What It Takes to Play Derby

“Lance Hardwood” Photos When I tell people about derby, I usually end up gushing about all the positive ways it has impacted my life and trying to recruit them to play derby too.

Sorry about that friends, family, and casual acquaintances of derby skaters. We can’t help but try to recruit you. We found something amazing and we think you’ll find it amazing too. We’re not trying to convert you, we just want you to share the awesome. Like when your vegan friends make you delicious vegan food. They aren’t trying to make you vegan, they just think you’ll like these brownies.

Usually, at some point in the conversation, the person I’m talking to will say “Oh, I don’t think I have what it takes.”

This confuses me, because of course you don’t have what it takes. It only takes two things to become a derby skater: 1. Roller Skates

2. Time

That’s it. Seriously. Just skates and the time it would take to learn to use them and play the sport. Of course you don’t have those things. Most people don’t own roller skates. And if you had already invested the time, we’d be talking about how much we love playing derby and I wouldn’t need to be trying to recruit you.

I know, I know, the people I’m talking to mean something more ephemeral than actual skates and the time it takes to learn when they say “I don’t have what it takes.”

But I’m here to tell you, sisters from other misters (and other non-binary siblings from other parentings), there is nothing standard about what it “takes” to play derby.

Before derby, I would have described myself as “not very physical”. I also had no motivation to become physical. Moving from one side of the couch to another was plenty.

I was (and still am) non-confrontational. My motto is “Don’t say it to my face, wait until I’ve left the room and talk behind my back. That’s less awkward.” I am not an inherently aggressive person, nor are many of the skaters I know. And while I’m part of the growing majority of skaters who played a sport before coming to derby, I was a swimmer. If you manage to make physical contact with an opponent during a swim meet, it is because you’ve gotten terribly lost.

I’ve never been in a physical altercation. I’ve barely been in verbal altercations as an adult.

There are no personality traits that make you “right” for derby.

There is no job or societal niche that makes you right for derby-- I’ve met derby skaters who are hairdressers, preschool teachers, physical trainers, professors, waitresses, full time moms, librarians, social workers, sex workers, nurses, photographers, and artists. They’re punk rockers, suburban soccer moms, country hillbillies, and hipsters. There’s no “right” background for derby.

I often hear people say “well, if I were ten years younger,” to which I say that one of my favorite teammates, A Perfect Upzette from the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes was in her mid fifties when i met her. She’s a grandmother several times over and still dumps skaters half her age to the ground on the track.*

If you’re thinking about derby. Don’t worry about what you’re not. Get some skates on your feet, put in some time and find out what you can be. 

*But, she’s also been hurt. Derby is a real sport with real injuries. If those injuries are too much for a person to deal with, either physically, financially,

or emotionally, then there’s still a place in derby for you. I refereed for almost two years while I got myself to the point that I felt like I was ready to face the possibility of injury. Our non-skating officials get to be part of the derby community without lacing up skates. Derby can be for everyone.

- Susan B. Slamthony