Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Eternal Struggle with Derby

Sometimes I see a really great post on Facebook and I ask the author to let me repost it on my blog. I think a lot of people who play derby need to read posts like this every once in a while. This lady has a lot of information to pass along, and you can read all about her in her bio. 

Barbara "Queen B" Dolan, one of the original members of the Windy City Rollers in 2004, created the new market category of Fitness Skating when she founded Derby Lite, LLC in 2007.  With over 25 weekly classes nationwide, Derby Lite brings the friends, fun & fitness of roller derby to women 18-75 by teaching them to skate and providing a new way to exercise that’s never boring.  Queen B, 51, lives in Oak Park, Illinois with her partner Ben, their sons Levi, 15, and Drew, 12, dog Fido, cat Francey Pants (yes, named after *that Francey Pants), and an endless parade of foster kittens.

Barbara "Queen B" Dolan, President & Founder, Derby Lite, LLC. Robyn Davis photographer
Having been in derby for over 10 years and a member of this [the Derby Over 40 Facebook] group since its inception, one repeating theme I see is "I'm hurt/tired/disgruntled but I don't want to quit."  

Photo by Brigette Supernova
First, a little brain lesson:  Roller Derby - especially all the awesome stuff you experience when first joining - is creating new neural pathways in your brain.  They're fast, smooth, new roads directly to your pleasure centers.  Dopamine, endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin are flowing through your system on a regular basis.  It’s like falling in love!  And when accompanied by adrenaline, experiences are even more permanently and vividly imprinted on your brain… that's not a dirt road you've forged, that's a monorail! 

In simple terms:  We're addicts.  One part of our brain has learned that derby makes us feel gooooood.  "DON'T STOP!"  But over time, for most of us, there's another part (logic? reason? fear? menopause? finances?) that says, "This might be a good time to stop."  Care to guess which part is usually affected by traumatic brain impact?  The voice of reason.  (But that’s beside the point.)

Changing strong behavioral pathways is hard.  Just *thinking* about changing them is hard – our brain can resist its own thoughts (ponder that for a moment).  But the good news is humans can use tools – including advice from peers, like this group – that improve our reasoning abilities.  The ability to make choices contrary to what might be the easiest/most fun/instantly gratifying makes us human.  Hooray for the evolved brain!

And that’s the thing:  There doesn’t need to be an existing road for you to head that way.  The brain creates new pathways merely by thinking/doing something enough.  Derby was an unknown to your brain – a destination on the other side of a dense forest – until you started going there enough that the road changed from a two-rut dirt path to your sexy sleek monorail.  Even the stink of pads and the bruises on your body triggered a little zip along that line to the part of your brain that registers rewards.

But at some point, for many people, those stinky pads, bruises, aches & pains, money constraints, relationship issues… all the stuff that’s not *really rewarding, start to add up.  Think of them as stops along your monorail.  The train keeps traveling that road but it’s not a smooth trip anymore.  Some of those stops start creating their own new roads because you’re spending so much time there.  The original destination – our derby brain, yelling “DON’T STOP!” – remains loud… it got used to the dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin and adrenaline and wants more (hello derby addict).  But “This might be a good time to stop” gets louder every day.

The good news is:  You were able to forge new pathways in your brain when you started derby... you can forge new ones again.

The first step is acknowledging that the stops along your pleasure train are starting to make the ride less enjoyable.  That’s usually what prompts these posts. 

The next step is deciding what pleasure you’re still getting from your derby destination.  Is it the challenge of strategy?  The power of impact blocking?  The social connections?  Make a list.
And then list the things that are not working for you:  Late bedtimes (because you have to work early), bad diet (because you have no time to shop/prepare/eat), money woes (because you’re expected to socialize and travel, or have big medical bills from a serious injury), or pain.  Sometimes just the daily ache-o-meter is enough to say ENOUGH.

And then start listing your options.  People on this board always have great suggestions for what we can do after we are no longer fully in love with the original derby destination.

