Rebuilding a league:
It began in the fall of 2014 when about half of our league skaters left. We entered the 2015 season with a small A team of very experienced skaters and an even smaller B team – the majority of whom had never bouted before. Although we tried to push through in the hope that things would get better, the size of the league continued to diminish. In July 2015, we found ourselves mid-season with 6 B team skaters and a couple of new recruits; running low on money and with a laundry list of obligations to fulfill.
We were unsure of ourselves and overwhelmed. All of us were B team skaters who had been with the league 1.5 years or less, with half of that time spent as a new recruit/fresh meat. Not one of us had experience running the league. But, when faced with the daunting task of rebuilding the league, we all bought in. We collectively committed to rebuilding the league and learning from the mistakes of the past to make us stronger in the future.
We all took on multiple jobs. One person trained fresh meat, planned events and planned fundraisers. Another took on the daunting task of managing the leagues finances. One of the fresh meat skaters (who had only been to one bout) volunteered to take on bout production. We pored over the league bylaws, board position job descriptions and previous year’s meeting minutes posted on our league’s email/document group. We discussed almost every decision as a group, with an unspoken understanding that we were in this together and all of our opinions mattered. We asked questions of everyone we could, and we weren’t afraid to ask for help. We operated under the unified belief of establishing a positive, yet competitive skating community. We wanted to develop better relationships within our league and with other roller derby leagues.
The best part was that after a few weeks, we were not doing it alone. Once we articulated our vision for the league, retired skaters and skaters who transferred to other leagues during the past year came back to help. They too bought into the vision of creating a league focused on the people first. Skaters from nearby leagues helped us fill rosters and hold compilation bouts so we could hold two more home games in the 2015 season. Our friends and families ran tables at the bouts and helped us set up. We were building a community.
Quickly, our numbers doubled and we were able to, once again, field a full team in the winter of 2016. But 2016 was an awkward year. The 6 of us left in 2015 found ourselves in yet another unexpected position. We were now considered the “veteran skaters,” with barely two years in derby under our belts. And while we had enough skaters to field a team, we still were struggling to run the league smoothly as we lacked institutional knowledge and resources. We pushed ourselves and fresh meat skaters to improve quickly. As such, we battled injury, skater burnout, and more losses.
Now, we stand the precipice of once again fielding an A and B team. Currently, our league is made up of 21 roster-able skaters, 7 tender meat skaters, 6 new recruit/fresh meat skaters, three referees, and 7 regular NSOs.
Through the process of rebuilding, our league has developed a new identity and learned some valuable lessons. Among them are:
- Respect teammates and others involved in the league
- Establish clear rules and expectations and be consistent and fair in their enforcement. Giving preferential treatment to one or a few skater(s) breeds resentment.
- Respect other leagues and foster positive relationships (furthermore, share resources as many league face similar struggles). In 2017, ACRD partnered with Seven Valley Rollers of Cortland, NY to scrimmage/practice together monthly and help each other fill rosters in non-sanctioned games if needed.
- Do not underestimate the importance/role of volunteers (including NSOs and Referees). Realize and respect the value non-skaters and non-rostered skaters can bring to the table. “Many hands makes light work” is a colloquialism for a reason. Accepting and valuing the assistance of everyone involved in the league helps lighten the load on rostered skaters, lessening burnout.
- Build relationships with other groups and businesses outside your league. ACRD is partnered with another organization, Syracuse Skate Gang, a recreational, non-contact skating group who has always supported the league. Now, the two businesses are finding new ways to work together to expand the Syracuse skating community.
- Recognize that everyone comes to derby for different reason and try to give everyone a place in the league (this goes along with #1 and #4).
- Empower league members to be their best selves and recognize the importance of being a good human first.
- Re-define success. Instead of only focusing on the win-loss percentage of our league, realize the league is more than the outcome of 60 minutes of game-play. It’s a business, it’s a place for empowerment, it’s fun, it’s a community. Personally, I define success as the fact that we don’t have to stress about having enough money for rent every month (though I still do), that we are on our way to having 40 skaters again, that everyone involved genuinely wants to be here, and that we are building a lasting community.
ACRD is now at a place where we are attracting and retaining skaters who want to be involved in the league; not only people who want to skate, but individuals who want to contribute to the success of the league and its continuation. We try to get buy-in, commitment and enthusiasm out of everyone every day whether that’s through practice, group chats about butts, or committee meetings. Positive engagement of all our league members is what’s enabling us to grow. As we move towards wrapping up our 2017 season, we look forward to 2018 and what the future holds.
I’d like to end with a quote of one of our newer skaters, Violent Mauldelaire. The original context was not in reference to our league’s rebuilding years, but is still very appropriate:
“Despite everything, we remain radiant.”
Bunny N Clyde