I haven’t written too much this year (it’s been an interesting ride), and I am sorry for that. After my second ACL surgery I dove into studies of a Sommelier. In the past 7 months I have achieved certification of WSET2, Level 1 from the Court of Masters Sommelier, and my Cicerone Certified Beer Server. All those notecards left little time for writing.
I was seeking inspiration for a derby topic the other day, and Facebook delivered. This idea came from Noah Tall in Fayetteville, Arkansas: “Why not do team and wine pairings?” Talking to others they agreed it would be a neat idea, and I decided to do my pairings a la the embodiment of the team in a beverage.
So here we go! With all the Champs excitement I thought I would start with MRDA Champs and then after this weekend I’ll do the WFTDA Champs! ENJOY!
PS: this task is way more daunting than it sounds!
Cava comes from Catalanya, Spain and is [most often] a blending of indigenous grapes. It’s bubbly, refreshing, and a ton of people haven’t experienced it. Is it as expensive as Champagne? No. Is it just as fancy and satisfying? Absolutely. My saying in my wine bar is: “When in doubt – Cava.” When I’m thinking about favorite MRDA teams, when in doubt: Austin Anarchy. They too are light and bubbly (have you picked up Wombo yet? Goldie Gloves has a whole FB album of “People Picking Up Wombo Combo”). Plus, Austin is always a great addition to a party.
DERBY CLUB LE CRES LATTES MONTPELLIER ie The KamiQuadz Pairing: Chilean Carmenere
“The Lost Grape of Bordeaux” has found a home in Chile and it is delightful. Lost Grape? Yes, Carmenere was thought to have been wiped out by Phylloxera in the 1800s. Turned out it survived just elsewhere (Chile). When picked early it has green notes (Cabernet Franc is one of its parents, and Cab Sauv is a half-sibling), when it develops more fully, it has velvety tannins, chocolate, and red fruits. The KamiQuadz are a green team with lots of depth and experience, but most of us don’t know them. I expect that as the years progress, French men’s roller derby will continue to be saved by this new bastion of play and I expect the green to turn to rich fruit rewards.
GOLDEN STATE HEAT Pairing: White Claw
WAIT WAIT – HEAR ME OUT!!!
Just like White Claw, Golden State Heat came out of NOWHERE this year to put everyone on the ground. Teams play them and wake up the next morning wondering what the hell happened and what their name is. White Claw is booze + sparkling water; it’s a blend of two things coming together in harmony and busting up a scene of regular acts for something refreshing and different – just like Golden State Heat. With all the deliciousness I don’t see either one of these things fizzing out any time soon.
NEW WHEELED ORDER Pairing: Dry Mosel Riesling
This aromatic wine always catches people off guard. They expect it to be one thing, but then they are served with something completely different. Dry Rieslings are refreshing, like Sauvignon Blancs, but without the grapefruit pith that can come with it. People always seem to forget about Rieslings, but it pairs easily with some of the most difficult foods (like vinegar and asparagus). NWO is a team that [American] people forgot about this year until Champs came around. They served up game play that people were not expecting, and for the second year in a row, NWO came out and broke expectations with adaptability and finesse.
DENVER GROUND CONTROL Pairing: Coppertail Unholy Belgian Trippel Ale
Belgian Trippels (the best ones) are light in body, sharp in spirit, and they hit you harder than you ever thought possible. Trippels are crafted with precision in mind, and tradition behind them, especially this one. Coppertail is in Florida, but Unholy rivals the best Belgians in the world. It might not be everyone’s go-to beverage of choice, but they are remarkable to all of us that pay attention. Ground Control has a long derby history behind them in their coaching staff, and one can tell that they focus on routine and perfection. Their jammers defy gravity, and every blocker can annihilate you.
SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT ROLLER DERBY Pairing: Merlot
No, I was not going to say Southern Comfort; that would be taking the easy way out (Plus I had a bad experience with SoCo in my younger years and I really didn’t want to think about flavor profiles).
So why Merlot? Merlot is the underestimated monster of the wine world. Merlot was a queen, and a movie (Sideways) came along and kicked it off a pedestal. That said, Merlot is a critical grape for blends of the Old AND New World wines. Not only that, a 2004 Saint Emilion would make anyone weak in the knees. My point? Despite hardships, SDRD keeps on giving amazing derby and producing exceptional players from their program. Merlot has incredible balance and versatility, as does SDRD. Wine Enthusiast called Merlot “the best red wine you’re not drinking”; SDRD could be the best MRDA team you’re not following.
VANCOUVER MURDER Pairing: Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon
I was not Bourbon fan about 3 years ago. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t have the tasting ability for it. After a trip to Louisville I fell for Angel’s Envy. On the first sip, it’s a bit of a punch to the senses; to experience it fully you’ve got to do 3 sips in a row (and really “chew” the bourbon). Then, you’ll experience the nuances. You have to take your time to truly appreciate how well crafted and deliberate it is. Finished in port wine barrels, there is a deep respect for flavor and quality. It took me a couple years to really appreciate how well the Murder work together. At first you think it’s just about flash, but then you look deeper and you realize that there is a dance Vancouver executes in every jam. Maybe not everyone will see it, but pay attention and keep going back to the Murder, like you would with a bourbon. You’ll discover more each time.
TEXAS MEN’S ROLLER DERBY Pairing: Frosé
You can make it with a rosé of Sangiovese for a more cherry variety, or with a Loire Valley for something more chalk-driven. Stir up a frosé with a Vinho Verde for a pool pounder, or use a California rosé for strawberry candy. There is a Frosé for all occasions, and if you know what you’re doing you can make them for anyone. Here’s my point: Frosé is super likeable, great in hot weather, and totally underestimated as to their greatness. I am hard pressed to find anyone that HATES Frosé. That’s Texas. They work great together, they get you buzzed, and you’re always excited for more.
MAGIC CITY MISFITS Pairing: Orin Swift Machete
This is a blended red wine with Petit Sirah, Syrah, and Grenache sourced from no less than five AVAs in California. It has deep notes of cassias, ripe red cherries, and stewed blackberries. It has a velvet texture that makes you go back for more and more. Blending is critical to the success of many wines, since you cannot always harvest the best grapes from single sites. As long as all the aspects are quality and work together to create a symphony, what does it matter which AVAs the grape comes from? Machete is a dance of flavors and wine-making techniques that has some of the best people in the industry almost mad about how good it is. MCM is a blend of friends and players, though the majority of their roster have been a part of the Florida roster for a few years. They are fast, they are undeniable talented, and they work incredibly well together. You might be mad about it, but they’re just doing good at the derby.
ST LOUIS GATEKEEPERS Pairing: Romanee-Conti Grand Cru
This single vineyard Pinot Noir is considered possibly the greatest that ever was, or ever will be. Pinot Noir is a very difficult grape to grow effectively; it takes time and finesse and care to get the best out of it. Sometimes it can take years for a grower to fully understand the complexities of the grape. The Gatekeepers have spent a decade (or more) cultivating their teamwork, style, and nerve under pressure. They are what other teams aspire to and use as a model. They have layers of complexity and courage, and no matter what adversity befalls the team, the roots seem to expand and flourish.
This is a team of legend and a team that no other will ever be like, now matter how they try to emulate these behemoths.
If you’ve ever taken a class or practice with me, you have probably heard you say this. Roller derby is a series of weird skills and strategies that will undermine your confidence and sense of self-preservation. Usually our brains do this subconsciously, or at most, it brings up the “status bar” of attempting to do a skill.
RollerCon for me this year, was not me coming in and overcoming physical barriers, this year it was all about the mental mind fucks of not knowing where I belong. In our jammer pod in Tampa, we have all adopted dessert names, and I chose Cronut since I’m always in identity crisis. For those who came into RollerCon (or any other mixed scrimmage event) with trepidation, you are not alone.
Usually at RC I come in knowing that I’m not the best, but I’m solidly competent. I’m a decent coach, I’m good at skating, I’m a good blocker, an OKish jammer, a pretty reasonable ref, and an occasionally funny announcer. I’m not the best at anything, but gosh darnit – I can hold my own with the big guns on any of it.
Jammer paralysis. Blocker doubts. Ref misgivings. Announcer stage fright. Coaching faux paus. All this during a year where I just wanted to show my friends that I’m really good. I just wanted my friends to agree that I am just as good as they are, and can hang. I Just wanted to look at everything and go “Yup! I’m still relevant. I’m still growing. I’m still good.” And midweek I found myself in panic mode thinking:
WHAT THE FUCK AM I? WHAT HAPPENED?
Ok, the background. This year at RC I ….
Played in 8 (?) 30 minute games
Officiated 1 B&W scrim, 1 30 min game, 2 full length games (OPR Fury Road/Matrix & JR East/West)
Announced 2 30 minute games
Taught 4 hours
Took two 2 hour classes
Helped the SM of the Drag Show get sorted (before getting a concussion & having to pull out from helping)
Spent around 6 hours at the Roller Derby Elite Booth
…..And this was a light year of activity for me.
I didn’t have any full-length games to play this year, and was taken off of the rosters of games I had previously been rostered. Between the removals, the lack of games, and my guilt over switching schedules, I was already in a bad headspace coming into the Con. Match that with low performances in front of my friends on day one, having the jammer star taken out of my hand in 3 different games on day one, and feeling overall ineffective, I was a train wreck.
