Guest post: Nine things I’ve learned in roller derby – year one

I’m pleased to welcome teammate and guest poster Gnome Stompsky who wanted to share her experiences and insights about roller derby with you! Read on and feel free to comment and share your thoughts and experiences!!!

Stompsky (centre) holds back a jammer with help from Belt-Her Face (right) and Molly Mulisha. Photo by league photographer, ISO Foto Studios

Stompsky (centre) holds back a jammer with help from Belt-Her Face (left) and Molly Mulisha (right). Photo by league photographer, ISO Foto Studios

By Stompsky

It’s been a little over a year since I started taking derby seriously. During that time,  I’ve gone from being a rookie to I guess what one would call an intermediate skater. In jotting down these notes, I am hoping new skaters will read them and think about the months ahead of them. I suppose too my audience is people considering derby as a sport, or those who might be questioning whether they want to keep putting in the time. It is helpful to know what to expect, and it is also helpful to know that every skater is constantly working to improve, and that none of it comes easily to most mortals.

    1. I have watched lots of people improve faster than me with less work put into it. This is frustrating, but ok. I think it is fair to say that I haven’t improved as a skater as fast as I would want to, or maybe as fast as other people have, but I am learning that my pace is my pace. This is a good thing to learn. The other nice thing to learn is that roller derby is patient, and will wait for you as you take your sweet, incompetent, uncoordinated, unfit time. People are nice in roller derby, and they understand it takes hard work to get better. Nobody grew up playing this sport. Nobody expects anything from you right away, and you aren’t expected to be an immediate expert. No one else is counting the weeks or the number of practices or the number of bouts like you are – and they are not wondering why you aren’t better than you are. Only you are wondering this. Everyone else just sees that you are trying and has respect for you because of that.
    2. I have not yet had that moment where roller derby “clicks” for me. They say it happens, but it hasn’t happened to me yet. In the meantime, I feel like I struggle with  something new at every practice. Every bout is a disappointment – not just in small ways, but as a totality of the experience. And yet, I keep doing it, so it can’t be that bad. Sure, I have been recognized by my peers as doing ok-fine (a couple of MVPs and suchlike) – but honestly, I don’t see it yet, and I still don’t think I really earned any of those recognitions. I still have not had any roller derby experience  – not one practice, certainly not one game  – where I felt like I owned it. What I am saying is that roller derby is hard and takes time. Frustration is the biggest challenge to overcome. It is a testament to how much fun the sport is that I continue to try to overcome it, and I don’t let it drive me away.
    3. I am my own worst enemy, and the only way to overcome that is hard work. From Kim Janna at a rookie camp last year, to Carmen Getsome at a boot camp, to 8meanWheeler at a scrimmage in Pitt Meadows this year, to pretty much every scrimmage/ bout bench coach, to fellow skaters, everyone who knows more than I do about roller derby and has watched me play or even practice says the same thing: you think too much, you hesitate, you’re unsure of yourself. And then they tell me to “keep skating” – in other words, they think I might have it in me to be a pretty good roller derby player but that time is not now, not yet, maybe not ever ’cause I’m actually getting too old. I have decided that this means that confidence is not faked, or at least I cannot fake it. I am either good at something or I am not. So in order to overcome my hesitation, I just need to be genuinely good at it. This takes time. Most things in my life come fairly easily to me, but this is not one. My second-year derby goal is to lose my hesitations.
    4. We are athletes, and we need to treat each other and ourselves as such. I did not know, when I joined derby, how much cross-training I would come to want to do, or how it would motivate me to set and attain off-track goals like running, weight lifting, or changes to my diet (I am just coming around to the fact that I need to eat more if I want to do this sport). Derby is teaching me a respect for myself that I never really had before – to treat myself to the dignity of a good diet, of decent sleep, of regular and intense exercise. This is what spoiling yourself looks like in my world, and I am starting to learn how to do it. I suspect treating myself in such a manner has had spillover effects on my mental acuity, ability to concentrate on work, and ability to focus on my kids.
    5. If you want to play roller derby, you have to show up. To practice, to boot camp, to other teams’ practices, to your own cross-training, to help with track set-up. Time on your feet is what matters.
