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

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