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

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Building more than “just” a B-Team

I have been a skating member for leagues of different sizes, ranking, and cultural expectations. I have visited, coached, and reffed more than 50 leagues in 20 states and five countries. Each league’s BoD was structured slightly differently, each coaching staff ran a different way, each team dynamic was different. There are threads of familiarity throughout each, however. There are commonalities of good and of bad, of support and of discord. When a league is split into separate teams, there can be either an equal share of positive growth, or lines drawn in the sand.

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My time at Charm City was spent on home teams and on the C Team. It gave me a chance to really get my mind right and my goals straightened out. Photo by Tyler Shaw Derby Photography (http://tylershawprintscharming.zenfolio.com/p417558588)

I was given the opportunity to referee and stream announce the B-Team Championships held in Atlanta, Georgia in October 2016. I got a chance to talk to the skaters from different teams and I heard comments that I have heard across leagues across the world. You would watch these teams and think “How on EARTH are they not on the All Star team?” In some cases, it’s a matter of the league having too much talent, so they [essentially] have two All Star teams. In other cases, you hear skaters talking about how they are passed over because of a conflict or lack of commitment seasons ago, negative talk from coaching, or flat out Elitest dismissal from All Star coaches and team members.

I have been pondering this blog for over a month now, to express how we can build a positive environment for our skaters and be sure that no one feels negative connotation in being “Just a B Teamer”. Also, substitute “Home Teamer” or “C Teamer” etc as necessary.

Before I dive in, you may be thinking to yourself already, “BUT OUR LEAGUE IS A MESS TO BEGIN WITH! HOW CAN WE EVEN START MAKING OUR B TEAMERS FEEL IMPORTANT??”

To which I would reference you to another lengthy blog: League Rebuilding: When a middle ground is needed between ‘competitive’ and ‘rec’ derby

Positive Spaces

Creating a positive space for your league members is very important to the mental health of everyone. When I say ‘positive spaces’, I mean track times where no one is insulting each other, scrimmages where abuse towards the refs is not tolerated, and times where league members can talk to their coaching staff about goals and concerns.

Too often I have heard recounts, or experienced myself, stories of the All Stars and B Teams not trusting one another, or shouting when receiving big hits, or sneering on the line when a new jammer steps up. I have also seen All Star and League coaches ignore B Team skaters completely. I have talked to skaters who feel as if they are blown off when they look for feedback, or that coaches neglect to offer words of encouragement to anyone but the ‘superstars’.

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Namur Roller Girls’ B Team still has plenty of talent. Photo by NSP 189 (http://www.facebook.com/nsp189)

As a coach, a captain, a league-mate, be aware of your attention and energy. It is easy to fall into the trap of only complimenting the top skaters, since they probably are doing rad things on the track. Make sure to be aware of your skaters that are learning and progressing, and offer them compliments (and critique) along the way as well. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to get the occasional “Hey, your plows are looking way better!” to keep them happy, positive, and on track. Being the All Star coach and making a guest appearance at league practice to help with developing skaters (even just once in awhile) can make a huge difference in morale.

Too often I have heard officials talking about abusive skaters on the All Star team. The skaters are know to shout and scream at their team and the officials, with no repercussions; no disciplinary action. To allow top skaters the right to be abusive creates a culture of acceptance of such actions, which then lets other skaters (the proteges) believe it is acceptable behavior. When one level of skater is punished for behavioral issues, and the other is not (the ‘lower level’), you have a recipe for dissent and anger among the ranks, all in the name of “keeping talented skaters”.

This is not a safe space. This not a place where players or officials will continue to come with a happy face to learn. They will become despondent, bitter, and (if lucky) they will transfer. If derby is unlucky, they will quit altogether. Nurture and support people, do not beat them down for imperfection or for penalty calls you did not agree with. Do not tolerate those who do either, no matter how many apexes they jump per game, and no matter how many jammers they soul crush.

Building Cultural Value in Your Other Teams

What are the goals of your All Star team? To win games? Gain rankings? Beat other teams they come up against with strength, strategy, and increasing skills?

Now how do you practice those things? Against one another, of course, but there will come a time where your All Star blockers will understand the fundamental tactics and tendencies of your All Star jammers, and vice versa. Yes, they will continue to push each other, but there comes a point where a team must play against another squad to keep from plateauing.

