The Gratitude Attitude

Hell'n Ripley - Rated PG Rollergirls

We all know that roller derby is a labour of love - almost no one is making a living in this sport. Whether we are skaters, officials, announcers, fresh meat, or volunteers, we are involved in roller derby because we love the sport and want to see it grow. 

That said, roller derby practices, bouts, and tournaments don’t just happen. They are put together and run by dedicated (and often overworked) volunteers. These volunteers come from within the league and without. They are our fellow skaters, their spouses and children, friends, family, and roller derby aficionados.  Roller derby volunteers come from everywhere, and we’re held together by our interest in the game and helping it grow. 

Volunteers are essential to all roller derby leagues - we can’t run without them. But too often leagues overlook their volunteers, or simply take them for granted. Every league, from the WFTDA leagues in the major cities of North America and Europe, down to the smallest leagues in tiny northern Canadian towns, relies on a small army of volunteers - but do we do enough to thank them? Are we cultivating an attitude of gratitude?

At the beginning of every league, there is a small group of people - some might have skated before, maybe in another league, others are brand-new. When I joined my first league I had never even seen a roller derby bout.  Setting up a league is a labour of volunteer love. Running a league takes, if possible, even more work. The important thing for a league to avoid, in order to be successful, is volunteer burnout. 

How can we prevent our volunteers from burning out, getting fed up, and just disappearing? We need to develop more of a habit of thanking our people, instead of just assuming they will continue to show up. I’m sure there are leagues out there that are great at this. I also know there are leagues that have a revolving door of people coming in and out - with no idea how to keep them. 

One of the answers to this problem is a simple one: be diligent about thanking the people who do the work of your league. Often, at the end of a game, the players will come and shake hands (usually accompanied by a “thanks”) with the skating officials and NSOs on the inside. But when was the last time you thanked the person taking tickets at the door? The announcer(s)? What about the paramedics? If your league’s anything like mine, you have trained professionals offering their services, like first aid, security, and bar tending, for free. Bout after bout, night after night, they show up, quietly do their jobs, and make bouts happen. These people need to be thanked, often, and by more than just one or two people. If you are a skater, ask yourself when the last time you thanked a volunteer was. If you’re on the board of your league, you should be making it your business to get the thank-yous out there to your people. 

The problem with gratitude is that you can’t just feel it - you have to express it for it to have an effect. It’s not enough for a league to say “thanks to all our volunteers!” on their Facebook pages once in a while - people need to be thanked, individually, in person. If you league is solvent, your thank-yous should take a material form - a small gift or gift card once in a while. If your league has a yearly (usually end of season) party, make sure you invite all your volunteers. Even better: a volunteer appreciation night. In my first season as a league head ref, my crew and I were given little gifts - pirate hats (the team had a pirate theme) filled with fun little things. I’m pretty sure it all came from the dollar store - but I still have that hat, sitting on top of my TV. It meant a lot to know that my contributions were noted and appreciated. 

The other side of gratitude is not taking people for granted. Often we just assume that NSOs will show up, that the person who always sells 50/50 tickets will do it again, and we forget to even ask, let alone thank them. Don’t assume. It makes people feel taken advantage of. Ask, and use your manners: please and thank you go a long way. People want to help - those of us who love roller derby, love it a lot. But you can burn out even the most enthusiastic volunteers by forgetting that they are indeed volunteers - they don’t have to be there. Make sure they feel appreciated, and they’ll continue to chose to be involved. 

Photos: Herb Martin

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