Mercy if you want it at roller derby World Cup

After a Tuesday announcement of a “mercy rule” that would give a win to any team leading by 100 or more points (if there was 20 or fewer minutes left in the bout), the derby community booed*. Today, Blood and Thunder stepped back on the Mercy Rule and will allow the teams that are playing to decide if they would like to utilize the rule or not.

Well, OK. We should count that as a win (see my last post here). After all, quitting when you’re down is the exact opposite of who roller derby is.

And, while I count this a win for roller derby, I still think they should abolish the rule/option.

Several hundred people will be playing in the bouts. Several thousand will be watching. The bouts aren’t for the players — they’re for us, the fans. We watch the World Cup because we want to see the best players in our sport compete. Cutting off the best show in the world is the wrong thing to do.

Just play derby.


*And by “booing” I mean angrily commenting on facebook, of course.

5 things to know about outdoor roller derby

When we first started, my last league skated in an old school building’s gym — 60 feet by 40 feet, maybe*. So, when the sun came out in Rockland, Maine, we traded our dusty gym in for the high school basketball courts (which would fit a WFTDA track).

For us, it was analogous to keeping a pony in a tiny dark stall for months and then letting it loose in a sunny hay field. “Finally,” I thought. “This is where we belong. On a derby track. A real one. … this is bigger than I thought.”

You can see I wore boot covers (99 cents) and they got torn to shreds. Photo by Eric Baseler, summer 2011.
You can see I wore boot covers (99 cents) and they got torn to shreds.
Photo by Eric Baseler, summer 2011.

But, like snakes and thistle in a field, with freedom come certain dangers.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Go early, be prepared
If you can’t lay a permanent track, you’ll need your rope/tape measure and chalk each time. And 20 minutes.

Also be prepared for the public. People see a bunch of women (or men, or children) on skates and get curious. If you have fliers for your next event, have some on hand. And if you have someone off-skates, maybe assign that person to be the spokesperson for the day.

2. Outdoor surfaces can hurt
Skin peels off your body so much easier on concrete, tar, tennis court. Make sure to wear capris, even if it’s hot. Bring the first aid kit every time.

3. They can hurt your skates too
If you’re a toe-dragger — even an occasional toe-dragger — outdoor surfaces can also rip your leather right off your feet. (No, not literally) You might invest in toe guards or duct tape.

4. New wheels not necessarily a necessity
If you’re on an even-enough surface, like a basketball court or a tennis court, you probably don’t need to spend another $30-100 on outdoor wheels. Outdoor surfaces like that do wear down any ridges you might have on your wheels, so if you have a boner for perfect, new wheels, well, you probably already have outdoor wheels and I don’t know why you’re reading this. If you’re frugal and don’t care too much if your wheels are beautiful, they shouldn’t affect them too much.

It’s a basic lesson in friction — gritty surfaces are tackier (hence why they excoriate you with ease). So, on a super-friction court, you should consider using a less sticky wheel. Outdoor wheels (the stickiest) are a poor choice for a basketball or tennis court, in my opinion. Sticky on sticky.

That said — if you’re on a super shitty surface, like bumpy tar, you will want outdoor wheels.

Personally, I used my old indoor wheels for outdoor derby, my outdoor wheels for skating outdoors for leisure and my indoor wheels for indoor derby.

5. You’ll need more water than you think
I drank more than a gallon once. Your teammates will forget their water. Also bring sunglasses and sunscreen.

6. Know when the sun goes down
If you’re skating in the evening, you might want to check when the sun goes down. And prepare, accordingly. I wrote about the Maui Roller Girls’ set up — they practice outdoors at night. Also, if you’re playing on public space (like a high school basketball court), check your city’s ordinances about noise, curfews, etc.

*Such tight walls.

The “mercy rule” breaks my soul

I have only one thought on the 2014 World Cup rules announced today, really:

It takes incredible hurdles to create magnificent victories. Our heroes don’t come because they face everyday circumstances — they come out of harrowing times.

Therefore, I loathe the mercy rule that Blood and Thunder announced today. According to DNN, it states: “If a team is leading by 100 points with 20 minutes remaining, the leading team will be awarded a ‘technical knock-out.'”

I think the mercy rule crushes the soul of roller derby fans. Part of the fun is rooting for an underdog and vicariously living through their victories (even if it’s just “SHE GOT LEAD JAMMER!). As a derby fan I love the second half. I know teams come back. I know they re-think, re-energize and re-evaluate their play and adapt. Part of the satisfaction I get is seeing the smarts of the sport — OK, Team B, you’re losing. Now what?

