That's a lot of your waking moments.
Then there's the bouts. Big events requiring liquor licenses, catering, organising venues with seating for a thousand (in some places in Aotearoa up to four times that many!), ticketing, flyering, afterparties (a whole other event!), half time entertainment, and all on a Saturday night when they're in competition with all the other gigs and entertainment that happen in a big city at that time. It all has to be organised while all that skating is going on. And these huge entertainment evenings are held every month, sometimes even more regularly. For a group of women and men with jobs, partners, kids and a sport to play, it's a huge commitment.
"I just couldn't commit" is one of the most common reasons why people quit. Not because they didn't like playing, not because they found the sport too hard. Because they couldn't commit.
Roller derby, to me, is being run upside down.
|Who wouldn't want to play a sport where you got to wear these?|
Let's compare. Take ice hockey, a skills-heavy, similarly dangerous sport so I think it's a reasonable basis for rough comparison. Ice hockey is a triangle. At the bottom, you have a huge base of casual players. The Tuesday night social leagues. The kids playing after school. the work teams. No stress, just pay your weekly subs and turn up to a rec centre to play. No glitz, no aspirations to play in the Maple Leafs (mostly). Then you have the more serious players, who'll train more regularly, hit the gym to play better, will spend time watching matches for strategy ideas, but for whom it's a serious hobby to go along with their real lives. Some big games might have a small audience. At the peak of the triangle, you have your Ice Blacks, your NFL, your Olympic hopefuls. Those at the bottom go to games to support the players at the top, they admire them and learn from them. The game is accessible to all and there is the possibility of progression up the triangle, but it's not expected.
Roller derby? Roller derby inverts the triangle. Every aspiring skater is told from the word go that they are making a huge commitment. Every skater in a league is expected to train as hard as they can, to go further. Every bout is a big event. Every skater is told that if they try really hard they can be the next Bonnie Thunders (the LeBron James of roller derby according to ESPN), and skaters who say that they "just want to play derby" are seen as anomalies, of letting others down, of not pulling their weight.
I've done it myself. On the nights where I'd be replying to emails at 2am I'd shake a fist at the skaters who turned up, skated, packed up and just left again. I made the passive-aggressive comments about the ones who didn't make the meetings. At the time, I thought I was annoyed at their "laziness" or lack of "commitment". Now I realise I was just a bit jealous. A lot of skaters like me are unable to strike the balance between skating and life, and quit. The skaters who stay will invariably have legitimate complaints about their work rate, exhaustion, and stress. It's not a good way to be.
From experience, the main issues that cause player attrition and burnout are attendance requirements, bouts, and fundraising pressures.
Attendance: How often is the league asking skaters to attend, and how is this time justified? Let's go back to ice hockey. Mackenzie ice hockey have their player code of conduct on their website. All players are expected to "Be on time and properly equipped for all practices and games." Sound familiar? Then you see how often teams have practice: Once a week. For an hour. I've no doubt that there will be other practices, skate sessions, and the like, but an hour a week sounds a lot more reasonable than four, or six, or ten. Doesn't it? How often is reasonable for those who really just want to skate? Which brings me on to....
Bouts: Who are they for, really? They're fun, sure. Good entertainment, usually. But surely asking thirty or so women, most of whom work full-time or in further education and have family commitments, to stage a huge Saturday-night event every month on top of their skating commitments is a bit masochistic? Roller derby has her roots in sports entertainment but if it is to be seen as a sport in 2013, why spend the hours and the tears on the entertainment as well? Here's a challenge. Imagine your league with no home fixtures for an entire year. No bout committee. Your intra-league competition is a once-a-month special scrimmage, with winners announced at the end of the year. Competitive? Sure, just like your Saturday hockey games. Nothing to stop your other half and the kids coming to cheer support, but no tickets, no flyering, no panic over where the chip fryer is for the hot food stand. Maybe you have one or two big bouts a year, an exhibition bout or the final or an inter-league. It's a big deal. It's stressful, but not rushed. Everyone's got the energy, as it's your big celebration. People will go as it's an event, not a regular fixture battling for attention on a crowded weekend. It would pay for itself, which leads me onto.....
Fundraising: So, you drop your attendance requirements. Maybe your league has one skills night a week, and one scrimmage. If you don't make skills you sit out the scrimmage. Your subs decrease as you have fewer venue fees. You host one or two big bouts a year, they're big-ticket events and a fixture on the calendar. So what is left to fundraise for? I'll answer before you do:
Your best players. They represent you at WFTDA bouts, who are further up the triangle. They work hard for their jersey and let's face it, travel costs, right? Shouldn't we be fundraising for them?
|The high end- WFTDA|
Let's try another way. The All-Stars run in parallel to the regular league. They pay extra for their training venues, they run their own trainings. They're higher up the triangle. Before a major away fixture, skaters on the All-Stars agree to a funding contract, to raise x amount towards the cost of travel and expenses. They can either pay it directly, or they can fundraise, find some sponsorship, or a mixture of all three. Many schools and groups run on this system for overseas trips worth thousands. It becomes the responsibility of the player to raise their funds in the best way they can. Players could work together on initiatives, other skaters could help with time or donations or whatever, but their assistance would not be mandatory. Working together to fundraise would help foster team spirit. The skaters who "just want to skate" aren't asked to commit time to raise money for others to travel the country/the world, and if your place on the squad depends on your ability to fundraise you're going to make the effort, aren't you? The first fifteen of your local high school go on week-long trips to Australia because they work hard to raise the money for themselves and their team, and you can bet your ass their training commitments are huge.
This way, we flip the triangle. The wedge at the bottom are the twice-a-week players who rock the sports court and get a yearly shot at an audience. The better players form almost a sister league, training hard and playing harder. Progression if you want it, a fun sport to play if you don't. And hell, maybe we get our own Bonnie Thunders at the top.
I know this doesn't address all the problems and issues around the sport, and I know that some people might be reading this and wondering how easy it'll be to cut my brake lines, but I love the sport, the women who play it and the women who want to play it and think that maybe, just maybe, there could be a place for all of us on the track. But I know there isn't space for all of us on the point of a triangle.