Roller Derby League Culture

Posted on June 14, 2013 by


The beautiful thing about roller derby is that it attracts women who wouldn’t otherwise play a sport, let alone a team sport. Women who were/still are overweight; women who were sidelined through high school or even throughout their adult lives. Roller derby grabs this diverse group of women and teaches them they can be fast, they can be powerful, they can be special.

There’s a flip side of course. By its inclusive nature, roller derby attracts women who have emotional baggage, women with low self-esteem, women who haven’t yet developed the skills to resolve conflict with other women. Then, to really snap the lid on that pressure cooker closed, it places them in decision making roles: governing, project managing and marketing what is essentially a small business.

Leagues coach members in how to fall safely, how to pack skate safely, how to take a hit safely. Leagues have policies stipulating what percentage of training sessions members must attend. How many leagues coach members on how to interact safely with each other off the track? How many leagues have a policy that reminds members that it’s not ok to use Facebook to attack a league member who’s annoyed them?

Roller derby is great at creating a safe space in certain ways: you’re lesbian – who fricken cares? You have tatts – let’s see them. You’re bigger than you’d like to be – let’s skate it out, hun. In this way, derby is providing a progressive, forward thinking model for the rest of the women’s sporting world. Shit, it’s providing a model for the sporting world full stop. Imagine if men’s sport would embrace gay athletes as roller derby does. The next step is for leagues to set their internal culture – to decide disrespectful conduct will not be accepted and find a way to address unacceptable behaviour. To be inclusive is not to tolerate temper tantrums. Bullying is not entitled to free speech. Just because someone donates countless hours to running the league each week does not mean she earns the right to treat other members like her royal subjects.

Small measures can make a big difference. How about:

  • All league members are expected to greet everyone with a simple hello when they rock up to training – this can be asserted during raw and fresh meat training
  • Once fresh meat become league members, existing league members are expected to disperse themselves amongst the newbies to integrate them and make them feel like they’re there for more than filling the coffers with their fees
  • A buddy system
  • A mentor system
  • Monthly internal league Facebook posts on examples of behaviour that have been noticed that have improved league culture
  • Gentle reminders of behaviour that might seem ok but isn’t – eg gloating (“did you see how I held you back with my butt for a whole lap!?”) or bellowing like a wounded bull on the track
  • A policy that during team training every single person will deliver at least one compliment to another skater
  • Once a year “warm fuzzies” where everyone’s name is written on butchers paper and taped to the wall – all the other members then leave anonymous warm fuzzy comments on the paper. Members get to take their own sheet of paper home and treasure the comments for the rest of the year

Do you have any other ideas? Any examples of leagues leading the way on this?

Posted in: LimboLand