Roller derby - not just for those who skate

The only documented time I've been on skates.
I am one of those rare people who got into roller derby without the desire to skate. My depth perception is 50 shades of fucked up - I rarely catch any objects thrown my way, I stumble down the stairs weekly, I'll never be allowed to drive a car, I've more than once accidentally biked straight into a wall because I didn't realize the wall was there. So putting me on roller skates and making me hit people, not the best of ideas. But I was living in a small town, I was utterly bored, and needed a project, so naturally I jumped on the chance when my friends headed over to Helsinki Roller Derby open skate on a cold Sunday in March, 2012. The very next week we started our own league, and I was elected as the president.

What followed was 4 months of filling out forms, opening up bank accounts, trying to find practice spaces, recruiting new people, starting Facebook groups, and just generally trying to make everything work. While I was busy being an enabler, the others were learning the basic skills, squeeling over their brand new skates, and coming up with far too punny derby names which would later down the road be toned down to names we could actually pronounce. I was there too, in that 200m2 hall, every single practice, watching and taking notes, and roughly 4 months in, I started coaching.

I'd read what felt like every single roller derby blog on the internet, and watched every single derby drill video on YouTube, I'd taken 2 notebooks worth of notes, and as much as I thought I did, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I had never coached anyone in my life, I was one of the least athletic people I knew, but suddenly I had 15 people paying attention to me, trusting I knew what I was doing. And so I took on that role. I whistled, shouted, instructed, gave feedback, and saw progress. I read books about coaching, and against my own odds, actually got a hang of what I was doing.

At times I found myself mentally exhausted. I was constantly surrounded by people who were learning something new and exciting on skates. They were speeding around the track, they were getting oh-so-cool bruises, jumping the apex. They got to feel like flying. I was there, standing in the middle, not quite belonging. I couldn't share the excitement. I felt inadept as a coach - what right did I have telling anyone what to do, correcting them, when I couldn't do any of that myself? Yet I kept at it, practice after practice, because I didn't have anything else to do either.

The day I fell in love with bench coaching.
It took me more or less a year to come to terms with being a non-skater in derby world. It wasn't until I got properly excited about bench coaching that I felt truly at home. I realised that I actually had something important to give quadless, something I could learn and get better at myself. I could challenge myself, I had a role in roller derby that was for me. I wasn't there just to help others anymore, though granted that's exactly what I am training myself to do.

On game days, whether it be a full bout or a mixed scrimmage with 10 players and 4 referees, that's when I come alive. I don't need quads and a mouth guard to play the game. I'm not a jammer, but I can still make points. I don't get to hit anyone, but I still play the other team. With every scrimmage and bout I grow, and I find new opponents - my own team, the opposing team, the referees, the non-skating officials, the clock, myself. It's a never-ending process and I'm enjoying every moment, making up for all those moments I spent feeling sorry for myself.

Sure, I still don't feel like flying, but man, I do get the high.

// Anna Miettinen