Toestops: Why Can't I Quit You?

I am very skilled with my toestops. If there was a toestop marathon, I would be a contender.

Image via Jammercandy

Image via Jammercandy

I am comfortable on my toestops. I love blocking on my toestops; I love jamming on my toestops. I love my toestops. My edges, not so much.

My strength, speed and aggression made me a good roller derby player, not my skating ability.  I had to work really hard to become a good skater.  I joke that I made it to Division One WFTDA playoffs last year without knowing how to skate, but a small part of me really thinks that’s true. Being on my toestops is comfortable, and being on my wheels is scary.

I am a coach as well as a skater. It really hit home for me the other day when I was explaining how something I really value in my skaters is coachability- the ability to take feedback and make a positive change with it. I'm not looking for an instantaneous transformation, just forward progress.

But my coaches and trainers have been telling me to use my edges for the past four years. It’s been FOUR YEARS. I have been receiving the SAME EXACT FEEDBACK for FOUR YEARS without doing anything about it.

Oh, I’ve made half-hearted attempts to get better. I've chanted mantras and made specific drills for myself. I've taken my toe stops off at practices (and knocked the wind out of myself more times than I care to count). I've made lofty goals and made declarations of how “This is the year I’m going to change, I can feel it!” And then it gets too hard, and I give up.

One of my trainers pointed out to me that I use my edges just fine in drills. It’s gameplay where the proverbial shit hits the fan. And it’s true. Whenever we do drills where the focus is on edges and not toestops, I panic. But then I do the drill and it’s fine and I realize, “Oh, I actually do know how to use my edges. This isn’t that bad.” Come scrimmage time, though, you won’t find me anywhere but my toestops.

So why is this a problem? Why do I need to quit my toestops? For a long time, I thought whatever works is fine. I’ve been doing a good enough job on my toestops. If that works for me, why not keep doing it?

The truth is, being on my toestops makes me stand taller than I need to be. It makes me unstable and an easier target for offense. I am less able to create solid seams with my teammates because I’m standing a foot taller than they are. I am pushed forward more easily, and I simply don’t have the speed and agility I could have if I used my edges more effectively.

If I had really focused on changing my skating style three years ago, it would have saved me a lot of heartache and mental anguish. But you have to get worse to get better sometimes, and I never wanted to do that.

Although I’ve come to accept that this change has to occur, I really appreciated last year when one of the coaches told me, “You either need to start using your edges or get lower when you’re using your toe stops.” It was nice to be given an option. Time after time I had heard, “Use your edges, use your edges, use your edges,” with no other option offered. Getting a choice made me think of my toestop dependency as a disability and my coaches were trying to help me work around it. However, it’s not a disability. It is a habit that can most certainly be changed.

This is the biggest thing standing in my way of play time, of being a great roller derby player, a great skater. At any time if I had focused my energy on this, I’m sure I could have made the change. It’s almost like it has been a security blanket I am reluctant to let go of.

After having these realizations, I know now what I have to do. I have to let go of my toe stops. I have to get a little worse to get a lot better.

I am ready to be a beast. I am ready to play at my potential. This is going to be the year I change. I can feel it.

Just Wingett is a Brawlstars triple threat and captain of Ann Arbor Bruising Company.

Posted on April 19, 2017 .

Sobriety in Roller Derby, Pt. 1: Getting Sober

Although the stereotype may be that roller derby players are party girls who can drink you under the table, roller derby was a large part of the reason I quit drinking. As I approach my second anniversary of being sober, I wanted to share my story.

I grew up in a family of drinkers and was drinking heavily by the ripe old age of 14. Shortly after I turned 17, I joined the Navy, and at 19, I was stationed in England. You know who can drink as much as a U.S. Sailor? Your average Englishman. I was totally immersed in drinking cultures before I was even able to legally drink.

In my heyday, I could drink an impressive amount. But what's the problem with that? Everyone should be allowed to kick back and have some fun, right? Most people who know me don't fully understand why I stopped drinking.“You're so much fun when you drink!” They say. It can be hard to explain as it is so personal, but I will try to name the reasons that I quit.

