Strategic Planning for Roller Derby Leagues – Part 1. How often should a league strategically plan?

The New Year often reflects a time of change, which is what prompted me to write the following series of posts containing a step-by-step guide on leading your league through a strategic planning session. Optimized for roller derby leagues, I tried to keep it as simple as possible and did my best to describe the activities. Feel free to alter the process to best meet the needs of your league! Additional ideas and suggestions (if you’ve gone through the process yourself and want to share your successes/challenges) are always welcome in the comments!

The decision to pursue a strategic planning session within your league may come during a time of change (several skaters leaving or retiring, a newly elected board, financial crisis). You may also consider strategic planning when league drama is at its height (it provides a forum for members to be heard and contribute to make things better). Or maybe you’re getting a sense that member’s attitudes seem a little ‘off’. But strategic planning is also great during times when there is no drama or change. Members will be less involved in derby drama and more focused on helping the league succeed if strategic planning happens during a time of neutrality.


While the phrase ‘strategic plan’ seems constrictive, strategic plans are meant to be fluid, which works well for roller derby leagues. The nature of our sport tends to have a revolving door of members and a WFTDA rule change can shift league priorities overnight. However, successfully going through the process ultimately brings the decision making power to the skaters. As membership evolves or rules change, strategies can change to focus on new priorities, but members will still have direction to make those decisions.

Strategic planning helps create a league mission statement (What is the league meant to achieve?), reveals skater priorities, allows the members to set league goals that are focused around skater priorities and the league mission and also empowers the committees to make effective strategy decisions to achieve the league goals and mission.

A league mission statement is meant to be long term, so a league many want to review it every 5 or so years. League goals should be reviewed yearly for short term goals and every 3-5 years for long-term goals. But those timelines will shift depending on the age of your league. Younger leagues may want to set shorter time frames since there is so much to accomplish to become established.

BLOG graphic3The mission and goals are meant to be set in stone for a period of time. The fluidity of a strategic plan comes at the strategy-setting level, for committees will be able chose what they need to focus on in order to achieve the mission and goals. These strategies may include deciding to book more travel games or even new uniforms. Because strategies are implemented at the committee level, decision-making moves faster and is more manageable because strategies are broken into smaller pieces. And if the strategy contributes to achieving the league’s goals and mission, then it’s an acceptable strategy to focus resources like money, volunteers and time.

When strategy is set at the committee level, members are involved and truly choosing the direction as to where the league is headed. More examples on this will be provided in future posts! Before starting the strategic planning process, you first must engage your members and encourage participation, which is discussed in the next post.

More posts in the series
Strategic planning introduction
Part 1: How often should a league strategically plan?
Part 2: Encourage participation from your members, book a meeting, find a facilitator
Part 3: Give your members homework to bring bring to the meeting
Part 4: Release the meeting agenda and rules of engagement
Part 5: Determine your mission
Part 6 and 7: Where are you at? Where do you want to be?
Part 8: Determine your goals
Part 9: Determine strategy to achieve short and long-term goals
Part 10: The follow through 


Skate hard and turn left… Or right? Strategic planning for roller derby leagues. Introduction

The boards and committees who handle the week-to-week operations of their leagues are the unsung heroes of the roller derby movement. They are the ones who step up and take on extra work in times of league apathy, or the ones who get finger pointed at when things go wrong.

Most leagues adopt a structure of an elected board of directors to help filter through and make decisions affecting how the league runs and what direction to focus resources like money, volunteers and time. Committees, often chaired by a board member and consist of league members, also play a large role in regular operations, voting to make decisions specific to their committee and doing work to implement them.

A sample of a typical roller derby league structure. Does your board of directors guide most of the decision making process or is the power given to the committees?

A sample of a typical roller derby league structure. Does your board of directors guide most of the decision making process or is the power given to the committees?

It’s a great structure to take care of business. But sometimes a board or committee may evolve into doing ‘bubble business’. Meaning, a board or committee become so disconnected from the rest of the league that they make decisions independently without considering how the decision will affect or contribute to the league as a whole. Or they make ‘quick fix’ decisions to resolve league matters to minimize effort (because they are likely already overworked) without thinking how the decision will affect the league long-term. Or they are truly an island, working alone.

Perhaps there are one or two directors who are making decisions for the league while effectively intimidating other directors to agree. Or maybe lack of involvement and apathy from the general membership is forcing directors to operate as an island. Or perhaps board in fighting is causing directors to push personal agendas and sabotage decisions to make their colleagues appear ineffective to the rest of the league. Or maybe your league is brand new with a green board that is inexperienced but need to make multiple quick decisions just to move onto the next priority.

