How to learn to ref: A derby skater’s guide

A bunch of referees are smiling

*This post is intended for derby skaters. This isn’t a “new to derby; learn to officiate” guide. I’m not addressing NSO’ing in this post.* This is a follow up to You Should Ref More, Skater

So you’re ready to try officiating. Now what. That depends on your league type, then your skill set  …

Some super basics

Before I tell you how to get ready for your first day reffing, you need to know these basics:

  • Any call requires this: You see the initiation (who started it)>You see the illegal action>You see the result of that action had an impact [as measured for that action]
  • Doing all that^ then: blowing a whistle > announcing the color/number/penalty loudly and in that order > making the hand signal > ensuring the skater heard you and reported to the box … is hard. Be kind to yourself as you learn this new side of the sport.
  • A no-call is a call. It is just as important. You don’t get more ref points for the number of calls you make 🙂  Quality>quantity. If you make no calls in your first scrimmage, that’s OK.
  • Different referee positions have different roles. I’ll go over this in more detail below, but as an example: It’s extraordinarily rare to hear a “no-pack” from an Outside Pack Ref just like an Inside Pack Ref never announces lead jammer. You don’t need to worry about everything … just some things. Below, we’ll talk about which ref roles might meet your strengths.
  • Referees are expected to learn “positioning” meaning the place you need to be in order to see penalties in your “zone.” As a new kid, you have a lot of leeway, but it’s just good to know this exists.
A roller derby skater strides, a ref points at her
That’s me jam reffing. It’s my favorite position, in part because I get to see “the other side” of my position, a jammer for Maine Roller Derby. Photo by Randy Hunt (also an official), used with permission.

Your league

Here are four league cultures I’m familiar with:

  • No officials
  • Only new officials
  • Some officials — with severe cultural issues between skaters and officials
  • Many officials in a positive, learning culture

Your approach is going to be a lot different, depending on your league’s capacity and culture. Let’s take them in order:

There are no officials in my league, but I want to learn

You can do this, but it won’t be easy — you will still grow, I promise. You can’t be seven referees, so don’t try. Pick a position (I’ll go over that in detail below) and stick to it for your first time. Try your best to pick a focus and stick to it — like only watching for forearms (more info on that strategy below). Bring a notebook if you can so you can write down rules questions later. It may not seem like it, but a benefit you have here is you get to focus on the game — no need to worry about communicating with fellow officials.

My league has officials, but they’re all too new to teach me

See above. It’s nice to learn together! Your skating career can come in handy helping the other new refs work on their transitions and jumps. If they know more about rules than you, they can help fill you in, or at least teach you how to whistle (which isn’t as simple as it seems). New crews can have a hard time keeping the game moving (which is important) so try to save big questions that would take longer than 30 seconds for the end of the half.

We have officials. They might not like me.

By offering to officiate, they will like you more. I promise. Being on a team with them will increase mutual understanding, and you’re asking for their experience and knowledge, which you respect. Ask to shadow one of them. This usually means following them around and mimicking their position, hand signals and learning about how they’re making their calls. These brain dumps are super helpful.

My league has a robust, experienced ref crew

Lovely! Ask to shadow an experienced ref who is in a position that suites your skills and interests (see below).

A roller derby referee makes resting ref face
Resting ref face. Photo by Randy Hunt (also an official), used with permission

Your skills: picking a position and focus, to start

Here’s a brief breakdown, in case you didn’t realize:

  • IPR – front  (inside pack ref): The front pack ref tends to stay with the front-most pack skater. They often will let the JRs know if lead is open or closed. They watch for forearms, multi-players, blocker cuts, illegal positioning and all other pack penalties. They will help define the pack when it moves forward, but it’s not their primary role. They tend to position themselves on the inside of the track, but a step back so the JRs can skate by with their jammers.
  • IPR – back: This ref is usually most responsible for pack definition, calling the “no pack”s and issuing pack-related penalties. They will watch for out-of-play issues toward the back of the pack and communicate with the front IPR if the pack relocates to the front. They also watch for contact and other penalties in the pack.
  • OPR (outside pack ref)
    • Front: This referee is often a fast skater who is competent at backward skating quickly and good with their skating transitions. This referee needs to skate as fast as the fastest pack skater … but they have even more distance to cover. They watch for jammer track cuts on the outside line and all other blocker penalties that happen toward the front of the pack, often while skating backward.
    • Middle: This referee is in the meat of the pack, often able to see the most blocker-on-blocker action. They must watch for outside-line track cuts.
    • Back: From the back you can often see initiation, but be wary to call anything unless you see the full action.
  • JR (jammer refs): This role is one focus: You watch the jammer and anything that happens to the jammer. In that way, some people find it an easier job. Other people find it overwhelming because you must remember: Is lead open? Did my jammer ever lose eligibility for lead? When hit out, which blocker hit them out, which other blockers were ahead at that moment and did any of the people the jammer came in front of have position (cut)? Which people did my jammer pass and score on? Which points didn’t the jammer earn? Etc. This role is often pretty easy for experienced jammers to move into because they understand the rhythm of the game from this standpoint. It’s important for JRs to stay in line with their jammer (you don’t have to be the fastest, you can just cut the track short on scoring passes) and to communicate with the other JR for things like lap points, if lead is open, if the jammer is still in the penalty box, etc. The JR also must have good communication with their score keeper.

