Thursday, February 26, 2015

Going Mental, or Deciding Not to

There's that classic Yogi Berra quote emphasizing how much mental game is involved in baseball, and it's true of any sport, Roller Derby included. As a competitive and athletic person, I've been pretty comfortable playing sports all my life, but I don't think I've realized how much my mentality affects my physical game until I strapped on skates. I've written about this aspect of the sport before, but as I am now entering my seventh season, I feel that part of my game has changed.

A few years into derby, my league was doing pretty well, and I felt like I had really come in to my own as a skater and a jammer. I had some struggles, and wasn't a top performer, but I enjoyed skating fast and juking blockers. It was games like our hard loss to the Mid Iowa Rollers in 2010, and an eye-opening fight against Minnesota the next year, that I realized how far I really had to go to stay on top in this sport. 

Remember when I used to wear face paint?
Photo by Dave Schrader "KORfan"

As a jammer, not getting out first and achieving lead jammer status can be an instant mental road block. Falling down, getting ran back by a tricky blocker, or fighting an impenetrable wall can begin to feel like drowning. Not only are you likely to not score points, but the other jammer has control of the jam and how long it will last. Now that the mental blinders are on, vision does really become tunneled, which adds to the difficulty of getting out of the pack. The pressure builds, emotions start to take over, and your mental "I can't" becomes reality. 

I don't really know what specifically changed over time, probably just getting more experience on the track and playing a wider range of teams added to it, but bout day became a little less scary. When we came against MIR again in 2012, their game had grown immensely, and I knew it was going to be hard. Going into it I decided to let go of any negative thoughts as they happened, and to not get anxious when things didn't go my way. That choice helped me turn my game around from a 0 point half, to score 39 points in the second. After that, a few humbling years of playing higher ranked teams and losing a lot may have hurt my derby soul a bit, but ultimately I came out of it all a bit tougher. Our most recent game against Omaha was a little rough, but I felt like it was one of my most focused games ever. 

In the star, you have to start against one other person on the jam line, with eight people ahead of you which you have to fight through once before you can even start scoring. How to attack the pack is intimidating, but I had multiple plans that I had visualized many times in my mind. I knew that Ima Firestarter likes to attack on the line, and I know my teammates well enough to help me get started. I was prepared which took away part of the nerves. 

Besides blockers, penalties are another enemy of the jammer. Penalties can be pretty inevitable in Roller Derby, but getting them as a jammer means being responsible for your team not scoring for 30 whole seconds. It sucks, and you really feel like you let your team down when it happens. The thing to remember though, is that your one or two bad jams or penalties are not the whole game. There are 13 other people on that roster, and about thirty-some other jams that make up 60 minutes. So as a jammer you have to make tough decisions. Do I need to slow down when I enter the pack so I don't chance back blocking, or use my speed to get through? Am I sure that blocker went out so I can hop back on the track, or should I just go back in behind everyone? They are split second choices that can have a big impact on the game.

In Omaha, I was knocked out of bounds but certain that I was safe to return back in bounds, but instead received a track cut. On average, I am a fairly clean jammer, but in this bout I had three penalties. I usually keep it safe, but as skill and knowledge of the game increases, you must make choices that may end up being risky. Instead of crying all the way to the box and pouting for 30 seconds, I try to force myself to watch what's happening and think about my next plan of attack. I can't worry about what has already happen, but must focus on what's next.

We didn't win,but I felt like I learned a lot during this game. 60 minutes boils down to lots of quick decisions. Deciding how to get through the pack, deciding to throw away anger at a referee call, deciding if it's time to call off the jam, deciding not to bitch about a nasty clockwise hit. Making those decisions and then OWNING them. You cut the track? Fine, what's next? Every game is a learning experience and dwelling on past mistakes is not going to move you forward. Acknowledge them, and decide what to do next time.

Photo by Danforth Johnson

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Five Things from the #RDWC2014

This year I attended the Roller Derby World Cup in Dallas, and was very grateful I did. Here are 5 things I learned during the four day event.

