Crawling before you roll

It seems there are a lot of you lovely ladies who are landing on my blog page by searching for various roller derby subjects. Some of the common ones have included derby-related injuries (kudos to you, “roller derby saved my soul but broke my…”), tall girls skating, hot pants, sexy thighs, and a variety of roller derby drills. But possibly my favorite one of them all was the one that came this week: “roller derby surviving year one.”

That rookie season can be a huge challenge for any skater. You’re learning to control your body in ways you’ve never thought of before — unless you grew up playing hockey with the boys, and then you’ve got a head start. You’re learning the rules of the game and having to hear veterans scream, “BACK BLOCK!” at you because you haven’t figured out how to slow yourself down before entering the pack. You’re trying to suck up the pain as people are telling you to squat lower, but really, your back feels like it’s going to revolt, fall off of your body and run away. You’re on the sidelines puking from layouts, doing the 25 in 5 in 100 degree weather, or from taking a hit that may have cracked a rib. And who can forget — you’re learning to deal with countless other women who are all as passionate, strong-willed, and loud as you are.

It’s a lot to deal with. But believe me when I say we’ve all been there.

Rookie Wretched (before my thighs burst out of my shorts all Bruce Banner style, obviously, just look at that horrible form!)

There are a few key things I feel all rookies need to know to help them survive that first year, because don’t forget — you ladies are the future of our sport. Survival is what will keep it going long after the rest of us have pummeled our bodies into retirement.

Wretched’s Rules for Survival

  1. Listen to your veterans and head refs. If you’re not sure about a call, if you’re wondering why you’re constantly being sent to the box, if you’re being told to not use toe stops or to practice your crossovers or to squat lower — listen and don’t complain. Your teammates want you to get better just as badly as you want to get better. Veterans and zebras know what they’re talking about, and they’re a resource for telling you how to be a better skater and overall derby player. Treat them with the respect they deserve and they will love you for it.
  2. Get better gear. Upgrade your boots and plates. Buy the expensive bearings. Invest in the wheels. Spend the extra money on a good helmet, a better mouth guard, and the pads that feel like pillows. You’ll be a much better skater when you invest in better equipment.
  3. Watch the game. Roller derby isn’t a sport that’s easy to understand immediately. In fact, the game changes so much every season that we’re all having to adjust — even the vets who have been around since the resurgence. New rules are being developed quicker than leagues are popping up across the nation. Just don’t let it overwhelm you. Stay glued to Derby News Network or go watch other leagues in your region — you’ll be surprised what you can learn. Don’t forget to apply what you learn when you’re at practice.
  4. Get in shape. Work on your endurance. Lift weights to strengthen your bones. Do plyometrics to improve your speed, quickness, and power. It’s good for you and your team.
  5. Find your inner warrior. This is a huge one — discover how tough your mind can be. Get inside of your own head and tell yourself that you can do it. I used to be petrified of getting hit by girls on my team. Today, I take hits from some of the most solid blockers in the history of modern-day roller derby. The key you should remember: they once started where you did, only you probably have a lot more girls to look up to as mentors than they ever did. Even the tiniest girl can be a beast.
  6. Don’t forget: you could be roller derby’s next rock star. I’m not saying you should act like you will be — because if you do, I give your teammates permission to shamelessly slaughter you over and over again. But seriously, any one of us could be the next Suzy Hotrod, Atomatrix, or DeRanged. Or, check out one of my favorite teammates, the darling Annie Maul. Because seriously — THIS COULD BE YOU.
  7. Practice makes perfect. Don’t make excuses for skipping practices. Even if you’re bruised and sore, if you’ve had a bad day, or if your blisters make you want to sob as you’re jamming for two minutes and you think your toe is going to crack open and bleed all over the floor (I know I’m not alone there). The more you go to practice, the more you’ll be on top of your game. Do it for your derby sisters!

These are just a handful of tips, and I decided to stop at lucky number seven because I’m tired and have to  gear up for my own practices this week. Another silly reminder that my friends are probably sick of hearing me talk about: I’m only mid-way through my third season, but I’m proud that I was able to make it from breaking a bone during my rookie season to making the Kansas City Roller Warriors All Star team this year. Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can. Even though it still feels so completely surreal.

All grown up with so much still to learn.

Don’t give up. You’ll make it through. And I can guarantee you’ll be a stronger person because of it all. I swear, once again, roller derby will save your soul, even if it breaks your __________ .

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