Sidelines; The Lonely World of Non-Olympic Sports

I’ve been waiting to post a new blog until after the Olympics.  It’s so big.  So awesome.  So full of athletes and coaches.  It’s inspiring.  It is the focus, as well it should be.  

But it’s a bit lonely here in roller derby.  August is a tough month for coaches.  It’s the holidays and half our skaters are away on holidays.  The other half are tempted by thoughts of sunshine and beer gardens.  Because of lower numbers, we often reduce coach numbers, so you end up in an over-hot sports hall, trying to stand in the path of the draft that comes through a door propped open with part of a football goal, talking to the 3 people who resisted all that amazing sunshine and beer to be on wheels.  All of whom are expecting something pretty amazing for their dedication.

Reduced numbers are hard at the best of times.  Meticulously planned lessons switch to ‘on the fly’ when you realise that you don’t quite have enough people to run an actual drill.  An automatic default seems to be skills practice by rote, which can be a good opportunity for newer skaters, but it’s not always…  what’s that word?  “Fun”.  

And then you come home and switch on the Olympics.  So full of life and inspiration.  Your facebook feed is filled with posts about people wanting to try rugby 7s and ‘hey where’s the nearest velodrome’ and ‘wow! isn’t rowing going to get a massive burst of funding out of these successes’.  And the sport that we’ve been trying to promote and get recognised, banging on doors to get a couple hundred quid from the local sport council to help us buy tiny skates to get girls active, that sport finds itself hidden further in the folds of budget cuts and national ambitions.  

I’m not saying that roller derby should be an Olympic sport.  And I’m not saying that I don’t think people should try rugby 7s.  Heck, I want to try rugby 7s!  And I am absolutely over the moon with Team GB rowing medals.  I’m just saying roller derby feels a little bit lonely.  

Coaching a sport that you have to explain to almost everyone you meet, that you have to constantly correct the name of can sometimes wear you down. (No, there is no ball and no. it’s not “that roller blading thing”).  Though it’s making massive progress in terms of recognition, we still don’t have our own established coaching pathways in the UK or resource for our NGB.  

I wonder if there are other sports in the same place.  Or more high profile sports that remember what that was like?  And how we can use this network and other networks to support each other to build our capacity, resource, and start making our sport available to people who want to try something new.  I dream of facebook feeds filled with “I totally want to try that roller derby thing if it doesn’t clash with my rugby 7s training…”


MahaBio: “I’m an American transplant in the UK.  I’ve had quite a few years to try quite a few sports.  The sports that I find myself in love with, I have been coaching in varying capacities over the last 10 years.  I started by herding 5 year olds through a capoeira roda, got my Level 2 in coaching rowing, and now roller derby.  I love roller derby because there is no standard skater.  The women who are successful in roller derby today do not fit into one age bracket or size bracket or body shape bracket, even as the sport athleticizes itself away from the traditional counter culture of its original revival.

I started as the Head Coach of the only recreational roller derby league in Yorkshire with Leeds Roller Dollsin 2014 and am now setting out to contribute to the roller derby community by supporting coaches of new and developing clubs with practical resources, coach mentoring, and networks for development. ”