New minimum skills have potential to make derby go ka-boom (in good and bad ways)

Everyone is slowly waking up from their weekend bangovers and hangovers to become lucid enough to read through the updated minimum skill requirements the WFTDA released. There’s no question, if a derby-wanna-be doesn’t strap on skates now and start moving, they may miss their window to play. There are some high expectations in there. But they are necessary expectations that will reduce time in the penalty box and reduce injury when skaters pass and start bouting.

Derby in Canada is in the middle of a major shift and I think these minimum skill requirements are going to be the black powder to trigger a bigger explosion of change. My province has over 20 leagues in existence right now. My guess is five years ago there were half as many, if not less. Many started their recruitment as, “Come out, we’ll teach you how to skate, you get to have fun, meet new people and wear fun outfits.”

With the new minimum requirements, leagues that continue to recruit in this manner are going to have some problems because this is bringing the sport to a new level. We all know fishnets and ass-creeping shorts are on the out while moisture wicking and performance gear are in. Skaters will be taught to skate, but if they can’t turn 360 degrees without breaking stride, they won’t see a bout until they can. Sure, they will be meeting new people and having fun, but don’t do it while the coach is giving instruction or you will be responsible for your team holding a plank for 1 minute.

Now is the time leagues need to be brutally honest when they are recruiting, if they aren’t already. Roller derby is work. Roller derby is commitment. And when your province has skaters moving so they can skate with better leagues, roller derby is turning pro (without the pro salaries).

I anticipate many leagues will be discussing these minimum skills at length over the coming days (and if it’s not on your radar, it should be). Many skaters who started the sport for fun and something different to do, as indicated by the recruitment poster in their local rec centre, will have to seriously evaluate their commitment and whether or not they will be able to continue. Granted, skills like hopping and lateral jumps are like riding a bike; once you get them you often don’t forget. But the new endurance and speed benchmarks require maintenance of your fitness level all year-round. (No more gorging and TV watching during the off-season.)

This is what everyone has been begging for… to be taken seriously as a sport. Here we are folks, this is serious.

But I still see opportunities for everyone to get to play.

I foresee a future of farm team rec leagues skating under the old requirements, where fresh meat will benchmark to skate and play until they want to be drafted onto competitive teams as rookies. These will be the skate-hard-and-have-fun leagues where if you need to leave the track during practice to answer your phone because your babysitter is calling, you won’t be punished. I’m sure this is already happening in the U.S. But I predict a sudden spike in rec leagues within Canada.

I foresee more teams moving to yearly intake to stay competitive and build a team intelligently (as opposed to monthly or quarterly). But expectations will be set high; you’ll have to play with a rec league and know the rules before even attending an intake practice.

I foresee serious athletes gravitating toward derby in great numbers. Athletes such as rugby players and hockey players may have stayed away because a league with constant open recruitment shows an un-established organization. I’m making huge assumptions here, but if you’ve played conventional sports your entire life and then move into a newer roller derby organization, I bet it would be very frustrating due to the constant coaching challenges, venue challenges and money challenges leagues have. Standardizing recruitment and having a venue that supports a full season would be very palatable to an established athlete.

I foresee leagues that have loaner gear programs ending them because the expectations to join will mean a new recruit owning skates and knowing how to use them before attending their first practice.

Finally, I foresee an exodus of existing skaters if leagues do not sit down and talk about these new minimum skills and how they fit in with their existing recruitment and practice policies. Some skaters are going to throw their hands up and say ‘I’m out’ if they feel they can’t keep up. If three or four skaters do that within a smaller league, the league won’t have enough players to roster and will be months away from training their fresh meat to reach the new minimum skills in order to be at the competitive level they want. Larger leagues that already have a high-level recruitment policy will make the shift to the new minimum skills more seamlessly. Smaller leagues playing catch-up will be left behind. I won’t be surprised if we see some leagues fold with these changes.

If your league isn’t talking about this right now, you should be. It’s going to change the sport we love. It’s going to be hard to work. But it’s also going to be awesome.

I’d love to hear from other leagues across the globe. Does your league have a recreational team? Do you use it to train and recruit skaters to the next level or is it strictly for fun? What do you think about the new minimum skills?

