Tuesday 13 January 2015

Week 82: 2015 - A Change Is Gonna Come

So, it's been a while, and the last time I posted I was all ready to don my stripes and learn how to become a ref.

Well, our 2014 AGM presented a new path for me to take for 2015. I am now the Head NSO for my league!

This was rather unexpected, as our previous Head NSO was awesome. but she stepped down and I was voted in.

So, now my minimum skills have been put on the back burner, as have my ref skills. I hope to continue learning to ref, but I want to be the best damn HNSO that I can be, so we'll see. It's gonna be scary, it's going to be hard, but it's also going to be exciting, and awesome!

Thursday 20 November 2014

Week 74: I'm Not Going Anywhere

Wow! I can't believe my last post was in September! Don't worry, I didn't disappear in to a spiral of derby self-doubt (as my previous post my suggest), life just caught up with me and I had a lot of shit to sort out. Fortunately, life is now back on track (maybe with a couple of bumps in the near future) and my derby life seems to have slotted itself onto it's own tracks.

I think a lot of people thought from my previous post that I was questioning my dedication and love of derby. This is not true. I will never stop loving derby. I can't even fathom what my life would be without derby. But this doesn't necessarily mean playing the game.
When I first started derby, I loved it. It was scary, and I was terrible, and I didn't know why I was even attempting such a thing, but there was a deep yearning inside of me that would not let me give up. I put blood, sweat and tears into a sport that I could not imagine living without. That fire has not burnt out, but it just burns differently now. The thought of playing the game does not move me. I don't go to scrimmages or practices thinking "I need more! This is what I want to do!" The other day we had a practice where one of the skills was optional so I sat it out. Not once have I done that, I usually dive in no matter what!

What does get that fire roaring, though, is officiating. I love NSOing. I jump at every opportunity I get to do so, I take pride in updating my CV and am counting down until my 50th bout and dream of when I will reach my 100th. I look in awe at NSOs with tournament patches all over their hoodies and wish I was half as good as them. I take pride in my work and I take it very seriously. I keep on my toes the whole time, constantly worrying that something could go wrong, ready for whatever might get thrown my way. I drive across the country for bouts, bake until the early hours to make sure I have goodies to bring with me. I've developed an interest in stop watches and clip boards. I strive to be better, to be able to count points quicker than the jammer ref, to be able to hear penalties from the OPR who's lost their voice. I want to be the best I can be.
Photo by Martin's Derby Photos
This naturally then leads onto a love of Reffing. I have had experience of reffing three times in my skating life. I have jammer reffed twice and have also shadowed IPRs. Each time I found it terrifying. I have never made a call on a penalty, I've lost my jammer, I've almost skated onto the track, I've fogotten how to stop, and realised I am terrible at doing hand signals while skating, but I have loved it every time. I want to learn more, I want to get better. It has also made me want to be a better skater, to nail my transitions, to be able to side surf. My derby idols are no longer the ones on the track, but the ones in stripes. I want to be able to watch a pack like a hawk and spot the of penalties, I want to have the loudest voice and be able to blow my whistle properly, I want to be able to deal with every situation and know the rules inside and out, I want to be a bad-ass skater who can skate just as well (maybe ever better!) as those on track. That is what I want.
So when people seem to react like I'm quitting derby or that I'm giving up, I'm not going anywhere. I'm just doing derby my way.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Week 63: Derby or Not Derby

So recently, I have been struggling with my feelings towards Derby. I feel like I'm stuck at a crossroads with absolutely no idea which direction to go! I have wanted to be a ref since I started. I have a fondness and an appetite for the rules, hence why I have thrown myself into NSOing. Yet I also feel like I do want to play the game, and do what I fell in love with when I saw my first bout. I feel that if I focus on both, they will both suffer, so it is best to focus on one and get awesome at it. I must admit I am leaning more to one side, but it is still incredibly hard to make a commitment.