1. Come Prepared. I am the queen of procrastination, and working on World Cup previews in the car as we drove to Dallas is an example of this. BUT I was able to work while on the move because I had an internet hot spot that I had purchased for WFTDA Championships. Covering derby events is always unpredictable, and one should never rely on everything being set up for you or the way you want it exactly. Hopefully, the event coordinators are willing to work with you, but it is not all about you, it's about the skaters and the competition on the track. Having the hot spot definitely saved my ass over the weekend, but there were other areas I could have thought out a little bit better. Everything managed to work out on the fly, but it could have saved a bit of sanity to go to Dallas with more of a game plan. (And possibly a budget for merch buying...)

2. If you build it, they will come. The first time around, people were a little doubtful about a Roller Derby World Cup since the sport was predominately in the United States, and that it is still in its infancy. Blowouts helped satisfy the critics, but the World Cup meant more to the derby world than just competition. In three years, the attendance went from 13 countries to 30, most of which had a creation story about being inspired by the 2011 cup. Roller Derby was already on the rise outside the States, but the World Cup was also likely responsible for the global derby explosion that has taken over Europe and is now spreading throughout other continents. For some people, being accepted to play on an international level may just be a title, and for others it was to represent their country. Either way, this was a ginormous event outside of the normal WFTDA scene that brought a lot of the usual faces together, but many more new ones.

All 30 teams after the Parade of Nations Sunday. (There was some body surfing..)

It was also an amazing weekend to build a bigger audience for Derby Central. It was a ton of work but totally worth it. My partner in crime, Brooklyn, and I, as well as some extra hands and awesome photographers ran around like crazy to cover all three tracks. And in a shameless plug, we are always looking for more volunteers and writers to help document this amazing sport that is covering the globe. Researching on European and South American teams made me really realize how much we need to highlight and support these leagues, and if you are in some of those other countries, we need your help!! (Contact if you'd like to help.)

3. Everyone loves an underdog. The world cup was originally going to institute a mercy rule that would have ended games with 20 minutes left if the team in the lead was up by 100 points. Yes, it was pretty evident that USA would probably take it all again, and by big points against newer teams, but teams understood this going into battle. They fought hard for every small victory and every point earned was as if they won the game. Japan was probably the freshest to enter the scene, and after four losses, including one shutout, they were the darlings of the weekend, and their merch was as good as gold. There were comments online about the outrageous scores, but I bet if you asked the skaters, they were glad other teams showed no mercy.

Team Japan. Photo by Danforth Johnson

4. Speak up. Before big derby events, I daydream about how I'm going to talk to all these people that I "know" online, and make new friends, and have a blast at the after party, but I feel like when the time comes, I miss a lot of those opportunities. The easiest way to network is to just be generally polite and introduce myself, but I'm awkward and shy away from striking up conversations. You would also think I have an "in" with being part of a media outlet, but I get too anxious. I realized it doesn't need to be a big to-do, next time I should at least just stick out my hand and say, "By the way, my name is Deadwards."
A video posted by Derby Central (@derbycentral) on
5. Keep your shit clean. In a exciting end in to our weekend, we got pulled over in Missouri on our drive back to Iowa City. It wasn't your run-of-the-mill traffic stop, but instead involved a police dog, standing along a highway in leggings, and drug accusations. I don't want to start anymore debates about police or legalities, but apparently our car was too dirty and when Danforth finds a joint on me in the next few weeks, he'll "know"...
Apparently a filthy car and my love for "boobing" Danforth's window led to some trouble...

Friday, May 23, 2014


I’m sure most of you have seen this video floating around, by Devaskation, with Atomatrix talking about the Atom BOOM wheel. It caught my attention when she said it was specifically made for concrete, because that’s what I skate on most often. I love the fluidity of juking on a slicker floor, but also want some grip on my wheels to back me up. The BOOM wheel is a hybrid, which basically means it’s good on multiple surfaces. This made me think about the evolution of my relationship with different wheels, and how there are so many variables when considering a wheel in Roller Derby.

The first wheel upgrade I ever bought was a full set of Sugars, which were one of the first hybrid wheels for derby. Considering I was previously just skating on the stock wheels that came with my skates, I was ecstatic. It was my first year, I wanted to jam, so I wanted a big grippy wheel to pull me around the track. Our team has always practiced on slippery floor; dusty gym floors or polished concrete, so I was craving a way to get more traction. I was new, so my skills were poor, I was a little heavier, and my stance was shit, so I needed a big, fat sticky wheel. Sugars were heaven.