Who, then, does your All Star team have to compete against on a regular basis?

Yup. Your B Team.

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Tampa Roller Derby’s Sea Sirens (C Team) are so dangerous with skilled players like Cookie Jarr’d, that they have been known to beat all star and B teams from all over the state. Photo by Phantom Photographics

So what I’m trying to say is this: If your coaches, captains, and All Stars promote the idea of “Our All Stars are stellar because our B Team is stellar” you have a happy bunch of skaters who are all striving to push each other more. If you build a structure of ‘everyone getting better so that everyone gets better’, then each skater will build their personal skills with the goal of the team in mind, instead of the self.

Most B Teams I have come in contact with don’t promote any specific B Team cultures. Skaters are subtly encouraged to keep self preservation in mind – either to boost themselves up to the All Stars, or to maintain their seniority on the B Team. Training is not about making the team better, or about the team’s impact on the All Stars/C Team/Home Teams, but is seen as a way to showcase individual talents in order to impress the decision makers.

The other side effect of B Teamers not understanding their effect on the All Stars is this: a division can be created. It is one thing for a skater to say, “I’m ok with the level of play at this level, I can’t give more commitment or more of myself,” or “I love my team, we work well together, I fit in here.” It is another thing to hear skaters say, “Well I have to be happy at this level because the All Stars will never have me,” or “The All Stars only care about themselves, the coaches care only about the All Stars, they don’t see me and I won’t ever get better.” I have seen the ‘self-preservation’ mentality of individuals manifest into an US VERSUS THEM culture within leagues.

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Jacksonville Rollergirls have been putting concerted effort into creating a positive place for their B and C team skaters. Photo by Phantom Photographics

It is not healthy for the league to have B Team players feeling as if they are their own island. It is not healthy for them to feel as if they are detached from the All Stars, as if they were left behind, or blotched with some derby curse.

And, shocking to say, it’s not helpful when coaches and captains ignore that such feelings have manifested. Keep your eyes open and be diligent when you are in places of higher standing, since it is so easy to shield yourself from negative vibes while going “Lalalalala everything’s great!”. It’s easy to think that everything is going swimmingly, but I implore you to listen to the heartbeat of your league. Keep an ear to the ground and be open to critique and criticism. Your league could be sprinting up in the rankings, while still harboring negative practices that will effect the longevity of those rankings.

Changing the culture of a league is not easy, but it can be done with persistence and positivity (and maybe some stern stuff on the part of leadership). Separating the All Stars from the B Team can cause an elitist attitude to manifest which will be felt by your developing skaters, who are the core of your league.

Practice Spaces

Part of the culture change comes along with the idea that the A and the B teams are not separate. Might there be skill differences? Absolutely. I have written before that the best way to improve as a skater is to practice with those better than you, and if you are curious about combining skills you can also check out this blog: The House that Derby Built: 4 Corners of Training with Mixed Levels.

Combining forces of A and B squads have many advantages to a team. See above for cultural implications.

When skaters practice in the same space, they can inspire each other. They can challenge each other. They can give feedback to each other. They learn the same skills and strategy. B Team skaters can learn from All Stars, All Star skaters can be infected by the enthusiasm of B Team skaters. Also, skaters get more track time.

“But Khaos! There will be more people, that means LESS track time”

Actually no. If you have all your skaters coming to two practices instead of one, you’re already giving them more time on skates. There’s no reason you can’t split the track to work across from each other. Attendance low? Use the same side of the track and just alternate in A team or B team walls/jammers. Most of the skills and drills we do only require part of the track anyway. Managing two to three teams of skaters (who will probably only have 10-15 people showing up to practices anyway) is not too hard if you break it down.

PLUS it has been my experience that when you’re drilling over and over and over and over in a good, quick rotation, skaters get fatigued and then you cannot drill over and over again. By having more bodies, you can run drills longer, more effectively. People can get short rests while their teammates practice, and it also gives the team a chance to OBSERVE what everyone else is doing.

wftda florida roller derby
The Molly Rogers have been practicing with mixed skill levels, to the advantage of A and B skaters alike. Photo by Phantom Photograhics

“But Khaos! We need to practice WITH our teams!”

