Six Signs That Your Relationship With Roller Derby is In Trouble

And four ways you can fall in love with it all over again! Valentine’s Day is just a month away and I think many of us who are  involved in roller derby can agree that our relationship to the sport is just that, a relationship. There are ups, there are downs and there are times we wonder where it is all going and what it is that we really want. Like with any other relationship, your relationship with roller derby will take work.

This past year my personal relationship with the derbs has been a very volatile one. After seeing a few of the signs listed below, I decided that I needed to take a break to look after myself and discover where my passions really lie. It has now been 116 days since I last officiated a bout. During this time I have watched 1 event and geared up for 2 free skates, that’s it. As you can no doubt tell, I’m not over roller derby. But what I have learned is that in order for me to continue to pursue a relationship with this game I MUST continue to take time for myself, set healthy boundaries with my commitments and interactions and I need to stop expecting that things will go my way.

Before you get to the point of no return it is important to know the warning signs that your relationship with the sport is in trouble!

SIGN 1: You’re Unhappy When You’re Together and You’re Putting Off Intimacy

Is your physical and emotional energy low at practice? Are you grumpy, or feeling blah and out of sorts when you’re geared up? Do you find your mind wandering and you are wishing you were somewhere else, doing something different, while you are on the track? Feeling distanced from your league mates and others within the greater derby community? Find yourself making excuses to not go to practice? Not really looking forward to your upcoming bouts? These are all indicators that you are unhappy about something in your relationship with the sport. If you don’t like spending time with roller derby, then it is time to take a look at WHY.

SIGN 2: You’re Being Overly Critical

Of everything! You’re critical of your team mates, critical of your board and committees, critical of your coaches and trainers, critical of your officials, critical of the community and critical of your support network. Each practice, each game and each league meeting is more infuriating than the last. Nobody seems to be doing anything right and it’s all contributing to your unhappiness. More often than not, if you think about it, you are likely complaining about the same issues over and over again

SIGN 3: Negativity Far Outweighs Positivity

People in a happy relationship with roller derby tend to be much more forgiving and understanding of those they interact with, even during conflict, noticeably moreso than those individuals who are headed for burn out. There is only so much negativity that a relationship can tolerate before heading into the danger zone.

SIGN 4: You’re Frequently Comparing Your Derby Relationship to Other Derby Relationships

How did that team get to be so good? Why do they get the great, dedicated coaching staff? Why is that jammer always getting picked for All-Star and provincial teams? Why does that blocker always get asked to skate by other teams but I don’t? Why does she get to play more than me? Why do they not do as much for the league as I do? They have it so much better, I’d be so much happier with all of those team mates, those coaches, those trainers and that level of dedication. If you find yourself constantly comparing your own status and progress in derby to others you are simply feeding your anger and resentment.

SIGN 5: You find it very difficult to care about the problems your league/team or anybody else is having.

Turnouts to practice are low, membership is sliding, two league mates are butting heads, ticket sales for home games are not looking good. Bah… who #%&$ing cares, right? Once you stop caring about your league, stop caring about your team and stop caring about the sport in general, you’re well on your way to inevitable burnout. Passivity manifests in a lack of goals, motivation and desires as you find yourself openly complaining about your situation but doing nothing to make the changes you need.

SIGN 6: You expect roller derby to meet all of your needs

Many of us enter into a relationship with this sport with the unrealistic expectation that roller derby will fulfill all of our needs. That somehow being a roller derby athlete or official or coach will magically make us happier, healthier, more confident and to feel more fulfilled. The thing is, roller derby, and the people in it, aren’t our parents. The game, our league, our team mates and our fans are not responsible to magically cure us or cope with the stress, anxiety or frustrations of our lives. If you find yourself blaming the sport and those around you for all of your frustrations then perhaps it is time to consider who is really responsible for your unmet needs.

Identify Your Attachment Style to Roller Derby

Like with any other relationship, how satisfied you feel in regards to your involvement with roller derby has to do with how connected you feel to to the sport. A secure attachment is one in which you trust those you associate with, you have high self-esteem, you are comfortable sharing your thought and opinions and you are able to be happy independently of the sport. Just like you cannot rely on your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend and friends to MAKE you happy, you equally cannot expect that roller derby will magically provide you unlimited satisfaction. Individuals who are secure and happy in roller derby offer support to those around them and are comfortable seeking assistance when they feel troubled too. Their relationship and communication with others tends to be honest, open, understanding and generally respectful.

