Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hit 'Em With Your Best Shot?

Photo courtesy of Gotham Girls Roller Derby
Let me preface this whole post by saying this: I know nothing.

Okay, that’s not totally accurate. I do know a few things about life, verb conjugation (that sounds dirty), cooking, volleyball, old pulp fiction noir novels, and a few other subjects.

But when it comes to roller derby? I’m a baby. I admit that. I can barely skate, have never ever skated a bout and, as of this writing, who knows if I ever will get there anyway? Shoot, I can’t even hang in a practice let alone dream of starring in a bout yet. All that I can say is that I’m trying to learn, trying to work hard, and trying to be a team player.

So, with that disclaimer, let me tell my story.

Just the other day I was checking out posts on the IDerby group, seeing what folks were talking about. A lot of times I’m simply lost there, as discussions and questions about gear, from wheels to plates to boots and bearings are tossed about. Here my infancy is truly realized because I just know we need skates to play; all of this other finery is beyond me at this point.

And as I perused these posts I came upon one discussing how players felt about blind hits. Essentially, the question was about those hits when, for instance, a blocker is coming out of the box and the trailing opponent’s blocker is hanging back, unaware. The blocker isn’t necessarily part of the action at this point, generally, and the unseen blocker takes the opportunity to simply hit the living crap out of them.

One commentator questioned whether or not hits like that equated with the shot delivered by Warren Sapp (of NFL fame, or in this case, infamy), which sent his unaware Green Bay Packer target to the hospital. Some simply called these “cheap shots” while others saw it in a more nuanced fashion, reminding those interacting in the conversation that we are in fact playing “full contact derby.”

So what about these hits? How do you feel about these shots? As I said, I feel unqualified to really offer much in the way of “experienced” commentary, as I lack any derby-wise, yet I do feel qualified from both a spectator’s point of view as well as one who used to consider himself an athlete, albeit a very amateur one.

And the first point to be made is that yes, these plays are generally legal within the scope of the rules. These players aren’t making any motions that negate the rules, by and large, and are striking their opponent in a legitimate fashion, hammering them in the legally sanctioned areas.

Plus, there are some who would argue that plays of this type, of the silent takeout, aid in a team’s strategy. Clobbering an opponent certainly plays havoc on them mentally, making them keep a wary eye out and perhaps lose track of the jammer later on. Additionally, it also provides some solid chances to trap that blocker behind as in benefits the squad at that time.

Yet, even with the fact that these hits are legal and that they can oftentimes play into a strategy, does that mean that we should engage in them? Should we go headhunting?

It’s a good question, I think. I believe that the answer is muddier than we’d like to make it on both ends. Some will rise up at even the question of it, wanting to call me a wuss and send the discussion away because, “We’re playing #$%^ing derby, not croquet!” And others will hold to the line that it’s simply a cheap shot overall. I’m not sure it’s such an easy line of demarcation.

For me, I’m torn. I’m torn because I am a competitor and, like many, hate to lose. When I’m playing any game, whether it be Monopoly or basketball, I don’t want to lose. I’ll work within the confines of the rules to do all that I can to win that game. Thus, when it comes to derby, I like to think that I’ll maintain that same fire. And the mental game is a huge part of any sport. Aside from the simple fact that hammering a player like that will take them out of the equation for a few seconds, it also does provide that serious mental advantage in many cases that will give you the edge. Plus, it's always a plus for the fans to see the big hits; that's a huge part of derby and I in no way want to detract from that element. It's part of the fun! (At least, once I figure out how to take and give 'em, it will be!)

Yet, with my competitiveness also comes a conscience and a sportsmanlike element. I love to win and I hate to lose but I do not ever, ever want to win because I did anything lacking in sportsmanship. And, to me, sportsmanship has to acknowledge that even if something is technically legal, it’s not always necessarily right.

Which is where the rubber meets the road for me. I realize that I’m dabbling in a bit of situational ethics here (as well as rambling along in this post like anyone really cares), which can be a really slippery slope, but I think that sometimes those shots can be legit and justified. Yet, there are other times when we have to stop and think about what we’re doing and ask ourselves whether it’s really the most sporting move to make at that point.

