You do not suck at derby

 

Okay, you may not be that great at derby right now, but that doesn’t mean you’ll stay that way forever.

In 10 years of skating, very little has come to me easily. My first few years, I hit every

first tally bout

Version 2 of the terrible skates. Yes, those are combat boot skates. 

setback. Terrible skates, knee injury, new job that kept me from all but one practice a week. But I kept pushing forward because this was a sport I loved, and, like so many other skaters, this was something I could call mine.

 

I bought better skates, rehabbed my knee, and took a new job in new city with a bigger league. Even within that league, I was nothing special. I had some experience under my belt, but there were girls going straight from tryouts to All-Star practice. This is when I learned two very important lessons.

1. Experience does not equal skill. You can show up to every practice from now until the end of time, but unless you work to perfect the skills learned in practice, you will continue to linger.

2. Skill does not equal experience. You can have all the amazing skate skills in the world, and still be a crappy derby player. Skills do not teach you how to effectively communicate with your teammates or how to play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Only practice can make that happen.

Little by little, I kept inching forward. By the time I moved again, I was good enough to try out for my first WFTDA league and be drafted onto a home team. The excitement slowly started to dim, though. Here I was, surrounded by some of the most amazing players I had ever met, but with every new practice there seemed to be so much I couldn’t do. I felt lost. Part of the doubt was fed by a hyper-critical teammate, but the rest was in my head. No one was really holding me back except me.

A perfect example was when I was attending a clinic, and the instructors asked us to split up into beginner, intermediate, and advanced groups. I shuffled over to the intermediate group. Halfway through the day, a teammate in the advanced group asked who told me to go to intermediate. No one, I told her, this was just where I thought I was supposed to be. Judging from her wide-eyed expression, my words made no sense to her. She felt I should have chosen advanced. In retrospect, she was right. That isn’t to say I was some super, awesome, amazing skater, but I had been playing long enough to push myself to that level.

When I moved back to my second league, I still felt trapped in my head. I was repeatedly told to be more aggressive. What does that even mean? Was I supposed to hostile? Pushy? That didn’t seem right. I was clearly missing something.

Things didn’t start clicking until a few other clinics when instructors told me to take decisive actions. Now that made more sense. That’s about being more mentally present on the track and reacting to plays like I intend to take action.

This seems to be working for me this season. I go into every practice focused. It’s less about trying to make myself look like a badass skater and more about finding opportunities to work better with my teammates.

You may be wondering what this means for you. It means you shouldn’t give up. It is perfectly acceptable not to be great at derby right now. That does not mean you suck. It just means your still improving.

Keep going to practice, find new derby clinics to attend, cross train, and most importantly stay present.

 

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Talking derby with the media

As derby players, we love to see our sport featured on the news or in magazines. Every league should be prepared for interviews and the differences between television and print.

Television interviews are very visual. Yes, what you say is important, but viewers pass judgment more quickly on how you look rather than how you sound. (You have no idea how many phone calls I’ve taken and emails I’ve read from people upset about an anchor’s new haircut.) In newspaper and magazine interviews, how you sound will outweigh how you look. With those points in mind, here are some ways your league can be prepared for both.

  1. Decide on proper dress. talking to jcl
  • Studio interview: If for instance, your league is focused on serious athleticism and playing tournaments, it may not be a good idea to show up to a television interview in a tutu. I’m not bashing tutus. They have their place. That place is not in serious interviews, though. I would recommend wearing your jersey and athletic pants or shorts.
  • Taped television interview: Someone is coming to practice to do a story on your league. At the very least, I would recommend having everyone wear shirts with the league’s logo, but jerseys look best.
  • Print interviews: It depends on if a photographer will be present. If a photographer will be coming to practice, refer to the in-studio interview example. No photographer? Wear whatever you like.

2. Know ALL the details. If you’re promoting a bout, make sure you know the time it starts, where tickets can be purchased and how much they cost. Know if a charity is benefiting from the proceeds or if there will be special activities for children. If you’re worried about remembering all of that, keep a cheat sheet handy.

3. Speak in complete sentences. Giving one word answers doesn’t give the reader or viewer much information. Your words should tell the story.

4. Watch your posture. Standing or sitting up straight implies confidence.

5. Be prepared for stupid questions. I know we’re all sick of being asked if there’s a ball or if we punch each other, but you will get asked those questions. Instead of rolling your eyes, think of a quick and clever answer. Follow it up with examples of what the sport is like now. Recently, I gave an interview for my league where the reporter refered to derby as violent. While answering his question, I pointed out that it isn’t a violent sport, but a contact sport.

6. Offer your own video and pictures. This applies to all three kinds of interviews. Ask if the reporter would like to use bout pictures or video. Make sure you have the rights from the photographer and that the photographer is credited.

7. Makeup. Many television stations use high definition cameras. This means you’ll look like you do in person. While anchors and reporters panic at the realization someone will notice a scar or wrinkle, I can’t imagine this being a problem for most derby players since we’re used to people seeing us sweaty and shiny. If you’re still worried, slap on a little extra makeup. I am the palest Floridian you will ever meet. If I have to be in front of the camera, I use more blush and eye makeup to avoid looking like Sean Patrick Flanery in “Powder.”

8. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” A reporter says she wants to do a story on your league, but you aren’t comfortable with the story idea. It’s okay to say no. Free publicity is appreciated, but ultimately it’s up to the league to decide how it wants to be publicly perceived.

I wrote this for Lead Jammer Magazine ages ago as a guide to help other leagues with PR. Obviously, not every little thing will work for your league, but I hope it gives you a start.

 

Protecting your privacy

When I introduce myself in a derby setting to someone who doesn’t play, NSO or volunteer, there is a question that always gets asked. So what’s your real name? I usually tell people that my real name is hard to remember and pronounce (which is true) or that Eenie Meanie is the only name that matters right now. If they really push it, I ramble off my full name really fast and don’t repeat it (it’s ridiculously long).

paranoidI’m very protective of my personal identity. Why the paranoia? Working in television as a news producer has shown me how scary some people can be. Let me tell you about how much fun it is to take the phone call from the guy who thinks your news station is spying on him through his television set or the woman who is mad at you for a story you ran and screams “it’s on” before dramatically hanging up. These people sometimes show up at the station. As public figures, it isn’t a stretch for this to happen to us (except that we don’t run news stories, but someone could get mad we lost/won a game).

I’m not saying we should avoid fans (I’ll discuss the difference between fans and stalkers next week) or shut down our Facebook and Twitter accounts, but I am saying we should be prepared.  Now is a good time to start thinking about how much personal information you are willing to share with fans.

I have a Facebook page that is completely dedicated to my derby life. It’s where I share my blog links and upcoming events, brag on teammates, etc. All my derby shenanigans go there. My personal account is mostly for family and friends and some fans who have become friends. If someone likes me as an athlete, that’s great, but not everyone needs to know where my family lives or who my old classmates are or what grocery store I use.

You don’t need to be paranoid, but you should establish what is public knowledge and what is better left private.

 

Insert Balls Joke Here

While my blog post this week will focus on derby names and privacy, I wanted to share this fantastic post from another blogger. Seriously, if you’re trying to build up your core for derby. She has some amazeballs ideas. (Yes, I said amazeballs, but it actually works in this instance. Don’t judge me.)

Insert Balls Joke Here.

Learning after losing

why do we fall

For those of you who haven’t seen Batman Begins, little Bruce Wayne falls down an old well (and discovers he’s terribly afraid of bats flying at his face). After his dad hauls him out, he comforts Future Batman by asking, “Why do we fall?” Answer: to learn to get back up.

My home team, the Psych Ward Sirens, lost their April 20th bout against fellow home team, the Bayou City Bosses. It was a great game with good plays on both sides. Ultimately, the Bosses came out ahead. This was the Sirens’ first loss in a long time.

photobombAt our next practice, the captains took some time to let us vent and reflect on the game. While many of us were understandably frustrated, none of us blamed another teammate for the loss. The majority named things they would have changed in their own game play, certain skills they wanted to work on, etc. We went around in a circle, each player taking a minute to voice her opinion until it came around to a member of our bench coach team, Drrty Sanchez. He reminded us that it’s okay to lose as long as we learn something from it.

Think back to the last time your team lost. I’ve already covered how to lose with grace, but let’s talk about what happens after you lose. What are you, as an individual or as a team, learning from each loss? There are a few questions you need to answer in order to move on.

  1. What went wrong? It could be that your team is lacking somewhere.  Narrow down what cost you the game. Notice I said what cost you the game and not who. Never blame a loss on a player. She is one part of a whole. Part of our Sirens’ chant is together we stand, together we fall. You are a team. You win as a team, and you lose as a team. While you may have a star player or two, it takes an entire team to get somewhere.
  2. How can you improve? Whether it’s developing new strategies or improving endurance, figure out how to fix what went wrong in the last bout.
  3. What are your individual goals? Yes, you win and lose as a team, but you also need to be doing things on your own to be a better team player. Declare to your team where you as a player fell short and what you are going to do to improve before the next game.

One loss does not mean the end for you or your team. You’ve begun your derby journey, and you had a fall. Now it’s time to return and rise.

rise

Graphic by Maul McCartney

Shout out to my teammate Maul McCartney for making this sweet graphic.

Be aggressive! B-e aggressive?

When I tell people I play roller derby, one of the frequent reactions I get is “but you don’t seem that aggressive.” I also get “but you’re so small”, “you elbow people” and most of the same reactions other players posted on my Facebook page. But the aggression thing really seems to trip up people. Am I likely to attack or act hostile without provocation? No, not really. Yet the word aggression also means assertive, determined and energized.

I think some of the misconceptions about derby girls can be blamed on aggression in women so often being interpreted as anger or bitchiness. When I was a news producer, I had to act aggressively to get stories written and posted to the web and make sure my newscast went on air with as few mistakes as possible. This didn’t mean I ran around yelling and physically attacking reporters, anchors and crew (I may have mumbled threats under my breath). It just meant I took decisive action.

