Good communication or friendly fire?

Good communication in roller derby is not a new concept; verbal instructions, eye contact and physical cues are effective ways to cultivate good teamwork. But lately I’ve been finding it hard to moderate my communication on track – as games get faster and opposition seems stronger, I find myself shouting lots, and not always in the most effective way.

In the last 6 months, my internal monologue has moved from ‘don’t fall down, don’t fall down, don’t fall down, CORNER!’ to ‘lane 1, lane 3, lane 4, (don’t fall down), bridge, bridge, HUSTLE, (CORNER!)’.

Progress.

Economising communication

“Excuse me teammates, I know you may be otherwise engaged, but I could do with a little assistance up front.”

But with this comes a great big new challenge: externalising the internal monologue, and filtering it appropriately for the track – being concise, correct, calm, audible, (and polite!) all in a split second is hard. ‘Please excuse me, I’m your jammer coming past in lane 1‘ comes out differently when you’re pumped full of adrenaline and need a quick reaction.

But whilst urgent communication is important on track, so is team morale. If you get frustrated and shout aggressively at a teammate, I think it’s important to take the time to say sorry after the jam, rather than ‘DON’T DO THAT NEXT TIME’. And important to accept similar apologies from your teammates as a simple lapse in voice-control in the heat of the moment. I’ve been on both sides, and both times felt shit about being a bad teammate. We all make mistakes, but I think a quick recognition of ‘oops’ after the jam can make the difference between two people having a bad 20 seconds, and a bad whole game.

On-track feedback is something else I’ve been thinking about recently, and I’m interested to know what other leagues do. As a skater who also coaches, I find it hard to switch between the two modes in scrim sessions. I catch myself calling ‘penalty warnings’ when I’m in a pack – not to alert the refs, but to get skaters to check their play and make sure we’re not developing bad habits. In my head, it’s the right process for team learning.

In reality though, it can be kinda demoralising. It’s frustrating hearing ‘Steg, watch your forearms’ from teammates when I’m scrimming. It’s frustrating because I know they’re correct, so I check myself, feel a bit butt-hurt, but am suddenly more conscious of forearms – and I know my teammates are helping me become a better player. Overall it’s positive.

It occurred to me, though, that not everyone takes criticism in the same way. And this is my quandry: is it better to develop the mental toughness to take immediate feedback on track when it’s relevant – or should we be saving all our comments until after the jam/after the scrim, when it might feel less relevant, but can be said with the right tone of voice? It seems like a small decision for a team to make, but one that can massively effect the morale – and expectations – of teammates in training.

I also think that as a team grows with newer skaters, it’s important to be clear about what ‘appropriate’ communication on track actually means, and that everybody feels confident within the team environment to know that ‘LANE 1, GET OUTTA THE WAY’, doesn’t mean your jammer hates you, it just means they’re economising their energy for skating. And if there is feedback to be done, it should be given – and taken – in a positive way. Roller derby is an emotionally and physically tough sport; let’s build each other up, keep working harder, and optimise THE HELL out of our communication with teammates.

tin can phone

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Failure, success and Pegasus

BeFriendswithFailure0003

This isn’t a post about coping with failure. For starters this comic already did it better, and secondly I realised I’ve actually been confusing failure with ‘failure to constantly achieve’. 

I’m talking about The Derby Lull. Specifically, the unquantifiable skill wilderness (skillderness?) that exists between passing-minimum-skills and being Suzy Hotrod. How one minute you’re acing your minimums, learning a skill a week and feeling hella cool, and then suddenly BAM you’ve passed and there’s no standardised measure for success any more. Just a whole load of complicated rules and gameplay and LEFT TRANSITIONS.

It’s February now and I still can’t transition left at speed. Or hockey stop. Or do any of the things I’ve been practising my arse off at for months, with REALLY GODDAMN SLOW progression. Only it occurred to me today that I have absolutely no excuse to feel crap about these things. Of course the learning curve is going to plateau, at least until you do something about it.

Any excuse for a fabulous as fuck picture...

Any excuse for a fabulous as fuck picture…

So what can we do, short of hiring the derby Pegasus to bring back the glittery, shimmering awesomeness we felt when we learnt (and re-learnt) to plow stop?

