Author Archives: friskysour

Volume Two Is on the Way!

I know, I know, I’ve been promising it for a long time. But! The updated version of Roller Derby for Beginners will be available soon! You’ll like it — I’ve updated the information for new times, and added a section for gender-nonconforming skaters. AS SUCH, the book is not currently available for purchase. Just wait, and it’ll be back better than ever very soon.

Thank you for all your support!



How to Waste Money on Roller Derby

Feeling cashy lately? Want to waste money on roller derby? It’s super easy to do! Follow these tips, and you’ll be clearing out your checking account in no time.

Buy skates without getting fitted or consulting a professional

Skates are in men’s sizes, and they’re not supposed to fit like shoes, but go ahead and make your best guess as to what size to get and what brand will suit you. They’ll probably be close(ish) to sorta fitting!

Buy crappy gear, especially knee pads

Your pads will slip repeatedly, and you will replace them. Boom. There goes $35. You’re welcome.

Convince your team to get several new uniforms every year

Obviously, you need a new uniform every year. Why not get a few colors? And matching helmets? And matching socks? And get special shirts made up. How about special shirts made up for a second-half outfit change EVERY BOUT? (All joking aside, you probably do need/REALLY WANT a lot of this stuff, so prioritize, people.)

Buy a t-shirt from every league you come across

Precious memories, sitting in a drawer. Weird how you can go through so many clothes in a week, yet you can barely make a dent in that derby t-shirt stash.

Drink only bottled water

Or, buy a really fancy water bottle and neglect to wash it weeks at a time until it’s so disgusting it can’t be saved.

Don’t clean your stuff, ever

Just buy new bearings and wheels and skates and wrist guards when you reach the end of your rope.

Take as many supplements as possible with minimal research

Did someone suggest some important-sounding supplement, even though you just met them? Better run out and buy it in bulk. That goes for protein powder, too. You’ll find out later if you hate it or if it makes you break out in hives. Wanna go out for a smoothie? Have you tried Guarana? What are electrolytes? I don’t know, but they’re completely awesome!

Don’t put your name on your stuff

Do not mark your skate tool with your name, but do leave it at your bench during scrimmage. Keep chatting it up after practice – you probably got both wrist guards in your bag.

Buy as many new wheels as possible, but do not try them beforehand

Your buddy likes the newest and shiniest thing, so you probably will, too. You’ve been meaning to get another pair that will work well for concrete, because you have two sets you use that you like OKAY but aren’t perfect. Keep chasing that dragon. Never sell or trade.

Don’t show up to practice

People pay for gym memberships and never go. Paying roller derby dues cost the same, if not less, and it makes for a better conversation starter at parties.

Don’t do any planning for your derby trip

Just go with the flow! You’ll be with your buddies, so it’ll all work out.


How do you blow your roller derby budget?


Frisky loves Frisky Sour

Frisky Sour wrote Roller Derby for Beginners.

This post first appeared on little anecdote but I tried to make it better.

Adios, Plateau: Training Your Roller Derby Brain

Getting better at roller derby doesn’t always happen as fast as we’d like it to. We struggle with specific skills, we hit plateaus, we don’t make rosters, or we warm the bench more than we’d like. Progress can sometimes be so agonizingly slow that we start to wonder if we’ll ever be any good at this ridiculous sport.

The good news? Yes, you CAN become really good at roller derby! But, it’s going to take more than just showing up for practice and going through the motions.

Commit to your training. No, REALLY commit to it.

You might think, “I’m going to practice, I’m making attendance minimums. That should be plenty, right?” Well, not exactly. If you’re waiting in the draft pool, or wanting to climb up higher on your team’s roster, you’ll need to do more than the minimum to get there. In fact, you’d be wise to do more than the skater next to you.

Your teammates and coaches are there to support you and give you feedback, but all the advice in the world won’t magically make you a better derby player: you have to be ready to take action based on that advice, and to maintain that effort for an extended period of time. We’re talking weeks or months, depending on your goals–if you’ve got your eyes on WFTDA championships or Team USA, you can expect years of tough and consistent training to get there.

So, ask yourself: when you get training advice, are you going to say, “that’s a great idea,” and then keep doing the bare minimum? Or will you actually go to those extra skills practices, or do that off-skates training routine, or study that bout footage?

Get specific and focused with your goals.

Okay, so you’ve decided that you’re 100% amped to put in that extra training time. What are you going to work on? It seems like you need to work on everything, right?

Well, not exactly. Trying to work on all of your skills and strategies can get overwhelming fast, and you probably won’t see particularly fast progress on any of them, because you’re dividing your time and attention between so many different things.

Instead, pick out a small number of things–as in, maybe two or three–that you can focus on. Everyone has different things they’re good at, and others that they struggle with, so identify a specific part of your game that you’re struggling with, and make that your focus. Not sure what to work on? Ask someone you trust who knows derby and has seen you skate: this is where your teammates, coaches, and leaguemates can help you.