Overwhelmed? Pick a focus

Once you pick a role based on need or your strengths, pick a focus. If it’s your first scrimmage you can bet you won’t catch even half the penalties that happen. That’s OK. If you get overwhelmed I suggest picking one or two penalties to look for, for instance: “I’m only going to look for multi-player blocks this half because I’m a front IPR or front OPR and can see the impact of those.” If you’re a JR, maybe you only focus on calling lead (or not) and calling it off, to start. With time, your eyes will widen and see more, but it’s OK to start if you need to narrow your focus.

Other thoughts and tips

  • Bring a notebook to jot down rules questions you have during the scrimmage. There’s just not enough time between jams, so let’s save our official time outs to help with safety or fairness of the game, not rules questions.
  • Practice your whistling before the scrimmage. Try the sets of four whistles that end a jam. Say “T” into your whistle quickly. Get the rhythm right.
  • If one of your teammates makes you feel bad in your first scrimmage, tell them so gently after. When you ref, you learn a lot about your team — both great and not-great stuff, but awareness is the first step to changing it, if you’re so inclined.
  • If you thought it was interesting to ref, watch footage. See how other refs do things.
  • The WFTDA has some educational materials you can look at — hand signal break downs and officiating standards, for instance.
  • If you didn’t like it, try a new position. Your skill set might be better used elsewhere. I started by OPR’ing a lot because it seemed like less pressure and I liked skating fast on the outside, but found I’m actually happiest as a JR (makes sense because I’m a jammer for my team) or as a front IPR (because I’m a control freak who likes to see the whole game).
  • If reffing is just too much, NSO’ing is a great way to watch the game from a new perspective, but without having to worry about where you are in space. Scorekeeping will make you a better JR, for instance. Penalty box timing could make you a better head ref, one day.


Officiating will make you a better, smarter roller derby skater. You can learn new rules, “loop holes” for strategy, cues refs give that you could later use in your game play, how points are really scored (from that inside vantage point), how impact is measured (aka what you can/’t get away with) and how to control the game clock. All important stuff. Make sure to use it for good, not evil, yeah? Go get em.


Are you an official and have a tip? Drop it in the comments. We’d love to hear how you got started and what your first scrimmage was like. 


Roller derby drills are hard … all of them … always

Oh hey. I’ve had a lot of big changes in my life, but thanks for the encouraging comments and emails asking me to blog more/again. I want to. I plan to. As a way to ease back in, here’s what I recently posted to our own fresh meat’s page. I think it’s always, always true:

Roller derby drills are hard. All of them. Even things like stepping side to side, which could seem rudimentary. Plow stopping is also rudimentary, but our travel team (and top-ranked travel teams across the world) practice them every week. It’s important to find goals, fun and fulfillment from even basic drills because that’s a lot of what roller derby is – getting the “easy” stuff down (muscle memory) so we can do it flawlessly in combination with lots of other cool shit when we play the game.

Here’s some things you should consider before ever thinking, “this is boring” — and not just next week or next month, but four years from now :

  • Am I doing it in perfect form?
  • Can I do it faster in perfect form?
  • Could ANY of the veteran skaters do this drill better than I’m doing it right now? If they could, what would they do differently? (then try it).
  • How would (insert skater hero here) do this drill? (then try their unique style)
  • Can I do this backward?
  • Can I do this on one leg?
  • Can I do this backward on one leg?

If you can do the drill backward on one leg in perfect form better than any other skater, then you can be bored 🙂

p.s. stepping side-to-side on one leg in perfect form is flippin hard.

Embrace winter, roller derby skater: You already know how to downhill ski

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 2.45.33 PM

I want every roller derby skater to know this: You can ski. Down-a-mountain ski.

