If you’ve ever taken a class or practice with me, you have probably heard you say this. Roller derby is a series of weird skills and strategies that will undermine your confidence and sense of self-preservation. Usually our brains do this subconsciously, or at most, it brings up the “status bar” of attempting to do a skill.
RollerCon for me this year, was not me coming in and overcoming physical barriers, this year it was all about the mental mind fucks of not knowing where I belong. In our jammer pod in Tampa, we have all adopted dessert names, and I chose Cronut since I’m always in identity crisis. For those who came into RollerCon (or any other mixed scrimmage event) with trepidation, you are not alone.
Usually at RC I come in knowing that I’m not the best, but I’m solidly competent. I’m a decent coach, I’m good at skating, I’m a good blocker, an OKish jammer, a pretty reasonable ref, and an occasionally funny announcer. I’m not the best at anything, but gosh darnit – I can hold my own with the big guns on any of it.
Jammer paralysis. Blocker doubts. Ref misgivings. Announcer stage fright. Coaching faux paus. All this during a year where I just wanted to show my friends that I’m really good. I just wanted my friends to agree that I am just as good as they are, and can hang. I Just wanted to look at everything and go “Yup! I’m still relevant. I’m still growing. I’m still good.” And midweek I found myself in panic mode thinking:
WHAT THE FUCK AM I? WHAT HAPPENED?
Ok, the background. This year at RC I ….
Played in 8 (?) 30 minute games
Officiated 1 B&W scrim, 1 30 min game, 2 full length games (OPR Fury Road/Matrix & JR East/West)
Announced 2 30 minute games
Taught 4 hours
Took two 2 hour classes
Helped the SM of the Drag Show get sorted (before getting a concussion & having to pull out from helping)
Spent around 6 hours at the Roller Derby Elite Booth
…..And this was a light year of activity for me.
I didn’t have any full-length games to play this year, and was taken off of the rosters of games I had previously been rostered. Between the removals, the lack of games, and my guilt over switching schedules, I was already in a bad headspace coming into the Con. Match that with low performances in front of my friends on day one, having the jammer star taken out of my hand in 3 different games on day one, and feeling overall ineffective, I was a train wreck.
RollerCon is supposed to be fun. I’ve always gone because it was fun. Let me say that playing with AA skaters this year was, overall, NOT fun. And I hate that.
I miss the challenges & scrimmages where we ran every jam because we only got to play 3 times in 30 minutes. This year, people were screaming from the bench to call it off so we could win. This year, I didn’t see people pull back to allow for a fun, even up scrimmage (unless we were shouting “C level!” as officials). I saw dirty (and dangerous) hits and hooks happening from skaters that know better, simply because they were frustrated with not being immediately successful. I was told that I didn’t deserve to be on the track as a blocker in one game, that I wasn’t good enough to jam in another, and scolded about being wrong when I was trying something in a third.
I also heard several pods being lectured about how they weren’t playing derby well enough. Feedback is one thing, but let’s make sure that we’re doing it right.
I remember Smarty Pants being on the bench with me during a black and white early scrimmage before ECDX a few years ago. Were the packs perfect? ANYTHING BUT. However, she didn’t talk us down, she talked us up. What did we do right? How can we capitalize on that next time?
Telling people that they are wrong about derby does not help anyone. It takes them out of the fun, out of the moment of strength, and makes them want to quit. I almost stopped skating a few times this week. I felt like if I didn’t have the respect of those AA skaters, if I didn’t look like I could hang with the ‘Big Dogs’ from the audience, then why am I here?
This was only underlined by the fact that some of my friends have gotten very good at derby and are gaining a lot of notoriety. You at home. You that feel guilty for feeling jealous of your friends being noticed while you continue to work hard and go unnoticed? I see you. There are a ton of us in this community.
We spend so much time at RollerCon oooing and awing the AA skaters, that we forget to acknowledge the hard work and advances made by others. Every year you may feel like you never improve when you go to an event like RollerCon, but I have understood that it just means we’re all getting better at the same rate. This year, I didn’t keep the pace of improvement. I need to work even harder if I want to be at the same level that I have been in the past.
That’s hard for us to accept sometimes: Some of us have to work much harder at roller derby just to keep pace with people who have a knack for the game or have been athletes most of their lives.
For the skaters that are progressing at a quick rate, or that are now a higher level and playing “down” at RollerCon, remember that not everyone has the same story as you. Not everyone has the same training. Not everyone is in the same mental space of “WIN ALL THE GAMES”, especially since what it felt like was “SHOW THEM I’M AS GOOD AS THEY ARE WE CANNOT LOSE NEVER SURRENDER!”
-_- Maybe we all need to stop being so cut throat with this stuff. I personally was a little sad that I got a full uppercut to the face and there wasn’t even an acknowledgement, much less an apology. Yea, it’s derby, shit happens, but come on, yo. We’re not supposed to be ok with injuring each other, ESPECIALLY during a fun challenge that no one gives a shit about 30 seconds later. Just be nice to people.
Imposter syndrome went through the roof because all of this. I know I’m not the only one who dealt with it, and I’m sorry if any of my frustration caused others on the track to question their own ability. That’s the thing about yelling and shouting and putting people down: it spreads like the derby plague. I cried so many times this year just because I didn’t feel like I was good enough. It didn’t matter what track cuts I drew on AA players. It didn’t matter who I cleared, or how effectively I helped to kill power jams. I was told I was lesser and I felt like it.
I was sitting at the Roller Derby Elite booth with my friends Disaster Chief and Peter Pan (Tony Muse) talking about all of this and Tony said, “There was something I was missing, and I had something to learn from everything that happened from this year. Maybe this is all happening because you need to learn something. Maybe you’re missing a piece.” I walked away from the conversation unsure, but when i geared up later I realized what he was talking about.