As you know from my previous post, I have been questioning my skills in game play. On one hand, I feel like I suck. As soon as someone goes in to me, I fall down. If someone tries to push me, I suddenly forget what a plough stop is. I find it incredibly hard to channel any kind of aggression, so I can't hit, or move any one. I just push against them feebly hoping they might get distracted and forget I'm trying to get past! There is also way too much to think about. I just can't keep track of both jammers, my blockers, and the other team! The whistle goes, and all tactics previously discussed go straight out of my head and I'm just trying my best to stay upright! After every game play and tactics practice, I usually cry and decide that I should just forget about playing the game. I beat myself up about how it's because of my lack of determination, how I don't push myself, how I'm not committed enough, how poor my cross-training is.

However, my feelings at skills practice usually change. I love doing skills in pairs. I love practising whips, I loved my first hitting practice, I loved positional blocking. I also love practising solo skills. I love transitions, and crossovers, and weaving. It all makes me feel like I'm getting better at skating and that I am gradually improving. But then it all falls apart again in a game play scenario.
I really think I would enjoy reffing. I attended a couple of zebra lessons a few months ago and really enjoyed it! I love NSOing so it seems to make sense that I would enjoy reffing. I love learning the rules and all the technicalities that make up roller derby. I also tend to find myself watching the officials more than the players when at a bout! (I think there may also be a little bit of me that enjoys telling people off!) Admittedly, I found parts of reffing terrifying. Jammer reffing, for example, I found insanely hard! It was near on impossible to keep track of my jammer, watch for penalties, and count points, all while trying to skate! I knew, though, that I would get better at this with practice.
The practising theory is the thing that makes it such a hard decision! I know I will get better at reffing with practice, so I should therefore get better at game-play with practice. My derby experience shows that I am not a quitter. Every tactics practice brings back the feelings of terror and the butterflies in my tummy that are all too familiar from my first days. I also can't hate it that much as I keep going back and I keep wanting to go! I don't feel like I have to or dread every Tuesday evening. I want to go. Maybe it's because I'm unlikely to hurt myself reffing. It might be because it's more mental learning than physical learning. But the physical side is going to help me get closer to passing my minimum skills, which is definitely one of my goals.
This is where my brain keeps going round and round in circles until I get upset, confused, and decide to write a blog post about it. It would be nice that I didn't have to make a decision, but if I decided to do both, I'd have to go skating 3 nights a week which I just can't do. I feel that a pro/con list may be necessary, I might also talk to people from both areas and see what it was that made up their minds.
If you've got any ideas, answers on a postcode, please!

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Week 56: The Scrim

I was recently talking to a fellow skater about a recent practice we had. I was telling her that I felt like I hadn't done very well and I wasn't that great, to which she responded:

"Just a few weeks ago you were feeling like you couldn't carry on and now YOU ARE SCRIMMING!!!! Blog that shit!!!!"

So that is what I am doing. I am blogging that shit.

I'm not going to lie, I was quite terrified. Actually, to begin with, I wasn't. But that was because I had no idea what was lurking in my near future. We were told that we were going to have a surprise at our gameplay and tactics practice, and that we should bring both white and black tops. (I should have guessed from that, really!) The session started with some harmless wall formations, but then moved on to starts. So, basically, we'd line-up, and when a jammer had got through, we'd start all over again. This wasn't too bad, although, I was caught out with my stance and a jammer, who's tactic was to skate full pelt into the wall, managed to knock me straight on to my arse. That'll learn me for not being in derby stance.
 After a few more starts, we were told we were actually going to play the game. Errrr....what?! No big hits, focusing on wall formations, penalties resulted in 10 push ups. My derby wife was up as jammer for the first jam, and did an awesome job! (Although, received a cutting penalty, and was in the box for the second jam.) No one seemed keen to volunteer to jam for the third, so I thought "What the hell!" and stepped up to the plate (or should that be line?)

