Here you are. You have made the decision to try out for a Roller Derby team. You have been watching other players and now you are thinking, “I think I can do that. But how do I get started without looking like a Doof trying out in front of these players that really know what they are doing?”
You may be having some doubts about whether you can do it and make it. “Am I too out of shape? Too young? Too old? Or, Am I a good enough skater?” Or maybe you are a little bit too cocky, and life is about to teach you a lesson.
So, what can you do to ready yourself for the first tryout?
The first thing to do is take note of your current physical ability. My experiences with Derby have been that you will be welcome for even wanting to try in the first place. Derby is full of players of all ranges of ability. This sport has taken overweight and/or out-of-shape people and changed them, through consistent practice, into fighting warrior machines. Or perhaps you are already in shape and just like the idea of being a skater with the ability to knock another player off the track. Persistence and just showing up are probably the two biggest factors to success.
I asked this question of some experienced players: “What advice would you give to somebody starting out new, as you once did?”
Advice from Nancy Williams includes, “Don’t compare your level of ability to ANYONE else, this is your journey. People progress at different rates, Work at your own pace, Always ask good questions, if you don’t understand a drill speak up and ask for a demonstration. And give it 110%, if you don’t make it this round, don’t get discouraged. Roller Derby isn’t going anywhere.”*
There is a lot to learn in Derby for a beginner starting out. It will be a combination of mental and physical conditioning. Developing a grasp of how the game actually works, along with the rules (of which there are many) and progressing physically at the same time are imperative. Four factors kept repeating from the panel of advisers.
The importance of starting out at the proper level cannot be overemphasized. Karlie Bones said, “Don’t push yourself over your personal limit.” The advice is meant to make sure you don’t hurt yourself, which takes you out of the game. This is not your goal. “Take one little step after another. You may consider starting out as a ref. Reffing is lots of fun and a major game-changer in understanding the game.”
Build up and stick with it. Derby is a sport, and the players are athletes. Training is important to get you up to a competitive level. J’Sicka Rabid said, “While roller derby DOES make you stronger, remember to play effectively. You don’t play derby to get strong. You get strong to play derby. Prepare your body for what lies ahead. Potential for injuries increases due to lack of strength.”
Decker Decker offered, “Don’t get into your head. The moment you get into self-doubt you will lose focus. Mental strength is just as important as physical strength.”
Many coaches and players advocate cross training with derby practice. Decker Decker adds, “To prepare physically, go to a good cross fit place for beginners, I’d say endurance training is very useful and necessary. Two minutes can feel like an eternity.”
Lauren Casapulla said, “Remember, the coaches have been watching before today and every practice is really a tryout. Treat it like another practice, but dress better,” she joked. But she adds, “Take the high road even if someone else is a douche.”
One last important factor for players and teams to consider is age matters…In a good way. Jami Claire has proven that age is a positive factor. She said. “I started at age 61! I’m in training to become a ref! My goal has always been to become a ref. In the meantime, I’ve qualified as a Level 1 NSO in my first year, and I’m the HNSO for my league. Older people may not pick it up as fast because we are not as flexible, and we take longer to recover from the bumps and bruises. but we are frequently more stable and less likely to move on due to ending school or jobs.”
* All quotes are from “ Derby Over Fifty” Facebook Group.
Alpha Bitch (center) is the last player skating of the original starters of the Cajun Roller Girls. A Veteran’s veteran. She has survived a startup and many changes and challenges in the growth of a Derby Team. If you could sit on the bench and get first-class instruction from her, this is what she would say.
“My advice to new skaters, no matter the skill level when starting, is to be a player on the team and own it, not a fangirl. Do not wait for others to tell you that you are good enough to contribute. Do not skip practice because you think you don’t matter. Insert yourself into practices and skills and scrimmaging even if you feel completely overwhelmed and know you will fail miserably. You probably will. Everyone does at some time. Nobody holds it against you if you honestly try.
Listen to the critiques on how to improve your form if you are struggling on the skills and then do it. Every. Fucking. Time. Even if it sets you back some, throws you off balance more often than your usual off balance. There is no other way to get there—you are never going to ease into it your way—and no veteran is going to invest time, effort, and energy in someone who does not listen, who does not first invest in themselves.
Also, expect to be relied upon, hold your own ground and own your space. Do not let it be taken from you, but always forgive yourself when you fail the team in a particular wall or scenario (it happens). Learn from it. Learn to play smarter, not harder. There will always be another pass.”
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