Roller Derby: How to Get Started
If you are just now thinking about joining a roller derby team, we know that a particular cute movie and the resultant media attention have probably drawn you here. Hey, that’s fine—we are expecting you, and that’s why I’ve assembled this handy list. In my other life, we have to provide people who participate in certain activities with what is known as informed consent. That is, we have to make sure people know what they’re getting into. So, I hope this can serve as a brief guide to help you a) determine whether roller derby is the sport for you; and, if you’re in, b) how to get started.
1. Ask yourself: “Why do I really want to play roller derby?”
If your answer is in anyway related to, “It looks like a great way for me to burn calories, just like Zumba/hula-hooping/(enter-latest-fitness-craze-here)!” or “OMG, I saw Whip It, and the costumes are so totally cute! I just have to have one!” or “All my local roller girls hang out at the bar and they look like the coolest chicks ever!” you might want to take a minute to check yourself before you, as according to the proverb, wreck yourself. If you know that you get sucked into a lot of cool ideas but get bored easily and quit, know that derby is a bit intense (time, labor, and cost-wise) to be your new favorite thing for only six weeks. If you’re attracted by the fashion, or the fishnets, or the bad-ass women, make sure you’re also attracted by the sweating, the aggression, and the competition, because, ladies, this is a sport.
2. Do some research.
The first thing to do is get the basics of the sport down. Check the glossary on this blog to get a handle on terms and how the game works. Next, look at fun stuff. Surf You Tube for clips. Visit the sites listed in the blogroll here, like Derby News Network, to get the sweet and lowdown on the roller derby world. Awesome, isn’t it? Now that you’re hooked…
Find your local roller derby league. A search for “roller derby” and your town, region, or state name is one way to get started. A lot of teams maintain websites as well as profiles on MySpace and Facebook. There are some resources, including the WFTDA website and the International Derby Roster, that can lead you to leagues, but in many towns there are brand spankin’ new startup leagues that may not even have a web presence yet. Try surfing craigslist.org for your area—a lot of teams post recruitment ads there.
If your web search is fruitless, ask around. Check your local alternative newsweekly or contact the sports or events editor at your local newspaper. Contact your local skating rink, skate park, or skate shops and see if anyone knows about one. Local music stores are also a good place to check. If you are still empty-handed, try contacting the closest roller derby leagues you *can* find and see if they know of any leagues closer to you.
3. Contact your local roller derby recruitment coordinator.
Leagues vary widely in their levels of skill and organization, and this will greatly affect their desire and willingness to recruit newbies of various skill levels (which, in the derby world, are known as “fresh meat.”) Some teams welcome skaters of all levels and are willing to work with you from your wobbly first steps onward; others demand a higher level of skill to start. Some teams provide a bootcamp to help you get your skills up to par; others expect you to walk into the rink ready to roll (and hit and block), or expect that you will work on your own time to catch up to the team. Some teams will make you try out immediately; others will encourage you to attend a bootcamp leading up to a tryout or skills test. Some teams will cut you from consideration if you don’t make it at tryouts; others may encourage you to keep working with the team until you can pass.
This is why you need to contact the league's recruitment coordinator before launching any further plan of action. The recruitment coordinator will be able to answer all your questions about starting skill level, bootcamp availability, tryout dates, and longer-term questions about the team (like required practice hours, dues, and other commitments.) This may make or break your derby dreams, so you might as well inform yourself sooner rather than later.
4. Attend a bout.
As soon as possible, attend a bout. No matter what you have seen on a screen, you must witness derby firsthand to really understand the mechanics and what you are getting yourself into.
5. Skate. Skatey skate skate skate.
If the bout didn’t scare you off, it’s time to get on wheels. At this point, don’t worry if you don’t have your own skates—just rock the rentals and see how it feels. Skate whenever you have the opportunity, and don’t get bothered by the fact that you’re getting smoked by six-year-olds on the rink. At this point, you don’t have to worry about anything fancy—just get confident on your wheels. With time, try challenging yourself by skating faster, performing crossovers on the turns, or staying in thigh-burning derby position (crouched low, thighs parallel to the floor) for extended periods.
6. Ask yourself again: is this what you want to do? Do you have the time and heartspace in your life right now for derby?
Granted, when you first get into roller derby, things won’t be as demanding as this list indicates. Over time, however, this will change. I’ve provided this list so that you understand what your life might look like once you’ve joined a typical, DIY derby team, and also to provide you with a list of things you may not have considered about the nature of playing a sport like ours.
