There is nothing more frustrating, mind boggling, and admittedly entertaining than a nasty league split. The aftershocks across social media sites can be a HELL of a show when bitterness pours out into the public forum. But you know what? IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. There is nothing more damaging to the reputation of this sport than selfishness, bitterness, egotism, and anger dividing a community. Yes, that’s right, a community. A community that expands much farther than you’re taking the time to consider. Think about it… you’re not just splitting your league, you’re splitting EVERYTHING. You’re splitting your audience. You’re splitting your sponsors. You’re splitting your supporters. You’re splitting your volunteers, your referees, your NSOs, your families, etc. You’re also splitting support from neighboring leagues and officials who must now contend with the super awkwardness of having two bickering friends playing tug-of-war for their affection, sympathy, and attention. It’s not fun. For anyone.
The real kicker too is that 99% of the time it’s just a small group of unreasonably angry people that end up selfishly destroying it for everyone else. They spend MONTHS polluting their house with rumors, gossip, drama, insults, abuse, bullying, and threats until eventually the big eruption of un-fond farewells occurs and a “split” is born. What then follows is a series of unfortunate events that can go one of two ways: a loss of communal support due to juvenile, petty squabbling that kills it for 1 or both leagues, OR a city in which both leagues thrive in their own way (which HAS happened in larger cities).
So, here are 3 do’s and 4 don’ts to keep in mind if there is an inevitable league split incoming. What you decide will ultimately determine how long you last and exactly how positive or negative the impact of your behaviors and decisions will be on the public’s perception of roller derby in your city.
DO Decide Exactly What It Is You Now Want to Be
Did the split occur because you and a handful of others had a different idea of what it means to be competitive and figured it was time to do things your way? Cool, good for you, just make sure you develop a strong, clear, and concise missions statement going forward so that there are no questions what the aim of your new team is going to be. Alternately, if you are all about leisure skating and scrimmaging, that’s cool too, but make sure that is crystal clear and don’t pretend to be anything more.
DON’T Bad Mouth the Other Team
Seriously, if you want to survive and grow then don’t bad mouth the other team, at all, in even the smallest of ways. Your league split is no different from a bad breakup and the one that comes out having moved on and accepted what happened, without making numerous passive aggressive digs on their Facebook page or downright talking smack about their old teammates to anyone and everyone, is the one that will endure. That means no digs at the old team in your advertising campaign either. There’s nothing more eye rolling than a cheap shot to your old teammates as part of recruitment efforts (if you DO decide to get all Mean Girls then don’t be surprised when less than a handful of people show up).
DO Foster Friendly Competition
Want to kick your old team’s @$$ and show everyone how much better you are than them? GOOD! But show them on the track. Refusing to have anything to do with your old league, especially when you are in a relatively small city, is childish and downright silly. Relish your new found local competition through a firm but professional opposition! Nothing draws communities out more than local rivalries. Keep your anger in check, agree to disagree, and then put on the best damn home game of the season by playing your old allies. Advertise the hell out of it, agree to safe play standards, get a neutral officiating crew, then deliver a hard-hitting, bad@#$ bout for your fans. Bonus: the inevitable rematch game that will drive even MORE ticket sales.
DON’T Feign Ignorance
With two leagues in the same city comes the confusion of advertising when locals do not realize there even ARE two leagues now. If somebody comes in wanting to sign their kids up for junior derby, or to join themselves, and they are under the impression that you are LEAGUE A that was advertised on the radio, and you take their money without clarifying that you are actually LEAGUE B, then boy oh boy are you on a slippery slope. Be very clear in all of your advertising and registration exactly who and what you are, no matter how much you want those membership fees. Pretending to be all innocent and confused when you take money under false pretenses will very quickly lead to a deservedly bad reputation for you.
DON’T Threaten Your Members
“If you talk to, play with, volunteer for, officiate for, or do anything whatsoever with the other team then [INSERT COLD, HARSH PUNISHMENT]!”
Grow. Up. If you’ve progressed to this point then good luck with all that… Building a new league on a foundation of conditions, threats, old hatreds, and just ill will in general will do nothing but eventually lead to the collapse of your little house of cards. I’ve seen it happen many times and still see it happen today. So, go ahead, boycott the other league, tell your paying members they are forbidden from making eye contact with them, breed an environment of extreme dislike and feel free to constantly berate, insult, and curse out your old teammates whenever you please. Have at it. But don’t be surprised when people start to realize that any time, resources, money, and effort given to your events is wasted.
DON’T Hold Your Members Back
Furthermore, forbidding your members from having anything to do with your old league mates, or anyone who associates with your old league mates (yes, I have seen it go that far), is completely and utterly ridiculous. It keeps your team from improving, learning, experiencing, and making potentially new lifelong friends. Simply put, you will never be the team you so desperately wanted to be by demanding unrealistic compliance and placing unreasonable communication restrictions of your members. SHAME. ON. YOU. If that is in your bylaws, take it out. Nobody likes a league that rules its members with an iron fist.
DO Encourage Your Members to Branch Out
Rather than going the whole crazy-angry-dictators route, why not try being accommodating instead? Let your members play in any scrims, attend any boot camps, and go to any practices they damn well want to. Encourage them to learn, to network, to get excited about derby anywhere and everywhere they go. Then encourage them to bring that knowledge BACK to you and share it with the team. Worried about them not staying with your league? Then be the most SUPPORTIVE and INCLUSIVE league you possibly can be. Show your members that you are there to ensure they have a safe, helpful, and healthy home league that will always value their contributions, no matter how small. THAT is how you will retain members. Or you could like just do all of the aforementioned “don’ts” and continue across the rickety bridge before you. Your call.
So there you have it. Look, I get it. Splits are going to happen. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we’re all adults here, so let’s try acting like adults when disagreements happen. Why? Because we have junior derby girls watching our every move and I for one would find it incredibly depressing to see them repeat the exact same mistakes that we have when they inevitably take over this sport. Let’s stop the drama cycle as much as we can and lead by GOOD example. If you are going to spilt, go for it, but please try not to drag all of your friends, families, fans, and the image of this sport through the mud during the process…
*Feature image courtesy of Karla Dawn Pratt.