I’m reminded of that point in the great science fiction film, Jurassic Park, as Jeff Goldblum’s character, Dr. Malcolm, questions the park’s founder, Dr. Hammond, about the rationale behind the deal. (Told you this was a rambling post!) Discussing the ethical ramifications of the genetic research needed to create Hammond’s dinotopia, Dr. Malcolm makes a very profound statement, offering, “…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

I know it seems a little heavy-handed to bring that sort of thinking into the conversation; I mean, we’re still talking about roller derby, right? But, for me, it’s exactly that kind of thinking that needs to be involved in all of our decisions, let alone the ones on the floor.

Just a few thoughts from someone who’s really lower than a rookie. For what its worth.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Grow the Game

Photo Credit: Joshua DeSario
Obviously, I’m a parent. Otherwise, this little blog would have a far more creative name and probably not include the word “Dad” in in as well. But I am and I’m pretty happy with that fact because I’ve blessed with pretty awesome kids.

And throughout the course of writing this, I’ve shared how my children, and my son in particular, have been great sources of inspiration for me in my derby journey. They’ve already set the bar high for me with their adolescent skating skills, learning in ten and six years, respectively, what I have yet to learn in thirty-six, although I’m trying. And while they’ve both taken to this sport and enjoy it, I’ve really wanted to see my son take it to the next level and move from the zebra stripes to laying it all out on the floor.
So, I did what felt right and tried my best to teach him by leading by example.

Now, I’m a long way from getting there but I feel like I’ve already taken some pretty big steps in the right direction. And he’s starting to warm to the idea, slowly but surely, about trying his own hand at stepping out there and rocking it on the track as a player. And while he warms to it, I’m doing my best to support him, to be there when it’s his time, showing off his killer skills as a ref and reminding him of his keen potential as a player.
And Dad is proud. Frankly, I’m proud either way. He’s a great kid, as is my little Pop Tart who’s a superstar in her own right.

Photo Credit: Joshua DeSario
But, at a recent juniors’ bout, there was one thing I noticed and that was a lack of support from the overall derby community as a whole. Yes, there were some of us there who were parents and such as well as those who had volunteered to give of their time to help with reffing and NSO duties but, with but a few exceptions, the bigs were nowhere to be seen.

To some degree, I understand. If you don’t have kids, the last thing you want to do on a Saturday morning, most likely one of the few mornings you have to sleep in, is get up and go watch a bunch of kids who you probably don’t even know. And granted, some of us aren’t even “kid people,” and just don’t understand them. I get that; I really do.

But, the other part of me reflects back upon what we ask of these very same kids and their families. Because, like it or not Charles Barkley, these kids are looking up to us. (You’ll forgive me if I include myself in this derby category even if I’m not quite there; I’m trying!) We do our best to market ourselves to these families, seeking their attendance at our bouts, yet, for the most part, we do little to support theirs.
I don’t know; it seems like there’s something of a disconnect to me. Something slightly askew.

Perhaps part of it is just part of my upbringing. I’ve always been one to want to help others to grow and to succeed. I’m also someone who wants to help with those things that I find value in. When I played volleyball competitively, I was passionate about helping those around me to grow in their game because it not only helped them to become better but also because it made me a better player and person as well.
And ultimately, it helped the game in the long run.

Photo Credit: Joshua DeSario
Because, the higher level play that spectators see, the better that it gets. And, while roller derby is definitely gaining a lot of steam in our generation, generating more and more press and getting out there more and more, the next generation, the future of derby, is the one skating juniors in your local rink right now.
So, I don’t know about you but I’m growing to love this game and want to see it grow. And the best way for me to do that outside of working on my own game, which I’m doing to the best of my ability, is to do what I can to support and nurture the next generation of players. For now, that’s simply by being there and cheering from the sidelines; as I grow in my knowledge and skill of the game, it’ll progress to more.

I know what encouragement I’ve experienced when players that I look up to and respect have taken a few moments to offer a word of encouragement or of advice; think what that would mean to those younger and even more impressionable? And think of the players they’ll become if we can impart what we know now to them; it paints a bright future.
Grow the game.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Hip Checked

Photo Credit: Joshua DeSario
My wife may leave me for having an affair with the floor if things keep going the way they did last night.

