Tuesday, December 13, 2011

No Excuses: Mental Training

Roller derby is unique in that most people have to start from scratch when they join, having no knowledge of the sport or much skill at roller skating in general. It can be a daunting task for anyone to get involved with, but there is some training you can begin before you ever step foot at a practice. It’s a type of training that often goes overlooked and is very underestimated. It requires discipline, repetition and constant use. The part of your body that is arguably the most important to cultivate for roller derby is… your brain!

Phase 1 –Fresh Start, Clear Minds
For someone brand new to the sport, the best possible thing you can do for yourself is keep a positive attitude. It may sound silly and easy, but sometime it’s harder than you think. Roller derby is already a difficult sport, don't make it harder on yourself. I know I get frustrated easily when I can’t do something right, and the first few months are going to be full of that frustration. The worst possible thing you can do for yourself is to say “I can’t!" Be the little engine that could, but instead of “I think I can” say “I know I can.”

A mantra personal to yourself or the drill can make it even better. During a lap drill I was having a hard time and kept repeating “low and hard” to remind myself to keep a low stance and to dig hard in my crossovers. A phrase can focus your concentration to the task at hand and make your practice time more productive. Be sure to avoid negative phrases like “stop fucking up.”  Anytime you find that you are getting down on yourself, stop, reset and repeat your positive phrase over and over.

Another thing you can do at the beginning of your mental training is to set goals. The best way to make goals more effective is to not only set an outcome goal, but also process goals. If you’re going on a trip but don’t have directions, you’re never going to get there. Writing them down is the next way to actualize your goals.  Putting them on paper is like making a written contract with yourself that you are going to hold up your end of the deal. Make them attainable and specific. As with the positive thinking you should avoid all negative language. 

It should be more like: “I want to complete 25 laps in under five minutes by February 1st.”

Great now how are you going to get there?

“I will exaggerate my derby stance throughout every drill at practice to improve my form.
I will skate extra laps during warm up and cool downs to work on my stride.
I will go to the rink on Saturdays to practice my laps and work on speed.  
I will run twice a week outside of practice to increase my endurance.”

Solid plan! But it doesn’t end there. Check up on yourself. Log when you go running and skating. Write your progress down and make sure you’re on track to your goal date. If the date is nearing and you’re still no where near completing 25 in five, this does not mean you failed. It simply means you may have set your goal too high and you just need to re-adjust your plan. Did you skimp on something? Is there something more you could do? This isn’t a loop hole to be lazy; your goals should still make you push yourself to work hard. 

These tools are applicable to the veteran skater too. There’s always more to learn in our evolving sport and new ways you can improve your skill. Stuck in a rut after years of skating? Maybe you’ve spent too much negative energy putting yourself down and you haven’t even realized it.

Phase 2 – Mental Training
So now you’re on a positive track heading towards improving yourself with goals. Awesome! To supplement your physical training to achieve that goal, you can also do some mental pushups. Your brain can be treated like a muscle, so with little use it could become weak. Concentrating your thoughts on how you want to improve will give you a clearer focus and a better commitment.

Warm up with a few laps through your memories. Pick out a few times when you succeeded or did well in roller derby, or other parts of your life. How did you look? What specifically did you do well? How was your stance and what were you thinking? Pick out a certain bout your performed well at, or a string of moments from a certain season. Make this your personal highlight reel to recall later.

Before every bout, I would watch this and other highlight reels of OCCRG to remind myself that I'm awesome.

If you have actual footage of yourself, that’s even better. Try to only repetitively watch the successful moments, not the times you may have tripped up. We of course learn from our mistakes, but only watch them a few times and move on- focus on what you did well and why.

Next, stretch out your ego a bit and think about what your strengths as a skater are. Are you fast? Strong? Smart? Focus on your positive attributes and create a personal statement. “I am an awesome booty blocker and can sit on a jammer all day.” Then take your goal and create a statement of what you want to achieve. “I will be faster and have more endurance than my competition.” Write these down and remember them for later.

There are some very specific mental workouts sports psychologists have created that I won’t go into great detail about here, but they have some pretty basic concepts. Pick a time every day to do your mental workout. It could be in the morning as you’re eating breakfast and getting ready. It could be at night as you get ready for bed- whatever time works best for you. Take a deep breath in with a slow exhale and start focusing on your personal statement. Now mentally go through your mental highlight reel of past successes. Imagine it first person and include every detail. Next, picture yourself executing the outcome of your goal: low stance, hard strides, even pace, finishing your laps in under five minutes. Take another deep breath and exhale slowly. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

On days you have practice it is beneficial to do it before and after. Focus on a positive self-image and what you want to accomplish beforehand. After, think about what you did well at practice and what needs more work next time. Physical practice won’t be very helpful if you’re just going through the motions. Get everything you can out of your training by focusing on your results afterwards.

It also helps to watch footage of skaters or athletes you want to be more like. Want to jam like Suzy Hotrod? Look up videos of her and other skaters so you can learn their style. Want to block like Amanda Jamitinya? Find all the video and photos you can to nail down her footwork and how she works with others. These are both things I’ve done personally and have had epiphanies about footwork and technique. In general, you benefit greatly from watching any and all footage of roller derby you can. Focus on certain positions, teams, pack situations, etc. Keep yourself up-to-date on strategy in this ever-changing sport.

Besides watching this for the amazing last few jams of the 2010 WFTDA Championship, I watched 3:05 over and over again. Amanda Jamitinya kept knocking Atomatrix out and stopping on the line and I wanted to perfect that. 

Phase 3 – Game time.
Alright, you have done all the mental and physical training you could, and now it's bout day. Both types of training must be done repetitively and consistently leading up to competition in order for your body to be fully prepared, but mental toughness is something you can carry with you onto track. A lot of people can get pre-bout jitters and freeze up when its time to perform. Dropping down and doing some push-ups isn’t going to do much for you now, it would just make you more tired. Instead you can do a few mental laps to freshen your mind and focus your attention on the game.

