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Published on December 4th, 2011 | by Malice Munro


Dos and Don’ts for the Roller Derby Missionary

by Sarah Chamberlain

My four months in Vienna will likely be done by the time this article gets posted. By the start of 2012, I will be back in Indiana, practicing with the home league I know and love. When I started this little project with DerbyLife, I had planned to end the series with my coverage of the Vienna vs. Munich scrimmage. Win or lose (by the way, did you hear that we won?), we all would have learned a lot as a team and it would have been a neat, pretty way to end the series.

But I can’t shut up that easily. I learned a whole lot in my time spent overseas that I want to share with you. I’m not the first roller derby missionary, and I certainly won’t be the last. That’s why I’ve created this handy list of dos and don’ts for your next skip across the pond/border, especially if you’re a vet going to a less-experienced league.

DO pack your own gear if you’ll be staying for an extended period of time. Don’t plan to have it shipped from your home country—it’s incredibly expensive and time-consuming; by the time your skates and pads get across the ocean, it might almost be time to go home. You also will probably end up learning a lot of sweet new tricks, and it’s more efficient to learn them on your own equipment instead of adjusting when you go back home.

DON’T be a snob. You might be from the USA. Do you skate for Team USA? No? Then keep an open mind when you walk into your first practice. In fact, even if you are playing on the World Cup team this weekend, it won’t kill you to keep an eye on that really talented skater in the bunch. Even if she doesn’t know everything about derby, she will most likely be able to teach you something.

DO attend league meetings. If you’re learning a second language, it’s a really great way to practice. You can also offer your advice on business if the league is very new. Put that committee training to work!

DON’T get too involved in league business. Vienna voted to change their names from the Vienna Oi!Star Rollergirls to the Vienna Rollergirls during my time here, and I didn’t vote because I didn’t want my tastes to be reflected in their outward appearance. Ultimately, it’s their league, not yours, and you should respect that.

DO learn the lingo—even if you’re going to an English-speaking country. Every region has a different name for derby maneuvers, and if you’re helping out with coaching, it speaks to your graciousness if you try your best to adopt your host league’s terms. For example, in central Europe, they call 180-degree turns “Tiny Dancers.” How cute is that?

DON’T argue with the refs. You can’t do it in your home country, which means you really can’t do it when a language barrier is involved. It only leads to an anger-shame spiral for all parties involved.

DO take care of your body Even if training is less frequent or strenuous than what you’re used to at home, make the most of it—it will make getting back into the groove at home that much easier. Enjoy the local cuisine. See the sights by going on a weekend run or taking a bike ride. And hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

DON’T get frustrated with yourself or jealous of your new teammates. For me, the green monster reared its head in off-skates training. Here’s the thing: other countries have very different attitudes about things like food, exercise and alcohol. Mainly, they just aren’t such a big deal: people don’t demonize them or put them on a pedestal, and as a result, I think people in places like Europe tend to be much healthier. I was little discouraged when I saw my new teammates catching on to new strategies super-quickly, since many of them already had athletic bodies, and they just needed to learn the mental game. I resented having to do double the work. It wasn’t until I let go and remembered that derby is supposed to be fun that I really started improving.

DO keep your priorities in order. Chances are, you aren’t going abroad just for roller derby. There’s something lame like school or a career or a loved one that’s dragging you with it. Well, chances are, that thing is actually pretty great, and in order to devote the required amount of attention to that thing, derby might have to take a back seat from time to time. You also might be exhausted, homesick, or actually sick, and part of taking care of yourself is doing what makes you get over that. And sometimes that’s not derby, and it’s okay. And remember to be a tourist—that’s okay too.

Bon voyage!

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