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What to Expect When You’re Expecting (to Play Roller Derby)


So with the Halifax Bruising Banditas due to start our very first Fresh Meat specific intake on Tuesday October 7th, we thought it’d be a good idea to answer the most inevitable question any would-be new recruits would ask:

What the hell am I letting myself in for?

Hi, my name is Rainbow D45H and I’m a newly passed skater. I started my training in February 2014, and passed my Minimum Skills Tests six months later (a week before my first game, the Dundee bout covered recently on this blog by Millie Hurtz). I wasn’t inexperienced when I started, having done inline skating as a pre-teen, but as a 26 year old woman those days were long behind me! And this was on quads, something I’d never even considered as a kid. Plus me and sports? Not exactly a happy relationship. It was scary, but I did it anyway, and it’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made. And for anyone reading this who is still on the fence about whether to strap on some skates again too, or anyone raring to go but wanting to do their homework first, here are the top ten things I think you’ll need to know.

  • Expect to… fall over. A lot.

Ah falling over. It happens to even the girls that have been skating since Roller Derby first began (although considering Roller Derby first appeared in 1930s, I think those 80 odd year old ladies can be excused the odd lapse in balance!).

You are going to fall over when you start Fresh Meat training. It’s inevitable. Be you an experienced skater or be you someone who hasn’t ever looked at a pair of roller skates. Mainly because we make you. One of the first things you will learn is the many different ways to fall over safely. And then you’ll forget it the first time you attempt the 27 in 5, spin out on the apex, and land on your butt. But don’t worry, eventually you’ll be able to Porn Star with the best of them (use your imagination for how that looks. Or come along to training and find out).

  • Expect to… get hit.

Not at first of course – we’ll give you a bit of time to get steady on your skates first! But this is Sparta, I mean, Roller Derby. Although bashing into each other might not necessarily be the point,it does help to be able to land a proper hit when you need to clear a space for a jammer. You’ll learn how and where to legally hit another player, and you’ll learn by doing. Don’t worry – we’ll teach you how to block properly too. With that in mind…

  • Expect to… bruise.

Except it isn’t a bruise, it’s a Derby Kiss and it is a badge of honour. Wear that mark with pride, Derby Girl! And maybe invest in some ibuprofen.

  • Expect to… go slowly.

Noone thinks that you’re going to be whizzing around the track at a hundred miles an hour in the first session. You’ll be given time to learn how to master going forwards, going backwards, even walking on your skates. Not sure if you can stand up on wheels? Meh, you’ll be right when we’re done with you. And by that I mean someone incredibly patient will be there to encourage, guide and support you (or, if like me you prefer the stick to the carrot, yell at you until you stop being so timid). You’ll be taught the basics and the more advance skills too, like transitioning (a fancy way to say turning round), weaving and cutting laterally (going across the track) and how to work not only as an individual skater, but as a member of a pack.

  • Expect to… go fast!

You might have heard a rumour about the 27 in 5. 27 laps of the track in a mere five minutes. It sounds easy, until you go around a track for the first time. Then it feels insurmountable. But it is a skill you have to master – sometimes you’re gonna need that speed, especially if you want to be a jammer one day. And it is a skill that you WILL master. From my own experience, its best to go into the 27 in 5 with an open mind. Thinking ‘I’m never going to do this’ is a self fulfilling prophecy. Give yourself mini targets – 15 in 5, 20 in 5, 25 in 5 and then, eventually the 27 target. You’ll be pushing 30 in 5 in no time.

  • Expect to… do a written exam.

Don’t panic, it’s not as bad as it sounds. You don’t need to write a thesis about the history of Roller Derby, or be able to recite each and every rule with numerical values and cross references. But you do have to get 40 out of 50 multiple choice questions correct. Thankfully, it’s not a one go or you’re never allowed to play again either. Get boning up on the rules as soon as you start by downloading the Roller Derby Test O’Matic app (available on Android and iPhone).

  • Expect to… get fit.

Training for Fresh Meat will be two hours on a Tuesday. That ramps up to five hours a week once you join the team training sessions (two on a Thursday and three on a Sunday). Throw in the odd off skate warm up, with the infamous Circle of Pain, and you’ll have rippling abs by Christmas. Or at least you might be able to finally do ten sit ups in a row (a personal best which I still feel is an achievement considering my state of fitness prior to joining!).

  • Expect to… spend money.

Your fee for the Fresh Meat training is a damned good deal, working out to just a few quid per session. When you’re hooked and become a dues payer, you’ll pay £30 a month (which saves £10 on the usual £5 per session and makes you eligible for taking part in committees and the AGM). Not much at all really when you consider the price of a gym membership. However, start looking into and saving up for kit now is my advice. We can and will lend you kit for Fresh Meat, including skates, knee and elbow pads, wrist guards and the all important helmet, but you’re going to want to buy your own so you can start moulding it to your own way of skating (plus Disco Skates are notoriously terrible). And you’ll need to supply your own mouth guard (because, eww – shared mouth guards are gross). Kit can cost into the hundreds of pounds if you go for brand new, so if you’re not exactly flush check out Roller Derby Recyclables on Facebook. Here, skaters sell their second hand gear at a fraction of the retail price, and it is usually good enough quality to get you through the first stage of your Derby career. At least until those Antik boots and Zombie wheels are just too tempting to resist anymore…

  • Expect to… not be in an exclusively female environment.

I was attracted to Roller Derby because it’s girls kicking ass and looking awesome while doing it, and chances are that’s one of the reasons you’re doing it too. But did you know that men’s Roller Derby is also a thriving sport? Bruising Banditas are affiliated with The Skateful Dead over in Cleckheaton, and there are many more men’s teams popping up around the place too. Equality, thy name is Roller Derby! We’re also on the lookout for referees of both genders, so if your other half wants to join you there’re lots of options for them, be they aspiring bouters looking to join either team, or more rules savvy men and women who want to know their way around a whistle.

And finally

  • Expect to… train with the best damned bunch of girls you’ll ever meet (and the odd guy too).

It sounds a super cheesy way to end this blog post, but it’s absolutely true. Tigers on the track, warriors in training, and people who will – literally – knock someone to the floor for you. The Bruising Banditas want you to succeed, because that’s what teams do. They’re family.

Family who regularly travel to other towns and hit other families, but we can’t help the odd bit of organised dysfunction can we?

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