RollerCon is supposed to be fun. I’ve always gone because it was fun. Let me say that playing with AA skaters this year was, overall, NOT fun. And I hate that.
I miss the challenges & scrimmages where we ran every jam because we only got to play 3 times in 30 minutes. This year, people were screaming from the bench to call it off so we could win. This year, I didn’t see people pull back to allow for a fun, even up scrimmage (unless we were shouting “C level!” as officials). I saw dirty (and dangerous) hits and hooks happening from skaters that know better, simply because they were frustrated with not being immediately successful. I was told that I didn’t deserve to be on the track as a blocker in one game, that I wasn’t good enough to jam in another, and scolded about being wrong when I was trying something in a third.
I also heard several pods being lectured about how they weren’t playing derby well enough. Feedback is one thing, but let’s make sure that we’re doing it right.
I remember Smarty Pants being on the bench with me during a black and white early scrimmage before ECDX a few years ago. Were the packs perfect? ANYTHING BUT. However, she didn’t talk us down, she talked us up. What did we do right? How can we capitalize on that next time?
Telling people that they are wrong about derby does not help anyone. It takes them out of the fun, out of the moment of strength, and makes them want to quit. I almost stopped skating a few times this week. I felt like if I didn’t have the respect of those AA skaters, if I didn’t look like I could hang with the ‘Big Dogs’ from the audience, then why am I here?
This was only underlined by the fact that some of my friends have gotten very good at derby and are gaining a lot of notoriety. You at home. You that feel guilty for feeling jealous of your friends being noticed while you continue to work hard and go unnoticed? I see you. There are a ton of us in this community.
We spend so much time at RollerCon oooing and awing the AA skaters, that we forget to acknowledge the hard work and advances made by others. Every year you may feel like you never improve when you go to an event like RollerCon, but I have understood that it just means we’re all getting better at the same rate. This year, I didn’t keep the pace of improvement. I need to work even harder if I want to be at the same level that I have been in the past.
That’s hard for us to accept sometimes: Some of us have to work much harder at roller derby just to keep pace with people who have a knack for the game or have been athletes most of their lives.
For the skaters that are progressing at a quick rate, or that are now a higher level and playing “down” at RollerCon, remember that not everyone has the same story as you. Not everyone has the same training. Not everyone is in the same mental space of “WIN ALL THE GAMES”, especially since what it felt like was “SHOW THEM I’M AS GOOD AS THEY ARE WE CANNOT LOSE NEVER SURRENDER!”
-_- Maybe we all need to stop being so cut throat with this stuff. I personally was a little sad that I got a full uppercut to the face and there wasn’t even an acknowledgement, much less an apology. Yea, it’s derby, shit happens, but come on, yo. We’re not supposed to be ok with injuring each other, ESPECIALLY during a fun challenge that no one gives a shit about 30 seconds later. Just be nice to people.
Imposter syndrome went through the roof because all of this. I know I’m not the only one who dealt with it, and I’m sorry if any of my frustration caused others on the track to question their own ability. That’s the thing about yelling and shouting and putting people down: it spreads like the derby plague. I cried so many times this year just because I didn’t feel like I was good enough. It didn’t matter what track cuts I drew on AA players. It didn’t matter who I cleared, or how effectively I helped to kill power jams. I was told I was lesser and I felt like it.
I was sitting at the Roller Derby Elite booth with my friends Disaster Chief and Peter Pan (Tony Muse) talking about all of this and Tony said, “There was something I was missing, and I had something to learn from everything that happened from this year. Maybe this is all happening because you need to learn something. Maybe you’re missing a piece.” I walked away from the conversation unsure, but when i geared up later I realized what he was talking about.
All this time I had been hyper focused on the physical, but I’ve been ignoring the mental. It’s the same thing that came up at Tiny Tourney. I was missing the fun and the confidence. While my body was getting stronger, my mind was not.
I got so swept up in the competition on the track that I forgot to have fun in a sport that I know I’m good at. I may not be good all the time at all the things, but I am good. The more fun I have, the better I play. I don’t train my ass off to get approval from others (I mean, subconsciously I do but I’m working on that).
When it comes down to it, RollerCon is supposed to be the biggest, baddest, most fun summer camp for adults. And looking back on it, that’s what it was. At the end of everything, the Crew of Cabana 3 made RC everything, even when we had our drunken mishaps or when bogged down in interpersonal ucky.
Every year I am going to have social anxiety. I’m going to let someone down along the way. I’m going to miss calls. Make questionable calls. Do neat stuff. Fall on my ass too much. Build friendships. Strengthen bonds. Learn more about myself. Get defensive. Get happy. Get sad. Get shouty. Teach someone. Be taught. And maybe even make out with someone.
Every year I’m going to come out thinking Ivanna hates me, that I disappointed Val, that I let down Ump, that Tony’s going to stop sponsoring me, and that Suvi wants me off the team. It’s not true though. I am learning that the minor inconveniences, the little things that happen along the way are a drop in the bucket and we all still love each other at the end of the day.
You should love yourself and your friends too. High five each other, hug each other, kiss your friends. You all deserve love after the trials and tribulations brought on with roller derby in the desert. And next year will be even bigger, even better. Next year, our minds will be overwhelmed by even more incredible roller derby and we will struggle and thrive once again.
So my takeaways this year at the end of everything?
I want to play more derby.
I want to use my shoulders more.
We need to listen to each other more.
I’m actually kind of hot.
I want to get stronger.
I need to take more classes (especially from Grime).
I’m terrible at using a hand drill [but everyone should volunteer & try].
I want to get my mind better, and have no idea how to prevent meltdowns in the future.
We should all chill the fuck out a bit.
I want to help build more opportunities for lower level men to play at RC.
I never want to do another RollerCon without a microwave & washer/dryer.
You can never drink enough water. Even when your adult beverages are made with sparkling water.
Cucumber Water beverages at the Westgate are the perfect summer drink.
Ivanna and the team of managers are all made of magic. I think they are unicorns in disguise.
My friends and roller derby buddies are the greatest in the world.
I’m kind of OK with being kind of OK, but I’ll never settle for being as good as I am.
Here we are, continuing our journey through the world of jamming. I know talking about things to do at home, or without wheels on your feet is boring (but it’s important so do it anyway). So let’s talk about practice and game time and what you can do to increase your jammer prowess.
Practice on different surfaces
Sounds basic, but hear me out.
Our mental game is a huge part of our successes and failures as jammers, and one thing I have seen more skaters freak out about is the floor. If floor surfaces were not so scary to people, we would not have people buying multiple sets of various durometer wheels and frantically researching flooring before each game. I’m one of them!
It’s a bit of a dig, but when someone mentions that they do not ever change their wheels I respond with “I’m not good enough at roller skating for that”. This is both true and false. I’m pretty good at roller skating at this point, but I know that my biggest weakness is my inability to release pressure from my wheels. I’ve been working on it for nine years. I understand that I am better at asserting more pressure into my edge than I am at letting off the pressure.
This means I am better on a slicker floor when I can press into my wheels and dig than I am on a sticky floor where I must RELEASE pressure to slide. Having ‘grown up’ at Olympic Skating Center in Enola, PA, you would think it would be opposite. It has one of the most beautiful polished maple floors in the country, and it will rip through tights like nothing, and leave scars of road rash that we bear 5 years later. I never achieved a hockey stop on this floor. Hell I could barely plow stop. Some people can play on Poisons regardless of surface, regardless of game. I am not one of them. I have accepted and embraced my need to adjust my gear the last two years and the results show.
How I adjust my gear is based on the surface, and I know what to do because I have sought out every kind of floor I can, and travel games have put me on everything from polished concrete, to sport court laid on springy astroturf, to what looks like a basketball court, but is actually a foam mat. While team mates panic, I have it handled.
If we can take out the scary part of floor surfaces changing, we can bolster our confidence. When we feel confident, we perform better. The easiest way to take the scary out of floor surfaces is simply by skating on all of them. Not just once, but whenever you can. I miss having an outdoor hockey rink within reach. The polished concrete was so vastly from the maple floor that I practiced on in Harrisburg, that I felt like I could practice my skills in a new way and it taught me how to control my body weight differently.
Not everyone can spend time on their own to go to other rinks, so even putting your skates on at home or encouraging your team to go scrimmage or practice somewhere else from time to time can help you break away from the barriers of “Oh s***, I can’t slide/grip/jump on this floor!” Sometimes we encounter the mental hang up, but we do not even realize it. Learning how to deal with things (whether it means changing your gear or your style) will improve your ratios pretty quick.
Speed DOESN’T kill
If there is one lesson I have learned this season is that speed is your only true ally as a jammer. If you are faster than the blockers (in physicality, awareness, and prediction of game flow) you will win [mostly] all the jams.
When I was a baby jammer, I thought speed meant “How fast can I get around the track?” But even when I hit a 6 second lap, I was not getting as many point passes as desired. Going to the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup in Calgary I started to pick up on what true QUICKNESS really is: It’s micro movements. It’s the stuff you do not see until your eyes adjust to a higher frame rate. It’s the slightly stronger push in your duck run at the last second.
It’s the difference between a juke that gets you through and one that gets you put out of bounds.
