Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Surviving Derby Drama (Part 2)

Quick, walk outside and punch the first random person you see in the arm. Now ask 'em to help you balance your checkbook. Congratulations, you just started a roller derby league! No wait, you got arrested for assault.

Not that getting arrested is always bad...

In a sense, derby players are doing both of those things multiple times per week. They spend hours a week hitting their leaguemates with full game-time intensity during scrimmages, sometimes hurting them or getting hurt by them, getting ticked off at each others mistakes and failures, building competitive rivalries in intraleague bouts and developing a barely contained desire to beat each other about the eyesockets with muffler pipes. Then they take off the skates, sit down at desks and try to build marketing strategies or set financial budgets with those same people. We're human and we don't have the benefit of being able to start each new day with a blank slate. We bring our memories and some some portion of our mental baggage with us no matter how hard we try not to. So it's one thing to listen to a proposal for a bout theme from an unknown person but it's another thing when that idea comes from the dirtbag who cracked your rib with the the clearly uncalled-for cheap shot in the last jam of last night's scrimmage. Learning to rein in your emotions enough to endorse a good idea from "that cheaterbutt douchebag" will ultimately benefit your league and keep you from unnecessarily escalating your personal conflicts. Here are some common sources of conflict and ways to address them constructively.

Skating Conflict
When you're on the track together, someone we'll call Blocker A is always in your way, or guarding the back when you want help guarding the front or chasing their jammer when you need help defending your own. Blocker A ticks you off because it seems like they're always going the wrong way and doing the wrong thing. Blocker A makes you want to knock her/him out and skate shorthanded. How do you handle skating with someone you can't skate with?

There are two schools of thought on this sort of situation.
  1. Don't skate with them. Teams generally roll out two sets of four blockers that alternate jams. As much as Blocker A clashes with your instincts, there is probably someone else on your team that has the same instincts as Blocker A and will work great with her/him. Put the most like-minded blockers together in sets of four and reap the benefits of their similar styles.
  2. Make SURE to skate with them. If their instincts are opposite of yours, that can actually be a very good thing. "Guard the inside!" you yell. What, the jammer went outside? No problem, Blocker A thought the jammer was going outside and knocked that star-wearing biznatch into the third row of suicide seats. Having different instincts working together can actually cause synergy where each of you ends up covering the other one's arse.
Experiment with both of these because only time will tell which works best for you.

Personality Conflict
We'll use "Blocker B" for this one. Blocker B is a good player who walls up well with you and helps you shut down the opposing jammer like an over-mortgaged newspaper (zing!) The problem is that when you're NOT on the track together, Blocker B has a grating voice, makes lame puns, hums ABBA tunes nonstop and hasn't had a shower since the Clinton administration. Without ever really doing anything wrong, Blocker B makes you want to go all Road Runner and drop an anvil on their head. Not surprisingly, the feeling is mutual and they're annoyed by how you constantly sing Creed and recite Dane Cook. (I'm with them on this one, I'd have to kill you.) Since the team needs both of you alive in order to win, you can't just kill them and hide the body like usual. You have to find a way to not only put up with their B.S. but also to help them put up with yours. How can you accomplish this? Here are some options:
  • "The Smile and Avoid"
    This one is kind of a cop out but it's also the easiest way to co-exist peaceably. It's the one where every time the two of you encounter each other, you give a friendly smile, say "Hey" and move right the hell on away from each other. It's polite, it's cordial and it requires no extended reconciliation campaign.
  • "The Extended Reconciliation Campaign"
    The toughest way but also the most rewarding when it works. I remember watching two girls whose fangs and claws came out every time they were near each other. One constantly did passive aggressive things, causing the other to seek out opportunities to hit her extra hard in practice or oppose her ideas in league meetings, causing the first to scheme back against her in other areas and blah blah blah on and on it went. It was a kind of death spiral where each one decided that if she couldn't be happy, at least she could make sure that that the other one was unhappy. (Apparently they were married. Zing!) Without delving too deeply into it, the two of them ended having to work together on something and as time went along, they gradually learned that they weren't as different and incompatible as they thought at first. They found common ground, started being able to chat peacefully and actually ended getting along great to the point where they worked together on a project that had nothing to do with roller derby. It is hard to do and takes a long time but it is completely worth the effort when it works out.
  • "The Border Patrol"
    It's the least pleasant method in the longterm but sometimes it is the only way when two people can't adjust to each other but have to work together. This is where you take the time to set boundaries and agree not to cross them. You actually sit down and each identify the things about the other that push your buttons and come up with an agreement on what each of you should or should not do to minimize the button pushing. This is one that often requires the help of a third party to accomplish, hence the grievance panel/officer mentioned in part 1. Overall it results in a situation where you may still hate each other's bitch asses but at least you're able to get through a board meeting or a practice without throwing punches.

