Sunday, 22 September 2013

New ways to get our kicks

“Look at you, man.  I can’t believe this day has come,” my buddy Jeff said as he watched me undergo one of life’s great transitions.  Like the doctor from “Field of Dreams” who could never go back to his old life once he stepped off the field, my life would never be the same once I walked to the edge of the parking lot and stepped onto the grass beyond. 

I’d begun the day as a regular dude.  I would end it as a soccer dad. 

My wife Kara, a newly minted soccer mom, was already on the field with our four-year-old son Evan, participating in loosely organized pandemonium.  A coach with a whistle barked out orders while a roiling sea of children attempted, for the most part, to comply.

The league was structured so that there aren’t fixed teams, just a gaggle of children who do practice drills for half an hour, then break into smaller groups for scrimmages. 

“They don’t have real games.  They don’t even have teams.  Who came up with this idea?” Kara asked when we received the email that explained how the league operated for Evan’s age group. 
 We pictured walking up on our first day to the soccer field, where there would be a drum circle and people in knit hats passing handrolled cigarettes.

“Dig it, man.  There are no losers in soccer.  Like, you know?” the coach would say.

But after watching dozens of soccer balls sitting patiently as tiny cleats whizzed past them over and over, it became clear that some skill-building was probably a good idea, especially before putting the kids in front of concession-stand-paying customers.

After the drills, the kids broke into smaller groups for the main event: the scrimmage.  Evan and his two teammates donned their blue jerseys, while the opposing three kids put on red jerseys.  Game on.  This is what we came to see.

“Let’s do this,” Jeff said.  After he’d booked his weekend visit with us, Jeff found out about the start of soccer season.  For his own master class in being a good sport, he attended the game with us.

As soon as a parent placed a ball on the field, the red team sprang to life, dribbling and passing the ball before kicking it into the open goal.  Evan gamely ran in the general direction of the ball while his two teammates cried and ran to the sidelines.  It wasn’t the other team scoring that bothered them, it seemed, so much as the idea of soccer in general.  There may be no crying in baseball, but, in my experience, there is a LOT of crying in soccer.

This process repeated itself about a dozen more times.  Eventually, a parent started serving as a goalie for Evan’s team.

“I think the red team is juicing,” Jeff whispered.

Final score: 37-2, or thereabouts.  And that was due to a late comeback, during which the opposing parents were holding back their kids by their jerseys.  Evan had absolutely no idea that his team had just been drubbed, though, so he walked off the field happy.

 You haven't lost if you haven't noticed.

Afterward, over a well-deserved pizza lunch, Evan said, “I think that boy was tryin’ to make me not get the ball.”

“That’s right, Evan.  He didn’t want you to have it,” I said.

“Why not?” Evan asked.   

We may have dulled his killer instinct with all our talk of sharing and being nice.  For all the good that sports can do for kids, helping them to excel apparently requires a bit of reprogramming.

“See that nice little boy wearing the different-colored jersey?  Destroy him, Sweetheart.”

That must be what soccer parents are supposed to do.  We’ll check into it, right after we purchase a minivan.   

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Thursday, 19 September 2013

How to Watch Derby to Learn Stuff and Junk

I'm heading to Asheville this weekend with my silly bean bag chair.  We're going to park ourselves, as close as possible to the action, and then I'm going to be watching all of the high powered derby ever!  Unfortunately for me, I tend to watch actively, so this is going to be an exhausting weekend even if I'm not skating!

I notice a lot of people don't sit down to watch derby in a way to learn from it, which is ok sometimes.  There's nothing wrong with cheering for the team you love and not giving a rat's ass about strategy or the philosophy of the team you're cheering for!  But, when you have a situation where you can watch multiple bouts of derby and watch the same teams multiple times, as a derby player, you really should take advantage of the opportunity before you.  Also, TAKE NOTES!  If you watch enough derby, your brain turns into derby soup.  Take notes with each game!

1.  Watch the warm ups.  You can tell a lot about a team's philosophy and what they've been really working on by how they run their warm ups.  After watching Texas this weekend, I knew that they really focus on their clean and small stops; true to their warm ups, the Texas blockers were amazing to watch as they absolutely shut down jammer after jammer.

