Let's talk about progression for new skaters. Particularly new skaters who don’t fall into our tidy timescales for achievement. (Read: any skater who is three years into their derby “career” and still hasn’t passed their mins or been cleared to scrimmage.)
There’s an obvious answer here about coaching skill, how much time we allot to our new skater programmes, and who we put in that place. That is not to say that in some leagues these aren't the right people with the right skills. But, it feels like a lot of the time that when that happens, it’s luck rather than design.
Not every league can pick and choose their coaches and not every league has the funds for dedicated time and space. We get that as a sport. It’s part of what makes us roller derby and it’s part of what builds our community. It offers a lot of opportunities for people to step into new roles and to develop, but on the flip side it can prove inaccessible to those participants who need more support to be involved.
What about when sometimes people just don’t get better, no matter how much time you spend with them. How can we blame the system for letting them down or keeping them out of sport?
Let’s stop a sec : All leagues that actively cultivate and promote a derby space for skaters that will never be playable on a regulation home or charter team, raise your hand.
Yes yes, how very negative, everyone will eventually be playable. Yes, true. We must believe in the power of persistence and hard work. But how much of that message in itself is damaging to our players’ mental health and to our sport as a whole? Sometimes, actually, it doesn’t happen. But the constant setting of milestones and limits on skater involvement based on these milestones doesn’t help grow our sport.
Minimum Skills (MSRs to some) are a massive milestone, applied differently across the sport. In the UK, many leagues have a no scrim until you pass mins rule. Average amount of time to pass mins is 6 months to a year. And that’s for the skaters who fit the trajectory.
What other sport doesn’t let you play the sport until a year after you’ve joined?
Change the wording. Change the progression.
New skaters, fresh meat, newbies… all these words are applied to anyone who hasn’t passed Minimum Skills. What happens when you’re four years down the line and you’ve still not got your 27 in 5? You’re not a newbie. You’re an extremely persistent individual who for whatever myriad of reasons hasn’t passed their mins.
Introduce Contact Early
I work with leagues on their new skater programming and I find that most leagues I work with start contact at the end of a 12 – 24 week programme. Or they don’t introduce contact until certain skills have been ticked off. This sport is contact. Why are people not even engaging with contact until they’ve been “playing” for 3 months? There are ways to bring in contact from the beginning, even with brand new, teetering on their wheels, hanging on to the wall skaters.
This also helps identify the individuals who don’t like being hit. I’m all for accessibility, but if you don’t want to be hit, roller derby is not your sport. This is a good time to present all the other amazing ways to be part of the community
Build a culture of play
Let them play the game as soon as safely possible.
I’m not saying pit them against Rose City’s Wheels of Justice, start a bit smaller.
Start em in their flat feet if you have to (I’m not keen on sock derby, but I know loads of people who think it’s fab). But get them playing.
Play builds skill. It also saves your team the 'hassle' of having to teach strategy and game play from SCRATCH the first time you let someone scrimmage with you.
Create a step change between zero skills and MSRs. Find what you feel is safe. If you don’t have time to sit down and analyse what you think is safe, then sit tight because I’ll be posting the outputs from one of my EDC sessions soon and it’s all about safety skills.
Let them play each other. If there aren’t enough of them to play each other, find another league with similar level people, agree what’s safe, and set up a scrimmage. Or use one of Luludemon’s new rulesets that need fewer people. While they won’t be building up to WFTDA strategies, they’ll still be building their skills, muscle memory, and an understanding of common game play.
New skater programmes are often set up in chunks of time. There’s an expectation that at the end you pass your mins and play with the “big girls (and boys et al)”. A lot of leagues don’t have a space for those who don’t pass so they’re sent back to the beginning. And again. And again. As much as I value drilling the fundamentals, there’s only so many times you can be sent back to learn Stride 2 and work your way through another “new skater” programme without losing a little heart.
Do you have the resource for a rolling intake? Can you stage progressions? Can you integrate game play sooner?
This next one is maybe outside the bounds of a single coach, but if you’re bought into this, start the conversation with that league down the road…
Work together to keep people in sport.
If you’re in a place with a cluster of teams, maybe run one big new starter cooperative with dedicated coaches and times and get them playing and when they’re ready to be drafted to a team, they go to the one that’s closest or meets their style or times.
Step outside the elite competition mindset. Yes, the dream is real, it’s true we all still could win the Hydra. We can all still try for the national team. That’s amazing about our sport. But don’t let possibility stop us building something meaningful at non-elite level.
If each league buys into the concept of running challenge teams of pre-mins skaters, how much more opportunity opens up across the board? How many smaller or struggling leagues would be able to compete at this level while building up enough skaters to play regulation games?
How much more roller derby would there be!
Note- I’ve obviously not seen every derby place and team in the world. If you have overcome these accessibility issues, tell us! Get in touch and share your successes. Shed some happy light in this space!
Related posts from Rule 56:
Who coaches your newbies