Derby Advice

Rewriting Your Personal Derby Narrative

So, I’m going to be starting fresh meat with the Pile O’ Bones Derby Club here and for our first homework assignment we were asked to write down 20 negative things we say about ourselves, 40 awesome things about ourselves and 40 things we are grateful for.

Here’s 9 of the negative things I wrote down about myself for the first part of the exercise:

1. I’m a useless referee, always have been and always will be. I let my anxiety and emotions rule me, clouding my judgement and my ability to perform and I do more harm than good in that role. Once angry, upset or embarrassed, I’m a write off. I have no right to be out on that track, screwing events up for everybody else.

2. I’m a coward. I run from my problems and I don’t take any responsibility for my own thoughts and feelings.

3. I’m pathetic and weak. I waste so much of my potential sitting around and bitterly stewing about past hurts, no matter how small they may be. I place a lot of blame on others who I feel have wronged me in some way. Sweltering in anger at every single negative comment as if they were all these unforgivable personal attacks.

4. Why can’t I just grow the hell up, let go, get my crap together and move on?

5. I’m a selfish, downright terrible, friend. I keep pushing people away, isolating myself more and more from truly good people who care about me. I am so wrapped up in my own problems, my own little world, that I selfishly ignore those most important to me.

6. I’m a self-serving dick.

7. I’m so full of crap. I write about all of these large, self-reflective pieces on the dangers of burnout, not letting pride or envy get the better of you, etc. and yet I’m the worst for it all, constantly repeating the same crappy, unhealthy behavior habits and failing abysmally on doing what I need to so that it completely stops. I’m my own worse enemy and I deserve me.

8. I’m always focusing on the negative, living in the past, making myself a victim and not doing a damn thing to fix any of it. I’m a real lowly piece of crap…

9. I’m wasting my time blogging. Nobody cares about what I have to say, the Sask derby community thinks I’m a joke and I don’t blame them.

And this is where I stopped myself, because the reality is… that’s all bullshit! Well, that’s enough of that! I’ve had these thoughts and feelings in regards to roller derby for the better part of a year and it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and continue challenging these unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

One of the many exercises my counselor showed me last year was how to rewrite my personal narrative. She first handed me a red pen and with a piece of paper in front of me she told me to write down everything that I felt had gone wrong in my life over the past several months, everything that upset me and everything I felt I failed at. Big or small, I jotted down whatever came to mind. She then handed me a blue pen and, on a a new sheet of paper, told me to write down everything that has gone well for me over the years, things that have made me happy and accomplishments I am proud of. Once both were finished we compared the two sides and it was painfully clear that I had MUCH more to be happy about and thankful for than I had to be upset, angry, stressed or depressed about.

It was a powerful exercise that caused me to break down in tears at the time, and yet, even with that tool, that gift, having been handed to me… I had not used it again since then. In the spirit of promoting the importance of self-care in both this sport and life in general, I decided it was time to revisit this particular technique. Here’s how it works:

How to Rewrite Your Inner Narrative

After finishing my fresh meat homework I opened up Powerpoint and began to lay out my negative and positive narrative with a focus on my involvement in roller derby. I made very sure to leave out any narrative that was not affected by my participation in the sport and just like the last time I used this exercise, my results spoke volumes.

Rewriting Your Story 01

If you were to do the same I’m sure you’d realize, much like I did, just how much of a waste it is to let a handful of ultimately insignificant negative experiences overshadow all of the positives that have come to you in roller derby. Worst yet, you’ll see just how much this negative narrative has held you back from reaching your true potential and how you have unknowingly used it to keep yourself from standing for something with TRUE conviction.

I get it. As you just saw, I did it too. People tend to focus on, even obsess over, their stresses, anxieties and negative experiences in life because many of us struggle with control (I know I do!). It sucks when things don’t work out. It’s upsetting when you fail. It doesn’t feel good knowing that somebody doesn’t like you or that people have been talking about you behind your back, but all of that only has power over you if you let it.

I’m not perfect (though I have unrealistically tried to be), I’ve made mistakes (and hated myself for them), I’ve failed at many goals (and have been jealous of those who achieved theirs) and I’ve said or done things that people have disagreed with (and took it to heart more than I should have), but rather than take those lessons, learn from them and move on I was creating this selfish narrative to victimize myself over some truly petty and trivial things.

