How to Pass Your Derby League to the Next Generation

Roller derby’s population constantly shifts year to year. New members join, old members retire, injuries force people to step away for various periods, people move, people get bored and poor management decisions sometimes causes clubs to fade away. Such is the way of life, but if you are at a point now where your veteran team is starting to step away, you may be wondering: “how do we pass this league on and ensure that it continues to thrive?”

I feel like derby, in many ways, is a family business. Unfortunately, more often than not, family businesses do not succeed because they either are passed down with a poor business structure in place or are given to a relative who is unsuited for or disinterest in the position.  In many cases, a son or daughter taking on the business of their father or mother likely won’t have the same drive as the business founder.

You’ll experience much of the same with your league when you start planning to pass it on. There is a LOT to consider and prepare. Do your newer members even want the responsibility of carrying on the league? Do they have the experience or knowledge to run it on their own? Has the league’s more veteran members ran things so tightly, with so much control, that the newer members have not been able to develop the skills to take over?

Ultimately, you can’t force anyone to do it and you may find that the current member base wants to stay involved but is uninterested in the responsibilities of being in charge. However, here is the good news: your league CAN still carry on!

If you really want your league to survive long after the veteran skaters have retired, here are a few things to consider:

 

Don’t EXPECT that your Junior skaters will take over.

If you have a Junior Derby component to your league, you might think that one day the league will be passed down to them and they will blaze a glorious trail of awesomeness for years to come long after you have retired. It is a nice sentiment, and you may feel like it would be a noble gesture to one-day give them control, but realistically that will not happen.

Think back to when you were a teenager. Try to remember all of the academic pressure you were under from your parents, your teachers and your peers to do well in school, get a job, choose a career and then get into a college or university. Think about all of the social pressure and conflicts that were constantly swirling around you at school. How you were bombarded with the expectations of looking attractive, being interesting, being popular and the importance of fitting in with some sort of social circle. Think about how self-conscious you were about your body, your sexuality, your self-worth, your ability and how others perceived all of that. Think about how little you really knew about your sexual preferences, your gender identity, your needs, your wants and your desires.

Now, imagine that you that you are 18-years old and playing on a hockey team. You are about to start college, your friends are all moving away or traveling, you are planning to move out, you have major financial responsibilities for the first time ever as you begin your adult life and then one day at practice your coach walks in and says: “okay guys, I’m retiring. The team is yours now.”

Junior Derby should not exist in your league with the hope or expectation of raising new derby stars and board members. It should exist to foster the emotional and personal growth of those young boys and girls during one of the most difficult times in their lives! It should exist to: help them find confidence in themselves, to love themselves, to respect each other, to learn about working as a team, to explore their identity, develop inter-personal skills, find their voice as leaders or speakers and to lead an active and healthy lifestyle, all within a safe environment that doesn’t pressure them to be a derby boy or girl for life.

Just let the kids be kids! They have an entire world out there to explore still. Photo courtesy of Rob Vida.

Just let the kids be kids! They have an entire world out there to explore still. Photo courtesy of Rob Vida.

 

Drop the DIY Approach.

I personally feel that the “do it yourself” mindset roller derby has is counterproductive at best. If your league is not selling many tickets or much merchandise, is not getting a lot of local exposure, is experiencing mediocre fundraising results and isn’t generating a whole lot of interest, here’s why: “For the skaters, by the skaters”.  Having that slogan or mindset and basing major decisions around it is like opening a store and slapping a sign on the front door that reads: “THIS STORE IS FOR ME AND MY FRIENDS! OUR BUSINESS ISN’T FOR YOU! WE DO WHAT WE WANT! Please buy our t-shirts and key chains.” That would be silly, would it not?

Drop the “do it yourself” mentality. It’s an illusion, you and your league are not doing it all by yourselves! Your sponsors, your volunteers, your paying fans and your local supports are all doing it with you! Embrace them, communicate with them and most important of all, involve them. I don’t mean beg them to give you more money or volunteer their time, I don’t mean involve them through Facebook contests, I mean open your league’s doors all the way and REALLY let them in.

 

Remember that your league IS a business and it needs to run like a business.

It doesn’t matter that you are just doing it for fun. The second that your league started selling merchandise and started charging people money to watch your team play is the second that you became a business. You made a product available for purchase and began offering the public the opportunity to watch an entertaining, alternative sporting event for a fee. As such, you are responsible for showing your crowd a good time and if ticket sales have dropped, it is because you are not delivering what your audience wants or expects.

If your league was REALLY a do-it-yourself venture, then why does it rely so heavily on sponsors, donations and community involvement to pay for everything? Shouldn’t you be doing all of that yourselves?  “For the skaters, by the skaters”, then what are you doing paying outlandish amounts of money for venue rentals, sound equipment, half-time entertainment and why are you selling merchandise and event tickets? It just doesn’t make sense.

If you want to be taken seriously as a sporting organization and you are going to continue charging admittance fees then you need to approach your league as a business. Saying that you are playing a professional sport (which right off the bat places expectations in your audience’s mind that they will be watching high-caliber competition) but operating your organization like an Amateur/Youth League, with event tickets costing as much as going to the movies, is not doing you any favors.

What is the point in passing the league on to new leadership if it is just going to continue barely staying afloat? Before leaving it to somebody new sit everybody down, put together a business plan and discuss what it is that you will need to do to generate the revenue required for covering operation costs.

 

Open your board and committees to your fans and the public!

When you really think about it, the league was never really JUST yours. It also belonged to your sponsors, to your supporters, to your community and to your ticket buying fans and spectators. When you move on in life, it will belong to all NEW sponsors, supporters, fans and members. So would it not make sense to reach out to them for new leaders? If you are a derby league with a decent fan base, I think you would be surprised by how many locals express interest in getting involved on your board if you let them.

In the past, I have spoken to many teams and leagues that were approached by a fan or member of the community about serving on their board or in their committees and shockingly, they turned them away. “They don’t know anything about roller derby,” would often be the reason I heard for why they would deny outsiders for board and committee involvement. “So what?” would then be my response.

What does roller derby have to do with finances and book-keeping? Is an intimate knowledge of the game and rules THAT essential to ordering and selling shirts with a team logo on it? Is being a derby girl really a substantial asset to designing and printing bout posters or seeking league sponsorship opportunities?

Will being able to jump the apex, or knowing the difference between no-impact and a major penalty, help you place a merchandise order better than somebody who is not involved in roller derby, but has three years worth of warehouse experience?

Let the public in! Let your community in! Jane Doe, who works at the local grocery store and who attends every one of your home games as a spectator, is just as capable as the stressed out star jammer is of taking down meeting minutes.

Pass your league to your community! Let your skaters be skaters so that they can focus on improving and providing a better level of competition and entertainment for people to watch.

Give your fans a REASON to attend the after party and get involved. Chat with them as much as you can after the game!

Give your fans a REASON to attend the after party and get involved. Chat with them as much as you can after the game! Photo courtesy of Rob Vida.

 

Cross your t’s and dot your i’s.

Finally, you will not be able to successfully pass your league on to a new generation of derby fans and skaters if it is a mess. Organize the league’s paperwork; make sure the bylaws are well written and easily accessible, have a mission statement and goals in place, inventory league property and compile contact information and resources for the next board and committees. Failing to do so would be like piloting a plane with a brand new co-pilot but knocking them out mid-flight, then jumping out with your parachute on your back and theirs in your hands. Not cool!

Get the house in order, build a REAL foundation and develop a 5-year plan. Otherwise, the business will fail.


Headshot1Written by Kevin “Kevlar” Dennison

A man with a plan!

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