No matter the circumstances of how league leadership evolves into making decisions within a bubble, it’s important for the board to recognize when it’s happening and take action to make it better. Derby drama, skater exodus, league splits or even dissolving the league may result if boards and committees continue to operate independently.

Many individual leagues adopt the governing philosophy of the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association – by the skaters, for the skaters. But how does a league make the philosophy come to reality if they’ve fallen into the trap of ‘bubble business’?

Strategic planning for roller derby

Image courtesy of sixninepixels at

Image courtesy of sixninepixels at

If you work in the corporate world, you’ve likely participated in strategic planning with your firm. It often consists of a mediator, flip charts, markers, breakout groups, mingling, sharing ideas and sometimes a free lunch.

In roller derby terms, strategic planning means talking about your goals, dreams, aspirations, struggles and fears with others who share your roller derby passion. Once all members share their thoughts, commonalities are found and using the league’s current strengths and exploiting opportunities, a league direction and common goals are established to serve as a road map for future decisions.

For example, let’s say the result of a strategic planning session has the majority of your league wishing to become serious competition against teams within your region as a goal. What decisions at the board and committee level need to be made to make that happen?

More funds will need to be allocated for additional practice space, coaching staff may need to change and more games may need to be booked to build experience. A team can’t be successful without a strong culture, so investment in team-building activities may need to happen as well. Fundraising initiatives may need to be allocated to fund more away game travel.

Will new uniforms contribute to the goal? If you’re currently skating in cut-up t-shirts, new uniforms may bring the perception to the public of a more serious team. But improving public perception isn’t part of the above goal and should be considered another time when new uniforms will help achieve another goal.

See how strategic planning can simplify decisions?

Strategic planning empowers the entire membership to make decisions to improve the league.

Strategic planning empowers the entire membership to make decisions to improve the league. Image courtesy of Vlado at

Because all members are engaged in choosing the league goals and know all decisions must make a contribution to achieving that goal, snap and bubble decisions are eliminated. Committees will be responsible for their own strategies and the strategy must contribute to the overall league goal.

The decision-making process gives more power at committee level and board tasks shift to facilitation and policy implementation.

Every new strategy presented within a committee can be analyzed against the league goals. If the initiative supports the goal, it’s something worth pursing. If it doesn’t contribute to any league goals, the decision can be made to table the initiative until the league wishes to move in that direction.

By focusing on common goals, the volume of decisions board leadership need to make are greatly reduced, allowing more time to focusing on what’s important – like skating.

But in order to determine the league’s goals, league leadership must encourage all involved to come together and have input toward the strategic direction.

The following series of posts contain a step-by-step guide on leading your league through a strategic planning session. However the process is altered slightly to be optimized for roller derby leagues. (I tried to keep it as simple as possible and did my best to describe the activities). Feel free to alter the process to best meet the needs of your league! And additional ideas and suggestions (if you’ve gone through the process yourself) are always welcome in the comments!

More posts in the series
Strategic planning introduction
Part 1: How often should a league strategically plan?
Part 2: Encourage participation from your members, book a meeting, find a facilitator
Part 3: Give your members homework to bring bring to the meeting
Part 4: Release the meeting agenda and rules of engagement
Part 5: Determine your mission
Part 6 and 7: Where are you at? Where do you want to be?
Part 8: Determine your goals
Part 9: Determine strategy to achieve short and long-term goals
Part 10: The follow through 


League Rebuilding: How to jumpstart the healing process despite tension and conflict

One of the best posts I’ve read about rebuilding after a major shift in your league. Every league goes through waves of highs, neutrals and lows. I think the biggest mistake leagues make is they pine for the “good old days” and don’t acknowledge the people who are present and ready to work for the league. We just went through a league restructuring; making processes standardized to attract more fresh meat (numbers were becoming an issue for us) and to simplify dues and collection. I think it’s working so far. I hope to write a more detailed post about strategic planning for roller derby in a future post. But this really hits all the key points! Great piece, Khaos!

Khaos Theory Derby

I have worked with a lot of leagues at this point in my career.

I have been a member of and guest coached small leagues, rebuilding leagues, D1 leagues, crumbling leagues, thriving leagues, and leagues in identity crisis. I’ve been with leagues that have had 9 transfers out in the off season, and ones with 9 transfers in during the off season. One reoccurring theme I have come across before guest coaching is this: “We have so many different levels, we don’t know how to coach our team.” A subset of this is: “We have vets who don’t show up, and when they do they don’t want to work as hard as our fresh meat.”

I am going to do my best to be clear and articulate and write this blog in an organized fashion (I really need to do outlines like real writers). I am going to mainly talk…

View original post 2,090 more words

Custom fitting your roller skates

Bont semi-custom hybrids, closed toe, durolite skin with black leather strip and tongue. Size 1 Avenger plates.

