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?

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

Read Part 1: Off the Track

Here we are, continuing our journey through the world of jamming. I know talking about things to do at home, or without wheels on your feet is boring (but it’s important so do it anyway). So let’s talk about practice and game time and what you can do to increase your jammer prowess.

Practice on different surfaces

Sounds basic, but hear me out.

Our mental game is a huge part of our successes and failures as jammers, and one thing I have seen more skaters freak out about is the floor. If floor surfaces were not so scary to people, we would not have people buying multiple sets of various durometer wheels and frantically researching flooring before each game. I’m one of them!

It’s a bit of a dig, but when someone mentions that they do not ever change their wheels I respond with “I’m not good enough at roller skating for that”. This is both true and false. I’m pretty good at roller skating at this point, but I know that my biggest weakness is my inability to release pressure from my wheels. I’ve been working on it for nine years. I understand that I am better at asserting more pressure into my edge than I am at letting off the pressure.

This means I am better on a slicker floor when I can press into my wheels and dig than I am on a sticky floor where I must RELEASE pressure to slide. Having ‘grown up’ at Olympic Skating Center in Enola, PA, you would think it would be opposite. It has one of the most beautiful polished maple floors in the country, and it will rip through tights like nothing, and leave scars of road rash that we bear 5 years later. I never achieved a hockey stop on this floor. Hell I could barely plow stop. Some people can play on Poisons regardless of surface, regardless of game. I am not one of them. I have accepted and embraced my need to adjust my gear the last two years and the results show.

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

How I adjust my gear is based on the surface, and I know what to do because I have sought out every kind of floor I can, and travel games have put me on everything from polished concrete, to sport court laid on springy astroturf, to what looks like a basketball court, but is actually a foam mat. While team mates panic, I have it handled.

If we can take out the scary part of floor surfaces changing, we can bolster our confidence. When we feel confident, we perform better. The easiest way to take the scary out of floor surfaces is simply by skating on all of them. Not just once, but whenever you can. I miss having an outdoor hockey rink within reach. The polished concrete was so vastly from the maple floor that I practiced on in Harrisburg, that I felt like I could practice my skills in a new way and it taught me how to control my body weight differently.

Not everyone can spend time on their own to go to other rinks, so even putting your skates on at home or encouraging your team to go scrimmage or practice somewhere else from time to time can help you break away from the barriers of “Oh s***, I can’t slide/grip/jump on this floor!” Sometimes we encounter the mental hang up, but we do not even realize it. Learning how to deal with things (whether it means changing your gear or your style) will improve your ratios pretty quick.

Speed DOESN’T kill

If there is one lesson I have learned this season is that speed is your only true ally as a jammer. If you are faster than the blockers (in physicality, awareness, and prediction of game flow) you will win [mostly] all the jams.

When I was a baby jammer, I thought speed meant “How fast can I get around the track?” But even when I hit a 6 second lap, I was not getting as many point passes as desired. Going to the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup in Calgary I started to pick up on what true QUICKNESS really is: It’s micro movements. It’s the stuff you do not see until your eyes adjust to a higher frame rate. It’s the slightly stronger push in your duck run at the last second.

It’s the difference between a juke that gets you through and one that gets you put out of bounds.

It’s the difference between cruising into a pack to get picked off and sailing through on the outside line easily.

It’s the difference between blockers keeping you locked, and you popping them open through the middle.

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

But it’s more than just having speed on your wheels. It’s about how fast you can transition from skating to duck run, or duck run to hockey stop, or wheels to toe stops. Transitioning from wheels to stoppers gives you an added edge over your opponent, because of the change in acceleration it causes and your ability to maneuver in different ways. Being able to drop, at speed, onto your toe stops can let you hop, spin, jump, and high step. It can also give you a chance to run an angle to outpace blockers when they’re not expecting it.

If you are not comfortable skating fast and transitioning to your toe stops: Get going. Start practicing it.

Do speed work. On skates, off skates. Do it in your office. Do it before dinner. Do it when you wake up in the morning. Integrate it into your life. That might sound extreme, but it’s not as hard (or as ridiculous) as it sounds.

Training your muscles to twitch is the greatest tool a jammer can have. You have heard people yell “Pick up your feet”. If you can’t twitch, you won’t be able to fake out your opponents, juke, or change direction suddenly. Picking up your feet means you can generate speed and mobility. Picking up your feet means you are generating momentum, not losing it. It means you are faster than you were when you were planted and coasting into a pack. Picking up your feet while approaching a stopped tripod is absolutely terrifying, but it lets you hit with momentum. It gives you a chance to explode a wall. It gives you more options: Do you hit with speed or do you redirect at the last second. Maybe you aim for the middle and drop the toe stops to run the inside line. Maybe you hit a seam and slide through the blockers.

