Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby: A Photographer’s Perspective

I photographed my first women’s flat track roller derby bout in 2012 at The Rink in Sacramento, California. The Sac City Rollers were the home team. Back then, I knew almost nothing about the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association (WFTDA) and nothing at all about present-day women’s roller derby. I had a faint memory of watching roller derby years ago on TV. Back then I was a big fan of the San Francisco Bay Bombers even if I did live in Virginia.

Today’s women’s flat track roller derby is nothing like it was when I watched it on my family’s black & white TV.

The first thing that I noticed about women’s flat track roller derby was the tremendous overall accessibility everyone enjoyed; fans, skating officials, NSOs and skaters alike. Time and time again, I returned to photograph a bout and witnessed fabulous ongoing social interactions all around me.

My second observation was the remarkable individuality team members enjoyed. Perhaps in no other sport was a team composed of such a diverse population of individuals. It was this diversity that first struck me as a documentary photographer. On more than one occasion, I thought how I would love to setup a small on-location portrait studio to photograph the assembled collection of distinctive personalities.

Before a roller derby bout can ever begin (at least at The Rink) there were numerous pre-bout preparations that needed to be accomplished. Laying the physical dimensions of the track was perhaps the most critical and time-consuming job. While the track dimensions were being marked and defined with rope and gaffers tape, others were busy setting up chairs, team benches, the bar area, and establishing the VIP spectator space.

During the pre-bout activities, as a roller derby photographer, I concentrated on finding ways to document it all. What worked well for me and my roller derby photography was a return to fundamental candid styled photography. Since nearly everyone was actively participating in their assigned pre-bout setup duties, my candid styled photographic approach went unnoticed. Mentally, I worked hard to pre-visualize successful photographs. Where did I need to position myself? What activities were interesting photographically? I watched to see what group of individuals were interacting well? Photographing individuals in their more candid moments, without their knowledge, was a very rewarding endeavor for me. I regarded my candid photography as a refreshing alternative to the static nature of all most all posed photography.

Once the bout began, my photographic attention centered on skater activity. The challenges were many as I attempted to capture and document roller derby action.

It was important for me to address the problem of blocking skaters looking to the back of the pack. I obsessed over the fact that roller derby skaters positioned in the blocking pack were looking backwards maybe 95% of the time. Their skater bodies were skating forward but their heads were almost always turned to the side. Or, skater bodies were turned completely around and were actually slowly skating backwards around the track. Not a good posture or body language for me as a roller derby photographer! I wanted to see faces. I wanted to capture outstanding facial expressions including pain, shock, surprise and joy. I believed successful roller derby photography, to a large extent, was dependent on the facial expressions of skaters during jams. As I reviewed my photos on my camera’s LCD screen, I found photos that had great documentary potential only to be destroyed by a turned head and/or a face not visible to the camera lens.

The Rink in Sacramento was always a dark place to photograph in. Used as an everyday roller skating rink for the general public, the prevailing semi-darkness was probably a good thing. Maybe general public skaters considered it romantic? But, for the roller derby photographer the building’s semi-darkness was an unwelcomed fact of reality.

 

To be successful, I needed a lighting solution. The easiest fix was to bring in some sort of additional supplemental lighting. I did. Initially, I brought with me a large studio type flash unit combined with several smaller off camera flash units. However, I quickly discovered a lighting problem. My large studio type flash, used to light the sizable roller rink floor, created hard dark shadows. When I reviewed my images, hard dark shadows were very visible. Far more harsh and visible than I wanted.  The harsh shadows situation had to be corrected. I determined that the elimination of these harsh shadows needed to be addressed technically. The answer was to locate my smaller flash units in positions that acted as flash-fill units and not as a main light source. After several tests and placement in different locations, the harsh shadows were successfully reduced. Over the years, I employed subtle variations to this combination of a main studio flash and smaller flash-fill units. 

However, in October at the end of the 2017 women’s flat track roller derby season, I altered my lighting solution at The Rink. I replaced the multiple flash arrangement completely. My new answer was a simple combination of one small on camera flash unit with a dialed up higher ISO setting on my camera. I used no additional lighting units. My new lighting solution was how I photographed all of the images in my recent publication, Roller Derby Pictured. In my opinion, this photographic technique worked well and one that I plan to use moving forward during the 2018 Sacramento roller derby season.

The physical dimensions of the roller derby track presented its own quandary of problems that I needed to consider. I did not setup a remote-controlled camera location. Therefore, I could only be in one shooting location at a time. I positioned myself at one end of the roller derby track. Sometimes the action was in front of my camera lens. But, there were many instances where the bout action was at the far end of the track. This was an unpleasant dilemma and it limited the success of my roller derby photography.

As a photographer, I wanted the most dramatic roller derby action to always be in front of my camera lens. My frustration level ran high when the roller derby action was not in front of my lens. As I sat at my location at one end of the track, I could only wait for the action to come towards me. In these situations, I needed a good amount of patience to endure the wait. The only solution available to me was to wait. The roller derby action needed to move closer to the camera. As I waited, I knew that I probably missed one or more fantastic action shots because the action was at the far end of the roller derby track.

What if I told you that the relationship between my camera lens and the position of bout officials (i.e., roller derby referees) was an ongoing battle, would you believe me? Yes, bout officials presented a constant visual problem. I had the photograph that I wanted in my camera’s viewfinder. I pushed the camera release button – only to immediately notice that one or more of the roller derby officials skated in front of my lens. I said to myself, “Expletive deleted.” In women’s flat track roller derby, there could be as many as six officials/referees skating around the outside and inside of the roller derby track. I know the disappointment, the irritation, the agony of officials unintentionally blocking my action photographs. It was a fact of roller derby photography.

In the rule book, each roller derby team was allowed three one-minute time outs per game. It was important for me to consider my photographic options during these stops in the action. I generally attempted to photograph close-ups of individual skaters. During time outs, teams often huddled around their coach in an area near their bench. These strategy sessions played an important part in the team’s attempt to win the bout. Skaters and the coaching staff communicated ideas and offered suggestions towards winning the bout. Also, skaters used the time out as an opportunity to catch their breath. The coach communicated the game plan to win the bout. I was challenged to somehow visually depict this interaction between teammates and their coach. I constantly looked for the facial expressions that need to be photographed. I looked for skater emotional clues communicated through their body language. I needed to remain vigilant during team time outs. I never wanted to waste a one-minute time out. Good visually descriptive photographs were there and I was desperate to uncover them.