Sometimes, drinking WAS fun, and it helped me loosen up and make friends. Other times, however, I became violent and attacked people. More often than not, I blacked out and didn't remember any of it. Drinking was an excuse for any bad behavior, and it always meant that I got a hangover day. A hangover day was basically any day after a night of drinking, a day where I didn't expect myself to get anything done or try too hard. I could take it easy, to reduce the discomfort of the hangover. Hangover days also frequently involved drinking. This caused a vicious cycle of getting nothing done and being depressed because I wasn't getting anything done, which normally led to more drinking just to make me feel different. Not better, because it didn't normally make me feel better. It just made me feel different.

As someone who is fiercely independent and stubborn, I hated the idea of having to depend on someone else to give me a ride home, so I would usually just drive drunk. While sober, I would hide my keys just in case anyone tried to take them away from me later.

Drinking alone isn't as much fun, so I got myself into a toxic, abusive relationship with another alcoholic. We gave each other an excuse to drink, in good times and in bad.

Then I joined roller derby! I knew from the moment that I realized I could join freshmeat that it was going to be something I loved and something I was good at. It was like this sport was designed specifically for me. I was in love before I even strapped on skates or saw gameplay. I first joined fresh meat while I was in England, but I was only able to go to a couple practices before I went home. The first thing I did when I found out I was going home for sure was to look up the closest roller derby league at home.

I debated between two leagues, and A2D2 was the one who took my heart (forever and always). During my first social event after I joined fresh meat, I was very nervous to talk to people, so I drank quite a bit. I don't remember most of the night, but I know that I threw up, made a spectacle of myself, attacked someone, and someone else had to go through my phone to call a ride home for me.

I was absolutely mortified about this event after people told me about it. Mostly, attacking a skater I respected and looked up to was unforgivable. That was when I knew I had to quit.

But that's not when I quit. I took a little break from drinking, but I was back at it soon enough. A friend with a bottle of wine makes a convincing argument!

It wasn't until I made it to the Brawlstars that I quit drinking, presumably for good. It was the end of the season Brawlstars party, and I was a fresh member of the team. It was the first time that I had interacted with many of my teammates in a party situation. I came late to the party, and a few people were already drunk. I decided I needed to catch up, and catch up I did! I woke up in the middle of the night on the couch. No one else was there. I found my keys and I got out of there as fast as I could, still a little drunk but not wanting to be there in the morning.

Black outs are so scary because you have no idea what you did or said, how many friendships you ruined, what drinks you spilled, who you puked on. I heard stories later, and although it wasn't my worst night, I was, again, mortified to have behaved that way in front of people who I respected and looked up to.

It was time for a break from drinking. It might have been any other little break from drinking, because I tried to quit so many times, but this particular break came at an interesting time. My derby wife had quit drinking recently, and my brother had started going to counseling for his mental health issue and was taking a little break from drinking. This normalized sobriety for me a little. But it was something my brother said to me that really sealed the deal. His therapist had told him that, yes, he most definitely was an alcoholic, and that as an alcoholic, you can try to limit yourself to just one drink, but after a while, whether it's a few weeks or months or whatever, that one will turn into two, and two will turn into three, and soon you're getting blackout drunk again. Then you'll cut back or take a little break, and the cycle will start over. It will always happen. Those were the words that gave me clarity. It will always happen.

Unless you just stop completely, forever. Although my brother has continued struggling with his alcoholism for the past two years, I have remained sober. If it hadn't been for that perfect storm of events, I might not have quit drinking, and my life would probably be much more of a mess.

It's still difficult for me. There are many times when I remember the good parts about drinking and I think, “I wasn't really that bad. Maybe I'm not an alcoholic. Maybe I'm just being too hard on myself.” And then I remember the really ugly parts. And I remember the cloud of guilt and depression and not knowing that hovered over me when I was a drinker. After I stopped drinking, I didn't immediately feel better or feel like I had changed. It has been a slow process of resetting negative feelings and habits into positive ones, and at this point I feel fulfilled in a way that I didn't when I was filling the void with alcohol. Roller derby has helped immensely with that, but I'm also starting to see myself as a whole person, with good things in my life and good aspects of myself that don't pertain just to roller derby.

When I celebrated my anniversary of two years sober in December, I mentally sent a huge thank you to A2D2 and to roller derby in general. A2D2 has given me so much in the past few years, and helped me transform my life into something good. In the second part of Sobriety in Roller Derby, I'll discuss my transition into the community of sober skaters.

Just Wingett is a Brawlstars triple threat and captain of Ann Arbor Bruising Company.