You can also tell a lot about the player by how she warms up.  Some people need their own space and music, some are just focused on their inner game, and some are smiling and chattering with another player, maybe even doing some silly booty blocking.  People's personalities are really on display during a warm up.

If I see a warm up that I particularly like or think is effective, I totally steal it.  Yoink!  Mine now!  It's so much easier to take a drill after you've seen people do it successfully.  It's too easy to read about a drill and totally screw it up, so I consider watching teams my demo for how to run certain drills, especially if I see a team warming up with a drill I just read and wanted to try on

2.  Think about the overall strategy of the team.  I tend to watch one team at a time, which is hard to do when you want to watch all the awesome ever!  I will pick the team I want to follow at a tournament and watch how they choose their rosters, implement their strategy and see who their successful jammers are.  Do they like the front or the back?  Who did they leave off of their roster?  Did they roster that particular skater in the next game?  Who were their hot jammers?  All of these variables can change from game to game, so following a team through multiple games can be very enlightening.  You can also pose these questions to yourself for fun.

a.  If you were captain who would you have placed on the roster for this game?  (Sometimes making an investment in a tournament program can be very helpful for this situation)

b.  Who is their most effective jammer?  Why?

c.  Is their strategy successful against the team they're playing?  Why or why not?

d.  If you could talk to their coach, what advice would you give?

e.  What is the weakness and strength of the team you're watching?  (You're not allowed to say 'their strength is Gotham,' that's cheating.)

f.  Ask yourself what you would have to improve on or change in your skating style to skate with that team.  Sometimes it's going to be nothing.  Sometimes it's going to seem like your list could go on until 2014 Champs!

3.  Finally, you should watch all of the skaters and find someone you want to emulate.  Yes, everyone loves Bonnie Thunders; you can also pick and learn things from skaters you haven't seen before.  Try to pick a goal that you can work towards when you are at practice.  You don't even have to mention it to anyone formally, but make sure you're keeping that goal in your head as you work on drills and scrimmage.

And maybe you can talk to her in real life!  Photo by Punk Blocker!

The greatest thing about the play-offs is that you can watch the games again in the archives!  Watching games multiple times can really help you isolate strategy, especially if you got caught up in the game when you were watching it live!

Monday, 16 September 2013

How Much Ego Is Too Much Ego?

Ego is a funny thing in derby; if you don't have enough, you aren't confident.  If you have too much, you're a giant asshole.   It's a fine line to tiptoe across, that's for sure.  Half of roller derby is skill, but the other half is the confidence to put that skill into practice at the right time.  There are a lot of confident people in derby, but I think there may be a lot of egomaniacs too.  Egomaniacs can really disrupt the team dynamic; too many teams have to bear the burden of dealing with an egomaniac who seems to use derby as her personal stage.  It's hard to tell the difference sometimes, between a naturally confident person and an egomaniac, so here is a general guide that may help.

ME ME ME ME ME!!!!!!!!

Hints you might be dealing with an egomaniac in your league.

1.  They can't take a small joke at their expense.  She won't be able to kid around about her position or skill as a jammer or blocker.  They also can't deal with anyone besting them on the track, even if it is a fluke or a one time situation.  Obviously the ref wasn't watching carefully enough!

2.  Egomaniacs always are ready to talk about all of their accomplishments, without acknowledging that they were made because of the team's help.  They may be an incredibly amazing jammers, but they didn't score all those points without their blockers.  The idea of a team effort is so foreign to them that they wouldn't even consider it. 

3.  Egomaniacs feel that they will save the day, win the game, or make the play of the day. They're the only ones who can, don't you know? If someone else "saves the day" or gets mvp, it will seriously put a cramp in their enjoyment of the sport.  "Something just isn't right! I'm the best, not her!"

4.  Egomaniacs don't listen when other people are being praised.  It's just not that important to them.  If someone else is being praised, they don't want to know, and don't care.