The roller derby jam began. The moment when the Lead Jammer pulled away from the pack of Blockers, I got serious. I desired to visually communicate the speed of the Lead Jammer. My past roller derby experience told me that these were the only occasions where I could photograph roller derby skating speed. In combination with the speed of the roller derby skater, it was also a chance to photograph a solitary roller derby skater (i.e., the Lead Jammer). My brain’s mental image was that of the Lead Jammer alone, speed skating, out in front of the blocking pack. No matter the score of the bout nor the time remaining in the jam, I wanted that shot of the speeding Lead Jammer a good distance away from the blocking pack.

For me, my most used and favorite photographic technique to portray speed in a still photograph was to employ a small amount of subject blur. I knew the everyday general-purpose photographer has experienced subject blur at one time or another. In the vast majority of these photographs, the subject blur was never planned. It was, simply, a photographer’s mistake. An error made.

The blur that I utilized was purposed. It was planned. My use of subject blur was intended. There were specific bout situations when I photographed expecting a limited amount of subject blur. Sometimes, I adjusted my camera settings for less blur. At times, I adjusted my camera settings for more blur. But, I did so because I wanted some level of subject blur in my photographs. I engaged the photo techniques of camera panning and slow shutter speed to guarantee subject blur. As a roller derby photographer, I often desired the visual value and the understated effect of confined subject blur in my documentary photographs.

During the roller derby halftime (i.e., between periods 1 and 2), I continued to photograph all around the track area. It was important for me to actively seek out photographic opportunities during halftime. My personal preference was to continue to photograph and not walk over to the snack bar at The Rink. The culture of women’s flat track roller derby needed to be observed and photographed. I knew that if I kept my eyes wide open then roller derby heritage was present. It needed to be photographed. I found roller derby halftime a favorable time to photograph a collection of posed groups and posed individuals. Individuals and groups that wanted their picture taken. I found a parallel increase of those individuals willing to pose to have their picture with the growth of the internet selfie.

It took me years to jettison the negative context I associated with photographing posed individuals or groups. Did I think that my posed photos were in some way inferior to everything that I photographed non-posed? Maybe? I have since altered my photographic perspective on posed photos. I rethought my position. In my head, I substituted the word model for the word pose. I successfully ended my own personal stigma about the word posed. I simply changed my perspective. Now, people who posed in front of my camera have actually modeled for me.

When the roller derby bout ended, I made one final assignment for myself. The tradition with the Sac City Rollers at The Rink was one final skate. Team members skated once around on the outside edge of the roller derby track to say thank you to their fans. This last skate was the final interaction between teammates and the fans who purchased tickets to watch their bout. Win, lose or draw, I looked for and photographed facial expressions once again. I photographed the verbal and non-verbal communication between fans and skaters.

I described myself as a women’s flat track roller derby photographer. My photographing experience at The Rink was instrumental in my continued development as a successful sports photographer. My personal growth in the sphere of documentary still photography expanded as a result of my roller derby assignments. My camera abilities when involved in candid photography multiplied as a result of attending the bouts of the Sac City Rollers.

My first involvement with women’s flat track roller derby was in 2012.

I considered roller derby an athletic event and I was a sports photographer.  Sacramento had two team at that time, the Sacred City Derby Girls and the Sac City Rollers. My involvement began when I emailed the Marketing Director for the Sac City Rollers asking for Media Credentials to photograph their upcoming bout at The Rink. Since that time, I have photographed Sac City Roller bouts at The Rink on a regular schedule. In December of 2017, the Sacred City Derby Girls and the Sac City Rollers announced that they will be unifying in 2018. The name for the new combined team is Sacramento Roller Derby.

5 Tiny and Mighty Tips for Small Jammers

Being a little on the smaller side of life and playing a full contact sport (with mainly giants), you have to learn fast about your strengths and weakness. Here are a few tips that have worked for me:

1 – BECOME STRONG

You need to be able to HOLD YOUR SPACE and not get easily pushed out of bounds. Being small you will never be able to muscle over someone who has more mass than you so don’t try to, instead work out to minimize the impact. I think it’s physics or something…? Anyway off skate training is a MUST for smaller jammers. For me, I find heavy weights at low reps are most effective with a combination of tabata intervals of cardio that work on explosive power and fast twitch. I dislike running with a passion – I mean, I REALLY HATE RUNNING – so I’ve worked hard to find cross-training that I enjoy doing that gets me the gains I want.

2 – FAST RECOVERY

You are closer to the ground so you get down there and theoretically can up quicker than most giants around you (pretty sure that’s science). Catch the blockers off guard! Burpees are your friend!!

3 – FAST FEET

Being small you’ve probably found driving on a solid wall of giants is near impossible. Yes, being stronger and have a powerful drive will help but physics gets you down (again). Therefore, you need to use your footwork to make the wall move and take swings, make the giants make a mistake. Take advantage of the movement within the wall to slip on through as being smaller there is less to grab hold of – ie you have smaller target zones…that’s less space for them to hit. Agility drills help in this area. This year I started Taekwondo and sparring practice of keeping my feet moving has greatly improved my agility.

4 – THINK “SKATE SMARTER NOT HARDER!”

We smaller jammers need to out think our giant opponent to make up for the gap in size. Study your opposition, watch footage of them skating against other small jammers and see what’s successful. Get your own team to help you recreate moments that you are struggling with. Try and think one step ahead, rather than jamming reactively.

5 – THE ONE HAND TRICK

One arm or hand on the ground outside of the track does not render a Skater out of bounds. Practice it, use it. It may not work all the time but it beats getting drawn back 20ft.

Remember, we may be are tiny but we are mighty!

Be smart, be fast, and recover strong.

ShortStop

Hi my name is ShortStop or Shorty.

