I haven’t written too much this year (it’s been an interesting ride), and I am sorry for that. After my second ACL surgery I dove into studies of a Sommelier. In the past 7 months I have achieved certification of WSET2, Level 1 from the Court of Masters Sommelier, and my Cicerone Certified Beer Server. All those notecards left little time for writing.
I was seeking inspiration for a derby topic the other day, and Facebook delivered. This idea came from Noah Tall in Fayetteville, Arkansas: “Why not do team and wine pairings?” Talking to others they agreed it would be a neat idea, and I decided to do my pairings a la the embodiment of the team in a beverage.
So here we go! With all the Champs excitement I thought I would start with MRDA Champs and then after this weekend I’ll do the WFTDA Champs! ENJOY!
PS: this task is way more daunting than it sounds!
Cava comes from Catalanya, Spain and is [most often] a blending of indigenous grapes. It’s bubbly, refreshing, and a ton of people haven’t experienced it. Is it as expensive as Champagne? No. Is it just as fancy and satisfying? Absolutely. My saying in my wine bar is: “When in doubt – Cava.” When I’m thinking about favorite MRDA teams, when in doubt: Austin Anarchy. They too are light and bubbly (have you picked up Wombo yet? Goldie Gloves has a whole FB album of “People Picking Up Wombo Combo”). Plus, Austin is always a great addition to a party.
DERBY CLUB LE CRES LATTES MONTPELLIER ie The KamiQuadz Pairing: Chilean Carmenere
“The Lost Grape of Bordeaux” has found a home in Chile and it is delightful. Lost Grape? Yes, Carmenere was thought to have been wiped out by Phylloxera in the 1800s. Turned out it survived just elsewhere (Chile). When picked early it has green notes (Cabernet Franc is one of its parents, and Cab Sauv is a half-sibling), when it develops more fully, it has velvety tannins, chocolate, and red fruits. The KamiQuadz are a green team with lots of depth and experience, but most of us don’t know them. I expect that as the years progress, French men’s roller derby will continue to be saved by this new bastion of play and I expect the green to turn to rich fruit rewards.
GOLDEN STATE HEAT Pairing: White Claw
WAIT WAIT – HEAR ME OUT!!!
Just like White Claw, Golden State Heat came out of NOWHERE this year to put everyone on the ground. Teams play them and wake up the next morning wondering what the hell happened and what their name is. White Claw is booze + sparkling water; it’s a blend of two things coming together in harmony and busting up a scene of regular acts for something refreshing and different – just like Golden State Heat. With all the deliciousness I don’t see either one of these things fizzing out any time soon.
NEW WHEELED ORDER Pairing: Dry Mosel Riesling
This aromatic wine always catches people off guard. They expect it to be one thing, but then they are served with something completely different. Dry Rieslings are refreshing, like Sauvignon Blancs, but without the grapefruit pith that can come with it. People always seem to forget about Rieslings, but it pairs easily with some of the most difficult foods (like vinegar and asparagus). NWO is a team that [American] people forgot about this year until Champs came around. They served up game play that people were not expecting, and for the second year in a row, NWO came out and broke expectations with adaptability and finesse.
DENVER GROUND CONTROL Pairing: Coppertail Unholy Belgian Trippel Ale
Belgian Trippels (the best ones) are light in body, sharp in spirit, and they hit you harder than you ever thought possible. Trippels are crafted with precision in mind, and tradition behind them, especially this one. Coppertail is in Florida, but Unholy rivals the best Belgians in the world. It might not be everyone’s go-to beverage of choice, but they are remarkable to all of us that pay attention. Ground Control has a long derby history behind them in their coaching staff, and one can tell that they focus on routine and perfection. Their jammers defy gravity, and every blocker can annihilate you.
SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT ROLLER DERBY Pairing: Merlot
No, I was not going to say Southern Comfort; that would be taking the easy way out (Plus I had a bad experience with SoCo in my younger years and I really didn’t want to think about flavor profiles).
So why Merlot? Merlot is the underestimated monster of the wine world. Merlot was a queen, and a movie (Sideways) came along and kicked it off a pedestal. That said, Merlot is a critical grape for blends of the Old AND New World wines. Not only that, a 2004 Saint Emilion would make anyone weak in the knees. My point? Despite hardships, SDRD keeps on giving amazing derby and producing exceptional players from their program. Merlot has incredible balance and versatility, as does SDRD. Wine Enthusiast called Merlot “the best red wine you’re not drinking”; SDRD could be the best MRDA team you’re not following.