Posted on April 12, 2017 .

Reviewing Personal Footage Without Bumming Yourself Out

Practice footage of yourself is kinda like an oncoming jammer. You can pretend it doesn't exist, but facing it head on can make you a better athlete.

Practice footage of yourself is kinda like an oncoming jammer. You can pretend it doesn't exist, but facing it head on can make you a better athlete.

I’m my own worst critic, and if I don’t pull off what I think I wanted to do in my head, then I won’t be a happy girl.
— Amy Winehouse

I recently had a leaguemate ask how to review footage of oneself without getting bummed out focusing on the things they SHOULD HAVE done. We have all been there. On one hand, it is good to know things you should work on! On the other, you also need to be able to use that review as a time to celebrate your victories, no matter how small.

Here are some tips that my leaguemates and I have found to be helpful when reviewing footage of ourselves:

  • The first time you review the footage, try and review it with a close derby friend. You will spend most of that time cheering for each other and pointing out what cool things happened. Your friends will likely find things to celebrate when you are struggling to see them. Enjoy watching the footage without being too critical. Try to laugh when something goes wrong, if you can.
  • Pay attention to the circumstances when things go your way, and also when things don't go your way. Were you jamming against your league's charter team? Were you one of two blockers on the track trying to slow the bleeding? Was there some great offense happening for you? Don't chalk your performance up to these situations completely, but do not let them go unnoticed.
  • Watch the footage in slow motion. One of the most amazing tools on YouTube is being able to watch a video at .5 speed or even .25 speed. You can pick apart what went wrong or what was the cause of your success. This is extremely helpful when looking to break down and recreate a scenario! 
  • Take notes! Write down the timestamp of something that went great. Revisit it later to remind yourself that you did something wonderful! Studies have shown it is incredibly important to have a mental highlight reel. If you have footage at your disposal to review, then you can have an actual highlight reel to pull up when you need a boost.
  • GIFs are your best friend! Use or as a learning tool. Cut up clips of yourself, or those who inspire you. This way you can watch one movement again and again and again... 
  • Ask for a friend to review footage of you in exchange for reviewing footage of them! It's SO helpful to have an outsider's perspective, and even better from someone who has no feelings attached to the event. 

In summary, take everything with a grain of salt. Ask for your friends' help. Take notes. Use all the tools at your disposal. Reviewing footage is something that can really help a skater's growth, and if you have the opportunity, seize it! 

If you do not have footage to review, record drills when you can! Set up your phone and hit record during practice. Ask your friends to record you and offer to return the favor. If you are learning something new or trying to fix a habit, being able to SEE it immediately after DOING it is incredibly useful.

Happy viewing!

I am Slamuel L. Jackson. I'm 3/4 jammer and 1/4 blocker for the Brawlstars as well as A2D2's meme master. I like animals, coffee, and bingeing Netflix.

Posted on March 30, 2017 .

Leave of Absence and Taking Care of Yourself

People take a leave of absence (LOA) from derby for many reasons. Injury, work, family, mental health. My LOA came about unexpected but needed.

I have been playing roller derby for two years. I started six months after having my beautiful little girl. Deep in the new world of parenthood, I began this derby journey lost and searching for myself, searching for a new me after becoming a mom. I was looking for a way to redefine myself, and I wanted to become a better person so I could be a better mom.

Derby did just that. I learned every week. I learned new skills every week. I met new people. I made new friends. I found a group of people who opened my eyes to confidence, strength, courage, and compassion, all while learning how to skate and bumping each other around on a concrete track. We faced fears, we jumped cones, and we skated an entire practice backwards (which solidified one of the best derby friendships I have right now).

I was learning to be comfortable with myself. I began to love this body that could do amazing things. I took chances. I was loving the life. I remember passing my skills test in February 2015. I remember that feeling I had when I found out I had made the Vigilante team. I remember my first bout. I remember my first MVP Blocker award. All those memories bring me euphoria.

But not long after all those wonderful things, I started losing sight of the real purpose of derby. I can remember that happened around October of 2016, shortly after Mitten Kitten and shortly after I sprained my ankle in November. I began to get terribly hard on myself (more than just the usual). At the beginning of this season, I thought I was in a good mental space but I came to find out that I wasn’t, and I just wasn’t admitting it. I was placing all kinds of unwanted and unneeded pressures on myself.

