Locker Room Ava Tarr by Ohio Rollergirls

Published on September 21st, 2011 | by Ava Tarr

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Ava Tarr by Ohio Rollergirls

Overheard: What Not To Say At Practice

I’ve traveled through 48 states and have spent time skating derby in a significant chunk of them. Modern roller derby is executed at a variety of skill and attitude levels, and I’ve witnessed my fair share of dysfunction on the track. I’m compiling this list in the hopes that, if you’re an offender, you can purge the negativity and get yourself back into a positive, healthy, and productive mindset to pursue your derby dreams. And if you’re a witness, you can read along and fantasize about hip-checking said offenders into oblivion.

1. “This drill is bullshit.”

I don’t really have a problem with people complaining about drills being long or difficult or confusing or scary or exhausting. I do have a problem when people dismiss the idea entirely and impugn its validity just because they don’t want to do it. I hear this most often from people when they’re actually being challenged by something simple, like suicides or endurance drills. These are the same people who tend to have little patience with anything and think all you need to do be good at a sport is scrimmage. Yeah, that’s how athletes train…by never breaking down or focusing on skills. Who needs it?

If you feel you’re not getting something out of a drill, get creative. You can always focus on your form or your footwork, or you can practice executing something faster or more efficiently. Do squats while you’re waiting in line or stay superlow until your quads are on fire and try doing the same drill while experiencing muscle exhaustion. It’s up to you to push yourself to get the most out of a drill—so the only thing bullshit here is your attitude.

2. “I’ve been in so much pain the past few weeks. Nah, I haven’t been to the doctor.”

Let me be the first to admit that, due to crappy student insurance, I have definitely been this person—and I kick myself for the extra months I lost on the track because of it.

If you truly don’t need to go to the doctor, then stop complaining and dropping out of drills so that other people have to ask what’s going on. If you have a questionable, lingering injury, shut up and go to the doctor. You’re not tough; you’re an idiot. (::cough:: Note to self. ::cough::) Half-assing it at practice on a serious injury is most likely only making it worse. Derby causes all kinds of crazy twists and tears and fractures with inconsistent and unpredictable symptoms and effects that you can’t see and can’t self-diagnose.

Here’s a news flash: chiropractors and massage therapists are not substitutes for doctors. Yes, they make you feel good, and if they’re worth their salt they can at least toss out the anatomical names for your bones and muscles and hypothesize about what an issue might be. However, the vast majority are not M.D.s. They are not sufficiently trained to make thorough diagnoses, nor do they have access to medical resources and facilities that may be necessary for your recovery. While I am certainly not suggesting giving up those rubdowns, don’t think that these appointments are an acceptable proxy when you’re injured.

3. “I’m gonna [insert dangerous and/or douchebag move here] because this is DERBY.”

I know, I know. You’re so hardcore because when you started derby in 2005, you didn’t even know they HAD rules! And when you started playing, you couldn’t even stand up on skates, but your teammates were hitting you full force! And back in juvy, you got shivved fourteen times when a rival gang jumped you, so who can’t take getting tripped or head-butted or elbowed in the face on the track?

Derby has evolved, folks. We don’t have to glorify our sloppy beginnings and talk about how much tougher it was to start out back in the day, blah blah blah. We had some growing pains but thanks to our foremothers we got organized in a remarkably rapid fashion. WFTDA-era derby isn’t about who can get away with breaking rules or how badly you can hurt an opponent.

Playing a contact sport on wheels with minimal padding, derby has the potential to be an incredibly hazardous sport. I’ve witnessed several gruesome injuries, and I would say one-third of them were caused by one person being a douchebag and/or making an illegal hit. While I understand it is important to practice defending oneself against such things (hence the need for intentional wheel-locking drills and the like), that isn’t justification to then execute them in gameplay because you’ve learned how. As players we all have an unspoken commitment to playing our hardest on the track without putting ourselves or others in danger beyond that of normal game play. It isn’t always a clear distinction about what is ethical play in a competitive context, but if you’re having to defend or make excuses for a dirty move, rest assured you’ve crossed that line.

Although I am not a universal hater of “loophole derby,” I don’t respect skaters who try to get away with exploiting or ignoring rules that are designed to protect the safety of skaters. “I’ll do whatever it takes to win” isn’t the attitude of a true athlete, it’s the attitude of an asshole willing to cheat or cripple someone for their own gratification. I’ve winced as a downed jammer’s head was awkwardly crushed against the ground when an opponent deliberately fell on top of her to try to get the jammer boxed on a low block.

Long ago I skated against an opponent who grabbed my jersey and pulled me out of bounds, which caused me to fall on top of her and get boxed (even though it was a scrimmage and her team was up 200 points…classy). It’s not cool or badass when you’re intentionally trying to see that someone leaves a bout broken and with thousands of dollars of medical bills in their future. If you buy into that derby-is-for-naughty-fuck-the-rules-girls-doing-crazy-shit stereotype, you might as well quit the sport and start filming your own Girls Go Wild Presents Roller Derby: Tits on Skates video.

4. “Well, the refs aren’t calling it.”

This is a lame retort for sloppy and sometimes dangerous play. Just because a ref doesn’t make a call in your practice scrimmage doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. They might have not seen it; thought it may have been a penalty, but given reasonable doubt did not make the call; have a bias toward you as a player (e.g., “So & so is too good to have committed that penalty, so the other skater must have tripped on her own skates”); or, may not know the rule and missed the correct call. Yes, shocker: refs are human, not preprogrammed, flawless, and completely objective Terminators. Like us, they have to train to develop their skills. Even then, they will still have their subconscious biases, and they will make mistakes. These things happen.

Rules are rules, though, and you will not always be playing with the same set of refs. If an action consistently appears to be a penalty to knowledgeable others, there might just be something to it. If someone is calling your attention to a penalty you’re committing, re-evaluate what you’re doing even if you aren’t getting called. Surprise: you are not the most objective source for your penalties, and even if you feel you are doing something cleanly, you might not be—or you might be misunderstanding a rule.

Read the rule and make sure you understand it. If you have your doubts, ask your coaches, captains, or other players to watch you and get other opinions. And if you’re breaking it, stop using missed or inaccurate ref calls as a reason to do so. Practice good play or expect to spend considerable amounts of time in the box during away games.

5. “I deserve more playing time.”

What you deserve is a kick in the poon. This is a sport: you don’t deserve anything, you earn it. My response to this is that you need to either: a) suck less or b) get your head out of your ass and get a more constructive and team-oriented attitude. Although there are cases where there are unjustified or political reasons, in 90% of cases a deficit in skill, teamwork, and/or attitude is what is keeping you on the bench. The time you’re spending running your mouth is time you could spend on the track working harder and earning your place on the track.

Ava Tarr skates with the Ohio Roller Girls and currently serves as captain of Gang Green. She never got stabbed in juvy.

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