Archive for April, 2011

Speed Bumps

If you’re not prepared for them, they’ll knock you on your ass.  Think when, not if. They’ll come in the form of space/floor and equipment troubles, and in the myriad physical and mental distractions or challenges that seem to scream, SLOW DOWN.  This isn’t news to anyone who’s played sports, I’m sure, but even what *YOU* want and what your *BODY* seems to want can be two very different things.  And that can be frustrating, particularly when your motivation is high and you’re careening towards some big goals.

One speed bump that I’ve observed in newer girls (including myself) occurs when there’s a gap between the derby in your head and the derby in your body. There’s a sort of leapfrog effect between the two; you transition from freshmeat skills training to jams and scrimmages, but you don’t know what to do out there… your body knows the skating and hitting techniques on their own, but your head doesn’t know the game, and you falter unexpectedly.  And then you watch derby; you watch scrimmages and jams you’re not skating in, and you begin to make sense of it in your head.  You learn what you’re supposed to do, how to work with other people offensively or defensively, and how you can be effective out there. But again, you falter on the track, because your body still has to catch up, build muscle memory, learn how to hit a moving target. This is a constant learning process, as long as you keep working at it. Looking back it might seem like just a speed bump, but when you’re feeling stuck, it can seem like more of a deep rut.

Group dynamics and stress within the league also weigh on the brain and can affect your playing. It’s a part of every league, every group that you’ll ever belong to. No matter how well-run the league is, how much you love your derby sisters, there will always be politics at work, trying to pull you all apart. RESIST, at least while you’re on the track.  The other things going in your LIFE? (outside of derby!?) — resist those, too.  We generally do so well at leaving everything at the door of the rink, but how much actually remains in our head and/or body, distracting us from the game? The last thing you need is a speed bump at the track entrance. Continue to allow derby to be the place where everything else disappears.

I’ve been dealing with some back/hip pain for a while and I’ve been reluctant to get it fully checked out. My instincts tell me that I’m not going to get a definitive diagnosis, and though it’s significantly altering my workout routine, I’M MANAGING, THANKS.  My head wants to be running 3-4 days a week, to work on sprints in my boot camp classes.  But the body says no; no running, especially no sprinting, and easy on the walking, buddy. But skating is mostly ok… I can manage through a workout or scrimmage, tough it out just like all the other girls recovering from ankle or other injuries.  And hope that this is just a speed bump, and not my brick wall.

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Derby Bodies

You bring your whole self to derby – your passion, your work ethic, your love and understanding of the game – and, of course, your body.  And you can pretty much count on no one telling you how you should probably lose a few pounds, or that you’re a little small for derby, or that your legs are too long to be an effective blocker, or that your chest is going to get in the way of playing, or that you’re just not tall/small/thin enough.  Honestly, derby is a pretty safe space when it comes to body issues in general. That doesn’t mean that derby girls don’t have their own issues, but there’s something transformative about entering that track, and I think most derby girls manage to leave negative talk at the door, and try to help support each other when issues do rear their ugly heads.

It’s not that we’re blind to the implications of physicality in derby, or that we ignore physical differences. But I think most derby folks tend to value function over form (as backwards as that sounds for a sport that values fishnets and tutus), and let each girl declare and demonstrate for herself just what her physical strengths and limitations are).  Can you put your ass on some girl and use it to move her out of the way for your jammer? That’s function. Can one of our jammers skate sideways on the inside line and slip through to avoid a hit?  Whatever the physical trait, we want to know, how can you use that to your advantage?  And that includes overall size.  We try not to make any assumptions about someone’s body and what that means for derby; we let them figure out what their strength is going to be. The result is a decidedly positive spin on bodies in derby; what CAN you do?  How can you use this physical trait or skill to your advantage?

I remember hearing a note from a visiting coach, many months back when I was just starting to scrimmage. It went something like this, “She can’t always hang out in the back; figure out where to use her. But omigod, I love her size! And she can skate!”  I think it took me months to really process that.  My size = good for derby.

Contrast that with a speed skating (ice) club I visited about 6 years ago… I had talked to the coordinator over email before the day, confirmed that it really was open to all levels, and was pretty excited to just skate in ovals  (I’d been skating with an ice dancing group, and the rules/patterns/people were starting to chafe).  I had crappy entry-level molded long blades, and I think I asked if they’d be ok.  The guy’s response?  “That’s really gonna be the least of your problems.”   Um, gulp? WTF, asshat? I think I surprised him afterwards with my skating, by doing real speed skating crossovers on those crappy skates that hadn’t been sharpened in god knows how long, jumping in on the more intermediate crossover drills.  And though my endurance was kind of crap, I know how to dig in deep when I have something to prove to asshats and/or myself, and I kept up with the group ok. But I never went back, despite having long-blade skating in my freaking BONES.

Derby is just different.  I’m not so naive to think that no one is ever going to make assumptions about my skills based on my size, or privately think I should lose some weight  (yeah, private is where that belongs — in *my* head, not yours).  But I don’t believe others’ assumptions have ever held me back on the track; my challenges in a pack are the thoughts in my own head, about my body — understanding/appreciating what my body can do on the track, and then doing it, without thinking or doubting.

