Friday, January 25, 2013

The Cambrian Question, or why can't the Welsh manage the Welsh?

With the growth of International (nation-vs-nation) Roller Derby, the issue of forming national teams is raised.  For most, the organisation exists already.  Finland, Sweden, and Canada, for example, already have national associations.

However, Scotland, Wales, and England do not.  What they have instead is the UKRDA, which has declared coverage over the entire UK.

The difficulty comes in forming teams England, Scotland, and Wales.  (The Irish question will be left for a future article.)

UKRDA have recently issued a press release explaining their procedures for forming UKRDA-endorsed men's and women's national teams.  Here is where the inherent difficulty makes itself known.

On their website, UKRDA list 28 member leagues.  Of these, 23 are in England, 3 in Scotland, 1 in Northern Ireland, and 1 in Wales.  Thus, the rules listed above are voted on by a majority English electorate.

The rules for UK-based skaters call for only skaters and coaches who are members of UKRDA affiliated leagues. Let us consider only the case of UK-based skaters.

Team England has 23 leagues in its own border from which to choose skaters, plus English skaters from Wales, Scotland, and N. Ireland.  No where is there a set definitition of Englishness for the purpose of selection, but let us assume there is one that the UKRDA has yet to release publicly.

Team Wales, on the other hand, has only 1 league's worth of eligible skaters, plus ex-pats.  Already, this puts them at a massive disadvantage.  There is one more full bouting league in the country, plus a number of other leagues not yet at bouting strength.

As well, it's a massive disenfranchisement of those skaters.  Less than 50% of the skaters in Wales are eligible to represent their nation.  Less than 50% of active coaches are eligible to coach their nation.

This is the difficulty in having a multi-national organisation setting the rules for national team selection.  The goals and priorities of the multi-national organisation may be different to those of the nation they claim to have set a team up for.

A majority English electorate have told the Welsh how they must assemble their team.  This will not be a Team Wales, under these rules it will be Team UKRDA-in-Wales.

Note, too, that the same ratio occurs in Scotland.  More than half of Scottish skaters will not be eligible for UKRDA's Team Scotland.

These facts strongly suggest that, while UKRDA may be a useful organisation for inter-league play, they are not optimal for national teams.  Team England's rules are for the English alone, Team Scotland's for the Scots, and Team Wales for the Welsh.

Until a majority of the Welsh skaters have the opportunity to even ratify the rules of formation for a team competing in their name, no team can rightfully call itself Team Wales.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

An exciting time for derby

What an exciting time.  The sport is growing by leaps and bounds, we all knew that.  But they just announced a Men's international tournament--nation against nation.  How cool is that??

Let's cast our minds back to the derby world cup.  Who hosted it?  One league in Toronto.  Who organised and sanctioned it?  A magazine.

This is the beauty of derby--it's all self-run.  The reason the world cup was official is because the skaters considered it official.  That's all.

Same goes for each of the national teams.  Why are they official?  Because their skaters agree that they are represented by the team.

So, who's planning this Men's Cup of Nations (my suggestion, not the official name)?  Well, the people who brought you MERDC.  Their credentials?  They've run a tournament before, and it was brilliant.

This is derby, folks.  The most self-made sport in the world.  It's a sport run by the faithful for the faithful, not run by top-down organisations for the benefit of their bottom lines.

What makes this tournament official is that we, the derby faithful, consider it official.  Same for the teams.

This, too, is the beauty of derby.  We're still laying the groundwork!  The game is young, the international game even more so.  This our chance to make an indelible mark for future derby.

To those forming the teams, put Derby 1st.  Put all the skaters of your nation 2nd, and relegate petty politics to the last thing you consider.

This is your time.  The time to shape the derby of your nation.  You, who have been charged by a group of skaters with determining the future of England, Scotland, Wales, France, and others, this is a first.  Like so many things in derby right now, it's a first.

So read what others have done, and ask for advice.  But always remember that your first duty is to the game and your nation.  Always do what will honour that duty above all else.

Good luck and Godspeed.  I'm already booking my ticket to the tournament.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The curious case of co-ed derby

Most roller derby skaters in the world today are female.  In the UK, for example, there are 97 bouting travel teams, of which 8 are men's teams.  Thus, the men's game is often just a side note to the larger scale of the women's game, especially in the common "look what women are doing to keep fit and empower themselves" story often found in mainstream media.

