Monday, July 30, 2012

Rollercon 2012 Recap!

If you just want to see my notes (very brief, scribbled from memory) from the three classes I took at Rollercon, click here. If you want my recap full of crazy shenanigans and gushing over roller derby and "What does it all mean??" sort of stuff, keep reading :)

If I had to choose a theme for my Rollercon experience this year, it would have to be "little things yield big results." (And I did not choose this just because I watched Francey Pants skate for the first time ever and was BLOWN AWAY.)

A couple months ago, after a home bout, I had an email conversation with my Psychopathogens teammate, Fibonacci Sequins (who also happens to be the wife of our head coach), and something she said really stuck with me:


We're getting beyond the point where [Carl] can coach us to keep making significant improvements.  We all have our fundamentals down pat.  We have all internalized the strategy and are executing it well.  What it comes down to right now is repetition and lots of self reflection on what is working for us as individuals.   When you look at sprinters, the difference between a 10.0 second 100 meter dash and a 9.9 second 100 meter dash seems small, but is really significant to that runner.  The difference doesn't come down to a coach saying you need to just run faster.  The difference is made when the runner figures out one little thing that makes his starts faster or gives him that extra burst at the finish.  For every runner, the thing that makes that .1 second difference is going to be very individualistic.

I've since taken this to heart and have been trying to find the little things that I need to work on - I feel fairly good about my knowledge of strategy and my strengths in terms of what role I fill out on the track; what I need to start working on in addition is fine-tuning and tweaking little things here and there that will add to my game. 

So with that in mind, I set about creating my Rollercon plan months ago, when the schedule was first announced (and then again, the week before, as they had since changed their schedule). Even though I knew I wouldn't necessarily stick to it, I like to have a plan. Some classes are just so popular that you have to plan to line up early for them, and I didn't want to miss out. (And in fact, the one class I really, REALLY wanted to take was such a class.) I tried to find classes that would address some of my weaknesses, little things that I know I could stand to improve that could greatly impact my gameplay.

Last year when I went to Rollercon, I was still pretty new. Despite having been skating for a year, I had JUST passed WFTDA minimum skills (and not even the rules test yet!) and had only one B&W scrimmage under my belt (literally the weekend before I flew out to Vegas). And I had only been with PRG almost two months - wasn't even past my probationary period yet. What a difference a year makes, eh?

This year, I'm a level 2, and am eligible for challenge bouts! I didn't sign up for any last year because I wasn't sure if I would pass WFTDA (and signups are done waaaay in advance). This year, not only am I eligible, but I even have bouting experience :) I had two scheduled - Killer Knitters vs. Happy Hookers, and Team Mario vs. Team Luigi, both level 2-3 bouts, so I was excited for a chance to push myself among better-than-me skaters.



Tuesday:
I got to the Riviera in the early afternoon, and luckily for me, one of my roommates, No Filter, had already arrived and checked in. After picking up my Rollercon registration stuff, we set about getting some food, unpacking, and just generally getting ready for the rush of the next day. My other roommate, Anita Victim arrived at night, and we had adjoining rooms with Barbirolla and Filter's sister, so it was five of us bouncing around between the two rooms.

Wednesday:
Well, this didn't start off well.

The way it works is that tickets are handed out for each class once the previous class has begun (so, about two hours in advance). So you have to plan to be available to pick up a ticket, and it's near impossible to actually take two class back to back because of this system. But basically, once you get your ticket, you're fine to leave and go get food or watch derby or something and come back when it's time for class.

The first class of Wednesday was Stopping on a Dime at 10am. When it's the first class of the day, they hand out tickets at 9am (the official "opening" time for all Rollercon things). Except that, with this being the first class on the first day, they didn't have tickets ready to hand out. They basically told us that if we wanted to get into this class, we'd have to wait right there outside the door in line until class started. This was bad for ME because I was expecting to just be able to pick up a ticket - I didn't have any gear with me (I had planned to go back up to my room to pick it up), and it wouldn't have been right to ask someone to save my spot, so I abandoned ship :( It was unfortunate for me because I really NEED to learn how to stop quickly - it's one of the "little things" that I know would improve my game.

Smarty Pants, blocking the jammer for Team USA
What was fortunate for me was that I was able to grab a spot in the 12-2p class, The Toss-Up - Switch from Offense to Defense Fast, with Smarty Pants from TXRD.

This is another thing that I wanted to be better at - for the Psychos, I generally focus on blocking defensively, and am not so good at making holes for my own jammer.

Only this class wasn't quite about that. It did not end up being a class about the technique involved with switching between offense and defense, but about working with your teammates and communicating well. Most people would not think that how and what you yell to your teammates would be something you'd actually need to work at, but it turns out that it is absolutely key - it's a little thing that yields big results. At some point later in the week, I had a conversation with a leaguemate in which she said, "I notice the higher-level teams talk to each other a LOT out on the track. I feel like we don't communicate much in PRG," and I agreed (and included myself in my agreement - I need to learn how to communicate better). The class focused a lot on how we tell our other blockers out on the track when it's time to switch between offense and defense, and I appreciated the wake-up call. She purposely never told us HOW we should be playing offense or defense, but it was more about how you can help your own teammates more clearly make the switch.