It’s the difference between cruising into a pack to get picked off and sailing through on the outside line easily.
It’s the difference between blockers keeping you locked, and you popping them open through the middle.
But it’s more than just having speed on your wheels. It’s about how fast you can transition from skating to duck run, or duck run to hockey stop, or wheels to toe stops. Transitioning from wheels to stoppers gives you an added edge over your opponent, because of the change in acceleration it causes and your ability to maneuver in different ways. Being able to drop, at speed, onto your toe stops can let you hop, spin, jump, and high step. It can also give you a chance to run an angle to outpace blockers when they’re not expecting it.
If you are not comfortable skating fast and transitioning to your toe stops: Get going. Start practicing it.
Do speed work. On skates, off skates. Do it in your office. Do it before dinner. Do it when you wake up in the morning. Integrate it into your life. That might sound extreme, but it’s not as hard (or as ridiculous) as it sounds.
Training your muscles to twitch is the greatest tool a jammer can have. You have heard people yell “Pick up your feet”. If you can’t twitch, you won’t be able to fake out your opponents, juke, or change direction suddenly. Picking up your feet means you can generate speed and mobility. Picking up your feet means you are generating momentum, not losing it. It means you are faster than you were when you were planted and coasting into a pack. Picking up your feet while approaching a stopped tripod is absolutely terrifying, but it lets you hit with momentum. It gives you a chance to explode a wall. It gives you more options: Do you hit with speed or do you redirect at the last second. Maybe you aim for the middle and drop the toe stops to run the inside line. Maybe you hit a seam and slide through the blockers.
Side note: You may have to spend time practicing what to do after you hit a seam and burst through it. Moving your feet will keep your momentum moving forward. It has happened where a jammer (hi) was so surprised that they did the thing and it WORKED, that they stopped moving their feet and immediately fell. So don’t be surprised if that happens.
Talk to your blockers
Some people think that being a jammer means floating out in the ether by yourself, getting to control your own destiny. The best jammers will never think of themselves as an autonomous unit, but rather a part of the pack they are matched with. Success of the team depends on the ability for jammers and blockers to communicate, adapt, and work together.
As a jammer you need to understand how your team fields blockers and the strategies preferred by each. Many teams will do packs one on, one off. Some teams set up blocking pairs and rotate through pairs. Some teams use blocking lines that seem random, but [hopefully] have an underlying method. Every pack is going to prefer different tactics and be good at different things.
For example, we have two packs that primarily play for my team. One pack is very good at stopped derby, the other team is very good at rotation and movement. If my team is playing a ‘long game’ strategy and I am going out with my pack that prefers a stopped pack, I need to understand that I have a different responsibility as a jammer. Not only am I playing for points, but I am part of the defense.
Hold up, I don’t mean that I’m responsible for blocking the jammer, I mean that I am responsible for 1) doing as many laps as possible while the jammer is being held by the blockers, 2) not breaking up the defense for selfish point gain, and 3) whenever I enter the back of the pack, I need to create forward movement so that my own blockers are not forced to bridge or get drawn out of play. By me forcing the other pod forward, I help my own blockers maintain a pack.
Before I go out for a jam, I check in with my blockers. If it’s scrimmage, I’ll ask “What are you working on?”, if it’s a game I ask “What are we doing?” In practice, you get a chance to learn your habits, what works for you, and more importantly what DOESN’T work well for you. I like using practice time to work on different goals. Often that includes my improv ability, which is why I like letting my blockers work on their goals, and then I can adjust my plan accordingly.
When we go into a game situation, I work with the blockers to analyze what has or has not been working against our opponent and how to incorporate that into our own game strategy while also helping me to get the f*ck through for lead jammer. It’s all about getting lead.
Mid-jam, my favorite things to say to the blockers include “Keep them moving!” “Sweep” “POINTS” and “I need the pivot!” Talking to your blockers when you can, and them talking back (I like when they call for me before offense or when they remind me to drive a pack forward), makes a huge difference in game play. We all have to trust each other on the track, and the key to trust in any relationship is communication.
Blaque Jac knows the importance of communication on the track. Photo by Phantom Photographics
Consider shapes and angles
Roller derby is math and science. You always hear your coaches say move your feet and get lower. Hopefully, as you improve, you start hearing them say “run the angles” and “turn your shoulder”. Why? Geometry and physics.
Moving your feet (the basic advice to make any starter jammer better as stated above) simply takes advantage of Newton’s 1st law: An object in motion tends to stay in motion. With inertia on your side, it is easier to get past more stationary objects. I just talked about this but I feel it bears mentioning again! Get lower? The lower your center of mass and gravity, the harder it is for you to fall (this also gives you more leg to gather up potential energy from the floor to transfer to kinetic energy and inertia).
Running the angles means that you are not picking straight lines on the floor, so can take advantage of vectors easier. You are a moving object, with magnitude, and can put that force into something else if necessary. Think of it this way: If you run in a straight line to go between a flat two wall, you have to time your hit, speed, and body movement very precisely to avoid getting sandwiched or stuffed completely. If you come at that same wall at an angle, your timing does not have to be as precise. The angle assists your momentum, and you can take the space of a blocker in a wall to either bounce off of them and through the wall, or to move them completely and keep on your path of momentum.
When I talk about angles, I’m also talking about BODY angles. Think of the shapes bodies take when we play derby. We can be squares, rectangles, triangles, stars, lines, strange quadrilaterals… If we look at what the blockers are doing with their bodies we can be proactive with our own. While warming practice the different ways you can contort. One on one and hurricane blocking (where you can spin around each other) is a handy way to learn how your body can move and contort. The more time you can spend getting out of your comfort zone with body positioning, the better. Why think about shapes?
When coming up against a square, you probably don’t want to be a square. Squares have a harder time getting through because they have generally have more target area for blockers to hit. Dropping a shoulder to make yourself a triangle will allow you the mobility of being square, while letting yourself either duck underneath OR into the blocker coming at you.
“WHAT? INTO THE BLOCKER? I THOUGHT THE IDEA WAS TO NOT BE HIT.”
Something I learned long ago is the Bazooka Method: If someone is pointing a bazooka at you, do you run away? No. You run towards them. Often, this works very well for derby. If you run at a blocker, you take away the angle and momentum they were just planning on having to hit you effectively. I don’t want to give blockers wind up space. I tend to run right at solo blockers and use their bodies to get around safely. They can’t hit me as well, and their team mates often back off a bit because if they don’t time their own hit right, they’ll take out their team mate instead of me.
Back to the shape thing: I have always thought about moving my body differently but never could words as to why things worked. I was chatting at the jammers I coach, and I had the epiphany that our jammers were coming in as rectangles to the pack (we usually say square, but that implies that they are compact). I explained that sometimes we need to make ourselves triangles, lines, or half-moons. Looking at how blockers are set, and how we can shape our bodies to slide through seams at angles or move past blockers while not taking too hard of a blow.
Next time you’re on the jam line, look at the blockers and look at how they are shaped, and how you can counter the shape with your own. Triangles to lean against triangles, half-moons help against parallelograms, lines are effective between to squares, circles can go under triangles.
Move your body in different ways and practice with intent to do something different than normal.
Look at the world around you
Look at the scoreboard, the penalty box, the other jammer before and throughout the jam. Do a quick rundown of your ideal jam in your head. Keep tabs the whole time.
Where you are in the game, the score, how many timeouts you have left, and who is in the penalty box should all factor into your call off strategy. Make sure you talk to your coaches before the game to know whether you are playing a long game or a hit & quit strategy. There are going to be times that you don’t immediately call it off if the other jammer escapes and you will not always be to see your bench coach (or have a bench coach to look at). You should also know what the plan is as far as springing people from the box.
Note: Your blockers should be aware of goals too (go back to the whole “talk to the blockers” thing).
When you are in a jam it is easy to get tunnel vision, it is easy to forget that the rest of the world exists. I joke that I am best when my FoF (Fight or Flight) kicks in, which usually happens around the end of the first period from cardio exhaustion. When FoF hits, our bodies no longer think about the tools, we just utilize them to get the hell out of a stressful situation (the pack). Without practice, this can mean our field of vision narrows instead of widens, and we may go into ‘default’ mode which often means your oldest tricks and not always your best moves.
“Head up” is said almost as often as “get lower” in roller derby, and for good reason. If you’re in the Sad Place and looking at your feet as you grind away, you’re not going to see your offense coming in to disrupt the tripod. If you’re so focused on that gap that currently exists in lane three as you approach the pack, you won’t notice that your friends are holding a SWEET pick on the inside line to let you jump the apex. If we default to our old habits, we become predictable.
How do we practice widening our view? Do it in your every day life. When you’re walking through the grocery store, use your periphery vision to calculate the rate of speed of other shoppers, and how to maneuver safely through the little old ladies navigating the spice aisle. Take note of shoes people are wearing without looking at their feet, or how many kids are running past you without looking directly to count. When you are at practice doing drills, be mentally active throughout. If you’re waiting for your next turn to go, watch the movement of your blockers to understand their speeds and accelerations. If you are in a paceline, do check ins with everyone’s pace, how everyone is standing, and how players move when their endurance is lower.
