No magic dust nor powder, spell book nor tome, pointy hat nor megaphone staff are responsible for the display of magic put on by the Wizards of Aus at the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup in Calgary this July, although a not so modest amount of Voltaren rub and anti-inflammatory blue berries certainly helped. The Australian team placed third, increasing their position by two from the previous World Cup, however the magic aforementioned is not the performance they brought to the track, but the example of team spirit with which they represented their country.
I prefer not to write in first person, however, I wish to share with you my personal experiences in order to provide a unique insight into the greatest community I have ever been so privileged to be a member of. To summarise the culture of this team I would use the following words; accountability, camaraderie, positivity. Being a Wizard is about more than being a strong derby player, it means being involved in something greater than the sum of its parts. Each and every one of my team mates positively impacted my life in the preparation and fulfilment of the goal we set out to achieve. At its core, this is what our team is all about. I have grown as a person alongside these people who have supported me to be the best that I can be. Preparation was hard, the most physically and mentally demanding training I have ever been through and life had it’s challenges. But every day I had my team to come back to, people who I knew would have my back.
Some very special people within the leadership group set out to create a team culture that is exemplary in every way. They nurtured it from infancy, right through to winning that medal. By generating tasks we had to perform as a team and holding people accountable for their roles we built trust with our peers that strengthened every practise. This resulted in every skater knowing their position on track and trusting those around him to perform their role. It created equality, no one skater being more important than another, leading to a collaborative team that took each other’s needs into consideration. This equality became an insulator for positive energy. After each practice we had the affectionately nicknamed trust circles, which sounds like an awful workplace exercise where you collapse into a co-workers arms, however it proved to be a valuable tool. Going through the circle, each person would take a turn to pick out another individual and say what they thought that person had been doing well. This was an uplifting experience and made me feel very valued as a team member, it also meant you were taking notice of the good work the people along side you were doing.
During games, emotions can easily rise especially when playing for position. Our team strategy was to approach every game with the same supportive and positive attitude that we built off track. Our goal was to be calm and collected through all games, to play our strategy as trained and not be drawn into playing any other style of derby. I think we succeeded in this goal; there were games that began to become heated, a big, unnecessary hit would be thrown and that could easily start to affect your emotional state. However, when this would happen the group around you would quickly identify it and bring you back to where you needed to be emotionally, by providing positive support and reminding you of the game plan. Every single skater on the team had these moments and every time it occurred, he or she had buddies to help them through it. One game I was being hit again and again in the back and by the end of the first period I was extremely sore. I was getting annoyed by it and told Rampage, who is most often the bracing skater in our formation. He immediately said he would take my position in the formation and rotate me through to the brace so as to protect my back for the remainder of the game. The small things like this enabled us to continue playing our strategy regardless of what was happening on the track. Some teams attempted to fire us up in order to force mistakes and while we did occasionally slip, the team would quickly correct itself and bring the gameplay back to our set formations. For me this set our team apart and won us the close games, if not for the supportive culture I know there were two or three games where we would have fallen into uncontrolled, retaliatory roller derby.
The team was compartmentalised into three groups; a jammer group – Stop, Jammertime and two blocking packs – the Babies and the Packstreet Boys. The people in your group were the ones that you spent the most time around, these were the people that would go out on track with you shift after shift. Sitting on the bench, looking around at the faces there with you was a unique experience. Each group developed their own little ways of keeping calm and bringing the positive vibes. My group, the Packstreet Boys found our concentration drifting when sitting on the bench, we would remind each other not to look at the track, we’d talk about our plan for the next jam, but there was only so much talking we could do during long jams sitting and our attention would find it’s way to the track once again. I don’t know who it was, but someone in the pack came up with the idea of making a pot of potatoes with our hands, we’d all put our hands on top of one another, then we’d stir the potatoes, we’d make happy potatoes and then we’d explode the potatoes and go out for our next jam. It’s something I would normally think is ridiculous, but every guy there was putting all their focus into stirring this imaginary pot of potatoes, the positive energy fed into the group and kept us right where we needed to be. Every time a team member was getting distracted or coming down, someone else in the group would call for the potatoes. While in Canada we played 7 tournament games, 1 practice game and two practice sessions; it was hard to maintain focus for such an extended period of time – I am thankful to the Packstreet Boys for using such a goofy method to bring the vibes and help me maintain focus.
Before and after every game we would have a structured warm up and cool down. Every single game. The coaching group would remind us of our goals and lead group discussions after. After most games I just want to throw all my gear in the corner and lay on the ground, however, we had a responsibility to the team and were all accountable for that. I think the only time we didn’t have every single skater (including those not playing the game) was when there was a mix up with hotel taxi departures. In contrast, on several occasions I saw teams warming up with only half their skaters. We had some great laughs during the pre and post game chats and I count it as an important ingredient in building team success.
Representing my country was an amazing experience and an honour, thank you to all the people who supported our journey. Those who watched from home and those who flew the distance to Calgary, your encouragement was appreciated. Thank you to my mother who was always on the other end of the phone giving me the courage to keep pushing and for coming to Calgary, flying the Aussie flag at every game. #SkaterHQ for assisting with all the gear and equipment set up, your efforts went a long way. #SpankAlley for kitting the team out with arm bands. #MotaSkates for putting the BOSSEST skates on my feet! But most of all thank you to all the Wizards, skaters and coaches for being the radest bunch of people I’ve shared a track with. Ash Page for driving me to practice every single session, giving me all the feedback and providing plenty of laughs. Dean Upston for generally just making me work my ass off and keeping me accountable. Justin Bennetts for being the best listener (not even joking)! Paul Campbell for believing in me since day one. Aleena Cee for just every single thing she did, woman is a living legend. Ben Trinder for running up that stupid hill with me week in, week out. And lastly, Tui Lyon for being the funky greenish/gold coloured glue that stuck everyone together and made the team into what it was.
Next post: review on the Mota Mojo carbon boot!