REBOOT: I’m slowly moving some of my more popular articles from my Examiner.com site over here to WordPress! Some of the photos are from a couple years ago, some of the info may be referencing events from a few years ago, but the info is still awesome and useful! (at least I think so). Every now and again I make a more modern note, but I’ll let you know where I’ve added in. 😉
BUILDING YOU AS A BETTER SKATER
At the Northeast Derby Convention this past weekend, common questions among attendees included: “How did she get so good?” “Has she been skating forever or is she just naturally talented?” “Will I ever be that good at derby?” “How can I improve quickly to an elite level of gameplay?”
As you progress through the lists, thoughts and derbys please remember that the background for all of this should be enjoyment. Drop the ego and HAVE FUN! It’s just f***ing roller derby, and I think we all forget that sometime.
Everyone has a tip to offer, and some of these probably sound familiar. Being in my fourth season, I have been through a lot of ups, downs and across many plateaus. So here is my humble insight.
Be a goofball on your skates
Step one to getting better is spending time on your skates. Any vet will tell you that. What they may forget to tell you is that it’s not just a matter of skating circles. Getting better on your skates means that you are challenging your balance and your confidence; it means you are pushing yourself to improve.
The easiest way to challenge yourself is simply to goof around when you roller skate! Throw yourself forward and backwards. Hop. Go to open skate or an outdoor rink with your friends and skate backwards, turn, play games. The more comfortable you can get on your skates in odd positions or pulling a balancing act, the better you will be able to control yourself during drills and gameplay.
Play and watch ALL the derby
When I say “ALL the derby” I mean beyond your own scope of derby. Yes, if you’re a WFTDA skater, you should absolutely be eating up WFTDA game play to understand how the mechanics and flow of game and strategy work (also to see how skills are being newly applied to the game). That being said, I cannot express how much I have learned in the last three months because of:
Playing MADE rules on a bank track, watching junior derby, watching men’s flat track, scrimmaging men with MADE rules on the bank track, going to open flat track scrimmages, watching the All Star bout at NEDC.
Being a woman, playing derby with boys really helped me to challenge my own perception of strength and balance. It can be intimidating to go up against a man who is a head higher than you and significantly bigger (and has a bit of a temper, but I still love you Yosemite Slam) AND you’re on a bank track against him… But then you play anyway. Then when you’re on the flat track against another team – they don’t look nearly as scary or intimidating. (Note from today – I feel like I can take on anyone now that I’ve gotten past Sutton Impact and Tink as a jammer at RollerCon.)
You never learn when you’re in your comfort zone. Just like with going to open scrimmages with new people and throwing off your balance at open skate, playing and watching unfamiliar types of derby will teach you techniques and strategy more than you think is possible. Seriously. I love that damn tri-block.
No. Really. Go to the events and trainings.
The world of roller derby is so much more expansive than it was when I joined in 2009. Back then, we felt lucky to get a guest coach for the night and we all dreamed of having the money to make it out to the only collection of trainings available – Rollercon. The times, they are a-changin’!
Leagues are now able to bring in guest coaches or boot camps whenever they want. Elite leagues also hold camps throughout the year to train and coach skaters. And just because you’re a vet doesn’t mean you can’t benefit. I did a Team USA boot camp last summer next to Holly Go Hardly (most would say she ‘doesn’t need’ training , but there is no perfection in roller derby and some of us always strive for more). At NEDC this weekend, when coaches weren’t coaching – they were in other classes!
Do you know how many friends were geeking out about being in a class with Demanda? Or Punchy? Always strive to be better and take the training when it is available – if it’s not available, seek it out or bring it in!
Read and absorb
Bout recaps, new skill explanations, boot break-downs. Read it all. Absorb it. Seek it out. Funny memes. Blogs. Discussion groups. The more knowledge you have about derby off the track, the more you can apply to your footage viewing, your live consumption of derby and your own on-the-track game.
Derby News Network, DerbyLife, FiveonFive Magazine, Rollout Magazine, Blood & Thunder, Inside Line, Elektra Q Tion, RollerDerp Tumblr, Khaos Theory and more… they are are all great places to hear about thoughts on derby, derby related life and how derby works itself into other aspects of the world. Go and read some stuff.
Do that thing you hate
When I joined roller derby I decided that suddenly, I didn’t have to do cardio outside of practice. I thought I could use the occasional weight machine at Planet Fitness – and that would be enough. I avoided anything outside of derby, made faces at it, and was absolutely convinced that I could just skate more and that would be enough.
In 2012 I decided, finally, to become a runner and cross-trainer. And in 2012 I became the derby player I should have been previously.
