I’m going to be away at a wedding for our next Bristol Roller Derby B(ee) Team’s game, so was planning to write a guide to LUMing for our lovely Tooms who will be covering for me as Line-up Manager. What better opportunity for me to take my thoughts and turn them into a blog post? There’re some great blog posts already on the internet about how to line-up manage and what makes an effective bench team, so I’m going to try and do something a little different.
Line-up managing is a role that I have been doing at Bristol Roller Derby for over two years now. I started at the league skating in fresh meat back in 2011 and promptly broke my ankle in three places. I started to NSO during my recovery and several consequent operations, but it just wasn’t for me. I feel that NSOing (and officiating in general) requires precision, a mathematical and/or analytical brain, attention to detail and good concentration. This is certainly not me. I did OK, but it went against the chaos of my general being, and my ankle is still not in a state to play derby.
So two years ago I tried doing line-ups, and feel that in doing so I finally found my role within the league. Now I am the main line-up manager for the Bristol Roller Derby ‘Bees’ and the Bristol men’s team, Vice Quad. (The Bristol Roller Derby Ayyyyys have their own amazingly talented Line-up manager, Hayley Flammable)
When I speak about my love of doing line-ups, some people find the idea of doing it untenable – too much happening at once to manage! However, I love the chaos of it all: managing people, clipboards, improvising, and making decisions on the fly when it all goes to hell. I also love being with the team during the game and what this brings – joy, fear, anger, anxiety, exhaustion, frustration and celebration. Being with people and managing their needs amongst sweaty helmet covers, discarded energy drinks and Sharpie pens that won’t write on sweaty arms is a joy for me.
On to the advice! But please be aware: “advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth…” (Baz Luhrman, Everybody’s free (to wear sunscreen)). I feel LUMing is a role you adapt to and master according to how you like to work and how your team works, so my advice you can take or leave as you wish!
My day jobs are working on a Domestic Violence helpline and as a counsellor, and this may have something to do with my preferred role choice: at work I need to be the voice of calm at times of crisis, and I am interested in how people interact with each other, group dynamics and what makes people tick. Useful training at work like managing anxiety and grounding techniques for when emotions are high have really helped me at times when the s**t hits the fan. Grounding is a way to bring a person back into the present moment. This can help them return to what is happening right now – not what has just happened, or what may happen in the future (e.g. ‘I just got all the penalties’, ‘I may be rubbish and let my team down’). A bad run of jams, nerves, doubt in yourself or your abilities, worrying that you’re letting the team down and that good old sickly feeling in your stomach or fluttering in your chest: any of these can stop you being in the present moment. They certainly affect me; I get pre-game nerves as bad as some of the skaters. So I use these techniques on myself and lend them to others:
- One technique to bring it back to the here and now is to physically remind yourself where you are. If sitting on a bench feel the floor under your feet (or wheels!) bum on the seat, hands in lap. If stood, press your finger and thumb together or hands on the sides of you or can hold a cold water bottle or feel a rough piece of wall. I grip onto my pen or clipboard. Do some deep breathing – in and out until a bit of calm arrives.
- Sometimes it’s also useful to use the other senses in what a technique known as the fives: e.g. try to find five distinctive sounds (eg announcer, wheels on the floor, whistle) or five things you can see (track tape, bench) or five smells (pads, bananas etc.) The shift in attention to the immediate surroundings can really help bring you back to the here and now.
Bring the Calm
The team need a calm bench team – and Bristol bring this every time. Avoid shouting, screaming, arguing. If things are bad, do what my old boss used to say and never enter the drama. Keep speech calm and slow – ‘we got this’ (even when you haven’t – if the team feel you are holding the bench together then they can just worry about themselves so keep it calm, even if you’re not).
When players feel calls are not just, I encourage them to speak to the bench manager so they can call an official review if they feel appropriate, otherwise concentrate on what you can change (yourself, your play, your conduct) and not what you can’t (the opposition, the refs, the floor).
Harnessing those Butterflies
Remember (and remind your team!) that the nerves, anxiety and energy are a good force, you just need to turn the dial down on it. That energy in small doses will spur your performance on a treat. Fritz Perls said that ‘Fear is excitement without the breath’.
I tell the skaters ‘Start breathing and then you are simply excited!’ (I am sure the skaters are sick of me telling them this by now).
I customised my clipboard recently and placed a beautiful guide to feeling scared and the usefulness of Prince’s song ‘let’s go crazy’ on one side, and on the other, the lovely sticker my derby wife Red October gave me that says ‘You can, and You will’. They remind me of what I try to pass on to the skaters, and of how awesome my league is. (I also need to mention the lovely and more glam cartoon picture of me was drawn by the highly talented Hattie Flattener as a gift when I hurt myself.)
