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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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.

Proving my worth

My writing has been suffering lately. I have had no inspiration for my blog, my Examiner.com articles or my fiction. (Oh, btw, I write fiction.)

On March 23, I will have my first bout with Houston Roller Derby, and I am stressed. This is new for me. HRD will be the third league I’ve skated with in my derby career. I’ve been nervous before plenty of bouts, but never stressed.

Perhaps I should start lightning a derby prayer candle before practice.

Perhaps I should start lightning a derby prayer candle before practice.

Every practice is a strange mixture of joy and pain (physical and emotional). I come home feeling ridiculously worn out. It isn’t that things aren’t clicking between me and my teammates. We’re meshing well. I’m just legitimately worried that I’m going to get out there and disappoint them.

The Sirens, one of HRD’s four home teams, drafted me. The captains picked me with purpose. I have no clue what that purpose is, but they saw something in me during tryouts.

As I lace up my skates before each practice, I decide to overcome one of my shortcomings. Every practice, I feel as if I’m doing better. But with the 23rd getting closer, I desperately want to feel that I’ve proven my commitment and skill to them. I’m not there yet, and I am FREAKED OUT. The panic has consumed me so much that my inspiration to write is just gone.

I’ve never felt this way about derby or a team. Has anyone else ever felt this way? I need a little reassurance that this happens, and that I will wake up March 24 feeling relatively normal again.

Be the Duck

Ducks secrete oil which they spread over their feathers. This keeps their feathers from getting water logged and causing them to sink. Derby players need to acquire a similar coat to keep their team and league drama free. I’ve hit on squashing the derby drama bug before, but since this is the off season for most teams, I think it’s a good time to delve further into this subject, so everyone can start the new season in a positive frame of mind.

Derby players are told not to go for the revenge hit during a game. When you let someone get to you, you stop paying attention to what you should be doing. It’s the same in every aspect of life, including other parts of derby. It’s very easy to dwell on things said at practice and overanalyze them. That girl said you were holding back during a hitting drill. You caught someone giving you a weird look. One player is throwing a party, and you aren’t invited. Be the duck. Let it slide right off.

fly together

Photo courtesy of Benny Yee

If you feel like you do need to say or do something, make it a positive statement. Compliment the person on a skill. Tell them they look nice today. Invite the entire team to a girls’ night out. Be creative. The more you concentrate on slights, or perceived slights, the more you lose sight on what’s important: the game.

Of course, there are some situations where this won’t work, but if you make the decision to be a positive force on your team, it will spread. Soon you’ll have a whole league of ducks. And what do ducks do? Ducks fly together.

To Forfeit or Not to Forfeit

When is it okay to forfeit a bout? Is it ever okay? These are questions I’ve mulled over many times. While I’ve never skated in a game that ended in a forfeit, I’ve watched it happen during other bouts. Last weekend my old team, the Savannah Derby Devils, played against the Sintral Florida Derby Demons. The game was cut short when Sintral forfeited just after halftime.

Now I want to make it clear that I wasn’t there.  The only information I have is from former teammates, so obviously it’s a little biased. The story I’ve been told is that Sintral brought two jammers. One got hurt during the first half and could not continue to play.

Sintral brought another player from another team to fill their roster. Savannah was aware of this player and had included language in the bout contract stating that the player was allowed to play as long as she didn’t jam. During the half, Sintral asked if they could play the additional girl as a jammer. Savannah stuck to the contract and refused. (They’ve been screwed over in the past.) Sintral then decided to forfeit the game.

As I stated before, I wasn’t there, and the only person from Sintral I sort of know never replied back to me. I have no idea what the team’s thinking was. It’s possible that none of the other players felt comfortable jamming. It’s also possible that the coach refused to play anyone else as a jammer. I really don’t know. What I do know is that Savannah was left in a awkward position with fans having paid good money to see a double header.

Savannah made the best of the situation by scrimmaging against the Hostess City Hellions (Savannah’s B Team) who had just finished their own bout. From the pictures I saw, everyone played with huge smiles on their faces.

Courtesy: five5six

Fans pay good money to see us play roller derby. With the exception of a very small handful of skaters, we don’t get paid to play. Is it fair to put fans through a forfeited game? Is it fair to put your own team or other teams through a forfeit? I say the answer is no.

I’ve been to baseball games that were rained out. Obviously, that’s not something the teams can control. But I’ve seen games “rained out” over a short sprinkle. What that says to me is that the people in charge of that call don’t take the sport seriously. If they don’t take the sport or the reputation of the teams seriously, then why should I as a fan. I think it’s the same thing with forfeits. It’s like telling the fans that you really don’t care that much about playing derby.

Now there is a specific instance where I think a forfeit is justified: if players are at risk of serious physical injury. Let’s say Team A and Team B are playing a bout. Team A has a reputation for playing dirty and starts throwing elbows and purposefully tripping girls on Team B. Team B’s coach makes the refs aware of the situation, but they aren’t calling it. Girls on Team B start getting hurt and there’s a good chance that they may be seriously injured. In that case, I would say forfeit. I love to play roller derby, but I don’t want to see anyone go home in a cast if it can be avoided.

Having said that, I have seen plenty of teams continue to play in the face of possible injury. In fact, I’ve skated with Savannah when we went up against a team who clearly didn’t care about playing safely. We played to the very last whistle, though, and then went and partied like we won.

We partied with a live karaoke band, too.

I think it’s a good idea for every team to have a discussion about forfeiture and make a decision whether or not this is ever an option. What do you think? Is forfeiting an option to you?

How Did I Hurt That?

But I don’t even remember falling on that side. How is it bruised?

Almost every derby player has ended up with a mystery bruise or ache at some point.  I like to call it Derby Amnesia.

It happens to me mostly after bouts, but it occasionally creeps up after practice. I sit down only to find that I can’t without shooting pain, or I go to take a shower and spy a huge leg bruise in a spot where I don’t even remember getting hit.

Derby Amnesia usually gets blamed on adrenaline, but I think, in some cases, you could also blame it on focus.

Can Kiddo get your number?

After last night’s scrimmage practice, Beat-A-Trick Kiddo was gearing down when she noticed her upper arm was black. It wasn’t a bruise, though. It was a series of smudges from other people’s numbers.

When you are so focused on the game, there isn’t time to think about how many people you’ve hit or have hit you. There’s no time to think about how hard you hit the ground during that last fall. There is only what is happening at that very second. Where are you? Where’s the opposing jammer? Are you with your partner?

Sometimes pain does register, though. Monday night, I was pushing through a wall of opposing blockers when it felt like the back of my left upper arm was getting pinched. It hurt, but I quickly forgot about it and kept pushing through. When I went back to the bench, I realized my arm burned. I didn’t get a chance to look at it until I got home later.

“What happened to your arm?” my husband asked.

“What? Why? Does it look bad?

“Yeah! Look at it.”

I walked into the bathroom and angled my arm so I could see the reflection. Oh, yeah. That was going to be a nasty bruise. It took a few days, but it finally showed up in all it’s black-n-blue glory.

Isn’t it pretty?

While it may sound a little odd, Derby Amnesia can help you be a better player. It takes away some of external distractions, allowing you to just play the game.

What are some of you stories of Derby Amnesia?