The evening started after a long, long day, which pretty much seems to be the way Monday practices are going to go from here until the moment when I become independently wealthy and can spend the beginning the week being pampered and napping before heading out to our nine o’clock shindig. Of course, if I was independently wealthy and could do all that, I suppose I’d also be expected to fund the purchase of a rink and whatnot so that we could practice whenever we want, without being at the mercy of a public rink. Hmmm…

But I digress.

Anyway, I was tired and I can’t imagine the fatigue level of the guys who’d played the night before as well. They’d left it all out on the floor yet, as I made my way into the rink, the better part of the squad was there, doing a bit of a debriefing before rolling on out. That’s the sort of thing that shows these players true love for the sport and sets a great example for we rookies, as well as for the up-and-coming youngsters who will shoulder the future of the game.

And after donning my skates and pads (and they’re officially starting to get a bit ripe, not that you needed to know that), it was onto the floor. ProseHack had us skate around the outside of the track, trying to keep up with the bigs warming up on the inside but I was just happy to maintain uprightness for the duration of the time before we broke down to stretch.

Then, as the bigs worked on some strategy-work on the inside, we were tasked with just getting some skate time zooming around the outside. And, after a while, that’s exactly what was happening, or at least it felt like it. Compared to where I started a while ago, I really did feel like I was zooming around! I was putting some pretty good times in, not feeling too worn out, although after a while I did develop that pesky lower-back burn (get lower, I know!) and racing round and feeling good. Only my second practice back after my most recent lull with the car and look at me!

Of course, that was to be a short lived moment of joy.

For then, our kind and gracious coach, ProseHack, so rightly deemed that it was time for us to start working on some hitting drills. Oh, joy. I just got to the point where I can go round and round without busting my butt every three feet and now you want me to try whacking people? With my body? On skates?

Oh this is going to be fun.

Initially, I was paired up to bump with fellow rookie, Wil-Power. For those of you who are unacquainted with Mr. Power, let’s just suffice it to say that Wil is something of an immovable force, even on wheels. And that’s essentially what I ascertained as we rolled around the track, over thinking every motion, having my brain run through a checklist, “Stay low. Don’t go too high. Don’t use your elbows. Keep rolling. Not too fast. Not so slow! Explode from the legs! But not too high or you’ll bust! I think I’m gonna fall. Ouch!”

And so it went until ProseHack then paired me up with another rookie, whose official name has yet to be chosen so, for now, we’ll call him Jason (since that’s his name.)

Yet, the results were eerily similar, finding me over think, over think, and fall. Again. And again. And again.

You get the picture.

I fell on my butt, my back, my knees, my sides (yes, sides, plural!) and more and unleashed more than my fair share of expletives at the floor and my incompetence. Yet, in true Chumbawamba fashion, I kept getting back up.

After those moments of exciting frustration, ProseHack decided to amp it up a bit and have us practice our walls while the recovering Punchline played jammer. Y’know, I’ve gotta hand it to you veterans; you guys make it look so easy. (And I kind of hate you for that.) Because I just couldn’t get my crap together! I’d seal a hole here then get going too fast and, lacking any real stopping abilities save for falling, I’d get ahead. Or, more frequently, I’d bump and fall, getting too high and losing my balance and busting.

Then I’d hop up and do it all again.

And while I felt like an idiot every time I fell, I kept getting up. And getting up. And getting up. Sure, there was a point that I really did get tired of getting up, but I kept doing it until ProseHack finally had mercy and called it a night for us. Sweaty, bruised, and tired I crawled to the bench, pulled off my gear, and smiled.

Wonder what Thursday has in store for us?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Can You Picture Yourself Out There?

Photo Credit: Dita Von Cheats
“Can you picture yourself out there?”

This was the text that I received from my wife last night, about halfway through the bout featuring the Hit Men of Manatee County and SoFlo Roller Derby as I sat in the suicide seats, frantically taking notes so that I could work up a bout recap later. (I figure I ought to figure out some way to contribute before I can actually contribute on the track, right?) Anyway, it was a pretty brutal affair, with plenty of big hits, emotion, and derby passion.