Early in the season, my wonderful captains set aside some time before one practice to bring up concerns that they had and what other teammates had expressed through observations. On the outside, I blew this off like no big thing, but inside I was falling apart and wasn’t ready to accept it or more importantly admit it.

I continued through the next few weeks, when my husband and I were fortunate enough to take an unexpected trip to the Czech Republic and Germany! It was great, but it also took me away from derby, missing practice and missing the first few bouts of the season. Long story short, I needed to step down from my team roster. I know it needed to happen and that I was following the guidelines. It was the right thing for me to do, but I really didn't handle it well.

My attendance at practice from late April to June was on and off, when I finally admitted to myself that I needed to take some time off and focus on me. Focus on my family, and focus on my issues around self-doubt, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Most of all, I wanted to deal with anxiety issues that were limiting me more than I really knew. I was fearful to take LOA because I wasn't sure if I would return.

Admitting this was so incredibly hard. It was a punch in the gut. It made me feel powerless and useless, but I know without this league, I would have never pushed myself to take this step of taking care of myself and seeking professional help. Without that initial conversation with my captains, I might never have taken those first steps to work on me. So to you both, thank you for being wonderful and supportive captains.

A2D2 is so strong and open and supportive of each other. Of physical health. Of mental health. I'm not sure I've shared how much, how important, and how essential this league has been in me reaching out and admitting I needed help and really identifying what anxiety looked like and how to deal. I'm an observer, and I've seen so many leaguemates grow their strength and confidence in the few short years I've been involved.

I cannot thank this league enough. Making my return this month hasn't been easy, because life happens and mentally I'm still working on things. I'm still figuring out how to be OK with me, and how to deal with the anxiety that controls me on a daily basis. But like always, my leaguemates are supportive. They offer hugs when I need it... and the occasional encouraging hip check on the track.

In my short time playing derby, I've found myself, lost myself, and am learning to redefine myself as I embark on a journey to a better me.

Kaboom is a 30-something year old Bank skater for A2D2, mom of a 3-year-old, wife, crossfitter, and physical therapist. She loves all things duct tape, Harry Potter, Disney, and the occasional Aqua song.

Posted on March 27, 2017 .

A2D2 Year In Review 2016

Top: Brawlstars took first place at the 2013 Mitten Kittens tournament.
Bottom: Arbor Bruising Company brought home the first place trophy in Mitten Kittens' 2016 division 1 tournament. 

2016 was an exciting year for Ann Arbor Roller Derby! All three of our teams played hard to put Ann Arbor on the map, and each team ended with positive win-loss ratios. All three teams went to tournaments to close out their seasons, and each team made Ann Arbor proud.

After losing only one game in the regular season, leaving them 11-1, the Brawlstars made WFTDA Division 1 Playoffs in Columbia, South Carolina for the first time ever, playing with some of the best teams in the WFTDA. The Brawlstars are now ranked 31st overall in the WFTDA

The Bruisers went into the Mitten Kitten Mash-Up tournament seeded first in their division and took home the first place trophy after winning all of their games that weekend. Bruisers ended up 12-4 after Mitten Kitten. 

The Vigilantes also participated in Mitten Kitten in their division, ending up taking 3rd place and leaving higher ranked than they entered. They played a number of grudge matches against teams who had bested them earlier in the season, and ended 7-4.

A2D2 home bouts got a little more exciting in 2016 with the approval of our liquor license. We began selling a few kinds of beer and cider to spectators to enjoy while they watched the game! Skaters who were not participating in the bout got certified to sell and had a great time.  

Off the track, we stepped up our community outreach this year, from adopting and cleaning up a stretch of local highway to gathering donations for local charities. Plus, we spread the gospel of roller derby far and wide by gathering donations and sending three boxes of used gear to a league in Beirut to help them get their start. 

Ann Arbor Roller Derby thanks you for tagging along with us on our 2016 journey, and we hope to see you as we move onto bigger and better things in 2017! Happy New Year!

Ypsilanti Vigilantes celebrate their third place win in the 2016 Division 2 Mitten Kitten Mash-up, scoring 168-116 against Keweenaw.

Sonnet Boom is a Bruiser/Brawlternate who would write and roller skate at the same time if it were feasible, but her trainers keep telling her not to.

Posted on January 1, 2017 .