Monday, May 25, 2015

Referee feedback

Photo by Joshua R. Craig
Ever had to do a ref evaluation during a game? Sometime they're thrown at a team minutes before a game, and then that team has to scramble to find someone to fill them out. At some point, that person might be you; filling out the actual form isn't hard, or even mentally strenuous, but it does have some pitfalls that you might have to worry about. Maybe worry is too strong of a word, but if you want your ref evaluation to actually be helpful, you need to put some effort into them. Even if you're not doing an official WFTDA ref and NSO feedback form, and just giving a ref requested feedback, you should use these guides to help you construct your feedback.

1. Actually watch the ref and not focus on the game. This is the hardest thing ever, in fact, it's harder than saying no to amazing cheesecake, or going to bed early when there is a fantastic show on TV. Watching the ref you've been asked to give feedback to can be extremely difficult because as skaters, we tend to watch the game play instead of the refs. We usually only notice the refs and NSOs when either we disagree with them, or whole heartedly agree with them because that call they just made threw the other team's jammer in the box.

2.  Look for consistent calls. Are they consistently calling out of play? Are the consistently aware of skaters creating the pack? These are great things to point out, because consistency is important in a ref crew. Conversely, if they are making the incorrect calls consistently, that is something to point out. Do they constantly miss define the pack because they keep missing blockers from both teams? Are the calling 9 feet closer to 5 feet? If they are constantly consistently calling the wrong call, that can be room for improvement as well.

3. Do they know the rules? Sounds like a dumb question, but it is an important one. If they're NSOing, do they understand the protocols of the penalty box? Do the refs understand who initiated the contact? Can they keep track of their jammers and keep the the number of points earned? Having a good grasp on the rule set is essential for NSOs and refs.

4. Can they skate confidently. I know that we, as skaters, tend to be hyper critical about skating ability; we train so much to be great at what we do, but refs need to be confident on their skates as well. Do they need to be able to skate on one foot around the outside curve while spinning around? No, but it's important that they can keep up with the pack and jammers, and not worry about their ability to stop when needed. There have been several refs I've watched miss calls because they were looking at their feet instead of watching the game. Refs need to have great awareness as well, you never know when a jammer will get her world rocked and thrown into a ref at the worst moment possible.

5. Are they professional? I've dealt with amazing refs who had great interpersonal skills; they could diffuse angry bench coaches by listening and making them feel like their needs were being heard.  Conversely, I've dealt with ref crews who were dismissive, or seemed flustered, or were even arguing amongst themselves. I know refs are human too, but keeping a professional front helps keep games go smoothly. And speaking of smoothly, I do tend to wonder when a ref crew has to have tons of official time outs. If a ref crew is calling official time outs every other jam to either get the score straight or correct calls, communication has broken down and the game is definitely impacted.

Is reffing and NSOing an easy job? Oh heck no! I've dabbled in both during my derby career and I have immense respect for the people who volunteer to keep the game going safely and efficiently. We all should, but both refs and NSOs should be open to constructive feedback. We all want to improve our skills, and I am sure that the dedicated women and men who ref and NSO are trying to do the same. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

So you made the twenty. Now what?

"Any skater/athlete can learn to skate fast, have endurance, agility, awareness in the pack, skater skills, transitions, blocks, etc. These skills are teachable.
Not every skater/athlete will learn how to have dedication, desire, patience, or how to be a team player and come to practice."-Smarty Pants

So, you’ve made your team’s 20 person roster. Huzzah! Look at you go, gurl! You should be very proud of yourself, because your hard work has been paying off. Unfortunately, now the really hard work begins.

This is my seventh year in roller derby, and my derby career has had its ups and downs. One of the more disappointing downs I ever had was being on the rostered twenty for my team, but barely making it on a game roster, or getting much play time at all. I know that every member of the team helps the team train to win, but sometimes it was really depressing to know that I would be taking days off of work, paying for hotels and airfare and maybe skating in one or two jams. I know that many people experience the same situation in making the charter roster their first time, but it can be quite demoralizing if you let it get to you.

