Let's face it; it's very likely that, unless you grew up with Bonnie Thunders and Umpire Strikes Back as parents, at some point in your life you knew absolutely nothing about Roller Derby. Fresh Meat, A-team level skaters, NSO's, Refs, fans, regardless of involvement, the fact is EVERYBODY in derby started from the same place. I want to be clear, I am in no way talking about skill level or skating ability, I'm talking about something much more basic: knowledge.
While you're considering that, I'd like you to give some thought to this.
Knowledge is power.
As much of a cliché as it is, it's also true. As a skater your journey begins with the basics of skating; you kit up, stand up, wobble a bit, fall over more than a bit and you learn. You learn that derby is something you want to be a part of. The next time you come back you already have that tiny little brick of knowledge but one little brick isn't enough, you want more. So what do you do? You take the brick you already have and you add another one beside it; you take the wobble and fall and you learn your stride. Brick by brick you collect little chunks of knowledge until you've built your minimum skills wall. Then you stop. Take a step back and survey your handiwork. All of a sudden that giant, impenetrable wall of knowledge you've built becomes the size of a wall made out of the bits of Lego you find stuffed down the back of the sofa, and all those bricks you've collected become one giant brick in the new wall you're building. This wall is all about your understanding of derby.
Derby is not just a game about brute strength. It is not just a game about speed control. Derby is not just a game about tactics. it is not just a game dictated by rules. Derby is a game that combines skill with elements of all of these things and to be an effective derby player you have to have at least a passing understanding of this. I've been skating since January 2013, I passed my minimum skills in September last year and it has taken me until now to feel like I have the vaguest clue as to what's going on. I am never going to be a player that sets the world on fire and I'm ok with that; I just want to learn. Unfortunately, without knowing it I have been sabotaging myself for the best part of a year; I have had a long and well documented phobia of skating in public. This phobia has prevented me from attending guest coaching sessions, visiting other teams and taking part in scrimmages. At one point it got so bad I nearly quit derby altogether. A couple of months ago I decided to get over myself and took part in Grid City Division
's Game of Thrones Tournament, I spent the day playing on a team with skaters such as Apocalex, Vikispedia, Swiftyfool and Agent Cooper. I was pep talked by Rolling Thunder and bench coached by Dr Stevel. True to form, I had an epiphany; it wasn't skating in public that terrified me, it was feeling like I had no understanding of the game, feeling like at any moment I was going to be outed as a derby imposter. I learnt more in a day of surrounding myself with people that understand the fundamentals of derby than I did in a year of pointless introspection. Since then I've made it my mission to actively chase down the derby experiences I missed out on while I was busy hiding inside my own head.
My struggles are in no way a reflection on my team, when I think about my derby wall, my team is the cement that holds all my little knowledge bricks in place; my team help me build on the knowledge I gather for myself by ensuring that the foundations are solid. As a new(ish) team we support each other by looking to others outside the team for guidance, we are fully aware of our limitations and we are not afraid to ask for help or clarification on things we don't understand. We do not have the luxury of a team ref crew, instead we rely on the good humour of officials from all across the country to help run events and explain whatever technicality that is currently twisting our brains inside out. Unsurprisingly, if you ask nicely the majority of officials out there are happy to share their knowledge.
Sharing is caring.
Derby is a competitive sport, in games there will be winners and there will be losers. As derby players we should be actively striving to raise the standard of derby, not by elitism but by promoting a derby where knowledge is shared. Rather than worrying what your opponents will learn about you, you should consider what you may learn from them. Instead of feeling that loyalty prevents you from visiting other teams, you should be wanting to push others, not only to develop them but to ensure that your own team has challengers that will push you. There is no pride to be had in beating an opponent at a game they have no understanding of. Equally, you may get all the challenges you need within your team, you may have skaters of a better quality than you and an established ref crew, but unless you poke your head above the parapet, how are you going to ever be secure in your knowledge? All it takes for the foundations of a team to become unstable is misinformation to not be addressed, if you have no fresh air in your team the possibility of stagnating is very real.
In an ideal world, derby knowledge would be the one pyramid scheme from which everybody benefits; knowledge would drop in at the top, filter down and we'd all become derby rich. This isn't an ideal world, this is the real world. If you want knowledge you will have to actively seek it. Talk to officials, talk to skaters, talk to NSO's, talk to fans; nobody is below you and nobody is above you. Sometimes you'll get answers, other times you'll get dismissed but you will never end up knowing less than you already did.
Everybody involved in roller derby has a wall: some are vast, tightly stacked structures, others are a few wobbly bricks. As roller derby is developing in the UK, slowly all those constructions are moving, fusing together to become one collective wall; it's down to us to make sure that the foundations of that wall are as stable as possible.