The trick, apparently, is learning to appreciate the art of consolidation. Everyone needs time to collect what they’ve learnt, assess it, and analyze where to go from here. After lots of talking to skaters and coaches at bootcamps, online forums, and reading a whooole load, here is my selection of people’s bestest tips that have been helping me with the lull:

  • Get feedback. Talk to your coaches – and your teammates – about ways you can improve as a skater. This doesn’t just have to be skills feedback either; this can be based on attitude, gameplay, teamwork for example.
  • Set goals. Achievable, measurable goals for every single training session, scrim or bout. Want to learn to juke like that awesome jammer who always gets past you? Set yourself the goal to copy how she jukes. Practise it, a lot. Then try to work a juke in each time you scrim.
  • Get your head in the game. Really in the game. Read up on tactics in your spare time. Don’t just rely on coaches to give you strategies, work things out for yourself and look into new ways of walling, recycling, jamming. Your input will be greatly welcomed, and is important for building a stronger team!
  • Watch derby! Go to bouts, use WFTDA.tv and watch in your lunch break. Watch one skater at a time. Or watch for strategies – try to take one thing away from every bout you watch (even if it’s just ‘holy shit, that’s how to psych out a jammer.’)
  • Find a bootcamp and go to it – with team mates, or even alone if you like. Sounds weird but I tend to focus much better – and learn quicker – when I’m desperately trying to be accepted by peers I don’t know.
  • Be critical. Think back to when you learnt a hard skill, and work out what made that learning experience a success. Work out how you can apply that to a technique you’re struggling with. Even if it’s just recognising that you need to practise it 100 more times. Knowing that it’s achievable with practise will give you the push you need to keep going at it.
  • Write a list of what you want to achieve with roller derby. What skills you want to learn, in order of achievability. What goals you want to set yourself. Then work your way through that list – skip any that you like; this is your list. Keep adding to it.
  • Sweat every session. You will know when your body is pushing you to learn something new, or do something better. Remember the first time you attempted 25 in 5 and nearly coughed up a lung? Give it your all: try to get that feeling back for at least one drill every session. Effort in = results out.
  • Focus. If you’re finding something easy, get lower, go faster, do it on the other leg, do it backwards. Don’t just chat to your mate because you find this drill easy.
  • Challenge somebody else. We are derby girls, we like a bit of competition. Set each other goals – when you sprint laps, try to overtake each other, jump higher, push and encourage your teammates too!

Don’t wait for the Pegasus, BE THE PEGASUS.

Magnificent.

Magnificent.


(I realise Pegasus is a specific winged horse, but no-one knows what an alicorn or a pterippus is (including me before I Googled it). So let’s hear it for generic Pegasi! *tiny cheer*)

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Skates do not a skater make

pedal-skates-classicMy year of saving, training and researching is up – I finally have new skates! It’s exciting, it’s enthusing it’s, well… it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster actually.

Ever had that feeling where you get some new equipment, (camera/running shoes/skates etc) and you suddenly go from being elated and excited at all the new things it can do, to feeling kinda overwhelmed and like you now have to live up to your gear because EVERYONE CAN SEE YOU HAVE FANCY NEW SKATES and goddammit you better be good enough to rock them, or everyone will judge you?

Yeah. That.
(I should add that this was all dialogue in my head, not a thing that happened.)

Don’t get me wrong – I adore my new skates, now that I’ve had 2 months of getting to know them. But it was pretty different at first. Good different, in a lot of ways – metal plates respond fast. But also pretty challenging; I went from being able to pull a sharp, loud, instant-stopping plow on my old skates to just …not. My plows were completely broken – and subsequently my whole derby skating style was screwed. A bit of research and some excellent Facebook help suggested that technique was likely at fault, and suddenly I was back to square one. It made me realise two very important things: 1) Not being able to stop is awful and scary (Fresh Meat, I have a whole new load of respect for you – I’d been forgetting what it felt like to be honestly scared for your life when learning stops from speed) – and 2) pretty much every useful derby technique involves an element of plowing.

I also learnt pretty quickly that high-end equipment does not necessarily fix problems, although it can emphasise strengths once you’ve nailed a technique.

Anyway, fast forward through 2 months of quiet frustration and trying to convince myself I hadn’t wasted loads of money…  After a difficult closed bout and a session of tripping over *everything*, I was sprinting out my frustration when a little glimmer of magic happened. My plow made a tiny squeak. And then it squeaked a little more. And then my plow on my right foot started getting decent bite and holy crap I was stopping. My plow’s not quite back yet, but I have newfound confidence that determination and ruthlessly practising WILL get me there; I have to stop being scared of failing, scared of people judging me, scared of my SKATES, and just keep skating.

