This question waited in the wings for a while because we were not sure how to best answer. Even though it's been a while since you submitted it, we'd like to answer it. We know it will help others, too. We sincerely hope you've not given up, and if you did, we want you to lace those skates back up this instant.
Many people find themselves in this same situation, especially in leagues that are newer and are still figuring out how to run a business, train skaters, be competitive, etc. This sport is a run by volunteers who want to see their league develop and grow. Every team that exists is learning the best practices to do this in real time. Sometimes structures need to change and sometimes there needs to be a culture shift in order to survive. Please do not see this as a personal attack, but as a positive thing for the league that will help sustain them and grow into a bigger, better league. League 2.0!
The real question you should ask yourself is: what do you want to do? If you want to skate, skate. If you want to NSO, NSO. The only person that can dictate your roller derby career is you. It sucks to feel like you’re being left behind and it really sucks to feel like you have no hope. Trust me, I’ve been there. But there is hope, you just have to make it for yourself, by putting in the work. Derby isn't something at which you can excel if you're committing half-heartedly.
Six weeks of bootcamp is a lot of time to hone your skating skills. Do you have access to rinks where you can go to their open skating sessions to get extra time? Can you skate outdoors? These days, there are tons of resources online for learning how to skate. Pull up YouTube vids and blog posts and take some notes. Cross-train! Cross-training is so important for upping your skating abilities. You are better able to control your muscles and tell your body what to do, and the healthier your cardio vascular system, the less winded you'll be during drills. Here are some links to cross-training resources: Fitness Blender, Roller Derby Athletics, and our own blog post on weight lifting.
You also need to shift your mindset. Instead of telling yourself that you won’t pass and accepting failure before you’ve even started, why not try working on positive self-talk? You absolutely will fail if you go into it thinking you will, but if instead you say to yourself, “I am going to try my hardest to succeed,” you’re taking positive steps forward. The brain is a powerful thing and it can either lead you to failure or you can use it to trick your body into doing things you didn’t think you could do. Don't think of failure as this imminent thing that will upset you a lot. Think of every test as an opportunity to learn and grow, to level-up. Get used to failure. You'll fail a lot, and it's good. If you have a mental breakdown every time you fail in derby, you'll be a very unhappy skater. No skaters, not even Team USA skaters, never fail. They just don't let it stop them from trying again and training harder.
Even if you don’t pass the first time, take that time to volunteer for the league! Fill as many NSO positions as you can in order to better learn the game, because skating skills are not the only important part of playing roller derby. Learning the rules takes a whole lot of time and the earlier you start understanding the rules, the more ahead of the pack you’ll be. Watch WFTDA’s YouTube channel of past D1 games. A skater who knows the rules is a very important skater, and as fresh meat, you will stand out! You’ve already gotten a jump on this new round of fresh meat because the league allowed you to attend practice, even if it was on the outside. You can DO IT!
Gravy & Tesla
Some time has passed since you submitted this question (I had a concussion, so life was put on pause!), but I want to answer it because I know how hard it is to find the motivation to continue anything after a fallout. To me, the answer is an equation:
Time + Reevaluation + Confidence = Healing
A lot of people figure in the time, but forget the reevaluation and confidence, so let's address those.
Why are you playing this game? We all have different motivators, sure, but to strap wheels on your feet and let other people slam into you, you have to really want it. So, why are you playing? It cannot be that you just wanted to hang with your friend who joined with you, not anymore. Maybe in the beginning that was part of it, but really think about the way derby makes you feel. Not how people make you feel, but how skating, hitting, jamming, and blocking make you feel. If your answer is, "I'm playing derby because I love derby," then you're all set to rekindle that passion. If your answer has anything to do with needing a buddy, and the actual skating doesn't factor in, then maybe it's time to let go. There are a million other ways to hang out with like-minded folks, so you needn't torture yourself with forced social interactions if they aren't healthy.
Derby is your sport. It's yours. You own it. I don't think you should let anything or anyone, or any crappy feelings, stand in the way of you doing what you love. Be confident that you're going to continue doing something that makes you happy, even if you have to wade through some emotional sludge for a while. It isn't forever, I promise.
