Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bout Day

As I sit here gearing up my brain for my team’s second bout, I find myself considering what got me into derby in the first place:

People who’d obviously trained their hind parts off but still didn’t take themselves too seriously.

Real warmth and smiles between opponents before and after the whistles.

Fierce competition and hard physical play between the whistles.

A focus on excellence in a highly challenging sport.

Acceptance.  There was no stereotypical ‘best derby player’ type.

Glorious chaos accepted with good humor and a healthy dose of jamnesia.

…and since then the sport has taught me:  Inclusion.  It’s not all about the players on the track.  There is a wide variety of important roles.

My message to myself and my team today:  Let’s go out there and be the excellence we want to see in the world!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Workings of a Zebra Mind

...and human minds in general.

In my cover identity as a student and teacher of the workings of the human body, I’ve made a study of how we see and make sense of the world.  The truth is:  Our brains lie to us.

It’s not their fault.  They do their best.  Our senses give them limited information and our anatomy limits their processing ability, and they have to instantly construct a complete world view anyway.  To do this, they’ve got to make some stuff up and take some shortcuts.  How they do this and what kinds of problems it can cause has been especially interesting to my zebra persona.  Here’s a “Big Three” of known flaws and how they show up in derby:

“All you see is all there is”:  We tend to make decisions based on the most available information, regardless of it’s the only necessary information. Yes coach, I did see that jammer’s toe tag outside and back in.  But it’s not a cut if the other foot was still straddling.  Neither one of us could see her second foot (that downed blocker is not transparent) but from where the leg is it might have been a straddle.  No call.

Effects of attention.  Watch this video:
Was that a high block?  Possibly.  But the jammer was trying to sneak by on the outside line on the curve, and I took the high probability problem spot and watched feet and hips.  I’ve had a somewhat harried head ref tell me “Remember to watch Everything!” and it’s a goal I’ll continue to work towards; but my brain doesn’t wanna.  

“We see what we want to see”:  Humans love to be right.  One of the best ways to feel you were right is to focus on information that supports our views and overlook information that challenges it.  So we do that.  I recently sat with an off-duty zebra who was watching his love’s team play.  Under his breath, he accurately reported every call he saw.  He identified the same calls as I did against his love’s opponents – and none of them that I saw against his love’s team.

Do I suffer from these flaws?  Of course.  I’m human, and I have a human brain (naysayers to the contrary).  What to do about them?

1)   Know they exist and undermine their power.  I’ve worked with the zeeb who saw
only his love’s opponents’ flaws; during a bout when he’s got his game face on he calls points and penalties with beautiful fairness.  That’s a triumph of forcing his
attention on the action, not on what he wants to see.

Intentional approaches – such as remembering to scan head to toe even if track cuts are the most likely problem right this second – can keep us out of mental traps.  I intentionally run through the phases (Did I see initiation, action, impact?)before the whistle’s blown.  It slows me down half a second, but helps assure I didn’t fall for ‘what you see is all there is’.

I avoid learning biasing information (what the score is, which player has a history     of free-roaming elbows) as much as possible.  If I don’t have expectations, my brain will have to rely on actual sensory information instead.

2)  Have ‘no skin in the game’.  One big advantage I have is that the team I really care
about most, I skate (not ref) for.  I almost always like both teams at bouts I ref, or am inclined to like them.  I really don’t care a fig who wins.   That takes the wind out of the ‘see what you want to see’ effect.  Too bad the people yelling at the refs
don’t have this advantage…

3)  Keep in mind that Everybody in this game has a human mind.  Therefore, each and every one of us is prone to these errors.  We know you’re awesome, we love you, you Are special, but this means you too.  So retain a healthy lack of complete confidence in your own perceptions, please.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Day I Saw a Dinosaur

Eighteen bouts this past month, in stripes.  Those tourneys will Really rack them up!  I've always loved that derby is a study in contrasts:  Demanding and accepting, competitive and friendly.  Nothing shows these contrasts more clearly than tournaments.

I've been reffing just over a year now, and I marvel at how much the game has changed in that time.  Both the zebra and the player in me very much approve of a lot of it!  No minors...I was on the fence on this one, liking the simplicity but a little worried the violence would get out of hand.  It didn't.  The rules changes that speeded up the game?  THANK YOU for those!  It's true that never until a month ago had I seen a jammer on her -1 pass, but that move doesn't Feel slow, so it doesn't count.

Some other changes, not as good.  I've always despised the rankings systems that discourage good sportsmanship (by rewarding Giant point differentials), and WFTDA's gone that way.  The ranking system also makes it hard for not-very-good WFTDA teams to find opponents, because it's better for the rankings for a weak team to lose to a good team than to beat an even weaker team.  Let's not shut people out from playing, k?  It's really not all about winning championships.

I love being part of such a vital sport; a movement in motion.

What brought this up?  This weekend, I saw a real live dinosaur.  Saw it with my own two eyes.  And a crafty dino it was too, finagling one of its opponents into a one-minute vacation in the scenic Sin Bin.

I saw a pivot line up ... (wait for it)... ON THE PIVOT LINE!  And then ... she leaned wayyyyy back so her hips were as far back from it as her leg could reach.  And one of the opposing blockers lined up with her hips ahead of the pivot's.  And failed to yield when warned.  Boom.

Yeah.  Seeing a move that was common less than a year ago felt like a complete Blast from the Past, and blind-sided a player who may have never even Seen a pivot on the line before.  Here's to Lack of Fossilization!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

You know you've been reffing a lot when...