All this time I had been hyper focused on the physical, but I’ve been ignoring the mental. It’s the same thing that came up at Tiny Tourney. I was missing the fun and the confidence. While my body was getting stronger, my mind was not.
I got so swept up in the competition on the track that I forgot to have fun in a sport that I know I’m good at. I may not be good all the time at all the things, but I am good. The more fun I have, the better I play. I don’t train my ass off to get approval from others (I mean, subconsciously I do but I’m working on that).
When it comes down to it, RollerCon is supposed to be the biggest, baddest, most fun summer camp for adults. And looking back on it, that’s what it was. At the end of everything, the Crew of Cabana 3 made RC everything, even when we had our drunken mishaps or when bogged down in interpersonal ucky.
Every year I am going to have social anxiety. I’m going to let someone down along the way. I’m going to miss calls. Make questionable calls. Do neat stuff. Fall on my ass too much. Build friendships. Strengthen bonds. Learn more about myself. Get defensive. Get happy. Get sad. Get shouty. Teach someone. Be taught. And maybe even make out with someone.
Every year I’m going to come out thinking Ivanna hates me, that I disappointed Val, that I let down Ump, that Tony’s going to stop sponsoring me, and that Suvi wants me off the team. It’s not true though. I am learning that the minor inconveniences, the little things that happen along the way are a drop in the bucket and we all still love each other at the end of the day.
You should love yourself and your friends too. High five each other, hug each other, kiss your friends. You all deserve love after the trials and tribulations brought on with roller derby in the desert. And next year will be even bigger, even better. Next year, our minds will be overwhelmed by even more incredible roller derby and we will struggle and thrive once again.
So my takeaways this year at the end of everything?
I want to play more derby.
I want to use my shoulders more.
We need to listen to each other more.
I’m actually kind of hot.
I want to get stronger.
I need to take more classes (especially from Grime).
I’m terrible at using a hand drill [but everyone should volunteer & try].
I want to get my mind better, and have no idea how to prevent meltdowns in the future.
We should all chill the fuck out a bit.
I want to help build more opportunities for lower level men to play at RC.
I never want to do another RollerCon without a microwave & washer/dryer.
You can never drink enough water. Even when your adult beverages are made with sparkling water.
Cucumber Water beverages at the Westgate are the perfect summer drink.
Ivanna and the team of managers are all made of magic. I think they are unicorns in disguise.
My friends and roller derby buddies are the greatest in the world.
I’m kind of OK with being kind of OK, but I’ll never settle for being as good as I am.
This was my year to rebound from my ACL replacement surgery with a hamstring graft on my right leg, the surgery happened on March 22, 2016, and a subsequent partial ACL tear of my left knee which occurred in October 2016. This was my first full travel season with a single league since 2011, every other year had been interrupted by injury or transfer. I came into the year knowing I would be weak. I knew this year would be spent training my body to get back where it was, and if I was lucky, I would advance further.
I went into the season with a scattershot focus: I wanted to reintegrate into my league, gain back my fundamentals of travel team derby, and gain experience as an official and announcer.
I was hoping to make it onto the Bruise Crew (b-team) at some point in the year, but would have been super stoked to make the Sea Sirens (c-team) out of the gate. I applied for tournaments. I worked hard and came to practice, and I think I even made good impressions. I was put onto Bruise Crew. I got accepted to The Big O as an announcer. I looked forward to officiating in the northeast for the first time at Battle of the All-Stars.
Ok, look I’ve rewritten this paragraph five times now, not quite sure how to convey the things I’ve focused on this year, or the ways in which I’ve grown. This is a blog about reflections of a season spent with many hats. It’s going to be a rambling about the good and the bad in our community, and about how I hope we can continue to move and grow forward. How tradition for tradition sake is not always healthy, and change just for the sake of change can be just as bad.
PLEASE NOTE THAT I DON’T THINK I’VE EVER HAD THIS MUCH ANXIETY ABOUT A POST BEFORE.I’m kind of putting a lot of stuff out there from my brain that I didn’t think I’d be brave enough too.. I’m gonna shout out two of my favorite humans, NoMad and Foxxy. They put themselves out there in such a brave way that it inspires me. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t leave your thoughts on this blog, I just thought I should say it. And this is part 1 of 2 so good on you if you actually read the full novel!!
Games played: – As jammer: 3 (home teams)
– As blocker: 10 (1 home, 9 travel)
– As alt/stats: 3
– Mash-Up Scrimmages: 4
Games NSO’d: 2
Games Refereed: 39 (17 sanctioned)
Games Announced: 32 (8 streaming, 21 house, 3 production)
Games Recapped: 23 (I think… I deleted my D2 folder) Total games doing SOMETHING: 116
Tournament Totals: Attended: 10
– As Player: 4 (Tiny Tourney, Golden Bowl, Franky Panky, Hostile TACOver)
– As Ref: 4 (BotAS, Spring Break Swarm, Mayhem Tournament, Classic City Crush)
– As Announcer: 6 (BotAS, The Big O, Southern Discomfort, Spring Break Swarm, Franky Panky, Classic City Crush)
– As Writer: 1 (WFTDA International Championships)
These numbers don’t reflect coaching at Eckerd College the last couple months, all the hours of playing/reffing/coaching/announcing at RollerCon, scrimmages, boot camps, extra footage review, regular practices, league committee hours, or other training that I have done over the season. The numbers don’t reflect all the games I watched FOR FUN, blogs and social media I’ve done for sponsors, or partial blogs I’ve written for myself and then never finished.
In 2016 I was off-skates during tournament prime-time, saving and waiting for surgery. I was still able to announce 25 times, and ref 28 games at four tournaments (and go to MRDWC for funsies) that year.
Also keep in mind that this year, I moved to a new house this year and had a new job, as did my significant other. We took about six weeks off between February and June to move and settle a bit. This gives you a bit of background as to what I’ve been up to.