I started skating in July 2009 for the Canberra Roller Derby League located in Canberra, Australia. In 2015, I made the big move to NYC to skate for Gotham Girls Roller Derby. I have just celebrated my 32nd birthday, am 5’ 1½” tall and about 110lb. Before I started roller skating for derby I didn’t know how to skate. Everything you see me do comes down to hard work, practice, believing in myself and loving what I do!

Roller Derby over 40: The Seasoned Athlete

For the greater part of a decade, I taught a beginner level roller derby skills class with the LA Derby Dolls. On the first day of each new session, I’d have everyone circle up and I’d ask them three questions:

What’s your name?

How did you find out about us?

What is your skating background (if any)?

I asked these questions, especially the third one, so that everyone would hear each other’s similar stories about not having worn roller skates since their third grade birthday parties, and hopefully not feel so alone in this new and foreign experience upon which they were embarking. Although I never asked about age, inevitably, I’d get a handful of people in every session who would mention that they were a little bit…older. And that usually added to their apprehension. I, on the other hand, would always be super excited to see anyone over 40 putting on a pair of skates for the first time since their third grade birthday party, for I knew a little secret: playing a sport is one of the best things someone over 40 can do.

As a retired roller derby skater (who played through my 40th birthday), current obstacle racing athlete and the creator and host of a podcast where I interview competitive athletes from a variety of sports who are all over 40, I feel like I have learned a thing or two about how and why participating in competitive sports can be awesome for who are a bit more…seasoned. Participating in sports in general can help build confidence, which translates to various other areas in your life. It can help keep you in good health as you get older. And can ensure you retain your mobility into your golden years. Ultimately, living an active and athletic lifestyle can help you feel (and look) far younger than your actual age.

So can all of this also apply to a high-impact, full-contact sport like roller derby? In short, YES! That said, there are some considerations to keep in mind to help make sure that your time spent giving and taking hits on roller skates builds you up (mentally and physically) rather than breaks you down (literally and figuratively).

UTILISE YOUR MATURITY

Roller derby has this funny way of taking over people’s lives when they first start. There’s something about this new shiny thing that allows you to meet amazing, like-minded people, gain confidence, and essentially become a complete badass that often prompts people to become a tad obsessed. But at times, going all-in on one thing like roller derby can result in other areas of your life ending up getting neglected. Family, non-derby friends (what’s that?), and work life can all suffer if you’re not careful about the amount of time and dedication we put into the sport.

This is where the maturity that we gain with age comes into play.

By the time we reach our forties and beyond, we tend to have some pretty set-in-stone priorities and responsibilities. And it becomes less about how our lives will fit around roller derby and more about how roller derby fits into our lives. It becomes easier to say no to the occasional derby event or extra practice. And it makes it easier to (gasp!) voluntarily sit out of a bout.

If you can utilize your maturity to create a healthy relationship with roller derby from the get-go, you are more likely to have a long and enjoyable experience in the sport for years to come, even if you start in your forties or later!

TRAIN SMARTER NOT HARDER

When you first start skating, it may be tempting to go all-in on skating and derby practices. But as you get older, it becomes especially important to make a strategic training plan that includes cross training and, yes, rest. It’s not to say that you can’t maintain an intense training schedule as an older athlete. Many older athletes train upwards of five to six days a week. But most can’t just go right to that frequency – instead they must build up their strength, conditioning and endurance to be able to maintain that type of schedule. Ultimately, the most successful athletes (of any age) are mindful about their training. And this especially comes into play as we get older.

It helps to write down a training schedule that includes your practices and cross training. And most definitely factor in cross training. Pay particular attention to strength and flexibility training. Include some unloading days or even weeks after particularly tough bouts or tournaments. But above all – PLAN. Don’t fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to your training.

FOCUS ON RECOVERY

Okay, friends, I saved the most important one for last. Want a long and fruitful roller derby career in your forties and beyond? Make recovery a non-negotiable priority. What does this mean? It means showing up at practice 10-15 minutes early to do an off-skates dynamic warm-up (if your team isn’t doing that already). A dynamic warm-up can include movements like squats, walking lunges, lateral lunges, inchworm plank walks, leg swings – anything that gets your body loose and moving in ways that you will use it in the sport.

Recovery also means staying after practice 10-15 minutes to get a good, long static stretch in. As we get older, our muscles and joints tend to get pretty stiff and they lose their general mobility. But if you take care to warm-up and cool-down properly at each practice, you can help your body continue to move well both on and off-skates.

Recovery means taking those rest days, whether you take a full day off or participate in a lower-intensity active recovery activity like walking, hiking or yoga.

And when you do start to get those aches and pains (or even before you do), recovery includes bodywork like massage, acupuncture or other soft tissue work. As if anyone needed an excuse to get a massage. But as an older athlete, it’s especially important to regularly schedule that time to keep everything moving well and feeling good.

If you make recovery a priority, you have a greater likelihood to be able to skate injury-free and at a high level for years to come. So just book that massage, already!

If you make a concerted effort to take care of your mind and body on the regular, you can prove to yourself and everyone around you that age isn’t just a number…it can be an asset. Now go forth and kick some butt, Seasoned Skaters. Show those young whippersnappers a thing or two!

Robin Legat, aka Suzy Snakeyes, is a retired roller derby athlete who skated with the LA Derby Dolls from 2003-2014, and was the founder and original captain of the Tough Cookies –  the team that would provide the inspiration for the Hurl Scouts in the movie Whip It.  She competes in obstacle racing (what she calls her “retirement sport”), and is working on landing a podium spot in her 40-49 age group. When not competing, Robin is a Fitness Trainer and Spartan Coach. She is also the creator and host of the Seasoned Athlete Podcast, which features interviews with competitive athletes from a wide range of sports who are all over age 40. You can listen to the Seasoned Athlete Podcast by visiting the Episodes page http://seasonedathlete.me , and you can learn more about Robin here http://robinlegat.com .

Roller Derby announcers – how to make them smile

So what do you do when you can no longer play the sport you love, but want to stay involved with it? The logical step for me seemed to be announcing, previously the league had struggled to fill this position on game days and it had always fallen to the injured/ un rostered skaters.