VANCOUVER MURDER Pairing: Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon
I was not Bourbon fan about 3 years ago. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t have the tasting ability for it. After a trip to Louisville I fell for Angel’s Envy. On the first sip, it’s a bit of a punch to the senses; to experience it fully you’ve got to do 3 sips in a row (and really “chew” the bourbon). Then, you’ll experience the nuances. You have to take your time to truly appreciate how well crafted and deliberate it is. Finished in port wine barrels, there is a deep respect for flavor and quality. It took me a couple years to really appreciate how well the Murder work together. At first you think it’s just about flash, but then you look deeper and you realize that there is a dance Vancouver executes in every jam. Maybe not everyone will see it, but pay attention and keep going back to the Murder, like you would with a bourbon. You’ll discover more each time.
TEXAS MEN’S ROLLER DERBY Pairing: Frosé
You can make it with a rosé of Sangiovese for a more cherry variety, or with a Loire Valley for something more chalk-driven. Stir up a frosé with a Vinho Verde for a pool pounder, or use a California rosé for strawberry candy. There is a Frosé for all occasions, and if you know what you’re doing you can make them for anyone. Here’s my point: Frosé is super likeable, great in hot weather, and totally underestimated as to their greatness. I am hard pressed to find anyone that HATES Frosé. That’s Texas. They work great together, they get you buzzed, and you’re always excited for more.
MAGIC CITY MISFITS Pairing: Orin Swift Machete
This is a blended red wine with Petit Sirah, Syrah, and Grenache sourced from no less than five AVAs in California. It has deep notes of cassias, ripe red cherries, and stewed blackberries. It has a velvet texture that makes you go back for more and more. Blending is critical to the success of many wines, since you cannot always harvest the best grapes from single sites. As long as all the aspects are quality and work together to create a symphony, what does it matter which AVAs the grape comes from? Machete is a dance of flavors and wine-making techniques that has some of the best people in the industry almost mad about how good it is. MCM is a blend of friends and players, though the majority of their roster have been a part of the Florida roster for a few years. They are fast, they are undeniable talented, and they work incredibly well together. You might be mad about it, but they’re just doing good at the derby.
ST LOUIS GATEKEEPERS Pairing: Romanee-Conti Grand Cru
This single vineyard Pinot Noir is considered possibly the greatest that ever was, or ever will be. Pinot Noir is a very difficult grape to grow effectively; it takes time and finesse and care to get the best out of it. Sometimes it can take years for a grower to fully understand the complexities of the grape. The Gatekeepers have spent a decade (or more) cultivating their teamwork, style, and nerve under pressure. They are what other teams aspire to and use as a model. They have layers of complexity and courage, and no matter what adversity befalls the team, the roots seem to expand and flourish.
This is a team of legend and a team that no other will ever be like, now matter how they try to emulate these behemoths.
To help new and intermediate skaters get acclimated to gameplay and learn new tricks and strategies to be effective on the track.
Don’t look at your feet
Bend your knees
Your arms are unnecessary for roller skating
Get natural at transitions
Get comfortable changing levels
Effective derby playing is about space: creating space, clearing space, holding space
Do less than you think you need to
Don’t say you can’t do it. You can do it, you just haven’t yet
Building a base
Updated derby stance (tailbone tucked under, hips low but not too low)
Changing levels to complete hits and leans. Opening ribs/sides to maintain contact
Targeting and Blocking Form: By targeting certain parts on an opponent’s body you can effectively control their body with very little effort. It’s best to maintain contact with your opponent until you’ve moved them where you want them to go.
Chest/sternum: targeting an opponent’s chest or sternum with a solid, sustained push will allow you to move them in the direction you’re pushing. By aiming your hit low and finishing high you can lift them off their base and make them easier to move.
Shoulder sockets: aiming for an opponent’s shoulder near where the arm connects to the torso will cause the opponent’s upper body to twist. By following through with the hit you can force the opponent to open their hips and give up their space. This target works both from the front and back, but when attempting this hit from the rear be careful to make legal contact.
Ribs to armpit: When attacking an opponent from the side start by aiming for their ribs with your shoulder and moving the point of contact up towards their armpit. This will lift your opponent off their base and allow you to move them or knock them over.
Crazy Legs and lateral T push
Push from line to line, ending on your edges
Buddy pushes on your back, you must use your edges and plows to stop them
Picking up the opponent’s leg
From a stopped position, put the top of your thigh under the bottom of their thigh. Position your torso around their waist line. Use your tricep as a brace against their ribs. No pinning of arms or legs. Dip a little, use a small step and stand up to move them out of the way
This is to teach you how to be confident getting from your wheels to your toe stops and back again. To start, break it down into small stages:
Stand still, drop your toe stops
Roll forward slowly, drop your toe stops. Use the momentum to take a step if necessary. This is currently about STOPPING, not moving.
