Quick guide to getting started in roller derby

Guest post by Suzy Snakeyes

Suzy Snakeyes is a roller derby lifer. She has been skating with the LA Derby Dolls since 2003, and now she’s here to help newbies prep for roller derby tryouts.

Photo by Ryan Williams - Rawtography - www.rawtography.com
Can we talk about roller derby?

I’d love some real advice about starting out with the sport. I’ve been curious about derby for years now and I’m almost at the point of being stable enough to commit to practices, bouts, and travel. I just discovered that the league in my area already held tryouts this month, so I have some time to prep myself for the next round of tryouts, possibly in 6 months.

Given that I have no four-wheel skating experience, don’t own any gear, and have no idea how to practice, where to go, or what to do, getting started in roller derby? -Craftykylee

So you want to play roller derby? First of all, congrats on officially making one of your better life choices! Aside from being a fun and challenging way to get exercise and explore your athletic side, roller derby has some astoundingly fantastic side-effects including increased confidence, immediate and massive expansion of your social circle, and the opportunity to exert physical violence in legal and, in fact, highly encouraged capacity.

Roller derby has been experiencing quite a comeback since a group of women in Austin decided it would be cool to form a league back in 2001. In the last thirteen years, roller derby has been one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and one of the only widely accessible full-contact sports available for women. Today it’s pretty common for at least one roller derby league to exist in pretty much any city in the United States, if not multiple leagues. There are enough roller derby skaters worldwide to hold a Roller Derby World Cup (which is real, the second of its kind, and taking place in Dallas this December)!

So with all that said, is it really possible to go from zero skating experience to roller derby bad-ass? Speaking from my own extensive experience as well as from years of teaching others, my answer is an unequivocal HELLS YEAH! Here are a few key things you can do to get prepped and ready to embark on your new and exciting life as a roller derby kicker of the ass.

GEAR UP

Step one is to get yourself some proper roller derby skates and gear. Yes, it may be tempting to go get some thrift store skates and cheap pads to start out. Ill-fitting skates will give you nothing but blisters and grief. And cheap knee pads can likely leave you with some bruised and busted knees. So consider this an investment in your hopefully long and fruitful roller derby career and choose wisely.

Your best bet is to find a derby-owned skate shop and let them help you get outfitted, ideally in person so you can try skates on before you buy them. Derby Owned is a great resource of retailers of all kinds that are owned and operated by members of the derby community. You can search that site to see if there is a derby skate shop near you. If there isn’t a shop near you, you can always work with them to figure out what set-up works best for your needs and your budget and order online.

PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE

Once you get your skates and gear, it’s time to put them to use! There are a few ways you can go about learning and practicing skate skills….

First, research the local leagues in your area to see if they have an entry-level skate class that is open to the public. For example, my league (LA Derby Dolls) has a program called Derby Por Vida that teaches beginner level skate skills to the general public. It’s designed as a roller derby fitness class, but it is also used as a “pre-Fresh Meat” program for those who plan on eventually trying out for our competitive program. Derby Lite is another on-skates derby fitness program that holds classes in several cities across the nation. Leagues from all over the nation are recognizing the need to train potential recruits in derby-style skating, so check and see if a league near you has such a program.

If not, your next best bet is to check out local roller rinks in your area and find out if they offer basic skate classes. Although old-school roller rinks don’t generally teach derby specific skills, you can still learn the basics like skating form, stopping, and backwards skating and transitions — all are super useful for derby.

Once you get more comfy on your skates, spend as much time as possible in them. Find an outdoor path, put on all of your gear (safety first!) and practice your skating skills. Wear your skates while you do household chores. The more time you spend on your skates, the quicker they will become a natural extension of your feet and the faster you will learn!

