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.
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.
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!