Never again. It was horrible! My pack were brilliant. How they didn't just get pissed off with me, I have no idea! They were breaking through the other team's wall, making holes for me, calling me through, by the time I got there the gap had closed up. I had no confidence to break through the wall myself, so they created another gap for me, which I failed to get to, and on this continued for what felt like forever. I didn't get lead jammer, obviously, so when I finally got through, I realised that I had to go on for as long as the other jammer wanted. After my second time through the pack, which I seem to have repressed, but was probably as terrible as the first time, I actually scored points, but felt like I just wanted to quit. My legs were shaking, I was knackered.... no more! I skated back to the bench at the end of the jam, slumped down on the floor, ate my banana bread I'd brought as a snack, and stopped myself from crying. All I wanted to do was quit. I wanted to take off my skates, go "No! No I am not doing this! I just want to sit here and eat my banana bread!" and then sulk for the rest of the evening. I looked over to one of my friends who was chosen to ref. That's what I want to do! Not get myself beaten up and shattered and feel pathetic.

However, another blocker was needed for the next jam and, instead of sulking, I skated across to the line-up, with a mouth full of banana bread and placed myself back on the inside line. (It turns out I'm quite good at guarding the inside line thanks to my long legs!) The whistle went and I steadied myself, kept my eye on the jammer, and actually managed to brace and create a wall with the rest of my team. We managed to hold the jammer back for a while and ours got lead! That was a good feeling.

The rest of the evening carried on like that. The feeling of you and fellow team member, putting your full weight against each other, ploughing as if your life depended on it, and actually stopping a jammer, is incredible! You feel so bad ass! You just want to yell "You shall not pass!" and act like their derby gatekeeper.

I'm not gonna lie, by the end of the night, I was full of mixed feelings. I was knackered, I was sore, I was full of adrenaline, I was psyched, I hated it, yet loved it all at the same time! I had a taste of what real roller derby was like....and I didn't really know what to make of it!

Monday 21 July 2014

Week 53: The Wall

This is something I didn't think I'd write about for a while. My derby journey was going along quite swimmingly, admittedly with a few bumps along the way, but I could see myself slowly improving, and then I got to Level 2 and I couldn't believe I'd done it, and I was learning new things, but then it started to plateau. Things that I couldn't originally do, I still couldn't do. It wasn't like they had got a tiny bit better, they were exactly the same. For example, my endurance laps had not changed. My personal best is 23 3/4 and that is what I have got every time I've tried it since. I really worked on my crossovers, thinking they would help but I got 22 laps. I really tried my hardest, threw in as many crossovers as I could, pushed myself, and I got 23 1/2. So, in fact, I was getting worse!

I am still terrified of pack work, I still look at my feet, I still touch too many people, and grab on when I trip, or roll in to them when trying to stop. I still can't give whips; I feel like I'm doing nothing, I always drift in to the middle of the track, I always use just my arms rather then my whole body. I still have a mental block over counter-clockwise transitions, and it seems to be worse now I've convinced myself I can't do them. I still can't weave through cones, my derby stance is crap, my plough stops rarely work...whine, whine, whine. I used to leave practice either on a major high because I had accomplished something, or on a major low because I was frustrated and couldn't do something. But now I just leave feeling deflated. It's almost like I've stopped caring. Like I don't see the point anymore. I feel like I have got to a wall, and on that wall is a sign that reads "This is a far as you're gonna get". I have reached my peak, this is as good at skating I am ever going to get. It's like that bastard level on a video game which you realise you're never going to complete because it is just too hard and you do not have the wits to defeat it.
I recently read an article about pressure in roller derby training as I felt, originally, that I was under a lot of pressure to get better and to get signed off. However, the article mentioned positive reinforcement and how people expect to be told "Good job!" or "You'll get there!" whenever you try something or do something good. It went on to explain how that just wasn't the case, you can't always expect there to be someone to cheer you on. You can't wait for that treat when you've performed the right trick. You need to impress yourself and be your own cheerleader.