Cross-training gives your body a chance to develop the muscles and stabilizers that derby doesn’t work on. It doesn’t work on them, but can utilize them. Incorporating strength, interval training, plyo metrics and other sports (I’m a fan of rock climbing and kick boxing myself) will give your body extra balance, strength and endurance that you can use on the track. Show me one elite skater that hasn’t cross-trained.
That’s what I thought. Want to learn more about real crosstraining for derby means? Check out my Shifting Perspective article.
Watch yourself play through footage
Watching yourself can be brutal.
Don’t get me wrong, I know it. Nothing like having a game that you feel awesome about only to watch the footage and think to yourself “Why didn’t I go there? What was that? How come I didn’t do ______” and so on. It’s also very easy to get caught in the trap of “Why didn’t the ref call that?” or “Did you see that terrible call?”
Watching video should not be an exercise in negativity. It should be an exercise in study and analysis. You need to be able to watch what you and your team mates did and deduce what worked and what didn’t. To be able to think about how you could move or position differently in the future. To think about where you are and what you need to work on next.
Visualization after you watch video can really help you incorporate your findings. Take 10 minutes after you watch bout footage (and you can do this with any team’s footage, not just your own!) and play out the scenarios in your head. Imagine your reaction, the quickening of your breath, the sliding of your wheels against the floor. Create the images of what you see and how you feel and what you do next in different situations that you saw in the footage. Imagine yourself conquering the situation and bursting past the blocker, spinning through a wall or blocking a jammer out of bounds. Visualization is an amazing tool to give to your unconscious.
Remember that watching bout footage with your team mates of OTHER bouts is super important too! Not only will it help you talk through the strategy of other teams, but it’s a bonding experience for you to all know derby a little bit better. You can talk about what teams did that work, didn’t work, or what you think you could incorporate into your own blocking or jamming styles. Team derby-time is awesome.
We all love scrimmage night. All of us. It’s why we put on our skates and deal with freshmeat training and months of knee fall and hip checking drills. We may say that there are other reasons that we do the roller derby thing – but let’s call a duck a duck. We do it for the PLAY TIME. Taking advantage of your scrimmage team with your team I very important: here you learn how to interact with each other. You build bonds of trust and you learn how to react and rely on each other.
Another important piece of this puzzle is taking advantage of OPEN scrimmage nights that other teams have. Why? At open scrimmages you can learn how to react quickly in new situations. You can learn how to adjust to new floors, new opponents and new obstacles. Also, it’s a great way to make friends in derby and learn how opposing skaters play (could be useful in future games, don’t you think).
Plus, remember why we are part of derby? PLAY TIME!
Embrace your inner zebra
Yes. I said it. Go visit another league to get practice at it. Volunteer to help your league if you’re team doesn’t have a bout coming up. Reverse the roles now and again so that you can see the game from a new perspective. Remember, you aren’t learning anything inside your comfort zone.
Not only will you get a new perspective on gameplay, but you’ll have a new found respect for refs. Part of being a ‘better derby skater’ is keeping your cool on the bench during a bout. Not getting riled over penalties will help you keep an even demeanor and a clear head in each jam.
Best way to understand the refs is to put yourself in that spot. I bet you’ll be surprised at how hard it actually is. Aside from that all, you get to give back to the sport that has given you so much. When you’re not skating, help others to skate! Don’t have the attention span for a zebra huddle? The NSOs could use a hand, too.
Goals are your friend
I have found that setting goals is best to do with a buddy. Captains and coaches are preferable, but if you have someone in your league that you trust that you want to go on this journey with, that’s awesome too. Remember that goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-specific).
To set a goal such as “Block better in the next bout” is a goal that you cannot hope to measure and it’s certainly not specific. Say instead: “Practice blocking techniques 3 times a week for a half hour for the next 4 weeks.” Through the practice of it, you will become sharper and thus, “Block better in your next bout”. It’s a matter of phrasing and giving yourself something to focus on.
For example, the photo is from May of 2012. I had decided that I wanted to be the top scorer for Harrisburg Area Roller Derby against Providence Roller Derby. (In 2010, I had the star taken from me because I couldn’t break their walls. This was redemption year.) Instead of making the above statement my goal, I worked on the strength in my legs, running and plyometrics. The photo is me and Craisy Dukes getting our MVP awards for that bout. And yes, I was top scorer.
Vision boards are awesome too. I’m a big fan of writing down your goals and putting them in places you can see them so that you’re reminded of them daily. Mixing that with positive images and mantras, your goals will crumble under your powerful skates!
Nutrition nutrition nutrition
Just like with cross-training, I thought I had my pulse on “good eating”.