5.  If they have to apologize for something, they will say it in a way that justifies their crappy behavior.  "I'm sorry I hit you in the face when you were jamming, but I was feeling so frustrated because you kept back blocking me and the refs weren't calling it."  Gee, thanks for your apology.

6.  They feel like they're above doing league work, like laying down the track, or off skates warm ups.  Clearly, they're too good for that sort of thing. 

7.  Egomaniacs constantly talk about themselves.  CONSTANTLY.  They will look for people to talk about how amazing they are, like little, tiny mirrors. You're only interesting if you're reflecting their greatness.

8.  Egomaniacs are never wrong.  Nothing they do is wrong, and they make no mistakes.  Even if they are proven wrong, they are RIGHT IN THEORY.

So, what if you have an egomaniac on your team, and you have to deal with her?  How do you cope?

1.  You can ignore the egomaniacal behavior.  This doesn't always work, and it's not always possible, but sometimes you have to do it in order to not end up strangling the egomaniac in the locker room with her derby socks.  I like to think of it as extinction.  Egomaniacs crave attention, and if you don't feed them, you're not adding to their growing hunger.  This is frustrating because fans, other players and announcers will probably feed their ego puh-lenty.

2.  Be assertive but not aggressive with the egomaniac.  Don't let them push you or bully you into doing things or making decisions you wouldn't normally make.  Stand your ground with an egomaniac, and even though they may not act any better, they might acknowledge that they can't just force you to do things their way.

Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot of ways to deal with egomaniacs, short of just not being around them.  If it helps, try to remember that egomaniacs usually come from a background where they got little to no recognition in their daily lives.  They just want love and attention and recognition, but they don't understand the normal way to get those things, and so they come on strong and in a ridiculous fashion.  This doesn't make their behavior acceptable by any means, but it might help you feel a little less frustrated when dealing with the possible egomaniac in your league.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Cutting the umbilical cable

“Are you kidding me?” said the guy as he got in line behind me, shaking his head at the expanse of humanity between us and the service desk. 

I smiled and gave him a look that said either, “What are you gonna do?” or, “Hey, nice legs.”  I’m not that good at giving looks.

Even though some of my compatriots were disgruntled at having to wait in such a long line, I was quite gruntled; I’d gladly have waited all day to reach that desk.  At the end of the journey, I would be dumping off a money vacuum that had been inhaling piles of twenties straight of our checking account every month for far too long.

“You cutting the cable, too?” I asked the angry guy behind me.  We both cradled large cable boxes in our arms.  The previous month, we’d each paid the cable company $6.95 for the privilege of renting our respective boxes, including the twenty-four-cent surcharge for the remote.  During the six years I’d rented that box, I’d paid $500 for it, money which could have gone toward a much better cause, like twenty-three minutes of daycare.

He looked at me like I was nuts.

“Nope, just getting it fixed,” he replied.  Then, perhaps sensing that he was speaking to a person of extreme cheapness, he said, “But I’d love to dump it.  When you wrap in Internet and phone, I’m paying $240 a month.”

All of a sudden, the suspicion of insanity became mutual.  This guy might as well have just run through the nearest forest every month, dumping the contents of his wallet for woodland creatures to use as nesting material.  Generously assuming that internet and phone accounted for $100 of his bill, he was paying $140 each month for TV.  Nothing is that entertaining.  Squirrels could easily have made better use of that money. 

I’d recently waged a campaign in our house to rid ourselves of wasteful spending.  With two kids in daycare, we’re basically paying for a second house, except instead of lakefront views, we get glitter on our floorboards.  (Incidentally, if early learning institutions decided to put a moratorium on the use of glitter in art projects, I doubt anyone would complain.  Just throwing that out there.)

The cable box became my number one target.  By switching our phone provider and using cheaper TV alternatives, we could save $100/month without really changing our life-wasting habits.  The decision seemed to be a no-brainer, though one could rightly question the decision-making capabilities of people who choose to spend their precious few moments on Earth watching The Bachelorette.