My experience since has made me realise that announcers can sometimes be an afterthought – despite the ‘added value’ they can add to your games and tournaments. So as we go into Christmas and everyone is planning their next year’s Derby antics, I thought I’d give you some things to think about…

Time

You’re planning a totally amazing tournament, there’s going to be live stream and everything – get your Tournament Head Announcer Application out there at the same time as your other TH’s. They have to gather crews in the same way as the officials, they need to organise travel, and they need to plan their lives too! If you have a game coming up in your home town, it would be completely unreasonable to leave NSO positions vacant until the week before – why do that with announcers?

Space should not be the final frontier

Give them space – even if that’s a shared space! Announcers need space and quiet in just the same way as your officials (they need food and water too). When planning your tournament space, please make sure you think about the people who are communicating all the Derbz – just because it looks fun, or less physical doesn’t mean it’s any less draining on them as people. Announcers are like house plants, keep us warm, watered and with a little bit of food and we bloom.

Sponsorship and league info

If you have an awesome group of sponsors that are supporting your event or league, please tell us about them – before the game. Make sure the official line from the sponsor is written in a way that will sound great read out, think about slight rephrasing for streaming so your announcers aren’t telling people to visit the booth by track 1.

Sure your announcers could probably do this real quick but they are YOUR sponsors, and the responsibility is on YOU to make sure those reads are ready for the announcing crew. Equally, league information for in house announcers, things as simple as upcoming games, new skater training, raffle prizes

Whatever you’d like to be communicated to the crowd about your league should be communicated in an easy, clear way to the announcers.

Rosters

Rosters right? Ok we might get a programme, but a roster is usually a much better way to communicate some key information. (Like who’s actually going to be on the bench, and their number)

One roster per announcer is the best case scenario and don’t forget those tricky pronunciations – help us sound great for you!

Talking is thirsty work

Hey do you provide information about the venue to your official’s crews? Maybe they need to bring a water bottle or your provide coffee but they need to bring their own cup… You know who very rarely find that on until the day? Yep Announcers – help us keep our voices by letting us know the refreshment and venue information.

Shout outs!

Announcers love a shout out on social media or in your game programme, it doesn’t cost a lot of money to do, and the feel good factor goes a long way in how likely they are to come back and announce for your league.

That’s not to say you should start filling their announcer space with only red smarties and perfectly temperature controlled water, but small things to increase an announcers profile can be good for you and them.

Thanks

I know your mother raised you right! Please remember to say thank you to your announcers, in the programme and face to face – they can really make the difference between your spectators enjoying watching the game, feeling informed and feeling engaged with the play that is happening. Happy spectators make repeat visitors which can ease the cost of game day significantly, by supporting your announcers to do their best job – your league will reap the benefits.

I don’t imagine that any of this is a surprise or ground-breaking news to you, but what might surprise you is how inconsistently these simple things are done well. We’re a special group of people full of egos and words, who LOVE this sport, next time you’re assigning game day tasks to your league members, add an extra one for us.

Biertrix has announced for 5 years, with illustrious tournaments such as Women’s Roller Derby World Cup 2014 to WFTDA Championships 2017 on her CV, President and Founding member of Rainy City Roller Derby, Manchester, UK and all round avoider of maths and steel chairs.

Do you believe roller derby can change the world?

Well, I sure do! Which is why I am super excited to tell you more about the WFTDA’s international giving program called We Believe. This global giving arm was created to unite our wonderful roller derby community behind one global cause. We Believe is based on our shared belief that through participation in roller derby, individuals can change not only their own lives, but the lives of people around the world. Imagine the difference we could make in the world if the volunteers, skaters, announcers and officials of all 400+ WFTDA-Member leagues united together behind one cause? That’s hundreds of thousands of participants in roller derby raising their voices on the same issue. We Believe is that opportunity to work together on global change.

I don’t know about you, but roller derby has definitely changed my life. It has given me a community, a positive view of my body and how strong it is, and it has changed my life from being inactive in sports, to viewing myself as an athlete who works out 4/5 times a week. It has given me a team and an outlet. This sport has taken me all over the world. I truly believe that roller derby can change lives and I think that united, our community can share this type of change with the world!

Think about your career in roller derby, from when you started until this moment right now. How has roller derby changed your life? In what ways did it impact your own abilities, your desire to take initiative, your surroundings, your circle of friends, what you believed was possible for your life, and your self-esteem? And then ask yourself, do you believe roller derby can do that for others? Do you believe that involvement in this sport can change the world?? Is the answer yes? Cool! Keep reading.

 

If you were lucky enough to have been at champs in Philly last week, you probably walked by the We Believe booth. It was right next to the WFTDA merch booth and housed The Hydra for most of the time during the three day event.

If you were there, you most likely will have seen me or one of my colleagues on the WFTDA Board of Directors we were working the We Believe booth during the event.

We were fortunate to spend much of the event talking with members of our roller derby community about We Believe. We explained our partnership with UN Women, whose mission is to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide, and our commitment to raise over $15,000 for their “One Win Leads to Another” initiative, which uses sport to develop leadership and economic skills in young women and girls.

$5,000 of these funds are designated to cover costs for the first ever WFTDA Minimum Skills clinic for young women in Brazil, using basic roller derby skills to develop confidence in these new skaters in tandem with UN Women’s “One Win Leads to Another” program.

I really like this partnership, as the “One Win Leads to Another” initiative and UN Women fit so well with the values we hold so dear in roller derby. So it’s kind of perfect as the first program for We Believe.

Personally, I’ve learned and practiced my leadership skills on and off the track within roller derby, another reason why this program resonates so well with me. I can’t wait to see how the clinic goes.

So far this year we have raised just over $5,000 towards our $15,000 goal. That means we have $10,000 more to raise. As a fellow community member and a skater/official/volunteer in roller derby, I invite you to be a part of something cool, something bigger than all of us. I invite you to unite together and show the world that we believe roller derby can change the world by helping us raise awareness of this awesome program.

How can you help you ask? Right now you can go to WFTDA.com/donate and make a donation directly on our site – using a credit card, PayPal or by stating your donation and mailing a cheque. You can also purchase an exclusive “Roller Derby Can Change the World” t-shirt. The shirt comes in many different colours and prints and the link to purchase can also be found at WFTDA.com/donate.

