We recently started contact drills in earnest. Even though this is why we all join the sport, it's still a shock to the system. Like okay, we are all finally getting this skating thing down, and even skating close to other people -- now we have to hit people and not fall down when they hit us?!
For those of you who are new to the sport and have not yet done hitting, it is actually quite difficult. Getting up close to someone and landing a legal hit takes really good control, timing, balance, and strength. Like so much in derby, it is juggling about 5 different things at once.
The other day at practice, we had our first real injury of the season, an ankle break. Honestly, I don't even know what to say about it. It was the damndest thing, this girl just suddenly fell over and was screaming in pain, her ankle snapped like a twig.
After the last practice that I wrote about I had a little bit of a ... moment. It turned out that the "package" was delivered C.O.D.: I had rolled my ankle hard enough to force me to skip a practice. Much better now, thank you, but at the time I panicked and called a friend. Basically, I was a little worried because pack work was so difficult and it's such an integral part of the game. How the hell am I supposed to play if I can't skate in a pack?! What is going to happen when people start hitting me if I can't even stay on my feet?! #@%#*&!!!
I think we have all had that experience with someone who just doesn't understand your values/anxieties/perspective. Her response was just the teensiest bit lacking in social skills. Basically, she said "it can't be that hard, don't let them get you down." Of course, when you're off skates, "it can't be that hard" means "you just suck too much," which is more than enough to throw anybody into a tailspin of self-doubt.
Then, in rapid succession, I had a few of revelations that really helped set my attitude back in the right direction:
- One of the girls that I had been practicing with over the summer remarked how different Fresh Meat training was from the very basic skate training we had been doing before. Even though it was run by derby girls and had derby in mind, it was very rudimentary and focused on building from the ground up one block at a time. We covered skills at a much slower pace, doing them over and over, whereas FM is more fast-paced.
- One of the vets on my team, whom I consider to be really speedy, told us that we were doing a good job and that when she started out, she was always the last girl in the pack. Now her footwork is so quick and she is one of the fastest girls out there!
- I was randomly reading information about tryouts and came across the following nugget of wisdom: Push your limits as you become comfortable so that you are constantly teetering between comfortable and uncomfortable. This is how you know you are progressing!
This last thing really made it click. As far as the individual basics of skating are concerned, I'm in a fine-tuning stage -- I can always reach deeper on crossovers, or stop quicker on t-stops and plows (or not fall on my ass during a tomahawk!). But as far as working as a team, pack awareness, and interacting with other players doing unexpected stuff, I'm just at the beginning. It's getting harder because I am doing well and the bar is being raised, and it will probably be like the for the entirety of Fresh Meat and likely even my rookie season. It only gets easier by plowing straight through it.
So for you beginners reading along, don't get alarmed if it gets harder before it gets easier. And for the vets - hey, if you have any lived-experience advice on close skating, I'll take it! Especially if you had a moment where you were like "OH! THIS is what I'm doing wrong!"
I knew that there is a real name vs. derby name controversy within roller derby, but--because I have not had to go through the naming process--it had never occurred to me that there might be something amiss with the way names are registered.
Auntie Social at "This is How I Roll" lays out the problem pretty straight up, questioning the authority of the Two Evils Name Registry and a system whereby people who have been skating under their name for years can get snaked out of their name by, say, a newbie ref in Australia.
On some level, I don't feel like I'm entitled to have an opinion on this -- I'm not even meat yet, I should just worry about one thing at a time. On the other hand, I'm not planning on being the Roller Wannabe forever, and the derby name that I have been thinking of as mine (which I won't share because I'm superstitious!) might require me to write some pretty pathetic entreaty emails even though it's clearly different by a hard consonant sound from the next-closest names.
I guess my answer comes back around to the real name vs. derby name controversy: what if people wanted to skate under their real name, but there already was a Sally Smith? What if there are two NBA players called Mike Jones? Professional players' identities are multimillion-dollar brands that they have every interest in protecting and controlling, but in the end there is nothing that they can do about their name. They have to differentiate themselves in other ways. This is life, and it's kind of a pain. When a friend of mine discovered that her stage name had been taken by a roller derby player in the same city, she was mad as hell, but had to suck it up and just prove that she was the better What's-her-Face. When we come up with our own names, avoiding duplicates seems fair, but the prohibitions against similar names and the "arbitrary rejection" clause seem to go a little far.
Additionally, the algorithm that they seem to be using to determine similarity seems to compare phoneme-by-phoneme or perhaps letter by letter, essentially ruling out names that are puns on the same phrase. For example "Scary Bradshaw" and "Carrie Bandsaw" would probably turn up "very high" similarity, allowing one skater to shut out the other (or, as seems to be the case pretty often, exercise a pocket veto and just not respond to email requests). If they're trying to prohibit riffs on the same pun, they should probably just say that. I suspect that the reason they don't is that it would be apparent how much it restricts skaters in their name choices.
To me, there's something about the way that the system is constructed that is a little disappointing. Of course, I recognize that derby is 100% volunteer run, and that the keepers of the keys do so on their own personal time. For this, we salute them! But it also seems that the name registry is running on a 6+ month time lag, which means that people can find out that their name is rejected after they've started bouting and buying uniforms. And names that are taken are taken forever, even if they're from a 12 person league out of Nowheresville or the player quits after 1 season.
I don't know what could make this rule better, but I feel like there should be some way of determining whether a player is high-profile enough to merit taking the name forever. If the primary concern is that it will be confusing to fans and announcers, it might make sense to say that anyone who has ever played in a regional championship has superior claim to a name. If the primary concern is that of intellectual property and wanting to be totally unique... well, it might be worth examining whether the level of protectiveness (and perhaps even treading into arbitrariness) of the current system is entirely warranted given that players have many other ways of creating unmistakeably individual skate personas, even if they're both plays on the same reference.