A couple of week ago, I was lucky enough to travel to Belgium with my team to take part in our first ever tournament. Gent Go Go Roller hosted 2013: A Skate Odyssey, the first ever WFTDA European tournament.
As a team we learnt a lot of lessons. Most notably, bring your own food and drink. Playing three games over three days while surviving on Pizza and fizzy pop is not the greatest idea. And also that a team sing along of Bonie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart, on track, is the best way to warm up before a 9am game! (maybe also due to sleep deprivation and nutritional deficits! There's a clip on Gent's twitter, go find it and make your own minds up!)
More than that, I hope we gave people, fans and other teams, a little glimpse in to what being a bomber is all about. We went in the weekend seeded 10th. We came home seeded 10th. Yes we lost every game, but it's ok. We expected it. We were only invited to the tournament after three other higher ranked teams dropped out. So we knew that we would probably lose. But that was ok. For us, being invited and getting to play in a wftda tournament was exciting, we didn't care what the odds were. That didn't mean we didn't try, we just wasn't surprised when we struggled against our opponents. Yes, we totally thought we might be able to pull something spectacular off and we went into every game think, we could do this, but when it didn't happen we accepted it and still tried as hard as we could. And most importantly the smiles never left our faces.
A player from one of our opponents actually said to one of my team mates during an epic battering "Why are you all so happy? Your losing" and I don't know what she said back. but I hope it was "because we are playing you, in a frickin' wftda tournament and we love playing roller derby and we are getting to do it all weekend!" But the fact that she said this concerns me. I know a lot of people want the sport to go professional, etc, etc, but at the moment, this is still a hobby, an amateur sport. Yeah, winning is nice, but losing is not the end of the world. It pains me to see so many teams taking the games really seriously and seemingly not enjoying playing unless they are winning. I get it was a tournament so perhaps that is quite important to your league, but really, what do you get if you win? Bragging rights and maybe a nice write up on DNN? I haven't heard of anyone getting a million pound sponsorship deal out of it yet...
We may have lost every game but we had a great time doing it. We made some new friends, hello Lutece Destroyeuses, and we have taken away a lot of knowledge that will be useful in the future. We tested ourselves, we know that we have stuff to work on but we played hard and can be very proud of what we did there. We didn't give up, we didn't let the points spoil the experience. We had a great time on and off the track. Most importantly, we are proud about the way we stood and played and lost as a team. This, surely, should be the most important thing.
I have been playing this sport for a long time now, well 4 plus years which is a long time in UK roller derby. I have played around 40 bouts and I am a director of my league. At times I have been so in love with the sport I couldn’t imagine doing anything else and at times I have been so drained by the attitude and behaviour of others I have wanted to quit and never go back, I actually have a pain free exit strategy, just in case. Once due my own performance, I have chucked my skates into my case and walked out of practice planning never to return and other times, I have nailed a move or skill that has alluded me for ages and I have felt invincible on the track, vowing never to give up the game. I believe this is normal. From being fresh meat to being a veteran, I have learnt a few things about myself and about my teammates, I have also learnt a lot about roller derby. There’s a couple of things I would like to share. You probably all know them already, but I wish someone would have spelt these things out to me/my league four years ago. These are the two most important ones:
1. Do not try and change your skaters into different skaters...
Every team is made up of individual skaters, each with their individual strengths and individual weaknesses. This is okay, in fact its excellent, don’t try to change it. The fantastic thing about roller derby is the team that wins is not the fastest, the fittest, the hardest team. Roller Derby is won by the team that has the best strategies and the best implantation of said strategies. The best strategy? Playing to your strengths. The nature of the roller derby means that it isn’t a one size fits all kind of game. Everybody can bring something that is an asset to your team, not just the obvious like the bigger girls are harder to get round and hit hard or the small ones are nippy and excellent jammers, but as individuals everyone’s style is different and will have ways that give your team the advantage in a game. You may have this one skater that is so good you wish everyone else was that good. Or maybe your coach is particularly good at teaching one way to skate. Either way, this does not mean that all the rest of the team need to change to match them. A good team is a diverse team that can handle any opposition and your strategies should to able to accommodate all your skaters, not the other way around. This is also why you shouldn’t try to use other teams strategies, it may work really well for them but your skaters are different. This is not to say you shouldn’t encourage your skaters to improve, you should always do that, and try to correct small issues, like dragging your foot (My God Woman, you will snap your ankle!!) but if you have a skater that is a very good at positional blocking, don’t try and force her to be a hitter and a visa versa. It would be lovely if you could have a team of machines that all jammed and blocked and all skated at the same skill level and all thought as one and reacted the exact same way...no wait, why would anyone think that was a good idea. It’s a dystopian nightmare. Not to mention, once you figured out how one of them reacts or thinks, you would have a single way to beat every skater on the roster. You need to be able to change it up. If your faster than light, graceful, nippy jammer doesn’t work, chuck on the aggressive bulldozer like jammer. If you walls can’t hold back one particular jammer, you need to chuck on your big hitter who can nail her. There is no one single aspect that makes a player great or makes a team unstoppable. Accept your skaters as they are, good and bad points and work out what you can do to make each and every one of them look great on track.