Because isn’t that what real victory looks like? — Figuring out that who you are isn’t good enough and that to rise to the task you must be better than you thought you could be. I think so.

And from a practical standpoint: Blood and Thunder also reduced penalties to 30 seconds (or, if the other jammer it out and scoring, the penalized jammer only serves one scoring pass in the box) — OK. I can live with that. Hypothetically, someone great could score 40 points in a powerjam minute. 20 points in a half-minute — assuming you could goat the jammer that long under this rule set. 100 points is still only five (magically awesome) power jams away.

Come on, Blood and Thunder, don’t take away the chance of a great story with amazing heroes conquering the seemingly unconquerable. It’s not who we are.

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Grim’s Team USA tryout recap

I know you’ve been patient, so let’s get to the chase (catch up on this series by reading this and this first):

How’d it go?
Tryouts went well! I was still dealing with a lingering cough from whatever I’ve had for the past two weeks and my left quad muscle was acting up again but I’m very grateful for a thing called, “adrenaline.”

Did you make it through all the cuts?
I did, in fact, get to finish the tryout. I don’t know exactly how many women tried out but it looked to be close to 100; 32 women moved on to the scrimmage portion of tryouts. I was on the black team and it felt like, for me, a dream team line up.

When will you find out if you made it?
There is still another tryout in Seattle, Washington on Aug. 12 so we’re all waiting until after that to hear more. That’s all I know.

What was it like?
It was like interviewing for my dream job. In my adult life, I’ve never had a dream job and I can’t really say I aspire to pursue a “real” career either. I’ve always just had a passion for skating but until I got involved with roller derby, I never really thought I could take it anywhere. It really hit me on the day of tryouts that roller derby IS real life and I was were I was supposed to be at that point in time.

Tryouts felt a lot like practicing with a highly-skilled league you’ve never practiced with before; Similar to the time I was invited to attend a Gotham Girls All-Star practice at their crash pad in October of 2011. Everything we did at that practice was performed at a very high-intensity, with strong movements, and with a sense of urgency. Tryouts might not have been as physically exhausting as that one practice with Gotham, but it was still challenging and intense.

Were any of the drills weird or new to you?
Hahaha, yes and I’m sure it was pretty obvious to the coaches that I had no idea what I was doing at the beginning of the drill. Not too far into the drill, I figured it out and felt like I was able to successfully execute the skill they were asking us to perform. Thank goodness!

What part were you most comfortable with?
I was most comfortable with a lot of my stops — my right side hockey stops in particular. I didn’t even know what those were until Polly Gone (formerly Gotham Girls Roller Derby, currently Texas Rollergirls) came to our league several years ago, and when she demonstrated her hockey stops, I think we were all a little blown away.

Oddly enough, my left side hockey stops. They are not as strong as my right side hockey stops!

Give us an anecdote or two
I’ve been a long time admirer of Shenita Stetcher who skates for the Philly Roller Girls and we share the same number (305) so on the day of tryouts we were all split up into colors (red, white or black) and numbers (1, 2 or 3). Shenita and I were both white, 1. It didn’t end up being problematic, but I thought it was funny.

Spry forgot her gear bag at the hotel and had to drive back to get it but it was okay because we were first in line. An hour and 15 minutes early.

How did you feel going into the tryout?
Really focused. I was not nervous at all (which surprised me). I was excited to be there and was really moved to see that I’d be up against some really outstanding talent.

How did you feel leaving it?
I wanted to cry. Ha! I turned off a lot of emotions to able to get into such a focused zone for tryouts and when it was over my brain was flooded with emotion. I felt entirely overwhelmed and a little anxious after the scrimmage. I also felt a lot of pride for myself and my teammate, Spry. We have a lot to bring back to Maine now.

Any regrets?
Yes and no. I’m naturally a very introverted person and although derby has helped me become more outgoing and less shy, because of how I was feeling after tryouts, I didn’t get to thank the people I wanted to thank for that experience. Trust me, I will be e-mailing those people all day to make up for it though..

Otherwise, I don’t regret anything. I pushed myself at tryouts, I did my best to follow directions, I partnered with women I rarely get the chance to work with, I listened, I communicated, I learned, I had a blast.

