Not a single skater that has stepped on the track has avoided a blow to their confidence. No matter how long we have skated, no matter how long we have played, reffed, or coached, all of us – at some point – feel the pit in our stomach and wonder, “What is happening?”
Roller derby, whether you’re playing or officiating, is a mental game. Your skills sit on a house of cards known as ‘confidence’. When our confidence is shaken, or we get angry on the track, our skills suffer. How you recover is critical to your effectiveness. If you spend the whole 30 seconds in the box being mad at yourself (or someone else) about a penalty, you will likely not be effective when you re-enter the track.
Steeling your confidence takes diligence. You must practice it the way you practice laps, footwork, apex jumps, and offensive skills. Let’s look at some things you can do to work up your walls both in life, in practice, and when you’re under pressure.
Create a Mantra
Ok, you’ve heard this one before, I’m sure and you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. “A mantra. Yea. OK.” But hear me out : if you create a mantra, a phrase, a motto for life attached to your goals, then throughout the day you can say it to yourself. When you are calm or just happy, repeat it a few times: you’re setting your mind up to associate those words with good feelings.
Quiet, calm, controlled
I am building my life towards my goals
I am not perfect, and that is perfect
I will fly like the Eagle.
You can make it as goofy or as serious as you want, but find a phrase or group of word that resonates with you, and write it on your mirror. Put it on your water bottle. Say it before bed, and when you get up. Then, when you’re struggling with that lift, or you can’t figure out the footwork on a skill, or you feel a penalty against you that wasn’t called – say it then. Calm yourself down. Move forward.
Work on Recognizing When you Get Angry or Flustered
Understanding your emotions off the track can really help you understand them on the track. Many of us walk through our days with emotional blinders on. It takes some internal searching and vulnerability to admit our faults and our buttons.
When you begin to get upset, angry, frustrated, sad – what got you there? Did you rage because you spilled coffee on your shirt, or was it because you spilled coffee on the only shirt you felt body confident in? In which case, it’s not the coffee that you need to work on, but rather feeling better in your skin. Did you feel sad that you weren’t recognized in the meeting at work because you really want praise, or because you know how much work you did and you feel like no one appreciates you?
When we understand the root of our emotion, we can work out the knots. If you constantly look at issues on the surface, you’re never going to fix the problems. Recognizing our deeper issues, and knowing ourselves better can be useful to thwart future negative emotions. Forgiving yourself for transgressions of the past that fuel current insecurities can be very freeing, and can improve your positive outlook overall.
Turn off the TV, Crack Open a Book
Strong mental game comes from positive minds. A study done by the University of Maryland conducted over a 30 year period indicates that those who are unhappy watch more television. They compare it to an opiate that creates a short term positive effect, but a longer term feeling of ‘misery and regret’ (1).
A study done by Emory University also indicates that reading fiction stimulates connectivity in the primary sensory motor region of the brain (ie the part of the brain that deals with motor function and activity) (2). When you think about playing roller derby, you actually activate the same neurons as when you are physically PLAYING roller derby. It’s why we tell you to visualize skills. You strongly visualizing the action and you DOING the action are nearly the same according to your neuron connections. The implication that reading novels could increase the strength of the connections within the brain that control motor functions is great news. It means you can build a stronger physical game by switching off the TV and reading a favorite story.
Finding books in the ‘Personal Development’ section can’t hurt you either. While often criticized for being a money-hungry nonsense, there are many ‘self-help’ style books that will help you peel away the layers of your onion. That whole, “you must learn your triggers” thing mentioned earlier? This is what I’m talking about. The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks is one of my favorites. It is a book about pushing past our own top level of happiness to achieve greater satisfaction in life, and happiness in work, relationships, and health. Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, Do Work that Matters by Jon Acuff is another book to look into. Serious self-development laced with humor will challenge how you think about your work ethic and goal setting.
