Becoming a WFTDA league is more than just filing paperwork, paying your annual fees, and wearing a patch. It’s about taking your training and competing seriously, so that you can be proud of your league’s ranking among international teams. This requires a rethinking for how your team approaches team selection, training, and scheduling games. Some skaters are excited for these changes, while some want things to stay the same. This often creates a struggle within the league (often having to do with what “competitive” really means).
Nobody wants drama, so being proactive about your league decisions and educating your league about them can put you in a much more successful position.
Over the last few years of coaching, I’ve worked with dozens of apprentice and new WFTDA leagues. It’s pretty amazing (and sad) that they have all struggled with the EXACT SAME ISSUES: getting skaters to dedicate themselves to more rigorous training, dealing with people upset about charters and rosters, and dealing with skater turn-over or the threat of it. Because so many leagues are dealing with these similar issues, I really wanted to address them in some way. In this blog, my goal is to provide information and advice for leagues who are considering the apprenticeship program and to provide information and advice for new WFTDA leagues who are struggling with their transition.
How Do I Become a WFTDA League?
First, I’ll start with providing the basic run-down of how you become a WFTDA league. There is list of requirements you must meet to be considered for an apprenticeship, which can be viewed here. As of Jan 2017, you must:
- have at least 14 skaters who practice at least two hours a week.
- submit proof that all your skaters are women, that 51% of your skaters own the league, and that 67% of those skaters run the business.
- submit your bylaws, league history, mission statement, proof of being a legal business, and a letter of recommendation from an established WFTDA league
- submit the apprentice application and pay $300.
- submit proof of playing a game against a WFTDA league (doesn’t have to be their all-star team) and a game in your hometown.
According to WFTDA, the apprenticeship takes about a year. During this year, you must play a couple mock-sanctioned games, in which you practice completing the necessary bout paperwork and learn how to host a WFTDA-sanctioned game. This is no easy task when you get started. You need to train or find qualified officials for your games, and you need to train or find qualified NSOs to compile game stats. And you need to get this all done within specific deadlines. For small leagues, this can be difficult because it can deplete your league resources when you already have very few people to fill league jobs. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done! You can absolutely make it happen, but you need to be aware and prepared for the amount of work you’ll have to complete. My best advice is to find people who adhere to deadlines and have solid organizational skills.
Once you are a bonafied WFTDA league, you will have a similar set of responsibilities: there’s annual paperwork and fees, and you have to play a predetermined number of sanctioned games (which requires all the paperwork stuff). This is totally doable if you have the resources. What a new WFTDA league can’t anticipate, though, is how these responsibilities will impact your league. From my experience with coaching new WFTDA leagues, they have all experienced the following.
What is a Charter?
The charter is your league’s list of all-star skaters. You can list up to twenty skaters, all who must have passed the WFTDA minimum skills and completed the WFTDA written test. Of these twenty skaters, fourteen can be rostered for a sanctioned game (skaters not on the charter cannot be rostered). You can change your charter as many times as you want, but you need to make changes at least a month in advance. (This is all as of Jan 2017, so check your information, as it may have changed.)
If you have a very small league (14-20), then you can place everyone on the charter. This is fantastic because you don’t have to exclude anyone. If you have more than 20 people on your league, then you need to determine a system for evaluating players. Many leagues hold try-outs for their charter. I highly suggest developing the most objective assessment possible, so that it is ridiculously clear what skills are necessary to be placed on the charter and how those skills are evaluated. If you do not provide a transparent system, you will have skaters who get very upset and cause a shit-storm of drama (more on that later).
How Do I Determine Rosters?
You can only put fourteen people on a roster, so that means that six chartered skaters will not be able to play in every game. You will need to create a system for determining who is able to play and who isn’t, and you’ll need to tell people they can’t play. This is not fun, especially when people cry, and, again, some people cause a shit-storm of drama (more on that later). Some leagues opt for a skills-based system, while others opt for a system based on skaters meeting league requirements.
The skills-based system means that you roster your strongest skaters. In order to determine your strongest skaters you will need to rank everyone based on a set of skills, and this list will change as skaters improve or decline in skill. My system ranks the following skills: basic skills (speed control, forward/backward agility, lateral movement, footwork), blocking skills (one-on-one defensive effectiveness, team blocking, pack awareness, legality), and jamming skills (point-scoring stats, legality, explosive power, wall breaking/moving success). I rank skaters based on their skills, and the top 14 skaters are rostered.
