What Does It Take #5: Group Dynamics: Positive Peer Pressure, Collaboration, Leadership.
To be successful, you gotta have the right people. Simple as that.
Ha! Yeah. Simple. I mean, what does ‘right people’ even mean? And where do you get them?
Well my friend, the ‘right people’ are those zanily ambitious weirdos who have an insatiable obsession to be the very best at roller derby (in whatever role they have: skater, ref, NSO, committee member, etc) and actually truly in all of their actions, seek to do so. No excuses. And you can’t just have one or two of those, you need everyone on board the Zany Train for it to work.
Seriously, that’s all there is to it ;)
However if you feel like reading on you can hear some anecdotes and other such ramblings about Group Dynamics and shizz.
- Positive Peer Pressure AKA: Inspiring your Team-mates and Creating the Competitive Cauldron environment
I do think from very early on, LRG wanted to be ‘the best’…I can’t really remember what that meant at the time, but we were always just really driven to continue to excel, whether that be athletically, organisationally or landmark setting-wise. When I say you need the ‘right people’, this is a complete mix: of personalities, backgrounds, thoughts and ideas, but somehow it all has to meld together. And most importantly for there to be respectful discussion and maturity when it doesn’t.
If your league is stuck in petty personality conflict, perceived power battles or has actual drama about which socks to wear for your uniform (TAKE IT FROM ME, DO NOT TRY TO FORCE EVERYONE TO WEAR THE SAME SOCKS. JUST DON’T), it can be very tricky to get on with the business of actually playing roller derby.
When I started with LRG, our goal was to recruit and train ourselves up enough to be able to put on our first bout (which was to become the first bout in the UK in September 2007). Same as any new league. Here is some footage if you feel like a trip down Memory Lane:
We went through the same growing pains as every other league out there. The one thing that we were committed to and believed in was the ‘build it and they will come’ mentality. We may have only started out with one or two athletically minded individuals or organisationally ambitious people, and a quite a lot of others who seemed to be able to make the photoshoots (Gosh there seemed to be a LOT of photoshoots back then…!) but never make training. But the way my memory serves me (and I could be totally wrong!), is that we thought we were a pretty bad ass bunch of women and we wanted to be bad ass at roller derby. As time wore on, and we introduced an attendance policy and a rule where you had to wear your helmet at training (!!), we left many people behind. This was probably the start of the cries of ‘Roller Derby isn’t fun anymore!!!!’ Yep, sorry, you can blame LRG for taking the ‘fun’ out of roller derby. I don’t mind ;)
The kinds of people who wanted to join us became more athletically or organisationally driven. There was just an unspoken understanding that we were always aiming for bigger and better and that our league decision making would be based around that. We HAD to aim for that…because there was no real benchmark at that point in time, so we just wanted to get to whatever the next ‘level’ was (and that has never diminished). We didn’t really have anyone to compare ourselves to so we just kept forging ahead.
A handful of these ambitious skaters eventually became a dozen, a dozen became double that, and now we find ourselves where we are today: a league that is competitive not just with our 3 teams (Brawling, Brawl Saints and Batter C) but also internally; try-outs into Main League are really tough, our 3 monthly team selections are always extremely tough to do, our scrimmages kick our collective arses every week, as well as being a league who continues to pull off massive adventures like U.S trips, bringing over U.S teams….though still not one with our own warehouse to train in—-WHERE IS OUR BENEVOLENT BENEFACTOR?!)
In the beginning, no-one really did off skates training, then a couple of people started working out, then others saw the benefit, and now pretty much every LRG skater does some form of strength and conditioning. You have to…or training just really isn’t very fun ;)
I can’t say it is easy, and I know a lot of our skaters feel the pressure of having to keep up with the Joneses at times. The idea though is that you want to INSPIRE skaters to become the best they can be (rather than beat them over the head with it). And even those who are totally inspired have days where they really can’t be bothered—-but they do it anyway. If we are talking purely about wanting to be the absolute best (and I have no idea if that is something your league wants), then it’s going to mean hard work and cultivating skaters who really, truly are hungry for it. We never shied away from tough decisions.
I firmly believe in the power of collaboration to get the best results, rather than a top down approach. I don’t mean collaboration for everything and including everyone in every single decision (or nothing would ever get done). Here are a few examples of ways to collaborate:
Coaching: We don’t have one ‘coach’ or even one ‘head coach’. We have always had a coaching committee made up of 5+ coaches, and we then have 3 Heads of Training who get to do all the exciting admin work ;)
There is no ONE person making training decisions. WHY? Because derby is such a multi-layered sport, why WOULDN’T you tap into as many brains as possible? I don’t buy the excuse of ‘but we don’t have anyone who has coached before’ or ‘but we’re a new league, no-one knows what they’re doing, we need someone with experience’……LEARN and pull in as many resources as possible. (***more on that in the final installment about Training)
Brawling Stuff: For Brawling, we now have a Leadership Group: Myself as Captain, Kami and Stef as Co-Captains, Balls as Bench Coach, Rob as Line-Up Manager and then separately to that, Killian/Mr. Furieux as Jammer Coach. This is a fairly new concept to have SO many people involved, for Brawling (as it was when we introduced it in VRDL).
It is so great to be able to hear eachother’s differing opinions and come up with a solution. I can’t tell you how many times we might come to the table separately thinking one thing but come away with another better solution. If there is only one Captain or Coach making these calls, what variety of things are you missing out on because you only have one perspective? I know I am a subscriber to the skill of Critical Thinking and so I really appreciate someone playing Devil’s Advocate (or me being able to do the same) in order to come to a solution. And then secondarily to that, we are also very much led by team input too. What works for one pack may not work for another, and we all have nuggets of wisdom to share. I can understand that there is the potential for it to get out of hand, with everyone feeling like they want to have an opinion, but strong leadership will create ways for this to happen effectively, and good leaders will be able to take those millions of opinions and still make a decision. If you are a really great leader, your team will respect your decisions regardless of whether they agree with or not.
- Effective Leadership
This is a subject that I have spent a lot of time learning about over the last few years. And I believe it is absolutely critical for a successful league. Notice I say ‘Effective’…I don’t say ‘Dictatorial’ or ‘Martyr-like’. No-one likes a martyr: ‘I have so much work to do! Why doesn’t anyone else do anything? No one works as hard as me!’ and no-one feels particularly inspired by a Dictator: ”DO THIS OR ELSE!!!’. Learn how to be an effective leader, whether that be as a Director, a captain, a coach or a committee head. Consider HOW you deliver information, not just the information itself. It’s a whole other level of decision making…nothing is accidental. It is all very carefully considered.
Taking the time to understand how people work, and what people need to achieve success will absolutely make a difference (more on this really interesting topic in a future blog I think). Effective leadership doesn’t mean being infallible…it is a constant learning process and one that can be really rewarding if you have a team who understands that. The best leaders I have experienced are ones who inspire me to want to be better, try harder, do more or think about things in a different way.
Group Dynamics are ultimately about how we work with and around eachother; pulling in the skills and ideas of everyone involved. A true team possesses a common identity, has shared goals and objectives, exhibits structured patterns of interaction and communication, and most importantly consider themselves to be a ‘team’. You can have different backgrounds, different personalities, likes and dislikes, but there is a common purpose when you come together. Derby can often be seen as a sport that encourages individuality, which is pretty awesome! However in order to perform at the highest level of the sport, paradoxically we need those ‘right people’ I mentioned at the beginning of this rather long blog, to transcend into something more than the sum of their parts, we need SYNERGY!
(like these weirdos below)
Photo by Rebecca Cornford.