Study Roller Derby
The good, the bad, the ugly, the awesome: watch it all. Don’t just see the game, see the individual actions of those who are successful and the missteps of those who are not. Re-watch offense, break the defense apart. Look at situations and how players reacted to them. Don’t look at just the formations, but the actual movements of a skater’s shoulders, what their body does to absorb impact, or how their momentum moves when they shift from rolling to running on their toe stops. Go deeper.
You may think that blocker who is facing backwards was successful in her job (Yay look! She knocked the jammer out of bounds!), but did the jammer pass 2 other blockers (and gain points) just because she was facing backwards? Did someone get a multiplayer block because of her formation? Was the jammer able to immediately stand up and swoop to the outside of your ‘successful’ blocker because the blocker had no lateral agility?
Now do the more dangerous thing: Challenge yourself to analyze your own game and ask yourself if you’ve been making the mistakes you see in others. True self-analysis separates the good from the great, because it is scary. It is frightening to admit that we use our forearms to get around blockers, that we leave our skates to make hits when we’re tired, or that our elbows are critical to our [ineffective] backwards blocking style. It is scary to admit that we might be wrong, and that we might have to rewire ourselves to be more effective.
Write it Out
Upset about something? Can’t understand something that happened and it’s frustrating you? Don’t feel productive during the day? Write it out!!
Taking 5-15 minutes at the start of the day to ‘Mind Dump’ is super helpful. Turn off all the noise. Put away the cell phone. Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Set a timer. Now just WRITE. It can be in list form, in prose, or a combination, but just write EVERYTHING in your head! Write what you have to do today. What you wish you had done yesterday. What upset you at practice. What you wish your girlfriend had said when you had argued. Vomit all of the things from your head onto the piece of paper.
Read over it. Create new lists of important things that you can gather from it. And the rest?
ON SKATES PRACTICE
Get to Practice Early and Develop a Routine
Rushing into your practice space and barely getting on the floor in time for warm-ups is not a habit of mentally-strong skaters. Creating a space bubble where you can refocus from your day into derby mode is very important. You can take the time to breath, think about your last practices, think about your current goals, and create goals for the day. You can take the extra minutes to chat up your captains and get feedback, or simply sit and focus on the upcoming challenges as you nom on some last minute energy.
If you start your practice frenzied, you likely will remain that way. So get there early, do a warm up, get your head straight, and most importantly: LEAVE YOUR BAGGAGE AT THE DOOR. I forget who said it first, but I was told to leave all the shit from my day at the door of work, practice, or rehearsals; “Don’t worry, it’ll still be there when you’re done, because no one wants your shit.” Part of an acting warm up we did in college involved invoking this phrase: “I will be here and present. Anything going on in my life will still be there in three hours. I can do nothing about it while I’m here, so there is no use in worrying about it.”
So yea, leave your baggage behind, the 27 in 5 is hard enough without a pack of stuff weighing you down.
Don’t Engage in Gossip
Ok, honestly this could be applied to the ‘real life’ section too. Gossip brings stress and disquiet. Do not engage in the ‘she said, he said’ BS that sometimes comes along with groups of people being in a hobby together. Talk to your friends, interact with your team mates on a social level –it’s a great bonus to this sport we play! We see our team mates more than our other friends.
However, refrain from the toxicity of gossip. Otherwise your mind will be so busy processing how Johnny Ref kind of almost cheated on Jane Ref with Betty Skater, and she’s such a bitch anyway and then you’ll be thinking “oops there goes the jammer”, or “oops was that a cut?” or the worst: “I’m not going on the floor with her.” Skaters and refs that get hung up on gossip and butthurt only keep the team from progressing to the next level of team work. It doesn’t matter who has done what outside of practice. When you play on a team, when you ref on a crew: you are all equals. Don’t let petty BS get in the way of building awesome walls or running a smooth game.
Anyway, what other people choose to do is none of your business. Just skate and let skate! You’ll be happier in the end, I promise.