Already, our kids have grown up watching streaming shows over the Internet, with no idea what a commercial is.  We find this to be a nice byproduct of foregoing regular TV, though our children may enter adulthood without the ability to synchronize bathroom breaks and commercial breaks.
Once, on a JetBlue flight, we found a Dora the Explorer episode for our then-three-year-old son Evan to watch.  Five minutes in, a commercial came on.

“PUT DORA BACK ON!  PUT DORA BACK ON!” Evan screamed while a cartoon bird tried to sell him Cocoa Puffs.  It was his first commercial.  We spent the remainder of the break wiping his tears and explaining capitalism to him.

Over time, we came to realize that with all the other available programming options, our cable box had become a very expensive clock.  It was the only clock in the house that was correct for the few weeks after a Daylight Savings Time switch, but the expense no longer made sense.

“What can I do for you?” asked the lady behind the counter when my turn finally came.

“We already shut off our TV service.  Just handing over the box and remote,” I said.  Then I gave her a look that said either, “What a relief,” or, “Hey, nice legs.”
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Friday, 13 September 2013

Excuses Excuses, Are You Flaking Out?

Derby is an all consuming hobby-sport.  Period.  For most of us, derby doesn't pay the bills; we pay to play, and until that changes, most people try to fit derby into their busy lives the best way they can.  And yes, real life does interfere occasionally.  A good example of this is I was signed up to volunteer this Saturday at the D1 tournament in Richmond, but a family situation got in the way and I had to cancel on my obligation.  Am I bummed out?  Yes, but at least I was able to give some advanced notice to the volunteer coordinator.  I still feel bad though. 

Unfortunately, it seems that some people don't know what is a legitimate excuse for not making it to a derby event you signed up to do, and being a complete flake and just backing out of commitments.   Yes, derby has its share of flakes, and I'm going to guess that each and every one of us has flaked on doing something derby related, such as practice, playing in an away game, staffing a derby event, or doing your league work.

Listen to the unicorn. Picture by Ava Gore


So how do you know if you're flaking out?  Each case is different, but here is a  guide to whether or not you're flaking out, or you actually have a legit excuse.  Add up all of your flake points and see where you fall on the scale.

1. You promised to be playing at a game or an invitational or attending a training, and when the day arrives you're just too overwrought to go. (Worth ten flake points each time you've done it) THIS IS NOT OK!  I understand that real life is busy, and you really honestly thought you'd get your laundry done before that weekend, or balance your checkbook, or get your house cleaned, but you didn't.  Let's face it, you had an inkling that you probably weren't going to be able to get all of that real life crap done; have you ever gotten all of that done in a derby free weekend?  Probably honest.  It's ok if you occasionally get overwhelmed and ditch an event.  Once every two years is human, but any more than that, and you're crossing over into flake territory.  Ok, maybe once a year...but no more than that!  If you find yourself in this situation more than once in a while, you need to reevaluate how much free time you have to dedicate to extra derby stuff.  

2.  You were headed to practice, but traffic was bad so you just went home.  (Worth five flake points each time you've done it)  Hey, I hear you.  Traffic can really mess up your plans, and if the road is going to be closed for hours and hours, yes you might as well go home. My drive to our practice space is pretty congested with rush hour traffic.  It can take 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the morons on the road that day, but I've never gotten so disgusted that I just turned around to go home.   

3.  You have a bout day job, but you can't do it at that time because....(Worth fifty flake points every time you've done it) If you answered anything other than "my job wouldn't let me take that time off" or "my family member was in the hospital" or "my babysitter fell through" then you had a flaky moment.  I've heard people say things like "It's just too early" or "I had a hair appointment then" or "I just can't do a job before I skate in a game!  It's just not conducive to my concentration."  Really?  Flakety flake flakerino!  Remember, this is a team sport and everyone needs to do his or her job.  It ain't all about you!

