The Quiet Ones: How fear hushes our injury

Taking care of ourselves needs to be priority number one in Roller Derby. We believe we cannot be a good teammate if we are falling apart at the seams: physically, emotionally, or mentally. We must achieve perfection. We must not falter.

But injury happens, and there is hesitation to talk about it openly. There is a reluctance to admit it.

More openness has been happening in the social media world about what we struggle with in our daily lives; we are becoming brave enough to own our illnesses in a public forum, and discuss our injuries with our friends miles away. You’ll find more blogs, IGs, and threads happening now around how to deal with depression in the face of practice, or anxiety because of expectations placed on them, or how badly someone’s knee swelled up after a particularly hard hit. I have seen postings about imposter syndrome, dysmorphia, misophonia (me), and bipolarism most commonly.

There are several groups online dedicated to those who have gone through injury, and how they are recovering and processing the ordeal. In these groups, we can be honest about how we reinjured ourselves, or are going to the ortho for a DIFFERENT limb, or can empathize about when a recovery is not going as we had hoped in our minds. They allow us to vent our frustration and document our journey of reintegration into our sport.

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But when we walk through the door of practice, the conversation and understanding stops. Sometimes, when we are feeling things online and want to talk about them we pause.

We don’t want that THR to see that we had a panic attack. We don’t want our captain to hear that our ankle swelled up after practice. It’s not perfect, it’s not pretty. It’s not the model athletic stone statue that we have been told to be.

When we come to practice, there is a feeling that we are under a microscope. We cannot look sad. We cannot be in pain. We cannot have an off day. We cannot let the wet wool blanket weigh us down. We cannot injure anything else. We fear showing weakness …

“Unless you are the right person.”

I hate that I have had discussions with people across the world, in every level of play, who have said that members of their league are held to different standards. If they look mean, it’s ok. If they pull a muscle in their back in the gym, it’s no problem. If they de-gear early because of personal issues, no sweat. Meanwhile, other skaters fear they will be removed from charters, blacklisted from teams, or generally forgotten among the crowd if they show ‘signs of weakness’ within our world.

other
Finding out something is wrong is no one’s favorite day.

[And I’m going to venture to say this stems from the “Perfect Life” that we are expected to upkeep on our SnapChats, Facebooks, and Instagrams.]

You’re not allowed to be disappointed in yourself. You’re not allowed to show that disappointment. You’re certainly not allowed to leave the track so that others aren’t affected by your disappointment. All this, unless you are one of the few granted human status because they are that good or popular.

I have seen people in leadership roles belittle others who decide not to push through injury. For years, I have thought twice about sharing my journeys and experiences because “Why would someone put you on a team if you have bad knees?” or “Maybe you wouldn’t get benched if you weren’t always talking about your injuries on Facebook” or “Well, we can’t give you feedback. You look like you’re always about to cry.”

So what happens? People hide the injuries. They don’t admit the have a high ankle sprain because there is a game coming up. They avoid bracing “to get better at a different position” but really it’s because their shoulder is searing with pain. They play off how hard they hit their head when they fell at home, because they don’t want to be concussion tested.

And how do you think this all plays out later when the weakness is tested. I know I tore my ACL because I refused to admit I was playing on a high ankle sprain. Friends have torn rotator cuffs, cracked the bones in their feet, or get Second-Impact Syndrome from falling.

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Injury has been part of my whole derby life, and even when smiling I often have Resting Sad Face™. Photo by Christopher W Weeks

 

I am tired, folks. I am writing this and I’m just mentally exhausted with trying to understand all of the rights and wrongs going on in our world right now beyond derby. There is so much hate and anger in humans, and tackling this issue seems so daunting. Usually in my blogs, I would go forth with “here are some ways we can deal with it”, but honestly …. I do not know how. This is a culture thing inside of roller derby.

How do you we make it ok for us to be human? Especially in a world where some people cannot even exist without fighting for their space. We say we’re inclusive and we say we’re forward thinking but our community is a product of the society we live in. There is so much to overcome, and to add to the classism, sexism, racism, transphobia, etc that we contend with, now there is the fear of honesty.

