Letter to a young derbyist
Posted on March 24, 2013
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.
All so true! I’ve heard it takes about three years to “get” the game.
How did you manage to know all the things I exactly needed to hear? I’m at the precise point in Fresh Meat where I can skate quite happily around the track in a tra-la-la way but get me to take a hit, a whip, a push, and I crumple to the floor. It can be a little demotivating to not be improving at the same rate as some of the kids around me, but moping on it won’t make me better at derby stops! We did our first scrimmage last session and it took me until the last jam to decide to have a go at jammer. And I fell, a lot. But I also have never had more fun on my skates – even when vainly trying to catch the pack with my drunken-baby-giraffe-legs. Thanks for this post 🙂
I think I need to make this a poster and put it on my wall. I’m the freshest of the fresh meat right now, and the learning curve feels *steep* but one drill, one practice at a time, one skate in front of the other, is how I get better. Thanks for sharing this.
I am not a “young” derby player but I still have issues where I beat myself up because I’m not as good as a lot of the girls. It gets frustrating and tiring but I continue to try. This post hit on a lot of my insecurities and I’m glad that I’m not the only girl out there thinking I’m a complete fuck up. There has to be others if you’re writing this. You’re just all around amazing a I love watching you jam and block. I can’t wait to learn more
Great inspiration! Thanks!
Thank you thank you thank you!
TELL It!!!! Yeah!
My favorite part of this was, “No one wins or loses by herself.”
Right the fuck on!
I had my assessment last Sunday and it didn’t go how I expected and I was upset. I was so frustrated by my effort, that was until I read your article. I new that if I wanted to get a better result it needed to come from my effort.
Thanks for the reminder….
From a recent Fresh Meat grad who just missed her 25 in 5 and cannot yet stop reliably in a pack – thank you thank you thank you for this.
A very fine read! A testament to how enthusiasm, perseverance and a defined sense of purpose can help you achieve things you may not think you are capable of.
Thanks for a great article. This is a must-read for juniors as well. Derby can fix so much that causes our kids problems. Thanks again from a proud derby mom!
Thanks Vivi! You have just answered many questions and mounting self-doubt I have been having. I think I apologized everytime I came off the track on Sunday. 🙂 I have a feeling that I will be reading this again.
And on that note, everything that can be said about derby has been said. *slow clap begins*
Wiser words were never spoken!
Excellent writing ma’am. I applaude your honesty and amazingly correct and helpful insight, my league will most definitely get a copy of your writing.
Omg. That is an awesome article. I needed to hear all of that today!
This old derbist appreciates all this very valid advice, too! Thanks for laying it all out!
This was amazing, thank you for writing it 🙂
This is a great letter, and timely for me, too: This weekend is my one-year anniversary of attending an open skate with the ladies who would become (and are) my teammates. As a young derbyist, I resonate with so much of this advice. (And as an essayist, I love reading such well-written prose. I’m so glad to have discovered your site — thanks to one of my teammates, of course!)
Just what I needed to hear after a serious hip injury that has kept me off my feet, let alone my skates for six weeks. I am feeling intimidated by the thought of re-injury and very much needed the “Get off of your ass” pep talk. Thank you!
I want to thank you for this post. I recently joined a junior league, and I expected myself to get good right away, but it hasn’t happened yet. I can see myself getting better every week, though, and it’s great to be able to read supportive things. Once again, I really appreciate the post.
That is Derby in a Nut Shell… Thanks. I needed that !!!
Thank you for writing this!
This is fantastic, and wonderfully written. I hope every fresh meat skater reads this!
Thank you for this. I needed to read it today. I was thinking that I need a break from derby but I see I actually don’t. I started Derby in the middle of June and I could barely move forward in my skates. I am still in Fresh Meat and most of my Fresh Meat friends are now Rockies and the new Fresh Meat came in skating and doing cross overs on the first night of their practice. I am grateful for this letter. I am going to practice regardless if I have a good practice or not. Thanks again!
I found this comment in some old spam — sorry it took me so long to approve this! I hope that your dedication to practice has continued and I’m wishing you the best! Thanks for your kind comments.
I disagree with the comments that if u feel u need a break u don’t…..from personal experience i know that statement is complete bullshit! And i don’t appreciate people who recognise they need a break being made fun off!
Thanks for reading, Peta. I’m sorry if you feel like this post is somehow making fun of someone who thinks they need a break. Clearly I’ve hit a sore spot. It’s not ever my intention to make fun of anyone. The language is a bit strident here — it’s meant to represent an internal dialogue I’ve had with myself, as well as bring to life some observations I’ve made in my five and a half years in derby. Over time, I’ve seen a lot of girls who think they need a break for the wrong reasons (and take a break too early in their learning process, setting themselves back and creating more frustrations in the future). I fully recognize that in some situations, a break IS what’s needed. In fact, I acknowledge this is several posts:
I encourage you to read on and see that this blog is underscored with passion and understanding, and meant to motivate and encapsulate a variety of perspectives (which are sometimes contradictory). Thanks again for reading.
Or DO be a fishnet girl: femme, hardworking, unreleting, non-conformist, human. You don’t have to hate on us glitterbutts to motivate! 🙂
I agree with your statement, and I’ve had some similar criticism come up around this phrase in the essay specifically. It was term borrowed from a derby coach, and I meant it as she did, specifically to refer to people who adopt the trappings of derby culture, but don’t actually play. It was meant to encourage those people to play and discover the rewards that brings because I knew many people like this personally who seemed afraid. But my encouragement, in retrospect, probably comes across as critique. It was not meant to specifically discourage people from expressing themselves through clothing — though that wasn’t clear to some. It was not meant to tout conformity either. Thanks for reading!
All of my emotions wrapped up in a nice derby bow. I needed this read.
Thanks for readig!