On the subject of multiple hats
This has been the hardest part of this season. Not that I wear multiple hats and try to juggle them, but rather that no group seems to like the fact that I do. The vast majority of the time at practice, I am discounted on my assessment of a penalty or rule by my team because I’m “not really a ref.” The vast majority of the time the officials do not listen to my input because I’m “just a skater.”
Don’t get me wrong, I have had my fair share of misinterpretations, missing new clarifications, or simply having been told the wrong information, but there have also been times where I have been correct.
Regardless, it is infuriating that both groups look at me as if I’m just pretending to be an official. It has been easing a bit, but in home state especially, I run against scrutiny because of the stereotype that skaters cannot ref well, and vice versa. Even though people like Ninja Sass’em, Keiran Duncan, Spin Diesel, and Jazzy (to name a quick few) have shown that crossing the streams does not end in disastrous results. All have been outstanding officials and players. The mentality that the groups must be separated hurts our game in the long run.
Skaters make easy transitions into officials because we’re familiar with the game, and referees have to be better at rollerskating that the people playing. Remember they have to do all the skating, every jam, with particular body positioning, while doing advanced calculus and geometry equations and assessments in relation to the case and rule books. It is not easy. If you have to think about your feet while you’re watching the pack, you’re already a step behind.
Now, my skater/ref examples have all picked one primary job at this point, but it’s not really a surprise based on the attitudes we come up against. Sometimes we choose because we’re ready, sometimes it’s because we’re told to. We’re told that you shouldn’t do more than one thing in derby. We’re told that if you play too much, you won’t rack up resume-building games which will affect your cert and tournament applications. We’re told that if you officiate too much, your team will see that you are not dedicated enough to playing, even if your hit all your attendance. Better to focus on one, or the other, as to not upset those around you and cause yourself more strife in the future.
Maybe if we taught more vet skaters how to officiate, and the value and fun of it, we wouldn’t be so desperate for trained eyes in some parts of the world. If we wouldn’t shrug off a cringe-worthy four-whistle blast as “oh well, it’s just a skater, no need to teach”, maybe we would have more people willing to drive down the road to another league and help jam ref.
Now, the announcers embrace the ref/skater combo. I can’t tell you how many games I’ve sat down to call and my announcer buddy has remarked something like: “Oh good it’s you! You’ll know all the things!” (Ironically, this group too has told me that I need to settle down and just choose what I want to be. The knowledge I bring to the table is valuable in game calls and is the reason I’m a good announcer. However, I’ve been told if I want to go anywhere, I need to focus on just one thing.)
Before I get into more problematic stuff I noticed this year
I need to say that I learned so much from so much since I’ve been back on skates. I have had an opportunity to work with people of all levels and from all over the world. I rework and recreate myself as an official every time I have a new encounter. They have pushed me to be a better communicator, quicker responder, and more accurate in my impact assessment.
THE LAST 14 MONTHS OF OFFICIATING HAS BEEN COMPLETELY OUTSTANDING FOR ME. Regardless of anything problematic that I have experienced or learned of, I need all the people whom I have interacted with to please know that you make me better. I am going to be getting into observations I have made that reflect the community as a whole. I do not want it to detract from the individual friendships i have forged, and thank you for teaching me, helping me, and being patient with me.
The Volunteer Tournament Trap
I love tournaments. I love them. LOVE. ALL THE LOVE. I played softball growing up and the All-Star season was my favorite because we would load up the van and go sit on the fields in the blazing July sun in Central Pennsylvania and I would play and watch the sport my heart beat for. I got accustomed to marathon days of cycling activity and recovery.
The first derby tournament I ever went to was East Coast Extravaganza and I was immediately hooked. I love overdosing on my sport. When I thought about getting to volunteer at tournaments around the country (and world) to officiate and announce, I get really excited. There are always new people to meet, new leagues to discover, and an array of levels of derby to enjoy. The first tournament I ever officiated was the first State Wars, and I was hooked. I knew I wanted to officiate in tournament settings. The amount of practice, feedback, and ability to meet and connect with new people was off the charts. The challenge of it thrilled me, all while helping other people compete in the sport I love. So I decided I would put emphasis on officiating tournaments.
Tangent: NO LEVEL OF DERBY IS EASY TO OFFICIATE. “Low level” derby is not easier to officiate than Top 10, it’s just challenging in different ways. I have had conversations with very experienced officials that commented on how hard it was for them to shift into a D3 game because their eyes were trained for D1 experience. It’s not that the rules are different, but you will see a trend towards different kinds of penalties, different kinds of impact assessment, and a different game flow. If you are one of those people that ‘doesn’t waste their time’ on anything but D1 derby – you’re wrong, and your experience is narrow, and you are doing a disservice to other leagues as well as yourself.
Here come the chicken and egg circles of logic. Let’s break this down…
Where I live, within a 90 minute drive, I can get to maybe seven leagues including my own (and that’s assuming they are all still functional). Out of those leagues, two are sanctioned (we are D1 the other D3), and there is one apprentice. To get to another D1 team, I must drive 4.5 hours.
This is magic compared to places in New Mexico or Montana, I know, but keep in mind that if I still lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I would have 15 leagues at minimum within a 90 minute drive of my old house. That’s assuming that others haven’t popped up. Eight of them are sanctioned (a mix of D1 – D3), and at least three are apprentices. I really feel like that number’s low. I’m sure I’ll have people popping on here to tell me I’m wrong (or right) about how many leagues exist in that circle.
This season, only one regular season WFTDA game on my resume for officiating was in my home rink, and only one other was in the state of Florida. I did four JRDA home games in The Wrecking Hall. Were there not other games to officiate in Florida? Sure, but they were 3 hours away, or they were on the same day as our home game, or the crews were full. See, while we sometimes experience the ‘shortage of refs’ crisis seen around the world, there is also a healthy enough community of officials where I am that the local games fill quick. And while I have no problem traveling a long way for derby now and again, it cannot be an every weekend adventure. It’s not possible.
