When I was a child, I picked up some bad language from my grandfather, and after repeated warnings, my mother eventually washed my mouth out with soap. When my younger sisters learned to swear from the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack, I kept anticipating the cathartic moment when they too would learn of the taste of Lever 2000. But that moment never came. The process seemed so clear to me: you swear, you get a few warnings and then you get a washcloth rubbed against your tongue. But why had I been foamed to the mouth but they escape unscathed?
Flash forward about 20 years and countless unpunished swearwords later, and I find myself helping with the running of a roller derby league where people, much like myself as a child, occasionally do things that don’t jive with what’s considered acceptable behaviour. When these things happen, there needs to be a process in place to deliver the appropriate level of consequences.
There are two critical elements of a good grievance system: a Code of Conduct and an established process on how to enforce it. A great starting point is to work with whoever is in charge of administrative tasks for your league - be it your board or the group of friends whose crazy idea it was to start a derby league – and start brainstorming a list of behaviours that you would consider to be unacceptable.
It’s important to at least have the bare bones of a grievance process down in writing from the very beginning of your league, as people aren’t going to wait to misbehave until you’re ready. As your league grows, or as incidences arise, your Code of Conduct may change. If there’s a certain time of year your league has an Annual General Meeting, this is likely the best time to make updates to your Code and roll them out to your skaters
Just like my example of my childhood trauma, it’s important that your grievance process be a multi-stage process. My mom did warn me about the cursing before she reached for the soap. It’s important that, like my mom did, you give people a chance to remedy their behaviour. People screw up and make bad decisions. It’s natural. You can think of the “Three Cs” of a grievance process: confront your league member, offer a correct way to act and administer necessary consequences. Many leagues use a five step process that escalates as the bad behaviour is repeated or worsens. An example of a five step system would be a coaching session, then a verbal warning, then a written warning, then a suspension and eventually a full expulsion from the league.
When your grievance process is established, it’s important to ensure that it’s accessible to your skaters so that people know how to bring forward a grievance, and everyone knows what’s expected of them, and what the consequences will be if they deviate from that. If you have an online place where your league meets up to chat (e.g. Facebook, Google Groups), this is an ideal place to post these details. You can also distribute hard copies and ask people to sign an acknowledgment that they’ve read and understood the policies.
The most important part of a grievance process is actually sticking to it and letting the process work. After all, while the soapy punishment taught me the error of my ways, seeing that it wasn’t applied equally to my sisters was frustrating for me – and unfairness is really something to swear about.