Dress Codes and the Junior Skater

This autumn, one 9-year-old skater came to practice wearing a shirt with pretty cabbagey roses bordering lettering that read, “I love you but fuck the government.”

No word of a lie, I didn’t notice what it read until we were a good 30 minutes into the practice when we were on knees in a circle to discuss the next drill. Some of the skaters were whispering to each other but one actually pointed to the skater in question.

My back was up. My first thought was the 9-year-old, who is a beginner skater, was being mocked or something.

Then I saw it.

I finished what I wanted to say, had the secondary coach take over while, and then discretely took the child aside and explained that her shirt has a word on it that some people would find offensive and we’d have to get some duct tape to it.

“Oh, yeah. My mum laid this shirt out for me to wear.”

“Er, really? Okay, then do me a favour and leave this tape on the shirt until your mum sees it. If she wants, tell her to contact me please.”

Dress codes are something juniors live with at school.  We don’t really have a hard and fast rule on what not to wear because the girls figure out quickly what kind of clothes works for them in practices. Spaghetti straps? We see them a lot. Bra straps showing? Support garments are great. Short skirts, tight pants and shorts? That’s athletic wear and, hey, being itchy with sweat-laden clothes sucks.  Heck, we still have a couple of old school juniors who wear patterned opaque nylons. And they love the face paint during bouts.

About four years ago, we were in a Canada Day parade and a 10-year-old came to the start wearing full-out makeup (blush, eyeliner, lipstick – the works). She also wore a bikini top, and fishnets with the underwear on top. On the bum, the underwear read, “Dirty.”

The junior had seen adults wear something like this. I never batted an eye when I saw a teammate dress this way back then. Live and let live. But seeing it on a child, then and there, my opinion changed. Anyone can be watching. Everyone is watching. Is dressing provocatively a good thing overall for this sport?

I’m not sure what went on at home (the child arrived without her guardian) but we just weren’t comfortable with that. So we happened to have a large t-shirt which we insisted she put on (she did).

Tricky situation, sometimes, how to juggle what is acceptable at home versus what you may want for your junior organization. I’m curious about how other junior leagues handle this.

MVP! MVP!

I’ve been noticing a trend around awarding the MVP. To my league, it’s something we talk about at halftime. “Start thinking about skaters on the other team that are getting your number. Ask yourself why and see if you can correct that. If not, consider that player for MVP.”

Among the leagues we play, we typically have the skaters and bench coaches choose the MVP for the other team. My league strives to award the Most Valuable Player to, well, the most valuable player. And the coach has the final say. But what we often experience is our strongest skaters never see MVP.

Why is that? Is it because of sore feelings? “Let’s give it to so-and-so instead because she didn’t do much to upset us.” Is it because they’re trying to be magnanimous? “Let’s give it to so-and-so because I bet she never gets MVP.” I’m really not sure.

Either way, it’s wrong.

MVP ought to be given to the skater who the team would have done much, much worse without. Let’s face it, there’s always a standout.

You could argue that it could mean the same player gets the award many times over. But I’m okay with that. Chances are, that superstar skater you have has worked hard to get where she is. And others on her team should look up to that work ethic. Of course, if she has a bad attitude or something, then as a coach, you should have a talk about leadership with her.

Further, awarding the MVP to someone who may not have done well may only reinforce a mediocre effort or, worse, give that child a big head. It could also cause strife within the team when those who tried hard see that a weaker skater is awarded. They may understand when the more experienced skater wins but giving it to the new person who constantly got goated? That kind of reeks.

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To get around this and bring the positive mojo back to our skaters in the dressing room is the Sugar Shaker Award. It’s just a simple sugar shaker filled with candy and is given out in our dressing room after the game.

The Sugar Shaker Award goes to a skater who made the game sweeter. Maybe she pushed everyone to work harder or helped to keep morale high. Maybe she had an amazing 20 point jam. Maybe she was always the one at the right place at the right time to block. Sure, it may not be the superstar you have on your team but it usually is someone pretty close. This reinforces the value of people who play hard and bring a lot of positivity to the team dynamic. Because we go around to each skater and ask who they’d nominate and why, it lends to positive peer feedback – like a verbal hug from your derby sisters.