An insecure attachment style will show in a number of ways including jealousy toward other derby folk, obsession about past conflicts and frequent emotional highs and lows. People in this state are often easily overwhelmed by their reactions and experience a number of emotional storms. In general, their mood tends to be mixed up or unpredictable. As a result, they have no organized strategy to seeing that their needs are met by others or for meeting their needs themselves. Those with an insecure attachment style to roller derby tend to find themselves in rocky or dramatic relationships with their teams and crews, contribute a great deal to emotional conflicts on the bench and within the league and they often struggle with being a team player, leader or mentor.

People with insecure attachments also often often rely heavily on the sport as their “savior” and are upset when that illusion is challenged. Instead of putting themselves first to improve their own situation and well-being, they often experience an emotional hunger. They rely on the sport to rescue or complete them and they love to feel at the center of attention even if that attention is negative. Yet, as much as they seek fulfillment, validation and success they make choices that push those around them away. When they feel unhappy with their circumstances, they often become angry, demanding or confrontational and take nearly everything as a personal attack to their integrity.

So, step one: which is it? Are you secure or insecure in your relationship with roller derby? At this juncture the important thing is to lower your defenses and become aware of what attachment style is in play right now. It’s okay to feel vulnerable or insecure! We all do. You’ve put yourself out there and have challenged your comfort zone physically, emotionally and psychologically with everything that you do. But Roller Derby should enhance your life, not be relied upon as a source or fix for your personal happiness. That’s all on you.

A secure relationship with roller derby and it's community will inspire more positivity.

A secure relationship with roller derby and it’s community will inspire more positivity. Photo courtesy of Rob Vida.

Focus on What You Love About Roller Derby

In order to move forward in your relationship with roller derby, you next need to stop obsessing over what has happened in the past. If you’re too hung up on bouts that didn’t go too well, calls you felt were wrong, arguments you’ve had with league mates, coaches not giving you the track time you desired, or not being selected for the team or roster you wanted, then you’ll never be able to strengthen your bond with the sport. Let go of the conflicts, disappointments and hurt feelings of the past. Push them out of your mind, forgive them, forgive yourself and avoid bringing them up over and over again. The more you remind yourself and others of issues from days gone by, the more difficult it will be to find your happy place in derby.

If need be, minimize your contact with any individuals you do not get along with to just associating with them when you have to. You don’t need to force fake friendships or interactions with everybody you meet in derby. Just like in your workplace or with acquaintances, you are bound to meet people in this sport who you do not get along with or bring out the worst in you. It is completely understandable and reasonable that you simply remain professional with them on the track and at events. Likewise, avoid putting yourself in situations that will breed negativity. If you are miserable and upset being on the board, then step down to make way for somebody more excited about the position. Make the changes you require to forge a primarily positive derby environment.

Focus on what you love about the sport and what makes you happiest. If you love skating, then don’t just play your home bouts but sign up for scrims and get out there on your skates more. Gear up and get out on the bike paths and skate parks when the weather is good. Go skate with your league’s fresh meat and help them learn and grow. If you love teaching or coaching then get your name out there to nearby leagues and offer to attend a practice as a guest instructor or contact league’s hosting scrims about bench coaching for a couple of pick-up teams. Do what makes you happy!

For me, I found my passion for the sport in this blog. When I was really feeling burnout, I still partook in roller derby but I stepped away from all the committees, regular practices, volunteer hours and all that other jazz. I even cut back and cancelled my involvement with a few events on the horizon. In that time I reconnected with myself and I spent a LOT of time writing on Derby Frontier. I quickly discovered that I love interviewing people, I love researching hot topics within the sport, I love talking to photographers about viewing the game through a lens and I love hearing the stories behind skaters, officials, coaches, announcers, leagues and teams from all around the world. Yet, as much as Derby Frontier is ABOUT roller derby, I have spent very very little time on roller derby itself over the past 4 months. Sure, I’ve written all about the game and the rich community surrounding it but the last time I actually officiated a bout was September 21st, 2013 and since then I have only geared up at 2 free skates (1 in Moose Jaw and 1 in Prince Albert). Thank god I did because this blog made me fall in love with derby when I was starting to think that I was done with it. In fact, at this juncture I am enjoying promoting and writing about the sport MORE than officiating or teaching. And you know what? There ain’t nothing wrong with that!

Do what makes you happy in this sport!

Fan Section

Sometimes sitting in the stands and becoming a fan again is just what you need! Photo courtesy of Rob Vida.

Spice Up Your Relationship With Derby!

The derby community reaches FAR outside of your home town. There are well over 63 leagues in existence across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Get out there! Go skate with other teams or leagues. Go attend an event in another city without your derby sisters. Sign up for some random, nearby invitationals and scrimmages and skate with other athletes, work under different coaches and experience different types of officials. Inject some spontaneity into your derby relationship by hopping in the car one weekend, going to another city and watching other teams play. Then stick around and party hard with a new community!

