When I joined Toronto Roller Derby (ToRD) League in early 2011, I had a number of lofty goals—perhaps more aptly named fantasies.
I wanted to be the best and I wanted to be the best right off the bat. Of course I knew roller derby was an incredibly demanding sport. If you have watched a bout, you know that the hits are hard, but it isn’t until you’ve played the sport that you realize just how difficult it is to take a hit, fall down, and get back up to do it all over again. The endurance and strength needed to last an hour of full contact, not to mention learning the rules, strategy and unique skating technique, is staggering.
There’s a lot going on.
But, like most people getting into the sport, that’s exactly what attracted me to Roller Derby. I wanted to do everything, which means becoming a TRIPLE THREAT. A triple threat is a player who excels at all three positions on the track: Jammer, Pivot, and Blocker. Each role requires a different skill set and is incredibly demanding. When you put them all together, a skater is a force to be reckoned with.
We all know about the Jammer: she’s the one with the star on her helmet who races around the track, dodging blocks to score points. The Jammer might as well be wearing a target on her back. She takes hits over and over again, relying on her Blockers to help her.
Blockers must simultaneously work both offensive and defensive, helping their Jammer through the pack and stopping the opposing Jammers. The best Blockers master both positional blocking and hitting to put other Blockers on the ground and out of play.
The Pivot works like a Blocker, but is also responsible for running the play on the track. There are a number of strategies to employ in any one situation, but for any of them to be effective, all the Blockers need to work together and the Pivot ensures that this happens. With everyone listening to the same person, it’s easy to execute a plan.
A summary of how roller derby works from the 2009 movie Whip It:
A triple threat is a valuable player, so of course I wanted to be one! Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the skills for each position are quite different. To become a master at all three, you first have to master the skills required for one position, then build the others on top. When I started playing roller derby I had zero skating experience. The first day I put on my roller skates was the first day of Fresh Meat, Toronto Roller Derby’s training program for women interested in joining the league.
Reality check: roller derby is hard if you don’t know how to skate.
An especially embarrassing moment was when my toe stop fell out of the front of my skate. I subsequently skated over it, causing me to superman across the floor. I flew through the air, though not over tall buildings in a single bound. Instead, I skidded across the flood, bashing my hip bones and developing a nasty bruise-and-rink-rash combination.
Fast forward to Fresh Meat graduation, where skaters are placed on the DVAS, ToRD’s farm team. While the new grads have the basic skills of skating, they get crucial bouting experience on the D-VAS. I bounced around ideas about what position I wanted to fill. A Jammer gets the glory, but also gets the criticism (and the hits).
After a few unsuccessful attempts in practice, I decided to focus on the pack where I would have three other skaters to work with. Here, however, I found myself to be equally useless, mostly taking up track space rather than making any real contribution to my pack mates and Jammer. And pivoting was completely out of the question. If I couldn’t act as a blocker, I certainly couldn’t lead my pack mates.
So what was missing? Why was I unable to excel under the pressure of a bout situation like my teammates were?
I came to the realization that I was terrified of failure and that confidence was as much a necessary skill as skating and blocking. If you didn’t have the confidence to get out there, fail miserably, and try again, you weren’t going to get anywhere.
Bouting with the D-VAS over the course of a year slowly built my confidence. Each bout, I could recall one more useful thing I did compared to the bout before. During my last bout with the D-VAS, I took the opportunity to jam. Twice. I was able to get points for my team, and while I wasn’t great at it, I wasn’t terrible at it either.
Since then, I’ve been drafted to a home team and continue to build my skills and confidence with my new amazing and experienced teammates. Slowly but surely, I’m building a roller derby repertoire, and while I’m a far cry from the triple threats I look up to (jam during a home team game? Not on your life!), I’m happy with my accomplishments, knowing that tomorrow I will be better than I am today. I may never be a triple—or a double—threat, but I’ve learned that it isn’t so much that you need to be the best at everything, but that you’ve tried everything and have fun doing it.
And if you just go for it, it feels really great to nail that perfect hit.
Heather lives, works, and reads books in Toronto. Her apartment is furnished almost entirely by IKEA. She skates with the Chicks Ahoy! as R2-Smack-U. @hholditch