So you’re dating a derby player. Lucky you! Here are a few things we’ve learned over the years about what it takes to navigate the waters of roller derby dating.
- Go to the bouts.
There’s no sweeter feeling to a roller derby player than seeing the people they love in the stands during a bout. So grab some pals, grab the kids, and head to the arena. Roller derby events are a good time for everyone – they’re high-energy and kid-friendly, but usually have a nice party atmosphere as well, especially if there’s a beer garden. Tickets are inexpensive, and you’re pretty much guaranteed a good time. Sweaty hugs at the end of the bout are just a bonus.
- Learn the rules.
If you’re going to be attending a lot of bouts, it’s going be much more entertaining if you know the rules. Now, don’t be intimidated by the biblical length of the official WFTDA rules (the rule set most roller derby leagues use). Yes, they can be a bit confusing, but you don’t have to dive into the minutia right away. Sit with your gal at a bout and let her talk you through what’s happening. You’ll get some great insight into the game that you won’t get from reading the rules. Once you’ve watched a few bouts, you’ll get the general hang of it, and before you know it, you’ll be schooling the newbies sitting next you in the stands. And down the road, don’t be surprised if one day you find yourself at WFTDA.com, trying to penetrate the confounding intricacies of the forearm penalty.
- Go to a practice.
Curious about what the heck your ladyfriend is doing when she’s gone 2-3 nights a week? Bouting is only a small fraction of the time she spends on skates – she’s usually at derby practice, putting in her 10,000 hours. Make sure to clear it with her coach first, then instead of just dropping her off at the rink/school gym/empty warehouse, why not grab a coffee and check out how the derby sausage is made? You won’t exactly be on the edge of your seat at this one, but you’ll get to see what she’s working on with her team, and how hard she’s busting her butt.
- Get involved.
If you’re starting to love this whole roller derby thing, you can take your love to the next level! Depending on your skill set and time constraints, there are many different things you can do to earn your very own derby name (and spend some more time with your girl while you’re at it):
- Volunteer: Running a bout takes more than just opening the doors and turning on the lights. Leagues need people to rip tickets, serve beer, sell t-shirts and help set up/tear down the event. If you would rather just watch the bout, you can help out the league in other ways, too: design a poster, write a press release, organize a fundraiser. If you’ve got a skill, chances are your local roller derby league could use it.
- Become an official: Want to jump into the game, but would rather not get hit? You can become an on-skate referee or NSO (non-skating official). This is definitely more of a high-pressure position, but super fun and rewarding.
- Grab a camera: If you’re an amateur photographer looking for something fun, colourful and exciting to shoot, roller derby couldn’t be more perfect. The roller derby photographer community is a diverse group of creative, supportive and all-around lovely people, and it’s guaranteed they’ll welcome you with open arms at the next bout.
- Become an announcer: This is a great position for a chatty and outgoing partner of a derby player. Leagues are always looking for capable and reliable bout announcers, so if you’re not afraid to get on the mic and hype up a crowd, you’re about to become a valuable derby commodity.
- Start playing! If you’re envious of your girl’s passion and muscular legs, why not join a team yourself? Your partner would probably love to watch you work your way up through Fresh Meat training. Unfortunately, joining a team isn’t always as easy for male partners because not every women’s league has a male counterpart, but if you’re ambitious and organized, you could always start your own men’s team!
- Be honest.
Let’s get real here. Not all partners of derby players want to get involved. It’s your right not to. But if roller derby doesn’t really float your boat, be honest with her right off the top. Don’t feign enthusiasm or say you’re going to be there, then bail. It will just lead to arguments and disappointment. Everyone knows that successful relationships require a bit of compromise now and then, and roller derby couples are no exception. Most roller derby players eat, sleep and breathe the sport, and if you’re not willing to go to a bout or an after party or rip tickets once in a while, you might not be with the right woman. On the other hand, she should be willing to give a little on her end, too. If she’s not willing to skip a practice or a bout now and then for date night, her priorities might not be in the right place. As long as you’re both honest about expectations and limits, your derby couple-ing should work well.
- Get your own hobby.
So roller derby isn’t your thing. That’s cool. What is your thing? If you already have a hobby that you love, you’re going to be able to dedicate a lot of time to it, because roller derby is going to keep your partner busy. If she’s on a typical roller derby schedule, she’ll be practicing about 2x per week (sometimes more) evenings and/or weekends, bouting about once a month during the season plus occasional away games, and working out when she’s not skating. There are also the committee meetings, team meetings, league meetings, fundraisers and after parties. So yeah, she’s busy. If you’re at home, waiting for her to be free and getting miffed that she’s too busy or tired to hang out every night, you’re going to be miffed a lot. Don’t hesitate to start training for that marathon/go to band practice/finish your novel/build that cabin. There will be a lot less resentment, and you’ll have a lot more to talk about when you do get to see each other.
- Get your own derby friends.
No matter what your level of involvement in derby is going to be, you’re going to be at a lot of bouts. Derby is always more fun with friends, so looks like it’s time for you to find your derby “wife”! As you know, a derby wife is someone in your derby world (not necessarily female) who is your drinking buddy, confidante, ride home and partner in crime. Maybe it’s that guy wearing the viking hat who works in the beer garden, or the girl who helped train you as an NSO, or another photographer with the camera that you covet. Strike up a conversation, give them a high five and buy them a drink at the after party.
- Work out together.
If she’s not already, your girl is about to get into the best shape of her life. If she plays at a mid or high level of competition, she is going to need to be fit and fast to keep her spot on the team, so she’s going to be motivated to work out. She’ll be working on cardio, core strength, agility and lower body power. Sound good? Why not hit the gym with her! If you’re already a fitness geek, you might be the extra motivation that she needs, or if you’ve been meaning to get back into shape, you’ve now got a built-in gym buddy!
- Brace yourself for some drama.
Derby drama. You’ve probably already heard of it. Get 30 to 80 assertive, confident and ambitious women in a room together working on a project, and there’s bound to be a little tension. Every league is different – some are harmonious love-fests, some are spicy hot pots. Honestly, most derby leagues fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, with occasional temper flare-ups and disagreements. Your girl might find herself in the middle of one of these disagreements from time to time, especially if she’s involved in the higher-level management of the league. She may even bring some of this tension home with her and will probably need somewhere to vent. It sucks to see your partner stressed out about things that don’t seem very important, but let’s be clear: they are important to her. Even though she seems stressed and irritated at times, she loves her league and loves this sport. Do your best to support her and listen to her while giving her a calm oasis to come home to. There’s always a little friction involved in a passion project, and what’s life without passion?
- Get ready for some changes.
If your girl is new to roller derby, sit down, strap in and keep your hands inside the vehicle. Her life, and yours to some degree, is about to change. If you don’t already know by now, roller derby isn’t just a sport – it’s a phenomenon. No one really knows why people get so passionate about it. Maybe because it’s new on the scene. Maybe it’s the fast-paced action. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s pretty much the only sport in the world that is played, managed and regulated mostly by women. Whatever it is, roller derby consumes people like other sports don’t, and this consumption changes people for the better. It teaches people to be assertive, follow through with a strategy, work with a team towards a goal, push themselves to the limit, and to love their bodies. Yes, other sports teach these things too, but for some reason, probably because of its inclusivity, many people who don’t have a sports background come to derby later in life, when these lessons can really hit home. If the woman in your life has just discovered roller derby, kick back and bask in the glow of her new-found awesomeness.
Photos by Bob Ayers (all rights reserved)