Be nice to yourself.

It’s nice to win MVP awards, get praise from your coaches, and hear compliments from other skaters, but there’s one voice that’s more powerful than any external motivation: Your Own. And, if your internal monologue is full of negative self-talk about what a terrible skater you are, then you simply aren’t going to play as well.

Giving some attention to your mental game can make the difference between zipping through that pack, or getting recycled backwards over and over. It may sound corny, but talking to yourself in a positive way actually does help you perform better. It’s science!

Be kind to yourself, and tell yourself that you can do the thing! Then after that? Do it again. After that? Keep doing it, until becomes a habit. Better yet, think about what you need to feel confident, and create a key phrase, action, or routine that helps you tap into that confidence, so it’ll be there when you need it.

Focus on the things you can control, not the things you can’t.

You can’t control everything in roller derby, no matter how much you might want to. Maybe there’s drama between different players or teams or committees, or politics that you get dragged into. Maybe there aren’t any spots open on the team you want to join. Maybe there’s a flashy new transfer who paid their dues at another league, and now they’re getting rostered ahead of you. There are a lot of things that can happen that affect your derby career, and you may not be able to do anything about them. It’s normal to feel frustrated by that.

The thing is, if you spend your energy being upset about things you can’t change, it becomes very easy to start blaming outside forces when you don’t get what you want. And, when everything starts being someone else’s fault, then you have less control, and then you get more frustrated, and it all turns into a vicious circle of crappy feelings, and you still aren’t getting better at derby as quickly as you want to.

And, energy you’re wasting on things you can’t control is energy you aren’t using on the things you CAN change. Maybe you can’t force anyone to put you onto a particular team, but you CAN train hard and improve your skills so they’ll want to draft you. Maybe you don’t get to decide how many jams you play in, but you can fine-tune your mental game and become a positive presence that your team wants to have on a game roster.

You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it. You have the power to take negative energy and channel it into positive results, and that can make all the difference in becoming the derby player you want to be.

By Shaolin Spocker

Shaolin Spocker helps new roller derby skaters figure out where their strengths lie when lining up in a wall | roller derby for beginners

Photo by Regularman

Shaolin Spocker skates with Rose City Rollers, and is going into her fourth season with her incredibly smart-and-pretty home team, the High Rollers. She likes Star Trek and pie (both baking and eating it), and actually knows kung fu, but has received decidedly more high-fives for hitting people in derby than she has anywhere else. You can check out her web design and photography work–both of which she does better and far more often than blogging–at her creative design studio, Upswept Creative.

When Fresh Meat Gets Stale: Four Years of Lessons Learned

I started skating fresh meat in 2012, just before a big rules change. Back then we had minors and the baseball slide was considered a perfectly safe and valid way to fall, and Gumballs were a new and shiny invention: they were absolutely tiny and had domes.

I had, after some thought, decided to learn to skate, and to play roller derby, so that January, I went along to practice with my first league. A short couple of months later, I promptly overstretched my left hamstring, to the point it all but tore, and couldn’t walk for three weeks or skate for nearly three months. A couple of months after that, I fell off my toe stops doing a stepping drill, and partially dislocated my right kneecap, on a dodgy kneepad that pushed up and under, compounding the fall. (Get good kneepads kids, you’ve only got one set of knees!)

That September, I moved house, city, and subsequently, leagues. That was the first time I saw my group go on to graduate without me.

4 years, 3 house moves, and 2 league moves later, and I’ve completely perfected the art of waving a cheery, and heartfelt, goodbye to my fresh meat friends as they pass out of the course, pass probation, or become B and A Team skaters whilst I cycle back around to learning to fall and stop safely, again.

It’s disheartening, but it’s also okay, so I’ve put together the following 10 Top Tips to help you get over the pain, and make the grade yourself!

1. It’s OK to Feel Sad/Angry/Conflicted/Absolutely Anything You Like
You can be happy for your friends whilst still being sad for yourself, but it will feel weird. It’s especially hard if your league is like my second league, where you had to pass a pre-minimum skills assessment to see if you could join the rec league and learn to scrim, and only two of you don’t pass. Trying to be pleased for everyone and simultaneously quite wanting to lock yourself in the toilets and cry because you didn’t pass is hard.

I’m a strong believer that you feel what you feel. If you would feel like you’re moping to go home, lock yourself in your room and cry, then maybe it’s best to make yourself go to the pub with everyone, but if you really can’t bear putting on your brave face and going to celebrate? Well, you don’t owe anyone anything, take yourself home, indulge in some self-care, have a bath, eat some chocolate, have a cry. This feeling will pass, I promise.