With a system based on meeting league requirements, a skater must be up to date on their dues, meet their practice requirements, and show they are working a league job to be considered for a place on the roster. If you have a league with 20+ all-star skaters (everyone is at the same skill level), I think this is the best system.
Most smaller leagues do not have 20+ all-stars. They usually have a handful of strong skaters, and the rest are at various skill levels. When small leagues choose their roster based on league requirements, I believe they limit their ability to produce a strong roster, especially if their most skilled players don’t meet the requirements. I think that smaller leagues (ones that have a handful of skilled players) cannot enforce requirements if that means they cannot produce their strongest roster. If your goal is to be a competitive WFTDA league, then you have to do everything within your ability to put your strongest players on the track as much as possible. WFTDA teams are competitive — you are playing to improve your rank. If you are not rostering your team with your strongest skaters, you are not competing at your best. To compete at your best, you need to roster your best players and give them ample playtime, even if they did not meet their requirements. Should they meet their requirements? YES. ABSOLUTELY. I am not advocating for fuck-offs to be rewarded. I’m advocating for serious WFTDA teams to make tough decisions that lead to their goal — improving your rank. If it isn’t your goal to be a competitive WFTDA league, I can’t help but wonder why you want to be a WFTDA league at all. I’m not sure what the benefit is, and I’d love to know more.
How Do Charters/Rosters Create a Shit-Storm of Drama?
Becoming a WFTDA league boils down to your league having to say NO to people. No, you aren’t on the charter. No, you aren’t rostered for this game. No, you will not have much playtime in this game. Those people get upset. There is an endless amount of narratives that people will create when they don’t get what they want. Some of them will insist that someone doesn’t like them or is trying to screw them over in some way. Some people will say that the assessment process is rigged. Some people will be convinced that the assessors are incapable of recognizing their amazing skills. People think they deserve something, and they lose their damn minds when they don’t get what they want. Ego is a mother-fucker. Privilige is a mother-fucker. People get really ugly and petty when they don’t want to face reality, and you need to make sure they don’t infect your league.
I highly suggest making your charter and roster requirements painfully transparent. Make sure every skater is aware of the process to determine who is on the charter and rosters and continually remind skaters of this. For example, every time you communicate a new charter/roster include a statement about how you chose people. You’ll still have some people who are butt-hurt and acting out, but you have the ability to point back to your transparent process.
How Will the League’s Training Change?
Leagues want to be WFTDA so that they can compete at a higher level and be ranked amoung world-wide competitors. Basically, they want to be taken seriously. If your goal is to compete at a higher level and improve your rank, you have to improve the rigor of your training. You need to train more, you need to improve the quality of your training, and you need to be dedicated to this kind of difficult, un-fun training. Seriously, training for a competitive sport IS NOT FUN. Sure, some aspects are fun, but if your goal in derby is to have fun, then you are not going to compete at elite levels. Your WFTDA team is probably going to be ranked one of the lowest, which limits your ability to find opponents for the required sanctioned games (no one wants to play the lower(est)-ranked teams because it will most likely fuck their ranking). If you don’t care about your ranking, that’s fine, but I’m not sure why you would pay $500 a year and subject yourself to all the paperwork. You can play fun derby without doing that.
If you want to improve the rigor of training, do your research. Find out how the top WFTDA teams train and do what they do. Hire guest coaches to teach your league advanced/elite skills. Attend derby training conventions and clinics every chance you get.
How Does Changing Our Training Create a Shit-Storm of Drama?
Before you implement all the amazing training stuff you learn, you need to get buy-in from your teammates. You can’t just add on practice days or tack on serious off-skates training without pushback from your leaguemates. THEY WILL BALK. They will resist. They will insist that upping your training standards will lead to people quitting. They will say that the more rigorous training is dangerous. They will say that there was nothing wrong with how you have always trained and making changes will fuck everything up. You will be tasked with managing this shit-storm.
First, I think the best course of action is to have a team meeting and talk about your goals. Start by focusing on the season. Find a goal that is attainable and measurable, and discuss what it will take to reach that goal. “Getting less penalties” or “forming stronger walls” are both good goals, but I highly suggest creating a goal that involves your ranking.