Full disclosure: I cry after practice sometimes. I cried this week! Sometimes the feels just stack up and things feel awful. It's important to shake the tears and fears off, splash some water on your face, and get back down to work. As much as we all say we "just want to skate," derby really is an inescapable social vortex. We can't get away from the fact that these guys and gals are in our circle, but we do have control over how we handle our interactions. Choose to handle yourself with poise, kindness, and control.
I hope you'll find your passion in the physicality of the sport, in the growth, because at the most basic level, even deeper than the sisterhood or the scoreboard, derby is a skill. Improving a skill, really experiencing personal growth, is a fantastic thing. When I'm feeling blue, I gear up and practice lateral hops or grapevines in my living room (yeah, my living room is set up for skating). When I catch myself feeling awkward or emotional at practice, I consciously make the decision to practice a skill instead of focusing on the bad feeling. Don't run away from the feeling, just accept that it's there and move on, channelling the fear or doubt into progress. If I'm skating in a pace line and feeling sad about a social conflict with a teammate, I shake my head a little and say to myself, "This drill I'm going to focus on staying close to the line while weaving, and picking my feet up when moving laterally." Get a goal, keep a goal, even if just for that drill. If you spend your practice time feeling shitty about someone else, they win. You're officially wasting your time and money, and everyone else's time. Ain't nobody got time for that!
I recently expressed my own fears about social issues in my league to a derby mentor. She's been skating a long time, and she's witnessed all kinds of drama. She's also a stone cold badass on eight wheels. Her advice made a lot of sense. She said, for her, derby was more about training and less about making friends, and if you're learning and getting better, then that should be what matters most. Friends are just a bonus if you make them! If you're anything like me, you'll overanalyze things to death and make yourself miserable in the process, so stop that right now. Remember why you keep lacing up your skates.
Tesla's Top Five Tips for Reigniting the Derby Flame
So, you're a little down. What can you do to feel the derby juices pumping through your veins again? Try one or two of these! They always help me.
My wish for you is that you'll let some things go, hold your head up, and be real. Be kind, be genuine, and work hard. If you love derby, play derby. Don't let the drama win.
Dear Mr. No Stop,
Plow stops, plow stops, plow stops. They are definitely some of the most important stops in this sport, so I understand your frustration. I actually had the opposite problem and grew up as a pigeon-toed weirdo, but I know a few skaters that had/have the same problem as you, with the same symptoms.
The disclaimer before I start recommending things is that I am not a professional, just a person who is interested in the technicalities of things. You can take what I say and try them out or you can say, “This sounds stupid,” and seek out a true professional. Either way, I want to help because I know that a lot of people suffer from the same problem and I appreciate you asking this questions so I can attempt to help all of you bow-leggers out there.
One reason that you may be having trouble getting your legs in the correct position for stopping is because your glutes might not be strong enough to keep your legs there. This is actually a problem that a lot of people have. Glute weakness is very common and even if you’re going to the gym, doing squats, deadlifts, and lunges, chances are you glutes are still not getting targeted enough. Luckily, there’s a guy who’s done all the research and has written an article to help you fix this and make yo ass stronger: Dispelling the Glute Myth. These exercises can help you control your legs so you can keep your leg/foot in that plow stop position.
Another thing you could try is visiting a chiropractor, a physical therapist, or (if you happen to be in Texas and one of these is near you) an airrosti. It will take more than one session, but they should be able to adjust you and help you with the range of motion in your hips, which will help you make that crazy plow angle.
And you were definitely on the right track when you suggested yoga. Before doing yoga, I had the opposite problem: I could not spreadeagle or mohawk for the life of me. Like I said, I had always been pidgeon-toed. When I was little, the doctor even suggested breaking both my hips to reset everything (uhhhh, yeah no). So when I tried to do spreadeagles around the track, I would just eat it. I actually thought that this would be something I would never be able to do and basically resigned myself to not being able to do it. And then a yogi joined the team. I started going to classes and realized, holy cow, my hips are really, really tight. I talked to her and was able to get the names of a couple of stretches that would help me loosen my hips up and I did them on my own. Now I can *almost* hold a spreadeagle to the outside of the track for more than a few seconds. And I can hold an inside spreadeagle like there’s no tomorrow. Now, I don’t know for sure what the stretches will be for someone with the opposite problem, but I’m sure there is something they can tell you that will help you gain better control over your lower half.
