So you’re going to a derby convention — 8 tips on how to get the most of it

I wrote a while ago abut the Northeast Derby Convention.  Now a bunch of my old leaguemates and fellow New Englanders are going. Here are some tips on how to get the most from it:

1. Make goals
Write them down before the conference. Write down the goals of the people in  your carpool so you can talk about them on the way home later.

2. Plan it out
Know where to be, when and what you need (notebook, pen, gear, sneakers…).

3. Give it your whole brain
Pretty obvious, but hard in practice. Being totally present for a three-day weekend is hard. It’s difficult to dedicate as much to the first drill of the first session as it is to the last of the last day. Know you paid a lot of money to improve your skill set and be entirely in it.

The other side of this is that your body won’t master every skill you will learn in a weekend. It just won’t. But if your brain understands the intricacies of each drill (and you write them down), you can save it for later when you have a couple hours at practice back at home. That’s your time to perfect what you learn in a whirlwind weekend.

4. Write shit down
You will forget all the awesome drills you learned unless you write them down. Even if you’re not the league secretary, write it down. Here is what you should write:

-The drill itself, including pictures that help you remember how it is set up (I like to draw them like messy comics, so I can see how a drill progresses from start to finish). Also include the goals of the drill … ie: “This is for the jammer to learn to take offense.”

-Any notes on form, especially for hitting.

-Notes about what things you found challenging, what you did well (I found notes from last year that said “you found it especially helpful to jump out of this” etc. and it helped me remember the drill.) Personalizing it makes it memorable.

-Anything you find inspiring that the coaches say. If you lead practices for your league, take notes on the coaching styles you find especially helpful.

-People’s emails. Especially people you admire and want to learn more from.

5. Play well with others
This is your chance to play with people who are not on your team. They will challenge you in new ways. Be nice and do your best.

6. Save the drinking* for Tuesday
If you are at a conference for social reasons, go for it. Drink the weekend away. If you paid all that money to get better at roller derby, you’re going to be better prepared to give each drill your all if you got good food, good sleep and maybe only one G&T.

Talk with others. People from other leagues have a lot of knowledge that you don’t have. Chat up coaches. It’s awesome to have derby friends all over the country/world. And go out! Just don’t go out until 3 a.m. if you have an 8 a.m. session.

8. Decompress
As much as you want to give your all to everything, you will need time to reflect, relax and rejuvenate. Make the time when you’re not in drills/sessions to keep yourself balanced and peaceful.

Have all the fun.

*Drink all the water.

Coming to the blog: Tiny roller skaters. Get your questions in

My teammate is the mother to two tiny roller skaters. One is a 3-year-old competitive figure skater, the other is a 7-year-old roller derby player.

I plan to talk to both of these athletes soon, but thought I’d ask you all first: What should I ask them? Anything you want to know?

Comment below and I’ll include the questions in my talks with the skaters.

7 ways to forgive yourself (for the stupid shit you do) in roller derby

One exciting thing I haven’t mentioned is that I got pulled up to the travel team. It’s a huge honor.

I am U (deep, huh?). Photo by Frank Lavelle Photography.
I am U (deep, huh?). Photo by Frank Lavelle Photography.

With this change comes entirely new challenges. Oh, wait: No it doesn’t. It brings back the exact same challenges. As they say: Derby never gets easier, you just get better.

After scrimmage night this week (two one-hour scrimmages) I had a hard time sleeping. I kept waking up after having nightmares about not staying with my walls. I jolted up thinking about a track cut I got called on. Reliving my mistakes in my dreams.

I can think of times this happened to me in my equestrian career, in my journalism career (I almost fell off my bed once over a superfluous comma), in my friendships and now my derby career.

This happens — to me at least — all the f-ing time. I sometimes let regret or my mistakes eat me alive.

You know what’s really hard? Playing roller derby while you’re letting your regret eat you alive. Derby is hard enough without beating yourself up about things you can no longer control.

