of my league for three and a half year, and a head coach for four years (head coach for one), and I know you can't please everyone all the time, but the loudest complainers always get your attention, and they're also the ones that don't seem to want to pitch in to make things "better". If people don't want to serve on the BOD that's fine, but at least respect the people that are working hard to make the league better.

    Coaching was my favorite position in the league. I am a teacher by profession, so I always felt like coaching was the most natural fit for me. I was a good blocker, and I feel like I still have a lot to offer in the way of coaching, but some of the coaches I worked with didn't have the same coaching style as I did, and it was hard to get them on board with the way I wanted practices planned. My main goal was to make sure we had a coaching TEAM that made decisions together about our league's direction as opposed to a group of unconnected coaches planning random practices that fit whatever they wanted to do. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. People have other shit to worry about in life, and sometimes coaching was too much work, which I totally get. It was just sad to me that it didn't work out.

    Retiring was one of the hardest decisions I ever made, and I miss the game every single day, but I do not miss the negativity that came along with what I felt was a valuable contribution to my league. I still love and respect so many people that I met during my time there, and will have forever friendships from derby, but I'm happy to have my free time back to spend how I choose.

  2. I completely understand where this person is coming from, even as I wish I didn't. I will say, I'm coaching now that I'm pregnant, and I plan to again when I eventually retire. But, my teammates treat me with respect, and we act like adults. I have found that coaching has given me a better appreciation of the nuances of the games and rules. I would especially recommend it for someone who retires, maybe due to an injury, and isn't ready to give up the sport entirely. We accumulate so much experience and knowledge. It's a shame to take it with us and not give it back to the remaining members of our league....assuming they deserve our time.

  3. "it's something that just comes down to respect, and valuing your members while they are there. If they don't feel valued, or that they will be respected or treated respectfully or even listened to, they are not going to come back and help the league. That's a shame, because the more skaters that retire and not come back to help, the more cumulative knowledge and experience the sport loses."

    I absolutely agree. The sport is so young and desperately needs smart, qualified women to stay involved. Not only should leagues value their volunteers, but they should value and respect their alumni. I see skaters constantly trying to reinvent the wheel purely based on the fact that they want to do it their way. The sport is constantly evolving, but in order to make positive change you've got to learn how it's been done and learn from the mistakes of others. Improve things with an informed perspective, not an ignorant one.

    I really hope this blog discussion inspires some ideas of how we can help women value the things that help the sport grow. Maybe it comes down to individuals - some people are privileged and entitled and will never understand that it's not all about them, while others sacrifice just about everything to help their league, play the sport, and be a positive force in the derby community. Givers and takers, right?

  4. I've heard this story over and over again. Yes it's a very frustrating position to be in. Very often women in this position leave their league with chips on their shoulder, minimal lasting relationships from their league and martyr complexes. I think derby leadership positions attract people who like to be in control and have trouble delegating. We are a volunteer organization, which means gals with the most gumption often get these roles. Most people in these positions have little to no management skills or experience because they're young. I think that's one of the greatest things about derby: it gives young women a safe space to step up into leadership roles, make mistakes and learn. Roller derby is basically training an army of smart, capable women. We might be learning the hard way, but it's extremely valuable life experience you will use every day. I've made many, many mistakes throughout my derby career that were very frustrating at the time, but in hindsight I've learned a lot from those mistakes and have to admit, despite feeling like I was doing most of the work and wasn't getting enough support, most of the time the problem was my fault, directly or indirectly.

    If you don't know how to delegate and you keep all of the tasks and decision-making for yourself, this is the sort of thing that happens. If you're the captain of your team, your main responsibility is to create streamlined communications, a general buy in from everyone and a team that works together on and off the track to solve problems and create realistic expectations You need to think about training the whole athlete, not just their gameplay but training them to think as a team and step up into leadership positions when needed on and off the track, even if that means taking some responsibility away form yourself.