In addition to making an individual donation, you could work with your league or a roller derby event you are attending to raise money. For instance, this past weekend I was playing at the first Skate Around tournament hosted by the Namur Roller Girls (Belgium) and they held a tombola/raffle. The money they made was donated to We Believe, which was an awesome way of contributing to this global cause.

If you’re interested in doing a fundraiser like this, please reach out to me so I can help! I can provide you resources and information, and help you get your donation to the We Believe program.

If you are from a WFTDA-Member league, have your skater rep keep an eye on the forum, as we are working on more ways for people to get involved. We will be posting about this before the end of the year.

If you have a company that wants to get involved, or you have some cool creative ideas, get in touch with me at furrrocious@wftda.com

I really would love to hear how roller derby has changed your world. Please leave a comment on this blog and tell me how!

Derby love,

Furrrocious

Furrrocious started playing Roller Derby in January 2010 with Amsterdam Roller Derby. She has been involved in all aspects of the game. She has been heavily involved with the training and coaching inside and outside her league with different teams and boot camps. She has been coach for B.ADD, Amsterdams B-team and a coach and line up manager for the Dutch National Mens Team for several years. Furrrocious also went to the second women’s Roller Derby World Cup in Dallas in 2014 as one of the captains for team Netherlands and will go to Manchester again as captain of the national team. She is currently the Interim Secretary for the WFTDA Board of Directors and is still very active with coaching.

5 ways to break through a plateau in the off season

As the awesomeness that was WFTDA Champs 2017 becomes a memory I am forced to think about what happens next. For most roller derby athletes the end of a season often blurs into the start of the next. Usually because roller derby is fun and we enjoy playing it, but playing year round might be stalling your progress!

5 ways to break through a plateau in the off season:

1. ACTUALLY TAKE AN OFFSEASON

This is something most roller derby athletes have heard of but have never done. Taking an offseason from your crazy high contact sport is good for you, and I am not talking like a 2 week winter break, I am talking about a real offseason. A full month of down time, followed by a progressive series of workouts to develop strength, speed and power which will make you more of a bad ass on the track.

Off seasons are not sit around and eat everything seasons, they are planned and targeted to help you improve your game.

2. PLAN YOUR WORKOUTS:  DEVELOP YOUR STRENGTH,  SPEED AND POWER

Typical Off Season should be about 3-4 months. If you are training on skates straight for 8 months, you should take a solid month of recovery time, where you chill out, stretch, relax, do some yoga, take a ballroom dancing class, etc.

The next three months need to have a plan. You should spend about 6 weeks working on strength, and then progress your workouts to speed and power. If you do not know what to do in the weight room then you need to be safe and hire a qualified personal trainer to create a workout program for you. This should be a dynamic plan that progress as the weeks move on, you would never do the same practice every single day for 3 months and expect to improve your game, the same is true for your off skates workouts! There are amazing trainers out there, some in roller derby some just at your local fitness club, check their qualifications and ask them questions before you hire them! if you have a few teammates with similar goals you could train together, making your workouts more fun and your relationships with your teammates even stronger!

3. EAT LIKE A CHAMPION

Food is fuel and if you don’t treat it that way you are gonna end up in trouble. I am not a nutritionist, but I do know that a healthy diet is important to progress. Muscles don’t grow when they are not properly nourished so take time to learn about healthy consumption of food and make good food choices during your off season AND your on season. This website can be super helpful! Need more help? Make an appointment with a registered dietician

4. WORK ON YOUR BASIC SKILLS

After you get through the first 2 months of the offseason then it is time to dust off your skates. Clean them up and get ready for some basic training. Remember how that hockey stop to the outside of the track was pitiful last season? Good, lets go work on it! Now is the time to perfect all those silly little non contact things your coach was constantly telling you to do properly last year. You are not quite ready to start hitting people, so don’t get all crazy trying to go to all the practices and hit everyone, take the time to focus on building strength, speed and power in the gym and just add a day or two of SKILLS ON SKATES. Your on skates can include, stopping, ladders, edge work, speed control, skate form, track awareness, etc. Just avoid contact for a little bit longer.

5. SPEND TIME ENJOYING NON DERBY LIFE

There are things out there that are not roller derby, friends, family, other sports, your adorable animals, and this is the time to invest in them. If you don’t put energy into them, they might not be there when you are done playing, coaching, officiating, etc this intense sport. Having a healthy and balanced life makes you a better and more focused athlete.

I have played roller derby since 2007, I played the first 5 years straight through, no rest, no offseason, just skating. I have always lifted weights and done strength work but it was never my priority. The last five years I have taken intentional offseason to train, lift, and work on my strength, speed and power as well as  individual skating skills. I think the two things that have helped me step my game up and to earn a spot on the Team USA roster has been working with a sports psychologist and intentional offseason planning, management and training.

I own a gym http://www.SnohomishFitness.com , have a bachelors in exercise science, do personal training for sports performance and coach teams around the world. If you have questions about personal training, periodization, strength training or coaching please feel free to email me at GetsomeAthletics@gmail.com

Tips from a Division 1 jammer

My name is Alyssa Pray, I am 21 years old and this is my first season with Rat City Roller Derby All-Stars. Here is a little backstory to how I got into roller derby. I was born in Sacramento, CA and I made the move to Washington in 2008. My parents separated when I was pretty young so when I moved it was to live with my dad. My father is the reason why I started skating competitively. But before he moved to Washington when I was growing up in California all I can remember as a kid was skating all the time with my parents, my mom did figure skating and my dad was a jam skater. They worked at the skating rink for the first few years of my life so my daycare was with them while they worked. I was in the sixth grade when I moved and my dad got me into inline speed skating shortly after moving here, I absolutely loved it. After a few years of inline skating I was introduced to roller derby through a friend. As I was entering my first year of high school I was balancing inline skating, roller derby and then track in the spring. After a few years of balancing all three sports, I decided to pick one and it was roller derby.