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

Side note: You may have to spend time practicing what to do after you hit a seam and burst through it. Moving your feet will keep your momentum moving forward. It has happened where a jammer (hi) was so surprised that they did the thing and it WORKED, that they stopped moving their feet and immediately fell. So don’t be surprised if that happens.

Talk to your blockers

Some people think that being a jammer means floating out in the ether by yourself, getting to control your own destiny. The best jammers will never think of themselves as an autonomous unit, but rather a part of the pack they are matched with. Success of the team depends on the ability for jammers and blockers to communicate, adapt, and work together.

As a jammer you need to understand how your team fields blockers and the strategies preferred by each. Many teams will do packs one on, one off. Some teams set up blocking pairs and rotate through pairs. Some teams use blocking lines that seem random, but [hopefully] have an underlying method. Every pack is going to prefer different tactics and be good at different things.

For example, we have two packs that primarily play for my team. One pack is very good at stopped derby, the other team is very good at rotation and movement. If my team is playing a ‘long game’ strategy and I am going out with my pack that prefers a stopped pack, I need to understand that I have a different responsibility as a jammer. Not only am I playing for points, but I am part of the defense.

Hold up, I don’t mean that I’m responsible for blocking the jammer, I mean that I am responsible for 1) doing as many laps as possible while the jammer is being held by the blockers, 2) not breaking up the defense for selfish point gain, and 3) whenever I enter the back of the pack, I need to create forward movement so that my own blockers are not forced to bridge or get drawn out of play. By me forcing the other pod forward, I help my own blockers maintain a pack.

Before I go out for a jam, I check in with my blockers. If it’s scrimmage, I’ll ask “What are you working on?”, if it’s a game I ask “What are we doing?” In practice, you get a chance to learn your habits, what works for you, and more importantly what DOESN’T work well for you. I like using practice time to work on different goals. Often that includes my improv ability, which is why I like letting my blockers work on their goals, and then I can adjust my plan accordingly.

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

When we go into a game situation, I work with the blockers to analyze what has or has not been working against our opponent and how to incorporate that into our own game strategy while also helping me to get the f*ck through for lead jammer. It’s all about getting lead.

Mid-jam, my favorite things to say to the blockers include “Keep them moving!” “Sweep” “POINTS” and “I need the pivot!” Talking to your blockers when you can, and them talking back (I like when they call for me before offense or when they remind me to drive a pack forward), makes a huge difference in game play. We all have to trust each other on the track, and the key to trust in any relationship is communication.

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Blaque Jac knows the importance of communication on the track. Photo by Phantom Photographics

Consider shapes and angles

Roller derby is math and science. You always hear your coaches say move your feet and get lower. Hopefully, as you improve, you start hearing them say “run the angles” and “turn your shoulder”. Why? Geometry and physics.

Moving your feet (the basic advice to make any starter jammer better as stated above) simply takes advantage of Newton’s 1st law: An object in motion tends to stay in motion. With inertia on your side, it is easier to get past more stationary objects. I just talked about this but I feel it bears mentioning again! Get lower? The lower your center of mass and gravity, the harder it is for you to fall (this also gives you more leg to gather up potential energy from the floor to transfer to kinetic energy and inertia).

Running the angles means that you are not picking straight lines on the floor, so can take advantage of vectors easier. You are a moving object, with magnitude, and can put that force into something else if necessary. Think of it this way: If you run in a straight line to go between a flat two wall, you have to time your hit, speed, and body movement very precisely to avoid getting sandwiched or stuffed completely. If you come at that same wall at an angle, your timing does not have to be as precise. The angle assists your momentum, and you can take the space of a blocker in a wall to either bounce off of them and through the wall, or to move them completely and keep on your path of momentum.

When I talk about angles, I’m also talking about BODY angles. Think of the shapes bodies take when we play derby. We can be squares, rectangles, triangles, stars, lines, strange quadrilaterals… If we look at what the blockers are doing with their bodies we can be proactive with our own. While warming practice the different ways you can contort. One on one and hurricane blocking (where you can spin around each other) is a handy way to learn how your body can move and contort. The more time you can spend getting out of your comfort zone with body positioning, the better. Why think about shapes?

When coming up against a square, you probably don’t want to be a square. Squares have a harder time getting through because they have generally have more target area for blockers to hit. Dropping a shoulder to make yourself a triangle will allow you the mobility of being square, while letting yourself either duck underneath OR into the blocker coming at you.

“WHAT? INTO THE BLOCKER? I THOUGHT THE IDEA WAS TO NOT BE HIT.”

Something I learned long ago is the Bazooka Method: If someone is pointing a bazooka at you, do you run away? No. You run towards them. Often, this works very well for derby. If you run at a blocker, you take away the angle and momentum they were just planning on having to hit you effectively. I don’t want to give blockers wind up space. I tend to run right at solo blockers and use their bodies to get around safely. They can’t hit me as well, and their team mates often back off a bit because if they don’t time their own hit right, they’ll take out their team mate instead of me.

