Roller Derby Role Models: Inspiring Girls To Play

The first time I was asked for my autograph at a roller derby game was in June. My team, the Norfolk Brawds, had just been beaten by Rainy City’s B-Team, the Tender Hooligans, by a significant margin. We were not feeling particularly dismayed – Rainy are a fantastically tough team and thoroughly deserved the win – but, defeated, sweaty, and with a five-hour minibus journey home ahead of us, we were a little tired. As we discussed awards in the changing room, our LUM peered around the door, “hey, there are two little girls outside and they want you to sign their programmes.”

I didn't catch their names, but the girls chatted and laughed with us for five minutes as we took turns scribbling on the double-page that held our roster. They had relatives in the Rainy City team, they told us, and always tried to get the autographs of visiting rollergirls. I had never thought of myself as being a potential inspiration to other people – I do not look particularly athletic, I’m socially awkward, I am not even close to being the best skater in my league, and our game against the Tender Hooligans was only my second as a Norfolk Brawds All-Star – but as we spoke to those girls, who were so enthused by the sport, I sensed the fatigue of my teammates disappearing, and I began to think about the role of the derby player in inspiring and empowering young girls.

UK schools are infamously failing to provide young girls with a sporting outlet that speaks to them. Teachers, politicians, and newspapers seem to comment on it endlessly, particularly since the London 2012 Olympic Games. An article published in The Guardian last week claims that 74% of fifteen-year-old girls want to do more exercise, but feel “apathetic” about “sexist” approaches to PE lessons, meaning that in reality, only 8% of them actually engage in exercise or sport. Not only is that indicative of my own experience with sports growing up – my high-school pigeonholed girls into netball, boys into football and rugby, and if you weren't happy with that, tough – but also indicative of the experiences of so many women who I've met since joining the Brawds in 2012. Sure, there are plenty of female derby players who were athletic growing up, or who found derby through another sport, but the story I hear most is that of high-school outcasts who found roller derby as adults and only then realised that sports can actually be empowering, engrossing, and fun.

I don’t think roller derby is the sole answer in the attempt to encourage more girls into sports, but I do think that only positive things can result from showing adolescents of all genders that there are more ways to be athletic than our schools are teaching. I also think it’s important – particularly considering one of the most cited reasons for lack of involvement of girls in sport is staggering levels of low self-esteem and body confidence – that children and teens are made aware that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and that how we look shouldn't be a barrier to the things we enjoy. This is something I definitely feel that exposure to roller derby can help with, the community being, in my experience, at least, one of the most body positive I have come across.

A long-term goal of my team – and, I think, many UK teams – is to set up a junior league to join the handful the UK hosts currently, to inspire adolescents, and empower girls as so many women have been empowered by roller derby. In the meantime, it is important for skaters to make derby as accessible as possible for its younger fans – its potential future players. Represent your team whenever possible, speak at public events about the sport and its history, and provide discounted or free bout tickets for children and teens. Maybe we can help girls to find a sport that they love. Above all else, try to be a good role-model, because no matter how unlikely you think it might seem, you might be the one who inspires a kid to think “I can do this.”

I was asked for my autograph most recently by a little girl at a home game against Milton Keynes’ Concrete Cows for the Heartland Series. As I knelt down to sign her programme, I noticed that the page was already dense with the signatures of my fellow teammates, from whom she had also requested signatures.

“Are you friends with someone in the league?” I asked her, assuming she was a relative of a roller girl.

“No, but I’m a big fan,” she said, before thanking me and running back to the stands, ready to watch the game.

About The Author

DOB: 10/31/1989
Leagues: Bio:

A nerd.


DERBY TODAY
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An amazing article! I totally agree about setting up more junior leagues, I'm a junior skater from the Wrexham Rebels (juniors for the Wrexham Rejects) and finding derby is the best thing that has ever happened to me! I enjoy exercise and sport so much more, it's completely changed my life! :)

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A well written and interesting article. My daughter and her soon to be wife recently took up Roller Derby and they absolutely love it!  I agree that whilst in school, she was never particularly interested in sport the reason may have been because of the way she was made to feel by the other students and some teachers.  
Since joining the Brawds, I know that she has been accepted from the start, with emphasis placed on the positives of her abilities with support for those skills that have taken a bit more work.  Her personal confidence has grown and she is much more positive!

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