Always be looking around you. Always be making note. Always be calculating. At first it will be a conscious decision, but after a while it will become second nature. Then when you’re on the track, you won’t have to pull your head out of a tripod, you’ll already know that your offense is coming on the outside line, so you can disengage and dart to safety.
How do practice incorporating more tools? Repetition repetition. Do the footwork drills. Do them again. Do them faster. Do them slower. Do them on shoes. Do them whenever you can. Eventually your body will just incorporate the footwork into your regular movements and you’ll find yourself popping out of packs in ways you didn’t know possible.
Dziubinski just can’t help smiling sometimes. Photo by Ken LeBleu
Jamming is hard. If you’re a week into playing or 10 years, it never really gets easier. We are in a constant state of flux. Jammers improve so blockers change tactics. Jammers learn how to deal with the tactics, and new shapes and strategies emerge. The biggest lesson I learned this year is that I will always have to work to be stronger, faster, and braver. I also learned that the only constant in derby: is change. Go with it, don’t resist it. Always be learning, always be listening, always be adapting, but mostly: always be loving it.
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Jamming is really hard. I am in season number 9, in constant identity crisis about what position I am best at. I have never had a jamming coach, so I’ve had to learn the hard lessons in real time, and before this season I had not been in a serious jammer rotation since 2013, when I played for the Dutchland Derby Rollers. This season I decided to give it a go again. Almost made it onto the All Star charter a couple times (somehow), but have been a starting jammer for our Top 15 B Team, the Bruise Crew all year with moderate success (when you average it all out).
So I’ve had some ups and downs this season. Some highs, lows, and in between. A few panic attacks, a few moments of mental fortitude. A little over a year ago I wrote the blog, So You Wanna Be a Jammer, all about getting your feet under you as a point scorer. I stand by all of those lessons. Now, let’s turn it up to 11 and talk about the last 6 months where I have learned what separates the GOOD jammers from the BEST jammers.
There is so much to talk about, in fact, that I have decided to split this blog into two.
Part 1: OFF THE TRACK
Surround yourself with Positivity
I could be wrong, but I feel like every jammer in the world has a healthy dose of internal self-loathing or a deeply hidden masochism that comes out when they put on skates. Chance are you are going to be fighting with your own demons along this windy path, so do not give others permission to sow seeds of doubt and hate.
‘A positive circle’ looks different for everyone. You have to understand that what it is for you might not be what it is for the person next to you. The first thing that I figured out with jamming this year, is that I do a lot better in practice in games when I:
Have fun with my friends
Do not dwell on the pressure of what it means to win
As soon as I started thinking about how close I was to breaking onto the All-Star team, I stopped performing well at practice. I was getting stuck, I was not using my tools. When I would come in laughing, making sound effects when I tried to jump the apex, and got to cheer on my teammates, the difference was undeniable. It’s hard to have no expectations when you have all the wants and feels. You do not have to endure the mental pressure of “OH GOD IF I DON’T DO GOOD I AM OFF THE TEAM” / “IF I DON’T MAKE THE TEAM RIGHT NOW I AM SO TERRIBLE”.
Yes, I understand that this is easier said than done. I had a lot of trouble letting go mid-season. Every practice felt like skating through mud with my demons throwing sticks at me. I had panic attacks, cried after every practice for two weeks, and considered retiring from playing. Right before Tiny Tourney I was able to find my “MEH! Whatever” Happy Place that I had lost. The result was two of the best games I’ve ever skated (and my first successful in game apex jump)!
Part of that happy place (for me) is being around my friends. I have noticed a DIRECT correlation between the happiness I have with playing roller derby to my proximity to my jammer pod, The Caviteez. The six of us (and the previous incarnation of five earlier this season), are supportive of each other. We offer feedback, high fives, and sometimes just eye contact and a nod to remind us that we are not alone on the track. When my jammer friends spread out on the sidelines, I start to feel alienated. That leads to me feeling like I need to do amazing things on the track otherwise I am not good enough. It’s a pretty terrible downward mind spiral. I am glad I picked up on it early.
Recognize your patterns. Recognize when you are doing your best and when you are feeling stressed, panicked, overworked, or mentally drained. Journaling at the end of a practice can be super helpful in connecting the dots. If you do nothing else, you can even just write down: Your goals going in, names of drills you did, how you felt going in, how you felt during drills, how you felt at the end, and any instances that happened during practice that made your emotions change.
NOTE: If you don’t track your nutrition, you probably should. Sometimes not eating properly the day of a practice, or not having enough water the day before a game will also adversely effect emotions and performance. You have to be able to look at ALL the factors to understand the full picture.
And do not think that my version of a happy place is your version. Some people like being by themselves when they jam. Some people want all the input from their peers, while others like to be left alone. Some people like to be thrown into new situations without warning or instructions, others like when things are laid out for them and they know what to expect. There is no wrong version of what makes you happy.
The hardest thing to contend with are outside sources of input. The parents who keep telling you to quit derby. The blocker who always gives you guff about not taking their offense. The circle of people gearing up in the corner who are complaining about practice. It is easy to be drawn into the bad. (Trust me, I know) Breathe, smile, and keep going.
If you’re around toxic conversation, help to change the topic. Before that blocker gets a chance to say something snotty, high five them for a great jam. If your family won’t ease up about your dangerous hobby, smile and thank them for caring about you so much.
And then, if you need to, do some yoga or do a round at the punching bag when you get home.
Evaluate & then Focus
In other blogs I’ve talked about the importance of self-awareness. Once you hit a certain point beyond “hey you’re pretty good”, self-evaluation and feedback from peers is going to be the only way you really can ratchet down and improve your skills. How do you know what you need if you don’t know what you have?
I like the idea of doing a series of tests to see where your weaknesses and strengths are. I admit that I have yet to do this myself, since I just came up with the idea while writing this blog. As I sit here and consider all the aspects I think that I would break my test for individuals into:
Individual Footwork — Toe stop line work, stopping on edges, mobility around a stationary object, balance on front wheels while moving
Power/Driving — Time it takes to move a blocker 10 ft, 100m sprint off skates, 10 lap PR, big lift PRs
In-Pack Mobility — Quickness through obstacle course that involves ducking / squeezing through spaces / hopping, also looking at game footage to rate mobility inside of packs
In-Game Mentality — Penalties per game & when those penalties occur (in sequence, or unrelated to each other), points & lead percentage out of the box, call off decision making
Awareness — Frequency of recognizing offense (regardless of ability to take it), visual periphery tests, call off decision making
Blocking — Plow stop, one on one blocking, recycle ability, tripod work, communication within a pack, pack awareness/bridging ability
Within each area, I gave some examples of skills or habits you could evaluate, but the possibilities are endless. These are not things you can evaluate the way you do minimum skills. They must be looked at over the course of games, scrimmages, and practices. This is something you sit down with footage to do as a jammer pod.
I’m a nut for information, data, and comparisons. I like knowing what I’m doing, where I’m going, and where I’ve come from. Knowing where I am weak gives me a focal point. Every piece of data is just one fragment of the whole picture. If you can compile all the individual pieces into one consumable story, you can set your training plan up to compliment those needs.
Talk to a friend you trust, or your coaches and ask them to help rate you in each area. In fact, it’s better to get different people to evaluate you. Make up a rubric ahead of time, maybe with your team leadership, so that other people can take advantage of feedback.
It might be good to do a self eval as well to compare against the others. You can also write down what you think your strengths and weaknesses are. Ask your friends to identify those too.
Think about how you feel during a game. Are you best at racing through a pack (as long as you’re untouched) over and over again but get stuck in tripods? Can you get through a pack fast and hard, but you can only do it once or twice? Can you do a longer jam, but then have to sit the next six? Are you kind of ok at everything? Do you have power but not speed? Speed but not power? Power but not endurance? Speed but not recovery? Yea. It’s a lot I know. I believe in you though, you can figure it out.
Now what? Now is the time where you build a program.
There are a thousand different kinds of programs you can build. Starting with something made for general fitness might not be a bad place to start for the first 6-8 weeks of training, assuming you have not been regimented in your training before. If you have been regularly going to the gym and feeling stuck or you just do not have a plan, it’s time to sit down and get one. I’ve been using the Tactical Barbell template since late December, along with my boyfriend and friends from Alaska. I like this particular program because you break your program into clusters.
I do 8 week clusters. My first focused on building stability and capacity for strength, the second moved into long muscle endurance and recovery, the third focused heavy on quick twitch, and now I am in a power cluster since I’m in a bit of a mid-season off-season. Eight weeks seems to be enough time to improve on your focused goal, but not so long that you lose sight of other weaknesses.
Oh, here’s something else: If you’re not working in interval sprints at some point – you are hurting your progress. If you are not lifting heavy weights at some point – you are hurting your progress. Can you be a great jammer and never deadlift a day in your life? Of course! For most of us, it’s going to be a much harder route if you chose to do it that way.
I hate sprinting. I hate it. My knees don’t trust it. I have one rehabbed ACL that still flinches at the thought, and half another ACL that wants to stay in tact and doesn’t trust my stopping ability. I don’t usually run sprint, but will do row sprints or bike sprints. My heart rate monitor has been tremendous in helping me with my training too. Now I don’t have to rely on a machine’s reading, or my own counting. I can just look down to see whether my sprint is actually pushing me or not.