And I certainly can’t do it to be an alt. While alts are important (and trust me they are very important), too much emphasis has been placed in the last two years on the idea that you have to “just suck it up and be an alt for a while to prove that you’re willing to work hard.” I see it primarily at tournaments where old standards get in easily, and new blood gets shunted to the side as an alt. THRs want to accept new people, but aren’t willing to decline someone who has been coming for a while. Seniority and Nepotism, even in Learnaments, have become pervasive problems.
“No problem,” I think to myself, “Pete [bf] goes to tournaments all the time. I’ll go to tournaments for games! I like them anyway! In the last two years I have refereed 67 games. Not a mind-blowing amount, but that’s a pretty healthy number… Especially because I know that I have shown improvement and some really great officials are my references! I’m sure I’ll get into tournaments!”
Getting into the tournaments started to prove tricky
Whoops, nope. 67 games is not as many games as Joey McJoeFace from an area where there are as many leagues as there are Starbucks. And the tournament experience, including having done 9 games in a weekend three times (thanks State teams!), does not count for much because they weren’t regulation. The couple of tournaments I was able to get with some sanctioned games, well they just weren’t enough to impress.
I KNOW THAT THOs WANT TO ACCEPT EVERYONE AND HAVE TO MAKE TOUGH CHOICES. Honestly, I don’t think I’d want that job. I had a hard enough time putting together crews for a small league in Florida. However, here are some things I have heard at least once in the past three years:
“Your experience isn’t as good as their experience.”
“Well if you had done ALL your tournaments as an official, you would get into more tournaments.”
So I have been told that my experience on my resume does not count as much, thus I cannot get into tournaments, but if I want to get more experience and be accepted more often, I should do more tournaments. And then there’s my favorite feedback:
“You have the chance to do something else. I would rather staff someone who is actually an official.”
This isn’t just one chick on a rant: I have heard this from MANY other officials this year, and most of them are also women. Women are more likely to have responsibilities at home and with children than men are, and thus are not able to dedicate as much time to travel. Women are more likely to also be skaters or hold other jobs within their league, thus limiting how much time they can miss from their own practices and board schedules. Without getting to travel to do all the learnaments in every region, you do not get to meet and network. No network, no acceptance.
I’d venture to say that this cycle of ‘you need to travel more to get into tournaments’ probably has a lot to do with the lack of PoC in officiating as well. Lower wage earners have less chance to travel, and there is a direct link to gender identity and race when it comes to earnings. Low wage earners often don’t have the ability to sink $500 into traveling six hours to officiate two games for a league over the state line. Remember, there’s food, gas, wear and tear, hotel stays, and possibly child or pet care to worry about when we travel. So it gets skipped, and that lack of travel translates to the resume, which often gets misinterpreted as the person being UNWILLINGto travel instead of acknowledging that they are simply UNABLE to travel. No experience outside of the home league means less likely to be picked up for larger events, particularly in other regions.
Even within a tournament, the newb is at risk. I was alted because I was an unknown value in that region. Our crew’s first games were messy so I understand that things had to change. However, I had gotten positive feedback about how I handled the situation and was confident that I at least didn’t muck it up over the course of the day. However, one official just did not keep it together (which happens), and another just did not seem up to the speed of the tournament (which happens). One had a patch on his arm, and the other had worked with the HR previously. I was sat, being the unknown. The patch was moved to my position, the other official continued their performance, but mercifully they added a third OPR (yes you read that correctly).
Again, I would not bring this up if others had not shared similar experiences with me (or if I hadn’t had something similar happen at another game). This is not me whining that I got benched (though I can understand that it sounds that way). I absolutely chewed this situation to death in my mind, trying to figure out why my performance had been substandard. What things I had messed up in a 2 person OPR rotation to show that I needed to be the one taken out. In the end it turns out, I did nothing wrong. I had a positive experience by the time I left the tournament, getting feedback from several people about having a strong showing.
I was going to chalk this up as an outlier;a thing that happened but is mostly unheard of. Then I overheard a group of officials talking at RollerCon with similar experiences. Getting benched last minute because someone in the crowd was known to the HR, or getting moved from their spot because a patch showed up with the traveling team so they got first dibs, or not getting put onto a game with the team they traveled with in favor of friends with less experience. While I’m sure some anecdotes were overblown, or not a true representation of the events that happened, the fact that SO MANY people have stories to share indicates that something is going on.
But this leads me into the next note…
Cert Patches don’t matter & we should stop acting like they’re the end-all sign of a good official
Guess what? Your certification no longer shows me that you are up-to-date on the rules or a reliable official. Two years ago, perhaps, but even then a patch did not guarantee you were better than the non-patched ref.
I have met my fair share of officials who had racked up 100 games (which is easier when you can’t walk down the street without tripping on a regulation game), had good relationships with people, did well on a test, and got their Level 2 ref patch. Impact assessment cannot be gauged by a written test. You might be able to recite the rules and clarifications having to do with star pass procedures, but if you can’t tell that the clockwise block from white 0-2 prevented the pass from red 3, it doesn’t matter.
I know this section is going to incense people, but think about it: a person has the ability to spend the time and money to officiate, conservatively, 150 games. They happen to squeeze out enough evaluations to apply to cert, and those evals are handed off to a board who has never even met the person. Often, these evals were written days after a game or tournament, sometimes by other officials, sometimes by teams. I know I have been given eval forms to fill in, in the past, because I “actually know what should go on them and what to look for.” These evals were the basis of awarding certifications, and it is common for them not even to be filled in DURING the game in question.