    Also, if you don't listen to the wants of your team and try to dictate goal setting, you're going to have a very frustrating season. If your team doesn't want to work hard to play at WFTDA tournaments, then don't push them to play at WFTDA tournaments. If YOU want those things but your team doesn't, don't fit a square peg into a round hole. Reassess. Don't do the work of 20 people just to make something happen that no one else cares that much about and then get frustrated when no one helps you. The people on your charter aren't there to serve the wants of the few. Everyone has to make compromises and come to common goals. Getting collective buy in takes a lot of time, work and patience and needs to be done at the foundation, not at the last second as a cry for help. I see that all the time too, usually 3/4 of the way into the season. The leadership just starts dropping the ball to see if anyone notices or cares in an attempt to get everyone to realize how much they do, or get people to "step up". It's not healthy for you or the team.

    That said, back to the original point, I think most people don't come back to help coach after they retire because the people that are qualified to coach (ie peeps that have been playing a while) have already devoted a lot of their youth to roller derby and maybe want to have some time to themselves. There's little incentive to coach at the moment other than continuing to be a part of the team, which you could do as a skater. Also, I think most people that have been around derby for a long time leave for external reasons that mean they no longer have the time to commit to derby- job promotions, children, moving, getting married, etc.
    *comes off soap box*

    1. I don't know if I agree completely with your statements. I'm the training director of my league at this moment, and I'm delegating as much as I can to others. Unfortunately, a lot of people aren't necessarily trustworthy to take on important tasks; I have one or two very competent people that I trust completely to get their jobs done, but the jury is out on many of the others. I have a lot of people who want to do the work, but then get distracted or "under too much pressure from real life" to finish the task. I don't get mad, but it definitely makes running a league that much more difficult. Some things just have to get done in a certain time period, especially with WFTDA sanctioning and etc.

      Not all derby players have spent their youth in the sport; I was 39 when I joined, and I'm still here. Many leagues have older players, younger players, whatever players. People who retire from the sport could put some time in, if they felt accepted or appreciated. Nobody is saying that these people would have to come back as full time coaches, but we have a retired player who comes and works with our newbies once a week. She likes doing it, we love having her train them and the newbies are getting a really great practice especially developed for them. I'm thrilled that we have this available for our newbies, and she's having fun coaching once a week.

      It doesn't have to be all or nothing.

  5. I am posting this for a reader who prefers to remain anonymous.

    Hi there, I've just read with interest your 'Loose wheel' article on your blog. I'd like to post a comment but it seems I can't do so anonymously (my derby name is also my email name). Would you mind posting on my behalf? I would be very greatful. I have found writing my response quite cathartic. Thanks for allowing the opportunity for an important 'behind closed doors' derby issue to be discussed. Here's my response: "I was never a very skilled derby player. I never made the team. I put my heart and soul In to the league (I was one of the founder members and an active member on the league committee). When we first started we were a happy, fun loving little unit with a like-minded group. Things changed with the advent of a new club secretary. Being a founder member was seen as a bad thing and eventally, for one reason or another they were all pushed out of the league. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes bullying and bitching and a huge amount of overt favouritism. As i mentioned before, i gave the league my everything but because I wasn't one of the best skaters or favourites I was never taken seriously and always treated like a third wheel. I have learned that the all-encompassing accepting sport of derby, for my league in particular was a load of rot. Ruled with a 'my way or no way' attitude plus the heavy dose of favouritism I was pushed out just over a year ago. The whole derby experience of that year with no support led to a nervous breakdown. I left and it was if I vanished off the face of the earth. Except for one instance about a month after I left when the secretary contacted me asking if a new member could have my derby name! I was hoping mine and others very negative experiences in my league was just a one off, particular to that league, but it seems the issues are apparent in others too. For a short while, Roller Derby made me happy. When the rot set in it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I've not put on a pair of skates since. I'm in the UK and to those concerned (you know who you are) out side your little empire you are nobody. Shame on you."