Buy-In Vitality and What it Means for Your League

What do I mean by ‘buy-in’?

According to the Wiktionary (yea I didn’t know that was a thing until just now):

buyin (plural buy-ins)

  1. Supportagreementblessing (in a secular sense).
    To win, I need to get buy-in from the team to have alignment with our mission.

    Let’s show the idea around and get buy-in from marketing.
    Synonyms: alignmentapproval

You know how there are teams and groups where people are willing to go the extra mile, even without threat of punishment? Have you ever seen a rec sport team or a school group where people are putting out information to the public without being asked? Where members are talking up the team in their local coffee shop or favorite dining spot? Where members get sponsors just because they were at their favorite spot and talked to the owner about how great the team is and the owner asked about sponsorship?

You know that feeling when everyone is in for the same goals, everyone feels valued, and they all believe in the mission of the team?

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That’s buy-in.

Why should we value the buy-in of our members?

The more a person buys into a team, the more likely they are to perform league duties without being begged, they are more likely to train hard, and are more likely to have a positive attitude at practice. I am speaking of skaters, coaches, announcers, officials, EMTs, and every other piece of the derby pie. We all matter, and we all make the derby machine run. When we feel valued, we are motivated to work harder on and off the track. When your membership works off track the result is:

  • Increased membership & volunteers
  • Increased in transfers
  • Increased membership & volunteer RETENTION
  • Increased sponsorship opportunities
  • Increased attendance at games

“I’m happy at practice, and I want to tell everyone, so I do! SQUEE!” When we value our people, and they work harder on the track, the result will be:

  • More effective practice sessions, thus an improvement in game play
  • More effective official training, bringing up the level of all who participate
  • More realistic scrimmage/game situations, with a more complete production element (when you have full officials and announcers show up to a scrimmage night, it is incredible)
  • Volunteers will travel outside of the league and bring back valuable information and experience to increase the quality of home scrimmages and games.
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Buy-in for officials and announcers is critical too. Having people willing to spend money to travel outside of the league can bring valuable experience back home.

 

So how do we increase buy-in of our roller derby league, individual teams, and yearly tournament events?

Integrity

Do you have rules? By-laws? Stick to them. I don’t care who they are. If you want a special exception to be made, take it to a vote. “But that’s too hard!” It shouldn’t be, because you shouldn’t be breaking the rules to begin with. If you’re going to try to as leadership, you should have to do extra work. By-Laws should be reviewed regularly, and as situations come up within a league culture, the league or representatives of them can discuss actions and revisions. Nothing will destroy the buy-in of your membership like breaking the rules for certain people.

Integrity also needs to be in how we treat one another, on and off the track. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If a league is going to do something, do it. That’s everything from donating money to the charity you’ve partnered with to being honest with skaters who are seeking feedback and a path to charter teams to following through on events and appearances with sponsors.

Let me say it a little clearer: Don’t lie to people. It’s not nice. People won’t trust you.

Transparency

Training, rosters, staffing changes, vision of the league, finances, and goals of the team are all things to be transparent about. If your charter team suddenly has new faces on it, while your B-team sits in the wings wondering where that person came from … chances are you have some things to come clean about. This goes for other volunteers too:

Let’s say you’re never staffing that announcer who’s actually pretty ok because you want to give your regulars more opportunities, but you never tell that announcer. You just let them keep signing up on the sheet. Maybe you don’t let the newer refs skate during home team games because you would rather bring in outside officials, but you never tell those home team refs what they need to do to improve. These are cases where you need to re-evaluate your communication and transparency about your goals. (‘You’ as in the grander ‘you’ of leadership).

In this sport, we all control our own destiny, we all get to decide what type of team and culture we give our beloved energy and hours for. We just want to know what’s going on. When skaters feel like secrets are being kept from them, resentment grows. Transparency and communication get easier as we practice it. Just like the sport.

Let me say it a little clearer: Don’t lie to people. It’s not nice. People won’t trust you.

Structure

There are plenty of studies that show that clutter raises anxiety. It should be no surprise that clutter and frazzle in an organization can have the same effect on its membership. Tryouts, charter changes, rosters, and training models all need to be structured. We crave structure. It keeps us informed, it gives us goals and focus. Structure allows us to be the best player and team possible!

