Six months. Six months! This might be the longest I’ve ever stuck something out, not including jobs and academic stuff (and relationships!). I’ve never learned an instrument, never gotten fluent in a language, never learned a craft to a proficient level – basically I’ve never stuck at learning something that takes time and work. Roller derby is kind of a crazy thing to try to learn when you don’t even know how to skate, if you think about it. Like trying to learn how to run track when you don’t even know how to walk yet. You spend months learning how to function on skates, and just when you think I’m kind of getting the hang of this BAM you’re introduced to scrimmaging and back to learning square one.
Learning something new is exciting and infuriating and fun and HARD. You have to be the noob. You have to show up and SUCK, in front of other people – including some people who are AWESOME at the thing you’re trying to do. You have to keep showing up and sucking and falling on your butt and getting up, week after week. You have to put yourself out there and let people see you be terrible at something. You certainly have to get over your own ego, which will be bruised (along with your butt). You have to deal with the fact that you will never be ‘done’ learning this thing – there’ll always be more, always be better.
My league had its recruitment evening last night, the first since my intake in March. It got me thinking about what advice I’d give to someone just starting out. The first thing that came to mind was that, although it’s true that there are all kinds of body types in roller derby and that you don’t need to be an athlete to begin with, a base level of fitness will make things easier. I did some things to improve my fitness before I tried out, but not in a serious or structured way – some hot yoga, a spin class here and there, sporadic jogging. If I could do it all over again, I’d start the kind of regime I’m doing now (weight lifting and HIIT cardio) well before I started learning roller derby. And no – skating alone won’t be enough to get fit.
What else? Oh yeah, go to ALL THE THINGS. Go support your teams when they play. Cheer your lungs out. Offer to help out with the merch stall. Volunteer to NSO. It really will help you to understand the game better. Also, it shows that you care about helping to make bouts happen. If you’re freaked out about doing it wrong, ask if you can shadow someone else in a role before trying it yourself. Go to the social events, even if you’re shy. Oh and (of course) GO TO PRACTICE. Go to every session that you can make. Show your coaches the respect of being reliable, punctual and attentive.
My final piece of advice would probably be: get used to saying goodbye to people. Roller derby isn’t for everyone. Lots of people decide to stop coming to practice, for lots of different reasons. We’ve had people leave because they were worried about getting injured – or because they had got injured (although this didn’t account for many). We had some people just… not turn up any more. There’s a great camaraderie to being ‘fresh meat’, of being equally clueless and showing up to learn together. So it does feel a bit sad when people you’ve got used to seeing every week disappear, sometimes without saying goodbye. But it happens!
I’m excited to see where I’ll be six months from now, one year in. Although I have a bad habit of focusing on the things I can’t do well yet, I have to make myself remember the long list of things I can do now that six-months-ago-Jess would be super impressed by. I’ve loved a lot of the my first six months of roller derby but – to be completely honest – not every minute. Right now the road to playing competitively feels like a very long one for me, but that’s okay. My main focus for the rest of year will be on bringing energy to practice, not giving in to negative mind-talk, and spending as much time on my skates as possible. Bring it on!