The Rookie Road to (Jammer) Stardom

It is an understatement to say that Croydon Roller Derby has come a long way in just five short years.

From the creation of the Vice Squad (B team), which is fast becoming an unstoppable force in its infancy, to Riot beating some of Europe’s greats in home and away bouts – CRD has forged a permanent name for themselves in the league tables.

Some of CRD’s players and referees are already carving a tough-to-beat reputation in the hearts of the derby world, and several of our members are taking part in this year’s World Cup. Sometimes it is hard for any potential rookie to fathom skating with the greats.

But everyone had to start from somewhere and every competitive league knows that it needs to tap into new talent and nurture players to become the best they can be.

“Rookie intakes are very important to the growth of any league, it helps us with progression where B team players are being continually pushed as more and more rookies join them,” says Polly Filla, Riot Squad member and rookie coach.

“Similarly, this should help B team progress to A team – and the A team to be continually upping their game as well. There is always a certain percentage of drop out with each rookie intake, as I think some people, when they join, don’t realise the amount of dedication this sport takes and how much is expected from CRD as a league. It’s an amazing opportunity for those that are willing to put the work in.”

The Rookie Programme

Over the years, CRD’s coaches, headed by Herbie Li Cious (who is also a skater with men’s league Southern Discomfort Roller Derby), created a competitive programme that enables training and nurturing new skaters, which keeps the league expanding.

It runs for around six to seven months in total. The first few months are designed to teach the minimum skating skills required by the WFTDA to be an eligible roller derby player.

After that, once the skaters are more confident, CRD kicks off with a 10 week stint where skaters then start to learn more about gameplay and tactics and put all their basic training into action such as: walling, contact, basic offence and defence.

Another evolutionary part of the programme includes the use of two static coaches – Polly Filla and Smashasaurus Bex – that are able to train and monitor the progress of individuals throughout the duration of training and therefore can make more of an informed assessment as to how each skater has progressed.

“We hope that once the skaters complete the rookie programme some will be eligible to move up into B team training,” says Polly Filla, who is also skating with Team West Indies in the World Cup this year.

Smashasaurus Bex, Riot member and rookie coach adds: “We don’t expect skaters coming into the rookie programme to be able to skate and have skills already, we’re just really looking for people who show potential and a willingness to learn and to challenge themselves.

“Rookie programme is a big deal for a league and rookies’ derby careers initially start in our hands, which is quite a daunting thought! Just watching everyone progress so quickly is such an awesome feeling! I love coaching and the most surprising for me is actually being able to pass my knowledge onto others. I’m not the sharpest tool in the box on the team, so being offered this opportunity is so awesome.”

But newbies don’t have to worry, CRD is an inclusive league and not only will you learn some pretty epic skills – you’ll also meet a whole new set of friends.

“Starting the programme was the hardest,” said Groundskeeper Willie, one of the new B team graduates. “Constant worries like am I too old, will I learn quick enough. What happens if it’s like Mean Girls and I don’t wear pink on Wednesday?”

“But, the best thing about the rookie programme is that most of us had no idea what to expect. We came from all walks of like, all shapes and ages. All of CRD opened their arm and welcomed us as part of the most unique family ever!”

Dirty Dancer, one of the rookies who graduated to the B team adds: “The best things about the rookie programme is making new like-minded friends and becoming obsessed with derby! I can’t imagine it not in my life.”

“For those just starting or thinking of starting I would tell you just dive in and be fearless. Fear will hold you back. Eat well, get your sleep, leave fear outside the door and the rest will follow.”

Training as a Rookie

CRD recently completed one of its 10 week programmes for new skaters, which lead to five skaters moving to the B team- Dirty Dancer, Groundskeeper Willie, Liannarchy, The Great Gretsby and one other who is keeping her skate name top secret for now.


Those who don’t immediately make the B team are encouraged to polish up their skills and eventually migrate to the B team once the coaches see improvement within each individual skater’s arsenal.

However, they wouldn’t necessarily repeat the whole 10 weeks of the programme if they are deemed able to join the B team.