Alternatively, take up another role for a little while. Start some officiating or look for an in as an announcer for a few events. Approaching the game from an exciting, challenging and new perspective can be just what you need to reignite that derby passion!

Enjoy Some Independence From the Sport

Just like with your friends and loved ones, sometimes you just need time to yourself or you’re going to feel smothered. Play video games, read books, watch some of your favorite shows on Netflix, try cooking or baking, go camping, start drawing or writing, teach yourself about astronomy, take some dancing classes, learn a new language, whatever. Get out there and experience new things! While it’s good to spend time together, you need to also have time apart doing all the things you used to love to do before you found roller derby. Take some time each week to relish in your other hobbies and passions!

Also keep in mind that like with any other relationships, you’ll need strong communication with roller derby too. When you need to talk about something, talk about it! Don’t let it sit and fester, bubbling under the surface. You have your friends and mentors to seek guidance and advice from. Use those resources!


Headshot1Written by Kevin “Kevlar” Dennison

Careful, I’ve been hurt before!



  1. I must say I have done all 6 of what you listed. I think it was you that told me to take a break. Once I did take me break for Derby and renew me other loves in life,it was easier to come back to the league nad Derby with a renew love for the sport. I wil have to print this out to remind me.

  2. I must say I have done all 6 of what you listed. I think it was you (or some other Canadan) that told me to take a break. Once I did take me break for Derby and renew me other loves in life,it was easier to come back to the league nad Derby with a renew love for the sport. I wil have to print this out to remind me.

    1. I’m just so glad that you and so many others have really enjoyed it! I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive messages and emails over the last few days. Thank you for reading!

  3. Yup. I went through all of this. Decided to retire after 5 years of giving my league EVERYTHING I had, spent two months completely away from my skates and league. Realized that I cannot live without skating or derby, came back as a coach only, coaching in exchange for participating in weekly scrimmages. Realized that I put way too much pressure on myself when I was competing and in charge of many league tasks. Not bouting is something to get used to, but now I get to do all of the things I love about derby, and keeping a safe distance from the things that bought out my neurosis. I’m so much happier now. I skate better than I ever did, and I get to coach a team that is full of new blood, they are all so passionate and dedicated. Happy to have found the right balance.

    Thanks for the great article

  4. I loved the sport, But to be honest the team was a bit pushy in the wrong way and i think overly critical of me and my limitations which made progress slower. I was not yet on the team, but was working toward it excitedly, but had cardiac issues i wanted to check on before perusing it to the level many on the team THOUGHT i should be doing. I had open heart surgery in 2005. my concerns were very real…and i felt only judged. I left the team and practice and have not been back since. I am currently that is part of the reason. I wont be going back to that team more than likely….I am sad about it. I liked everything about it except the people…….Ladies in derby, people are at a different fitness level and capability… more empathetic instead of harsh….it drives people away who wish to stay.

  5. I’ve been involved in derby in almost every aspect. Skating, refine, coaching, committees, leadership, announcing etc… I’ve been feeling these six things off and on over the last year. I took a couple breaks hoping things would change. I even became president of my league, but every time I tried to make a positive change or make decisions that kept the players safe, I got resistance. I finally decided to retire I’m taking the rest of the year off and hope to return as a ref next season. I’m also running a shop and maybe that will be how I stay involved. My heart has been broken by roller derby more than once and I’m getting protective of it. There will be an emotional wall.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that you have experienced this, hella ratty.

      While I’m sure the details of our experiences are quite different, I certainly can relate to a lot of the feelings that your comment invokes. Despite my positivity with this past last January, I’ve actually fully fallen out of love with roller derby and I am now working on one last set of posts before I stop posting completely this upcoming September. Though I followed all of my own advice from this post, it just wasn’t meant to be lol. It has actually been a long time coming as my time with roller derby has been over for well over a year now, yet I have struggled to move on from it and continued to blog up until just a couple of months ago. Was a pretty unhealthy breakup with lots of baggage that still needs to be unpacked haha.

      Anyway, I wish you all of the best, and I would just like to say that should you decide not to return: it’s okay! There are a LOT of other great adventures in life waiting just around the corner for you should you be open to them. It wasn’t long after I stopped direct involvement with the leagues in my area that I ultimately decided to come out as transgender (never felt safe to under existing policies), found my local LGBT community, began involving myself in LGBT activism, and now serve on the board of directors as Gender Diversity Representative. Life can change in an instant with all new paths to explore!

      If you choose to stay, then I still wish you the best of luck and hope that you enjoy the sport more!


      Nillin Dennison

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