learning to fly
Author: Alexandra Slamilton, Happy Valley Derby Darlins
It is a truth universally acknowledged that junior roller derby is incredibly important.
Or, at least, it should be a universal truth. Roller derby teaches many important lessons, and junior roller derby teaches those lessons at an early age, and allows the players to take and use those lessons throughout their entire lives. This helps junior derby players to be more confident and self-assured, not just in derby, but also in life.
Yes, being active is very important for kids. Playing in any sport at all teaches them to be good sports and to try. Not to mention that it’s good for their health. And yeah, that is important. But there are also a lot of life lessons that can be learned by playing junior roller derby. And this goes for the skaters as well as the trainers.
One lesson that is learned in junior roller derby is that size does not matter. On my home league’s junior derby team, we have skaters of all sizes, shapes and skill levels. The important thing is that everyone is treated the same and are all given the same opportunities to learn and to progress.
When all of the skaters are given the same opportunities, amazing things can happen. Junior roller derby players, particularly teenagers, can have improved body image, self-confidence, leadership skills and so much more. Junior roller derby provides that in a world that will often shoot kids down.
Learning to play on a team is a valuable life skill. A vast majority of situations in life, whether it is school, a job or anything else, requires a person to know how to work with a team. The earlier a person learns how to be part of a team, the better off they will be later in life.
Junior roller derby also teaches kids that it’s okay to not do well. Roller derby is not necessarily automatically easy for everyone (it sure isn’t for me). But if we teach our junior skaters that falling is part of learning, they learn to turn their failures into triumphs. It is okay to fail, as long as they keep trying.
This is a very important lesson that they can take into their lives outside of derby. Not everything in life comes easily to everyone. But if kids learn early that it’s okay to not get it right away, and they just need to keep trying, they’re more likely to be able to use that in their everyday lives. They will be more likely to persevere and keep working at things that are not easy for them.
Along with that, skaters can also learn to not compare themselves with someone else. I know that can be a struggle to learn. And that’s not just true of the junior derby players. Adults can have a hard time learning it as well. It is so easy to think that, if someone else is a better skater, we should just give up. But the only person we should compare ourselves to is simply that: ourselves. And that is something kids learn with the help of junior roller derby.
It is so important to find joy in the journey. Look at where you started and how much you have progressed. That’s the most important comparison to make, not just in roller derby but also in life. If you are having fun and learning, you are winning.
As trainers, we have also learned that kids just want to be loved, accepted, taught and recognized for the good that they do. It doesn’t matter what that good is. Maybe they listened to their bench coach and called off a jam at the right time. Maybe they excelled at a drill they have been struggling with. Maybe their blocker line held really well. Whatever it is, they just want to know that someone is proud of them. When someone is proud of them, they are that much prouder of themselves.
If a child is struggling, one of the best things you can do is point out the good.
Focusing on the positives helps them move past the struggles and keep trying. When a junior skater is given the chance to excel and be proud of themself, you’ll be amazed at what they can accomplish.
One of my junior derby players said that derby helps her to be brave. She talked about stage fright, which I had never considered derby helping with before. According to her, playing in bouts can sometimes feel like there are hundreds of people watching even if there are only a few dozen. And a player can feel like they are out there all alone. But junior roller derby can give the skater the bravery and skills to manage feeling like that, knowing that they have their team around them to lean on and to support them.
Working with junior roller derby players, I have learned that kids are some of the most resilient people. Given the right chances and encouragement, they bounce back really quickly from problems and setbacks. Junior roller derby gives them exactly those chances and encouragement. Playing roller derby allows a kid’s confidence to just blossom and grow and helps them out so much in life.
Junior roller derby is an amazing thing for the skaters as well as the adult trainers. There are just so many lessons that can be learned by everyone. There are few things as cool as watching a junior skater nail a drill they’ve been struggling with or break through the pack as a jammer or hold the line as a blocker. And watching the light go on when they understand something is awesome.
Adult roller derby teaches a lot of the same life lessons as junior derby, but there is something really special about watching the kids grow and learn and, sometimes, even surprise themselves.