Ask Kevlar: Off-Seasons, Burnout and Post-Holiday Motivation

Welcome to Ask Kevlar! A completely ANONYMOUS roller derby advice column dedicated to discussion about topics that are more often discussed behind closed doors, out of earshot from others. Be you a new skater or well-known, established member of the greater derby community, if you’d like to engage in conversations about the very real ups and downs, conflicts, dilemmas and issues within the sport, please feel free to send your questions to NO topic is too much! League drama, personal/athletic rivalries, skating/officiating/interacting with people you do not like, dealing with negative people or abuse/bullying from teammates or support staff, ANYTHING! A few promises from me:

  1. I will maintain 100% anonymity for any and all individuals posing questions.
  2. I WILL NOT attack or degrade any leagues or individuals within this community, nor will I condone or post/engage with any attack letters directed toward specific leagues, teams, coaches, officials, announcers or other individuals.
  3. If I have personal experiences that would make great examples, I will share them accurately and honestly.
  4. No question is silly and I will never treat any questions you send as such!
  5. I will strive to offer the most detailed, educated advice I possibly can in regards to your question.

Some of my more prominent advice columns like Roller Envy: Some Pointers on how to Avoid Self-Sabotage, Theraderby, Pointers for Baby Zebras and The Do’s and Don’ts of League Splits exist because they tackle topics I am approached about rather often but are not necessarily commonly, openly or comfortably discussed around the community. Let’s change that trend!

This week’s topic seems to be connected with the off-season and motivation upon returning to practice. Here are two questions recently posed that shed light on a whole heap of things including burnout, practice intensity and taking REAL time for ourselves. I hope you enjoy!

Hey, Kevlar!

What do you see are the benefits/disadvantages of having an off-season? I like the idea of having the opportunity for skaters to keep skating, but I’m also concerned about burnout or injuries if they don’t take a break. It’s a big time commitment.

Ideally, I think the idea of having free skates with some structure are good but I am very much against full contact during the off season.

To Skate or Not to Skate

Great question To Skate or Not to Skate!

I’ll be the first to admit I am sometimes brutally stubborn with this one and it has gotten me into some trouble before. Burnout… it’s a hell of a thing and if we don’t keep ourselves grounded it can quickly consume you AND your friends, family and teammates. An early burnout red flag is very apparent in how you talk about the sport. Perhaps earlier in the year (or in past years) you would go home all enthusiastic and excited about practice, breathlessly talking to your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend or parents about everything and anything with a glimmer in your eye and an indestructible smile on your face. But now… now it’s different. Maybe your friends and family have stopped enthusiastically asking you about it. Maybe you’re frustrated that anytime you talk about it people seem to tune you out or try to change the subject. Take a moment and ask yourself: why? Why is my significant other not asking me about derby anymore? Why do my friends avoid the subject? Is nearly every conversation I have about it laced with bitterness and resentment about league drama, or low turnouts to practice, or the “attitude” of teammates, or all of the crap I have to do because nobody else is doing it so I keep having to do my work PLUS other people’s work and nobody seems to care or even remotely know what the hell they are doing so… RED FLAG! RED FLAG!

All of us who have been bitten by the derby bug are notorious for pushing ourselves to our physical and, sometimes, emotional limits with this sport at one point or another. I’ve done it and I’ve seen many, many others do it as well. We get so deeply involved in the sport and community, skating all the time, talking about it all the time, event planning, board meetings, merchandising, advertising, going to every single scrim and/or invitational we possibly can. But while it is great to be excited and passionate about the game we all need to sometimes take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Yes, derby is phenomenal and the future of the sport is bright BUT… the reality is that it is still a hobby for the vast majority of us. At this exact point in time we’re not professional athletes, we’re not making a living as career officials and our home leagues are not professional sporting businesses/organizations/associations.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d LOVE to have a career as a roller derby official, I fully intend on actively contributing to its growth and I pride myself in maintaining professionalism and a strong knowledge of the rules but the truth of the matter is… I’m a volunteer. A passionate and dedicated volunteer, for sure, but a volunteer nonetheless and I need to have time for myself too.

The thing with burnout is that if you let yourself get to that point, you risk losing everything you have worked so hard to build toward in this sport. You can become irritable, bitter, combative, negative and, honestly, toxic to both yourself and those around you. In extreme cases, all of this can affect your job and personal relationships too, which is a whole other discussion in and of itself!