Roll forward slowly, drop your toe stops. Use the momentum to hop straight up. Practice landing on your toe stops or your wheels.
Roll backwards, reach a foot backwards and grab the ground with your toe stop. Use this momentum to move you a couple steps.
To Practice: Start at the jammer line, push twice, transition onto toe stops for multiple steps, transition back to your wheels. You can practice doing this straight forward, backwards, and also so your body is angled when you’re stepping – transition to your toe stops and turn your chest to the inside of the track to run.
Building up the Tripod
Effective butts: lateral movement, getting hips in front
In a tripod formation, the skaters in the two wall need to focus on lateral movement, seaming, and keeping their hips perpendicular to the track. The two wall is the first line of defense when absorbing the jammer’s impact and should attempt to maintain contact with the jammer for as long as possible. Skaters in the two wall should look for offense coming from the front.
Effective bracing: arms on outside, spreading wings, leaning back, one toe stop, avoiding offense
Being an effective brace is about communication, supporting your teammates, and being prepared to make adjustments. The brace should allow their teammates to push into them instead of pushing back into the two wall. This limits the two wall’s mobility and leads to a higher likelihood of direction of gameplay penalties. When bleeding off speed the brace should attempt to use only one toe stop so then can maintain their lateral mobility. The brace should not only communicate where the jammer is moving, but also relay if offense is coming from the rear or sides. If it seems like the jammer will break through or clear the two wall, the brace must be prepared to rotate or break off to catch the jammer and prepare to reform the tripod.
Message me at Derbyamerica at gmail.com or Chief at Anxiety83 at gmail.com if you have questions or need further information!
RollerCon 2019 with Merry Khaos, at MVP5 on Wednesday at 5:20pm
This is my outline before the class goes off. Things may change during the class, in which case I will come back in and edit. For now… enjoy!
To help skaters learn how to work with each other better on the track, and to understand that teamwork takes time and patience to build
Understanding where the other people are on the track
Learning that if you know what your teammates are going to do, then if you get caught they will be able to survive without out (and vice versa)
Teamwork = success
Look at each other, not the floor
Always going to the next thing
Teamwork takes time! Neon Genesis Evangelion, Voltron, Korra (pro-bending) all have episodes that show how hard it is to achieve high-level teamwork, because it’s not all about you. So don’t beat yourself up if you and your buddies just aren’t syncing all the time.
Warm-Up (in pairs):
One foot slaloms, but in sync
Leg openers (again, in sync, and within easy arm-reach of your buddy)
“Sprint” around the track, but at each corner, you’re switching sides
Mirror drill: Pairs will face the same direction, about an arm length apart. The person in front “leads”. They must stay within the track, and can move within a 5-10 ft rectangle (depending on how much space we have). They may do any move.
Spoke of the Wheel
Lines of 4 (or more if I need)
Goal: Keep a wall while moving around the track.
Secondary goal: On whistle blast, inside drops to outside, with line filling the gap
Groups of 4
Box Drill Round 1:
1 whistle rotate right
2 whistle rotate left
Long whistle speed up
4 whistles stop
1 whistle front skaters transition
2 whitle front & back swap
Long whistle switch line (outside/inside)
4 whistles stop
Round 1: Whistle indicates switching from inside to outside line WITHOUT rotation
Round 2: Whistle indicates rotation
Round 3: Add a jammer who will pop off and challenge different parts of the track, triangle must adjust
If there is time
Pairs will trade spots between each pair of the paceline. The person on the outside goes behind the person coming from the inside
Pairs race to the front of the line and plow stop in front in sync, and matching the pace of the line
At 3pm in Seminar Room 7 on Wednesday of RollerCon 2019 this class will happen. I am going to edit this post after the class takes place to fill in notes and (hopefully) upload a video of the class itself, which will also go on the AFTDA’s YouTube Channel. For now, here is my outline of the class ahead… and sorry about the formatting. Google Docs to WordPress was not the best copy/paste decision I’ve ever made.
Who am I? President of the AFTDA, skater/writer/coach for 9 years, ref for 4 years, announcer for 3 years. I have been a vendor and brand rep, I have traveled the world. I have spoken to people about derby and who are involved in derby from all cultures and backgrounds. And yes, I too have made mistakes.