2. Celebrate What You Can Do
So you haven’t passed a specific skill, maybe (like me) you can’t transition to save your life? (No really, 4 years and learning, please, please tell me the secret!) But, maybe you’re the fastest plough (Editor’s note: Or plow, in ‘merica) stopper in your group–that’s pretty cool! Well done you! Remind yourself constantly that just because you can’t do one thing doesn’t mean you’re not great at other things. Similarly, when you master a skill, or just improve on something, however small, have your own personal cheerleading party in your head. So what if it’s taken you a bit longer than everyone else. You just skated the diamond and didn’t slide out! Go you!

3. Try Not to Compare Yourself to Others
Easier said than done, believe me, I know. Girls I was learning to skate with two years ago are now A-Team captains of other leagues, and here’s me, still a rookie. But on the other hand, in those four years I finished a degree and got married to my wonderful wife, so even if I’d had their skill, it still doesn’t mean I’d be an A-Team captain. I just wouldn’t have had the time to dedicate to my team, and that’s okay.

As a side note, if you do find your brain sliding into comparing yourself to others, try to do it positively, e.g., “What skills do I need to learn to be the next Bonnie Thunders?” as opposed to, “Oh Bonnie is sooooo amazing and I’ll never be that good”. It’s all about how you think about it.

4. Have a Think What Else You Can Do to Learn
It’s not just about skating as much as you can (although that helps!); think about what else you can do. Going to open skates helps, as does skating in your local park. The more time you can spend getting used to your wheels the better! I used to do the hoovering on skates at one point.

For me, learning to ref the game has made the biggest impact. I know the rules far better than I did before, and trying to track the game whilst rolling has improved my on-skates skills.

NSOing is also always going to be helpful. You’ll get a feel for the rules, how long everything takes, and you can watch for strategy at the same time, so long as you keep an eye on the score/time if that’s your job!

Sometimes fresh meat starts getting old! How do you keep going after it seems like everyone moves on without you? | vegetarianPDX

Photo by Alison Ankwell

5. Remember You Can Still Learn Derby Inside Out
Everyone should know how to do basic skate maintainable themselves, but equally every league can benefit from a kit wizard. You might not be the hottest on skates, but learn about durometer or how to mount plates and you will be looked upon as a veritable God[ess], especially if you get really good at it. Familiarising yourself with the anatomy of your skates helps too, and you’ll have the added advantage of being able to save money on replacement kit.

Personally, I’m a massive gear nerd. I think it helps because I know everything I could want to know about how my kit works and how I can use that to my advantage.

6. Challenge Yourself
You’ll hear this time and time again, because it’s true, Never Ever stop challenging yourself. If you’re finding yourself going back to practicing stops and falls safely? Perfect them! You can always learn to stop faster or recover from a fall more quickly. If you can do knee falls, try to just knee tap. Already good at ploughing? Plough faster or on one foot. Even the A-team have to practice these skills sometimes; it’s practice that makes you improve.

7. Ask For Help
Maybe there’s one skill that you’re really struggling with. I’ve found asking politely will always get you some tips. Especially if you’re at an open skate and someone isn’t too busy, they can show you how. Or why not swap skills with someone? Maybe you can jump and hop really well whilst they’re way better at transitioning. Show each other your skills and tips. Bonus: you’ll get the combined warm and fuzzy glow of helping someone, and the ego boost of being good at something!

8. Remember Everything Happens For a Reason
Have you ever felt nervous doing a drill for the first time? Or a bit frustrated trying to master a skill? Now imagine those feelings trying to play a game above your level, or indeed playing for the first time at all. Although it might not feel like it at the time, the people passing or failing you in assessments DO have your best interests at heart, not just theirs. Not only is there a possibility of you getting hurt if you’re trying to do something you’re not ready for, but there’s always a danger that you might take someone down with you.

9. Socialise
Just because the girl you started fresh meat with is now skating on a different team to you, doesn’t mean you can’t still hang out together. Socialising is a big part of the sport. Squirrelling yourself away from the fun is just a way to make yourself stop enjoying and start resenting derby. At least, that’s what I’ve found. You don’t have to go to the pub every week, or after every game, but try and go along when it’s fun.

10. Just keep trying!
You can only keep practicing, and trying. And who knows, maybe along the way you’ll learn something you might not otherwise have known. I still live in hope that I might one day pass my minimum skills, and on that day I shall be very proud of myself. And I’m quite sure that, one day, you will too.


Sometimes fresh meat gets a little stale. Tips for beginning skaters who end up beginning over and over | vegetarianPDXby Misha Anker, aka Juke Special

Misha Anker/Juke Special is a trainee ref for the London Roller Girls Rec League. She has been skating since 2012 and is sure she’ll master transitions any day now. She lives in London with her wife and two cats.



How to Start Roller Derby

If I had a nickel for every time I heard “I’ve always wanted to play roller derby, but I don’t know how to start,” I’d have enough to buy a milkshake. Wanna learn how to start roller derby? Step one: OWN IT. Go to the rink. Instagram your feet with skates and write a heartfelt caption about how you’re gonna start living your dreams.

