IMHO: Fox's lessons from the 2009 roller derby season
New year, new feature. Well, sort of. IMHO, shorthand for "in my humble opinion," will be a recurring blog feature where any roller derby skater, ref, fan, or other interested party can write an opinion piece. Of course, being your blogstress, I confess that most of these opinions will probably come from me. But, if you've got something to say, email me and we'll see if it's a good fit for the blog. Enjoy!
I have mixed feelings about New Year's resolutions. First of all, I see no need to wait until a number flips to make positive changes in one's life. Second, resolutions are mostly acknowledgments of failure--hmmm, what did I do wrong and/or suck at this last year?--and given that most resolutions themselves fail, well...that's too much of a concentration on the negative for me. However, if this is what it takes to set goals for people, by all means, go for it. My only request is that when you reflect on the past year, think about what you have learned and what good has come of it, and use that knowledge to frame your resolutions. That way, you have an existing sense of efficacy and can see your resolutions as progress down a path you have started rather than a total upheaval of your way of life.
This past year was my first season of roller derby. I learned new skills, skated in my first bouts, and had my first triumphs and disappointments. At many times during the season I was very thankful that I came into this sport at this point in my life, because I'm not sure I would have had the dedication, patience, or maturity for it at 18 or 21. Now that I am old enough, satisfied with the other aspects in my life, and have ready access to alcohol, I can approach derby as a passion and an athletic pursuit rather than an outlet. Contrary to popular thinking, I don't think derby should be a depressurization valve that you open up 2-3 times a week and let all your pent-up issues come flying out. If derby is your sole outlet for physical intensity, aggression, or other strong emotions, you need to work on getting your life in balance--otherwise you stand to explode and splatter your teammates with 'tude and other bodily fluids.
Anyway, that's my take. I'm not certified, just certifiable, so take it with a rock of salt and let's move on to Fox's Stuff I Learned This Year.
There are as many learning opportunities off the track as on the track. I learned this when I was off skates and on cane for my second ankle sprain in as many months (courtesy of a sloppy opponent at the net in volleyball, not derby). I felt that I was falling behind as I watched girls who came in after me pick up skills I hadn’t had the chance to master yet, so I decided to keep up with my learning as best I could at home. I can’t count the hours I have spent watching roller derby on YouTube. Watching other teams with different skills and different strategies is one of the best possible ways you can improve your game.
LEARN THE RULES. Period. Games are won by teams who use the rules effectively. Learn them, and learn how to use them to your advantage. Read through the WFTDA rules and actively envision the actions happening. Hmmm, cutting the track in front of the foremost opposing blocker in the pack is a major penalty? Then, think: when might this happen? How could I turn this occurrence into an advantage for my team? Finally, try them. Focus on one or two strategies and try to put them into play during a scrimmage.
Taking a hit can be as effective as delivering one. Sigh. I didn’t want to accept this. Considering my gene-given strength, I always fantasized about being a big hitter, the kind that can put a girl into the suicide seats without breaking my stride. Once I got a grip on my basic skills, though, I decided my goal was to be the smartest player on the track, not necessarily the most feared. And so I started paying attention. I watched big hitters kamikaze themselves as they took out an opposing blocker. But then I noticed that as the crowd was cheering wildly, the big hitter was struggling to get back to a useful place in the pack. Or, she managed to put a girl on the floor—insert crowd roar here—but directly in the path of her jammer, causing the jammer to lose speed, get forced into another blocker, or worse, trip and end up on the floor or in a pileup. So now I anticipate my jammer’s path and figure out if delivering a hit or distracting the blocker and drawing one is a better strategy. Granted, your friends in the audience may start to think that you suck, but you just have to point to the scoreboard and explain that you’re doing your job.
Respect your injuries. My dad always told me not to fuck with my back, my eyes, or my knees, ‘cause those you can’t really fix. It’s true: back and knee problems are some of the most persistent areas of pain and discomfort as we age, and most treatments only alleviate symptoms rather than fix the injury. If you get hurt, give your injury the time and attention it deserves. Go to the doctor, stay off skates, and follow the doctor’s orders for medication, icing/heating, physical therapy, etc. Otherwise, yeah, you might make the roster for the bout, but one hit or fall there might sideline you for the rest of the season. Not worth it!
Accept your age. This relates very closely to the last point. My biggest issue with taking up a sport in an age well outside of my resilient adolescence is that I still have the same attitude towards pain and injury: suck it up. Anatomically speaking, this is not advisable past the age of 18 and especially after our mid-twenties. We simply do not have the physiological resources to heal or rebound like we used to. Ignoring your injuries or playing through pain might lead you to much more serious problem. Again, not worth it!
Roller derby isn’t feminist, or second-wave feminist, or post-feminist…it just is. It is sport, and it is sexy. Like it or not, derby is the brutality of rugby, the intensity of hockey, the grace of figure skating, and the camp of professional wrestling all rolled into one. Every league does it differently, some flaunting the spectacle side of it, others fighting hard to stick with an athletic frame. Within those leagues, individual skaters also treat derby differently. Before a game, I watch as some girls focus all their attention on getting their makeup just so while others stretch, prehydrate, and tape. Some girls will insist on primping their helmet hair before a post-bout team picture, and others flaunt their sweat like any other athlete during post-game press. Some will participate in fundraisers like mud/jello wrestling or burlesque dancing with flair and a sense of empowerment, and others will refuse because they believe selling sex conflicts with women being treated with the same respect as other athletes and roller derby being accepted as a sport. People will always have conflicting opinions on what derby should or should not be, and this tension is perfectly okay—but as an individual, if you are struggling with the moral/ethical/philosophical questions here, it is important to explore and find your comfort zone.
Personally, as an athlete, I find it hard to reconcile the sexualization of the sport. That's my challenge. As an intellectual who studies the deleterious effects of sex stereotypes and as a woman who battles them, I struggle not to be judgmental and not to jump on the soapbox with fervor over some issues. But as a league member, I knew it was important to find some balance. And so, this year, I have learned when it is valuable to speak up about an issue and when it is best to let it be. And as a teammate, I have learned to accept and embrace my women as they want to be and in the various ways in which they express themselves.
There will always be drama—so what? I’m tired of skaters saying derby is bound for drama because it’s full of women. Good god, get out of your sex stereotypes, people. Sports are full of drama. Work is full of drama. DIY derby is a combination of both, and so you’re going to have drama, whether it is a subtle undercurrent or reality-TV-show explosive. Ignore what you can, deal with what you can’t, pitch the rubbish, and move on with life. Just don’t be a stereotype-perpetuating idiot and blame it on the proportion of vaginas involved.
Promote universal derbyhood. Sport your league gear when you can, keep schedules in your pocket, and never turn away a question from a bystander. When you have the chance, go to the bouts of your sister leagues and cheer them on. Offer some words of encouragement to bootcampers and fresh meat and make them feel like more than pork rind. If you're like me and have to spend entirely too much time in front of a computer, seek out websites or profiles of sister leagues or other skaters' blogs and leave some derby love. What we have as roller derby-ers that other sports should envy is a widespread and vocal community, so be part of it. Respect. Represent. Roll.
So, that’s it—the lessons I walked away with after my first full season of roller derby. I hope they offer some food for thought for you and get you to look back on the progress you've made in the past year. Now, on to a greater 2010...