When you ‘Mess Up’ Recognize the Error, Forgive, and Correct
You are your own worst enemy. Chances are that when you “mess up” in your own head, no one else is as concerned. We’re back to self-recognition on this one. Look at what you did, think about how you could have done better, forgive yourself for the mistake made, and incorporate the new information into executing the drills better. If a team mate offers you advice, or comes to tell you about something that happened in a drill, do not get defensive. Do not talk. Listen. Absorb what they’re saying, don’t immediately spew out the thing you were trying to accomplish; they know what it was. It’s why they’re talking to you right now.
A team mate saying “Don’t turn around”, “you should come to the line in this situation”, or “You keep skating away from us”, isn’t people being mean. Turn off the butthurt and listen to the feedback. Mentally strong players are not defensive. If you are receiving criticism that you feel is backhanded or incorrect based on a solid logic: than thank the skater for their feedback anyway. You do not need to incorporate everything you are told, but should give serious consideration when given feedback; especially if it is not the first time that you’ve heard it. Admit you might be wrong, forgive yourself, and correct it.
As a ref, know that you’re going to make mistakes. Even level 5 refs call off the jam when their jammer isn’t lead, or get hit by ghost blockers while head reffing. Just like with players, take feedback, question every action, and incorporate feedback with a level head and open mind.
Focus on Your Breath During Every Drill
Our breath and heart rate match each other. When we feel out of breath, we pant. When we pant, it triggers panic in our minds, and our heart rate skyrockets. When we are mad, we breath heavier, our mind becomes dizzy, our heart rate rises. Elevated heart rate may be advantageous to an extent for our muscles, reaction, and blood flow, but only to a point. I don’t think I need to reference any of the material out there that says that elevated heart rate and shortness of breath is linked to anxiety, fear, and anger. These are things we do not want you feeling.
During each drill, think about the air you take in and breathe out. Count your breaths, when you come off the track and are short of breath, force yourself to take longer, slower inhalations. When you get called on a penalty, exit the track immediately and instead of wasting your breath on mean words, use your breath to calm your heart. When a team mate says something you don’t appreciate, do not retort. Just breathe.
When at home, a couple times a day (at least), take the longest breath in that you can, hold for as long as you can, and then let it out for as long as you can. It will force you to tune into your lung capacity and how it feels to really be at the end of your air. It will improve your cardio conditioning, because you will be training your heart to work on air less often. When the time comes, you can use this breath practice to bring your heart rate back under control.
For refs, controlling your breath and increasing your endurance means your brain will remain functioning during fast paced and high stress games. You want to keep a clear mind to see each action clearly. Keeping your breath under control is step 1.
Know Why You Are There
Are you playing derby because you love the sport and want to be the best at it you can be? Are you there because you love competition and athleticism? Are you there because your bestie drug you to tryouts? Are you there because you want people to look at you in a certain way when you say, “Oh yea, I play roller derby”? Do you really love the intricacies of the rules and have an interest in keeping skaters safe?
No reason is wrong, however knowing why you’re really there can play into your mental stability when things get hard. When you cannot complete a skill, but you only practice once or twice a week, because you play derby as a recreational hobby to change up your routine, cut yourself some slack. If you are focusing on a skill you’ve had trouble completing, and you’re in the game to be the best the game has to offer, take a step back and look at what you could improve. Maybe break down the skill into smaller pieces and build.
Regardless of why you’re there, sometimes taking a skill to a smaller level can boost the confidence you need to advance. You can’t do a foot to foot transition at speed? Try stepping through your transitions, so that your 180 turns are clean, smooth, and your feet are “on a balance beam” during the transition. Can’t bring an opposing skater to a stop with a plow? Work those plow stops, and have your buddy push gently on your back as you work on controlling your speed and balance. Take it to a place you can be successful, and add difficulty and speed from there.