First, ban any and all negative thoughts from your brain. If you say “I can’t do this” when your on the jam line, then you have already beaten yourself before the opposing team could try. Replace the negativity with positive mental chatter. Repeat a phrase to yourself that applies to your current situation. As a jammer, you may think “low and fast” as you stand on the jam line. Pivoting, you may constantly be thinking “line and jammer” as you watch the opposing star and the line at all times. As a blocker, you may be thinking “buddy, jammer” as to stay with your buddy when the jammer approaches the pack. Don’t overwhelm yourself with who the competition is or what size the crowd is. Narrow your focus to the situation at hand, and work through the bout jam by jam.

Have a particularly bad jam? Sit on the bench and take a deep breath. Re-center your brain and quickly go through your mental highlight reel. Remember how awesome you are and what you are good at. Repeat your positive personal statement to yourself and then focus on what you will do next.

I’ve never really been one to get in my head at bouts, but it did happen to me this year against Minnesota. You can hear how negative I got in my write-up about it here, and you can see how deep a hole I dug myself. I kept telling myself I couldn’t do it and kept replaying that one awful jam over and over in my head, virtually paralyzing myself for the rest of the bout. I think our whole team started to get down on ourselves even though we had a relatively good first half. The second half we barely scored any points because we mentally gave up.

Mental toughness is not something you can get over-night. Like building muscle and endurance, you’ve got to work on it and create a routine. Self image creates your reality, so build a strong body by starting with a positive and focused mind. The stronger the bond is between your mind and body, the stronger athlete you will be. 

“Decide who you want to be and how you want to live- and then continuously tell yourself you have what it takes to be that person.” -Jason Selk 

No Excuses: Introduction
No Excuses: Dynamic Warm Ups
No Excuses: No Train No Gain

Books to read:
The Mental Edge by Kenneth Baum
10-Minute Toughness by Jason Selk

Saturday, November 26, 2011

No Excuses

Me as a newb.
When recruitment comes around, I always start thinking about what it takes to be a derby girl. Most outsiders think we're all former speed skaters, violent, super tough, or "big, scary dykes"... There is no one type of person that makes up roller derby; it is a very diverse crowd to get involved with. We are gay, straight, tough, sensitive, experienced and not; there's no prescribed personality for it. Most people I hear from don't quite know what to think about it, but almost always immediately say the couldn't possibly play. 

That's what made us different; we said we could.

The simple belief of yes I can, that first step into the local rink/gym/park, the courage to put on a pair of skates- that's what made us all different from everyone else. 

People who play roller derby range in age, aggression, body type and background. I would say that most people have no formal skating experience and quite a few have probably never played an organized sport. Most lead very busy lives- students, moms, doctors, multiple jobs. Most of us aren’t rich either, and this isn’t a cheap sport.

This sport prides itself on being grassroots and by the skaters. It has grown at an incredibly fast rate, and it has been all by our own hands. We do not get paid to train, we do not get paid to run our league as a successful business, but we do have to do it all in our free time. So before you say you “can’t,” look at all these strong men and women who have built this sport and try it for yourself. It is definitely not for everyone but you won’t know until you try- you might love it.

Believing you can is the first step. The next step is deciding to commit yourself to this amazing sport, to be open to new things and to push yourself to work harder than you ever have before.

This begins a series of posts that will highlight what it takes mentally and physically to play roller derby. I will give some insight for the new skaters, and new ways to push older skaters. I’m about to hit my 3 year anniversary playing roller derby and begin my second year coaching. I’m trying to learn as much as I can to push myself forward and pass along what I learn. Take it all with a grain of salt, and alter it to your own needs; I just hope I can help in some way.

No Excuses: Mental Training
No Excuses: Dynamic Warm Ups
No Excuses: No Train No Gain

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Slow Derby to No Derby.

A year ago, slow derby was on the rise and the shouting match between the ‘slow derby sucks’ and the ‘it’s just strategy’ crowds began. SDS proponents think derby should be all fast all the time and don’t like any clockwise or slow, stepping action. The pro-strategy group think it is all just part of the game. I’m torn between whether a majority of the strategists really feel that way, or just find themselves feeling defensive. I think I kind of fell into the latter part of that crowd because I felt like derby was mine and anyone who criticized it should just burn in hell.

So let’s review.

In my last slow derby post, the conversation broke down into three main concepts, but the prevailing criticism is about slow or stalled action at the start of a jam that prevents the release of the jammers, and thus scoring points. (The objective of the game.)

The first form of stalled action was after the first whistle blew: team A would move forward slowly or not at all. It might catch team B off guard when they jump off the line, giving A a solid back wall. Then it became about burning time if A had a blocker or jammer in the box. A way to deal with it was for all of B to just skate forward, causing a ten foot separation and no pack; jammer whistle blows. Since this is the beginning of the jam and they are not racing away, there is no penalty given for essentially destructing the pack. B is just setting a speed, whereas A is not really moving.

This counter-action may still eat a few minutes, especially if team A sees it happening and bridges the pack. So in anticipation of a stall, team B can all take a knee BEFORE the pack whistle blows, there will be no pack, and the jammers are realeased right away. Since there was no pack to break at the whistle, and if B resumes standing position right away, there is again no penalty issued.
Bridging 101: Arms do not bridge, refs measure distance from a skater's hips.
During all this stalling and non-skating forward, skaters realized they could skate back towards the jam line before the jammers were released. Now, team B decides A shouldn’t get the back wall every time. When the jam timer declares “5 SECONDS!” all of team B rushes the jammer line and takes a knee. This is usually done if B’s jammer is the only one on the line, so when she is released right away, team A is recovering from the sudden plan change or almost immediately get pushed ten feet out, causing no pack. A will have to stop engaging and the jammer gets to slide right through. It can also be done just to fuck with the other jammer since you’re lining up in her way with an immediate wall.

Team A sees this happen again and again and decides they better line up by the jam line too. If they see B sprint back, they know to go back with them so they don’t get called for no pack so easily. This still takes some scrambling and awareness, so they just beat B to the punch and start the jam back there from the beginning and everyone starts to forget about the pivot line. B sees A at the jammer line and lines up there too. Now we’re back to the stalled starts scenario, only we’re at the jammer line and not the pivot line. Again, a knee can be taken before the whistle to instant-start the jammers, but now they’re unleashed into a mosh pit of blockers.