Roller Derby 101

I’ll probably never post three times in one week ever again. But we’re coming up on our first home bout, our first intra-league (home teams) bout, and MY FIRST BOUT AS A PLAYER, EVER. I don’t say that very often, I really would rather not think about it. There are plenty of fires to put out right now, nerves to calm, people to coach. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I’ve been elected Captain of one of the home teams, I’ve been put on the Allstar/travel team, and then elected Captain of that team as well — thankfully with the same awesome co-captain for both.  But still, there’s work to do; my fucking nerves can wait.

One little fire this week: finding a good diagram to use in our program, that explains derby to all these new fans!! There are some great diagrams out there, but none can be legally used without securing permission, and we haven’t been able to reach the copyright holders in time. So… here goes my attempt at a Roller Derby 101 guide. I’ve slapped a Creative Commons license on it (Attribution-ShareAlike), so that other derby leagues or bloggers can use it if they want.

That means that you are free to SHARE (copy, distribute, and transmit this diagram), and to REMIX (adapt) this diagram, provided that you ATTRIBUTE it to Snarker Posey, McLean County Missfits, and that if you alter, transform, or build upon this diagram, you may distribute it only under the same or similar license to this one.  In other words, you can’t adapt it and then keep other people from using it. If you’d like to adapt it, email me and I’ll happily send you the raw editable .png file. Read more about the Attribution-ShareAlike license here.

Creative Commons License
Roller Derby 101 by Snarker Posey, McLean County MissFits is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Roller Derby? Like, Where You Knock Each Other Down?

I’ve heard some version of this question many times in the last eight months.  I’ve seen the look on people’s faces when I tell them I play derby, as they piece together some movie memory from the 70s with what they know/believe about me. Depending on their social graces, they may give me a quick once-over.  It’s ok. Yes, I noticed. I spy glimpses of questions in the eyes of new skaters, too, in the moments between excitement over ordering their gear and learning to fall, or sometimes when they see our injured players* officiating practices.

So really, how rough *is* it?

We talk a rough game… the language is a bit violent, even in offskates workouts. We talk about knocking bitches down (yes, there’s a part of me that cringes at that), we talk about our trainers killing us and beating on us, we laugh off post-training pain, applaud big hits in practice (whether giving or receiving them), and proudly show off our battle scars at the bar. Out on the track, you’re skating in extremely close proximity to other girls, sometimes really fast, and you need to be able to change your position quickly and precisely. The situation is ripe for collisions. No one wants the clumsy, trippy falls, though; derby girls have to be agile enough to deal with “incidental contact” between wheels and limbs (as WFTDA rules require).  But hitting is an essential part of derby. You’re trying to knock girls down, it’s not just about positions and plays.  Taking someone off the track by force is just good derby strategy. By knocking someone down or out of bounds, you take out a potential threat to your jammer and you make her a point (someone your jammer will easily pass). The hits are hard, and intended to knock you flat on your ass. But they’re also targeted:  not personal, not vengeful, but purposeful. It’s a game, and you’re using your body to achieve a goal in that game: get your jammer through, take out a threat to your jammer, make a space, cut off the other jammer, etc.

Ok, so it’s physical. But what sort of expectations exist out on that track, as far as the hitting?

Think football.  It won’t be an extended metaphor, because I barely understand what happens out on that field. But the central goal is the same:  get that one player of ours — the only one who can score — through a pack of girls who are just waiting to knock her down.  Only it’s like both teams have the ball AT THE SAME TIME, and they’re doing exactly the same thing.  And, instead of facing each other, we’re all moving forward, round and round, looking behind where all the action is happening. Protecting your jammer, taking out threats, physically using your body to stop people from getting to her — that’s derby.  That’s what we expect.  But we also know that everyone comes by the skills and the instincts at different rates, and that you just have to know where the danger is when you’re out on the track. Some people hit harder than others.  Some girls will knock you on the floor if you’re not watching, or just because you’re not watching. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s one of the things you have to expect when you take the track, every time. Just know where those people are, especially if you’re new.  You might not hit the hardest, you might not feel like you’re in control of the pack, but at the very least you have to watch all around you.

Maybe if you come to derby with a sports background, you have less uncertainty about the roughness, about how much you’re going to get beat up or how much beating up you’re going to have to do. Or not, I don’t know. I don’t have anything to compare it to; I have what I’ve observed and experienced in eight months, but not really much else.  I didn’t grow up with a lot of boys around (not straight ones, at least), and  I’m not a football/basketball/wrestling/soccer fan, so I have no yardstick for contact sports. At all. And it’s girls, right? How much are they really going to hit each other? We recently had a couple guest trainers, both of whom have experience playing or coaching contact sports at a high level. But derby is new for them… and the looks on their faces the first time two of us went out and hit each other, hard? About a second and a half of something that almost looked like a mix of concern and uncertainty. Another two seconds and it was biz as usual, but it was an interesting moment to observe.

This wasn’t going to be a diatribe!  But the answer to that question, how rough is it? It’s probably rougher than you think.  But come watch us and see!   Next Saturday, Bloomington Coliseum, 6:30-10ish.

*injury list in 8 months includes broken ankles, separated shoulder, dislocated shoulder, and assorted knee and ankle sprains.  Give us time.