... You hear the Star Spangled Banner and automatically start running through your checklist.  Where's the penalty box?  Which side will my ghost points be sitting on?  I found myself glancing at my wrist (what color is my jammer?) and rubbing my fingertips together (taped for visibility?).  None of this would have been odd if it hadn't have been the opening ceremonies for Relay for Life.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Random observations from the WFTDA Ref Clinic

If a ref hockey stops like a boss, but can’t plow stop in the length of the track, he used to play hockey.  Do Not try and cut this guy in the concession stand line; he will hip check you into next week.

When a ref zooms by people close enough to tangle arm hairs without concern, she does or did bout skate.  If you let her make a ‘demo pack’ with Hockey Stop Guy, make them wear mouth guards, because they Will start bumping and shoving each other.

 If your name is a joke only other gamer geeks will get, you’re more likely to be an NSO … but lots of people on skates will appreciate the joke.

The skaters don’t much care if it’s just a black vs. white scrimmage to give the refs some practice.  They’re Into it and just wanna play some derby. ☺

Zebras, as a herd, care more that one other zebra they respect might disapprove of a call than they do about being told they’re a blind stupid ox by sixteen assorted random fans, skaters, or coaches.

People who will give up a weekend and travel for hours to study up on paperwork and protocols, knowing they won’t even get to skate, are generous souls indeed.  Yay for NSOs!

Among the zebra herd, PATCHES are cooler than MOUSTACHES.  The reverse may be true among bout skaters.

You know you’re at a ref clinic when they rosin the infield and ref lane as carefully as the track.

One marginal call that’s made generates more drama than ten blatant fouls not called.

When WFTDA’s own trainers can’t come to a firm conclusion about how to interpret a clarification…it wasn’t very clear.

In a room full of people with electronic devices, where the ongoing discussion was about a subtle interpretation of a rule … not one could be detected (by a college teacher, mind, who’s used to detecting such things) checking their FB or pinning something on Pinterest.  Now there’s some dedication right there!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Take a Knee!

Take a Knee!

That’s my least favorite phrase in Derby.  With the last two practices including players wearing ice packs, it does get one to wondering…Am I being stupid for putting myself at risk like this?  Is it too dangerous?  (I play as well as ref, which changes the equation somewhat.)
The thing though, is that I know humans are terrible at assessing risk.  We pay way too much attention to what’s immediate and dramatic, and easily ignore what’s more distant or mundane – regardless of the actual threat levels.
I’m also a pathophysiologist.  What kills the most Americans?  Heart disease, diabetes, obesity are three of the top four; and derby helps protect us against all three.  Sure in theory we Could just go to the nice safe gym for the exercise.  We might live to 100 … but it’d feel like 175.  Gym time without the fun and competition as a motivator? D’OH I went and put you all to sleep just reading it!  Plus derby refreshes our vision of what’s possible and brings us confidence, strength, and enthusiasm.  Yeah, I’ll accept an increased risk of injury in trade for all that goodness, any day of the week.
And to tell the whole truth …….tomorrow is Bout Day!  Bout Day!  Bout Day!  and that makes my heart Sing!!  and a singing heart is a good enough reason all by itself. 

While we live, let us LIVE.  See you on the track!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

On the Care and Feeding of Zebras

Most zoos, if you fork over extra cash,will give you a behind-the-scenes tour of how they care for and feed their animals.  Welcome to a FREE tour of the various Zebra Zoos!

First, let's just shake the hands of the small teams (who regularly field rosters of less than ten skaters) and send them on their way. These teams really don't have the resources to keep their own zoos. Some of them attract 'wild zeebs' that regularly attend, but if the team is too small to scrimmage, it really has no way to provide the all-important -practice- to train their zeebs.

Of the teams that regularly field a dozen or more on the roster, there's an entire spectrum from ref-hostile to ref-friendly ... And it's not hard to guess where they are.

If a team this size doesn't provide its own jam ref ... Watch that water hole for crocs, zeebs!  The thing about Zeeb zoos in derby is that there aren't any fences. Handing someone a rule book, then having him call a scrimmage and yelling at him whenever a skater doesn't agree with a call is mucky water, scanty grass, and black flies. Any zeeb without a strong affection for the team or some particular skater on it will show his heels and head out; and any that are left are handicapped in learning their trade.

So how does the zoo that is a derby league develop a thriving herd of zeebs?  The same way they develop thriving skaters.  Practice.  Feedback.  Support and encouragement.   It’s really a pleasure to work a scrimmage for a ref-friendly team!  The scrimmages are run pretty much like bouts (extra time-outs for the coaches to do their thing aside); the zeebs work like they would in a bout.  The skaters and coaches don’t gripe about calls while the scrimmage is on but do ask questions and offer suggestions in a friendly way during breaks in the action.  Feedback to help the ref get better without feeling attacked, HOORAY!  (It amazes me how many people who wouldn’t think of hassling a skater for an error don’t hesitate to jump the case of even a brand-new ref over a missed call.)

Don’t like zeebs whose stripes are in Team Colors?  Me neither.  Homer refs are fortunately rare as far as I’ve seen; but they are out there.  Every one I’ve met has come from a team that came across as being on the ‘ref-hostile’ end of the spectrum, too.  It could be a loooooong bus ride home if you knew your teammates were going to be resenting any calls against them.  And while a homer ref does give a team an advantage in a bout … what league wants to develop the rep of violating the First Rule of Derby?

 Hey skaters, tell ya a secret:  We like ya.  ☺  That whole Cold Dead Eyes thing?  Totally game face.  We do the studying and put up with the hassles because we love the sport and the skaters – which makes your friendship and acceptance all kinds of welcome.  Derby <3, Mutant Gene