If you find yourself in this situation, there are a few things you can do to possibly increase your chance to make a game roster and get more playing time.

  1.  Find your friends. Because twenty skaters are on the sanctioned twenty, that automatically means six people are not going to be rostered. You’re all in the same boat, so find someone you can work with and help each other get better. Share your experiences, and celebrate your victories. Root for each other, because in the end, you’re hoping to have the chance to be their teammate on the track.

  2. Come to every practice ever. Yes, it’s a fact that some rostered skaters will skip a practice here and there; it’s not awesome, but it happens. If you haven’t made a roster yet, or have barely played in many jams when you have, you need to get to all of the practices. Show your coaches and captains that you are dedicated and in it to win it. Practicing hard is going to get you to a higher level of skills, but it also allows you to have time for your teammates to build confidence in your abilities to understand strategy. If you’re not there enough, they can’t trust you to do your job on the track. Being familiar with how your teammates play on the track is so key to fitting into a competitive team.

  3. Cross train train train. You can’t do everything you need to do to develop into a competitive athlete at practice; cross training is a way to improve your endurance, strength,
    This was running. I hate running.
    agility and flexibility off skates. You won’t be able to build yourself up without cross training outside of practice; find a work-out buddy to help keep you on schedule!

  4. Go to outside training. Is Smarty Pants holding a clinic near you? How about Quadzilla? Learning from people outside of your league is so helpful! First of all, these trainers have no preconceived notions about your abilities or potential. Their feedback is based on what they see you doing now, which can be supremely helpful. Also, it gives you a list of skills and ideas to work on, which doesn’t have to be announced to your league at large. Sometimes it’s easier to hear feedback from people who are removed emotionally from what’s going on in your league than your own coaches. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't seek out feedback from your coaches either.

  5. Talk to your coaches and captains. Have you discussed the areas where they see room for improvement? I don’t mean harassing them right after a roster has been released, but asking them what they think you should work on? Sometimes people can’t always put into words what they’re thinking, but they should have some concrete feedback to give you other than “you’re just not ready yet.”

  6. Play with your B team. In fact, play all the derby you possibly can. In our league, our six non rostered allstars are encouraged to play as much as they can with our Bootleggers. Nothing replaces game experience; where else can you get a full ref crew, NSOs and crowd noise to deal with? Nowhere. Go to invitationals and open scrimmages too. The more experience you get, the better your track awareness should be.

    So, let's say you do all of these things, and seven Bonnie Thunders clones suddenly show up to your league and they get rostered before you. That's an exaggeration, but it can happen. You can work your tail off and never make a roster. At that point, you need to ask yourself if you are ready to keep working for possibly no pay off. Nobody can answer that question but you, and your answer may change from season to season or even roster to roster. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

MVP Awards: The Good, the Bad and the Enh

Moar cowbell!
What do you think of when you hear "Hey, we need to choice an MVP for each team?" Usually, this request comes after a game, when you're either reeling from a defeat, or ready to uber celebrate a hard earned victory. Sometimes people have no idea who deserves the MVP award. Often the decisions are made under the gun and not made well, or are made over politics. It seems like 50% of the time the right people get the MVP awards, while the other 50% of the time people choose favorites or "the person who was the least douchey on the track." Hey, I've had my share of MVP awards, and some were definitely not given to the best player on the track (because I was the one who received it.) Even though I don't always agree with receiving an award, I cherish my MVPs, because when I'm not feeling awesome about myself, I have these tangible reminders that someone didn't think I completely sucked at some point. I know that most of your motivation should come from yourself, it is nice to get the occasional ATTAGIRL.

Bootleggers do internal awards for their players.
Our B team, the Carolina Bootleggers, has internal awards it gives out for every bout. They are recirculated, so they aren't permanent, but it's a true honor to be named by your teammates for doing well in a game. The internal Bootlegger awards are the Brute Boot in black and silver, the Brain Boot, in pink, and the Golden Boot, for team MVP. You get to keep the Boot awards until the next game, and then they go to another teammate, or possibly return to you. Whenever I was a Bootlegger, I really loved those awards. I think every team should consider doing internal awards for their own players. It can be the one thing that keeps someone who needs that tiny bit of motivation working to get better at derby.

