Published on July 28th, 2014 | by Tempest Fugit3
Photo: Masonite Burn Photography
No Longer in a League of Their Own
Or: Skating with Adults as a Junior
About a year ago, USARS announced their decision to allow 14-17 year olds to skate in adult competition. This announcement was met with mixed reactions from the derby community. Some people were excited for the opportunity for experienced junior skaters to compete at a higher level while others expressed concerns over safety and social issues.
Since this announcement, a dozen or so teenage skaters took the opportunity to compete in the USARS regional and national tournaments with several adult teams, including Tulsa Derby League, Port T’Orchard Roller Derby, and Antagonist Roller Derby. I was one of the several teenagers that skated with Antagonist Roller Derby. For me personally, the experience was a great learning opportunity, both for skating skills and for participating in high level competition. I didn’t find the larger age span to cause any more safety or social issues than are present in junior or adult derby.
A common thread in the objections to the new policy was the idea that size differential between adult and junior skaters would create unsafe situations. While many adult skaters are larger than many junior skaters, many junior skaters are larger than many other junior skaters and many adult skaters are larger than many other adult skaters. Coed adult derby has a much larger size differential than mixed age derby.
First image: all juniors, second image: all adults, third image: mixed juniors and adults
Many people concerned about the safety of teenagers skating with adults commented that junior skaters are less experienced and skilled than adult skaters. Like in adult derby, junior skaters and teams vary widely in experience, skill levels, skating styles, and physical strength and size. The only thing that all junior skaters have in common is age. We’re not a homogenous group any more than adult skaters are.
Besides concerns over safety issues, apprehension was expressed about adults and juniors not being a cohesive teams because of maturity differences between them. This wasn’t an issue that I’ve really seen in my time on adult teams. While there are definitely differences in life experiences and interests due to age, these differences aren’t necessarily any more pronounced between a sixteen year old and a thirty year old than a eighteen year old and thirty year old. Besides that, any two people of the exact same age will likely have drastically different life experiences. A few years of age doesn’t necessarily make that much of a difference. There were concerns about juniors participating in adult leagues because of the amount of alcohol in adult derby culture. If skaters that are sober can participate in adult leagues, so can underage skaters. How many leagues have skaters that many teammates find annoyingly immature, regardless of their actual age?
Many of the objections to USARS policy seemed to come from thinking of it as any junior skater in the 14-17 year old age range skating with adults. This isn’t the case. In order for a teenager to skate with adults in USARS competition, they have to get paperwork signed by their parents, themselves, their junior coach, and their adult team. They have to be minimum skills cleared by their adult team. The junior skater, their adult coach, and their parent all have to complete concussion training. They have to get a letter of recommendation from their junior coach stating that they are emotionally and physically prepared to skate in adult competition. I think that these are all really good checks and balances to have in place for safety and maturity to make sure that the junior that end up skating with adults are the ones that are ready for it.
Skating with adults isn’t right for all junior skaters, but it isn’t wrong for all junior skaters, either. There isn’t a magical line at 18 or 21 or any specific age where someone suddenly becomes ready for skating with an adult league. I don’t want age divisions in roller derby to go away, but I want them to be more flexible. Every other sport I know of allows athletes to play in a higher age division if they have the ability to do so. There are social, size, and skill differences between junior and adult skaters, but those differences exist more among members of each group than they do between age groups.
From what I’ve seen among different leagues, I can see value in 6-11 year old teams, 12-17 year old teams, 18+ teams, 16-20 year old teams, 30+ teams… There’s a lot more to how groups of people get along than chronological age.
For me personally, I want the chance to skate with adults. I graduated high school a few weeks ago and am going to college next year halfway across the country from my current junior league. I’m 17 now, and will be until most of the way through my first year at university. I’ve been taking college classes for the past three years, and as a general rule am more comfortable in social situations with those older than me that people my age. I’ve been playing derby for the past four years. I would feel more out of place joining a new junior league next year than joining an adult one. Besides that, the closest adult team to my school is 8 minutes away. The closest junior team is an hour. Skating with adults over the past year has allowed me to grow a lot as a skater, both in skating skills and in my mental game.
For other people that I’ve seen, moving to an adult league at 18 was really difficult. Having teams that consisted of younger adults and older teens could make the transition to adult derby easier for them. Looking at my own league, I think that the most natural age divisions to make would be along school lines, with teams for elementary, middle, and high school age skaters, college age skaters, and older skaters, with flexibility in these divisions.
Over the coming years, I hope that the WFTDA looks at its age requirements and loosens them. Even if the rules for competition stay the same, insuring mixed age practices and scrimmages would allow skaters to gain valuable experience playing with others that have different skating styles and experiences. It would allow isolated leagues without enough members to sustain separate adult and junior teams to hold practices. Every other sport I know of allows athletes to practice with and compete with those in a higher age divisions in certain situations. I hope that WFTDA follows this lead.