Later in the evening, we watched a High Level DUDE Bout (I'm serious, that's what it was called!) that Carl was skating in, and were absolutely wowed by the insane amount of skating skill and general awesomeness that is men's derby - high level dudes are pretty damn exciting. This makes me want to REALLY push for a men's derby league to start up in our area, because I want to watch them, dammit!! It was also awesome to get to cheer on Carl, because usually his bouts are too far away for most of us to attend. He was absolutely glowing afterwards, and we were super proud of him.

We ended the day with a human pyramid in the elevator:



Thursday: 
My longest and most exciting day!!

First up: Killer Knitters vs. Happy Hookers!!!

That's me on the left!
I was especially looking forward to this one, because I was there when the idea started! I'm part of the roller derby group on Ravelry.com, and with so many of us going, we thought it would be awesome to create a knitters vs. crocheters challenge bout. I was also excited about this because there were six of us PRGers total on the knitter team (including Anita Victim, who signed up to be bench manager after her injury), so it was nice to skate with people I knew. Also on the KK was Van Destroyer from the Undead Bettys, Mazel Tough Cocktail from Sacred City, and Stitches 'n' Bones from Sick Town (who also happens to be the roller derby group moderator on Ravelry). Momo A-Gogo from Ithaca was our captain.

We didn't really fare so well against the Hookers, some of whom I swear were level 4 skaters (and our bout was supposed to be 2-3). But like I said, it's great to skate with (or against) people who are better than you, because that's how you learn. I feel like I held my own alright, and even got some positive feedback about my performance.

Fibonacci Sequins, No Filter, Bughouse Cuckoo, Jentropy, and me
After a post-bout omelette and a short hiatus to change my clothes and let my gear dry, it was time for my SECOND bout of the day, Team Mario vs. Team Luigi. I gotta confess - I have no particular sentimental attachment to this challenge theme. While I am a fan of the franchise, I am not actually good at videogames, and I only signed up because there was an open spot for me to sign up, and DAMMIT I want to plaaaay.

We were totally out-skated by Team Luigi, but it's okay, we had fun. (Well, except for one of the Luigi skaters got ejected for kicking my teammate and leaguemate, Imp Eden. That was less fun.) I LOVE that some of the Luigi skaters were wearing overalls (well, shorts overalls) and mustaches. (In fact, I'm impressed with the quality of the costuming all around Rollercon.) I also love that, during the timeouts (which are boring to sit through when you really want to play!), the announcers would start singing Super Mario Bros. music. It was definitely a good time.

My plan for afterwards was to line up at 6pm and pick up a ticket for Demanda Riot's 9pm class (so, yes, my full intent was to stand in line for a full hour!) and then watch her skate for Vagine Regime against Team Caulksuckers.

Unfortunately, I wasn't the only person with this same idea, but I was early enough that I knew for sure I would get a ticket. THEN the drama started.

The thing is, as much as I respect the RC volunteers for all the time and work they put in, I have to say that I get really frustrated when the volunteers don't have their information straight or they enforce rules inconsistently. I was lurking in the hallway with Moose-a-Rita and Physical Terrorist from my league when one of the volunteers told us we could go ahead and line up outside the track for Demanda's class. And then a bunch of other people starting lining up as well.

Well, apparently they had been telling other skaters that they COULDN'T line up early and to come back at 7 when the tickets would be handed out, so imagine the irate group of skaters that resulted when 7:15 rolled around - those skaters who were sent away were angry that now they were really far back in line and possibly wouldn't be able to get in, and those of us who'd been waiting for OVER AN HOUR were being told that we weren't guaranteed a ticket.

And THEN! Oh my god, I swear I almost lost my sh** - one of them started to tell us that the class was going to be CANCELLED but it turned out that she had bad intel. SERIOUSLY? Volunteers, I heart you all, but PLEASE get things straightened out, especially before you make huge announcements that could possibly bring down 60+ angry derby girls on you.

They FINALLY gave us tickets, and I managed to catch the rest of the Vagine Regime/Caulksuckers bout, which was every bit as amazing as the High Level DUDE bout the night before. This bout was absolutely everything that I love about roller derby; it was a PERFECT encapsulation. Not only was it all the high-level all-star ladies skating amazingly, but it was a packed house with tons of energy; Vagine Regime had a cheering section that included a giant vulva and a guy in a banana suit, and they would run around waving a rainbow flag; and the Caulksuckers' jerseys had names/numbers printed in a penis font. There was hilarity and KICKASS athleticism, and it reminded me (as if I needed reminding) how much I love this sport, and how much this sport is like NONE OTHER.

