Thursday, December 10, 2009

A League of Your Own

Today's reader question comes from the balmy northern shores of Australia:

Hey my name is josie, how would i go about organising a team in Darwin?

Well Josie, fortunately you've brought your question to the right place. If there is one thing that Derby Helper has demonstrated, it is the ability to organize and motivate a group of people with a common goal.

Unfortunately, that goal tends to be "killing us".

So pull a sheet of loose leaf paper out of your Trapper Keeper, sharpen a #2 pencil and get ready to take notes because we're going to get you ready to form your very own roller derby league!

The first thing you'll need to do is find a bunch of people who will put on roller skates and let you crash into them. Surprisingly, as unappealing as this deal may sound on the surface, there are tons of people who will want in on it.  You can start small because what you need at first is to find a few interested people to work with you.  Go to a website like Craigslist and post an ad asking for people in your area who would be interested in forming a roller derby league.  Create profiles on MySpace, Facebook, Friendster etc. with Darwin as your hometown/network and list a bunch of positive things like making new friends, getting in shape, losing weight, toning their muscles and be sure to include a picture that makes roller derby look fun and appealing.

For example, NOT THIS ONE!

You'll also want to try recruiting in person.  Print up some cards or handbills with contact information and pass them out at places like gyms or popular jogging areas, popular local bars, skate shops, etc. Once you have collected enough interested people to start actually putting on skates, you're ready for the next step, which is...

Finding a Practice Space
When you're first starting to practice basic skills like skating and controlled falling, you don't necessarily need a space big enough for a regulation track, just a cheap space with a flat floor or a freebie place like an outdoor basketball court will do.  When your initial core group of skaters has practiced falls, crossovers and light hitting enough to comfortably perform the basic skills necessary to play roller derby (take a peek at this document to know what that entails), you'll need more of a permanent home that has a surface large enough to mark out a full sized track.  Where you end up will depend heavily on the individual quirks of your city.  Some indoor skating rinks will be happy to let you practice there at off-peak hours relatively cheaply, sometimes there's a community center that you can reserve for certain timeslots for free, sometimes there's a local fairgrounds with a concrete-floored shed, but somewhere in your town is a place that you'll be able to practice in a climate-controlled indoor space.  Finding that space will take a lot of Googling, knocking on doors and placing phonecalls but you can bet that someone somewhere will love the idea of roller derby in their place and will make their facility available to you.  Once you're at that point, you have reached the point where real commitment is needed because now you're going to need to...

I'm not going to rehash this topic in detail here here since I covered it in detail in this previous article (which you are now of course going to read in its entirety.  Don't worry, I'll wait.), but suffice it to say that building a league structure that encourages co-operation and minimizes conflict will be one of the most important things that you do to help you succeed and grow.  Once you have a neatly organized group of players and a place to practice, you're going to need...

One of the most amazing sociological phenomena of the modern roller derby explosion is that experienced players from other regions will happily teach you everything that they know about the game knowing full well that someday in the future, you will use that knowledge to try to kick their ass. Email your closest couple of leagues and ask to attend one of their practices.  You'll learn all sorts of drills and exercises that you can bring back to your homies.  If you make a good impression and grovel properly, you most likely will find someone who will be willing to come visit your town to lead a practice and teach skills to the whole league.  (Offering some gas money or bus fare will definitely help grease the wheels on that.)  Those same people will also be a good source of advice on organizational issues.  Once you're got outside support helping you develop your skills and your league structure, you're going to need...

And there it is, that dirty but necessary word.  Indoor practice space almost always involves a rental fee.  The quickest way to pay the bills is to charge member dues.  If everyone chips in 20 dollars per month or 45 platypus beaks or whatever it is that you use for money down there, you can get things going relatively easy.  On the downside, most likely you'll be able to cover your practice rental but not much else.

The next step up is to start to approach local businesses about sponsorships.  This is easier later on when you're playing bouts and getting some attention, not so easy when you've never played a game yet.  You''ll need to do a good job of selling people on the future benefits of working with you now.  Offer things like free advertising at later bouts in exchange for sponsorship now.  If a potential sponsor is a restaurant or bar, offer to hold fundraisers and forthcoming bout afterparties at their facility to draw in extra customers.  Offer to have your whole team skate in the local summer parade carrying their banner.  There are many ways to go about it, but the underlying idea is to sell yourself as a great potential attention-getter for their business that will benefit them more as time goes on.

Once you finally have a few bucks left after rental fees, it is time to...

Here is where you can finally start to target a wider group of potential players, advertisers and fans.  A billboard by a main road or a decent sized ad in the local newspaper will raise your profile far beyond those who happened to friend you on Facebook.  More skaters joining means more team members and additional dues.  Seeing your name in a prominent way can be the tipping point for sponsors who were on the fence about giving you money.  Building a buzz in the community will help attendance for your first game immensely.  Speaking of which, you're going to need to find a...

Game Facility
Sometimes you're lucky enough to practice in a place where a roller derby bout can be played.  But quite often those practice facilities are either not available on weekends or not adequate for hosting a large audience.  If that is the case for you, you'll need to find a venue that can provide seating as well as room for the playing surface.  Fortunately for you, Josie, one thing that I have learned as an American moviegoer is that every city in Australia has one of these buildings in it:

So give the folks at that building a call and let 'em know that you want to play roller derby there.  They'll probably love the idea.  If however they lie to you and say it isn't available due to some silly, made up event (like an "opera", for example), you can look for local places like a large concert hall or arena, convention center, empty department store, social club hall etc.  Try to find one where Saturday nights are available since that's the night that always draws the best.  Oh and people tend to show up in larger numbers and cheer a lot louder when they can get drunked up, so find a place where you can sell beer.

Alrighty josie, there's a few pointers to get you started in the right direction.  And I am SURE that the others reading this will realize that I left out some very important points and will add them below in the comments for your benefit.  Happy Holidays and I hope Santa brings you a set of Flatouts with ABEC-9's!


  1. This article is really helpful and funny to boot! Thanks!

  2. Get in touch with the 20 odd other leagues in Oz via FB or websites, and we can help you out with anything you want to know. There is also an Oz Derby Forum for all the leagues, but for some reason it's not letting me post the site as a link, so get in touch with someone and they can hopefully put you on the right path.
    Kitty Decapitate
    Victorian Roller Derby League

  3. That is really helpful, but to be a real team you have to compete. Jow can you compete when there are no other leagues around?

  4. ok so what if u have most of that but u want to do it yourself like kids and amacher and all that stuff cuz me and a couple friends of mine are practicing and my friend is the coach but we want to put on an amacher roller derby league but don't know where to start please help!?!