Here’s some other blogs on the topic that came out the last few days…

New Minimum Skills Highlights the Darker Side of Derby by Moxie

The new WFTDA minimum skills by Rachael

Minimum skills requirements upgrade – what does it all mean by Elusia

Edited (Apr 18/13) to add:

Mad Skills by Left 4 Deadwards

New WFTDA Minimum Skills – let’s chat by Frisky Sour

New Minimum Skils… and? by Elektra Q-Tion

Things Roller Derby Must Lose by Lightning Slim


41 thoughts on “New minimum skills have potential to make derby go ka-boom (in good and bad ways)

  1. Pingback: » Attitude of a derby girl Fresh Meat and Beyond

  2. I used to play rugby, and we were pretty much constantly recruiting. There aren’t a ton of people who want to play in the first place, injuries happen, people get pregnant, people retire.

    So I don’t really get your comment about rugby players being more attracted to the sport by less recruitment.

    Furthermore, there is not barrier to entry for rugby. Can you run? Once you’re taught how, can you tackle? Can you catch a ball? Can you throw a ball? You’re in. Pretty much you just need to be an able bodied person.

    • Hi Bellers, thanks for your comment! I was referring to an athlete coming in from any established sports league (but I referenced hockey and rugby) coming into roller derby may find it more chaotic in regards to how it’s run… The business side. Within our league, for example, we do everything ourselves from handling finances to finding coaches and actually skating. Whereas established sports teams in my community are run by more volunteers and officials than we could ever hope to have. By raising our own standards within the sport, we increase the visibility, viability and hopefully attract high level athletes to the sport. I hope that clarifies.

      • You did reference rugby and I have a frame of reference for that. For women’s rugby at least we actually have had a difficult time finding coaches, and it was up to the women’s director, who was a player on our team and holding an elected volunteer position on the board, to try and find one. I don’t think it’s as different as you think it is, except that since refs are paid they are less difficult to find, and you’re allowed to play rugby for fun. Like roller derby it’s a fringe sport, the womens side even more so. It can suffer from a lot of the same crap. There’s a lot less to do though which means less roles for people to hold, which means less drama. That’s my feeling on it anyway.

  3. I think the new min’s are great. Or, I’ll say that now, until I need to re-do my laps! My league has just started what we call “Smash Squad” – a crew who are past the fresh meat level, they have benchmarked, but have reasons why they either don’t want to be on a team, or aren’t ready to be drafted. This squad keeps them skating and training without feeling like they are stuck as Fresh Meat forever. They can safely do things like invitational scrimmages and such, while building their skills and keeping them involved. This isn’t the same as a rec team obviously, but I think it’s a strategy that works for us.

    • I agree, the new skills are great and very appropriate to bring the sport to a new and safer level. Having options like you guys have is also equally awesome! I didn’t know about your Smash Squad! SUPER FUN! Thanks for sharing what works for you. I’m sure other leagues will be looking for ideas.

  4. Cherri,
    I completely agree with you that the new minimum skills will result in a (huge) net benefit for the sport. I think its a good thing for roller derby to weed out ladies who might not be willing to dedicate themselves to it completely. If the idea of “27 in 5” sounds like more than a girl who at the moment is struggling to skate backwards (never mind a “moderate pace”) might be willing to work toward, then perhaps she’d be better of finding another way to spend her free time. After all, no matter how grassroots and homegrown they may be, our WFTDA sanctioned bouts are as close to “professional” as roller derby gets.
    You don’t get grafted into the WNBA, for instance, after a summer of practicing the most basic of basketball basics. You can’t call yourself of professional baseball player just because you’re good enough to pitch against teams of clerical workers or nurses or pest control technicians for your employer’s recreational softball team. In other words, its good to separate the women from the little girls in the name of professional athletic legitimacy…even if we are still helping build our own tracks.

    • Thanks for your comment, Uzi Q! Yes, regardless of what anyone says, a split due to skill level is going to happen. It’s unfortunate because there are a lot of skaters who have poured a lot of time establishing these leagues, but for other reasons aren’t able to commit to training to always skate with an elite team. It sucks, but it’s a reality. Some grassroots skaters will have decisions to make as did the current WFTDA superstars… when will they, or do they, 100% dedicate themselves to the sport. I don’t see the new minimum skills as a way to ‘weed out ladies,’ but a reason for every skater to seriously think about where they could go if they went for it.

  5. “I think its a good thing for roller derby to weed out ladies who might not be willing to dedicate themselves to it completely.”

