What is “safe” anyway?

When can skaters scrimmage in your league?  Do they need all their WFTDA Minimum Skills?  All of them except for 27 in 5?  A league-defined set of safety skills?  When they pass, do they jump straight into full league scrimmage?  Is your league pretty good?  Have you got a massive skill differential between your competitive skaters and your just starting scrimmage? 



Why am I asking you all of these questions?? 


A couple reasons, really. 

One, I’m that kind of person that does quickfire questions even in social (-ly awkward) situations. 

Two, one of the key things I want to see change in derby is to get skaters playing derby sooner, but safer.


HEY WHAT?  But surely the whole minimum skills thing is about safety and if they skate before that, it’s going to be less safe!


Well.  Maybe.  But no, not really.  I don’t believe that.


If leagues have the time (and resource and ability) it is absolutely a realistic scenario for skaters to scrimmage well before they’ve passed their minimum skills.  It’s all about who they’re scrimmaging with – it needs to be other skaters “at their level”.   

If they’re skating with other skaters at their level then everyone’s moving the same speed, everyone’s hitting around the same strength (or missing with the same frequency), everyone’s popping up and down trying to figure out what’s going on.  The pace of the game reflects the skill level.



If they spend the whole time they’re getting their WFTDA min skills scrimmaging and learning game play, how much better are they going to integrate into your full league scrimmage!  And seriously, how much safer.  There’s nothing safe (for anyone) about having a meerkat on track, rolling slowly in a mad rush of people, stood bolt upright trying to see wtf is going on.  27 in 5 ain’t gonna save you then.


So, you might wonder whether it’s my intention to put someone on wheels on their first day and pop a star on their head.   Mmmm… no.


When you get down to it, what skills do you need to play roller derby safely?   What does safe mean?


For me, I’m looking for 3 things.

  • Comfortable on skates (evidenced through easy stride and flexible stance, able to propel forward and backward, being able to lift their feet, being able to turn on skates)

  • Not a hazard to others (evidenced through general stability, not grabbing when they feel unbalanced or go down, not kicking back in their stride, avoiding obstacles, falling small, understanding and being able to control their hits to legal target zones, able to stop, able to skate in close proximity without kicking, falling over, grabbing on, or ramming into other skaters)

  • Not a hazard to themselves (evidenced through a lot of the above (stability, stopping, controlled falling), no hands on the floor, removing themselves from the track when down for too long, understanding and being able to control giving hits from legal blocking zones (no engagement with the head), sufficiently managed form in a wall to not incur injuries (inappropriate bracing form, for example).


These three things come a lot sooner for most people than weaving through 10 cones in under six seconds and transitions at a moderate pace. 

Get your skaters playing derby sooner and get them hooked.  Keep more of your new skaters for longer and take a big step towards supporting a safer introduction to full league scrimmage.

Check out the other ways we’re looking to turn new skater development on its head in a different blog post.

Quick note:

For small or remote leagues, it can be hard to find enough people for your skaters to play within their skill set – we’re playing around with Short Track Rolla Derby as an option.  We’re looking at how training might be adapted to short track and what that means about the segue to the WFTDA ruleset.  If you’re in the UK, come play with us in Leeds on July 13th.