Often, men's teams are founded as a sort of "brother" team to established women's leagues, comprising the referees, coaches, NSOs, and fans who would have joined had it not been for a pesky Y-chromosome.  However, there are a few cases where the relationship is a bit closer than just "brother-sister."  How, then, does co-ed derby get on?

Firstly, it's important to define a co-ed league.  There are a few points of possible integration:
  1. Beginners'/Fresh Meat training
  2. Advanced/Travel Team training
  3. League Management/Board of Directors
  4. Resources/Venues/Human Resources
  5. Bout Scheduling
Not all leagues considering themselves co-ed will meet all criteria, and some leagues which do not consider themselves co-ed may actually meet several. The late Cardiff Roller Collective, for example, met #2, #4, and #5 to various degrees in concert with the South Wales Silures.

Manchester Roller Derby do consider themselves a co-ed league.  President Tori Bee states "It's a huge part of MRDs identity. We have always been coed, as part of our inclusive ethos. From the beginning MRD wanted to give men the opportunity to play roller derby."

She goes on to mention the difficulty of co-ed training, but emphasizes that the mix of styles that comes when male and female skaters work together.  "The boys bring the aggression n the girls bring the brain  
We also find the big size differential in training useful for practicing legal hits on low skaters, or how to use others' weight/ height against them for example."

To be fair, MRD meet #1, #3, #4, and #5.  Their travel teams no longer train together.  "Each team has one dedicated two hour session per week that's for the team only and we've non-team sessions that are always co-ed," says Gaz Jones, one of the more outspoken members of the men's team.  

Newcastle Roller Girls are, almost by definition, not co-ed.  After all, their name implies sex segregation.  However, NRG vice-skipper Gin & Sonic refers to their relationship with Tyne 'n' Fear as a brother-sister one with the following caveat: "Currently we’re ran as one league but the boys are  looking at becoming financially separate this year but we’ll still help each other out, scrimmage  and share officials/practice space/bouts/bench managers etc."

Thus, despite the nominal implications, the NRG/TnF machine actually meets #3, #4, and #5.  Thus, although NRG are a women's league, their affiliation is very, very close.

Close enough, in fact, to deny WFTDA affiliation to the Tyneside ladies.  "Currently we’re working on becoming financially separate from each other so NRG can apply for WFTDA apprenticeship which will hopefully happen midyear. NRG want to strive to be the most competitive team we can be and TnF have been really supportive in this. It is a shame we can’t apply before  but those are the rules ;). I Believe TnF do want to become MRDA affiliated in the future but they aren’t moving towards that yet."

Juliana Gonzales, press officer for the WFTDA, confirm's Gin & Sonic's understanding.  "WFTDA membership requires that your league be dedicated to women's flat track roller derby only, so all competitors in WFTDA leagues are women."  

As the requirements refer to competitors, MRD are eliminated from WFTDA eligibility on the basis of their ethos.  However, NRG have that option still available to them.  Ms. Gonzales goes on to state that "the membership requirements typically have to do with business structure and league governance."  Thus, a league must only fail to meet #3 above to be WFTDA-eligible.

Interestingly, the MRDA has no issue with membership for co-ed leagues.  After all, MRD hold MRDA affiliation.  The UKRDA, as well, seems to have no issue with co-ed leagues, as NRG are members.

The only issue is the big W, and if that affiliation is worth breaking up the official single-league setup.  "We've mused about being separate only on paper, but for me that just doesn't sit right for us." comments Ms. Bee.

Ms. Gonzales states "We definitely intend to continue working closely with MRDA to grow in a cooperative and parallel way.  I don't forsee us merging membership structures anytime soon, but never say never."

As teams and leagues improve, affiliation status becomes more important. As well, the growth of the men's game means that more and more leagues will be meeting at least a few of the five points, either on their own or in concert with an opposite-sex league across town. Thus, co-ed derby needs to find a place in officially-recognised derby.

Sure, compromises will have to be made in order for co-ed structures to enjoy official recognition. Shouldn't those compromises be made in the direction of allowing roller derby for more, rather than roller derby for fewer?

Friday, January 4, 2013

WFTDA Playoffs

Damn, WFTDA done done it!!!

The new system is beautiful, elegant, and hopefully functional.

