As many of you know, I have been a roller derby fan since 2007, not long after the sport's revival. I feel blessed in that I've been able to see the sport develop and get to know some of the era's pioneers. I saw very little out there in terms of coverage, and even less devoted to covering roller derby like a real sport. So, a few years ago, I began writing the precursor of this blog. I would attend bouts and write about them from a sports fan's perspective. Along the way, readers could see the evolution of my understanding of the sport. Skaters could have their skills respected and appreciated. And hopefully, sports fans who hadn't given roller derby a chance would have a lens through which to view the sport.
Over the years, I have been more successful on some fronts than on others, but I have always felt that the time and effort taken to write my posts were very worthwhile. Some of you may have noticed the lack of production on this blog recently. Since the last time I wrote a substantive recap, I have attended a Cincinnati Rollergirls (CRG) home doubleheader, a CRG road doubleheader, the North Central Region Playoffs, and CRG's first road doubleheader of 2012. I have many, many pages of notes from each of these events, and no recaps here. And I may ask myself: Well, how did I get here?
I could call them goals, or reasons for writing, but here are the main few:
1. I want the skaters to feel appreciated as athletes and sportswomen, not as novelties.
2. I want to improve my own knowledge of the sport, to become an "expert."
3. I want to have an outlet for my writing, as I believe I do have some talent for it.
4. I want to pull new fans into roller derby, especially those who share my background as "mainstream" sports fanatics.
5. I want to feel like I have contributed some small thing to the leagues, since geography and other considerations prevent me from truly being an essential part of any of them.
I have found that I have been at my happiest and most productive when I've felt that I was achieving most of these aims. The travel time, money, and onerous writing time were definitely worth it. Skaters appreciated my work, especially since few of them had ever had someone write about them in that way. My derby acumen improved dramatically as I saw more bouts and talked to more skaters. Forcing myself to put my experiences into words led to a more analytical approach to the sport. While I was rarely reaching any roller derby neophytes, I was giving the leagues (OK, mostly CRG) something they did not get elsewhere.
So, what happened? Due to various factors, I have either plateaued or regressed on most of my objectives. First, what I have to offer isn't so new or unique anymore. Major derby leagues see their bouts covered on DNN and myriad other websites, and most have their own in-house recappers. Skaters don't need to read my description of the events, because they can easily watch the tape, and their superior knowledge of the sport will give them far greater insights than one fan scribbling notes in real time ever could. Not only am I failing to reach new potential fans, but I am also failing to reach even the rabid fans and participants. HSWT's Facebook page has a total of 41 followers, and the site's handy metrics show that roughly a quarter of them even see a typical post from me.
Secondly, My derby knowledge has definitely hit a plateau. Until the past six months or so, I have been keenly aware of my increasing derby smarts. I felt satisfaction upon noticing something that would have previously slipped me, or upon a kind word from a skater about my perceptiveness. I certainly still believe that I know more than most "Just A Fans" out there, but I'm not progressing. I know that there are steps I could take (memorizing the rulebook and such), but I just don't see the potential to be an expert. I think there's a limit to the level of understanding one can reach, never having played a sport, nor even been associated with it on a day-to-day, competitive level. For instance, I was a competitive baseball player. I can explain just about any intricate detail of anything in baseball to anyone. However, a person who goes to eight or ten ballgames a year and watches a few more on TV will never reach that point, even if he or she works diligently to learn the game. So, do I keep pushing to make very marginal improvements, or do I accept that I'm at or near my limit?
Finally, as my "teachers" move on, am I losing the drive to connect with new derby folks? Writing my recaps has always been most rewarding when I could envision certain people reading them and know that I'd talk to those people again soon enough to gauge their reactions. But people move on. Roller derby careers are often pretty short, for many reasons. Teams replenish themselves and retain continuity through recruitment, camaraderie and frequent contact. What analog can I find to recharge myself when things start to drag?
Truly, this is not meant as a "woe is me" post. It's an attempt to figure out what's going wrong, solicit help from all of you, and find a way to make my writing relevant and enjoyable for all of us. While I have listed the "philosophical" struggles, I believe there is a huge technical issue as well. When I watch a bout and take notes, I am trying to do more than I am capable of doing, thus making the task of compiling my notes into a worthwhile post an extremely difficult chore.
Early on, I focused my notes and writing on big moments or momentum swings. I paid detailed attention to the skills and attributes of individual skaters, and to the complex gyrations within the packs. I could tell you that K Lethal looked really good making lateral cuts, and that Trauma manipulated the speed of the pack impeccably. But my posts were short on facts. I couldn't tell you whether Hannah Barbaric won more jams than she lost or how often CRG gained lead jammer status in slow pack starts. I felt that some of the things that were lacking could make my recaps better, so I changed my note-taking.
Over the past year or so, I have worked hard to keep jam-by-jam information in my notes. I list the points for each team, who was lead, any jammer penalties, notes on the jam, and cumulative score and time remaining at the end of the jam. Suddenly, I had tons of great information to include in the recaps. However, the time and focus it took to get all of this information meant that I no longer got as good a feel for the ebb and flow of the game, nor for the skills on display from individual skaters. Whereas before, I could tell you my bout MVP ten minutes after the final whistle, I now pore over my stats and details for days with no answer. Eventually, either the business of my life or frustration at not being able to write the recap I want overcomes me. An opportunity is lost, and I question the sanity of trying to write recaps in the first place.
Simply put, I am trying to do too much for one person. I cannot, within the real-time, fast-paced, and often confusing action of a roller derby bout, record both extensive detail and perceptive analysis. It's why sports announcing virtually always has at least two people involved. The play-by-play announcer can focus on the details, while the analyst or color commentator puts the game into perspective and offers opinions. A professional cannot do both well at the same time, so I certainly can't expect it of myself.
So, here is what I ask of you: Please give me feedback on what you want from a recap. Is it more important to have play-by-play with minimal analysis? Would you rather have more about the performances of the skaters and teams without the level of detail about the action? Has the derby world progressed to the point at which efforts like mine are redundant? Should I just show up and enjoy myself and leave the notebook at home? Is there any way I can improve my knowledge substantially, given my current constraints? I'm not asking you to tell me what will make me happy. Refer to my first stated goal. The work I put in is for you. How can I give you something of value without subjecting myself to a paralyzing overload that leads to dead air?
I hope that attending and writing about roller derby will forever be a joy to me. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.