So You Wanna Be a BETTER Jammer Pt 2: On Track

Read Part 1: Off the Track

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.

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Not everyone can be Sausarge Rolls, infamous for his varieties of his vintage Poisons. Who needs to change wheels when you’re this good? Photo by Orel Kichigai Photgraphy

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.

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Winters uses her speed and quickness to split open opponents and find gaps you wouldn’t see otherwise. She does not fear hitting a seam with aggression. Photo by Phantom Photographics

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.

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A new strength for me is hitting my toe stop run while at full speed. It lets me take advantage of angles, throw off the timing of blockers, and access more tools. Photo by Derby Pics by Phil

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.

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Talking enough should help your blockers recognize your voice in the mayhem of a moment. Rat Pack may have her stuck, but she’s calling for reinforcements. Photo by Phantom Photographics

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.

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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.

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Making a triangle to leverage against a rectangle. Photo by Phantom Photographics
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Circle to get under the triangle. Photo by NSP 189
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Half moon to get around a triangle. Photo by Phantom Photographics

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.

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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.

Did you like this blog? How about the others? Consider buying me a coffee from afar so I can keep writing! 

 

And don’t forget to visit the wonderful photographers featured:
Phantom Photographics
Derby Pics by Phil
Ken LeBleu
Orel Kichigai
NSP189

 

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2017 Musings & mumblings from the wearer of many hats

2017 has been a hell of a year.

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!!

2017 BREAKDOWN

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.

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Got back to jamming this year with my home team, and had a blast challenging myself against incredible league mates! Photo by Phantom Photographics

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.)

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When I wasn’t playing, reffing, or coaching, I nab the mic at RollerCon with friends.

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.

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One of the best crews I worked on at RollerCon, I was given the chance to jam ref a full length bout with one of my best friends. The East v West game came down to a single point difference. The crew was supportive & communicative. It was high pressure, but still fun to officiate. It really was close to officiating perfection in my mind. ^_^ Photo by Tristan King Photography

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.

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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.
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D3 level game play can be just as exciting and challenging as D1; the challenge of officiating it just comes in a different form. Photo by Phantom Photographics

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.

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Officiating at Molly Rogers, a 2.5 hour drive is always a great time, but not something I can do every weekend. Though it is a great excuse to visit the family… Photo by Eric Vicara

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 UNWILLING to 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…

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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.”

NOPE.

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.

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Officiating locally is always great. Even if my “Scuse me why are you not looking at me?” face may get me in trouble now and again. 🙂 Photo by Eric Vicara

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.

2017 Musings and Madness to be continued ……..

Check out the photogs from this blog!

Eric Vicara 
Phantom Photographics
Tristan King Photography

No, derby isn’t perfect, but …

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?

Love.

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.

 

Photo by Phantom Photographics

 

Derby Lessons from the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup

I recently got home from my latest gypsy romp in the world of roller derby, starting in Calgary, Alberta and ending in the grand Las Vegas derby mecca of RollerCon. I watched, I studied, I contemplated, I watched again. Not only did I learn a lot through watching the elite athletes from 20 nations, but it hit me in the derby feels. There was more than just tactic and technique I saw, and after a few weeks to let it all settle,  I wanted to share with you all things I realized through the adventure in Calgary. Editing note: Please excuse formatting inconsistency. WordPress continues to be the worst platform in which to write and create. 😀

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Fans during Finland v. England. Photo by John Hesse

Here are my take aways from the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup in Calgary, Alberta:

  1. Bashing the snot out of each other on the track isn’t always the most effective derby strategy – unless you can mix in control… then it’s highly successful

Germany, Argentina, Mexico, Finland, Italy – they are bruisers. They are teams with hard hits and fast feet. Their blockers will leave welts the size of a softball with ease. They play the “let’s kick their ass” game. Teams like USA, Canada, England, Scotland, Belgium are just as brutal and imposing, but there is a game play different: they beat their opponents to a slower speed and then catch them in a net of positional blocking. The successful teams at the World Cup were able to balance brutality and control.