When in doubt, hire a trainer and/or nutritionist to help you. Can that be expensive? Sometimes. Is it better than continually plateauing out, wondering what you should be doing next? Is it better than saying “I need to go the gym” and then getting there to make it up as you go?
Fail to plan, plan to fail. No one who is successful just wings it. They know when they are doing things and why. Including resting. “Resting?” You say, “#NOREST, Khaos!! IT’S THE DERBZ!”
The Deload is real
WE DON’T REST ENOUGH IN ROLLER DERBY.
We are in a year-round sport. Some of us are lucky to have November and December off. Some of us are lucky enough to have schedules that lighten in July and August. We need to spend more time looking at what our goals are and planning our clusters of cross training accordingly. That includes resting.
Scrimmaging three times before a game weekend does not help you learn, it simply wears out your muscles, central nervous system, and your cognitive processing (which is why you feel mushy brained and jelly-like after hard training session). If you want to know ALL the things this is a great piece. The concept of deloading has been popular in the lifting scene for a long time now, I couldn’t pin down who first introduced it. It is slowly working its way into popularity in sport-specific training and also real life.
Have you ever had to take a couple weeks off from derby or another sport and when you came back you could do a skill you had struggled with before? That’s a result of deloading. The first time I recognized it was when I was rock climbing. I was going three to four times a week when I was in my early twenties, but I was not particularly strong, I relied on my flexibility. I took about 3 weeks off due to life, and when I came back I was expecting to back at the start. What happened was that my strength had improved, my technique had sharpened, and my on-sighting ability (reading a route as you move through it the first time) jumped significantly. I immediately knew there was something up with it.
When it came to derby, I spent the first couple years always on my skates. I took a month off to rest my knee, I came back and suddenly had more control over my edges. Down the road I would take of randomly for injury, and while the injury itself was not strong, my abilities to complete skills and tasks had sharpened. The deload is real. It’s ok to take a step back from derby for a couple weeks to let your body heal and process what you’ve been working on.
Note: this is very important for officials as well as skaters. Sometimes you need to stop thinking about the rules and just let it all marinade. Come back to it fresh and new and you’ll see more and understand clarifications better. What does officiating have to do with jamming? As a good official you have to be as good of a skater as any player on that track!!
Now a word of caution, if you take a break for too long, that’s no longer a deload. That’s just a break. Deloads are typically a week to 10 days. During this time you work out but at a much lower weight, rep, or speed. You work the neurons and muscle memory without pushing to to hypertrophy. Do your lifts, but do them at 50% 1RM. Do you Tuesday run, but don’t push as hard. On deload weeks, you can also replace your typical workouts with stabilization and recovery work. When I say “Do extra yoga”, I’m talking recovery yoga, not Bikram Power Yoga. Instead of your sprint day, do a light bike ride. Spend extra time stretching. That sort of thing.
My second Men’s Roller Derby World Cup is in the books and at the end of everything, all I can think is “How long until St. Louis?” In Calgary, I was there as a spectator, vendor, and sponsor. This time I was chosen to announce. I wanted to recap what I experienced this weekend and why I loved the event so much. This was, legitimately, the best tournament I have attended to date. There is a lot of negative energy being thrown around and I am sad that it overshadows all the amazing things that occurred for a week in Barcelona.
So I’m going to run down what made things amazing and then at the end, I’ve got my own list of superlatives. Quad Skate Shop had their own team of amazing people that they awarded things to, but I think some others need some recognition.
The Streaming Crew and Master of Puffins
She mastered the heck out of those Puffins!! The streaming crew for MRDWC was absolutely outstanding. Every time the production quality gets better. Our crew was relentless, and our producer diligent (but with a smile). All those great replays you saw throughout the weekend was thanks to them. As the weekend went on we think they started going stir crazy for all those amazing ‘break-dancing’ replays we got … the one of Mr Testosterone was a personal favorite.
The volunteers started delivering food and coffee to them because we all realized that while the announcers got to take a break – they never did. Stat Man helped to keep the stream alive and fix the bugs when they came through; the stream would not have survived without him and his crew!
Thanks to VMIX.com for the software that got it done. You can go back and watch replays at https://solidsport.com/mrdwc. (Note: I have word that games will be edited and renamed later so keep an eye out for that)
Volunteer Army & Hospitality
Anyone who volunteers at events understands how important volunteer hospitality is. You’re asking people to be in charge of different critical elements of a tournament for up to 14 hours at a time, depending on their position. To ask them to do that without food or drink is ill-advised but not unheard of. Think about doing advanced calculus while on skates, regulating your speed and bursting for upwards of four hours. Do you think you’d be that good at the math a couple hours later if you had no fuel?
So I was thrilled at the coordination of meals, snacks, and beverages. Learning throughout the weekend, they increased their vegan options and labeled gluten-free food. They also had both drip coffee and espresso which we ALL appreciated (even if certain coffee snobs would joke about how the coffee was better in Australia). I mean, the sliced Spanish meat, the veggie paella, the daily croissants. *Sigh* America we need to get our volunteer food game up.
Any time I had a question, all I had to do was find a yellow shirt. Whenever something was going amiss, I only had to look for a volunteer. David Pamies apparently was the mastermind behind most of the event, with support from MRDS Spain, and I am so glad that they were crazy enough to try and pull this all off. At least from the perspective of a participant, the arrangement of managers, leads, and heads helped to keep the event on track the whole weekend. I’m sure there were fires to put out, but the volunteers never panicked.
Even when the espresso machine needed to be descaled.
Also: shoutout to Julia Sleazer who ran #TeamMouth. She had a lot of monkeys to juggle, and despite some really challenging circumstances and difficult situations, she handled all of the things. Also, thank you to Bootiful Banshee for finding Sleazer the proper Rockstars. An unfueled THA is not a happy THA.
Roller derby is nothing without their fans and the World Cup always delivers some of the best. This year teams were not messing around. Mascots were not as prevalent as we were hoping, but the Nederlands did not let us down with their sparkly orange outfits, while the Welsh were yelling something that sounded like the Aussie’s Oi Oi Oi but we never did figure out what it was (we just know they were into it).
Poland, even though they had a hard tournament, were supported with posters and songs about roller derby and food. The announcers decided that next time they shouldn’t be allowed to chant about pierogi unless they are offered some up. The ever popular “REEEEEEAAAA-PER” could be heard throughout the weekend as England battled, but the two best? Finland and Scotland.
So you can imagine how loud the small Track 2 room was when the two fought it out on the final day. Scotland came equipped with an array of general chants to keep the crowd pumped up (and we were wondering if maybe they were taken from other sports, just because of how solid they were). Finland had songs for every one of their jammers as well as some others to sprinkle in. They were a melodic bunch that rarely gave the other team a chance to hype up their own team, so Scotland just had to find the pauses in their rhythm and fill that with the yells of the Highland.
Everything I love about the World Cup happened there as blue and white took on white verse blue, on the blue track that the FIRST MRDWC used in Birmingham. It was two teams, one who had almost upended their bracket, meeting for battle that was fierce, but not ugly. The crowd chanted one after another, they waved their flags and sang their songs. They flinched when Grime hit, and cheered when Keiski jumped. The whole thing just felt right. If I could go back to any game and any atmosphere of the weekend, it would be to see the Power of Scotland face Finland Men’s Roller Derby again, and the fans had a lot to do with that.
This year we had 4 new MRDWC teams: Poland, Philippines, New Zealand, and Colombia. And is the trend, there were skaters who came to MRDWC to play their first full-length MRDA game. While not every team looked as put together as England or Australia, this was the first year that every team at least looked PUT TOGETHER. Even Poland , who did not come out with any wins, had stretches where they were incredibly cohesive and worked as a unit. Every tier of competition has stepped it up. There is no longer such a thing as an easy or assumed win.
Now on the higher end, there are more stories. USA was near untouchable again this year, but for the second tournament in a row, England made them work for every point. While Fish swam through packs, Sully moved them, Reaper lept them, Scraplin muppeted around them, but it was Scooby the Pivot that surprised the crowd early on to get the momentum going for England in the final. Canada, who had previously been an assumed feature on the podium, was upended by France in the quarter finals. It was their first time breaking into the Top 4. Meanwhile, Scotland almost caused the upset of the tournament; having the lead on Australia through most of their final game in group play. Power of Scotland made a definitive statement being the only #2 in group stages with a 200+ positive differential; they are making sure no one underestimates them in 2020.
Speaking of Australia, they made sure to keep everyone on the edge of their seat this tournament. They obviously came here with goals, and every time someone tried to thwart them they responded. It was actually pretty incredible to watch, and gave us three of the best games of the tournament.
While everyone had France on their radar, no one considered what power Scotland contained. Jammer penalties struck them down in the end; 10 jammer penalties attributed to their 60 point loss. Mexico had everyone on edge when they took on Canada (twice) but the guys from the Great White North were not looking for a second upset of the weekend.
I have decided that Finland and Argentina have special genetic breeding grounds for jammers, and I fear meeting up with the Welsh blockers in a game because dear jeebus – there were several times where they hit opponents so hard that we heard the thud of their landing at the announcer dias.
