How to transfer into a new league gracefully

I know a few things about how to transfer into a league …

#slut
#slut … also I have to change that number soon …

… yeah. What can I say? I don’t like sitting still for long.

It’s still scary every time.

Continue reading “How to transfer into a new league gracefully”

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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

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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 HardDash.com

I launched HardDash.com 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.