I began playing in the JRDA for the I-5 Rollergirls, starting in the fall of 2010 until the summer of 2014. The I-5 Rollergirls were last coached by Vito Ramon and K-Beezy, who helped lead us to a lot of victories. Going into the new year when I aged out I started playing for The Oly-Rollers under the USARS rule set. While playing there we won a few gold medals at the National Championships and after two seasons, I made a choice to play at an even higher level of roller derby, which would be to play for a Division one WFTDA team.

When I joined the Rat City All-Star program, I got an amazing opportunity to be coached again by Vito and Dylan Botts who is a part of the Men’s USA Team. Not only do I have an amazing coaching staff but also teammates, such as Lacey Evans who is also a part of Team USA for women’s Roller Derby. Rosiy Rickel is an I-5RG Alumni who I was lucky enough to grow up and play with for the last seven years, between I-5RG, the Oly-Rollers and now for the Rat City All-Stars. This team defiantly hits home in my heart and I am so proud to share the track with every single person who is a part of the program.

After seven years of competing in roller derby I have found that there is a lot more than just skating and working out that goes into training. Playing at such a high level in this sport requires you to pay attention to not only your nutrition but also your mental game. Being in the top two jammer rotation for a Division one team at 21, having it be your first ever WFTDA season, and making it to Champs can be a lot to take in, but a few things I make sure to remind myself on a time to time basis is to have fun, never stop learning and stay humble.

How do you train to be more agile?

One thing that I’ve learned so far playing WFTDA as a jammer, agility is your best friend when it comes to getting out of the pack successfully. The tempo of the game is so much faster as a jammer and you have to always be thinking one step ahead, or else the blockers will dictate your next move. Juking, a precise tool we can perform as long as the timing is right. When juking you can make the movements but if they aren’t quick enough, it won’t usually go in your favor. Jammers don’t typically want a tight seamed wall to fight against but throwing in a few hard jukes will help break up the opposing blockers. A thing to remember for doing these jukes is to make them believable and to time them just right. If you juke to early blockers will read the movements and if they are too late then you’ll probably get stuck in a seam.

Drills that I find extremely helpful with advancing your agility and juking skills are ones that require you do at higher speeds and to get uncomfortable. When you practice at high speeds it forces you to work harder, really focus and control your movements better. What I mean by uncomfortable is that when your practicing these jukes, you want to get the timing down. So, by getting the timing down you are bound to make mistakes in the beginning but once you get the timing down then you should see blockers unravel and create spaces that they don’t mean to make. Something that I’ve done this season that I felt I got better at while juking was doing ladder drills on and off skates. Getting more comfortable with uncomfortable situations is key.

Tips for speed

#1 Tip: Conserve your energy and know when to use it, my little background in inline skating helps me see it that way. When successfully breaking through the pack and coming back around for a scoring pass, we jammers don’t have much time to recover. So, during that time of coming back into the pack is when we need to be smart with our speed and energy. This doesn’t mean skate slow and catch a breath, it means make your steps count and conserve your bursting energy for when you get back into the pack for another round. Having good form and control, really helps and goes a long way. Having control of your technique is an addition to conserving energy because your able to manage how much energy to put out and when to do so.

This weekend The Rat City All-Stars are heading to the WFTDA Division One Championships, stay tuned to see how we do taking on Texas Roller Derby in our first game!

Alyssa Pray has been skating for 7 years and currently skates for Rat City All Stars. She started skating for a junior team for 4 years and after she aged out skated for great teams up to the division one WFTDA team.

You can see Alyssa Pray jam this weekend when Rat City plays the WFTDA Champs in Philly. Get your watch pass now at wftda.tv

Building rapport on and off the track

I have been asked to tell you a little thing that helps me as a ref that you might not hear from other officials a lot. I know that one of the most important things that I do with people on game day as a referee is build rapport. I often list this from the perspective as a Head Referee as this is where most of my experience comes from.

Obviously you need all the regular skills such as rules knowledge, skating ability, being able to see the flow of the game and to make a call if necessary. But I find what helps me as a Head Referee is having rapport with the people around me on game day. Who do I try and develop rapport with and why?

The first group of people I try to interact with and develop rapport with are the captains and alts. We will be communicating with each other through Official Reviews and by bringing any concerns we have to each other. I use the captains meeting as a chance to do this. I ask them and encourage them to come to me with any concerns or issues that they have that I am able to assist with. I encourage them to come to me during the 30 seconds between jams if they need to. Remember your body language during all communication as well as the words you are using and more importantly the tone of voice you have while saying them. I keep a very open communication with everyone who is there. If all goes well before the game even starts you have earned a level of trust and developed a small connection with the teams leadership. That small bit of trust can be worth a lot later during the game. 

The other group I need to build rapport with is the officials. Most teams are practicing together several times a week and have known each other a long time. Most officials are thrown together on the day and asked to work together like a fully functioning team. Some of these officials will never have worked together before and may have a very different level to each other. You need to build rapport with all of the officials. For the Head Referee and HNSO it is vital to get to know your crew and to communicate effectively. You can do this during the officials meeting using much of the same techniques as you would use during the captains meeting. Try to be open and encouraging. Get everyone to introduce themselves and ask questions about them. Make sure you know everyone name.

As the Head Referee it is very important to try to build a bond between the referees on a crew. At some games or a tournament you can use social media to help develop this rapport before the day even arrives. You can have your own Facebook group where you can communication and post things to.. In between games make sure everyone has what they need and is fed and has water and try to get all the refs on your crew to watch a game or 2 together so you can see what the other crews are doing well and what can be improved on. You can copy what is going well and not do what you see is not working for anther crew. Just like with the captains and the Alts the Head officials will meet with the officials at the half time in order to tweak anything and to check in on them.