During the last leg of the cycle, CRD was on the hunt for new talent and after a recruitment drive, snapped up around 15 new rookies.

So, how are they picked?

“We generally look for skaters of the same ability when we assess a new intake,” says Polly Filla.

“If all the skaters across the board cannot perform crossovers, then that’s ok because they are all at the same level. If the majority of an intake can complete a skill but one or two cannot, this is when we get more selective about who we take on to the programme.”

Once the programme starts, skaters are expected to have their own kit, and bring along bags of determination, positive attitude, passion and hunger to learn.

Above all, everyone should have fun and be willing to put in the time on and off the track to improve their skills, fitness, and knowledge of the game.

“Skaters who prove to the coaches that their attitude, attendance and ability are of a high enough standard are then moved up to join training with the B team – a big jump for them but definitely a reward for their hard work!”

Who’s Got What It Takes?

Anyone with the right attitude, who puts in the hard work and hours of practice can become a skater with a competitive league like CRD.

“Really think about if this is a sport you can commit too. Unfortunately sometimes life, work, and family can get in the way and that’s tough but to be a good derby player takes time and commitment to training and your team,” said Smashasaurus Bex.

“Take the good with the bad. There will be some things you pick up easily and you will surprise yourself and other times it’s like your brain and your feet are not cooperating!

“Keep trying and don’t beat yourself up about things that you get stuck on! Practice, practice practice! Have fun! We do this because we love it and we are dedicated to the sport. If you’re not having fun anymore think about why? and maybe make some changes.”

Although near perfect attendance is desired, training doesn’t start begin and end during the two hours of structured training on a Friday evening.

“I think we have a lot more of a focus on teamwork and fitness even within the rookie programme,” says Polly Filla.

“We impress very early on that you should be aiming to develop into athletes and team players. If you simply want to learn to skate or can’t commit to training then our rookie programme is not for you. Even from week one we want skaters who have a good attitude and exemplary attendance.”

Many of the rookies have found extra time skate outside as much as possible, as well as clubbing together to snatch up precious hall time during the week and weekends.

In addition, it’s not just about being able to skate, it’s also about learning the rules of the game and watching your experienced peers train.

Meanwhile, one of the ways CRD encourages training off skates, especially for rookies, is participating is as many Non Skating Official (or NSO) roles as possible.

This way, rookies submerge themselves into the rules of the game and put all they are learning into context.

CRD regularly hosts mixed scrims as well as games that enable every rookie to get stuck in.

“One of my biggest off track tips, as a rookie, is to NSO at as many games as possible,” says Liannarchy, one of the new members of the B team.

“I found it crucial to learning the rules of the game, while also putting into context everything we were learning. I’d recommend volunteering for as many roles as possible (not just everyone’s favourite of penalty timing) as it gives you a complete picture of the mechanics of the game and not just a small aspect of it.

“I also found it really helped me bond with the league as I got to know so many of the people I admired from afar as well as supporting the team who need the help of NSOs.

“Also taking your fitness seriously and trying to get in practice is key.”

Coaches and Rookies Top Tips

CRD was proud to announce this month that five skaters graduated to the B team while also celebrating the new influx of rookies.


So what do some of our new graduates advise?

Dirty Dancer: “The most daunting about starting the rookie programme was if I would be able to be aggressive enough to hit people. You see, I’m a lover not a fighter. We’re told we’re letting down our team if we don’t hit hard so, I put my back into it and try to hand out some bruises!”

Groundskeeper Willie: “KEEP GOING! I promise you will get it, if you work hard. CRD want to help you get better. It’s win, win!”

Liannarchy: “Practice, practice, practice. Volunteer for everything. Be positive, put in the hard work and get to know your coaches, teammates and all others within the league. Above all have fun!”

So what would the coaches advise for those only starting out?

  1. Remember we were all rookies at some point and we all found certain things difficult. It is very important as a rookie to continue pushing when things get hard!
  2. Make sure you are developing key strength and fitness areas in conjunction with your training. This involves core strength, high intensity endurance and working on your legs!
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! There are no stupid questions and your coaches are here to help!

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