In roller derby, there's an obvious chain of progression. Much more obvious than in many other sports I've played. Netball, for example. It's a sport that you kind of grow up with. You start to play in Year 1 and you just... do it. Yes, various levels will be reached, such as the 1st team, County, or even an International team, but unlike roller derby, there isn't really a specific 10, 12 or even 20 week programme you are required to pass to even begin to think about progressing to playing the "actual game."
You see, in roller derby, you not only have to learn the rules of the game, and understand the concept, you have to be able to skate! You need to know the basics; minimum skills. And that's exactly what they are. The minimum set of skills that a player must possess in order to progress to playing. They include the important things, such as stopping, starting, falling safely and eventually cover things like pack work and contact.
So this training course, Fresh Meat, essentially acts as your gateway to the wonderful world of roller derby! Everyone who wants to play needs to partake. You'll have fun, you'll laugh, you'll get frustrated, you may cry, you'll be excited, worried or even tempted to throw the towel in and try again in another intake, and that's ok! All of that is ok! Because it is hard! You're learning a new skill, with a group of people you didn't know, whilst learning the rules too. All of this with 8 wheels strapped to your feet! But this fresh meat course acts as the first stepping stone to achieving a goal.
Now, I did fresh meat with a league in London. I'd moved to the city, to a different postcode to the people I knew, and I decided I needed to have some fun. I needed a hobby and I thought why not push myself to try something different. I knew of roller derby through Thorne Supremacy and wasn't sure if I would be able to do it, but I decided to give it a go! And boy, am I glad I did! I met some amazing girls and had a blast! Yes, at times I got fed up, but who doesn't. Not with the sport, but with my inability to perform seemingly simple tasks. I watched skaters who had skated for years go backwards effortlessly and I couldn't... I didn't know why and spent lots of time thinking about it, then I decided I would stop thinking about it and voila! I found myself going backwards! This roller coaster of learning was the first step in my derby career.
After fresh meat finishes, the freshies progress to the next stepping stone. They become rookies! Each league will have their own system for this transition, but all have the same goal, and that is to introduce the players to game play, more contact, and training with the big girls (or boys). Had I stayed on with the league in London, I'd have been required to pass a 3 month probationary period, after which I would become a fully fledged member of the league. My fellow freshies have recently been welcomed in to the league so WELL DONE :) You may not be deemed at a safe enough level to carry on, and in which case you may be asked to attend a few sessions to get up to standard. It is important to note that this DOES NOT mean you are valued any less than those who made it in. It's is for your safety and well being.
However, after passing my minimum skills assessments, I had a change in circumstance, moved back home and joined Bath Roller Derby Girls. Therefore, I was not only facing the vertical transition of starting to play with skaters with a higher level of skill than me, I had to deal with a lateral transition of moving to a new league – learning to play with and getting to know a whole new group of awesome skaters! I knew the majority as I had been involved with things through Thorne Supremacy, and everyone was so friendly! But I 100% believe that even if i had known nobody, they'd have been just as welcoming and friendly!
I'll admit, I was terrified, going from just having passed min skills, to not skating for 2 months, to rocking up at my first session with BRDG! But I was reassured that this is a thing that every skater has to do, regardless of progressing from fresh meat with the same league, or being an established skater with 7 years experience who moves house and starts to skate with a new league. So, I strapped my skates on, stood up (rather shakily) and got stuck in!
I was now officially a rookie! Yay! I spoke to a few of the coaches and together we decided it would be beneficial for me if I did positional only blocking for the first few scrim sessions (as opposed to full contact) and that was fine by me! I figured there was no rush to start hitting/being hit, and I was more than happy to work my way slowly to contact! For rookies this is a usual occurrence, although some leagues may integrate them immediately in to contact but maybe not full force at first. You'll need to be deemed "scrim safe" and then you're good to go! Everyone will do it differently, and they know what works for their league!
The next change that was to come, was starting full contact! That was only last week! It was daunting, but I figured I had to do it at some point so why not now! (Or rather a few of the players suggested that I was ready to get hitting and they cheered me on which was nice) So that was that! I politely declined the offer of jamming (for now, I'll stick to jamming when it is positional thanks haha) but it was awesome. I really enjoyed it! I even went in for a hit. I just about made contact but it wasn't particularly effective! Oh well! Everyone was so encouraging and I could hear people shouting from the bench!