Know your Team and Plan Accordingly
Work with your bench and captains – before, during and after. Get to know who plays well together, player preferences and individual strengths. The better you know your team, the better you can makes split second decisions on the go. Work out the line-ups and get several printed off – plus I now bring a spare blank set for an on-the-go re-write. Have a plan for power line-ups and other scenarios. Know what you are doing and why. I would also recommend letting the team know line-ups in advance so they know if they are on a lot or not as much as they would hope. Be empathetic to those who wish to be on the track more, but firm. We stick to the plan – every team member has a part to play; let them know what that part is. Keep checking in with the Bench and captain to see if they think things need to be switched around. Not everyone plays the same on game day and sometimes you’ll get someone injured for the rest of the game, or who takes a real whack and needs to sit out a few jams to get their breath back, or time to get their head back in the game.
So those tips are from my emotional toolkit. In my practical one, I would recommend the following:
* Helmet covers and a sweatband or other material in team colours for jam refs to tie to their wrists
* Line-up sheets plus spare sheets to write on
* Pens of all types, esp. lots of Sharpies. I like to use a pencil to cross off line-ups so I can erase them and reuse or change my mind (and a pencil sharpener)
* Medical supplies for the minor stuffs – plasters, blister plasters, paracetamol, deep heat and ibuprofen gel, indigestion tablets (anything more hardcore needs proper staff to treat/look at)
* Tissues and tampons
* Tapes of all kind for skin and skates and everything else
* I now bring an old compression sock for those who have tattooed arms and no armbands to write on that I cut up
* Energy tablets and drinks
Also gauge the level of who is playing – the bees have a range of skaters, from the very experienced to the first game virgins. They may have never been line-up managed before or been in a bout situation, so give them the extra time pre-game around the things the others already know, and encourage the old hands to guide and support them also.
My last piece of advice is on the more practical doing of the line-ups in the game.
Announce the skaters and make sure you have all of their names correct, and ideally agree shortened versions that they like and respond to. For example, if your skater is called Lady Unicorn Kill Face, you don’t want to be calling all of that out. Would she prefer Lady? Or Kill Face? Or perhaps her real name, Judith – ask them and agree it. Also check there’s nothing too similar so they can differentiate. Vice Quad have two Lukes and two Marks so I have worked out who is who when we play to avoid confusion!
Call them all out and get them ready in a group as near to the jamline as possible to talk tactics ready to get onto track as soon as that whistle goes, ideally stood up. Make sure you have a jammer with a jammer helmet cover and a pivot with pivot helmet cover.
Watch the box for penalties and decide who you will take off if the whistle goes with anyone in the box. I usually tell that person: “If Lady Unicorn Kill Face (or whoever) is still in the box, I’m going to keep you back”, so they know and are prepared to perhaps not go on. This is really important with your pivot and jammer as you cannot field two, so take those helmet covers away if you decide to field them regardless. If you realise a late penalty has been called and you need one player off once they’ve skated towards the line, don’t yell ‘ONE OFF!’ as three people will skate back. Always pick a person and yell their name so you just get one leaving the track. As soon as the current line-up is on the track, pick your next line-up, and get them ready again. If something has gone wrong and the whistle has been blown, don’t dwell on it, it has happened. Get the next line-up ready.
Try to monitor exhaustion and injuries. Most are good at knowing their bodies and capabilities but I find sometimes skaters will pretend they’re ok when they are not, or are not in a state to recognise that they’re not ok. I will never forget seeing one skater go green, and then white, after a bad fall. They wanted to keep playing so as not to let us down as we were on a short roster… I disagreed and sent them to the paramedics, and it turned out they had broken a rib. If in doubt, keep them off. No game is worth the risk of severe injury. I made my own ankle injury worse by ‘not wanting to make a fuss’. Make the fuss for them!
Also keep an eye on that penalty board – to avoid a 7 penalty foul out, I mark down each skater’s penalties on my notes. Let the Bench know when people are on 5 – especially if they are a jammer – in case you need to switch things up to keep them in the game.
Work with your Bench – they are in charge of making all tactical decisions – and share what you are seeing on track to make plans as necessary. This is a great opportunity to shout out to the three main Benches of BRD: Shi no Kamo for the Ayyys, HTM Hell for the Bees and Black Thorn for the Vice Quad. I couldn’t do what I do without having the knowledge that they are holding the team together on the track whilst I’m setting up each line-up and keeping a good eye on how the game is unfolding. They are experienced, calm and fair and I enjoy working with them all. I am biased as they are my friends and I am married to one of them but, nepotism aside, I stand by my words…
So to my last and final tip – ENJOY IT! Roller Derby is a time vampire of a sport that demands so much physical and mental energy. Having a laugh doesn’t mean you’re not taking it seriously – you can always kick ass and have FNU! (note, fnu=BRD speak for fun)
I’ll leave you with my favourite quote from the derby world which is:
“Remember why we fell in love with derby in the first place, because it is fun, do your best to make it stay that way.”-Bear Lee Human
Take care, TCH Xxx