Category Archives: IMHO

IMHO: Confessions of a Derby Wannabe

This post comes from SVRG’s Absolutely Scabulous, who passed bootcamp at the end of last season and has become a full time derby girl. Currently she is serving as Head of Bout Production and doing a fabulous job…come see the product of all her hard work (on skates and off) at our first home bout on March 6!

by Absolutely Scabulous

It’s been 8 months, folks. 8 months, 3 two-hour practices a week, and all the additional heart and soul I have been putting into the sport of roller derby. If you would have asked me last April where I would have seen myself in 8 months, I think my arrogance would have gotten the best of me. I was convinced that I could possibly be the missing link in roller derby, the undiscovered gem, that finally, I may have found a sport that I could be the front runner! But here I sit post-practice, a deflated medium. I am an average roller derby skater.

There were a lot of surprises I could have never predicted when entering the derby culture. I never expected the costs associated with it and how much it would really factor into my budget. Skates, pads, helmet, workout clothes, even how the hell am I going to carry my skates since they don’t fit in my cheap-ass bag I got from Ross? That extra top from Forever Hoochie and those new black flat boots from DSW were bumped down on the priority list–I wanted a set of G-Rod wheels so could actually grip the track; I want a better fitting skate with higher quality hardware so I can count on it when I’m out playing (rather than worrying about losing a toe stop around turn 1). The financial commitment associated with derby wasn’t necessarily a burden, but simply a new way of prioritizing my expenditures, and in turn, my lifestyle. I’m learning that my purchases are a lot more meaningful than what they used to be.

I don’t think I understood the human element of it all, the personalities and interactions between skaters. I don’t know who I thought this group of women were (no really, I didn’t have any clue who would be passionate and involved in this insane sport). In most life situations, I find myself the loudest/funniest/popular-est of the bunch and I usually can charm the pants off whoever is around. But this group was different. I feel myself being shy and awkward in situations where I would normally be extremely confident–it’s truly an ass-slap to my ego, making sure I don’t get too comfortable and really pushes me to stay focused. And since I’m not the top dog skater, I’m literally forced to listen to the more experienced girls and attempt to absorb as much strategy at all times. THEN I can allow myself to socialize. Playing derby has challenged me to stretch my own comfort level, be a teammate rather than an individual and begin to learn a new side of my own personality. It’s been a humbling experience for me as I’ve had to let younger girls teach me and learn to take huge amounts of both positive and negative feedback. For me, that’s actually a huge growing area–I’m not one to run out and ask for feedback (c’mon, who really is?).

And then, the derby learning curve. Oh you mean, long and slow learning curve. So you wanted to run a marathon? Sweet! Just follow this training plan. Oh you wanted to swim for varsity? No problem, you’ll be captain after a year! And then there’s roller derby: quite possibly the only sport I’ve ever attempted to play where I truly am starting from zero knowledge. Besides knowing how to do basic skating, I am learning this sport utterly and completely from the ground up. This isn’t an innate skill, you aren’t born with skates on your feet (even though I think some of the A-team girls were, along with mouth guards and came out of the womb screaming “JAMMER! JAMMER! JAMMER!”). And what I’m learning the most, besides not to let the opposing blockers distract me, is to be patient with myself and this process. There are rules, positions, strategy, and intuition that all must be practiced, and practiced and practiced some more, then finally learned.

So here I sit, post-Wednesday practice, our scrimmaging practice. The entire drive home I attempted to process the wave of information, advice, and feedback given to me. And I couldn’t really digest it all until I started writing. It’s okay if at this practice I only did one single thing better than I did yesterday. It’s completely okay that I might have sucked at something tonight (or many things!). Even if I tried my best and did one good block, or avoided a hit, that’s one skill I wasn’t able to do at the last practice. Be a little squirrelly, be a lot nervous and for the love of god, forgive yourself for all these things. Most importantly, never forget that you’re playing on roller skates–how the hell can you not have fun on a pair of skates?