Pain and Khaos
How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re at right now? Photo by Down n Out Photography

Many leagues only have new skater tryouts during prescribed times of the year to keep the program focused and moving forward. Why not for your charter teams? Why not have quarterly skill checks that double as charter tryouts, but also to give feedback to your skaters so they all know what they should be working on? Some teams fear to change the charter because of seniority, having tryouts a few times a year can alleviate that pressure to not disappoint people. Overall, there needs to be some sort of path to the All-Stars, even if your team is not competitive. It gives people something to shoot for, and can up the commitment of skaters during practices and over the year. Remember that integrity thing I just talked about? Charters, feedback, and roads to higher levels of play are what we need the most honesty about.

Moving to the back-end, structure in your business is critical. If your league or team has shoddy leadership practices or business framework, then money is just going to fall through the cracks, and people are going to transfer as soon as they are brave enough. Lack of leadership or behind-the-scenes organization leads to last minute decisions, people getting left out of the loop, events being mishandled, and people being mistreated. We’ve all seen that league that might play derby well for a while, but their infrastructure is a hot mess and they are constantly turning over people.

Keep in mind: Just because you have structure, like by-laws, it doesn’t mean the work is done. Things need to be able to change over the years to accommodate the shifting trends of your league. I have seen many teams get stuck in the circle of “Well this is how we do it”. It’s fine that it’s how you do it, but is it the most efficient way to do it, or is that way to protect certain people/convenience/because you like it better? This means everything from charter team structure to board structure to captain expectations and behaviors.

Believance

Your people are awesome. Seriously. Even that one skater that is always nosing into people’s drama. Or the one that has severe anxiety and ends up doubting themselves by the end of most scrimmage practices. So is that one super bossy one that really is just covering up their insecurity. And the one that is really tiny that you think can’t be a successful jammer but really is. And the one who chatters when they’re nervous. And the one that always looks mad. And the one that is injured.

They’re all awesome.

DUTCHLAND FUN
No one is perfect, and that’s kind of awesome as it is! Embracing the fun, accepting each other, and believing in our friends is what can make this sport so amazing.

 

Guess what isn’t awesome? Telling people that they’re not good enough because they look mad. Or because talk to themselves. Or because don’t hang out at the pool with the team, but watch the derby instead. Or because they officiate. Or because talk a lot. Or because they’re trans. Or because they don’t fit the social norm. Or because they have a kid and can’t travel to outside tournaments to officiate.

Leadership has to put value and believance in all of their people. If you have a charter of 9 or a charter of 19, you have to value every person and build them up. Not just with words, with actions. Pumping them up at practice is necessary, but when it comes to game day, you need to keep up the high fives and positivity.

If you tell your jammer rotation that you DEFINITELY have faith in them, but then turn around and invite skaters from other teams to jam for you on game day – you are not showing that you have confidence. You have just undermined all your effort to build up the buy-in of your skaters because they were just benched for a ‘ringer’ from another team that didn’t practice with the squad all year. You have been shown that they are replaceable, and that a W on the scoreboard means more to leadership than their development and commitment.

If your team only does charter changes when an old friend comes back, while others continually struggle to get attention by the selection team, what motivation does anyone have to improve?

If leadership always gives feedback as, “Well you’re little so…” or “you’re big for a jammer so…” how is that going to make the skater feel valuable? They have just been told that their body is wrong, and so how can they think that leadership believes in them?

If you tell your announcer that they are great, and experienced and valuable, but then never staff them for home games, how long do you think that announcer will stick around?

Now I ask you:

Would you want to brag to your local coffeeshop about your team after these experiences?

Believe in your people and their abilities and you’ll never force someone to question whether they should pass out those flyers or tell their friends to transfer.

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Flyering groups would go out after Saturday practices in Baltimore to promote. We believed in our league and wanted to tell everyone about it. Even when it was really cold out.

Conflict Resolution

When problems do come up (and they will) having an action plan of addressing it in an adult manner is key. Friends of mine who just moved to us from Albany introduced me to the OUCH / OOPS method that I absolutely love. If you hurt someone with something you say or do, you say OUCH. They are then obligated to take a second, digest what has happened, and say OOPS as the acknowledgement. From there you decide if you want to talk it out now, or deal with it later – either with someone or one on one.

We should also keep in mind to assume the best intentions. We have a lot of people in our sport, and a lot of delivery methods in our voices at different times. I speak way differently on the track then I do in coaching mode, with my team, or even with my pod of blockers. Voices are tricky to navigate, we all have different experiences. One person may hear inflection and be unaffected, and another person is going to hear a voice and subconsciously be triggered remembering the way their father would talk to them before hitting them.