In my case, I loved the women I skated with.  I loved how fit and strong my body was, and I loved getting out of the house and doing something just for ME when I had a five- and two-year old at home.  Over time, I didn’t love the injuries I was seeing happen to my teammates and I didn’t love the time obligation.  And the ache-o-meter on my 42-year old body (which had never participated in a sport before) was stuck in the red zone.  I knew I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing, but in 2006 there weren’t many options for somebody who wanted to keep skating but not be on a competitive team or go in endless circles at a roller rink.  So I forged my own road.  I created Derby Lite as a purely selfish means to keep doing something I loved, but with a format that works for me.  Turns out, it works for lots of other ladies, too… and what started as a way for me to keep skating, stay fit and spend time with awesome women became a business.  (What’s that about ‘do what you love’?)
[Sidebar:  I always feel a little advertisey when somebody posts about their stop/don’t stop conundrum and I mention Derby Lite.  It’s as much about sharing the love of what we’re doing as giving you another option that might fit your needs better, and providing the link makes it easier for those who don’t know what DL is, to find out.  I try not to be obnoxious about it.]

So – after you’ve figured out what you do love, what you don’t love, and what options there are to align the two – map a new road.  Choose a new destination – even if it’s on the other side of a dense forest – and start heading there. 

Change your thinking and you change your brain pathways.  It doesn’t always happen fast, but you can do it.  You can transition away from that which no longer serves you.  Today, at the glimmer of autumnal equinox, we have the perfect time for this reflection.  You’ve sown all summer and now it’s time to harvest.

And tell your brain to pipe down.  YOU’LL be the boss of you, thankyouverymuch.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Are you a frustrated B team player?

Being a B team player is a mixed bag at best. I was on our Bootlegger team for a really long time, and I both loved and hated it at times. I mean, being a Bootlegger was some of the highest highs I've ever had in derby, as well as the lowest lows. Sometimes I miss being on our league's B-team, because those games can be truly magical and pure derby. There is no pressure for rankings, and generally the pressure level is lower than with sanctioned games, but even then, it can be completely frustrating to play on the B team.

The natural evolution of a b-teamer usually runs from just being happy to be on a more competitive
My B-team tattoo
team, to being a competent player on the roster, to being a stand out player on the roster. When you start making waves on the B team, you might catch the eyes of your A team captains, and get invited to train up with your A team. And here is where things can get a little frustrating for the B-teamer.

Yes, you read that correctly. The problems start when the advanced B-teamer starts training with the A team. The B-teamers learns to work with higher level skaters, figures out strategies and plays and then has to go back and play with the B team again, where the abilities of the skaters to understand strategy will not be on par with the A team.  It can be incredibly frustrating to be someone who has learned to use a certain strategy the rest of the team doesn't know.

I experienced this after a couple of years in derby; I was learning strategies that I wanted the B team to use, but since the B team has such a wide range of skill levels, and sometimes a giant range of commitment levels, it can be hard to remind yourself that not everyone is able to  and remain calm. I ended up getting seriously frustrated with my fellow B-teamers, and at times I probably came across like a giant asshole when I yelled at someone or let my frustrations be known to my team, especially if we were scrimmaging against the A-team. I know I did not want to be a jerk on the track, but derby sometimes has ways of pushing all of those asshole buttons you try to keep to yourself, doesn't it?

If you find yourself in this situation, how can you deal with it?

1. Keep your cool. First of all, if you can't control your temper, you're not doing yourself any favors as a player, and you're definitely not doing your team any favors either. Take a deep breath, center yourself, and accept that playing with the B team isn't going to go the same way as playing with the A team.

2. Don't try to herd all of the cats. Just because you have more experience, doesn't mean you can control every player on the track. Don't even try. Work with your walls and line ups, and play your best. You can't be effective as a player if you're trying to micromanage your teammates.

3. Don't be condescending. Nobody wants to play with a condescending dick head. That's just a fact, and even if you express your frustrations to the A team and not the B team, you're going to look like a jerk. Don't do it. Smile. Have fun, and enjoy yourself. You love derby, otherwise you wouldn't be sacrificing all of that time and effort to do it. Every game is an opportunity, whether it be for the A or B teams.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Interview with the possible makers of Jolt Sensor.

