Continuing on the theme of the future of roller derby, we turn our attention to the rapidly expanding world of junior derby. As the junior expo game at the World Cup showed, there is a wealth of talent coming through, ready to make the transition to the adult leagues. Closer to home, more leagues throughout the UK are setting up their own juniors sessions. Tiger Bay Cubs have been skating since January 2012 and hosted the landmark first public junior derby bout in the UK. We spoke to coach Pretty Grimm about the trials of setting up and developing a junior league, and their future vision for the Cubs.
What was behind your decision to set up a junior league?
Our junior league was founded by two skaters in the adults league that had a real passion and drive for making roller derby available to juniors. One skater is a high school teacher and really believes in what roller derby can do for young adults’ confidence and development. We felt as a group of individuals that roller derby helps you grow on and off the track, not only do you get to learn an awesome sport and all the physical skills within that but it also gives the opportunity for young people to develop really essential life skills such as communication, working as a team and being comfortable discussing ideas and giving feedback to peers and authority figures.
Who is your league aimed at? Gender, age group etc?
Our league is aimed at any young adult between the age of 11-17. We want to be as inclusive as possible and are happy to teach people to skate safely and pass their skating minimum skills whether they progress to blocking minimum skills and eventually playing roller derby. If they decide that roller derby is not for them and they just want to skate we encourage them to still come to skate to work on their skills and have fun skating and maybe try out reffing or NSOing.
What obstacles did you face in setting up your league?
There are a lot of things to consider when setting up a junior league. Firstly we needed to make sure that we were following government guidelines and our coaches all have the required safety checks to work with children and young adults. We are very fortunate that we have support from our local government which includes us in a programme for young adults to try out different sports. This programme helped us ensure that we adhered to all the guidelines set out for us and gave us a regular training spot.
Ensuring that the Tiger Bay Cubs was an affordable, approachable and available league was also a struggle at first. We wanted to make sure that people could join no matter what their circumstances. We therefore offer kit hire for free and the skating sessions for free however fundraising and helping the league financially is often difficult.
Recruiting new members and having people be aware of us is and has always been a struggle. Coaches who have full time jobs as well as adult league training on top of being a junior league coach can struggle to make time in the day to get out to schools to promote the junior league. However we have goals set in place for a recruitment drive in early 2015 which will hopefully battle some of these issues.
Have you received much support from your local community and the derby community?
Our junior derby community although very small is very supportive. Parents of the junior league members have always been very supportive. Some of the parents of our members have actually started playing roller derby themselves as a result. Other parents travel over an hour to get their kids to practice and we have a committee which is partly made up of parents too.
The roller derby community is always supportive of other roller derby leagues (big or small quite literally) without the support of adult roller derby players we wouldn’t have such a strong league now. We have been going almost 3 years now which is incredible.
Did you do any research into interest in junior derby?
This is something we are currently trying to work on with our local government support officer. We want to get out and see how many local schools know about us and if we can offer taster sessions during school hours to get us to increase interest and skater numbers.
On a wider scale we have a great relationship with our UKRDA reps especially Judge Redd who is the Junior Derby Director on the board of directors for the UKRDA. We work to get our juniors bouting and playing other leagues around the UK. We are currently discussing more bouting opportunities around the country so stay tuned for more information.
Are you affiliated to any groups/organisations, either derby related or otherwise?
As mentioned above we have a great amount of support from our local government. They are a pivotal part in the running on the junior league.
What have biggest challenges been in becoming a bouting team?
Numbers, money and finding teams to play!
Skater numbers can always be an issue especially when you have young adults reaching adulthood and have other commitments such as school work, part time jobs and socialising outside of school. We are very fortunate to have some very dedicated skaters in our league both old and new who have stuck with us and have helped us reach a point where we are able to start bouting publically again.
We also recently had a group of players who turned 18 which meant that they were unable to skate for the junior league any longer which left a big gap in our team.
As we are a community supported league we struggle with being able to fund a lot of things that we need in order to run as a league and thing such as hall hire for a bout is just too far out of our reach at the moment. We are however working very hard with our government support officer to increase numbers, training time, awareness of the sport and hopefully that will mean that our numbers will grow and we will be able to organise another home game.
We also try to apply for a lot of community grants to help support the league however these are in high demand from sports clubs all over South Wales. We have previously had grant funding and put that into kit to enable skaters to come to try out the sport without the financial burden of buying equipment.
We are currently in discussions with the UKRDA and other junior leagues about more regular junior games and hopefully working towards a junior weekend tournament which would be super exciting. So watch this space!
How much difficulty have you faced in finding opponents?
Finding a full team of 14 to play at the moment is extremely difficult however we do not have a full team of 14 ourselves! Bouting with a full roster of a junior league is just not feasible at the moment. However as we mentioned above we are looking into how we can play other leagues with reduced numbers, logistics of travel etc and how we can bring help advance the current state of junior roller derby at this time.
Hopefully early 2015 will bring some exciting new things for junior roller derby.
What is your overall aim for your league?
We want to be inclusive to all those who want to skate. We are happy to develop all female, all male and co-ed teams to have a strong bouting junior roller derby league. Our juniors currently train as a co-ed team and we hope with more members we can build a strong team for all three types of bouting derby.
We want to be able to play across the UK and Europe and maybe even one day play internationally.
Where would you like to be in a year, and in 5 years?
As a league in a year’s time we would like to have more bouting experience under our belt and of course work towards getting a full roster of skaters to bouting level.
In 5 year’s time we would like to be bouting regularly and have a few tournaments under our belt maybe even one in the US.
What do you see as being important in the future of junior derby in the UK?
Support and nourishment of junior teams. Junior roller derby helps pave the future for our adult leagues in years to come. We need support from our adult leagues, the community, parents and our local authorities.
It’s also important to give young adults the opportunity to learn and grow at an early age. It’s very exciting to think what that could mean for not only junior derby in itself but also adult derby when junior skaters turn 18.
Watching our junior skaters over the past three years has been awesome. Not just for their ability to skate but also to see what type of people they are becoming. Roller derby doesn’t just become exercise for these skaters, similarly to the adults league it becomes part of who you are. Many of our skaters who have been with us for the three years have become amazing individuals and we need more of that.
Do you think it’s important to have a junior Derby infrastructure in the UK, i.e. for setting up tournaments etc.?
In my opinion yes. Everyone involved in roller derby can agree that it is a sport that takes up a lot of time and when you are a volunteer to your adult league, junior league, your job and your family as well as trying to raise funds, awareness and find time to skate it can be very difficult to work towards the bigger picture.
Having an infrastructure and support on a wider scale would help advance junior derby further than where we are at, at this point.
Also from a skater’s perspective it is that driving force of something to work towards. If we were able to have tournaments or even more regular games it would help grow the sport and keep the current skaters we have.