I just turned 2-Derby-Years-Old!

It came and passed and I’ve been so busy it didn’t really register fully until today but I just turned 2 in derby years. Considering all that has happened it’s hard to believe that only two years have passed since I joined the sport.

It all started on December 5th of 2011 when I went out to the Hillcrest Sports Center in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to check write an article for the Moose Jaw Value Express on the Lil Chicago Roller Derby league’s fresh meat recruitment nights. I was originally only intending to attend the first day to interview the girls and write a piece but one of them, I forget who, spoke up and said four words that, as cheesy as it sounds, would end up changing my life: “You should try it”. And try it I did! I was back out there on the 12th and then again on the 19th, like a wobbly, baby zebra (FORESHADOWING!!!! +1) finding its legs. In hindsight, I must have been a ridiculous sight.

Needless to say, I’ve come a very long way since then and the LCRD has always had a place in my heart as I discovered the sport through them, was taught to skate by them, benchmarked under them and coached them for their 2013 season. Those girls have seen me every step of the way, at my strongest and at my weakest, at my most confident and at my most self-deprecating. Hell, they’ve seen me happy, sad, furious, depressed, anxious, tired, smelly, fancy and downright bachelor level gross. They’ve seen me go from an awkward, shy, self-conscious little bearded dude to a confident, healthy, growing official to an angry, bitter, thick headed, callous man on the verge of a blowout to a successful, well-known, self-reflecting, conflicted individual seeking change in himself.

There certainly have been many big ups and downs. I hit some milestones with being chosen as a skating official for the 2012 RDAC Nationals and Flat Track Fever 2013 but I also experienced some big failures with struggling to be a good coach and facing intense burnout. But I wouldn’t take a SINGLE thing back as it has all lead me to who I am today, and for the first time in my life I am happy with who that is! So, here are a few experiences and things I have discovered about the sport and about myself over the past two years that I would like to share with you all:

 1. I make a decent meme!

Yep. I wear my emotions on my face and both Rob Vida and Heather “Rhett Ro” Christie had a lot of fun using my photogenic expressions to create derby memes throughout the year… well played you two… well played. Here are a few of the good ones:

2. I love derby but I DO NOT like playing it!

I’m not gonna sugar coat it, I did not particularly enjoy my experience of playing men’s roller derby. Well, okay I liked some things. It was at times fun experiencing the game from the track for a change and it was great having a laugh with some buddies but I was pretty put off by my firsthand experience of the showmanship side of things. I’m not a macho guy, I’m not out to impress the ladies or make the audience go “oooooooooo!” and “ahhhhhhhhh!” and I’m not super competitive. I like to have fun and share experiences. I’m also not a big guy. I’m 5 ft 5, 135lbs and the only muscles I have are on my legs from skating as an Outside Pack Referee. So I went out thinking “well this will be a silly, fun time!”

NOPE! I got wrecked haha. There was no holding back at all. The guys were going all out and the crowd was eating it up. I didn’t really realize the whole thing was not just to get the officials trying the game out but some were approaching it as a serious push toward forming a men’s team. I was not prepared hahah! I didn’t hate it, overall it was an interesting experience and I’m glad I did it. I even got to jam and had some good passes (I’m small so can sneak through the pack sometimes) but I’m definitely sticking to the officiating and writing side of the sport.

At one point I even thought, “Kevvy Petting may skate again at a fun coed scrim every now and then” but I don’t even think that is for me and I can confidently say that you will absolutely not see me on a men’s team. The only capacity you will see me at a game is on the track in my stripes as a ref, in a black shirt as an NSO or in the stands as a fan. And I’m 100% happy and okay with that!

3. I’m a GREAT teacher… but I’m no full-time coach! (Right now)

I love teaching, I really do. I’ve spent countless hours excitedly teaching hundreds of derby girls about the game and rules and I’ve poured my everything into mentoring new officials from all across the province. I’ve lead numerous rules nights, I’ve taught at boot camps and clinics, and I’ve put on classes and seminars on a variety of subjects pertaining to the sport. So, naturally I’d make an amazing coach right? Nope, I am NOT full-time coaching material!

One universal thing you’d likely hear from the LCRD girls I coached this year is that Coach Kevlar was not a patient man and there was nothing he disliked more than low turnouts to practice, too much talking over each other, yelling on the bench, bad attitudes and sarcasm, gossip and drama, unreliability… okay, there were a LOT of things I disliked! My blood was usually boiling, often over things that did not even concern me. Whether it was something said that I disapproved of, or complaining I did not like, or a behavior that I thought was inappropriate, whatever, I always seemed to have something to be pissed off about. Seriously! Just ask the girls hahaha. I was a loaded gun with all sorts of triggers. The amount of times they saw me clench my teeth as my face went bright red due to my inability to control my emotions was likely unprecedented for the league.

