I’m stood with a group of people I’ve never met before. I look like an idiot. I’ve got all my pads on – but I’m still in my trainers. It’s OK though because the others are in the same boat. I know absolutely no one in the room. This is an introvert’s worst nightmare. This is my worst nightmare! However, by the end of the two hour session, the foundations of some great friendships had already been laid.
When you talk to anyone that’s involved in roller derby, they’ll tell you about this magical place where everyone is brilliant and you’ll never be short of friends. Though most of that is true, I’m not sure it’s all that magical. You do have a big advantage in the fact that it is impossible to get into this sport without falling in love with it. As a group, you’ll always have that bridge.
In the events of everyday life you tend to meet people and find that you have something in common. You develop a trust between one another, become fantastic buddies and go to the pub together. Well, it’s not so different in derby.
Within the first fifteen minutes of your ‘Fresh Meat’ training session you’re introduced to lots of new people. OK, so instead of making one new friend, you’re more likely to make about 20 new friends. Yes, you have to try and remember all of their names; and yes, you will call a James a Jamie once in a while, or a Gaz will become a Kev somehow. Never fear, you’re all in the same boat!
It’s the fact that you’re all in the same situation that creates the second link. You’re stood in a group of people that have seen roller derby and thought ‘yes, I like that!’. Now you’re looking at each other trying to remember one another’s names without making it obvious that you’re trying to read the name tag on their helmet.
So far you’ve met new people and you’ve realised that you have at least two things in common. You’ve not even finished the first two hour session, and you’re already leaps and bounds ahead of two people meeting in the street. Next up: trust.
Roller derby is like any team sport, one person cannot win the game on their own. The jammer needs the blockers to hold off the opposition; the blockers need the jammer to score the points. Very quickly it becomes apparent that you have to put faith in your team mates and their ability to play the game. But surely it takes months to develop that kind of trust right? Wrong.
When you’re told to “get into your derby stance and lean back onto your partner”, you’re putting a lot of trust in the person behind you. They move and you’re on your backside very quickly. As you progress you’ll get thrown into a ‘wall’ situation and you have to trust the people next to you to form up properly. Once again, if the person next to you bails out, you’ll find yourself looking at the floor and wondering what happened.
So, you’ve met future friends. You’ve found plenty of things in common. You’ve developed a bond on the track. You’ve also, probably, got plenty of funny stories from mishaps at training: people going through emergency exits, someone falling awkwardly and developing a great big bruise on their bum, etc. However, you’re still only seeing one another for two hours a week.
This is where the pub, Roller World, or someone’s house with a set of ‘Cards Against Humanity’ helps. You’ve gone from not knowing anyone in the sports hall to knowing them all. You know what they do for a living, how they like to unwind, and how twisted their sense of humour is. You can now sit in a pub with these people and have a semi-sensible conversation about something that isn’t roller derby. What could take months in the ‘real world’ has taken a couple of weeks in the world of roller derby.
This ever-growing community of ours isn’t magic, but the wheels make things move a whole lot faster.