In The Box

The box. The dreaded penalty box. Much like in hockey, when a skater commits a penalty in roller derby, she gets sent to the box. These penalties often come from illegal contact against an opposing player, or simply from cutting the track or failing to maintain position with the other skaters on the track. Regardless, penalties result in a trip to the box for the offending skater. For the longest minute of her life. During that minute, the rest of her team plays one skater down. When you only have five skaters per side, being down in numbers can be devastating on the scoreboard. (And for anyone wondering, a skater who receives seven penalties in one game fouls out of the game. She must leave the track and the bench, and cannot participate in the remainder of the game in any way. Hardcore.)

I’m used to fouls. I played basketball for years. So as I trained for roller derby, the occasional call of “Back block, Miss A!” and “Elbow, Miss A!” and “Elbow AGAIN, Miss A!” didn’t phase me. That is, until I actually got sent to the box.  The second I hit the seat, the difference between a foul and a penalty became glaringly, painfully obvious. When you get sent to the box, you let your team down. You leave them weaker, vulnerable, short-handed, because of something stupid you did. You could have been assisting your jammer through the pack, or walling up with your teammates to stop the opposing jammer. Or maybe you could have even wiped out the opposing jammer, sending her flying off the track to the roaring approval of the crowd. But you’re not. Because you’re in the box.

Sometimes it’s not your fault. Sometimes there’s no way to avoid illegal contact. Accidents happen. But one minute in the box taught me that a lot of accidents can be avoided with a little focus and discipline. While I might not care how many penalties I receive, I care an awful lot about letting my team down for stupid mistakes. I don’t want to leave my teammates open to attack and less capable of defending against the other team.

That first minute I spent in the box got me thinking. (Not while I was in there, of course. While I was in there, all I could think was “LET ME OUT OF THIS BOX!” But later, I thought about it.) It’s easy to say, ‘I got sloppy, I made a mistake, and I’ll pay the price’, and take the penalty.  But when you realize that mistakes don’t happen only to you, that your actions affect other people – your family, your co-workers, your friends, even people you’ve never acknowledged — it shines a different light on what might have been avoided with a little effort.

Because sometimes something simple, seemingly stupid – I ran a red light, I missed a school function, I drank a little too much, I showed up late again- can reverberate and affect the whole team. Failing to pay full attention to your own actions can let down a whole bunch of people who were counting on you, even the people you never knew were counting on you.

I do the best I can to avoid the box. But life happens off the track, too, and this is where little mistakes can have huge penalties. If only everyone could spend a minute in the box. Maybe there would be a lot less letting the team down, and a lot more taking responsibility for one’s own actions. So pay attention. Keep your elbows in. Stay out of the box. Your team is counting on you.