Bont semi-custom hybrids, closed toe, bumpers, metallic red and silver durolite skin with black leather lace cover and tongue. Size 1 Avenger plates.

The slipper-feel of perfectly fitting skates can elevate your play by allowing you to become hyper-responsive. The absence of your feet shifting in your skates allows you to move and react without compensating for slippage in the boot, compared to when your skates don’t fit perfectly. The more control you have over your boot, the more control you have over your edges, which makes you a more responsive skater.

Finding that perfect boot to fit the unique shape of your foot can be challenging. Once you find that perfect pair, the fit may still require some tweaking. That’s what I found when I received my semi-custom skates this spring. Ordered in two different sizes to compensate for the half-size difference in my feet, I found the length in my larger right foot was perfect, but the right heel cup was also larger and didn’t quite fit my heel compared to my smaller left skate. Because my skates were semi-custom, I was unable to return them. I had to find a solution.

I use the sport inserts for my skates. Lifting your heel in the skate can eliminate heel slip in your boot.

I use the sport inserts for my skates. Lifting your heel in the skate can eliminate heel slip in your boot.

Before I tried my own modifications to the boot, I contacted my boot manufacturer rep to make sure I did the heat molding process correctly. TIP: always contact the boot manufacturer or where you purchased your skates first if you are having issues. They will have the best and most up-to-date information for you. She confirmed that heat molds could not get the heel tighter and recommended I fill with padding around the heel.

In my search for options to tighten the heel of my skate, I found a thread on Skate Log Forum that gives several suggestions to make your skates fit better. I highly recommend you check out all the advice and resources on the thread if you are having the same issues.

One of the suggestions, according to poster ‘okie,’ is to raise up your heel to help lock it in place. Okie suggests to add a pad in the heel under your liner. This forces the heel up into the upper cup area of the boot and can sometimes fix this problem.

Neoprene booties. Very comfortable to wear. Highly recommended.

Neoprene booties. Very comfortable to wear. Highly recommended.

I already use sport inserts which lifts my heel so I decided to look for the next idea.

Posters ‘graphixgurl’, ‘KMA’ and others suggested neoprene booties. Their thickness helps your heel stay in the boot and grips it to the inside of the skate. There are several thicknesses to choose from, depending on the kind of fit you are looking for. After trying a pair, I’m kicking myself for not making these booties part of my regular footwear sooner, though they can make your feet a little hot. I love how these feel in my skates, but I still wanted a bit more of a custom interior fit.

Going back to okie’s forum post, he also suggests using Gorilla Tape in layers on the heel cup to customize your fit.

I figured I give it a try. Below is my ‘how to.’ Click on thumbnail photos for larger photo. (Opens in new window).

What you need:

Gorilla Tape

Gorilla Tape

  • Gorilla Tape
  • Scissors
  • Skates with laces and insoles removed.

According to okie, Gorilla Tape is a good choice for this project because it is thicker than duct tape, is cloth-backed, the glue does not come off with moisture or movement and it sticks to itself. You can find it at major hardware stores, usually in the paint aisle with the other adhesives.

Step one: Determine the areas that need a bit more interior support.

The plan: Put tape along the sides of the skate, but not the back of the heel.

The plan: Put tape along the sides of the skate, but not the back of the heel.

The length of my skate was perfect. Therefore, I decided to put tape along the sides, not the back of the skate, to tighten the heel cup.

I chose to make the lengths long and place them just off-centre from the back of the heel to just before the ball of my foot. By ‘feathering’ out the tape, my hope was I wouldn’t feel odd shape transitions within my skate.

Step two: Cut and notch tape lengths

Notch the tape to help it form around curves without overlapping or wrinkling

Notch the tape to help it form around curves without overlapping or wrinkling

To avoid wrinkles in your tape as you mold it around curves and corners, notch it at various intervals on one side. I decided to start with one layer of tape cut lengthwise, then I used the full width.

Considering how grippy this tape product is, it was surprisingly easy to work with. Pulling up the tape was a breeze if I didn’t position it quite where I liked it.

Step three: Layer tape in problem areas.

You can see the layers starting to build. Be sure to try on your skates after every layer.

You can see the layers starting to build. Be sure to try on your skates after every layer.

I started layering with pieces cut lengthwise, then moved up to full width pieces. After each layer, I laced up my skates and jumped around in them to test how they felt. I did this until I had no heel slippage. It didn’t take long for me to start feeling the difference. This tape is much thicker compared to duct tape.

Keep adding until you are happy with the fit.

Step four: Finish the edges.

Putting a layer on top of the tape edges keeps it from from getting caught on your foot.

Putting a layer on top of the tape edges keeps it from from getting caught on your foot.