Truth be told, 90% of us in derby have no idea what we’re putting in our bodies or why it’s not good for us. Yes you have some folks that are uber informed (I am now) and then others who like making a joke out of their lack of nutrition (go ahead and have that burger and Red Bull, I want to see how many times I can lap you).
I thought my diet of farm food and whole grain was awesome. I couldn’t figure out why, after 2 years of skating, NOTHING happened with my skill level or my body.
Turns out I didn’t know everything.
There are lots of diets, regiments and philosophies that have been coming into the world of roller derby. It was only a matter of time. The health and wellness industry in America alone is a multi-billion dollar one. Some programs are based in science and research, some really are not. I, personally, confine myself to dietary restrictions for performance reasons that I have imposed on MYSELF. We all have different goals, and your program should reflect those goals and desires.
Here’s what I will say about nutrition (and yes this is coming from a Derbalife coach – this is our philosophy):
Protein. 35-40% of your calories should come from protein. If you’re really looking for a quick adjustment to your diet and want to go at things hard? Think of consuming 1g of protein for every pound that you weigh.
Hydration. Half your body weight in ounces. Minimum. Daily. When in doubt, drink a gallon. We’re made of water. How can we function as humans if our cells don’t have water? How can our body flush toxins (like the by-products of lactic acid) if we’re not hydrated? This is just good sense, people. No, you will not be at risk for water overdose. Unless you drink that gallon in a very short period of time.
Vitamins. Guess what? You’d have to eat about 3500 calories of fruit and vegetable to get your recommended daily amount of the 65 vitamins and minerals the body needs for function. Now couple that with the fact that your body needs it throughout the day (it flushes vitamins it can’t absorb at the time), so that one-a-day you’ve been taking is mostly ending up in the sewer line. Oh yea, if you’ve been eating poorly for the last X number of years, it means your body isn’t even able to capture all the vitamins you put into it because, chances are, the good bacteria in your body isn’t healthy. Vitamins need to happen 3x a day MINIMUM in a dose of about 30% of your RDA.
Metabolism. Keep the furnace going throughout the day. You should be eating small meals 4 to 8 times a day (depending on your size and activity level). When you go 5 hours without eating it means the metabolism shuts off. Vitamins aren’t being distributed. Protein isn’t being used. Calories aren’t being burned. No good at all.
Quick burning carb are bad if you’re trying to lose fat. Complex carbs are good – like in vegetables, sweet potatoes and quinoa. Quick burning carbs like bread (yes, even stone ground, whole grain), pasta and corn spike your blood sugar and turn to fat in your body more often than are burned off. That being said, in sports like roller derby, it doesn’t hurt to have a little extra padding. If you’re weight lifting or doing lots of activity, don’t be afraid of adding in carbs.
Look, if you want to talk nutrition more (Derbalife or not) send me an e-mail at DerbyAmerica@yahoo.com. It’s kind of what I do when I’m not writing things like this.
Have an amazing mindset!
The biggest piece of the derby puzzle is confidence.
If you do not believe in yourself, then you are never going to be successful. I’m sorry if that is harsh, but I have seen too many people self-sabotage because of their own self-doubt or because of toxic influences coming from their personal life.
You are good enough to play this sport. Every single woman, man and child can be as successful and strong as they want to be. It just is a matter of time, effort and having the mindset to go along with it. You are not going to be Suzy Hotrod overnight. It takes a combination of all the things listed here (and more) to get you to that level. It takes years of dedication and focus. If you want it to come quicker, you have to work harder.
If you quit the moment you get tired, or your feet hurt or you sweat … guess what? Your league has plenty of Non-Skating Official positions that are ready for you to help with. Everyone has a different gauge on accomplishment and everyone has a different bar they want to conquer. What commitment is really necessary for you to hit yours? Take a hard, honest look at what you are doing now.
Take a good, honest look with how you handle situations. Do you invite negativity into your life? Do you spend more time complaining about the stuff that happened or looking forward to the way you’re going to overcome it? Do you have the attitude of “This will make a great story one day!” or “Why do bad things always happen to me?”
In life and in derby, the cancer of negativity will kill your hope, drive and spirit. You must be diligent to be a happier person with a positive outlook. Maybe you can’t do a 180 toe stop. Do you say “I try really hard but I can’t do it.” Or do you say, “I’m going to work on it UNTIL I can do it.” That’s the difference. That’s the key.
Need a help with this part of the puzzle? Personal development readings, audios and videos are amazing for your mind. May I suggest some Les Brown, Jim Rohn or Eric Thompson? May I suggest TED Talks? Reading books likeThe Slight Edge and The Big Leap.
Believe in yourself the same amount your coaches do and you will do amazing things.