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Published on February 24th, 2012 | by Tiger Beatdown


Oh Captain, My Captain: Secrets To Success In Leading A Team

By: Tiger Beatdown, #26, Orlando Psycho City Derby Girls

When I was elected captain of the Serial Thrillers, I was a little freaked out. I had only been playing roller derby for five months and had never even bouted. Now, a year and a half later, I’m the longest-running team captain in our entire league and I get to lead a tight-knit group of fierce, dedicated teammates. Most of the credit for our team’s unity and success can be chalked up to the awesomeness of the other Serial Thrillers, but I have discovered some secrets along the way.

Secret #1: Accept that you will sacrifice your own playing time.

It’s incredibly important to lead by example and throw yourself into games and practices with as much energy and effort as you can, but it’s just as important to understand when it’s time to give up some of your skating time for the sake of the team. You will have teammates who will fall behind in practice, and it’s your job to lead them in side drills so they don’t just hang out on the edges, frustrated and unsure. You will bout without a bench coach sometimes, and that means it’s your job to run the lines, even if you have to sit most jams to do it well. There will be league issues that involve you and sometimes, they’ll be resolved during that scrimmage you were dying to skate. Deal with it now. If you are not willing to sacrifice some skate time, you’d be better served participating as a team member and letting someone else lead.

Secret #2: Don’t be the best player on your team.

This isn’t false modesty, it’s fact: I am not even close to the best player on my team. Honestly, I’m easily one of the worst players. But when it comes to captaining, I believe my weakness is actually a strength because it allows me to lead with empathy. Supertalented players – not all, but some – can become impatient when others lag behind, even throwing around accusations that skaters aren’t pushing themselves when it’s clear they are just unable to keep up. Not being the best has allowed me to lead with empathy, because I understand how it feels to struggle and I can lead by employing what would have motivated me when I’ve fallen behind. So what if you are already captain and the best player on the team? Exercise patience no matter what, and focus on cultivating an empathetic approach to your feedback.

Secret #3: Treat everyone differently.

“But that’s not fair!” Nope. “But… but… we’re all equals!” Doesn’t matter. I know which skater on my team is a hothead and I know which skater will beat herself to a pulp before showing frustration. I know which skater will cry when confronted and which skater will respect me less if I don’t confront her RIGHT NOW. I know which skater to push to skate one more jam when she’s tired and which skater needs to be pulled from her next jam because she’ll never admit she’s about to collapse. When friction arises – as it inevitably does – I know how to tailor my response to best meet the needs of the girls involved. Fuck equality. You’re a leader, not a kindergarten teacher.

Secret #4: Protect them.

Let’s get one thing straight: my league’s leadership is awesome. They work their asses off and they approach every decision with the best interest of my league at heart. Even with wonderful league leadership, sometimes decisions or policies start to head in a direction that you think is not the best for your team. I do my best to never let the team have to worry about that stuff – it’s my job to protect them from politics so they can focus on kicking ass on the track. Tapping into your inner Mama Bear will make you a better captain. Even if your team doesn’t actually see you standing up for them, they’ll pick up on the fact that you have their backs.

Secret #5: Make your team feel like an exclusive club.

There are three teams in my league. Two months after a new class of recruits is voted into the league, we have a big party where we place the girls on their teams. One of the most successful ideas I’ve ever had is welcome baskets for our new Serial Thrillers – they get a card signed by all of the existing team members and whatever other goodies we decide to add. Of course, all of the other captains do this now too, but it started with me, because I wanted to cultivate the feeling that it’s special to be a Serial Thriller. I’m not going to tell you too much about our top secret team dinners but it’s possible they’re orgies of smack talk about our upcoming opponents peppered with declarations of our own superiority. It’s hard to socialize much outside of the derby monster that has invaded our lives, but when we do, it is big fun. My teammates truly love each other and I believe that’s in part because we all feel like we lucked into the coolest club in the league.

Secret #6: Nothing is more fun than winning.

Apologies if some of the peace-loving hippie stuff I’ve thrown at you has given you the wrong impression, because make no mistake, I love to win and everyone on my team knows it. We’re good sports when things don’t go our way – I insist on that, too – but every time we skate together we’re hardcore competitors with a singular goal (domination!) in mind. Derby is fun. Winning at derby is the most fun of all.

Secret #7: Love being a captain.

Seriously, if you don’t love it? Just stop. Let someone else step up, because you aren’t doing you or your team any favors by drudging through the leadership role. However, if you fall in love with being a captain, you may find yourself on the track after an amazing game, fighting back tears because you realize you just might be surrounded by a team who has fallen in love with you right back.

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