The simplest thing I’m going to tell you is to just keep doing them. Do them all the time. Do them during your warm-ups. Instead of relying on your go-to stop when you are doing something simple that requires stopping, like getting water, bringing it in to listen to your coach, or lining up in a paceline, make an effort to a plow stop. Go a whole practice or a whole week doing nothing but plows. Make sure you’re challenging yourself to do them and not relying on what’s comfortable. Do different kinds of plow stops. Do one-legged forwards, one-legged backwards. Do one-legged stutter stops (like a plow, but instead of keeping your wheels on the floor while putting your foot in front of you, you lift it up and put it back down in front of you). I am emphasizing one-legged things because you can get a better feel of what your muscles are doing and where you’re feeling the burn. When I do a heavy amount of one-legged stops in one session, I really feel it between the back and the side of my upper thigh, like between my IT band and my glutes. Because of this, I know that these are the muscles I need to make stronger to get better at plows. One thing that helped me with my one-legged plows is something that TXRG skater Slaughtermelon told me: squat way down low, like you’re picking up a penny near your non-plowing skate. In order to be effective at these, you need to get ultra low, to the point where it feels awkward at first, but you’ll realize how much easier the stop becomes when you do it.
Also, as a fresh meat skater, there’s one thing that you might not’ve realized yet: once you become a better skater overall, the skills you had trouble with before become magically easier. So once you get more experience with skating, things like these will become increasingly easier without having to target that specific skill. So keep skating and keep trying, work on strengthening your glute muscles (it will help with everything derby-related), and get advice from a yogi. And if you feel like you could benefit from it, seek some outside help from a professional. Good luck and plow on.
p.s. A word of advice to all fresh meat: loosen your trucks. It’ll blow your mind, I promise.
Dear Lone Wolf,
You are a success story waiting to happen. You matter, you have what it takes, and you have a decision to make. I could sit here and tell you stuff like that all day, but it might not make a bit of difference to you, so I'll tell you a story instead.
Picture the Texas Rollergirls Texexutioners. Some of the best, most aggressive, and strongest women in the derby world. Where did they all come from? They weren't born on roller skates. Some of them come from the exact beginning you described. One in particular has a story that matches yours so well that she gasped and sighed when she read your question. We will keep this anonymous, though, and tell you her story without revealing her name. Things are more fun that way. Let's call her Jane.
Jane tried out for a derby team with friends, clad in rental skates, with zero skating experience. She had spunk, though, and she made the pick. She was the lone freshie in a league that didn't have time to teach her. Maybe they didn't have the skills to teach her. Maybe they just didn't care. They should have, but it is what it is. You can't force people to take care of you. She went to practices. She skated around the edge of the track while everyone else did drills. She watched, tried, and taught herself. Years later she realized she learned some things incorrectly, but she DID learn them.
She kept going to practice. Other skaters came and went, maybe, but she kept going. Eventually she knew enough to practice with the other skaters, but she wasn't ready for hits. They hit anyway. Now, I'm not saying this was good or bad, but it's the way hundreds of girls have had to learn... she got demolished. Over and over. Practice after practice, hit after hit. And she kept coming back, and she let them beat her down. She learned to get out of their way. She learned to dodge hits, challenge arms, and juke blocks. She was told to ref sometimes to get her out of the way. Jane didn’t know how to ref, but she watched youtube videos and tried anyway. She learned patience, perseverance, and the value of will. She was willing. She wanted this derby thing. Jane got better. She’d drive a few hours for away games. She kept going to practice. She took more hard hits, learned more skills, and she kept going to practice.