Back to the shape thing: I have always thought about moving my body differently but never could words as to why things worked. I was chatting at the jammers I coach, and I had the epiphany that our jammers were coming in as rectangles to the pack (we usually say square, but that implies that they are compact). I explained that sometimes we need to make ourselves triangles, lines, or half-moons. Looking at how blockers are set, and how we can shape our bodies to slide through seams at angles or move past blockers while not taking too hard of a blow.

Next time you’re on the jam line, look at the blockers and look at how they are shaped, and how you can counter the shape with your own. Triangles to lean against triangles, half-moons help against parallelograms, lines are effective between to squares, circles can go under triangles.

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

Move your body in different ways and practice with intent to do something different than normal.

Look at the world around you

Look at the scoreboard, the penalty box, the other jammer before and throughout the jam. Do a quick rundown of your ideal jam in your head. Keep tabs the whole time.

Where you are in the game, the score, how many timeouts you have left, and who is in the penalty box should all factor into your call off strategy. Make sure you talk to your coaches before the game to know whether you are playing a long game or a hit & quit strategy. There are going to be times that you don’t immediately call it off if the other jammer escapes and you will not always be to see your bench coach (or have a bench coach to look at). You should also know what the plan is as far as springing people from the box.

Note: Your blockers should be aware of goals too (go back to the whole “talk to the blockers” thing).

When you are in a jam it is easy to get tunnel vision, it is easy to forget that the rest of the world exists. I joke that I am best when my FoF (Fight or Flight) kicks in, which usually happens around the end of the first period from cardio exhaustion. When FoF hits, our bodies no longer think about the tools, we just utilize them to get the hell out of a stressful situation (the pack). Without practice, this can mean our field of vision narrows instead of widens, and we may go into ‘default’ mode which often means your oldest tricks and not always your best moves.

“Head up” is said almost as often as “get lower” in roller derby, and for good reason. If you’re in the Sad Place and looking at your feet as you grind away, you’re not going to see your offense coming in to disrupt the tripod. If you’re so focused on that gap that currently exists in lane three as you approach the pack, you won’t notice that your friends are holding a SWEET pick on the inside line to let you jump the apex. If we default to our old habits, we become predictable.

How do we practice widening our view? Do it in your every day life. When you’re walking through the grocery store, use your periphery vision to calculate the rate of speed of other shoppers, and how to maneuver safely through the little old ladies navigating the spice aisle. Take note of shoes people are wearing without looking at their feet, or how many kids are running past you without looking directly to count. When you are at practice doing drills, be mentally active throughout. If you’re waiting for your next turn to go, watch the movement of your blockers to understand their speeds and accelerations. If you are in a paceline, do check ins with everyone’s pace, how everyone is standing, and how players move when their endurance is lower.

Always be looking around you. Always be making note. Always be calculating. At first it will be a conscious decision, but after a while it will become second nature. Then when you’re on the track, you won’t have to pull your head out of a tripod, you’ll already know that your offense is coming on the outside line, so you can disengage and dart to safety.

How do practice incorporating more tools? Repetition repetition. Do the footwork drills. Do them again. Do them faster. Do them slower. Do them on shoes. Do them whenever you can. Eventually your body will just incorporate the footwork into your regular movements and you’ll find yourself popping out of packs in ways you didn’t know possible.

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Dziubinski just can’t help smiling sometimes. Photo by Ken LeBleu

Jamming is hard. If you’re a week into playing or 10 years, it never really gets easier. We are in a constant state of flux. Jammers improve so blockers change tactics. Jammers learn how to deal with the tactics, and new shapes and strategies emerge. The biggest lesson I learned this year is that I will always have to work to be stronger, faster, and braver. I also learned that the only constant in derby: is change. Go with it, don’t resist it. Always be learning, always be listening, always be adapting, but mostly: always be loving it.

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

 

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

 

The Greatness of MRDWC 2018 Barcelona

My second Men’s Roller Derby World Cup is in the books and at the end of everything, all I can think is “How long until St. Louis?” In Calgary, I was there as a spectator, vendor, and sponsor. This time I was chosen to announce. I wanted to recap what I experienced this weekend and why I loved the event so much. This was, legitimately, the best tournament I have attended to date. There is a lot of negative energy being thrown around and I am sad that it overshadows all the amazing things that occurred for a week in Barcelona.

So I’m going to run down what made things amazing and then at the end, I’ve got my own list of superlatives. Quad Skate Shop had their own team of amazing people that they awarded things to, but I think some others need some recognition.