For example, you can decide that you want the team to move up at least three spots in rank. In order to do this, you’ll need to determine what teams you need to play (typically higher ranked teams) and schedule those games. Next, determine (using the rankings calculator) what the score spread needs to be in order to do that, then research your opponent’s weaknesses and strengths, and discuss what the team needs to work on in order to get that spread. Do you need to improve your lead jammer percentage? Do you need to work on keeping your walls from moving forward because the opposing jammers are strong pushers? Do you need to roster a few agile jammers to combat your opponent’s unmoving walls?
In addition to talking about individual game goals, talk about the sacrifices that need to be made by everyone in order to achieve your season goal. Specify exactly what is required of everyone — Do they need to be at every practice? Can everyone commit to cross-training - even if it's 10 minutes a few times a week? Can everyone attend the scheduled games? Can everyone commit to team meetings? Make sure that everyone buys into the goal and is willing to do what is needed. If everyone can’t or won’t buy in, you’ll need to change the goal, otherwise you’ll be setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.
I highly suggest putting your goals and requirements in writing and asking teammates to sign a contract. This is a way of saying "hey, we are serious and we have expectations of you.” At the end of this blog is a sample contract that you can use. After the team determines their goal and requirements, they should communicate it to the league. Let everyone know your plan so they can support the team. Be as transparent as possible, so there is no confusion.
Why Is There So Much Drama? What the Fuck is Going On?
All the drama and pushback is really an identity crisis. At least, that's my theory. Before becoming a WFTDA league, you probably took on as many skaters as you could, trained them as best you could, and allowed them to play as many games as they wanted. You might have had an equal playtime rule in which everyone played the same amount of jams in a game. Your focus was on recruiting and maintaining as many members as possible. This is normal for a new league, and it’s usually the standard for the first few years.
Once you’ve had a couple seasons behind you, you start considering a WFTDA apprenticeship. You wanted to be taken seriously. You wanted to be ranked among your peers. You wanted to be part of the bigger derby community. This is awesome! The problem is that while most of your league probably supports this change, they don’t understand how it will impact the league until the shit-storm of drama has happened. The transition into a WFTDA league will create division. You will have the people who are excited to train rigorously and compete at higher levels, but you will also have the people who don’t want to do that (or can’t because of their lives outside of derby).
This division creates an identity crisis: Are we the fun derby league that anyone can join or are we a serious, competitive league? The good news is that if you have enough people for an A/B team structure, you can be both. Your B-team can be the fun derby team (everyone gets equal playtime) and a feeder for your A-team. Your A-team (which is your WFTDA team) can be your serious, competitive team. Each team can have differing ethos, goals, and requirements, and the league can house both of them. You will still deal with all the drama of choosing charters, rosters, and playtime, but you can offer two different teams, which gives you the opportunity to recruit and maintain more players.
If you don’t have enough people for an A/B team structure, then you are going to have to choose one identity. You cannot be both. If you try, you will just piss off everyone. You will have to accept that choosing an identity will lead to losing league members. If you choose to be the fun league, you will probably lose your most skilled players, especially if there is a WFTDA league nearby. If you choose to be the serious, competitive team, you will lose the skaters who don’t want to train hard. Either way, your league will need to rebuild and recruit to ensure that you continue to grow. You just can’t straddle the fence. You have to choose.
Transitioning to a WFTDA League
The transition will be difficult, but with preparation, you can alleviate some of the growing pains. First and foremost, you need to have a serious conversation with your league. Do you research, compile a meeting agenda, and send it to the league. Your agenda should include these items:
1. The requirements of applying for an apprenticeship
2. The requirements of being a WFTDA league
- Financial requirements - Provide numbers for the league and individuals
- Paperwork requirements - Provide information about what is required and how often
- Volunteer work requirements - Provide information about how many trained volunteers you’ll need for a game
- Training requirements - Give real-life examples of what it means to train like a WFTDA all-star
- Bouting requirements - Give different options for determining charters and rosters
3. The potential impact of meeting those requirements / how it all might change the league dynamics
- Discuss how other WFTDA teams approach training, how you’ll need to develop a more rigorous approach that makes sense for your league (offer some suggestions), and how everyone will need to buy-in to the new training
- Discuss how drama occurs because of charters and rosters and how you can work to prevent it
- Discuss team structure - do you have enough skaters for an A/B team structure? If so, how will that impact your charter? How can the league allow for both teams to exist with differing ethos and goals? How can the league allow for skaters to be on the B-team and the charter? How will that impact practice requirements? (If you want more information about team structure, check out my ebook: Choosing a Team Structure.)
