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Roller Derby Blog | September 2014

Roller Derby Made Me Like Girls (But Not in the Way You Are Thinking)

24th September 2014

Words By Blockodile Dundee

Although it will soon become very clear, I should preface this by saying that it is not a “coming out” story - this is the story of how roller derby taught me to be friends with girls.

I read somewhere a few years ago an off-hand remark by Bonnie D. Stroir about how most of us [derby players] were friends with more guys than girls in our pre-derby lives. I don’t remember the context, but I do remember being dubious of where she had found her data. Nevertheless, it piqued my curiosity learninh that my experience was a more common one than I realised.

I wasn’t exactly a tomboy growing up (although you probably couldn’t say the same of me these days) but my entire childhood was spent surrounded by boys - I had two brothers, and the only cousins I regularly saw were dudes. As I got older, I continued to make friends with boys effortlessly, while kind of struggling to befriend girls. I didn’t get girls. They talked about stuff I didn’t identify with. They were quite vocal when they didn’t like what I wore or said or did. They were really intimidating, and they made me feel bad about myself. Girls were mean. Ms Norbury’s monologue at the end of Mean Girls resonated with me probably more than it should have. I felt like she was speaking to me; I knew first hand exactly what she was talking about.

As author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her TEDx talk, girls are taught (whether explicitly, or by the way society shapes us) that we’re in competition with one another, usually for the attention of men (or high school boys, as the case may be). When I was younger, girls modified their behaviour and said things they thought boys wanted them say. They would cut each other down and go out of their way to cause trouble for one another, and I just wasn’t emotionally equipped to deal with that kind of thing. You didn’t get that when you were friends with boys - what you saw was what you got. I suppose this is an idea I’ve clung to throughout my life, and as such it just never occurred to me that it was unusual to have lots of Platonic male friends.

Here are some fast facts about me: I am 100% pro-women. I am for gender equality. I’m planning on writing my PhD dissertation on female heroes in literature. I think that cats do, in fact, need feminism, for all of the reasons I’ve mentioned above.

But five years ago, I could count on one hand the number of girls I was friends with.

Then I started playing roller derby.  I met academics with whom I nerded out about philosophy and literature. I met crafters with whom I crocheted and traded patterns. I met girls who didn’t censor themselves. I met girls so hilarious I struggled to breathe whenever we were together. I met girls who didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought. I met girls who stood up for themselves and for the rest of us. I met girls who wanted to see me succeed.

Roller derby was this social space I’d never experienced before - we were allowed to do what we wanted, say what we wanted, and dress how we wanted, without fear of retribution and without worrying about what girls should say or do. For the first time in my life, girls weren’t fighting one another; they weren’t trying to cut each other down. Instead, they held one anothers’ hands and built each other up.

I understand that there are exceptions; roller derby certainly isn’t free of the Mean Girl behaviour we grew up with in high school - I’d be delusional if I said it was. But those behaviours are not by any means part of the dominant discourse in derby, and they’re certainly not tolerated or encouraged by the majority of us. I also understand that not everyone had the same experiences with girls or with boys when they were growing up, but it seems there were at least a good few of us. I think the issue was simply that I didn’t know where to look to find the girls I needed in my life.

So, for the one thousandth time: thank you, roller derby, for making everything better.

Thank you Richard Tompsett for the use of this photo.

8 Week Coaching Challenge - Week 8

18th September 2014

18th September 2014

Looking at your coaching through someone else’s eyes…

For whatever reason, the whole ‘reality TV’ seems to leave me cold, I have, however, seen enough to wonder about our ability to give those closest to us reliable feedback.

Watching an early round of one of the talent shows (e.g. Idol, So you think you can dance, etc.) it’s amazing to see the absolute shocked expressions of some truly untalented individual receive their first dose of ‘reality’.

It’s hard not to wonder how many of the contestants have managed to go through their lives thinking they were adequately skilled without someone pulling them up and giving them the a bout of the truth.

Of course, receiving honest, open and direct feedback can be one of the most confronting experiences of our lives (ask those TV show contestants).

It can also be a huge step in the right direction of being a better coach.

As an interesting aside, coaches are quick to evaluate an athlete based on some physical tests, their performance in competition or by some other means.

This is seen as an integral part of coaching – see where the athlete is, plan some interventions, implement them and re-evaluate at a later date.

Yet we don’t like to shine the spotlight on ourselves, see what we need to improve and go about improving those inadequacies.

This needs to change.

Coaching Challenge 8: Invite a Coach to Evaluate You

Yip, this probably going to be the toughest Coach Challenge so far. And yip, you’re going to have to swallow your ego and your pride.

Arguably, it might even be your most important Challenge too.

To soften the blow (slightly), invite a coach who is from outside your immediate environment – another club? Another sport? Another age group?

