Student researchers focus on finer points of roller derby

Meghan Roney has played plenty of high-contact sports like rugby and lacrosse, but draws the line when it comes to roller derby. Not because she’s afraid of getting hurt, though.

“I don’t skate,” the first-year kinesiology masters student confesses. “It would be interesting to try though. It might be fun to give it a shot.”

Although she doesn’t have any plans to lace up a pair of skates anytime soon, Roney has been fully immersed in roller derby this semester after having been assigned by assistant professor Julian Woolf to study the sport as part of a graduate class on research methods. She admits the class was “a little shocked” when Dr. Woolf gave them their assignment.

“Roller derby isn’t something we were familiar with,” she said. “It’s definitely not a mainstream sport.”

Woolf said he chose roller derby because it’s a relatively unknown sport, there has been little research conducted on it, and it’s unique in that it’s dominated by females.

“My students report it’s the fastest growing sport for women in North America,” he said.

Students divided up into groups to conduct research on a variety of the sports’ aspects. Roney’s group chose to conduct a profile of roller derby athletes to better understand their perceptions of risk and their propensity for sensation-seeking sports. The group reached out to about 20 teams across Ontario – including Windsor’s own Border City Brawlers – to ask them to participate in an on-line questionnaire. They got an overwhelming response from about 140 players.

The group was trying to find some common psychological characteristics, and although they’re still wading through mountains of data, Roney – who went to two Brawlers’ practices at South Windsor Arena, as well as a bout in Brighton, Michigan – said such traits as “strong,” “determined,” and “dedicated” appear to be shared among many roller derby athletes.

“Roller derby girls are very different groups of women,” she observed.

Part of their research involved comparing how roller derby athletes describe their propensity for risk to previously established psychological questionnaires that are actually designed to measure it. Initial results are showing a high level of consistency between the two, she said.

Roney and her classmates will present their research at a symposium called Roller Derby: A 360 Degree Perspective this Wednesday at 9 a.m. in room 125, Human Kinetics Building. In addition to their work, students will present research project on such titles as Makeup and Muscles: Negotiating Gender Identity in Roller Derby; An Analysis of Resources Allocation and Marketing Techniques by Roller Derby Leagues; Fans’ Perceptions of Physicality in Roller Derby, and; Becoming a 'Brawler': An Exploration of Female Motivation for Participation in Flat Track Roller Derby.

Woolf said the campus community is welcome to attend the symposium, which he described as a celebration of his students’ accomplishments and designed to replicate the research conference experience for them. He added that a number of roller derby athletes, coaches and administrators have been invited to attend.

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