Bootcamp and Beyond

OK, I bought my skates and all that other crap. What should I wear to boot camp?
Congratulations! You're ready for boot camp – but what on earth will you wear?

If you've seen the movie “Whip It,” put that out of your mind for now. You don't want to show up to your first day of boot camp in a cute Dickies dress. But you won't want to wear sweatpants, either. You'll want to wear something comfortable that allows you to move freely, and because first impressions are so important, you may want to avoid clothing that's more streetwalker than skater. In other words, wait until your new league gets to know you before you start pushing the boundaries of good taste.

Many skaters like to wear tights or fishnets to protect their legs from “rink rash” – the nasty lesions that result from sliding bare-skinned across a floor. Fishnets can result in a variant of rink rash (fishnet burn), but some skaters prefer their airiness to tights. Tights and fishnets may also help prevent the scratchy sensation that comes with wearing new knee pads.

For your first practice, you might try tights, with shorts or a skirt. Make sure whatever you wear doesn't have any bulky buttons, zippers or other features that would hurt you (or a fellow skater) when you fall. And wear a T-shirt or tank top, but do NOT put your chosen roller derby name on your shirt. Chances are, the name you want is already taken. And it's presumptuous to show up at tryouts, assuming you've already made the cut.

Will I get hurt playing roller derby?
Oh, yes, you absolutely will get hurt at some point. But some skaters play derby for years without so much as a bruise (and we secretly despise them). Others are not so fortunate.

Pulled muscles are among the more common injuries, especially for newer skaters whose bodies aren't used to the physical demands of derby. If you exercise on your own, you can help build strength that will make injury less likely.

Knee injuries – like torn ligaments and damaged cartilage – are the enemies of any derby career. If you do injure your knee, giving it time to heal properly is essential. Coming back from an injury too early can lead to re-injury, and possibly chronic knee problems. Remember: When you're done playing derby someday, you will want to be able to walk.

Shoulders, necks, backs, wrists – no part of the body is safe in derby. That's why leagues spend so much time practicing. Learning how to fall properly, in particular, is critical in avoiding injury.

The mother of all injuries is the dreaded broken bone. Usually, when a skater breaks a bone, it's her ankle, and it happens at practice – and sometimes, in the most mundane fashion imaginable. But when you play roller derby, you learn to forget about its inherent risks. Because if you dwell on what could happen, you may become so nervous and stiff that you're at greater risk of injury. So just accept that injuries are a part of this sport, do your best to make your body strong and keep your wits about you. You'll be fine.

Hooray! The league accepted me! What's next?
Wow, you did it! You completed the boot camp, aced the tryouts, and now you are officially a derby girl! But you're still not quite ready for the big leagues. You've got some learnin' to do.

A lot of leagues call their new recruits “fresh meat” – or some other term that lets you know you are more or less an apprentice. When you're new, you may not be allowed to participate in all practices, as some practices may be designated for advanced derby skaters. If you can't participate in scrimmage practices, ask if you can help as a volunteer. Learning how to help the referees, staff the penalty box or keep score will help you learn the game.

When you're accepted into the league, you'll probably get some sort of primer on what's expected of you. Many leagues require skaters to be active in league administrative work, which may be performed by various committees. Find out what the league needs from you, and get to work! Leagues appreciate skaters who are willing to help with the not-so-fun aspect of being a derby girl. Skaters and volunteers generally handle all administrative work, like fundraising, media relations and event planning. Some leagues consider league involvement when choosing rosters. But even if yours does not, know that no one likes a slacker. Shirking administrative duties is one surefire way to irritate people.

If your league offers a mentor program, ask to be matched up with a veteran who can help you with questions and concerns along the way. Because at some point, you're going to need some guidance – or maybe just a sympathetic ear.