    Oh, I actually couldn’t disagree more, for the reasons given here :

    The thing with the WFTDA Min Skills is that outside of the US, there’s a sort of ‘hive mind’ about them – they may only be intended for the top class bouts – ala WFTDA, but they’ve somehow become the defacto norm for pretty much all bouts outside of the US.

    Quite aside from that though, most other professional sports have grass roots, amateur play… even novice play. We NEED our derby weekenders who can’t fully dedicate themselves to the sport… when time allows in the future, they could easily BE our future.. and even if they never bout, they still often serve a valuable function in the league as NSOs, fundraisers, and even just in spreading the word and enthusiasm about the sport. They are every bit as valuable to the sport as our top class “professional” skaters.

  6. I think there is room in Roller Derby for the recreational derby skater as well as the professional A-team skater. I agree with Elusia there is a place for everyone, we need all levels of involvement in the sport. The women you turn-away from the sport in the name of developing professionals are the mothers, sister and aunts of potential recruits for the sport. Turn them off and you lose the women and girls they can recruit in. Professional standards no problem…..tiered standards even better, inclusiveness at the home team and recreational team level will keep the sport safe and accessable to a larger population of athlete. At the recreational level (playing for fun) do I really need to do 27 in 5? Probably not…. at the pro level most definitely yes. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

  7. LOL! I knew that “weed out” comment would read exactly the way I didn’t mean it to. That’s my fault. One of my favorite characteristics of roller derby is the inclusive nature of it. I neither think, nor hope, that the new min-skills-reqs will change that. However, its certainly true that at the end of the day, even the old min-skills-reqs existed for the sole purpose of standardizing a set of criteria meant to prevent skaters with abilities below a certain level from compromising the safety (and the integrity, to a certain extent) of roller derby at large. So, they’re already weeding ladies out and they exist for that sole purpose, really. However, when I regrettably used the phrase “weed out” I was referring only to skaters like myself who are just starting out. We’ve got our eye on one league or another and we’ve ordered some gear and taken ourselves to the local rink with the old set of min-skills-reqs in hand to start chipping away at. I’ve read many a blog dedicated to this very theme and that ride alongside a girl as she hones her derby skills. Some are posting about their struggle with nailing T-stops.Others are posting about how badly backwards skating or the old 25-in-5 is kicking their proverbial asses. Me? My weakness, while being able to pass pretty much all of the min-skills-reqs (old and new,) is anything involving my toe-stops. Walking and running on them couldn’t feel more unnatural to me. Tomahawk stops? Forget it (for now.) Thank goodness none of these are required skills! We all have a decision to make now in the face of the new requirements. Some of us will pack up our gear and go home. Others will go on to become worthwhile hobbyists. Still others will become the next generation of roller derby elite… created precisely by these new skill requirements. I think what we are both saying, is that roller derby, as a whole, will benefit ultimately from this process of putting different types of derby players where they belong within the sport. And for some individuals, the ones who give up before they ever made it onto a league, that means weeding those who would have compromised,the safety and legitimacy of the sport out entirely. As, I said in the beginning of this comment, that is the sole purpose of having min-skill-reqs in the first place. I hope, however that those of us who push on will find our place within a very inclusive roller derby organization…. which now (thanks to the new requirements) can truly have places for every kind of derby player.

    • Yes! We’re definitely agreeing, with different words 😉 And don’t worry about nailing your tomahawks. It took me a full year of skating before I was brave enough to try them (I was a founding member of a league and we didn’t have someone to teach us skills that are now considered mandatory. It boggles my mind how far derby has come in just 3 years). You get it!!!! I promise!

  8. I should add that I am not an “A team” snob. I hope weekenders are valuable, because even if I am skilled enough to be an elitist (which I am currently not) I will probably never belong to a travel team because I have three babies and several years of college left and after that a career to build. So, yes. I am grateful for both roller derby opportunities.

  9. It’s one thing to say that WFTDA-sanctioned skaters need all this so that the WFTDA-sanctioned bouts are competitive within the divisions, but WFTDA took it farther under the guise of “safety,” which is the trump card. The problem is that WFTDA has said the new “minimum skills” are “strongly recommended” for even interleague bouts, and so they will become the new norm even for home teams. My experience, as someone who skated for a year and a half and always struggled with the laps requirement (and definitely would have trouble passing some of the new minimum requirements) is that non-sanctioned home teams, who now typically have a mix of players between the star travel team skaters and the barely making the practice & skills requirements skaters, now will be forced to only look at a skater’s skills, and not at everything else someone brings to the league. There will be a focus on young and athletic skaters, not on someone whose skills aren’t that strong, but who is willing to give 100% on and off the track in order to be a derby girl.