I took a snowboarding lesson once. It was a miserable experience that left my face, bum and ego bruised. It was extraordinarily similar to climbing up a small hill, tying my feet together and then tumbling down the hill. 30 times.

A year later, I took a ski lesson.

It was one of the most fun things I did all year. And it was so easy. “Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?!” I found myself saying on my fourth trip on the ski lift that day — by myself.

So I’m here to tell you: If you know how to plow stop, you know how to ski. (Maybe not expertly, but enough to get started.)

I arrived at my local mountain and signed up for a beginner’s group lesson (it was $50 including rental skis and a lift ticket), but I was the only beginner. I overheard one instructor say to the other that he was going to teach me how to plow stop and then he will send me over to the intermediate group.

“I think I might know how to do that,” I told the instructors.

They told me to show them, and sure enough, it’s the exact same move. Which, yeah, is obvious; a lot of leagues even call that stop the “snow plow.” But what I didn’t know is that is all you need to know to be able to navigate down the easy green trails. If you have a good hockey stop: even better.

Once my instructor brought me through some weaving cones and helped me learn to get on the lift, it became clear that to ski down a mountain, you just use your left plow stop, then your right plow stop, then your left …. repeat. If you go to fast … you plow stop. Some little kids don’t even weave using their left and right stops, they just plow straight down the mountain. Which sounds like a lot more work.

The words I heard most during my lesson were, “stand up straighter. Use your hips less.” … but! …

Now, of course, to get good at skiing, you’ll need more than a left, right and full plow, but as someone who has suffered through years of miserable winters — while watching my slope-loving friends beam at the blizzarding forecasts — I just wanted to tell you that even if you’ve never tried it before: you’re already really good at skiing.

Enjoy the snow.
Enjoy the snow.

Which state has the most roller derby?

Darkest states have the most leagues per capita. Lightest have the least. By Hard Dash.
Darkest states have the most leagues per capita. Lightest have the least. By Hard Dash.

Congratulations, Alaska. You rock. Your tiny, tiny population (less than a million people) sustains four WFTDA leagues.

Recently I spent some quiet time with a spreadsheet, a glass of wine and some census data to figure out which states have the most roller derby (more on this below).

Without further ado, the top 10 states for roller derby are:

1. Alaska
2. Wyoming
3. Iowa
4. Colorado
5. Vermont
6. Washington
7. Oregon
8. New Hampshire
9. Maine
10. Hawaii

And the worst?

50. Arizona
49. Florida
48. Arkansas
47. Nevada
46. Georgia
45. Alabama
44. California
43. New Jersey
42. Texas
41. Michigan

The data is imperfect. For instance, my last league, Rose City, has something nuts like 300-600 skaters and my new league, Maine Roller Derby has 50 skaters. Yet they both count as one league for each of their states (and both states are great for derby). I don’t have info on how many skaters are in each league, or I’d do that for you.

The rankings are based on how many leagues each state has per capita (based on each state’s population). For that reason, the states with the highest populations (Florida, California, Texas) were ranked pretty low.

So what do you think? Is this pretty accurate? Not at all?

The full list:
1 Alaska
2 Wyoming
3 Iowa
4 Colorado
5 Vermont
6 Washington
7 Oregon
8 New Hampshire
9 Maine
10 Hawaii
11 North Dakota
12 Mississippi
13 Idaho
14 Wisconsin
15 Indiana
16 South Dakota
17 Missouri
18 Delaware
19 Nebraska
20 Oklahoma
21 Kansas
22 Utah
23 Montana*
24 New Mexico
25 Rhode Island
26 Kentucky
27 Virginia
28 South Carolina
29 Tennessee
30 Minnesota
31 Louisiana
32 North Carolina
33 Ohio
34 Massachusetts
35 New York
36 Connecticut
37 Pennsylvania
38 Illinois
39 West Virginia
40 Maryland
41 Michigan
42 Texas
43 New Jersey
44 California
45 Alabama
46 Georgia
47 Nevada
48 Arkansas
49 Florida
50 Arizona


*Montana doesn’t have a full-member WFTDA league. To make the data work, I wrote that it had one. In fact, you could argue Montana should be #50.

How to bench coach: A clinic from Rose City Rollers’ Mike Chexx

This summer I helped coach Rose City’s Derby Daze — an intense weekend of skate clinics — and Rose’s travel team coaches, Rob Lobster and Mike Chexx led a lunchtime talk on coaching. What Mike Chexx said blew my mind.