What if no team takes a knee before the whistle? No one wants to skate forward to break the pack because then they will lose their position. This went on for awhile and everyone stared at each other wondering who was going to make a move first. Born were jams that never were: two whole minutes of skaters standing around as if their skates didn’t exist.

At this year’s Eastern Playoffs, it seemed there was a way to counter-act this stalled jammer line after the whistle. All but one blocker on team B would take a knee and then the last B blocker would casually skate forward until there was no pack. No one is issued a penalty and B still has a strong presence at the back.

At Westerns this counter-strategy didn’t get used and multiple jams went the full 2 minutes without any skating. There were obvious downfalls for each team to not skate, but each also felt strongly enough to stand their ground. Rat knew they couldn’t out skate Rocky, so they ate up time and messed with their heads. So why didn’t Rocky skate? According to some feedback on Derby Deeds, they felt by skating forward they were more likely to get called out of play and that Rat would hold the dominant position at the back.

Do I even need to mention the spiral staircase clarification?

So what’s the problem here? All of the fast, roller derby action is being traded for stopped, roller derby strategy. A year ago, I felt that the kinks would work out and eventually we would all skate again, but instead it got worse. Everyone is still complaining and demanding a rule change, but what should change? My sentiment was to just tell skaters to skate! Don’t get pulled into this stopped strategy by the other team. There seems to be a counter-action for each strategy, it just results in a mosh pit between the jammer and pivot line.

After dealing with this strategy in practices and bouts, and even with trying to move the action forward and counter-act the stalled strategy, I always felt at a disadvantage. Whoever was at the back had the advantage, and I could quickly be called out of play at the front. The most frustrating part is that the other team doesn’t even have to have a goat. It felt like strategy when you had to actively hold an opposing blocker to control the pack, but now they don’t even have to exert themselves to hold the pack slow. How is this fair?

This frustration is outlined in the Windy Man’s post “The Pack Solution.” He completely nails what the problem is with roller derby. It can’t necessarily be fixed with a jam line shot clock, required forward motion or one whistle. The jam might actually get going, but not much else would change. The solution is to not force the skaters to skate but to motivate them to skate. His proposed solution is explained in detail with diagrams and videos and is definitely worth your time to read. It doesn’t go without its own flaws, but it helps you think about roller derby in a different way, or at least it did for me.

In the current strategy style of WFTDA roller derby, you can get away with leisurely skating in a pace line at the back of the pack and that is called offense. You could even have only 2 skaters on the track, what should be a disadvantage, and you can still hold control of the pack. How does this seem fair? I often boast while explaining roller derby to newbs, that "it is a unique sport because we play offense and defense at the same time." We’re losing that strategy and putting stalling and standing in its place. That is the spirit of roller derby that I’m worried about losing. It doesn’t have to be all fast all the time, but I have always enjoyed its complexity and physicality, and we’re losing that.

Roller Derby is broken. The object of the game is for the jammers to lap the pack and score points. Simple enough. When the objective of the game is not being reached because standing around by the jam line is an effective strategy (and it is), something is wrong. When this strategy is used so much that fans don’t even want to watch, something is wrong. (And lets get real, most of our fans right now are die-hard followers or skaters themselves, I’d hate to know what an outsider thinks.)

A lot of people in the derby community get offended by fan criticism because this is “for the skaters by the skaters.” I even fell into this category, but am starting to understand how this whole production works. Matt Faure spells out what he think is wrong with roller derby and it makes sense. “…roller derby is a spectator sport and as such owes a certain degree of responsibility to the people who patronize it.” Yes we own our leagues and run them by democratic principles with a DIY aesthetic and train ourselves... but we also rely on our community to help us grow and improve, and in return we should in the least play roller derby for them.

Just because on some level we need to appease our audience doesn’t mean we have to sell out and put on a variety show for them. Their reaction should just be an indication that something is not making sense and we should address it. It becomes about give and take, and the continual growth of our sport is going rely on us being open to change while maintaining control.

I don’t have any real answers but I hope things change for the better and roller derby continues on its growth spurt across the globe. Now that we have junior leagues popping up, we are becoming responsible for laying the path for these young boys and girls who look up to us. I guess my biggest request is that we all calm down a bit and look closely at the conflict. If you are unhappy with what you see, contact your local league or WFTDA representative. Send in an official rule complaint or change request to WFTDA as they talk about in episode 75 of Derby Deeds. If you feel strongly one way or the other, start a discussion! Write about it. Talk about it. This post was inspired by the growing wealth of words being written on the subject, so please read all the articles I’ve linked. 

Long live roller derby.

My roommate Animal Mother's take on slow derby. "In Defense of Slow Derby"
RDIT: Guest Writer Persephone of Philly Roller Girls "Victory Through Destruction: A Look at Game Play Destroying Strategies"
RDIT article by Quad Almighty. "One Whistle to Rule Them All." 
RDIT article by Mike Chexx. "The Message: Gotham v. Philly at ECDX"
Harrisburg Roller Derby Examiner by Kristie Grey. "Small League, Slow Derby?"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Eyes Up.

Blah. Blah. Blah. That's what most of my posts have been. Whining about what I DON'T have and what I WANT but not about what I should do to get there.

Well, yesterday I applied to two jobs and went to Cedar Valley to run a jammer practice for the Brawlers. Today I picked up 5 extra hours at the shop and went for a run. Minus the Wendy's I had last night, I have been getting back on the good food wagon, and remembering how tasty a salad can be. Take that life!

I keep dwelling in my frustrations which leads down a slippery, depressing slope. I've started to tap into a bit of motivation, so now I just need to hang onto it and keep pushing forward. I've also completely stopped doing any video which makes me sad, so I need to MAKE time for it. I have a bunch of random footage from Rollercon I never did anything with, and tons of bout footage to play with. WTF Deadwards?

So what motivates me?

"Never stop challenging yourself if you want to 
continue to improve as a skater."
Photo by Preflash Gordon
She's a driven, amazing skater for the Minnesota Rollergirls. I had the pleasure of taking one of her classes at Rollercon and love her style. She is also part of Team USA and featured recently on derbylife.