1st: ranking scheme

Wow, it looks like the best of the rugby rankings, the cricket rankings, even mine all rolled up into one. Basically, each team takes points from a bout based on percent of the score, the opponent's rank, and the importance of the bout.  The first two sound like mine, don't they?

The third sounds like a great idea, if you want a system that rewards playing well in a tournament.  Friendly bouts are worth less than tournament bouts, of which the championship bout is worth the most of all.  Unfortunately, they don't go into detail of if just Big 5 tournaments count extra, or if something like Track Queens would come with more value as well.  I do hope it does.

Also, this means that ONLY SANCTIONED BOUTS COUNT!  A scheme based on democracy is really nice on paper, but it suffers from the "unrung" problem--once the scores from a closed bout leak, the voters can never be properly trusted not to take them into account.  Using only sanctioned bouts mean that the WFTDA rankings calculators can "show their work" of why teams are ranked where they are.

Problem: the system for inaccuracy requires 51% of teams to vote that the ranking is inaccurate.  Thus, if a bout is mis-recorded, a team must campaign for the bout to be voted inaccurate.  I really, really dislike the idea of turning facts of history (the score) over to a democratic process.  It's either accurate, or it's not.  That shouldn't require a vote.

2nd: divisional structure

Looks like WFTDA learned from the best of the Football League, but with a massive, massive advance: unlimited promotion.

The top 40 teams as of 12 November are in D-I.  However many former D-II teams make that cut, that many are promoted.  However many former D-I teams find themselves ranked below #40, that many are relegated.  Simple as, and way more fair than the Football League system.

ALSO, D-I teams are required to play D-II or D-III teams, with similar requirements on the other divisions as well.  This means that a worthy D-III team (Helsinki, anyone?) will have the opportunity of picking up the points for facing a D-I opponent.  Unlike the Rugby Premiership, D-I cannot be walled off from the rest of derby.

Is it perfect?  Well, what would perfect even look like?

It's fair, and it says that team rankings aren't based on opinions and preferences.  They're based on facts, and points, and more facts.  Of course it's subject to review, everything is.

I think the WFTDA have made a great move forward for the world of their affiliates.  Well done!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year, New Rules

Alright, so the rule change is official!  Well, unless you're in the SW:UK tournament.  As it started with the old rules, it'll finish with 'em.  Makes sense to me.

So, what can you be doing to make the transition work better?

#1, actually read the rules.  I know an awfully large number of people who read that list of rule changes and think that they're ready.  I know a few more who read reactions to the new rules, like mine, and are happy now.  This is the quickest way to find your spot on the team turned over to a new skater who took the time to read the rules.  Read 'em, know 'em, love 'em!

#2, stop looking for loopholes.  Seriously, some people are out there not thinking about how to be better skaters, but how to 'game the system' so that they can win.  At the most basic level, if you focus on 'gaming the system' you're not focussing on skating better.  If you win due to gamesmanship, you're not winning on the merit of your skating.  Derby is a skating sport; any victory won due to a clever loophole is a hollow victory indeed.  Focus on skating better this new year, and win the physical and mental game as an athlete, not a lawyer.

#3, be clever.  "But wait, didn't you just say skate better, stop thinking?"  Well, I didn't say stop thinking, just stop gaming the system.  Never stop thinking.  So the play says 'form wall here,' but you see a star pass behind you and the pivot is struggling to put the panty on.  What do you do?  Well, if I were you, I'd hit her whilst she's defenceless and distracted.  Now, you've delayed the whole think 6-10 seconds, for her to get up, pick up the panty off the floor, etc.

---I'm going to say this once right here: there is no perfect play in derby.  There is no secret recipe that always gets you 4 points, and them 0.  If you have an idea, try it.  If it works, keep on.  If it doesn't, don't do it again.  Simples!

#4, this is an opportunity.  Many of the tactics used by teams ranked 5-10 places above yours will no longer be as effective.  Honestly, some teams are ranked due to skill, others due to teamwork and tactics.  Now is the time to leapfrog 'em by being better prepared for the new rules than anyone else.  Get refs to practice, work hard, scrimmage, scrimmage, scrimmage.

#5, enjoy!  I think the new rules streamline the game greatly.  I have a feeling it'll function way, way better.  Enjoy it!  Never forget, the reason you do derby is because you love derby.