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Nine things the workplace can learn from roller derby

Posted by on in Guest Blogs

Jessica Hildyard is the newest guest blogger for our Good Day At Work community. Jess is a freelance writer and has a strong interest in workplace wellbeing and positive office culture. A roller derby nut, Jess also believes in the power of exercise for boosting positivity and creativity. 

Inspired by our recent conversation with John Amaechi about the importance of resilience and a positive working environment, Jess reflects on what workplaces can learn from the exciting world of roller derby.

Forget the fishnets - roller derby is about teamwork, failing and recognition. 

Roller derby is one of the world’s fastest growing contact sports for women. Played on roller skates, this is a fast paced battle between two teams, likened to ‘rugby on wheels’. 

A baby in the sporting world, derby was reborn in Texas from the ashes of a 70’s fad. It’s the ultimate startup story, operating on a fierce, punk rock, do-it-yourself ethos with passion, attitude and disruptive nature that would make even BrewDog or Uber cry. Its’ ‘underground’ status, feminist values and ‘skater-owned’ sport appeals globally, attracting new skaters every year. I’m one of the estimated 2,478 skaters currently playing in the UK and believe there is much to be learnt from roller derby for the workplace. 

The lessons

Teamwork and contribution

Like any team sport, working together gives you competitive advantage. Being a ‘lone wolf’ puts extra pressure on teammates - same goes for the workplace. Teamwork impacts every aspect of workplace effectiveness, from performance and morale, customer service and common goals. Workplaces should inspire employees to implement collaboration for excellence. 

Understanding that every employee makes a contribution is critical. Derby shows while superstar ‘jammers’ are always a crowd favourite - there’s no bout without Referees or Penalty Box officials. These less glamorous roles make the game just as much as the point scorers do.

Recognition and rewards

Recognition is a big part of derby world. Awards are given for performance, sportsmanship and communication. League award nights and social media announcements are common. This type of regular recognition is something that all workplaces could aim for. Employees feel appreciated with genuine recognition, helping to bond teams, producing positive working environments and boosting morale. 

Learning to fail

Booty Treatment, a Manchester Roller Derby skater says “As an adult, you learn that failure is embarrassing and to be avoided, often especially in the workplace. In a sport where the first thing you learn is how to fall, failure looks very different. Failure in roller derby would be never trying. Falling over is expected; needing dozens of hours of work to perfect a technique means an awful lot of personal "failure" and the resilience I've gained from that has been invaluable, particularly when I changed careers and faced a lot of rejection initially.”

This acceptance of failure, the associated persistence and determination is a strong lesson. 

Fun environments

Derby bout atmospheres produce a buzzing, positive energy that makes you feel good. There’s music, treats and it’s a really fun day. The vibe helps you skate well and it is easy to get swept up in the energy of the crowd. The workplace can be just as fun - if you let it. With BrightHR, Robertson Cooper produced ‘It pays to play’ a report exploring benefits of a fun workplace, discussing how fun helps employees perform better. There’s lots of fun things that can be introduced to the workplace atmosphere to help employees enjoy their time at work.

Agility and responsiveness

Derby requires strategic and tactical decisions made fast. Agility is absolute when there is only 2 minutes to score points! Companies who adopt the Silicon Valley methodology of working in ‘sprints’ for quick project gains have seen productivity rise.

Leadership

Every team needs a captain and the workplace is no different. Captains, coaches and referees provide leadership and the 50 different rules ensure the game is safe, fair, outlining what is acceptable. Referee decisions are to be respected and skater tantrums are not tolerated. Leadership drives the game play and keeps standards high. Teams are clear on goals and work together under their Captain. Workplaces can learn to define leader’s expectations and communicate short and long term goals. 

Inclusivity and participation 

Roller derby is one of the most open sporting communities. Anyone who wants to play, can - gender, age, race or body shape are not barriers. Derby is a genuine ally of the LGBTQ community, and also works to improve participation for people with disabilities. The managing federation was one of the first sport leagues to remove barriers for transgendered skater participation. Workplaces can learn to extend employee participation, becoming an advocate for all employees to fairly access work, in a culture of protection and respect. 

Values

Communicating workplace values and vision allows employees to understand what they can expect to be part of. Booty Treatment says “When I took up roller derby, I specifically chose a league that bills themselves as totally inclusive. That strongly stated safe-space has made the difficulties of learning a totally new skill in my 30’s much easier. Knowing the founding ethos of the league was to make the sport accessible to anyone helped me to feel less like competing for a spot and more that I'd joined a community.” 

Promoting positive wellbeing and mental health

As a predominantly women's sport, it’s unsurprising that derby reflects the national trend of women diagnosed with mental health issues. It’s an emerging consideration for all UK sectors as they face challenges of a multi-generational workforce.

Roller derby offers help through initiatives like ‘Team Crazy Legs’ - a league and online network. Booty Treatment says “I was deeply unhappy in my job, struggling with daily anxiety, when my coach mentioned Team Crazy Legs. Team Crazy Legs are an affirming safety net for so many people that I know. The power of affirmation, knowing that I’m not alone or the only person who struggles with poor mental health has been what keeps me involved.”

Workplaces could learn from derby, by promoting ways for employees to participate despite health issues and encouraging employees to seek support and treatment. 

Inspiring and challenging, roller derby has a lot to teach

Roller derby inspires a network of people to push themselves and overcome fear and failure, building communities of strong, healthy and confident skaters who transfer these personal skills into their workplaces and study. Workplaces can learn a lot from the derby community about supportive cultures, great learning environments, goal setting and how to have fun while working hard and making a positive impact along the way.

To learn more about creating a Good Day At Work for you and your team, speak with us. 

For more, follow Jess on Twitter @jessicahildyard

Manchester Roller Derby photo courtesy of Shirlaine Forrest - @Shirlainephoto

 

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Guest Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Cary CooperGood Day at Work®

The new wellbeing resources hub founded by @profcarycooper and Roberston Cooper. Join for FREE and access blogs, videos, downloads, podcasts and more.

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MD of Cary Cooper's business psychology firm, Robertson Cooper - for all things wellbeing, engagement and resilience at work.

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Professor Cary Cooper, Director and Founder of Robertson Cooper Ltd, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School.

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