There is potential for your heel to catch the edge of your layered work if you have several layers. I finished the job with a layer over the top edge of the tape to give it a smooth finish. I also put a single piece at the back of the heel to cover the ends of the tape going down the side of my skate.

Helpful tips

Folding the tape before positioning makes it easier to work with.

Folding the tape before positioning makes it easier to work with.

Positioning the tape: Fold tape in half, sticky side out when inserting it into the boot. Position the middle section onto the boot, unfold the tape and press down to the ends.

Wrinkles: If you feel a wrinkle forming on your layer, pull up the tape and cut a notch where the wrinkle happened to allow for space for the tape to mold around the boot. Don’t allow any wrinkles in your tape job.

Using the notches: In the photo on the right you can see how the notched tape looks when it’s sitting in the boot. Put the notch-side of the tape on the side that has the most need to be flexible. For example, on the inside edge of the boot, I put the tape on notch-down so it would easily bend around the instep area. On the outside edge of the boot, I placed the tape notch-up because the upper area of the boot had more curves to work around.


Hopefully this helps some of you who have skates that aren’t quite perfect. Do you have other techniques to customize your skates for better fit? Please feel free to post below. Also, see my post with a great link to lacing techniques that may solve some of your fit issues.

Lacing your roller skates

Display shoe lacing technique.

Display shoe lacing technique.

Check out this amazing website on all the different ways you could lace your roller skates.

Ian’s Shoelace Site –  Shoe Lacing Methods

Right now I use the display shoe lacing approach. But I’m interested in trying the lock lacing approach to help with my heel slip issues.

If your skates have a loop in the back, you can also try this lacing method to lock your heel in place…

Here is an alternative heel lock method used on running shoes. But if your skates have the appropriate holes, you can try it too!

Celebrating my 4th birthday of blogging!

fourUPDATE: It is now the end of May and I have yet to roll out this contest. The start of derby season always get me sidetracked. Don’t worry, readers. Once I roll it out I will be sure to make it known far and wide.

I always forget my blog’s birthday. It was on March 6. So this is my obligatory post saying that I’ve survived another year of blogging. While my new posts tend to be sparse, I’m proud that the content I post has become a resource for many to reference as they start their derby journey, from gear to fitness to developing derby skills.

Last year I broke the 100,000 mark of overall views. This year I’m on track break 200,000! So to thank all of my wonderful readers…

I will be hosting a
super-awesome contest!

Details will be posted here as they come available. But to give you a little hint, the contest will marry my 2 favourite things – roller derby and promotions!

Stay tuned, friends!

How to fix the toe stop threads in your roller skate plate

While toe stops are not required equipment on a skate, having a toe stop pop out and not realizing it during a game, often leaves the skater with comical falls and a couple of failed attempts to get up until they realize it has happened. If you’ve ever had a toe stop pop out of your plate during a game, it can sometimes do some serious damage to the threads of your toe stop and within your plate.

This happened to me at my last game. Luckily, because of my homemade toe covers, my toe stop did not bounce all over the track on its escape from my plate. It stayed with me and flopped around limply at the end of my cover. If you want to see how my covers kept my toe stop from becoming a hazard on the track, check out my post on making your own toe covers.

Depending on your plate, you either use a wrench or hex key to tighten your toe stops into your plate

Depending on your plate, you either use a wrench or hex key to tighten your toe stops into your plate

There can be a couple reasons why your toe stops fail. One is you didn’t tighten them enough. I’m not a fan of the small toe stop tools skaters often carry around because you can’t get enough torque with the small handles. I like using full-size wrenches or a hex key with a vice grip to help ensure their tightness so they won’t jiggle loose with the bumps and friction skating brings.

The other reason is your toe stop may be near the end of its life and you’ve turned it out too far out for the stem to support your weight and activity. created a great video talking about this very thing. Check it out below.

Looking inside, you can see the damaged threads

Looking inside, you can see the damaged threads

I suspect the later is what happened in my instance because the damage appears to be only about a 3/8” down into my plate. Plus during the game I was forcing the toe stop back in and re-tightening so I could keep playing. (You don’t realize how much you use your toe stops until one is gone.) So there was a lot of damage in the first few threads as a result.

Instead of shelling out hard earned dollars for new plates, you can attempt to fix the damage by using a tap and die set. The tool will allow you to fix your plate AND your toe stop, if you think you still have life left in the toe stop and want to keep using it.

Calling in help from a handy friend who has handy tools, I set off to do a DIY fix.

Before you try and fix it yourself…

Contact the shop where you bought your plates to see if the damage can be repaired or the plate replaced under warranty. If not, and you’re lucky enough to have a roller skate shop in your local town that does repairs, I would bring it to the experts first! Your skates are an investment and not something to mess around with!

