July 11, 2013

How Do I Explain Roller Derby to a Stranger?

That's the epic question, isn't it?  How can you explain roller derby to a complete stranger, and actually make them want to come?  As roller derby players we're constantly having to explain this sport.  Over and over again.  So, as responsible members of the roller derby community, when we're bombarded with curious people asking if we "throw bows" and "hit bitches," here are a few tricks to the trade on how to keep it exciting, legitimate, and honorable.

1. Don't Say "Girls."  I know, I know, many of us have heard this one before, but it's just as important now as it was 5 years ago (gosh, I sound like my mother).  Being called a "roller derby girl" isn't particularly offensive, but it's not very accurate.  Girls pick their nose.  They wear pink overalls.  They watch Dora the Explorer on Saturday morning.  And they cry because their My Little Pony got chewed up by the dog.  Now I'm not saying I haven't done any of those things in the past year (my overalls are purple thank you very much) but I play roller derby because it makes me a stronger, more confident,  ready-to-take-on-the-world kind of woman, and someone calling me a girl does not make me feel this way.  So ladies, call yourselves women, because you are.  If someone thinks that you playing roller derby is "cute," politely correct them.  You're a woman, you earned it, now act like one.

2. Use Visual Aids.  When explaining roller derby sometimes you just have to shut your mouth and use your body.  Don't tell people about roller derby, show them.  Give them a taste of what roller derby is like!  Grab a girlfriend and actually demonstrate how you land a hit, a t-bone, or a partner-hit.  I find myself doing this all the time.  These things will grab their interest, give them a better idea of how the sport is played, and they'll want to see it in full-speed with skates on.  Don't have a fellow derby-mate to grab?  Use them (if you're comfy with it).  Trust me, showing is better than telling.

3. Keep it Simple.  It's incredibly easy to get wrapped up in the details of derby.  Someone will ask, "So how do you score points?"  "Well, each team has a jammer and that jammer has to make it through the pack.  The first pass just determines who the jammer is and then on the second pass you can score points.  Every member of the opposing team you pass gets you a point unless you pass them illegally and then you don't get their point and if you go to the box you can't get any points blah blah blah..."
We all know the details of roller derby like the back of our hands.  We know the in's and out's, the illegal play, the complex rules, but whoever we're explaining this to doesn't need to know.  In fact, they don't want to know- at least not yet.  Once they come to a bout or two and get the hang of the sport they'll start asking you those complicated questions- trust me. Be patient, and you will be rewarded.

4. Stay Classy.  One out of every 5 strangers I tell about roller derby is...kind of a jerk.  They're rude, condescending, and usually a little drunk.  Don't let these people get you down.  When someone says, "Wow, I love how you guys just made up a sport because you couldn't play anything else," or "If men did roller derby they would be way better at it than you gals," or "Yeah right, you probably couldn't hit anybody that hard," shrug it off.  These people don't know you.  They don't know the long hours you've put in, the grueling practices, the blisters, and the sacrifices you make to play this sport.  Just look at them straight in the eye with a smile and say, "it's ok, it's not for everybody." And then walk away with your head held high.  Don't get steamed and argue with them, because you can't argue with crazy, and if people actually look at you and think the meat on           your bones can't cut it, they are crazy.

So if this wasn't enough to steer you on the right track (get it? track?) I've enclosed a pocket-sized version of an explanation for your reading pleasure courtesy of Penny Trait:

"It's a contact sport played on roller skates. Only one player from each team can score by getting past the opposing skaters so you knock her down so she doesn't get through or knock her teammates down so your girl can get through".

A little condensed, but feel free to add your own zest.  My best, and last piece of advice would be...

5. Make it Personal.  You can talk all day about the sport but why these people are really interested in is because they're interested in you.  They think, "This chick plays roller derby?  She's probably incredibly interesting!"  And guess what?  You are interesting.  Everyone's story is different, so make it personal by telling them how you got started, what you're favorite thing about derby is, how your parents reacted, or something embarrassing about the first time you put on skates.  They might want to know about the sport, but what they really want to know is, "what kind of a woman plays roller derby?"  Because right now, they haven't met anybody that plays roller derby, and that makes you the kind of woman they want to get to know.


The Original Skankster

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