She also came down with the version of MNRG All-Stars that played us in June. Not only is she a great jammer, but a stealthy blocker. As a skater with a similar athletic background as me, and only a few years ahead on derby experience, she is definitely a skater I look up to. Keep an eye on her during North Central Playoffs.
They had an AMAZING showing at Eastern Playoffs last weekend, and proved that hard work pays off. As the pioneering league for Europe, being only five years old, and going into the tournament without a sanctioned win, they exceeded all expectations. I caught a majority of their bout vs Philly, and you could see them learn and adapt as they played. I was sad to miss most of their bout vs Montreal, but it was obviously a brilliant comeback from their 70 point loss to them at Anarchy in the UK. 

Photo by KORfan.

The fresh meat have definitely been inspirational this year. Jenna JAMisON not only makes a great pet, but she has improved immensely and has let us throw her into bouting this season. Same with Outlaw Jessie Pains who I think has done everything from soccer to rugby, pushes me with her fancy footwork and endurance. Triple D Zaster has always been a skater that pushes me to skater harder and faster. Her drive and dedication to working out outside of practice reminds me how important cross-training is. Returning skaters like Ima Golddiggah, who has attended a 5 am body sculpting class since June, remind me to keep challenging myself. Did I mention how quickly she returned after having a baby? Toxic Sugar has probably been the most inspirational this year. Last season she injured her knee which led to surgery and a year+ being off skates. Could we get rid of her? Nope. Despite her frustration, being a mom of four and deciding to go back to school, she attending nearly every practice and became a valuable off skates member of the team. She has handled an intense amount of internal work for the team; everything from setting up bouts to pushing us through our apprenticeship. She is the glue that holds our team together and now she is returning to skates, which I'm sure terrifying for anyone after injury. 

Lately I've been pretty down on myself and focusing too much on what I can't do. Reminding msyelf what I have done and what I'm capable of is inspiring to get myself back in that good place. The Roller Derby Workout Challenge got me in great shape earlier this year and I felt unstoppable on the track. With Animal Mother by my side, I helped cultivate a crop of new skaters that are looking amazing on the track. I have edited some awesome videos including a whole 20 minute documentary on our team. I went to Rollercon and have been meeting amazing people all over the world! Did I mention I've gotten MVP twice this year and get multiple shout outs on the Derby Deeds Podcast? (I'm kind of a big deal.)
Knowing I can take out a speed skater like Stella Italiana adds a boost of confidence.
Photo by KORfan

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Deadwards vs Edwards

Bench coachin. Yeah, no one else recognizes me
without face paint either...
Photo by KORfan
Fall means a new school year in Iowa City. Doesn’t matter if you’re not actually in school, the whole city revolves around the University. Living in a college town is interesting, and is why I think roller derby teams prosper in them. There is an abundance of more diverse and open minded people who are more likely to join a unique sport such as derby. There is already a large sports-minded population that is itching to watch some fierce competition and lots of fun-loving alumni with families that find their way to a bout.

A town absorbed by a state college isn’t without its conflicts either. We have to schedule around the fall football season, deal with a summer lull when students leave, and have a hard time really breaking into the student population to begin with—they’re poor and have no transportation. It’s a recipe for derby to grow, but we have to work hard at cultivating awareness in order to penetrate the city.

This past year I’ve felt like that has been my full time job. I’m all derby, all the time. At one point I suppose I wanted nothing more, but now it’s starting to wear on me. I’ve been out of school a year and a half now, and haven’t really worked on pushing my personal and professional life any further.

I’ve come to realize I really love doing PR for the team and this year have worked hard at revamping the image of our team, ensuring that promotional items get done and sent, and tried to explore new ways to get our name out. I’ve also taken on coaching, and helped train a whole crop of fresh meat for the past 9 months. I even put together a new event in our schedule, the Roll Out, to highlight them and show off everything else we’ve achieved this year. As a board member I have another meeting to add to my schedule, and heavy topics to discuss. It’s been exhausting to say the least.
So proud of these ladies. 
So where am I personally a year later? Still broke, working a part time job as a barista and no certain path laid out before me. It’s frustrating and my love for derby is slowly turning into animosity. At the end of the day, I like the things I do for derby, but it doesn’t pay. Take derby out of my life and I wouldn’t have much left at this point, and I wouldn’t be any happier either. A balance is needed.

I graduated college with a BFA in Intermedia art with a high interest in video. I just started to develop my creative juices and gained a skill for editing. My culminating project was a 20 minute documentary on our team which proved to myself that I really can do anything I work hard at. I know I have it in me to do the things I want, I’ve just lost that ambition and motivation to do so.

I just need to take a hard look at what is benefiting ME right now and what I can do to push myself forward. Sacrifices might have to be made, and hard work has to be done if I want to be in a good place. The next year could lead to many possibilities, and I have to be open to them. Come next fall I am NOT going to be working at the shop, with a new crop students asking me what my major is… 

Anyways, here's my long awaited movie about OCCRG from the spring of 2010. We were still sorta babies...


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Worst Parade Ever

This next blog is by request.

All refs are dumb, blind, liars and biased, right?
In sports, the players get all the glory and refs get all the ridicule. Athletes train to learn the rules and perfect their skill in order to play a fair and safe game, and the refs are there to help ensure that that happens.

Roller derby is of course, a unique sport. (how many times can I say that?) The athletes are amateur, the officials are volunteers and most of an audience for a bout is relatively new to the game. It’s safe to say that not every bout is pretty, especially non-WFTDA sanctioned bouts. For newer leagues, most are lucky if they can find someone to learn the rules and join their league to ref, and even luckier if they can find multiple people interested in reffing.

As I’ve also said before, derby is newest in the Midwest. There have been about five new leagues on the scene in the past couple years; lots of freshly tenderized meat. Of most of these leagues I have seen few with more than one or two regular refs attached to their team. It shows in their playing because they don’t have that constant eye on them at practice to help evolve their game. Newer skaters are going to be sloppy already, but if they aren’t getting the feedback of a ref at home, game day becomes a real eye opener for them. 

