Sunday, February 22, 2015

Resisting Feedback

I've seen this happen over and over again throughout my years in derby, and it always baffles me. Coaches give a player feedback, and he or she decides that the feedback isn't valid to her specifically, or that the coach doesn't know what she's talking about, or that she knows better than the coach. I realize that not every coach knows the answer to every issue on the track, but feedback is a necessary evil in any sport, and if you're resistant to feedback, you're not going to go very far.
Photo by A Boy Named Tsunami

All skaters, at some point, have received feedback that they don't agree with. I've been told by a couple of old school skaters that I would never make it in derby, and yet here I am starting my seventh season. Of course you're going to get feedback that isn't accurate, but most coaches will try to give you the best feedback to make you a better skater. How do you figure out what feedback to ignore, and what feedback to accept?

1. Consider the source.  Like I mentioned, the old school derby skaters didn't give me positive feedback. They didn't think I was tough enough and I didn't match their idea of a derby girl. Even though their feedback wasn't relevant, I did learn something from them. I learned that some people have preconceived notions of what roller derby athletes should look like, or act like. I also learned that when someone tells me I can't do something, I'm going to prove them wrong. When you're given feedback, you have to consider why the person has said what she's said. Is she coming from a helpful place? Does she have an agenda? If she does have an agenda, is it a positive one, or does she have an axe to grind? (And yes, all of those pronouns could have been "he" just as easily.)

2. Check your ego. Is someone telling you something you don't want to hear? Chances are, you're going to get some feedback that isn't going to be glowing. We don't improve if we only hear positive things about ourselves; it's not fun to be corrected when we're working so hard at our sport. Even though I'm not hyped about getting some correction to what I'm doing on the track, I'd rather hear it from my coaches, than hear it from the refs, calling me on a penalty.

3. Listen to the broken record. There are some universal truths in roller derby. You should be getting lower, you should be practicing how you'll play in a game, and you should be working on your basic skating skills. Some feedback is always right, and even if you're sick of hearing this kind of feedback, it's relevant! You can try to rationalize why your skating style runs contrary to known ideals, but you're really just wasting your own time and development as a skater. There's a reason you're hearing the same feedback over and over again.

4. Are you capable of evaluating yourself? Being able to self evaluate is an extremely important skill; you have to be able to practice it to be good at it. Can you really sit down with yourself and figure out what you're good at, and what you need to work on? It might be harder than you think. We don't get a lot of training in our world to learn how to self evaluate; teachers grade us, bosses promote us, and coaches give feedback. Some jobs ask for self evaluations once a year; we've all experienced how uncomfortable that can make us. Once a year isn't enough practice on something to make us good at it. Learn to self evaluate, and you will go far in life in general.

5. Learn from all feedback. You can always learn something from feedback; either you learn something about the person giving feedback, or about yourself. How do you take feedback? Are you instantly on the defensive? Are you capable of evaluating the feedback itself? Can you sift through the feedback and find the pure nuggets of gold that you can follow? If you can find the best parts from the feedback people give you, you will improve in derby.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Battle of the Allstars II, what I learned.

This is a story of a rag tag team of misfits who banded together, in spite of hospitalizations, emergency surgery, stomach bugs and unexpected trips out of the country, came to Pennsylvania and surprised a lot of people in the derby community.

We all fit in here.
Footie Pajamas.
Betty Switch's mom hosted the entire team, plus coaches, in her house. I think there were about twelve people sprawled out in the basement, while a few luckier folks got to crash in a bedroom upstairs. Switch's mom was a gracious host, who greeted us every morning with freshly made muffins. Who could hate that? Was it a bonding experience to eat with, sleep and breathe my teammates for 72 hours? Absolutely. I think it helped cement us as a team, especially since we were all from such different parts of NC and didn't have many scrimmages together to prepare for the tournament. You can learn so much about people when you're crammed in a space together; who knew that Tutu La Rue wore footie pajamas! Two investments helped make staying in the basement with so many people comfortable: I had a kick ass air mattress, and I had heavy duty ear plugs.