You can have each team practice with their lines while still encouraging a team environment. It also makes it fun when you can have lines of A and B face off in certain drills, or if you tell the B Team jammers to go play with the All Stars and vice versa. Nothing helped me grow in blocking quicker than learning how to stop jammers like Lauryn Kill and Taz with my Bruise Crew team mates. Could the B Teamers be a hot mess at first? Sure. Persistence, diligence, patience, hard work … it pays off.

What’s the pay off? 30 All Stars to choose from instead of 14. Especially with the opening up of charter changes, as games approach that require different styles of skaters, you can more easily tweak a team to be a powerhouse. Also, life happens.

People move. People retire. People transfer. People get injured. If you have to “move up” a B Team skater, don’t you want them already on track to be successful with the All Stars?  Would you prefer taking a month or two for the process of “training them up”?

You know what I’m talking about: “We’re rebuilding. A bunch of our All Stars left, and we moved up some B Team skaters, so we have to spend a lot of time getting them up to speed.”

Why not have them up to speed? Why not be able to bounce back the way Philly, Rocky Mountain, and Windy City have over the years? Why not have players ready to step into All Star roles easier?

wftda ranking tampa
Not only has Tampa’s Bruise Crew raised the level of play within the league, but friendly rivals Dub City has benefitted from the tough competition. Dub’s A & B team are now solidly placed amongst as the 3rd highest ranked WFTDA league in Florida (#82), and several Dub City members are part of Team Florida

Should A and B be separate sometimes? Sure. Why not? It’s good to have a team only building session now and again to focus down on the specific needs of your team. On a week to week basis, the teams that practice with the travel skaters combined tend to be the more successful leagues.

Language Counts

I have already mentioned this but it should be stated again: Being a B Teamer should not be considered a slur. You’re not “Just on the B team”, you’re a member of a team and are striving to be strong and to improve. You are the reason the A team is successful. You are not “JUST” a B Team skater.

League members and leadership need to be ready to correct the language when it happens. “Eh, it’s only the B Team,” or “No, I won’t pair up with her, she’s only B Team” … just stop. This kind of language is not helpful. It is not positive for anyone (and makes you sound like a bit of a jerk actually).

“No I’m not going to game this weekend, it’s just the B Team.” NO. Bad. One, because you should go and support your B Team, since chances are they are supporting the All Stars (through attendance, bout production, and volunteering) and two, because they are your family. They are the future of the league. They are the next Luz Chaos, they are the up-and-coming Serelson. What potential could you be harboring within your B Team that you don’t see because they “have only been skating a couple months and are not good enough to skate with us.”

Final Thoughts

Being on the All Stars is not always strictly about skill level – it’s about skating styles, how one meshes into the team’s strategy, how coachable one can be, attendance, drive, and sometimes (yes it’s true) social integration.

wftda manchester
Most of the Manchester Roller Derby Furies (I couldn’t get them all in the selfie!). Lots of enthusiasm, lots of coachability, lots of fun to coach.

If you are a B Team skater and you have not made it onto the All Star team (yet), and you’re starting to get salty, don’t immediately jump to the “THEY DON’T LIKE ME AND OUR CULTURE SUCKS” conclusion. If you’ve read my blogs, you know I’m all about self-analysis and honesty. And it is HARD to look at yourself and ask, “Self, what could we improve on?” It’s possible that it’s not your league that is the ‘problem’ but maybe your attitude, your dedication level (as compared to the stated goals of the All Stars), or your style of game play as compared to your team mates.

There are many different structures to travel team practices and schedules that can work, but my observations and opinions are based in my experience across a range of countries, levels, and cultures. The teams that were most successful in achieving strength, consistency, and meeting their league goals were the ones that unified, not divided. The teams that realize that the B/C/D Teamers are the lifeblood of the league and the future of the All Stars, those are the leagues that I have found the most positive team environments over time.

You don’t have to take my word for it though. Do your own research. Talk to leagues with different structures, ask players how they feel about ‘being left behind’ by their league mates, and observe differences you see overtime between those leagues that nurture their travel teams together, and those that create derision through culture and language.