In the last two years, you could have not read the new rulebook once but still display the patch. You could still check the box on applications. You could ditch on tournaments and still be picked up because you passed a test, got enough positive evaluations, and maybe were lucky enough that they did not dredge up team affiliation social media posts from three years before you even started to officiate. *ahem*
Hell, I might be barred from ever getting certification simply for writing this blog, but I think I’m ok with it.
Yes, there are many THOs that recognize that the patch is no longer a true symbol of consistency, simply because being committed two years ago does not imply commitment in the now. However, many people still think it matters. There was a thread where a guy essentially said, “Well I have a Level 2 patch so I’m going to use it to my advantage, and I hope tournaments still ask about it because it shows that we have done more.”
You’ve got two years of officials who were waiting for one more tournament to apply, or got serious about their learning after the cert closed, or who just forgot that they were in their grace period. I am not a cert level official, don’t get me wrong. I can’t pass that damn written test for starters, but we need to stop making it out as if the certified officials are the only ones who matter.
PS that goes for after cert opens up as well. Not having a patch does not make you a bad official. Having a patch does not make you a good official. What makes you a good official is effort to grow, in my humble opinion. As long as you are always getting better, always listening to feedback, and always learning from mistakes, you are a good official.
When playoffs are announced, if they say you need a certification for it I am going to flip a table. Hell, if they even ask about your certification on the application I am going to be angry. While I was ecstatic to see so much fresh blood at the WFTDA International Championships this year, I can’t help but be salty for all of my friends who were not accepted to skate D2s because of non-cert, while high level refs got a chance to work at multiple tournaments. How is that training up new officials? How is that going to help us replenish as we lose our Level 4s and 5s at alarming rates? And how is the serious tone of officiating, on top of being barred from entry at the tournament level going to keep newer refs interested in continued progress?
OK So what does this mean for Khaos officiating in 2018?
All of these things are why I’m seriously thinking I’m not going to apply as an official too much next season. I’ll apply first as an announcer, and then as an official, especially if I enjoyed the tournament this year, or if I have friends in the crews. There has been too much frustration. Over the last two years (I have been officiating for three), it has become clear to me that, on the whole, our sport does not want part-time officials. They do not value hard-workers if that person cannot throw themselves at 100 games a year. My main focus next year will be playing roller derby, and doing the other things when I have a chance.
Maybe it’s because I talk too much, or am too open about my feelings. Resting Sad Face™ and Foot-In-Mouth Syndrome™ have gotten me in trouble in all areas of my life, and it probably has impacted me in the official world as well. Do I still have the ambition to be a certified official? Yes. Do I still plan to study and practice? Of course. Will I reach out to Florida & Georgia leagues to keep up my skills? Hell yea.
I love reffing, and I love the officials I work with, and I love the tournaments I’ve been to… but I can’t keep putting so much effort into a thing that keeps showing me that it doesn’t care if I am there. I wanted to focus more on skills as a player this season anyway, and with Pete’s new job our travel was already going to be cut. These are things that have just been brewing inside me all season.
I see so many people struggle with the same concepts and roadblocks: people that are rejected because they’re ‘not from the right region’ or ‘are seen as an NSO’ or ‘haven’t worked with the right people.’ Meanwhile the guy standing next to them is accepted. And then when the next sanctioned game comes around, guess who’s got a stronger resume? Certainly not the person who was rejected from tournaments.
So … despite consternation I will post this blog and I hope that I don’t too much heat from the community as a result.However, I really feel that it needs to be said. Yes, there is a great push to have skaters be nicer to us (that’s a whole other blog that’ll happen), but I also feel like we need to fix it within ourselves (and from the higher ranks). Not having a private organization for officials does not help the issues at hand. We have to tackle things from a grassroots, social issues problem, instead of creating ways internally to handle what’s up.
You’ve joined roller derby. You’ve worked your butt off (or up, in the case of some of us) to pass the 27 in 5. You’re not a complete bambi on skates, and you have fallen in love with a star. That star just happens to be on a helmet cap. You don’t know if it’s the challenge of breaking a wall, the thrill of hearing “tweet tweet”, or the praise you receive from your peers when you get back to the bench, but you have decided:
You want to be a jammer.
I am here to help. Here are 10 things to help you begin a successful career of five point passes and high lead jammer percentages. It will not be easy, it will not be quick, but with diligence, you can prevail.
Recognize your weaknesses
Chances are you have many of them, especially if you’re coming into this sport as a true Skater Tot. Don’t be afraid to make a list of the things you’re not good at. Watch the other jammers in your league (and in footage) and watch for things you can’t do that make other people successful. Write it down!
Now also make a list of things you’re good at. For those of us who are our own worst critics (guilty), you may want to ask your captains to help you. I’ve asked, “What are you good at?” To many skaters and gotten the snap back with, “NOTHING.” Remember: There is no perfection in derby. And even if you are good at roller skating, doesn’t mean you’ll be good at jamming right away. Don’t allow the frustration to overtake you.
When making your lists, think about these categories: Physical Fitness, On Skates Skills, Strategy, Mental Game. Knowing that you’re good at analyzing situations or have a background at team sports does give you a leg up. They are just as important to derby as toe stop runs.
Now that you have your list, you can start doing some goal setting. I’d go into it here, but I talk about goal setting in another blog post (or two). Check out “Building You as a Better Skater”
It is in the details
Jammer awareness is full of little details. If you don’t know where the other jammer is or how many points you’ve scored on this pass, how can you make effective decisions when you’re lead jammer (let’s face it, we can’t always refer to our bench coach) as to whether you should call it off? How can you be successful if you constantly get hyper focus in a pack, causing you to lose track of extra blockers who are out to get you?
This is something you can train at practice and in life. When I’m moving through a crowd, I will make a note of a single person (maybe they’ll have a red hat on). As I move, I work on using my periphery to understand where they are, how quickly they’re moving, and what direction they’re going. This works great in grocery stores and busy streets. When someone new walks into a room, try and notice something about them without looking directly at them. You’ll become better at looking using your periphery.