Venue and host league
They venue was small, but I think it was the right size for the tournament. Everything felt really cozy and intimate; the crowd was very present. We could hear just about every cheer, boo and conversation when we were playing. The floor, sport court, was a little sticky and slow, but for the most part, we adapted. Going in and out of the hockey benches was interesting and reminded me of the time the Carolina Bootleggers played Dutchland at their hockey venue.

I have to give the Bux- Mont Roller Derby Dolls, who hosted the whole shebang, a serious shout out. Our handlers were awesome, and really responsive! We had access to water, snacks, and multiple
Princess ended up with V-Diva's eyelashes on her skate
band-aids. For Team NC, who actually shut down our bout with the PA Allstars due to one of our players bleeding all over the damned track, band-aids were a premium. After the blood on the track, the stomach bug we passed around, the vomiting on the bench, I dubbed our team "Team Bodily Fluids." We really were a mess, and I am surprised that we survived the weekend. Oh yes, just a reminder to all the leagues out there; always have a bleach solution ready to go just in case someone bleeds all over the track.

Team NC came into the tournament in eighth and we left ranked sixth. Because we lost our second game to the PA Allstars, we were knocked into the loser bracket. By Sunday, at eleven, we had played six games. The last game was between us and Michigan, and even though it was so close (seven points) I was a bit relieved that we didn't have to play a seventh game in three days.  Most of our players were throwing up on the bench; I spent a great deal of my off track time leaning over a garbage can, trying not to toss my cookies on the track.

People Watching
It was great to walk in and see some amazing folks there. I ran into Slack Kerowhack, Lady Quebeaum, and Jason Singer, which was super awesome because I rarely get to see any of those people in meat space. Facebook is great, but I love being able to actually have a conversation with someone without typos. I also loved people-watching in general. Oh hai Team New York, how you doin'? No, I didn't stalk anyone, but yes, I watched some people. Because the venue was so small, it was easy to see everyone who was there.

Final Thoughts
If given the opportunity, I would totally play in this tournament again. It was a great experience, and maybe next time Team NC won't be the recipient of the Biblical plagues. I hope this tournament continues to grow and provide more states with the opportunity to send an allstar team. Between this and State Wars last year, I think we're going to see more and more opportunities like this.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Looking back on the impact derby had on my life, by LaLa Lebow

 Derby permeates our lives, and we learn so many good and terrible lessons from it. La La Lebow shared a blog entry with me in 2014, but she had more to say on the subject. Here are her musings about her retirement and what derby has taught her.

Earlier this year I wrote a pretty powerful recollection of my journey through Roller Derby. I wrote it as anonymous because I didn’t want to attract attention. Well that epically failed some read it and instantly knew it was me. Some of those that voiced their opinion had been by my side when I took that journey some of them were the ones I butted heads with etc. The point of the article was not to point fingers or cause a giant crap storm but you know how that goes. You can’t control people’s feelings and their opinions. I was also in a pretty dark place mentally and emotionally when I wrote that. I had just lost my job I had for over two years and was dealing with severe mental and emotional anguish. Now I am much better and a much different person. Honestly nothing anyone can say or do will bother me because it can’t affect me unless I let it.

I got mixed reactions before which was something I expected, but I don’t think I thought about how strong some of them were going to be. Some people were hurt and angry others were down right shocked and surprised. Then there were the ones who took a step back and said ‘Yes I see where you were going with this. You wrote what some of us have felt at one time or another.’ I have talked to former rivals and teammates and gotten one opinion or another and I’ve taken it in stride and withstood the brunt of some pretty strong opinions, but that’s a good thing. I wrote that article a while ago before it was even posted. For years writing has been a tool through which I search through my emotions and help clear them out. Sometimes you get so much going on inside of you there has to be an outlet. Everyone expresses differently I chose writing years ago.

All of that being said I have no regrets for writing that article. None whatsoever, but I would be lying if I said the comments and remarks made didn’t hurt me. However, I’ve come to the conclusion just as I wrote how I felt every one of you has every right to express yourself as how you see fit. It is ridiculously freeing and almost euphoric to take your keyboard and just blast your thoughts. It can be a bit dangerous sometimes and not have quite the outcome you thought it would.