I think our league has developed so fast because we can boast a large ref crew. If you check our brand spanking new website, we have 11 zebras listed in our herd. That is more than enough to ref a bout, meaning that we have a full ref crew at almost every practice. From the time our league began, we also had close ties to certified refs which gave us good roots from which our league could grow. Howie Swerve, a level 2 ref, comes around from time to time to help mold our refs and to make sure everyone is on the same page. The Gorram Reaver, also a level 2, has worked with us multiple times and provided us with VERY thorough discussions. Some of our refs have attended the recent officiating clinics to further their knowledge of the rules. I am not a ref, nor a certified WFTDA member, but I feel confident in saying that we have a very good ref crew at our disposal. The lack of refs in the Midwest has also led to a plethora of reffing opportunities for them across a range of skill levels.
The Gorram Reaver is a tough ref, and I may not always like her during a bout, but that's because she's doing her job.
This weekend I was told that I should blog about how one ref was a cocksucker. I don’t find this as an indication of bad reffing, I actually find it quite the opposite. When I hear people complain about the officiating at a bout, I ask them why they thought it was so bad. The response is usually that they made bad calls or they “only called elbows on such&such team and didn’t call ANY on so&so team.” Well… maybe such&such team was throwing a lot more elbows that so&so team? I find that latter complaint usually about teams that are playing on a fresher level. A penalty on a newer skater is going to look a lot different than a penalty on an experienced skater. I might come up behind an all-star skater and run into her back, but she is a strong player so she doesn’t fall down. That is a minor. I do the same on a fresh meat skater, and she might fall down making it a major.

I hear these accusations and usually just step back because it’s not my sandbox. I have a pretty decent understanding of the rules because I make sure I understand them completely when I get called for something. I’ve toyed with the idea of even trying out reffing, to get a better understanding of the rules, but just watching in practice it looks extremely tough to judge impact and intention of action on the track.

Saturday night I got a bit of a peek into officiating from the middle of a zebra pack. I helped jam time at the Your Mom bout in Des Moines against the St. Louis Gatekeepers. I had jam timed for Your Mom once before in a relatively closed interleague scrimmage, but working at a bout with an audience is a whole different experience. The crowd can be vicious and distracting. I fumbled with the whistle a few times in the first half because the roar of the crowd was so overwhelming.

Jam timing is an interesting job, and very systematic. Everything I do is according to a clock: jam time, period time, in-between jam time, time outs, etc. I also have to respond to a few certain ref calls. Jams run two minutes long unless the jammer calls it off. The jammer signals this to the ref, the ref calls the jam, I stop the clock, start 30 seconds until the next jam, which I give a five second warning and then start the pack. The next whistle, per the rules, sounds when the last pack skater crosses the line. Simple enough, right? Well with all the new pack strategy off the line, it gets a little more complicated.

If the black team decides to take a knee, I sound the first whistle to start the jam, and then I must wait for the refs to call no pack, in which I immediately release the jammers. If not everyone takes a knee before the first whistle then a pack would still exist and I must be cognizant to only respond to the call of the refs. It’s a little tricky and takes a lot of focus and attention, and once I pushed the yells of the crowd out of my head it all became much smoother.

My job is not much different than a ref. A wise ref by the name of Umpire Strikes Back once said that a ref “describes what the skaters are doing, they do not prescribe.” Meaning, they take in all of the information that lies before them and respond with an appropriate call. There are also different ref positions that are responsible for making certain calls. A jam ref may see a pack skater commit a penalty, but they are relying on their pack refs to call it because they must remain completely focused on their jammer. (What jammer likes it when they call off a jam but get too much lag time from their ref because they were not making eye contact?) There is a very specific flow to how a ref crew works a bout, and experienced and certified refs have it down pretty well.

There's a difference between team douchebag
and just being a douchebag. Hellarad knows.
I’ve listened in on enough zebra chat to know that most refs have little emotion tied to bouts. They call the penalties they see and they see the penalties they call. There is a check and balance system amongst them, as the outside pack refs call into the inside pack refs to acknowledge that was indeed a track cut or a no pass/no penalty, etc. The jam refs have lots of communication as to whether their jammer got lead or lap points. It’s amazing to experience a ref crew up close and personal and to see the action from the infield of a track.

To hear some of the nasty comments this past weekend was just baffling to me. When they are only booing the calls against their league and only cheering for the calls against the opposing league, they lose credibility when they approach a ref after the bout to claim that they were the worst fucking ref they had ever seen.

Like I said I am not a ref, but from my experience and all the information I gathered through my position on the track, the refs called what they saw, and saw what they called, and a crowd claming differently is going to have no impact on the game. If you disagree, I would like to see you put on some stripes and do a better job. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of how a game goes or what they think of the officiating, whether it’s an educated opinion is a different story. Either way, it is just plain rude to mouth off to a ref in this sport since they are all here voluntarily, and without them our game would never improve. 

Your Mom vs Gatekeepers Pictures by  Maharry Photography

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Last Saturday was the MIR re-match. The time had come to seek vengeance on last year’s heartbreak. I had to prove to myself that I was better than last year and that we had really gotten somewhere as a team.

Warming up, I felt a little shaky. Eating the right balance of food can be tricky bout day, and my stomach was a little uncertain. Also MIR is one of the only other teams that we’ve played who also has a slick floor. I even felt like I was sliding around a bit too much in warm ups and didn’t feel entirely solid.

Tyna learned at last year’s bout not to play me first, so Ophelia Fracture took the line and put 8 up on the board for us, while Vyolent Grimm snagged 4 for MIR. The first jam sets the tone for me, and going to the jam line second I still wasn't sure. So far it looked like they weren’t just going to hand it over to us. Lolli Pop Ya took the line next to me, one of the only jammers that makes me feel small in the star. I entered the pack second, and got stuck on the outside and tripped up over a downed skater. I tried to save myself but fumbled to the floor, feeling a bit embarrassed. I brushed myself off and sped up to catch Lolli, forcing her to call it off after she got 4 points.

Jen growls her way through.
The third jam they put two more up on the board and had the lead for a brief moment until OFX busted our lead wide open with an 18 point jam. It looked like Lolli was playing a lot of back to back jams and primarily blocking, which left the jamming to Vyloent Grimm and some of their fresher skaters. We had a handful of our fresher meat with us that night too, relying on Jenna JAMisON and Outlaw Jessie Pains to fill out or jammer bench since GLADi8HER is out for awhile with injury.