It really was a hard fought battle and I loved watching my friends and future teammates work hard. Bruce, as always, was hardcore, racing around the track and hammering with the best of them while Airborne and Punisher followed suit. Jam Master Flex continued to showcase his killer jamming skills while Padron rocked strategy and Huge Hefner just simply brought it throughout.

Yeah, it was a pretty killer bout.

And, as I saw that text, I smiled. Because, to tell the truth, I can. Granted, my skating skills (what few there are at this time) are very limited and are at best at a preschool level compared to the master’s and doctorate-level work of my Hit Men counterparts. Hell, I’m not even remotely in shape; I’m still at the level where a good, brisk couple-mile walk constitutes a workout and where simple laps around our little Bambi track eventually bring my lower back to burning.

But, even through all the hoops that I know I’ll have to jump, from overcoming crazy schedules to simply doing the work that needs done to get there, both mentally and physically, I can see myself doing it. Am I scared? You bet. Watching those bodies go flying and the emotions roar was both electrifying and intimidating. Yet, if we can’t face our fears while working hard for something, what’s life really about?

And while I know that my wife wasn’t trying in any way to discourage me, part of me was a bit offended. Because I know the odds. I know that, to some degree, there are probably more folks out there betting on me not sticking it out than are in my corner, cheering me on. Which is fine because I’m here to disappoint the haters and show them up.

Will it be this year? Um, good question. I don’t honestly know. Given my current growth curve, probably not. But maybe it will be. Either way, I can promise that I’ll keep working hard and pushing through, no matter the odds.

Like one of my favorite movie characters, Mr. Han Solo, once said, “Never tell me the odds.”

Let’s go to work!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Apologies, Thanks, and the First Day of the Rest of My Life

Okay, if you’re one of the three people who’ve been keeping up with this little rambling adventure (thanks for that info, Facebook insights!), you’ve been subjected to more than your fair share of wasted time. You’ve listened to me whine, whine, whine and, as Johnny Cash once sang, “Cry, cry, cry.” You’ve read thoughts and wanderings that rival those of Eeyore, with elements of self-doubt, self-deprecation, and more.

And, for that, I want to apologize. A little anyway.
I won’t apologize for it all because those thoughts and feelings were, in large part, real and present in the moments when my fingers ran across the keyboard. As I sat to type and pound out another blog, those were the thoughts running through my mind. But, as any good writer should know (and I’m not quite sure I put myself in that category just yet), folks need diversity. They need something compelling and honest, sure, but they also need levity and someone or something to get behind and believe in.

And I apologize for having not been that sort of guy.
I apologize for really not even having believed in myself over this past bit of time.

And I apologize for the way that it’s leeched into this writing. In some ways, I feel like several of these posts have become a “Moaning Myrtle” (Yup, just showed my nerd card there) of the internet, with daily moans and groans instead of points of insight, humor, and maybe, just maybe, something inspiring along the way.
I aim to correct that in the future. And while I will continue to write honest, heartfelt posts (sorry, that’s just the way I’m wired) and sometimes it will be less-than-encouraging, I promise to do so in such a way that has purpose and meaning, rather than coming across as a simply shallow and self-serving pity party.

So, to those of you who’ve endured, I apologize.
With the next breath, I want to also thank some people, those people who, to date, have stood by me through this short journey thus far and still believe. I’ll admit it and, if you’ve read this thing at any length you know it, but I struggle sometimes with self-confidence. I may come across as self-assured in person but whether it be writing, parenting, working, and Lord knows, anything to do with skating, I wrestle with some internal insecurities. And let’s be honest, my little elements of introvertedness don’t help either.

But, despite my bugs and flaws, I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by some pretty great people who do believe in me. And to them I just want to take a moment and say thank you.
To my wife and kids, I can honestly say that this journey would not have begun without you. I’m pursuing this for you and alongside you and I can’t think of a better way to make it happen. Thanks for putting up with me!
To my dedicated and tireless coach (and occasional tech advisor) and friend, ProseHack: You’ve listened to more than one bout of excuses after another and have been kind and patient, yet firm, throughout it all. I’m not gonna lie; one of my goals is to nail this sport simply to make you proud. Thanks for believing.

