In roller derby, there's an obvious chain of progression. Much more obvious than in many other sports I've played. Netball, for example. It's a sport that you kind of grow up with. You start to play in Year 1 and you just... do it. Yes, various levels will be reached, such as the 1st team, County, or even an International team, but unlike roller derby, there isn't really a specific 10, 12 or even 20 week programme you are required to pass to even begin to think about progressing to playing the "actual game."
You see, in roller derby, you not only have to learn the rules of the game, and understand the concept, you have to be able to skate! You need to know the basics; minimum skills. And that's exactly what they are. The minimum set of skills that a player must possess in order to progress to playing. They include the important things, such as stopping, starting, falling safely and eventually cover things like pack work and contact.
So this training course, Fresh Meat, essentially acts as your gateway to the wonderful world of roller derby! Everyone who wants to play needs to partake. You'll have fun, you'll laugh, you'll get frustrated, you may cry, you'll be excited, worried or even tempted to throw the towel in and try again in another intake, and that's ok! All of that is ok! Because it is hard! You're learning a new skill, with a group of people you didn't know, whilst learning the rules too. All of this with 8 wheels strapped to your feet! But this fresh meat course acts as the first stepping stone to achieving a goal.
Now, I did fresh meat with a league in London. I'd moved to the city, to a different postcode to the people I knew, and I decided I needed to have some fun. I needed a hobby and I thought why not push myself to try something different. I knew of roller derby through Thorne Supremacy
and wasn't sure if I would be able to do it, but I decided to give it a go! And boy, am I glad I did! I met some amazing girls and had a blast! Yes, at times I got fed up, but who doesn't. Not with the sport, but with my inability to perform seemingly simple tasks. I watched skaters who had skated for years go backwards effortlessly and I couldn't... I didn't know why and spent lots of time thinking about it, then I decided I would stop thinking about it and voila! I found myself going backwards! This roller coaster of learning was the first step in my derby career.
After fresh meat finishes, the freshies progress to the next stepping stone. They become rookies! Each league will have their own system for this transition, but all have the same goal, and that is to introduce the players to game play, more contact, and training with the big girls (or boys). Had I stayed on with the league in London, I'd have been required to pass a 3 month probationary period, after which I would become a fully fledged member of the league. My fellow freshies have recently been welcomed in to the league so WELL DONE :) You may not be deemed at a safe enough level to carry on, and in which case you may be asked to attend a few sessions to get up to standard. It is important to note that this DOES NOT mean you are valued any less than those who made it in. It's is for your safety and well being.
However, after passing my minimum skills assessments, I had a change in circumstance, moved back home and joined Bath Roller Derby Girls. Therefore, I was not only facing the vertical transition of starting to play with skaters with a higher level of skill than me, I had to deal with a lateral transition of moving to a new league – learning to play with and getting to know a whole new group of awesome skaters! I knew the majority as I had been involved with things through Thorne Supremacy, and everyone was so friendly! But I 100% believe that even if i had known nobody, they'd have been just as welcoming and friendly!
I'll admit, I was terrified, going from just having passed min skills, to not skating for 2 months, to rocking up at my first session with BRDG! But I was reassured that this is a thing that every skater has to do, regardless of progressing from fresh meat with the same league, or being an established skater with 7 years experience who moves house and starts to skate with a new league. So, I strapped my skates on, stood up (rather shakily) and got stuck in!
I was now officially a rookie! Yay! I spoke to a few of the coaches and together we decided it would be beneficial for me if I did positional only blocking for the first few scrim sessions (as opposed to full contact) and that was fine by me! I figured there was no rush to start hitting/being hit, and I was more than happy to work my way slowly to contact! For rookies this is a usual occurrence, although some leagues may integrate them immediately in to contact but maybe not full force at first. You'll need to be deemed "scrim safe" and then you're good to go! Everyone will do it differently, and they know what works for their league!
The next change that was to come, was starting full contact! That was only last week! It was daunting, but I figured I had to do it at some point so why not now! (Or rather a few of the players suggested that I was ready to get hitting and they cheered me on which was nice) So that was that! I politely declined the offer of jamming (for now, I'll stick to jamming when it is positional thanks haha) but it was awesome. I really enjoyed it! I even went in for a hit. I just about made contact but it wasn't particularly effective! Oh well! Everyone was so encouraging and I could hear people shouting from the bench!
Although I'm a rookie, I'm skating with the vets too. And they've made me realise that I'm as valued a derby player as much as the most experienced skater on the team. If there were no freshies, or no rookies, then there is no possibility of our sport progressing! So I'd like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has ever been on track with me, or nso, or coached me. You've helped me in these transitions (not just in a skating sense), and made me realise that moving up the ranks, or over the stepping stones, or however else you see it, is a vital step for any skater, and hard work does pay off :)
My tips for enjoying your journey up the ranks:
- Always ask for advice or help - in my experience, nobody I've asked to help me has minded at all, and it has always benefitted me!
- Have fun - this is a game, a sport, a hobby, and it should be enjoyed! Yes, take it seriously and work hard, and of course you'll have training sessions where it all feels "wrong" but enjoy it!
- Get involved - I'm not saying you have to get stuck in with absolutely EVERYTHING, but maybe go to the pub with the team once a month. Or go to a fundraising event. Or tell a joke at practice. Even as a freshie, we socialised with the league members, and I'm sure that makes the transition upwards easier and more enjoyable!
- Laugh about things then learn from them - I fell badly the other day, during a drill. I got hit and went high in the air and straight down on to my coccyx. I found it hilarious but also recognised that had I been lower in derby stance, that may not have happened! I realised that, had a laugh, and now consciously make sure I'm skating lower!
- Be prepared to find things tough - I can transition, I can do lateral cuts and I can do derby stops. However, ask me do a drill which involves lateral cuts across track, a quick transition and then derby stop on the track boundary in quick succession (as a group on track at the same time) then I panic! But by the end of the drill, I was doing ok! A bit on the "slow" side, but hey, everyone has to start somewhere!