What you need…


A tap and die set

Someone you can borrow tools from, which  include:

  • A vice to hold your skate and toe stop (I suspect you could have a friend hold your skate with a wrench, but it would be tricky)
  • A tap and die set containing a 5/8” with 18 NF tap and die. This is the toe stop stem size and the thread size. *These sets are expensive. This is where having a handy friend is… handy! Or you may be able to buy individual bits at your local hardware store.
  • WD-40 or oil

Because I had never done tapping or die-ing before, I found a great video (below) that explains the process. The video starts out showing how to re-thread a bolt, which would be the equivalent of fixing the threads on your toe stop stem. Then he shows how to tap a nut, which would be the equivalent of tapping the female portion of the toe stop on your plate. It’s a great resource and he explains the process very well.

The video also talks about a thread pitch gauge, which you don’t need to worry about, as I’ve listed the thread size above. But if you ever need to rethread your plate hangers or any other bolt around the house, that is the tool you would use to figure out the pitch of those threads.

As my friend was helping me fix my plates, I took some photos so you can get an idea of the process…

This is the tap. It is used to cut the female portion of the threads. AKA inside your plate.

This is the tap. It is used to cut the female portion of the threads. AKA inside your plate.

With the skate in the vice, be sure to insert the tap exactly square so you don't cut into the threads crooked.

With the skate in the vice, be sure to insert the tap exactly square so you don’t cut into the threads crooked. Work the tool back and forth to clean out the damage.

Before and after tapping.

Before and after tapping.

Using the die tool on the toe stop stem

Using the die tool on the toe stop stem

The fix took about a half hour and after watching my friend do the job, I’d be pretty confident to take on the task if I had to do it again (if he lets me borrow his workshop).

Have you had to go through the process of re-threading your plates or toe stops? I would love to hear your experience or any further tips and tricks you can share!

UPDATE Sept. 12, 2013 – after skating on the re-threaded plates I’ve noticed my toe stops aren’t able to stay in tight with just the hex key adjustment (applicable for the Avenger plates). So I’ve had to add a washer and nut at the base of my plate to help hold it in there. So while I have extended the life of my plates with this fix, it’s not perfect. Re-threading will make that connection looser than what it once was – something I was initially worried about when I set out to do this DIY and now confirmed.

Available at auto supply stores, like Canadian Tire

Available at auto supply stores, like Canadian Tire

ANOTHER TIP: Grand Poohbah wrote in the comments below to add white lithium to your toe stop threads to prevent corrosion and to help avoid them getting misthreaded or seizing up. He also reminds us to not put our toe guards in between the plate and the nut of your toe stop as the toe guard material will compress and the nut will not sufficiently lock down your stopper. See below for his full explanation. Great tips!

Guest post: Nine things I’ve learned in roller derby – year one

I’m pleased to welcome teammate and guest poster Gnome Stompsky who wanted to share her experiences and insights about roller derby with you! Read on and feel free to comment and share your thoughts and experiences!!!

Stompsky (centre) holds back a jammer with help from Belt-Her Face (right) and Molly Mulisha. Photo by league photographer, ISO Foto Studios

Stompsky (centre) holds back a jammer with help from Belt-Her Face (left) and Molly Mulisha (right). Photo by league photographer, ISO Foto Studios

By Stompsky

It’s been a little over a year since I started taking derby seriously. During that time,  I’ve gone from being a rookie to I guess what one would call an intermediate skater. In jotting down these notes, I am hoping new skaters will read them and think about the months ahead of them. I suppose too my audience is people considering derby as a sport, or those who might be questioning whether they want to keep putting in the time. It is helpful to know what to expect, and it is also helpful to know that every skater is constantly working to improve, and that none of it comes easily to most mortals.