So, a handful of people didn’t like what I was doing with the Best of Sask Roller Derby Votes and decided to let me know about how much they didn’t like it by making some disparaging remarks in blog comments, then another handful (perhaps the same people) filed a grievance to the SRDA about the blog. Cool, noted. However, I’m happy with all the positive exposure that the polls brought to leagues all across the province, I’ve learned from what did and didn’t work and I’ll organize it even better next year. Letting go and moving on!

An old derby friend publicly voiced some assumptions, accusations and insinuations about me that I felt were very derogatory… wait, didn’t I just have a private conversation with this individual not too long ago to express my feelings of discomfort with the friendship and to respectfully part ways? Yep, sure did! So, why am I even acknowledging their remarks? What will holding onto anger and bitterness over their statements do? Nothing! Letting go and moving on!

I now intend to do this exercise at least every two to three months going forward, depending on whether or not I feel I need to do it again sooner. I will use it to hold myself accountable for my own thoughts, reactions and feelings and I will not allow myself to fester in bitterness, self-pity and anger any more! Whether you’re a brand new skater or seasoned member of the derby community, I strongly recommend you try this personal narrative exercise for yourself as well!

Kevlar 2Written by Kevin ‘Kevlar’ Dennison

Taking each day in stride!

Seven Tips from a Roller Derby Introvert Who Lost Their Way

After nearly two-and-a-half years of participation in roller derby, I have recently come face to face with a very interesting, and rather overwhelming, self-realization: I have lost sight of myself. Despite achieving many personal goals within the sport (of which I am very proud of), developing some truly amazing friendships and forging great memories, over the past year I have felt increasingly irritable, stressed, anxious, depressed, exhausted and downright bitter and angry at times about the sport and my interactions with peers.

For the longest time I thought it was just a funk. I mean, what happened to the energetic, sociable and outgoing Kevlar of 2012 and 2013? The Kevlar who was at almost every practice, co-coaching his local derby team, reffing whenever he could, traveling and teaching and presenting on the sport. The Kevlar that was traveling to officiate a derby bout, double-header, scrimmage or tournament 3 weekends of the month. The Kevlar who was staying at after parties until the bartender turned on the lights and told everyone to go home. The Kevlar who sometimes didn’t even stop there, hopping into a car full of acquaintances to go to the after-after party in some stranger’s apartment. What happened to the Kevlar who was bouncing around the room, chatting with people, hitting the dance floor even though it made him extremely uncomfortable and constantly pushed himself to get out there as much as he could?

Then it hit me… I’m not Kevlar, I’m Kevin, and since becoming involved with roller derby I have exhausted so much energy on trying to be Kevlar that it finally caught up to me. I see now just how crucial a mistake that was. Rather than empowering myself through roller derby, allowing myself to see the strengths and potential I’ve always had and fostering healthy personal growth I instead focused on being this larger than life version of myself.

Have you ever seen the movie Youth in Revolt? The one where Michael Cera decides to be cooler so he creates this chain-smoking, ‘tough guy’ alter ego who sports a ridiculous mustache and aviators? Yeah, that’s what I was basically doing and it didn’t work out all that well for me either.

1. You don’t need to completely reinvent yourself in order to enjoy roller derby.

I‘m absolutely more introverted than I am extroverted, sometimes too much so. Here’s the thing though, almost nobody is completely one way or the other, unless you’re Amou Haji. So, while your personality may lean more toward one type, you more than likely have traits from the other side of the spectrum as well. Me being an introvert doesn’t mean that I don’t like to talk, that I dislike people, that I hate leaving my apartment, that sunlight burns me or that I don’t know how to relax and have fun. It just means that I strongly value personal space, being alone with my thoughts and that I’m most confident and comfortable in low stress social situations at someone’s house rather than at a crazy, loud, hot, packed club or bar.