So that’s my lesson for today: even if it takes over 50 hours of training time to get just one skill back, a little bit, stay positive, keep trying, and goddammit, keep skating!

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Bushings – or, how you can revolutionise your skating for under a tenner.

Equipment snobs. We all know one. I am sometimes one, unwittingly. But this isn’t a post about having awesome skates with mithril lining and adamantium plates. Nope, this is about bushings, or, how one small (cheap) change to my skate equipment hugely affected my rate of learning and style of skating, from completely raw meat until now, a year and a bit later. (I should point out here that I have basically zero disposable income, so anyone looking for expensive solutions to their skate troubles, look away now or get gored by the Narwhal of Frugal Skate Maintenance.)

narwhal

About 4 weeks into my fresh meat I realised I’d made a brutally persistent enemy. CORNERS. I’d built up sufficient balance to go forwards at a decent pace, but corners were terrifying – I just couldn’t get enough turn to go round them without risking flying off track. I didn’t even realise this was the problem until coach Isy kindly took me aside and loosened my trucks. Within 2 hours of training, my skating style changed from apprehensive-robot to wobbly-humanoid. And within two sessions I could plow and sticky-skate pretty much out of the blue. No expensive equipment, no new wheels, just a few turns of the truck nuts.

A year later, and I’ve learnt lots more about skate equipment, including the missing link in my skate frustration: bushings.

Just like wheels, bushings come with durometer ratings: e.g. Suregrip ones range from 72a (real soft) to 93a (hard). The colour corresponds to the hardness, but the colours differ across manufacturers.

Bushings (also called cushions) are the little rubber cylinders that go between your skate plate and trucks. Their job is to flex as you lean on your skates, which allows your axles and wheels to tilt, enabling you to turn left and right. As you might expect, the more flexible or ‘squishy’ the cushion, the more easily your skates will turn. Stock skate setups (particularly for beginner/intermediate skates) will typically ship with freakin’ hard bushings, because they are more stable and can give you the feeling of greater control. Ace, right? Well, sort of.

Let’s take this stock setup, and analyse it. You can go fast in a straight line, and your wheels are always facing forwards, allowing them to turn continuously. Little weight shifts will not really turn your skates to the left and right. Cool. Stable.

Now think about a roller derby track. It’s oval-shaped. You’re turning like, all the time. So you have a few options. You can keep these hard bushings, and lean like fuck to turn round corners, just so you can be stable on the straightaways. Except every time you hit a corner you have to sloooooow right down so you can turn enough. Second option: loosen your trucks a little bit. Just a few half-turns of the nuts on the bottom of the trucks can give you the turn you need to make those corners. Problem now is that the ‘snap’ you get coming out of corners is reduced, and it’s harder to get back to your usual skating stance on the straightaway. Your trucks can also feel a little ‘wobbly’ underfoot.

This is actually a skateboard truck, but the idea is the same.

This is actually a skateboard truck, but the setup is the same. A common setup option is for each truck to have a cylindrical cushion (nearest the boot), and then a conical cushion as its partner (nearest the floor, with the point of the cone pointing at the floor, and the smaller cushion cup (^”top cup washer”) also on the side nearest the floor.

Which is where bushings come in. Softer bushings have a similar effect to looser trucks, except without the wobble and the rattle. And they spring you back again after a corner. Just like wheels, bushings come with durometer ratings: e.g. Suregrip ones range from 72a (real soft) to 93a (hard). You can also get ‘conical’ bushings. These are apparently better for the ‘snap’ after corners, and will typically make a pair with a cylindrical cushion. (<< see image for explanation). And just like wheels, it is common for heavier skaters to prefer harder cushions – but like everything in roller derby, it’s a) relative and b) personal preference.

bushings1Anyway, this is all great for going round corners and all, but my favouritist most magical thing about softer bushings is how they can revolutionise your stopping power and agility on track.
Imagine you are skating in a straight line, leaning on the insides (arches) of your feet. Your weight is pressing on your 4 inside wheels, which squishes your bushings and turns the axles so your toes are pointing inwards. Hey presto, you’re making a plow. Now imagine this on ridiculously soft bushings. The tiniest little lean inwards will give you a plow with minimal effort. Now expand the movement. Go fast and do a big, wide plow shape, pressing down on your 4 inside wheels. The super soft bushings are forcing your trucks to push your wheels into the exaggerated position below, with minimal effort. Now this wheel position just so happens to be great for stopping without a) sliding like a motherfucka, or b) throwing you to the ground…

bushings2

This is totally meant to signify two skates doing a plow, but it’s 3am and Photoshop won’t start up… Apologies.