    The home team bouts and dues from every member of the league are what makes it financially possible for the league to exist and the travel team to travel, and so someone’s ability to bring in league sponsors or coordinate monthly bouts are as essential to the league’s success as someone who from day one can do the 360 turn or skate backwards. If everyone has to do year-round, 7-day-a-week training just to skate for a home team, even though that level of skill is not required to put on an entertaining and competitive bout for the public, then some leagues are going to fail. They won’t be able to make it work financially when they can’t recruit enough elite skaters, and the skaters they do recruit don’t have enough time left to do all the volunteer work the league requires and still keep their skills at an elite level.

    • Excellent comments RRG. I think a lot of smaller leagues (mine included) are going to have a few months of limbo to see where they will fit in. We have a game in 2 weeks; will we have all our rostered players rebenchmarked under these new requirements? Heck no! And likely not for our May bout as well. Drawing from replies to this post on my Facebook wall, I predict the next 6 months, particularly in Canada and other countries where derby is still ‘newish,’ many leagues will work toward reaching these new skill requirements, but won’t be bouting under them until the fall. It will make bout contracts very interesting to negotiate in the coming months.

  10. RRG: Sanctioned bouts are interleague. Home teams generally (but don’t JUST) play intraleague games. It may be time to retire these words, as so many skaters mistake their meaning, or use non-words like “innerleague” and the god-awful concoction “interaleague.”

    • Grand Poobah: you are correct, but it doesn’t change my analysis. Straight from the new minimum guidelines: “Strongly recommended for skaters playing in intraleague (home) scrimmages or games. Recommended for new skaters to graduate to contact
      drills and intraleague (home league) scrimmages.”

  11. Only WFTDA Charter skaters skating in WFTDA Sanctioned play need to pass these minimums. It’s “recommended” that leagues start training up ALL their skaters to meet these minimums however. And I agree, it’s a great way to keep derby moving forward. In a nutshell, if you’re league isn’t WFTDA, don’t worry (unless you want to). If your league is WFTDA, right now only your charter team needs to be tested and pass.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lippy! There are many teams who use the WFTDA guidelines as their own benchmarks in my province, even though many are not near WFTDA playing level. I think leagues will have to decide if they want to continue playing under the new minimums or stay with the old and negotiate their bouts with other teams appropriately… until they can catch up and get everyone trained under the new skill set.

  12. Here in Europe most leagues try and abide by WFTDA standards as much as possible, but I think it’s safe to say that a lot of mainland Europe especially is slightly behind skill/strategy wise compared to USA/Canada. Some look at the leagues and standard of play on the other side of the pond in awe and say to themselves “I could never be that good” before they have even begun to try. Saying this, I don’t see my own league having many problems with the new standards overall but I do know one or two are concerned about 25 in 5 going up to 27 in 5. For them, they have *just* come within spitting distance of completing this, then suddenly the requirements go up and they feel they will never make it. I don’t see our current A team having issues however so we are going to discuss if we will be strict with everyone across the whole league or not in the coming days.

    My personal opinion? I want myself and my league to be the absolute best it can be. The new additions are achievable to most, even in deepest, darkest Europe and whilst some elements will be more challenging than others, I welcome that challenge. Perfecting these will only provide higher level, safer derby for those wishing to play at a competitive level and that’s something I can definitely get behind.

  13. 100 years ago, Canada’s obsession hockey did not require skating backwards, the slapshot or masks on the goaltenders. Nowadays we teach these things to six-year-olds. In between was a period where people had a chance to define their own relationship top the game they loved and set up some version game for every skill level. Right now the WFTDA oversees the highest level of international standards on play, and as such has made a commitment to continuing to push the envelope for skaters at that level. Makes sense, it’s kind of their job. I do not foresee any current WFTDA member failing to field a charter team based on these requirements. And if this gives potential member leagues pause before they apply, that’s likely OK as well.