I bonded with a teammate when we admitted to each other last year that we downplay our pain. We don’t want “to be that player that is always hurt, or made of glass.”

As a coach, I keep telling my team members that if they’re sick, injured, or mentally unwell it is OK. It does not make them a disappointment. They are not letting anyone down, and that derby will still be here when they are healthy. As a player I fight against it daily.

Captains and coaches have to understand that we are not deities formed from clay. Our teammates have to have empathy and understand that we all suffer through different issues. Prehab programs to keep skaters physically healthy could help, and rehab options in house are great for skaters coming back or with small injuries. Sometimes, just letting folks who feel alone know that they are not can be a catalyst for mental recovery.

I just had a huge panic attack simply through the effort of trying to make a point. I deleted everything that I said. Tried to erase it, and felt like erasing myself. All I can think was, “I should stop officiating. If I cannot even make it understood that I was not on the offensive, and that I am saying the same thing as everyone else… why should I be allowed to officiate? If no one is listening to me here, why should they anywhere?” And for those of you with anxiety disorders, you can imagine the downward spiral from there.

[No, I am not lost on the irony of a writer having a panic attack as a result of stating an observation of the life surrounding.]

Stigmas are everywhere and they pervade our culture. We need to stop judging each other and start listening. We need to start understanding. We need to stop being afraid of admitting pain. We need to stop being afraid to admit trepidation. We should be allowed to be disappointed. We should be allowed to be injured, to be broken, and to need a moment to recover without guilt.

We are a family. We need to start treating each other more as such, and less as simply stepping stones to get to the next goal on the list. So hey, Roller Derby? Let’s love each other a little more and break away from expectations of perfection, shall we?

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League Rebuilding: When a middle ground is needed between ‘competitive’ and ‘rec’ derby

Support Merry Khaos and getting back on skates at GoFundMe.com/KhaosACL

I have worked with a lot of leagues at this point in my career.

I have been a member of and guest coached small leagues, rebuilding leagues, D1 leagues, crumbling leagues, thriving leagues, and leagues in identity crisis. I’ve been with leagues that have had 9 transfers out in the off season, and ones with 9 transfers in during the off season. One reoccurring theme I have come across before guest coaching is this: “We have so many different levels, we don’t know how to coach our team.” A subset of this is: “We have vets who don’t show up, and when they do they don’t want to work as hard as our fresh meat.”

I am going to do my best to be clear and articulate and write this blog in an organized fashion (I really need to do outlines like real writers). I am going to mainly talk about the subset. This is the question I’ve gotten from several leagues recently: We have a league that is small already (under 25 who actively pay dues) and our schedule is built around a core of 14 skaters who started the season with us. However, they haven’t made attendance in months, when they do they don’t do the drills, and they belittle the newer skaters who are working to improve. How do we structure our training, and how do we deal with game day rosters when 8 of our 14 have not made attendance and our fresh meat are not yet prepared to skate?

My answer about training:

If you have a core of fresh meat that are showing up and are dedicated to working hard and building skills and teamwork, why would you tailor your training to girls who aren’t showing up? Create your training schedule (yes, I am a HUGE proponent of building training schedules in 4 week chunks) based around the team you have, not the team you HAD. Maybe this time six months ago you had 9 advanced beginners, 5 beginners, and 2 newborn foals, but now you have 2 advanced beginners, 8 beginners, and 5 newborn foals that show up on the regular. Why would you build your training schedule to include backwards blocking and diamond formations? You need to build the basics first. There are basics of roller skating/footwork, basics of teamwork, basics of roller derby, and basics of cross-training. Each needs time and nourishment.

