Sunday, June 21, 2015

Uniforms don't have to be uniform

One of these things is not like the other....
Every year I see leagues struggling with the horrible task of obtaining new uniforms that won't piss
everyone off. Good luck, ladies, it's a virtually impossible. I've been through this tedious process twice, and it's been nothing but hurt feelings, grumpy players and nobody is happy with the final results. PERFECT! Isn't that what we were looking for? Ugh. Even the word "jersey" used to make me want to run away from the committee. Why can't roller derby be like figure skating, where everyone wears sequins? Or fringe? Or lame onesies which look horrible on every human ever? I'd be ok if everyone looked equally terrible, but that's not going to happen either.

The problem with uniforms is that there is no one style that flatters everyone. Bridesmaid dress designers have been trying for YEARS to design a dress that fits tall, short, thin or wide ladies, and they fail miserably. Jerseys have the same fatal flaw. I'm six feet tall, with no boobs, and wide shoulders. What flatters me isn't going to flatter my teammate who is five foot nothing with a huge rack. It shouldn't fit us the same! Only a crazy person would make a claim that it would flatter us both. (And yet I constantly read reviews of uniforms "flattering every figure in the league." Liarpants) When a league makes a decision about new jerseys, they tend to take the all or nothing approach. Either you all agree to wear this one style, or you don't get new uniforms. Generally what happens is that the majority wins and you all get to deal with your new look. Ugh.

I really wasn't digging the style of our newest jerseys. They were tight and clingy, which I hate, and they were fairly low cut. The strangest thing was that the white ones seem to be even more low cut than our black ones. I'm certain that wasn't the case, but somehow when I wore the white one, I felt way more exposed. Of course I was seriously disappointed in the new jerseys because our old ones weren't the greatest either, and I had high hopes for the new ones. Sigh. That's what I get for being an optimist! Kidding! I started to really look at what other teams did for uniforms, and I remembered when we played Killamazoo, some of their uniforms had a different cut than the rest of them. In fact, one of my favorite players, Javelin, had sleeves on her jersey, and nobody else did. Aha! There was a way to possibly make a silk purse out of a sow's ear!

With permission from my league, I decided to look for different options. My search led me to Derbyology and the storm style jersey. It wasn't as low cut and it definitely wasn't as clingy; the best part was the price was almost exactly what I would pay if I stayed with what the league ordered. I have a preexisting relationship with Cub and Bear who run Derbyology, but I have to say that even if I didn't, I would have ordered from them anyway. They had no minimum number of jerseys I had to order, and their turn around time was great. I've worn my new jerseys all season, and they don't pull from velcro and the printing has held up great!
All photos by Johua R. Craig
 So, I was able to get something I felt comfortable with, and it fits in nicely with what my league ordered. In fact, many people don't even notice I'm wearing a different style jersey. Win win! After this experience, I really think leagues should try to be a little flexible with the styles you choose. I know that one of the reasons leagues want to order from the same place, is that they might get a better deal with large numbers ordering, but letting people have a choice probably won't upset the final number too much. Most people in my league are happy with their jersey choice for the most part; I think I've been approached by one other teammate who was serious about getting info for ordering a different style. I'm sure there's a control freak aspect of jersey ordering, and that's ok too. Maybe leagues should look at ordering from places that offer a variety of different styles, and that way the "look" of the uniform won't be that radically different.  Relax people, as long as they look pretty close, nobody is going to get bent out of shape and say you don't look like a cohesive team.

But, I still think all teams should seriously reconsider rocking some fringe.

Just sayin'.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Losing Your Emotional Crap in Derby

We're all human, and that means that sometimes we have to deal with emotions, even where we don't want to be doing anything other than concentrating on derby. Derby is an extremely physical game, but there is definitely a mental and emotional component that can't be avoided.  Sometimes our emotions overwhelm us when we least expect them to, but dealing with emotions in derby can be so important if you want to improve your game.

Fury counts as anger too. Go see Mad Max.
To discuss emotions in derby, I'm taking a page from Yoda, so stay on target and hold on tight to your light sabres, we're going in.You need to identify your emotions if you're going to be honest with yourself and learn to control them.

Anger is a buffer emotion. When we're angry, it's because it's the easiest emotion to manifest, especially if we feel hurt or sad or scared. Anger is the acceptable way to express that we're unhappy. When you're "angry" you don't seem weak; when you're feelings are hurt, or you're sad, you are vulnerable, so many people opt to express the anger instead of dealing with the hurt."I'm pissed that I didn't make this roster!" Are you mad, or are you hurt? I'd be hurt that I didn't make a roster, especially if I had an expectation that I was going to make it. When we feel anger, our bodies release adrenaline, which jacks up our blood pressure and gets us ready for a fight; it makes us feel stronger, but it also shuts down the reasoning part of your brain. It's hard to control your decision making skills when you're pissed off, and people end up making giant mistakes out on the track. Of course, making mistakes might be what made you angry in the first place, so now you're caught in a vicious cycle.

