‘Wanna join?’ The flyer on my notice board had been screaming at me for almost a year before I actually worked up the courage to go along to one of the drop in sessions run by Bristol Roller Derby. My introduction to derby is one shared by many… I’d seen the film ‘Whip It’, thought it looked like fun, then happened to start working with someone who actually played the little known sport… In Bristol no less! I went to a bout in December 2014, and was instantly hooked! This is where I was handed the aforementioned flyer that proceeded to taunt me for almost a year.
Every so often in the world of sports, that age-old question rears its ugly head – what’s your policy on people participating when pregnant? For those of us who do sports tagged in the ‘extreme’ bracket, it’s one of the first things people will ask you once they know you’re pregnant. “So you’re giving up X then?”
By now the entire UK roller derby community has likely heard the whispers of the virtual demise of what was Tier 1 of the British Champs. Depending on which rumour mill you listen to, all or all but one of the original Tier 1 teams has dropped out of Champs, most citing the need to play WFTDA sanctioned games and concentrate on WFTDA rankings.
Not only is this a massive loss to the Champs, it’s a loss to UK roller derby as a whole, and one which I think could have been avoided.
Something which has been niggling me from the start is why Tier 1 is being run in the same format as all the other Tiers. There’s no carrot of promotion, and let’s all be up front here – the ‘threat’ of relegation was removed the instant that it was decided teams should be allowed to join in at the most appropriate level. Get relegated and don’t want to play those teams? Simply take a year out and then you’re good to go again, back in where you think you ‘rightfully’ belong.
So why is Tier 1 being run as a round robin style affair where everyone has to play everyone else, with the attendant travel and time issues involved? It seems to me that this is the ideal place for a 2-day Best of British Derby Tournament. Talk to the teams involved and schedule it so it works as a warm up for their trips across the pond to play USA teams and bump themselves up the WFTDA tables. Then run it as a six team seeded consolation bracket tournament. 8 games in total, spread across 2 days.
No pain, no gain, right? But what if the pain is accompanied by a “pop”, or a “crack”, or some other noise or feeling you don’t want coming from your body? Where is the gain there? Weirdly, I am finding it is not all bad.
No two ways about it: it sucks. The pain and embarrassment initially, the stupidly long hours at the hospital, the short term disruption to your work and family life, missing skating and anything else social you had planned for a few weeks. In the long term, all the hours on skates you are missing, your fitness depleting, the worry about whether your leg/joint/arm or whatever will ever be normal again, and if you will ever get back to where you were with other people overtaking you in your absence.
Bench Manager or Bench Coach; whichever term you prefer – those people who stand in the corners squinting at the track and occasionally waving obscurely. Ever wondered what they really do? Or why? Fancied trying it but been unsure where to start? This article is (hopefully) for you!
Before we start, there is probably no such thing in the derby-verse as the standard BM role – some teams have a permanent bench team, some conscript an available person near the time and some use non-rostered team skaters. The advice contained below is based on a combination of my current experience benching Bristol A‘s, and previous experience benching Bristol B‘s; you may find it more or less applicable to your situation, especially if you are helping with mixed teams.
13:45 – And we’re off! All packed and ready to go to Hannover for my first game as Bristol Roller Derby B(ee) Team Captain! We’re dragging some of the BRD men with us too, so there’s gonna be 23 BRDers invading Germany!!
14.10 – … Ok, now we’re off. I’m not sure my fellow car passengers share my opinion about leaving as much contingency time as possible when travelling to the airport. But the delightful POW, injured B-teamer and step-in Line-Up Manager, is a calming influence and despite the traffic we make it to Birmingham airport in plenty of time.
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.
Bath’s venue is, like their uniforms, very yellow. I wonder which came first; did they base their uniform colour choice on the lighting quality of their home venue? Choose their venue to compliment the hue of their uniforms? Neither of the above? Once our eyes had adjusted to the tone, we sought out our fellow BRDers and congregated in the suicide seating of the traditionally laid out sports hall. After quickly establishing that there was no position you can sit in on a sports hall floor that is comfortable for more than 30 seconds, we claimed our territory.
The Bath A versus Swansea B game was a relatively evenly matched affair. Interest was added by the fact Bristol’s A team was due to play Swansea’s A team in a closed game the following day, and by the appearance of our former teammate Wrecks on the Bath roster. We cheered loudly for Wrecks, warming up our vocal chords for the main event. Bath’s A team took the win, 180 to 115.
After the obligatory visit to the cake stall (I opted for a cupcake topped with a mini malteaser bunny despite the fact that I had 4 full size bunnies in my bag courtesy of Delta Strike who is an addiction enabler), Bristol’s B team took to the track for their skate out. It was an understated single-lap, pairs formation affair that I am totally stealing for the A team. The Bristol B team functions as a pool of skaters, and a spot is open to all of our female skaters not on the A team charter. If you think that this set-up makes the team transitionary or casual in any way then you would be wrong. The Bees, headed up by their fearless Captain Rip Tease and the deceptively sweet-mannered Vice Bear Thrylls, are a cohesive, driven unit, perhaps more so than other B teams who aren’t fighting it out for a roster space in such a large group. Combined with the established and experienced husband and wife bench team of HTM Hell and Thundercat Ho!, they are a force to be reckoned with.
I feel stupid for volunteering to NSO for Vice Quad versus Hades. I had a vested interest in not volunteering as this was the first time I was going to a merby (men’s roller derby) game, as well the first time I would get to see Vice Quad play – once I get good I’m hoping to play for them. But volunteer I had, which meant no shouting, biased facial expressions or whoops, combined with having to concentrate on my role in the penalty box. I’d also asked Wolverine Bruise and Quay Figs of Vice Quad to show me how to lay the track, which involves a lot more equipment and elbow grease than I’d imagined, so I was kinda relieved when play was starting.
The two teams playing today had already met some of each other’s players on Vice Quad’s tour in the mystical Scotchland (I may have that wrong), and both teams were running short rosters with 8 skaters apiece, so fatigue was likely to be an issue for both teams with some difficult decisions to be made about rotation. Hades had left Glasgow that morning and picked up players on route for the game so were a bit of an unknown force.
On Saturday morning, the Bristol Roller Derby A Team got on the bus at 8am to head from West to East to play Brighton Rockers Roller Derby in their second game of the British Championships.
On arriving at the venue, the team were shown to their changing room whilst other league members went to set up the merch stand or found their seats in the stands. We have to give a shout out to one of our skaters, Tooms, who came all the way from Bristol, on the train, lugging her cast. That’s dedication – props to you!
The Bristol v Brighton game was the second game of the day, so there was a tense wait to endure. Most of the players took the chance to watch our hosts, the Seaside Sirens, take on Royal Windsor Roller Girls. Delta Strike headed over to the merch stand to get her hair done. This is not on our usual list of services offered, but we’re pretty dedicated to fundraising!
You might already know that the Bristol v Brighton game was nail-bitingly close, to the point where passing out was the only way to cope with such a tension overload.