Sunday, August 24, 2014

What do you owe your competitive team?

This blog post was inspired by a recent blog I read by Punchy O'Guts. She discussed what it means to be competitive, and I just fell in love with her whole blog post. People often say they want to play on a competitive level, but do they always put their money where their mouth is? I contacted her about writing a blog post on the same subject. You can find hers here.  Seriously, read her blog, she's a smart and honest lady.
Punchy O'Guts, photo by Brian Fitzgerald

Throughout the last couple of years, the WFTDA has slowly been cranking up the competitive level in derby; with the introduction of the new ranking system, derby started to get more serious, and leagues have to look deep inside their souls and see what kind of commitment level they want to have to competitive sports.

Derby is in its awkward teenage phase, and skaters are trying to figure out what kind of commitment level they want to....well....commit to. Some people are gung ho, willing to commit just about everything they can to make their team the best it can be, while others haven't completely jumped on the "give everything you can to derby" bandwagon. It can be a serious point of contention when you have the "gung hos" and the "I dunno about all thats" on the same team.

I guess I fall into the gung ho category, especially because I've always had a competitive drive in my training; I don't like to do things halfway, but as I've gone through my years playing derby, I realize that not everyone's "Halfway" is defined in the same way. People think their commitment level is exactly the right one for whatever team they're on, and sometimes they don't realize that it isn't.

How can you tell if your commitment level isn't on par with what your team is asking for? Ask yourself these questions.

1. How is your attendance? Is it awesome? Is it good enough? Is it crappy?  If you're skating for a competitive team, they most likely have a minimum practice attendance policy. Yes, you can probably skate by (ha) with the minimum, but why would you want to do that? People who only go to the minimum of practices have the minimum improvement, the minimum endurance and the minimum time building a confident relationship with your teammates on the track. If you desire to skate for a competitive team, you need to start seriously considering getting to practice as much as possible. Have you heard of the old 10,000 hours rule? One of the Collision guys reminded me of it this week. Basically, if you're too lazy to click on the link, the idea is that you have to do something for 10,000 hours to be an expert at it. Whew. That's a lot of time on skates, and if you're barely making minimum practices, you're probably further away from expert level than someone who comes to as many practices as humanly possible. You can take it or leave the advice, but the longer you're on skates, the better you're going to be, and that means coming to practice.

2. Do you practice how you will play in a game? I know, everyone has had those off practices where you just couldn't commit to the drill, or weren't feeling your best. Hell, I had one last night where I couldn't stop yawning for the first half hour because I was exhausted from real life. I finally got my head back into the game and the practice, but it hurt my performance that night. I know people who actually say during practice, "well, in a game, I'd never do such and such" even while they're practicing a drill where they're doing EXACTLY the such and such. If you want to play for a competitive roster, give each drill, each skrill, each scrimmage the same kind of intensity you would give during a game. Believe it or not, we actually do play how we practice, and if you're half assing it the entire time, it's not going to help your game. If that's not what you want, then maybe you don't want to skate on a competitive team.

3. Do you constantly try to improve your skills, or are you ok with the level you play at now? I call it the "good enough" scenario, and it's ok to think that way if you're not playing with a competitive team. But, if you want to play on a competitive level, you really can't just rest on your laurels, impressive as you might think they are. If your team is competitive, then it has a goal to be the best they can be; are you helping your team by getting better, or are you being stagnant? Unfortunately, I see a lot of people who are ok with staying at the level they currently inhabit, until something changes. Maybe they get a talented transfer skater in their league, and suddenly people are worried about their spots on the roster.

4. Do you work on your fitness outside of practice? Some people go home from practice, and they don't exercise again until the next time they strap on skates. Being a semi athlete isn't going to cut it in competitive roller derby anymore. You have to work on your endurance, work on your strength and work on your flexibility. I know that leagues often have endurance practices, but if you're just relying on practice to get you where you need to be on a competitive team, you're not doing yourself any favors.