Now you HAVE to start.

Okay, but AFTER that…

Contact a local league and find out what their first steps are.

There may be more than one local league – find out! One will probably be a better fit for your personality and goals. Some leagues have tryouts once a year, and others just let warm bodies walk on anytime. Whether or not you plan to try out right away, get this information ASAP. You might take a month to two to be “ready” to try out and find out you just missed your chance.

Figure out your gear.

Do you need gear in order to try out, or can you borrow it? Can you borrow some to start? Good gear is expensive, and you don’t want to cheap out on your safety equipment. Your first skates don’t need to be top-of-the-line, but you’re probably looking at spending $300. Get someone who knows about gear to fit you, though you can buy skates online after you find out your size. Skate sizes are NOT the same as shoe sizes, and you want them to fit more snugly than you’d expect. Waaaay too many derby skaters I know have an early pair of skates that’s a size too big. (Me, for example.) Most of us upgrade later to more expensive skates later, once we figure out our preferences.

But don’t freak out about your gear!

Take a deep breath and calm down about your wheels. Yes, there are a lot to choose from, but there’s no one “right” choice, I promise. Let yourself make an informed, but not-perfect choice to start. Try a lot of different things. Do wheel swaps. Do not get emotionally attached to one wheel setup. Your relationship with your wheels will blossom and fade as time goes by. Sunrise, sunset.

How to Start Roller Derby | Roller Derby for Beginners

Photo by motox810 via flickr

Skate lots, then skate more.

Just spend time on your skates –- at the skating rink if possible, at any practices you can attend, outdoors (on separate outdoor wheels, please), in your house –- whatever. Live in those damn things. Get cozy. Get blisters. Learn how to start and stop. Turn around in place. Do squats. (Yes, in your skates.) If you can do some boot camps and learn actual roller derby skills, all the better!

Hang out with some skaters or wannabe skaters.

Do you like hanging out with these people? You’re going to be doing it A LOT, so you better! If they have a training program, start as soon as possible. Ask if there’s a certain time that skaters go to the skating rink. If it’s going to be a while before you can try out, you can even find a volunteer job. If you’re going to try out soon, don’t get ahead of yourself. Once you join a league, there will be plenty of opportunity to volunteer. [Insert side eye from every current or retired roller derby skater EVER, all like, yeah, YA THINK?]

Learn about derby.

Watch games online. Read the rules. Go to games in person. Read the rules again.


Hate to break it to you, but you’ve just decided to be an athlete. Start breaking it to your body slowly, with professional guidance by a doctor or trainer as needed. Run, ride a bike, swim, lift weights, do yoga. Any fitness you can squeak out now will pay off tenfold in your early derby career. But you know what? If you’re starting out as a couch potato, don’t be put off. Try a couch to 5K. Do a dance class once a week. Something is better than nothing when it comes to conditioning.

Learn how to take care of your gear.

There are a bunch of parts to your skates — learn what they are and how they work. If you’re lucky, you have a skate shop nearby and a friendly person to walk you through any questions you might have as they pop up. If not, there’s always the internet. Clean your damn bearings.

Learn to take care of yourself.

You need your body for the rest of your life, so don’t wear it out immediately. More training is not always better. Give yourself mental and physical breaks. Read up about helmets and concussions. Forgive yourself for not learning new skills as quickly as you thought you would. Roller derby is fun, but it’s hard.

Ta-da! You should be ready to try out.

Playing roller derby is not all spotlights and glamour. In fact, it’s mostly sweat and dirt and giggling and emails. You’ll love it.

Except for the emails.


by Frisky Sour

Frisky Sour wrote Roller Derby for Beginners, the much-longer answer to this question.

This post first appeared on little anecdote but I tried to make it better.

Front/Back/Back/Front: Positioning in a Jam Start

Starting each jam in a place of confidence – where you can play your strongest defense and most effective offense – is the way to control the first pass, and therefore lead jammer status, and win roller derby bouts. But how do you find that place of confidence? How do you choose your strongest jam start?

Let’s start (ha!) by figuring out, first of all, what all the starting possibilities are.

A Few Handy Definitions

Real estate is real important to this conversation – it’s all about location, location, location. In the case of track location, both teams have to line up somewhere in the thirty feet between the jam and pivot lines. Everyone but the jammer has to be completely in front of the jam line and everyone but the pivot has to be completely behind the pivot line. The jammer and the pivot are allowed to be touching the lines named after their positions. If the pivot has her toestop on the pivot line, everyone else – on both teams – has to be behind her hips. This is pretty basic rules stuff, but I want to make sure we’re all starting off on the right foot in our starts-talk. Okay, that’s done, now for the actual skating part.