I know by talking to other skaters that you do this too. Especially you (98 percent of you) perfectionists (I’m reading a book that asked, “oh, you’re a perfectionist? What exactly are you perfect at.” Blam.). So I thought I’d list off how I work through it:

1. Read this article on jamnesia which focuses on forgiving yourself between jams.

She forgave my for low blocking the heck out of her. So I went to the box and worked on forgiving myself too. Why waste energy in the penalty box reliving the bad? That doesn't make you a better athlete. Visualizing how awesome you'll be next time make you a better athlete. Photo by Photos by Jolene.
She forgave my for low blocking the heck out of her. So I went to the box and worked on forgiving myself too. Why waste energy in the penalty box reliving the bad? That doesn’t make you a better athlete. Visualizing how awesome you’ll be next time make you a better athlete. Photo by Photos by Jolene.

2. That was the old you.
Every day I try to tell myself “I am on an upward trajectory and this is my starting point.” Whatever happened last scrimmage is what I learned from; not who I am. Today is the day I show who I am.

3. Without failing, you can’t learn
No matter who you are, you are learning to play roller derby. You are growing. You are allowed to fail. To fail means you tried something hard. Therefore, you are brave. Be proud of yourself.

4. Decide you will learn from it
If you’re beating yourself up about a mistake (not staying with your wall), maybe use that “beating yourself up” energy toward goal-setting instead. It’s not “I suck at this” it’s “next scrimmage my goal is to stay with my wall, no matter what.”

5. Talk it out
I think a lot of beating yourself up comes from a few things: harsh self-speak,ego/shame. By telling a friend, “I did not do a very good job at (sticking my my wall/whatever) tonight. It’s something I’m working on” it — for me anyway — takes away some of the shame and ego around the issue.

Often when I admit my faults to my teammates, they offer helpful advice and offer some more uplifting comments. Like, when I was still on fresh meat, I told someone, “ugh. I got two multi-players in that game. I have to work on that.” She said, “yeah, but you pulled your arms away at the exact right time about two dozen other moments in that game.” She also told me her strategies for not getting called for that penalty. She helped put it in perspective for me and made me feel good and less ashamed.

There are no secrets in derby. If you think you’re not doing a good job at something, there is no shame in voicing it and letting it off your chest. Your teammates are there to help you improve.

6. What you’re doing is unhealthy, unhelpful
Understand that beating yourself up for a track cut is unhealthy. Know it doesn’t make you a better skater (how many times have you seen a jammer get angry at herself for getting a penalty? She beats herself up in the penalty box and then she goes on the track with a full head of steam, and what happens? She goes right back to the box.). Making (achievable, ambitious) goals and finding ways to achieve them do make you a better skater.

Last summer I entered a skate competition and they put my in the "children under 4-feet-tall" division, based on skill. I tried my best, and ultimately gave myself permission to suck. Because it's OK to suck at things you're still learning. Photo by Dawn Reese.
Last summer I entered a skate competition and they put my in the “children under 4-feet-tall” division, based on skill. I tried my best, and ultimately gave myself permission to suck. Because it’s OK to suck at things you’re still learning. Photo by Dawn Reese.

7. Forgive yourself
For me, I actually whisper it out loud to myself, sometimes in a practice. I say, “I’m going to forgive myself for that one.” And then I try my best to learn from it and let it go.

We all talk to ourselves in our minds all the time. Why is it so easy for us to be kind to other skaters who are learning, but not ourselves? I don’t know, but I try to use that by sometimes trying to dissociate. I pretend that in-my-head Dash is teaching on-skates Dash to skate. I try to talk to myself like I’m teaching this girl to play derby and she is trying her best. Is it crazy? Yes. Does it work? For me, yes.
You have enough blockers trying to beat you up on the track to also beat yourself up.

Please, add your coping mechanisms in the comments.

Team USA, meet your Grim D Mise

A new occasional series

Photo by Walter Romeo
Photo by Walter Romeo

You haven’t seen Grim D Mise at nationals. You might not have seen her ever — but the people who have seen her skate remember her. Grim is a jammer for Maine Roller Derby. She’s speedy and jukes and jumps unlike anyone else in derby. Jammer got style.

And she’s a really, really nice human being. When her friend recently made a “get Grim to Team USA tryouts” kickstarter (girl be broke), she raised her goal within hours, then an extra few hundred bucks the same day. Because once you see Grim play derby, you’re a fan. She’s just unicorn magic sparkle dust.