Now skater rapport. If a skater likes or trusts a refs then they will react quicker to those ref and with less or no complaint. This helps the skaters and helps us keep the game flow moving. Now how do we build rapport with skaters now that equipment checks are gone? Easy! Make eye contact and don’t be afraid to talk to skaters from both teams before the game starts. We as referees cant be too familiar but there is no reason not to speak to both teams. As a JR I will tell a team I am their JR and to ask me any questions they may have regarding points. As a Head Referee I tell teams they can ask the JR about points too. Some Head Refs are more closed and don’t want skaters or benches approaching them in the 30 seconds. This to me sets a tone that you are not open and listening to their concerns and you are not approachable. If I was the bench coach or the captain I would find this very frustrating. Talk to everyone and be nice and friendly. If skaters are laughing and joking on the jam line why not smile too if they are all enjoying themselves? For me it is very strange to see everyone having fun and then these robots in stripes or in pink not smiling or looking like they are enjoying themselves.

I know all of this seems so self explanatory for a lot of you, but our derby community is very diverse and we have a lot of different personalities. Each person may appreciate different ways of communication or interaction. YOU might want to change your way of building rapport to suit the people around you.

Shref, from Dublin Roller Derby, has been refereeing since early 2011. He has officiated nearly 500 games at all levels, both men and women’s. He has been a crew head referee for both the womens and mens world cups as well as most of the major European tournaments. He has officiated in America, Canada and in most European countries.

Improving your Derby Experience by being a Sports Fan

OK boys and girls, let’s hop into the “way-back machine” and travel to Austin, Texas, 2006. I’m standing in one of Austin’s favorite taco stops, enjoying the night, when a thought I had been trying to dislodge from my brain finally surfaced.

Here’s the scene: The skaters from Texas Roller Girls and Mad Rollin’ Dolls had left for the night. They had to skate the next day. Remaining were a few announcers, photographers, and officials. One of the photographers reminded me of someone sorta famous. Doesn’t that drive you nuts? Dude has a well-known doppelgänger I can’t put my finger on…until the late-night SportCenter, on ESPN, appeared on the bar’s TV. SportsCenter was my nightly show and it triggered the answer to “who is his doppelgänger?” I blurted, “Hey! Dude! NOW I know who it is you remind me of! Charlie Steiner from SportCenter (though he wasn’t on the broadcast that night). Don’tcha think?” Expecting a rousing, “Good call Bob. He’s a dead ringer for Steiner,” instead I got crickets (silence). Being Bob, I always assume I’ve not gotten a reaction because I wasn’t heard (I have that much faith in my humor/clever observations), so I repeat myself, louder, only to receive blank stares. Confused, I ask, “Do any of you ever watch SportsCenter?” The unanimous answer was “no, we don’t follow other sports.” I gave them that look I would if I was told they’d been abducted by aliens, because I couldn’t believe it was true.

That night, in 2006, was the first time I realized the lack of general sports knowledge in derby. At the time, this was rampant throughout the sport. It wasn’t just skaters. It was officials, coaches, and, yes, announcers. I’m not suggesting the environment is the same 11 years later, but there remains a sizeable chunk of you out there who have never followed a sport. I’m asking you to adopt a professional sport, learn the rules, find a favorite team and player, and see how this affects your derby experience. Coaches, I also think this is a reasonable request of your skaters. After all, isn’t this what we ask our fans to do with roller derby?

I have practiced what I am preaching. As a young Bobby, the Noxious family was not sports oriented. Pop Noxious knew only motorsports. I wasn’t thrown a ball in the backyard because Pop couldn’t hit a barn from three meters. Watching him attempt to catch anything looked like an effort to swat flies with a pencil. Grandpop Noxious was a big baseball fan, which gave me my first sports outlet as both a fan and participant. I was thrilled to be an incredibly average little league player and an avid Milwaukee Brewers fan. I was far from a sports freak until my university days, thanks to a roommate who watched all sports. NFL, college basketball, NBA, NHL, I absorbed it all. ESPN was in its full glory in the 90s, becoming a household staple. While some wanted their MTV, I wanted to see sports highlights. As an adult, when I found myself better suited for recreational sports. I was an avid volleyball player, casual basketball player, did a bit of everything until I retired to make room for roller derby.

So, all of this to say, “Hey! Find a mainstream sport, pick a team, pick some players and follow a season.”

There are many great reasons to learn the dynamics of other team sports:

The mentality of an athlete

Watch the ups and downs of a sport’s greatest athletes. There are plenty of DOWNS! If you think having an off night is something only an amateur can have, you’re very wrong. To watch a game where your team has a pivotal player who is contributing little most of the game, only to find the mental focus to be a part of a last minute winning touchdown, basket, or goal is amazing. Sometimes it’s a major slump mid-season that lasts for weeks or months. Players may revisit their technique, learn new moves, or get into even better shape to get back to their potential.

The dynamic of being a team player

Mainstream sports will display, in a hurry, who is and is not a team player. It could be basketball players who, like John Stockton, took pride in his passing and set the all-time assist record in the NBA. Football quarterbacks who, instead of raising hell with the coaching staff after being pulled out of a game for poor play, immediately grab a clipboard to help his replacement succeed. Soccer players who choose to pass to a teammate with a better shot instead of taking the lower-percentage shot themselves. Interviews after games can tell you a lot. Team players deflect the questions of their own accomplishments to remind fans of their commitment to the team and winning, not necessarily individual performance.

On the flip-side, you’ll see players who refuse to pass and like to shoot every time the ball is touched, costing their team easy points. NFL players who spend more time complaining about not getting to carry, throw, or catch the ball as many times as they feel they should. Others who blame failure on teammates, the coaching staff, and officiating instead of owning their performance. Soccer players who are a distraction to the team by always contesting their fouls instead of accepting the call and focusing on play as the clock is running.

The challenges of coaching

The focus for coaches is to get players prepared for the next game, push teamwork, and manage both play and personalities during the game. You will see how star players can help the coach, or be a destructive force during the game and locker room if they cannot keep their ego in check. Watch decisions where generally strong players see less touches or time because they are having an off night while someone else is “on fire.” Understand that teams very much have role players. Players who are not starters, but are brought into situational play because they excel at those moments. The protection of players with a high foul count, using others who are unlikely to foul very often. All of this is done with the need for a coach to remain focused on the game, without distraction from emotional players.