4.  After learning of all of the obligations of the travel team, you commit and make the roster, but then you decide to bail on an away game. (Worth 100 flake points each time you've done it) You are definitely falling in the flake category if you pull this on your own league, without a real life situation coming up.  I understand that money gets tight for travel, but if you promised to meet all of your travel obligations for your league, you should plan on saving the money to go.  Now, you don't give yourself flake points if your financial situation has changed between the time you signed up and the time of the game.  Did you lose your job?  Did your car die?  Is a family member in the hospital and you have to help care for them?  All of those reasons are legit.  No flake points are earned.  You can't go because you don't want to?  You can't go because you need to work extra to pay off that bitchin' pair of shoes you bought?  You can't go because you went on a last minute trip to Vegas and now you have no extra cash?  You my friend have earned those 100 flake points, and your team deserves a hug for having to have dealt with your flakage.   

Now add up your score.  If you have 100 points or more, you are a derby flake, pure and simple.  Maybe you see derby as a fun hobby or leisure pursuit, and that's all fine and dandy, until you join a team and make a commitment to other people.

If you have 90 points or less, you are in danger of becoming a flake.  Seriously reconsider the urge to flake out on your next commitment!  Flaking might not be in your core nature, but you are cultivating it as a permanent habit, so stop now!

If you have less than 50 points, you're doing all right.  Flakage happens, just keep flaking out to a minimum.

If you have less than twenty points, you are derby obsessed.  Maybe you need some flake time.  I kid, I kid, a little.

I understand that real life interferes in derby; that's normal and healthy!  I also understand that sometimes you need a break from derby drama and derby obligations, and that's normal and healthy too.  Sometimes we over book ourselves with derby activities, and then we feel overwhelmed; learn your limits.  Maybe pass up that invitational that would take you out of town yet again in the same month you had two travel games.  Maybe take a day off from practice to clear your head (just let your captains and coaches know what's going on) and come back to derby with a tighter focus! 

Monday, 9 September 2013

Should You Invest in More Protective Gear?

The more I play, watch and read about derby, the more I think we as skaters might want to consider getting more than the minimum protective gear.  Everyone has to wear mouth guards, helmets, wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads.  Those are a given, but what else do you think the evolution of our sport demands?

First of all, I'm pretty sure that everyone who reads my blog on any kind of regular basis knows that I am a gigantic fan of shin guards.  I'm not sure if there is a more painful "minor" injury in our sport than getting kicked in the shins by another skater.  If you haven't been kicked in the shins in derby, you are lucky, and also, GET READY, it's coming.  Close packs and sprints to catch the jammer cause all sorts of kickbacks from skaters.  I've been wearing shin guards since my rookie year, after getting nailed by a vet when I was jamming, and I haven't regretted it since.  My shins are about the only part of my body that hasn't been permanently scarred by derby.  I know, you might get a few "You must suck at skating to have to wear those" looks from people, but who cares?  You're the one who has to live in your body for the rest of your life.  In fact, that's going to be an ongoing refrain for every bit of protective gear in this blog post.  You're not a wimp if you want to protect your body.

The second suggestion I have, and I can't believe this is considered to be "extra" protective gear by most people, but to get yourself a good pair of knee gaskets.  Some women on my team skate without them, and by "some" read "young".  The older I get, the more I notice my knees, and that was happening before derby; gaskets are a good idea no matter how old or young you are.  They also help keep the derby funk from infecting your knee pads. Knee pads are a pain to replace, and washing them can be awkward.  Gaskets help keep your sweat off of the knee pads, along with keeping your knee supported and even more padded.  Let's face it, knee pads slip all of the time; even the fancy custom ones can, so having a gasket to help keep your knees from being smashed on the floor is a good idea.

When I asked my protective gear question on Facebook, the number 2 suggestion was "protective padded shorts."  I'm not surprised; derby has changed.  What used to be a "rookie" injury has now become common place due to backward blocking, running backwards, and direction of game play being the norm.  When I was rehabbing my back injury, I sported a pair of these shorts.  They're comfortable, and they will protect your tailbone from most impact, but they are hot and the padding that protects your hip area doesn't go low enough, but they are a light weight option.  If you're really serious about butt, hip and tailbone protection, get you some Hillbilly Impact shorts, gurrrrrl.