Just trying to beat a jammer senseless alone often has the undesired result of pushing them forward and through the pack like a pinball. I watched many jammers face (what I call) a turnstile of blockers facing backwards. The blockers would, one at a time, take a ding at the jammer, who would rebound off the hit, regain their feet, collect the point and move onto the next. It wasn’t successful at stopping them, merely bounced them about a bit.

 

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Team USA is successful through their use of power to slow a target, and then controlled blocking to maintain power, as demonstrated by Percy Controll and Cory Pain

From a jammer perspective, the skaters who were able to use their shoulders like jack hammers to bully their way through a wall, around an edge, or to level a backwards blocker were the ones who scored a lot of points. AS LONG AS they had the footwork to capitalize on the hole. I would see jammers come in hot to a pack and use their shoulders to drill a hole, or duck to get around a pack, but without the proper burst to get past the blockers, they would end up as a smear on the concrete.

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Noblet comes in hot and uses his shoulders and power to push out the Japanese blocker. Photo by Brangwyn Jones
  1. Offense is a thing

If anyone from Puerto Rico or the Netherlands are reading this they’ll flash back to me LOSING MY MIND during NO-ffense. When blockers watch their jammers get beat to hell on power jams it makes me very protective of those jammers. Yes, sometimes they need to do it for themselves, but sometimes you need to stop the tough love thing and HELP. You have 30ish seconds with which to score as many points as humanly possible. “Blockers make points, jammers collect them.” (Smarty Pants) So go make some goddamn points!!!

Plus, you only have so many jammers. Protect them like they are delicate lilies; whether it’s day 1 of a 4 day tournament or the 7th and last game of the weekend.

 

  1. Americans are super lucky that the rest of the world speaks multiple languages.

So many times I had people come to the Elite booth that were from Europe (and not England) and they spoke fluent English. Actually, most of the teams were made up of people who spoke multiple languages. Every now and again I’d have someone come up who was not English speaker, and I felt dumb and lost. Dammit, Americans: Teach your kids multiple languages! I have made so many friends from the World Cup because they happen to speak my language.

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Myself and my new friends from The Netherlands (from left): YouPiler, Slaapzack, and Lone Star. Thank goodness the Dutch speak so many languages!!
  1. Champ UnKind and I agree: Uptown Funk should be played during every half time

Why? Having to do with #3, dancing breaks borders. There is nothing more phenomenal than a Sunday morning early bout and seeing participants from the Netherlands, Spain, and Puerto Rico grooving together. Hell, maybe if Uptown Funk was played in the streets we’d all love each other more because we’d see that we’re all the same. And we just wanna dance.

Want to see why? Check out the short video I shot. Nice moves, Spain!

  1. After hours, don’t trust the shirts on the backs of MRDA players

I kind of knew this already, but after several “Oops I’m an asshole” moments [that I was able to play off (thank you, white wine)] I learned to ask this question first: “Are you actually Flustercluck or is your jersey lying?”

Honestly, I love the tradition of swapping jerseys! It shows community and camaraderie that stretches across oceans. I kind of wish WFTDA skaters did this. A few of the men I talked to were confused as to why we don’t. Maybe we’re too protective over our kits. It’s a thing of pride and friendship to swap out at the end of a hard tournament with someone you respect. But yea, always ask if the person in the jersey is the one whose name is on the back.

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Disaster Chief (Puerto Rico) and Jamie Gray (Ireland) are lying to you.
  1. THE KEY TO SURVING THE LAVA AS A JAMMER….

Ok, so my big Sherlock mystery from this weekend has been this question: “Why are some jammers so successful taking outside lines, while others get splattered when they try to do [what seems to be] the same technique?”