The idea of introspection and humility

Mainstream sports sets up drama more than any movie could. There have been hundreds of highly talented professional athletes whose names were atop of their sport for weeks or months, only to disappear shortly afterward. Some, due to injury they never fully recover from, but many who play a long career with many different teams because they don’t “get it.” The team concept and ability to look at their own game play is overshadowed by their ego, so they become part of a trade when the team gets tired of it. One of the greatest lessons we can learn vicariously through sports is humility and introspection. Everyone has, or lacks, a certain level of natural talent. Those who have natural gifts which most others don’t, may go through a period where they feel practice, preparation, and their relationship with teammates isn’t that important. The truth is, whether it’s a sports team or the workplace, you are almost always better off without individuals of high talent that are also high maintenance. This is part of not “getting it.” The individual is not greater than the team. This is a common theme in professional sports, not just derby. If you create enough trouble, no matter your skill, you’ll will be, and should be, asked to move on.

Bob Noxious is a 13 year vet of roller derby, getting his start with Madison, Wisconsin’s, Mad Rollin’ Dolls is late 2004. Though known for lending his voice to the sport on an international level, Bob’s greatest contribution in recent years has been blogging and classroom sessions aimed at helping derby run their business. Working as a “Derby Doer” for Brown Paper Tickets, Bob welcomes contact and questions from anyone in the sport. You’ll find his blog series here http://community.brownpapertickets.com/wp/category/roller-derby/ . You can contact him at this email bob@brownpapertickets.com .

How to Select the “RIGHT” Knee Pads

Knee pads are an obvious must in roller derby and not just because they are in the rules. The quick accelerations and hard hits (with harder falls) are some of the elements that make our game exciting, but they can also take a toll on our bodies. Knee pads can be uncomfortable due to flexibility, bulk, incorrect sizing, or the wrong shape. We’re going to break down each of these issues and talk about the general construction to help you make the right choice in selecting your next knee pads!

Flexibility

Pad manufacturers use a variety of construction applications to increase flexibility and comfort. Seams are the most common tool used, however they force the pad to flex only in the pre-determined joint area on the sides of the knee. Lower quality knee pads will have simple back construction that you slide on. This provides a general, all purpose kind of fit. Higher quality pads use an open back design that reinforces the movement in the knee, is cooler to wear, and easier to take off and put on.

The cheaper and lower quality foams tend to be stiffer and more brittle. A single piece or straight cut foam can limit flexibility in the pad. Most pads that cost around 50€ have already begun to shape their foam and normally provide adequate protection for most skaters in low impact falls. Pro knee pads from most brands have advanced foam shapes that often curve with the knee, forcing you into a derby stance to have them fit most comfortably.

Bulk

More protective knee pads tend to be thicker. Usually thicker padding means more protection. Thicker padding also means more bulk and more material. Understanding which materials are used where and why will help you decide if the pad is really more protective.

The exterior of your pads will face most of the impact and should be made of materials hard enough to remain intact after multiple falls. Most hard shelled knee pads are made of ABS plastic which is lightweight and hard enough to protect you from high impact falls. Hard plastic does limit mobility, so a smaller cap will provide you larger range of motion. Larger caps provide more protection with less bulk and more slide. Thicker caps will last longer than thinner caps. 

Any force that continues through the caps should be absorbed by the foam. Polyurethane (PU or PUR) is the most common synthetic material used to make foam for padding of the knee pad. PU is made from organic units that are joined together to create material that is very high strength, resilient and long lasting. This makes foam durable padding that cushions any falls or blows to your knees protecting them from damage. Here are a few kinds of foam you will find in higher quality knee pads:

Arti-Lage – Engineered to mimic the physical structure of human cartilage. The foam is flexible and soft in the normal state, but when met with impact, the molecules in ARTi-LAGE form a hard protective shell.

D30 – A soft, flexible polymer blend. When this foam is met with impact, the molecules form a hard protective shell.

EVA foam – “Rubber-like” in softness and flexibility with low-temperature toughness, stress-crack resistance, and waterproof properties.

Ortholite – A breathable, low density foam with antimicrobial treatments. This foam is lightweight and washable.

V22 Dual Density – Rubber based, silicone sponge; this foam is higher in strength and higher in weight with a more stable density than other foams.

Each skater has to decide for themselves what balance of material and protection they want. We recommend that newer skaters who tend to fall more invest in better knee pads.

Size

This is the most important consideration. A well-fitting knee pad will not restrict your range of motion. It will shift with your movements and allow you to bend your knees. If it is too tight then you will be uncomfortable and it may burst open when you fall. If it is too loose then it might not protect you.

To ensure that your knee pads fit well, measure the distance around your knee (at the center of the knee). You can do so by using a tape measure or a string and then reading the measure using a ruler. Follow the size charts provided by the manufacturers and we generally recommend going for the smallest size possible if you are in between because everything stretches.

Pads are meant to last about 12 months. Wearing them longer means they are stretched out, too big and increase your risk of preventable injury. We recommend alternating which pads you replace so it isn’t so expensive. Replace your knee pads at the start of every season (around the holidays) and your wrist guards and elbow pads in summer when you stink the most.

Shape

Most knee pads are made for multiple disciplines, including skateboarding. Skateboarding is larger market than roller derby and overwhelmingly male, so most knee pads are made for men. This does not necessarily mean they will fit women any less effectively. There are a lot of different body types/leg types in both women and men and there are a lot of different designs each company uses. Some pads fit thinner legs, some fit wider calves, some skaters like a compact profile, some want longer protection.

Throw your individual skating style into the consideration and the selection is about how fit meets performance. You want the shape of the pads to give you as much freedom of movement as possible while keeping you protected. As this varies from person to person, consultation with your trusted skate shop is the best way to get your perfect set up. If you need more info, feel free to contact us at QUAD!

Going into 9 years of roller derby training and playing, Master Blaster specialises in digging out the root of what makes a technique or strategy effective, from the gear up! Playing with Bear City Roller Derby, Team Germany, and the London Rollergirls has provided her a ton of face to face time with other skaters and a variety experience in different places to train and compete. The co-owner and operator of QUAD Roller Skate Shop, she is proud to be a derby business that is committed to skaters as a community with the resources and knowledge to stand by her shop. Going strong since 2011, check out QUAD at www.quadrollerskateshop.com