    1. I have watched lots of people improve faster than me with less work put into it. This is frustrating, but ok. I think it is fair to say that I haven’t improved as a skater as fast as I would want to, or maybe as fast as other people have, but I am learning that my pace is my pace. This is a good thing to learn. The other nice thing to learn is that roller derby is patient, and will wait for you as you take your sweet, incompetent, uncoordinated, unfit time. People are nice in roller derby, and they understand it takes hard work to get better. Nobody grew up playing this sport. Nobody expects anything from you right away, and you aren’t expected to be an immediate expert. No one else is counting the weeks or the number of practices or the number of bouts like you are – and they are not wondering why you aren’t better than you are. Only you are wondering this. Everyone else just sees that you are trying and has respect for you because of that.
    2. I have not yet had that moment where roller derby “clicks” for me. They say it happens, but it hasn’t happened to me yet. In the meantime, I feel like I struggle with  something new at every practice. Every bout is a disappointment – not just in small ways, but as a totality of the experience. And yet, I keep doing it, so it can’t be that bad. Sure, I have been recognized by my peers as doing ok-fine (a couple of MVPs and suchlike) – but honestly, I don’t see it yet, and I still don’t think I really earned any of those recognitions. I still have not had any roller derby experience  – not one practice, certainly not one game  – where I felt like I owned it. What I am saying is that roller derby is hard and takes time. Frustration is the biggest challenge to overcome. It is a testament to how much fun the sport is that I continue to try to overcome it, and I don’t let it drive me away.
    3. I am my own worst enemy, and the only way to overcome that is hard work. From Kim Janna at a rookie camp last year, to Carmen Getsome at a boot camp, to 8meanWheeler at a scrimmage in Pitt Meadows this year, to pretty much every scrimmage/ bout bench coach, to fellow skaters, everyone who knows more than I do about roller derby and has watched me play or even practice says the same thing: you think too much, you hesitate, you’re unsure of yourself. And then they tell me to “keep skating” – in other words, they think I might have it in me to be a pretty good roller derby player but that time is not now, not yet, maybe not ever ’cause I’m actually getting too old. I have decided that this means that confidence is not faked, or at least I cannot fake it. I am either good at something or I am not. So in order to overcome my hesitation, I just need to be genuinely good at it. This takes time. Most things in my life come fairly easily to me, but this is not one. My second-year derby goal is to lose my hesitations.
    4. We are athletes, and we need to treat each other and ourselves as such. I did not know, when I joined derby, how much cross-training I would come to want to do, or how it would motivate me to set and attain off-track goals like running, weight lifting, or changes to my diet (I am just coming around to the fact that I need to eat more if I want to do this sport). Derby is teaching me a respect for myself that I never really had before – to treat myself to the dignity of a good diet, of decent sleep, of regular and intense exercise. This is what spoiling yourself looks like in my world, and I am starting to learn how to do it. I suspect treating myself in such a manner has had spillover effects on my mental acuity, ability to concentrate on work, and ability to focus on my kids.
    5. If you want to play roller derby, you have to show up. To practice, to boot camp, to other teams’ practices, to your own cross-training, to help with track set-up. Time on your feet is what matters.
    6. Roller derby’s cultural aspects are usually awesome and hilarious, but almost none of the performative counter-cultural aspects matter on the track. If derby’s badassery is what attracted you, or the weird outfits or the funny names, that is great. But know that the sport is a sport. And, if I may, I think it’s important to have some respect for the sport, and as an extension of that, for ourselves as women. So think about that, is all. Wear whatever you want and call yourself whatever you like, but think about it a little bit first. I want to be clear that I think having a conversation with society via what we wear is important, and derby does that it spades – our sport yells at people with a beautiful cacophony of performance.  I will probably weep if the day ever comes that I see White Trash Flash trading in her big-bird-lookin’ yellow fuzzy leg warmers for a pair of pivotstar leggings. Diversity is the best thing ever, and all sports is performance anyway. But we are women. Let’s be smart about our reality and the conversations we are having. This topic is super complicated, but probably what I am saying is “Back Alley BJ” is not a really great choice for a derby name.
    7. Roller derby’s true countercultural contribution is its relatively sophisticated approach to feminist praxis. I would argue it is the western world’s first feminist sport. Feminist philosophers/thinkers/intellectuals in academia talk a lot about ‘praxis’ – essentially putting ideas into practice. The ideas derby puts into practice every day, in no particular order:
      a) integration of different body types into athletic activity and sports performance and therefore into what our culture sees as ‘strong’ or ‘beautiful’;
      b) integration of lesbian/queer sexuality as a matter of course, not a matter of “tolerance”;
      c) doing it yourself, collectively, and pretty much non-hierarchically (bout production, fundraising, administration, coaching);
      d) upsetting traditional and/or unhelpful ideas about female “respectability” and “femininity”;
      e) dudes playing the sport as  equals to women, and men playing supportive roles in a women’s sport as women have done for men for generations;
      f) the men’s sport being as open to gay/queer sexuality as the women’s sport (I am told this is the case, and it makes me very proud of my sport when I hear it);
      g) upsetting the idea that women can’t work together or productively on projects of common interest, that women cannot work together because they are too ‘catty’ or ‘gossipy’ – if this patriarchal lie were true, derby wouldn’t be one of the world’s fastest growing sports;
      h) understanding that the best players are thus because they help others improve at the sport – a true commitment to the collective project through individual excellence. This latter point, I think, might be less obvious to outsiders than the others. Yes, derby has some irritating egos strutting around – but honestly, not much. The very best players – the ones who are truly our sport’s finest – are the ones who teach, who help others, and who give back and grow the sport by building up other good players. The tension between the individual and the collective is always present in anything we do, but what strikes me as most different between derby and other sports is the emphasis on individual excellence being tied to one’s contribution to the collective good.  This is why I can attend a Red Deer Belladonnas practice with some of the best players in Alberta, compared to whom I am a total yutz, and they welcome me, and maybe only one or two of them make fun of me behind my back (that’s a joke). No but seriously, there is something deeply right with a sport when you can show up to practice with some of its most elite players, have that be completely open to you as an intermediate skater with 18 months of experience, and have people support you, give you feedback, and genuinely want you to succeed. Derby is imbued with an ethic – at least it is now, it might change – that when others get good, it is good for our sport and good for everyone. It is not a threat. Good players want other good players to play with and against, and they want their sport to be as awesome as it can be.
    8. Is derby perfect? No. It remains overwhelmingly white, class-privileged (due to, I think, the time it takes and the cost), and it is hard for women raising families as lone parents to participate, though not impossible. Derby in other jurisdictions, as I understand it, has struggled with transgender inclusivity as well, though what I’ve seen in my own experience has been pretty progressive on the topic, and certainly better than other women’s sports.  Could we do better recruitment, could we think more critically about how we support players of different backgrounds? Probably. But the building blocks as a different kind of women’s sport – I would argue, the western world’s first feminist sport – are all there. If you think about your involvement in derby as an expression of some pretty radical values, I think you’ll get more out of your experience.
    9. Skate hard. Turn left. Hit people. Derby love.
    10. -Gnome Stompsky, #4746, Deathbridge Derby Dames

