Love is the most important part of roller derby — and it can make your team more competitive

It’s taken me a long time to learn this lesson: Love is the most important part of roller derby.

That’s not mushy flib-flab.

You know what makes people the best at what they do? They fucking love it. [More to this story below]

Photo by Judy Beedle Photography (more at )
Photo by Judy Beedle Photography (more at )

From Steve Levitt, economist from MIT and Harvard who now teaches at Chicago:

“Loving what you do is such a completely unfair advantage to anyone you are competing with who does it for a job. People who love it they go to bed at night thinking about the solutions. They wake up in the middle of the night, and they jot down ideas, they work weekends. It turns out that effort is a huge component of success in almost everything. We know that from practice and whatnot. And people who love things work and work and work at it. Because it’s not work — it’s fun.”

I know a league that went into last season with this in mind, starting with a brand new roster of less-experienced skaters, but they moved up 10 ranking spots that season anyway.

People who have fun at practice come to all the practices. Teammates who love each other support each other in their walls and help their struggling jammer friend even faster. Skaters who are friends off-the-track almost are always stronger than other pairs on the track because they know how each other thinks and communicates. Coaches who love their team and the sport think about new strategies, ways to improve and individual feedback while daydreaming at work. Newer skaters will see your team radiating love and want to be part of it and will work hard to get there.

Want to be more competitive? Want to boost league attendance? Cultivate a culture of love.

Hair braiding for a zebra packmate (teammate?) is love.
Hair braiding for a zebra packmate (teammate?) is love.

If you liked this, click “subscribe” at the top of the blog and you’ll get an email every time I add a post.

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.