There is nothing wrong with answering no to some of these questions. Maybe you can't commit to a more competitive team right now, and that is perfectly fine. I always will say that real life has to come first; it's essential that we be human beings first before we be roller derby athletes. If you can't commit to the kind of training a competitive team is asking for, then that team isn't a good fit for you at that point in your life. If somebody has to step down from playing on the competitive league in my league, I have a lot of respect for them for making that decision. What boggles my mind is when a player can't make the requirements of the team, and then expects to be placed on a competitive roster over others who are making and exceeding the team's standards. Don't be that skater!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Let's ban the word "retired" from derby

Can I tell you that the word "retired" in roller derby is one of my pet peeves? I'm getting to the point in my derby career where my skating days are numbered. I'm an older skater, and I'm not sure just how much longer I want to keep putting my body through competitive derby. Maybe I have one more season in me, but maybe not. I'm listening to my body and I will go from there, but I can tell you that when I'm done with derby, I won't "retire."
Riva Derci photo by

Retiring, to me, means that you're old and no longer able to keep up with the other players; I can still keep up, the question for me will be whether or not I should keep up. I've put a large part of my non derby life on hold these last few years, and I'm itching to get back to. I'd like get back to my art,  my non derby friends, and everything in between. I see some of my derby friends who have "retired" and they're not just sitting around and eating bon bons.

 My derby wife, Riva Derci is training to run half marathons, and Rigor is training at Crossfit and raising money to do a Make A Wish Trailblaze challenge.  In her words "I am writing to tell you about the Make a Wish Trailblaze Challenge, an epic event to help grant wishes for children of Central and Western NC with life-threatening conditions. In August 2006 I was hospitalized for paralysis of both my legs, and vowed to learn to play rollerderby after I was discharged from the hospital (while still struggling with my walker.) When I started skating 2 years later, my goal was to just be able to play one game. Eventually I ended up as a captain of the local All Star Team. Upon rollerderby retirement, I took up Crossfit to continue to push my physical strength. Last year I climbed from sea level to a glacier in the Olympic National Park in Washington. While all these have been personal achievements, I was captivated when I heard about the Make a Wish Trailblaze Challenge--a 28.3 mile one-day hike to raise funds for granting wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. In talking about my experiences, I realized that many wish children will not have the opportunity to take on a mountain or experience the wilderness. It provides me with great strength and courage to know my actions are contributing to such a worthy cause. On October 11th, rain or shine, I will take each and every step of that 28.3 miles to bring hope to these children. Can you help me with this hike with your contribution?" You can donate to her challenge here.

Even she used the word "retired" and she's anything but! I know "retiring" probably sounds nicer to some people than quitting; quitting gets a bad rap in our society. "Don't be a quitter" is a rallying cry in most sports, or athletic endeavors. Endurance drills get tough? Don't quit! Jamming is impossible? Don't quit! Quitting has a negative connotation, but that's what I will be doing when I decide to leave derby. I will be quitting, because I absolutely loathe the idea of "retirement." I'm up for calling it something different; leaving....sayanoring....taking a powder...whatever, but when I go out, it won't be on retirement.

'Cause I ain't goin' out like a granny.  ;)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Roller derby isn't always positive thing.

When people share their stories about derby, sometimes they're inspiring. Sometimes they're helpful, and sometimes they're brutally honest. 


Roller Derby made me something I didn't want to be anymore..... 
By anonymous

So everyone has this story of how they started roller derby and how they joined a league. They talk about their journey and the mile markers they accrue. Heartache sometimes follows, and anger arises from time to time. Your best friends become your worst enemies and your enemies become your friends. You talk about how roller derby changed you sometimes for the better. But does anyone ever mention how it changed you...for the worse? Well I'm going to tell you that story; it's not pretty and I'm not proud of it. It's not an admission of guilt but more as a learning tool. Hopefully by reading this someone will realize a few things about themselves. It doesn't make you evil or horrible; it just makes you human.

I was in my mid-twenties looking for something in life; I had suffered on and off with bouts of anxiety and depression. Most of my twenties felt like I was a leaf blowing on the wind, never really having a sense of direction. I changed jobs several times. I moved in and out several times with my parents following the loss of jobs and loss of financial security. I wasn't an addict or alcoholic of any sort, I just lacked direction. I hit a stable point in my life and started putting myself out there again. I made new friends as I moved to a new town and got a new job. It wasn't long before a good friend talked me into going skating, something I hadn't done since middle school. She was an avid roller blader and could do some aggressive inlining moves. We traveled to the next town about twice a week for a year to skate leisurely. Having been an athlete previously in my life, it was hard to be reminded that I was out of shape and uncoordinated. Over time I got more comfortable on my cheap skates and locally the Roller Derby scene blew up. I met and talked to a few of the girls and got pulled into coming to a few practices. The team was a baby at the time and we hardly knew what we were doing, not to mention what we were doing was probably dangerous. We didn't have any real knowledge of the sport and tried to do everything through trial and error. No one took us seriously. Finally, after some time, a more established league took pity on us and sent their coaches to help us. 