This was also the debut night for JB and Red Tribution. Red, whose was a bridesmaid in her brother's wedding the following day, got whacked in the face in her very first jam. It sucked to see her out so early on, but I think it made her derby drive stronger. JB is a great trailer to anyone's truck, and helped block the crap out of one or two jammers. 

The uncertainty I felt during warm ups washed away quickly with several big jams, including a 23 point power jam. By the half we had a solid lead at 113 to their 53. I actually felt quite good on the track and wasn’t completely exhausted like I was by this time last year. Also, I think Your Dad needs to come up with a new nick name for me. In March I was “Twinkletoes” because I got really good at avoiding big hits while jamming, but now I’m dishing out the big hits while jamming. When you have the star on your head, everyone is out to get you. You can begin to anticipate when they’re going to lay a hit on you, especially if you try to take the coveted inside line. Why not just hit them first? 

I was awarded MVP.
It's a foot.
The second half began and we had to be careful not too get to comfortable in our lead, because last year they picked away at it in the second half and won in the final jam. We have been working on a lot of partner defense lately, and it was really showing in this bout. One particular jam I remember blocking in, it was just Jane Bang and myself on the track, minivanned by a nearly full MIR pack. We worked together and held off any serious damage and kept their jammer to only a few points.

We played a lot of smart strategy and kept control of the pack nearly the whole bout. It was reassuring to be working so well on the track after a long break of bouting and a bit of rotation in our roster. We won 246 to 114 in which I contributed 89 points- my highest scoring bout. My point differential was 71, which means I only allowed them 18 points against me while I jammed.  As a jammer, you’re only as good as your differential. It was good closure after my poor performance last year against MIR. 

This bout's photos:

This post is dedicated to Red Tribution's broken nose. She'll be back with a vengeance...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Viva Rollercon.

I. am. in. Vegas.

To be honest, Vegas itself is pretty underwhelming. I’ve never really had the urge to come here because it’s expensive and gambling has never made much sense to me. (and the tunnel people!) But I’m not here to gamble or go to a fancy show, I am here for ROLLERCON. 

I’ve been nothing but excited the whole way here… the whole.. 27 hour way here. (Yes, we drove from IOWA CITY.) Last night Animal and I looked up which classes we want to take while we’re here. With those, the events, the challenge bouts to watch and you know, eating, this is going to be a VERY busy five days. Commence overwhelmsion.

I finally got some sleep last night, and I know I will make it all work. (work it out!) I just have to make peace with the fact that I probably won’t get to do everything I want to do. I also will have to exercise a little self control and limit my partying if I want to fit so many classes in. (the latter part will be hard.) Animal and I decided we will become Rollercon experts and then teach a preliminary class next year on how to do Rollercon right.

Team Christmas Miracle
We have already had lots of roller derby road trip practice this year. The weekend prior, Animal, Killer Baker, Fannysaurus Wrex and I drove to Lincoln, Nebraska to fill a hole in a double header weekend No Coast needed filled. They invited a few teams out to play, but when a team bowed out last minute they were scrambling to fill the spot. After many emails, and many potential plans, we ended up forming a mash up team with some girls from Sioux City, Sioux Falls, and Norfolk. They were so grateful they called us “Team Christmas Miracle.” Oh, did I mention we were taking on the No Coast Mad Maxines?

A moment of fear filled me prior to the bout, remembering the beating I was given against the Minnesota girls, but I let it go. I was  playing with girls I’d never played with before, against a WFTDA team I’d never seen play before; this bout was going to be a miracle anyway you look at it.

We danced and made friends.
First jam, I toed the line and looked up at the pack; the No Coast girls looked like giants, but the whistle blew and I looked past their two walls and exited, Lead Jammer! The first few jams we held them tight, but a few power jams later, they pulled way ahead. It didn’t matter. We showed them we meant business and I was ready to fight for every point. 

They won 200 to 46, but it felt a lot closer than that. I got my ass handed to me a few times, but I didn’t freak out and gave it everything I could. I felt bruised and broken and great afterwards and was awarded MVP of my team. We stuck around for the next day to help/watch the No Coast vs Ohio bouts which both No Coast teams pulled ahead and won in the final minutes. We danced our asses off at the after party and felt primed for Rollercon.

So bring it Rollecon. Give me everything you got. I’m ready to get my ass kicked. 

Monday, July 4, 2011


In an ideal world I would be playing as much roller derby as possible, traveling and creating video. Some sort of unlimited funds would be necessary to buy all the video equipment, software, and resources I need, alongside unlimited time for the editing process. Those same funds would pay for travel expenses to attend every tournament, bootcamp and championship as well as living. I am far from this ideal which leaves me wondering, what the hell AM I doing?

Right now I’m sitting in the Iowa Public Radio office across from John Pemble as he renders a video on some local bands that I helped him produce. It’s 5:15 am and I am remembering what hard work and mental perseverance can accomplish. I’m tired and wish I was fast asleep after a night of partying, but in this insatiable world, instant results have better success.
All weekend I ran around a span of blocks in downtown Des Moines with a flip camera, getting footage of local and national music acts at the 80/35 festival. I’m ‘doin a job’ but love this close interaction with artists who are passionate about creating. Being here also reminds me of a lot of old friends and memories with bands that reconnect me with another time. It kind of grounds me for a moment as I think about things and people I once wanted in life and the direction I thought I was heading.
Listening to multiple artists talking about creating and doing what they love made me envious.
Driving in early on Friday also meant I got to log in some time with my dad, revealing how out of touch I am with my own family. It also makes me pressure myself into proving that I’m doing something with my life now that I’ve been out of school for over a year. Faced with the simple question of, “what have you been up to?” I find myself searching and only really coming up with “roller derby”.

Derby. Derby. Derby. If you’re reading this you can probably relate and are excited about all the things that have been keeping me busy. To outsiders of roller derby though, I can only imagine what it looks like I have been doing.  I’ve fallen deep into derbyland and have lost all sense of direction. I’m losing my creative edge and am forgetting there’s more to life. It’s not about giving anything up, but about finding a balance. I’ve definitely discovered what I am capable of and want to apply these things to more parts of my life.

