Skate hard and turn left… Or right? Strategic planning for roller derby leagues. Introduction

The boards and committees who handle the week-to-week operations of their leagues are the unsung heroes of the roller derby movement. They are the ones who step up and take on extra work in times of league apathy, or the ones who get finger pointed at when things go wrong.

Most leagues adopt a structure of an elected board of directors to help filter through and make decisions affecting how the league runs and what direction to focus resources like money, volunteers and time. Committees, often chaired by a board member and consist of league members, also play a large role in regular operations, voting to make decisions specific to their committee and doing work to implement them.

A sample of a typical roller derby league structure. Does your board of directors guide most of the decision making process or is the power given to the committees?

A sample of a typical roller derby league structure. Does your board of directors guide most of the decision making process or is the power given to the committees?

It’s a great structure to take care of business. But sometimes a board or committee may evolve into doing ‘bubble business’. Meaning, a board or committee become so disconnected from the rest of the league that they make decisions independently without considering how the decision will affect or contribute to the league as a whole. Or they make ‘quick fix’ decisions to resolve league matters to minimize effort (because they are likely already overworked) without thinking how the decision will affect the league long-term. Or they are truly an island, working alone.

Perhaps there are one or two directors who are making decisions for the league while effectively intimidating other directors to agree. Or maybe lack of involvement and apathy from the general membership is forcing directors to operate as an island. Or perhaps board in fighting is causing directors to push personal agendas and sabotage decisions to make their colleagues appear ineffective to the rest of the league. Or maybe your league is brand new with a green board that is inexperienced but need to make multiple quick decisions just to move onto the next priority.

No matter the circumstances of how league leadership evolves into making decisions within a bubble, it’s important for the board to recognize when it’s happening and take action to make it better. Derby drama, skater exodus, league splits or even dissolving the league may result if boards and committees continue to operate independently.

Many individual leagues adopt the governing philosophy of the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association – by the skaters, for the skaters. But how does a league make the philosophy come to reality if they’ve fallen into the trap of ‘bubble business’?

Strategic planning for roller derby

Image courtesy of sixninepixels at

Image courtesy of sixninepixels at

If you work in the corporate world, you’ve likely participated in strategic planning with your firm. It often consists of a mediator, flip charts, markers, breakout groups, mingling, sharing ideas and sometimes a free lunch.

In roller derby terms, strategic planning means talking about your goals, dreams, aspirations, struggles and fears with others who share your roller derby passion. Once all members share their thoughts, commonalities are found and using the league’s current strengths and exploiting opportunities, a league direction and common goals are established to serve as a road map for future decisions.

For example, let’s say the result of a strategic planning session has the majority of your league wishing to become serious competition against teams within your region as a goal. What decisions at the board and committee level need to be made to make that happen?

More funds will need to be allocated for additional practice space, coaching staff may need to change and more games may need to be booked to build experience. A team can’t be successful without a strong culture, so investment in team-building activities may need to happen as well. Fundraising initiatives may need to be allocated to fund more away game travel.

Will new uniforms contribute to the goal? If you’re currently skating in cut-up t-shirts, new uniforms may bring the perception to the public of a more serious team. But improving public perception isn’t part of the above goal and should be considered another time when new uniforms will help achieve another goal.

See how strategic planning can simplify decisions?

Strategic planning empowers the entire membership to make decisions to improve the league.

Strategic planning empowers the entire membership to make decisions to improve the league. Image courtesy of Vlado at

Because all members are engaged in choosing the league goals and know all decisions must make a contribution to achieving that goal, snap and bubble decisions are eliminated. Committees will be responsible for their own strategies and the strategy must contribute to the overall league goal.

The decision-making process gives more power at committee level and board tasks shift to facilitation and policy implementation.

Every new strategy presented within a committee can be analyzed against the league goals. If the initiative supports the goal, it’s something worth pursing. If it doesn’t contribute to any league goals, the decision can be made to table the initiative until the league wishes to move in that direction.

By focusing on common goals, the volume of decisions board leadership need to make are greatly reduced, allowing more time to focusing on what’s important – like skating.

But in order to determine the league’s goals, league leadership must encourage all involved to come together and have input toward the strategic direction.

The following series of posts contain a step-by-step guide on leading your league through a strategic planning session. However the process is altered slightly to be optimized for roller derby leagues. (I tried to keep it as simple as possible and did my best to describe the activities). Feel free to alter the process to best meet the needs of your league! And additional ideas and suggestions (if you’ve gone through the process yourself) are always welcome in the comments!

More posts in the series
Strategic planning introduction
Part 1: How often should a league strategically plan?
Part 2: Encourage participation from your members, book a meeting, find a facilitator
Part 3: Give your members homework to bring bring to the meeting
Part 4: Release the meeting agenda and rules of engagement
Part 5: Determine your mission
Part 6 and 7: Where are you at? Where do you want to be?
Part 8: Determine your goals
Part 9: Determine strategy to achieve short and long-term goals
Part 10: The follow through 



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