May the Fourth MVJ
So, the first question you have to answer is, do you want to do MVP awards? It's usually up to the host team to make this decision and then provide the awards. If you're hosting, you can either say yea or nay to them. If you do decide to provide them, you should find the most creative person in your league, and let them create! Some of the best MVP awards are the most creative and unique ones. If your bout (and yes I still say bout) has a theme, try and make the awards match up with the theme.  If you're playing a team that has a mascot they're fond of, maybe use that mascot in the award itself. When we played the Charlotte Rollergirls this year, we knew they loved sharks, so we made the MVP awards from toy sharks. Sometimes it's the little things that count.

I think some of the coolest MVP awards are the ones where the recipients can wear them to the after party. Evidently, the newest rage is making MVP capes to wear to the after party. Trucker hats are pretty popular too. T-shirts would be great, but they can be pricey, so think about some cool and wearable ideas that won't necessarily break your league's bank.

Low Maim loved her awards from the lock in.

I've got to say, I've seen some pretty spectacular failures when it comes to MVP awards.  Be careful with what you create as an award. Sometimes, people like to show them off to family and friends, or at least have them where they can be seen in their house. At times, I've seen teams make awards that were definitely not rated G or even PG. One team gave out an MVP award that was a Barbie doll perched lasciviously on top of a golden sex toy; yes, it was hilarious, but honestly, do you want to bring that home and put it up on the mantle? Probably not. Keep in mind that the MVP award will probably be a reminder of a derby memory, so maybe keep them less risque instead of putting glitter on a dildo.


Monday, May 4, 2015

What Roller Derby Didn't Do for Me, and the fallout. By Dawna Bates

Dawna approached me about publishing her blog post after Facebook removed it for sexual content. I read the piece, and said, "Hunh? What sexual content?"  Sometimes Facebook is a great resource, and sometimes it makes no sense to me.
What Roller Derby Didn't Do for Me, and the fallout 
By Dawna Bates
Ok so...I wrote this a couple weeks ago and it got a lot of positive attention. It was awesome. It also
got some negative attention, a few nasty facebook messages privately to me and then it got reported for sexual content to facebook and it was removed. I feel like the second line "Roller Derby Didn't Make Me A Lesbian" was the nail in the coffin for this little nugget. But...isn't that the world's problem today? One little thing that some may not understand, or one word that someone might find offensive or an idea that doesn't conform, the first reaction is to hide it, report it, sweep it under the rug, step over it while whistling innocently and pretending not to notice. I'm putting it back out there, and not for attention to myself (although I'm sure I will get comments saying just that), but to show I won't back down. I wasn't even really addressing any hard hitting issues here, but I would. 
I am not going to let facebook or a someone with an ax to grind silence what I have to say and something that I think benefits myself and it seemed to benefit others. So, reshare if you want, reread if you whatever you want with it. I was humbled before by all the views I got and I certainly don't expect that response again, but I wanted it back out there. I do want my voice heard I guess, but not to showboat. I want a simple word like "lesbian" to be just that: a simple word.