As I have been re-watching games, I have spent most of my energy looking into this. The jammers of Team England, particularly Sully, Fish, Alien Al, and Giggity all were able to attack the lava (the absolute edge of the track/tape) and come out on the other side often unscathed. Meanwhile, teams like Italy and Japan had jammers that would attack in a similar style and get constantly recycled.

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Alien Al, yet again navigating the edges successfully; without heed to opponents or physics. Photo by John Hesse

The first thing I noticed as a difference is the acceleration going past engaging blockers. Team England jammers are excellent at bursting with speed a split second before passing opponents, which throws off the blocker’s timing. To achieve this, more pressure most be applied into a toe stop or edges as the blocker you’re attempting to pass is ALMOST hitting you. The chance of survival increases significantly when the burst is timed so, while other jammers would get flattened for their hesitation.

The second part that I noticed (and it was Finland that helped me realize), is that many jammers turn their hips to open into a transition a moment too soon. The result is that they are trying to get past a blocker either A) after they have completed their turn, so their hips are a wider target to the incoming blocker or B) After the momentum from the torque of their initial turn has been lost, so the jammer does not have enough energy to counterblock the energy being put into them by the blocker.

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Sully turns his hips to curve around the Finland blocker and (what photos can’t show you), pops off of the planted to stop to snap his hips around the wall before they can push him out. Photo by John Hesse

Ok, let me say that again:

If you turn too early, your hips are going to be square to the track and you’ll be skating in the opposite direction, when you are hit. OR if you turn too early, you will have lost extra energy you gain while spinning. When you are driving, and you make a sudden, sharp turn you feel the inertia playing on your body, right? You feel more force driving you, don’t you? (Protip: It’s not centrifugal that’s a made up word). That’s angular acceleration, and you want more of that happening when Optimus Grime is coming at you full force with dreams of Gold shining in his eyes. Want to know more about the physics I’m talking about? Just go watch this video.

When you watch game play these are minuscule adjustments. I can only guess that the timing change comes through diligence, IMMENSE body control, brevity, and a squad of mercenaries to practice against. Rolling off a hit from Sutton Impact hurts a lot less than taking it square in the ribs, so your body learns and adapts.

^ It may seem to you a basic realization, but finally seeing it with my own eyes made a world of difference. Now to practice it………

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Poupa Test of France hits his toe stops hard before shuffling further. Photo by Orel Kichigai
  1. International superstars don’t mean everything to a team

Who wasn’t dazzled by Sausarge Rolls, Bled Zepplin, Reaper, Pibe, or Tank? These are men known on the international stage. There were plenty of derby celebs dancing around at World Cup, infamous for their strength, smarts, and prowess. However, there were also a lot of teams with names unknown that pulled together when the time was right and stunned us all.

Mexico came out with skates blazing against Canada, causing everyone to rush to track 2 to see what was going on. Chile, after a hard time in their group play, stunned us all by beating Spain by double. Puerto Rico’s final game involved coming back from a 50 point difference, and holding the game to an 8 point differential at the end, even as 4 of their ‘star’ players fouled out from the game. It was awe-inspiring to watch a pack of 5 people who had barely known each other before the weekend, a few of whom had barely played entire derby bouts in their life, come together into strong defense and rally to keep Italy on their toes and out of bounds.

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Team Chile making a diamond against Team England. Don’t underestimate the ‘little guys’. Photo by John Hesse

Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Belgium all played tremendous derby throughout the weekend. Some names rang familiar, but the world now has solid memory of skaters previously unknown to them. These teams came in without huge superstars, and played well together, and did amazing things on the track. They created new derby celebs in the likes of Ashby, Lt Damn, Optimus Grime, Track Vadar, Jones, Skate Plissken, Roche, and Trick or Threat. Ok and please know there are a TON more skaters that I want to recognize, but I don’t want this to become a blog of names ❤

The point is this: yes, having tried and true players on your team is awesome, but don't get hung up on them. I've seen too many teams panic when their star player can't make it to a game, or gets injured. Every single one of us can do amazing things when we pull together with our squad and work as a team. Don't undervalue 'the little guys' in your league. Lift them up and expect the best out of them, and they will give it.