Putting out that article made me do a lot of reminiscing and thinking about derby. There were many times I sat down and just thought and some nights where I had dreams I was on the pivot or the jammer line again. Other moments I would get in my car and my gear bag that stayed in my hatch would permeate with its ever present stink and I would tear up. Then of course there was the article of Gotham dominating a certain team, or a local teammate getting MVP, and even my old teams posting pictures of current bouts and my heart would ache.

I started thinking yes derby gave me a lot of moments I wasn’t proud of but it also gave so many more moments where I was. Despite the previous article there were moments of elation and achievement. There moments where I was on such a high that I thought I could conquer the world. In writing this second part I have finally come full circle with my feelings and my journey.

In the previous blog entry I spoke of a death in my family, well there were three deaths in my family actually back to back in two months. I am not putting this out there to try to ask for sympathy it’s an important event in how I started this final leg of the journey and where my emotions culminated from. I was also given an ultimatum by healthcare providers about my knees the inflammation I’ve had for thirteen years has gotten to the point where there are days I don’t walk without a limp. You can also sometimes hear me coming before you even see me because the cartilage crackles and rattles in my knees. Okay that’s a slight exaggeration about hearing me before you see me but there are moments when I kneel and stand that when my legs straighten it sounds like dry wood cracking. Surgery on both knees is in my future, along with a possible knee replacement. I also have tendonitis in my shoulder and a heel spur in my left foot with collapsed arches. All of this didn’t come from derby; please don’t think it did, but derby did put the icing on the proverbial cake so to speak. I have been involved in contact sports since I was seven years old. I’m twenty-eight now so a little over 21 years that is HELL one one’s body. I’ve had two corrective major surgeries on one knee already not looking forwards to any time soon having anymore if I can help it. When you start feeling like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, and ibuprofen and icy hot are just putting a band-aid on things, and more than one health practitioner tells you point blank to STOP, you kind of re evaluate things. Every hit hurts as you all know, but when you can’t even take a fall on one knee with it taking more than a few seconds to get up without searing pain, there is a problem. 

Also something I kept hidden for years was the fact I suffered from severe anxiety and depression. For the first time in years I have let loose emotions that I have hidden for a long, long, long time. I can tell you derby didn’t trigger these other things, did but derby did give me a push in the right direction. I started seeing my faults blaring at me like neon signs. I wasn’t happy, and I can promise you nothing could have changed that except me. I finally got some professional help, and between me and my therapist derby has come up. I’ve showed her pictures and talked about the times I was a real solid B.I.T.C.H, and the other times I was happy and at peace with myself. Those times have helped me pinpoint certain parts of my personality and helped me come to terms with some things and also helped me find the tools I need to no longer suppress those emotions but to learn how to filter them and let them out in a healthier more productive way. I’m still not perfect, and I still very much have my moments, but they are fewer and farther between. Roller derby really helped me start the path to finding myself; even if it helped me see a few ugly parts of myself, it also helped me see some of the beautiful parts of myself.

To those I hurt with my article, that was never my intention and hopefully one day you’ll see that it was how I felt at the time. I don’t blame anyone for my behavior and I certainly never intended for it to be something to embarrass anyone but I can’t help the way you felt after reading it. Also if you feel like said circumstances referenced in the article were false or over extended in truth than that's fine. Everyone has their own opinion of how events happen and how everyone feels individually is different. I just ask that from this point on respect my wishes and know that I am completely and utterly DONE with derby. I have no intention of NSOing, reffing, or play ever again because this is a choice I made. I can only take responsibility for myself, as I have learned. This second and final part isn’t supposed to be an apology or a last resort of sympathy is the cold hard truth.

This past year has been hell but sometimes; you have to go through the darkest times to find yourself.

There is still a part of me that is that girl with the skates on her feet that likes to kick ass and take names, who slapped hands with her teammates, who spent nights at Waffle House talking strategy with her teammates and coaches, and who spent many sleepless night biting her nails over one dramatic event or another.

My husband, yes I got married this past year, laughs at me sometimes because I can’t ever seem to make up my mind if derby was something that hindered or helped me. Unfortunately there are days where I have my regrets but again there are the days where I smile and want to hug my jersey.

