Leadership lessons from…roller derby?

In November 2013, I visited the State University of New York at Oneonta, and I had the opportunity to talk with a number of faculty and students.  Most of them were from the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, the other natural sciences, and the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.  In one of these sessions, I met a student who is pursuing a major in physics education and a minor in women’s and gender studies, and she offered some interesting insights into leadership – and roller derby.

This student is part of the Hill City Rollers (if you’ve ever been to Oneonta, NY, you’ll know why the club name refers to the hills), and she is passionate about roller derby.  She is an active participant in the sport, and she emphasized the value she finds in it.  Here are a few examples of the lessons she has derived from participating in this sport:

  • Participants are not judged by their appearance, but rather by their ability to contribute to the team.  Clubs promote their focus on “enabling people of all levels of ability, ages, and body types to train to play a sport.”
  • Players develop leadership skills through commitment to the sport, training, working as part of a team, and supporting the community.
  • Players are simultaneously engaged in offense and defense, which makes the strategy and planning particularly complicated.
  • Roller derby teams typically have members from all walks of life – secretaries, lawyers, teachers, doctors, students, and homemakers.
  • Roller derby players take the competition seriously, but they seem to keep their sense of humor about the sport.

I appreciate the sense of community and the spirit that are part of this sport.  Here’s a website posting from the Hill City Rollers, dated December 13, 2013:  “Ok, so we lost. 122-237. But WE had an awesome STAR PASS! And a KILLER LAST JAM!!! 23 point by Vicious Vixen!! Congratulations to Troublemaker for doing really well in her FIRST BOUT!”

Today, more than 1,000 women-owned roller derby leagues exist around the globe.   In the past, the bouts were staged (think “professional wrestling”), but this rarely happens now.  Or so I am told.  Most of the people I have talked with find the scoring impossible to follow – and I admit was more confused after reading the roller derby rules than I was before.

I haven’t been to a roller derby match since I met this student in Oneonta.  In fact, I’ve never been a roller derby event ever, but I think that’s going to change.  The Atlanta Rollergirls 2014 season begins in February.

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One Response to Leadership lessons from…roller derby?

  1. jennifer wood says:

    Congrats on your new job as President of HSU. They even have a Roller Derby team or two! Also a great Wildland Soils program where many soil scientists across the country have gotten their start. Best, Jennifer Wood – soil scientist, USDA-NRCS Davis, CA (B.S. Botany HSU ’91, M.S. Soil Science, UC Davis ’97)

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