Archive for March, 2012

It’s Training Time (ow!)

Because we’re in-season, and my league is a full WFTDA member now (whee!!), and it’s business time! PAST time. Time to get this body back in fighting shape — and more — and that means doing a bit of EVERYTHING. I’m pumped up, but daunted because I can’t seem to fit in enough sleep and still get my old 5-mornings-a-week schedule in at the gym now, at least not the way I used to. But I can get 3, plus derby, plus some weekend fun things, and that’ll do just fine.

Here’s what should be on the docket for a derby girl in the competitive season, assuming it’s in addition to one 2-hr team practice, one 2-hr league practice, and one full scrimmage each week:

  • 20 minutes of plyo 2x a week
  • 20-30 minutes of running 2x a week (more, if training for a race)
  • 60 minute boot camp 1x a week w/ the trainer or a similar class (BodyAttack etc.)
  • PiYo or Yoga class 1-2x a week (something for core & upper-body)
  • 20 minutes of strength training 1-2x a week
  • 20 minutes of core work 3x a week (e.g., 100 pushups / 100 crunches – see, e.g., Century Club on fb)
I’m also looking at a sprint tri or two this summer, and that means putting in some miles on the bike and in the pool, in addition to more running. Cycling is great cross-training for derby, since it works so many of the same muscles, and long weekend rides are almost as fun as derby practice. For swimming, finding a pool is the biggest hurdle (done, finally); I’d enjoy putting in some time on the weekends or over lunch when scheduling allows.

Why so long to get back in the groove again? After my stupid long fall/winter break, it felt like more than enough just to add back the two league practices each week. I was so sore the next day, sometimes even for two days after those practices, I didn’t want to add anything else until my body adjusted (and it does adjust). It’s not that I’m not sore after practice now, but it’s nowhere near as intense. While activity does help to relieve what researchers call DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, my experience is that it’s easy to strain something else (like my back) while guarding those sore muscles in the legs — particularly in that first day or so when the muscles are at their weakest, So I’ve been trying to add new things gradually, one each week. After a few weeks of derby, I added a little bit of running once or twice a week, then a class, etc.

Now I’m at a sort of early-middle point in re-entering the training plan, settled into derby 2-3 days/wk and some kind of off skates workouts 1-2 days/wk, ready to take on more, but that little voice at the back of my head is going “hey, where’s my weight loss? where’s the extra room in the jeans? what the hell, body? you’re not holding up your end of the bargain!! It’s been how many weeks now, WTF!@#&*?!”  So we’ve had a little talk, that voice and I.  Because it doesn’t work that way, at least not on a 40+ year-old body. Activity and nutrition changes don’t show up immediately on the scale or the measuring tape. Or even after a month. This is the time to really kick things up, not to be looking for results. So I need that voice to pipe down and be patient for a while – a long while.

So the scheduling is obviously key here — when to fit everything in? Planning is one of my greatest challenges, and I can’t be alone in that. I’ll have great intentions, but in a normal work week, the time flies by and workouts slip through the cracks very easily.

Mornings tend to make for a stickier habit for me in the gym, and my favorite classes are also very very early in the morning, but with evening practices out of town twice a week, those just aren’t workable on a regular basis anymore (cue EXTREME sadface). So I have to go in later, and work out mostly on my own, which means I need a solid plan going in. Without it, I’m a mess and I punk out easily. Ok, that’s doable. How many days? I get home around midnight on a practice night, so the mornings after practice are pretty much out. That leaves 3 weekday mornings, and the weekends for cycling or outdoor skating. So 60-90 minutes 3x a week.

Now, what to try and accomplish in those 3 days?

I find that when I’m on my own in the gym, I’m much more productive if I break the time into smaller chunks. 20 or 30 minutes is a nice amount of time for any one activity:  running, plyo, lifting, core work, etc., so I can get three different things into one morning. Now it’s just a matter of fitting tabs into slots: mixing up different activities for variety and to get sufficient training for derby performance, not doing the same thing on successive days, and eventually trying not to do anything new right before a scrimmage or bout.