Generally, we talk about jam starts in relation to two things: the jam/pivot line and the other team. When I hear “get a front-front” on the bench, I know my team has decided to line up in front of the other team near the pivot line. Likewise, a “back in the back” is a back wall on the jam line. Similarly, you can take a front wall in the back, or set up behind the other team near the pivot line.

And that’s pretty much it, really. Every jam start in roller derby, no matter what sort of shape they might take—flat, braced, wheel, or even those crazy split walls we saw at WFTDA Champs this year—they all fall into one of those four basic categories. Front-front, front-back, back-front, back-back.

So, with those options in mind – which do you choose and why? Which one’s best?

Well… it depends. (Ugh, I know, I hate that answer, too. But it’s true.) It depends on the strengths in your team that you want to exploit, and any weaknesses you might want to minimize – and vice versa for the other team. There are a million permutations of this, but here are the broad strokes.

Reasons to wall up at the pivot line

  • You’ve got a fast, jukey jammer who benefits from a running start to get her speed up
  • You’re down one or more blockers, and you want to be able to protect your points by running away/making the other jammer’s lap as long as possible
  • Their jammer isn’t a speed demon or is more of a pusher-style and you want to make her play to her disadvantage
  • The other team hates pivot line starts for whatever reason
  • Someone dropped some spare change up there

As a side note, pivot-line starts have undergone a bit of a transformation in the few years since I’ve started playing. Back in the bad old days, all blockers started at the pivot line. Rules changed, strategies changed, and jam-line starts were the way to go. When folks started to bring pivot-line starts back, it was called “old school.” Now they’re quite common again—my team used them a ton last season, in fact. What’s old is new again.

Reasons to wall up at the jam line, many of which are sort of the inverse of the above:

  • You’ve got a strong jammer who loves to push, so the sooner she meets the other team, the sooner she can start working them out of play
  • Your jammer and blockers feel more confident when they’re closer together
  • You want to prevent the other jammer from having that run-up space to work with
  • The angle makes your butt look better in photos

Dealing with a power/less jam start

As a rule, if your jammer is the one on the track, you want the pack to be as slow as possible. That means her laps are as short as possible, so in theory she can make more of them in the same amount of time, and your team will score more points. That pack-pace control, and as a last resort, the out-of-play call, are easiest to accomplish while your team is in the back. (Not that that precludes offense in any way, but that’s another article.) That’s why, on a power start, you’ll want to set up in the back. Naturally, that’s the other way ‘round for a powerless jam start.

End of Side A: Which Line Should I Start On?
Over for Side B: What About the Other Team, Though?

This area is a bit fuzzier—I say that knowing that the other bit was itself a little blurry around the edges. It boils down to where your blockers are more comfortable, and what your jammer feels strongest with.

Starting in front of the other team will guarantee that your blockers will have enough space to engage their edges and really own their stops, and a front wall gives your team the opportunity to deny that same maneuverability to the other team. On the other hand, many players feel more adept at playing offense from behind, and a front wall leaves your team open to that – not that offense from the front can’t be equally as effective. A front wall will also allow more space for a backwards-facing bracer, if y’all swing that way. Wink.

On the other hand, being in a back wall is great, too. Particularly if your team is really good at absorbing a jammer’s initial impact—if you’re nice and strong in a low position off the line—then the back can be a really strong position for you. And there’s nothing quite so satisfying, at least from a blocker’s perspective, than owning the other jammer’s position from the first whistle to the final four.


With that, I think I’m going to call the jam on this article. I hope I’ve been able to clarify which starts are possible and why you might choose one or another. Find where you feel strong and own it, but don’t forget to practice your weaker starts, too. Happy trails!

By Sui Jennaris

Sui Jennaris is about to begin her second season as a member of the Heartless Heathers, one of the Rose City Rollers’ home teams. In a past life, she was a figure skater. Her most favorite things include reading on rainy days, trivia games, and mashup Twitter accounts. Her least favorite things are hyphenated flavors, talking on the phone, and writing pithy ‘about me’ statements. She attends Reed College.

Mind Over Matter: On Learning Crossovers

The first time I did a speed trial was about a week after I started skating last winter, back in Chicago. It was at a skate clinic with the Windy City Rollers and while a coach urged me on, I made 20 laps in five minutes. Disappointed, I watched much more skilled skaters around me lap me again and again. Afterward a kind, more seasoned skater told me not to worry.

“You held your own,” she said. “Once you master crossovers, you’ll be faster than me.”

Once I master what now? I thought to myself. While I smiled and thanked her, back then I didn’t know what she was talking about. But later, when our coach first showed our team of newbies what crossovers could do, my mind was blown. I wanted to pull off this killer move that looked awesome and gave your wheels some wings, but it looked impossible.

I was able to wrap my brain around putting one skate in front of the other, but I was still unable to convince myself to pick up that opposite foot and plant it next to the crossing one and push. It just really takes a lot to trick yourself into believing crossing your feet while moving in roller skates is a good thing to do. I practiced other moves with my new teammates but crossovers were still a big hang-up for me.