Unfortunately, once I started to get really involved with roller derby I got it into my head that if I didn’t force myself to be this picture perfect “extrovert” I wouldn’t fit in, be successful or be able to enjoy the sport as much as I could. I constantly pushed myself to do more, be better and get out there as much as humanly possible. I went to every possible practice, went to as many league events as I possibly could, stayed up all night partying after game days and I packed my monthly schedule with bouts, scrimmages and tournaments. My derby name, Kevlar, became more than just letters on the back of my referee jersey. It became this new persona that I thought was a more outgoing and charismatic person who would accomplish more than I ever have before. People liked Kevlar! He was knowledgeable, skilled, passionate, confident, social and always willing to lend a hand or participate. I felt great! I felt needed, wanted and respected for the first time ever.

What I didn’t understand until recently is that I never needed to be somebody different, to be ‘Kevlar’, for people to like me, to make more friends or to be more successful. Kevlar was actually overkill. He was thick-headed and defensive, looking at everybody as if they were malicious beings and he arrogantly took on way more than he could handle.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, ease up! You don’t need to ‘fix’ your personality or completely change how you look, behave or think in order to be successful or have fun in this sport. Just be yourself and trust in your growing abilities. You’d be surprised at just how much you can accomplish.

2. Develop and pull essential skills from your extroverted side.

For some introverts, being attentive isn’t so much a problem as contributing is. Speaking up, putting yourself out there confidently and working in close physical and mental proximity with others can be extremely overwhelming. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in that. I’m the exact same way. However, playing, officiating or coaching roller derby requires all of those things! As such, you’re going to have to challenge your comfort zone in order to develop a strong voice, have confidence in your developing skills, take the lead every now and then and get up close and personal with those around you.

Of course, this is easier said than done, which is why I had to reach into my big bag of social skills to pull out specific communication techniques for specific situations. Everybody does it and you don’t need to drastically alter who you in order to reach your goals, you just need to tweak your interaction techniques a bit. Take job interviews for example. As an introvert with an anxiety condition I find job interviews to be high stress and I can easily put myself into a panicked state if I don’t ground myself. If I REALLY need or want the position, what do I do? I prepare for it. The day before the interview I practice making eye contact with myself in the mirror as I talk, I practice introducing myself professionally, I carefully pick out what I’m going to wear, I practice standing straight and confidently and when it is interview time I draw from all of those communication skills. I walk in tall, extend my hand, shake firmly, smile, speak clearly and concisely and for the next hour or so I’m more sure of myself than Spider-Man is.

Whether you’re skating, refereeing, serving as a non-skating official or announcing, do the exact same thing on game day! Treat is like a job interview. In the days leading up to a bout practice calm breathing and grounding yourself in the moment (recommend both of these things prior to every jam), look into the mirror and repeat self-affirmations and don’t worry if it all feels alien to you at first. What you’re essentially doing is reconditioning yourself to replace unhealthy, self-defeating and negative thoughts and behaviors with healthy, empowering and positive ones. This will take time, but believe me when I say that it is well worth the effort!

3. Never underestimate the importance of recharging yourself.

I need space and time to recharge. Quiet time to read some comics, play video games for a few hours, watch a few episodes of Doctor Who or to work on creative writing projects that I’m excited about. Whatever it is that you do to relax, unwind and feel refreshed, make time for it.


Power level: OPTIMAL.

The mistake I was making early on with roller derby is that I was not allowing myself that incredibly important alone time to recharge. I was always committing myself to more and more things, even if I deep down knew it was too much. When I wasn’t out I was going home and watching roller derby, talking about roller derby, reading about roller derby, writing about roller derby, roller derby, roller derby, roller derby… Whatever you did to recharge before roller derby, keep doing it. Read a book, have an Attack on Titan (seriously, watch this show) marathon, go for a quiet drive or bike ride, whatever. Do it and do it often!

4. Call Yourself Out on Over Thinking and Over Analyzing

I have a very bad habit of making a mountain out of a mole hill. I over think and over analyze conversations and experiences until I exhaust myself on all accounts. For example, last September I was head reffing a pick up scrimmage in Prince Albert and a challenge on points was called. I heard both sides of the argument and for whatever reason, it made sense in my head to take back some points awarded. In my mind they had been awarded in error. Afterward, a skater and fellow official, who I admire and respect immensely, approached me and respectfully, calmly explained that taking away points awarded is not a common practice. Once a Jammer earns a point that point can never be taken away. Oops, take a deep breath, learn from it and move on, no biggie, right? Nope. I over analyzed that entire situation like no other. I was embarrassed, mad at myself, obsessed over all of the things I could have done different and how because of me the outcome of that scrimmage had been negatively affected.

