Derby is hard. Like, really really hard.
We have all hit plateaus where we are pushing our bodies as hard as we can, they STILL aren’t cooperating with us, and our minds have just gone all fetal position and begun the slow, sad trajectory of leaving us.
A favorite sport quote of mine is “The game is 80% mental and 40% physical.” This reminds me of 2 things. 1- ALWAYS invest in a good helmet, brains are valuable and 2- we are always our own worst enemy on the track. Sometimes you’re hit so hard you just don’t want to get back up. But that’s what makes us stronger- the drive and will to pick ourselves up over and over again. Mentally, as well as physically.
We have all hit mental/physical walls so hard, we needed our chiropractor to straighten us back out. I, personally, have thrown my skates across my living room just so they can get a glimpse of how they’ve made me feel.
But we all have to get back up. And when we fall our hardest, it is always a fellow teammate that helps drag us off the ground, and back upright on our skates. We’re a team, even when we practice against each other, we still support each other. The same can be said for the roller derby community at large.
So, to anyone who feels stuck, discouraged, drained, frustrated, or homicidal – we have all been there and will be there again. Just know, underneath it all, we are all rooting for you and each other. It’s our teammates that inspire us, push us to succeed, and emotionally resuscitate us when we reach the end of our ropes. It’s what makes being on a team so wonderful. Well, that and how awesome we all look in our jerseys.
In my seasons, I have learned that the two questions most commonly asked when someone says they play roller derby is “Is it real?” (YES!!!!) and “How do you get points?” Of course, as soon as you answer how points happen, the flood gates open to more questions so I present a quick Q&A. And, no, Mom, we don’t get points for every person we knock down! (Though that’d be awesome…)
Q- What is Roller Derby?
A – Awesome. It’s a full contact sport played on quad roller skates by overly enthusiastic athletes.
Q – Ok. So how do points happen?
A – The skater with the star on her helmet is called the jammer. Every opposing player the jammer passes – from her second trip through the pack on- counts as one point.
Q- Well that seems easy, she just has to skate past someone?
A – Yes. She “just” has to fight her way through 4 blockers who are allowed to hit her, stop her, and make her trip through the pack more like running a gauntlet of terror.
Q – Then how will she ever get through?
A – Well, she ALSO has 4 blockers trying to prevent the other jammer and help her. And, also, jammers are insane and made up partly of oil and lightening, so they tend to find a way through. You know how cats can squeeze into tiny boxes and under 2 inch gaps in doors? The same is true of jammers.
Q – So you guys can throw elbows, and punch, and do all the stuff I’ve seen in movies and other media?
A – No. We are not competing in the Penitentary Games. We have rules and enforcers of those rules – the staff of people in black and white in the middle with whistles. Players are only allowed to hit in legal target zones seen below (from wftda).
Q – Why did one ref blow the whistle twice and point at one jammer while another ref looks like they’re conducting an orchestra at the other one?
A- The refs are signaling who is lead jammer and who is not. The girl getting pointed at was the first through the pack with zero penalties and, so long as she doesn’t get sent to the box or pass the star (we’ll get there), she can call off the jam by patting her hips – which at times looks like she’s about to do the YMCA. If she doesn’t call off the jam, it ends at the 2 minute mark. The end of the jam is signaled by 4 whistles.
Q- Why does one of the blockers have a stripe on her helmet?
A -The smelliest person on the track has to wear the skunk stripe.
Actually, that person is called the Pivot. The Pivot has magical powers. Her teammates are supposed to listen to whatever she’s telling them to do and, should the jammer wish, she can hand the star to the pivot and the pivot can then become the jammer. That is called a Star Pass.
Q- Everyone is going to the left, but some girl hit someone and then shot backwards. What gives?
A – When someone is knocked out of bounds, they have to go back on the track BEHIND the person who knocked them out of bounds and anyone else who was in front of them, or they’ll get called on a cut track penalty.
Q- Tell me more about penalties.
A – There a handful of them, but you’ll know one has been assessed when the ref blows one blast on the whistle and yells the color of the uniform and the number and then the penalty. I.E. “Black, nine five, forearms!”
Q- What happens when you get a penalty?
A -The offending player has to go to the penalty box for 30 seconds. If she gets 7 penalties in one game, she is ejected. And they carry over between the halves. So if your favorite player gets 4 penalties in the first half, she starts the second half with only 3 more before getting kicked out. Players can also get ejected for egregious acts of crazy/violence (punching, kicking, etc) or getting overly lippy with the refs.
There you have it- the magic that is roller derby!!!
Life happens and most of the time there is something that traumatizes us to varying degrees daily – work, family, cat puke, illness, random sadness – it’s universal. That’s why Facebook feeds are filled with Winston Churchill quotes about Hell, challenges, and strength and precious few from Pinkie Pie about balloon parties.
It is also why so many of us love roller derby. Because when it all hits the fan and we have no idea what to do, we can typically look at our texts or Facebook and see encouragement and love – often masked in humor and mild aggression – from a contact list of code names that probably has the NSA keeping a close eye on all of us.
