I was gutted and absolutely devastated at the idea of not scrimmaging or bouting until 2015 (December for scrimmaging!). I was unable to skate at the Harlots bout on the 18th October which really sucked. It was the rematch of the rained off game I broke my ankle just before. I realize that the idea of roller derby, an indoor sport, being rained off is odd, but thanks to a rather ridiculous leak in the roof back in July it became an anomaly.
So I offered to help out my league in any way I could on the day of the bout. I got there early to help set chairs, tables, matts etc out, in all these years of playing derby I have rarely bruised my arms… 15-20 minutes of carrying matts? Carpeted matt rash on my shoulders. Doh!!
Anyway, before the bout myself and fellow returning to derby post injury skater Kay Blammity were asked if we’d like to announce. And that was a huge privilege and honor! I still stand by my NSO team, (GO TEAM GREY GO!) for the next few months as I have in the last month until I am fit and able enough to return to scrimmage. However on this particular day I had to leave them to stand by Kay Blammity’s side, as TeamCrip, announcing the two bouts of the day… and it was awesome!!!
So I had a fantastic time, it went so quickly and it was such great fun to announce with Blam. Neither of us had ever announced before and I think we actually did good on the day, even getting a shouting competition going between the team merch stalls! We handled injury well, skate outs, foul outs, penalties, communications with the refs. It was an awesome experience and I think everyone should have a chance to do something like that for their league.
At the end of the day, would I have rather been skating? I don’t think that is a question I could answer, mainly because it is an unfair question. Obviously it gutted me watching my team take to the track and not be able to be by their sides lining up, it did hurt later on post bout the more I thought about it, but I had a seriously awesome experience at the end of the day. Yes. I missed skating, I would have loved to have been skating, but to say I would rather have been skating would well and truly do an injustice to the day itself and the fun me and Blam had.
If you do want to try your hand at announcing?
There are tons of helpful guides out there and official handbooks from Official Announcer Membership folk, but some short and handy helpful tips from my experience!
Turn up. Obviously. Turn up. But turn up early. This gives you time to check the sound levels, get used to the sound system, prepare and plan ahead with any changes on the day, even help out the rest of your league and bout set up crew – even if you are just holding doors!
Use the mic. An obvious one but one that is ignored by so many. As a singer I deal with this on a general basis, but how you hold the mic can really affect sound levels and clarity. Don’t eat the mic. Don’t hold it above your lips. Talk into the mic but leave say three fingers space between your lips and the mic? And don’t be mean to the sound guy/girl! They only want to help you, and if you are nice, they will be nice in return.
Do your research! Research the teams before hand, try to get some facts or (very) short anecdotes about the team/skaters for when you may need to fill some time. Did they win something awesome? Do something awesome? Share it! Heck – we had one skater who informed us that she once hit a jammer so hard that she made her pee! We even got a laugh from the crowd about it.
Check for changes. On the day, check for any changes to the stalls, to the program, any skaters missing/added, lineup changes etc. The last thing you want is to make yourself look daft talking about a skater who isn’t playing or advertise a stall that hasn’t turned up/miss a stall that was a late addition.
Skate outs. Make friends with the DJ, check the skate out songs are sorted, set up in the right order etc. Check names/numbers of skaters and if you are unsure on the pronunciation of a name or number – check! Derby girls sometimes choose names that are a little too smart and require pronouncing in a certain way for it to work, you got to make it work!
Silence is golden. You do not need to talk all the time. Yes – keep the crowd informed! But the bout is about the skaters, not you. And the last thing the crowd wants is to hear you go on and on and on and on.
Explain, gently. The majority of the crowd are seasoned derby goers. But there are always groups of people who are new to the sport, derby virgins. Talk about the skaters and the rules as they happen, you won’t be able to catch all the penalties as that would be both impossible and just downright ridiculous to listen to. But jammer penalties are prime time to explain a penalty. You don’t have to discuss in depth how WFTDA words that rule and the implications, keep it short, sweet and simple. But not too simple, you don’t want to be a douche and alienate your audience! Also – try not to be excited ALL THE TIME. You need to show varying emotions for the crowd to react to, not just loud and shouty and excited all the time! A note on top of that is to avoid in jokes, it is good to note in mixed bouts that two skaters going head to head may be from the same league but if you make a joke that is a inner circle kind of thing, you will lose everyone.
