Ah summer, time for beaches and patios and gardening and weekend get-aways.
What’s that? You can’t because you have derby practice?
What’s a dedicated skater to do? Waste all this wonderful weather in a sweaty arena? Ignore those summer jobs around the house, even though you’re not really bouting again until Playoffs start? Miss out on family vacations with no more home games on the schedule?
Well, yes. Or no. It’s not that simple.
Our league struggles every summer with attendance, especially for our Sunday practices. ESPECIALLY if we’ve bouted the night before. Our league has both team practices (which team members are expected to attend) and league practices (where all of the teams practice together. We have a committed few who come to league practice no matter what time of year it is. And then we have the summer drop-off.
Summer is a tough time to maintain your attendance, as family commitments and get-togethers with non-derby friends almost always get ramped up in the summer. How do you maintain those relationships if you don’t let derby slip a little? I’m not answering, I’m just asking.
Recently our league started really enforcing a long-standing attendance policy. In some ways, it’s made rostering for games more challenging and it’s been tough for some skaters – those who sometimes work on practice nights, those who travel often, those with family obligations. Keeping a regular minimum attendance has proved more difficult than some anticipated.
For other skaters, it’s been a nice breather. If you’re one of those skaters who is always at practice, rain-or-shine, knowing you can take a day off and maintain attendance standards is sometimes a relief.
Here’s the rub (for me, at least): Derby is still a hobby. Albeit an all-consuming, high-demand, potential-for-more sort of one. Most of us still pay to play. Most of us still work another job. Derby isn’t paying our bills just yet, so why are so many of us making ourselves sick over it? Why do we often demand absolute commitment from ourselves (to the exclusion of family, friends, and our day jobs) for dreams of derby stardom.
The truth – We’re not all going to be superstars. Harsh, right? But true. Every gig needs both rockstars and roadies. Most current league structures need skaters of all skill levels to survive. You need A, B, and Cs. You need skaters who bout less and help more, you need skaters who are phenoms to get the fans going, you need skaters who sometimes have to take a night away from practice so that they can finalize a sponsorship deal, or set up a community event, or buy the concessions for the next bout from Costco. Expecting the exact same type of commitment from every league member is a fast-track to burn-out. We all have different strengths, and different gifts to give to our leagues. Until we start hiring outside labour to do those jobs (and that’s a WHOLE other post), we should focus on what makes us the happiest and contributes to most to our derby experience.
Maybe while we’re still operating in this way, we give ourselves a break every now and then. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to skip all of your practices because it doesn’t really matter. I’m saying, derby is great, derby gives you many gifts, but derby is not the only thing that makes up your life.
Derby is like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book (and I am dating myself by using this reference). Most of us watch high-level derby, and decide that the place to end up is playing on the A-Team at Champs, and being the best. And that’s awesome. And maybe that is your path. But it needn’t (and realistically shouldn’t) be everyone’s. Just like you chose to get into derby, you can choose what you get out of it.
I recently came to terms with the fact that high-level play isn’t my path. I have more to give to my league as a trainer, a coach, and worker-bee, than I do as a skater. I SO wanted the A-Team experience to be right for me. I wanted so badly to enjoy that level of competition, but in the end it just ended up burning me out and taking me away from the things I know I’m good at. When I walked away, I wondered if I was just a quitter and why I’m even involved in derby if I don’t aim to skate at that level.
These are tough questions – I’m still working on answers. But what I’ve come up with so far is that practice makes me a better skater (that’s why I go, even in the summer). But beyond that, derby has made me a FAR better teacher, a more patient listener, and a fairer diplomat. And those, for better or worse, are things that are more important to me than play time.
Like all things in life, balance is key. Going to practice, even when it’s lovely summertime will likely make you a better skater. Spending time on the track, even when you don’t want to, usually ends up being rewarding. But hanging out with your family and friends, going on vacation, unplugging for a bit – those will all make you a better person too. Maybe not a better skater, but a better person.
Our league is still growing and changing, maybe some day we’ll figure out the appropriate balance of on and off-skate commitment for each level of skater, but I somehow suspect these things are fluid.
Find that sweet spot, find your own adventure, and carry on.