Sunday, December 28, 2014

Why you should go to basic skills practices in the "off season"

I'm heading into my seventh year of derby, and sometimes, I'm just tired. Yeah, I know; some people are going in their tenth or eleventh year, but seriously folks, derby can be super draining. I love it, but sometimes I want to hit the pause button and not think about it as much as I do.

This year, during the off season, we offered our newer skaters a solid month of basic skills practices. Everyone in the league was encouraged to come, but not required. These practices were non contact to let people in our league heal and not keep beating themselves up, and quite a few of us took advantage of them. Even though I wanted to work on my basic skills, I still was kind of reluctant to give up any free time to drag my butt to practice during the off season.

But I went, and I'm very glad I did.

Because of our new practice schedule,  we've had to divide our practices up, so our two travel teams practice separately and the come together for a league practice once a week. Our freshmeat have their own practices where anyone can attend, but they focus on basic skills the entire time. Last year, I could only make it out to a few of these practices, so I didn't really spend a lot of time with our freshmeat, but during December, the only practices available were freshmeat practices. At first I thought they would be tedious and boring, sort of like eating broccoli or kale instead of a good cheeseburger, but they weren't. And here's why.

My Little Sister showing her classy side.
1.  Freshmeat is super enthusiastic about skating and derby. Way back in the day, I couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't want to skate all of the time! Any opportunity I could, I was on skates and working on something derby related. Parade? Hell yes! Open skate? Uh, double hell yes! Over time, I didn't answer extra skating's siren call nearly as often because I was getting bogged down with training, volunteer duties, BOD responsibilities, and allstar duties.  I forget sometimes that skating can just be fun!  Beth Row and I were running a Saturday morning basic skills practice a couple of weeks ago; we were pretty sure nobody was going to show up because it was the day of our end of the year party. We were both ready to just bail on the whole practice, when a group of freshies showed up. They were amazingly excited and pumped to be at a ten am practice. That kind of enthusiasm is contagious, and it's the good kind of contagious in derby. Sometimes, vets have to have a reminder of why they joined the sport in the first place. Oh yeah, I like to skate!

Also, we've had more time to bond after practices at crappy restaurants; I might even venture to try karaoke at some point. 

2. Everyone needs to review the basics. Yep, everyone. Even if you've been skating forever, you probably have some weaknesses that you don't have time to work on during your team practices or your league practices. Sometimes people feel like they're supposed to be able to do everything perfectly when they're on the travel team, and admitting that they aren't able to perform every little skill is just not possible. They don't want to look weak. Basic skills practices can be a safe place to work on that left plow stop, or your weak turning side, or a power slide. I've been working on my opposite hockey stop, because I have never had the luxury of time to do so.  Going to basic skills lets me work on my stance, strengthen some rusty skills and enjoy the feeling of success without being under tons of pressure to do things in a contact practice. This month of basic skills practices have given me the opportunity to train my muscles to get lower and retain my derby stance; hopefully, I'll be able to stay low when I'm on the track and blocking!

3.  It's the off season, but that doesn't mean not staying in shape.  Some people take off their skates for the off season and don't even look at them until league practices start up again. Rest is good, and I completely endorse resting from contact and intensity, but keeping your basic skills polished and your ability to skate without huffing and puffing is also something I endorse.  It's a balancing act; you want to take a bit of a break, pay attention to your personal life and rest, but you don't want to become a slug either. Also, I like to eat well during the holidays, so burning some of that off while skating helps me from growing out of my pants.

4. Your experience will help others when you show up. Being a seasoned skater means you've been around the track more than once. It also means you might be able to give a newer skater feedback that could help her master a skill she's struggling with. Having someone with a different perspective watch you work on a skill can jog that "ah ha" moment loose in your brain. Without the seasoned skaters that helped you become a better skater, you would have had a harder struggle, so go out there and share the knowledge with a newer skater!

Oh yeah, and have some fun.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

World Cup Musings by Tricky Lake (DC Rollergirls)

I was unable to go to the World Cup this year due to lack of funds, but Tricky Lake of the DC Rollergirls as going and offered to write up her experiences as a fan.