One way to deal with this puzzle is to treat it as such: I’m building a set of little 3×5 cards that are each marked with a category (e.g., plyo, lifting, core, running), a description of the exercises w/ a number of sets/reps, and the amount of time they should take. So in a pinch, I can shuffle them and pick up enough to make 20 minutes in each category. I’m sure there’s an app for that, but it’s somehow more satisfying to see them in print. All those running and fitness magazines are going to come in handy here.

Now, JUST DO IT. Set those alarms for the whole week ahead of time, program in a message or song that will make you laugh or remind you why you’re doing this, and JUST DO IT. Don’t think about it, don’t question it, don’t take the time to wonder whether you’re in the mood.  Mood is irrelevant. It’s like that poster I keep seeing around Facebook:




Group Leadership & Derby Disaster Recovery

note: this was written about 9 months ago (while skating for my previous league), and I haven’t felt like it was the right time to post until now. No names, no blames, but it was a bad, bad day. The post was still in the queue, and I can’t bring myself to delete it, so here it is.

There’s a day that we sometimes refer to as “the day that shall not be named.” It was long and difficult, and we really don’t speak about it within the league. I’m going to rip the band aid off here, though, because that’s kind of the point of this blogging effort.  And because I think there are lessons underneath.

It started months ago with the acquisition of an awesome venue, and ended in big derby girl tears.  Lots of them. And in-between, a floor laid over an ice rink that started sweating like a baby freshie on her first day of practice and wouldn’t stop. And you know what? You just can’t skate on water, no matter how much you want it, no matter how hardcore you are. And that water just keeps coming, no matter how much you towel it off.

While I’ve since grown fascinated by the phenomenon of sweaty floors over ice, the really interesting thing to me is how the whole operation of the day reflected issues with league dynamics and leadership, from start to finish.  It’s one of the more interesting things to have happened to/in our league since its formation about year ago.  I mean, EXACTLY a year before the day that shall not be named. Exactly. Yeah, our anniversary blows. And we’ll never forget it.

There’s a lot of work that goes into the production of a bout: checklists and models that can be followed, but much is unpredictable not pre-plannable. It’s not that dissimilar to producing any other kind of theatrical event, except that the “talent” in derby is also the crew. There’s little room for divas in derby. No one shows up at call time with their skates in hand, asking for their bowl of m&ms and their private dressing room. Derby girls know that to be a part of the skating, a part of the big fun days of boutfits and after parties (winning, duh), you have to be a part of the production, too.

Girls only know some of this when they join a league, of course.  We tell them even before their first practice that they’ll have to join a committee by their sixth practice.  Do they really understand what they’ve just agreed to? They know that there’s a head of the Freshmeat committee who ran their tryouts and their practices, and they see a handful of other skaters helping with that. They may observe the operation of scrimmages, run by refs and the NSO coordinator and Captains, who all seem to just make it happen. Mostly, freshmeat have to learn derby culture on their own, in bits and pieces, in conversations with each other and with the more veteran skaters. A new freshie learns that contribution to events builds social capital (or something like that), that it’s fun to be involved, and even more fun to hang with her new sisters.  But she soon learns that her sisters have pretty high expectations, and that events don’t just run themselves, and what are YOU going to step forward to take on?

The day of a home bout should be driven by a plan, but a sometimes-larger part of the day is responsive. Like a theatrical or musical event, there’s a sort of stage manager and dress rehearsals and testing of technology, all highly compressed into a half-day. Coordination of “the floor” begins in earnest, as soon as possible.  Mass quantities of brightly-colored, highly sticky tape are gathered, 200′ measuring tapes and at least 4 people put to work on marking the floor.  First the track, taping down a rope so that skaters can feel the boundary.  Then suicide seating, the penalty box, and areas where the audience can and cannot be during the bout. Backstage, there’s another buzz of people coordinating the skater areas: personalizing the space, setting out food and bottled water, and the ever-present derby bananas. All the volunteers who may otherwise be on the edge of the league’s scene, or even former skaters themselves, all pop out of the woodwork to help on bout day to put the event together.  Our volunteer statisticians and referees and even some family members come to help.

