That One Time I Led Derby Practice

First, I would like to apologize for not posting last week. I had a standard cliche post half written and I never finished it. My mom moved into a rehabilitation center last Wednesday and I was focused on making her comfortable. Anyway! Last week I led the final roller derby practice of the year and I think it went okay.

Up until this practice the only things I coached were little dribblers and a few short running clinics. In both instances the participants were quite a few years younger than me and were amazed by everything I did. This was not the case for roller derby practice.

The skaters who made it to practice had been skating for a few years longer than me and were not amazed merely by my existence. I was so nervous for this practice I was up late planning it and could barely sleep thinking about it. I left my house terrified, but ready for my newbie-structured practice. However, when I showed up at the gym there were no newbies there. Sickness and the holidays left me with four veteran skaters to coach. So I had to wing it.

I adapted the games into skills courses, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Now, don’t get me wrong my derby sisters are super fantastic people and wouldn’t have said anything even if my practice had been a mess, but I did not want them to feel like they had wasted their time by showing up.

I think it went okay. Was it perfect? No. Would I do it again? I think so.

Lessons learned:

  • don’t panic; derby people are awesome
  • be prepared to go off book
  • work on giving adequate feedback
  • learn to recognize mistakes
  • sleep the night before
  • CHILL!

Well I did it. There was no need for all the drama I poured into it either. Not to mention, I think I will coach some day. Will it be derby? I don’t know. But I think I would enjoy coaching a sport, especially after I have experience under my belt.

Thank you to the skaters who put up with my cluelessness. You guys are the best!

Photo credit: Bob Good

Five lessons I have learned since joining roller derby

Well, it’s official. As of yesterday I have been skating for one year. I just celebrated my first derbyversary. Wow. It is hard for me to believe I have already been skating for that long! I still feel like a brand new skater, however, the calendar says otherwise.

It has been a fast year, but it has been a great one. I feel like I still have so much to learn, and I do, but I have also learned SO much and not just on the track. I just wanted to share a few things I learned with you.

1. You should always try new things
It is easy to make excuses. There will be always be a reason not to try something new. Don’t let those reasons stand in the way. I realize it’s different when you have a family to think about and there are a whole slew of valid reasons not to try something new, but if you are at all able, branch out. Step outside your comfort zone because you might just encounter something awesome. Last year I gathered up the courage to attend my first roller derby practice and I am so happy I did. Roller derby is more of a lifestyle than an athletic commitment and I LOVE my new lifestyle.

2. My body is amazing
I realize I am relatively young, but I am still impressed by my body. I regularly force it to take hits and push its limits and it keeps letting me get back up. I found a few new muscles that I never knew I had until they were sore. I feel like I am astill constantly surprised by what my body is capable of.

3. Attitude is everything
It’s harder to learn when you have a bad attitude and, frankly, you aren’t any fun to skate with. For most skaters roller skating is a completely foreign concept and it takes time to learn. You cannot get down on yourself when you a skill or drill doesn’t come easily. Most importantly, don’t compare yourself to others. Unless you have the exact some body type, background, experience and endurance than someone else you will not see the same results. I am 5’12” and I know there are spaces smaller skaters can fit through that will just not work for me and they never will. That being said I probably have longer legs than most shorter skaters and can take advantage of that when they can’t. Just keep smiling and keep skating, the rest will come.

4. Embrace the community
The derby community is so welcoming. The Circus City Derby Dames are a newer league and the support and love we have felt from leagues and officials all over the state is amazing! I love it. I try to say thank you to officials as often as I can and I LOVE getting tips and feedback from experienced skaters. I am honored to be a part of the community.

5. Trust is everything
You cannot successful play roller derby without trusting your team. It is not a sport where you can play “lone wolf” or do everything yourself. You are nothing without your team. Even if you are a jammer, you need your blockers to hold the other jammer back and, if you lucky, help you though the pack. The bonds you will forge with your teammates are priceless. Which is great because gear can be expensive.

I am super excited to see what the next year has in store. It’s crazy to think about what I accomplished in six short months. As I was mentally preparing for our home bout a few weeks ago, I thought back to my first bout. It was in March. I was in one line and I could barely stay up on my skates. I remembering leaving the track that night stoked about the bout and the sport and all the things! Now, looking back, I’m pretty sure the only thing I did that night was clean Beloit’s track. Since then, I learned how to stay on my feet when I block and how much I love jamming. I have learned zip blocking, juking and so much more. Plus, I found a second family.

Bring it on year two! I’m ready!


Reflections on my First Mixer

This past Saturday I skated in my first ever Roller Derby mixer. I was a little nervous beforehand. Not only have I not skated in very many bouts yet, but also skating with new skaters is always interesting. Building the trust and learning the way they play can be challenge.

I’m am thrilled to report I am extremely happy with how things went. For the most part I skated pretty well and as a league we pulled off our home mixer like champions. I am so proud of my team and of all the skaters who joined us for the 2017 Big Top Brawl.

It was hot. We skate in a hockey rink so there is no real way to cool it aside from crossing your fingers and hoping for cooler weather. Fortunately on the day of the brawl the weather was cooler,. However it was  still humid and it was still very warm in our facilities. Very warm.

I learned so much. We had a TON of fantastic skaters from all over skating with us and it was absolutely fantastic to learn from them. I wish there was a way to soak it all into some fancy derby sponge and then sift through it later so I don’t forget anything. There were so many times I watched those amazing ladies out there and just wished I could have one ounce of their talent some day. Goals.