I <3 DR!
Moose, PT, and I cut out a little early to get geared up for Demanda's class, joking that we'd know if VR had won or lost the bout depending on what kind of mood she was in.

Feel free to accuse me of being a fangirl, but I absolutely worship Demanda. But in case you don't already know - Demanda skates for Bay Area Derby Girls, and while I initially noticed her because of her makeup, she has totally become my derby crush hero because of how awesome a blocker she is. I honestly aspire to be like her out on the track, and will jump at any opportunity I could possibly get to learn from her. Last year, during Regionals, one of the commentators remarked, "If there's someone having trouble getting through a pack, Demanda is there." My dream is that someday, something similar could be said about me.

So anyway, her class - Speed Control in One on One Situations. Demanda had come rushing in from the bout she just skated in, and so imagine our surprise when we entered the room to find her in a spandex tuxedo. Truly, it was a sight to behold. The premise of the class was being really really really super close to the jammer or blocker you're trying to control, being all over her like a spandex tuxedo (oh, I see what you did there) and this was another example of little things yielding big results - maintaining contact on the person you're trying to block helps you more easily control her, as opposed to hovering just in front of her. Some of the drills we did were the same ones we had done in her Skating Skills for Blockers class last year, but it was really good for me to revisit them. 

It was late, and we were all tired, but I was just about the happiest I could ever be. Despite barely being able to keep my eyes open, I was so amped up afterwards that I didn't sleep for another couple of hours. BEST. DAY. EVER.

Friday:
Ugh, groggy morning. Started out the day watching Jentropy and NinJenn skate in the MexiCANs vs. Border Patrol challenge bout, and then picked up a ticket for Scrum Starts and Walls taught by Teflon Donna from Philly Roller Girls.

Teflon Donna
Scrum starts are a big thing right now in derby - it's where all the blockers wall up right in front of the jammer line, and the jammers pretty much have to push their way through. It's pretty intense, and quite effective, and I've been wanting to work on it, so I definitely had my eye on this class.

Again - little things yield big results. I learned a brand-new way to slow down/stop and I learned the big difference that a little gap between two blockers' waistlines can make, or one blocker having her shoulders way more forward than the blocker next to her, or one blocker being half a step in front of the blocker next to her - these are all opportunities for a jammer to get through, even though they are only small gaps and exposed areas. I also felt like this class was a great one to take right after Demanda's, because they both emphasize the idea of speed control and how devastating it can end up being for the jammer to push you forward.

Exhausted from the previous day, I spent the rest of Friday watching high-level challenge bouts and trying to learn from them.

Saturday:
My last day at Rollercon. My plan was not to attend classes, but to spend time appreciating derby and just relaxing.

Late Friday night, I ended up getting roped into helping my leaguemates put together their scavenger hunt submission, which resulted in us staying up half the night building a mattress fort in the hotel room, taking photos of synchronized swimming in the bathtub, and wandering the casino at 2am in search of pizza.

The next morning we woke up, had omelettes, and continued to work. I really wish I could share with you some of the hilarious photos from the scavenger hunt, but they really are not appropriate. (Well, the human pyramid in the elevator was one of the tasks, actually.) Well, let me just say that there was an incident involving someone giving birth to a pineapple.

We worked steadily on the submission pretty much the entire morning, and then I headed down to the main track to watch Philly vs. Minnesota.

My take-away from this day is not really about the sport of derby, but about the other part - the friendship/teammate part. I generally don't spend a lot of social time with my leaguemates because they all live kind of far away from me, and I already spend so much time away from my family that I can't justify driving 30-40 minutes away just to hang out or sticking around after practice to grab a drink. (I don't drink anyway.) So I don't have a whole lot of actual friends in the league (and I fully own up to my social awkwardness), but I think that's changed now, thanks to the time we've spent together at Rollercon and especially the time we've spent working together for the scavenger hunt. I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive going into this trip because I've never really spent much time with or gotten to know the ladies I would be rooming with, but I have to say that it turned out to be SUCH a time, and I'm so thankful that I had this opportunity to get to know them and for them to get to know me. I feel a little less alone now :)

The evening ended with dinner and hanging out and people-watching at the Black and Blue Ball, a Rollercon tradition that involves lots of drinking and not nearly enough clothing. The loud music boomed into the wee hours of the morning, and I got maybe three hours of sleep before getting up to catch my 9am flight.

Little things yield big results. That is my take-away from this past week. In order to progress and increase my chances of success both on AND off the track, it's not going to be anything big or drastic that pushes me forward, but little tweaks and changes here and there, that will compound into something big. I have big plans for Rollercon next year (Team Yellow Fever, I'm talking to you!! I really believe that I could push myself to be a Level 3 skater next year, and that will open up all sorts of new opportunities for learning and improvement. I WANT TO PLAY WITH THE BIG KIDS!), as well as the next year in general, and I feel refreshed, inspired, and excited to reach new heights.

That said, it's time for me to get ready for practice...