Just as I was gaining a foothold in derby,  an internal conflict blew up my world. Some of my teammates I was friendlier with defected to another team. I was of course expected to follow, and I did. My first mistake. I burnt some serious bridges there. Soon people were unfriending me on facebook and sending me nasty emails and private messages. It hurt, and instead of being the bigger person, I took the anger from that and I fired back. I made fun of them behind their backs and giggled at their lack of progress. Essentially I became a bully. Where I improved, they just kept going in circles and I found it hysterical. God....I realize how much of a bitch I was then. I would reap what I sowed later for sure. 

Well it didn't take long before my attitude started to grow, and even though I was still a rookie, I thought I knew it all. I started throwing little hissy fits if I didn't make roster or if I didn't get played enough. I even started to get jealous of the advanced players on my team and other teams. I soon got a rep for a bad sport and cheap hitter. I even alienated my derby mom; she still doesn't talk to me to this day. During this time I didn't notice this behavior; because I was a follower. I followed the bigger bullies so I became a lesser bully. I wasn't quite as vindictive or mean as my "friends" but still it was bad enough to warrant to be called "ONE OF THEM." People started avoiding me.

Soon I felt like this team was not good enough for me. Several of the star players left because they were in the military, or due to life circumstances. For awhile it felt good that I was now a senior player, but it didn't last long. My so called friends became the B.O.D and they turned their loaded guns onto me. I was under the spotlight now and under their scrutiny. Eventually I moved away and ended up closer to one team than the other so it was hard to make practices for my current team. So for awhile I traveled back and forth and practiced with both teams and tried to continue to play for one. Soon the stress started to get to me. I decided to leave my current team and join the new team. To make it even more ironic, it was the first team that I ever stepped out on the track with. Yes that's right, the very team that I first skated with that I had made fun of I was back with them. They had a lot of new members and no one hardly remembered what had happened previously. They still hadn't bouted much and were very inexperienced so they welcomed a "VET" player with open arms. 

Vet....sure....that's what I thought I was. I couldn't even skate backwards, my hits were still wrong placed too hard, my cross over were haphazard and wonky and I BARELY made 25 laps because I didn't push myself hard enough. I also took it personal when I got laid flat on my ass and started to become a revenge hitter. I was a peach. So reboot and here I was in my first league again with a larger and much younger team. I had no competition, only possibilities. Out of sheer blind faith and dumb luck I was voted captain. The screw ups just kept coming. I started being verbally abusive to others at practice. I also started facebook stalking people. Right now as I write this I'm smacking my forehead, literally. I even ended up in facebook wars. I took every hit, penalty, and word personally and I took it out on my teammates. It wasn't long before I blew up when a player complained to me about not being on the roster. We tried to talk one one one and there was a giant argument. She was a captain elect for next season so I threw the roster at her and told her in not so many nice words she had no idea how hard it was to be a captain and good luck on her own. I bailed on my team right before a bout. To make it better I went home and deleted every one of the girls who I thought pissed me off from my contact lists and unfriended and blocked them on facebook. Can I have the Miss Congeniality award now? 

Six months down the road, I lost some much needed weight and decided I would try to come back. I felt like I had learned my lesson and saw the error of my ways.  I tried to reconstruct some semblance of the friendships I had before. That was the first time I felt the sting of my actions come back onto me full force. So I sunk down my shoulders and took my punishment. Slowly but surely I became a better player. I started to listen to my coach more and communicate and respect my teammates. I made new and long-lasting friendships. My hits were clean and I soon became a player to lookout for because I was good and I worked well with my team, and not because I was mean and cheap. Other teams wanted to borrow me and I did a lot of traveling. This to me was the pinnacle of my derby career. Then tragedy struck in my family, a death. I wasn't the same after that. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks. 

