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.



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.


Yeah, You’re Hot: Avoiding heat exhaustion

It’s summer, and it’s super hot outside. As athletes, we’re used to pushing through tough practices and games. It doesn’t matter if we’re injured or getting over an illness. We will push through because we don’t want to let down our teams. While heat may not seem like a big deal, allowing yourself to keep playing through extreme conditions and ignoring warning signs could could put your health at serious risk.

Recently, some of my teammates and I went to a skate clinic in a warehouse without air conditioning. Since our clinic was going to last several hours during the hottest part of the day, the trainer gathered us around a sign that listed the symptoms of heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion signs and symptoms include:

  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heavy sweating often accompanied by cold, clammy skin
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Pale or flushed face
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headache
  • Weakness or fatigue

(Source: The Mayo Clinic)

Even though I had hydrated, the odds were stacked against me that day. Sweating constantly, not getting enough sleep, and being on my cycle did me no favors. Everything in me said to keep going, but I could feel my reaction time slowing and my vision beginning to blur. Even thinking became difficult. I pulled off. It was frustrating to spend the last bit of the clinic off skates, but I know it was best for my health.

In derby, we don’t always have the best pick of practice and bout venues or the best times to hold them. Since cancelling isn’t really an option, this is a compilation of research to help you and your team stay safe.

Hydration: Exactly how much water you should drink varies a bit depending on your size. Most experts agree you should drink all the waterconsume one half and one whole ounce of water for each pound of body weight every day.

Acclimation: If you know you are going to be practicing or bouting in a hot space, give yourself about 10 days to acclimate yourself. You could start with some light jogging during a hot part of the day, next try skating geared up for a short amount of time, gradually increase the amount of time and distance on skates. Listen to your body during this time. If you start to feel dizzy, stop. Try again tomorrow. (Source: University Interscholastic League)

Clothing: Make sure to wear breathable materials that allow for sweat to evaporate. Light and loose materials tend to be best. My hockey helmet makes me pour sweat, so I usually bring a few bandannas to wear under it at practice. I’ll switch them out as they get soaked.

So you’ve taken all the right measures to stay hydrated and keep your body cool, but sometimes, just like for me in Atlanta, the odds are stacked against you. Some medications or health conditions can also put you at risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

  • Medications. Anything that narrows your blood vessels (vasoconstrictors), regulates your blood pressure by blocking adrenaline (beta blockers), rids your body of sodium and water (diuretics), or reduces psychiatric symptoms (antidepressants or antipsychotics).
  • Stimulants for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) make you more vulnerable to heatstroke.
  • Health conditions. Certain chronic illnesses, such as heart or lung disease, might increase your risk of heatstroke.

(Source: Mayo Clinic)

Make sure to talk to your doctor about your training regime before starting new medications.

ice pack placement

If you notice a player starts looking rough, have her sit down and take off her helmet. Heat escapes through the top of the head, so this will help to cool her down. You can bring her core temperature back down by placing ice packs on her neck, under each armpit, and on her groin. (Source: The Mayo Clinic)

Even if you aren’t approaching a heat stroke, an ice pack, cooling towel, or cloth dipped in ice water on the back of the neck between jams feels amazing. I’ve used these during hot bouts and practices, and it’s the next best thing to A/C.

For junior derby players, the Centers for Disease Control recommend they drink water before exercise and every 20 to 30 minutes during exercise. After about an hour of skating, give them something with electrolytes.

Call for medical help immediately if a player isn’t responding well, especially if she stops sweating, slurs her speech or seems confused. Heat stroke can take a toll on your brain and other major internal organs. It isn’t something to ignore.

Unbreakable: Strengthening your ankles for derby

I have seen three skaters from three different leagues break their ankles during a bout in the last two months. Injuries are

It's worth mentioning that the skater's knee in the bottom left picture is straight. It's her foot that's crooked.

It’s worth mentioning that the skater’s knee in the bottom left picture is straight. It’s her foot that’s crooked. And the skater in the bottom right was osteoporotic due to being post-partum and nursing.

nothing new for derby players. It is a contact sport. But I think in the process of acknowledging that fact, we forget that there are measures we can take to prevent some of them.

After one of my teammates broke her ankle, Jerry Seltzer was kind enough to donate to her GoFundMe. He also expressed worry about our ankles in a blog post. His point that these didn’t happen as often in his day should be taken with a grain of salt. Skating clockwise could certainly have something to do with the increase in ankle breaks, but so could our lower skate boots, more emphasis on plow stops, and an overall lack of ankle strength.