I'm 41 years old.  Forty. Freaking. One. I have lived double time for a lot of those years, some for the good and some for the bad.  I have don tons of fun things, been through hell and back and soldiered through monotony too.  I have been the typical broke single mom, working three jobs and worrying about whether or not I was doing right by my child.  But I have also been the atypical mom, the mom who walked into a job interview for a bread truck driver and said "Hire me today, I will work circles around these men".  And they did.  And I did. I went on to get my Class A CDL, be the only woman hired in a male dominated industry at a couple different places and even becoming the boss of those men.  I'm proud of that.  But here's what I'm most proud of about myself:  I try.  I try it all, I try new things, I try to do the right thing and I try to have fun.  99.9% success rate so far.  One of the new things I tried was roller derby. I am IN LOVE.   But you know how that goes, every love affair has its skeptics.  I was shocked at all of the preconceived stereotypes about derby and how quickly people dismissed it as a real sport, thought it was fake or that it was basically a brawl on 8 wheels.  To all of those statements, the naysayers, the judgers and the curious,  I have compiled a list of what roller derby didn't do for me.  Here goes.
1.  Roller Derby didn't make me violent.  As much as people want to believe we get out there and beat each other up WWE style, it just isn't so.  Derby is very focused on safety, teaching you how to fall and how to hit safely and legally so you don't hurt yourself and others.  I'm not saying I will never get hurt in derby, anything is possible. I once tore a muscle in my leg just by walking upright like a human being.
2.  Roller Derby didn't make me a lesbian.  Just like it didn't make me an asshole or a judgmental bigot.  You're just born that way.  I know lots of people from all walks of life, but when I see them I don't think hey, he or she is a ____.  I think, hey look at so and so doing so well and being awesome!  So for anyone who says "roller derby will make you lesbian"...Puh lease.  I can think of worse things to be.  That's like saying swimming will turn you into a fish or eating a banana will turn you into a monkey. Come on.
3.  Roller Derby didn't make me a bad ass.  I did that all on my own.  I took that leap of faith, trying something out of my comfort zone and revealing my inner bad ass.  She was there all along, derby just helped expose her.  It sure helps to have my teammates cheering me on, encouraging me even after I feel like I will just never get it.  Those damn clockwise transitions are hard, right?
4.  Roller Derby didn't make me narrow minded.  I have to tell you, I have never been one of those people that are comfortable in any surroundings.  I struggle to fit in, even if that is only in my mind sometimes, and I struggle to realize what my place is in any situation.  Not in derby, nope, no way.  I can honestly say that I walked in and I BELONGED.  So does everyone else.  These ladies and gents sincerely do not care what your background is, where you're from, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc.  So you want to skate?  Cool, gear up!  Be nice, have fun, learn.  Bonus:  awesome girls and guys who become friends off the track.
5. Roller Derby didn't make me a sore loser.  It didn't make me a sore winner either.  We warm up and joke around with the opposing team even just seconds before the jam begins.  But be clear, once we are on the track and that whistle blows, there is no question that it is a serious and fierce competition.  These girls mean business.  As a rookie at my very first bout last month I got a reality check when I was knocked out and a penalty called on me in the first ten seconds of my first real bout.  *face palm*.  After that I put on my game face and actually played a pretty decent game for a freshie.
6.  Roller Derby didn't make me an ageist.  I think the girls on our team range in age from 24 to 46, and some unlikely friendships are born from it.  I have heard there are some teams with players in their 60's and that is awesome! I hope to be one of them.  But you see, that is the beauty of the derby. It exposes you to people you may never have met in your day to day, nine to five.  It is a beautiful eclectic hodgepodged mish mash of people with a common goal. 
I'm sure there are many more things that roller derby didn't do for me, but there are so many more things it did do.  My 21 year old son came to my first bout.  I skated up to him in all of my gear and he said "I just realized something, I will never be as cool as you".  I responded "You could be, just TRY". Now, isn't that something a mom wants to hear? That's she's finally cool?  It only took me 41 years!  I love all of my teammates, I love going to practice with people who are passionate about the sport, are passionate about teaching skills and honing their own and who are just living their lives the best they can with no judgment towards others.  I love that the only prerequisite for derby is to be a human, want to learn, be a decent freaking person.  Shouldn't that be the goal of life in general?  I know I'm a newbie with only one bout under my belt.  I have a long way to go and so much to learn about the sport of derby and about myself.  But every day I'm grateful to these girls and guys, what they've taught me about myself and life and derby.  So, even if you don't think derby is for you (you never know until you try, though), get out there.  Try something new.  Don't let people's opinions stifle your desire for learning and adventure.  You won't regret it.  I know I don't.