Fresh Meat. We’ve all been it, and we all love it. But what’s the best way to get it?
Roller derby is a rough sport – both on your body and your personal life. Players come and go: they get injured, get old, get new jobs, move out of town, not to mention the fact the majority of roller derby players are at primo baby-making age. It’s inevitable that your league is going to need to recruit regularly to keep full rosters.
Here are some of the best recruiting tips that I’ve picked up along the way. (Note: this is for adult league recruiting, but much of this could be applied to junior leagues.)
1. Don’t just copy what others do. I often get asked “How does your league do _________?” I’m always hesitant to answer this question, because what Terminal City does may not work for your league. Remember, we’re based in a large, metropolitan area that has a high percentage of active females. Vancouver is also a pretty liberal city, so we’ve got lots of alternative women that might be attracted to an alternative sport like roller derby. Because of this luxury, we have only one Fresh Meat intake a year and we only accept skaters if they already have basic skating knowledge. If your league is in a small town with a limited population base, you’re going to have to hustle to recruit members and you’re probably going to have to spend the time teaching them to skate.
2. Use your bouts to recruit. A bout is your most powerful marketing tactic. Most people who sign up to play roller derby have seen at least one bout, and I’ll bet it was the energy, enthusiasm and general awesomeness of the event that made them want to join. Make sure you have recruitment announcements, flyers and sign up sheets at every bout. Create a bout job for someone to wear their team uniform and walk around the crowd talking to potential new skaters. Important – make sure they get their email addresses so you can follow up.
3. Combine your marketing efforts. I think sometimes we think of marketing as purely for our bouts, but remember that you are selling TWO products – watching roller derby and playing roller derby. Getting flyers printed for your next bout? Print your recruiting info on the other side.
4. Talk, talk, talk. Impress upon all your existing members of the need to recruit. Make sure they know when, where, how to join the league. And empower them to talk to any friends, people they meet in the coffee shop or bump into in the office washroom. Ensure that there are always business cards or postcards available to all league members with recruiting contact info. Don’t forget to chat on social media too! Even if the people you reach aren’t able to join your local league, they may join somewhere else in the world. One of my university roommates had seen my posts about roller derby on Facebook, and when a local league started up in her hometown of Oslo, Norway, she signed up!
5. Info nights. Many leagues have success from holding “Meet the Rollergirls” nights. Something less formal and scary than a bout, it’s an evening where people can ask questions about what playing roller derby actually means. These are typically held in a local drinking establishment so people can relax and mingle afterwards. As with all business, it’s the personal relationships that make the difference, so make sure you have the ‘right’ people at these events: people with charisma, confidence, and lots of knowledge about derby. If your teammate isn’t great at talking to strangers or is really new to the sport, she may not be the best person for this.
6. Differentiate yourself. If you are competing for skaters with another local league, make sure you are clear about what makes you different. Although league splits always make me sad (Splitting up the fan base? Twice as much work? Sad face.), the ones that are able to operate successfully are those that offer different types of roller derby to different audiences. One league might be more focused on the athletic and competitive aspect, while the other is focused on the boutfits, showmanship and equal-playing opportunities. Both models appeal to different people and are equally valid.
7. Diversify. Lately, I’ve been inspired by mega leagues like Rose City (#400Strong) and Texas Rollergirls. With thriving junior and recreational programs, as well as house and WFTDA teams, these leagues are offering many different types of roller derby, thus appealing to a large cross section of people. This model also allows skaters to pick and choose where they fit according to their time/family/career at that moment – and change where they play as that changes too. It’s not just “one size fits all.” (This ties into retention – that post is coming soon!)
8. Don’t just teach them to skate. Most leagues have an on-skate Fresh Meat training program, but there’s a lot more to being a roller derby skater than just the skating. Our league does a “How does the League Work” night, where new skaters meet the board of directors and learn more about the volunteer positions available to them. This also impresses on them how important it is to volunteer; if we all work together, we can move mountains!
9. Get them in the door and keep them there. Just because you’ve got 40 people registered for your Fresh Meat bootcamp, don’t assume your work is finished. Making sure new recruits know that they will be on a solid, supported team throughout their training process is essential. Trying something new is intimidating! Although I’ll talk more about retention in a separate post, one of the challenges of recruitment is keeping skaters for the first year. TCRG Fresh Meat coach Tiki Timebomb comments, “Having a group of experienced league members dedicated to training and supporting the newbies is the most important thing you can do. We have a FM committee who regularly email or call Fresh Meaties to check in and guide them through the whole process. We also have a dedicated team of coaches and assistant coaches who are on hand to answer questions about training and to demonstrate skills so that everyone can find help somewhere.”
10. Be awesome. Mod Quad from Rat City comments “We win games. <wink> We get a lot of player transfers due to our high rankings.” As roller derby spreads, there are always going to be roller derby skaters that are relocating to new towns for work or school. I’ve even heard of people transferring their jobs to a city that has a team that they want to skate for. Even if you’re not in the WFTDA Top Ten, having a good reputation in the derby community can make all the difference between that transfer skater turning up at your next league practice, or choosing the Cross Fit gym instead.
11. Recruit from other sports. Have a local hockey, wrestling or soccer league whose season runs opposite to yours? Active, athletic people with a team sports background make GREAT roller derby skaters. You may have to invest some more time in teaching them to skate, but I bet they can show you a thing or two about contact skills!
Thank you to all of the people that offered suggestions about what has worked for their leagues’ recruitment. You all helped to write this post.
Coming soon, we talk about the challenges of skater retention! “Now you’ve got them, how do you keep them?”
Stay Awesome! Spread the Awesome!
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