Our ankles need to be stronger to play this kind of derby. We rely on them for so much. Since ankle injuries are the new knee injury, let’s talk about prevention.

Cross training is imperative to being a successful derby player. We lift weights, run, swim; all to make us more effective on the track. So why are we neglecting our ankles?

Far better qualified bloggers have posted on the benefits and how-tos of ankle strengthening. After coming back from my stupid ankle injury (I feel backwards during a drill), I struggled for months with one ankle that felt significantly weaker. Thank the derby goddess for Booty Quake and her feet and ankle prehab post. Using some of her exercises over a few months had my ankle better than ever. I have since scared many coaches and teammates with my ability to seemingly roll my ankle and keep going.

IMG_7290Since then, Treblemaker has also written two posts with great advice to make us less susceptible to injury. One is dedicated to building bullet proof ankles. Here’s another on strengthening feet. You can include these exercises in your team warm up or simply do them on your own.

Will this guarantee that you never break your ankle? Probably not. There’s always the chance that someone will fall on you or you’ll trip and land weird. Stuff happens. We play a contact sport and risk of injury comes with that, but going the extra mile to strengthen our ankles and feet can certainly prevent a good deal.

(Special thanks to all the skaters who contributed pictures to this post. Also, please consider contributing to the GoFundMes to help JBR, Arme Smash, and Ashinator pay for their medical costs.)

Crossovers: Work Smarter not Harder

When you first learn the basics of roller derby, crossovers are usually taught how you see in this video: bend your knees and cross one foot over the other. This was okay when we were doing 25 in 5, but even then, I felt like I was working too hard at it.

After some digging on the Internet and talking to other derby players, I realized that I needed to push more with my legs. Gypsy Lucas does a better job of explaining the push with your legs in this video. But I still felt like I was doing something wrong. Even in good physical condition, I felt way too tired after completing 25 in 5. (Hey, remember when that was all we had to do? Oh, nostalgia.)

It wasn’t until I moved to Houston that I realized what I was doing wrong. It turns out that I was fighting my entire body. From my head to my feet, every crossover was a battle between muscle memory and physics.

While working with a speed skate teacher, I was told that my shoulders were too tight and I wasn’t pushing with equal strength in each leg. She taught me to count when I’m crossing over. This ensures I’m using equal strength. If you’ve ever taken music lessons, it’s similar to counting rhythm. When one leg pushes for a 1-2-3 count and the other leg only gets to two, then I obviously need to lengthen the push on the side only reaching two.

I really like this video because it breaks down crossovers and gives a few drill ideas. Of course, the first part of the video talks about inlines, but the basic principles hold true. Watch how low the skaters get. This increases their ability to push, which increases speed.

After building speed, a lot of skaters actually slow themselves down during laps. That’s why you hear vets preach skating the diamond or sevens or whatever name you call it. This keeps your legs moving and prevents you from slowing yourself down by coasting. The other way skaters slow them selves down is by standing up. Stay low during your laps. If you need to raise your upper body to breath, do it in the straightaways and only for a little bit. As soon as you approach the turn, dip back down.

Notice how Jammunition's shoulders are low, her upper body is slightly turned into the curve of the track, and her arms are pumping like a runner's.

Notice how Jammunition’s shoulders are low, her upper body is slightly turned into the curve of the track, and her arms are pumping like a runner’s.

Another thing you want to pay attention to: your shoulders. I was told that I had a tendency to put my shoulders in weird positions, tensing one and leaving the other limp. I learned to keep my shoulders low and in a straight line. If you’ve ever run with tense shoulders you know how sore they feel and how much more exhausted you are after the run. Tense shoulders cause you to exert more energy than necessary.

Speaking of running, when executing crossovers, keep those arms moving. Pump them like you would when running. Leaving your arms limp or tucking them in front of your body causes your body to exert more energy. Remember, we’re working smarter, not harder.

One last thing to keep in mind is lean into of the turn. This is basic physics. If your upper body is leaning away from the turn, it throws off your balance. I always tell new skaters to pretend they are giving the turn a big hug. They have to turn their shoulders towards the curve of the track and hold their arms out in an invisible hug until they build the muscle memory. It may seem silly, but it works.

Perfecting crossovers takes time. I’m still working on it every chance I get. Watch videos, take speed classes if they’re available, get someone to record you doing laps. Build the level of skill in your own league, so you have accountability partners. It all helps.

For your (mental) health

Photo by Five5Six Design

I made the above graphic this summer for the Savannah Derby Devils’ Instagram. It’s part of the Recspo series (a little inspiration for rec leaguers). — Photo by Five5Six Design

In derby, we talk about health a lot. What foods we eat, exercises we use, etc. One thing that doesn’t get mentioned as often is mental health.

