Can I Haz Roller Derby?: Big Ol' chunks of wisdom for new skaters

New skaters getting the skinny on skate maintenance from our own skate doctor, Slim Hazy. 

New skaters getting the skinny on skate maintenance from our own skate doctor, Slim Hazy. 

Today's contributor: Frenzal Bomb

Fresh meat advice, right? Everyone has a pearl of wisdom or two to throw around when it comes to giving new skaters the advice on how to best prepare for this new adventure. Google away and you’ll find a whole plethora of ideas and inspirational quotes and suggestions (Don’t get me wrong, I love an inspirational quote!). At Swan City, we often hold “try before you buy” sessions for interested people to come down, try on a pair of skates and get all the info they need to get started in our sport. They are often a bit fearful and confused, and let’s face it; it’s a daunting time. We all remember it. You rock up to watch herds of people on skates speeding past and taking and throwing big hits and some sweaty helmet telling you it’s 27 laps to scrimmage clearance and you think “27?! I’d be lucky to last 27 freaking seconds out there upright in skates, let alone 27 laps! Never gonna happen”. So for our last FM dedicated session, I came up with a dozen little pieces of advice I felt helped me and could help my future teammates with the journey ahead. Since then, I’ve begun coaching FM skaters and been able to add to them through what I’ve learnt and pearlers for new to scrimmage skaters too! Maybe they can help other new skaters everywhere navigate the derby dome a little better too.

1. Roller Derby is a mental game too: Just as much as is it physical, it's mental. It'll push your own mental limitations and boundaries, but where the mind goes, the body follows. You have to maintain a positive receptive attitude and know that you are capable of everything you see the advanced skaters doing, it's all time and practice. Anger and disappointment can also really mess with your head and destroy your game. Don’t give into them. It’s far better to stop for a few seconds, breathe and keep pushing that it is to lose your mind and wear yourself out in a blind flurry – TAKE IT FROM ME! 

2. Don't use the track to work out personal beef, or take hits personally. When you decide to 'pay back' a skater for a hit and target them, you lose sight of everything that is happening around you and your game falls apart. Uncool.  It'll only a take a few games for you to work out that the same skater who cannonball'dyou off the track is hugging the sweat out of you after the game like they just won lotto: feel the love, you guys.

2. Practice outside of training: Get out to a rink, drill yourself with everything you've learnt that week in training, your coaches will notice, I assure you. Even put your skates on and go up and down your hallway, do your dishes in them!

3. Volunteer with your league: you will be surprised at how much you learn from NSO'ing a game and how the drills, skills and rules you are learning suddenly all make sense. Plus you get to hang with other roller derby peeps without the pressure of training, which is always fun! NSO’s are also INVALUABLE to a league and this sport altogether. Without them and officials, games don’t happen, and one day, it’ll be your game that’ll need NSO’s. BBQ a sausage, sell some chocolates: Committees work super hard to keep leagues up and running, and a little help goes a long way. Roller derby leagues are run by the skater, for the skater. 

4. Training is not a place to nurse a hangover: Baaaad idea. If you come to training with a hangover, you're gonna have a bad time. It will affect how much you can physically give and this may make you more prone to mistakes that may injure you.

5. WATER! So important. Drink a lot before you train, drink it after you train, 'cause you'll drink close to 2 litres during a summer session. It will also help your muscles recover after a hard session. Just drink it always really.

6. Don't pull out of a drill: Your brain gives up long before your body does. Always listen to your coaches; they are coaches for a reason. If they are giving you advice, they are not picking on you, they see potential in you and want to help you realize it. Yes, derby position will see your thighs burns, endurance feels like 5 minutes running with weights on your ankles through a sauna, you feel like you are breathing steam. Unless you are physically about to pass out, drop or are injured . . . push through.

7. Move your comfort zone: Comfort zones? Personal space? Best pack them in your training bag with your sneakers when you strap on skates and roll on the track. Isabell Ringer, one of my derby idols, talks about working just outside your comfort zone, so til that scary unknown area becomes your comfort zone. Work at this every training session, and you will see big results.