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Photo by NSP 189 https://www.facebook.com/nsp189/

The Streaming Crew and Master of Puffins

She mastered the heck out of those Puffins!! The streaming crew for MRDWC was absolutely outstanding. Every time the production quality gets better. Our crew was relentless, and our producer diligent (but with a smile). All those great replays you saw throughout the weekend was thanks to them. As the weekend went on we think they started going stir crazy for all those amazing ‘break-dancing’ replays we got … the one of Mr Testosterone was a personal favorite.

The volunteers started delivering food and coffee to them because we all realized that while the announcers got to take a break – they never did. Stat Man helped to keep the stream alive and fix the bugs when they came through; the stream would not have survived without him and his crew!

Thanks to VMIX.com for the software that got it done. You can go back and watch replays at https://solidsport.com/mrdwc. (Note: I have word that games will be edited and renamed later so keep an eye out for that)

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#TeamMouth about to do all the stream calling. It was awesome to work with such an incredible online and live team!

Volunteer Army & Hospitality

Anyone who volunteers at events understands how important volunteer hospitality is. You’re asking people to be in charge of different critical elements of a tournament for up to 14 hours at a time, depending on their position. To ask them to do that without food or drink is ill-advised but not unheard of. Think about doing advanced calculus while on skates, regulating your speed and bursting for upwards of four hours. Do you think you’d be that good at the math a couple hours later if you had no fuel?

So I was thrilled at the coordination of meals, snacks, and beverages. Learning throughout the weekend, they increased their vegan options and labeled gluten-free food. They also had both drip coffee and espresso which we ALL appreciated (even if certain coffee snobs would joke about how the coffee was better in Australia). I mean, the sliced Spanish meat, the veggie paella, the daily croissants. *Sigh* America we need to get our volunteer food game up.

Any time I had a question, all I had to do was find a yellow shirt. Whenever something was going amiss, I only had to look for a volunteer. David Pamies apparently was the mastermind behind most of the event, with support from MRDS Spain, and I am so glad that they were crazy enough to try and pull this all off. At least from the perspective of a participant, the arrangement of managers, leads, and heads helped to keep the event on track the whole weekend. I’m sure there were fires to put out, but the volunteers never panicked.

Even when the espresso machine needed to be descaled.

Also: shoutout to Julia Sleazer who ran #TeamMouth. She had a lot of monkeys to juggle, and despite some really challenging circumstances and difficult situations, she handled all of the things. Also, thank you to Bootiful Banshee for finding Sleazer the proper Rockstars. An unfueled THA is not a happy THA.

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Team Germany fans were amazing! Photo by Olivier Vax Photography https://www.facebook.com/OlivierVaxPhoto/

The Fans

Yo.

Roller derby is nothing without their fans and the World Cup always delivers some of the best. This year teams were not messing around. Mascots were not as prevalent as we were hoping, but the Nederlands did not let us down with their sparkly orange outfits, while the Welsh were yelling something that sounded like the Aussie’s Oi Oi Oi but we never did figure out what it was (we just know they were into it).

Poland, even though they had a hard tournament, were supported with posters and songs about roller derby and food. The announcers decided that next time they shouldn’t be allowed to chant about pierogi unless they are offered some up. The ever popular “REEEEEEAAAA-PER” could be heard throughout the weekend as England battled, but the two best? Finland and Scotland.

So you can imagine how loud the small Track 2 room was when the two fought it out on the final day. Scotland came equipped with an array of general chants to keep the crowd pumped up (and we were wondering if maybe they were taken from other sports, just because of how solid they were). Finland had songs for every one of their jammers as well as some others to sprinkle in. They were a melodic bunch that rarely gave the other team a chance to hype up their own team, so Scotland just had to find the pauses in their rhythm and fill that with the yells of the Highland.

Everything I love about the World Cup happened there as blue and white took on white verse blue, on the blue track that the FIRST MRDWC used in Birmingham. It was two teams, one who had almost upended their bracket, meeting for battle that was fierce, but not ugly. The crowd chanted one after another, they waved their flags and sang their songs. They flinched when Grime hit, and cheered when Keiski jumped. The whole thing just felt right. If I could go back to any game and any atmosphere of the weekend, it would be to see the Power of Scotland face Finland Men’s Roller Derby again, and the fans had a lot to do with that.

 

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Lil Joker of Poland tries to leverage out Silencio of Mexico. Photo by NSP 189

The Competition

This year we had 4 new MRDWC teams: Poland, Philippines, New Zealand, and Colombia. And is the trend, there were skaters who came to MRDWC to play their first full-length MRDA game. While not every team looked as put together as England or Australia, this was the first year that every team at least looked PUT TOGETHER. Even Poland , who did not come out with any wins, had stretches where they were incredibly cohesive and worked as a unit. Every tier of competition has stepped it up. There is no longer such a thing as an easy or assumed win.