Knowledge is key! You need to know the game. You need to know it inside and out. Watch other announcers. You are going to announce to a live crowd with a live game in which you have to be quick and correct as you get one chance to talk about each moment. Your knowledge of the game needs to be top! You cannot catch everything and you do not need to. Make sure that the bits that are picked up on are important to the game and use your knowledge and experience to do so! Penalties, star passes and official reviews are just three of the reasons why you need to know your stuff and be able to explain it!
Foresight. Don’t use it! Foresight is usually a good thing, however when it comes to announcing derby, you need to keep it all in. Don’t warn in advance that the jammer is approaching or where they are on track. Don’t talk about blocker offense/defense before it takes place. And above all – do not call penalties before the referees! Foul outs? Wait until you have the word from your head referee and pass this information on to the crowd. Reviews? As I just noted!
Referee relationship. A positive relationship and understanding between yourself and the head referee is crucial. Check with them if they have a certain way of doing things, it is important when it comes to moments such as official reviews – this way you will know what the referee expects and you get the best communication possible between the officiating crew, you and the crowd.
Announcer attitude. As an announcer there are two key things to remember. First and most importantly, you are there to do a job. So by all means, have fun and entertain and support all the teams and skaters, but remain a sense of professionalism. If you are linked to a league and people know you are, it is also an impression that you give of your league. You are a representative! On that note, the second key thing. DO NOT be biased. You are there to announce the entire bout, for both teams involved, if you are linked to a league or not – make sure you hold an unbiased view of the event. Get the audience on your side, get the audience on each teams side and support everyone there! Linking to this, do not belittle, insult or say negative things about a skater regardless of their actions on the track (and most importantly any animosity or friendship off track).
You are an announcing team! Most of the time you will be an announcing team of two. Make sure you have a positive relationship and work together! Two announcers allows one to focus in on the play-by-play whilst the other can add “colour” to it. Don’t speak over each other! Looking at each other helps and watching body language to see if you are about to talk or are finishing what you are saying. Use each others names to bring the other announcer into what you are saying to help break it up. If you have a disagreement or don’t get on, leave it at the door. As with skating, it doesn’t come on the track and it shouldn’t come on the mic – thankfully me and Blam get on, but not everyone is as lucky as us two! We even met the night before to go through stuff and have a cuppa! (Thanks Blam!)
Injury. Injury is a difficult one as you don’t necessarily know the full extent. First off remind the crowd not to take photographs, retaining the dignity of the skater is crucial, and photos of injured people is just an awful idea. I had a photo taken of me, sat on a chair with a broken ankle with my league around me 2 hours after I had broken it. It didn’t so much bother me as it was a scrimmage, I thought it was a sprain so on and so forth, however those incidents can haunt a skater and the last thing they want is to see a photo of those moments or others to be reminded of it also. This is another moment where you can talk to reduce the panic and worry for the skater, however do not over do it, you do not want to be talking and just filling the space because you feel like you have to. Wait for communication from the referees or medics for sharing information. When the skater gets up or is removed from track, make sure the crowd gives her/him a clap and cheer of support. It is soothing and if it is a serious injury will help the skater take their mind off the injury a little.
Blowouts. These suck and can mean you can fall into the pit of talking too much about one team. Luckily we did not deal with this on the day, but it was something that we prepared for on the off chance! Try not to focus so much on the score, but instead the game played, more often than not a score can sometimes not reflect the level of game play on that day. Make sure the crowd is behind both teams, especially towards the end, remind them that these girls/guys have skated their butts off today and that now is the last chance to really cheer them on and support them.
5 skaters on a team, not 1! Do not always talk about the jammer. Generally they are the more prominent when announcing as most of the crowd is focused on them, but remind everyone that jammers cannot score points or stop the other team from scoring without their blockers. Talk about the teamwork, great offensive or defensive plays and share the love for the skaters on track on the day.
Crowd communication and interaction. Crowd communication is good, great even! But you don’t want to over do it and you don’t want to bore them either. Make sure your communication is clear, project and don’t talk too quickly (something I have been guilty of on stage! Spoke at a sufficient speed this time thankfully!). Share information from the track but don’t bombard them, they do want to watch the game too remember! Use the moments between jams to remind them about the stalls, the merchandise, raffles and competitions, remember as a league you need the support of vendors and sponsors as well as the support from cake and merch sales. You can get the crowd shouting in support of the team they support! If it is a mixed bout you are pretty much guaranteed to have support from various leagues so if you can, find out what leagues they are from and give them a shout out! Share the derby love! Have a shout of between the league supporters if it is team X versus team Y.
Above all, make it fun. We play derby out of passion and love for the sport and because we enjoy it. People come to watch and support us because they enjoy it. The best thing you can do is share that love, excitement and enjoyment.