I’m guessing if you’re looking at this article you’re either newly assessed, fresh meat, thinking about joining the glorious world of roller derby, or completely lost and unable to navigate wordpress. Congrats to the newly assessed, congrats to the FM with the courage to lace up, congrats to the pre-FM on your stellar taste in sports, and congrats to the person who got here by accident on getting here by accident.
In brainstorming for a decent roller derby topic to write about I considered things I wish I’d known from the beginning. In a Siddhartha lightbulb moment I then realized that ‘Thing I Wish I’d Known’ is itself a worthy topic. So I dedicate this to the newbies and hope this will help you in your fabulous journey of kick ass derbying. For the ease of the reader, I’ve made the important bits bold.
Probably one of the first lessons I picked up on is the quality of the gear we wear. With how expensive the start-up cost of skates and gear is we tend to get cheap shitty gear to start. I totally get it, because I totally did it. But don’t. There are a few pieces of equipment that are absolutely worth the initial high cost, because you’ll end up buying better ones after a few weeks anyway after your body starts to feel the derby hurt. The most important on that list is, I think, is knee pads. Anyone who’s been through a round of FM can tell you that you do a lot of shit on your knees, like giving back alley blowjobs to refs to get out of penalties. KIDDING, guys. Kidding. We just roll our eyes and give dirty looks. (which you should know is a sportsmanship no-no if you read the previous post) But aside from being targets of easy blowjob jokes, FM fall a lot. The degree to which FM fall is equivalent to the degree of offensiveness in my one asshole relative talking about jew bones at Auschwitz as souvenirs (I think he’s Jewish, which makes it even more fucked up.). THAT’S A LOT GUYS. That sweet ass 180 degree derby stop you saw someone pull off like a god damned fairy didn’t get to be glittery and fairy like overnight. There were a lot of falls involved in getting to that point, and our knees take a lot of the brunt. Tailbone injuries and knee injuries are really common chronic issues in derby life, and a lot of the knee pain can be avoided by buying good, sturdy pads. I highly recommend some form of killer 187 pro pads. They feel awkward at first because of how bulky they are, but you get used to it fast.
Another piece of equipment that’s worth a higher initial investment is the mouthguard. In most sports mouth guards are big clunky things that make you feel like you’re cradling Zeus’ dick in your mouth. If you’ve watched a lot of derby you might know that talking and communication are really really ridiculously
good looking big things, which you cannot do with that Olympian dick your mouth. You also need to take out that mouth guard to drink water, which you should be doing frequently at practice. I don’t know about you guys, but our league practice arena is a gross warehouse we share with hockey dudes, who have no qualms with teabagging the benches in between underwear changing. That’s not an environment in which I would want to risk the hygiene of my mouthguard. I recommend the SISU mouth guard. It’s a thinner mouth guard, but it still does a stand up job protecting your teeth. It mold to your upper set of teeth and leaves enough room that you can talk and drink water. It’s recommended by most derby girls for good reasons. The thing you should cheap on out to start with is your skates. A long as they fit you, roll, and have toe stops, you’re good to go. By the time you’re proficient in skating, your skates will be worn to shit and it will be time to get a new pair, anyway. By that point you’ll be able to understand and appreciate a more individualized setup, so spending more later on makes way more sense.
As long as your helmet fits and doesn’t have cracks in it, it’s a decent helmet. There’s not as much variability in the quality of helmets as there is mouthguards and knee pads. Elbow pads and wrist pads, because they don’t take as much impact during falls, are the equipment that you’re better off cheaping out on. I still have the shitty elbow and wrist guards from FM. The elbow pads need to be replaced, because at this point they can’t pass safety checks without being duct taped and they give me derby burns all the time, but they held out for a solid year and some, so they put out their money’s worth.