2. Roller Derby is pretty much like school.
After years of bullying at school, my natural mindset is that most people don’t like me, I am quiet until I trust you and a bit shy when I first meet people (stop laughing!) Over the years I have learnt to hide this with an air of comedy or aloofness, depending on the audience, but this still only a mask to cover my crippling insecurity. There has been a couple of times I’ve come home to hubby crying because someone blanked me or didn’t invite me somewhere and I thought we were friends. It’s ridiculous for a grown women to behave this way, I know that (my team are going to ride me about this for months, although it will be a break from the Bieber jokes at least!), but being in a roller derby team can be like being in the cool group at school. You know you really shouldn’t be there, your please you are but secretly your constantly waiting for someone to realise they made a mistake and send you back to the library with the other geeks. Every league is basically a group of women (and/or men) that have been thrown together and stay together because of a love of the sport. No one has control of who is there and you get all types of people. Like school, groups will form, social norms and rules will be dictated and despite being adults, childish behaviour may appear. What I have learnt to tell myself is that most of it is imagined or unintentional, it feels like school but we are after all adults. Despite sometimes feeling like so and so doesn’t like me and no one wants to be my friend, on the track I trust my team mates, they trust me. That is realistically the most you can hope for. It’s definitely the most important part. As a league you have to accept that some people are going to get along, some people aren’t. Bullying should not be tolerated but other than that it is out of your hands. Friendships will be forged, some will last, some will wane and at some point people will get upset. These are not things you can control. You can’t force everyone to be friends or to like you. At the end of the day, it’s not important. Encourage league get togethers but remember mandatory bonding rarely works. As a skater you have to accept you will have some real friends on your team, ones you can count on, but there will also be some that only speak to you when they are telling you the jammer is on your inside during the bout. But also remember, it doesn’t hurt to go out of your way to say hello sometimes. There is a very good chance that you have a lot in common with nearly every other women on your league. I can hand on heart say there is not one person on my league I really dislike. A few annoy me occasionally (see afore mentioned Bieber Jokes reference!) and on occasion there has been times I could strangle some of them. While is are a few I don’t know very well, it’s not out of choice, I only have so much time but I do try and overcome my shyness (I heard you snigger!) and try to speak to them, it usually ends in all kinds of awkwardness and me leaving them thinking I’m a bit of a weirdo, but I do try. You don’t have to be best friends but they are your team mates, you never know, you might make an unexpected friend.
If you are involved in derby in any aspect, from player to fan, you will not of failed to notice a huge shift in roller derby in the last year or so. No, I’m not talking about change in game play or strategy, I’m talking about fashion. It was not too long ago that the name Roller Derby immediately conjured images of fishnet clad “alternative” women in tiny skirts and tutus. Nowadays, take a look at any bout and you will notice most teams are moving towards a more athletic look, team uniforms are more professional looking and the there has been an unspoken emergence of the sports leggings.
My personal opinion of sports leggings is not printable on a family website such as this, however, this is not because I want to be retro or “Old Skool” (she what I did there? Yeah, I’m down with the youth, using text spellings!) The first main reason I don’t wear them is that I have had two children, my body encased in just tight lycra is not something anyone wants to see. This isn’t something that I only apply to sports leggings, in the real world, I don’t believe that leggings are a item of clothing that should be worn without a skirt or shorts being worn over the top. It’s just not nice. But I am also against the sports leggings for more practical reasons, I have a longer than average truck, even so called high-waisted leggings do not come up to my belly button and therefore there is an increased risk of builder bum. Also, how could I concentrate on taking down the jammer when I would constantly concerned about camel toe! It would really not help my game so why bother. My last reason is that I really like my skort, its functional and most importantly, I feel comfortable. The fishnets are totally just because I love fishnets, even before I started playing derby so why the hell not!
My choice to not wear sports leggings is totally my own, and I’m not harassed about it so it’s all cool. As such, players decision to wear them is also their own so I’m not calling for the banning of them but the fact is over a relatively short period of time everyone has started to wear them so I think it signifies much more that the changing collective fashion sense of the community. So I ask, why do you wear sports leggings? I imagine a large response for the “they are comfortable” gang, which, if you find them comfortable, great, you need to be comfortable. This is the response that I get most in my own league but sports leggings were comfortable two, three, four years ago but they weren’t worn then.
This leads me to surmise that the possible reason for the change. My Theory : The big push for Roller Derby to be seen and viewed by the outside world as a legitimate sport has pushed the players to reconsider their attire, maybe completely subconsciously, maybe not, and decide that the sports leggings makes them look more professional. Maybe, this has a point, yes, a team of players clad in lycra does look more like a conventional sports team and eventually the wider public will stop immediately thinking of fishnets. But is that really what we need to do? Cannot we be a professional sport and keep some of the aspects that were unique to us?