Grim could jam for any league in WFTDA — and I happen to know she’s been wooed by a few — but, the skater, although from Florida, is a Mainer. When I asked her a while ago why she didn’t just move to Boston, New York … Portland, Oregon … she said: “I’m definitely not knocking the skaters who do decide to move to a certain city to pursue higher roller derby challenges. That’s just not my plan. My plan is to help facilitate the growth of the league that I owe so much, to the point where we ARE competing at Regionals regularly and at Champs, and ultimately earning the Hydra.”

Finally, she’s trying out for Team USA. We’re going to follow her through the tryout with periodic updates. We’ll talk to her right before her July 1 tryout, right after, and when she hears she makes the team*.

Here’s Grim:

Skating background?
I tried out for Maine Roller Derby in October of 2008. When I tried out, the league was experimenting with a “process of elimination” style type of tryout so there were actually four separate tryout dates that I had to attend and pass before making it onto MRD. Twenty-five girls tried out, five made it. I passed tryouts have been skating with MRD ever since!

Previous to roller derby, my background in skating was strictly aggressive in-line skating. I lived in South Florida where I could skate outside yearround. I would do laps around the neighborhood, skate to and from school, get my friends together for street hockey and visit the skatepark on weekends. Let’s put it this way: Growing up, if I was outside, I was on skates. Having that background was a major factor for finding myself comfortable on quadskates and it made the transition that much easier.

Why didn’t you try out for Team USA last time? I know you’d talked about it.
I registered to tryout but I failed to get myself to Pennsylvania on time. I was late by a whole day. D’OH! I’m never late for anything, but I completely dropped the ball on that one. It goes without saying, but I also clearly lacked the focus, drive and desire to try out which tells me I wouldn’t have stood a chance to pass tryouts two years ago.

She got lead. Photo by Tyler Shaw.
She got lead.

So what is different this time?
At first, I didn’t regret missing tryouts. “What are the chances that I actually would have made it anyway?” I told myself. “You’re a big fish in a small pond.” Was something I also told myself a lot too. Then I watched Team USA skate. I had a patriotic fever I could not shake. The best of the best representing USA in the first ever Roller Derby World Cup. That athletic talent, drive, teamwork and show of sportswomanship made me feel all crazy inside. Comparable to the time you went to your first bout except you’re really jacked up on pixie sticks and Red Bull.

I grew to regret missing the opportunity to even skate on the same track as some of “the greats” during tryouts, and even if I had tried out and not made it, I would have walked away with the experience and feedback to help get me to the next level. Two years is a long time to regret something, but it’s been fueling a fire ever since.

Why try out now?
Last year, I made a promise not pass up on a single derby opportunity that came my way in 2013, whether it be traveling to Regionals just to watch, or full-on competing in a banked track tournament, or trying out for Team USA.

Up until this year, I was really limiting myself in my derby pursuits due to the financial aspects of this sport and it has been the biggest mistake of my derby career. I’m super ultra hyper broke now, and it’s been a serious struggle this year, but I wouldn’t change anything about the decisions I’ve made regarding roller derby.

I’m fully committed to devoting the great majority of my time, energy and resources to this sport, my league, my team and my own derby path.

Grim at Crossfit

What are you doing to train for the tryout?
I’m reaching out to several different skaters who were previous Team USA skaters (or who tried out last time). I’ve received a lot of informative feedback on what I should be working on and I’ve been working on it in my own time.

I am training one-on-one with a speed coach one to two times a week to help build my speed and endurance.

I have been a sponsored athlete at CrossFit Vindicta in South Portland, Maine since the beginning of February 2013. The amazing coaches at CFV have intensified my programming specifically to prep me for Team USA tryouts. Without going into too much detail, we are working to improve my balance, agility, endurance, stamina, (explosive) power, and overall physical strength.

Last but not least, I’m doing a lot of research and a lot of mental training. In 2011, the first round of tryouts lasted for four hours with very little water breaks. I’m mentally preparing for one of the toughest physical challenges I’ve probably ever had to face and complete better than anyone else there. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be harder if I’m not prepared both physically and mentally.