Mega soft bushings might be a little too much to start with, but they exaggerate the point. A lot of people don’t actually like the ‘squirrely’ feel of suuuuper soft bushings, which is why it’s a good idea to try out different ones to see what suits, or taper down through them slowly. (At £10ish for a full set it’s not a major expense, unlike, say, new plates etc, which can often be the temptation if you want ‘more agile skates’.)

Speaking of which, agility. Whilst skate style is immensely a personal thing, it fair to say that agillity is largely centred around being able to jump around, stop, and change direction quickly. And, as you can imagine, being able to turn your wheels with minimal effort has an effect on your agility. Not just turning, but tiny plows when you’re juking or dancing through a pack. And not just for jammers! Blockers need to be great on lateral cuts and blocks – guess what, they help with that too. Minimal lean for maximum turn. I am by no means saying that soft cushions will solve all your derby problems, or that softer is right for everyone, but they made a massive difference for me – and are a good first step before spending a whole load of money on new plates or wheels.

P.s. while I remember, if you get conical bushings, ALSO BUY SMALL CUSHION CUPS! They are the metal washer things that sit on top of your bushings. If you’re changing from the manufacturers cylindrical cushions to the bottom 4 of your cushions being conical (^^see the skateboard truck pic) no-one ever tells you that you also need 4 of the smaller cushion cups too! They’re like, £3 for a set but really annoying to wait for in the post when your conical bushings have arrived without them.

Bear in mind you can also mix and match cushion hardnesses for super-customisable turney-ness. Typically, the softer cushion would go nearer the floor, but that’s not bible, just seems to make sense that the bit near your foot is more stable.

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“Ugh, zombie blood stains like a bitch.”

AMAGAAD BRDG HAD A HALLOWE’EN SCRIM! And my kitten naughtily ate half a bowl of cinema blood and got green paint in her fur and was the most ominous drooling nightmare zombie kitten you could ever imagine. And then 30 rollergirls had ghost and spider cakes and hit each other a lot and there were zombie brides and Nan’imosity even made a splicer pipe.

Look away now if blood makes you queasy, but make sure you at least glance the exceptionally badass golden skull awards HellCat made. Ace.

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Roller Grrrls comic: Star Wars, you just got one-upped

Roller derby is EVERYWHERE. There I was, casually trying not to lose all self-control over Batman panties and Boba Fett prints at the Bath Comic & Sci-Fi Weekender, when OMGROLLERDERBY happened again.

Not only did Dave, Barry and I have a lovely chat with a fellow named Dan from the Portsmouth league, it turns out that Gary Erskine of Marvel and DC fame is also responsible for the about-to-be-released Roller Grrrls comic.

Steg and Gary Erskine

When the best thing about a photo is neither Ewoks nor Tiny Jabba…

After talking us through his thoughts around the comic (which sounds excellent by the way), he showed us the Roller Grrrls Sketchbook. The concept sketches and initial drawings for the comic are fantastic; this is no brief insight into the sport of roller derby, this is a project that manages to capture the spirit, personalities and issues that surround roller derby as a lifestyle. For a sport that is all too easy to stereotype, Erskine seems to have dug that critical bit deeper and put together something that is meaningful on and off track – and not just to roller derby fans. Plus it looks awesome; the style is so well-suited to the content – these girls are real superheroes.

Promo from the sketchbook...

Promo from the sketchbook

roller-grrrls-magazine

Sketchbook achieved!

I can’t wait for the release of the full comic later this year – in the mean time, check out the Facebook page here. The Roller Grrrls sketchbook is available to buy here for the very reasonable sum of £5, but given the (gorgeous) heavy stock and consequent postage, your team may benefit from a bulk purchase…

Finally, big salute to Gary and his wife Mhairi for self-funding this exciting project in a thirsty UK market. This is exactly the kind of thing British roller derby needs!

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Closed scrim with Bristol rookies

Our first scrim with the neighbours. Thanks BRD!

Special congrats to Trevlock Holmes, S’Mac Down Angel, and Katrina for busting their scrim cherries, and pulling out some surprising and magical moves on track.

As always, pics by lovely Dave.

Sylvain Sarrailh’s Roller Derby illustration

Stumbled across these from French digital artist, Sylvain Sarrailh. Awesome, huh?

