What’s a cherry popper?
Some people are okay with it; others find it cringe-worthy. Whatever you feelings about the nickname for rookie-level bouts, taking part in a ‘cherry popper’ is kind of a right of passage for new roller derby players. Limited to skaters with only a few bouts under their belt (generally 0-3 or 0-5), cherry poppers give newbies a chance to apply the skills they’ve learned so far to a real game situation, playing with and against similarly green skaters from other leagues. Some cherry poppers are tagged onto the beginning of higher-level bouts; sometimes – like the one we attended – they’re standalone events. We played short games in a tournament format – three teams, each playing two 30 minute games, with the team with the highest total points score being crowned the winner.
Some things I learned…
1. A game made up of all newbies is scrappy as hell, but that’s okay. If, like me, you’re used to being one of the less experienced skaters at practice among a group that is predominantly at a strong B (and A team crossover) level, the change will be quite noticeable. More flail-y, more fall-y, more elbows and hands accidentally smacking into mouths and noses. (I am 100% counting myself within this btw). Having your lips smacked into your teeth is always a bit of shock, but remember to be chill. Nobody set out to punch you in the nose/trip you up/pull your leggings down; everyone is just a bit clueless and trying to do their best.
2. Having strangers for team mates can be confusing as fuck. At least at first. For me, playing in this cherry popper was a big eye-opener to the fact that different leagues do things differently. Straight off the bat, it was obvious that other people had been taught different approaches to, for example, a brace and a 3 wall, and it took a certain amount of flexibility to make this work. I realised that every league will do things a slightly different way and that going into a cherry popper with the attitude that your way is gospel isn’t productive. A bit of compromise goes a long way toward not being a dick
3. Playing roller derby in front of an audience isn’t the be-all-and-end-all terrifying thing I thought it would be. I hadn’t really thought about whether there would be many spectators at the event, but in the end there was quite a reasonable crowd. Other skaters have told me that the crowd just kind of melts away when you’re playing, but I didn’t quite believe it until I experienced it for myself. Apart from a few times when I got a little cheer breaking out of the pack as a jammer, I honestly forgot they were there. Turns out that playing in front of a paying audience isn’t as big a deal as I’d anticipated, fear-wise.
4. An awesome bench team can make all the difference. It would have been easy to feel a bit down on myself upon getting my 6th penalty (ooops), but my team’s brilliant bench coach and line up manager did a great job of making sure that didn’t happen. From before our first game right through to the end, their attitude was just the right balance of ‘we’re taking you, and this game, seriously’ and ‘remember the main thing is to have fun with it’. This definitely had a big impact on my ability to stay upbeat throughout the day and gave me a renewed respect for these essential off-skates team members.
Although not a fully representative experience of playing in a game with your own league (obvs), I found taking part in a cherry popper to be a really good confidence booster, a nice way to get a bit of open-door bouting experience and nowhere near as scary as I thought it would be. My advice to any skater that’s mins-passed with a bit of scrimmaging experience under their belt is go for it! Keep an eye out for rookie-level events and sign yo self the heck up.
Images courtesy of Sophie Louise Boden, with permission.