You’re the Best…But Not Really

Recently, our league held a juniors-only bootcamp coached by two members of Team Canada. Levelled 1, 2 and 3 skaters came from far and wide for this unique-to-our-area opportunity.

The skaters had a great time learning new things and meeting new friends. The coaches were warm and encouraging. And the kids were challenged; it was a bootcamp after all.

But there was an instance when one skater came off the track, visibly upset about something. Upon some discussion, it turned out this 13-year-old was emotionally shaken and bruised. It turned out that, after an hour of the bootcamp, the skater – who was the best on her team – was upset because she wasn’t the best overall.

It was a humbling exercise for her, no doubt. She had tested to level 3 in her league and, amidst the other level 3 skaters at the bootcamp, she was finding she couldn’t complete the drills properly and her skill set was letting her down.

With her mother, we talked with her about her choices for the day. She could either continue to feel miserable due to the emotions she added when she compared herself to others, or be open to the opportunity to learn something, even if it meant swallowing your pride a little. Even the Team Canada coaches must have had their ego bashed at some point in their derby life, right?

Look to others as an inspiration and look to yourself with belief and love and, yeah, humility. Embrace not just the stuff you’re great at, but also the things you have to work on…even if they seem so easy to others.

BEING special is relative but FEELING special is something everyone wants. At 13, this skater must be dealing with all sorts of grown-up thoughts she needs to sort through. As coaches, we must be very conscious of emotions and societal pressures in order to nurture the kids left in our care. Their time with you might be the brightest point of their day.

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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.

Attitude is Everything

iu-1Lately at practices, one of our skaters has been asking some seemingly odd questions.

“How can you tell if a kid is faking an injury on the track?”

“Is it true you won’t level up a skater if they act too immature to play contact?”

“If a skater got mad at someone on the track in a game and just didn’t want to play anymore, would you let them lace off?”

This is coming from a skater who bawls when she trips (and then proceeds to blame her skates, what she’s wearing, the floor, the person who was skating a metre away from her, and her mom for buying regular Cheerios instead of Honey-Nut).

I’d like to think we’ve developed a nurturing culture in our league; a safe place for the skaters to discuss whatever’s on their minds but also an arena for parents to share too. Often do we have parents letting our coaches know, “My daughter’s having trouble in school” or “She didn’t get enough sleep” or “She’s just coming off of a track and field tournament.” Obviously, more of a warning than idle chit-chat.

In this case, the message came through another parent: this mom was having issues with her daughter’s behaviour so she was taking roller derby away from her until further notice.

And we were having issues too. She was getting belligerent with the coaches. She was bossing other skaters around and just generally not saying things that were very kind as a way to put others down and prop her up. Let me say, when she was gone, it was nice to go through a whole practice without having to stop and reprimand.

When the skater came back, she was respectful and as sweet as sugar. And then came the questions.

How can we tell if someone is faking? We strive to have lots of eyes on the skaters (a lead coach who makes the practice, a second who helps to demonstrate and supplies additional pointers or runs a secondary drill for skaters at different levels, and helpers who are there to encourage and be that watchful eye). Someone can usually see how a fall went down. It was a good opportunity to review the rule of “out three if we take a knee.”

Will we not pass someone who’s immature? Maybe! The higher the level, the more important collaborative work is, and the harder it’s going to be to play. And there’s always another skater who is better than you. Always. If you can’t accept that, maybe it’s not your time yet.

Should a coach agree to scratch a skater if her feelings are hurt during a bout? Well, practices are about you: your goals, your skills. Games are about the team. You’re playing for what’s on the front of your shirt, not the back. If your attitude is going to get in the way of the safety of the game, yeah, maybe you should just leave. But know that you’d be letting your team down if you can’t get it together.

This isn’t the first skater to have attitude. But we found that by continuing to work with the parent(s) and phrasing any disciplines in a constructive, caring way, those difficult skaters learn how to work together and know when to put others first.

Sometimes it takes ages, but the benefits are awesome. It’s a lifeskill that you hope you’ve imprinted on this skater that will take her through her adulthood.

It’s so much more than teaching them to plow stop.