It’s a huge group effort, but leadership is no less important here than in any other area of league business.  The old joke about herding cats? Try herding derby girls. No really, try. Teamwork is great, but a bout, like a ship, needs a captain.  Only some of the people in the mass of volunteers have all the information necessary for decisionmaking, or the power to make those decisions.  Who’s the venue contact? How do we get this area cleaned up? Do you have towels we can use?! How about fans?!? And OMG can your HVAC guy do something about this M-F- condensation on the floor?!?!? Just like it takes referees and NSOs and heads of each of those groups to run a scrimmage, it takes leaders to plan a bout and run the day.

Because everyone comes to derby with different work/life experiences, leadership styles can vary widely throughout a league. Some girls will be very hands-on, specific and task-oriented, others master delegators, and still others will be cheerleaders who will encourage contributors to run with their ideas and only step in and veto when things get way off the rails (if at all). Some will be around more than you’d like; others less. Some will formulate ideas and pass them down to a group for execution; others will look for consensus or for the strongest idea before moving the group forward. Some will be healthy and others may be toxic. Balancing the need for grassroots, collaborative work and for efficiency and clear vision/direction is one of the challenges of derby — and any big group effort like this. I’m often reminded, when derby planning issues come up, of the Michigan Women’s Music Festival.  Many of the same issues and themes are at work there — strong women building something out of nothing. And yet the MWMF leadership and structure is FIRMLY established, with extremely well-defined procedures and rules and reporting lines and rules. Did I say rules?  Of course, we’re all BRAND NEW as a league (MWMF has been running since the 70s… hell, ALL of roller derby is still new in comparison!) and still establishing all those rules and procedures that will ultimately be just part of the culture that new girls accept and continue.

When it comes down to planning a big event like a home bout, ask yourselves: Do you have a plan? Decisions made prior to the day?  A leader for the day? Clear reporting lines throughout the group of volunteers? Does the leader have all the necessary information and authority to make decisions when the need arises (notice that I said when, not if — the need will always arise)? Does everyone know what they’re supposed to be doing and who’s in charge, and when to expect to arrive? Does your announcer have all the necessary information about intro songs, rosters, and the order of introducing players? While all the great relationships that you’ve built within the league will be helpful, neither warm fuzzy compliments nor derby love are sufficient to make the day run well — particularly if something goes catastrophically wrong.

When the southerly trajectory of our fateful day suddenly made itself clear to us at about 3pm, in the form of skaters walking off a floor they could barely stand on, leadership both disappeared and re-appeared quickly.  The leadership of the bout day, such as it was, were suddenly supplanted by league leadership.  With few words, the Board was gathered, went somewhere to vote, with news of their vote broken via lousdpeaker by our Bout Day Coordinator. That same Coordinator also rounded up the various people who would pick up the pieces of the day: ticket liaison, treasurer, PR, and more. There were alerts to be broadcast across social media and our ticketing site, plans to be made for refunds. And someone needed to make a decision about the league’s message and find a way to communicate it out to a group that had begun scattering, more out of frustration and disappointment than anything else. We found a cheerleader of sorts for the two hours we remained at the venue to greet and talk with fans we had to turn away. The former head coach of the visiting team who had flown back from the West Coast just to announce the bout for us, she was amazing in her strength and positivity and good humor about it all. She picked up a loudspeaker and entertained everyone while we tried to hold it together in public. These were our heroes of the day, and I still have massive amounts of respect for both of them and the way they kept it together. They could have fallen apart, gotten angry, or just disappeared to deal with their own feelings about the situation, but instead they did everything they could to take care of their community. To listen, move forward and stand tall and face whatever the consequences were. Whatever else you look for in a leader, I think this combination has to be at the top.

Leadership isn’t something you do for you, it’s something you do for your league. It’s the service you give to your league, not a gift bestowed to you, or your tool to be wielded at will. While I think many skaters “just want to skate,” roller derby is so much more than that. If you want to put on bouts, they’re going to cost money and require planning and commitment. As a leader, you have to recognize that derby is much bigger than you. Otherwise, you’re just playing a game of thrones.