At practice, always be aware of where people are, how they are moving, and what indications they make before coming in to make a hit. Most blockers have a ‘tell’, and the most aware jammers will learn them quickly so they can move out of the way before contact.
To keep yourself calm, practice breathing during your jamming. Make a conscious effort of breathing in and out when you’re in a pack, and steadying your breaths while making your lap. Sometimes I’ll count my strides to keep me calm. Practice this during endurance drills. Find a place of Zen where it’s just you in the track. If you can do it during endurance practice, it’ll translate into your laps and gameplay.
For all the other little details? Well, refer back to your list of what you’re good at and not good at, and fine tune. You’re not good at getting through walls: Is it because of power, body positioning, or foot work? And go on from there!
3. Walk the [imaginary] line
Jammers need to know how to navigate small spaces and squeeze through spaces on the inside and outside line that mere mortals cannot even detect. When you’re practicing your footwork, you should always be imagining a balance beam next to your opponent, you don’t want your feet straying away (and over the boundary line).
To practice narrow spaces, use a partner whenever possible. If you don’t have a buddy to work with, grab some cones, and make two rows of them to create a narrow lane (I like using short cones for this). Ideally, the cones should be no wider than the length of your hand, but when first practicing it’s ok to make the gap wider.
Footwork you should practice include running on your skates, a step through 180 turn (you have to pick up your feet), a foot to foot transition, a shuffle step (on toe stops), a crossover step (on toe stops), and stepping over the leg of an opponent to keep going. These basic pieces can be used in different combinations to get you through and around anything a pack can throw at you. Check out some things to start with: BEGINNER JAMMER FOOTWORK VIDEO
Colors and space
When you look at jamming from a very rudimentary standpoint, it is a navigation of space through packs of various colors. One color is friendly the other is foe. The brains of jammers must be able to react quickly to changes in space as well as recognize friendly colors near the space. Weaknesses in depth perception or color recognition can be the difference between a four point pass and being nailed out of the air on an apex jump.
When recognizing your color for offense, remember that you want to go where that skater is about to NOT be, not where they’re going to be when playing offense. You want to occupy space that they no longer occupy. So ‘following offense’ really means follow their movements – don’t run into them, go where they JUST were.
A drill that I love for recognizing space and moving through it quickly involves the whole team (this is great for blockers too). Divide your team into three groups. Denote the active part of the track with cones (it shouldn’t be too big of an area, maybe one corner or half the straightaway). Group 1 will ‘jam’ first, starting from the opposite corner. Groups 2 and 3 are told to pick a spot within the boundary. Set a timer for 2 minutes. Group 1, in a line, begins to sprint towards the group standing still. The jammers must navigate the spaces at a sprint. The goal is to get through the pack without slowing momentum, unless it is to redirect their energy, or toe pick past an opponent. This continues for 2 minutes. Then, Group 1 switches with Group 2, and so on.
The next level is to let the obstacles take one step in either direction from their original spot. THERE IS NO INTENTIONAL BLOCKING ALLOWED. The next level is to allow one of the two groups to move laterally across the track. The final stage is to ‘split’ the groups by handing out colored coins to wear, so that each group has both black and white. Now, the obstacles are allowed to make one move to either side of their original spot, AND are allowed to make contact. Obviously, they are only supposed to hit those of the opposing color.
You can also make this more interesting by spreading out the obstacles, and adding in color cones that the jammers are supposed to make contact with throughout the course. You know, just for more fun and challenge.
On your own, you can practice color and vision challenges to sharpen your senses. I’ve found a good memory game and article about improving vision here. Anything you can do at home to improve your periphery is great. Have a friend grab some small colored balls, and sit in a chair looking forward. Have them toss the balls from behind to in front (along the side of your head). Work on catching the balls of specific colors. You must keep your eyes forward! Use your periphery!
Bursts and balance
I f**king love science, and physics is the reason derby does what it does. The sport is a constant transfer of potential to kinetic energy, of friction coefficients, of balance, and of trajectory. To be a successful jammer there are two things you must master:
BURSTS OF POWER (which will cause both acceleration and deceleration)
While I could not find any articles directly related to roller skating, I did do a fair bit of reading just now about bicycles, and why it’s easier to stay on them when they’re moving rather than standing still. It has to do with torque, center of gravity, angular momentum, and the experience of the rider in controlling all of them. This is why newb skaters look wobbly while balancing on one foot, but vets can coast around ‘shooting the duck’ no problem.
CONFESSION: I can’t shoot ducks. Ever. If there is ever a skill that I will not be able to do – it will be that one.
To practice balance, not only do you just have to spend time on your roller skates doing goofy things, but you have to train all your stabilizer muscles, strengthen those ligaments and challenge your body to do new and interesting (and sometimes very scary things).
Incorporating heavy lifting, plyometrics, and yoga into your cross training program will help you erase instability and build your bursts of power.
6. Levels and Leverage
Along the lines of speed, balance, and understanding your body is the concept of understanding your levels and leverage. Being able to duck under a block, under stray arms flailing, or past a wall is excellent.
Knowing how to leverage your weight and body against opponents is super handy. Can you press your chest into a blocker and use that energy they put into you to bring your hips and feet around them? Can you bounce into a blocker and use the energy to move you forward? Can you put the levels and leverage together?
Practice (slowly) leaning onto a buddy who’s blocking you. Now see if you can create movement in your skates to move around them with this energy. Do it again, but this time, when you’re almost around them, press harder into them, duck, and snap your hips to get past them. The pressure and ducking will create momentum. You can use this momentum to steal points, or to get yourself out of a pack. After you get your hips around, practice planting your toe stop to spin out of the contact. If you practice right on the edge of the track, you can work on spinning out of the contact and avoiding the cut track at the same time.