Then I was given four Heartless VooDoo wheels and paired them with some Omega. The person that gave me the Heartless thought they felt like “mud” but she was a slight jammer who probably didn’t need as much grip. After that someone pushed Poisons at me, knowing I would like them and I did. They came with an aluminum hub which made them feel sturdier, and I liked the grip. I tried to pair them with a new wheel and thought B’zerks looked cool, so I got the Madman. It’s a wide wheel that I now wonder how I ever skated on. Eventually I traded it out for a slimmer Omega wheel.

Last year, I thought the Reckless wheels looked good (I have very scientific reasons for choosing wheels…) and bought the Ikon to go with my Omega. Generally, I have liked a grippier wheel paired with a harder wheel so that I can really dig in my crossovers, while not tripping myself up.

As a jammer, I like a slimmer wheel for footwork.
Photo by Danforth Johnson
I hadn’t had a full set of one wheel since the Sugars, but I couldn’t resist trying the BOOM. I got some from DevaSkation and immediately loved them. I don’t slide around on our concrete floor but don’t get tripped up on a stickier floor. When I hockey stop, they're generally silent on concrete if that means anything to you. So far I’ve only had them on concrete and a wood rink floor, and I didn’t feel like I needed to switch them out. In Fargo, the concrete floor was a little slicker, but I felt like I adjusted easily after a few jams.

They come in “Firm” and “X-Firm” instead of with a durometer number, and as Atomatrix explains in the video, it’s a new formula that she didn’t want to put a number on. She also totes it as the best hybrid on the market with a 30 day guarantee. They also come wide (62mm x 44mm), slim (59mm x 38mm), and X-Slim (59mm x 35mm). Atom is also selling a red, white and blue wheel with proceeds going towards Team USA.

I got the USA one in X-Firm and Slim. For those of you who get confused by all the numbers like me, the 59 means how tall it is (the diameter of the wheel) and 38 means how wide the wheel is. Then generally there is a number for durometer, or the grippiness of the wheel. When there is more wheel contacting the ground, by using a wider wheel, it requires more effort to move around. A taller wheel also means it can be slower to start rolling while a smaller wheel is quicker. I like a quick, agile wheel, so I tend to look at shorter and slimmer wheels. These wheels have felt great so far, but it’s probably taken me the five years I’ve been skating to get comfortable on skates for this kind of wheel.

With the different options they give you, and the versatility of the wheel itself, it is a good wheel to have in your arsenal to pull out at any time. It’s competitively priced at $40 per 4-pack and you can even purchase the “official wheel of Team USA” if you feel so inclined. Check out and pick up a set, I’ve seen nothing but good reveiws about their service!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Stay On in the Off-Season

Roller Derby doesn’t really have an official season, a topic which I’d love to explore later, but it seems like a lot of teams take time off during the holidays. If you’re entering an extended period out of practice, don’t completely end your training. Periods of rest are important, but so is cross-training. When you’re not concerned with competitive play, it’s important to build your athletic base and worry less about finite skills.  

Our league ramped up competition the past few seasons, once we became part of the WFTDA, and we have been pretty busy. Last year we did take off time in December from skating but continued to workout, which started us out right in January. This year is different for two reasons: I started a derby break early, and we have no formal training for our off season, so it’s all D.I.Y. Part of the reason for my break was a mental one, but also a restorative and physical break. I have an odd sleeping schedule (work at 4am) and ran myself into the ground in October. I have gotten a little too lax on working out on my own though, especially when Thanksgiving hit, and I am feeling it now.

Winter can make it doubly hard to keep moving, especially if you live in a cold, wintry place, but there’s no excuse to quit trying. Since there aren’t bouts keeping you busy, you should have more time to work on your strength and conditioning. Don’t worry about skills or even skating during this time, but just focus on those building blocks.

This is also a good time to work on any imbalances that your body might have from rigorous training. We skate hard and turn left, so your body is likely to have a bit of lopsided muscle development or training wear. There might also be a nagging injury or pain that has haunted you all season, and this would be the time to address it and work it out gently.Work on your strength and stability with workouts like this one by Smarty Pants (page 50, article on Texas Rollergirls proceeds it). 