Instead of getting pissed off and sabotaging yourself, try and channel that anger into focusing on your game and your teammates. I know it's easy to get pissed because you feel like you've been back blocked around the track by a hard hitting jammer, or tripped by opponents, but if you take that anger that's growing in your gut and turn that energy into a positive. Don't focus on the opponents or the refs; turn to your teammates to help you remain calm. Focus on them. Communicate with them, and them only. I know it's tempting to grouse at the opponent who just put her elbow in your solar plexus, but let it go and talk to your teammates. We usually can get out of angry mode if we distract ourselves with something else. Distract yourself with positive attention to your teammates.

Fear. “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Or something like that. "She's in her head" is a phrase that gets bantered about in derby; I truly feel that derby gives you plenty of opportunities to face fear. People fear jamming, they fear screwing up, they fear getting injured and they fear rejection and failure. Some people really fear looking foolish too, which I don't understand since we all look foolish at some point in our derby careers; isn't that half the fun of putting on skates?

Sometimes we just have to own our fear and talk ourselves through it. Remind yourself what you do well. "I'm a strong jammer" "I'm a great anchor in my wall" "My plow stop is super effective" "I recycle well." Say something positive to yourself about yourself. Remind yourself you're not out there by yourself, and your teammates could probably use some reassurances too. I feel a million times more confident when I'm close to my teammates and we're making eye contact on the track. Communication helps calm us all down, and when we're calm, fear can't find as great of a foothold.

Are there times you're going to be angry? Sure. It's how you deal with your anger which makes it controllable. Are you going to be afraid? Absolutely! Fear can be managed with your teammates though. The most important thing you can learn by playing derby is that you are a part of a bigger group, and that can take some of the pressure off of your emotional well being.

Game on!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Let's Talk About Concussions in Derby

Photo by A Boy Named Tsunami
I was minding my own business this morning, just reading through Facebook, when I saw a post about worrying about directional hits in derby. The link is here. If anyone knows me, my entire career in roller derby, since 2009, has been with a WFTDA league. I support the WFTDA, but that doesn’t mean I don’t question things we do, such as rule changes. I am an active member in my league, and I am allowed to critically think about what my organization does; if that weren’t true, we wouldn’t vote on rule changes, representation or policy. That’s what makes up a healthy organization; if you can’t discuss your opinions about the organization itself, it’s not worth belonging to. If you don’t feel passionate about your sport, then maybe it’s not the sport for you. I don’t love the polarization over rule sets in our sport. WFTDA, USARs MADE, whatever, they’re derby. If you don’t like one version, don’t play it, but you don’t have to attack the others. That particular article has a bias against the WFTDA rule set, but it did start a discussion about game safety, so I’m glad I read it, and OF COURSE I have an opinion.

Ever since 2011, when people started changing the direction of the game, I wondered if we were setting ourselves up for more traumatic brain injuries. As derby has progressed since then, it seems like officials have gotten less strict about calling clockwise or directional skating. Part of that might be an interpretation of the rules, but part of it might be because the derby community has accepted the idea that clockwise will happen and it’s normal. I’m neutral about skating the opposite direction on the track, but I do worry that we're upping our chances for concussive injuries. Just as a personal anecdote, I’ve experienced many high blocks in the last couple of years due to people turning around or walls completely stopped. I find this interesting only because I’m a six foot tall skater, and before 2012 I could count the number of high blocks I experienced on one hand. Is this a combination of me getting lower and the rules changing? Probably. I can’t say for sure if it’s one or the other, but I do know I’m not the only one who has experienced this change. I'm lucky. I haven't experienced a concussion as of yet, but I do think that this game comes with the danger of getting one. Is it just inherent in contact sports? Maybe, but we should all be familiar with the dangers of a concussion.

It’s important to understand what a concussion can do to your body; many of you are aware of my
I only see Percy in Time Hop now.
friend, Percy Q-­Tion, who died due to complications from a concussion he received. Percy fell in the shower, but anyone can get a concussion, and when you play a contact sport, you’re definitely upping your odds of getting one. I seriously doubt that derby is ever going to be a perfectly safe sport; no contact sport is, but there are things you should know about concussions before you continue to play. Percy died two years ago, but hopefully we can prevent others from dying from brain trauma in our sport by learning about his injury.