From ECDX. Photo by Dave Wood Photography.
From ECDX. Photo by Dave Wood Photography.

Any fears?
Not making it. I honestly can’t think of a time that I’ve wanted something so badly. I don’t want to think about the possibility of not making it though because that’s not going to help me succeed.

Anything else about how you feel about trying out?
Earning a spot on Team USA would mean the world to me and would be a privilege and an honor, no doubt, but my ultimate goal is to be a primary skater on the final roster for the team so reminding myself of what I plan to accomplish has been helping me push through the toughest of workouts on and off-skates.

Although I’m not originally from Maine, I’ve lived here long enough to learn that Maine is a place with a strong, supportive community full of people who genuinely care about each other. I take a lot of pride in the fact that I skate for a Maine team and I’d like to represent our state and its wonderful derby community on an international roller derby platform.

Last but not least, I want to be an asset to this team. I recognize that I encompass many skills that still need to be honed and fine-tuned in one way or another but I have been working toward that since day one. I still feel like I have a lot to offer and could prove more than useful if chosen for Team USA … but that’s what tryouts are for so let’s let actions speak louder than words, shall we?

Photo by Scott Lovejoy
Photo by Scott Lovejoy

I’ll be talking to Grim again in June. If you have a question for her, post it in the comments and I’ll add it in next time.

*don’t even.

Real names in roller derby: A case study

Enough of you have searched “women’s pro roller derby real names” to get to my blog, that — the thinker that I am — I figure you want to know about derby skater using their real names. Interestingly enough, my best friend, Mistress of the Knife — or, these days, Shevawn Innes* — recently joined Rose City Rollers’ Wheels of Justice and the home team the Heartless Heathers and plans to skate — get this — under both names.

She was kind enough to put up with me interviewing her:

This is Mistress of the Kni-- uh, Shevawn Innes.
This is Mistress of the Kni– uh, Shevawn Innes.

You’ve been skating under Mistress of the Knife for, what, 8 years now?

I’ve been skating on and off for that long but I didn’t pick a derby name till I was with my second league. I avoided picking one in the early days of Detroit.

Why did you make a derby name?

I showed up in Nashville and they wanted me to register a derby name so they could put it on the roster. I distinctly remember saying “can I just be myself?” Man they thought I was weird. I was told I had to have a derby name. I picked Mistress of the Knife because that’s what my beloved former (ship) captain had jokingly introduced me to passengers the prior winter sailing. Then there was the awkward time of people trying to shorten it, “Mistress” felt regal and dirty at the same time — not for me. Knife… now that I can relate to.

Me: "Want to stop the jammer Shev -- Knif -- wait, what do I call you?" Shevawn: "Baby, call me whatever you want" (hits jammer into infinity.)
Me: “Want to stop the jammer Shev — Knif — wait, what do I call you?”
Shevawn: “Baby, call me whatever you want” (hits jammer into infinity.)

But, to me at least, it’s always seemed that you haven’t cared what people call you. As your teammate I didn’t start calling you Knife until you moved here and then only because it’s confusing when people have two names.

I don’t care what people call me there is no difference between Knife and Shevawn. Turns out I’m the same person.

So why will you be skating under your birth name for the Wheels of Justice (travel team)?

Personally, I feel like the sport on a national — let’s also call this international —  level has gotten so amazing that I’m taking huge pride in my years of hard work paying off, so much so I would like to put my family’s name on that. Am I trying to ligitamize the sport? Yeah. I want to do this for a living — for a paycheck.  I wanna see derby in the Olympics. I want the “good people” and the huge sponsors to take this sport seriously and put a bunch of money into my friends’ pockets. Too legit?  Too legit to quit.

So then why skate under “Mistress of the Knife” for your  home team, the Heathers?

When I’m playing national derby I see myself as an ambassador for my city, my family and the sport of roller derby. I want to represent by being me. Shevawn Innes. When I’m home I’m home — I’m not an ambassador for my city if I’m in it. But I’m always an ambassador for the sport. When it comes down to it, I guess it just feels right.

What are your teammates saying about your choice?

No one has said anything. Well, except, “what should I call you?”