I left for the Blood and Thunder Roller Derby World Cup armed with a press pass and a list of people I wanted to interview about a range of subjects.  I never used that list.  Instead, I arrived at the world cup and was completely over run by world class derby.  I sat glued to the tracks for four straight days.  The players, the groups of fans singing and chanting for their country, the intense game play, the screaming of the crowd...these things all lead to an immersive experience that left me both awed and inspired.    Much has been said about the play and the game play in the weeks since the world cup.  Today, I focus on the people who came to see the world cup and the energy of watching.

The different groups of cheering, screaming, chanting, singing, costume-wearing, stomping, horn blowing fans made the entire world cup experience that much more intense.  I have been to tournaments before and I’ve seen the way that some teams do have fans that come out in droves to support their teams (“Boston, Boston, Pinch Pinch Pinch!” and the New Skids on the Block both spring to mind). The crowds that attended this event brought the energy in the room to a whole new level.

The first group of fans I noticed were from Team ZA, as the South African team called themselves.  They had stuffed lions on their head. Frikkin.  Lions.  And capes.  And they all sat in a big group and cheered together for their team. I remember thinking to myself how impressed I was by this.  Little did I realize just how high the level of coordinated singing and chants would get by the end of the weekend.

Team France, Team Ireland, Team England, Team Canada, Team West Indies, Team Scotland, Team Chile, Team Portugal, Team Mexico, Team Wales, Team Argentina and I’m sure more that I didn’t bear direct witness to all had coordinated crowd songs and cheers to help urge on their teams.  There was a fun moment before a Team France bout where their fans, sitting in the stand on both sides of the track, were singing one of their songs back and forth to each other several times.  As you can hear in that clip, vuvuzelas were alive and well in the crowds for the entire weekend.  You really could not go anywhere near any of the play without the incessant background honking.  I heard surprisingly few cowbells.  I would have thought there would be more considering that they’d be more compact for travel than a vuvuzela but I digress.

Team Australia’s group of cheerleaders (because really, that’s exactly what they were) were the obvious favorite the entire weekend.  There were several of them (about half a dozen) in coordinated green and gold sequin dresses that spent every Australia game standing as a group on the sideline leading cheers, doing coordinated dances during time outs (that included lifts), rocking out between periods to get pumped music, and just generally improving the fan atmosphere.  Everywhere you looked all weekend, there were some team Australia fans either in green and gold or holding a blow up kangaroo.  At some point, one of the kangaroos was kidnapped by an opposing team (the theory was that it was team England but I never confirmed that).  The kidnapped kangaroo showed up during the last day and gave birth to a smaller blow up kangaroo.

And the antics of the Team Australia dresses did not end with the world cup.  One of the dresses followed Smarty Pants home.  With Quadzilla.  And quite a few others.  

Mascot tomfoolery was well represented during the weekend.  My favorite moment of this was during the last day when a cut out of Scald Eagle was stolen and draped in England’s flag.  Some of the Team USA skaters managed to steal her back and started running through the crowd with her.  Brazillian Nut decided that this would not do and jumped, not unlike a spider monkey, onto the face of the skater holding the cut out and wrested it away from her.  All in front of an arena full of fans screaming encouragement.

Team West Indies had a large coordinated group of fans and were a definite crowd favorite by the end of the weekend.  A large group from England set themselves up as a cheering section for team West Indies complete with pineapple mascot.  This was Team West Indies’ national anthem.  So much dancing.  (By comparison, this was how Germany listened to their national anthem.  Poised and ready for the first whistle on the jam line).  

And of course, this wouldn’t be America unless we heard the ever swelling chant of “U-S-A!  U-S-A!  U-S-A!”  