The further from your environment the coach is, the easier it might be to take the feedback onboard.

Remember, the coach is evaluating your ‘coaching ability’ not your technical and tactical knowledge.

Some things they should be looking for:

  • Your ability to connect the new information you’re presenting to information you’ve already covered.
  • The flow of the session – does each part of training build from the previous section?
  • Your organisation – is all the equipment ready to go, in the correct place, or is there too much down time trying to sort it out during the session?
  • How are you the tracking athlete’s improvement?
  • Are your athletes aware of what they need to improve?
  • Your talk to action ratio.

These are just a few of the questions they might use (have a look at the previous challenges for more ideas).


After the session it’s time for that feedback. And it’s not going to be easy – coaching is deeply personal.

Be strong. No arguments. Just take it on the chin.

And if it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable or annoyed, your evaluator is probably being too nice and you’re going to have to repeat the process.

Big thanks to PROPELPERFORM for this week's challenge!

Featured Skater - Team Australia's Mad Mel Arena

12th September 2014

Derby Name: Mad Mel Arena

Derby Number: 505

Age: 32

League: Victorian Roller Derby League

Position: Jammer

How did you get into derby and how long have you been playing?
I got into derby after seeing a poster at my local rink and watching 'Whip It'.

Highlight of your derby career?
I have many, but will choose two:
WFTDA Divisional Playoffs 2013 & Roller Derby Xtreme 2012

What is your personal derby goal?
Rocking the WFTDA World Champs and World Cup.

Who is your Derby Idol?
Again, more than one. Sorry!
Bonnie Thunders from Gotham - she's just a bit of a derby superstar! ;)
And (the skater formerly known as) Kitty DeCapitate from London - an ex team-mate and original home grown derby inspiration. An all-round awesome chick!

What is the best piece of advice you could give and up and coming derby player?
It's okay to fall.

Thanks to Roaringstorm Photography for allowing us to use this super image of Mad Mel.

8 Week Coaching Challenge - Week 7

9th September 2014

Before reading further have a quick think where, on the following continuums, the sport you coach falls onto:

  •     Individual v Team
  •     Skill-dominant (e.g. golf) v Physically-dominant (e.g. rowing)
  •     Early(er) specialisation (e.g. gymnastics) v Late(r) specialisation (e.g. triathlon)
  •     Land-based v Water based (v Air based?)
  •     Non-contact (e.g. swimming) v Contact (e.g. basketball) v Collision (e.g. rugby)
  •     Cyclical (e.g. marathon running) v Acyclical (e.g. rugby)

Now list sports that is lie on the ‘opposite’ ends of some of the above continuums to your sport.

Continue reading…

As David Hodge wrote in “Why S&C Coaches should get more Credit“ Strength & Conditioning coaches are often the busy bees of the sports coaching world, pollinating ideas stolen from one sport and applying them to another sport.

From my own experience, each sport I have worked with had a unique philosophy, tradition, techniques, or culture that I have been able to apply to another sport.

Unfortunately, there are many coaches who are only interested in learning from their own particular sport, and miss out on some valuable knowledge.

Their inability to see beyond the differences of the sports blinds them to potential gold mines of information.

Instead of thinking ‘that won’t work in my sport’ they should be thinking ‘how, when & where can I use that?’

Coach Challenge 7: Spend time with a Coach from a Totally Different Sport

Based on the sport you thought was the ‘opposite’ of your sport, spend time observing, questioning and learning from that sport.

(For some ideas on where and what you can learn click here.)

Step 1: Contact the coach. No doubt they’ll be open to the experience.

Step 2: Find out all you can about the upcoming session(s). What time of the season is it? What are the season goals? What are the session goals? How will the coach determine if the session is a success?

Step 3: Observe and take notes.

Some things to look for:

  • What is the culture like?
  • How does the coach give feedback?
  • What is the structure of the session? Work intervals? Rest intervals?
  • What techniques does the coach use to facilitate learning?
  • If they work with younger athletes, what ‘Difficult Parent Strategies’ does the coach have?
  • How do they improve their physicality? And mentality?
  • How is the coach fostering independence?
  • What elements are coach-driven?
  • What elements are athlete-driven?
  • How did they group their athletes?
  • What do the injured athletes do?

Step 4: Reflect with the coach.

Organise to have a debrief with the coach.

Without judgment, try to understand the underlying philosophies. Find out what the coach thought about the session and what would they could improve.

Step 5: Reflect on your own program.

  • What can you eliminate from your program?
  • What can you improve in your program?
  • What can you add to your program?

Don’t forget to also reflect on what you do well too.

There is a second component to this challenge.

Chances are you’re either going to be thrilled with the learning and want to generate some change OR you’re going to think it was a waste of time and never do it again.