Finally, I'm going to mention hockey helmets again.  The more derby goes on,  the more people I see wearing hockey helmets, which makes me smile. People are starting to take their brain safety seriously, and that is nothing but a good thing for our sport.  If you do choose to buy a hockey helmet,  you might think about adding a face shield to protect your schnozz.  During D1s and D2s, I started a running tally of how many times jammers were holding their faces from high blocks.  It was easily ten times for each game, and that's a lot of face hits.  Have you ever broken your nose in derby?  I have.  It is a very shocking and sobering injury, and it's one I hope nobody ever experiences!  If you have a hockey helmet, you can add a face shield to stop the face hits.  Right now, only one player in my league has a face shield, but a lot of us have hockey helmets. I think we might see more of them in the future, especially since most high blocks are missed by the refs.

Don't let someone ever talk you out of wearing the protective gear you feel is necessary.  Sometimes older skaters scoff at newer ideas in derby, including protective gear that might lend itself to this ever evolving game we play. I listen the to scoffing and then do my own research.  You should do the same.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Exercising in futility

“I’m going for a jog,” I said, then paused, letting those words hang in the air. 

“Wait, really?” my brain asked.  Then my eyes looked down at my feet and saw garish yellow shoes with built-in reflectors on them.

“I think he’s serious,” they reported.

I can understand why various body parts would be confused.  Between the ages of 18 and 34, I didn’t run a single mile.  At least not a consecutive mile.  If you added up all the times I ran across the room to keep one of my sons from falling down a flight of stairs, I might have logged more miles than, uh, you know, a famous long-distance runner.  For instance, several Kenyan people.  Also, the guy from Chariots of Fire.  Note to my young reader(s): If you want to get famous, long-distance running probably isn’t going to do the trick.  Keep posting Youtube videos of yourself riding shopping carts down ski jumps.  

Until last year, in answer to the question, “The last time you ran a mile, why did you do it?” I would have replied, “Because the gym teacher made me.  And so did the president.”

“It’s time for the President’s Physical Fitness Test,” Mr. Garber would say after blowing his whistle, smiling at our obvious distress.

We’d groan and rend our Umbro shorts at the beginning of the annual rite of passage, a battery of exercises designed to quantify our progress toward manhood.  It was like those National Geographic videos where the young tribal men jumped off a giant bamboo scaffold with vines tied to their ankles to demonstrate their courage, except I bet those guys didn’t have to try to touch their toes in front of the girls’ class.
By executive decree, though, we had no choice but to do all the exercises.

“Why does Bill Clinton care how many pull-ups I can do?” I’d wonder. 

When my turn at the pull-up bar came, I’d struggle and kick my way up to the bar a couple of times, then dangle for a while, wondering how long I’d have to hang there until my muscles got big enough to do another one.

I’d see Mr. Garber penciling a “2” on his clipboard beside my name as I dropped to the floor, ashamed that I’d failed my country.

Then I pictured the president’s chief of staff bursting into the Oval Office, waving Mr. Garber’s clipboard over his head.

“Sir, I’m afraid there’s a crisis.  We’re facing a severe shortage of adolescent upper-body strength in southeastern Pennsylvania.” 

But the pull-ups, though humiliating, were at least quick.  The mile run was the worst, oh, say, twenty-two minutes of the school year.  Or the worst seven minutes for the kids in decent shape, who then got to lounge at the finish line while the rest of us stumbled and wheezed across, hoping the girls across the field weren’t paying attention.   

So the president ruined me for running for a solid two decades, but the reality of approaching (okay, and possibly arriving at) middle age brought me back.

“I’m going for a jog” has always been one of those things that other people say, people who wear skintight pants in public and who know what gluten-free means.  But I’ve had to start saying it, too, because as you get older, you gain two pounds just by inhaling the steam off the pizza.     

A good thing about jogging when you’re in horrible shape is that, when it comes to setting personal bests, the competition is extremely weak.  For the first time in twenty years, though, I can jog a mile, sometimes even plural miles.  I kind of wish Mr. Garber would tell President Obama.  Presidents get pretty wrapped up in this stuff. 

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