If you knew what you knew now, what would you have done differently?
In preparation for tryouts, I would have practiced that one drill I had never tried before.

I also would have approached my training a tad differently in regards to my jamming. I’m fairly confident I know now what I can do to improve in the areas that need improvement, whereas before tryouts, I wasn’t really sure how I could accomplish those goals. I was so focused on getting my blocking up to par, that I didn’t think too much on how to modify my jamming technique for today’s derby.

How will it change your goals?
I now see myself mapping out more specific goals, with some time frames. I could be training more often. I’ve learned a lot about time management since beginning roller derby. The more I read about how Olympic and elite athletes train, the more evident it is that I need to be doing more.

How did this change how you think of yourself as a skater?
This “derby thing” is not something I can play down as just a hobby anymore.

It’s taken me time to come to terms with the fact that I’m aggressively pursuing something I’m passionate about, and in the past this would have scared me into not trying to reach a goal in fear of failure. I’d like to think I’ve grown up a bit and am comfortable embracing failure as failure is a great teacher. I am more, “professional” about it now. I’m kind of a goofy person who doesn’t take things too seriously and skating has always been something to do because it’s fun; training is fun, playing roller derby is fun, but I’m serious about it too. I’ve gained a new confidence and I’ve always had a strong work ethic, but it’s taken me a while to realize that how far I want to take this is the same thing as how far I think I can take this.

Anything else you want people to know?
Because the tryouts were such an amazing learning experience, I plan to re-tryout again in August at the Seattle tryouts.

The commitment I made to pursue any derby opportunity that came my way in 2013 is still something I’m passionately dedicated to, and thanks to the fundraising opportunities and all of the support I’ve received to pursue my dreams, I have the means to do this.

In addition to the tryouts being a wonderful learning experience, I feel like I could have done better. Yes, I attempted my best, but I learned so dang much. I want to take what I learned, train even harder for the next month and illustrate that I can be better. I’m insanely lucky to be afforded this opportunity again and I realize that. I couldn’t have this chance without help. Seattle, baby!

Derby vacations — they’re not *that* painful, really

Over here at The Dashboard, we’re eagerly waiting to hear about Grim’s tryout (spoiler: she did well). Until then, I’ll tell you about my recent derby vacation:

One week. No skates. … Sounds like torture.

Since Feb. 2, 2011, I’ve taken these “breaks” from skating:
-10-day trip to Europe (no skates)
-31-day trip around the United States (skated about once per week, rink and derby)
-Six-day trip to Maui (skated one practice, skated one bout)
-Last week (no skates)

Not skating while in Europe was torture. Same with the U.S. road trip, but I did get to guest skate along the way. The hard part about that trip was knowing I was losing fitness, but was about to have a transfer into Rose City tryout — which would demand all the fitness I had. I went to Maui for derby, so, that was painless.

This year, my home team took a break after early June and won’t be back until fall. Travel team announced a break for last week.

Initially, I was upset and wanted to (defiantly) skate through it. This was quickly overshadowed by the joy of extra hours with my SO, a weekend camping and not rushing from work to the convenience store (for a Powerbar) to practice three days a week.

Lesson: It was nice. It was really nice. I could take another week.

And I went back to practice last night ready (well, mostly ready. I was late because traffic was terrible coming back from the ocean), refreshed and not any worse for it. Probably better, as we all need to rest our bodies sometimes.

Here is what my schedule is when home teams (HT) and travel team (TT) are both on:

SUN — (TT) 1 hour off-skates + 1 hour endurance skate + 1 hour drills
MON — (HT) 1 hour off-skates
TUE — (HT) 1 hour strategy talk + 2 hours drills
WED — (HT/TT) 1 hour scrimmage with HT + 1 hour scrimmage with TT
THU — (TT) 1 hour off-skates + 2 hours drills
FRI — Free*.
SAT — Free. (Optional league scrimmage)

= 12 mandatory hours.

Yeah, a break every now and then is necessary.

To be honest, with such a rigorous load I was losing a little steam in the last few weeks. It’s summer and I’ve been working really hard for months (you saw that schedule, right?). Now I feel rejuvenated and ready to put my body and mind back to work and prepare for some pretty exciting bouts. Wise move coaches, wise move.

The travel team I’m on will play Windy City, Kansas City and Rat City in August. Super pumped.

*Some weeks I’m expected to fit another hour of off-skates in there for home team =13 total/week.