There are some things you should know before you embark on this wonderful journey of bumps, bruises, love and shoves.
Our Autumn Fresh Meat program is in full swing. We’re on week three, and so far have a lot of happy faces and new people excited to be joining the sport. If you’re thinking about trying it too, this little list should tell you everything you need to know about what it is that you’re getting yourself into before you throw in your lot.
1) It’s okay to feel a bit daunted coming to Fresh Meat/Sparks for the first time… and then again each time you progress a stage.
Before you decide to turn up and conquer the basics with bravery, you might ask yourself a few questions. Most probably, your instinct for self-preservation kicks in and you wonder; will you be any good? Will you fall on your ass and have a room full of people laugh at you? Will you get hurt?
For some people, ducks and water come to mind vis-a-vis ability. For others, skills come a little bit more slowly. Learning to play roller derby is a competition. But comparing yourself to others is probably not the healthiest idea. At this point, keep it between you in the moment and the version of you who showed up to the last session, no one else.
More on the ego; in terms of falling over… this is inevitable, perhaps it won’t happen on day one, but ask any seasoned skater, and watch any game; falling over happens. It’s part of the fun, and you will be taught to fall safely. Also, you will be having so much fun, you’ll probably be the first to laugh! This is not the sort of environment where we tear each others’ confidence to pieces, so no-one will laugh at you in a mean way. Fun facts; I fell over during the skate out of my very first bout. And I once fell over and split my leggings during a scrim. One of our most seasoned skaters once fell and split her leggings and underpants at Chicks in Bowls. The point is, you will fall over at some point, and it might even be a bit hilarious, and it’s okay. It’a part of the learning curve at all stages of skating. In fact, you’re very likely to feel better, with ‘increased energy levels’ (Caroline Crabtree, Head of Fundraising, Firecracker) and more ‘badass’ (Montant Fox, Spark) about yourself coming away from your inaugural sessions.
The last question might pop back to mind when we hand you the waiver to sign. This is a contact sport. Yes, you might get hurt. However, Fresh Meat and Sparks is not about turning up to a sports hall, strapping on skates and getting hit really hard by people much stronger than you (all that fun comes a bit later on). It’s about getting down the basics: skating, turning, and most crucially stopping safely without the aid of a wall or falling over. The speed you will be practicing at (very slowly), and the level of guidance you will receive (constant), means that if you do get hurt, it’s very unlikely to be serious – serious being defined as; you need to go to A&E. There will always be an advanced skater leading the session, on hand to show you how to safely perform. You need to listen to them, and follow their instructions. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll come away unscathed. You’re very likely to experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs) and possibly a bruise or two on the derriere.
You’ll probably also smell. You grow to be proud of your l’eau de pads… and invest in a no-nonsense soap.
2) Everybody has their own Derby story. However it takes shape, it’s yours.
Most people’s starts in a similar way: you found out about us, and came along to give it a go. From that point, the stories get very disparate. You might stay in Sparks much longer than some people in your cohort. You might become a Flame less than a year later. You might make B-team before someone else. You might one day represent England. Everybody comes into this sport with their own unique body, which has it’s own athletic history (or lack thereof) and this will affect how you progress. But nobody said this was a race. As you progress towards becoming an advanced skater, you may accumulate some ambitions, and become frustrated by your body for ‘failing’ to help you actualise them. This feeling is okay, and happens to everyone. The positive thing about that is that you won’t be short on a range of people to give you different forms of support. Some will kick your butt and help you become a better skater (ahem, coaches), some will tell you about their journey and most, if not everyone, will lend you a listening ear.
3) Roller derby changes your life.
The degree to which it changes your life is up to you. Our league is a place to meet and engage with many a feisty human, which, depending on your life; might not be a crowd you find frequently. Also, Flat Track Roller Derby is a space for something rare and wonderful; it’s a place where asking for permission, in any way, is not necessary. Your purpose on the track is to hold your ground, and off the track, you can develop your more creative talents. You will be inspired, just sayin’.
4) You might actually find that it starts to take over your life, if you want it to…
Attendance is important, but most members are professionals, many are parents, life happens and gets in the way of skating. However, if you become part of the A/B team, you find ways to make it a priority. Also, Captains are aware and great listeners; they will take into account your stuff when it comes to team selection. It’s also a serious physical and mental challenge, and will expose you to a series of events that will test your mettle – and be loads of fun. Even when you’re not skating, you may start to do things to support your skating, like going to the gym, doing yoga/pilates to mitigate the DOMs. As you become more seasoned, you may want new kit. This is not a cheap feat. In turn, your Christmas and birthday presents might start to become very derby related, as will about 60% of your Facebook posts and notifications. If that isn’t enough, your circle of closest friends will become infiltrated by Harlots, as you’re likely to meet a few people you really get on with, and decide to spend more time with outside of training.
5) Becoming a part of the Harlot family means more than strapping wheels to your feet and hitting people.
That is certainly a large part of the appeal, and an ambition our Training Committee work hard to help those who want it to achieve. However, we also have Non Skating Officials (NSO’s), a PR Committee, Fundraising, Merchandise, Events and more groups of members working on and off the track to keep the league going.
Think of the anatomy of a bout. The first things that might come to mind are big hits and sneaky jukes, awesome cake and excitement. But what has to happen to enable all of that? Those show-stopping hits and dramatic points can only be legitimized by referees and NSO’s. The referees apply the rules to what they see and decide if a hit is legal, or if a jammer has legally scored points, and the NSO’s help them to enforce their decisions, for example, as Score Trackers or Penalty Box Timers. And those cakes don’t bake themselves, or march themselves to the venue (or eat themselves). In short; it takes a village to make a bout happen, there is a lot to get involved with.
6) A couple of cautions, not to put you off, but because you should know.
Above, I made it clear that you are very unlikely to break bones at Fresh Meat. That is still completely true. However, beyond this point, when you start Scrimming and Bouting… You might break your bones or someone else’s. This sport also puts you at risk of concussion and a whole range of soft tissue injuries. Not all of these things happen to everyone, or very often, but they are risks. It’s much less serious, but, you may also experience ‘the look/talk’ from your colleagues/family/boss when you show up somewhere with a nasty bruise and finger marks on your arms when you get to practicing brace walls.
Finally, it is quite expensive. Once you become more advanced you will need new skates and more importantly, new pads. Fit for purpose knee-pads cannot be stressed enough, knees are super important, this sport puts a lot of stress on them. And as for skates, you will need new ones either because the ones you’ve rocked since Sparks have fallen to pieces, or you need something more reactive and durable. That being said, we offer many non-contact roles you might be interested in. Think about this if you come along and feel that skating really isn’t for you.
If you’re not ready to transition from civilian to Hellfire Harlot, come and see us skate live, bout details to be posted on our page, or get involved with our Halloween Spooktacular. Our fans are part of the extended family, and once you’ve seen it, I challenge you not to catch roller derby fever.
Once you’ve caught the bug, get your fix at our next Fresh Meat. Send a message to our Facebook page Hellfire Harlots to find out more about our upcoming events and recruitment.
Words by Queen.