Sure, we talk about how derby has given us confidence or made us proud of our bodies, but what happens when derby doesn’t fill the gaps? Like it or not, sometimes derby doesn’t fix everything. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, it can even hurt.

I deal with depression. Derby has done wonders for my mental health, but it’s also put me in some bad spots. It’s taken me years to figure out how to deal with the bad spots. I haven’t figured it all out. There are still bad days, weeks, and sometimes months. But I thought I’d share some things that seem to work.

1. Find an Accountabilibuddy. Find someone on your team who knows what you’re dealing with. Talk to them. Let them know when your struggling. Maybe they’re dealing with something similar, and you both can work through the issues together. Sometimes, having someone to watch out for you and recognize when you aren’t yourself can keep your mental state from degrading more.

2. Get some sleep. The training schedule and all the extra events that you need to participate in for derby can wear you down. All those commitments may be robbing you of sleep. You don’t think as clearly when you’re sleep deprived. That can make your brain play tricks on you. Clearing time to get some quality sleep, even if you think you’ve been sleeping okay, can do so much to get your brain back on track. (Here’s a good article with sleep facts that may surprise you.)

3. Say no. You hear about burnout towards the end of the season. It’s commonplace, but it doesn’t have to happen to you. If you realize you’re overcommitting, learn to say no. This one is hard for me and something I constantly have to remind myself of. Decide what’s really important and what can be handled by someone else. You aren’t Wonder Woman, and even she needs help sometimes, too.

4. Take some time off. The pressure of all the practices, the committees, the organizing can put you in a frenzy. I’m sure there are tons of things you’d like to accomplish before you’re done with derby, but derby isn’t going anywhere. Take a week off. Take a month off. Take a year off. Stepping away from something that has taken over your life can give you a chance to breathe and reevaluate. When you feel more in control, come back. Derby will be waiting for you.

After going all out with Houston Roller Derby, my husband and I had to make a quick decision to move back to Savannah. I immediately hit the ground running. I coach junior derby once a week, I head PR for the Savannah Derby Devils, and I play for the B Team. Couple that with getting used to a new sleep schedule (day-sleeping makes me feel like a vampire) and falling back into the swing of a demanding job, I’m worn out: physically, mentally, and emotionally. I took this past week off from derby because I desperately needed to sleep. The lack of proper sleep was keeping me from giving my all for my team, and frankly, making me a horrible person to be around.

The World Health Organization has released it’s first ever report on suicide prevention. First. Ever. According to WHO, more than 800,000 people successfully commit suicide each year. That number doesn’t even include how many try. Last Wednesday was Suicide Prevention Day. We don’t all get to the point where suicide feels like an option, but dealing with mental health issues sucks. I hope you’ll see this and recognize that you aren’t alone. We play derby as a team. Let’s tackle mental health as a team.

im not ok

Setting yourself up to win

Do-Or-Not-Do-----There-Is-No-TryAs a junior derby coach, my biggest pet peeve is hearing “I’ll try.” You essentially just set yourself up for failure. It signals that you don’t believe you can do what I just asked. Believing you can do something before you physically do it is a tremendous part of derby.

Whenever I hear “I’ll try,” my inner Yoda comes out. “Do or do not. There is not try.” This is the part where my juniors give me weird looks. (Seriously, who doesn’t make their kid watch the original Star Wars films?) After they hear it enough times, though you can see them make the mental switch. They stop trying and start doing. Maybe they don’t do it great, but they realize what they’re capable of, so they know they can keep doing the drill or skill till it’s perfect.

Now this doesn’t mean false confidence. If you aren’t doing something correctly, you still acknowledge the miss. You just don’t concentrate on it. You let that miss identify what specifically needs improvement.

I’ve been reading “Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence.” Almost every successful derby player I know has read this book. Gary Mack’s overall theme is getting you to improve your mental game in order to improve your physical game.

A lot of the problems we run into as players are because we have defeated ourselves. We tell ourselves we can’t do something so many times that we believe we will never actually succeed. I can’t skate sideways. I can’t clear a path for the jammer. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

Instead of thinking of all the times you’ve messed up before, you need to think about when things went right. FiFi Nomenon talks about it in her post Roller Derby Visualization. You let that memory of the perfect moment put you in a positive mental state, and that will lead you to improvement.

Roller derby doesn’t do easy. It does awesome. If you get your mind right, you’re capable of being even better than you thought.