To say there’s a lot to learn when you first enter into the larger world of Roller Derby is an understatement. With a language and culture unique from anything else you may have previously encountered – it’s pretty intimidating.
When I was a new skater, I had many great people around me, and discovered many a thing that I either, wished later I’d remembered, or worse, learned and forgot. As my league gets ready to welcome a new Training Wheels (AKA “meat”) class, I got to thinking – if I had to pick ten things to tell them – what would they be?
1. Be positive, and know what you don’t know. A coachable skater with a great attitude will always have an advantage over someone who skates well, yet manages to turns everyone off. If you’re new and you don’t know something – ask. I always prefer to see skaters who realize their own limitations and request help in a constructive way than one who is cocky and learns something wrong – which could end up hurting them or someone else in the long run. Team players are where it’s at.
2. Get ready to sweat – and not just on practice nights. I can be a broken record about this — if you’re not practicing/cross training on non-practice nights, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Granted, I have many a lazy week where I’m watching TV and eating junk when I should be working on my athleticism.
I do my best to stick to a schedule of two nights a week outside of our practice nights (2x/week) of exercise. All it takes is one period where you’re a Jammer/Pivot in a lineup that gets played a lot, to see why you need to do this. Endurance is such a huge part of derby, and if you’re anything like me, it’s something you have to work on. If you don’t, I’m jealous.
3. Learn to laugh at yourself. I’ve always found derby rather humbling at several points in my journey, but none more so than at the very beginning. You will fall (trust me) a lot. You will do something wrong. A lot. You will be the absolute worst at something. All of these things are OK. Just remember that, as serious as you should take your focus on safety and learning, you should have a sense of humor as well. Embrace and understand your weaknesses, and it will only help you improve them.
4. Realize nothing comes quick and easy in derby – at least for you. If you’re anything like me (and I also hear this a lot), you’re going to look around and think that everyone else is learning faster/doing better. You may feel downtrodden, sad, and even discouraged. A great deal of the time the other skaters you’re watching — they’re grouping you into their ‘everyone else’, and thinking you’re better than them. Basically it boils down to this: don’t compare your progress to the skater next to you. Everyone progresses at their own pace, and even if it takes you longer – it may suck for the moment, but once you’ve passed you’ll know you earned it with zero doubt.
5. Dress for success. Tutus, awesome booty shorts, and rad knee socks – they’re part of what people see and mention first when they notice Derby. Almost every news story mentions ‘the outfits’.
If you’re new, and you’re coming to practice dressed to the nines, yet it’s evident that you didn’t think to practice your skills since last practice (especially if meat only has one practice a week) - well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to put out that perception of myself to my future derby mates.
That being said, knee socks and tights are a part of my practice outfit because of their functionality – rink rash sucks, and a bare leg is the quickest way to ensure you’re going to wipe out. It’s like a sort of Murphy’s Law for Derby (that right there might be another article).
So look cute, sure — but work hard, too.
6. You can’t buy enough gear to make yourself a great skater. New skaters sometimes get caught in the trap that its their sub-par gear holding them back. While there are times when a set of high-cost, grippy wheels on a slippery floor will make a noticeable difference, upgrading as a fresh meat to super-awesome trucks on high-priced skates will rarely get you as far as hard work and increased training.
That’s not to say that if you really want great new gear, for good reasons, not to get it – just don’t expect the gear to make the skater. If you can skate well on crappy gear, just imagine how awesome you’ll be when you do upgrade.
7. Save the drama for your momma. Maybe drama queens have a place somewhere, and even though there are many in Derby, I can’t warn away from this behavior enough. Derby is a sport filled with passion and well-directed aggression; blood, sweat and tears. It brings out the best – and sometimes the worst – of us. How we take these emotions and re-channel them back into the sport we love will speak a lot about you, and get you a lot farther if you do it right.
8. Don’t get discouraged – set goals. Many a time at meat practice I would walk away with a sore feeling about a specific part of the night. I couldn’t keep up with a paceline. My turnaround stops sucked. Something. I always found it important to note the things I was struggling with and set personal goals. Taking note of things you REALLY want to work on will motivate you to increase your skills in these areas faster. Derby is overwhelming, and I always found this a good way to measure my progress in more manageable ways (in my head anyways). Just think of how proud you’ll be when you see those one and 5five-minute lap times go down!
9. Learn who these people are who you’re skating with. Sometimes new people come to practice, do what they need to do, and leave; which is perfectly acceptable. One of the best parts of Derby for me is the people that you meet along the way. I still remember the smile and warm greeting by a fellow (much more experienced) meat the first time I arrived at a practice in 2007. I was so terrified and intimidated that I could have run back home at any time, if it had not been for this person. Thanks to her, and another girl – I stayed and came back the next week, and the next. And it was those two girls who even still, years later after two babies, helped convince me to get back on skates. Derby can create friendships that you never knew you wanted – or needed. Your league mates often become a part of your extended family, and you love them like no other. You have to make yourself available for that sort of companionship, if you want it.
10. Last but not least – believe in yourself! You did what countless other people are too scared, or unmotivated, to do! Whether attending an event, a derby 101 clinic, or a meet and greet – you did what other girls only talk about doing. You took the first step, and that’s how you start any journey. Remember that there will always be ups and downs, but if you work hard enough, every week you will suck less. Every week you will improve — if you work at it. And even if it takes you twice as long, you will get there — if you want it.