GET DERBY STRONG

Roller derby is a full-contact sport, and sometimes taking a hit can be akin to volunteering for a high-speed car crash. The sport demands a lot of your muscles, your joints, and your body as a whole. So to help avoid injury and to play at your best, it’s important to make off-skates cross training a regular part of your life. Roller derby requires strength (to move people), endurance (to last through a game), speed (to score points), quickness and agility (to move laterally and avoid hits), power (to launch yourself forward and jump fallen skaters) and interval training (for the high intensity demands of each individual jam). If you don’t currently work out regularly, it may be best to either hire a personal trainer (ideally someone who has worked with athletes in sports like football or hockey) or find a comprehensive workout program, bootcamp, or class that focuses on all of the aforementioned areas of fitness.

And sure, I may be a trainer, but I have found Camp Gladiator to be a great bootcamp-style fitness program for a number of derby skaters… including myself!

So there you have it! With the right gear, a bit of practice, and a willing mind and strong body, you can be ready to kill it at the next round of roller derby tryouts! Looking forward to skating with you at Rollercon next year!

Comments on Quick guide to getting started in roller derby

  1. I cannot wait until I can join a team! I even have my name picked out. Spitfire Sally, after the aeroplane!

    • There’s an international registry for roller derby names, so check here first before getting your heart set on a name!

      http://www.twoevils.org/rollergirls/?r=1

      Most leagues now use this more of a guideline rather than a hard & fast rule (it used to be that if your name wasn’t approved you had to pick a new one, but they haven’t been able to keep up with submissions so some skaters would get a “likely to be approved” status and submit, then 6 months later find out it’s been denied because someone else had a similar name approved before yours). But it’s a good place to start, to get an idea of what else is out there & try to come up with something as original as possible! And, it’s fun reading them all. Good luck 🙂

      • I am not in America. Roller Derby isn’t a big thing here. There is no competitions or Roller Derby league so I doubt it is an issue in our little local teams. There is only 4 local teams.

  2. I joined roller derby in February and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made!

    I live in Kitchener, Ontario, and we have a pretty intense WFTDA league (they have mandatory practice 3 times per week, three local teams, and two travel teams), as well as a low contact league which is the one I joined.

    Low contact uses modified WFTDA rules, and most people think it’s the same as derby lite, which it isn’t.

    Anyway, with my LOCO team, we let anyone who wants to join at the first skate of each month, we have a free trial for two weeks, and we have loner gear and skates. It’s possible there might be a similar team in your area that’ll let you try it out for a couple weeks for free.

    I joined the LOCO team for these reasons, to make sure it was something I wanted to do, and also because it’s less competitive and less of a time commitment (I can make it to practice once a week, but three times a week is too much for me). I don’t know if they have low contact derby in the states, but that’s something to consider, too!

  3. This is awesome! I wish I had unlimited time for badass hobbies like roller derby. Someday!

    • Derby can definitely be time consuming, but most leagues have roles for everyone to participate in some way, shape or form. If you don’t have enough time to devote to training at the higher competitive levels, some leagues do recreational derby, or beginner bootcamps or classes. There is a constant need for refs, too, and reffing is a great way to learn the game and participate in a (mostly) non-contact way (accidental contact sometimes does happen). And derby leagues are always in need of volunteer help both on an ongoing manner (PR, marketing, recruiting, etc.) or on game day.

      Long story short – don’t be afraid to research and contact your local league to see what the time commitment is for their skaters and find ways you can participate with lower time commitment if their skater requirements don’t work for you.

  4. I am one month in to a fresh meat program. I started with no skating experience and no gear. Everyone has been super supportive and helpful. Don’t let your body type or skill hold you back. I am getting better every practice.

  5. I just started my Fresh Meat program a month ago! I think it might be a bit more lax than what’s being described in this article, because the veterans who have been coaching us are more than willing to go over the basics of skating. More of a combo pre-Fresh Meat and regular Fresh Meat.

    I would like to add that derby has been one of the most supportive sports I’ve ever participated in. I’ve always avoided competitive team sports because the general attitude around practices and games seemed so mean (to me! I can be extra sensitive), and even when you did well you weren’t given a lot of praise or encouragement. I’m not sporty, but our coach and the vets go out of their way to encourage me and the other newbies when we’re beating ourselves up for not improving as quickly as we’d like. I even started crying a bit during practice once out of impatience with myself, and was met with nothing but understanding. If it weren’t for how kind the team was to me, I’d probably be selling my new gear on eBay by now.