    6. Roller derby’s cultural aspects are usually awesome and hilarious, but almost none of the performative counter-cultural aspects matter on the track. If derby’s badassery is what attracted you, or the weird outfits or the funny names, that is great. But know that the sport is a sport. And, if I may, I think it’s important to have some respect for the sport, and as an extension of that, for ourselves as women. So think about that, is all. Wear whatever you want and call yourself whatever you like, but think about it a little bit first. I want to be clear that I think having a conversation with society via what we wear is important, and derby does that it spades – our sport yells at people with a beautiful cacophony of performance.  I will probably weep if the day ever comes that I see White Trash Flash trading in her big-bird-lookin’ yellow fuzzy leg warmers for a pair of pivotstar leggings. Diversity is the best thing ever, and all sports is performance anyway. But we are women. Let’s be smart about our reality and the conversations we are having. This topic is super complicated, but probably what I am saying is “Back Alley BJ” is not a really great choice for a derby name.
    7. Roller derby’s true countercultural contribution is its relatively sophisticated approach to feminist praxis. I would argue it is the western world’s first feminist sport. Feminist philosophers/thinkers/intellectuals in academia talk a lot about ‘praxis’ – essentially putting ideas into practice. The ideas derby puts into practice every day, in no particular order:
      a) integration of different body types into athletic activity and sports performance and therefore into what our culture sees as ‘strong’ or ‘beautiful’;
      b) integration of lesbian/queer sexuality as a matter of course, not a matter of “tolerance”;
      c) doing it yourself, collectively, and pretty much non-hierarchically (bout production, fundraising, administration, coaching);
      d) upsetting traditional and/or unhelpful ideas about female “respectability” and “femininity”;
      e) dudes playing the sport as  equals to women, and men playing supportive roles in a women’s sport as women have done for men for generations;
      f) the men’s sport being as open to gay/queer sexuality as the women’s sport (I am told this is the case, and it makes me very proud of my sport when I hear it);
      g) upsetting the idea that women can’t work together or productively on projects of common interest, that women cannot work together because they are too ‘catty’ or ‘gossipy’ – if this patriarchal lie were true, derby wouldn’t be one of the world’s fastest growing sports;
      h) understanding that the best players are thus because they help others improve at the sport – a true commitment to the collective project through individual excellence. This latter point, I think, might be less obvious to outsiders than the others. Yes, derby has some irritating egos strutting around – but honestly, not much. The very best players – the ones who are truly our sport’s finest – are the ones who teach, who help others, and who give back and grow the sport by building up other good players. The tension between the individual and the collective is always present in anything we do, but what strikes me as most different between derby and other sports is the emphasis on individual excellence being tied to one’s contribution to the collective good.  This is why I can attend a Red Deer Belladonnas practice with some of the best players in Alberta, compared to whom I am a total yutz, and they welcome me, and maybe only one or two of them make fun of me behind my back (that’s a joke). No but seriously, there is something deeply right with a sport when you can show up to practice with some of its most elite players, have that be completely open to you as an intermediate skater with 18 months of experience, and have people support you, give you feedback, and genuinely want you to succeed. Derby is imbued with an ethic – at least it is now, it might change – that when others get good, it is good for our sport and good for everyone. It is not a threat. Good players want other good players to play with and against, and they want their sport to be as awesome as it can be.
    8. Is derby perfect? No. It remains overwhelmingly white, class-privileged (due to, I think, the time it takes and the cost), and it is hard for women raising families as lone parents to participate, though not impossible. Derby in other jurisdictions, as I understand it, has struggled with transgender inclusivity as well, though what I’ve seen in my own experience has been pretty progressive on the topic, and certainly better than other women’s sports.  Could we do better recruitment, could we think more critically about how we support players of different backgrounds? Probably. But the building blocks as a different kind of women’s sport – I would argue, the western world’s first feminist sport – are all there. If you think about your involvement in derby as an expression of some pretty radical values, I think you’ll get more out of your experience.
    9. Skate hard. Turn left. Hit people. Derby love.
    10. -Gnome Stompsky, #4746, Deathbridge Derby Dames

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Full circle…

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I was a nameless fresh meat looking for a derby pseudonym and wrote to this Terminal City member to ask permission to use a modified version of her name. I’m so glad she said no. I’ve grown into my chosen name very well.

At the time of receiving this I thought, ‘Yah right, as if I’d ever play a team from Vancouver.’