 

  1. “You can either yell about the call or play derby. I suggest you play derby.”

I had to say/yell this at least 12 times during the Cup. Ok we all get peeved on rules stuff. We all see things happen or [not] get called that makes us go “DAFAQ REFS?” however when you’re in the middle of a jam, that is not the right time to stop what you’re doing to throw your hands in the air in disgust. Play the game. Control what you can control. You standing in the middle of the track signaling for a forearm penalty is not going to put the ref in the position to have seen it 5 seconds ago. Move on. Skate hard.

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Really, Disaster Chief? France isn’t going to take it easier on you! 😀 Photo by Orel Kichigai
  1. ONE HAND IS EVERYTHING

Dear folks who have mastered the ‘one hand out of bounds’ thing: TEACH ME YOUR GODDAMN JEDI WAYS. I know that a ton of folks have used this since the clarification came out. I was impressed by how many jammers got knocked backwards, caught themselves with one hand VERY out of bounds, only to regain their skates after the blocker had triumphantly removed themself from the ENTIRE PACK thinking a cut was imminent. The jammer, meanwhile, skates forward to freedom. I think Rollomite had the move patented by the end of the weekend.

WORK ON BALANCE PEOPLE! And back bridges apparently…

  1. Even if you don’t leave with a medal, you still win at the World Cup

The amount of stories of pride I’ve heard during the event and since brings tears to my eyes. The people who have met new friends, taken on derby legends, and scored little victories with a team of their nation is remarkable. The officials, photogs, announcers, vendors, EMTs, volunteers are not left unaffected. To watch Japan get their first win, to watch Argentina who were the little guys of 2014 finish 6th, witnessing Mexico coming out of the gate with something to prove, to see Australia unseat Canada on the podium, to see England give the USA a run for their money, to witness all the apex jumps, tremendous blocks, and incredible timing, to be in the room when so many proposals happened … it leaves a mark on you. Every person who was a part of the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup in Calgary, Alberta will have friends around the world for the rest of their lives. We took care of each other, cheered, danced, had our hearts broken, and triumphed as one.

If there’s anything I regret about the World Cup is that I couldn’t be on both tracks all the time, and there are some teams I didn’t get to watch as much as others. But that’s ok! 2018 isn’t far away. You should go like the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup on Facebook, and maybe host the next one…..

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Anita of the Netherlands. The face says it all. Photo by Brangwyn Jones
Thank you Chinook City Roller Derby. Thank you Roller Derby Elite. Thank you nations of the world. Thank you roller derby for being the best thing that has ever entered my life. It’s hard to believe that my World Cup experience was followed up by as equally of humbling of a RollerCon experience… but I think I’ll save that for another blog.
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Team Belgium during opening ceremonies just one of many teams super stoked to be there! Photo by John Hesse

Thank you to the photogs that let me use their work in this blog! Go visit Brangwyn Jones, Orel Kichigai, and John Hesse!!

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Canada was a fantastic host during the MRDWC, eh? Photo by John Hesse

Khaos Theory Blog is run completely off my own funds. Make a donation now to keep the blog going! 
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Kristie Grey (Merry Khaos) has been playing roller derby since 2009 and has coached almost as long. She has worked with over 20 leagues in 11 states, and five countries. She has coached on and off skates at Beat Me Halfway 2014 & RollerCon (2012-2015). She currently skates with Tampa Roller Derby. Active in health and wellness, she is an active Herbalife Health Coach, rock climber, and power lifter. For questions, booking, requests of topic, or help with a nutrition plan, message Khaos at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com

Continue reading “Derby Lessons from the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup”

Mental Prep for Roller Derby

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

Not a single skater that has stepped on the track has avoided a blow to their confidence. No matter how long we have skated, no matter how long we have played, reffed, or coached, all of us – at some point – feel the pit in our stomach and wonder, “What is happening?”