Four straight days of high level roller derby.  That’s a lot for anyone to take in.  But being a part of a crowd that continued to build in size and energy for four days until culminating in one giant arena bout between some of the best players in the world was magical.  I really feel like the crowd and fan engagement I witnessed during the world cup speaks highly for the future for our sport and the world showing up to watch us play. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How to be a better BOD member

I took on a board position this last year, and now that I'm done, I can look back and think about all the opportunities I missed to make my experience better. Don't get me wrong, I did the best I could with the position I had; our league had some serious changes this year. We got a new space, a space of our very own, something we had been working for for years! Exciting times, but with every opportunity comes new and interesting dilemmas. We had to figure out how to schedule the space for practice, deal with the extreme temperatures, the floors, etc. On top of that, we had a lot of skaters retire the last two years and we lost two of our dedicated coaches. This last year was probably the most stressful I've ever had, and yes I change some of the things I did and didn't do, but I am also proud of the things we accomplished.

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Yes, I think I sent out 847,952 emails this year dealing with BOD stuff and Training particularly. I could have sent more, and maybe should have sent more. It can be a little daunting to open your inbox and see seventy new emails about the number of volunteer hours the league members need to be able to skate. It's tempting as hell to skip them, but you should read every one of them and try to respond in a timely manner. Yes, does that mean you'll be reading emails at bedtime? Probably. Also, if you are not one to check your email regularly, and by regularly I mean at least twice a day, then maybe you shouldn't take a BOD position. There's nothing worse than thinking an email subject is dead, and then have a BOD member that doesn't read her email on a daily basis chime in two days later.

2. Realize your job is to make things better for the league. Personally, I loved working on Training issues this year, and I absolutely HATED dealing with  disciplinary issues, or league members not following the rules. Every time we had to deal with one of those issues, I kept thinking "man, this job would be great if people just followed the rules." But people do what people do, and that's just something you have to deal with when you're in a leadership position. As a BOD member, you have to slog through a lot of crap before you can deal with the things that will advance your league. Real life is messy, and so are people....and so is derby drama sometimes.

3. Find some organized people who can help you. Lord have mercy, but I would have shot myself in the face had I not had someone on my committee to help me herd all of the cats. As a BOD member, you cannot herd all of the cats by yourself; it's just impossible, and it will make you insane. I am not as organized as I should be; I admit it, but it helps so much to recognize some skill that you lack, and find someone to make you a better leader by helping you shore up your weakness. Find the people that make you better at your job and recruit them to help!

4. Learn from your mistakes. There were several times in my term as Training Director where I would sit myself down and say "Well, that didn't work." After I figured out what wasn't working, I had to figure out why it wasn't working, and what, if anything I could do to get it to work. Sometimes, the answer was "nothing." Sometimes the answer was "better timing" and sometimes the answer was "better planning." You're not going to make awesome decisions every single time, but you can learn from your boo boos. If you don't acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them, you're going to keep making them.

5. Know your limits. Nothing sucks worse than a BOD member who takes on so much responsibility that she eventually feels crushed by everything she has to do, and starts to become Bitterpants Betsy. "I've put so much time and effort into this league, and nobody appreciates it." Well, they do, but nobody appreciates a self-appointed martyr, especially when they get publicly bitter. Work needs to get done, but it doesn't all need to get done by the same person all of the time. Don't take on all the work ever and then complain because you're not getting respect and all the adulation from the league. If people think you're going to do all the work, most people will let you do it. I didn't have this issue with my particular job on the BOD, but I watched a couple of my fellow BOD members get themselves pretty wound up about how they did all this work, and nobody cared. This is a dangerous behavior pattern to develop.

6. Don't forget you're being watched even when you don't think you're being watched. People are watching you, and well they should because you are in a position of power. If you post a snarky Facebook status, people in your league might assume you're being passive aggressive about them. BOD members have to behave better than the average league member because you are being scrutinized; try not to have public meltdowns, do your league duties with a smile, and don't cause issues that have to be taken up by the rest of the BOD because someone in the league complained about your behavior. Is it fair? Nope, but it happens. I'm very glad that I only had to hear about this kind of thing from other leagues, but everyone should take heed and remember they're under a microscope.

Are there other lessons I learned? Of course, but I doubt they would be as universal as the ones I listed. If you are new to a leadership position in your league, congrats! The hard work is totally worth it, and I wish you nothing but success.