Eventually, she was a senior member. She had come to practice, come to practice, come to practice. She put the time in on her own to improve, and it worked. She topped-out in her league and moved to Texas where the Texas Rollergirls immediately recognized a kindred fighting spirit. She may have started out as a Bambi-legged lone wolf in rentals, but she's a Texecutioner now. And I'm not talking a 10 year journey, here. A few years. A handful of years. I say this all the time, but it's written all over the walls of derby history: You will get out of derby what you put in.
As for your new league mates, do not feel guilty or worried when they take time out to teach you. Soak that shit up. It is in the league's best interest to teach you. You are the future. Recruiting skaters is one of the hardest things for leagues to accomplish. They got you, and you're valuable. If they teach you, express your gratitude, and work really hard. Show them by your determination that they are not wasting their time. If they give you a water break, do 10 push-ups before allowing yourself to drink. If they teach you a new skill, ask for feedback once you've tried it a few times. If they break or huddle and you have nothing to do, do squats in the corner. The more promise and willingness they see from you, even if they don't act like it, the more they will be interested in teaching you. Training someone is not miserable, and it helps the trainer, too. Training someone who is determined, willing, and up-beat? That's a gift. Now, that advice assumes that this feeling is all in your head. If your fellow skaters are acting put-out that you have to be trained? Get the crap out of there.
Getting the crap out of there leads me to this: A bunch of derby teams locally? HOORAY! You are blessed! It's not a crime to look around. Email some of the other teams and ask about their fresh meat practices. Most teams will let you view, if not skate, a couple of days to try it out. Maybe another nearby team has an awesome freshie program! Maybe all of the teams have the same problem you're facing. You won't know until you go! Are there some girls on the other teams that you know? Or girls on your own team who used to skate with a different team? Usually skaters move around a little until they find their place. Don't be afraid to do the same. Why did you pick your team in the first place? Sometimes certain aspects of a particular league can seem really appealing until you skate with them and realize they aren't perfect. Right now, skating is skating, skills are skills, and being with a team who will train you is important. Just know that if you don't find a team to train you, you CAN do this. You can survive and thrive. Just... keep going to practices. Keep pushing. Keep trying hard.
So, chin up, Lone Wolf. You are gonna be just fine. Stay low, keep going to practice, and show them what you're made of (awesomeness and stardust).
Dear Stagnating Sally,
This is a great question and definitely one that goes through a lot of people’s minds. I come from a similar situation, where sometimes it was very difficult to stay motivated in my own training when it seemed like the few of us that were giving everything we had were not getting much back in return. We’d have five people at practices. We’d have people back out of bouts on the day of. We’d skate with 9 skaters. We’d cancel bouts because of an overwhelming lack of fuck giving. Why do some places seem to succeed and some places struggle? Is it demographics or is it the culture of a city? What did they do right? And out of all of the hours of sleep I lost over your exact question and all of the mulling and debating, why or why not, I do not have an easy answer for you. But I’m sure you did not expect an easy answer. Everything I’m about to say is grounded in my own experience of a very small league in a very small town, but hopefully some of it will be of benefit to you and your league.
Basically, motivation for improvement and competitiveness comes down to the individual. What does each person join the league for? Do they want a fun way to exercise? Do they want to make friends? Is derby their therapy? Do they want to be part of the culture? Is this their right now? Or, for people like you and me, is this their future? These people all have different goals and different ideas of what derby should do for them (or what they should do for derby). This being said, it can be hard to change the level of dedication of people who have no interest in pursuing this as anything more than a part-time endeavor. And while this is okay for some leagues who have enough members to have a rec league, where people need to do nothing more than show up and skate once or twice a week (cross-training optional), it’s very hard for small leagues that really rely on every member to keep the business afloat.
Marketing is a big, big part of the success of a team. The more you can recruit members, the more members you’ll find who want to be as into it as you are. Make sure you have a dedicated Fresh Meat training program, because this is important for keeping those members around. They need to feel important and to feel like the league wants them there and will take care of them. Also, when there are more rosterable members available than roster spots, there is a (good) chance that people will work harder to make sure they are rostered.
