Derby in Translation

I have been living in Finland for just over one year now. And although I’m not entirely homesick yet, I do find myself from time to time thinking about my derby life in Australia. The problem is, it feels like a lifetime ago, and while I have a lot of the same things here, it’s just not the same.

I realise that a lot of the time that I was skating in Australia, I was a newbie and had only just started bouting. Not to mention the raw and fresh meat training. Yes, correct ladies and gents. We first have raw meat, which is learning basic skills. When you pass raw meat, you move on to fresh meat. After you pass the minimum skills test, you are inducted into the league. At first, it’s intimidating, and it’s almost as if you’re thrown into the deep end. You have no idea what you are doing, or how you’re supposed to do it. But your trainers and refs get you through. It’s frustrating, overwhelming and yet it’s still the thing that you count down the hours, minutes and seconds for. Though in Adelaide, it’s not a given that you will be able to join a league. You have to earn your place.

I joined the league as they began their home team season. Being a small league, there were only two teams, The Dames of Hazard and The Vigilantes. I felt very strongly about which team I wanted to be chosen for. I worked hard in training, and in my own time. Did you know? That in my city, you could pay $5 to a recreation centre, and get free use of an indoor basketball court. You may even have three courts, all to yourself, if you’re lucky. This is where I did a lot of my own work. I practiced my good side, my bad side, turning toe stops, weaving, carving, even endurance. I did all the things that I didn’t want to do in front of others. I worked my ass off until I didn’t struggle anymore. During fresh meat tests and training I would go 5 times a week. Unfortunately in Finland, I’ve noticed, not a lot of people want to help out with venues, especially if it has nothing to do with volleyball or floorball. What even is that anyway?
So I worked and worked. And my wish came true. I was chosen to be a Vigilante. 


The kids are alright.

I work with kids. I work with skaters. Sometimes these two are much more alike than you'd think.

The group of kids I mostly work with are really competitive. They absolutely hate losing. You can motivate them to do most things if you take out your stopwatch and time them. And if it took them 16 seconds to gather all the toys from the yard today,  they'll try to take out a couple of seconds from that time the next time they do it. Does this remind you of anyone? Have you ever worked with jammers?

Even the Polly Pockets know life is better on roller skates.

We spend some time outside every day with the kids. And every single day we go through the same motions: "Yes, you need to bring a jacket. Go put on your shoes. Everyone should wear a hat. Are those your outdoor pants? Tie your shoe laces. Zip up your jacket." We might not wear helmets, kneepads and mouthguards (though it wouldn't hurt!), but there is still all this required gear you need to put on before you are eligible to go outside. Get ready for gearcheck, kid.

With children, you have to give a lot of advice. Kids have a limited attention span, so you have to keep the advice short and sweet. And yet, they are eager to try it all. Half of them will start doing the thing when you are half-way through explaining it, and some of them will have a lot of questions about the activity. And once we start doing it, someone is bound to get hurt. They'll trip on their own feet, someone will knock them down or kick them. That's what happens in roller derby too, right? We are eager to learn new stuff, eager to knock each other out. Most of the take outs are harmless, and will only cause you bruises. You have a couple of seconds to get up, and keep playing. Same goes with kids - "oh just get up, you'll forget you even fell once you start running again." Any potential upset will be over much sooner if the grown-ups don't make a big deal about it.
Juke Boxx talking it through, step by step.

In roller derby we have rules. Lots and lots of rules. We have officials who enforce the rules, and give us penalties. At work, I'm the official, and my rulebook is in my head, but the penaltybox is very real. You get too heated, you sit out a minute (our rules didn't get updated April 1st, one minute penalties still stand), and get back to the games after calming down. Sometimes that minute could save the whole day, sometimes you end up needing two minutes. The challenge is to find the right moment to make the call, and how to explain it to the kid. "Hey, you'll get back to the game in a minute, but just take a couple of deep breaths. You get that punching people isn't okay no matter how upset you are, right?"

I'm not sure I'd be the kind of coach I am today if I worked in an office somewhere. Every day at work I get to define the pack. I have to know everything that happens everywhere at any given time. I'm responsible for up to 20 kids at a time, and I have to learn how to interact with every single one of them. I have to learn how to motivate them, how they respond to different sorts of feedback, how to read them when they say nothing at all, how to get them to perform the way I wish they would and know they could. Who plays well with whom, which ones never seem to get along. I have to earn their trust, and use it responsibly. I have to understand the power of encouragement, I have to understand the damage thoughtlessly chosen words can cause.

So yeah, at the end of the day, my job only makes me a better coach, who knew. The kids are alright.