Specifically, he told me that he categorizes his players into certain groups. When he mentioned the groups I immediately knew I was a positional communicator. My best friend and another skater I work extremely well with are hitters (who don’t communicate as much). Blam. Puzzle pieces. You can put me with another communicative positional blocker, but we’ll just yell and never hit the jammer out. Everything about how I work with other skaters suddenly clicked. So, I asked him for an interview. Aside from being an amazingly calm, smart bench coach Mike Chexx is a derby announcer.

Here’s Mike Chexx:

Can you tell me more about how you think about skaters in positions? What are the positions? (Are there more than communicator, hitter, positional?)
Rob and I finally committed to changing our approach to how to work with our bout rosters late this past season. As part of that, we did develop some classifications (or positions) for skaters:  communicator, hitter,  positional, clean and offense are the big ones.

We found it extremely important to know which two blockers (if we were in a situation that allowed us only two blockers on the track) were the least penalty prone, but that could also work together and communicate well with one another to help stop a penalty parade*. Nothing takes away momentum in a bout faster than a penalty parade that isn’t ending.

How many of each position would you have in a line-up, in your ideal world? (I know you said you like to have two communicators)
We didn’t really have hard and fast requirements as to how many of each skater-type we wanted in a given line-up. I was always looking for pairings or groupings of skaters that could communicate well with each other, that shared some traits, while being opposite in others (think Belle Starr and Scylla Devourer, or Mercy and Penny Dreadful). In short, I was looking for ways to maximize efficacy on the track at a higher level than the sum of the individual parts.

We prefered to have two communicators in each lineup when possible, but that wasn’t always available. When we started running the two-line-up system, we tried to keep one line-up as a more physical, faster paced, hitting style of lineup; while the other was a slower, more containment focused, positional blocking type of lineup. What we learned in Fort Wayne – and in retrospect, what should have been more obvious to us – were the impacts of moving skaters in and out of those line-ups from bout to bout. Not so much from a skill based on-the-track output, but more from a cohesive mental game standpoint.

What’s the most important thing a bench coach does?
I don’t even know how to begin answering this.

In game time, the way Rob and I worked together, my most important job was to keep the bench (and sometimes Rob) calm and focused. Though I am not foolish enough to believe that by only keeping a bench calm and focused we would be guaranteed victory, I do think the mindset of the team greatly influences the outcome of the bout.

The best example of this I can think of was during the WoJ v Gotham bout from ECDX in 2012. Losing a key jammer early in the bout, and losing another key jammer for a number of jams in the middle of the bout would have severely shaken most other teams in the WFTDA – especially when bouting Gotham. But the bench stayed calm, JK and Acid stepped up huge, and we gave Gotham their closest bout in years. In fact, thinking back, the bench was so calm that KicKassedy (a skater) actually calmed me down at one point, and got me refocused on keeping the bench calm and focused.

When not in game time, studying game footage and statistics were my main focus. The combination of stats and footage were instrumental in constructing lineups and assessing how to work with a roster during game time. Whether or not this would be the most important thing I did when we weren’t bouting could be debated, but I feel like it was.

How do you influence the culture/attitude of your bench?
I try my best to lead by example. I feel that has the most impact on a bench and a team. I try to keep calm, try not to lose my shit when multiple things go sideways at once, and I try to treat everyone with respect. When I coached AoA (B travel team) with Firecrotch, we required that the team thank the officials after a bout, as we had done all season. I also try and hear everyone out, whether I agree with them or not. The key to learning is listening. It is amazing what you can learn when you intently listen and think about what is being said, and the context of the conversation’s content.

What common things do you see skaters do/say that you’d like to see less of? More of?
I will try and keep my answer to this as short as possible. I look forward to the time when derby is truly treated like a sport — both by the public, as well as its players. Speaking specifically in regards to the players, I wish there was more of a team-first mentality. I understand you want to be rostered, but there are only 14 spots for 20 chartered skaters in any given bout. I know you want to play more when you are rostered, but there are only five skaters allowed to participate in each jam. I know it is cliche, but the “W” is the most important thing, an individuals play time and stat line are secondary.

What I have seen more of that I like is the dedication to training during the off-season. We have an incredibly athletic, fit and talented team. And it gets better every season. I also appreciate the level of attention being paid to stats and standings. Not that it wasn’t a focus in seasons past, but again, it gets better every season.