7. It is not all about you
You are one of five players on the track from your team. You cannot play as an individual. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen teams make over the years is to give jammers the idea that they’re by themselves on the track.
As a jammer, it is your job to understand what your pack is planning for their defense, offense, and what formations they prefer to run. You are not just offense, but you are defense. For example: If your pack is blocking a jammer who is pushing them into bridging, it’s YOUR job to get your ass back to the pack as part of defense. You will hit the line of blockers, and either break through and they will chase you up OR you will push the wall up, far enough (hopefully) that team’s bridge will be ‘pack is all’.
If you don’t know how your team skates and strategizes, you will not be as effective at reading holes. How many times have you run into your own blockers? Yea. You should probably skate with them more often and learn how to communicate your own plan. Some teams use hand signals or code words to communicate between jammers and blockers, but the best way to use offense is to observe your team mates and know their tendencies.
As Smarty Pants once said, “Blockers make the points, jammers collect them.” So what this comes down to is LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR. No one wants it, no one appreciates it, and even Bonnie Thunders practices. You are not Derby Jesus so lace up and leave it at the door.
8. See the game, be the game
All the derby will help you. I know that not everyone can dedicate hours each day to watching the sport, but if you want to get better at the mental side of roller derby – you must watch it. You must understand how those better than you move and succeed and fail. You must be able to think critically about aspects of the game that you have not encountered. Watching footage, even one game a week split up into four 15 minute chunks will help you.
And don’t just watch the kind of derby that you play. There is WFTDA (of ALL levels), MRDA, JRDA, USARS, UKRDA, RDCL, MADE, and Renegade. Go to bouts, watch streaming tournaments, participate in open scrimmages – both flat and tilty. See the games, analyze the games, be the games.
When you’re at your home league, don’t be afraid to step out of the jammer box.
Practicing as a blocker will dramatically improve your jamming game, because you’ll understand the blocker psychology. You will have first-hand experience of how a blocker reads incoming movement, and how a good blocker will deal with different styles of jammer – because you will be doing it yourself! Then when you jam, you can use this insider information to your advantage when it comes to jukes, deceleration, and avoidance measures.
Like I said, ALL THE DERBY.
9. It’s not your gear
No matter how long you’ve been in the game, we’ve all fallen into the trap of “Well if I just had ______”. While, yes, having better/different plates, boots, wheels, etc etc can dramatically change aspects of your game, upgrading gear in the soul hoping of becoming a better skater is silly. Improving your skills will help you pass your 27 in 5, not faster bearings. Working on lateral motion will help you avoid an oncoming block, not different wheels. Strengthening your ankles will help you power through your crossovers, not a more expensive boot.
You must work on your craft and know how to manipulate your tools before gear changes will truly mean anything to you. Personally, I couldn’t tell the difference between a wheel with an overhang and a wheel with a square edge until about a year ago. I didn’t know why I couldn’t control my 45 degree plates until I had switched to my 10 degree plates and understood what my body needed to do to plow and edge appropriately. I didn’t know why I had trouble with my 10 degree plates, until I put on 15 degree plates and could feel the movement and control in the trucks in comparison. It’s more than equipment – it’s about your self-awareness in the equipment.
I know skaters who have certified and bouted in rental skates. Sometimes, it’s not your gear, it is user error. Admitting that to yourself can be one of the harder realizations one can come to in derby.
10. You can’t climb Everest in a day
There is so much to improve at, and it is easy to become impatient in this sport. What goals do you have? All the goals? Well you can’t meet them all at once. That’s just the nature of training and sport. Do not look at the peak of the mountain and think “WHY AREN’T I THERE YET?” Rather, focus on the little steps on the way up the mountain. You can’t reach the summit until you reach 1000ft, right? This is the same with training and learning.
You won’t be a D1 level jammer overnight. Sometimes you won’t over a year, or two years. Do not get frustrated, do not quit. Set goals, work hard, and then drill, drill, drill. Challenge yourself against new opponents, and challenge yourself to think outside your safety zone. We all want to be the greatest, but diligence is the key.
Didn’t do so well at practice today? It’s ok. You have to fail a whole bunch in order to start succeeding. You’re not going to be perfect (or even good) at all the skills you try right off the bat. You’re going to run into things that hang you up. Do not let that frustration eat you alive. Recognize where you’re having trouble, break down the movement into smaller chunks, and then drill, drill, drill.
And enjoy the journey along the way! You’ll meet some of your greatest friends in the sport, and through struggling with a thing together.
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
What song pumps you up? Anything I can sing and dance to. I mostly love acapella with my teammates
What is your favorite city to play derby in? I really loved skating at Craneway Pavillion, in Richmond, CA. It was like something out of a dream.
Who was your first WFTDA derby crush?/Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? I think my first derby crush was Miss Fortune. I wonder how many skaters know that name! Lol!
Which MRDA skater and why? Oh man, that’s hard. I’m a big men’s derby fan. I have so many favorites. I had to choose someone that is not on my Denver team. I fell in love with Dylan Botts and Michael Jensen when I attended my first MRDA Champs in 2013. But to tell you the truth, I fell in love with A LOT of skaters that weekend. The talent in the MRDA is unreal but if I had to choose one, it would be Jamie Williams of Bridgetown Menace. If you want to talk about someone that is inspiring, Jamie Williams is 100% that person.
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? My bedmates are Stacie Wilhelm and her pillow boyfriend she uses to keep her and I apart. She gets me.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? Post game is whatever I can shove in my face the soonest. But I shove it in my face really athletically. Pre-game I love a good eggs benedict in the morning.
What song pumps you up? B.I.N.G.O. by The Puppies. Give it a listen – your life will never be the same.
What is your favorite city to play derby in? I don’t have a favorite city to play in (unless you count Richmond, CA only because of one of B.A.D.’s home venues, the Craneway Pavilion. It’s one of the most gorgeous and scenic venues I’ve ever played in), but I enjoy playing in Florida as it means that my family and more of my friends can watch in person.