Roller derby, whether you’re playing or officiating, is a mental game. Your skills sit on a house of cards known as ‘confidence’. When our confidence is shaken, or we get angry on the track, our skills suffer. How you recover is critical to your effectiveness. If you spend the whole 30 seconds in the box being mad at yourself (or someone else) about a penalty, you will likely not be effective when you re-enter the track.

Steeling your confidence takes diligence. You must practice it the way you practice laps, footwork, apex jumps, and offensive skills. Let’s look at some things you can do to work up your walls both in life, in practice, and when you’re under pressure.

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Being calm, collected, and confident come to some naturally (like Ref No Hit Sherlock), but many of us need to practice. Photo by Phantom Photographics

LIFE PRACTICE

Create a Mantra

Ok, you’ve heard this one before, I’m sure and you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. “A mantra.  Yea. OK.” But hear me out : if you create a mantra, a phrase, a motto for life attached to your goals, then throughout the day you can say it to yourself. When you are calm or just happy, repeat it a few times: you’re setting your mind up to associate those words with good feelings.

Mantra ideas:

Quiet, calm, controlled

I am building my life towards my goals

I am not perfect, and that is perfect

I will fly like the Eagle.

You can make it as goofy or as serious as you want, but find a phrase or group of word that resonates with you, and write it on your mirror. Put it on your water bottle. Say it before bed, and when you get up. Then, when you’re struggling with that lift, or you can’t figure out the footwork on a skill, or you feel a penalty against you that wasn’t called – say it then. Calm yourself down. Move forward.

Work on Recognizing When you Get Angry or Flustered

Understanding your emotions off the track can really help you understand them on the track. Many of us walk through our days with emotional blinders on. It takes some internal searching and vulnerability to admit our faults and our buttons.

When you begin to get upset, angry, frustrated, sad – what got you there? Did you rage because you spilled coffee on your shirt, or was it because you spilled coffee on the only shirt you felt body confident in? In which case, it’s not the coffee that you need to work on, but rather feeling better in your skin. Did you feel sad that you weren’t recognized in the meeting at work because you really want praise, or because you know how much work you did and you feel like no one appreciates you?

When we understand the root of our emotion, we can work out the knots. If you constantly look at issues on the surface, you’re never going to fix the problems. Recognizing our deeper issues, and knowing ourselves better can be useful to thwart future negative emotions. Forgiving yourself for transgressions of the past that fuel current insecurities can be very freeing, and can improve your positive outlook overall.

Snap Happy skate roller derby
Things happen. Mentally strong skaters are able to roll with the punches and keep going with a level head. Snap Happy is dealing with her skate, but after the fact, she was back to business as usual. Photo by Phantom Photographics

Turn off the TV, Crack Open a Book

Strong mental game comes from positive minds. A study done by the University of Maryland conducted over a 30 year period indicates that those who are unhappy watch more television. They compare it to an opiate that creates a short term positive effect, but a longer term feeling of ‘misery and regret’ (1).

A study done by Emory University also indicates that reading fiction stimulates connectivity in the primary sensory motor region of the brain (ie the part of the brain that deals with motor function and activity) (2). When you think about playing roller derby, you actually activate the same neurons as when you are physically PLAYING roller derby. It’s why we tell you to visualize skills. You strongly visualizing the action and you DOING the action are nearly the same according to your neuron connections. The implication that reading novels could increase the strength of the connections within the brain that control motor functions is great news. It means you can build a stronger physical game by switching off the TV and reading a favorite story.