Lucky for me, there was Steve.

Steve taught a speed skating class several times a week at Orbit Skate Center, a rink then near my old office. I’d known about this class for a long time, and on one fateful Monday last winter I packed my skates and my gear and took them with me to work.

I showed up to the rink a little early. I carted my rolling suitcase containing my skates and parked myself at a cafeteria table. As a birthday party full of kids cleared out, a guy came up to me and asked if I was there for the speed class. I said I was, and we introduced ourselves. Steve was 32 and said he’d been skating since he was 9 — not speed skating the whole time, but he’s been coaching people in it for more than 10 years.

When I walked onto the rink in gym shoes, I was one of four adults: Me, Steve, a woman maybe a few years older than me, and a man older than Steve. The rest were a handful of children. I felt a little disappointed, because the last time I’d skated at Orbit, I’d struggled to dodge kids and felt anxious about knocking into them. I shrugged it off. We ran some laps, did some stretches, and then laced up.

Immediately it became clear to me that those kids all skated much faster than me, by far. And they were all doing crossovers, without a second thought to how terrifying each one was to me as an observer.

We did some drills as a group, and Steve simultaneously took it easy on me while also improving my form and giving me instruction with each attempt. He was a good teacher and could see that I was starting out in roller derby and that I didn’t quite have the hang of crossovers yet.

After class, he offered to stay to help me and one of the kids, one-on-one. He had me skate on one foot for as long as I could while he did a drill with the boy, and after the boy left, he asked me if I wanted to give crossovers a try. It was past 10 p.m. by then and I had a 30-minute drive home, but the answer was still yes, of course.

We made a lap, and when I still faltered, he took a new approach. He had me stand mid-rink, on a foot-tall green, painted line that stretched from end to end of the floor. He had me walk sideways along the line, putting my right foot across the left, over and over. My feet got used to the motion after a sideways pass across the rink like that, and then we skated another lap.

I crossed my right foot over my left and stepped into it all the way, just like I had on the line — only I was moving in a circle, fast. The move made me go faster. I lifted my arms in celebration, and nearly fell over. I crossed over again and again, skating faster than I could quite handle and feeling invincible. I high-fived Steve.

They told us at practice that crossovers are basically mind over matter. Once you get over the mental hurdle of how insane it is, you can reap the physical rewards and go hella fast.

Sure, they seem scary at first, but dang, are they worth it.

By Meryl Williams

Meryl Williams is a Chicago journalist who now lives in Portland. Sign up for her awesome TinyLetter, where you can learn more about her upcoming memoir on skating.


Finding Your Happy Place In Your Walls

Lining up for a jam in walls with your teammates always gives you a little extra security—these are the people you practice with all the time and hopefully enjoy being around, after all—but sometimes, you’ll get the feeling that things seem to work just a little bit better when you line up in a particular way.

Different parts of a wall have different strengths, and when game time comes around, you can choose the position that plays to your strengths.

Or, if you don’t have teammates yet, maybe your fellow blockers in scrimmage have asked you where you like to line up—the inside? the outside?—and you weren’t quite sure what to say. Read on to learn more about where to line up in a wall, and why.

Where Can You Be In a Wall?

A very long-standing and common way to break it down is to assign blockers to lanes. Assuming you have a four-wall, Lane 1 is holding the inside line, Lane 2 is middle-inside, Lane 3 is middle-outside, and Lane 4 guards the outside line.

With the advent of braced walls and more dynamic formations, assigning yourself to a lane might seem less clear. So, we’ll touch upon that, and talk about wall positions in a way that (hopefully) still translates and makes sense.

Lane 1, or Nearest to the Inside Line

Guarding the inside line is of perhaps the gravest importance—
it’s the shortest path around the track, and nobody likes making it that easy for an opposing jammer to get through. So, if you’re in this position, you should have Lane 1 on lockdown.

Do you have a good sense of where you are in relation to the inside line? If you’re the person who always knows exactly how close the inside line is, even in the turns, you should be holding that line! On the other hand, if you tend to drift off the line without realizing it, you might let someone else handle that job.

Are you awesome at finishing your hits? We’ve all felt the frustration of hitting a jammer, thinking they’ve gone out, only to see them just barely squeak past in-bounds. If you’re working in a narrower wall, like a three-wall or a braced wall, finishing your hits all the way to the line will make sure that nobody squeaks past your wall.

Are you comfortable with transitions and bracing? If your team likes to start in a flat wall and then transition to a brace, you could be a great candidate for Lane 1. Players who start on the lines are usually the first to transition into a brace position, whether it’s as a lone bracer, or part of a wheel or diamond formation. (Don’t worry if you don’t know what that is. It’s kinda advanced stuff.) Being quick with transitions and comfortable with facing backwards could be an asset to a Lane 1 player.