I also appreciated that more skaters supported Rob when he was coaching strategy, as opposed to questioning him. As a team, it was important that we had a cohesive approach and strategy when different things would happen on the track. Most often, when things started to go awry on the track, it was because skaters had different ideas about what should be done in those situations, and wouldn’t back down from their opinions. That has been a weakness in Rose City for years, sadly.

How do skaters earn game time, in your mind?
First and foremost, be at practice. Especially endurance practice. I could give you half a dozen examples of how our endurance training won bouts for us the past two or three seasons.

Second, clean up your game play. Penalty prone = less playing time, or less rostering.

Third, keep it positive. Toward your teammates, your league mates, your coaches, your officials, fans, volunteers, etc. Toxic attitudes on a bench/team are worse than smelly gear trapped in a closed up car on a ninety degree day, and are equally hard to remedy.

*Someone make the man a .gif. Put a link in the comments.

One year in, what’s coming to

I launched a year ago.

journoskateTo celebrate blog-a-versary, here are the five most-read entries of all time (some topping 20,000 views):

Journalists miss the real ($50M) roller derby story. Every time.
Distracted by the glitter, wheels, hitting and names that are bleach-penned onto our shirts, journalists slip and don’t cover roller derby like they would any other trend news story.

Roller derby finances: Comparing the top-ranked nonprofit leagues in the nation
We know how Gotham sizes up to Windy City on the flat track, but what about at the bank?
By digging through (publicly available) tax documents, I tried to stack some of the top leagues against each other to see how they match up.

Orange is the New Roller Derby
Yes, I’m comparing roller derby to prison*.

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. 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.

Take the star — why you’re going to try jamming next practice
It happens in leagues all over the world. A jammer comes out of a drill, sweaty and breathing hard, pulls the panty off her head, smiles and waves it in the air. “Who wants to jam?”

I made this blog in part because I felt the media around roller derby was insufficient. I thought I could add a researcher-journalist voice to the dialogue. I wanted to do big trend pieces, like trying to (in part) calculate the financial worth of roller derby.

I feel the web hit statistics show this is what you want. Sure, a Buzzfeed-type Orange is the New Roller Derby post is fun and caught fire on Facebook for a day, but take the $50M story, as an example. It got 11,000 or so hits the first week. It’s doubled that since. People keep searching for that type of information. “How to Make a Bout” is the top search term leading to this blog each week. To me that says there is a need for quality information and analysis on the sport.

I strive to be a resource. That’s what I’ll aim for in the next year.

What’s coming:
-Something on the new WFTDA playoffs set up
-An update on the financial worth of nonprofit roller derby leagues (this should be a much more in-depth piece because a lot of you told me your leagues have become 501c3s since 2011, which was the last available data)
-More on mental game and struggle
-Something on men’s derby
-Pages (?) Now that it’s been a year of content, I’m considering making pages to organize information. It’s becoming a long long scroll if you read this blog top to bottom. Pages might include: How to make a bout, Fresh meat resources, Mental game, Nerd ($ data crunching)
-My talented web artist friend Alicia Bane is designing some art for the site.

Also, I recently added Facebook and twitter share buttons to the bottom of each post, to make it easier for you. I also added a box to the right that lets you “follow” the blog. If you follow it, you will get an email each time I post something new.

As always, you can comment and I’ll respond. If you ever think to yourself, “WHY DOES NOBODY TALK ABOUT THIS BIG-DEAL TREND?!” email me. That’s why I’m here.

Our changing bodies: How roller derby made me smaller, bigger, bigger and why that was hard

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Roller derby has changed and changed and re-changed my body.

I got skinny, I got bigger in some areas (welcome back, awkward teenage years), I got skinny and worried about myself, I got some nice abs for a minute, my thighs bloated when nothing else did, my calves eventually joined in for the ride, my arms shrunk, my face fat went away sometime, my butt joined my thighs and calves … In roughly that order in the two years and nine months I’ve been playing the sport.

I put a slideshow above with updates for just about every six months.

Sometimes the physical changes have been awesome. Sometimes it’s been hard to deal with. I’ve been socialized as an American female. When your thighs bloat out, it can be hard to be enthusiastic. Even when I felt otherwise “skinny.”

I feel (the very feminine need) to buffer here. Arguably, I’m a skinny bitch whining about gaining muscle. However, I feel my perspective is one that’s felt more widely in the derby community: As a woman, it’s not always easy to accept getting physically larger, even when you’re getting fitter.