Why this class is important:
People of privilege and those who do not live in certain worlds are often caught up in their own language, manners, and behaviors that they do not realize when something can be offensive, hurtful, or downright rude. This is meant to be a discussion and information session as much as a ‘class’, since as a person of privilege myself, I certainly cannot TEACH others.
To discuss the microaggressions and language we use as announcers in Roller Derby and bring further awareness to the struggle of the humans in our community. To help people understand how their words have an effect on the community, and how we can learn and grow to become better humans together. To teach individuals how to handle receiving and giving information to friends and partners about offensive language or hurtful behavior. To have open discussion from the attendees about their feelings about language and how to improve the community at large.
LET’S DIVE IN!
What is a microaggression? A statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority. Examples:
Calling a player ‘black’ instead of by jersey color
Commenting on how capable someone with a disability is “despite”
Female-identifying skaters being called ‘more aggressive than typical’
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?
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.
So how do we increase buy-in of our roller derby league, individual teams, and yearly tournament events?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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!
If you’ve ever taken a class or practice with me, you have probably heard you say this. Roller derby is a series of weird skills and strategies that will undermine your confidence and sense of self-preservation. Usually our brains do this subconsciously, or at most, it brings up the “status bar” of attempting to do a skill.
RollerCon for me this year, was not me coming in and overcoming physical barriers, this year it was all about the mental mind fucks of not knowing where I belong. In our jammer pod in Tampa, we have all adopted dessert names, and I chose Cronut since I’m always in identity crisis. For those who came into RollerCon (or any other mixed scrimmage event) with trepidation, you are not alone.
Usually at RC I come in knowing that I’m not the best, but I’m solidly competent. I’m a decent coach, I’m good at skating, I’m a good blocker, an OKish jammer, a pretty reasonable ref, and an occasionally funny announcer. I’m not the best at anything, but gosh darnit – I can hold my own with the big guns on any of it.
Jammer paralysis. Blocker doubts. Ref misgivings. Announcer stage fright. Coaching faux paus. All this during a year where I just wanted to show my friends that I’m really good. I just wanted my friends to agree that I am just as good as they are, and can hang. I Just wanted to look at everything and go “Yup! I’m still relevant. I’m still growing. I’m still good.” And midweek I found myself in panic mode thinking:
WHAT THE FUCK AM I? WHAT HAPPENED?
Ok, the background. This year at RC I ….
Played in 8 (?) 30 minute games
Officiated 1 B&W scrim, 1 30 min game, 2 full length games (OPR Fury Road/Matrix & JR East/West)
Announced 2 30 minute games
Taught 4 hours
Took two 2 hour classes
Helped the SM of the Drag Show get sorted (before getting a concussion & having to pull out from helping)
Spent around 6 hours at the Roller Derby Elite Booth
…..And this was a light year of activity for me.
I didn’t have any full-length games to play this year, and was taken off of the rosters of games I had previously been rostered. Between the removals, the lack of games, and my guilt over switching schedules, I was already in a bad headspace coming into the Con. Match that with low performances in front of my friends on day one, having the jammer star taken out of my hand in 3 different games on day one, and feeling overall ineffective, I was a train wreck.
RollerCon is supposed to be fun. I’ve always gone because it was fun. Let me say that playing with AA skaters this year was, overall, NOT fun. And I hate that.
I miss the challenges & scrimmages where we ran every jam because we only got to play 3 times in 30 minutes. This year, people were screaming from the bench to call it off so we could win. This year, I didn’t see people pull back to allow for a fun, even up scrimmage (unless we were shouting “C level!” as officials). I saw dirty (and dangerous) hits and hooks happening from skaters that know better, simply because they were frustrated with not being immediately successful. I was told that I didn’t deserve to be on the track as a blocker in one game, that I wasn’t good enough to jam in another, and scolded about being wrong when I was trying something in a third.
I also heard several pods being lectured about how they weren’t playing derby well enough. Feedback is one thing, but let’s make sure that we’re doing it right.
I remember Smarty Pants being on the bench with me during a black and white early scrimmage before ECDX a few years ago. Were the packs perfect? ANYTHING BUT. However, she didn’t talk us down, she talked us up. What did we do right? How can we capitalize on that next time?
Telling people that they are wrong about derby does not help anyone. It takes them out of the fun, out of the moment of strength, and makes them want to quit. I almost stopped skating a few times this week. I felt like if I didn’t have the respect of those AA skaters, if I didn’t look like I could hang with the ‘Big Dogs’ from the audience, then why am I here?