Who was your first WFTDA derby crush?/Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? If I recall back to 2011, my first “derby crush” was former DC Rollergirls teammate, Yankee Scandal. So fast and agile on her skates, full of smiles, and such a considerate and supportive teammate.
Honestly, every single member of my team – skaters and coaching staff – inspires me. When you have 20 plus other women pouring in countless hours of sweat and tears to work on their own game as well as team cohesion, practices are intense and can be emotionally and physically draining at times. But they push me to work harder and become a better, stronger, bigger, and faster version of my self with each rep, each drill, and each practice.
Additionally, every blocker I’ve encountered throughout my derby career has inspired me to work harder on footwork, strengthen my drive, and play smarter. Thank you fiercely competitive opponents!
Which MRDA skater and why? Can’t say I’ve ever “derby crushed” on any MRDA skater-gents. I enjoy watching men’s derby though and have played with/against various guys. I think it’s fun and challenges me to adapt and play derby with a slightly different physical and mental approach based on sheer size difference.
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? It changes every trip and I like that. Gives me the chance to bond with more teammates.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? If I have another game that day/weekend, I go for my chocolate almond milk protein shake and something Thai — chicken, rice noodles with some veggies and lots of garlic and ginger.
But if there are no more games to be had, I make it a priority to hunt down a juicy cheeseburger or pizza accompanied by a whiskey beverage, cider, or glass of vino.
What is your favorite city to play derby in? Definitely St. Louis, MO (Ohhh, the irony)! AND my of course, my hometown, Milwaukee, WI!
Who was your first WFTDA derby crush? First WFTDA Derby crush: Rice Rocket- Texas RollerGirls
Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? If I had to pick just one skater, (because my whole team inspires me and pushes me to work harder), I would pick my teammate, Atomic Mel Down! She plays the same position as me, but in another pack, so it’s easy to vibe off of her when we line up against each other at practice. She is strong, feisty and always gives 100%. I’m scared of the Red Dragon!
Which MRDA skater and why? I really have to give credit to my first two coaches, Streak and Powder. They not only pushed me personally as a skater, but they pushed the whole team to realize that our possibilities are limitless.
Also, I will always and forever crush on Percy Control (SLGK), Sugar Boots (YMMRD) and Screecharound (SLGK).
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? Erin Jackson (Baybee), Fancy Schmancy and Jamsterella.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? Olive Garden!
What song pumps you up? Arch Rival plays A LOT of music in locker room prior to a game. I would say GDFR has been the pump me up song of the 2015 season.
What is your favorite city to play derby in? I have found year after year that Milwaukee is a blast.
Who was your first WFTDA derby Crush? Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? Honestly, I have no idea who my first WFTDA derby crush was….I’m currently crushing hard on the Arch Rival All Stars. I have been skating for six years and I have never had to work as hard as I did this season. Our blocking line up is amazing this season which requires me to be focused and give it everything I have at every practice. Knowing that everyone on my team is fully committed to reaching the same goal is inspiring in itself and naturally makes me want to work harder to be the best that I can be for my team.
Who is your favorite MRDA skater and why? Percy Controll of the St. Louis GateKeepers. His dedication and hard work go unmatched. He strives to better himself and others around him on and off the track. He is committed to bringing St. Louis roller derby to a level to which it has never been. Given his role and the success of Arch Rival and the St. Louis GateKeepers in 2015, I would say he has been pretty successful!
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? Arch Rival loves each other! Who my roommates are going to be is always a surprise. We mix up roommates whenever we travel to enhance team bonding. We all end up partying in the same room once skating is done anyway.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? Does beer count? It’s loaded with carbs…
Luna Negra “The Lunacorn” #911; Rat City Rollergirls
What song pumps you up? I cannot pick one! This question makes me crazy!
Alright by Kendrick Lamar
Fragile by Techn9ne, Kendrick Lamar, ¡Mayday! and Kendall Morgan
Ambition, by Wale Featuring Meek Mill and Rick Ross
Flawless, Beyonce and Nicki Minaj
What is your favorite city to play derby in? Seattle. I love this city. I am so grateful that I get to travel to play a sport that I love, but the derby community in Seattle is so great! There is a lot of love and competition. The junior teams here are so competitive. We all work together to push each other and everyone is pretty nice.
Who was your first WFTDA derby crush?/Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? My derby crush is Freight Train, Texas. She skates with such power, grace and determination. It’s beautiful to watch.
Really, I have to say it’s the junior skaters that inspire me to work harder. These kids have moves and drive like I’ve never seen. They work so hard and they don’t hold back. I strive to play and practice like them. They are truly my heart and inspiration. Once they age into adult derby the game will be on a whole new level!
The kids are amazing….They are my derby heroes. Truth. Gal of Frey from Eugene Reservoir Dolls. Afro Jamurai and B. Moye, from Mob City LykkaLive Wire, Threatening Thunder, Elly/DisLykeHer and Lil Fist Fight, from Seattle Derby Brats, also, Mad Taco and Frank the Bunny from I5.
Even though….Lil Fist Fight is my kid, she hits me really hard. She doesn’t hold back on me. I try to steal her moves, but I can’t do them. We talk trash to each other quite a bit. She challenges me every day to be the best. I am biase and don’t tell her, but she is my favorite skater.
Who is your favorite MRDA skater and why?
Quadzilla challenges me every day. His skill is amazing. He is so quick and light on his feet, yet strong. I just watch in amazement.
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? My roommates are Astrid Suchy-Dicey AKA Belle Tolls and Sintripetal Force. All that happens is overanalyzing everything, eating, reading, sleeping, laughing and perhaps a prebout/postbout freak out or two. It’s fun.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? Patron, ice cream, and a steak or hamburger in that order. Don’t tell the kids.