When I played my first bout on June 4th, 2011 I had no idea what I was doing, let alone what a Bench Manager did. We didn’t call them “Bench Managers” then either. We called them “Panty Bitches.” Because, from what our experience taught us, she or he would basically give you either the jammer or pivot panty and you were supposed to wear it in the next jam and “do stuff.” I’ve had the experience of wearing the pivot panty and on rare unfortunate occasions, the jammer panty. My lifetime jammer points hover around the 10 mark. In 2014, I took my skates off as a competitive player on the track and traded it in for a clipboard, line ups and a pen. And nervous pacing.
My growth into a great Bench Manager took some time. My first couple bouts, I tore up the paper fiddling with it and ended up winging the line ups at the second half. I would toss panties to whomever made eye contact and the same went for making sure five skaters hit the track. Sometimes, four went to the track and on the even rarer occasion, six. But hey, no one is perfect.
Eventually I started letting the captains know what I liked about lineups and what was working and not working. I voiced opinions on who I thought played well together and who could follow directions. I found myself becoming the go between for the skaters and the coach, who can’t check in all the time. If a skater is tired or hurt, the Bench Manager needs to make the call to sit them. The same goes for low spirits. A skater can come off the track 10 minutes into a bout and think they are the Worst. Skater. Ever. Part of bench managing is to make sure skaters know that even though they had a rough jam, they are still an important skater on the team. To make sure each player has a cheerleader. It’s also to help simmer down hot tempers. Derby gets intense. A Bench Manager needs to be able to be yelled at and say in return “I know you’re pissed, but you need to go sit down and collect yourself for the next jam.” You also have to be okay having skaters side-eyeing you or even being mad at your for not enough play time. It can be hard. These women are your friends. You don’t purposely hurt your friends. It is never easy benching someone, but once you get on the track, you need to treat it like a business. A friendly business, but still a business. What’s best for the team rarely ever matches every individual skater’s goal.
A Bench Manager plays a key role on every good roller derby team. Sure, you can write a line up and throw someone in to call out names and toss panties. But if you’ve got a jammer in the penalty box at the start, you need to know which blockers will be able to hold back the opposing jammer. You need to know who can skate two, sometimes three jams in a row when needed. A good Bench Manager needs to be aware of how many penalties a skater has, and what type of penalties they are getting. They need to keep track if someone is not on form that bout and needs some pep talking or if they need to be moved to another position. And not to mention, keeping those dang numbers on the those sweaty biceps (get numbered arm bands people and save your Bench Manager a headache and yourself from towel burns trying to dry your arms off).
One thing I did not expect to learn from being a Bench Manager is how much a part of the team I still felt. I think a lot of players feel that not skating means hanging it up, that it’ll feel like you’re unneeded. Absolutely wrong. I knew I was still a valuable member of the league. That my skaters counted on me. I knew that if I called the right line, I could help secure a win or achieve a point goal. I knew when there was confusion, my team trusted me to say “ZEN BENCH” and they could relax and focus. When I yelled at my ladies, they knew I was yelling because I wanted success, as did they. When the team wins, it’s not just the ladies in skates who made the win.
I retired at the end of the 2015 season from skating and Bench Managing. I plan to be Mid-State’s #1 Fan in 2016 but I’ll never stop loving roller derby and my PPOD’s. I can’t wait to actually just watch derby. To sit on the sideline and cheer without worrying that watching the bout will make me forget to get the next line. To watch these amazing women leave it all on the track. But I can’t say I won’t miss my clipboard and pen. And nervous pacing.
—Josette Lang (Faerie Death Mother #G6) is a founding member of Mid-State Sisters of Skate. She officially retired from league involvement at the end of 2015, but she continues to support and promote her league!