Looking forward, July is a month full of derby even though this is the lull in our season. Although I am too poor to participate in the Blood and Thunder bootcamp that is happening later this week, as well as the Team USA preliminary tryouts, I will go up Saturday to watch other people play derby. The next weekend I decided to take up an opportunity to play some high level derby with the Mad Rollin dolls in Nebraska for a triple header with No Coast, Omaha and Ohio. Then the week after that is Rollercon. My excitement is squashed by the anxiety of stretching every penny and hoping I have enough for rent when I get back. It’s no way to live and I am the only one who can change it.

I go through these inspirational chats with myself every few months when life starts to catch up with me, so I can only hope that this motivation lives past the words on this screen. Going back to school may be the answer. Sacrificing some roller derby for a better paying job may be the answer. I’ve fallen into this gimme, gimme, gimme world of instant gratification and just need to buck up and make some short term changes that will have longer lasting effects.

Product from the weekend that I had the most hand in.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


I got a little cocky. Maybe bouting four weekends in a row wore me out. Or maybe I just got out of shape. Whatever it was, our bout against the Minnesota Rollergirls was not my finest.

All week I went through panicky fits of confidence and anxiety. I tried to reassure myself to just play roller derby like I normally do, and everything will be fine. I had seen them play on DNN, I had felt their hits at their boot camp, and we played out all the possible strategies they might use against us. We seemed to be completely prepared.

Our team warm-up happened as the audience started filling the Marriott, and we were feeling pretty solid. Next was equipment check and the nervous-standing-around-time as we waited for the bout to start. I looked over and saw Bat R was intensely messing with one of GLAD’s skates, it looked sucky. Wobbling around on my own skates something felt weird. I thought it was usual bout day paranoia but under further inspection I saw I was missing one of the nuts that holds my boot to my skate. Fuck. Apparently GLAD was having the same problem and Bat R was busy helping her. I ran over to Lukan, who was NSOing that night, hoping maybe he had extra hardware. He didn’t, but generously handed his own skate over for me to steal from. A few people helped me as I frantically tried to get the issue solved, but the announcers started warming the crowd, and I started freaking out. MNRG started their intros and it was obvious I wasn’t going to have enough time to fix this. Now I would be skating with faulty gear, but it was just unfortunate timing and I would have to deal. I jumped on the track just in time for our intro, but I stared at the floor the whole time.
They jammed L’exi Cuter and Medusa first, two of their all-star jammers, and we held them pretty close at 4 to 1. It was obviously going to be a battle but I felt we could hold our own. I took the line against Jax Kvass, better known to me as the Frau, and managed to get lead. As I came around the track MNRG was speeding away, using strategy we precisely anticipated. I finally caught up to them but they were still successfully booty blocking me. I managed to squeeze my hips forward and called it off. One point. I blocked and then jammed again, getting lead and only stealing two points before calling it off.

 The next time I took the line was the worst two minutes of my derby life. I battled through the pack on my initial, and just as I was seeing daylight, they sucked me back in. Veudoo Prodigy is a tiny beast on the track and she was all over me. She is the quickest person I’ve seen knock a player out and run twenty feet backwards. I was already exhausted as she did this to me, so I think I stepped back in front of her, losing the ability to gain lead. Frau had exited the pack and evidently didn’t gain lead either. This was a battle with no exit strategy. After I finally got out of the pack, I re-entered for a similar beating. I tried my best to avoid hits by Veudoo, and during one of my signature “don’t fucking touch me”  moves, she missed my body but knocked my feet out from under me. After nearly face-planting on the track, I peeled myself up and felt every ounce of energy I had leave my body. I tried to press on but could barely skate forward, let alone juke hits, and kept getting taken out on every turn. I managed to push through one scoring pass and as I was celebrating a silent victory, I got knocked back into the pack. It felt like ten minutes had gone by and I just wanted to give up. Four whistles finally ended my pathetic show and I fell in a sad heap behind our bench.
Tyna protecting me as I hid.

Bat R had called a time out to regroup but I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t face them, or look at the crowd, or even feel my legs. I was embarrassed and ashamed because the only thought in my head was to quit. Tynamite consoled me, and asked if I wanted to hide in the ambulance, probably thinking I was hurt from my fall. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t just hide. I sat up and tried to pull myself together. I wasn’t hurt, but maybe just my pride.

I sat and watched for a bit before I let Tyna put me back in as a blocker. I finally jammed once more before the first period was over, getting lead and promptly calling it off. So determined not to repeat the last jam, I didn't even realize their jammer was in the box. GLAD was getting a little beat up, but still managed to snag some points. Opehlia Fracture seemed to have found my Twinkle Toes power as she jumped and juked their hits. She scored 20 of our 30 points to their 77 as we stopped at the half.

We were only down by 47, a situation that we had found ourselves in a couple weeks prior, so we knew we weren’t done yet. I managed to crawl back out of my head for the second half, but I wasn’t all there. The rest of the bout is kind of a blur. We scored fewer points but managed some decent defense. It ended at 220 to 56. They were just. so. good.

That bout was definitely a wake up call. I was in pretty good shape at beginning of the year, with the roller derby workout, but that ended once I got busy with bouting season. We also used to work a lot more on our endurance in practice, but with so many bouts back to back, we spent more time on strategy and pack work. We weren’t terrible against them by any means, but there are definitely areas of improvement.

I personally plan on taking advantage of our break in bouting, and really get back into shape. Practicing for 6 hours a week is not enough. If anyone is truly serious about roller derby, it takes an independent effort to train and improve. Some people run. Some people do hot yoga. Some people get up at 4 am to go to a 10 week body sculpting program. Whatever it is that keeps you motivated to workout outside of practice, you’ve got to find it.

I had originally planned on trying out for Team USA since they were holding a preliminary at the Waterloo bootcamp, but I think I’ve changed my mind. Minnesota gave me all the feedback I need to realize I’m not ready yet, plus I need to direct any extra funds towards Rollercon. It’s going to be a busy and exciting summer, and I’m especially looking forward to watching the fresh meat grow. 