I’ve come a long way on this — I had to — and I thought I’d share my story:

I never thought I was fat. I also wasn’t skinny. Being not-fat didn’t make it easy, coming to terms with my changing body (Whoa, hello puberty book). At first, I lost weight, mostly from my stomach and face. After a few months and a couple bouts under my shrinking belt, I kept losing weight.

I knew it was food related. I was eating the same (a bagel for breakfast, maybe some spaghetti for dinner and some days nothing in between), but my activity was dramatically increasing. I wasn’t eating much (if any) meat. My body was starved for protein and calories and it was shrinking. It scared me. But my teenage, anorexically-inclined insecurities kept rising up when I tried to eat more than usual. I had to face that. I had to talk kindly to myself. I had to try to think of food as fuel. It’s difficult. But I wanted to get better at this sport and I knew I couldn’t do that and not eat enough. So, I had a long think, reconciled with myself and made the changes I needed to.

That got harder when my thighs suddenly (add animated plomp plomp plomp noise) — it seemed sudden anyway — bulked up. My pants still fit because I’d been wearing loose pants. My teammates were starting to say that their calves couldn’t fit into their skinny jeans and I was jealous. Calves are cute, I thought, thighs are thunderous*. But in derby — and in life — you don’t get to pick and choose your body parts.

My stomach was staying the same and I was beginning to feel muscle developing under a thin layer of fat. That was encouraging. My calves started developing too.

So then I moved from my small league to Portland, Ore.

This forced a massive attitude change. I attribute this to a few things:
1. Roller derby here sucks up so much of my life that skaters make up about 90% of the people I see in a day. Surrounding myself with beautiful, strong women makes me want to be a strong woman, not a skinny woman***. I don’t compare myself to the thin women in movies, magazines and at the mall — mostly because I don’t have time to read magazines, watch movies and go to the mall. I normalized muscle as beauty by consuming images of that instead.
2. My goals need me to fully dedicate myself to my workouts and that means I can’t have these anxiety hangups about food. I do not have the time and I no longer want to expend the energy on thinking about how much two eggs, a bagel, a fruit, my coffee with too much cream, etc “costs” in calories.
3. I skate so much it doesn’t matter what I eat. With up to 15 hours of derby a week when it’s home and travel team seasons, ain’t nobody got time for that [food worry].

So, changes since the move: I went from the fresh meat pool to home team to travel team in six months. So when I say I ramped up my training, I mean three times (little league>FM>home team>travel team). I ate more meat, more beans, more bread, more fro yo (there is so much of it here.), more vegetables, eggs … I just eat more.

That much ramp-up in activity changed my body all over. My abs, which I felt were cute now bloat my stomach. I feel like that’s a thing the Cosmo magazines, etc don’t tell you: Abs are not flat. Abs don’t make your stomach go in. Real abs, if you have more than 7% body fat, bulk out your tummy and make you look a bit bigger. I had to accept that.

My thighs developed more. Thanks, endurance laps. That muscle on top of my thighs exploded (no, not literally. Gross.) and I have this muscle on top of my knee** now. When I stand straight up and look down at my toes, I can’t see my shins anymore because they’re blocked by my derby thighs. I’m elated. My calves are following suit, especially with off-skates footwork training.

My body has gone through a lot of loss, gain, gain, loss in ways I didn’t expect. I assumed that I wouldn’t change because I was already “average” and so roller derby couldn’t affect me this much physically and psychologically, but it has. It’s a whole process of re-adjusting, changing expectations, changing goals and self acceptance.

Some things that have helped me along the way are:
-I don’t use a scale. Ever. That number doesn’t matter. How fast my laps are, how many points I score, how many points I stop — those numbers matter.
-I now know my body is going to continually change depending on my needs and my training. Whatever my body does is what I need.
-Eating more meat. It’s the easy way to get protein.
-Protein shakes. Same.
-Judging my strengths in non-body metrics. Speed, agility, stopping power.
-Changing my image consumption from main stream to athletic.
-Not reading those “fitness” magazines if they have “10 Ways To Lose That Stubborn Belly Fat” or “Three Ways to Make Him Squirm****” cover stories

It’s been difficult at times. I’m happy with myself and my body now. I don’t focus much on the details of what’s changing month to month. If I see a new muscle, I welcome it. If I continue to grow into a larger human being, all the better to block you with. I expect my struggle now to evolve into keeping this muscle now that travel team season is over. It took a long time to get to this level of acceptance. And some days it’s still hard.

I’d love to open up this conversation in the comments. I’ll watch the conversation and chat with y’all. How has derby changed you, physically? Have you had to readjust your thinking? What has helped/hurt? If you only lost weight, was it a nice experience or was there turmoil too?