Social situations pretty much went the same way. Spilling a drink, giving a dumb answer to a question, being asked something I didn’t know the answer to, thinking of how to respond to a text messages, etc. I obsessively over analyzed everything from my performance to how I said hello to somebody I recognized at a bout.

I’m happy to report that I’ve REALLY curbed this unhealthy behavior over the past six months by doing one simple thing: calling myself out on it. As soon as I start to obsess on a situation or conversation that has already happened I say to myself “Kevin, you’re doing it again. It’s done and it’s not as bad as it seems.” Then I focus on something else. I’ll hop on youtube to watch movie trailers, I’ll pop on the blog to work on content that is sitting in my drafts folder or I’ll get up and go for a walk with my fiance. Another great exercise is to pay attention to your self- talk and practice realistic thinking.

5. DO NOT use alcohol as a confidence booster at after parties or social gatherings.

To combat my anxiety, discomfort and stress at after-parties I drank, lots. While it did lead to me being less inhibited, it also became a problem. I’ve thrown up in derby folk’s cars, I passed out in a tree house in Brandon, MB, and I spent a few hours of my 26th birthday drunk in a car trunk. I even once blacked out in a hotel in Swift Current after a bout and a league mate literally had to break into my room to wake me up. Sure, people had a good laugh and told stories of how hilarious it was but the reality of the situation is that I had developed unhealthy drinking habits.

All behold my shame!

Behold my shame!

If you are feeling really anxious, stressed or uncomfortable at an after-party, put the drinks down! Alcohol is NOT liquid courage. Sit at a table with some friends, see if you can gather a few people to go somewhere more mellow or just head home after a few hours. Booze is liquid regret when used irresponsibly.

6. Stop using “social awkwardness” as a crutch.

I’ve tripped over nothing, I’ve said hi to somebody I thought was waving at me when they really weren’t, I’ve gone for a fist-bump when somebody was looking for a handshake, I look like Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black in most photos taken of me, I’ve told many jokes that nobody laughed at and on countless occasions I’ve walked around with mustard stains on my shirt or pants. We’re all weird, we’re all awkward, each of us has our own quirks that boggle the minds of others as we all fumble through our lives.

Even the most confident looking people don’t really have it all figured out either. Jennifer Lawrence tripped over her dress at the Academy Awards, Ashley Simpson did an extremely awkward jig on stage after her infamous lip synching mistake on SNL, Justin Bieber threw up on stage during a concert in Pheonix, Tom Cruise is a Scientologist and countless celebrities have had pictures published of themselves showing nip slips and accidental panty shots as they climb out of a limousine. Hell, whether you want to believe it or not, at one point or another even the magnificently sexy Ryan Gosling has likely picked his nose, farted louder than he had hoped he would in the presence of others, coughed while drinking, stumbled over his words in a conversation, missed landing a high-five, sneezed so hard he sent a booger flying at somebody, had milk come out of his nose and said many things that resulted in him over analyzing it afterward.

Photo courtesy of Mike Squire.

Photo courtesy of Mike Squire.

Life in general is weird, awkward and challenging. If you’re shy, cool, own it and be aware of your personal needs for that. But don’t miss out on valuable experiences and possibilities because you’re convinced that you’re going to make a fool of yourself. That’s just your fear making excuses and protecting your ego. Nobody wants to look bad, embarrass themselves or be disliked, but it happens. To all of us. Sometimes daily!

7. Having a few true, close friendships is more valuable than having hundreds of acquaintances.

When I got involved with roller derby my friends list on Facebook exploded. Hundreds of derby folk were adding me and I was adding hundreds of derby folks. For a while, it was really cool. My news feed was the most active it had ever been and I was really starting to feel as though I was an important part of a big community. I mean, I had 300+ friends! Or so I thought.

