Certainly, the comparison between American derby, the UK, and even Canada or Australia comes up much more often on the show than I expected. Sometimes when I'm engaged with one of the other Crew on the show, the comment will surface, "what happens here is probably very different than in America," to which I politely downplay the remark.
Of course, this isn't rebuking my show colleagues, Syn would kick my ass, but, instead, a an assumption that derby has gained massive separation in ability in the United States compared to other countries. The truth is, nearly every topic we discuss, no matter how basic, has nearly as much validity in the U.S. as it does anywhere! Basic bout production, nutrition...for 80% or more of women's leagues these are as relevant in the U.S. as they are anywhere.
"Bob, you must be sniffing glue again!" Glue never entered the picture. Actually, I have to fight my urge for mass intake of caffeine, which I was infamous for within U.S. announcing circles. And though I had two weeks which I felt I was reliving the detox scene from Trainspotting - I'm serious - I have a very strict caffeine limit now. Apparently 3 large energy drinks a day was considered "abnormal." If not, it was unhealthy for sure. So, no, I'm not wrong on my observation as I am now...uh...semi-clean. Give a guy his coffee, OK?
Here's where I think the disconnect comes between our listeners and reality about derby in America. People across the world form their impression of derby in the U.S. primarily from Webcasts. And which teams are featured in most Webcasts? The WFTDA leagues! And generally not just any WFTDA leagues, but leagues who are generally ranked. THAT IS A TOTALLY DIFFERENT WORLD than the typical U.S. derby experience. Even very different from many WFTDA leagues! Understand that there are about 500 women's flat-track leagues in the U.S. The WFTDA sanctions less than one-third of them. Of the sanctioned leagues, of course, 40 will make the playoffs. Of those 40, there are only three or four teams good enough to win the Championship Tournament. Oly Rollers, Rocky Mountain Roller Girls, Gotham Girls and maybe a few more out of the West. But, there are your last four Champs! Gotham in 2011, RMRG in 2010, Oly in 2009, Gotham in 2008. Truthfully, I'm not sure anyone can beat Gotham at the moment. The odds of a Champ coming out of the North Central (it's never happened) or South Central (not their year) are less than it suddenly raining kippers. What is a kipper anyway?
I think the World Cup, as tremendous as it was, put the U.S. on a pedestal that seems insurmountable. First, keep in mind, that the core of the talent came from the three top leagues I mentioned previously. Not hard to figure your best skaters are generally from your better teams. Then add other amazing skaters from handfuls of very good leagues and it's like the U.S. Dream Team (basketball) in the Olympics 20 years ago. They crushed people. Realize that the top five leagues in the U.S. have a training and practice commitment which far exceeds what other leagues can get their skaters to commit to. They LIVE derby.
You might think you live derby...but you probably don't. When you spend 5 or 6 of your evenings either working out or practicing, that's LIVING derby. The London Rollergirls, in essence, are the Gotham of the UK. They have more years behind them than other leagues and large cities attract more talent and BETTER talent. I don't know the history of the London Rollergirls like I do Gotham (except the story of the first bout that split the league), but Gotham has had many of the same girls an unusually long time. Suzy Hotrod and Donna Matrix have skated with them since day one. Bonnie is only a season or so behind them. That's 8 seasons AND they've had the same head coach since the beginning! If you haven't heard the 35 minute Buster Cheatin' interview, go back to Episode 24 and listen. Listen to The Rev, who has coached Montreal to two consecutive WFTDA playoffs in Episode 29. These guys spell it out. They talk about what it took to get the team to "want it" bad enough and how they've sustained it. Buster, in particular, who has only lost a few bouts in 4 years. And, consider the conditioning. How many hundreds or thousands of miles has Suzy jammed? I've no idea. I can only tell you I know of ONE other skater who has jammed as long as Suzy - Mouse from my original home league, the Mad Rollin' Dolls. Jammers don't last 8 years. Somehow, a few girls have. It wasn't just luck.
I NEVER really believed, in my heart, that if you wanted it badly enough, you could do it. Whatever "it" may be. But I've seen too many derby "miracles" to be a skeptic. The skater who couldn't stand, but started on her WFTDA ranked team a few years later. To use a classic American cliche', "people realize it's time to shit or get off the pot!" Either do what it is you have to do to succeed, or give it up. Hey, if you think that doesn't happen to an average skater four years into their skating career, you're wrong. I've talked to many a skater at the end of a season who wasn't sure if she'd come back again or not. BUT, the conversation was often along the line of "I'm either giving it my all, or not coming back." NEVER give up on a teammate. She just may surprise you!
So what does all my rambling mean exactly? First, "most" American leagues, even the WFTDA sanctioned ones, are not anything like you may be watching on the Web. All the wild strategies, scrum starts...most of it is sheer speculation. Flip a coin. Honestly, about half the time it works, half the time it doesn't. Play YOUR game, don't worry about mimicking what's Webcast. Know how to deal with it, just don't think you have to do it that way because everyone in the states is! The difference between the countries is closing already. Look at Team USA vs. Team England recently. Sure, a definitive win, but not the kind of win that we'd have seen at the World Cup. Canada has, at the moment, at least three teams that are better than many teams playing in the WFTDA Big 5. They peaked too late, or were in regions, such as the West, which were too deep. The UK is right there. Other countries aren't far behind.
I get a wry smile when I think about the next World Cup! Why? THINK about practices and who will benefit. The USA, Canada, and even Australia are very large and hard to navigate for "practice." The UK? A car ride. Same with many other countries. Closure between the levels of talent will happen sooner than you think.
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