-I am willing to practice 2-4 times a week, in total anywhere from 5 to 15+ hours, depending on what my team requires.
-I am willing to spend extra time beyond that commitment working on my skills.
-Additionally, I have the time to perform community service, attend fundraisers and other appearances, work home bouts, and participate in other events as required by the team.
-I also have the time to perform duties for my team, such as joining a committee to organize events, helping maintain the website, finding sponsors, advertising and flyering for events, etc.
-I understand that being fit for derby may mean making lifestyle changes, including diet, exercise, and other of life’s joys. I know that I may have to cut back or modify some really, really fun habits in order to perform better or adhere to a team policy (note that this comes from someone who skates as “Retox.”)
-I am aware that injuries are common in roller derby. (Please see our Hall of Pain if you have any questions.)
-I have sufficient medical insurance that will cover me in case of injury.
-I understand that derby is a costly sport to get into, and that even starter gear will cost a couple hundred dollars.
-I can budget for my monthly dues, travel costs to away games, new gear, gear maintenance, team jerseys, practice clothes, and totally cute socks and stockings.
-Were I to get injured in roller derby, I would have a way to cover my expenses and/or lost wages from missing work.
-I am aware that I don’t know everything. I can take criticism, and I am willing to learn.
-When I fail at something, I will try harder rather than give up.
-I can keep my attitude/temper/mouth in check, even when angry or frustrated.
-I work and play well with others. I understand that derby is a team sport, and that my individual actions affect the team as a whole.
-I have sympathetic and flexible friends, family, and a significant other/s who will understand how important derby is to me and tolerate it eating my life and free time.
-I understand that roller derby isn’t just a sport, it is a lifestyle.
- I am ready to act as a part of something greater than myself.
Get it? Got it? Good. If you’ve digested all that food for thought and are still saying, “Yes, I should be able to manage that,” try again. If you’re screaming, “HELL YES, BRING IT ON!!” then keep reading:
When you have committed yourself to trying roller derby...
7. Work out, eat right, and take care of your body.
Do you have to? Well, no. But, like any sport, your performance is compromised when you don’t. Life is about balance, though. I am a hedonist and am not about to tell someone never to eat a delicious bacon cheeseburger or down a fifth of Maker’s Mark ever again. Just think about being a little smarter with your decisions. Turn off the television and get the extra hour of sleep. Go with the side salad instead of the fries. Hit the gym instead of happy hour this week. Little things will get your whole body working better. Don’t be that person whining about how hard endurance skating is with a cigarette hanging out of your mouth. Duh.
8. Skate some more.
Keep pushing yourself to skate harder, faster, more. The more time you spend on skates the more natural it will feel. Consider taking a skate class at your local rink, where you can practice skills and techniques that will help you become a more efficient skater.
9. Gear up.
Depending on your situation, you may need to gear up before starting a bootcamp, or you may be able to get by on loaner equipment and rental skates for a while. As someone of very limited finances, it was this monetary sacrifice that almost made me give up trying roller derby. I finally sucked it up, sacrificed my alcohol budget for a month, and bought pads, socks, and a mouthguard. I was on rental skates for my first couple of months until one of the refs, Bronco, did me a huge favor and sold me a solid pair of skates for $20. They were a size and a half too big, but beggars can’t be choosers, and that’s what kept me skating for several months. It wasn’t until eight months after starting that I had saved enough money for my own pair of skates.
On the plus side, having waited for so long I had learned a lot about gear and got to try a lot of different things out. Rushing in and buying a bunch of stuff right off the bat is not only expensive, but sometimes you find that it isn’t what you really want. So, talk to other skaters on the team—can you borrow equipment? Can you try other things to figure out what you like? A lot of skate shops will also sell you fresh meat starter kits with cheaper pads and skates, knowing that those materials will get you by until you are ready to make a bigger investment.
10. Try out or start bootcamp!
Once you’ve spent all the time you can skating and working out, and you have the requisite equipment, it’s time to give it a shot. Don’t be intimidated by tryouts—the recruitment coordinator will tell you what to expect, and all you can do is your best. Remember, you’re out there with a bunch of like-minded girls who are also getting in to the sport for the first time, so relax, make some friends, and be prepared to learn…and HAVE SOME FUN!
P. S. If you are local and are interested in checking out the Silicon Valley Roller Girls, contact email@example.com for details!
P. P. S. We get a lot of interest from ladies under the age of 18. UPDATE 6/10: We are starting our first junior derby camp this summer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.