DIY roller skate toe covers

Cost: potential for as low as $10
Time: 2 hours

If you have roller derby venues like ours, some of your floors may be rougher than a cat licking sandpaper. This can be devastating on beautiful leather skates. I used to heavily tape my toes to protect the leather from the abrasiveness of knee falls, only to cover them with more tape as it wore down. It created a bit of a problem because I also like to take apart my skates. Having to tear layers and layers of encrusted hockey tape was not only annoying, some of the leather finish of my boot came off with the bottom tape layer.

IMG_3303I was never a fan of the snouts or single straps to help protect my skate from getting scuffed, because the materials weren’t thick enough. Our rough floors and skating outside had me burn through them quickly. When I changed my roller skate plates over a year ago, I came up with a DIY solution for toe stop covers, which I have been wearing with no need for tape or replacement since I first installed them.

You’ll see from the photo that it’s made from a belt and in three separate pieces. The only thing that’s holding the pieces in position are my laces and the toe stop. I worried the laces wouldn’t be strong enough to hold the side pieces in place, but have seen no evidence of shifting after skating on them for a year. (More photos of the toe protector are at the end of this post.)

I did a couple of things accidentally-on-purpose that has made this construction stand up to over a year of abuse.

  1. The toe stop holes were cut smaller than the toe stop stem width so the leather pieces had to be threaded onto the toe stop nipple. This keeps them from flapping between your skate and toe stop. Also, if your toe stop pops out unexpected, the smaller leather holes will keep it with your skate instead of bouncing across the track. (Proven! This happened to me in a recent game.)
  2. The pieces are layered strategically around the toe to prevent flapping and gaping holes on the sides. On top, the middle strip sits under the two side pieces. Holes are cut so they can be laced through both layers. On the bottom, the middle strip sits above the two side pieces, locking them in place to keep them from shifting. The toe stop anchors the bottom in place.

IMG_5776 copy

Here is a paper template that shows the positioning of the three pieces. You’ll want to refer to this picture when you are building your template and constructing your toe protector.

When I did this project over a year ago, I didn’t take photos of the process. So below is my best explanation of how I did the project. If you’re a crafter, eyeballing the photos will help you come up with your own design.

What you’ll need…

Leather belt at the desired width and thickness.
Mine was about 1.5” wide and 1/8″ thick and very rigid. The thicker the belt the more wear you’ll get. You’ll need six pieces and the length of them could be anywhere between five and seven inches, so make sure your belt is long enough. If you find one in the high 30s or low 40 inch in length, you’re probably good. I found a great belt at the second hand store for a few dollars.

Something sharp to cut through the belt.
I used tin snips. Scissors or a utility knife may work, depending on the thickness of the belt.

Something sharp to cut holes in the belt.
If you have a leather punch, that works best. But a hammer and nail could work well too, or even using a drill.

Paper and tape to help build your template.

Create Your Template

Figure out how the belt will work with your skatesIMG_5769

Skate boots have different toe shapes, laces start in different positions and your toe stop hole position will vary depending on your plate. Cutting three paper strips in the same width of your purchased belt will help you figure out how to cut your belt for length and angle, so you don’t waste pieces by cutting incorrectly.

