Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Magazine
Merry Khaos, Harrisburg Area Roller Derby
Roller derby may be the most unique situation a newbie can walk into. It is a sport that most people have little or no experience with. Walking into a roller derby practice, alone and untried, can be one of the most unnerving experiences of a woman’s life. Finding a way to take the intimidation factor out of the experience can be key to a league’s retention of new skaters.
Though most larger leagues have specific “Skater Tot” programs to guide young snowflakes through the scary world of roller derby, not every league has a system in place. Whatever the case, bridging the gap between impressionable fresh meat and the sea-hardened vets is extremely important for the health and maintenance of your league roster. If new skaters do not feel welcome or encouraged, then it will not matter how wonderful your recruitment campaign goes: the league will inevitably experience a high turnover of skaters who never make it to certification.
Finding a way to allow the fresh meat to mingle and learn from vets, without the vets getting too caught up in teaching to continue learning, is an important balance to strike. You never know which brand new, doe-eyed girl will be the next Rice Rocket. Before we go any further, however...
a note to the vets: you never thought you’d be a rock star, did you?
Guess what, Sugar: you are now. Even if you’ve only recently passed your skills test, as long as you skate on that track with the rest of the team, those fresh meat look at you as a mentor. They take notes on your derby position, attempt to replicate your stride, and long to know how your Hips of Fury can clear a battlefield with a single swipe! Take this to heart: they will watch your behavior, good and bad. They look at how you treat your team mates, your coach, and yourself. Lead by example. Did a vet help you with your plow stop when you first joined? Pay it forward. One act of mentorship can encourage a skater tot for the rest of her career and will keep your roster competitive and healthy.
a note to the fresh meat: honestly, the vet won’t eat you
Just because you have been skating for two weeks and she has been skating two years, it does not mean she is going to feel burdened by answering your questions. In fact, you may have a hard time getting them to stop talking. If you are asking questions and trying to improve, that vet is going to see potential and know you are as dedicated to the sport as she is. Maybe next time, she will make sure to answer a question you haven’t even thought of yet.
bringing them together on the track
Though vets may want to buy shin guards after pack practices with fresher girls, having vets mix it up on the track doing skills and drills one-on-one will seriously improve a learning curve. This can also show the newbie that the veterans are human too, regardless of how super human they may appear with a star on their helmet.
If you are a vet, it is not the coach’s responsibility to be sure you nab a new girl once in a while. For the sake of the team, it is a good idea to team up with a new girl who may be struggling with a concept you are particularly good at. Also, for the extreme body types, it’s extra helpful for a new skater to be paired with a vet shaped like her. For example: a girl who is long, slim, and has natural speed skating talent may have trouble learning from a girl who is shorter and more blocking-inclined. Matching body types can help freshies conquer hurdles that other skaters may not have experienced.
Conversely, if you are a fresh meat, it is completely acceptable to ask a vet to pair up with you. It is not their job to always come and find you. Learning new skills comes easier when you get different perspectives. That vet will be able to direct you through the drill, which is easier than being told from the sideline. Remember, there is no perfection in roller derby, so do not take it personally if she tells you to watch the elbows or get lower. Her job as a mentor is to help you excel.
Camaraderie built on the track is the strongest way to bond two skaters together. There is a special friendship that can form between skaters when booty blocking TOGETHER; regardless of how many weeks they’ve been skating.
bringing them together off the track
Regardless of the size of your league, events outside of Bout Day can help your league bolster the bank account while encouraging friendships. League members mixing it up (with perfume on, and helmets off) at merch tables or promotional events are able to talk on a level not allowed in a double pace line. They can develop chemistry that can then be brought to the floor in unexpected pairs.
“Meet the Meat” events are also invaluable. These League- Only events give everyone a chance to have fun together without [as many] hip checks. Laser tag, rock climbing, or even just a night hanging out (I recommend a night of pizza and bout footage) can get the conversation flowing.
Another great idea? Hold a clothing swap! New girls can pick up some new threads from vets whose bodies have changed through the athleticism of roller derby. Not only will it benefit everyone’s closet, but it shows new girls the health benefits of the sport, as well.
keep it positive
Derby is a highly competitive, high-impact sport. There will be yelling, tense situations, and personal conflicts along the way. Not everyone will master skills on their first try. Sometimes, pace lines will get slow. However, as a vet, if you lead by example by keeping a positive attitude and focused goals, skater tots will be inspired and put forth their best efforts and attitudes, as well. If they do not get 40 in 10 the first time, help them (drag them on your hips if necessary), and the next time not only will they do it, but maybe they will be the one pushing a newbie, as well.
Both veterans and skater tots are members of the same international family, and everyone is there for the same reason: for the love of derby.