Luckily for me I had Ron Gall, aka Coach Rotten, to keep me calm(ish). While I had the knowledge of the game and rules, Rotten had all of the invaluable people skills, team building, inspirational/motivational speeches and PATIENCE that I severely lacked. Between the two of us, we made a HELL of a team and we were making a big difference for the sport in Moose Jaw and with the Jawbreakers. But, alas, I just was not feeling it and I have since retired from my brief coaching stint to return to officiating (which I honestly love)!

In hindsight, I realize now I simply was not ready to coach. I was experiencing a lot of emotional conflict in my personal life and I am currently simply unequipped to effectively deal with the political and social dynamics of a team/league. Well, for now at least. Perhaps I’ll give it another go wherever I end up settling down after I have become weary of the road. Or maybe I’ll just always be an official! I really do love refereeing and for whatever reason I am very calm and focused doing it 99% of the time!

4. I Want to Write About Derby Professionally

Let me rephrase that: I WILL write about derby professionally. I love my blog. It has helped me improve, grow and rediscover my passion for writing. I still make typos, I still sometimes have to frantically edit a post after I’ve posted it, but with each and every article I put up I am getting better. Overall, I’m extremely proud of how I’ve grown. I’m writing more frequently and confidently about topics I was not brave enough to explore this time last year. 2014 is going to be mine! Blood &Thunder magazine, five on five magazine… here I come!

5. Sometimes I need to say “No”

I can be pretty thick headed (still working on that!) so this one took me a while. I was a “yes man”. I’d say yes and say yes and say yes and say yes in a feeble attempt to avoid conflict and make people like me (haha silly Kevlar). I’d pile up responsibilities, both wanted and unwanted, for what I now know was essentially my desire for validation. It was, like, real bad! I’d be officiating and teaching and coaching and writing and helping staff events and traveling every weekend and- SOMETHING HAD TO GIVE. The amount of times I’d have self-inflicted burnout (and be honest with yourself… it is ALWAYS self-inflicted) was crazy.

So, I had to learn to say no, politely of course. Saying no politely means showing that you understand their request but being clear you are unable to help. “I understand that you need help writing an article for the league but I am very busy with writing for my blog and traveling.” Should you want to still be helpful in a small way without taking on the full responsibility, consider offering some advice as well. “[INSERT NAME] is a wonderful writer as well, perhaps you could ask her.” There, perfect!

6. I NEED to take an off season

I love derby and if I’m not watching myself I can go on and on without taking a break. In fact, that’s exactly what I did for the last two years (until this past September). Since joining derby in 2011 I was ALWAYS at practice, always traveling, always refereeing, always learning, always coaching, always teaching, always out there at derby events. I went non-stop for months and let me tell you… it was EXHAUSTING. Take a break folks. I didn’t and it definitely showed in me when I began coaching and I was incredible irritable! I was on the verge of throwing my skates in the trash several months ago but I have not officiated or skated since September 21st now and I feel great. I am reinvigorated, have rediscovered my passion for the sport and I know exactly what I want to do and accomplish next year. Off seasons happen for a reason. Regardless of what you do in this sport, take one!

7. Uncomfortable situations and conflict will happen whether I want them to or not!

As I branched out further and further into the greater derby community, across multiple provinces, something hit me by surprise. I do not like everyone I work with! In fact, I feel very uncomfortable around some of them socially. You’d think this is an obvious thing about the world but keep in mind that prior to joining roller derby I was a bit of a social hermit (okay I was a recluse). I had a very small, close-knit group of friends that I was happy and comfortable with and I did not go outside of that group very often at all. Derby changed that. I quickly went from a few close derby friends to BAM, interacting with hundreds of people everywhere! And there was certainly a very rough learning curve in figuring out how to effectively officiate with people I personally did not particularly get along with, feel comfortable around or like. Because here’s the thing: whether or not you agree with or like your colleagues, you still have to work with them and there is NO excuse for being mean or disrespectful to them! I’m still figuring out the social and professional mind field of the sport today by learning to set healthy personal boundaries, but it is getting a lot better and luckily I have not burned many bridges (that I know of at least). But man oh man has that been a tough one! If you are a bit more on the anti-social side, derby is absolutely going to challenge you in many ways.

If I could give you one piece of advice it would be this: NEVER be “too proud” to admit when you are wrong and to change the behaviors that repeatedly sabotage you. Unchecked stubbornness will be your end in this sport.

So, when is your derby birthday and what have you learned since joining? Share your experiences and lessons in the comments below!