Roller Derby used to loves its unconventional image and its alternative tag but it now seems this is an image a lot of people want to shrug off. A few years ago, my own league were sponsored by Motorhead, their press release and our own included the description “fishnet clad hellraisers”, this year we requested that one of our local news outlets didn’t use that description as it was no longer true (Me and one or two others have not succumbed to the evil sports apparel but the rest of the league love them). It is true, we are a more professional sports team than we used to be so it was right to ask to not be misrepresented but I wonder if Roller Derby as a whole is making a bit of a mistake. This extends to various other discussions and recent changes to game, such as names, strategy, et cetera. The game is shifting in all different types of ways as the sport is growing, the old values seem to be less important nowadays than being recognised as sports teams which may just be a natural progression but ultimately, we, the players, are in the position to decide whether we follow it or whether we carve out our own place within the varied field of sports. I guess what I am trying to say is that there are hundreds of sports out there that already subscribe to this one set of values, Roller Derby has always been different, why should we be trying to change to fit in. Why can we work a bit harder and make them accept us and our sport for what it is. Maybe we will never get to the Olympics, but that’s ok, whatever roller derby becomes, even if it never becomes more that what it is currently, is ok as long as it becomes that on our own terms.
We loved being the weirdos on skates, girls that would knock you down as soon as look at you, hard as nails, feisty, independent women. We played up to this and we were proud to be different. Yes, we were seen as a novelty but that got people to bouts, people talking to us. Is there any leagues out there that can say they don’t have a percentage of members from that time who joined simply because it was “different” from conventional sports? I joined exactly for that reason. How many fans of the sport are here today because they went along to see a spectacle but were surprised at what they actually got? Roller Derby used to have a unique selling point and in the race to be taken seriously this is slowly being eroded. Yes, I want roller derby to be seen as a proper sport and our athleticism to be acknowledged but surely that can still happen regardless of what we wear on track? Although, tutus should not be worn! Ever!
This is pretty deep for a rant about sports leggings I know. I felt like a bit of a rant. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments, especially if you would like to change my mind, I’m open to constructive debate.
Until next time and don’t forget to hug your veterans every day.
Welcome to my first blog. I completely don’t know what I want to write about. I very much doubt there will be any sort of constant theme within my blogs, I may just post whatever is on my mind on the particular day I pick to write, so I apologise in advance for my inane ramblings.
I have probably written this post about twenty times trying to decide what to write about. Everything so far has come across as too moany and too “Who the hell do you think you are”. I am not qualified to give advice, I do not think that I have knowledge that others need, or anything else that other bloggers have that make their posts interesting to the derby community. I am just a player. So, for this first one I’ll start with a little introduction to myself and some little facts.
All about Me.
I am *cough*30*cough*, I am a mother of two and in my spare time I like to play roller derby. I have been doing this for four years. I am generally a blocker because I like to hit people but I am made to jam occasionally too. The last time I did, my teammates i the crowd started singing a Justin Beiber song at me. I hate Justin Bieber so I flipped them the one fingered salute. Its captured on video and everything.
I started playing roller derby as I wanted to get fit and I hated pretty much all other forms of exercise. I still hate all other forms of exercise but as roller derby has moved on I have increasing found the need to do them so I do them, I moan the whole way, but I do them.
I hate Stopped Roller Derby, or The Sausage, as it’s known. Why do I hate it? Well, the clue is in the name of the sport, Roller Derby, Roller, as in, to roll. I totally get wanting to score a shed load of points when the other jammer is in the box but that has always been the aim when you have a power jam. In 2009 I watched a jammer at Regional’s (I want to say Joy Collision, but I watched a lot of derby that year) score a 30 point jam, her pack didn’t stop and many of these stopped power jams fail to score that amount of points now, so really what is the point! It’s also a lot easier to stop a jammer when the pack is rolling, especially if you have strong blockers that work well together, but that’s my opinion.
I try my best to be a good teammate and a good person. Sometimes I fall short.
Roller Derby has given me a lot of good friends, some that I doubt I would ever have been friends with if it wasn’t for roller derby, mainly because they would be too cool to talk to me.
I can’t scream in public. That sounds weird, I know, but do you know that thing where you just want to scream ad some people actively encourage you to, to make you feel better? Well, I can’t do that. But a few years ago I never thought I would be able to stand up, on roller skates, in front of a crowd. But I did that so maybe I’ll conquer this next.
I cannot lie. If I try to lie, I get all red in the face and stutter. It has plagued me since a child, my teachers always knew why I hadn’t done my homework, now my husband always knows if I brought new clothes.
I am a huge sci-fi geek and I was before it was cool to be one.
I love a good argument and a good moan.
I am really near sighted and without my glasses I struggle but I don’t wear contacts (yet, it’s getting to the stage where I will have too) yet I am always able to find the oppositions jammer. Weird.
I think that’s about it. I promise to go away and have a good think about what to write about next. If you have any ideas, please feel free to submit them.
Oh, and don’t forget to listen to the show.