Last week, I was contacted by Seth Berg, who is looking to create a sensor for head injuries; he's got a kick starter campaign here. I know, I know, I sound like a broken record with head injury issues, but as our game progresses, I've seen more and more head injuries bench amazing players. Slowly, we're adapting; people are wearing certified helmets, and leagues are putting policies in place that help players identify when they have a head injury and keep them from playing during an incident. We still have a long way to go, and maybe inventions like this one.  I collected questions from my readers, and had Seth answer them. Read through them and see if you think this might be something that could benefit our sport.

Why does this specify youth instead of any athlete? Would it not detect an adult concussion the same?:
The language we use towards youth athletes was purely a marketing choice, not a technical one. Our initial target market was children that play sports (we made this choice based on market size and market research that we have done). This means that the Jolt Sensor works the same way for adults.

How long does the sensor work for? (not per charge...but say you use it for two seasons of derby or whatever... is there a point when the sensor isn't sensitive anymore?):
The first thing to go in the device (as well as most electronic devices) will be the battery. The sensors and other embedded components in the device have very long life spans when used in normal operating conditions (this means not in very extreme temperatures). The battery is rated at thousands of charge/discharge cycles. This means that the manufacture has studied the battery capacity over the course of it being charged and discharged many times. Because our device is very low power the battery will fully discharge about once every 2 weeks. Our battery is rated for ~600 cycles which means it should last for 600 cycles * 2 weeks =  1200 weeks, or ~23 years. Of course there are other ways to kill the device (burning, hitting with a sledge hammer etc), but under normal operating conditions it should last for many years. (Hope that wasn't too technical).

What testing has been done to ensure proper sensitivity (whether too sensitive or not sensitive enough) and does it need to be re calibrated over time. 
It is important distinguish between the Jolt Sensor, which is the device itself and includes a battery, charger, computer, bluetooth radio etc. And the acceleration sensors (accelerometers). We have designed the device and how all of the components work together, but the electronics components (including the accelerometers) are purchased from other manufacturers. This means that the sensitivity and longevity of the accelerometers has been tested by them. The sensitivity of the sensor does not degrade with time, but rather with the types of accelerations that the sensor experiences. The sensor is rated at 200 g's. To put this in perspective the acceleration experienced by the astronauts on the space shuttle is 3g's, so one would need some very special equipment to cause the sensor to exceed its ratings. 
TL;DR: You'd have to try very hard to cause the sensors to exceed their capacity which is what causes their readings to degrade. And they do not need to be recalibrated.

What is considered "potentially dangerous" and who did they work with to set that standard?:
Again this is a bit technical, but we use software to calculate the Head Injury Criterion (HIC) of any given impact (you can find the details here: Essentially this takes into account the type of acceleration experienced by the head over time. This is important because a big acceleration over a very short period of time isn't necessarily as dangerous as a lower acceleration that lasts a while. This metric was originally developed as a means to test automotive safety and is used in sports as well.

How would this clip inside helmets like the Triple 8 brainsaver, S1 lifer, etc? (we use these brands of helmets, plus hockey helmets in derby):
For these helmets the sensor clips onto some type of headband/bandana underneath the helmet. I went to a bout 2 days ago to see how it would fit on skaters and different helmets. Here's a picture of a skater with it clipped on to her bandana (just above her ear), but any sort of headband underneath the helmet will do. For hockey helmets it clips on to the hard plastic ring near the ear.

Who has access to this info? How long does it stay on file?:
The information for an individual user is only accessible by the person that purchased the sensor and setup their account through our app. They can manage this data as they see fit. We will also be anonymizing and aggregating data from users. This means that impact and cognitive data will have all identifying information removed and will be combined together. The reason for doing this is to gain a better understanding of how various types of impacts and impact histories related with changes in cognitive scores. This is helpful both in tweaking our detection algorithms as well as adjusting policies to improve athlete safety. For example if we see that across all users that play soccer, impacts of a certain type (let's say headers) are highly correlated with cognitive issues, then we will be able to say with some certainty that this type of impact is dangerous and should be avoided. Privacy is extremely important to us and as I mentioned earlier, no data that we have will be specific to any individual, but rather an aggregate of many users.