This was only underlined by the fact that some of my friends have gotten very good at derby and are gaining a lot of notoriety. You at home. You that feel guilty for feeling jealous of your friends being noticed while you continue to work hard and go unnoticed? I see you. There are a ton of us in this community.
We spend so much time at RollerCon oooing and awing the AA skaters, that we forget to acknowledge the hard work and advances made by others. Every year you may feel like you never improve when you go to an event like RollerCon, but I have understood that it just means we’re all getting better at the same rate. This year, I didn’t keep the pace of improvement. I need to work even harder if I want to be at the same level that I have been in the past.
That’s hard for us to accept sometimes: Some of us have to work much harder at roller derby just to keep pace with people who have a knack for the game or have been athletes most of their lives.
For the skaters that are progressing at a quick rate, or that are now a higher level and playing “down” at RollerCon, remember that not everyone has the same story as you. Not everyone has the same training. Not everyone is in the same mental space of “WIN ALL THE GAMES”, especially since what it felt like was “SHOW THEM I’M AS GOOD AS THEY ARE WE CANNOT LOSE NEVER SURRENDER!”
-_- Maybe we all need to stop being so cut throat with this stuff. I personally was a little sad that I got a full uppercut to the face and there wasn’t even an acknowledgement, much less an apology. Yea, it’s derby, shit happens, but come on, yo. We’re not supposed to be ok with injuring each other, ESPECIALLY during a fun challenge that no one gives a shit about 30 seconds later. Just be nice to people.
Imposter syndrome went through the roof because all of this. I know I’m not the only one who dealt with it, and I’m sorry if any of my frustration caused others on the track to question their own ability. That’s the thing about yelling and shouting and putting people down: it spreads like the derby plague. I cried so many times this year just because I didn’t feel like I was good enough. It didn’t matter what track cuts I drew on AA players. It didn’t matter who I cleared, or how effectively I helped to kill power jams. I was told I was lesser and I felt like it.
I was sitting at the Roller Derby Elite booth with my friends Disaster Chief and Peter Pan (Tony Muse) talking about all of this and Tony said, “There was something I was missing, and I had something to learn from everything that happened from this year. Maybe this is all happening because you need to learn something. Maybe you’re missing a piece.” I walked away from the conversation unsure, but when i geared up later I realized what he was talking about.
All this time I had been hyper focused on the physical, but I’ve been ignoring the mental. It’s the same thing that came up at Tiny Tourney. I was missing the fun and the confidence. While my body was getting stronger, my mind was not.
I got so swept up in the competition on the track that I forgot to have fun in a sport that I know I’m good at. I may not be good all the time at all the things, but I am good. The more fun I have, the better I play. I don’t train my ass off to get approval from others (I mean, subconsciously I do but I’m working on that).
When it comes down to it, RollerCon is supposed to be the biggest, baddest, most fun summer camp for adults. And looking back on it, that’s what it was. At the end of everything, the Crew of Cabana 3 made RC everything, even when we had our drunken mishaps or when bogged down in interpersonal ucky.
Every year I am going to have social anxiety. I’m going to let someone down along the way. I’m going to miss calls. Make questionable calls. Do neat stuff. Fall on my ass too much. Build friendships. Strengthen bonds. Learn more about myself. Get defensive. Get happy. Get sad. Get shouty. Teach someone. Be taught. And maybe even make out with someone.
Every year I’m going to come out thinking Ivanna hates me, that I disappointed Val, that I let down Ump, that Tony’s going to stop sponsoring me, and that Suvi wants me off the team. It’s not true though. I am learning that the minor inconveniences, the little things that happen along the way are a drop in the bucket and we all still love each other at the end of the day.
You should love yourself and your friends too. High five each other, hug each other, kiss your friends. You all deserve love after the trials and tribulations brought on with roller derby in the desert. And next year will be even bigger, even better. Next year, our minds will be overwhelmed by even more incredible roller derby and we will struggle and thrive once again.
So my takeaways this year at the end of everything?
I want to play more derby.
I want to use my shoulders more.
We need to listen to each other more.
I’m actually kind of hot.
I want to get stronger.
I need to take more classes (especially from Grime).
I’m terrible at using a hand drill [but everyone should volunteer & try].
I want to get my mind better, and have no idea how to prevent meltdowns in the future.
We should all chill the fuck out a bit.
I want to help build more opportunities for lower level men to play at RC.
I never want to do another RollerCon without a microwave & washer/dryer.
You can never drink enough water. Even when your adult beverages are made with sparkling water.
Cucumber Water beverages at the Westgate are the perfect summer drink.
Ivanna and the team of managers are all made of magic. I think they are unicorns in disguise.
