I have been playing this sport for a long time now, well 4 plus years which is a long time in UK roller derby. I have played around 40 bouts and I am a director of my league. At times I have been so in love with the sport I couldn’t imagine doing anything else and at times I have been so drained by the attitude and behaviour of others I have wanted to quit and never go back, I actually have a pain free exit strategy, just in case. Once due my own performance, I have chucked my skates into my case and walked out of practice planning never to return and other times, I have nailed a move or skill that has alluded me for ages and I have felt invincible on the track, vowing never to give up the game. I believe this is normal. From being fresh meat to being a veteran, I have learnt a few things about myself and about my teammates, I have also learnt a lot about roller derby. There’s a couple of things I would like to share. You probably all know them already, but I wish someone would have spelt these things out to me/my league four years ago. These are the two most important ones:
1. Do not try and change your skaters into different skaters...
Every team is made up of individual skaters, each with their individual strengths and individual weaknesses. This is okay, in fact its excellent, don’t try to change it. The fantastic thing about roller derby is the team that wins is not the fastest, the fittest, the hardest team. Roller Derby is won by the team that has the best strategies and the best implantation of said strategies. The best strategy? Playing to your strengths. The nature of the roller derby means that it isn’t a one size fits all kind of game. Everybody can bring something that is an asset to your team, not just the obvious like the bigger girls are harder to get round and hit hard or the small ones are nippy and excellent jammers, but as individuals everyone’s style is different and will have ways that give your team the advantage in a game. You may have this one skater that is so good you wish everyone else was that good. Or maybe your coach is particularly good at teaching one way to skate. Either way, this does not mean that all the rest of the team need to change to match them. A good team is a diverse team that can handle any opposition and your strategies should to able to accommodate all your skaters, not the other way around. This is also why you shouldn’t try to use other teams strategies, it may work really well for them but your skaters are different. This is not to say you shouldn’t encourage your skaters to improve, you should always do that, and try to correct small issues, like dragging your foot (My God Woman, you will snap your ankle!!) but if you have a skater that is a very good at positional blocking, don’t try and force her to be a hitter and a visa versa. It would be lovely if you could have a team of machines that all jammed and blocked and all skated at the same skill level and all thought as one and reacted the exact same way...no wait, why would anyone think that was a good idea. It’s a dystopian nightmare. Not to mention, once you figured out how one of them reacts or thinks, you would have a single way to beat every skater on the roster. You need to be able to change it up. If your faster than light, graceful, nippy jammer doesn’t work, chuck on the aggressive bulldozer like jammer. If you walls can’t hold back one particular jammer, you need to chuck on your big hitter who can nail her. There is no one single aspect that makes a player great or makes a team unstoppable. Accept your skaters as they are, good and bad points and work out what you can do to make each and every one of them look great on track.
2. Roller Derby is pretty much like school.
After years of bullying at school, my natural mindset is that most people don’t like me, I am quiet until I trust you and a bit shy when I first meet people (stop laughing!) Over the years I have learnt to hide this with an air of comedy or aloofness, depending on the audience, but this still only a mask to cover my crippling insecurity. There has been a couple of times I’ve come home to hubby crying because someone blanked me or didn’t invite me somewhere and I thought we were friends. It’s ridiculous for a grown women to behave this way, I know that (my team are going to ride me about this for months, although it will be a break from the Bieber jokes at least!), but being in a roller derby team can be like being in the cool group at school. You know you really shouldn’t be there, your please you are but secretly your constantly waiting for someone to realise they made a mistake and send you back to the library with the other geeks. Every league is basically a group of women (and/or men) that have been thrown together and stay together because of a love of the sport. No one has control of who is there and you get all types of people. Like school, groups will form, social norms and rules will be dictated and despite being adults, childish behaviour may appear. What I have learnt to tell myself is that most of it is imagined or unintentional, it feels like school but we are after all adults. Despite sometimes feeling like so and so doesn’t like me and no one wants to be my friend, on the track I trust my team mates, they trust me. That is realistically the most you can hope for. It’s definitely the most important part. As a league you have to accept that some people are going to get along, some people aren’t. Bullying should not be tolerated but other than that it is out of your hands. Friendships will be forged, some will last, some will wane and at some point people will get upset. These are not things you can control. You can’t force everyone to be friends or to like you. At the end of the day, it’s not important. Encourage league get togethers but remember mandatory bonding rarely works. As a skater you have to accept you will have some real friends on your team, ones you can count on, but there will also be some that only speak to you when they are telling you the jammer is on your inside during the bout. But also remember, it doesn’t hurt to go out of your way to say hello sometimes. There is a very good chance that you have a lot in common with nearly every other women on your league. I can hand on heart say there is not one person on my league I really dislike. A few annoy me occasionally (see afore mentioned Bieber Jokes reference!) and on occasion there has been times I could strangle some of them. While is are a few I don’t know very well, it’s not out of choice, I only have so much time but I do try and overcome my shyness (I heard you snigger!) and try to speak to them, it usually ends in all kinds of awkwardness and me leaving them thinking I’m a bit of a weirdo, but I do try. You don’t have to be best friends but they are your team mates, you never know, you might make an unexpected friend.