As I prepare for the next stage of my life, being a wife and in a few years a mother, I’m glad I took this journey, even if some days I question it I always come up with the final answer of ‘Yes, yes I’m glad I did.’
So, to the many miles driven, the many laps skates, the giant hematomas, the almost broken bones, the ruined joints, the fainting spells, the vomit, the life-long friends, the “enemies” (HA-HA!! Seriously this is a joke…..), the rivals, the blood and tears spilt, the money spent on yet ANOTHER set of bearings or pads, the decals, the sleepless nights watching Gotham kick ass, and of course every single moment I asked myself ‘Is it all worth it?’ 

I can’t change how people feel but I can how I feel. I’m so happy that I’m coming to terms with so many things. Congratulations to my previous team for finally getting WTFDA and good luck and god speed to the freshies with hearts in their eyes. Much love to the friends who I have like me who are no longer involved in this sport but are never too busy to invite me to their houses for dinner and to share a good laugh with or to watch kitty videos in youtube. Just to everyone I am in a good place now and I’m living and thriving in it as much as I can and I wish the same thing for you.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A post to all you derby divas out there. Just stop.

I know that the current societal standards have embraced the word diva to be a positive role; girls of all ages wear sparkly shirts that have the word diva on them. Yes, it's acceptable to think you're special; we all want to be special at some point in our lives, but thinking that you're above the other people on your team is unacceptable.

Diva personalities bring issues to the team, and by issues, I mean the whole subscription. If you're a diva, or just have one to deal with on your team.

Are you a diva?

1. Divas have somehow learned that when they are over emotional they get attention.  Ramp up the emotions, the attention follows, right? If you are the drama queen type of diva, really take a good look at your behavior. You want to be heard, right? That's why you're being so extravagant with your emotional outbursts, right? My question to you is, do you think people would respect you more or less if you stopped having tantrums? (Here's a hint, the answer is yes. People don't respect tantrum throwers, especially in a team sport) Take a deep breath, breathe, and lower your voice. Lowering you voice will actually give what you're about to say more gravitas. Yes, I used gravitas.

2. Divas feel like they don't have to do the scut work. Putting down the track, showing up to practice on time, and doing volunteer work are just a few chores that can be described as scut work to a diva. Guess what? Your league needs everyone to pitch in to get stuff done, otherwise nobody plays. You want to play, right? Get in there and do some work and stop waiting for someone else to do it.

3. Be confident, don't be arrogant. Arrogance is not fun to be around, but confidence is awesome. Show your team that you're confident without treading over the line of being an arrogant prick. Confidence can be shared with your teammates, which will make them better and it will make you better. Arrogance makes you be above your teammates instead of being with them, and even though you think you're awesome, you need you teammates. Nobody wins games by themselves. Not in derby.

4. Just because some jackass professional athlete is doing it, doesn't mean you should. But Q! My professional sports hero just threw a fit on the field! Look, I admire a lot of amazing athletes for their skills, their endurance, their whatever, but I don't model my athletic career after showboats. Why? Well, just because someone is talented at something, it doesn't mean they're a good role model for life. Look at how many popular musicians are out there; yes, they're talented, but they are extreme butt heads in real life, and they end up paying an entourage to tolerate them. Just because someone has a talent, you don't have to embrace everything about them.

Do you have a known diva on your team?

1. Don't ask her "What's wrong?" They live to complain about things, and asking "Oh what's wrong?" is just asking for poutrage and a complicated and long tirade about their issues. Specific questions, like "Are you excited about practice tonight?"  If he or she says no in an emotional manner, well, you have skates on for a reason. (I'm skating away!)

2. Set limits and have rules everyone needs to live up to. Don't let people be above the law in your league, because you are just feeding a diva ego. Everyone works. Everyone practices, and everyone follows the rules. If you let one person get a pass because "she's too good to bench" then everyone should expect the same pass, everyone.

3. Don't buy into the hype. Yes, people are uber talented. Yes, they might be better than everyone on the team, but you still need more than one person out there. How many people is your diva driving away? I've seen some very talented divas come and go in derby; could they have gotten better had someone been able to approach them with feedback? Hell yes. Nobody is perfect, and feedback helps everyone become better derby skaters.

We all wear helmets in derby; no crowns needed.