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.

 

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.

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.

You don’t hate kittens or derby players, do you?

HRD all starsI’m very happy to announce that all the months of hard work have paid off for the Houston Roller Derby All-Stars. Not only are they going to be playing in week three of Division One Playoffs, but they also made their travel fund goal on IndieGoGo!!!!! (Cue the band! Throw the confetti!)

I was planning on this post being a push to help them raise the last few hundred, but they made it. As I promised two posts this week, AND I convinced DBC to pose for a bunch of pictures, I’m still going to tell you why these incredible players deserve the help. But first, watch this video.

Doesn’t my home team captain, SyRenge make the cutest/saddest kitten ever? Seriously, if that video didn’t convince people to donate, then they probably hate kittens… and derby. Real talk.

So let’s get to the players.

2x Force, Patti Painz, Hellicious, The Prosecutor, Becky Booty, and Mayhem Angelou. If they allowed six blockers from the same team on the track at once, there would be no hope of getting around these ladies. (In fact, it’s tough getting around just one of them.) They are the Wall of Booty. You may have also heard the announcers at ECDX talking about Pro’s mad NSO skills. There are gifs celebrating her skills.

And speaking of mad skills, who in the name of the Derby Goddess wouldn’t donate to see Big Bad Voodoo Dollie, Brandi Brown, DBC, Freight Train, and SyRenge jam? Voodoo being behind the pack, and then suddenly in front of it. Brandi doing that gravity-defying ballerina move to stay in bounds after a hit. DBC and her many faces and the way she talks smack to the opposing jammer. Freight Train blasting through walls and doing the other ballerina move that was so popular at ECDX. SyRenge’s flaming red hair flowing behind her as she laps the pack again and again. These are all the things people will get to see in September thanks to the donations from people who love derby… and kittens.

Of course, three other people who could easily fall into the fun jammer or Wall of Booty categories are Hot Assets, Jekyll and Heidi, and Mistilla tha Killa. I’ve been stuck behind each of these players, and made futile attempts to block them. It’s not a fun situation to be in, but it’s really fun to watch. In our last home team bout, Heidi knocked the opposing jammer out of bounds. The exhausted jammer took a moment to catch her breath. Heidi turned around and , like Neo to Agent Smith in The Matrix, motioned for the jammer to come at her. In that moment, I was very happy to be on Heidi’s team… and not to be that jammer.

Jenetic Defect, The Angie Christ, Speed’O, Betty Watchett, and Lisa Lava are quiet bad asses. They are loud when they are on the track, but they don’t call a lot of attention to themselves off the track. Even though they are quiet about their skills, they give a lot of good instruction to other members of the league. I know all the members of HRD appreciate everything they do and are also really happy they represent us.

Are you are sitting at your computer thinking, man, I really should have donated to help these incredible ladies travel? You can! The IndieGoGo page is still open for five more days.  You can donate however much you’d like to help these talented players and coaches get to Playoffs and have a good place to sleep and eat while they’re there.

If you choose not to donate, I respect your decision, but DBC does not. She will come to your home and stare at you while you sleep. It will look something like this.

dbc

If you are now changing your mind and deciding to donate, she may still come to your house and stare at you while you sleep, but it could look more like this…

dbc 2

or any of these expressions.

dbc 3

I really can’t stop DBC once she decides to do something. The point is, go to IndieGoGo and donate a few dollars if you can. And cheer them on in September because you don’t hate kittens or derby… do you?

Make it work

Sunday, Houston Roller Derby hosted a meet n’ greet for our new junior derby program. During the Q&A portion, one girl asked, “What if I don’t get along with a girl on my team?” It’s a valid question, not just for junior derby players, but all derby players.

You’re not going to get along with all your teammates all the time. I’m not talking about Mean Girls here. There will be people who just rub you the wrong way. Sometimes it’s something specific (They NEVER shut up, ever. Not during drills or league meetings or road trips.) or sometimes it’s vague (I don’t know. Maybe it’s something about her face or her attitude. I just don’t like her.) It doesn’t really matter why you don’t get along with someone on your team. What matters is how you respond.

IMG_2887You’re on a team together, and unless you feel like quitting and moving to another team/league, you are going to have to make it work. I usually try to find something in that person I do like, (she’s got an amazing hit, she’s a wily jammer, her hair is shiny) something, anything I can hold onto to get over the fact that, in general, I can’t stand her. If I concentrate on the good points long enough, I usually find myself liking the person in spite of whatever it is about them I don’t like.

Shawshank answered the little girl’s question by saying that sometimes you’ll form bonds with people that don’t translate into other areas of your life. As an adult, you make work friends. But you don’t necessarily hang out with those people outside of work. They’re your friends, but they are friends in a certain setting. Outside of work, you may not have that much in common. Same thing with derby.

You may find that you can get along with certain people, but only at practices and bouts. Any other time or social setting, they get on your nerves or you just don’t have anything to talk about. Perfectly okay. No one is saying you have to be besties with everyone on your team/league. And if anyone does tell you that, that person lives in the land of candy and unicorns where everyone always gets along, not the real world.

Bottom line. Don’t stress if you don’t like everyone on your team. Look for the good and hold onto the good. In the immortal words of Tim Gunn, make it work.

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.