I tried to continue derby, but I lost my heart for it. I didn't really get involved with petty B.S. anymore, but listening to it surrounding me, I really didn't see the point. Depression hit me again and the thing that once made me happy now only made me miserable. It was so negative all the time because that's all I could find in it anymore was the negative. Soon after all of that I started to have some major health issues that would physically make me unable to play anymore. I tried NSOing but it wasn't the same. I even tried being a spectator but it also wasn't the same. So I took myself out of the sport completely, at least for a little while. My jerseys hang on my wall along with my MVP's and I still follow blogs and my close friends to see where the sport is going. I lament a lot looking back and realizing a good portion of my derby career was spent being an asshole to people. I regret that a lot. I am just thankful before it was over I was able to do somewhat of a 180. I didn't sell my gear; it's in storage and believe it or not I still skate 2-3 days a week. I will always enjoy skating. My time for derby has come and gone I'm afraid though. I will always love the sport, but not so much the person it made me at times. In the future I hope to love it as a spectator. For right now though I'm just happy skating once in awhile and getting updates from my friends. Take my story as a learning tool as I said in the beginning. Learn that you are responsible for your actions. Learn that it's okay to be human but don't be an asshole. No one's perfect by any means but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to be. Derby didn't save my soul but it sure pointed it in the right direction.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

So you want to be a leader in your league....

I've been the Training Director for our league for the last eight months, and even though I'm very glad I ran for this position, sometimes the weight of the responsibility that comes with this position makes my job hard. That weight is firmly on my shoulders at all times when I'm dealing with the league, as it should be.

1. Feel the weight and acknowledge it. Yes, any leadership position in your league, whether it's captains, coaches or board members has a lot of responsibility. You have to realize that you always will be ultimately responsible for decisions made in the league. Your league elected you to this position, so you have to be responsible. Think of it like being the adult chaperone on the school bus; if a crisis arises, all eyes will be turned in your direction. Are you ready to give them an answer? Are you willing to put your personal agenda aside to make sure the league is being taken care of? I'm not going to lie, it's hard sometimes.

So many emails
2. Be in communication and reachable. Before I became TD, I was not super diligent about checking league emails; I mean, I had the forwarded to my non derby account, so I could read them, but I was really really bad about checking Google docs and such. My email habits have completely changed, and I try to consistently check my emails for the league as often as possible. Do I spend way more time on emails now? Oh yes. Some days, it feels like that's all I do. (My current inbox has 8,497 emails. Take that all of you OCD people!) BTW, if you are a captain of a team, you'd BETTER be reachable by your teammates.

3. Get used to criticism. Being in a leadership position, people are going to criticize your decisions. Some people are going to mumble their criticism, and some people are going to shout it from the rooftops, trying to incite others to criticize your decisions too. How will you handle the pressure when it feels like people are attacking you?

4. Look for the bigger picture. You may think you're addressing the bigger picture, but we fool ourselves a lot when we're busy or have a personal agenda. You are only the caretaker of your league, not the owner of it, so be sure you're making decisions that are in the best interest of your league, and not in the best interest of your bestie. 

5. Don't give in to lazy. Sometimes it's just easier to give in because you're tired. I'm sure the parents out there understand exactly what I'm talking about. Someone keeps pushing and pushing for a quick decision, and you give in because you're tired, you're busy, you're stressed out, or you're just plain over derby at that point. It's human nature, but try to fight it!

6. Learn to delegate. Nobody can do every little task that leadership positions are responsible for. Derby for the skaters, by the skaters, makes a hell of a lot of work for the skaters, and if you're in charge of herding all of the cats, you're going to get burned out really fast if you don't delegate some of the work to other people.

7. Be ready to speak your opinion, even if it is in the minority. Our BOD is filled with dedicated and strong willed women who have definite opinions about important issues, and everything else.  We don't always agree, but we listen to each other. Just don't get butthurt if people don't love love love every opinion you have. No person group of people an be on the same page about every damned thing. We aren't pod people.

Being in a position of power will reveal your character, and how you deal with pressure. Sometimes the discovery process isn't pretty, but it can be a real eye opener. I suggest you take the opportunity to run for a leadership position if you haven't, but don't take it lightly. It is real work.