Either way, hold your judgements for a couple of weeks.

Let the ideas stew. Play with them in your head. Pose questions to yourself. You might surprise yourself.

Below are some sporting groups/coaches you might learn from:

  • Coaches of a hearing- or sight- impaired squad for clues on how to communicate better
  • Intro-to-gymnastics classes for group control, teaching independence & setting up routines
  • Track athletes for those who know their bodies well
  • Rugby League forwards, who don’t care how their bodies feel
  • PE teachers who find the challenge point for all 25 kids of random enthusiasm
  • Jon Hood’s hockey team on how they maximise time on task.

A big thanks to propelperform for this week's challenge!

Featured Skater - Team Australia's Christy Demons

5th September 2014

Derby Name: Christy Demons

Derby Number:  14

Age: 27

League: Victorian Roller Derby League

Position: Blocker/Jammer

How did you get into derby and how long have you been playing?

My friend Candice invited me to come see her band play at what she described as 'some lesbian roller derby thing'. When I saw the derby I loved it at first sight, joined up and didn't look back! I'm currently in my sixth year of skating.

Highlight of your derby career?

So many... one that stands out is playing in Roller Derby Xtreme on the banked track, discovering a totally different style of derby and falling in love with the banked track rules. But also little things, like those moments where your team is totally in sync and executing some beautiful plays, or when you pull off a particular skill in a game that you've been working on at training.

What is your personal derby goal?

I feel like I'm saying this for every question but there's genuinely too many to mention because I have a lot of goals. In general though, I'm going to work really hard and learn all the things so I can be the best skater I can be, help other skaters improve by sharing what I know, and invent a new secret strategy no one has ever seen before!

Who is your Derby Idol?

Too many to mention! I watch a lot of derby and I am constantly inspired by heaps of new and old skaters who I see play (Australian as well as international). There are so many skaters that I look up to and try to learn from.

What is the best piece of advice you could give and up and coming derby player?

Do a lot of outdoor skating, seek feedback from as many people as you can, ask questions, try new things, don't be afraid of looking silly, and have fun. Oh, and practice your bad foot as much as your good foot, if not more!

Shout out to Dave Arnold Photography for this wicked shot of Demons jamming for VRDL See More

8 Week Coaching Challenge - Week 6

2nd September 2014

Experience suggests there are two types of coaches. The small minority are those that have elaborate, colour-coded 8 to 52 week plans, detailing every aspect of training they intend to periodised and modify.

On the other hand, there is the vast majority of coaches, those that turn up with no plan, very little forethought and a ‘let’s wing this’ attitude.

The obvious negatives of the first type of coach are potential time wasting as a single sprained ankle can negate the entire plan; while we probably don’t have to explain the cons of the latter type of coach planning.

As with most things is life, striking a balance is probably the optimal way to plan.

Previously, we have challenged coaches to provide a visible plan for the session, now we’re taking it further.

Coach Challenge 6: Keep an up-to-date, 3 week Rolling Plan.

The idea is to have a fairly good idea what your athletes will be doing in 3 weeks time.

While this might take some time initially, it becomes easier as the season continues.

As a basic rule I spend 1/6th of the time planning Week 3; 1/3rd of my planning time on Week 2; and at least half of the planning time on the upcoming week.

This means that there isn’t necessarily an increase in planning time, just a difference focus.

The advantages for your athletes are substantial:

  • By planning 3 weeks in advance we minimise the emotional aspect of a great win or bad loss. Understanding we probably react more to a loss than to a win (approximately by a factor of three), anything we can do to prevent changing the path dramatically is beneficial. While minor adjustments can be made, this Challenge makes it difficult to implement knee-jerk, 180-degree changes in philosophy or tactics.
  • Keeping an eye on the third week ahead we have the opportunity to build towards a goal/drill/game plan. We need to stop this culture within coaching of ‘monkey see, monkey do’, where we suddenly want to add something another coach uses into our own sessions.
  • In line with the point above, many of us are susceptible to changing our coaching drills and games too frequently. Often, athletes need a little more time to master what you’re asking of them, and appreciate that time before they have to master a new skill/drill.
  • Of course, the another benefit is we spend less time talking and explaining and the athletes spend more time doing, learning and problem solving.
  • On the other hand, there are coaches who rely on the same repetitive games/drills/skills for an entire season. These coaches will benefit from the time to recognise this, seek new games/drills/skills and integrate them into their training.
  • 3 Weeks is not that far ahead that we can’t adjust to unforeseen circumstances, for example injuries, variations in form, etc.
  • The simple act of writing down a plan, away from immediate pressures gives us perspective of what is actually important.
  • Having written the plan, and kept track of the changes, we have an awesome resource to reflect and learn from (a horribly underrated aspect of great coaches).