H.A.R.D. (neon green) faced off against Dutchland at ECDX in 2010. Several HARD vets had transferred to DDR, leaving HARD with an array of skill levels from Rainbow's Revenge & Anida Blade (3-4yrs) to Ivanna Impaler & Spazmanian Devil (3-4 months).
H.A.R.D. (neon green) faced off against Dutchland at ECDX in 2010. Several HARD vets had transferred to DDR, leaving HARD with an array of skill levels. Skating that day were Rainbow’s Revenge (pivot) & Anida Blade (purple helmet) who had 3-4yrs of derby to Ivanna Impaler & Spazmanian Devil who had 3-4 months. The vets always showed up, though. They put in the work, respected the coaching staff, and helped the newbs get their skates under their feet. It’s part of why we had a winning season in 2011. Photo by Jim Rhoades 2010

When ‘sporadic vets’ decide to show up, they need to fall in line and do the drills of the day and have respect for their coaches, team mates, and the process. If they’re not coming to practice regularly, they probably need the fundamentals as much as the Skater Tots do (especially the fundamentals of teamwork). Packs of skaters are jenga puzzles – if you have one piece that is not in sync, the pack is wobbly. If you have more than one skater not in sync, the puzzle is going to fall. The only way to develop teamwork and trust is through time, experience, and work. Wall work is not a magic thing that just happens for 60 minutes of game play. The teams that can maintain strong, appropriately fluid walls, are the ones who have spent hours drilling it. Texas is Texas for a reason.

From: http://rdjunkies.tumblr.com/post/78852536403/wall-study-texas-vs-atlanta
From: RDJunkies

“But we don’t want to be Texas.”

Really? Why not? (JOKING!!) Honestly though, do you all feel that way or are you just being defensive in the name of what your league has accomplished thus far?

Most of the leagues that bring the scenario of a handful of rogue vets to me will present me with “but we don’t want to be competitive, so doesn’t that make a difference?” And then when I dig a little deeper, what I find is that a handful of people don’t want to be competitive. SOME people don’t want the challenge, but there are more people that do want the challenge and the improvement, but maybe they’re used to being quieted at meetings or at practice. Maybe they are the ones being belittled during drills.

I rarely meet any skater that shows up 2-3x a week, pays $30+ per month and DOESN’T want to be competitive. The skaters that skate for funsies or as their gym membership are usually the ones that, in the long run, don’t make attendance, don’t come to league events, don’t participate in fundraisers, and therefore should not be making a roster.

Yes, even if that skater is ‘more skilled’ than the others on the team.

Remember how I said that packs are jenga pieces? I would rather have a team of 9 pieces that know how to skate with one another because they’ve shown up to practice, than a team of 14 pieces that have one or two ‘superstar-exception-to-the-rule’ in every pack. They make each line unstable. They do not know the strategies that have been worked on in practice. They fall out of their lines. They become rogue, big hit blockers (or “Points for the other team” we can also call them), play offense inappropriately, don’t have experience with specific scenarios, don’t know how to communicate or receive communication from the others in their pack, and, in general, cause dissent in the league.

Dissent? Que?

Yes. If you have a girl who is ‘super talented’ or ‘vet’ who gets on a roster AND significant play time despite chronically breaking league policy and attendance, how will that bolster team morale? What it shows is that the coaching and training committee rewards talent and time claiming derby girl status. It shows that the coaching does not value sweat, work, and time on the track as a team. Resentment is a cancer.

“But we only have 9 players that show up to practice and that qualify to skate! Should we borrow?” No. You play those 9. “But we’ll lose!” Ok. So what? It’s just f***ing roller derby. “But what about our fans?” Will your fans value seeing a consistent group of core skaters whom they can cheer for and get behind (and one day have “I remember when…” moments) or would your fans rather have an ever rotating roster of borrowed skaters in sharpie-written t-shirts?

Your team will attract the kind of players that your practice and rosters nurture. If you nurture individual skaters who can come and go as they please, mouth off to coaches, skip drills that they don’t like (though they’ll tell you it’s because ‘it’s too easy), and disrespect their teammates, you are going to continue to attract those skaters that are in it for the derby name, disrespectful, lazy, and unreliable.

If you nurture a positive, athletic environment with a schedule and focus; if you nip negativity in the bud and encourage skaters to improve and push themselves, you are going to attract skaters that are willing to work during the paid practice time and invest themselves in the league. If you respect the process of roller derby, you will draw people to you that also respect the process of real, strong, athletic, revolutionary.