THANK YOU TO MY PHOTOGS: Phantom Photographics, Tyler Shaw, and NSP189

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 “Building more than “just” a B-Team”

Khaos Theory is out there

Maybe you had never heard of me, until someone posted a blog on your wall, or maybe we’ve played in a mash-up scrimmage together in Morristown, NJ. Perhaps we danced at a H.A.R.D. after party, or you were near me and the Wreckingballs as we did push-ups for Maelstrom at ECDX. Maybe you took one of my classes at RollerCon, or Beat Me Halfway. Maybe you’ve been one of my wellness clients.

Or maybe you’re just hearing of me now.

Mr McWheely Spring Roll
Photo by Mr McWheely

I coach, write, ref, announce, and skate (when I’m not off-skates for this ACL injury). I am a health coach, crazy cat lady (currently lacking cats), and super passionate about derby, rock climbing, and lifting. I like writing about derby a lot. And a lot of you have enjoyed my blogs over the years!

 

And now I need some help with keeping Khaos Theory alive. There are two ways that you could help. One is by going to my PATREON campaign! You can support the blog directly by donating every time I post something. The second is by visiting http://www.gofundme.com/khaosACL and picking out a great reward for you or your team, and also sharing the link.

 

But let’s remember why you would want to:

Perspective Shift challenged the way you thought about weight lifting in your off skates programs. The Four Corners of Derby gave your league some ideas on how to deal with different skill levels of training. You learned some training moves for both blockers and jammers. There was that time that you found a piece about alcohol and its effect on athletes it made you think twice about binge drinking on the weekends. And when your league was going through another meltdown, you read about League Rebuilding, and realized you weren’t alone. And remember when I did all those “HIT & QUIT” features of our MRDA athletes? You were so excited to see someone who doesn’t always get attention, get a little bit of love!

Menace TC

 

Remember when you went on my YouTube and found that Tricks for the Tool Box video that helped you with transitions?

I need to get an ACL brace so that I can progress in my PT and get back on skates in June, before RollerCon. I need a vehicle so I can coach, and also so I can get back to my own training so I’m always bringing the best content to my readers and students.

 

HELP ME HELP DERBY!!! 

Http://www.gofundme.com/KhaosACL

Twitter: @KhaosTheoryDerb
Facebook: /MerryKhaos1918

coaching
Coaching at Shoreline in CT!

So you wanna be a jammer….

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.

Roller derby california florida
Jamming isn’t easy. It takes hard work, persistence, and dedication. (Lambo R Feeties takes on Chuck Taylor during the State Wars final) Photo by Phantom Photographics
  1. 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”

  1. 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!

mrda mec lrt belgium
Details. A fraction of an inch further to the in, and Sully of Lincolnshire Rolling Thunder would be out of bounds. Manneken Beasts’s R.A.T.T. know it too. Photo by NSP189

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

jammer footwork
BEGINNER JAMMER FOOTWORK YOUTUBE VIDEO
  1. 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.

roller derby junkies
The white blocker is clearing the way for the white jammer (who is just behind). White jammer takes the inside line, seeing what her blocker is doing. This is a screenshot from the AMAZING RDJunkies.tumblr.com SEE THE FULL VIDEO!!

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!

  1. 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)
BALANCE

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.

ANYWAY!!!

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.

Giles and Bittercup roller derby
Training your muscles and edges so that you can burst past blocks is critical for jammer survival. Giles (Victorian) hustles past Bittercup (Texas) using this technique of running on her skates. Photos by Phantom Photographics

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.

ana cheng tampa roller derby
Ana Cheng dips underneath a block. Her attention to her body allows complete control over her movements and levels. Photo by Phantom Photographics

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.

Grim D Mise bank track
Grim D Mise balances on a foot to get around the apex. Many flat trackers join Penn Jersey for their scrimmages & BBQs. I know I always feel stronger after spending time on a banked track. Photo by JPaden Photography

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.

Mr McWheely Spring Roll
Keep working and you will see it pay off! Photo by Mr McWheely

Now go do some laps!

Thank you to Phantom Photographics, JPaden Photography, NSP 189, and Mr. McWheely for the photos used in this blog. Please visit and support these photogs and more.

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