*Thighs are wonderous. I know this now.
**What the hell is that about.
***This is where I validate the public and say all bodies are OK and it’s OK to be skinny. Whatever.
****How is that fitness.

Grim D Mise talks about not making the Team USA roster … this time

This is the last installment of the Grim D Mise series. I’ve followed the Maine Roller Derby player through her Team USA tryouts since May. A preliminary roster of candidates was published on the team’s Facebook page and Grim wasn’t on it.

Here’s what she had to say about it:

Team USA tryouts in Seattle had skaters perform plow stops, one-foot plow stops and hockey stops. Photo by Danny Ngan Photography
Team USA tryouts in Seattle had skaters perform plow stops, one-foot plow stops and hockey stops. Photo by Danny Ngan Photography

How are you feeling?
After the Seattle tryouts, I had almost immediately began preparing myself for disappointment. The whole experience of trying out for Team USA twice was something I really needed to help bring me to the next level though. I knew I’d be better athlete having had that experience. It’s really hard to feel disappointed when I can’t stop feeling grateful for the chance to tryout and all the support that came along with it. I’m proud of myself for chasing something that means a lot to me, and it won’t end here. There’s always the next World Cup and another shot at Team USA.

How was the tryout in the West different than the East tryout?
During the East Coast tryouts, there was a wide separation in skill levels between a majority of the skaters. At West Coast tryouts, about 95% of the women that tried out, were very high level derby athletes*. I was pretty blown away. I was looking forward to sharing the track with women I’d idolized from my computer monitor for years, but I did not expect to leave Seattle a fan of so many ladies I’d never heard of.

Did you learn anything about West Coast derby?
West Coast derby is no joke. I got to watch the Rat City vs. Gotham bout while I was in town and had the opportunity to sit with some retired Rat City skaters during the bout, and listening to them talk about what it takes to earn play time on an All Star team out there. It really convinced me that the competition is taken seriously. In addition, learning more about Rose City and exactly what there league does to foster a highly competitive environment was a lot of food for thought.

Who was the funnest to play with/against?
Oh my gosh. I can’t even decide. I will say this, Onda Sligh cracked some funny jokes on the bench.

Do you feel there was anything else you could have done in preparation?
Yes. I wasn’t successful this go around, which means I didn’t do everything I possibly could have. Lesson learned.

Do you feel like there was anything else you should have done at tryouts?
I’m not sure. I followed directions, I tried my hardest and I listened to my teammates. There are definitely things I could have done better, but that’s a given.

What are you proudest of?
I’m really proud of myself for putting a lot of time and energy into something I have an unwavering passion for. I feel like the sport Roller Derby has so much to do with the person I am today. The Team USA tryout experience taught me that although I may have a mild fear of heights, a severe fear spiders and a satirical fear of hicks (like from the movie, “Wrong Turn”**), I have a complete fearlessness on the track and Team USA tryouts brought that out in me. So yeah, I’m pretty proud of that.

How will this experience change you and how you skate?
I need to learn teamwork. I have been competing on my home league for so long primarily as a jammer that I lack the “pack mentality” most veteran blockers seem to have. I’m confident that with more opportunities to scrimmage and bout as a blocker, I’ll get there.

What’s next?
Competing with The Port Authorities and growing Maine Roller Derby. The more our All-Star team improves, the better chances we’ll have competing against higher ranking teams and that will grow us all as athletes. I mean seriously, look at New Hampshire Roller Derby! They are a perfect example of hard work, dedication, focus and improvement. MRD is lucky to have them in our backyard.

That’s the end of this series. I hope you enjoyed it. I plan to … someday … write up my account of how the Team USA tryout went. Plan to see that in the coming weeks when the team posts the final roster.

*Of the 46 people on the Team USA roster (which will be cut) right now, 19 of them were at the Seattle tryout. That’s 41% — a very high figure when there were three tryout locations, plus video submissions.
**So with you there.

What do captains want from me?

We have a lot of skaters here. This was the 2013 home team championships. High Rollers won. Photo by Alan Cook
We have a lot of skaters here. This was the 2013 home team championships. High Rollers won. Photo by Alan Cook

Rose City Rollers has four home teams. Each is a different flavor. In my mind — and I’m bias — The Breakneck Betties (red) are the hard hitters, The High Rollers (green/gold) are beautiful women and speed-skater-like, The Guns and Rollers (black/pink) are creative and The Heartless Heathers (blue) are the strategists.