******

We were fortunate to have been contacted by the organizers of Klash in the Kootenays. The tournament that organizes WESTERNS, were offering spots to other teams as some of the top 8 teams declined.

We enthusiastically accepted after agreeing to reschedule our game with the Gnarlie’s Angels, which was happening the week before; two trips to BC two weeks in a row just wasn’t doable.

Here we are, a team still in its infancy, about to face western Canada’s best.

We pulled Terminal City for our first game. Needless to say, I’m stoked. I’m having a huge full-circle moment over this.

Are there any other sports leagues in the world that allow teams with such a range of experience and skill to learn, work and play together?

This is what the DIY movement of roller derby is all about. I’m so excited to learn as much as I can from this experience!

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Hungry

I’ve been in a funk. And it sucks. Articulating it in a way to avoid making it sound whiny has been difficult, hence my sudden cyber-quietness on this blog. I needed time to reflect.

The trigger was our last home game against the B-52 Bellas. While I didn’t go into the game cocky, I went in feeling confident I could at least hold my own against the more experienced team.

However they rolled over us and I played my worst game to date. My penalties racked up quickly, I had to fight for every point (a testament to how great the Bellas played!), I lost focus and my technique faltered.

I was a train wreck and felt I did nothing to contribute to the team during that game.

Further self-destructive evaluation made me think of all the hours I was putting into weight training, running and eating right. I rarely miss practice. I participate in all drills. WHY THE FUCK AM I NOT GETTING BETTER? It pissed me off that sacrifices I made to play this sport and excel at it aren’t coming to fruition.

But then I decided that it’s not about getting better, it’s about how badly do I want it.

Missing a game this weekend due to my financial restrictions to travel sucked hard. If anything, it made me even MORE hungry to play. I don’t want to ever have to say no to a roster position if another is offered to me and if given that position I don’t want to come away from it ever saying, ‘I didn’t try hard enough.’

We’re coming into our last game of a 5-game stint (which is a big deal for our little league) and this is probably the most I’ve ever focused on getting my game-head screwed on tight. Perhaps this is the last piece of the puzzle I need to take me to the next level in my game play.

I know I can skate fast; I know I can skate hard; I know I can give and take hits. But now it’s about being always on, ready for anything.

Ready? Ready.

Game Day!

It’s game day, friends and I know a lot of fans will be finding my blog when they search for info.

Full details on the Double Header can be found on our website. But attending will mean you’ll be supporting our local cancer treatment centre!

It’s going to be a fun night of smashy smashy! Hope to see you there!

Cherri ❤

Changing up my routine

It’s been over two months since I made a change to my fitness regime and frankly, I’m bored of it already.

While a part of me is not surprised (because Gemini’s tend to have trouble sticking to ANYTHING for the long term) another part of me is a little disappointed I didn’t push through.

Not only did it become mundane doing the same thing 3 times a week, I had to compete for space because a bootcamp class used the gym at the same time I go. So when I needed to use the cable machine, it was being used; when I needed to use a bench or a bosu, bootcampers were always in the way, invading my space. It just got frustrating.

But I’m not quitting the gym. No no no! I’m moving back to my tried and true NTC App (Nike Training Club). I used the 15 minute ab workout religiously over the summer and saw great results. Their 45 minute workouts use free weights and that’s about it so it allows me to pick a corner in the gym and carve my own space to myself.

The great news is the 2 months of weight training has paid off! I was able to move directly into the advanced strength training workout right away and upped my weights to 15 and 20 lbs per arm depending on the exercise.

Though lateral raises get me every time.

Those. Damn. Lateral. Raises.

Anyways, given the fact there are 3 strength workouts to chose from on the NTC app, I don’t see me getting bored anytime soon. Plus I can always go back to my other regime if the bootcamp people decide to go somewhere else. I still plan on kicking ass with less than 2 months to go!

But enough about that…

WHO WANTS TO SEE SOME DERBY THIS WEEKEND????

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Sorry it’s blurry, check out a better poster here!

I’m super excited to be playing against some of my favourites from the Calgary league. But even better???

MEN’S DERBY in Lethbridge!

It’s really something to experience. I’m also excited to watch Coach Brad and his dad Riceball, who play for the Dogs, skate together.

Not only that… It’s a fundraiser for the Lethbridge Jack Ady Cancer Centre AND I’ll be chopping off my hair and donating it to Locks of Love!