That hit hard. That was exactly how I felt. I was convinced I wasn't getting any better because no one had told me I was getting better. I was expecting streamers, a round of applause, fireworks, a neon sign saying NAILED IT! whenever I achieved something. I'm not saying my coaches or fellow skaters are horrible and never say nice things, but what they did say wasn't enough for me. At Level 1, I used to be this terrible skater that seemed to go against the odds and, although it took a while, managed to pass Level 1. I used to get praise because I managed to do it, but now I've shown that I can do it, I have the mindset to get through the skills, I don't need encouragement anymore because I should know I can do it.
After going through weeks of this, I was called over by a coach during hip whips. They gave me a few tips on how to get closer and what I need to be doing to really get it. I initially took it as criticism (constructive, yes, but I'm never good at taking criticism) and used it to work on my whips, but wasn't really thrilled. However, after the session I realised something - and this is something I have never realised in my whole entire life. I would hate criticism, anything, even if it was said nicely and was a tiny thing, I would always take it personally, always sulk, and refuse to change - what I realised was, this constructive criticism was actually nice. It was helpful and the coach gave it to me because they actually saw potential. They knew, more than me, that I could nail hip whips if I just tweaked it a little. It was an encouraging push, not a patronising "Yeah, you can do this!" where I then find out I can't actually do it at sign offs.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that I didn't want to be patronised, I did want to be helped. I didn't want to be cheered on, I wanted to be criticised. The only way I'm going to break through that wall is if someone slaps me round the face, says "Stop sulking and f*cking practice!"
It might take me a while, but Level 1 took me a while and I did it. I'm not going to achieve anything sulking and just not trying. And when I do achieve something, I'm not going to expect a round of applause and sky writing, I'm just going to give myself a cheeky smile, mentally pat myself on the back, and maybe treat myself to a cupcake afterwards.

Sunday 6 July 2014

Week 52: The Trouser Snake

Now, I'm going to admit, I really can't remember what happened last practice on Saturday. I know there was pack work, and whips, but I can't remember it in great detail. However, a new weekly session was also introduced this week. Level 2's now have a Tuesday practice dedicated purely to game play tactics and pack work.

On the drive there, it occurred to me how nervous I still get about derby. Last week, I talked about how I'd got over my fear of skating in a pack, but I don't think I actually have. I worry about standing on people's feet, wheel locking, falling over, someone running over my fingers, tripping someone up. And then I worry about my own derby stance, my stability, how I look at my feet all the time, how I'm not particularly loud or confident. This was all going through my mind on the way to practice. Furthermore, it was at another new venue, so this also meant another new floor to get used to.
I found the venue and the right hall and started to kit up. The floor was polished concrete, which looked crazy slippy and painful to fall on. But I got up and went for a skate round. It was surprisingly grippy and not that scary at all really.

After a knackering warm up (knee taps on the straights, crossovers on the corners, plough stops on the whistle), we went through some basic pack work for the skaters who had never done it before. We practised recycling, pack avoidance, stopping in a pack, working through a pack, and falling in a pack. One of my derby wives is an excellent pack communicator. She will tell you where she's going, where you're going to go, what gaps need filling, what the pack needs to do, etc. She is just brilliant at it. However, she wasn't there tonight, so I took it upon myself to give it a go. I'd like to say I was a good communicator. I definitely told people where I was going (even if it was a little - "Coming round the inside...I mean outside!", "Someone take the inside, front line...I mean front, inside line!", etc) and I'd like to think I kept the pack in check with "Pack is long!", "Fill these gaps!", "Pack it up!", "We have no pack!!" and more.