Finding books in the ‘Personal Development’ section can’t hurt you either. While often criticized for being a money-hungry nonsense, there are many ‘self-help’ style books that will help you peel away the layers of your onion. That whole, “you must learn your triggers” thing mentioned earlier? This is what I’m talking about. The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks is one of my favorites. It is a book about pushing past our own top level of happiness to achieve greater satisfaction in life, and happiness in work, relationships, and health. Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, Do Work that Matters by Jon Acuff is another book to look into. Serious self-development laced with humor will challenge how you think about your work ethic and goal setting.

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A recommended read.

Study Roller Derby

The good, the bad, the ugly, the awesome: watch it all. Don’t just see the game, see the individual actions of those who are successful and the missteps of those who are not. Re-watch offense, break the defense apart. Look at situations and how players reacted to them. Don’t look at just the formations, but the actual movements of a skater’s shoulders, what their body does to absorb impact, or how their momentum moves when they shift from rolling to running on their toe stops. Go deeper.

You may think that blocker who is facing backwards was successful in her job (Yay look! She knocked the jammer out of bounds!), but did the jammer pass 2 other blockers (and gain points) just because she was facing backwards? Did someone get a multiplayer block because of her formation? Was the jammer able to immediately stand up and swoop to the outside of your ‘successful’ blocker because the blocker had no lateral agility?

Now do the more dangerous thing: Challenge yourself to analyze your own game and ask yourself if you’ve been making the mistakes you see in others. True self-analysis separates the good from the great, because it is scary. It is frightening to admit that we use our forearms to get around blockers, that we leave our skates to make hits when we’re tired, or that our elbows are critical to our [ineffective] backwards blocking style. It is scary to admit that we might be wrong, and that we might have to rewire ourselves to be more effective.

gotham girls rose city
Want to study roller derby? Want to study strong mental game? Study Bonnie Thunders. Photo by Phantom Photographics

Write it Out

Upset about something? Can’t understand something that happened and it’s frustrating you? Don’t feel productive during the day? Write it out!!

Taking 5-15 minutes at the start of the day to ‘Mind Dump’ is super helpful. Turn off all the noise. Put away the cell phone. Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Set a timer. Now just WRITE. It can be in list form, in prose, or a combination, but just write EVERYTHING in your head! Write what you have to do today. What you wish you had done yesterday. What upset you at practice. What you wish your girlfriend had said when you had argued. Vomit all of the things from your head onto the piece of paper.

Read over it. Create new lists of important things that you can gather from it. And the rest?

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ON SKATES PRACTICE

Get to Practice Early and Develop a Routine

Rushing into your practice space and barely getting on the floor in time for warm-ups is not a habit of mentally-strong skaters. Creating a space bubble where you can refocus from your day into derby mode is very important. You can take the time to breath, think about your last practices, think about your current goals, and create goals for the day. You can take the extra minutes to chat up your captains and get feedback, or simply sit and focus on the upcoming challenges as you nom on some last minute energy.

If you start your practice frenzied, you likely will remain that way. So get there early, do a warm up, get your head straight, and most importantly: LEAVE YOUR BAGGAGE AT THE DOOR. I forget who said it first, but I was told to leave all the shit from my day at the door of work, practice, or rehearsals; “Don’t worry, it’ll still be there when you’re done, because no one wants your shit.” Part of an acting warm up we did in college involved invoking this phrase: “I will be here and present. Anything going on in my life will still be there in three hours. I can do nothing about it while I’m here, so there is no use in worrying about it.”

So yea, leave your baggage behind, the 27 in 5 is hard enough without a pack of stuff weighing you down.

Don’t Engage in Gossip

Ok, honestly this could be applied to the ‘real life’ section too. Gossip brings stress and disquiet. Do not engage in the ‘she said, he said’ BS that sometimes comes along with groups of people being in a hobby together. Talk to your friends, interact with your team mates on a social level –it’s a great bonus to this sport we play! We see our team mates more than our other friends.