The training doesn’t need to be of Olympic caliber or intensity, and cutting out high-impact exercise during this time can help your body recover and help prevent future injury. Maintaining the same level of training as during the season, when you have no bouts to work towards in the off-season, can be just as detrimental as dropping training completely. The mind isn’t as focused without an objective to work towards, and you can get sloppy or hurt yourself maintaining that mid-season intensity. Going into the next season you don’t want to start from scratch though, maintaining a small level of fitness is better than starting all over.

Sandrine Rangeon’s recent blogpost about hypertrophy training emphasizes how we must put balance in our training. Skaters often work hard on their quads and glutes, but forget about hamstrings. Performance relies on muscle groups working together, and these two have an impact on your skating power and the functioning of your knees.

This is also a good time to work on flexibility and make sure your body doesn’t go frigid during these off months (and cold months for most.) If you haven’t tried yoga before, this could be the time to find your zen during holiday stress. Invest in a foam roller, or chunk of PVC pipe, and roll out your muscles with a deep tissue massage. Flexible muscles help prevent injury!! (If I talk enough about injury prevention, will it sink in?)
Some of the people I've been missing while on break....

If your league doesn’t believe in breaks, talk to your board or coaches about implementing one. One or two specific times of the year where you completely stop skating for a month or so. It can do wonders for team morale, motivation, and your bodies. Roller Derby is filled with a varying degree of bodies and fitness, so of course some people can handle heavy training, but others may not. Give everyone a break, and those who crave more can do it on their own.

This also means plugging in small breaks through the season. Plan your bouts so you’re not competing too much back to back. Think of getting knocked down and around repeatedly like getting hit by a car; your body deserves a bit of recovery. Plan some low-impact practices the week after a bout, and then build back up to the next one.

Living History Farm's Cross Country race.
Over the creeks and through the woods, in 9 degree weather....

The off-season isn’t only time to get sweaty, but to brush up on your nutritional training as well. Discover healthy ways to eat your favorite foods, try new recipes and allow yourself to indulge a little over the holidays, but compensate elsewhere. (i.e. salad for lunch with tons of veggies!) Get in a food routine and carry it on into the season.

Don’t just throw up your hands in the off season because you’re not meeting for practice weekly or you had a weekend full of holiday dinners, start molding next year’s athlete now! Hold yourself accountable and form weekly goals. Force a teammate to meet you at the pool, sign up for a 5k, or get a gym membership. Do whatever it takes to keep you moving and you’ll thank yourself when January hits. -L4D

Some sources I pulled info and ideas from:
How to Recover from a Tough Racing Season
One Simple Strategy for Avoiding Weight Gain in the Off Season
December Naturally Fit Magazine  - Article on Texas Rollergirls and workout by Smarty Pants
The Pro Secrets to Off-Season Training
Off-Season Training 
(look to other sports to help cross-train!) 

Also a reminder to relieve some of the pressure your team might be experiencing, and the off-season can be a good time to refresh. Blog by Elektra Q-Tion.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Crash and Burn

My boutfit.. for watching derby.
Fo Champs 2010.

Two Championships, three years apart, and things are very different. For me, 2010 was the height of my derby excitement. I spent the whole last semester of college creating a documentary about my team, and had just moved into “Derby Haus” with a skater and a referee. Since graduating, roller derby had become my life. I wasn’t at my peak athleticism, but the honeymoon phase of committing to a life with derby was still in full swing, and I wanted it all.

Championships that year were in Chicago, a mere three hours away, so there was no way I would miss it. Being a broke-ass right out of college, I had decided to go, but there was really no way financially that I should of. Getting paid for a random video gig bought my weekend pass, and I was on my way.

Entering the UIC pavilion, home of the Windy City Rollers, will be forever stamped in my memory. Vendors lined the hallways, girls from every corner of the country wearing the same damn track jacket, and legendary skaters on the track below. It was like I died and woke up in derby heaven.

That year the battle for first, second and third came down to Rocky Mountain, Oly and Gotham respectively, with Rocky being the rising underdog. Slow derby was prevalent and vocally opposed throughout the weekend. In the days of two whistle starts, this was more of a problem that would lead to no actual derby being played on the track at times. Knee starts had yet to become standard, but people had started to figure out its advantage. Having brought my flip with me, I was inspired on the spot to make a short video on the topic. This was back when I utilized PATV to do some editing, and still had some post-college motivation.