Although I'm a rookie, I'm skating with the vets too. And they've made me realise that I'm as valued a derby player as much as the most experienced skater on the team. If there were no freshies, or no rookies, then there is no possibility of our sport progressing! So I'd like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has ever been on track with me, or nso, or coached me. You've helped me in these transitions (not just in a skating sense), and made me realise that moving up the ranks, or over the stepping stones, or however else you see it, is a vital step for any skater, and hard work does pay off :)
My tips for enjoying your journey up the ranks:
Author: Petra Bomb
Credit: Jacky Fleming
I came to roller derby from a lifetime of martial arts. I never was particularly strong, dedicated or super-fit, but I could throw a punch and duck and cover. Anyway, I also spent a good few years teaching women's self defence. Me and a friend set up an organisation to teach women and girls (and the odd guy) how to shout, kick, and generally fight back.
So when I discovered roller derby (a full contact sport, on skates, with lots of women? TICK) and we started up our new team in Bath, I was one of the first to volunteer to coach, even though I could barely plough stop and the rules were a mystery to me. But I figured that to learn to skate and play, you needed to go through a similar thing that I saw girls do when learning to fight.
Skating, and then skating close to others, and then hitting them comes easily to a few, but to a lot of women who may not be used to contact sports, it's simply terrifying and involves a process of overcoming various barriers they may have. A lot of women have a shit relationship to their bodies, which are culturally devalued and objectified. It's reported that 90% of adult women in the UK have some level of negative body image. So it's not surprising that many also struggle with physical confidence, to feel able to control their body and be strong with it.
To help this process along, you need the right kind of encouragement. I remember being in a boxing club full of guys with my coach shouting at everyone to hit harder, run faster, and WHAT DO YOU EVEN CALL THAT SON THAT'S NOT A PUNCH?! I thought he was a douche but I held my own in that class. However, there were also only two female members, in total*. Whereas look at how many women and girls who've spent their lives shying away from physical activity are quite happy skating? I think this is awesome and goes to show we are doing something right.
Roller derby's unique in that it's a sport that's completely trod its own path in terms of what we understand a sport should be like. It's a culture, it's a community, it enjoys breaking the mould (BUT NOT THE WFTDA RULES). What's particularly special is the often hugely supportive culture leagues create and maintain. Many leagues I know have a welfare department, policies that emphasise inclusivity, celebrate skaters' achievements at every level, and spend a lot of time and effort on making sure skaters feel encouraged. This is also part of what helps women find their strengths that they didn't know they had, and allows for that amazing transformation to an athlete and a proud skater that I love seeing them undergo.
*Although not that unusual, I've also been in a fair few martial arts clubs with a stronger female presence!
NB: This post's generally talking about women (and I generally mean self-defining women), but a lot of men also may have negative body image or relationship to their body and similar experiences that will apply to engaging in physical activity.
How does your league encourage and support off-skates fitness training from its members? At BRDG, we tend to keep our hall time freed up for on-skates sessions, but as we look to improve and become more competitive, it's becoming apparent that we probably need to start sweating a bit more off track too...
With that in mind, our beloved Doc Nox, Lazy Susan and Dame Judi Bench came up with the idea of (in the most literal sense possible) some healthy competition!
And so it came to pass that the BRDG Off Skates Challenge was born. Four teams (named with a nod to some of our skating heroes!), one month, and a Hogwarts' style 'house' system, whereby we're awarded a point for every workout we log.
It's based on an honesty system - no one will check you actually did your workout but sweaty post workout selfies are definitely encouraged! In the run up to the first week of the competition everyone will also be invited to do the Roller Derby Athletics Fitness Test. It's not compulsory, but gives us the option to (hopefully!) see an improvement over the month and feel awesome at the end.
While we may not love the thought of pulling on our trainers after work, to go for a run on a rainy, dark night, we definitely love the idea of some friendly inter-league rivalry - bring it on! (Team Bonnie Thunder Thighs forever!)
What I Do The Night Before A Bout
Strip down skates, clean bearings, check all bolts / toe stops / laces.
Hang out freshly laundered pads to dry and air.
Hydrate; get at least two litres of water down me during day.
Eat a balanced, carb-rich meal.
Mentally focus, practice positive projection, meditate.
Carefully read through my team's default strategy. Twice.
Watch inspirational derby footage.
Lay out freshly pressed team kit on a chair by my bed.
Get an early one.
What I Actually Do The Night Before A Bout
Open kit bag. Reel from stench. Realise no time to wash and dry pads. Eye up Fabreeze.
Sit down to clean bearings. Rage over lost skate tool.
Locate skate tool. Sit down to pull bearings. Knock glass of hydrating water all over carpet.
Remember promise to contribute to cake stall. Abandon bearings. Despair over lack of vegan margarine.
Open laptop to read through default strategy; overwhelmed by pre-bout Facebook notifications. Close laptop.
Back to bearings. Team mate calls to discuss pick up times. And who's going to the after party. And that funny thing that happened at scrim yesterday.
