My daughter joined the Seattle Derby Brats as Sweetie Sanguinate-Her in January of 2009. She was eight and half years old. It was the single best parental decision I have made with my daughter. She has been transformed physically, mentally and especially emotionally. She found herself in roller derby.
Her mother and I went through a difficult divorce when she was six. As a result she withdrew from her peers and became anxious and vigilant, spending most of her conscious energy watching the clock and caring and tracking her family. She was fragmented, had trouble sleeping, interacting with other kids, and applying herself in school.
I started roller skating when I was five years old. As a result of my lifelong interest, I put all three of my girls on skates by the age of three, but Sweetie was the only one that took time on her own to skate in the driveway and garage. So it wasn’t surprising that she was the one that expressed a cautious interest in derby when presented with the option. She started out in the Tootsie Rollers ages six to ten playing a variation of “flag derby” mostly focused on developing skating skills. The surprise was how this decision changed everything else her life
Two years later she will tell you that derby is the most rewarding thing in her life. Last year she joined the juniors as the youngest skater to play by the full adult rules. She has an obvious physical grace and social poise that always provokes comments when people meet her. She is strong enough to easily pick me (at 175 pounds) up off the ground. She gets straight A’s and rave reviews from her teachers. She does her homework without prompting. She talks comfortably with anyone of any age. She sleeps well. She separates the drama of others from her own choices. She builds trust and friendships easily. In short she has become a centered coherent person with an internal drive to excel and connect.
Skating as a physical outlet has obvious benefits, but is especially valuable as adolescent bodies are changing in confusing ways. Derby girls have an atypical relationship with their bodies, where they value it for what it can do, how it can deliver their own personal excellence. They are directly rewarded for their investment of time and energy. They are more in tune, closer aligned and less self-conscious of their physical nature.
The more subtle benefits come from the nature of the community. Roller derby as a sport is entirely volunteer: nobody gets paid to participate. That means that everyone, the skaters, the coaches, the admins, the officials, they all do it for the love of the sport and the people in it. This passion for excellence and cooperation permeates every aspect.
It’s hard to describe how different this is from the normal activities kids are involved in. The experience of being in a group of people that all share the same love and dedication changes the very nature of every interaction. And it turns out it changes the way you interact with yourself.
This experience is not unique. Personally, my life has been changed by my daughter’s choice. I now referee for both the Seattle Derby Brats and Rat City Rollergirls as Ezekiel Squeal. Parents consistently share tales of their girls’ transformations. The coaches (mostly derby skaters) regularly share how fulfilling it is to be a part of junior derby. The originating head coach of SDB has said she considers junior derby to be her legacy.