Friday, June 10, 2011


Get to wear the green patch this weekend!
Hopefully it'll be pink soon.
As a three year old league, and a current WFTDA Apprentice member, we are seen as a young team. We’re not quite old enough to play with the big girls, but it is evident that we can hold our own with some teams that have experience behind them. In March we squeaked out a win against one of Madison’s home teams, the Unholy Rollers. Their All-star team, the Dairyland Dolls, stands 4th in the North Central region, according to WFTDA’s 1st Quarter rankings. The next month we hosted the Kansas City Roller Warriors: Plan B Team, and beat them by a little over fifty points. Their All-Star team stands at the top of the South Central region rankings. This past Saturday we played the Omaha Rollergirls AAA team, winning 225 to 8. Their All-Star team, which just moved to the South Central region this year from the North, holds the #8 spot. 

Animal Mother and I chatted about this on the road trip to Omaha, and how we’re kind of the awkward pre-teen on the derby scene. We’re at that age where clothes from the girls section are too short or tight in weird places, but nothing fits quite right from the Juniors section. We’re sitting at 8-0, having beat a range of Iowa leagues as well as some WFTDA “B” squads. We’re working on getting that pink WFTDA patch, but going up against any of the top sanctioned teams would be laughable.
MNRG has some awesome jammers and even better defense.
Photo by Preflash Gordon

This Saturday we are hosting the Minnesota Rollergirls and they are bringing some tough competition. We had been wanting to schedule something with their “B Team” at some point this year, and when a chance arose for us to fit them in, we grabbed it. Since Minnesota has no formal B squad, and it being last minute, the roster we are up against looks to be a “second-string” All-Star team. WFTDA places the Minnesota All-Stars as #2 in the North Central Region. If we become WFTDA, we would be part of this region and may someday play their official All-Star team for rankings. The bout this weekend is going to be a good indicator of where we fall on a nationally competitive level. I’ve never been so terrified and excited in my life.
This will be bout #4 in our recent block of bouts. We went into the Brawlers bout with defense first and foremost on our minds. We focused on strong walls, smart jamming and better awareness, which held them to a mere 6 points. The following weekend, I think we lost sight of that goal and were down at the half against the Sioux City Roller Dames. Once we regrouped, and reminded ourselves of our collective goal, stopping their jammer, we turned the tables on Sioux City and pulled out a win. Saturday, we went into Omaha, unsure of what their AAA squad would be like, but with the plan to focus on their jammer with effective defense. They got 8 points on the board in the first half, but we held them scoreless in the second.

We know we can play solid defense, and work well together, so seeing names like Medusa, Lexi Cuter and Psycho Novia shouldn’t make my knees shake. Being deemed “Twinkletoes” this year shouldn’t make my stomach flop knowing I may get hit by Diamond Rough or Vueodoo Prodigy. We are going to have to use every ounce of our knowledge and ability this weekend, and we’re going to learn a lot, and probably remember what it’s like to lose.

It’s a big night for us, but especially for two new additions to the roster; Outlaw Jessie Pains, and Jenna JAMesON. They will graduate from fresh meat status by participating in their very first bout Saturday, and they’ve earned it. 

The anticipation is killing me, but I just have to remember that we are all playing the same game. If we can keep clear heads and just do the best we can, it will be a great way to go out on summer break. 


Pictures from Omaha

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Never Say Die.

Next to Funsize, I feel giant.
Cathy Kovach Photography

Going into the tenth jam of Saturday night, we had only scored four points. Sioux City had pushed their lead to 41 and I was getting frustrated. I knew we were a better team than this. Our walls were getting broken up and our jammers were not getting lead. At the rate of this point increase we were going to get annihilated. GLADi8HER put another 3 points on the board and we felt a small victory, until she went to the box and they power jammed their way to 51.

Finally I got in to jam again and took the line next to Anita Spur, one of their two very tiny skaters. I made my way through the pack and exited as lead jammer. As I made my way around I noticed their star was sitting in the box. Excellent. I pushed it hard for a few grand slams, cutting their lead in half. The crowd was roaring and I hoped that I renewed their faith in us, as well as our own. GLAD came back to score four more and then our momentum lagged for a few jams, but we kept them from barely scoring. After Triple D Zaster and A Few Screws Lucy added 5 and 4 points respectively, we got hammered with a 20 point grand slam by PBR. She was a strong and powerful force as a jammer, and extremely hard to knock down, but she wasn’t going to let us end the half on that note. I took advantage of their jammer in the box with 3 grand slams, putting it 82 to 49 at the half, their lead.
PBR was a force to contend with, jamming and
blocking back to back through most of the bout.
Photo by KORfan.

This was a strange bout to begin with because going into it we knew we needed to play some heavy defense. Anita Spur and Funsize both stand under five feet and hard to catch. The Triple Threat girls, PBR, Sum Mo Pain, and Dubbs, are solid blockers and know how to break up a wall. With Bat R Up out of town and our roster short one skater, we had to rearrange the way some of our usual lineups work. Ophelia Fracture spent a lot more time blocking in the first half as well as Trip, and we used a lot of power blocker combinations. We came into this bout prepared, but apparently we weren’t using the framework we provided ourselves for a solid defense.

Their jammers managed to slip through the pack, getting lead jammer more than half the jams, and were building solid walls. After my first power jam, they had a target on me and walled up in the back, forcing me into 3 back block minors in a matter of one lap which I proceeded to carry with me throughout the rest of the bout. They took control from the beginning, but we were slowly stealing it back.
We finally remembered what a wall looked like. Photo by KORfan.
With a solid rotation of GLAD, Ophelia and myself in the second half, we started hacking away at their lead, closing the gap to 19 points in just 4 jams. As we started getting lead jammer a majority of the time, and they started getting more friendly with the penalty box, we got to under ten points in the last quarter of the bout. A 13 point jam by Ophelia FINALLY put us in the lead with over 3 minutes left on the clock; 129 to 127. Now it was just a matter of tightening up our defense and keeping that lead. We held them scoreless for the last three jams as GLAD and myself added 12 more points to the board, and I called off the jam as the final seconds expired; 141 to 127. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized the amazing feat we just accomplished. We were an entirely different team in the second half; one I knew we could be. We were looking defeat in the eye for the first time in nearly a year, but it wasn’t going to be that night. On to Omaha