Listen To Your Gut: The ‘Alt year’, a step-by-step plan.

Listen To Your Gut: The ‘Alt year’, a step-by-step plan. Pictured in white, former alternate Octane Jane plays for the Angel City Derby Girls, and made her team proud on the regular roster, especially in the Omaha playoffs (pictured). Photo credit Danforth Johnson.

Your Alt year: the period of your derby career where you find yourself perpetually on the ‘Alternates’ list of every roster. It seems that no matter what you do, you can’t break into the 14 that make it on the game bench.

The Alt year can last a few games, an entire season, or even multiple seasons, and those times can be frustrating and exhausting, amongst other things.

But if you’re in your Alt year, rest assured that you are not alone. The reality is that even if a charter allows 20 skaters, a roster is limited to 14. Alt years are a mathematical fact.

That doesn’t make them any less challenging for the skaters going through them. Here are some suggestions on how to approach your own Alt year.

When the roster is released: No one can pin down the particular concoction that goes into that roster decision. Each one is the product of the Captains’ (or whoever makes those decisions in your league) own secret recipe, unknown and unknowable.

As Alternates, we assume that if we could interpret our Captains’ logic, we could make sense of our places in it. Unfortunately, when you find yourself on the wrong side of that roster, the ‘logical’ conclusion sets you up for some pretty gnarly, destructive feelings.

Let’s address those feelings here.

  • My Captains are wrong. When the roster doesn’t meet your expectations, your old pal cognitive dissonance hands you an indignation stick and orders you to start swinging. You’ll swing at your Captains (“They’re wrong about me! Are they even watching me?”), and at your teammates (“She’s so penalty heavy. I can’t believe they chose her over me.”)

Trust your Captains. Maybe they’re risking that penalty-heavy player because she brings leadership to the track. Hell, maybe they are wrong, but it’s their decision to make, and you agreed to their authority to make it by joining the team.

  • I’m no good. It’s natural to doubt yourself when you’ve been forced into a ranking system, but don’t throw yourself a pity-party. If you’re on the Alt list, you are good! You’re good enough to compete and play on the team. You’re keeping all of your teammates on their toes, knowing you could be subbed in at any time, and your captains believe in your potential.
  • I deserve more. There are so many reasons why you deserve play time. You pay your dues. Your attendance is outstanding. You volunteer at every fundraiser.

Don’t they want to reward your behavior? Unfortunately it just doesn’t work that way. A spot on the roster isn’t a reward, and the Alt list isn’t a punishment. Every day that we get to play this sport is a privilege. We earn our places by being the right person for the job on the track, period.

  • It’s personal.  Ah, the resentful player’s last refuge. It’s easy to blame your captains’ personal feelings. It lifts the responsibility for fixing the problem off your shoulders.

Don’t do this. Ultimately, for your own development you must operate under the assumption that it’s not personal, even if it is. Otherwise, you let resentment poison your motivation to improve. And you’re not being a very good teammate, so why would they put you on the track?

So let’s make some changes, players!

Here’s Skirt’s step-by-step guide to making your Alt year your bitch.

How to Make Your Alt Year Work for You

When you’re in your Alt year, your captains will tell you to get feedback.

This often feels like a trap. You ask for tips and work to improve, but when the next roster comes out, you’re not on it. Again.

Ask for feedback, and put it to good use, but don’t take it as a guaranteed ticket to Rostertown. And while you’re at it, use this time to work on the other qualities that make you a great teammate.

Photo credit Ken LeBleu

Enthusiasm and positivity are always great contributions to a team. Photo credit Ken LeBleu


Step 1 – Get a hold on your attitude.

Resentment does not suit you. Other skaters (yes, even rostered skaters!) may have a bad attitude, but this is not a luxury you can afford right now. Attitude is a huge part of rostering decisions, and rightly so! Your attitude is one key thing you can control and it’s your most powerful quality.

Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, get excited for what your Alt position means: you have the talent, knowledge, and motivation to train with the best skaters in your league. Above anyone else, your captains trust you to fill in should the worst happen to one of your teammates.

Step 2 – Make yourself indispensable.

Being a member of a team doesn’t always mean competing on a roster. Ask if you can help with bench coaching. Learn how to use statistics to your team’s advantage. Teach yourself actions tracking, and offer your services. Contribute to team morale: you can lead cheers, write encouraging notes, and give lots of high-fives.

Step 3 – Take pride in your role, take compliments.

Sure, it’s easier said than done. Of course you’d rather skate, but your supporting role is important too. Your team wouldn’t be able to do the things they do without you.

When your teammates show you their appreciation, they sincerely mean it. They know it’s not easy for you and they want you to know how much your dedication means to them. Be proud of their trust, and do your job well.

Step 4 – Think of your Alt year as the next chapter in your career.

Before you’re rostered, you need to spend some time on the Alt list. Just like in boot camp, you’re learning, practicing, and looking forward to the future. Use this time to improve your skills, work on your mental game, and learn the sport inside and out.

Here’s a blunt truth: when you’re in the thick of that Alt year and you make a roster, it’s probably because someone else is injured or retired. You’re thrilled to play, but something’s missing. Questions arise: Why weren’t you good enough to get rostered on your own merit? Well you can cut that shit out! You’re not Ellen Page and this isn’t a feel-good sports movie (See: Whip It). This is how real-life rosters are made.

You are good enough for this team. Teach yourself to take ‘yes’ for an answer, and your mental game is ON!

Ultimately, when it comes to being on the Alternates list, you should remember, you are in good company. So many of the greatest skaters in the world were once on their very own Alt list. If they sat down at that particular moment in time, and simply pitied themselves, do you think they’d be where they are today? The only difference between you and any Team USA skater is hundreds (maybe thousands?) of hours of practice.

So get up and skate, and don’t let anyone stop you – not even yourself!

Photo credit Donna Olmstead

Photo credit Donna Olmstead

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