Friday, November 30, 2012

Accepting and grooming new skaters

It's the end of one season and the beginning of the 2013 season; most leagues are starting to recruit and train new skaters to keep their leagues going.  Of course many leagues have stringent skating requirements, but have you ever stopped to think it might be a good idea to approach skater recruitment and retention in a more holistic approach?  I mean, who wants to train twenty people and have half of them drop out because derby wasn't a good fit, or they were overwhelmed, or they had health issues?  As a league, you have limited practice time, and you should definitely try to maximize yours on skaters who are ready, willing and able to commit to derby.

1.  Do an interview.  When I proposed this question on Facebook, I got a lot of responses from many leagues who do interview potential skaters.  Charm City and Gotham were just a few of the leagues that answered, saying they interview potential skaters.  Most people agreed that it's a great way to weed out the potential drama queens, the crazy, or the skaters that didn't seem to be fully committed.  It's important to sit down in a more intimate setting and talk to the potential skater; it's also important for the skater to talk to you and ask questions.  Did any of us really understand just how much of an effort it takes to maintain a league?  When I joined the league, (waaaaaaaay back in 2009...ha), I wasn't exactly sure what I was getting myself into.  I didn't really talk to anyone; I just skated and was invited to join the league, so I had a pretty interesting time trying to figure out just exactly what I had signed up for!

2.  Ask your fresh meat to get a physical.  Hoo boy, I can just hear the outcry of "I'm a grown-ass woman!  I do what I want!  DIY!  It's none of your business if I'm healthy."  Just settle down there and listen to my reasoning.  Roller derby is a sport, and if you're involved you know that you have to work your butt off to play on any kind of competitive level.  Many skaters come into derby without much sports or athletic experience; they haven't ever strenuously trained athletically, and because of that, they may be blissfully unaware of any potential health conditions lurking.  Let's face it, schools make it mandatory for all of their athletes to get a physical before participating in their sports program; maybe derby should do the same.  Here's a blog that points out a similar thought.  Also, it's HARD playing derby; if your skaters are using derby to get into shape, they have the wrong idea from the get go.  You have to get in shape for derby.....period.

3.  Give them big sisters.  Yeah yeah, I know.  It's not a sorority.  I agree completely, but fresh meat need help navigating the tricky path of derby leagues.  It's a long, hard road, being fresh meat; if you can give them someone who cares if they show up for practice, you have a better chance of retaining them.  If you're like me, and the name "Big Sister" makes you instantly break out into Greek hives, then call them something else; you're all clever, think up something.  Veteran skaters paired up with fresh meat can help them by motivating them to come to practice, talk to them about the odd customs your league has (and you know you do) and the ins and outs of gear.  All of these things help make fresh meat feel like they belong to the league, and we all know how lonely and isolated it can be when you're learning how to do a hockey stop or fall small.  My big sister was Daisy Rage, and I can tell you, she scared the hell out of me because she was such a great skater.  We most certainly didn't braid each others hair or have sleep overs, but she helped me with my mohawks and a pretty major injury I had to deal with in the first few months of scrimmaging. 
See?  Isn't she a badass?  Photo by A Boy Named Tsunami

As derby becomes more and more competitive and athletic, leagues are looking to the long-term future; that means recruiting the right skaters and keeping them in the league.  The above suggestions might give you a chance to be more successful in your league's recruitment and retention of skaters!  Bring it on, 2013!


  1. Great article!

    On #1, we are a baby league and when we went from "oh hey let's skate together" to our first "this is what our season will look like" meeting, we lost probably 10-20% of our members right there. Now letting people know that, yes, they are expected to make it to a certain percentage of scheduled practices and do a certain amount of outside work a month is key. We have a "skate and help" NSO membership where you get access to the non-contact workouts and have lower attendance requirements for people who cannot make skater or ref attendance. So far not many takers but in older leagues where people have had injuries or burnt out on the time commitment these are super popular. But I definitely feel bad about the people who spent tons of money on equipment and realized over several months that they couldn't make attendance.

    On #2, I actually was pretty fit when I started derby but couldn't pass my first assessments for months because of what turned out to be a huge muscle imbalance (extremely weak glutes) that kept me perpetually knock-kneed and made one-foot elements very difficult. It was frustrating at the time but in retrospect I think that I was actually lucky that it showed up so early in the process, had I been a more daring person and been able to just push through I think it might have been a disaster. However I don't think that physicals generally address that sort of thing - I get annuals for work in construction and it never got caught.

    1. A regular physical is a bit different from a sports physical. I'm not saying they would have caught your specific issue, but they have tests for asthma and such hidden conditions.

    2. There have been a number of stories in the last few years of young, seemingly healthy athletes having sudden heart attacks due to undiagnosed heart abnormalities. The kind of stuff that a basic EKG can catch easily.
      Honestly stuff like valgus knees should be pretty easy for a competent trainer to see just by watching some basic movements and walking.

      I completely agree with #2. I recently started working with a brand new league a few months ago, and the average level of physical preparedness for new skaters is pretty low, but everyone wants to skate immediately. This is not surprising, I imagine most people join so they can play, but this sport is more risky than rec league soccer. In soccer it's unlikely a person could run fast enough to lose control if they have a low level of fitness, but a new skater with a low level of fitness will almost certainly do that on skates. I would rather see the first 6 months at 80% GPP off skates, 20% learning the skill of skating. Improve general physical aspects, learn the skills, only then start flying around the track and running into people. I could probably go on for hours, this particular aspect of derby is bit of a pet peeve. The players work hard and deserve better.

      To your point that derby won't get you in shape for derby:

      "Even if a game demands expression of speed, it doesn’t develop it in a degree that specific training aimed at speed development do. Even if a game demands expression of any technical or tactical skill, it doesn’t develop it in a degree that specific training aimed at skill development do. Even if a game demands expression of strength, it doesn’t develop it in a degree that strength training do." - Mladen Jovanović

  2. Regarding #3: We call them mentors. We also don't assign them--we wait four weeks, and then we have the Fresh Meat choose who they want to be their mentor. In this way, they are taking ownership of the relationship from the start, and will automatically choose someone that they feel will be a good fit, for whatever reason.

  3. Having a big sister is amazing. I am not longer fresh meat, but I still call mine "sister" and more than likely always will. She really helped me get through the whole fresh meat process and became an awesome friend.