Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sportsmanship & derby

Seriously, for a sport with a strong DIY ethos, there are some surprising gaps in sportsmanship expectations in derby.  I enjoy watching a skater be a "hot dog" on the track; I'm not really talking about being a showoff here.  I'm talking about some deeper issues.

The High Five

This is one of my favourite derby traditions: the fans all line the track, and both teams each take a lap, slapping fives with the audience.  It's one of those wonderful things about derby that blur the participant/audience division line.

Thing is, both teams need to be given fives.  I have seen audiences only offer a hand to the home team, or to the team they travelled to support.  Sure, there might've been some bad blood in the bout, but it's over now.  If you're going to step up to the line for one team, be the bigger derby supporter and step up for both teams.  Both teams competed, both worked hard, thus both deserve support after the bout.

The Score

A win is a win, right?  Why do we need more 237-45 scorelines?  They're not fun to watch, they're not often considered fun to play in, and they're a massively missed opportunity.  There's nothing to be gained by confirming the win with a score ratio like 4:1 or worse.

If the win's in the bag, it's time to experiment.  New formations, new plays, even new positions are worth trying.  Take a blocker, and give her a go at jamming.  See what happens when you play 2-offence.  Run power jams the old way.  So much of derby is done with the scrum start now.  Why not switch up once the win's already settled?  You may need to when you're behind later, this is a good time to practice.

You've already proven your system works better than theirs.  No need to keep rubbing it in.

Preferred Leagues

This one really gets my goat.  Picture this: mixed scrimmage, head ref in that role for the first time ever. Captain of the blue team is part of a top-10 league.  Captain of the red team is part of a team ranked in the mid 40's.  Upon being introduced and hearing this, the head ref directs the entire pre-bout chat to the member of the higher ranked league.

Or picture this: boot camp, a skater comes over to chat to three others who were not in their team's tops.  Two were from a league in the 40's, one was from a league in the top 15.  Once she learned this, she basically stopped talking to the two from lower ranked leagues.

Do I even need to say why this is unacceptable?  A skater becomes less worth talking to, less worthy of respect because of who she practices with?  Wow.  Just, wow.


That's my term for those who are involved in derby, but don't skate.  They seem to be the most marginalised in derby.  This includes the NSOs, of course, who are frequently mentioned and thanked, and shown respect by the skaters.  It also includes announcers, DJs, seating ushers, ticket takers, programme handers-out, cameramen and -women, merch-stand operators, and derby journalists.

This group is not shown much respect by the skaters.  The "for the skaters by the skaters" ethos is expanded in the mind of some to mean that the flatfoots are working for them.  When flatfoots offer an opinion on derby, it's discounted with "oh, but you're not a skater."

The derby community is far more than skaters.  That's why I usually call it that!  Years ago, the only people who would be called "derby people" were skaters.  Now, with the growth of the above positions, there are loads of derby people who don't skate.

Derby wouldn't be derby without them, and they're a part of the community too.  Thus, they deserve respect as well.

Victory Songs

Congrats, you just beat a team who travelled to your place to play their first ever open bout.  "We are the champions"?  "Na Na, Hey Hey, Goodbye"?  The "Hey, you suck" song?  Really?  That just seems a bit cocky.

Nothing against your taste in music, but the timing's off.  That sort of thing goes against the culture of the high five, the hugs & handshakes, and the group photo after the bout.  Keep it in check, please.


This one's been done to death, but I'll say it too: respect the refs!  That doesn't mean you have to call them "sir" or "ma'am" but it does mean that you have to accept a decision with dignity.

I'd like to see an end to the "tradition" of jammers signalling their tally of points to the ref after a jam.  This is called demonstrating in baseball, and is one of the most common reasons for an ejection.  The referee said 2 points, you can either go in and challenge it officially or accept it.  Attempting to undermine the referee's authority by signalling 3 shouldn't be an option.

As well, when chatting to the derby public in general, do not blame the refereeing for a loss.  This includes the statement "well, the refereeing was a bit spotty" and "I'm not sure some of the calls were exactly correct."  Those are just attempts to make "we would've done better if the refereeing had been the way I wanted it to be" sound better.

A great coach once told me "if you blame the refs, it means you don't want to learn to win."  The referees aren't crooked.  They're just not, so stop.  They're working hard to keep the game you play within the rules.  Show them respect.

I think I've covered enough here.  Derby's a young sport, these are growing pains.  But we should show more respect for everyone in the derby community.  After all, it's all of us together who make derby such a great thing.  Roll on!


  1. I completely agree with almost everything you've said here, save one point - running up high scores. My team have been on the receiving end of both humbling losses and runaway wins but on all of these occasions we have played to win. It doesn't feel especially good to beat a team by hundreds of points, and it's certainly not fun to watch, but there are two valid reasons for it.

    Firstly, obviously there are the rankings. Winning a game by a narrow margin when you should (according to rankings) have thrashed them would see the winning team slip down the rankings. Unless we start a win/lose/draw ranking system where everyone in a league plays each other (like football), some wins are worth more than others.

    Secondly, and arguably more importantly, taking it easy on a weaker team is akin to pity, and there is nothing sporting or respectful about that. Whichever team I skate against, I want them to bring their 'A' game. If that means a loss to a stronger team, so be it.

    That's my take on it anyway.

    1. On your first point, my rankings are designed such that a massive score difference is not much better than a tight score line.

      I agree, the second point is more important. However, I'm not saying to pity the losing side at all. I'm saying to take the opportunity to try different things. You know your primary system works. This is when you give your backup system a go.

      I have seen more than a few teams winning by >150 points still playing their top-8 skaters lineup after lineup. The scoreline is climbing, and there are girls on the bench who are apparently not even good enough to come in as a sub in a total whitewash.

      Otherwise, running the same plays with the same star players time after time is just bullying behaviour, plain and simple.

      As well, these sort of matchups should just not be scheduled. I hear time and again "it's hard to always schedule teams we're competitive with" and I believe it some of the time. However, I worry that there are teams who schedule in easier opponents so they seem to rack up big wins.

      Read rankings, schedule competitive opponents, and give your non-primary jammers a run. I don't think it's too much to ask.