Some say it takes a year before derby starts “clicking.” It may take longer for you. It will seem like an eternity. You will have lots and lots and lots of jams in which you have no idea what the fuck is going on. You will have to focus on one thing at a time and not let yourself get overwhelmed. After scrimmaging with veterans, you will come off the track many times apologizing to them for making mistakes. They expect you to make mistakes — there’s no need to abase yourself. Ask what you can do better. Listen and try hard and don’t beat yourself up for your inadequacies.

That’s not to say that there’s never any need to say sorry. Some people like to say: “There’s no ‘sorry’ in derby” or “There’s no crying in derby.” Both of these statements are false. You can injure other people by the way you play, especially when you’re just starting. Sometimes, despite your best intentions, you will act like a hotheaded douchebag or a whiny baby with sand in your clam. Be self aware, and own up to your errors when you recognize them.

If you stay humble and work hard and pay attention, things will begin to make sense over time. Go to practice. There’s no substitute for it. Derby gives back what you put into it. No amount of wanting, no amount of fancy gear, no amount of wishing to be great will substitute for practice, especially when you are first developing your skills. Repeat: There’s no substitute for practice.

You will get bummed out. You will believe you need a “break” to deal with your disappointment at your own slow development and failures, to “reset.” You do not need a break. Stop your whining and get your ass to practice.

Don’t be a fishnet girl. Derby is so much more than funky outfits and roller skating and acting tough. It’s more than a scene. It’s an exciting grassroots movement led by women whose lives are being transformed practice by practice, bout by bout. Be a part of it. Play the sport. Do it.

You will be disappointed. You will see people who started at the same fresh meat boot camp as you get better at a faster rate. You will put your name up for a roster and not make it. You will be an alternate. You will get injured and have to sit on the sidelines. You will have a bad jam. You will have a bad practice. You will have a bad game. It’s not a big deal.  We’re a team. No one wins or loses by herself. Just give it your best shot, and be nice to yourself when your best isn’t good enough.

Support your teammates. Their successes are your successes. Don’t get jealous when someone grasps the sport more easily than you. Don’t hate on the girls who make rosters when you don’t. Those are your teammates. Buck up and give them a high five. Get over yourself. Work harder. Don’t blame your coaches, the floor, the refs, your gear, the girl who got picked when you think you should have. No one wants to hear that, and it isn’t the problem anyway. Get over yourself. Work harder.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t apologize for asking questions. You have a lot to learn. But also: listen. Don’t drown out important information with the sound of your own voice. Read the rules. Watch derby. Go to games, dial up WFTDA TV and DNN on your laptop. Figure out the skaters you want to emulate, both girls on your own team and the stars of our sport. Set your own goals – don’t wait for your coaches to give you feedback. But also: ask your coaches for feedback. Listen to the refs and don’t ever talk back to them. Ask them questions after the scrimmage is over. Buy them a beer at the afterparty. They love to talk about rules, and you have a lot to learn from them. Learn an NSO position. Learn all the NSO positions. Ask a veteran for tips on how to do the skill you’re trying to master. Practice that skill over and over and over again. Practice it more. Don’t forget to practice it on your bad side.

You will make a fool of yourself. You will fall. A lot. You will miss the jammer. You will jam and not make it out of the pack for a full two minutes. You will get a penalty for something perfectly avoidable. You will make many stupid mistakes. Don’t be afraid. Embrace it. All of it. This will be one of the most fun times of your life. Enjoy it. Don’t ruin it with negative self talk. Things will improve if you stick with it. You will get in better shape than maybe you’ve ever been in your life. Your teammates will praise a killer move you made. You will make rosters. You will have great practices. You will win bouts. You will get lead jammer. You will knock the opposing jammer down and the crowd will cheer. Repeat: this will be one of the most fun times in your life. Enjoy it.