Jekyll & Heidi even jams aggressively

Jekyll & Heidi even jams aggressively

On the track, I’ve seen many different forms of aggression. There are those who yell, there are those who hit effectively but without purpose, there are those who hit rarely but do so with purpose, and there are those who have found the perfect marriage of thought and action. There are also bitches. (I’ve written how to deal with those here.)

To play derby, you have to be aggressive. When a teammate or coach tells you to get more aggressive, they aren’t telling you to be mean. You just need to work on your strategy. Make strong hits frequently and with purpose. When you yell, don’t just yell a player’s name, actually communicate with your teammates what needs to be done.

Does this mean I have my act together? Heck no! One of my captains and I just had a meeting where I was told to be a little less Eenie and a little more Meanie.

Yes, derby players can be nice, while also being aggressive. We should always be assertive, determined and energized.

In my next few posts, I’d like to delve into more misconceptions about derby girls. Leave me a comment with some of the strange things people have said to you when you told them you played.

Also, special shout-out to my readers from Northside Fury who said “hi” after Saturday’s bout. Sorry if I seemed out of it, but my brain momentarily turned into Sally Field and screamed, “You like me! You really, really like me!” Thanks for reading.

Derby on the tube

“The Bachelor”, “Bunheads” and “Bones”. Within a week, all three shows featured roller derby. They aren’t the first shows to use our sport to boost ratings.

“CSI: Miami” and “Psych” both featured felonious derby girls. Reality shows like “Anthony

Love "Psych" but don't love this episode.

Love “Psych” but don’t love this episode.

Bourdain: No Reservations” and “Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy” saw both hosts attempting to skate. Larry gets bonus points for actually talking with a flat track team: Sin City Roller Girls. Bourdain tried with the LA Derby Dolls, the team also used in “Bunheads”, “Bones” and “The Bachelor.” (Seriously, do casting agents not realize other derby teams exist?)

It seems Hollywood is cashing in on the derby “trend”. I put trend in quotes because that’s certainly how they seem to treat it. They aren’t treating it like a sport. If they treated it like a sport, the writers would read the rule book, or actually attend a bout. Producers would say, “Hey, flat track is the more prevalent version of roller derby being played around the world. Let’s use that instead of banked.” But none of this is happening, and it’s up to us, the players, to correct all the misconceptions these shows raise.

  • Most teams aren’t banked track.
  • We don’t throw elbows or punch each other in the face.
  • It isn’t staged.
  • I don’t know where the writers for “Psych” got the idea to use tape like that. No team I’ve ever heard of uses tape to mark a player for a hit.
  • Yes, we get hurt sometimes, but we wear safety gear and have rules to prevent a lot of injuries. The contestant on “The Bachelor” should have been wearing a mouth guard. I have no clue how that one chick on “Bones” ended up with a scalp laceration. Was she not wearing a helmet?
  • No, we don’t run around burglarizing stores and killing people (“Psych”). We work, go to school, raise families, and go to practice. Who has time to commit felonies?
  • Yes, I’ve heard of players stealing money from the team (“Bones”), but none of those cases ended with a player being stabbed in the eye. They’re just kicked off the team and sometimes prosecuted.

It’s easy to get upset when people ask if roller derby is like this show or that movie, even I get annoyed. But you have to view it as a conversation starter. Don’t shut down the conversation with a bunch of snarky comments. Maybe the person asking you is actually interested in derby, but wants to make sure she/he isn’t committing to something as crazy as what they’ve seen on TV. Take a moment to explain the realities of derby and encourage them to come to a bout to see for themselves.

Also, I’m not mad at the LA Derby Dolls. Whatever they’re doing seems to be working for them. Those women pack the house for bouts and attract some great sponsors. They are a team located in LA and are obviously known in the television community. The team is only taking advantage of an opportunity that most of us would jump at as well.

monster highHonorable mentions go to “My Little Pony”, and “Monster High” for portraying derby in a more favorable light. Since junior derby is growing, I think it’s great that young skaters have their own conversation starters with these shows. I know that “Weeds” and “Bunheads”also featured junior derby (banked track), which is great for some of the older juniors.

I would like to mention one show that promotes derby in the quietest of ways. Every once in a while you can catch Abby on “NCIS” sporting a Psych Ward Sirens shirt. I’m a Siren, and this makes me insanely happy. The show doesn’t use us as a trope. We aren’t a punch line. We’re just there.

abby-sciuto-and-psych-ward-sirens-shirt-gallery

There are some shows I haven’t mentioned that used roller derby. “Futurama” and “King of the Hill” come to mind. Feel free to add any shows you know of in the comments. Also, what’s your take on derby being used on TV? Does it help or hurt us?

Oh, and one little thing I forgot to mention before. I actually started playing roller derby because of a short-live reality show called “Rollergirls”. It only had one season and aired on A&E. Because of that show, two of my friends decided to start Panama City Roller Derby. Sometimes good things come out of TV shows.
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