Dear Stagnating Sally,
This is a great question and definitely one that goes through a lot of people’s minds. I come from a similar situation, where sometimes it was very difficult to stay motivated in my own training when it seemed like the few of us that were giving everything we had were not getting much back in return. We’d have five people at practices. We’d have people back out of bouts on the day of. We’d skate with 9 skaters. We’d cancel bouts because of an overwhelming lack of fuck giving. Why do some places seem to succeed and some places struggle? Is it demographics or is it the culture of a city? What did they do right? And out of all of the hours of sleep I lost over your exact question and all of the mulling and debating, why or why not, I do not have an easy answer for you. But I’m sure you did not expect an easy answer. Everything I’m about to say is grounded in my own experience of a very small league in a very small town, but hopefully some of it will be of benefit to you and your league.
Basically, motivation for improvement and competitiveness comes down to the individual. What does each person join the league for? Do they want a fun way to exercise? Do they want to make friends? Is derby their therapy? Do they want to be part of the culture? Is this their right now? Or, for people like you and me, is this their future? These people all have different goals and different ideas of what derby should do for them (or what they should do for derby). This being said, it can be hard to change the level of dedication of people who have no interest in pursuing this as anything more than a part-time endeavor. And while this is okay for some leagues who have enough members to have a rec league, where people need to do nothing more than show up and skate once or twice a week (cross-training optional), it’s very hard for small leagues that really rely on every member to keep the business afloat.
Marketing is a big, big part of the success of a team. The more you can recruit members, the more members you’ll find who want to be as into it as you are. Make sure you have a dedicated Fresh Meat training program, because this is important for keeping those members around. They need to feel important and to feel like the league wants them there and will take care of them. Also, when there are more rosterable members available than roster spots, there is a (good) chance that people will work harder to make sure they are rostered.
Another type of recruitment event that my old league had was for referees and NSOs. I’m not talking a line at the very bottom of the skater recruitment flyer saying, “Also recruiting refs and NSOs!” I’m talking a dedicated referee and NSO recruitment, for them only. If your ref and NSO numbers are between 0 and 2, HAVE ONE OF THESE EVENTS. We created a ref/NSO training committee and took 12 weeks and two hours of practice time per week to make sure these people were trained. Yes, we had to take time out of our own skating, but usually only one person had to do that per week, and the training person rotated every week. And yes, people had to do work outside of practice to create lesson plans, but it was not hard or time-consuming. This was, hands down, one of the best events we’ve ever had. We gained at least seven ~SUPER FABULOUS AND AMAZING~ dedicated as fuck members. And when there is a support group of people surrounding your league (giving it a little league-hug), picking it up, helping you train and get better, it can definitely up the dedication from its members. It can boost the morale of the whole league and make everyone WANT to be better.
Having this support group makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy and really helps the attitude of the members overall. Speaking of attitude, how close is the team on a personal level? Do you guys put a lot of trust into one another? Is everyone pretty close friends? Do you do activities together outside of practice? If the league doesn’t have the greatest relationship, maybe feeding that aspect could help people want to be there and want to dedicate themselves. Take some time out of practice to do some fun on-skate games. Have a movie night at a member’s house. Do some bonding as a team.
As another option, perhaps you could initiate a rewards program or some type of incentive that members get for cross-training. Maybe a league-wide competition where the member who does the most squats gets their dues waived for the month. Or every time you workout, you put a (quarter, dollar, insert monetary amount) into a league jar and your name into a separate jar and the winner of the money is drawn at random, but the more you workout, the better chance you have, something like that. There are lots of possibilities for little workout contests.
Another option to help your league up the competitiveness is to combine with another close-by league. And this may not be feasible for your league, because it is a big undertaking, but if it is, it could be a very viable option, if the stars align just right. Do you come from a small town or city where there is another league within 30-40 miles? Maybe you each have 7 members who are dedicated to training, cross-training, and competition? That gives you a full roster for an A team. The members who might not be as competitive could be a B team. Of course, this requires a lot of details to be sorted out and will not be an easy transition, but for two leagues in close proximity who are in similar situations, this could be an option.
If none of these things seem to help, then focus on your own goals and your own training. Go to open skates. Skate outside. Watch footage. If you have to stand in line while waiting to do a drill, use that time to get better at a random skill. Join that other league that’s 30-40 miles away and dedicate yourself twice as much. Take time to practice what you need and find solace in knowing that you are doing what you need to do to play on a competitive level. Maybe you can bring some other leaguemates along with you to skate or to workout, which will inspire them be more competitive.
And if you really, really want to be competitive and your team is not hacking it for what you need, then yes, move. Get out of dodge. Find a city that you like and feel like you could be successful in and move there. I know moving is hard and that maybe it’s not ideal for many, many people, but it is an option. It can be very hard to leave your team/life/city/everything behind, but derby is derby and everywhere there is derby, there are great, amazing people who will welcome you and who will be happy that you are there. There will be a vast wealth of knowledge and you will learn things that will blow your mind. There is experience and opportunities and places for you to dig in, and to dig deep. Your roller derby life will be satiated. And it will be amazing. And it will be just what you needed.
Here at iamrollerderby, we know that our favorite sport is AWESOME, but it can also be confusing, emotional, and downright frustrating. We also know that there are some questions and concerns you'd rather not voice, some battles you're fighting silently. Those questions make you feel like you're alone sometimes, but you're totally not. Whatever you're feeling, someone in derby has likely felt it, too. Maybe not in your league, maybe not in your Facebook friends list, but somewhere. Somewhere out there is another person (or 12, or 158) asking the same questions, looking for the same answers. We're hoping you'll be brave enough to submit an anonymous question and let us help, so that everyone can benefit from bringing the situation to light.
What is Dear Derby?
Dear Derby is advice for the derby world, because Abby doesn't know anything about cheap shot low-blocks or whiny league mates.