I recently visited a friend in another city, and we decided to go to a derby bout. It isn’t often that I am solely a spectator at bouts, so it was very exciting. During the second bout, one team started losing pretty badly. As the point spread widened, the teammates started bickering more and more on the track. This escalated into blockers yelling at each other, jammers yelling at blockers, and an eventual implosion of the team. As a fan, it was awkward to watch. We were close enough to the floor to see these interactions take place – it was almost like being present for a domestic dispute.
I realized, then, that I have never been a part of a team that had such discordant feelings towards each other. Was it because my teams have all been the best of friends? Of course not. It is because I have been among women who know learning how to maintain relationships with each other is just as important as any other derby skill you learn.
Imagine the relationship you have with your teammates. You are part of a group of women, forced to hang out with each other for 6 hours a week, usually when you are tired or distracted by daily life. Then some of you spend a summer traveling all over the country together: driving for hours on end in the car with each other, sharing a bed in a hotel room with each other, foraging for food and trying to save money, discussing bathroom habits and Starbucks orders all in the same conversation.
There are not many groups of people that you will share the same stress, fatigue, and competitive pressure with. These can all have an impact on emotions and reactions, especially when things are not going well. We are a group of strong women, and we don’t have to get along. However, just like any team, we need to learn to RESPECT each other and put our emotions aside every once in a while. There are bound to be a few conflicts that arise at some point. If these conflicts are handled correctly, however, the team can maintain a happy, effective, athletic relationship.
When we are competing against another team and they begin to fight with each other, we consider that a success. If we can maintain our own calm while the other team begins to crumble, we know we have a competitive advantage. Having conflict among teammates impacts concentration, the ability to communicate effectively, and overall performance on the track. Keep in mind, this conflict doesn’t have to be between all players. It only takes a few (or even 1) to instill a sense of unease among teammates.
So how do you keep conflict at bay? Although each team’s needs are different, the list below contains a few tips on how to maintain good relationships, build team cohesion, and respect each other as teammates:
• Integrate team building activities into practice. There are so many easy, silly, and fun activities you can add in during practice time. Even short activities can help.
• Have a conversation with someone if you feel like they are being negative or causing conflict. It might be that they are not aware of their actions and how they are impacting the team. Just don’t forget to use “I feel” statements and be sure to listen to their responses.
• If a fellow skater has an outburst towards you, try not to take it personally right away. Give yourself time to think on it before reacting. Sometimes skaters say things without thinking. Shrug off these comments and don’t take them personally (forgive and forget).
• Keep in mind that body language is just as important as the words you say. Rolling your eyes, scoffing, and ignoring someone will all negatively impact team cohesion and your relationships with others.
• If conflict seems to be getting out of hand, ask your coaches for help. Your team may need to have a formal meeting to address issues and get them out into the open. The worst scenario is ignoring these conflicts. They WILL come out on bout day, when stress gets high and things are not going well.
Remember: You can’t change people, but you can change yourself. How you react to your teammate’s actions is in your control.
Resolving conflict does not mean becoming best buds with everyone on your team. It means creating a team environment that involves respect for your teammates. We are all working hard at a sport that we love. Everyone should feel like they are part of their derby family!