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!
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.
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.
by 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.