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New Zealand’s fearsome Haka set the challenge against all teams. Photo by NSP 189

Now on the higher end, there are more stories. USA was near untouchable again this year, but for the second tournament in a row, England made them work for every point. While Fish swam through packs, Sully moved them, Reaper lept them, Scraplin muppeted around them, but it was Scooby the Pivot that surprised the crowd early on to get the momentum going for England in the final. Canada, who had previously been an assumed feature on the podium, was upended by France in the quarter finals. It was their first time breaking into the Top 4. Meanwhile, Scotland almost caused the upset of the tournament; having the lead on Australia through most of their final game in group play. Power of Scotland made a definitive statement being the only #2 in group stages with a 200+ positive differential; they are making sure no one underestimates them in 2020.

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In one of the best games of the tournament, Canada and France battled by land and by air. Photo by NSP 189

Speaking of Australia, they made sure to keep everyone on the edge of their seat this tournament. They obviously came here with goals, and every time someone tried to thwart them they responded. It was actually pretty incredible to watch, and gave us three of the best games of the tournament.

While everyone had France on their radar, no one considered what power Scotland contained. Jammer penalties struck them down in the end; 10 jammer penalties attributed to their 60 point loss. Mexico had everyone on edge when they took on Canada (twice) but the guys from the Great White North were not looking for a second upset of the weekend.

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Finland is the land of bendy jammers! Track Vader of Belgium tries to stop Junnikkala….Photo by NSP 189 https://www.facebook.com/nsp189/

I have decided that Finland and Argentina have special genetic breeding grounds for jammers, and I fear meeting up with the Welsh blockers in a game because dear jeebus – there were several times where they hit opponents so hard that we heard the thud of their landing at the announcer dias.

Even more incredible is that most of these teams only have practiced together a couple times, and some of them players do not have a team to work with regularly. I keep crossing my fingers that countries that don’t have MRDA will use their national team as a competitive year round (kind of like what Texas Men’s did after State Wars). The 2020 competition is going to be ri-goddamn-diculous if teams continue improving at the rate in which they are.

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Knocked out of bounds, but with style, is YouPiler of the Netherlands. Photo by NSP 189

The Merch

Your team better step its merch game up. I was astounded at the incredible artwork, variety of items, and extra stuff that teams were doing to raise money. England: your Yorkshire tea saved my voice and my energy level on my morning calls. You have converted me. No more English Breakfast at home (I don’t know if I’m giving my Earl Grey yet though).

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Two World Cups worth of shirts. My Team England shirt is missing 😦

The Polish team had a phrase you could say (which they recorded) to earn a 2€ discount. The Philippines were tagging people with stickers at the end, there were handmade Viking like helmets at the Sweden table, Finland’s baseball tee looked impossibly comfy, the Mexico table had upped their game with hoodies, Belgium had shirts with beer or frites on them, and Spain just had an assortment of things that made me wish I had allowed more room in my baggage.

Overall, the teams did an amazing job of providing fans with plenty of things to buy, and I am proud of myself for not dropping 300€ on it all (though I’m sure the teams are sad).

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Official Penguin is watching you. Photo by NSP 189

The Rules

Well at least for a hot second, the rules (and how to understand what they say) was on the mind of everyone. Two very important games had extra jams called for by Head Refs. Like or hate the choices that they made, they were completely within the realm of the ruleset.

Outside of strange game-ending situations, just having a tournament of this size brings rules questions to the forefront of the mind of the general population. From the new hand signals (I saw so many leg blocks called) to questioning the reasoning behind certain calls and no calls, MRDWC gave people [mostly] constructive ways of scrutinizing the ruleset and possible flaws within it.

Don’t mistake me, I know most of the shouting was about the no call back block, the ‘obvious’ cut track, or why someone was or wasn’t ejected from a game due to ‘poor’ officiating … but outside of the fever of gameplay, the conversation tends to be positive.

Spirit of the game and the jersey swap

*Whiny voice* I waaaant this. I wish the jersey swap was an accepted practice among WFTDA skaters because I think there is nothing better than seeing skaters talk with people that impressed them or that they idolize and then GETTING THEIR SHIRT. For skaters, especially from smaller and remote leagues, to get to swap with guys from Australia, France, and the USA, it just raises everyone’s enthusiasm of participation in the game. It makes everyone feel a little special and a little hungrier to get better. If you knew Shrooms was walking around with your jersey on, and you’re from a small town with small derby, it might just compel you to work harder since ‘he’s watching’.

I’ve done one jersey swap since I started playing. My friend Rosie Derivator from Atlanta swapped with me at B Champs last year and MAN did we get a lot of side-eye, shocked looks, and questions. I still wore it during her final game to cheer her on anyway. Having the extra fan in the crowd that gives a f*** about you in particular always feels good.