After pack work, we moved onto 4 walls. This is where you have 4 people in a line, creating a wall. We went through the basics, starting at just skating in a line. Learning how to keep in line with the person on the inside, how the person on the outside will need to skate faster, etc. We even practised how to stop in a wall without it breaking up. After that, we learnt the roles of the 4 wall. How the person onside the inside (#1) guards that inside line with their life. How #2 has the one of the hardest jobs as they have to be able to move from the inside to the outside and help the skaters on either side to protect their side. How #3 moves with #4 to protect the outside if necessary and how they can leave the wall to go take out a player or help their own jammer but will return back to the wall as if on a bungee cord. #4 is the pack communicator and it is their job to keep an eye on the track and to tell the wall where to go and what they need to be doing.
We also practised with another skater being the jammer and we had to move as a wall to prevent them from getting through and we had to communicate where the jammer was (Lane 1, 2, 3 or 4.) It was actually really good fun, and I found I liked being in position #2 the most. I liked communicating where the jammer was and being able to move from one side of the track to the other.
We soon moved onto pack formations. These are different shapes a wall could form, mainly to help them speed up but so they could easily move back into a wall. The first position we learnt was called the "Snake" or "Zig Zag". There was a running tally of inuenndos from the session (you cannot say "hard", "tight", and "penetrate" all in one sentence!) so the snake soon became know as the "Trouser Snake". The Trouser Snake was formed when two alternate skaters would move ever so slightly forward and across, creating a kind of zig-zag. This helps with speeding up and stopping so you don't end up tripping over each others feet.
The second position was "The Diamond". This is when the zig-zag moves into each other more and one skater moves to the front, one to the back, and two in the middle, creating a diamond shape. This is the most efficient shape to form when picking up speed as a pack.
As a pack, we were awesome as moving from one shape to another. A fellow skater said "We're just like the Red Arrows!" until someone tripped over a skate!

The session ended with a bit of pack racing. I decided to be the skater at the back of the diamond, which was fine, and it turns out I skate a lot faster and more confidently as a pack than I do by myself! I don't know whether it's because I instinctively get lower in a pack, or if I just feel more safe with people around me. Who knows? I do know, though, that I skated much faster in pack racing than I thought I could!
Two hours flew by and it was a really enjoyable session. I love seeing how the skills we are learning are used when in a game situation. These Tuesday sessions will slowly start introducing us to more game play scenarios and, hopefully, we'll be awesome at it by the time we get to Level 3!

Monday 23 June 2014

Week 51: Summertime & The Skating Is Easy...

After another week off (I'm NSOing a lot now, too!), it was back to normal skating. It was a hot day, a hot, muggy, sweaty day. I would usually say that every day is a good day for skating, but today was horrid. I had a headache before I'd even got to practice, but I took some paracetamol, drank a tonne of water, and got to it!
Our coach didn't seem to notice the heat, though, and gave us a killer of a warm up. Laterals, stepping across the track, squats on the whistle, knee taps, stops, sprint laps, backwards laps! I'm not complaining, though, I love an excuse to get in some backwards skating practice, and it certainly made me realise how lazy I am getting with knee taps and plough stops. My left knee taps are just not improving, it still takes me ages to get back up. My plough stops also seem to be taking ages. I seem to have forgotten that even though I can do it, I still have to keep working on it!

I was recently messaged by one of our coaches, asking if I could look after a new Level 2 who was a bit unsure of pack skating. She described her issue perfectly - at Level 1 (now pack skating has been removed), you get to skate around, happily by yourself, and then at Level 2, you're thrown in with a load of other skaters and told to skate very close to them! It made me realise how far I'd come with my confidence in pack skating. I found the very idea terrifying to begin with. I remember when an all-star skater came up to me and went "Soon, you'll have to be able to skate...this close to people. You'll have to get used to touching people and being touched." Now, it doesn't really bother me. I do constantly look at my feet, I am very handsy, and I am weary of wheel locking, but I'm not as scared as I once was. Falling over doesn't even phase me now. I had a very awkward fall this week, and almost got another lady's skate in a rather intimate area... But, I just laughed, made sure we were all okay, and got my ass back in the pack.
We did our usual pack work - pack speed, wheel locking, even a bit of bumping (where people hit into us, quite gently). We also had a go at moving through a pack. Unfortunately, I was forgotten about and had to go last but, by that point, the pack was getting a little cocky and decided to actually block me! It took me ages to get through that pack! It was fun, though!