Do you think other people should skate under their real names?
If they want to. Everybody else can represent themselves however they want — that’s the beauty of this ever-evolving sport.

Do you think you have anything to lose by skating under your birth name?
Maybe some street cred. Maybe gain some.

OK, thanks for the interview, bffls.
OK, thanks for the interview, bffls.

*Innes rhymes with Guinness, announcers.

5 reasons you should outdoor skate this summer

The prospect of outdoor skating can be scary, but you should do it anyway. Here’s why:
1. It will make you better at roller derby.
Skating outside is the only reason I have a solid “c cut” (quick cut to the in and out. Often used in drag-out hits or to gain position in a one-on-one scenario). A year ago I couldn’t plow stop with confidence, and when you’re headed down a hill toward a road with busy traffic you have a few options (if you’re not good at stopping):
A. “Cut” down the hill like a skier.
B. Fall
C. Die
I also learned lessons in stability (Hello rocks, sticks, cracks in traffic, sand …) and awareness (And hello to my friends: “dog who hates roller skates,” child, traffic …) and jumping (fuck you, broken pavement, those bumpy sewer tops, dead squirrels …).
Stopping, awareness, stability, agility? Yeah, that’s helpful.

2. It will even you out.
When you outdoor skate — unless you’re that girl who is trying to do derby drills on a fake track she made in the high school’s bumpy parking lot* — you can even out your muscles. Long, straight paths, hilly trails, they challenge your muscles more equally than skating counterclockwise for hours.
3. It can be good for your league.
Wear your league shirt. Bring fliers. Go to a bar or cafe in your skates when you’re done. Be nice. It’s amazing how many people want to chat about the sport when they see you in skates.
4. You’re too pale.
I said it.
5. It’s fun.
Duh. Grab a friend. Go for a skate. Get some sun. Crash, exhausted on someone’s lawn (STAY OFF OF MY LAWN) and remember why you love roller skating.
*Totally not me, guys

What small leagues have going for them

It’s nice to be in a larger league. It’s so nice. The league here is a 501c3 and already has its life together and leadership and some paid employees. But I’ve been talking with some skaters from my previous league and I’m missing it this summer.

Here’s what small leagues have going for them:

–Tight teams. By the numbers alone, smaller leagues’ teams are well meshed. When you’re in a league of 30 people total, you know how every one of them jams, blocks, evades. When you’re in a league of 150+ people, it’s impossible to get the same level of familiarity.

Sinner of Gravity is my last (tiny) league's star jammer. I felt I always knew what she wanted from me.
Sinner of Gravity is my last (tiny) league’s star jammer. I felt I always knew what she wanted from me. Sometimes, a backward-ish whip.

–Close communities. By nature, smaller leagues are usually in less populous areas. The league has to be an active community member to stay skating. And while going to every parade in town (Lobster Parade*, Fourth of July, other Fourth of July, skating for kids’ programming at the high school …) can be draining, it’s also so cool to get a small community buzzing with excitement before a bout. It’s hard to get a whole city pumped, but a small town? Everyone knows a derby girl in a small town.

–F-ing dedication. We’re all dedicated to our sport, but if you’re in a league of 20-40 people, it takes a lot more volunteer time and dedication to the not-fun jobs than if you’re in a larger league. Someone still has to be president, organize WFTDA paperwork, do insurance, make bouts, make posters, run practices … but with fewer bodies to do the work.

–More relaxed fun (?). Everyone cares about getting plays down, talking strategy and perfecting hits, but when you’re not worrying about a national ranking, there is time for roller disco lessons and games as drills.

–Creativity. I’ll say it. I’m going there. It’s the same philosophy as above: When you don’t have to care about a ranking, or your stats, or making travel team or being on or whatever, you can loosen up and think about lining your whole defensive wall up backward in a “rugby start” or other weirdo ideas. Less pressure, more risk.

–More track time. At a large league, you might split the track with a junior league, home teams, travel teams, etc etc.

–More game time. If you’re on a small league, it’s easier to make travel team. It’s easier to get rostered. It’s still hard. It’s hard everywhere, but there’s less competition.

What am I missing?

*That’s a real thing.