My friends and roller derby buddies are the greatest in the world.
I’m kind of OK with being kind of OK, but I’ll never settle for being as good as I am.
Here we are, continuing our journey through the world of jamming. I know talking about things to do at home, or without wheels on your feet is boring (but it’s important so do it anyway). So let’s talk about practice and game time and what you can do to increase your jammer prowess.
Practice on different surfaces
Sounds basic, but hear me out.
Our mental game is a huge part of our successes and failures as jammers, and one thing I have seen more skaters freak out about is the floor. If floor surfaces were not so scary to people, we would not have people buying multiple sets of various durometer wheels and frantically researching flooring before each game. I’m one of them!
It’s a bit of a dig, but when someone mentions that they do not ever change their wheels I respond with “I’m not good enough at roller skating for that”. This is both true and false. I’m pretty good at roller skating at this point, but I know that my biggest weakness is my inability to release pressure from my wheels. I’ve been working on it for nine years. I understand that I am better at asserting more pressure into my edge than I am at letting off the pressure.
This means I am better on a slicker floor when I can press into my wheels and dig than I am on a sticky floor where I must RELEASE pressure to slide. Having ‘grown up’ at Olympic Skating Center in Enola, PA, you would think it would be opposite. It has one of the most beautiful polished maple floors in the country, and it will rip through tights like nothing, and leave scars of road rash that we bear 5 years later. I never achieved a hockey stop on this floor. Hell I could barely plow stop. Some people can play on Poisons regardless of surface, regardless of game. I am not one of them. I have accepted and embraced my need to adjust my gear the last two years and the results show.
How I adjust my gear is based on the surface, and I know what to do because I have sought out every kind of floor I can, and travel games have put me on everything from polished concrete, to sport court laid on springy astroturf, to what looks like a basketball court, but is actually a foam mat. While team mates panic, I have it handled.
If we can take out the scary part of floor surfaces changing, we can bolster our confidence. When we feel confident, we perform better. The easiest way to take the scary out of floor surfaces is simply by skating on all of them. Not just once, but whenever you can. I miss having an outdoor hockey rink within reach. The polished concrete was so vastly from the maple floor that I practiced on in Harrisburg, that I felt like I could practice my skills in a new way and it taught me how to control my body weight differently.
Not everyone can spend time on their own to go to other rinks, so even putting your skates on at home or encouraging your team to go scrimmage or practice somewhere else from time to time can help you break away from the barriers of “Oh s***, I can’t slide/grip/jump on this floor!” Sometimes we encounter the mental hang up, but we do not even realize it. Learning how to deal with things (whether it means changing your gear or your style) will improve your ratios pretty quick.
Speed DOESN’T kill
If there is one lesson I have learned this season is that speed is your only true ally as a jammer. If you are faster than the blockers (in physicality, awareness, and prediction of game flow) you will win [mostly] all the jams.
When I was a baby jammer, I thought speed meant “How fast can I get around the track?” But even when I hit a 6 second lap, I was not getting as many point passes as desired. Going to the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup in Calgary I started to pick up on what true QUICKNESS really is: It’s micro movements. It’s the stuff you do not see until your eyes adjust to a higher frame rate. It’s the slightly stronger push in your duck run at the last second.
It’s the difference between a juke that gets you through and one that gets you put out of bounds.
It’s the difference between cruising into a pack to get picked off and sailing through on the outside line easily.
It’s the difference between blockers keeping you locked, and you popping them open through the middle.
But it’s more than just having speed on your wheels. It’s about how fast you can transition from skating to duck run, or duck run to hockey stop, or wheels to toe stops. Transitioning from wheels to stoppers gives you an added edge over your opponent, because of the change in acceleration it causes and your ability to maneuver in different ways. Being able to drop, at speed, onto your toe stops can let you hop, spin, jump, and high step. It can also give you a chance to run an angle to outpace blockers when they’re not expecting it.
If you are not comfortable skating fast and transitioning to your toe stops: Get going. Start practicing it.
Do speed work. On skates, off skates. Do it in your office. Do it before dinner. Do it when you wake up in the morning. Integrate it into your life. That might sound extreme, but it’s not as hard (or as ridiculous) as it sounds.
Training your muscles to twitch is the greatest tool a jammer can have. You have heard people yell “Pick up your feet”. If you can’t twitch, you won’t be able to fake out your opponents, juke, or change direction suddenly. Picking up your feet means you can generate speed and mobility. Picking up your feet means you are generating momentum, not losing it. It means you are faster than you were when you were planted and coasting into a pack. Picking up your feet while approaching a stopped tripod is absolutely terrifying, but it lets you hit with momentum. It gives you a chance to explode a wall. It gives you more options: Do you hit with speed or do you redirect at the last second. Maybe you aim for the middle and drop the toe stops to run the inside line. Maybe you hit a seam and slide through the blockers.
