The things every new skater (and vet) need to hear. Each year people try out for derby leagues all over the world, and some people jump right into the derby culture without really knowing what they’re getting into. Here are some tips I’ve discovered over my eight years in derby.
1. We’re happy you decided to investigate derby! No really, we’re happy you decided to come and try this sport we all love and sacrifice ourselves for. It’s so great to see other people learn about derby and begin to love it as much as we do! Without fresh ideas, views, and enthusiasm, this sport would eventually wither and die. Sometimes roller derby culture can be intimidating to newer skaters, but always remember that the vets are thankful that you are here and want you to be a part of this amazing thing called derby. You’re needed and completely welcome!
2. The hardest skill you’ll ever learn is how to listen. Listening is a way more difficult than everyone thinks it is; in derby, people suddenly discover how bad they are at listening. They don’t hear the coach when he or she is giving advice on the track, they don’t hear the ref sending them to the box, and they don’t hear the feedback people give them about derby. Listening is a valuable skill that can help you in real life situations, so try to practice a little mindfulness at practice.
3. You need to know the difference between discomfort and pain. This is a tricky one because one person’s discomfort can be another person’s pain. People on the outside cannot tell if you’re in discomfort or pain, only you can be the judge of that. The rule of thumb I give to new skaters is that pain tends to be sharp and sudden, while discomfort is being uncomfortable. Most people have discomfort in their backs when learning how to skate because it is a new posture for them. Once again, you have to be responsible and aware of what your body is experiencing during practice, and you need to be able to communicate that to your coaches and trainers. Let your trainers know if you have a chronic condition like asthma or compartmental syndrome; derby is a very physically demanding sport, and sometimes it uncovers chronic conditions you didn’t even know you had. Heck, without derby, I would have never discovered that I have loose ligaments in my ankles.
4. Being mentally uncomfortable is part of derby. You’re being thrown into a new sport, and a new skill set, and a new culture. You’re going to have days where you’re completely overwhelmed. You’re going to have days where everything is clear and magical too, but those days can be few and far between when you’re learning all about your skating style and derby. Expect that you’re going to feel confused, and embrace the chaos instead of shutting down and trying to make sense of everything. The longer you’re in derby, the more familiar everything becomes. Believe it or not, the mental game gets easier with practice.
5. Derby doesn’t fit into everyone’s life at every time. People start derby and don’t realize that it can completely eat all of your free time and then some. That’s ok! You don’t have to be gung ho about this sport; it’s fine to dip your toe into the derby pool and not go any further; it doesn’t make you weak, it doesn’t make you a quitter, and it doesn’t make you a bad person. After eight years in derby I’ve seen people come and go for all reasons: finances, time, family obligations, transportation issues, or they just don’t like it as much as they thought they would. Not everyone wants to get slammed into while on skates! It makes complete sense, so don’t feel bad if you discover this isn’t your cup of tea right now. People come and go in derby all of the time, and for various reasons; it’s actually pretty normal.
6. The only skater you need to compare yourself to, is you. Some people are naturally gifted skaters; they rise through the rookie ranks quickly and wow everyone that sees them skate. Some people have to work for everything in derby; they have to do transitions a million times before they get them right. Everyone learns, but not necessarily at the same pace or the same speed! It is so easy to resent the better skaters in your fresh meat class, but that road leads to sour grapes. Nothing will suck the fun out of playing derby faster than being envious of another skater. If you have someone on your team that is supremely talented, work with them. See if you can figure out what they’re doing that’s different from what you’re doing. Use them as a high watermark so you can improve your own skating. Don’t hate, educate yourself.
7. Practice often. In the history of everything in the world, nobody ever got better by not practicing. It seems like such a simple bit of advice, but you’d be surprised how many skaters fall prey to the idea that they don’t need practice.I know that there are people out there who are naturally talented but imagine how much better they could be if they practiced more often. Not everyone is a prodigy in roller derby, so you should try to be on your skates as much as possible. Skating is fun anyway, so why wouldn’t you want to be on your skates? It’s like flying!
8. Stay away from trendy gear. Gear is super expensive and there is a plethora to choose from. It’s hard not to get caught up in trends, especially when you see a skater that you absolutely idolize wearing the super cute boots or the brand new elbow pads. If some product is brand new on the market, give it a couple of months before you spend all of your money on it. Other skaters might be able to field test it and give you feedback before you invest in it. Surf the derby sites and see if anyone is talking about the gear you might be interested in. It might save you some cash and heartbreak in the long run.
9. If you don’t know, ask someone. Actually, ask several people. Everyone has questions in derby; that’s normal since it is a relatively young sport and people are still pathfinding. We’re all pioneers in derby and in league managing, so if you have a question about why your league has a certain policy in place, ask! If you wonder how you’re progressing, ask! Don’t wait around for feedback.
10. Derby is hard hard work, but it’s so much fun. Sometimes you’re having so much fun that you forget how hard you’re working. Cherish those practices! Derby waxes and wanes with its demands on our bodies, minds and time. Remember that ultimately, this is supposed to be fun. Everyone’s ideas of fun can be completely different. When I was a newbie, learning all of the skills was fun and when I was a rookie, skating in my first games was fun. After that, my idea of fun was working with my team to get us back to D2s. Now my idea of fun is learning to ref and playing USARS style derby with my friends. Perspective changes over time.
Q’s Tips is written by Elektra-Q-Tion who is a monthly contributor for Derby Central and writes articles on her own blog, “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Loose Wheel.” If you have suggestions for topics she should cover, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.