However, refrain from the toxicity of gossip. Otherwise your mind will be so busy processing how Johnny Ref kind of almost cheated on Jane Ref with Betty Skater, and she’s such a bitch anyway and then you’ll be thinking “oops there goes the jammer”, or “oops was that a cut?” or the worst: “I’m not going on the floor with her.” Skaters and refs that get hung up on gossip and butthurt only keep the team from progressing to the next level of team work.  It doesn’t matter who has done what outside of practice. When you play on a team, when you ref on a crew:  you are all equals. Don’t let petty BS get in the way of building awesome walls or running a smooth game.

Anyway, what other people choose to do is none of your business. Just skate and let skate! You’ll be happier in the end, I promise.

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Team mates are lovely to laugh with, not be gossips with. PhDiesel and Millie Curie are having a moment here.

When you ‘Mess Up’ Recognize the Error, Forgive, and Correct

You are your own worst enemy. Chances are that when you “mess up” in your own head, no one else is as concerned. We’re back to self-recognition on this one. Look at what you did, think about how you could have done better, forgive yourself for the mistake made, and incorporate the new information into executing the drills better. If a team mate offers you advice, or comes to tell you about something that happened in a drill, do not get defensive. Do not talk. Listen. Absorb what they’re saying, don’t immediately spew out the thing you were trying to accomplish; they know what it was. It’s why they’re talking to you right now.

A team mate saying “Don’t turn around”, “you should come to the line in this situation”, or “You keep skating away from us”, isn’t people being mean. Turn off the butthurt and listen to the feedback. Mentally strong players are not defensive. If you are receiving criticism that you feel is backhanded or incorrect based on a solid logic: than thank the skater for their feedback anyway. You do not need to incorporate everything you are told, but should give serious consideration when given feedback; especially if it is not the first time that you’ve heard it. Admit you might be wrong, forgive yourself, and correct it.

As a ref, know that you’re going to make mistakes. Even level 5 refs call off the jam when their jammer isn’t lead, or get hit by ghost blockers while head reffing. Just like with players, take feedback, question every action, and incorporate feedback with a level head and open mind.

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Officials need to have rock solid confidence to do their (very complicated) jobs,often without thanks. Bass Invader (a favorite SO & NSO in Florida) is unphased by your shenanigans. Photo by Phantom Photographics

Focus on Your Breath During Every Drill

Our breath and heart rate match each other. When we feel out of breath, we pant. When we pant, it triggers panic in our minds, and our heart rate skyrockets. When we are mad, we breath heavier, our mind becomes dizzy, our heart rate rises. Elevated heart rate may be advantageous to an extent for our muscles, reaction, and blood flow, but only to a point. I don’t think I need to reference any of the material out there that says that elevated heart rate and shortness of breath is linked to anxiety, fear, and anger. These are things we do not want you feeling.

During each drill, think about the air you take in and breathe out. Count your breaths, when you come off the track and are short of breath, force yourself to take longer, slower inhalations. When you get called on a penalty, exit the track immediately and instead of wasting your breath on mean words, use your breath to calm your heart. When a team mate says something you don’t appreciate, do not retort. Just breathe.

When at home, a couple times a day (at least), take the longest breath in that you can, hold for as long as you can, and then let it out for as long as you can. It will force you to tune into your lung capacity and how it feels to really be at the end of your air. It will improve your cardio conditioning, because you will be training your heart to work on air less often. When the time comes, you can use this breath practice to bring your heart rate back under control.

For refs, controlling your breath and increasing your endurance means your brain will remain functioning during fast paced and high stress games. You want to keep a clear mind to see each action clearly. Keeping your breath under control is step 1.

Know Why You Are There

Are you playing derby because you love the sport and want to be the best at it you can be? Are you there because you love competition and athleticism? Are you there because your bestie drug you to tryouts? Are you there because you want people to look at you in a certain way when you say, “Oh yea, I play roller derby”? Do you really love the intricacies of the rules and have an interest in keeping skaters safe?