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IMHO: Fox’s lessons from the 2009 roller derby season

New year, new feature. Well, sort of. IMHO, shorthand for “in my humble opinion,” will be a recurring blog feature where any roller derby skater, ref, fan, or other interested party can write an opinion piece. Of course, being your blogstress, I confess that most of these opinions will probably come from me. But, if you’ve got something to say, email me and we’ll see if it’s a good fit for the blog. Enjoy!

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I have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions. First of all, I see no need to wait until a number flips to make positive changes in one’s life. Second, resolutions are mostly acknowledgments of failure–hmmm, what did I do wrong and/or suck at this last year?–and given that most resolutions themselves fail, well…that’s too much of a concentration on the negative for me. However, if this is what it takes to set goals for people, by all means, go for it. My only request is that when you reflect on the past year, think about what you have learned and what good has come of it, and use that knowledge to frame your resolutions. That way, you have an existing sense of efficacy and can see your resolutions as progress down a path you have started rather than a total upheaval of your way of life.

This past year was my first season of roller derby. I learned new skills, skated in my first bouts, and had my first triumphs and disappointments. At many times during the season I was very thankful that I came into this sport at this point in my life, because I’m not sure I would have had the dedication, patience, or maturity for it at 18 or 21. Now that I am old enough, satisfied with the other aspects in my life, and have ready access to alcohol, I can approach derby as a passion and an athletic pursuit rather than an outlet. Contrary to popular thinking, I don’t think derby should be a depressurization valve that you open up 2-3 times a week and let all your pent-up issues come flying out. If derby is your sole outlet for physical intensity, aggression, or other strong emotions, you need to work on getting your life in balance–otherwise you stand to explode and splatter your teammates with ‘tude and other bodily fluids.

Anyway, that’s my take. I’m not certified, just certifiable, so take it with a rock of salt and let’s move on to Fox’s Stuff I Learned This Year.

There are as many learning opportunities off the track as on the track. I learned this when I was off skates and on cane for my second ankle sprain in as many months (courtesy of a sloppy opponent at the net in volleyball, not derby). I felt that I was falling behind as I watched girls who came in after me pick up skills I hadn’t had the chance to master yet, so I decided to keep up with my learning as best I could at home. I can’t count the hours I have spent watching roller derby on YouTube. Watching other teams with different skills and different strategies is one of the best possible ways you can improve your game.

LEARN THE RULES. Period. Games are won by teams who use the rules effectively. Learn them, and learn how to use them to your advantage. Read through the WFTDA rules and actively envision the actions happening. Hmmm, cutting the track in front of the foremost opposing blocker in the pack is a major penalty? Then, think: when might this happen? How could I turn this occurrence into an advantage for my team? Finally, try them. Focus on one or two strategies and try to put them into play during a scrimmage.

Taking a hit can be as effective as delivering one. Sigh. I didn’t want to accept this. Considering my gene-given strength, I always fantasized about being a big hitter, the kind that can put a girl into the suicide seats without breaking my stride. Once I got a grip on my basic skills, though, I decided my goal was to be the smartest player on the track, not necessarily the most feared. And so I started paying attention. I watched big hitters kamikaze themselves as they took out an opposing blocker. But then I noticed that as the crowd was cheering wildly, the big hitter was struggling to get back to a useful place in the pack. Or, she managed to put a girl on the floor—insert crowd roar here—but directly in the path of her jammer, causing the jammer to lose speed, get forced into another blocker, or worse, trip and end up on the floor or in a pileup. So now I anticipate my jammer’s path and figure out if delivering a hit or distracting the blocker and drawing one is a better strategy. Granted, your friends in the audience may start to think that you suck, but you just have to point to the scoreboard and explain that you’re doing your job.

Respect your injuries. My dad always told me not to fuck with my back, my eyes, or my knees, ‘cause those you can’t really fix. It’s true: back and knee problems are some of the most persistent areas of pain and discomfort as we age, and most treatments only alleviate symptoms rather than fix the injury. If you get hurt, give your injury the time and attention it deserves. Go to the doctor, stay off skates, and follow the doctor’s orders for medication, icing/heating, physical therapy, etc. Otherwise, yeah, you might make the roster for the bout, but one hit or fall there might sideline you for the rest of the season. Not worth it!

