Things I Wish They Had Told Me Em Dash by Hale Yeah

Published on April 6th, 2013 | by Em Dash


Em Dash by Hale Yeah

10 Things I Wish I had Known Before Strapping on a Pair of Skates

#10: Wheels matter! So does the rest of your gear. Once you commit to the sport, make sure you’ve got the right gear, and that includes a great set of knee pads.

#9: Gear only takes you so far. Once you have decent gear, you need to learn how to work with it. If you hate something, fix it or replace it or trade it with someone, but at some point, you have to learn to use your gear and not blame it for shortcomings on the track.

#8: Invest in the good mouth guard! $25 or $40 seems like a fortune to spend on a tiny piece of plastic, but being able to communicate clearly and breathe better is absolutely worth it! Think about it: you’ll probably have this thing in your mouth for 8-10 hours a week, 9-10 months a year. If you get 400 comfortable hours out of it, $40 is cheap!

#7: A great plow stop will make you a great player. It sounds foolish–why would a great stop make me good at a fast-paced sport like roller derby? Isn’t the plow stop the simple thing we learn at the very beginning of fresh meat training? Yes it is. And there’s a reason why you learn that first–because it’s important! Roller derby isn’t just a game of speed, it’s a game of agility and control as well. Being able to stop quickly, or shave a little bit of speed off and switch directions fast, can make the difference between an OK player and a great one. It can also make the difference between a beautiful clean juke and a trip to the box for a block in the back.

#6: A little cross-training goes a long way! I wish I had started lifting weights in season 1 instead of season 5. My strength has increased and I just feel better. Jogging, as much as I hate it, has increased my endurance. It doesn’t have to be for long, but if you can do some weight training or jog a couple times a week, even for 30 minutes, you’ll see a huge difference on the track. Plus, it’ll help you prevent injuries.

#5: Take your health seriously. It sucks to sit out a game, but you know what sucks more? Wearing a walking cast for six weeks, or getting surgery on something you’ve torn. A bit of rest when an injury first happens or when you first notice a chronic problem developing can save you from a loooooong, hard recovery later. So pay attention to yourself and your body. If you’re hurt, you’re not bringing your best to the track anyway.

#4: Learn the rules! It doesn’t matter if you’re the best player out there, if you’re always getting penalties for being out of play or delivering fouly hits, you’ll spend a lot of time in the box and hurt your team. Read the rules and really understand them. If you have questions, ask one of the experienced refs from your league. Most refs LOVE to answer rules questions as long as they’re asked respectfully. It doesn’t hurt if you buy them a beer, either!

#3: Watch as much derby as you can. This one I actually did do, because I can’t get enough of the sport. But it bears repeating–the more you watch the sport, especially at high levels, the better you’ll understand strategy and what the game looks like. Consider getting together with a few of your teammates to watch top-ranked WFTDA teams bout each other. Derby News Network often broadcasts bouts on the weekends. Check their live bouts page and see what’s coming up soon. They also have an archive of old games on the site.

#2: Eating is good, but it matters what you eat and when. Make sure to bring a high-protein snack (energy bar, protein shake, even chocolate milk or a baggie of walnuts or almonds) and eat it right after practicing. I’m not an expert, but I’ve been told that there’s a magic 45-minute window for optimal post-practice snacking, and if you eat protein within that timeframe, it will go a long way to helping you build muscle. I can’t tell you the science, but it has definitely helped me build muscle.

#1: Have patience. It’s important on the track during a jam–sometimes, if a jammer pauses for half a second, a hole will open up where there wasn’t one before, or a teammate will make it to the top of the pack to set up that perfect assist for her. You don’t ALWAYS have to be moving forward. This is also an important lesson to learn about derby in general. Sometimes it feels like you’ve been skating and slaving away at a skill forever, and you just don’t feel like you’re making progress. Patience. I’ve found that frequently, I’ll make a breakthrough right after I’m most frustrated.

What do you wish you’d known before you started skating?

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Em Dash is a skater with Gotham Girls Roller Derby, which she joined in 2008 after a brief stint with Suburbia Roller Derby. She is also a founding member and Editor-in-Chief of For more of her writing, check out her new book, Derby Life: A Crash Course in the Incredible Sport of Roller Derby. (July 2015)

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About the Author

Em Dash is a skater with Gotham Girls Roller Derby, which she joined in 2008 after a brief stint with Suburbia Roller Derby. She is also a founding member and Editor-in-Chief of For more of her writing, check out her new book, Derby Life: A Crash Course in the Incredible Sport of Roller Derby. (July 2015)

  • Sonya McLendon

    Love this article. Just reread. Thanks!

  • Kim Penetrable

    Great Article, I have shared this for my Facebook friends and i’d agree with every point. Keep up the great articles! For those who are now going to drink chocolate milk – Point #2 – I suggest freezing it before you come to training, that way after a few hours of training it will have become chilled milk which is much easier to drink.

  • Roarshock Tess

    Great article! YES TO PLOW STOPS! Also- having a great mouthguard can help protect you in the event of a concussion! Good mouthguards are SUPER IMPORTANT!

  • Zetschka

    Fisti Cuffs saying Bay Area was such a hard opponent at 2013 champs because they’re good at stopping:

  • James Dickenson

    Drinking 4 litres of chocolate milk is considered a cheap and dirty way to get massive by power lifters and other intense weightlifters. Its got everything you need to build your body, including lots of fats and sugars 😛

    • Em Dash

      Very interesting!

      *adds 4 liters of chocolate milk to grocery list.

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