Our next home team draft is coming up, so I asked the new captains of each of those four teams what they look for when they decide which fresh meat to pull up to a team. I coach fresh meat and have read this list to them a couple of times now. It gave me a great reminder of the sort of skater we’re all striving to be. Here is what they said:

-Drama free
-Hungry to learn
-Brings intensity
-Accept feedback and apply it
-Getting out of the comfort zone
-Isn’t afraid to try jamming
-Drive to constantly improve, try anything
-Fun to skate with
-No suck ups
-I’m not interested in a superstar; I want a team player who works hard and motivates me to work harder
-Coachable (If you have leadership, the ability to execute and urgency, you can come across as overconfident and rude if you aren’t coachable)
-Be a team player and work well with others

Physical skill:
-Doesn’t have to have the perfect plow stop/hit/juking but if they show these things at practice that makes them stand out and they will improve over time
-Overall power (it’s not enough to be fast or have fancy feet, but you gotta back it up with some power)
-Solid hitters (can take a hit too) who hit in good form
-Fall (that means you’re trying new things)
-Communication is good, but the next step is taking that action. Don’t just tell other people what to do
-Someone who is bout-ready
-Mastering the basics (stops, pick-up speed, good form, speed, endurance, solid well-timed hits, etc) is important
-Having a voice on the track
-Execution – being able to do the things you know you’re supposed to (applying smarts)

Smart skill:
-Jammer awareness (they don’t have to be great at communicating but ALWAYS talk about where the opposing jammer is)
-Concept of strategy — a lot of FM struggle with this, it’s refreshing when a FM skaters has these basic concepts
-Communication on the track
-Not going rogue
-Knowing what to do and being confident enough in their skills and knowledge to share with their team what is happening and what should be happening
-Smarts in the pack
-Understanding of the rules
-Can play (my specific team’s) game
-Understanding the game and applying strategy are imperative

-Safe intensity, so many of FM appear nervous to me and then I do not see them bringing intensity as I know they can
-Urgency – do everything on the track with urgency, aggression, intensity, as if it were in a bout. Practice the way you play.
-Utility players
-Being team-focused
-Will contribute to a team off the track
-Ask questions and sweat a lot
-Team players — I need a teammate, not a hero

*Any “redundancies” are real. It means more than one captain said this.

Credit to the smart and pretty captains: Indigo Hurls, Ripley, Scarlene, Yoga Nabi Sari, Bella Constrictor and Feliz Brutality who are/do all of these things.

Take the star — why you’re going to try jamming next practice

Play all the positions. Photo by Masonite Burn
Play all the positions.
Photo by Masonite Burn

It happens in leagues all over the world. A jammer comes out of a drill, sweaty and breathing hard, pulls the panty off her head, smiles and waves it in the air.

“Who wants to jam?”

Happy, huffing jammers approaching the bench with their sweaty panties reminds me of my cat, arriving victoriously at my feet with a bird head. So proud. So happy to share their victory. And frequently, their enthusiasm is met with disgust and resistance.

“Fine, I’ll do it,” is something I hear a lot.
“Oh hell no. I’m a blocker,” is something I hear a lot that pisses me off.

Here’s something I heard once that is entirely true: A jammer is just a blocker in a fucked up situation.

This is a list of things blockers are supposed to do: roller skate, stop, move laterally, hit with power and in good form, control their speed, control the opposing jammer’s speed, communicate, play clean, be strategic and know the rules, otherwise crush the opposing jammer’s soul.

Here is a list of things jammers are supposed to do:  roller skate, stop, move laterally, hit with power and in good form, control their speed, communicate, play clean, be strategic and know the rules, evaluate a pack upon approach, otherwise crush the opposing jammer’s and all opposing blocker’s souls.

Not so different.

Photo by Masonite Burn.
Photo by Masonite Burn.

It’s rare, if ever, that I see a relief jammer goated. When there is a goat on the track, it’s almost always the “oh hell no. I’m a blocker”-skater. Why? She didn’t practice being a blocker in a fucked up situation. She didn’t practice hulk-smashing walls, juking, pushing walls and other totally-necessary derby skills that jammers practice all the time. Her footwork is probably slower. If she hits the jammer out, she probably can’t run backward as fast as the jammer can. Being a jammer is (often) about urgency. It’s a good thing to always practice. Further, I’ve never met a great jammer who can’t block.

Don’t be scared. Realize it’s important at practice to try new things and that putting on a star once in a while translates directly into being a more effective blocker.