Mother State decided what they were going to do, and go for it. They are notorious in the northeast for skating short. Only 5 skaters went to Alaska to play Rage City.
Mother State decided what they were going to do, and go for it. They are notorious in the northeast for skating short. Only 5 skaters went to Alaska to play Rage City. Real, Strong, Athletic, Revolutionary. They attract the skaters they want. Photo by Down’n’Out Photography

Ok, conjecture aside. Your league has mostly skater tots (again), some mouthy advanced beginners (who don’t want to admit that they are still beginners), some awesome intermediate-advanced beginners, and a couple orbiters that don’t really fit anywhere. ‘Vets’ are inconsistent at practice. We have issues. What next?

Before we get to track time, let’s look at league policy and communication. Confrontation is hard. I have never met so many leagues with so many people in the BoD who do not like to talk about the elephants trampling the team. Call a league meeting. Tell everyone that it is going to be a roundtable discussion on the future of the team, policies currently in place, and policies moving forward. This is not a time for league voting. There will be people who get riled (and you should have a moderator designated who is good at cooling people off and putting out fires to slow the conversation down when people get heated). Have every skater bring a list of no more than five things they would like to address, and have each skater bring a list of at least three things that they feel are going well with the league.

NOTE: NO ALCOHOL AT THIS MEETING.

Before things start, it may be a good idea to do a team building exercise. I very much like this one: Write each person’s name on individual note cards. Hand out colored writing implements to everyone there. Each person gets a note card (if there are people not there, some people will start with multiple). One person has a stop watch. You have 30 seconds to write down a positive word or phrase about that person. At 30s your timer says “Pass” and everyone passes the cards to the LEFT. When the cards have made a circuit, put those cards in a box. You will pass them out AFTER the meeting is done. (PS this is a great locker room exercise too.)

After your meeting is done, hand out these cards. You can even go around the room and have everyone pick out one word or phrase that they are going to choose to embody during upcoming bouts or practices.

I didn't have note cards, but you get the idea. Names on one side, positive words on the other!
I didn’t have note cards, but you get the idea. Names on one side, positive words on the other! (My writing is terrible, yes that says “Fast!” on Bill Coulter’s card.

Move forward from your meeting with the positive idea that despite change being scary, you are going to be steps closer to a more smoothly running league. All the things that people brought to the table? Well the BoD should have brought their own list of topics. Talk about what the BoD has brought to the table, and after the meeting create a master list of things that people want addressed. This is where committees/BoD will focus their efforts in the upcoming weeks. This is not an easy or clean process, but this is step one. You are playing 52 card pick up, and this is stage where you’re taking the pile of messy cards and working to shuffle them back into a one deck that can work as it’s supposed to.

COMMUNICATION AND RESPECT is critical for this process. Mediation is necessary. No name calling. Set ground rules for the meeting. If people who show up to the meeting (which you may see faces you haven’t seen for a while) are breaking ground rules set at the beginning of the meeting, the mediator is allowed to throw the Insubordination sign and ask them to leave (or at least to sit outside an cool down for a moment).

No one in roller derby wants to be angry at their team, no one comes into this for ‘drama’. A league meeting doesn’t have to be ‘drama’, but each team is a business. So think of it as a business meeting. A State of the Union meeting. A “let’s talk about what is good and what is bad and how to move forward from here”. I say this is not a place for league votes because things can get heated, and if you have people showing up that haven’t been there in weeks, they may come in with blinders on. You want people to have a chance to digest.

I am also a fan of people having to be in good standing with the league (dues paid, committee hours accounted for, attendance in, etc) in order to be allowed to participate in any league vote. I know. I’m a Maverick.

Make sure you have some sort of Team Gathering scheduled in a couple weeks after the league meeting that is not derby, and just hangout time! We want to remind the skaters that it is more than a league – it’s a family. And family members may get mad at each other now and again, but it doesn’t mean they stop loving each other. This one, alcohol is allowed (though it’s bad for gains, I’ll allow it)

team bonding

Training different levels at once: This is going to be a separate blog. Once I’ve gotten to this, I realized that I have written so much already, your eyes probably want a break. Thank you for reading through, and I hope you have gotten some good ideas on how to move forward within your league. Any anger, resentment, fracturing OFF the track will be directly reflected ON the track. When I watch a team play, I can almost immediately tell when they have poor league communication, attendance issues, or unchecked egos.

http://www.facebook.com/merrykhaos1918
http://www.DNAderbyCoaching.com

Saturday, Part 1: The Graduation and Injury

I posted on my Facebook a hint of our Saturday bout. I promised to write about it. I have gotten out of my own way and finally am writing.