Next was something new to me: Leaning. I'm sure a few of my skater friends from higher levels tried to teach me before, but I had no idea what they were on about! We were taught it in steps. First, you had to have dead arms, and then lean from your shoulder right down your side to your hips, against the wall. Like you are trying to push the wall over. If you can pick up the foot closest to the wall, and feel like you could stay there all day, then you are doing it right! We then moved on to leaning against people. This was alright standing still, but got quite awkward while rolling, especially with all the wheel locking! Furthermore, it didn't half make you ache! My poor legs and side were killing me that we had to keep swapping sides to even it out. Next, we were turned against each other, and leaning became pushing. It was exactly the same as pushing, except instead of working together, you were trying to push each other out of bounds, and you had to remember to yield once they were out of bounds to avoid a penalty. This was so much fun! It was the first kind of contact work I have done, and I loved it! I think we were meant to give in a little bit, but my partner was showing no mercy so I gave it my all too! Needless to say, she was much stronger than me, but I still managed to get her out. We also had a coach keeping an eye on us and giving us tips on our stance, posture, and technique. It was tiring but great!
After a short break, we moved on to endurance skating. Fortunately, it wasn't going to be a timed 25 in 5. It was just skating for 5 minutes, following the jammer line, working on our crossovers, etc. I found it very useful. I am useless at doing crossovers during endurance, so I took this as an opportunity to focus on them. I made myself do crossovers for as long as I could, and soon got it down to doing two on the straights and cruising round the corners. I did keep an eye out for my laps and managed 23 1/2, which is a quarter of a lap less than my PB, but I was nowhere near as tired. I was out of breath, sure, but usually I'm collapsed on the floor, legs burning, trying to suck in as much air as possible. This time, I sat down, caught my breath, and actually felt alright! I know that if I nail those crossovers, and really push for it, that 25 in 5 will be mine! Afterwards, one of my coaches came over and told me how much my speed skating has improved. "Not really" I said, "I'm stuck at 23!"
"Oh" he said, "but your skating has definitely improved!", a fellow slater chimed in too "Yeah, you've definitely improved!" This was nice to hear. I agree, my skating has improved, but it is always nice to hear that others see it too.

That was the end of our track time, so we moved down to the end for some transition practice. We went through the break down of transitions, that we did last week, and then just kept practising them. I kind of cheat with transitions and, instead of picking my foot up and putting it behind me, I keep just my front two wheels on the floor and kind of swivel it behind me and my left foot follows. I cannot do this anti-clockwise, though, or so I thought... After a while of practising, one of the coaches gave me the challenge to see how many I could do in one length. Going clockwise, I managed 4 or 5. "We have our Queen of Transitions!"
"Hardly" I said, "I can only do them that way"
"No you can't! I've seen you do them the other way! Just don't think about it. Look at this wall, and then turn to look at that wall. Try and do as many as you can." I skated out a little anxiously, but just tried to think about how many I could fit in. I think I manage about 3, if a little sloppy, but I did it! Woohoo! I kept trying that way and could occasionally do it, but it was very sloppy. "I've been watching you, trying to figure out what is going wrong... I now know! Your right foot is the dominant one, so it's turning before your left has even moved. Make sure you move your left first before your right"
So I set out to give that a go. I was thinking far too much, and my mental block came back, I went to turn my left foot, freaked out, stopped halfway, I think my right had gone already, I couldn't regain my balance, and I fell pretty hard on my back. I sat up with a laugh and a thumbs up, though. "Please remember your derby stance!" said a concerned looking coach. I kept trying, but after that, my mind had taken over, and I just lost it. I was gutted, but I now know that I can do them, it's just my silly head stopping me!
I stretched and went home with the most painful headache - one of those ones where any movement causes it to pound and make you feel sick, paired with an achey shoulder, a sore back, and a bruised butt. I hadn't felt this good after derby for a while, though! I was falling in love with it all over again.