So let’s give our athletes the best we can by making sure we have a good idea where we’re heading.

Thanks to propelperform for allowing us to share such a fantastic resource!

Ringing reflections - Concussions, what NOT to do!

1st September 2014

By Genevieve Hargrave, G Unit
Sun State Roller Girls
Team Australia 2014

There was an almighty ringing in my ears, a monotone sound like a bell that never stopped. It felt like someone had placed a vice around either side of my brain and was tightening it up slowly. I opened my eyes to three blurry fluro-yellow figures standing over me, ‘can you hear me?’ somebody asked. In a dazed state I opened my eyes and tried to focus my vision on the first aid officers kneeling over me, I managed to croak out the words, ‘my head’.

I tried to lift my arms towards my helmet to loosen the strap. My arms didn’t agree and remained on the sports court next to my torso. A watery-like substance – later confirmed as my own tears – streamed down either side of my face and dripped onto the floor.

I am not proud of what happened next, I think about it often and wonder why lady luck was on my side that night.

Slowly but shakily I regained control of my limbs, I lifted my arms and removed my helmet. Unable to control my own head, it flopped to one side. I felt like the whole world was spinning.

Two minutes ago, I stepped up to the jammer line, star on my head and scored lead jammer status and we ended up in a power jam (YES!). With less than ten minutes left on the game clock, I skated around the apex keen to grab some points; I sustained two direct blows to my head. The first was a ‘clothesline’ style impact at full speed, the opposing skaters’ elbow connected directly above my eyebrows dropping me straight to the ground where the back of my head hit the polished wooden floor. Thud… I lost consciousness momentarily.

After the incident, I managed to skate off the track and into the medic’s area where they did not allow me to return to my bench. The first aid officers asked me many questions (of which I cannot recall) and shone lights in my eyes. My pupils were dilating rapidly; I was generally confused and found it difficult to string sentences together. I was strongly encouraged to go to the emergency department, I thought I knew better. The next morning I was meant to get on a 6:30am flight to Melbourne to visit my parents. I didn’t want to go to the emergency room in case they said I couldn’t fly. How stupid could I be? – But wait it gets worse!

I had driven my new car to the bout venue (a brand new Jeep Wrangler – drool), my boyfriend Zac had driven his car separately. I didn’t want to leave my car parked at the venue so I convinced Zac that I was ok to drive, he didn’t really agree. 

I hopped in the car and drove myself to the after party (2min drive down the road). After multiple glasses of water and many friends expressing their concerns over my dazed look, I got started getting annoyed and said to Zac, “that’s it! Let’s go”.

I had probably driven between Albany Creek and New Farm over 100 times; however I got behind the steering wheel and completely blanked. I couldn’t remember which direction to drive in. I called Zac and said “do you mind driving first and ill follow you?” – could I have possibly been more stupid?

I did not go to the emergency department, I did not seek medical advice, and I hopped on that plane to Melbourne the next morning. My Mum wanted to take me straight to the emergency room as I was not behaving in a normal way, I talked her out of it again convincing her that I was fine.

In the two weeks following I found it difficult to string sentences together, I would start telling Mum a story and then stop halfway as if I had already finished, punchline and all. I had intense headaches that lasted a good month after the injury. Still I thought, “oh well it’s too late to seek medical advice now, if I was going to die it would have already happened.”

There are many things I regret about how I dealt with the concussion. Starting with leaving my helmet on straight after the impact, it was supporting my neck – I could have had a spinal injury. I should have sought medical advice at the emergency department and WHAT WAS I THINKING DRIVING MYSELF HOME? I had put my own life and the lives of others at risk.

Two years on, a little older and a little wiser (I suppose…) I have implemented a number of strategies that not only prevent concussion but also assist in recognising the signs and symptoms.

  • Upgraded helmet – I invested in an ice hockey style helmet, after some research I found out that my skate park style helmet had not undergone any kind of safety testing.
  • Educated myself on concussions, the symptoms and risks  – there is some good sports specific information available online at
  • Familiarised myself with my leagues’ policy on concussions and returning to game play
  • If concussion is suspected, go to the emergency department – post haste.
  • And finally, if you are concussed your ability to think logically and make rational decisions is completely diminished.  You cannot rely on yourself to make decisions, not one bit, no chance sir.

Despite being incredibly embarrassed about this story, I wanted to share this story of stupidity with the wider roller derby community to spread the message of safety within this full contact sport that I love. I want to remember this time in my life; roller derby has brought me many highs and many lows, all of which have helped make me the person I am today.

Please look after your noggin, invest in a good quality helmet that has a safety rating and dig out your leagues policy on concussions. Take care

Thank you Roaringstorm Photography for the use of the images and this amazing shot of G Unit's face as she falls through the legs of a Referee! See More

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