Saturday was big for me. I had my Penn State commencement ceremony at the Giant Center in the morning. At night, Dutchland had a double header scheduled. Cape Fear Roller Girls were coming to play the All Stars. This was going to be my first game where I got to be in a fuller rotation. This was going to be the first time my attendance and injury was not going to get in my way. It was also going to be the first time in my 4 seasons that I would have any family member there to watch me.

And it wasn’t just one. It was eight of them.

I was more nervous about the bout than I was about walking in graduation. (Though, we’ve all seen me walk, so maybe the nerves should have been shifted to the morning.) I have heard so many stories of “My family never came to see me and then when they did I tore my _________”

There was also the factor of pride. I hate admitting it, but I was putting pressure on myself to prove to my family that I ‘deserve’ to play roller derby. Whenever I hear of others seeking approval for their passion, I react negatively, and it wasn’t until the day of the bout that I understood that I was doing the same thing. However, yes. I wanted to show them that I haven’t just been skating left and having fun for the past three and a half years. That I have working on an athletic endeavor that has made me the woman that I am today.

Pushing against Black Rose - Photo by JPaden Photography
Pushing against Black Rose – Photo by JPaden Photography

Not only that – I wanted to show that I was finally GOOD at a highly-intense sport. The theatre girl who was good at slow pitch softball and mediocre at soccer is actually really good at this.

My body was not completely on board with my plan.

As I left the Giant Center floor, climbing the steps to the main concourse in my cap and gown, I felt my knee become tight. We had just spent 3 hours sitting with our feet on sport court that was laid directly on ice, after all. I had to use the restroom before getting pictures (You know, all that hydration) and I made my way against the crowd to do so. I made a move to avoid an oncoming walker and couldn’t. They bumped me just enough that my foot slid on a little wet spot on the ground (damn you dress shoes) and my knee popped.

&*$#!

Look! Proof I was there
Look! Proof I was there

I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t put any pressure on it. I was in the middle of the Giant Center with a dead cell phone, half way between the bathroom and the doors to the outside world. This moment was defining. For the first time, I had to deal with this injury all by myself. I didn’t have Matt there to help me. I didn’t have anyone. So I hopped (literally) into the bathroom, tried to straighten it out (which hurt like a MOTHER) and then realized that if I bent my knee –I could put full pressure on my leg.

PERFECT!! I’m not against looking silly after all.

I low walked out of the bathroom (for those of you who don’t know what a low walk is, it’s half-way between a lunge and a walk) and down the main concourse and out into the light of the afternoon where I met my family for photos. They were very surprised to see me as I was, and unconvinced that I’d be on skates in a few hours.

“Nah. This happened a couple weeks ago. I’ll be ok!”

We parted ways.

You can't see it - but I'm actually squatting here.
You can’t see it – but I’m actually squatting here.

I went home, not to take a nap as I truly had intended, but to go to work on my knee.

I could have given in and said that I was too weak to play. I could have avoided the nerves and the pressure and said, “I’m sorry. I’m injured.”

But I’m tired of limiting myself. This injury was a representation of the upper limit problems I have put on myself my whole life. No more would I let outside factors decide how I am going to live my life or play my game.

I came home and spent 3 hours stretching, applying ice & heat, elevating and pushing my body to understand the pain and adjust to it. I took in a lot of protein, lots of water, lots of anti-inflammatory foods, and circulation supplements (like Herbalifeline and Niteworks). I made a plan to get arnica on my way to the rink when my knee was not ‘popped back into place’. I also planned on asking team mate Treasure Chest to borrow her capsaicin for my knee. I also knew I was going to have to go to the gym before getting to the rink to do some weights to try and loosen everything up.

I would not let this defeat me. I got in my car, took a deep breath of spring air, put my “Going Rogue” mix on loud and drove away

TO BE CONTINUED………………

Grad