Rocky took the Hydra in the final thrilling seconds. It's crazy to see how much the style of play has changed in three years. 

We drank, we partied, we watched a ton of derby. It was a great weekend and one that influenced my derby goals and upped my knowledge of the sport and the people involved.

Three years later and now I’m nearly a five-year veteran-- on a derby break.

It probably took the last year and a half to gather the courage to take a break. It doesn’t really seem like one can simply walk away from this life and come back smoothly. It doesn’t seem like one can even walk away! Roller derby has saturated every pore of my body, every corner of my brain and every minute of my day. The thought that had run through my head for the past year was always, what would my life be without derby? This is everything I’ve got.
Photo by Patrick Bloom
Of course that’s not true, but it has been my passion for the past five years. Like a drug, I got mixed up with it in college, at a time that I was very vulnerable, and ready to take life by both hands. Since wandering into the Grant Wood Elementary gym, and then immediately purchasing roller skates, I have been a board member, coach, captain, WFTDA rep, PR head, part of the roster committee and of course, skater. I think at one point, I wore nearly all those hats at once. Because, dear derby boys and girls, having the attitude of “it’s not going to get done, so I’ll just do it myself!” will only take you so far before you find yourself in a panic attack and sobbing, minutes before bouting.

I love skating. I love the people. I love putting the work into a great organization and having something to show of my life. It’s something I can point and at say, “Look! Look at this thing I’ve done. It’s important and I helped make it happen!” It just gets to a point when your head can’t handle it all right at the moment, and your body needs some time to play catch up.

I went into this year’s Champs with a little bit of a different attitude. First, my love of derby writing is what got me in to the venue. Derby News Network solicited help with this year’s tournament season, as they are very short staffed and under-funded. I helped out during the Division II tournament in Des Moines and had a blast. I was the only one on the ground then, so it was a bit exhausting. Champs was more structured in that I had specific bouts to recap and a shift in the DNN merch booth…watching people buy London Rollergirls stuff instead.

Read my Recaps!
Ohio vs Rat
Ohio vs Gotham
Jet City vs Santa Cruz -- D2 Championship bout!

Danforth also got chosen to photograph the weekend, so I hung out in the photog area and got a glimpse of that culture. It was also behind the NSO stage, and between the track and the locker rooms. Watching the interworkings of a large derby event was an interesting perspective.

The skaters went by with a wide range of emotions: nerves, excitement, anger, cheer, or sometimes disappointment. The announcers were noticeable by their brightly colored or flamboyant outfits. High up WFTDA members wandered around, ensuring things were running smoothly. Three teams of pink shirts and stripes rotated each day, making sure each game was run safe and fair. The photographers probably worked the most if they wanted to cover every bout, either blending in with the crowd around the track, or sometimes dead center of the action. They put in thankless hours to give the skaters countless memories upon returning to real life. They really do put in a lot of heart and hard work for this sport, so please do remember that the next time you go to swipe/share/alter one of their pictures on Facebook.  (Ok, PSA over.)

All of these people come together and work behind the scenes to make this sport great. It was a blast submerging myself in the mechanics of it all; watching and documenting the games and seeing all the fans soak up the experience. Having so many of our new skaters attend Champs was like watching myself from three years ago, full of inspiration and awe (and probably a bit of booze). 

This season, and for the past two since Rocky took the Hydra, Gotham dominated the track. This year was the first in a while that someone actually gave them a run for their money. Texas gave them everything they had and kept the final day an exciting one for the crowd. B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls came in an impressive third, a giant step up from the last time I saw them at Champs, when they were the first team eliminated (and wearing those horrible gold dresses.)

Photo by Danforth Johnson
I think what I’ve learned in the past three years is to not apply so much pressure to my life in general, but also to my life in derby. Wanting to be the best all the time and always win was a tough lesson to learn during a couple hard, but informative seasons. Having goals and objectives is fine, but remember to share those ideas and encourage other people to take part in them with you. (if they want to do it at all!) Making something happen by force isn’t always effective, nor does it always turn out how you want.