I can have a day that’d make Eeyore thank his lucky stars he’s not me, but be laughing too hard by a teammate or few to really fall completely into despair.
We may not always know the right thing to say:
And sometimes we do:
But we always know where we belong. We can snap at each other, make hits personal, gossip, and be petty, but in the end, we always end up right where we started. Side by side, on the track, wearing the same color uniform – also known as somewhere where we all belong.
At first, I thought perhaps enthusiasm had robbed my teammate of the gift of words and the subsequent ability to string them into coherent thoughts. If derby players made a game of taking a shot of steroids every time someone hurriedly told us to get into “pairs of 3 and 4” or “sets of one around the track” we’d all have won the Tour de France by now. Then I realized it might be to prevent us from knowing what’s about to happen to us.
In derby, “no” is not the correct answer and every drill and jam can be like doing a trust fall with (hopefully) none of us toppling backwards with our eyes closed. Learning not to resist is against everything in us. It’s a skill that once mastered, you have to fear for your safety when walking in dark parking decks. While obviously tough and probably in possession of Mace, once you’ve been programmed not to fight when physically assaulted, picked up, pretzeled into a basketball, and then hurled at an opposing team member (all with one skate on the ground so as to be legal- you are welcome refs!), it really can be a slippery slope.
So the next time your teammate turns around and grabs your chest, or pushes you, or throws you, or does any variety of things that would result in a time out and a week of no TV if you had done it to a sibling, just go with it. Plus- free mammogram with every stopped jammer!
And, added bonus, sometimes you get to see the occasional Vulcan neck pinch!
Not wanting to start any religious/political/scientific debate on Global Warming, I will merely state that many rinks have no Air Conditioning during practice times. The chance that humans might be able to prevent a degree or two of temperature increases leads me to slightly more vigilant recycling habits during the summer. It’s like Pascal’s Wager, but with wine bottles.
Practice without AC is a special sort of treat that leaves my soul checking itself at the rink doors; it has an eternity of this heat waiting for it, no need to get a jump start. Philosophical debates about the nature of time passage could be waged in AC-less rinks. Sadly, the participants would all be too busy gasping for air and would be unable to focus on the clock to gather empirical data. Fun fact- when skating with no air, if you wear contacts, at some point, they just start floating on top of a sweat sheen on your eyes and you can’t focus on anything but the heat monsters slowly prickling up your legs.
Summer practices are tough. All practices are tough, but pushing yourself in taxing heat has an exponentially draining effect. Just keep in mind that imperfect conditions help make us tougher. Regular water breaks (I recommend you start hydrating 3,000 hours in advance, so, like, in March), a working knowledge of the signs of oncoming heat stroke, and the sort of toughness only derby can give will carry you through. It is SO bad, it’s the absolute worst, but as the prophet of our times (Kelly Clarkson) claims, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Jersey was just slapped with a heat wave, so if you need someone to commiserate hot practices with, you can tell us all about it. You can find us curled up in the darkest, coolest corner of our rink (all the way down to 105 degrees!) unable to even weep because our veins have turned into raisins.
Chin up! If we didn’t have our Salisbury bout coming up, our countdown to the right would be # of days until fall…
Being a mouth breather (both physically and mentally), I tend to claim all penalties called on me in a bout/scrimmage/practice are for breathing, because I can see no other reason for being sent to the box. I also claim our jammers are faulted with “existing” – a penalty called because the jammer takes up space in the universe at large. In other words, I’m constantly apologizing to my friends who referee for our occasional jerkiness.
In our minds:
So, while a lot of us huff and puff in the box and then sit on the bench with our fellow teammates, shrugging because we have NO IDEA WHY we were given a penalty, we should probably be doing something far more helpful. Like listening to what we did and then making a note not to do it again. Crazy, I know.
I am not denying that from time to time a melee on the track is misread by a referee. I am, however, positive enough to bet all my red Skittles that most of the action is better seen and judged from outside the pack, rather than in the middle of it.
I know we can all be a little testy when we’re out there, trying our best, practicing endlessly, and a penalty can feel like you’ve just been told you’re the worst player and human ever to live in the history of the entire world. But it’s ACTUALLY you being told you made a mistake. Really, just the mistake, no judgment on who you are as a person.
If you spend your life convinced that the high block you keep getting called on is bogus, you’re just doing a Viking Head Butt and it should be perfectly legal, maybe you should just accept the ruling and keep your brains to yourself. Our refs spend countless hours poring over tiny nuances of rules, then they try to condense them into quick quips of insight for us at practice, and we tend to thank them for this by making faces, sighing dramatically, shaking our heads, and storming to the penalty box.
So on behalf all players, Refs, you do a thankless job and get all sorts of accusations mumbled under breath at you- certainly not by all players all the time, but often enough- and we really do appreciate you. I know it’s hard to tell that when you’re given horns in our minds or busy giving out extra minutes in the box because of tantrums on the track. Without you, we’d be lawless and busy spending our time trying to play offense, defense, AND ref from inside the pack- not that some of us don’t do that already.
And congrats to the Hellrazors on their 142 – 245 win against Jerzey Derby Brigade!!!