The only downfall to the jersey swap to the casual observer is that you can never be sure at the after party who is lying.

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Veggie Kray of Scotland was impressive throughout the whole tournament, and Australia gave the crowd nothing but exciting games. Photo by NSP 189

My team selection and superlatives

So, talking about how amazing all the players were this weekend, I decided to make my own charter based on the players. Here were the rules I set for myself: no player that was chosen for the MRDWC team could be selected, and I had to pick only one skater from each team. Yes, that means more than a 20-person charter but I DO WHAT I WANT! I ended up with 8 jammers, 16 blockers, and wow it was difficult to narrow down! I even conferred with the other announcers to get it right. Even with nods to all of these players there are still a TON more that had super successful weekends and should be proud of themselves.

Maybe it does not mean much coming from some American who talks too much on social media, but I feel like more people from this weekend deserve an award.

Best Blocker – Shrooms (Eng)
Best Jammer – Sausarge Rolls (Aus)
Best Triple Threat – El Majestic (Col)
Most Underrated Jammer – Goofy (Ita)
Most Underrated Blocker: U2 (Jpn)
Most Improved – Slaapzak (Ned)
Best Debut – Uncle Dad (Can)
Most Fun to Watch – Omar (Eng)
Dynamic Duo – Ballistic Whistle and Chambers (Aus)
Favorite Comeback Story – Simard (Ire)
Favorite OR Explanations – Shref
Best Almost-Appearance – Roller Polar Bear

Best Dressed Fans: Netherlands
Favorite Uniforms: Spain, Poland, New Zealand, Wales, Columbia
Team to watch for in 2020: Team Belgium
Best “Fun Facts” section of rosters: TIE – Finland and Australia
Best Game of the Tournament: Australia vs France

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Simard became derby famous for breaking his leg at the MRDWC in Birmingham in 2014. He fears no apex, despite. Photo by NSP 189

Khaos Theory Charter of the Tournament:

Mr. Testosterone (Can) Jammer
Lt Damn (Ire) Jammer
Waterman (Eng) Jammer
Yass Lamenace (Fra) Jammer
Animal (Ned) Jammer
Sweet Jackie (Swe) Jammer
Terrell (Phi) Jammer
Lodge (NZ) Jammer
Santoro (Ita) Blocker
Kolehmainen (Fin) Blocker
Baltic Bastard (Ger) Blocker
Sr Kalavera (Esp) Blocker
Rick Rolled (Pol) Blocker
Sosa (Arg) Blocker
Greese Monkey (Aus) Blocker
Veggie Kray (Sco) Blocker
Jamie Davies (Wal) Blocker
Party Boy (Mex) Blocker
Azazel (Col) Blocker
Human Fly (Bel) Blocker
Chuck Breaker (Jpn) Blocker
Karmageddon (Den) Blocker
Zakumi (Chi) Blocker
Tommy Gunn (USA) Blocker

CONGRATS goes out to the QUAD SKATE SHOP Team of the Tournament:
Keiski (Fin) MVP
Fish (Eng) Best Jammer
Optimus Grime (Sco) Jammer
Slinger (Aus) Jammer
Chispa (Arg) Jammer

Scooby Zoom (Eng) Best Blocker
Mecanico (Chi) Blocker
RocknRolla (Col) Blocker
Copter (Aus) Blocker
Cloud Strike (Ire) Blocker
Walker (Can) Blocker
Swift (Wal) Blocker
Naked Alien (Mex) Blocker
Killian Cross (Fra) Blocker

Final standings:

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And the last best thing about Men’s Roller Derby World Cup 2018? 

BEING IN SPAIN

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Myself and Vanilla Vice share a beer on a boat before the festivities and work kicked off

 

More exciting news! Are you from a Baltic State or the West Indies and want to be a part of the 2020 MRDWC? Check out the Baltic States Men’s Roller Derby FB Page or the Team West Indies Men’s Roller Derby FB Page.

 

Thank you again to NSP 189 and Olivier Vax Photography for letting me use the photos in this blog!

The reality of returning to roller derby after injury

They always tell you that coming back from injury is hard. They always tell you to ‘ease in’, ‘listen to your body’, and that ‘it takes time’.

No matter how many times you hear those words, it never truly sinks in until you’re three weeks back into a full derby schedule competing for a travel team position with a D1 league.

August 31, 2015 was my last practice of the season pre-injury. 7 months later I had surgery.

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8 days post ACL reconstruction with hamstring graft. “Gotta be weak before you can be strong”

4 months later I was back on my skates. In another 2 months, I could hit people! But the thing we all dread happened: I incurred a different injury a month after contact clearance.