All of that being said, I also see the benefits of free skates as it keeps your basics strong and allows for exercise. I fully agree with you on the “no hitting” during the off-season. Now is not the time to be laying into your teammates and risking an injury pouring over into the new year. Now is the time for reflecting on the last few months and looking ahead. Derby skaters are infamous for playing with injuries, some going so far as hiding concussions or broken bones from their coaches and teammates so they can still play in that big game. Let your sore joints, swollen muscles and bruises heal up!!!

But, even if you insist on still skating, I implore you: PLEASE consider taking some time for yourself! Maybe read that book you’ve been telling yourself you’re going to read. Perhaps you could sit on your couch in your underwear for a few days and catch up on your favorite show on Netflix or play some video games. Also, try taking a break from the diet, CrossFit and vigorous gym routine you’ve been pushing all season. Enjoy a TRUE cheat break by eating some damn pizza, chugging back a 2L of Pepsi, stuffing your face with those sweet, delicious, evil BBQ potato chips, and just… relaxing.

Pros: I personally think that taking a REAL off-season, be it for a month or two or just a couple of weeks, is of PARAMOUNT importance to revitalizing your body and mind. Besides, if you take a break from all of your derby sisters for a few weeks, you’re less likely to want to clothesline them during practice when you hear them whine for the seven bajillionith (it’s a number, dammit!) time about doing their laps.

Cons: NONE! Seriously… breaks, be they multiple little ones or a big long one, are so very essential to your health, happiness and prolonged involvement in roller derby. Dial it down a couple of notches every now and then. I have seen girls go full throttle for months or years, taking on more and more responsibilities, micro-managing, getting angrier and angrier and more exhausted by the day until BAM… done. The love for the sport vanishes from their eyes as they cross their final burned bridges and return to life before they were a derby girl. As much as we all love to preach it, the answer isn’t always “skate it out”… sometimes it’s better to SIT it out instead!

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How do you keep skaters motivated in the off-season so that by the time practices resume, they’re eager to get back at it? We keep our rink time during our off months, and it’s always the same few that come and skate, but it seems difficult to get everyone else to come back when “real” practices start again.

Determined Motivator

Dear Determined Motivator,

Short answer: you don’t!

Long Answer: I know it can be frustrating coming back from your holidays only to be greeted by apathetic skaters but try not to worry yourself with their motivation and dedication levels. That’s not your responsibility, it’s theirs. Their progress, passion, dedication, happiness and focus are things you have no control over. Perhaps its their personality, perhaps they just have a different approach to the sport overall or, perhaps, your expectations of them are a little too high. Let them enjoy their time off and try to understand that just like when kids return to school after summer break, or when adults go back to work after paid vacation, it takes them a little while to REALLY “get back to it”.

Just like any other local sporting organization (or group of any kind) not everybody is going to be as happy and enthusiastic a everybody else. Things can be especially difficult if your league does not have something essential that I have noticed MANY leagues (especially the smaller ones) do not have: a mission statement. A mission statement asks:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Why do you do it?
  • How do you do it?
  • Who do you do it for?
  • What value is there to what you do?

A mission statement is your shared identity, it is your short term AND long term goal as an organization, it is your guiding principle to all major decisions and it is your stated, public purpose for all current and future fans, skaters and sponsors.

Without this league’s often experience the ever frustrating situation where everyone is on a different page. Some skaters want stricter attendance, more mandatory practice and have high expectations of their teammates. Some just want to have fun, skate and show up if/when they can. Some seem a little more conflicted as they want to be competitive, to win and to make the roster but they don’t want to commit as much as others and are opposed to anything being mandatory at all. It can be a very real problem when there is no clear focus, purpose or destination decided upon by the majority.

I guess what I would suggest is to look at your league/team’s focus and identity as an organization and to consider your own personal expectations of your teammates. Does your league have a clearly stated identity, purpose and objective(s)? (If you answered no I HIGHLY suggest, first and foremost, that you bring this up with your league and work together to clarify all of this) Are your expectations of your league and teammates reasonable (supported by your league’s goals/function)? Do your personal aspirations align with the short and/or long-term goals of you league? Are there other options available to you that are a better, healthier fit for you? Essentially, during each off season I would personally not worry about keeping others motivated but would instead focus on my own happiness in relation to my current situation within my league and derby career. How do I feel now that the 2013 season is done? Am I happy with my current affiliation and the direction that is laid out before me WITH that current affiliation? What do I want out of 2014?

Depending on your frustration level with this, I’d suggest reflecting on the last season a bit and taking some time to analyze your expectations, check to see if your league is still a good fit for you and try to have a little more patience for people as they get back into the groove of things after their break!

Best of luck in the new year!


Have any questions of you own? Send them to to possibly see them answered here on Derby Frontier!



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