After two bouts I was completely exhausted. However, I had SO much fun. Every time I get to play derby I love it a little more. On top of the sport itself being amazing, there is always so much derby love at every event I go to. The Brawl did not disappoint.

Thank you to all the skaters, officials, NSOs, coaches, fans and supporters that made the 2017 Big Top Brawl a success! A special shout out to my family, my friend Ben Vanden Boogaard and his fantastic girlfriend for making the trip to Baraboo to see my skate! It’s safe to say my first mixer was a success!

Talk Derby to Me

This post is special to me. In the few months I’ve been writing this blog it’s sort of become my pet and it means a lot to me. A few weeks ago I received my first ever comment on a post and in it a request for a specific post. Well, here it is. This post goes out to that reader. Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting. Now, as per your request, let me explain roller derby to you.

In the few months I have done derby I have been asked dozens of time how the sport works and, almost always, when I try to explain people’s eyes glaze over. It’s a confusing sport to understand, especially without visuals. So I am going to try to break it down to it’s simplest form and incorporate visuals. Here goes.

For those that don’t know, roller derby is played on a oval track and each game is called a bout. Each team has five people one the track at a time, four blockers and one jammer. The jammer is easy to recognize. She is the skater with the star on her helmet. The jammer is the only skater who can score points. Below is an example of how skaters line up. A pivot is, in the simplest terms, a fourth blocker.

derby lineup
Image from Limerick Derby

When the whistle blows a “jam” begins and the jammers fight to get through the blockers. The first jammer through becomes lead jammer. Once they come back around the track, jammers again fight to pass the blockers. However, this time every blocker (or opposing jammer if they have not made it through yet) passed is a point. Jammers keep fighting for points until the jam ends. The jam ends in one of two ways, the lead jammer calls it off or two minutes go by. A lead jammer calls off the jam by tapping her hips. Skaters then line up for a new jam. Play continues for two thirty minute periods. At the end of the bout, the team with the most points wins. Below is an illustration of someone gaining lead jamming status.

Lead jammer
Image from Montreal Roller Derby

Now, that is the bare minimum. Any player on the track can get called for any number of penalties and when they do that skater must serve time in the penalty box, similar to hockey. That skater’s team must then skate shorthanded. Jammers can also be called for penalties. This gives the other team’s jammer an advantage.

The two teams of blockers must stay within 10 feet of each other to remain in play. If they are spread too far apart without having one player “bridge the gap” they may no longer engage with jammers. This can help with game play strategies. Below is an illustration showing how blockers, in this case blue blockers, can become out of play.

Image from

If a jammer cannot get through a wall of skaters she can choose to pass her “star” or helmet cover signifying her jammer status to the pivot. However, if she does this the new jammer cannot earn lead jammer status, even if she makes it out of the pack first.

Lastly, players can choose to play offense which basically boils down to assisting your jammer break through a wall of blockers instead of trying to hold the opposing jammer. Offense can also be played passively.

Now that’s a lot of words all at once. Words are much harder to understand than visuals. So if my rambling did not help you get the gist, here is a video from the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association:

I hope you now have at least some understanding of the derby world. If you have lingering questions, please feel free to ask. Watching derby is one of the best ways to learn derby so, if you’re in the area, come out and see the Circus City Derby Dames skate in their two home bouts of 2017 on July 22 and September 16.

Thanks for the request and thanks for reading!


Love at First Bout

Reflections on my first bout

When I told people I was going to be skating in my first ever roller derby bout I was almost always asked if I was scared. And the truth is, I was. Not because roller derby is “dangerous” like everyone assumes because I had to work my butt off to pass a set of minimum skills requirements to be out there. And not because it’s a “unique” sport to get into because it’s an awesome sport to get into. I was scared because I was terrified of letting my teammates down, of not being good enough and of being a hazard on the track. I also experienced typical game day jitters and anxiety.

Then I got out on the track. My nerves were gone instantly. Not because I had a new-found confidence or anything, but when you’re out there skating you don’t have time to be nervous. All you can think about is where the jammer is.

I remember questioning my positioning a lot. I was never sure if I was 100% where I was supposed to be and I fell more times than I would like to admit. Going into half time I remember feeling super excited because derby is awesome and a little bummed because I was wishing I was skating better.

Fortunately, the second half did not disappoint. I felt more sure of myself and as a team we improved considerably, gaining lead jammer status, building stronger walls and putting everything out on the line. Just writing about it makes me feel a new surge of pride for my team. We did not give up.

I think I personally played better as well. The first half of the game is all a blur for me, but I can remember instances in the second half where I contributed to the game and did good things. I also earned my first ever penalty…oops.

So many emotions go into a bout. Excitement when you do well, disappoint when a jammer gets by you, anger at yourself when you fall or earn a unnecessary penalty and pride when you get to watch your teammates kick some butt. When it ended I remember feeling super high on adrenaline and super satisfied.

I wasn’t ready for the game to end. I was ready for another bout right away. I don’t want to have to wait to play again. I learned a lot throughout the bout, but I also learned just how much I love derby. I am so glad I joined the Circus City Derby Dames. Just being part of the derby world is fantastic. The timing of this post is perfect since International Women’s Day was yesterday. And let me tell you, the women in this sport are strong, confident, kick ass role models. It was definitely love at first bout.

Photo by Arthur Horino