Side note: You may have to spend time practicing what to do after you hit a seam and burst through it. Moving your feet will keep your momentum moving forward. It has happened where a jammer (hi) was so surprised that they did the thing and it WORKED, that they stopped moving their feet and immediately fell. So don’t be surprised if that happens.
Talk to your blockers
Some people think that being a jammer means floating out in the ether by yourself, getting to control your own destiny. The best jammers will never think of themselves as an autonomous unit, but rather a part of the pack they are matched with. Success of the team depends on the ability for jammers and blockers to communicate, adapt, and work together.
As a jammer you need to understand how your team fields blockers and the strategies preferred by each. Many teams will do packs one on, one off. Some teams set up blocking pairs and rotate through pairs. Some teams use blocking lines that seem random, but [hopefully] have an underlying method. Every pack is going to prefer different tactics and be good at different things.
For example, we have two packs that primarily play for my team. One pack is very good at stopped derby, the other team is very good at rotation and movement. If my team is playing a ‘long game’ strategy and I am going out with my pack that prefers a stopped pack, I need to understand that I have a different responsibility as a jammer. Not only am I playing for points, but I am part of the defense.
Hold up, I don’t mean that I’m responsible for blocking the jammer, I mean that I am responsible for 1) doing as many laps as possible while the jammer is being held by the blockers, 2) not breaking up the defense for selfish point gain, and 3) whenever I enter the back of the pack, I need to create forward movement so that my own blockers are not forced to bridge or get drawn out of play. By me forcing the other pod forward, I help my own blockers maintain a pack.
Before I go out for a jam, I check in with my blockers. If it’s scrimmage, I’ll ask “What are you working on?”, if it’s a game I ask “What are we doing?” In practice, you get a chance to learn your habits, what works for you, and more importantly what DOESN’T work well for you. I like using practice time to work on different goals. Often that includes my improv ability, which is why I like letting my blockers work on their goals, and then I can adjust my plan accordingly.
When we go into a game situation, I work with the blockers to analyze what has or has not been working against our opponent and how to incorporate that into our own game strategy while also helping me to get the f*ck through for lead jammer. It’s all about getting lead.
Mid-jam, my favorite things to say to the blockers include “Keep them moving!” “Sweep” “POINTS” and “I need the pivot!” Talking to your blockers when you can, and them talking back (I like when they call for me before offense or when they remind me to drive a pack forward), makes a huge difference in game play. We all have to trust each other on the track, and the key to trust in any relationship is communication.
Blaque Jac knows the importance of communication on the track. Photo by Phantom Photographics
Consider shapes and angles
Roller derby is math and science. You always hear your coaches say move your feet and get lower. Hopefully, as you improve, you start hearing them say “run the angles” and “turn your shoulder”. Why? Geometry and physics.
Moving your feet (the basic advice to make any starter jammer better as stated above) simply takes advantage of Newton’s 1st law: An object in motion tends to stay in motion. With inertia on your side, it is easier to get past more stationary objects. I just talked about this but I feel it bears mentioning again! Get lower? The lower your center of mass and gravity, the harder it is for you to fall (this also gives you more leg to gather up potential energy from the floor to transfer to kinetic energy and inertia).
Running the angles means that you are not picking straight lines on the floor, so can take advantage of vectors easier. You are a moving object, with magnitude, and can put that force into something else if necessary. Think of it this way: If you run in a straight line to go between a flat two wall, you have to time your hit, speed, and body movement very precisely to avoid getting sandwiched or stuffed completely. If you come at that same wall at an angle, your timing does not have to be as precise. The angle assists your momentum, and you can take the space of a blocker in a wall to either bounce off of them and through the wall, or to move them completely and keep on your path of momentum.
When I talk about angles, I’m also talking about BODY angles. Think of the shapes bodies take when we play derby. We can be squares, rectangles, triangles, stars, lines, strange quadrilaterals… If we look at what the blockers are doing with their bodies we can be proactive with our own. While warming practice the different ways you can contort. One on one and hurricane blocking (where you can spin around each other) is a handy way to learn how your body can move and contort. The more time you can spend getting out of your comfort zone with body positioning, the better. Why think about shapes?