To my fellow rookies, past and present: To those of you who’ve come and already ascended the ranks like Punchline and PapaRotZ, thanks so much for your continued support. Watching you guys segue into the bigs the way you have and continue to offer support to us still rocking the Bambi track is more than encouraging. You’re doing awesome and I’m proud to have learned with you. And to my other fellow up-and-comers, Trouble and Wil-Power, I can’t say that I’d want to be learning with anyone else. You guys are awesome sources of encouragement and I don’t want to let you down. Let’s do this thing!

To the Hit Crew: There are some of you guys who I’m getting to know pretty well and others who are probably not even aware of my existence. But watching each and every one of you step out onto the track and put in your best each and every practice is such an encouragement. I often have the tendency, as many of us do I’m assuming, to be such an internal person, thinking I’m the only one with a crazy schedule and life but I’m not. You guys are just as jammed if not more and you’re out there laying it all on the line and I respect that. I do hope to one day join you out there and make you proud but in the meantime, thanks so much for your kind words and hard work.  And to those of you, who know who you are, who've gone above and beyond to offer words of advice and encouragement, I doubly thank you.
To you, dear reader: If you’ve managed to read this far, please know you’re appreciated. Outside of skating, my second biggest insecurity comes with writing. To know that even a few perhaps find something of value here goes a long way. Thanks.

And so with those apologies and thanks, I’m trying to think of this as the first day of the rest of my life. After struggling off and on with thoughts of starting and stopping, I’ve made the decision in my head to do it. Yeah, I’m only one practice back (and feeling it, as sad as that is, reminding me of just how out of shape I am) but I’m not giving up. I’m going to do all to not only work hard but to keep my focus right where it needs to be.
And ultimately, I’m going to start believing in myself.

Because, as a friend reminded me this morning, “If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect anyone else to?”
Thanks for believing.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Road Less Traveled

Robert Frost’s classic poem, “The Road Not Taken,” offers up the classic stanza:

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference."

And while Frost’s tale has all the hallmarks of poetry, offering up a powerful and poignant message to each and every one of us who stands facing a crossroads, I’m also inclined to agree with Kid President. Go ahead and take a moment to watch this; I’ll wait.

So don’t you agree? Not cool, Robert Frost!

But, through it all, there’s strains of truth throughout both Frost’s poetic moment as well as what the young president has to offer. And as I stand at this crossroads, this way too built up and overly dramatic crossroad of whether or not to keep pursuing skating or to simply opt for being a bystander, I’m put at a place where I have to weigh my options.

And it’s not really much of a contest.

At this point, derby really doesn’t make sense in my life. I’m not a skater and am a long way from even beginning to attempt the actual “derby” element. Sure, I’ve made a few strides and as I’ve become fond of telling people am “falling less,” but the road is very long before me.

Add to that the fact that my time is very, very slim. As a Dad, husband, employee, and wannabe freelance writer, there’s very little daylight and, in some cases, moonlight left for me to squeeze anything in to. Even as I write this, I have two or three other projects that are hovering, big projects too, that haunt me from the outset.

Plus, let’s be honest; I’m no spring chicken. Yeah, I’m young by some standards but, I’m not gonna lie, I’m feeling old. And my body’s reflecting that as I’m just not in shape by a long shot. And the chances of me getting up the speed and fitness to even come close to playing, provided I could get the skating part down, are pretty slim.

Yeah, when you look at it like that, the answers pretty easy to determine, isn’t it?

Or is it?

Because, when I look at this, part of me is totally in agreement with the obvious. It’s no fun starting something that you instantly suck at. Nobody wants to fall, nobody wants to be the worst. But when you remember that everybody had to start somewhere, that laying down your pride and sucking it up may just lead to something bigger and better down the line, well, that changes the perspective a bit.

To some degree, that’s part of what happened last night. A quick post to our team’s Facebook group found me trying to weasel my way out of tonight’s practice, in part due to the very real fact that I won’t be able to make it by starting time because of work and because of the fact that they’ll be in super-training mode, fine-tuning things for this week’s epic bout. Which obviously doesn’t preclude the idea of me getting my skates back under me and working on my little Bambi track, does it?

And I got called on it. Which is exactly what I needed, to suffer a bit of accountability, holding me to the commitments and the time, albeit limited, that I have already invested in this adventure. These are people who have been there, who’ve been at the bottom and have worked their way up; what I heard in their statements of accountability were not only tinges of “Suck it up!” but also, “We believe in you.”