Even more incredible is that most of these teams only have practiced together a couple times, and some of them players do not have a team to work with regularly. I keep crossing my fingers that countries that don’t have MRDA will use their national team as a competitive year round (kind of like what Texas Men’s did after State Wars). The 2020 competition is going to be ri-goddamn-diculous if teams continue improving at the rate in which they are.
Your team better step its merch game up. I was astounded at the incredible artwork, variety of items, and extra stuff that teams were doing to raise money. England: your Yorkshire tea saved my voice and my energy level on my morning calls. You have converted me. No more English Breakfast at home (I don’t know if I’m giving my Earl Grey yet though).
The Polish team had a phrase you could say (which they recorded) to earn a 2€ discount. The Philippines were tagging people with stickers at the end, there were handmade Viking like helmets at the Sweden table, Finland’s baseball tee looked impossibly comfy, the Mexico table had upped their game with hoodies, Belgium had shirts with beer or frites on them, and Spain just had an assortment of things that made me wish I had allowed more room in my baggage.
Overall, the teams did an amazing job of providing fans with plenty of things to buy, and I am proud of myself for not dropping 300€ on it all (though I’m sure the teams are sad).
Well at least for a hot second, the rules (and how to understand what they say) was on the mind of everyone. Two very important games had extra jams called for by Head Refs. Like or hate the choices that they made, they were completely within the realm of the ruleset.
Outside of strange game-ending situations, just having a tournament of this size brings rules questions to the forefront of the mind of the general population. From the new hand signals (I saw so many leg blocks called) to questioning the reasoning behind certain calls and no calls, MRDWC gave people [mostly] constructive ways of scrutinizing the ruleset and possible flaws within it.
Don’t mistake me, I know most of the shouting was about the no call back block, the ‘obvious’ cut track, or why someone was or wasn’t ejected from a game due to ‘poor’ officiating … but outside of the fever of gameplay, the conversation tends to be positive.
Spirit of the game and the jersey swap
*Whiny voice* I waaaant this. I wish the jersey swap was an accepted practice among WFTDA skaters because I think there is nothing better than seeing skaters talk with people that impressed them or that they idolize and then GETTING THEIR SHIRT. For skaters, especially from smaller and remote leagues, to get to swap with guys from Australia, France, and the USA, it just raises everyone’s enthusiasm of participation in the game. It makes everyone feel a little special and a little hungrier to get better. If you knew Shrooms was walking around with your jersey on, and you’re from a small town with small derby, it might just compel you to work harder since ‘he’s watching’.
I’ve done one jersey swap since I started playing. My friend Rosie Derivator from Atlanta swapped with me at B Champs last year and MAN did we get a lot of side-eye, shocked looks, and questions. I still wore it during her final game to cheer her on anyway. Having the extra fan in the crowd that gives a f*** about you in particular always feels good.
The only downfall to the jersey swap to the casual observer is that you can never be sure at the after party who is lying.
My team selection and superlatives
So, talking about how amazing all the players were this weekend, I decided to make my own charter based on the players. Here were the rules I set for myself: no player that was chosen for the MRDWC team could be selected, and I had to pick only one skater from each team. Yes, that means more than a 20-person charter but I DO WHAT I WANT! I ended up with 8 jammers, 16 blockers, and wow it was difficult to narrow down! I even conferred with the other announcers to get it right. Even with nods to all of these players there are still a TON more that had super successful weekends and should be proud of themselves.
Maybe it does not mean much coming from some American who talks too much on social media, but I feel like more people from this weekend deserve an award.
Best Blocker – Shrooms (Eng) Best Jammer – Sausarge Rolls (Aus) Best Triple Threat – El Majestic (Col) Most Underrated Jammer – Goofy (Ita) Most Underrated Blocker: U2 (Jpn) Most Improved – Slaapzak (Ned) Best Debut– Uncle Dad (Can) Most Fun to Watch – Omar (Eng) Dynamic Duo– Ballistic Whistle and Chambers (Aus) Favorite Comeback Story – Simard (Ire) Favorite OR Explanations – Shref Best Almost-Appearance– Roller Polar Bear
Best Dressed Fans: Netherlands Favorite Uniforms: Spain, Poland, New Zealand, Wales, Columbia Team to watch for in 2020: Team Belgium Best “Fun Facts” section of rosters: TIE – Finland and Australia Best Game of the Tournament: Australia vs France
This was my year to rebound from my ACL replacement surgery with a hamstring graft on my right leg, the surgery happened on March 22, 2016, and a subsequent partial ACL tear of my left knee which occurred in October 2016. This was my first full travel season with a single league since 2011, every other year had been interrupted by injury or transfer. I came into the year knowing I would be weak. I knew this year would be spent training my body to get back where it was, and if I was lucky, I would advance further.
I went into the season with a scattershot focus: I wanted to reintegrate into my league, gain back my fundamentals of travel team derby, and gain experience as an official and announcer.
I was hoping to make it onto the Bruise Crew (b-team) at some point in the year, but would have been super stoked to make the Sea Sirens (c-team) out of the gate. I applied for tournaments. I worked hard and came to practice, and I think I even made good impressions. I was put onto Bruise Crew. I got accepted to The Big O as an announcer. I looked forward to officiating in the northeast for the first time at Battle of the All-Stars.
Ok, look I’ve rewritten this paragraph five times now, not quite sure how to convey the things I’ve focused on this year, or the ways in which I’ve grown. This is a blog about reflections of a season spent with many hats. It’s going to be a rambling about the good and the bad in our community, and about how I hope we can continue to move and grow forward. How tradition for tradition sake is not always healthy, and change just for the sake of change can be just as bad.
PLEASE NOTE THAT I DON’T THINK I’VE EVER HAD THIS MUCH ANXIETY ABOUT A POST BEFORE.I’m kind of putting a lot of stuff out there from my brain that I didn’t think I’d be brave enough too.. I’m gonna shout out two of my favorite humans, NoMad and Foxxy. They put themselves out there in such a brave way that it inspires me. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t leave your thoughts on this blog, I just thought I should say it. And this is part 1 of 2 so good on you if you actually read the full novel!!
Games played: – As jammer: 3 (home teams)
– As blocker: 10 (1 home, 9 travel)
– As alt/stats: 3
– Mash-Up Scrimmages: 4
Games NSO’d: 2
Games Refereed: 39 (17 sanctioned)
Games Announced: 32 (8 streaming, 21 house, 3 production)
Games Recapped: 23 (I think… I deleted my D2 folder) Total games doing SOMETHING: 116
Tournament Totals: Attended: 10
– As Player: 4 (Tiny Tourney, Golden Bowl, Franky Panky, Hostile TACOver)
– As Ref: 4 (BotAS, Spring Break Swarm, Mayhem Tournament, Classic City Crush)
– As Announcer: 6 (BotAS, The Big O, Southern Discomfort, Spring Break Swarm, Franky Panky, Classic City Crush)
– As Writer: 1 (WFTDA International Championships)
These numbers don’t reflect coaching at Eckerd College the last couple months, all the hours of playing/reffing/coaching/announcing at RollerCon, scrimmages, boot camps, extra footage review, regular practices, league committee hours, or other training that I have done over the season. The numbers don’t reflect all the games I watched FOR FUN, blogs and social media I’ve done for sponsors, or partial blogs I’ve written for myself and then never finished.
In 2016 I was off-skates during tournament prime-time, saving and waiting for surgery. I was still able to announce 25 times, and ref 28 games at four tournaments (and go to MRDWC for funsies) that year.
Also keep in mind that this year, I moved to a new house this year and had a new job, as did my significant other. We took about six weeks off between February and June to move and settle a bit. This gives you a bit of background as to what I’ve been up to.
On the subject of multiple hats
This has been the hardest part of this season. Not that I wear multiple hats and try to juggle them, but rather that no group seems to like the fact that I do. The vast majority of the time at practice, I am discounted on my assessment of a penalty or rule by my team because I’m “not really a ref.” The vast majority of the time the officials do not listen to my input because I’m “just a skater.”
Don’t get me wrong, I have had my fair share of misinterpretations, missing new clarifications, or simply having been told the wrong information, but there have also been times where I have been correct.
Regardless, it is infuriating that both groups look at me as if I’m just pretending to be an official. It has been easing a bit, but in home state especially, I run against scrutiny because of the stereotype that skaters cannot ref well, and vice versa. Even though people like Ninja Sass’em, Keiran Duncan, Spin Diesel, and Jazzy (to name a quick few) have shown that crossing the streams does not end in disastrous results. All have been outstanding officials and players. The mentality that the groups must be separated hurts our game in the long run.
Skaters make easy transitions into officials because we’re familiar with the game, and referees have to be better at rollerskating that the people playing. Remember they have to do all the skating, every jam, with particular body positioning, while doing advanced calculus and geometry equations and assessments in relation to the case and rule books. It is not easy. If you have to think about your feet while you’re watching the pack, you’re already a step behind.
Now, my skater/ref examples have all picked one primary job at this point, but it’s not really a surprise based on the attitudes we come up against. Sometimes we choose because we’re ready, sometimes it’s because we’re told to. We’re told that you shouldn’t do more than one thing in derby. We’re told that if you play too much, you won’t rack up resume-building games which will affect your cert and tournament applications. We’re told that if you officiate too much, your team will see that you are not dedicated enough to playing, even if your hit all your attendance. Better to focus on one, or the other, as to not upset those around you and cause yourself more strife in the future.
