Monday, February 24, 2014

The surprising things I learn from derby

The longer I stay in derby, the more impact it has on my real life, directly or indirectly; it happens. The effects of derby creep in on your life like the lingering stench of wrist guards on your skin. Suddenly, everything smells like pad funk!  Derby teaches real life lessons, and some of them are kind of hard to swallow at times.

1.  Because of derby, I can now identify a broken bone with decent accuracy. I'm no Doogie Howser, but after you've seen several catastrophic bone injuries, it's easier to quickly diagnose the severity of an injury. I've seen spiral fractures in ankles, fingers broken and most recently a broken wrist. As soon as I saw the injury, I knew it was broken. It was surprising to me that I was able to so easily identify the break; I've had plenty of First Aid training, but this ability to know when someone has broken something comes straight from seeing it in derby. Because of derby, I also know the rehabilitation time that several major injuries take. This is not necessarily wanted information.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  No, seriously, it is.

2.  Because of derby, I've learned that you can learn any skill if you put your mind to it. I never wanted to be great at skating backwards, because it wasn't important when I started skating. Then stroller derby happened, and clockwise skating, and all of that "fun" stuff.  Suddenly I had motivation to learn how to do. Knowing that I could learn a skill because I wanted to made me realize that I had the ability to learn things outside of derby if I could motivate myself to do it. Look out Calculus, I have your number!

3.  In derby and the real world, I've learned that people aren't always the best at self evaluation. Some people think they're terrible on the track, and clearly they're wrong, and others think they're amazing....and also wrong. Why are our mirrors so warped? Why can't we be honest with ourselves about ourselves?

4.  The fact that people don't read their emails has been proven over and over again by derby.  I suspected people didn't really read emails carefully in the real, but in derby, I could PROVE they didn't by the number of questions I got every time I sent an informational email. 

"Hey skaters! Please wear sneakers to practice tonight. We're doing an offskates warm up!  Thanks!"

Are we warming up off or on skates? I only have boots, what should I do?  When were we told to bring shoes?????  What email???  It's become a bit of a joke to me, but it's a fact. People do not read emails.

5.  In both derby and real life, people often confuse popularity for competency, especially for elected positions in a league. Look, just because someone is an amazing skater, it doesn't necessarily follow that they would make a good treasurer, or WFTDA rep, or whatever. As in real life, you should choose the most talented for the job, not the most popular.

6.  In derby, as in life, some people are naturally talented, and some people have to work at it. I definitely fall into the second category, so I empathize with people who are in the same boat. It sucks that some people are just naturally talented, but the rest of us just have to work harder to get there. I may not be naturally gifted at skating, twirling, and footwork, but I can work until I get it. I can also work on any other "real life" skills and get those eventually too. I'll never be a protege, but I am a hard worker, and sometimes hard work will take you a lot farther than you think, in both life and derby.

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.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


I learned a new word today on the interwebs: poutrage. According to the Urban Dictionary, poutage is the combination of emotion and behavior that results from a possibly feigned or genuine outrage over some slight and pouting about it like a spoiled child.  I've run into poutage before, but I never knew what to call it until I read that definition.

Of course I've run into this in derby; who hasn't?  But Q, is it that much different than butthurt?  Yes.  The differences are subtle but important. Butthurt usually happens in a passive aggressive kind of way. You know, muttering, cryptic Facebook posts, and snide comments.  Butthurt is like the low mumble of a crowd in the distance; people tend to be butthurt to their friends, and it is like an infection in a cut.  You don't notice it right away, but it is there, and always present.

Poutrage is a whole different kind of league disease.  Poutrage is when people decided to publicly air their grievances; it's more like Festivus for the league, except it's usually coming from a small group of irritated people instead of the entire league.  Poutrage happens over roster selections, over new jerseys, over practice schedules and game schedules. Poutrage is demanding and needy and smacks of arrogance, but most of all, it's loud and insistent.

Yes, people should be allowed to complain, and speak up when they feel that their needs and rights are being impinged upon, but it really is a matter of when, where and how.  Below are examples of Butthurt and Poutrage and a rational response to three different, and yet common situations.

A skater doesn't make the roster.
The Butthurt response: The skater makes vague and resentful statements on FB and then denies that they're about the derby situation when approached by teammates.
The Poutrage response: The skater angrily emails the captains with a biting commentary about how there is favoritism in the league.  CC's the board of directors on the email.
The rational response. The skater is sad, and takes some time to wrap her head around not making a roster she really wanted to be on.  The same skater emails the captains and coaches and asks what she could do to make her skills better, and asks for feedback.  It's not going to make her feel instantly better, but unfortunately it is a part of derby life. Captains and coaches, if you want to maintain rational responses from your skaters, you are not allowed to blow off honest questions about improvement.  Don't blow off a sincere email, and really give them the feedback they need to improve.