No reason is wrong, however knowing why you’re really there can play into your mental stability when things get hard. When you cannot complete a skill, but you only practice once or twice a week, because you play derby as a recreational hobby to change up your routine, cut yourself some slack. If you are focusing on a skill you’ve had trouble completing, and you’re in the game to be the best the game has to offer, take a step back and look at what you could improve. Maybe break down the skill into smaller pieces and build.

Regardless of why you’re there, sometimes taking a skill to a smaller level can boost the confidence you need to advance. You can’t do a foot to foot transition at speed? Try stepping through your transitions, so that your 180 turns are clean, smooth, and your feet are “on a balance beam” during the transition. Can’t bring an opposing skater to a stop with a plow? Work those plow stops, and have your buddy push gently on your back as you work on controlling your speed and balance.  Take it to a place you can be successful, and add difficulty and speed from there.

WFTDA Tampa Roller Derby
Tripp McNeely, Despicable D, and Millie Curie share a hug during a Cigar City Mafia game at Tampa Roller Derby. Each skater is strong of mind, solid in their goals, and work with their teams to accomplish greatness. Photo by Phantom Photographics

WHEN YOU’RE UNDER PRESSURE

All of the pieces we’ve talked about come together on game day: forgiving yourself of mistakes, breathing through difficulty, analysis of gameplay, and calming yourself when you want to be frantic. When you study the game, and you think about the game, and you visualize yourself playing the game, your body has an easier time moving through the game. They call it practice for a reason. When the pressure comes on, your body will do what it knows. Your body will default to muscle memory, and emotional memory. If you haven’t practiced 180 toe stops 10000 times, then you won’t execute a 180 toe stop without thinking about it. If you haven’t practiced calming your body down, than you won’t be able to when tension is high on the track and personalities are exploding on the bench.

This is your time to be the rock. This is your time to be the positive force the team needs as an example. You communicate with your walls, which you can do because you haven’t made enemies through gossip. You can last through playing 75% of the jams, because you have worked on your cardio conditioning. You can orchestrate your blockers through complex situations, because you’ve studied the game and asked questions of your coaches. You can celebrate a win, or accept a loss with good graces, because you do not dwell on mistakes, but rather understand that one person does not make a team, and even Gotham loses once in a while.

Read books, watch derby, be nice, breathe more, listen to calming music sometimes, eat food that gives you energy, create a warm up routine, leave your emotional garbage outside the rink, and don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, ask questions, or to challenge your own skills. Don’t be afraid to turn away from a crowd of poisonous people in favor of healthy habits on and off the track. When you are getting frustrated because you can’t do something, bring it back to a level that you will have success and work up from there.

Practice, stay calm, and move forward with an open mind, eager attitude, and love in your heart for yourself, and you will build your mental resistance over time.

Tampa Roller Derby
I may look worried, but I’m just analyzing my options and looking for the best route through the pack. OR I’ve just emerged from the pack and am shell shocked at the muscle memory I’ve built over the years. Photo by Phantom Photographics.

Kristie Grey (Merry Khaos) has been playing roller derby since 2009 and has coached almost as long. She has worked with over 20 leagues in 11 states (and Canada). She has coached on and off skates at Beat Me Halfway 2014 & RollerCon (2012-2015). Active in health and wellness, she is an active Herbalife Health Coach and [when the knees allow] rock climber and power lifter. For questions, booking, requests of topic, or help with a nutrition plan, message Khaos at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com

Phantom Photograhics
Thank you Phantom for the photos used in this blog! Visit http://phantomphotographics.tumblr.com/ to buy prints and support derby

(1)  Phys.Org “Unhappy people watch TV, happy people read/socialize, study says” http://phys.org/news/2008-11-unhappy-people-tv-happy-readsocialize.html

(2) Emory University eScienceCommons “A novel look at how stories may change the brain” http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-novel-look-at-how-stories-may-change.html

Published 1/22/2016