8. NO ONE IS JUDGING YOU: New recruits at SCD train at the same session as our intermediate/advanced skaters, and I understand the temptation to feel nervous or silly. DON'T DO IT! Trust me. Every advanced skater remembers vividly what it was like to be the new recruit, how out of control their feet felt, and how many times they fell. Every skater out there is mentally high-fiving you the second you skate out.

9. Thank your coaches after a session. Thank the officials and NSO’s after every game. They volunteer their time and write coaching plans, train, study rules, take tests and travel to help you learn and play. Again, without them, games don’t happen.

10. DON’T YELL AT THE REFEREES. Don’t sass them, don’t swear at them, control yourself and don’t throw patties on the track. Just get yourself off the track and into that box as quick as you can, your 30 seconds doesn’t start til you are in there. It’s disrespectful and you look like a turkey. I wanna swear, but I won’t. Turkey. Your bench coach is watching, and if they feel it needs to be reviewed, they can do so. It’s not up to you to carry on like a pork chop. You really think yelling “HOW IS THAT A CUT?!” is gonna make a ref go “OMG, I’m so sorry! I obviously got it wrong! HANG ON! Stop the game, everyone go back to where they were 30 seconds ago. . . aaaaaaannnnd go!”?. Yeah. . . No. I didn’t think so. Take it from a reformed mouthpiece that is being karmically served now they’ve started ref training, Don’t do it.

11. You are already someone's hero: I used to scour the fresh meat photos and burn with jealousy and fear. I wanted so badly to do it, but I totally believed I couldn't. The second you come to training as a brand new recruit, there is someone out there longing to have the guts to do what you've just done. Remember that.

12. This might be a controversial one, but social media is not the place to display your anger/frustration/annoyance with another skater, official, your league, or any league. There. I said it. I know it’s your FB/IG/Tumblr/twitter/whatever and you have every right to write what you want, but it’s a small world and roller derby makes it even smaller. It’s just not a good idea, dude. Vent to your cat, your mum, to a trusted friend who has no idea about derby and still thinks a goat is a barnyard animal . . . just not on social media. Most code of conducts you’ll sign when you join a league will have a social media clause written in, where you agree to not put nasty things on facey (I’m sure they word it better) so more reason not to do it.

13. Exercise: Okay, okay, I know. I actually started roller derby because I HATED the gym. Now I go to the gym to get better at Derby. Once you start skating, and see how strong their legs are, you'll want them stronger. When you see what a shoulder hit can do, you'll want a stronger upper body. No gym membership required! Simple body weight exercises are great! Squats, push ups. Ask your coaches for advice. Check out Roller Derby Athletics for at home bodyweight derby-specific workouts. Ask around for PT’s that play derby.

14. The derby monster eats your life: Some of us, me included, fall in love hook, line and sinker and live and breath Roller Derby and skating in general. If you are anything like I was, remember to make time outside of this for the people in your life and to remember why you wanted to start skating. Go to a rink and just boogie to beats. Skate around your local park. Just enjoy the feeling of flying on 8 wheels, nothing like it.

15. Don’t compare yourself to other skaters. I often see new skaters in a group become openly frustrated when they struggle with a skill another new skater gets easily. It doesn’t work like that, not everyone understands skills the same way and not everything comes as easily as others. Even advanced skaters compare themselves to each other, and it never leads to positive things. A bit of healthy, friendly competition, sure. Challenge yourself to chase down your friend in endurance while screaming “HERE’S JOHNNY!”. . .  but when you compare and scrutinize yourself to others, you see your hard fought skills as inferior, and your head will let you down. You just focus on being a better skater than when you walked in that night. My sister tells me “The daisy doesn’t compare itself to the sunflower, it just blooms”. Be the daisy.

16. YOU CAN: We don't use 'can't' in Roller Derby. You CAN get lower, you CAN transition, you CAN jam, you CAN make your 27 laps. You can, trust me. It will take time and practice and sweat and you'll feel frustrated and want to yell and scream at your feet, but you can do it. Reach out, lean on your teammates when you need that support, let them lift you when you need it. Listen to their advice; they have stood where you are. Your coaches are there to get you where you need to be, give them what they need to coach you which is a positive attitude and skates, that's it

Got any to add? Did any of these help? Want to ask some advice? Let me know in the comments below!

Til next time!

Frenzal