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Yup! All this hair is going buh-bye!

It’s set to be an exciting weekend! I hope if you’re in the area you’ll come and check it out!

The mental game of roller derby: fear of success

We lost last night to the Missfits 140-93 and while it was a disappointing loss, it was a fun game to play! I came away from it somewhat unscathed, but two of my teammates did not. Thankfully, their prognosis is favourable and we should see them on the track soon!

On another note, this marked another successful game for me, scoring 58 of the 93 points for my team. I’m thankful for the very hard work by our amazing blockers to help me accomplish that.

I should be proud of myself, and I am…

But at the same time, it scares the shit out of me.

When I joined derby my intention was to merely be a cog in the wheel that contributes to the overall productiveness of the team.

However this ‘streak’ I’m on… (Is it a streak when you’ve accomplished something twice? Sure, let’s go with that) …is bringing all sorts of apprehension and a new level of stress to my game head.

I see it time and time again in the NHL; a player gets on a performance streak and they get metaphorically hoisted on the shoulders of their team, media and fans.

If and when the streak ends, I’ve seen instances where the player gets immediately dropped on their ass.

“Thanks for coming out. But you’re not performing anymore so… Ummm… BYE!” And onto the next thing.

It brings a lot of questions into my head.

How does one maintain momentum when one is in a moment of success?
What if the success is a fluke?
How does one exude confidence without ego overruling?
How does one prepare themselves for an impending fall?

I don’t want to let my team down by setting high expectations for myself and not achieving them.

At the same time, if you aim low, that’s what you’re going to get.

How does one find that delicate balance of skill, confidence and ego?

No one tells you how much of a mental game roller derby is; from getting your game face on, to psyching yourself to lay hits, to coming back from an injury. Mix that in with the delicate balance of being competitive and having fun, it’s no surprise skaters can be really hard on themselves.

I suppose acknowledging that I had a couple good games and staying focused on my own goals is a good first step in creating a state of mindfulness to better myself and be the best that I can be for my team.

From there, I guess we’ll see where things go! 🙂 I’ll just take it one goal, one game at a time!

Game day again!

Today we are driving up to Wetaskiwin to take on the Missfits of Mayhem. It’s exciting to be playing 2 weekends in a row but I feel slightly guilty because I slacked a bit on my gym training to recoup from last weekend’s game.

I’m going in with a new set of goals and I’m happy my derby wife is at the wheel so I can focus on getting my game head in check!

If you’re in the Central Alberta area, why not come check out some derby action tonight?

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Progress from this summer…

Photo by Wendy Devent

Oct. 22, 2011
Deathbridge 160
Tar Sand Betties 91

Goals for this game…
Face walls
Watch the penalties
Take on the other jammer when necessary

What I accomplished…
Busted through some walls on my own
Only hit the penalty box once with accumulation 4 minors (5 minors total)
Fed the other jammer my ass a couple times

Bonus points for…
2 14-point power jams
Top scorer for the game with 67 points
Strategy head

Feeling cautiously optimistic with my progress…
Now to keep building on it!

This weekend we take on the Missfits of Mayhem, a team we faced one year ago. It will be interesting to see how we’ve changed in our game play!

It’s game day, friends!

It’s early for me to be awake on a Saturday, but it’s normal I suppose given it’s game day!

I’m really excited for tonight’s matchup against the Tar Sand Betties! Many of our players will be making their home-game debut as a Dame! And for others it’s their first game AS a Dame!

For me, I’ve set a couple goals for myself for this game which I will share post-game on how I did! But I’m mostly excited to get my speed on!

Come one, come all, Lethbridge. Tickets are available at the door!

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Three months to go! Let’s bring it!

What an amazing year this has been. Another 3 months have passed into my year of goals and looking back on my first posts on fitness and nutrition in January, I can’t believe how far I’ve come. It’s really quite fascinating, actually.

From my original list…

Fitness goals

Keep running

In my initial post my desire was to do a 6-minute mile come December. While I have no idea if I’m even close to this, running has become so much of a lifestyle that I’m getting up on my days off too go for a run, just because. WTF is wrong with me?? 😉

In August I competed in a 5k where I placed third in my division. I trained hard for that one, running at least 12k a week in preparation. After that race, I changed up my routine, now only doing 6k once a week in the coulees of my city (these aren’t tiny hills). I’ve worked up to being able to continue a running pace going up the hills without stopping. Go me! As the weather is turning I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep up the pace. But I hope to!

