Monday, August 29, 2011

behind the hit

Day two after the bout is usually the worst day in terms of bangover.  It's the day when all the happy chemicals caused by adrenaline and after party shenanigans have finally run their course and now you're left with only the bruises and sore ribs to show for it all. 

Today is my day two, so you are going to have to put up with a little bit of laziness from me here.  I was going to write about our game last Saturday, where we won a blow out against OCDG's Tank'er Girls, a fine as bunch of women as you've ever want to beat (literally).  I was really looking forward to this game because OCDG is where I did my freshmeat training and benchmarks and if I had not moved to Red Deer last October, the Tank'er Girls would of been my team.  It also meant I not only got to play with my friends on the Nightshades, but also got to hit my OCDG friends.  Good night all around really.

But, due to bangover laziness, I'm feeling less analysis-y and more advice-y.  Tonight is RDRDA's freshmeat, a practice I like to go to after a game for a less intense workout and chance to stretch out while skating, and I'm thinking a lot about what it means to go from a freshmeat skater to regular player on a team.

Besides learning how to skate derby (a skill that is challenging even to accomplished inline and ice skaters), moving from freshmeat to rookie also means learning how to be an athlete and play on a team.  I know there is a certain percentage of freshmeat skaters who have athletic backgrounds (we love our rugby, hockey and ringette girls) but for so many of us, we haven't really played sports since high school where the main game was trying to figure out how to skip gym so we go for coffee and smoke cigarettes.

Considering I've done everything the hard way, from not being too active as an adult, probably partying too much, smoking cigarettes for years, having two difficult pregnancies and failing to recover from them adequately, eating too much pasta and chocolate covered almonds.  (Hmmm... chocolate covered almonds...)  Starting roller derby was like a bucket of ice water on a hot day.  Turns out this skating shit is shockingly hard fucking work.

While I may not be qualified to give great advice about skating (because I still often reassemble a giraffe on ice), nor dryland training (because between two kids and work, my only workout is being the family pack mule), nor strategy (because sometimes I'm in the middle of a jam and suddenly I'll be thinking, 'where the fuck am I?!') I am able to speak with authority about getting yourself in over your head and swimming like a fucking maniac to the surface.

If you are going to freshmeat practices and you are feeling out of place (you can read that as fat and/or scared shitless), then you need to take two steps back from Whip It! and give yourself a bit of room to get reacquainted with your body and how to care for it as an athelete.  As adults, especially as mamas, we often treat our bodies as uninteresting utilitarian tools that we only start to care for once it's broken.  Sometimes the only fix is a figurative strip of duct tape, with vitamin C capsules and an Advil, and then we go about dragging ourselves through our long list of Shit To Do.

Because we are old, because we are fat, because we are out of shape, because we are nervous, we need to take it slow.  The instinct is to jump right in and start hittin' sum bitches right away - after all, that is what we are there for in the first place - but good bitch hittin' takes a solid base of practice and skill.  That is so important, I'm going to say it again in another way: there is more to effective blocking than just launching your body at an opposing player.  You need control, fitness and technique.  My day two bangover reminds me that I need to relearn this after mostly unsuccessfully trying to control OCDG's Wytchy last Saturday.  Freshmeat practice will help you with some of that, but you are ultimately responsible for your derby-ness.  What I want to talk about right now is how to get to the point where you are ready to accept the teachings.

Hang on, it's about to get a bit Zen.

When you first go to freshmeat practices, skip the fishnets and tutu (unless you wear them all the time, in which case, go for it).  Wear what you would if you were going to the gym in hot weather.  Wear gym shorts (longer ones that the guys wear are great) or leggings.  Wear a t-shirt that you can sweat in.  I also recommend knee socks to protect the skin on your lower legs, especially if you are doing a bit on baseball slides (a stop that I usually only see used to take out the penalty box chairs as a girl slides in on a major).   Remember that much of freshmeat practice consists of feeling awkward and sore.  Don't make it worse by feeling uncomfortable in your clothes.