Luckily, it was a medium sprain and not a major tear. Once I returned home from Europe (it happened on day 3 of a 5 week trip) I was able to secure the blessing from my ortho (as long as I wore my SECOND KNEE & DonJoy when skating), and made my way back into training.

I was lucky. We all say that we’re going to come back quickly, but I actually did. I worked hard, set goals, and was lucky enough not to go through any major set backs.

On January 4, 2017 (with a desire to throw up all over the place), I went back to Tampa Roller Derby for the first practice of the New Year.

The thing about returning from injury [that the non-injured don’t realize] is that you relive your injury over and over again in those first practices. All you think about is “What happens if I feel ______?” and “Oh gosh, that person is coming at me fast”. At some point, you contemplate the injury, and the possibility of re-injuring (especially if you have already experienced a re-injury).

No matter how many people you ask about “How do I conquer the mental hurdle of attacking practice after injury?” you will never find a true answer. You may get those answers in the first paragraph. Maybe someone will talk about how they visualized success (this was something I did), or how they tried to distract themselves through the first practice. There is no trick that I have found to click your mind into being confident returning back to practice.

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I spent my time during injury reffing to keep my skating skills, reflexes, mind, and eyes sharp. Plus, being a Zebra is kind of fun. Photo by Phantom Photographics

Step one to coming back: Don’t beat yourself up for being scared or tentative. That said, if you are SKATING scared, you need to knock it off. Skating scared is how you hurt yourself or someone else. So if you’re on the floor and you can tell that you’re stiff or tentative, remove yourself. Go to the side of the rink, and get your legs under you a bit. There is no shame in nervousness; there is no shame in taking a step back.

The caveat is this: Eventually you have to trust yourself and try. Just like how we all have to be able to define the difference between “injury” and “effort” when it comes to pain; we have to be able to discern trepidation from actual physical inability. Yes, it’s scary. The mind is a powerful place.

I was so scared on my first night of real hitting. I kept thinking about what it felt like for my left leg to be “plucked” when I would hit someone to the outside. My ortho told me to stop being scared and play my sport. I pulled aside a skater who I trusted and asked them if I could hit them a bit at a standstill. It gave me confidence that it wasn’t going to pop at first contact. From there, I moved into the drills. I primarily made hits to the inside, gaining back my confidence.

A team mate told me that I can’t play derby if I’m afraid of hitting. So the next time I was up, breathing steadily, I took my old inside position, and just played roller derby. Did I hit as hard as I used to? No. But with each repetition I gained confidence. With each scenario, I focused more on derby, less on my leg. Trust your PT, trust your training.

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Don’t trust your quad strength? Add in this exercise! Increase the height continuously. I love using treadmills, they’re tall, they have tread on the sides, and you can increase the incline for more challenge

The thing they don’t tell you is how much it’s going to hurt to come back.

Not your injury (well maybe your injury depending on circumstances), but everything else. You see, I spent 6 years getting beat up by my friends 3-5x a week. I started with lower impacts at the beginning, and worked my way into D1 leagues. The hits are heavy and precise [mostly]. Coming back from injury, I hopped right back into the level I left, there was not a gradual ramp up. I went from 0 impact to 100% impact.

Yes, you get bruises. We’ve all seen the grape-shaped prints of our friends blushing into a nice purple shade on our arms and shoulders. We all get pad burns from our team mate’s Velcro. We get bumped in the nose by a stray helmet. These are typical and expected.

What I didn’t expect was how sore my chest and shoulders were from being braced. I have spent my off time doing push-ups, pull-ups, bench press, and every other shoulder/back/chest exercise possible. It didn’t matter. Also, the debilitating stiffness brought on from absorbing impact as a blocker seeped its way into my back, core, hips, and legs. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve run, deadlifted, squatted, sprinted, or jumped. There is no way to train on your own for being run into incessantly by world class blockers and jammers.

I actually just recommended to a team mate who is 12 weeks post op, that she should get a foam bat and she and her girlfriend could take turns hitting each other with to prepare them to come back to derby! Could be a fun destresser, and no foam bat is going to hit anywhere as hard as Tazmaniac coming in full steam.

What else I didn’t expect is the continued feeling of dehydration, mental exhaustion, and hunger. I’ve been on Team Always Hungry for a long time now, but my body is craving more food than ever. Even when I drink a gallon of water a day, it doesn’t seem to be enough. My body can’t seem to get enough protein and good fats! I crave them always.

I knew my body was going to experience some bumps, but after 2 weeks of 3-4 practices of 2-3 hours each, I feel like I have been run over by a truck. I may have been. Her name may have been Dakota Dynamite actually….

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Tampa always relies heavily on bracing and positional blocking. It’s up to one or two blockers to absorb the impact of full steam jammers. Photo by Phantom Photographics

They also don’t mention that you ARE going to injure something else. At least, you’re very likely to. Will it be as serious as your first injury? Probably not. Even ‘easing’ into full game play, there is an element of ‘jumping ahead that happens’. I was not going to spend 6 years getting back to D1 level play, but those 6 years had prepped my body, joints, and muscles for it.

