One of my favourite experiences as a skater is attending tournaments. I love getting to play new teams and playing multiple games over a weekend. Plus road trips with my derby buddies are always the best!
So when I heard that one of our local tournaments (Summer Slam) was not being held this year due to lack of resources that made me really sad.
And also got me thinking….
I think roller derby has a lot of challenges right now, but three of the biggest ones I see are a lack of playing opportunities for recreational level teams (house teams, B teams), strain on league resources and a severe shortage of officials.
To me it seems like people want to play more roller derby – but making that happen has just become too hard.
My goal was to see if I could find a way to put together a multi team tournament in under 4 months that was fun, fair and most importantly sustainable.
Here were my sustainability guidelines:
- The cost of putting on the event should be less than $5k – keeping the financial risk low.
- The event must make profit without relying on spectator #s – giving the hosts incentive to repeat the event annually.
- The number of experienced officials required for the event should be 12 or less – making it possible to properly cater to the officials eg. subsidized accommodation/stipends/delicious food/goodie bags.
- The number of volunteers required to run the event should be 15 or less – keeping the burden on non-skaters low.
- The teams should get the opportunity to play new teams & multiple games – giving teams a reason to travel.
- Games must be FAIR, SAFE and FUN – giving everyone the opportunity to play more roller derby!
So what did we do to try and achieve this?
1) Tournament Structure: All of the games were played on one track. Games were shortened to 20 minutes with no time outs or official reviews. (psst. We borrowed this idea from Montreal Roller Derby’s Beast of the East – this tournament is now in it’s 9th year and is sold out every year.)
2) Game Matchups: Each team was asked for a top 5 list of teams they wanted to play – every team got matched with at least 2 of the teams on their top 5 list. And most actually got play 3-4 from the list.
3) Playing Structure: We wanted to guarantee teams maximum playing time, so unlike Beast of the East (which is a double elimination tournament) we gave every team 4 match ups. The teams with the most wins and largest point spreads qualified for the final 4 spots in the Bronze Medal and Silver/Gold Medal games on Sunday. With 8 teams this meant there were 16 qualifying games played – and the tournament could accommodate 12 teams in future on a single track. You can see the actual game schedule HERE.
4) Officials: Games were run with 9 Officials (and actually most games were able to run with 8). We were able to do this as a result of the combination of technology, innovation and rule changes – more info below.
5) Technology: We used the Penalty Timer App for the penalty timers and although we kept track of skaters total penalties, we did not track the specific penalty (skaters were just given an “X” beside their number when they entered the box). This meant that we could quickly train volunteer NSOs who had no prior derby knowledge or experience. We also used the existing hockey score board in the venue which meant we did not have the expense or volunteer requirements needed to run a full roller derby score board.
6) Innovation: For this I have to give full credit to the amazing Whack Job and Sir Cumference (our Head Tournament Officials). In order to signal the jammer scoring a new position was created – Score Keeper/Flag Wielder. This person had two flags, each coordinated to the team colours. When the jammer scored the Score Keeper held up the flag – which allowed the Score Board Operator to update the score board and for the crowd to go wild! You can read more about how the flags worked HERE.
7) Rule Changes: Ahh the rules modifications! This was the most fun of all! Again our goal was for games to be FAIR, SAFE and FUN. And remember this tournament is geared towards rec level teams – meaning there are no rankings to tell where teams are skills wise and there may be a large skills gap between skaters.
The main changes we made to the WFTDA rules were:
- One point per scoring pass
- No run backs
Read full modified rule set with official positions HERE.
Fair & Safe: The goal was for games to be officiated fairly without the need for 18+ officials per game. We also wanted the games to be called fairly without the need for highly experienced officials. By simplifying the rules to one point per pass this was made more achievable (hey skater – have you ever tried to count individual points? While 10 bodies are moving in different direction? Not easy!)
By eliminating run backs and thus the requirement for quick changes of direction from officials (both on skates and focus) this also made the game easier to officiate. Thus allowing officials to focus on keeping the game fair and calling penalties that impacted safety.
Safe: By eliminating run backs we kept the game moving in a single direction. This made for a faster game but without bodies moving in counter flow direction the safety of the game was increased regardless of skater skill level. Throughout the whole weekend we had only 2 game stoppages for injury (and both did not delay game play) and only one suspected concussion. We had no other serious injuries in 400 minutes of game play.
Fun: The game was fast! The jammers had to make it out of the pack to score – so there were longer jams ie. no hitting and quitting. Games were tight and competitive eg. 9 to 7. Even on blow out games the score didn’t get crazy (I think the biggest score differential was 17-4). As a fan the flags were a great way to see when my team scored. And we had two overtime jams when the final score was tied – those were SO FUN!
And did it work?
At the end of the day we had 120 skaters play 18 games on one track for 400 minutes of continuous game play. Every game started on time and we had no serious injuries.
We ran the event with 10 experienced officials and 15 volunteers.
Despite having less than 100 paying spectators the event made a profit.
Each team got to play 2 or more teams they had never played before.
Was everyone happy? No.
Suggestions from our post-tournament survey included things like wanting more change rooms, more playing time, less playing time, more vendors, more announcers, not happy with missed calls or the caliber of officials, no ability for teams to select match ups, more ability for teams to select match ups etc.
But then there were these:
“Loved all of it! The different rules were a lot of fun. I can honestly say that in the last 7 years it was the most fun I’ve had at a tournament.”
“Most fun I have had in derby in years. Great officials and competitive players who played a new fun game on new rules that made for a great game to see. “ -Play Big 100%
“Best of the West was awesome, the fast paced energy, the athletes, the set up just the entire feel was very inviting and welcoming for everyone. The new rule set was a definite game changer and it was really cool to watch it evolve during play…Very well done!!!” ~Block Tease #333~ Caribruisers Williams Lake
“I had so much fun and I hope it happens again next year!! “JonesTown Mascara, Sea To Sky Sirens”
“I had a great experience with Best of the West. I loved the structure and the chance to play so many teams in one weekend. The area is beautiful!! I’ll be hunting this event down for next year! I made some new derby friends!”
“This was by far the most fun I’ve had in my relatively short derby career! The custom rules make for fast and hard-hitting derby that’s fun to watch and play! – Stef 2.0, Quesnel Gold Pain”
“One of the key ref take-aways was that this the most fun some had in the last 5 years of reffing….Definitely the most fun I have in derby for years.”
So was Best of the West the perfect roller derby tournament? Probably not.
But maybe as skaters, coaches, officials and fans we have to be OK with that. And instead focus on having fun and playing roller derby – whatever it looks like.
Want to see more? Check out the videos and pics on the Best of the West Tournament Event Page
Huge thanks to Ashley Urbani, Amber Foster and the entire Squamish Women’s Roller Derby League – you are all such lovely people. Whack Job and Sir Cumference – you are two amazing individuals, thank you for being willing to try something new and for giving me insight into the world of officials.
To the volunteers that jumped in and helped out on the day – you are all my heroes thank you. And to all the teams that traveled from far and wide to play a sport, share new experiences, make new friends and most of all TO HAVE FUN – I hope you come back next year!
Founder – Pivotstar: Tough Clothes for Strong Women
Co-Creator – Best of the West Roller Derby Tournament: Have fun, Play Derby