Three short months, 40 hours on skates, and more face-plants than I’m willing to count, I’ve finally graduated from the Fresh Meat programme at my local league.

For those who aren’t Derby-wise, “Fresh Meat” is the nickname for the crash-course given to any novice skaters foolish enough to strap wheels on their feet and shuffle their way into the terrifying world of Roller Derby.

So, in honour of my graduation, and ahead of a brand new set of Freshies joining up in a few weeks, I thought I’d share some of the thoughts and realisations which have helped me get my butt back off the floor and onto the track. Most of the time.

Kit matters

Don’t underestimate the power of a decent set of kit. For wheeling around a roller disco, all you need is wheels. But to play derby you’ll need skates, crash pads, a helmet and a mouthguard. If you can, don’t settle for the cheapest kit you find – it’s rarely money saved.

Paying a little more will get you pads that will hold up to the job, and skates which don’t leave your feet screaming in agony. Remember that with great communities such as ‘Roller Derby recyclables’ and eBay, you can always sell your stuff later if you choose not to keep up with derby. With that in mind, if you’re on a budget, think about picking up second-hand from skaters who have upgraded, or even borrow off skaters in your league.

I’ll cover this in more depth in a later post, but having pads you can trust and skates you know might be the difference between picking up a skill, and picking up your ass. From the floor. Because you fell down. Because you didn’t nail the skill. Ugh, you the idea.

You learn the meaning of ‘sweat’

And I mean that completely literally. Stinky pads are not a myth, they’re a very real danger. While it’s certainly not the most attractive, it does feel a little bit like an rite of passage.

After all, what says you’ve ‘made it’ as a budding derby girl more than that distinct odour of sweaty plastic oozing from your kit bag?

Concentrate on the basics and the rest will come

One the very first few things we were taught were falls and stops. I understand why, yet for the life of me I could not grasp T-stops nor plow stops. It wasn’t until several weeks in, when we were being shown the idea of cross-overs, that I realised it was because I still was unable to balance on one foot. How could I expect to be able to use one foot as a brake if I was too scared to even lift it off the ground?

A few hours of practicing one-foot glides and guess what? T-stops and cross-overs just ‘clicked’ (though plow-stops remain my nemesis… for now). So don’t stress out if you’re not ‘getting’ some of the skills – just focus on getting your balance and confidence first.

Practice makes… uh, adequate?

Yeah, we’re all pretty sick of the ‘p’ word. We’ve all heard it a million times: “have you been practicing?”, “just practice it, you’ll get it”, “practice makes perfect”. But, you know, there’s kind of a reason why.

I’m constantly astonished at how something which seems impossible one week becomes automatic after only a few hours’ practice. At first, it can seem like no matter how much you try, you’re just not improving. So then it becomes too easy to sack it off because “what’s the point?”.

But don’t stop! You are improving, bit by bit every single time. Even if it doesn’t seem like you are – so keep at it.

Ask for advice… Then listen to it!

One practice session we were trying out a crab-walking drill to help us pick up cross-overs. Needless to say I was stumbling quite a lot.
“Eyes front!” the trainer reminded me.
‘You’re kidding?’ I thought – ‘How can I control my feet if I can’t even see them?!’.
But, defeated, and running out of options, I gave it a try. Guess what? Instantly everything became much easier – my arse dropped low, my knees bent and my feet just did their thing.

My point is this: trust your trainers. Sure, they might make it look easy, but once upon a time they were in the same situation as you – and, believe it or not, they know what they’re talking about.

Their advice might seem counter-intuitive at times, but that’s probably the reason you’re struggling. Your ‘instinct’ is holding you back.

Every hour counts

You can’t measure skating experience in weeks or months – only in hours (and hundreds of them). What do I mean? Well, take a group of freshies. The fresh meat programme lasts 12 weeks – one hour of scheduled training per week. At the end of that time, you could say that all those skaters have 12 weeks experience skating. But realistically, one skater might have only skated for those 12 hours alone. Another could have clocked up 40 hours by training and practicing outside of derby sessions.
So every time you skate, (even if it’s only 30 minutes… even if it’s only 15!) remember that you’re adding time to your total, and that every little bit adds up.

Skating isn’t scary. Well… that scary…

At the beginning, I’d wobble my way around the local roller disco on a Friday night while watching the kids at on the rink laughing and having fun. I didn’t want to laugh – I wanted to cry. How were those kids enjoying themselves? Weren’t they scared they’d fall? Did they not feel the same gripping terror as I did?

‘Why am I doing this?’ I often wondered, since I found skating so stressful.

I began to worry that I’d never lose “the fear”. That horrid knot of tension in my belly, and the spike of adrenaline every time my balance shifted. I’d spend hours on Google, watching YouTube videos and trying to research ways to relax and not hate every second of being on wheels.

Each fresh-meat training session filled me with dread. What new, horrifying skills would we be expected to try this week? Cross-overs? Booty blocks?

But, as the weeks rolled by, somewhere down the line that “knot” unravelled, my arms limbered up, and all of a sudden, skating was no longer the source of anxiety it had once been. Dare I say it was even… fun?

Though skating can seem scary, the only way to get over that fear is to skate. Just suck it up and skate it out.

If you avoid practising because you’re scared, you’ll never conquer that fear.

Don’t get discouraged by other skaters. Get inspired.

When I first showed up on the fresh-meat taster day, I was Bambi-on-wheels.

Every time I skated, it took at least half an hour before I stopped trembling and jerking about losing my balance. While the other derby girls would jump up and glide their way onto the track, I was dragging myself along the walls, trying not to slam onto my ass before practice even started.

I could have let myself get put off, but watching them prance around the hall lit a fire in my belly. I wanna be as badass as these girls, even if I have to fall on my arse a hundred times to get there. Of course, it helps no-end that the guys in my league have been nothing but encouraging (even when I truly didn’t deserve it!).

Now I’m able to at least tag along behind them, I find I’m no less impressed – but rather more in awe, now I understand how much hard work and effort goes into making into a good derby player.