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?"