6 ways my relationship to derby will change, post-pandemic

Some leagues in my area are scrimmaging, some are slowly trying to return, others are still on hiatus … maybe forever?, and my league is spending time investing in the 50 or so women in my town who bought roller skates during the pandemic and waited to try out for our team. Unless your league jumped right back into scrimmages and bouts, you’re probably in some state of frustration as a competitive derby skater. I am, a little. It’s a good time to reflect on how things shifted.

Derby changed; it had to. Many skaters’ [and officials’] approach to the sport changed too. 

I’m making changes to my relationship to roller derby. I cringe at the decisions the January-2020 version of me made. That month, I went to a tournament with a severe head cold. We played the second half of a game with a two-jammer rotation and I felt like absolute death. The team bench was littered with boxes of my used tissues. That version of me never thought to not go to the tournament. Today-me would never do that again. 

Here’s what else is changing (and I’d love to hear what’s changed for you, in the comments). Heads up: This starts light but gets real real:

The opportunity cost of roller derby — aka racking up PTO

By May 2020 derby’s hiatus appeared on my pay stub. My accrued time off ticked up to numbers I’ve never seen. So this is what happens if you don’t constantly travel for bouts and tournaments. That pay stub gave me clarity. The opportunity cost of a season of derby tournaments was a three-week trip to … well, anywhere. 

This was the first of my Pandemic Derby Revelations: I’m not going to travel as much for derby in the future. 

I live in Maine. If you want to play an opponent, you’re traveling. When Maine hasn’t fielded a team for state tournaments, I’ve been on state teams Team Mass and Team Vermont. Vermont is a six-hour commute. I’m also a staple of my home league’s WFTDA-charter jammer roster … stepping away from travel may be significant to my team. Maine Roller Derby doesn’t have a travel team right now, but when that day comes, I plan to have an honest chat with everyone about what I can offer. I accept that may mean I’m not wanted on the WFTDA charter anymore. Should that be the case, I plan to help prepare the team for their bouts and coach newer jammers to succeed.  … You know, when I’m not taking surfing vacations with all my time off. 

I want to be a competitive player, and I also want to be able to take a break, and spend some time on other fulfilling activities.

And hey, maybe you don’t have paid time off. Another way to frame this is: rest. My league never took an off season longer than four weeks. We need rest sometimes – even *gasp* a whole summer.

I attend practices that serve me

Oof that sounds selfish! But it’s true. I used to attend every fresh meat practice, in addition to all-league and scrimmage nights (home team and travel team’s). Having 100% attendance made my little virgo brain tingle with dopamine … even if that meant several three-hour practices a month of going over boring-to-me basics.

My league is small, so there are times it’s important to be at practice – mostly scrimmage nights. I’m also a practice leader, so I will continue my twice/month obligation to my league. But on the other nights, like basic skills nights, I’ll be home (or doing other activities).

“The retirement plan” activity

Speaking of “other activities” — ironically, pre-pandemic I was working on a blog post about how to plot out a retirement. I have been quietly, furiously working on my retirement-from-derby plan for four years now. To be clear: I don’t intend to retire from this sport. But I’ve seen a lot of people leave who didn’t intend to retire. The lucky ones get to choose their exit day. I know I might not be so lucky, so I’ve been developing other hobbies to ready myself for a day where maybe I can’t roller skate. This came in handy for the two+ years my league shut down.

A good retirement plan fulfills the three essential aspects of roller derby: Community, exercise, fun. Regular exercise groups like Zumba – or even an activity like mountain biking – meet one or two of those IMO (exercise, maybe fun), book clubs meet two (community, fun). Finding all three – and an activity that matches your skills and interests isn’t always easy (I’ve twice been to rugby’s freshie days and it just didn’t stick). It’s the trifecta that keeps people in derby for 10+ years. Many people I’ve seen leave the sport say they’ll exercise, and after a few months they don’t … because they need the community commitment to encourage them to return to an activity. 

For me, I’m competitive, so I like Crossfit. While I do a lot of other activities including skiing, mountain biking and sea kayaking, Crossfit is another place where I get community, fun and exercise. It wouldn’t be “fun” for everyone, but I like the aspect of constantly learning new skills, like how to walk on your hands. 

Becoming more compassionate

January 2020 Dash would hate this post. She’d tell me that my skills will stagnate if I don’t go to every practice, and I’ll let my team and myself down if I don’t go to every travel-team game. The break the pandemic offered gave me a lot more compassion for people’s situations. I used to get upset that my travel-team teammates wouldn’t work on their fitness or endurance or strength outside of practices. Now I don’t care. If that’s not what fits in their life, or serves them, or they’re just not interested, whatever. I’m not going to hold it against them anymore. I’ll still let the new teammates know it will prevent injury, among other benefits. But we all have to make choices these days and derby just may not fit the way it used to for some folks.

“The retirement plan” friends 

In the 12 years I’ve been playing derby, I’ve seen a lot of people join a league with the expectations that they have a new family, a new group of people who will always be there for them, instant friends1. Wow, that’s a lot to put on an activity! When those people leave, I’ve heard them say how sad they are that they lost their whole friend group. They thought after they left the sport they’d still see their former teammates outside of practices and games … but they didn’t. 

This, IMO, is two things. The first: Those teammates are busy practicing three nights a week plus bouts on the weekend … they may not have much time to see you. The second is much harder to hear: You didn’t actually invest in friendships

A teammate is not, inherently, a friend. If you’d like to make a friend, you need to invest in that person. Ask them out for post-practice sodas, hang outside of derby, etc. For most of us, there will be a time when we don’t skate anymore. If you want to build your community, it’s important to bring your friends with you when you go by forging relationships that are stronger than situational friendships. 

Invest in people

There was a year for me when terrible things accompanied two bout days. On one of them, I played derby after a funeral. Again: today’s version of me would never continue life while something terrible was happening; I wouldn’t go to that game now. But then, I did, [and frankly, it was great for my mental health after a week+ of supporting people through mourning]. It taught me something. I’ll never forget coming back from a funeral, sitting on the bench looking at my teammates, and thinking, “none of this matters. Y’all are all that matters.” 

I’ve never remembered a game score. Not sure I could even tell you my highest point count per jam. I couldn’t tell you with any accuracy which games we lost, or won (except the couple that taught me bigger lessons). Because, really: It doesn’t matter. And this is coming from the most competitive person you’ll ever meet. It’s like Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Your legacy won’t be in your wins. It’ll be in the people you helped, cared for, made memories with. So figure out how to get yourself more of that. 

1 That’s a cult

Feature photo by Jim Vernier.

I want to hear from you. I want to know how the pandemic has changed your relationship to roller derby. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. -Dash 

One thought on “6 ways my relationship to derby will change, post-pandemic

  1. Nodding my head to a lot of this. I was aiming for a “comeback” to my high competitive days in early 2020 – after a brief retirement fail (because of relocating), and then joining a new team that was starting up in my city. All of it felt amazing, and I felt like I was going to have the retirement that I deserved/opted for myself. Well… we all know what happened. I’ve kinda been floundering around again, unable to commit to practices even once a week. Irritated by late practice times cutting into my sleepy time (lol). Feeling completely disconnected from the sport, from my teammates… After 12+ years devoted to this sport, I hate to think that “this is it.”

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