Maybe if we taught more vet skaters how to officiate, and the value and fun of it, we wouldn’t be so desperate for trained eyes in some parts of the world. If we wouldn’t shrug off a cringe-worthy four-whistle blast as “oh well, it’s just a skater, no need to teach”, maybe we would have more people willing to drive down the road to another league and help jam ref.
Now, the announcers embrace the ref/skater combo. I can’t tell you how many games I’ve sat down to call and my announcer buddy has remarked something like: “Oh good it’s you! You’ll know all the things!” (Ironically, this group too has told me that I need to settle down and just choose what I want to be. The knowledge I bring to the table is valuable in game calls and is the reason I’m a good announcer. However, I’ve been told if I want to go anywhere, I need to focus on just one thing.)
Before I get into more problematic stuff I noticed this year
I need to say that I learned so much from so much since I’ve been back on skates. I have had an opportunity to work with people of all levels and from all over the world. I rework and recreate myself as an official every time I have a new encounter. They have pushed me to be a better communicator, quicker responder, and more accurate in my impact assessment.
THE LAST 14 MONTHS OF OFFICIATING HAS BEEN COMPLETELY OUTSTANDING FOR ME. Regardless of anything problematic that I have experienced or learned of, I need all the people whom I have interacted with to please know that you make me better. I am going to be getting into observations I have made that reflect the community as a whole. I do not want it to detract from the individual friendships i have forged, and thank you for teaching me, helping me, and being patient with me.
The Volunteer Tournament Trap
I love tournaments. I love them. LOVE. ALL THE LOVE. I played softball growing up and the All-Star season was my favorite because we would load up the van and go sit on the fields in the blazing July sun in Central Pennsylvania and I would play and watch the sport my heart beat for. I got accustomed to marathon days of cycling activity and recovery.
The first derby tournament I ever went to was East Coast Extravaganza and I was immediately hooked. I love overdosing on my sport. When I thought about getting to volunteer at tournaments around the country (and world) to officiate and announce, I get really excited. There are always new people to meet, new leagues to discover, and an array of levels of derby to enjoy. The first tournament I ever officiated was the first State Wars, and I was hooked. I knew I wanted to officiate in tournament settings. The amount of practice, feedback, and ability to meet and connect with new people was off the charts. The challenge of it thrilled me, all while helping other people compete in the sport I love. So I decided I would put emphasis on officiating tournaments.
Tangent: NO LEVEL OF DERBY IS EASY TO OFFICIATE. “Low level” derby is not easier to officiate than Top 10, it’s just challenging in different ways. I have had conversations with very experienced officials that commented on how hard it was for them to shift into a D3 game because their eyes were trained for D1 experience. It’s not that the rules are different, but you will see a trend towards different kinds of penalties, different kinds of impact assessment, and a different game flow. If you are one of those people that ‘doesn’t waste their time’ on anything but D1 derby – you’re wrong, and your experience is narrow, and you are doing a disservice to other leagues as well as yourself.
Here come the chicken and egg circles of logic. Let’s break this down…
Where I live, within a 90 minute drive, I can get to maybe seven leagues including my own (and that’s assuming they are all still functional). Out of those leagues, two are sanctioned (we are D1 the other D3), and there is one apprentice. To get to another D1 team, I must drive 4.5 hours.
This is magic compared to places in New Mexico or Montana, I know, but keep in mind that if I still lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I would have 15 leagues at minimum within a 90 minute drive of my old house. That’s assuming that others haven’t popped up. Eight of them are sanctioned (a mix of D1 – D3), and at least three are apprentices. I really feel like that number’s low. I’m sure I’ll have people popping on here to tell me I’m wrong (or right) about how many leagues exist in that circle.
This season, only one regular season WFTDA game on my resume for officiating was in my home rink, and only one other was in the state of Florida. I did four JRDA home games in The Wrecking Hall. Were there not other games to officiate in Florida? Sure, but they were 3 hours away, or they were on the same day as our home game, or the crews were full. See, while we sometimes experience the ‘shortage of refs’ crisis seen around the world, there is also a healthy enough community of officials where I am that the local games fill quick. And while I have no problem traveling a long way for derby now and again, it cannot be an every weekend adventure. It’s not possible.
And I certainly can’t do it to be an alt. While alts are important (and trust me they are very important), too much emphasis has been placed in the last two years on the idea that you have to “just suck it up and be an alt for a while to prove that you’re willing to work hard.” I see it primarily at tournaments where old standards get in easily, and new blood gets shunted to the side as an alt. THRs want to accept new people, but aren’t willing to decline someone who has been coming for a while. Seniority and Nepotism, even in Learnaments, have become pervasive problems.
“No problem,” I think to myself, “Pete [bf] goes to tournaments all the time. I’ll go to tournaments for games! I like them anyway! In the last two years I have refereed 67 games. Not a mind-blowing amount, but that’s a pretty healthy number… Especially because I know that I have shown improvement and some really great officials are my references! I’m sure I’ll get into tournaments!”
Getting into the tournaments started to prove tricky
Whoops, nope. 67 games is not as many games as Joey McJoeFace from an area where there are as many leagues as there are Starbucks. And the tournament experience, including having done 9 games in a weekend three times (thanks State teams!), does not count for much because they weren’t regulation. The couple of tournaments I was able to get with some sanctioned games, well they just weren’t enough to impress.
I KNOW THAT THOs WANT TO ACCEPT EVERYONE AND HAVE TO MAKE TOUGH CHOICES. Honestly, I don’t think I’d want that job. I had a hard enough time putting together crews for a small league in Florida. However, here are some things I have heard at least once in the past three years:
“Your experience isn’t as good as their experience.”
“Well if you had done ALL your tournaments as an official, you would get into more tournaments.”
So I have been told that my experience on my resume does not count as much, thus I cannot get into tournaments, but if I want to get more experience and be accepted more often, I should do more tournaments. And then there’s my favorite feedback:
“You have the chance to do something else. I would rather staff someone who is actually an official.”
This isn’t just one chick on a rant: I have heard this from MANY other officials this year, and most of them are also women. Women are more likely to have responsibilities at home and with children than men are, and thus are not able to dedicate as much time to travel. Women are more likely to also be skaters or hold other jobs within their league, thus limiting how much time they can miss from their own practices and board schedules. Without getting to travel to do all the learnaments in every region, you do not get to meet and network. No network, no acceptance.
I’d venture to say that this cycle of ‘you need to travel more to get into tournaments’ probably has a lot to do with the lack of PoC in officiating as well. Lower wage earners have less chance to travel, and there is a direct link to gender identity and race when it comes to earnings. Low wage earners often don’t have the ability to sink $500 into traveling six hours to officiate two games for a league over the state line. Remember, there’s food, gas, wear and tear, hotel stays, and possibly child or pet care to worry about when we travel. So it gets skipped, and that lack of travel translates to the resume, which often gets misinterpreted as the person being UNWILLINGto travel instead of acknowledging that they are simply UNABLE to travel. No experience outside of the home league means less likely to be picked up for larger events, particularly in other regions.
Even within a tournament, the newb is at risk. I was alted because I was an unknown value in that region. Our crew’s first games were messy so I understand that things had to change. However, I had gotten positive feedback about how I handled the situation and was confident that I at least didn’t muck it up over the course of the day. However, one official just did not keep it together (which happens), and another just did not seem up to the speed of the tournament (which happens). One had a patch on his arm, and the other had worked with the HR previously. I was sat, being the unknown. The patch was moved to my position, the other official continued their performance, but mercifully they added a third OPR (yes you read that correctly).
Again, I would not bring this up if others had not shared similar experiences with me (or if I hadn’t had something similar happen at another game). This is not me whining that I got benched (though I can understand that it sounds that way). I absolutely chewed this situation to death in my mind, trying to figure out why my performance had been substandard. What things I had messed up in a 2 person OPR rotation to show that I needed to be the one taken out. In the end it turns out, I did nothing wrong. I had a positive experience by the time I left the tournament, getting feedback from several people about having a strong showing.
I was going to chalk this up as an outlier;a thing that happened but is mostly unheard of. Then I overheard a group of officials talking at RollerCon with similar experiences. Getting benched last minute because someone in the crowd was known to the HR, or getting moved from their spot because a patch showed up with the traveling team so they got first dibs, or not getting put onto a game with the team they traveled with in favor of friends with less experience. While I’m sure some anecdotes were overblown, or not a true representation of the events that happened, the fact that SO MANY people have stories to share indicates that something is going on.
But this leads me into the next note…
Cert Patches don’t matter & we should stop acting like they’re the end-all sign of a good official
Guess what? Your certification no longer shows me that you are up-to-date on the rules or a reliable official. Two years ago, perhaps, but even then a patch did not guarantee you were better than the non-patched ref.
I have met my fair share of officials who had racked up 100 games (which is easier when you can’t walk down the street without tripping on a regulation game), had good relationships with people, did well on a test, and got their Level 2 ref patch. Impact assessment cannot be gauged by a written test. You might be able to recite the rules and clarifications having to do with star pass procedures, but if you can’t tell that the clockwise block from white 0-2 prevented the pass from red 3, it doesn’t matter.