To practice bring your water bottle, skating gear (if you have it yet), a mouthguard (boil and bite at your local sports store), some soccer shin guards if you can (they will increase your confidence and spare you the trauma of getting a freshie skate to your shin) and, most importantly, a good fucking attitude.  A good attitude includes:

- the willingness to try anything even if it's modified greatly to suit your current skill level.
- the habit of being quiet and listening while the coach or anyone else is speaking to the group.
- the habit of assuming the best in others (even if it looks like they wanted to break your nose, assume that they threw their elbow by mistake and that they will work on not doing it again).
- some serious consideration for the safety of other skaters. Learn to control your elbows, feet, and falls before you start knockin' bitches around.
- the knowledge that even if the drill seems too easy for you, you can still learn something and be a role model for struggling skaters by doing it as perfect as possible.
- knowing the skaters around you will most likely become your teammates and it's time to develop some fierce communications skills because they are the ones who are going to protect your ass on the track one day.  Good communication includes saying something positive first and giving credit when it's due.  Speak loudly, clearly and with kindness. 
- practice time is practice time.  It is not gossip time or bitch about how hungover you are or play the pecking order sorting game.  You can tell me what an ass I am after when we're having beers (or get your blog ;)
- knowing it's not personal.  No, really, it's not.
- working your ass off until your swass and swoob soaks through your shirt.  Getting up over and over again.  Do not stop.  You can do this.

The next thing to do is to remember that you are now a derby chick even when you are not wearing skates.  Small changes to the rest of your life will help you when you are on the track.  If you can fit in regular workout at the gym, particularly something cardio, weight lifting and core exercises, then you will be so much farther ahead because of it.  Whether or not you can add extra workouts, everyone should:

- drink more water.  All the time. Use the extra peeing time to gleefully visualize hitting a jammer into a ref or study the rules.
- Make small nutritional improvements, like eating a handful of nuts instead of a chocolate bar (okay, add a couple of dark chocolate chips in, it won't hurt) or switching to whole wheat bread.  Have a salad before eating your spaghetti.  As time passes, those small changes will add up, even if they don't mean weight loss - extra pounds in derby isn't necessarily a bad thing if they don't affect your health - but you'll feel better overall and be able to use that strong and healthy body to dominate on the track.
- work your leg muscles and core at home.  Do planks and sit ups while you watch DNN.  Add a 20 second squat whenever you go to your refrigerator.  Use your kids as weights and airplane them to strengthen your legs.

The final thing you should do is concentrate on learning the game and the rules.  Derby has a lot of rules.  They are there for your safety  That doesn't mean, though, that they aren't sonnabitchin' finicky.  There are quite a few technicalities and some referees seem to wallow with great delight like a pig in muck in calling out a pivot because she's an eighth of an inch over the line or some other such nonsense.  Don't get upset at anal refs, outsmart them.  There is an ongoing evolution of the rules of flat track derby, but we all have to play with the ones there is now and not knowing them is no excuse.

So read the rules.  Go to games.  NSO whenever possible.  Talk to referees.  Ask questions.  So many rookie mistakes are made because the rules are not clearly understood and bad habits were developed during freshmeat practice.  Elbows, forearms, tripping, hitting with the head, cut tracks and back blocking penalties are often incurred for no other reason than the player didn't practice it before the game.  Get to know what the rules are and then train within the guidelines.

Remember when I said there was more to hittin' bitches than just hittin' bitches?  (Or something to that effect.)  When you are playing, having a positive attitude, solid fitness and knowledge all comes together into a hit worthy of pictures.  Good attitude means your hit will be clean and effective, having paid attention during practices to learn the technique and legality.  Solid fitness means you'll be able to get into position and time it right.  Plus you won't be tired and sloppy, throwing yourself off the track at the same time.  Knowledge means less time in the penalty box and making that hit double effective by using the rules to force the other player to come in even further behind the pack.  The rules (as physically manifested by the referees) are your friends or your enemies.  Know them and you can use them.  Ignore them and, as derby Yoda says, in the box you must sit.     

Last Saturday I had a fairly hit-y game for me.  Most of my 'hits' were actually jammer force outs and I happily backed my ass up on the track to slow them down even further, but I was more engaged than ever and I never once went to the box.  Today I received the best compliment from a teammate in reference to last weekend's game.  She told me, "You hit them bitches real good."  I'm so proud of this, especially considering how much work it has taken me to get to this point.  And I believe her, because it takes one good bitch hitter to know another.   

Skate, Brixxx, Skate!
Lexis on Fire taking aim on Brixxx HitHouse
Photo by Sandra Deevil, courtesy of SmackBook Pro


  1. Love Ya Malady! You did try to knock my a$$ down several times and, I have some little bruises on my shoulder. AND I don't bruise easily. I think they are from you. Some advice, when trying to knock me on my a$$ it is best to SLAM your whole body into me ;). PS Work on hitting to the inside, it makes your outward hits better too. Lots of love darling! OXOXO Wytchy

  2. This post rocks Malady!This would have been helpful 3 weeks ago though.. JK! It's helpful now :)

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for your insight and positive attitude reinfocement! Cheers, Cherry-oto-Fire