See Sylvain's portfolio here

See Sylvain’s portfolio here

See Sylvain's portfolio here

See Sylvain’s portfolio here

http://www.heatown.com/portfolio

See Sylvain’s portfolio here

Neighbourhood Watch fail

I’m pretty sure the best thing about moving to a street full of OAPs is that everyone expects you to walk down the road in your pyjamas. Regardless, this is just one way my long-suffering derby widow has shown his epic support for roller derby this month. I hereby dedicate this post to Mr Steg, who has been the most tolerant supporter, driver, photographer, carer, errand boy, costumier and fiancé EVER. And to our brand new neighbours, who didn’t call the Police when the man in Transformers trousers sat half-naked in a car for 3 hours in the middle of the night, before attempting to break in to his own house by squeezing through a tiny top window after his girlfriend went to roller derby, forgot her house key and went to the pub without a phone…

Dave, I love you more than Star Wars and dinosaurs combined.

  • So to business! First major news is that Bath Roller Derby Girls is one year old today! (/lastFriday). So many amazing things have happened for Bath Roller Derby in this one year; I implore you all to read HellCat’s ace post detailing the conception and majestic birthing of The Sunshine League, (or as we call it, BRDG).
  • Second, huge congratulations to our Fresh Meat (inc new refs Barry and Nan) for pushing, hopping, slipping and speeding their way through the beginners course! (Also for sporting darling dresses for the BRDG Debutantes Pub Crawl. (inc new refs Barry and Nan…)) It’s so exciting to have the new skaters integrating into league training now. And awesome to see them improving so much week-on-week – it keeps reminding me how steep the initial learning curve is, and OHMYGOD HOW MUCH YOUR BACK ACHES AT FIRST. (Keep working through those thigh-hangovers, I promise it gets better.) You are doing amazingly well.
  • Dinosaurs vs unicorns… I still haven’t written you a proper post for this, largely because I can’t find actual words dramatic enough to convey the sheer delight and rainbow wonder of the day. So instead here’s a picture of me with Dinosaurs’ mascot, lovingly made by Hazel Havoc’s friend:
The awesome severed unicorn head that Hazel's friend made...

I think my favourite bit is the eye-blood.

And here are some pictures of the dinosaurs and the unicorns, that I borrowed from a nice man called Pete.

  • BRDG have been bouting! A big thank you to Plymouth for a delightful day of derby two weeks ago, and to SRT for having us in Gloucestershire today, with BIRTHDAY CAKE no less! (I know, right?! :D)  We had so much fun and learnt loads; we owe you ladies some serious bruises! ;)  #battlescarpride
  • Two weeks ago something amazing also happened. I got my first ever derby award ever!!! :D After nearly coughing up a lung bouting with a chest infection (d’oh!) Plymouth must’ve taken pity, because they bestowed THIS upon me!
*Hyperventilates*

*Hyperventilates* Pretty sure I’d’ve traded a whole BOX of dragon eggs for this honour. I still don’t really know how this happened… but…just…yay!!!

Congratulations to Duchess Nukem for totally getting MVP on her first ever bout... :D

Congratulations to Duchess Nukem for totally getting MVP on her first ever bout… :D

and Scarlett O'Harma, for getting both the Best blocker award, and my personal award for Sexiest Game-Face Ever.

and Scarlett O’Harma, for getting both the Best blocker award, and my personal award for Sexiest Game-Face Ever.

  • And finally! Last weekend TinkerHell, Foxy, Duchess Nukem and me went to the Re-AnimateHer bootcamp in Llanelli, (with special guests Jack Attack and Betty Swollox). A bittersweet affair, as our lovely Duchess was injured just a few minutes in – A huge huge thank you to all the First Aiders, and Tink for leaving the bootcamp to go with Duchess to the hospital.  And Foxy for channelling ALL THE DRIVING POWERS. And kudos to Duchess for being the most hilarious and positive injured skater ever; (I’ve never actually seen someone try to fight a paramedic for a bottle of gas and air ;) ) –  get well soon Miss Nukem!
  • The bootcamp itself was a tour-de-force of awesome (argh, sorry Duchess and Tink!) – it’s pretty cool to think that these are some of the best roller derby players in the world, and yet they still come to wee Llanelli to share their knowledge and sprinkle wondrous derby glitter on newer skaters coming into the sport. It’s okay, we took about a million notes. These ladies are awesome:

Bath Roller Derby Girls vs SRT Bs

Thanks to Dave for the pics. And happy first bout to SRT Bs! We had so much fun today :D

(If you want the nice, sharp version of any pics, it would appear you have to click ‘view full size’ on the individual images in the lightbox…grr…)

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