If you had a knee or ankle injury, prepare for a hip flexor, hamstring, or groin muscle to be in pain. If you had a shoulder injury, chances are your other shoulder is going to ache more than usual. It’s the nature of imbalance. Subconsciously, we favor. Even when we’re diligent, it’s common to pull something else. Your whole body tightens unless you are forever diligent. If your calf and feet are tight, your hip flexor may pull. If your hips are tight, your hamstring may suffer.

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A scene all too familiar to many of us. At least I had SKIN WARS to keep me company.

The social side of returning to derby can be odd.

Some people will come back to cheering crowds of friends, and open arms. They will have felt missed, and like their team was with them through the whole recovery process. Most of us, somewhere along the way, lose touch with people and leagues a little bit. Sometimes we do on purpose.

I know many people that have said to me, “Wow! I can’t believe how involved you’ve been while injured” (I jam coached Molly Rogers RG, reffed, and announced) “I couldn’t do it when I was injured, I was too sad.”  Pulling away was their defense mechanism. For me, being involved was my way to keep sane.

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I went to Sting of the Hill to ref, but when I had free time, I got to work with the golden voice of Sweet Willy T. Staying involved kept me happy.

Most of us actually come back to leagues that are happy to have us, and excited we’re back but they’re not throwing parties for us. You should not anticipate a great homecoming or outpouring of affection. Know that people want you there, but they are not going to fall all over you upon your return. For me, it felt like I was transferring in again. I had been gone for almost a year and a half, living on the other side of the state. Many people were still there, but many were new. I have had to re-earn trust, demonstrate commitment, and show that I am healthy and able-bodied.

Just because you had to earn respect among your peers once, don’t think you don’t have to do it again. Just because you were on the A team before, don’t expect them to just save you a space; always expect to work for it.

Be hungry to work for it.

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From the moment I found out I was going to have surgery, I focused on the end goal of returning to play. Stay hungry.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from coming back it’s that you’ve gotta have a plan of recovery for after each practice day. Incorporate yoga before you come back. If you’re tight when you show up, it’s just going to get worse for you. Keep doing your PT every day. Incorporate new PT as your back, hips, and legs tighten and react to the new world of pain. Drink all the water now, so that you’re already hydrated when you get to practice down the road. If you haven’t flipped or rotated your mattress in a while – DO IT. It can make a world of difference. If your pillow is too small or flat, go to Marshall’s and nab a new one. It’s worth the $15.

Get a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, and make a foam roller out of PVC pipe. Use them liberally.

Use this time to get new gear. What hasn’t been replaced in a year? Get a new one. Just do it. Also, pick up some compression gear and impact gear; obviously I’m a big fan of Steaks Roller Derby Accessories. If you have been contemplating shin guards, go check out the soccer goodness of ArmourFlex Sport.

Cross train. Pick up a sport other than derby. Be smart about your choices, but doing something more than just skating will help your body be strong in many ways. Weights. Plyo. Sprints. Other sport. (I am fond of rock climbing personally)

Eat after practice (your body needs the supplies to rebuild your muscles), and eat in the morning (your body needs to be fed after the 7-9 hours of rest). Meal supplements, post-workout shakes, electrolyte support, multivitamins, other vitamins … you may think it’s hogwash, but I can promise you it helps. Your body needs calories, protein, fats, fiber, and carbs to keep up your energy and performance. Drop me a line at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com if you want to talk nutrition and supplement support.

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Most importantly:

EMBRACE THE FUN OF THE GAME.

I really feel that those of us who have come back from long injuries have a really great appreciation for the sport that we get to play, and we should cherish each moment that we get to execute on roller skates. I know that once my nerves about my leg subsided, I settled into really loving and executing. Yes, I still get frustrated with myself, but I am also way quicker to laugh and smile when my team mate levels me or pushes me out of bounds.

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The game and the people in it are way too much fun to be a seriouz face all the time! Laugh and love your sport!

 

I love this game. You have to love it to suffer an injury and spend the next year and a half obsessing to jump back in. Good luck, Fellow Gimps! If you have anything you’ve learned along the way, or tips on how you came back to sport from injury, please share in the comments!!

Do you love Khaos Theory? I need your help to keep it running! I pay for it out of pocket and the domain name is coming up for renewal! Want to help keep it going?
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Thank you, Phantom Photographics, for the pictures used in this blog. (Go buy photos or a shirt from him)

Phantom Photograhics

 

 

Building more than “just” a B-Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positive Spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building Cultural Value in Your Other Teams

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

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

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

Yup. Your B Team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practice Spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

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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.

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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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