I know this section is going to incense people, but think about it: a person has the ability to spend the time and money to officiate, conservatively, 150 games. They happen to squeeze out enough evaluations to apply to cert, and those evals are handed off to a board who has never even met the person. Often, these evals were written days after a game or tournament, sometimes by other officials, sometimes by teams. I know I have been given eval forms to fill in, in the past, because I “actually know what should go on them and what to look for.” These evals were the basis of awarding certifications, and it is common for them not even to be filled in DURING the game in question.
In the last two years, you could have not read the new rulebook once but still display the patch. You could still check the box on applications. You could ditch on tournaments and still be picked up because you passed a test, got enough positive evaluations, and maybe were lucky enough that they did not dredge up team affiliation social media posts from three years before you even started to officiate. *ahem*
Hell, I might be barred from ever getting certification simply for writing this blog, but I think I’m ok with it.
Yes, there are many THOs that recognize that the patch is no longer a true symbol of consistency, simply because being committed two years ago does not imply commitment in the now. However, many people still think it matters. There was a thread where a guy essentially said, “Well I have a Level 2 patch so I’m going to use it to my advantage, and I hope tournaments still ask about it because it shows that we have done more.”
You’ve got two years of officials who were waiting for one more tournament to apply, or got serious about their learning after the cert closed, or who just forgot that they were in their grace period. I am not a cert level official, don’t get me wrong. I can’t pass that damn written test for starters, but we need to stop making it out as if the certified officials are the only ones who matter.
PS that goes for after cert opens up as well. Not having a patch does not make you a bad official. Having a patch does not make you a good official. What makes you a good official is effort to grow, in my humble opinion. As long as you are always getting better, always listening to feedback, and always learning from mistakes, you are a good official.
When playoffs are announced, if they say you need a certification for it I am going to flip a table. Hell, if they even ask about your certification on the application I am going to be angry. While I was ecstatic to see so much fresh blood at the WFTDA International Championships this year, I can’t help but be salty for all of my friends who were not accepted to skate D2s because of non-cert, while high level refs got a chance to work at multiple tournaments. How is that training up new officials? How is that going to help us replenish as we lose our Level 4s and 5s at alarming rates? And how is the serious tone of officiating, on top of being barred from entry at the tournament level going to keep newer refs interested in continued progress?
OK So what does this mean for Khaos officiating in 2018?
All of these things are why I’m seriously thinking I’m not going to apply as an official too much next season. I’ll apply first as an announcer, and then as an official, especially if I enjoyed the tournament this year, or if I have friends in the crews. There has been too much frustration. Over the last two years (I have been officiating for three), it has become clear to me that, on the whole, our sport does not want part-time officials. They do not value hard-workers if that person cannot throw themselves at 100 games a year. My main focus next year will be playing roller derby, and doing the other things when I have a chance.
Maybe it’s because I talk too much, or am too open about my feelings. Resting Sad Face™ and Foot-In-Mouth Syndrome™ have gotten me in trouble in all areas of my life, and it probably has impacted me in the official world as well. Do I still have the ambition to be a certified official? Yes. Do I still plan to study and practice? Of course. Will I reach out to Florida & Georgia leagues to keep up my skills? Hell yea.
I love reffing, and I love the officials I work with, and I love the tournaments I’ve been to… but I can’t keep putting so much effort into a thing that keeps showing me that it doesn’t care if I am there. I wanted to focus more on skills as a player this season anyway, and with Pete’s new job our travel was already going to be cut. These are things that have just been brewing inside me all season.
I see so many people struggle with the same concepts and roadblocks: people that are rejected because they’re ‘not from the right region’ or ‘are seen as an NSO’ or ‘haven’t worked with the right people.’ Meanwhile the guy standing next to them is accepted. And then when the next sanctioned game comes around, guess who’s got a stronger resume? Certainly not the person who was rejected from tournaments.
So … despite consternation I will post this blog and I hope that I don’t too much heat from the community as a result.However, I really feel that it needs to be said. Yes, there is a great push to have skaters be nicer to us (that’s a whole other blog that’ll happen), but I also feel like we need to fix it within ourselves (and from the higher ranks). Not having a private organization for officials does not help the issues at hand. We have to tackle things from a grassroots, social issues problem, instead of creating ways internally to handle what’s up.
I am seven years deep into the sport of roller derby. I have transferred three times, taken one extended LOA. Sometimes, because my league and I were not the right fit for each other and things were turning toxic. Sometimes it was purely for geographic reasons. Regardless, I am here. I am in love with the sport so much that I play, coach, ref, and announce (oh and I write).
I dedicate most of my life to the sport in some way. Sometimes it’s to work on the social media of my sponsors, or to piece together marketing for my league, or writing up drills for a friend who messaged me. Sometimes I write blogs, or go to the gym for an extra hour, or watch some archived footage to relax. I travel with my love (whom I found through roller derby) to go to tournaments all over the country (and hopefully, one day, the world).
Yes it is a lot. It is stressful, and it is tiring. And no, derby is not perfect.
We are a young sport with a young ruleset, and we are finding ourselves in a time when people are finding their voices. Our sport is molded by the climate of the time, and we have allowed ourselves to be on the forefront of acceptance of different races, religions, identities, and orientations. But derby is not perfect. Within our ideals lay the individual micro aggressions seen at social gatherings, at practice, during tournaments, on text messages.
Every year we lessen how much we gloss over bullies and sexual harassment. We call for action against those who threaten our safety and peace of mind. We change the way we think about people. But no, derby is not perfect.
We have bullies. We have league cultures that allow Mean Girl mentalities, or frat boy egos. There have been leagues that would rather ‘lose coaches, not talent’, or not punish a skater who spits in someone’s face (while wearing a WFTDA patch).
There are also schools that experience this. And bowling leagues. And movie companies. And bands. And crochet groups.
Does that make it right? No. Does it make us special? Certainly not.
Social interaction comes with a wide range of implicit dangers, and the wide variety of personalities of roller derby ignites sparks. I wish I could tell you that roller derby, or soccer, or rock climbing, or theatre, or choir would be a stress free, drama free adventure for you. I cannot. Where there are people, there is conflict. It’s our responsibility as an organization to call out the shitty people and hold them accountable. And I see it happening more often (not in the online “forums” but in real life when things can actually be effected). So yes, there is a lot of bad stuff that happens in our sport.
You know what else derby has though?
I have gotten groceries from league mates when I was out of work. I have had laughter and socialization on nights where I just needed to get away from my sadness. I lost my place to stay in the Netherlands a handful of days before arriving, Parliament of Pain found me lodging (when I sprained my MCL a couple days later, that league member took care of me). Members of Duke City came and found me when I was stranded in Albuquerque and got me on my way (Bugs was correct, shoulda made that left). Roller derby got me to go back to school. I saw so many strong people changing their lives, that I was inspired to go back.
We dog sit, trade skillsets, swap recipes, attend graduations of team mate’s kids, and more. If it weren’t for derby, I would not be strong and healthy. I would not have the greatest friends and love that I have right now. Derby has provided the greatest highs (and lows) for me in my life, and I know I am not alone. “To light a flame is to cast a shadow.”
I am strong because of derby. I am resilient because of derby. I own my space because of derby. Some is a result of bullies. Some is a result of training like a D1 athlete.
I know people that have ditched abusive relationships, healed from past wrongs, and forgiven themselves past mistakes because of the sport. I know people that have changed their lives, because derby changed their outlook.
We can challenge ourselves. When we skate, we don’t have to conform to the expectations of society. When you find that player, or that pack, or that crew, or that co-announcer that you click with – it is a spark of joy. Hurdles are jumped. Achievements scored. Triumph embraced.
Is there frustration? Physical limitation? Of course. (But just for now) Just for as long as you allow your mind to hold you to it. If you work and try, you can change that. Will it guarantee a roster spot? No. Will I promise you that you’ll make your all-star team? Sorry. Again… this is every club team you’ll ever be on. Is it frustrating? Hell yes! No one likes being benched. Sometimes bench coaches are blinded by the job and pieces of paper in front of them. Sometimes they forget about you. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what happens – you’re not going to play.
(That said, are you coming to practice so you can play in the game or are you coming to practice because you love playing the sport? Why we play)
To the bullies in the crowd: you can shift your attitude and actions too. You can turn your hate into love. You can apologize for the toxicity. You can sit down and talk to people like adults. You can be a leader by recognizing what a detriment you’ve been. If it’s cool in your league to bully certain people, be a rebel: be nice anyway.
There is always going to be someone better than you in this sport, Bullies, so be humble. You don’t know when you’ll be the one with the torn PCL or broken collarbone. Embrace the love of the sport. Encourage, don’t discourage. Let’s squash out the mean, the micro aggressions, the phobias, the anger, the hate.
Too many recall easily the bad, but forget the good. Let’s link arms and call out bad behavior. Let’s share stories of love. Let’s not tolerate threats or harassment. Not everyone can simply transfer when they are in a negative team environment, so all of us must be vigilant. And if a team culture simply is not going to change or align with you, it may be time to do that transfer and skate where you love. Let’s recognize that we need to still fix things in the sport, but it’s not one big dumpster fire … like it can be online.
Because the real truth about roller derby is that it can be the greatest thing you ever walk into, and if you let it… it can change your life.