There came a day not too long ago when I found myself staring at that list of 300-and-something “friends” and I realized that I did not really know who the vast majority of these people were. In fact, I could not even recall precisely when or where I met most of them and I hadn’t actually even held a full conversation with many of them since we became Facebook friends. Yet here I was sharing the intimate details of my life, goals, passions and opinions with these acquaintances while, in turn, being bombarded by their love lives, drinking habits, body modifications, political/social opinions and the occasionally half-naked selfie taken in front of a bathroom mirror to show off their new muscle definition from derby and Crossfit.

Honestly, I actually began to feel increasingly stressed, anxious and irritable about it all. Social media was becoming cumbersome, especially in combination with all the time spent at practice, volunteering, traveling, teaching and officiating. I stopped responding to messages, texts, emails and phone calls, feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated and exhausted.

The reality is that in my excitement about becoming involved in roller derby, and meeting new people, I had rapidly traded my few close friendships with people I truly connected with for a few hundred acquaintances.

Foster and value your true friendships! Making new friends is great but seek out true connections with people, avoid superficial bonds, and don’t push away your amazing friends from before roller derby in the process.

Kevlar 2Written by Kevin ‘Kevlar’ Dennison

Always learning things the hard way…

Ask Kevlar: Crowded Calendars and Bout Staffing Nightmares

Welcome to another 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 a 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!

Dear Kevlar,

It has recently been brought to my attention that a league has been planning a bout for sometime (an invitational) and recently another league in the province announced another invitational on the same day and then another league had a game scheduled and recently announced an invitational to make it a double header! It seems to me like the ‘sisterhood’ of derby is going downhill when leagues are intentionally creating events on the same date.

I have no doubt that with three games officials will be running short as well. Will an event have to run with 4 refs? I’m not sure exactly how many officials there are in the province but I doubt there is enough to fully take on three games in one night.

So, my ask Kevlar question is simple. What is your view on leagues planning multiple events on the same night with a limited amount of players and officials in the province? Do you feel that this hurts derby in our province or shows that it is growing?


Growing Pains

Hello, Growing Pains!

Personally, I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt to event organizers in that they are likely not choosing dates maliciously so much as they are choosing dates out of necessity. Many teams do not have much leniency in their home bout dates due to pressures and restrictions put on them by venue owners. So, while it is unfortunate that so many invitational’s are happening on the same weekend there are a number of factors that could have played into that. Perhaps that date was their only opportunity for a bouting event at their venue for the month. Maybe they have had the date held for a long time but it was only recently confirmed and they could not secure a team to play due to everyone else being so busy, which resulted in them having to make the event an invitational.

That being said, this certainly brings up the valid concern of staffing that many leagues in the province struggle with. Unfortunately, it is a much larger issue than one may think and there are no quick or simple solutions. I feel that an enormous part of the problem really comes down to the fact that roller derby in Saskatchewan is still extremely grassroots. The “derby community” here consists of about 14 leagues operating independently of one another with their own unique goals, priorities, visions and their own ideas of what the sport means to them, their membership and their community. They are all on their own page and while that can be empowering at times it can carry with it a number of frustrations, communication issues and logistic nightmares as well. Add in the fact that there is also not (YET) an established provincial association or organization to provide services, guidance and aid in regards to things such as scheduling, staffing, etc. and it is not surprising that things like this continue to happen.

Luckily, the Saskatchewan Roller Derby Alliance is slowly starting to get on its feet and hopefully leagues from around the province will be interested in getting on board to work together toward improving communication, sharing resources, developing less strenuous season schedules, bringing in bigger training opportunities and just generally working more towards a healthier future for the sport here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: forget the “do it yourself” sentiment, it’s self-defeating in the end. If you want the sport to see a strong future then the province needs to “do it together“. Also… a province wide officials recruiting campaign! Seriously, it’s long overdue and a few Saskatchewan based photographers have already expressed interest in doing it.

In the mean time, it would not hurt to reach out to the leagues closest to you in order to make every effort possible at alleviating situations such as this. Talk to one another, share your plans, share your resources, share your schedules and work toward a common goal to benefit all of you. You may not be able to change the province today but with some hard work you can certainly work toward it by making the changes you want to see in your area!

Thank you for writing in, Growing Pains!

Kevlar 2 Look through the Derby Advice category to find old Ask Kevlar posts!