Speaking of derby burns, the manner of attire is something I wish I’d had a heads up on. You’ll often see derby girls skating around in short shorts that leave little to the imagination, and no doubt at some point you’ll want to emulate that. But before you go investing in a closet full of booty shorts, know this: The girls who wear short shorts often pair them with tights. This is because your thighs are prone to derby burns, which are the result of falling, sliding, and having skin scraped off as you slide. They take eons to scab over and are incredibly uncomfortable as a result. So when you’re stocking your derby closet, don’t skimp on leggings and tights. My closet is overrun with black capri leggings, which I use not just for derby but for all of my workouts now. Get yourself a few pairs of those, they will serve you well.
Speaking of things you should get, thongs. You’re probably calling bullshit on me right now but I swear to god you will get tired of the panty lines and get thongs eventually. They have taken over my underwear drawer at this point because of how often I derby and work out.
To help you not get derby burns, it helps to of take a hard look at what kind wheels you’re on, and whether they’re appropriate for the floor you’re using. I wrote in an earlier post about the virtues that wheels well matched to a floor can do in not breaking your ankle like David Tennant opting out of further seasons of Doctor Who broke my Whovian heart. If you haven’t read that post and don’t know much about protecting your ankles, then you need to go read that shit. Look in the archives of the page, and it’s titles ‘Saving Ankles’. Following those guidelines can save you some nasty surgeries and painful physical therapy, as well as the slipping and sliding that causes derby burns.
Derby will consume your time like my inner fat kid consumes cupcakes, but you will get out of it everything you put in. With that being said, it’s important to maintain balance in your life. Don’t make excuses to skip practice every week, because that’s not fair to you or your teammates, but don’t skip important shit with your family every week for derby, either. Find a balance and stick to it.
Don’t eat like a teenager. It’s common, almost cloyingly repeated logic that your body puts out what you put in, but it’s especially obvious when you do something as physically demanding as roller derby. My best practices do not come after I’ve consumed a bag of cheetos and a Dr. Pepper that day. I feel crampy and easily tired out. When I eat healthily I can feel a difference in my body, and it reflects in my endurance and general play. As a general rule cut out pops and sodas, and limit your intake of sugary delicious goods. The easiest way is to just not buy them, so you don’t have that temptation in your home.
Get to know the rules. It helps to a huge degree in your game if you study the rules early on. You have to pass a written rules test to assess, but starting early and keeping on the rules is the way to go. When you do assess and are cleared for scrimmages, you can do sneaky shit like tricking the opposing jammer into getting behind you when they don’t need to, or jutting your hips backwards at the last second to get them called for a cut. It can help you form and debate strategy, like your jammer using a blocker to back block the shit out of people to make a hole through some tough defense, or the legality of awkward salmoning people before the whistle (I’ll write on article on awkward salmoning at some later point, for those curious). More than anything, though, it helps you to not get penalties, either by making stupid mistakes or getting shit pulled on you by other rule savvy sneaky bitches. All in all, getting to know the rules can only help you and make you look like sneaky, savvy billy rollin’ badass.
Watch derby games. Take a chill day, night, or hour or two to relax and youtube some roller derby videos. WFTDA has a library of WFTDA sanctioned bouts you can go through and stream at WFTDA.tv. There’s some matches on youtube, too. It’s good to watch a mix of both amazing teams like Gotham and some lesser known up and coming teams, so you can see a mix of derby styles and moves in different skill levels. I can’t emphasize enough how much you can learn in strategy, skills, rules and countless other things if you watch derby and pay attention to what the players are doing. You can see what derby is supposed to look like, analyze your weak points, and then set goals based on that.
Last, but not least, be patient with yourself! I’m a perfectionist, so I’m hard on myself when it comes to … well, everything. I get frustrated when I can’t get a drill right, or have a bad day at practice. The truth is we all have bad days, and the best players played like shit when they first put skates on. If you’re struggling with something, ask for help, and be patient with yourself. Hit that son of a bitch skate floor hard, with love and determination, and eventually you’ll get it.
I’m sure this list will only grow as I continue to skate, but for now I hope it serves to help someone as they start derby. If there’s something you’d like to add to this list, feel free to comment. As always, thanks for reading.
PS. I’m not editing this as thoroughly as I edited the last few, so if there are mistakes you should probably build a bridge and deal with it. Because you know what they say: people in glass houses sink ships (5 points if you catch that reference).