Another type of recruitment event that my old league had was for referees and NSOs. I’m not talking a line at the very bottom of the skater recruitment flyer saying, “Also recruiting refs and NSOs!” I’m talking a dedicated referee and NSO recruitment, for them only. If your ref and NSO numbers are between 0 and 2, HAVE ONE OF THESE EVENTS. We created a ref/NSO training committee and took 12 weeks and two hours of practice time per week to make sure these people were trained. Yes, we had to take time out of our own skating, but usually only one person had to do that per week, and the training person rotated every week. And yes, people had to do work outside of practice to create lesson plans, but it was not hard or time-consuming. This was, hands down, one of the best events we’ve ever had. We gained at least seven ~SUPER FABULOUS AND AMAZING~ dedicated as fuck members. And when there is a support group of people surrounding your league (giving it a little league-hug), picking it up, helping you train and get better, it can definitely up the dedication from its members. It can boost the morale of the whole league and make everyone WANT to be better.
Having this support group makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy and really helps the attitude of the members overall. Speaking of attitude, how close is the team on a personal level? Do you guys put a lot of trust into one another? Is everyone pretty close friends? Do you do activities together outside of practice? If the league doesn’t have the greatest relationship, maybe feeding that aspect could help people want to be there and want to dedicate themselves. Take some time out of practice to do some fun on-skate games. Have a movie night at a member’s house. Do some bonding as a team.
As another option, perhaps you could initiate a rewards program or some type of incentive that members get for cross-training. Maybe a league-wide competition where the member who does the most squats gets their dues waived for the month. Or every time you workout, you put a (quarter, dollar, insert monetary amount) into a league jar and your name into a separate jar and the winner of the money is drawn at random, but the more you workout, the better chance you have, something like that. There are lots of possibilities for little workout contests.
Another option to help your league up the competitiveness is to combine with another close-by league. And this may not be feasible for your league, because it is a big undertaking, but if it is, it could be a very viable option, if the stars align just right. Do you come from a small town or city where there is another league within 30-40 miles? Maybe you each have 7 members who are dedicated to training, cross-training, and competition? That gives you a full roster for an A team. The members who might not be as competitive could be a B team. Of course, this requires a lot of details to be sorted out and will not be an easy transition, but for two leagues in close proximity who are in similar situations, this could be an option.
If none of these things seem to help, then focus on your own goals and your own training. Go to open skates. Skate outside. Watch footage. If you have to stand in line while waiting to do a drill, use that time to get better at a random skill. Join that other league that’s 30-40 miles away and dedicate yourself twice as much. Take time to practice what you need and find solace in knowing that you are doing what you need to do to play on a competitive level. Maybe you can bring some other leaguemates along with you to skate or to workout, which will inspire them be more competitive.
And if you really, really want to be competitive and your team is not hacking it for what you need, then yes, move. Get out of dodge. Find a city that you like and feel like you could be successful in and move there. I know moving is hard and that maybe it’s not ideal for many, many people, but it is an option. It can be very hard to leave your team/life/city/everything behind, but derby is derby and everywhere there is derby, there are great, amazing people who will welcome you and who will be happy that you are there. There will be a vast wealth of knowledge and you will learn things that will blow your mind. There is experience and opportunities and places for you to dig in, and to dig deep. Your roller derby life will be satiated. And it will be amazing. And it will be just what you needed.
Here at iamrollerderby, we know that our favorite sport is AWESOME, but it can also be confusing, emotional, and downright frustrating. We also know that there are some questions and concerns you'd rather not voice, some battles you're fighting silently. Those questions make you feel like you're alone sometimes, but you're totally not. Whatever you're feeling, someone in derby has likely felt it, too. Maybe not in your league, maybe not in your Facebook friends list, but somewhere. Somewhere out there is another person (or 12, or 158) asking the same questions, looking for the same answers. We're hoping you'll be brave enough to submit an anonymous question and let us help, so that everyone can benefit from bringing the situation to light.
What is Dear Derby?
Dear Derby is advice for the derby world, because Abby doesn't know anything about cheap shot low-blocks or whiny league mates.