In my five years on OCCRG, I have played every high level bout there was to play. Letting myself miss a bout or an event was unthinkable, and now I need to teach myself how to let go a little bit. This break is the first step, although initiating it in the off-season was a bit of a cop-out. Moving forward, I need to remember to take care of myself first. Someone once related that idea to plane crash protocol; “that’s why they always tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” -L4D
Photo by Danforth Johnson of us cheering for Danforth Johnson.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Treading Water

I come across a lot of people who never succeed because they undermine themselves before they can even get started. A minor roadblock, an undesirable situation, other people getting in your way-- those are all things that may set you back, but you are just throwing yourself under the bus by saying you “can’t.” But the effects don’t stop there, these Negative Nancys become an energy suck that turn into black holes and start to bring others down around them too. This is incredibly dangerous for team sports like Roller Derby.

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Whatever minor challenges you might be encountering lately probably seem like nothing compared to the goal Diana Nyad set out to achieve when she was 28: swim in open water from Cuba to Florida. She not only trained hard for the 110 mile swim, with the threat of sharks and jellyfish in the water, she failed. She failed multiple times. That of course did not stop her, and climbing onto the beach with shaky legs, dehydrated and hallucinating, she finished her goal at age 67.

Nyad’s story is inspiring on many levels. Not only did she accomplish a huge feat with many elements against her, but she failed four times before achieving it. When she finally completed her mission, she swam for 52 hours and 54 minutes, non-stop, throwing up most of the way. She put her body through misery to prove, mostly to herself, that she could succeed.

A lifelong swimmer, her training obviously got her in the water, but it was her mind that kept her going. Her mantra was to “Find a way. You don't like it? It's not doing well? Find a way”.

When I first started derby, I was still in college. I was treading water with an art degree, not really sure which direction I wanted to take. After discovering I liked editing video, I incorporated my other interest by doing a 20 minute documentary on Roller Derby and my league. When I wasn’t in other classes or at practice, I was living at the Studio Arts building, working on the documentary. I was amazed at how productive I really could be when pushed to my limit and striving for something great. It was a hard and miserable process at times, but it is something I look back on and feel very proud of. 
Still from my documentary.

It is also one of the things that makes me feel crappy about where I’m at now. Knowing what my full potential can be sheds a harsh light on what I am doing now. Again, I feel like i’m treading water, now with a degree and thousands of dollars of debt. I am not sure I entirely had a plan for when I finished college, but once I started derby, it became my new plan.

After nearly five years being involved with Derby, I started to think I could do everything and know everything. I have become a little too focused on myself and what I think and forgot that it takes the whole team to be successful. Bringing a bunch of people together to run a volunteer business is not easy sailing. If we want to play the sport we love we have to work hard to make the business run first. There are lots of different pieces that have to come together put on fun events, bring in more fans, to have a working website or efficient practices. One person slacking can make the whole thing tumble. When you are being a Negative Nancy on the track, then it is going to bring the game down for everyone else. Roller Derby can only work with teamwork, on and off the track.

If you're new to derby you need to know you’re going to fall. You are going to hurt. Some skills may not come easy to you. Other people will excel quicker than you. Sticking with it, and pushing yourself will keep you off the floor, it will strengthen your derby muscles to keep soreness at bay, and pass your skills. No one will do it for you, you have to say yes and do it for yourself.

It doesn’t stop there. Experienced skaters need to realize that you will probably plateau. A new skater may rise to quicker and better success than you. You might get injured. Just like your life, your derby career is what you make of it. If you work hard it will show, if you keep a good attitude it will rub off on others. You want your team to do better? Start with yourself. 

Marathon swimming looks like an individual sport on the surface, but it took a whole team to get her to Florida. She swam for nearly 55 hours by herself, but the trainers, navigators and friends cheering her on would be pointless if she gave up. 

It’s no doubt what Diane did was amazing, but this shouldn’t be something to merely marvel at. Be inspired. Take your game, your passion, your life to the next level. Treading water may keep you above water, but you have got to push harder if you want to get anywhere. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mad Skills

Change is hard.

The new WFTDA minimum skills requirements were released yesterday and already there are a lot of opinions. Apparently there are some people looking down on skaters who may struggle with these skills, which I've seen less of, and others who feel these requirements are setting the bar too high. 