4. Before applying for WFTDA, ask of the league:
- Do we have the resources to be a WFTDA league? Can we afford the fees? Do we have the volunteers to handle annual paperwork and insurance? Do we have the volunteers to complete the pre- and post-game paperwork?
- Do we have enough qualified skaters to continually fill a charter?
- What WFTDA leagues surround us and would they agree to play us?
- Are our skaters prepared and able to travel for several games a year?
Have a real discussion about all this. Hell, have several discussions. Just make sure that skaters fully understand before you vote on whether or not to apply for an apprenticeship. Know what you’re getting into and how it will impact your league.
As I mentioned earlier, make sure that you develop systems for choosing your charter, rosters, and training regimen and that you are painfully transparent with them. Continually educate your skaters about these systems. Provide links to your informational documents. Be firm about your systems, but also be aware of when they are no longer working. You may need to revise your systems at some point. If so, make sure that you are considering all the facts, that you educate your league/team about potential changes and the impact of those changes, and that you ensure a democratic process for making change.
If you are struggling with any of this stuff, I am here to help you. Feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), if you want some advice or have any questions. I know what it’s like, and I’ve worked with leagues while they figured out their new identity. It can get better!
Sample Team Season Contract
Team Goal: During the current season, we will improve our rank from #81 to #70, and set ourselves on a path to improve further the next season with the ultimate goal of competing in D2 championship games.
All team members are expected to commit to the team’s goals. This includes attending practices, bouts, and team meetings, working your hardest to see the team excel, and working on your personal goals. When a skater misses a practice or meeting, they must connect with their coaches/captains to find out what was missed. If a skater cannot perform due to injury, they must attend practices and participate from the side unless their injury does not allow them to.
Self discipline is the ability to make yourself do things that need to be done, even when you don’t want to do them. That includes adhering to a goal plan that focuses on fitness outside of derby practice. That includes being fully present and focused at practices. That includes shaking off any issues you might have with a teammate and doing your best to work with her for the good of the team.
In order for the coaches/captains to do their job, skaters must be coachable. Characteristics of a coachable skater include:
- Humility. Humility teaches us that we cannot do things on our own. We must learn to change our behavior and outlook in order to improve. Humility requires a change of heart, not a change of mind. Defensiveness and ego serve no positive purpose.
- Openness. Skaters must be open to learning and trying new things, or, even better, excited to learn and try new things.
- Hardiness. Skaters must be able to accept and implement constructive criticism.
- Cooperation. Skaters must work with their teammates, and, more importantly, want to work with their teammates.
- Focus. Skaters must be fully present and focused in order to receive and implement coaching.
Successful teamwork is built on the foundation of trust. Skaters must learn to trust one another in order to be effective teammates. This trust must exist on and off the track. We must trust that every team member is working as hard as possible for the good of the team, no matter what their limitations are. Skaters must also have trust and faith in their leadership, and assume that coaches/captains are making decisions based on what’s best for the team and that those decisions are researched, well-thought-out, and transparent.
Coaches/captains will try to anticipate skater needs and concerns and address them immediately. Skaters are expected to communicate their issues if leadership is unaware. All skaters must be committed to immediately squashing any issues they have, whether that’s with a teammate or with leadership. It’s important to deal with issues immediately, so they do not affect the team negatively.
Please read everything carefully and thoughtfully before signing.
I am committed to attending all team practices (insert dates/times), team meetings, scrimmages, and games (see below - if there is any date I cannot attend, I have listed it below) I will be prepared to meet prior to each game to connect and discuss game goals and after each game to review and analyze team performance. I am committed to being fully focused at practices and bouts. I am committed to developing trust with my teammates and team leadership. I am committed to immediately communicating any issues or concerns I have so they do not affect the team.
- Date | Opponent | Location
- Date | Opponent | Location
- Date | Opponent | Location
- Date | Opponent | Location
List Any Known Scheduling Conflicts:
Skater Signature & Date