First, a brief update to my last post. Several people have informed me that actually B Team is 100% real, and I know several of them, and in fact many of them are in charge of us on Sundays. Awkward. I’d therefore like to retract my previous speculation as to whether they are mythical unicorns, and amend my description of league structure as follows:
Fresh meat: Sunday morning training group, where we fall over for two hours then go to the pub.
Wreck league: The guys who eventually turn up to the pub if we keep drinking for long enough.
A Team: I don’t know who these guys are but if you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and you can find them, maybe you can hire them. Also they start training as soon as fresh meat are finished, and you probably don’t want to wander onto the track in front of them. Not joking. They are quite fast and sometimes bounce violently off each other.
B Team: Has someone just thrown themselves in front of you to see if you can avoid them without either of you dying? Has someone put a shoe on the track? That was probably someone from B Team. Do not piss them off. Incidentally, if someone just ran up beside a pack of you screaming “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD” in an attempt to terrorise you, it is DEFINITELY someone from B Team. You guys are the bestest. Please don’t throw shoes at me or set me on fire. Please.
Nobody challenged my description of A Team. Make of that what you will.
Now that it’s going to be over in about three weeks, it’s occurred to me that it may be helpful to describe what Fresh Meat is like, beyond “we fall over and go to the pub.”
Starting from what seems like years ago but was actually just May, about 25-30 of us have been turning up at a sports centre in Tottenham at the unholy time of 10am every Sunday. Once the desk staff let us through, we head en masse into a sports hall and strap on so much protection that we’re unrecognisable, get our skates on (heh) and make our way onto a large, circular track painted onto the floor, depositing water bottles in the middle of the room for later.
I like to get on early at this point, because it takes me at least ten minutes to remember exactly how I’m meant to cope with having wheels on my feet. Not everyone needs those ten minutes. We’re a hugely mixed group. Some of us (by which I mean me, and in my case it really does show) didn’t skate at all as a kid, meaning we don’t have much muscle memory of it to draw on. Some of us skated years ago. Some of us skate all the time and literally jump backwards over things (yeah, you know who you are). Same goes for sports experience – some of us already do other sports, some of us haven’t for a long time.
Because roller derby is a full contact sport on roller skates, there’s a certain level of basic skating competence required before you are allowed to have a go. Fresh Meat is the course that all noobs have to go through in order to make sure you have this.
You also have to have full kit. If you don’t have the skates and all the pads, you don’t get on that track. This is not being needlessly picky – you ARE going to fall onto your knees, you ARE going to land on your wrists, and if you do not have all the gear you are leaving in an ambulance. So we turn up, kitted out, and get on track with a vague idea of what we are going to be learning that day – we were given a course outline and other information when we first started.
After a brief warmup, which is much less horrendous than a parkour warmup, we usually skate around the track together and perform things we’ve already learned on demand. Different stops, different falls, whatever. We’ll then learn new techniques, do partner and group drills, and by the end we’re usually a bit tired. We’ll then stretch, and get the hell off the track for the next guys (see league structure description).
I could talk about the various skills we’ve had to learn and in which session – derby stance, crossovers and the dreaded transitions – but while those are all interesting, they’re just skills. Whether you’re trying to do a backflip or to skate backwards, learning a new skill is basically the same process – observation, progressions, making mistakes, drilling. What’s very different (for me at least) is doing a structured course to learn a new sport, with an assessment at the end.
I’m used to doing hard things. I’m not good at them, but I’m used to dealing with them. Parkour can be stressful, after all, and I’ve written before about how difficult it can be to deal with being an unusually slow learner. With everything else I do, however, there are no assessments. There are no weekly learning outcomes. This makes being a little bit slow an entirely different ball game. I’m not even going to pretend I haven’t lost sleep over this.
It’s not that people are harsh. There’s a certain amount of PE-style whistle blowing, which definitely took some getting used to, but nobody is mean. There are no coaches standing over me demanding I get transitions right immediately or else (which is lucky, because it’s not going to happen any time soon). On day one, I was definitely intimidated – having people introduce themselves as “Blaze of Gory” and similar is just ever so slightly disconcerting, even when you’re expecting that kind of thing – but if anything, people are more patient than I imagined.
Then there’s the social element.
Friendships develop in parkour all the time. People get to know each other, go to the movies together, run through tube stations pretending to be velociraptors (some of us get a bit excited after movies), but there is a very different social dynamic in Fresh Meat.
In parkour, classes are drop-in. You get new people at any point, and they either last or they vanish. In Fresh Meat, we all started at exactly the same time, we’re all working on the same things and we’re finishing together. Fresh Meat isn’t drop-in, so we see the same faces pretty much every session. This means we’ve become a single cohort of rollerskate warriors, working as a team to get through the assessments together. This is a new experience for me. It’s kind of nice.
Assessments start next week. I’ll let you know how we go.