It comes as a surprise to my friends and family when I tell them that I am studying for my derby test. Specifically, the WFTDA skills assessment. Oddly enough, that they don't just let you strap on the some skates and go bashing around the track. At least they don't if you want insurance. Contact sports tend to actually quite anal about rules. It's why derby resembles something between Mad Max's Thunderdome and a teaching hospital, with groups of NSOs (non-skating officals) hunched over clipboards, scribbling notes about every hit and taking names.
To this end, there is a written test, of which, with all the derby rules and bizarre tourette-like referee signals, is fiendish enough to qualify for university completion exams. I am just now printing out over fifty pages of rules and regulations to study from. Derby is not earth friendly. Derby stomps the earth under its polyurethane wheels.
Basic skating skills are also assessed, though, please understand, by 'basic' I mean advanced if you were talking your average night at the disco skater. Before you are qualified to bout, you have to know how to skate derby (i.e. toilet squat position), stop, fall, sticky skate, skate backwards, jump obstacles (people), give and take hits, whip, and shwack of other skills that will hopefully minimize injuries, both your own person, other players, and the nice people sitting closest to the track screaming obscenities.
The speed and endurance portion of the test requires you to skate twenty five laps in five minutes or less. This is no small feat. Derby is played on a relatively small oval shaped track. The straight parts of the track are covered in just a couple of strides, and then you've got a sharp curve while you are going full speed on a slippery, polished surface. My initial reaction to this curve back in January was to lock my feet into place, hold my breath, and lean into the turn, desperately trying not to skid sideways and break a hip. By the time I came around to the straightaway, I had to fight to pick up speed again, then four seconds later I'd encounter the other side of track, lock my feet, hold my breath...
This was really lame.
What I wanted to do instead is to haul ass on the straightway, hit the curve and slingshot out the other side like a comet rounding a star. I needed speed. I needed style. I needed to stop looking like I was on the track only by accident and as soon as I located the door to the washrooms I'd be out of there.
Key skill here: crossovers.
I spent many hours skating in parking lots and rinks trying to force my legs to not only move while I was turning a corner, but to lift my right leg up and in front of my left leg. Unsuccessful attempts result in a sort of a jerky Charlie Chaplin dance and a string of cussing. Picture me going around in the turnabout at my daughter's school for hours at a time, with a look of intense concentration, picking up my right leg ever couple of strides and slamming it down just a few inches away from it's original position in a failed attempt to crossover. Now listen as I emit an endless stream of muttered self-talk that went along the lines of, "okay, now here we go, lift and over, lift and over, lift and - FUCK! damnit, damnit, damnit! Okay, here we go.."
I looked crazy.
Well, crazier. But a few months of crazy has paid of. My crossovers are now immaculate, thank you.
The coach said so.
Since I'm spending a lot of time lately with other ladies who are going through the important task of learning crossovers, I'm going to share my own techniques. Techniques other than looking insane and not caring. But that helps too, if you care to try it.
Practice skating on one leg, both straight and taking curves, helps build stability. Pushing your skates in front of one another while sticky skating in scallops helps your muscles grow accustomed to the movement without the danger of the lift over. Marching back and forth sideways (without rolling), crossing the legs over and over and over is great practice for the movement. And then do the jerky dance as much as you can by skating in a small figure 8 pattern, trying to lift and cross.
Keep your knees bent and your focus on the distance, and not the jeering audience that always gathers when ever you feel vulnerable and silly.
Fuck 'em. You will learn this.
Derby skills seem to mostly be repetition and muscle memory. The first time you try, you look foolish. The second is usually no better. But over time, with practice, things do come to the point where it becomes second nature. Automatic. (Insert favorite bike-riding or driving a standard cliche here.)
Which is good, because you are going to need all your facilities during a game to pay attention to what the hoards of referees and clipboard people are yelling you.