The Derby Training Camp Survival Guide

Posted on: January 24th 2018

Derby Training Camp Survival Guide | RDA

Back when I started in 2007, there was no roller derby training camp. There were no travelling coaches, barely any tournaments, no live streams, and one (seriously, one) model of wheel that my entire league wore! Oh, and we had to skate uphill to practice both ways, obviously.

But people joining the sport today are absolutely spoiled with opportunities to learn and grow in the sport outside of their home league practices!

Training camps or boot camps are abundant these days, with top-level skaters and coaches travelling to your neck of the woods regularly to share their knowledge.

I had the chance to attend the Team Canada Men’s Roller Derby training camp event last weekend (in my tiny hometown on Vancouver Island, no less!) and it inspired me to share some ideas about how to make the most of an event like it. I had a blast, learned a lot, and got to skate on an all-Team-Canada line a couple of times in the scrimmage! Some of the national team skaters even fell down obligingly when I hit them out (LOL).

But, a training camp can be fraught with perils and pitfalls. Many people get super excited about signing up, and on the eve of the camp find themselves crumbling with anxiety. Others fail to plan ahead and miss out on being at their best on the day.

Don’t waste this awesome opportunity! Use my Derby Training Camp Survival Guide to make the most of it!

Be prepared:

Check the Facebook group or event for last minute updates, “good to know” info (what kind of wheels should I bring? Is it hot in your venue? Are we scrimmaging for the last hour?), and to see who else you know is going to be there!

Bring white and black shirts. Sounds kind of obvious, but people forget. Ideally wear a shirt with your name on the back so coaches can give you feedback more easily, and new friends can learn your name quickly!

How long is the event? Bring snacks, electrolyte powder or juice, a change of clothes or socks, whatever you think you’ll need to keep yourself comfortable and energized.

Don’t know much about the coach? Ask your friends, or do a little Googling. It’s fun to know your coach’s background. You could be rubbing (penalty-free) elbows with roller derby royalty and not even know it otherwise!  

Two-day boot camp? Prepare for anything and everything in the self-care department! Blisters, bruises, soreness, whatever. Bring your stick roller or foam roller, lacrosse ball, magic bag, Epsom salts… any and all tricks you might tend to use after a bout to help your body (especially your feet) feel less like they’ve been run over by trucks on day two.  The older you get, the more of your life you will probably need to devote to self-care!

Be Social:

Check that Facebook event out again – who do you know? Folks from neighbouring leagues? Boot camps are a great time to network (need a visitor for a bout next season? Want to co-host another boot camp together?), catch up with old friends, finally meet internet friends face-to-face, or introduce yourself to someone you’ve been admiring from afar.

Skate with different people during drills. Mix it up as much as possible. Different skaters will give you vastly different experiences with the same exercise.

Do NOT hesitate to introduce yourself or ask for a photo with the coach during a break or at the end! Personally I love to meet the attendees when I’m coaching, especially if we’ve emailed or you’ve been a trainee of mine in the past – it is fantastic to finally make the personal face-to-face connection!

SMILE. I know it’s pretty shocking to suggest that most people at the event will be feeling at least a little bit self-conscious or inadequate… (in derby? Self-doubt? Naaaaahhhh…!). The more nervous you are about the coaches, the other skaters, or your skills, the more you should smile about it. The more confident you feel if you’re one of the higher-skilled folks in the room, the more you should smile at everyone else who might be freaking-the-fuck-out-right-now.

Know yourself:

Do you know what kind of learner you are? Recognize whether you’re likely to “get” the drill from the demo, or whether you’re going to need to perform it first before it gels for you. Give yourself the right opportunity and space to maximise what you’ll retain.

Bring a notebook (especially if you have jamnesia), so you can write down your insights and top takeaways! Then don’t forget to review your notes at the end and re-write them if they sound like they’re written by Tarzan. Make sure you’ll actually recognize what you were describing when you refer back to them later.

Do you have a particular challenge (restlessness, problems staying focussed, need for regular snack breaks, diagnosed learning disorder) that could make it hard for you to stick with it and stay fresh for a long day of learning new stuff? Come armed with all your supplies, mental tricks, and mantras that will help YOU make the most of the day.  For example, for an all-day event, I personally just need some completely quiet down-time to recharge my batteries. If there’s a lunch break I’ll socialize while I eat but then I’ll either close my eyes and rest or zone out on Instagram for 10 minutes for some solo quiet time.

Do you get frustrated easily, or very self-conscious when trying new things? Prepare yourself mentally, with a pre-set coping strategy. For example “if I start to get stressed about not picking up a new skill right away, I will stop, skate a lap to re-set, and tell myself that it’s OK to try and fail.”

Adjust your Attitude:

No one should come to boot camp to WIN – you’re winning by learning things, laughing at the bloopers (like when the same skater knocked me on my ass three times in a row last weekend), and appreciating the opportunity and the folks around you.

Here are some attitude tune-ups:

Be prepared to fail. It’s not about showing off how great you are, it’s about pushing your boundaries and trying new things. The folks who fall down the most are those who are stretching and learning the most. Be patient with yourself.

Avoid comparing yourself to others in the room. Other skaters will have different style and pace of learning and adopting new skills, and everyone will have a different level of experience. The only comparison that is fair to make is You (start of the camp) vs. You (end of the camp).

Ask questions of the coach and (when appropriate) other attendees. Don’t interrupt the flow or unnecessarily distract a teammate, but if there’s an opportunity to ask someone who’s getting it, how they figured it out, do it!

Do not be afraid to have the coach watch you perform the drill! We know that you’re probably messing it up the most right when we look at you. It’s the curse of the coaches’ gaze – you’re scientifically proven to be 30% more likely to fall down when we look at you*. So don’t sweat it. Don’t worry about getting critiqued, or not doing it the best – you’re there precisely to learn from this expert, right? If you have the luxury of getting one-on-one feedback at a boot camp, die from happiness rather than embarrassment.

*not scientifically proven. Just my experience.


Armed with some advance planning, a friendly smile, some self-knowledge, and a go-for-it attitude, you can have a blast and learn a ton at your next roller derby training camp!

Did I miss a good tip that you want to share? Please add to the conversation by leaving a comment!

See you on the track!

xo Booty Quake

PS: I’ve travelled near and far to leagues around the world to guest coach or run training camps, I coach extensively at RollerCon, and I’ve been the off-skate specialist at Camp Elite in the past. If your league wants to bring in someone who can combine a cross-training focus with on-skate skills and strategy, hit me up! Contact form is on the About page.

One thought on “The Derby Training Camp Survival Guide

  1. Well said Booty, thanks. :)

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