Management Conflict
You and Blocker C work well together on the track, you like each others sense of humor and you both watch "Mad Men" every week. You're home free, right? Wrong, because your ideas on how to promote the league, recruit new skaters, spend league funds etc. are so different that every monthly meeting consists of the two of you arguing while the rest of the room buries their head in their arms, surfs the net on their iPhones or does shots of Wild Turkey. This is the type of conflict that, when left unchecked, is the most likely to lead to people splitting off and forming their own leagues. There are important decisions to be made on critical operational issues and when two sides are diametrically opposed on them, all hell can break loose.

Many times when this point is reached, an outside professional resource is necessary to reach a satisfactory resolution. Can't reach a financial decision? Network through the league members or just pick up the phone book and bring in a C.P.A. The dimes you spend on an accountant could save you dollars down the line and just as importantly, it is a whole lot easier for someone to accept an idea other than their own when it comes from an industry professional with a degree in that field. Some other decisions are more subjective, like whether it would be a good idea or a bad idea to use a cartoon of a tampon fighting with a maxipad on the next bout poster. (Answer: mega awesome!) When that sort of impasse is reached, the best resolution is to put it to a vote by the entire league. Majority rule will help you reach non-factual based decisions that are most in line with the culture and values of your organization. It takes the personalities of board members out of the equation and hopefully allows those on the losing end of it to not take it personally. The overall point here is, don't let two squabbling people make decisions without some sort of assistance. The emotions of a heated disagreement can lead to people fighting so hard to win the argument, they lose track of doing what is best for their derby league and the skaters in it.

Don't let derby drama beat you down, people. Roller derby is too fun, too socially fulfilling and just overall way too awesome to let the drama ruin it for you. Do everything you can to defuse it or at least manage it so you don't end up quitting something you love for the wrong reasons. And if some problem should happen to come up that you just can't seem to work through, who knows? You just might email it in to Derby Helper and give us a subject for part 3 of our 2 part series!


  1. Have you been spying on our league?

  2. This is a great article. In our case, we ended up quitting because of management conflict and alot of politicing in the league by other members for favor with the so called top dog. It destroyed a once close friendship. Now we have our own league. You're right. Unchecked it will lead to problems and that is exactly what happened with us unfortunately.

  3. "...while the rest of the room buries their head in their arms, surfs the net on their iPhones or does shots of Wild Turkey."

    Have you been spying on me during league meetings, Spanky?

  4. in response to Anonymous said... September 11, 2009 10:27 PM:

    WHOA. This is exactly what happened in our league too - really sad stuff. Top Dogs can create a lot of problems - but how do you send them to the doghouse? How do you judge the judge?

  5. great reading - part I and part II

  6. This is all well a good for people with the power in the league. If they are the douche bags you really don't have any other option but to quit and/or start your own.

  7. I'm on the board...and it sucks. Doesn't seem to matter what you do, there's always someone that thinks you're the devil.

    I think people forget that we're there to play too and I'd happily hand it over if only someone else would put their hand up.

    "Don't let derby drama beat you down, people. Roller derby is too fun, too socially fulfilling and just overall way too awesome to let the drama ruin it for you. Do everything you can to defuse it or at least manage it so you don't end up quitting something you love for the wrong reasons."

    It only it were that simple...

  8. HELP! We are currently dealing with this problem. We have a "tyrant" who runs everything but refuses to let anything go. We are starting to loose players and in danger of loosing our awesome coaches. Any advise? We would like to save the team if possible.