Yeah, that sounds a little over the top but, whether or not it was there, that’s just what I heard. And that’s what accountability really is, it’s allowing others in to help strengthen you and to make you a better person. And these people do that because, oftentimes, they’re able to see in you what you don’t.

In this case, I really hope they’re seeing a kick-ass skater.

But in the meantime, I’ve decided to take Frost’s road less traveled, to step out and keep trying my hand at this thing that’s been so frustrating to me. Anything that is this hard to get started at has got to have some serious reward at the end, right?

I’m really hoping so. See you at practice tonight. I'll be the one looking like Bambi on ice, again. But I'll be the one who keeps getting back up...

And a quick note to those who do believe, thanks. It means more than you know.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Best Laid Plans...

The old saying goes, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

So it goes in the life of mice and men, so it goes doubly in my life.

Yeah, the original plan for today’s post was to be able to discuss my “glorious” return to the rink, donning the skates once again for yet another attempt at derby dominance. Or, at the very least, my attempt to roll around the Bambi track without making a complete ass of myself. Either way you look at it, neither happened.

And why not? Life once again reared back and threw a nice curveball that zinged right over the corner of the base.

In other words, I got stuck at work.

We live in a world of checks and balances, of cause and effect. And the effect of missing several hours at your second job (a blessing that I have and had that freedom) due to car troubles is that much of your work piles up. And when you get back to work, it’s waiting for you with a huge smile on its face.

Bottom line, I lost track of time and by the time I should’ve been heading from there to practice, I was instead swamped and couldn’t in good conscience leave.

So now, we look to Thursday as the next reboot date and, as tired as you’re getting of hearing me say, “Next time!” you can’t imagine how tired I am of saying it. And, to be honest, as I evaluate life in general and the journey so far, it’s got me asking some really heartfelt questions.

Questions like, is this really the right path for me?

I’ve got to believe that it’s a fair question to ask. The inconvenience of injuries aside, because that’s just part of sports and life, it’s really the other elements that leave me wondering. My first priority is to my family. And as such, that includes doing my best to provide for them which, at this point in time, includes working multiple jobs. And yes, after working twelve hours here and there, the last thing one is really excited to do is head off to practice something that, thus far, you’re really not good at nor even particularly enjoy as of yet.

The time factor stretches even farther, however, as not only does work play it’s role, so do the multiple bouts and practices that are scattered around our planners like an explosion of buckshot. Just this morning I was looking over the schedules of the Bombers and the Hit Crew and, to be frank, there’s not a lot of time left in there. Nearly every weekend seems filled with some sort of bouting, practice, and more. And while those are fun and good things, I’m thinking that come June and July, this old boy might be getting a little weary of it unless I really am able to strike a balance.

The other factor bouncing around the back of my mind is the myriad of bonus projects I’ve got rumbling around in the back of my head as well. It was my intention, about five months ago, ironically, to resurrect a website that I’d formerly managed just because I really missed the work. And the free product that came with it. (Just keeping it real here.) But time keeps pressing in on me and, when I do have the time, I really don’t have energy for much more.

And I realize that this seems like a huge whining, bitching post and, perhaps it is. But I just need to know that it’s worth it for me to push on. How many others have had this experience with derby, of starting, again and again, and really not enjoying it at the outset? What is that point that it really does get fun, that the work becomes something that I appreciate rather than dread?

Also, add to those queries questions about how to balance ones life; I’m curious to know how folks balance their lives between derby and real life? How do you find that time for real life amidst all the derby happenings, drama, and more?

If you can’t tell, these are pretty sincere questions today. Part of me really wants to keep pushing at this, fueled not only by the accountability of this experiment and my pride but also to be fair in giving it a legitimate try. Yet, the other part of me really does wonder whether or not this really is the right path, for me and for my family; will I be a better husband, father, and friend if I pursue this route?

Just needed to air that out a little bit today. I’m sure I’ll look at it tomorrow and laugh but it’s what’s real today. Definitely would appreciate any feedback, advice, or stories you’d like to share about your experiences; I know I'm not alone in this and sometimes its nice to be reminded of that fact.