Do you pivot often? If your team relies heavily on passing the cap, the inside lane is a nice place to be, if you’re the pivot receiving that cap pass.

Lanes 2 and 3, or the Middle Lane(s)

The middle lanes are the solid core of the wall. If you’re in a middle lane, you’ll need to be strong and also adaptable, so you can support your blocker friends in covering the lines.

Do you have really great forward-facing stops? I like to play on the lines, and one of my favorite qualities in a Lane 2 or 3 blocker is when they have awesome, hard plow stops, so I can easily support their blocking. Jammers who don’t want to risk running up the line often hit and push the middle gap hard. If you can take those hard hits and still stay slow and dug into your edges, a middle lane might be for you.

Are you extra-good about having your head on a swivel? Every blocker needs to have their head up, looking around, and to keep aware of what’s happening on the track. But, while Lanes 1 and 4 have their respective lines as a boundary to fall back on, middle lane blockers need to keep alert to both sides of themselves. If your track awareness is on point, you might try a middle lane.

Are you good at closing gaps and cinching together with your blockers? You have blockers on both sides of you, so you’ll need to be especially on-point with closing up gaps and gluing yourself together with your adjacent blockers, while still staying stable and in control.

Is hammer-and-nail your bread and butter? Middle lane blockers are all set up to deliver that strong hip check out of bounds when their blocker friend on the inside or outside line is holding the jammer.

Lane 4, or Nearest to the Outside Line

It’s not quite as easy for a jammer to sneak up the outside line as the inside line—it’s a longer path, and they’ll need more speed to pull it off—but there are a lot of similar skills to the Lane 1 position that’ll serve you well with holding the outside.

Got a good sense of where the line is? Momentum can make it easier to stay on the outside line than the inside, but it’s still important for you to be glued to that line when the jammer’s sniffing around.

Okay with transitioning and bracing? Again, if your team likes starting flat and flipping into braced walls or wheel/diamond formations, the Lane 4 player is likely to be making that transition.

Do you love hitting to the outside? It’s pretty common for derby players to be more comfortable with hitting or making C-cuts towards the inside line. If you’re good at finishing your hits all the way to the outside line, however, then Lane 4 could be a great place for you—especially if your team tends to work in a narrower wall that covers less track, and particularly if you can consistently finish to the outside without following your opponent out of bounds yourself.

Dedicated Brace

It’s becoming more common, especially at higher levels of play, to start with a backwards-facing brace in your wall, and that means someone has to volunteer to brace. It’s not exactly a “lane” in the strict sense, but it does ask for some pretty specific skills.

Do you have the gift of clear, consistent communication? One obvious advantage of being the brace: you’re facing backwards, and can easily keep your eye on the opposing jammer! Your team will want to use that advantage as much as possible, so you’ll need to be comfy with talking to your wall a lot and calling the shots.

Is your backwards lateral movement pretty reliable? A brace will be more effective at supporting their wall when it can shuffle side-to-side to give support where the action is, i.e. where the jammer is pushing. So, if you’re at least decently comfortable with backwards lateral movement, you could be a great brace.

Got strong arms? Yeah, you’re going to need them to support your blockers. Wet noodle arms are not helpful for support or wall-slowing.

BONUS: Are you fearless when it comes to chest-to-chest contact? Ideally, your forward-facing blockers won’t let this happen, but it *is* possible that the jammer will punch and make contact with your chest… which just happens to be a completely legal blocking zone. Scary! Nobody likes trying to stop a jammer chest-to-chest, but if you’re willing to do it in a pinch, be that bracer. (Hint: being lower than they are will often get you most of the way there!) (Editor’s note: Spocker may have taken some strong contact like this in the past.)

Hopefully, you now have a few simple metrics to help you get a better handle on where you might work best in your wall on bout day. Ultimately, you need to use a variety of skills to be an effective blocker, so being strong or weak in one particular skillset doesn’t mean you have to stick to one specific part of the wall.

Maybe, now that you know what you’re good at, you can take some time to work on lanes where you’re less comfortable! As you get towards higher levels of play, you’ll need to have a greater ability to be dynamic and adaptive in your walls, so it’s definitely worth your time to try different positions during practice. Push yourself and try it!

 Shaolin Spocker helps new roller derby skaters figure out where their strengths lie when lining up in a wall | roller derby for beginners

Photo by Regularman

By Shaolin Spocker

Shaolin Spocker skates with Rose City Rollers, and is going into her fourth season with her incredibly smart-and-pretty home team, the High Rollers. She likes Star Trek and pie (both baking and eating it), and actually knows kung fu, but has received decidedly more high-fives for hitting people in derby than she has anywhere else. You can check out her web design and photography work–both of which she does better and far more often than blogging–at her creative design studio, Upswept Creative.