This year is seeing a lot of new changes in the way tournaments and rankings are organized, the updated rules and now the MSR revision. This is an important time in Roller Derby because we are growing immensely, and with that we have to respond to growing pains. People wanted more competitive, evenly matched bouts and the WFTDA responded with Divisions. People complained about slow derby and the rules, and minors were done away with in the newest version of the rules, leaving a faster, harder game. People boast about the athleticism of the sport now, and wanting to be taken seriously, and I feel that raising the bar on what skills skaters should have is necessary to keep propelling our organization. 

These skills weren't just pulled out of a hat nor did they time Bonnie Thunders on laps and declare that the new standard. The skills were voted on and tested by member leagues, which means they're realistic and doable. As a middle of the road league, we've played some very high competition and it can be quite terrifying. I remember in 2011 I was pretty certain I was an awesome skater and there wasn't much more I could learn, and then we played a version of the Minnesota Rollergirl All-Stars and my world was rocked. The only way we can advance as leagues and skaters is to push ourselves and set goals that will bring us to a high level of competition. 

I don't generally practice skating on one foot, but having a diverse set of skills has me prepared for almost anything. Photo by Danforth Johnson.
Some of the concerns that have been put out there are that this will discourage new skaters, that it will hurt smaller leagues and that WFTDA is being exclusive. I think people are blurring the edges of what roller derby is as a whole and what becoming a WFTDA member league means. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that these requirements are for chartered skaters playing WFTDA bouts. Leagues can set their own standards for leveling up new skaters, home team skaters, or B team skaters. Hopefully leagues were already setting a higher standard for their All-Star and charter teams. Putting a skater on the track with only the old minimum skills is unsafe for the skater and others, and they become a liability to their team. With these higher standards, it should bring a cohesiveness to your roster and a clear vision of what sort of game you should be bringing to the track every bout. 

These updated skills can't, and shouldn't be ending Roller Derby for any leagues out there. For non-WFTDA leagues, it is another reason to work hard and earn a status as a member-league. For newer WFTDA leagues, you had a voice in this decision, and any concerns should have been voiced previously. Your voice doesn't end there either, the WFTDA is open to feedback on published things as they were about the recently revised rules. Non-sanctioned games can also be played until the skills are passed, so there is no reason to say that this is a career ender. If this is what is going to discourage people from staying committed, then I think there are other issues at hand. 

Most people don't know what they can do until they try something new. At the gym our league works out in, we sometimes do box jumps. The tallest box they have is 26 inches which I can do fairly easily. Our trainer saw that some of us reached our max height and started adding 3" thick weights on top, starting with one. I looked at it, feeling fairly sure I could do it, and I did. He added another. This was more daunting but I made it, barely. He put a third one on and I was almost certain it would be impossible. I jumped, and probably faltered the first time, but did it again until I could do it steadily. It's amazing what people can accomplish when they come face to face with a challenge. Like this guy...

We have got to be pushed and encouraged to do new things or we will never know what we are capable of. These skills will be a challenge, and there are some people who will probably never ace them. A place on a charter should be an earned spot, not a given, and competitive skating is what we should strive for. To put on entertaining bouts and make money, to promote our sport and be taken seriously, we have got to put a good product out there and to do that we have to raise the bar.

Roller Derby is an all inclusive sport, and you can find a spot for pretty much anyone interested in joining. Becoming a WFTDA league means playing high level derby, representing the face of competitive play, and encouraging growth and development. I suppose you could call that elite, but I see it as more of adjective than a noun. We should all want to be and play the best of the best.

My last concern is hearing all of this outcry within the first 24 hours of the minimum skills being released. Have you even tried them yet? As I mentioned, there has been a lot of change in only the last four months. Bouts haven't really picked up until March, so much of this stuff has yet to really been played out and seen for what it is. We are all in this together, and we all want to play really great Roller Derby. Do me a favor, please stop being so negative, no matter which "side" you are on, and lets work together to figure out what is best for our future.

P.S. This is what a reverse crossover looks like:

WFTDA's MSR Release
Regarding Rule 1.1
Little Anecdote - "New WFTDA Minimum Skills - let's chat."
Moxie McMurder on Lead Jammer Magazine - "New Minimum Skills Highlights the Dark Side of Derby"
Gin & Fishnets - "The New WFTDA Minimum Skills"
Electra Q-tion - "The New Minimum Skills...and?"
A newer skater's perspective: Meg on Skates 
Booty Quake from Roller Derby Athletics - "They're New But Are They Improved?"