When coming up against a square, you probably don’t want to be a square. Squares have a harder time getting through because they have generally have more target area for blockers to hit. Dropping a shoulder to make yourself a triangle will allow you the mobility of being square, while letting yourself either duck underneath OR into the blocker coming at you.
“WHAT? INTO THE BLOCKER? I THOUGHT THE IDEA WAS TO NOT BE HIT.”
Something I learned long ago is the Bazooka Method: If someone is pointing a bazooka at you, do you run away? No. You run towards them. Often, this works very well for derby. If you run at a blocker, you take away the angle and momentum they were just planning on having to hit you effectively. I don’t want to give blockers wind up space. I tend to run right at solo blockers and use their bodies to get around safely. They can’t hit me as well, and their team mates often back off a bit because if they don’t time their own hit right, they’ll take out their team mate instead of me.
Back to the shape thing: I have always thought about moving my body differently but never could words as to why things worked. I was chatting at the jammers I coach, and I had the epiphany that our jammers were coming in as rectangles to the pack (we usually say square, but that implies that they are compact). I explained that sometimes we need to make ourselves triangles, lines, or half-moons. Looking at how blockers are set, and how we can shape our bodies to slide through seams at angles or move past blockers while not taking too hard of a blow.
Next time you’re on the jam line, look at the blockers and look at how they are shaped, and how you can counter the shape with your own. Triangles to lean against triangles, half-moons help against parallelograms, lines are effective between to squares, circles can go under triangles.
Move your body in different ways and practice with intent to do something different than normal.
Look at the world around you
Look at the scoreboard, the penalty box, the other jammer before and throughout the jam. Do a quick rundown of your ideal jam in your head. Keep tabs the whole time.
Where you are in the game, the score, how many timeouts you have left, and who is in the penalty box should all factor into your call off strategy. Make sure you talk to your coaches before the game to know whether you are playing a long game or a hit & quit strategy. There are going to be times that you don’t immediately call it off if the other jammer escapes and you will not always be to see your bench coach (or have a bench coach to look at). You should also know what the plan is as far as springing people from the box.
Note: Your blockers should be aware of goals too (go back to the whole “talk to the blockers” thing).
When you are in a jam it is easy to get tunnel vision, it is easy to forget that the rest of the world exists. I joke that I am best when my FoF (Fight or Flight) kicks in, which usually happens around the end of the first period from cardio exhaustion. When FoF hits, our bodies no longer think about the tools, we just utilize them to get the hell out of a stressful situation (the pack). Without practice, this can mean our field of vision narrows instead of widens, and we may go into ‘default’ mode which often means your oldest tricks and not always your best moves.
“Head up” is said almost as often as “get lower” in roller derby, and for good reason. If you’re in the Sad Place and looking at your feet as you grind away, you’re not going to see your offense coming in to disrupt the tripod. If you’re so focused on that gap that currently exists in lane three as you approach the pack, you won’t notice that your friends are holding a SWEET pick on the inside line to let you jump the apex. If we default to our old habits, we become predictable.
How do we practice widening our view? Do it in your every day life. When you’re walking through the grocery store, use your periphery vision to calculate the rate of speed of other shoppers, and how to maneuver safely through the little old ladies navigating the spice aisle. Take note of shoes people are wearing without looking at their feet, or how many kids are running past you without looking directly to count. When you are at practice doing drills, be mentally active throughout. If you’re waiting for your next turn to go, watch the movement of your blockers to understand their speeds and accelerations. If you are in a paceline, do check ins with everyone’s pace, how everyone is standing, and how players move when their endurance is lower.
Always be looking around you. Always be making note. Always be calculating. At first it will be a conscious decision, but after a while it will become second nature. Then when you’re on the track, you won’t have to pull your head out of a tripod, you’ll already know that your offense is coming on the outside line, so you can disengage and dart to safety.
How do practice incorporating more tools? Repetition repetition. Do the footwork drills. Do them again. Do them faster. Do them slower. Do them on shoes. Do them whenever you can. Eventually your body will just incorporate the footwork into your regular movements and you’ll find yourself popping out of packs in ways you didn’t know possible.
Dziubinski just can’t help smiling sometimes. Photo by Ken LeBleu
Jamming is hard. If you’re a week into playing or 10 years, it never really gets easier. We are in a constant state of flux. Jammers improve so blockers change tactics. Jammers learn how to deal with the tactics, and new shapes and strategies emerge. The biggest lesson I learned this year is that I will always have to work to be stronger, faster, and braver. I also learned that the only constant in derby: is change. Go with it, don’t resist it. Always be learning, always be listening, always be adapting, but mostly: always be loving it.
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