A skater doesn't get elected to a position she wanted.
The Butthurt response: The skater unfriends the woman who won the election on Facebook and quietly undermines her position in the league by getting her friends to subvert her goals.
The Poutrage response: The skaters constantly and loudly objects to any suggestions made by her rival. She actively tries to derail her goals publicly.
The rational response: The skater takes the time to come to terms with the loss. It sucks losing a position that you really want, but you have to understand that running for such positions is a risk. Someone will lose. It doesn't mean you suck, but it does mean that more people voted for her this time. That doesn't mean that it's going to happen the same way next time.

In practice, a jammer doesn't get through the pack for a whole jam.
The Butthurt response: The skater quietly skates away and sits on the sidelines with her arms crossed. If people go over to see if she's ok, she only answers with "I'm never jamming again with that pack. They left me out there and did nothing to help."
The Poutrage response:  The skater throws off the jammer panty, turns around and starts yelling at her blocking pack. "Why didn't you do any offense for me! Nobody helped me! You all suck!"
The rational response: The skater goes over and sits for a bit to get back into her game mindset. It's ok to take a personal time out when you've had a crappy jam.

Don't get me wrong, being rational might be the last thing you want to do. It's soooooo tempting to throw a tantrum, especially during practice when you're mentally exhausted and emotionally raw. Just remember that giving in to poutrage or butthurt might feel good for about five minutes, but eventually you will regret letting your emotions get the best of you.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

When A Friend Is On the Fence About Retiring.

I've been involved in derby for six years now, and even though that's not a record for any player, it certainly is a long time. I have seen most of the people I skated with in my first year retire from derby due to injury, annoyance, or real life issues, and yes, I get a little wistful. I don't want any of my teammates to retire, regardless of the reason; I've been through it so many damned times, that I actually have a protocol I follow to keep my emotions in check.  It's not easy for anyone when a leaguemate retires, even if it's the right time and for the right reasons.

Lately, it seems like more people are wavering between staying in derby or leaving. When close
Two of my friends retired. Let's hope Tsunami keeps taking photos!
friends tell me they're thinking about retiring, I have to fight the urge to immediately panic and talk them out of it. I know, it's a natural reaction, because it makes us question why we're still in it. Don't we all have those days when we question the continuing commitment to derby?  I think I question it at least once a week; is it still worth it? Most of the time I have to admit to myself that I'm still having a hell of a good time, but sometimes I am looking forward to the finishing line myself. So, how do you treat someone who makes the "I'm thinking about retiring" noises.

1. Don't overreact to the words "I'm thinking about retiring." Sometimes people just say that, especially when they're having a less than stellar day with derby.  Who doesn't want to walk away from derby when there's stupid drama? Guilty. Frustration makes people say a lot of things that they don't necessarily mean.

2.  If your friend mentions it a couple of times, ask her or him some follow up questions. If the retirement issue isn't brought up in a time of frustration, now might be the time to ask a few questions.
a. When are you thinking about retiring?  If they have a date in mind, this might be the real deal. The more specific they are about the date, then that's a huge sign they have been really thinking about it.  If your friend says "I dunno, maybe at the end of the season", that's not super specific, but if she says "after the November bout" then it's probably pretty serious.
b. Do you have any plans after you leave derby?  Someone who hasn't really thought the whole retirement thing through probably won't be able to answer this question with anything specific, but is she says "I'm going to start training for that half marathon in October" well it's probably a done deal.

If all signs definitely point to an imminent retirement, there are some things you shouldn't probably say.

1. Don't try to talk someone out of retirement.  I know it's tempting, and for the most part we try to talk our friends out of retirement because we want them to know they'll be missed. I've made this mistake several times in the past; I've tried to talk someone out of retiring, and made her really feel bad about her decision.  Be supportive of your friend; even if she's thought it through, leaving derby can be a really traumatic adjustment period. She doesn't need you questioning her choice; she needs support. Sometimes you have to swallow your feelings to help your friend feel supported.  Sometimes all you can say to someone who drops the "r" word on you is "ok."

2.  Don't treat them like they are disappearing, becoming invisible or whatever.  You may feel awkward when you finally process the information that your friend is retiring.  It doesn't mean that she's abandoning you, although it might feel like that at first. I remember the first time one of my close friends told me she was retiring; it felt like a punch in the guts, and I wanted to say "don't leave me!" Yes, my feelings instantly became about me, but after the initial shock, I realized that she would be my friend whether she was in or out of derby. She wasn't going to disappear; she was just redefining a part of her life.

3.  It's ok to grieve a bit, but don't be a dick about it. When your friend leaves derby, it is like a little death. Things won't be exactly the way they were, but that's life in general. It's ok to be sad, but remember it's not actually a death. Derby is awesome, but it too shall pass from you life one way or another. Be melancholy, be bummed out, but don't be a drama queen about it, especially in front of your friend who is retiring.