  14. Pingback: Things Roller Derby Must Lose (and Why I Will Miss Them) | Onward Faustian Soldiers

  15. These minimum requirements only apply to WFTDA Charter teams. So my thought is that leagues will continue to have some kind of scrimmage-ready assessment, and then these skills apply to the Charter team. My league plans to have everyone try the higher level skills, but those being considered for a charter will be more closely watched

    I’m not that worried. My league has come a long way with things like backwards skating recently. A year ago, at least half the league couldn’t skate backwards. But our most recent crop of newbies already has some comfort with transitions and skating backwards. Training will evolve and new skaters will come in as skilled or more skilled than many of us did. But that’s the evolution of derby.

  16. I feel like we’re not quite there yet. You have to remember that in the UK, especially up in Scotland where we’re geographically isolated, we are taking on fresh meat who generally have ZERO previous skating experience. And it’s all very well if you are in the USA and you have a big pool of people who want to play and you can turn people away saying “go and practice for a year” but if we did that we would not have a league. There is nowhere else for people to learn these skills, so a big portion of our trainer’s time, our money and focus has to be spent on fresh meat, teaching people to crossover and getting their endurance up. Our quarterly and open-to-all intake isn’t going to change any time soon, because those newbies are the only source of skaters we will get.

    • Thanks for your comment Shona! I agree, the new requirements won’t necessarily affect WFTDA leagues, but the leagues who don’t have access to high-end coaching, a pool of experienced skaters or even a local shop that sells gear. Smaller leagues will definitely need more time to catch up.

  17. If the pace of change in roller derby has taught me anything, it’s that the competition out there to nail the latest tactic, build the tightest wall and field the strongest, most agile jammer is fierce. The whole insinuation that we need some kind of hand from the officiating body to make us more competitive feels a bit patronising and doesn’t reflect my experience at all.

    Competition grows up from the teams not down from the officiating body.

  18. Pingback: Minimum Skills Requirements from the Perspective of a Prospective Skater | lovelylikebeestings

  19. I must say, I’ve appreciated reading your blog and the comments here; as Fresh Meat (2 skating practices in and I’m hooked!) I’m still learning about the ins and outs of the sport. I know for the first open skate the recruiters asked a couple of the better skaters to try the 27 in 5 just to see where we were at. Not going to lie, for first time ever being on roller skates and at the end of a 2-hour practice, I managed 22.5! Hopefully by the end of the summer I’ll be able to nail the 27… though I have no illusions that my hockey background didn’t help out significantly.

    As an athlete coming over from organized hockey (and I use the term ‘athlete’ with a little tongue in cheek) I think the open recruiting – in any women’s sport – is necessary. I’ve played league hockey from house rec to varsity and everywhere in between, and open recruiting is the only way to get in the numbers to bolster the sport. But as a new player, I like the idea that there is a standard of play to which I can gauge my abilities as my skills and confidence improve. I know I’m not going to get out and jam three weeks in, but having something like a checklist to work towards works for me.

  20. I joined my league RIGHT as the change went into effect so I’m part of the first freshie group that’s having to pass the new standards (everyone else in the league is also retesting) but I feel like I’ll eventually be a better skater, assuming I can ever get out of fresh meat 1.

  21. Pingback: New WFTDA Minimum Skills - let's chat. « little anecdotelittle anecdote

  22. It’s not necessarily roller derby, but our Female Wrestling business has the same challenges recruiting wise. We are kinda of slowly turning that corner too where people want to see it become more serious, ie, a “sport”, even though it already is, has been for thousands of years, the legitimacy is not there in this timeline. Good luck to you!

  23. As someone coming in this year (2014), it’s interesting to look back and see the evolution – as I’m reading your posts from the beginning, I get to watch roller derby evolve through your eyes. It’s cool reading your comments about “no pack” scenarios, and then seeing the rules that they added to the book specifically to prevent that. And seeing these minimum requirements change, and seeing what you’re talking about with the rec leagues – well, that seems to have come to pass. The group that I’m going into is highly organized – they have recruitment with a bootcamp for new skaters about 2-3 times per year. I believe that you are expected to have your own gear (the rink that they skate at has speed skates that you can rent for open skate, but they are incredibly old and uncomfortable… I sure wouldn’t want to skate a 2.5hr bootcamp on them). After bootcamp, if you pass your minimum requirements, you get to go to the beginner practices. And from there, you can go to the actual league practices if you get good enough. And then, if they like you, you might get drafted to a team. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through, and a lot of room for failure if you don’t meet the requirements. It’s definitely changed a lot since 2010.

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