What brought your attention to roller derby? Granted, we are dealing with a lot of head injuries because of how our game play has changed, but what specifically got your attention about our sport?:
Not a particularly exciting story, but we had a few people see the website and Kickstarter and email us asking if it could be used in derby. I got on the phone with them, learned about the sport and its concussion risks, and decided to pursue it. I went to my first bout last night and it was really fun (and much more exciting than watching youtube derby videos). As a sport played by adults with jobs, skaters seem to be much more concerned with their personal safety than kids playing sports, because their livelihood and career are dependent on maintaining good health. So, we've found skaters particularly receptive to the technology.

Would you be looking for test leagues for this device?:
Yes. Part of our Kickstarter campaign allows bakers to contribute by "giving a sensor," where we will manufacture a sensor and give it to an athlete at risk of a concussion. We are holding a twitter/facebook voting campaign to choose teams to receive these sensors (details here: We will also be looking for teams in the St. Louis area to beta test the sensor. Our biggest criteria in finding teams to test with is their level of interest. If a there is a team that isn't geographically close to us but is really excited about the technology we want to talk to them. Of course at the moment we have not manufactured the production version yet so we aren't ready to begin testing with teams, but that is one of our top priorities. 

What is the price point going to be for this device?:
Our desired price point is $100 USD. This is subject to change based on supply capabilities, manufacturing costs etc. If we can we would like to bring it down even lower than that, and as we scale we believe we will be able to.

What is your time line?:
Here is the timeline we outline in the Kickstarter campaign:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Why You May Seem Uncoachable

Derby takes talent, there's no question about that. As a skater, you have to have some body awareness, balance, and fitness to be successful in this sport, at any level. But really, talent is only half the battle. I've watched many a talented skater come to derby, thinking she could dominate, only to wash out after less than a year. What caused these talented skaters to bail on derby after such a short time? I've got one, made-up but accurate word for you: Uncoachable. Being uncoachable is pretty much the worst thing you can do in any sport; the second worst thing you can do is appear to be uncoachable.

How you appear to be uncoachable

1. You refuse to self evaluate. Yes, it sucks when you have to look at your strengths and weaknesses, and realize that your weaknesses outweigh your strengths. Believe it or not, this is pretty normal in just about any sport. The more time you spend practicing and perfecting your skills, the more you realize you don't know. It's ok to admit you aren't perfect; I know it's scary for a lot of skaters to admit that they have a weakness, but if you're not willing to look at your skills and figure out where you need to wood-shop, then how are you going to take feedback from a coach?

2. You're constantly defending yourself instead of listening to feedback. Instead of taking in feedback, you're all ready to drop an excuse to why you do or don't do the skill correctly. Everyone has off days, but most coaches can overlook those issues and concentrate on the trends they see with your skating. It's important to be aware of trends in your skating style, because those mean you have habits, both good and bad. Serious athletes want to reinforce the good habits, and repurpose those bad habits, but if you're just defending why you skate that way, you seem not to be interested in changing a bad habit. The coach can't know that in your mind you feel like you suck and you're just trying to protect your ego; all she can hear is how resistant you are to feedback, and eventually, she'll stop giving you any.

3. You don't look like you're listening. This is a hard one for me because I don't like to make direct eye contact for extended periods of time because I've been told I have "aggressive resting bitchy face" and my eye contact is a little intense. There are other ways you can look like you're not listening, such as crossed arms, turning away from the coach, rolling your eyes, staring over their shoulder or keeping a smirk on your face. Some of these responses happen automatically when we get defensive, but you can control some of them. When I find that I'm crossing my arms while someone is talking to me, I try to relax my body and drop any defensive postures I have. If you're sending out physical signs that you're not open to feedback, people will stop giving it to you and you won't get a chance to improve.
This is me respectfully disagreeing with a ref call. It's not subtle.