Accept your age. This relates very closely to the last point. My biggest issue with taking up a sport in an age well outside of my resilient adolescence is that I still have the same attitude towards pain and injury: suck it up. Anatomically speaking, this is not advisable past the age of 18 and especially after our mid-twenties. We simply do not have the physiological resources to heal or rebound like we used to. Ignoring your injuries or playing through pain might lead you to much more serious problem. Again, not worth it!

Roller derby isn’t feminist, or second-wave feminist, or post-feminist…it just is. It is sport, and it is sexy. Like it or not, derby is the brutality of rugby, the intensity of hockey, the grace of figure skating, and the camp of professional wrestling all rolled into one. Every league does it differently, some flaunting the spectacle side of it, others fighting hard to stick with an athletic frame. Within those leagues, individual skaters also treat derby differently.  Before a game, I watch as some girls focus all their attention on getting their makeup just so while others stretch, prehydrate, and tape. Some girls will insist on primping their helmet hair before a post-bout team picture, and others flaunt their sweat like any other athlete during post-game press. Some will participate in fundraisers like mud/jello wrestling or burlesque dancing with flair and a sense of empowerment, and others will refuse because they believe selling sex conflicts with women being treated with the same respect as other athletes and roller derby being accepted as a sport. People will always have conflicting opinions on what derby should or should not be, and this tension is perfectly okay—but as an individual, if you are struggling with the moral/ethical/philosophical questions here, it is important to explore and find your comfort zone.

Personally, as an athlete, I find it hard to reconcile the sexualization of the sport. That’s my challenge. As an intellectual who studies the deleterious effects of sex stereotypes and as a woman who battles them, I struggle not to be judgmental and not to jump on the soapbox with fervor over some issues. But as a league member, I knew it was important to find some balance. And so, this year, I have learned when it is valuable to speak up about an issue and when it is best to let it be. And as a teammate, I have learned to accept and embrace my women as they want to be and in the various ways in which they express themselves.

There will always be drama—so what? I’m tired of skaters saying derby is bound for drama because it’s full of women. Good god, get out of your sex stereotypes, people. Sports are full of drama. Work is full of drama. DIY derby is a combination of both, and so you’re going to have drama, whether it is a subtle undercurrent or reality-TV-show explosive. Ignore what you can, deal with what you can’t, pitch the rubbish, and move on with life. Just don’t be a stereotype-perpetuating idiot and blame it on the proportion of vaginas involved.

Promote universal derbyhood. Sport your league gear when you can, keep schedules in your pocket, and never turn away a question from a bystander. When you have the chance, go to the bouts of your sister leagues and cheer them on. Offer some words of encouragement to bootcampers and fresh meat and make them feel like more than pork rind. If you’re like me and have to spend entirely too much time in front of a computer, seek out websites or profiles of sister leagues or other skaters’ blogs and leave some derby love. What we have as roller derby-ers that other sports should envy is a widespread and vocal community, so be part of it. Respect. Represent. Roll.

So, that’s it—the lessons I walked away with after my first full season of roller derby. I hope they offer some food for thought for you and get you to look back on the progress you’ve made in the past year. Now, on to a greater 2010…

Bottoms up,

Retox Fox

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Laaaame! Austin Skater Crackerjack Sued over Derby Name

Derby girls, here’s another reason for not eating Frito-Lay products (aside from the empty calories). It seems that the corporation is suing derby girl Colleen Bell, aka Crackerjack, for copyright infringement, because her name is too close to that of the caramel popcorn and peanut treat Cracker Jacks. Yes, they are actually suggesting that a roller derby skater might be confused with or tarnish the name of a frickin’ snack.

Ridiculous! What, did they sue to get royalties every time the crowd sings “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at a baseball game?

What a bunch of Cracker Jackasses.

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