Tag Archives: Fresh Meat

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.