We do not just navigate roller derby when we have interpersonal reactions, and we have to keep it in mind. Getting mad that someone misunderstood you only exacerbates the issue. We have to be understanding that people will hear us differently, since some of us just have inflection and cadences that do not always jive in the ears of others. People need to be open to the fact that they may have one of those voices that is going to be misunderstood and work to be understanding (while the people around them need to assume best intentions).

Trust me.

TRUST ME.

I’m pretty sure over the years that I (and a few of my friends) have been held off of teams, rejected from tournaments, and denied access to the pool because of our voices, cadences, and individuals assuming the worst instead of the best. We have to always strive to do better. I always preach self-assessment. That’s for both sides. Don’t assume the worst. If you have a question, you can always ask. Or OUCH it. That said, think about what you’re saying. How you’re saying it. How you can always say it better or different.

 

So what can we do? What are some action items to make things better?

Changing a league culture and leadership mentality is not something that happens overnight. Having a team of individuals that create a list of league norms and expectations is very helpful. And don’t just make a list. Talk about them. Post them. ENFORSE THEM. Empower everyone in the league to talk about how to make their time better, and how to hold people to the new norms.

League surveys are also a great easy and quick way to get a beat on the way your skaters are feeling. If you’re not doing one at end and halfway point in the year, you should. Ask the hard questions:

  • Do you feel valued? Why/why not?
  • How do you feel the tryout structure could be improved?
  • Describe the league culture in 5 words.
  • How long do you see yourself staying with our league? Are you considering transferring?
  • How would you rate the communication of leadership to skaters?
  • Are you satisfied with the roles everyone has in the league? How do you think they could improve?

Again these are just some example questions, there are a ton you could ask, just depending on where your league is, and how the vibe of the whole place has been recently.

Keep in mind: Officials, announcers, and individual teams can have their own cultures as well. If the overall culture of the league is healthy and happy, but a sub-culture has undercurrents of turmoil, that could spill over into the league culture eventually. Each team is responsible for creating and maintaining cultural norms within their groups.

If everyone is empowered to make it a happy place, and if issues are dealt with as they come up, and if we all assume the best intentions, and feel valued and heard – why wouldn’t you buy into that league?

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ROLLER DERBY IS FUN. We forget that sometimes.

I truly believe that no one wants the experience of roller derby to be miserable for anyone, and if the buy-in of a team is low, it’s usually just because the people in leadership don’t realize there is a problem. In all my years, the most recurrent theme I have seen is this:

Leadership does not see the issues on the ground floor because they are not on the ground floor, and the system works great for them. Why would they actively change something that they don’t see as an issue?

So that means it’s up to the people who see the issues to raise the concerns. Be brave enough to come to your board with ideas and ways to solve the problems you see. Or at least ask if you can have a round table with them and some others to talk out personal issues. It’s not always fun. It’s definitely not comfortable, but to increase buy in of all skaters people have to be unafraid to say something.

Increasing how much you care about the buy-in of your league will have great results (maybe not immediate, but over time): More skaters, more sponsors, more people at games, more people promoting the events, more people coming to events, more opportunities to do events, etc etc

Alright so go out there, talk to your friends. Believe in your team. Encourage your volunteers. Hear what people say. Be fearless in the face of change. And go make the best team you can!

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Harrisburg Area Roller Derby 2011 – we weren’t perfect, but we worked together for our goals.

 

** Cover photo by Keyesboard 2014

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RollerCon ’18 Ups, Downs, & Being Better

“Roller derby is a mind f*ck.”

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.

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Look at how many people came to my Fancy Feet class! And this is after about 10 people on skates and 8 people off skates left. ❤

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.

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Before officiating with two of my favorites: Pete in the Pool & Milikin Cookies

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.

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711 vs Buckees

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.

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MOAR FUN AT ROLLERCON!! With challenges like Matrix v Fury Road, how can you take yourself too seriously??

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.

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The challenge: mental confidence after a hard RollerCon while jam reffing the best skaters in the world. Some of whom, you know, think nothing of you. In front of tons of people you respect.

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.

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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].

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My “I keep fucking this up” face

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.

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Until next time, Westgate! Love, Crew of Cabana 3

 

What did you learn from your time at RollerCon?

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.

wftda jacksonville duval
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

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