    So, yeah! This is just from my experience, but I’d say that derby is great for those out there who’ve found other sports and sport culture to be too abrasive.

    • Yes, I’ve found this too! It’s a really supportive environment.

      It’s also probably one of the most body positive sports out there.

    • I’ve cried almost every offskate sport session in my first month. Several people came to tell me i was doing great, i should go on, crying is not a problem. One told me she had cried the first time and vomited the second time ! Well I have never vomited but cried a lot (only because I had never done any sport and was crossing every physical barrier my body had known so far).

  6. This is a very important article! A few years ago, I attempted to go from zero to derby, and after two months of skating practice I just never could find the coordination. One day, I would love to try again, and at that time, I’ll be sure to memorize this awesome article. Thank you!

    • Don’t give up! Roller derby is not easy – I have been playing for eleven years and still consider it the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. But it can be incredibly rewarding. It takes hard work and LOTS of practice. Even when you go back (not if, but when – I believe in you!), practice skating as much as you can. Skate in rinks, skate outdoors, skate in your house. The more time you spend with skates on, the more likely you will be to start feeling more comfortable in them.

      I hope to see you on the track someday! 🙂

  7. This month is my 5 year “derbyversary” and I still love it. My best advice for anyone curious about derby is -just GO! Get involved with your local league now. Volunteer until their next recruitment session, but join the league as soon as you can.
    And if you are in Central Iowa, contact me– I am the recruitment director for The Des Moines Derby Dames, and I’ll get you started!

    • 7 year vet here & still can’t get too much! Would’ve never thought I’d be so in love with a sport when I first decided to try it out.

      I’d also add, good gear is worth the investment for sure, but for someone not positive they’ll be doing this for years to come, dropping hundreds of dollars on equipment right off the bat would probably be a significant deterrent. I know I wouldn’t have been able (or willing) to do that when I first started out. I spent just enough to get me started and interested… and once I discovered I *could* do it, and I wanted to do it more and more and more, I was more than willing to spend some more on better equipment. And wooooah was that a great christmas present to myself after skating on crap skates for 5 months!

      Find out if your league has any gear to borrow (old skates for seasoned skaters are still great for someone learning the basics)–if they don’t have a specific loaner program with their sign-up procedure, it wouldn’t hurt to ask around. There’s always old gear skaters have lying around in their “backup” bags, & more often than not would be willing to share in the spirit of derbylove for someone new to the sport.

      • Agreed! I will say, used derby skates are often better than cheap skates you’ll find in a sporting goods store or box store like Target. So if you are able to borrow or buy used, that’s definitely a good route. That said, even cheap speed skates can do the trick.

        Back when I started, pretty much everyone was new – so loaner or used derby skates weren’t an option. I went to my first practice on thrift store skates, and my blistered feet demanded a change pretty quickly. Then I went and bought a pair of Skechers skates. They were cheap, sure, but they were also super heavy and cumbersome. I knew really quickly that they weren’t going to cut it. I ended up ordering speed skates online for about $80 and skated on them for a year and a half! So it is possible to get decent speed/derby starter skates on a budget before making the leap to more expensive skates once you know you’re hooked.

  8. Suzy Snakeyes, thank you so much for this response; I love how through you were! I really feel like I can go for this now and I’m hella excited!

  9. Great article! I encourage anyone and EVERYONE to play derby. I started skating with the B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls rec league (Reckless Rollers) back in June of 2012. I had ZERO experience on quad skates. The program taught me so much in 3 months that I tried out for the league and made it! Skating with my hometeam for 2 years was a gift. A GIFT. The sport itself is so much fun (and lends itself so well to bodies of all shapes and sizes) and I love my teammates like family. I retired this November to go back to school and have babies, but I’m always thankful I jumped in and took the risk.

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