Fire alarm goes off. Cakes are ready.
Dig out team kit. Search frantically for lucky sports bra. Peel off inside of washing machine drum. Hope dry by morning.
Remember untouched giant water bottle. Chug. Hydration for the win.
Up all night peeing.
Last weekend, Bath Roller Derby ran their first ever public bout! Presenting a double header, offering a mixed opener and headline West Country showdown, we had a blast (and did a win!) Now that the dust is settled and the bruises have developed, here are the top ten lessons I learnt from running our first public derby event...
1. Watching People Fall In Love With Derby Is Amazing
Our first bout sold out! Just shy of 400 people filtered through that hall, and the vast majority of them were derby first timers. It was incredible to see so many folk 'get' the game, start to recognise the tactics deployed, go crazy for lead jammers, scream encouragement at fallen blockers - and remember how it felt when we went through the same emotions. The picture above says it all really!
At BRDG, if there's one thing we like more than a three hour bootcamp, it's a four hour bootcamp.
So when we got the chance to book in an epic Sunday session with Violet Attack, captain of the mighty Birmingham Blitz Dames, we jumped at it faster than a jammer who's spotted a cheeky little chance on the apex.
Delighted to report that our online merch shop is open for business! Just in time for our first public home bout; the Blood Bath Double Header – get yourself kitted out in our trademark sunshine yellow, ready to cheer us on from the suicides!
We've also got a range of black and white tops (because really, who can ever have enough scrim kit?) and some really lovely smaller bits and pieces (badges, stickers, keyrings etc)
And if you're planning to come along to the Blood Bath Double Header, just use promo code BOUTPICKUP to save on shipping; we'll have everything ready and waiting for you at the BRDG merch stall :)
Sheffield – Inhuman League
This day was basically of a write off! Long story short – communicating with Sheffield previously had been going great. We’d swapped about four emails together sorting everything out. Their last email said “All good you’re welcome just let us know what day you’re arriving” – I emailed back to arrange Wednesday the 27th.Due to juggling a million other clubs and campsite arrangements I assumed this was sorted – I left it at that. I admittedly never chased it (lesson learnt there!) and it wasn’t till i got there I realised something was wrong. No-one was turning up. Hummmm! I emailed again as I had no way to call. They were super lovely in their emails previously, so I assumed there was a change of plan on this session or something. Oh well – I love wearing derby kit anyway so I wasn’t at all annoyed – just disappointed as I was looking forward to getting my skates on. It just added to the adventure of this whole tour and dealing with unplanned moments.
Liverpool (4 days / 3 nights)
After waking in the services it was around 10.30am. The car park was empty when I arrived late at night and naturally by this time it had become quite busy. First thing I did was whack my jeans on and go to collect my knee pads etc. To my horror they were ALL gone. My heart sunk at the fact I had possibly misjudged crash pad thieves who roam around service stations! As I scanned the car park – to my relief yet utter horror I realised it must have been a windy night and my entire crash pad set had been scattered everywhere randomly around the car park. Dashing all over the place picking them up, I must have looked like a right chimp! Thankfully I managed to collect my pads in one piece but it felt like a scene out of crystal maze! One little wrist guard had gone astray for a while though. I found it about 50 metres away under a car. I’m glad the car owner didn’t see me whilst I was lying on my front wriggling around under his car fetching it! I never considered wind. Sometimes I work out the most complex of things – other times I simply don’t think of the most obvious! Lesson learnt there next time they’re going to be velcro'ed together tied to to a wheel!
Day One - Birmingham: Central City Roller Derby
After packing till about 1am and finally making it to bed I was totally mixed with emotion. Excitement, nerves, apprehension and lots more. I was up at 6am to load the van and head off. I went via Gloucester in the morning for a job interview. I was worried how I'd perform as I'd had about 4 hours sleep by the time I nodded off! Anyway it seemed to go OK (ish) but we’ll see. I felt like a right knob jockey driving a van in a suit and heals! Rest assured first services I came to I got changed. I had hours to kill before reaching Birmingham. Part of this trip is about ‘slowing down’ as well. I'm usually forever dashing from A to B and I'm always late and never seem to get things all done in time. So, as a first lesson to myself I casually lingered at the services. Got the guitar out and strummed a few tunes. Got out my new jetboil water canister and made myself a coffee. Then I realised I was hungry so had my first cous cous with mackerel – absolutely lush. Anyway 2 hours later (which felt very surreal)I headed off to Birmingham.
I arrived at 4pm and training was at 8pm. Hmmm what to do – another coffee and read a book. All of a sudden I woke up at 7pm – I’d caught up on some sleep and perfect timing to be ready for 8pm training!
All the historic goings on of Bath Roller Derby!