1. Concussion is a less scary word for brain trauma. It’s the same thing. If you have a concussion, it’s brain trauma, pure and simple. You’ve damaged your brain, and that’s not a good thing at all. I know that so many of us have watched movies where the hero gets knocked out, wakes up, and goes about his or her business like nothing is wrong. Well, that’s the difference between Hollywood and reality. You just don’t shake off brain trauma; it has to heal, and it can take a long damned time to do so. It can impact your vision, your balance, and your mood, not to mention if it was severe enough, it can kill you. Concussions aren’t cute and dismissible. You should be taking them very seriously. I know several skaters who cannot play derby anymore due to concussions, and that’s really the least thing you should worry about if you get a traumatic brain injury.

2. Anyone can get a concussion. After reading someone’s comment which basically stated that weak people are the ones who should worry about concussions, my eye twitched. This is magical thinking, folks. That kind of attitude floors me, even though I understand where it comes from. We WANT there to be a reason. People who get hurt "deserve" it because they were doing something dumb, or they weren’t training hard enough, or they didn’t lift weights, right? Wrong. Nobody, no matter how talented they are is above the laws of physics. Concussions happen because your brain keeps moving after your head stops, so if you whip your head around due to a high block, your brain keeps moving and slams into your skull. It’s physics and biology. Yes, you can do neck exercises to help stabilize your head, but that can only help a little. I’d really love for people who think only the weak get concussions say that to an NFL athlete; I seriously doubt that any of them think of themselves as weak. Can I be there when you ask, though? I’ll bring the popcorn.

3. When you play a contact sport, you increase your chances of getting a concussion. Most studies show that 1 in 5 athletes who play a contact sport will get a concussion. Those odds aren't great, and the really terrible bit of information is that once you get one concussion, you are more vulnerable to get more. Thanks, brain!

4. Concussions are the gift that keeps on giving, even though nobody wants this gift. Basically, concussions are the fruitcake of injuries. According to recent brain trauma and sports studies, athletes who suffer a concussion are more likely to injure themselves as they recover from their brain trauma. Ugh. Not only do you have to deal with a concussion, but you also have to be more diligent about other injuries. Unfortunately for my friend Percy, this was extremely true. His balance was impacted after his traumatic brain injury and he fell again, causing another concussion. That last one was the one that killed him.

5. Even if you are aware on the track, you could get a concussion. This is more magical thinking. "If I'm aware, nobody will ever hit me by surprise, and I'll be safe!" Well, brain trauma can happen to anyone, even the most aware player on the track. You can give yourself a concussion by going in to hit someone; if your head whips around or snaps back, you're opening yourself up to brain trauma.  Weird accidents happen in roller derby all of the time, and nobody is ever going to be perfectly safe, no matter how amazingly talented you think you are.

6. Brain traumas are different for everyone. Depending on the severity and where the injury is in the brain, the side effects can be varied. Most people recognize obvious symptoms, such as unconsciousness, or incoherency, but there are a slew of symptoms that are associated with concussions. 

  • Unconsciousness 
  • Inability to remember the cause of the injury or events that occurred immediately before or up to 24 hours after
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Trouble speaking coherently


  • Difficulty remembering new information 
  • Blurry vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Changes in emotions or sleep patterns
 I've talked to a lot of skaters who have suffered from concussions, and the symptoms vary; some report extreme moodiness, while others have balance issues and can't concentrate on daily tasks. Each concussions progresses differently, and because of that, it can be hard to pin down whether or not you're suffering from one. That brings us to #7....

7. People who are concussed aren't the best judge of the state of their health. If your teammate is concussed, he or she may not know it. I remember the first time a teammate was suffering a traumatic brain injury at practice; she had no clue what had happened. I'm not even sure she knew she was at derby practice! Thank goodness she went and got medical help, but after that, we made sure to nail down a concussion policy. It's in your league's best interest to have a concussion policy in place. You should have people trained in the basic recognition of concussions and brain trauma. The policy should be in place to help keep your teammates safe, and it should be applied equally to all suspected head trauma incidents. Your league should be talking about head injuries, so you're all vigilant.

8. Helmets will not prevent all concussions. It sucks, but it's true. I wish wish wish we could have amazing helmets that guaranteed to keep our brains perfectly safe from concussion, but alas, it's not meant to be. Of course helmets can protect your skulls from a direct hit, which is incredibly awesome, but your brain can still slam against your skull and get damaged. Just because we wear great helmets, doesn't mean we can't get concussions, but it also doesn't mean it's time to strap a colander to your head and call it good enough. Get yourself a decent helmet and at least attempt to protect your head.

In derby, just like in any sport, an athlete has to figure out what is too much risk. I hope that this post will get you thinking about brain safety and maybe open a dialogue up with you and your teammates.