4. You ask for skills or drills to be modified for your specific needs instead of figuring out what you have to do differently to make the skills work. It's always funny, if I'm leading a training some place and a skater comes up and says something like 'Hard plows make my ankle hurt.' and then expectantly looking at me to change the drill. I never really know what to say when it comes to this kind of situation, other than. "Ok, do what you can." That ok, do what you can never seems to make the person feel better; sometimes, when they're very wrapped up in their issues, they'll actually ask if the drill can be different, for them. Honestly, nobody is going to do the same drills the same way, and you have to make anything you learn your own. I think people who want changes made to drills generally are afraid to fail, even if it's something little like learning a new skill.

5. You drop out of drills because you're frustrated. Frustration is a natural result of being challenged for most people, but when you're challenged and your first response is to sit down, or sulk, or take your skates off, you don't seem to be coachable.

You may not even realize what kind of vibes you're putting out to your team and your coaching staff.  Try to be more aware of the vibes you're throwing out there, before you're classified as .......uncoachable.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Derby Observations

This week I've had a lot of random thoughts about derby; long road trips give you time to ponder all things derbyish, and since I went to Virginia is for Shovers this weekend, I had a while to think the deep thoughts about the sport I love. of course, as always, these are my opinions. You can take them or leave them, but please think about them!

1. People who have their derby life in disarray also have a personal life that is chaotic. I know that real life gets crazy banana pants; I don't care if you're a roadie for an imaginary band of punk gypsies and live with the abominable snowman in a studio apartment, just make sure you have your life under some kind of control. The only time I care about your crazy personal life is when it spills over into your derby life and has an impact on the team. Seriously, I can't stress this enough; please get your personal lives in some kind of check. Almost every derby league deals with at least two people who are constantly falling to pieces because they haven't taken the time to get a grip on their personal drama. Once you get that fixed, then you can concentrate on derby. (You'll be a lot happier, and a better teammate too.)

2. Short skaters believe that they are the only ones who ever get high blocked. I'm not picking on the shorties here, but in the last six years I've had my nose broken three times, my lip split twice and a ridiculous shoulder to the face last year. All of these injuries were done at the hands and helmets of shorter skaters; I'm six feet tall and most women are at least a  little shorter than me. I think shorter ladies underestimate just how tall I am, and when they block me, they think I'm Godzilla, when I'm just a Glamazon. I know that shorter skaters get way more face hits, but us tall folk still get our fair share. This third broken nose situation gave me in the impetus to finally buy a face shield for my hockey helmet. I don't know why I was putting it off, because it's really been an easy transition for me. After three minutes of skating, I forgot I had it on, and it's already saved my face twice during Shovers.

3. Players that can keep their heads in the game in spite of seemingly unfair ref calls and game conditions are the most successful players. You can be an amazing skater, but if your mental game is weak, you will never be as good as your physical skills say you are. I know so many skaters that get caught up the mentality of "that ref hates me" or "they aren't calling clockwise blocking" or "that girl keeps going after me personally!" Part of being a great player is being able to ignore the negative situations that happen in a game. Refs are going to make calls that aren't right, you're going to get it, and people are going to get away with penalties that should be called. No game is perfect, so learn to deal with the imperfections and keep doing what you do!

4. Speaking of refs, they're having more impact on the game than ever. It used to be that if the refs missed a few calls here and there, as long as the outcome wasn't changed (ie. Team A won decisively, then referee calls didn't really have an impact), but now with the WFTDA rankings, things have changed. Every point now counts in a sanctioned game, so even if Team A stomps Team B by two hundred points, if Team B needs to have a certain amount of points to maintain their rank or even go up in rankings, now every call counts. Refs need to really be on their game; if you're a jam ref, don't lose track of your jammer come hell or high water. Lots of jammers are trying to squeeze out one point before the other jammer enters the pack hot on her heels; you have to be ready with those whistles!

Just some random thoughts, have a great week!