You’ll want to overlap the three pieces of your paper template in such a way that the toe is completely covered, you have good side coverage and it goes up high enough IMG_5770to be laced onto your skate. You could alter this design so the middle piece goes higher up your skate if you wish.

Remove your toe stops and your laces from your skates. Wrap the three pieces around your toe, matching the layering to the coloured paper template I posted above. Make sure the paper isn’t too loose, or you’ll have floppy protectors when you make your final cuts.IMG_5772

Ensure all three pieces of belt are centred over your toe stop hole under your skate. Also ensure the position of all three pieces don’t have big gaps in between around your toe. Adjust the angle of your strips to get the coverage you want.

When you are happy with the position, use tape to secure your pieces. Flip your skate over and stab a hole through all three pieces to mark where you will cut for the toe stop.IMG_5773

On the top of your skate, mark the cuts for your two side straps and your top strap. You want your two side pieces to butt up against each other when it’s all laced together. (If you position your middle piece exactly where you want it to sit on the top of your skate, you won’t need to mark that cut). Don’t worry about marking lace holes at this point.

Assemble bottom portion of toe cover

IMG_5774Cut your belt into strips and mount them onto your toe stop

When you pull apart the three paper strips, it should look something like the photo to the right. Use this to cut your leather pieces to size. I add an extra 1/8 inch on each end when I cut, in case I made an error on measuring because you’ll be trimming to make it look neat and tidy once it’s all assembled. On the toe-stop-side of your strips, mark your toe stop hole and cut it about a 1/2 to 3/4 inch from the hole.


A closeup view shows how cutting a small hole in your straps allows the pieces to be threaded onto the toe stop nipple and will hold in place.

Cut a hole in each strip for your toe stop. (This will be hard if your belt is thick and rigid. Don’t cut yourself!) Make the hole big enough to just fit over the first thread of your toe stop nipple, but small enough so you have to turn the leather strap to make it go up the nipple.

Once you have all three holes cut, thread the strips onto your toe stop taking care to use the order as illustrated by the paper template above (middle strip should be the last one you twist on). Twist your toe stop nut on next then turn your toe stop into your skate, adjust the height and tighten.

You want the straps under your skate to be as close to the nut as possible (or next to your skate if your plates use a hex key adjustment). Position them accordingly before moving onto the next step.

Assemble top portion of toe cover


View of the assembled cover after the lace holes have been punched.

Flip your straps up and over your skate. Position them so the three pieces fully cover your toe, with no gaps. Layer the pieces according to the paper template above. When you have them positioned how you like them, mark your lace holes. Your middle strip needs four holes, your side pieces need two holes each and you want to do your best to line them all up. This will take a little guessing because the straps will be covering the holes you need to mark. Take your time to estimate. It’s okay if your holes are a little off; tightly lacing them (I use wax laces) will help keep it sturdy.

You could also do this step before you attach the pieces to the toe stop. However I do it in this order because I want to pull the straps up as tight as possible, then position the lace holes. Your laces hold everything in position and if your holes were inaccurate, the toe protector may shift more than you like.

View from the top. The laces also go through the bottom middle strip to securely fasten it to the boot.

View from the top. The laces also go through the bottom middle strip to securely fasten it to the boot.

Cut your lace holes using a leather punch or nail and hammer. (You can remove them from your skates to do this step or leave them attached to your toe stop). Once the holes are punched, lace your covers to your skates.

Finish up with tape to protect the exposed laces from being torn. Trim any excess belt to make the presentation look neat and tidy.

Done! Now do the other skate.

What’s great about this project is the pieces can be rotated to your other skate as they start to wear down. (We all have a favourite knee to fall on, that toe protector will wear down first.) Or you could just buy another belt and replace individual straps as needed.

Assembled unit from the side.

Assembled unit from the side.

Toe protectors are meant to get scuffed, torn and beat up. They also cost anywhere from $20 – $40. These ones cost me $10 plus 2 hours to make. While they may not be the prettiest, they are very practical. But I’m sure you creative derby peeps will find some unique second hand belts to give your toe protectors some personality!

Happy crafting! Post a link with a photo if you do the project!

Here is the wear on my toe stop protectors after over a year of skating. You'll notice I'm due to rotate some pieces to the other skate but they have held up well. Tape protects the exposed laces from getting torn. They aren't the prettiest, but they are super practical for the rought floors I skate on.

Here is the wear on my toe protectors after over a year of skating. You’ll notice I’m due to rotate some pieces to the other skate but they have held up well. Tape protects the exposed laces from getting torn. They aren’t the prettiest, but they are super practical for the rough floors I skate on.