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 .

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