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What We’re Not Telling You About Roller Derby

Photo of the league in matching red jerseys

Photo: Lyndsay Anderson

If you’ve been to a game, an open house or a community event table lately, we might have told you about the wonders of roller derby. We’re pretty excited about what we do, and very eager to tell anyone with a glimmer of interest about the fun you’ll have if you join. We’ve even got a 12-week Learn-to-Skate program coming up, and WE WANT YOU! Really, we do!

But we get that it’s a scary prospect, and some of you might be wondering what we’re NOT telling you, beyond all the excitement we harbour for our great sport. So, let’s be transparent about what we might not say in the 30-second pitch. Here goes!

1. It’s a Time Commitment.

Frankly, progress takes time and commitment. You can participate as much or as little as you like and you’ll still be a part of the community, but you may not meet all of your goals or desires. Practices are 1-3 times a week (more often as you advance), even in the off season, and it’s sometimes hard to fit it all in. Add in volunteering, socializing and cross-training, and you’re potentially looking at a pretty big shift to your lifestyle. The pressure to fit it all in can be overwhelming. Being a part of derby can start to feel like a giant pain in the butt. (FYI we talk about butts a lot.)

BUTT – We do tend to become pretty invested in this sport and the people involved. It (usually) doesn’t seem much of a chore to get to practice, workouts and parties. When it does, you have to give yourself permission to scale back your engagement. You’re in charge and you have the right to re-evaluate anytime (every week if need be).

2. Progress…or Sometimes the Lack of It

Derby looks awesome and just plain badass. At games, you’ll see folks essentially dancing on their skates. It can seem like a pretty sharp contrast if you’re struggling to just skate (or stop!) at practice. Building derby chops is DIFFICULT and comparing yourself to others in the league is a quick way to feel like crap, even if you’ve made huge personal strides (puns are great, hyuck) from the day you first laced on skates. It’s hard not to look at someone else and feel a sense of awe or envy. People you start with may progress faster, because – like it or not – we all learn at our own pace.

BUTT – There’s a place for everyone, with practices and league teams at several different skill levels. It might not feel satisfying at times, but if you can reframe your discontent/envy and let yourself work at your own speed to achieve personal goals, you will still get there. Where you end up has very little to do with how you long you spend at any particular level – some of the A-level players you admire did more than one round in Learn-to-Skate. Ask them, it’s true.

3. Not Every Day is A Good Day

Sometimes, practice brings euphoria. Sometimes, practice makes you feel like a soggy French fry on skates. Frustrations can range from difficulty with a drill to feeling so uncoordinated that standing upright is a challenge. Sometimes, getting hit and hitting others is super fun, and sometimes, it can make you burst into tears, unable to stop crying even though it didn’t really hurt.* Sometimes there’s crying in the car (or shower) for reasons, or for no reason at all. You can go weeks wondering if this is even worth it.

*This is a weird phenomenon that happens to most players at some point. We don’t know why, but we’ve been there.

BUTT – The sensation that practice sucks, we suck, our skates suck and the whole universe sucks…is temporary, we promise. It’s a phase, a cycle, a moment in time. There are also practices where you leave feeling so high nothing can bring you down, and that can last for hours, even DAYS. We get through on the knowledge that the crap feelings will pass, if you keep at it.

4. Sometimes it Really Hurts

Derby folks have a thing for showing off their bruises – usually, we’re kind of proud of the big purple butt kisses and finger marks and whatnot. It’s all a part of showing off how hard we’ve worked and how much we love this sport (and each other). The ache after a good practice can be a pleasant reminder and an incentive to go at it again. Other times, the soreness is just tiresome. Whether you’re annoyed to be sporting an ugly skate kick with your cute dress, or nursing a scratch mark through the 100 YEARS it takes to stop itching (human fingernails are gross), or just SO TIRED of your knees hurting, sometimes we look forward to a few weeks without derby so we can just heal in peace, already.

And, let’s be real, sometimes serious injuries happen. There are strains and sprains and bruises bad enough to make life temporarily difficult, and occasionally there are concussions and broken bones that keep you grounded even longer. It’s not every day, but the possibility is real with derby, as it is with any contact sport...or with walking on the hellishly icy sidewalks in our city – so you might as well have fun and challenge yourself along with the risk.

BUTT – Most aches are temporary. The pain you feel learning to skate (the thigh burn, back ache and butt bruises) is pretty short term. Most times, you’ll either love the way derby makes your body feel and/or be back to normal within 24-48 hours. For the other stuff, trust us, we’ve got all the resources for you and can direct you to the best physio, chiro and massage in the city!

5. Sometimes We Hurt Each Other

In the course of practicing and playing, it’s not unusual for us to damage our friends – and feel really, reaaaally bad about it! We’re a supportive community, and we try to forgive and forget the finger gouges, shin bashes and punches to the face. (Mostly, anyway). Sometimes, those injuries are funny and we all laugh it off, and sometimes, it can be hard not to harbour resentment. Forgiving and forgetting isn’t always as easy as it should be.

Second, even though we embrace our supportive, positive community as part of the fabric of roller derby, crappy personal stuff still happens. Sometimes, people get left out or feel excluded. We forget to check in on struggling members. Interpersonal relationships change, drift apart or come to an end. Tempers flare, frustration unleashes, we screw up and feelings get hurt. People sometimes take home emotional pain along with the physical bruises. Our happy community, with all its commitment to inclusion and positive space occasionally isn’t super happy, or as inclusive as we’d hoped.

BUTT – If we keep our commitment to relating honestly, to doing better, and to being accountable when we mess up, we can keep on building a strong community together.

Here’s where you come in – it would be better if it included YOU. With all the cards on the table, hopefully you still want to join us (or stick with us) – we’re flawed, we’re silly, we’re energetic and we’re committed to keep working on getting it right. Individually, and as a group.

Are you in?

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