A group of people, united by a common goal, puts aside all their personal foibles, agendas and differences and successfully works in harmony to accomplish the various tasks required to achieve their goal. Just another example of the kind of peaceful success story that committees, councils and governments around the world see every day, right?
Well, maybe not. But hey, at least only dudes pull this kind of B.S.
Well god dang.
It's sad but true, where two or more people are gathered and decisions must to be made, angry words and/or fists will fly faster than a jammer with rocket skates. As awesome as roller derby is and as much as its devoted practitioners love it, leagues have to deal with the stresses of differing opinions, conflicting personalities and PMS-fueled hissy fits pretty much from day 1. It is called Derby Drama and it threatens to destroy leagues and drive off promising skaters every day. It is a big enough and important enough subject that I am making this a two-part article. Next Monday I'll take on the subject of "On-track Drama" but in order to even get that far, you have to survive the effects of this week's subject which is...
Derby News Network co-founder and roller derby guru Hurt Reynolds spent one whole year driving and flying around the continental United States visiting rollerderby leagues of varying ages, attending bouts and talking to skaters and support personnel with varying amounts of experience. (See the details of the epic journey here.) The subject matter discussed in all these different locations and situations was so homogeneous that he gave the phenomenon the name, "Same Conversation, Different City." Derby-loving folks of all genders, sizes and orientations were fed up with blah blah and couldn't believe that so-and-so is doing such and such and they were gonna quit if the *&@ing board of directors didn't change yadda yadda, on and on ad infinitum ad nauseum. I convey this not to dwell on the negatives but as a segue to the first of 3 important points:
- Having Derby Drama is the norm, not the exception.
As unique as your problems seem, as bad as things get and as much as you think no other league could possibly be as fuxx0red as yours, trust me, you are not alone. Blowups and throwdowns have formed over minimum attendance requirements, uniform selection, venue lease negotiations, MRSA outbreaks, poster artwork, bout eligibility, afterparty venue, t-shirt sizes, sign fonts and innumerable other issues both big and hilariously trifling.
- Having Derby Drama does not mean your league is doomed.
The founding leagues in the current rollerderby renaissance started in 2001 and the founding leagues in the flat-track explosion started in 2003. They exist and thrive to this day despite going through the same kind of in-fighting we see today and without the benefit of more experienced leagues to turn to for guidance.
- If not acknowledged and addressed, Derby Drama can divide and conquer you.
See the 2 different years in the previous point? Flat-track rollerderby exists because sometimes problems are not rectified before the breaking point is reached, in this case causing members of TXRD to break off and form the Texas Rollergirls. (See the documentary "Hell on Wheels" or read this if you don't know the story.) Now take a peek at this map, zoom in a bit and look for places where there is more than one league marker in a medium-sized or small market. In many places where the population isn't really big enough to support it, you'll find two different leagues are competing for players and fans because when the doodoo started to hit the fan inside the first local league, no one turned off the doodoo machine or moved the fan.
Here's a hint.
Take the time to set up an architecture that can handle known problems and can adjust to handle new ones. It can be the difference between spending your time putting on roller derby bouts and spending it medicating your depression bouts. Elements of such an architecture tend to include but are not limited to the following.
- Distributed Governance
That's a fancy way of saying "Democracy, not monarchy." When one person tries to oversee every aspect of running a league, they either get overwhelmed and have a nuclear meltdown or else they become "the league tyrant" who everyone starts to resent for being a domineering beeeeyotch. Appointing one person to manage and have final say over each required element of operation (marketing, finance, sponsorship, etc.) allows each of those elements to get the full attention of someone with the juice to make on the fly decisions to meet deadlines and rectify last-minute problems rather than waiting for "Queen Bitchface" to get around to it.
- Conflict management
Sometimes a well-meaning group is doing something unintentionally stupid that is hurting the league and ignoring those who oppose it. Sometimes one nutbag is being a douche at practice and taking a dump on the floor at every afterparty. Whatever the situation, sometimes an issue is too heated to be handled rationally by those immersed in it. When this happens, a third party is required to help the two sides achieve perestroika or at least detente. Some leagues have a grievance officer, some have a conflict committee but whatever the name or makeup of it, the existence of a designated arbitrator can defuse volatile situations before they blow up and wind up costing you a team member or a friend.
- A written statement of goals/values
Known in the corporate world as a mission statement or core values, this can be one of the most helpful things you can have to help make decisions that are consistent and in the agreed-upon best interest of the league. Take nominations from league members as to what the most important aspects of rollerderby are, discuss them a bit, then hold an open vote on those aspects and assemble a statement or list that includes the top 5 or so vote-getters. Once you have that, you suddenly have a powerful guidance system for making decisions that no one can get pissy about because they voted on and agreed to the system. Let's pretend that a fake league named the Awesomeville Derbysquaws has voted on and approved the following list of league values: Competitive Excellence, Fun, Fitness, Safety and Friendship. The Derbysquaws now have a stated point of reference to use when ideas are presented. If someone makes a formal proposal that says, "Let all kick a beehive and eat lard sandwiches," a quick look at the league values shows that this would violate the values of Fun, Fitness and Safety (and probably blow the crap out of Competitive Excellence and Friendship for that matter) and would therefore be rejected. If someone else proposes, "Let's practice twice a week instead of once a year and actually start wearing helmets from now on," this would be accepted because it satisfies the values of Competitive Excellence, Fitness and Safety. This is a highly simplified and exaggerated example of course but the concept is accurate. Decision making becomes uncontroversial and impersonal (in a good way) because it is based on the agreed-upon league values and not the fact that SOMEONE ate too much fiber and blew non-stop fart rings around the practice track last night.
(edit: Here's a link to Surviving Derby Drama part 2)
Okay derby veterans, time for you to share your wealth of experience in the comments and save a teetering league from a premature grave!