Taking Roller Derby Feedback Like a Pro

Roller derby is such a chaotic and humbling experience for people. First of all, you’re being judged on how well you physically move around a small, oval track while you have eight wheels strapped to your feet. Now add the fact that people are slamming into your body repeatedly, either on your team or against your team. Roller derby feedback can feel like someone’s slamming you all over again.

Roller derby can make you feel less than graceful, less than effective, and just plain vulnerable. Nobody likes to be vulnerable, especially when we’re feeling awkward. Heap on top of that sensation of someone giving you feedback. Yes, feedback is a criticism, and many people instinctively dislike being “judged”. But think of roller derby feedback from your coaches as a preemptive judgement that keeps you from dealing with the harsher and more final judgement of a referee!

Even vets can feel uncomfortable being on the receiving end of feedback, but you can start your derby career off on the right foot by learning how to take feedback without getting angry, defensive, and frustrated.

Listen. Listen listen listen listen. The number one complaint I hear from vets is that people don’t give much feedback to them. People seem to be more willing to give newbies feedback, so when someone says something to you, listen! You may not want to hear feedback at that moment; high frustration levels tend to make us want to shut our ears off. Don’t just hear the feedback, listen to it.

Take a moment to digest the feedback. The biggest mistake I see derby players make is immediately rejecting the feedback they receive. It’s not easy to take feedback when your adrenaline is pumping, or you’ve just fallen, or have just committed a foul. I see this scenario happening over and over on the track with newer skaters. The skater has incorrectly completed a drill, and the coach tries to correct the action by giving feedback. The skater immediately says “I know!” and skates away in a huff.

Look, I get it. Getting feedback right when you’re feeling the most vulnerable is terrible, but look at it from a coach’s perspective. They see the incorrect behavior and they want to correct it right away. It makes sense intellectually, but when you add embarrassment to the equation, sometimes our first instinct is to reject it. This is why you should take the time to digest it. Take a deep breath and and let it sit in your brain without your judgement getting in the way.

Don’t discount feedback, even when you’re not sure what to do with it right away. This is close to digesting feedback, but sometimes someone is going to give you feedback that you just can’t wrap your head around–that’s when you need to file it away and think about it later. I remember when I was jamming against a veteran skater, and she looked at me and said “never hesitate.” My first response to her feedback was to say “okay” but in my head I was thinking “Whatever! You’re amazing and I suck at this and I’m scared as hell to jam!” It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I really could internalize what she was saying to me; playing derby is all about not hesitating. It’s about being familiar enough with your game and your skills to do what you need to do instantly.

Now I tell that to every newbie I work with, and I’m sure they have the same internal reaction.Sometimes you’re not going to be able to use the feedback you receive, but keep it in your head and it might come in handy later.

Take it with a grain of salt. Some people have an unconscious bias when they give feedback. I’m a six foot tall skater, and every short trainer I ever had was hypercritical of my stance, skating style and general appearance as a skater in general.We all have a point of view, and it clouds how and what we give feedback about. I listened to my shorter trainers, and I still concentrate on getting lower, but there is no way that I can get as physically low as someone who is five feet tall and still be able to skate without my knees being in my face. Take in all feedback but sift out what doesn’t work for you. Remember, the feedback may not work NOW, but file it away and see if it will work for you later.

Be proactive in seeking feedback. If you don’t always understand or appreciate the feedback you’re getting, ask people for specific correction. Approach your coach or a veteran skater you trust and ask them if they will watch for something specific you’re trying to do.I used to have a horrible time going from forward skating to backwards skating, so I asked for certain people to watch me perform my transitions and show me how they did them. It was very educational, because everyone had different tips! It took all of those tips just to get my transitions down, and I’m grateful to each person who took the time to show me how they turn, over and over. Asking for feedback and help is a win-win situation; most people are flattered to be asked for their opinions, plus, you get directed and tailor-made feedback for your skating style. Perfect!


Will you always handle feedback perfectly if you follow these suggestions? Nope. You’re human, and the people giving you feedback are human. Your feelings will be hurt once in awhile, either by something someone says, or HOW they say it. It’s okay to have hurt feelings once in awhile. What’s not okay is becoming someone who people don’t want to help with their feedback.

By Elektra Q-Tion

Elektra Q-Tion blogs at You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Loose Wheel.


The Brand New Roller Derby for Beginners

When we started, this website was a companion to my book, Roller Derby for Beginners. I wanted to have a web presence for people who might be interested in buying the book, sure. But I also wanted a place where I could delete and add pertinent information for people who were new to roller derby: Other sites, stores, blogs, etc. It pretty much served as a Resources section for the book. Things change, you know.

…until now.

Now, I’m launching Roller Derby for Beginners as the premier blog for new and potential roller derby skaters. Some of your favorite roller derby writers will be here, helping you along as you start your journey. Check back often, and follow along on Facebook and Twitter, because this is going to be fun.

Thanks for coming.

-Frisky Sour