Increase core strength

**Ahem** 5 minute plank. Yeh, I did that.

I really have to stress the values of a strong core to all roller derby players. The changes I’ve seen in my balance and stability have been huge! Suck it up, do those planks, do those situps. I don’t care if you can only do it for 5 seconds. It will make you a better skater in the end. Not only that but my core strength is balanced. I can hold a side plank on either side, where a few months ago my left side was extremely weak.

Work the pipes

A couple of weeks ago I was at the counter of the cafeteria where I worked and as I reached for my plate of food, my friend noticed my arm definition. She asked what my secret was… weights. Weights. More weights. And pushups.

The new fitness plan that I started at the end of August has been focusing specifically on upper body strength. Three times a week I’m cursing and shaking and sweating because it’s the most challenging thing I’ve done without someone else there to keep me motivated. I’m seeing improvement and working up the ladder of free weights (Started at 8 lbs; up to 12lbs in each arm now, woot!).

Derby Goals

Have a penalty-free game

I think I’m going to throw this one out the window. While in the last three months I’ve improved with my penalty awareness and what I’m doing, there’s just some things you can’t control. However, I WILL focus on fewer track cuts. 🙂

Be a more aggressive jammer

Thanks to Stitch Rip Her hitting me off the line, trying to force me out of bounds every time we faced each other in the last scrimmage I played in, I’ve come to realize it’s not necessarily about being more aggressive, but using hits strategically to put you in a better position; whether that means knocking a jammer out-of-bounds before entering the back of the pack, or stomping through a wall at the front to get me out. This last month I’ve had some great “AHA” moments, mixing jamming, hitting and strategy. It’s a good thing! 🙂

Knock a bitch down

Within these last three months I’ve learned to trust my skates and edges WAY more than I ever have. With that confidence has come greater speed and timing, which is what girls like me count on to deliver those crushers. It’s coming along!

Jump the apex

Myself and Bones O Fury are working up to this. I admit, I have an inner fear. I’m timid. I’m unsure. And even watching my coach do it over and over again, I just can’t get takeoff, air time and landing to all mesh at once to complete one legally. BLAAAAH This one’s taking more time than I thought.

Backwards crossovers

Check! Always room for improvement, but I can do them pretty instinctively now.

Fast tomahawks

Check! Sometimes I over-rotate, but I got them!

Toestop running

I know you can be a great derby player no matter your gear, but OMFG I love my gumball toestops. Again, always room for improvement, but I’m definitely confident!

Enjoy the ride

Even mixed with some frustration, every day I’m thankful for what derby brings in friendship, knowledge and fitness.

In the last 3 months, I’ve added some derby goals…

Knee position, weight distribution & transfer, body position, edging. I’ve been really focusing on these this month since realizing how upright my lower body was when I skated. Every practice I’m integrating my own edging drilling and stretching to improve this. I’m happy to say after doing some tight outside edges at practice last night, I’m seeing tons of improvement.

Keeping my chest up as I enter the pack.

Maintaining speed going into the pack.

Nutrition Goals

These were my initial goals set back in January…

• Eat breakfast – even if it’s a slice of dry toast, eat SOMETHING

I’ve been eating breakfast every morning for about 2 months. And GOOD breakfast’s too… oatmeal with fresh fruit or homemade smoothies and whole wheat toast.

• Replace my favourite sugar/salty snacks with trail mix

I have my days where I emotionally down a cup or two of sour gummies, but have basically cut out all my extra snacking. On top of that, I’ve switched to black coffee and am no longer depending on the morning cream and sugar fixed I needed in coffee.

• Replace pop with cranberry juice, energy drink or water.

I can’t remember when I last had pop. I don’t even really drink juice (unless in a smoothie) or energy drink either.

• Drink at least 3 bottles of water a day.

I probably drink 2-3 litres of water a day now.

• Cut out alcohol.

I don’t desire it or crave it but will drink it on special occasions.

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So all-in-all I feel I’m right on track with all my goals. It’s a really good feeling! I haven’t remained focused like this with such a long-term goal in like, ever. The team is coming into it’s busiest season yet, playing four games from now until December. It will be an interesting time to see if I can keep everything balanced.