Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Declaration of Derby: GO!

In case you need a formal justification to go hang out with your friends and drink beer while watching really good derby this weekend at the WFTDA National Championship in Philly, I’m here to give it to you: watching really good roller derby will make you a better roller derby player. Consider it part of your training program – just like practicing and going to the gym.

According to a November 10th article in the Scientific American, people imitate that which they see (and hear), and if a person watches someone else doing something similar to what he or she already does, his or her network of “mirror” neurons show significantly greater activity than if the person were to watch, say, hockey instead of roller derby – there are strategic similarities, but we play derby, not hockey. So what does this mean, you ask? It means super scientists are really freaking close to being able to tell us for sure that if you want to excel at something, viewing others who already excel will help you imitate the actions that contribute to excelling. And after all, that IS what you want to do, isn’t it?!

When I was a young derby player I could give a rat’s ass about watching other people play roller derby. While my teammates were traveling every-other weekend to go see bouts held by other leagues up and down the East coast, I was doing derby admin and god-knows-what. As time went on, my teammates seemed to get better at playing derby, while I was completely and utterly stagnant. Now, don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of factors that played into my stagnacity (yeah, I made that up!), but certainly on that list was my almost refusal to watch other people play. After all, I already spent a huge chunk of my life practicing and playing and another huge chunk building our league and derby in general around the country. I thought I already knew derby, therefore I should be becoming a better player. Wrong. I knew derby the business, not derby the sport.

In a way, suffering sequential shoulder injuries last year was almost a blessing. It caused me to slow down and gave me the opportunity to accidentally see a lot of really good derby that ignited my desire to not only NOT fall behind the skill set of my peers, but also to consciously challenge myself to excel as a derby player – to BECOME a derby player, not just a “rollergirl”.

Watching other people do what you want to do better is fucking exciting, especially if you can personally relate to someone who has those qualities you so desperately want. Many times we make excuses for why we can’t do something, because it’s easier than actually trying. During the time I was frustrated that all my teammates were getting better and I wasn’t, I decided that I was merely too fat to compete – that I would need to lose weight to play derby.

Buddha bless those girls who somehow get past their insecurities faster than the rest of us do, because they serve as our role models in derby and in turn help the rest of us get over ourselves. This weekend I guarantee that you will see someone you can relate to. Maybe she’s way taller than all her teammates, maybe she’s way shorter. Maybe she’s a slight blocker, maybe she’s a bulky jammer. Maybe she’s only 19, or maybe she’s in her 40s. Watching someone else who shares your perceived “flaw” do something amazing is sure to help you shake your excuse and go for the gold.

For the more advanced skaters who aren’t skating this weekend, or who maybe get knocked out early, watching really good derby will give you ideas about how you can improve your game play. Let’s face it, you watch your own team and league skate ALL THE TIME. Because of this, you have limited examples of alternative ways to do things. If you’re lucky, you get to play against or watch your travel team play against other leagues’ teams who are more than likely in your same geographical area. Nationals, however, brings together teams and styles from all over the country. By attending Nationals, you get to see a variety of other proven ways to do things. Some will reinforce why you shouldn’t do something a certain way, while others may give you ideas about new things to try when you get back home.

“Well, I’m not going,” you say, “but I will be watching the bouts over the internet.” Watching bout footage is great, but just like there’s no substitute for watching your favorite band perform in person, there’s also no substitute for watching really amazing derby in person. For one, you’re likely to see your new derby crush in the stands several hours after she’s just played “the best game you’ve ever saw,” and if you have the guts you just might be able to ask her something about her game play. Can you do that from home? No. No, you can’t. Secondly, if you’re viewing from home you’re totally missing out on the vibe from the crowd, and that’s just a bummer. Third, well, I’ll be there. C’mon, it’s Philly – you know I wouldn’t miss this being only 2 hours away! Seriously, if you’re there and you see me, say “hi” and give me some feedback on the direction you’d like to see me take this blog. I’ve got a couple of ideas for 2010, but they require audience participation. And, if you buy me a beer (or four), I might just turn into my evil, touchy twin: Cindy Grope-her. Not everyone likes Cindy Grope-her, but most people do. Just know that by purchasing me a beer you are agreeing to not hold me liable for any touching or fondling that may ensue. Beer purchase is not a guarantee of touching; if you are creepy, you will not be touched.

On that note, I’m off to do some laundry for this weekend – I can’t wait to see all of you in Philly!


DeadpanAnn said...

Philly's too far from South Mississippi, but I'll be watching online. Have fun, and drink a beer for me!

Allie Gator said...

Oh yippie! I can't wait to see you in Philly! We'll definitely have to grab a beer together and watch some bouts!

Kill said...

I can attest to this - I went to Heartland Havoc to watch because I had just beem chosen by my league as the director for when we'd be hosting the next year. When I came home, I made the biggest leap in skill that I have to date. I was motivated and excited to play again, and it was awesome. So... get thee to Philly (if you can afford it, which I can't)!

Tasha said...

Awesome advice dude...I should take you up on that. I think my problem is that whenever I go to another team's bout all I can think the whole time is "damn I wish that was ME up there right now!"

Kendra Blood said...

>To become a derby player, not just a “rollergirl”.

There is a lot of greatness in this post, but this phrase really spoke to me.

Some rumblings I've heard since Nationals is about splitting derby into "professional" and "amateur". I'm not sure those are the right terms, but your "derby player" versus "rollergirl" seem to echo the sentiment.