WHEN YOU’RE UNDER PRESSURE
All of the pieces we’ve talked about come together on game day: forgiving yourself of mistakes, breathing through difficulty, analysis of gameplay, and calming yourself when you want to be frantic. When you study the game, and you think about the game, and you visualize yourself playing the game, your body has an easier time moving through the game. They call it practice for a reason. When the pressure comes on, your body will do what it knows. Your body will default to muscle memory, and emotional memory. If you haven’t practiced 180 toe stops 10000 times, then you won’t execute a 180 toe stop without thinking about it. If you haven’t practiced calming your body down, than you won’t be able to when tension is high on the track and personalities are exploding on the bench.
This is your time to be the rock. This is your time to be the positive force the team needs as an example. You communicate with your walls, which you can do because you haven’t made enemies through gossip. You can last through playing 75% of the jams, because you have worked on your cardio conditioning. You can orchestrate your blockers through complex situations, because you’ve studied the game and asked questions of your coaches. You can celebrate a win, or accept a loss with good graces, because you do not dwell on mistakes, but rather understand that one person does not make a team, and even Gotham loses once in a while.
Read books, watch derby, be nice, breathe more, listen to calming music sometimes, eat food that gives you energy, create a warm up routine, leave your emotional garbage outside the rink, and don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, ask questions, or to challenge your own skills. Don’t be afraid to turn away from a crowd of poisonous people in favor of healthy habits on and off the track. When you are getting frustrated because you can’t do something, bring it back to a level that you will have success and work up from there.
Practice, stay calm, and move forward with an open mind, eager attitude, and love in your heart for yourself, and you will build your mental resistance over time.
Kristie Grey (Merry Khaos) has been playing roller derby since 2009 and has coached almost as long. She has worked with over 20 leagues in 11 states (and Canada). She has coached on and off skates at Beat Me Halfway 2014 & RollerCon (2012-2015). Active in health and wellness, she is an active Herbalife Health Coach and [when the knees allow] rock climber and power lifter. For questions, booking, requests of topic, or help with a nutrition plan, message Khaos at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com
(1) Phys.Org “Unhappy people watch TV, happy people read/socialize, study says” http://phys.org/news/2008-11-unhappy-people-tv-happy-readsocialize.html
(2) Emory University eScienceCommons “A novel look at how stories may change the brain” http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-novel-look-at-how-stories-may-change.html
What song pumps you up? Anything I can sing and dance to. I mostly love acapella with my teammates
What is your favorite city to play derby in? I really loved skating at Craneway Pavillion, in Richmond, CA. It was like something out of a dream.
Who was your first WFTDA derby crush?/Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? I think my first derby crush was Miss Fortune. I wonder how many skaters know that name! Lol!
Which MRDA skater and why? Oh man, that’s hard. I’m a big men’s derby fan. I have so many favorites. I had to choose someone that is not on my Denver team. I fell in love with Dylan Botts and Michael Jensen when I attended my first MRDA Champs in 2013. But to tell you the truth, I fell in love with A LOT of skaters that weekend. The talent in the MRDA is unreal but if I had to choose one, it would be Jamie Williams of Bridgetown Menace. If you want to talk about someone that is inspiring, Jamie Williams is 100% that person.
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? My bedmates are Stacie Wilhelm and her pillow boyfriend she uses to keep her and I apart. She gets me.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? Post game is whatever I can shove in my face the soonest. But I shove it in my face really athletically. Pre-game I love a good eggs benedict in the morning.
What song pumps you up? B.I.N.G.O. by The Puppies. Give it a listen – your life will never be the same.
What is your favorite city to play derby in? I don’t have a favorite city to play in (unless you count Richmond, CA only because of one of B.A.D.’s home venues, the Craneway Pavilion. It’s one of the most gorgeous and scenic venues I’ve ever played in), but I enjoy playing in Florida as it means that my family and more of my friends can watch in person.
Who was your first WFTDA derby crush?/Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? If I recall back to 2011, my first “derby crush” was former DC Rollergirls teammate, Yankee Scandal. So fast and agile on her skates, full of smiles, and such a considerate and supportive teammate.
Honestly, every single member of my team – skaters and coaching staff – inspires me. When you have 20 plus other women pouring in countless hours of sweat and tears to work on their own game as well as team cohesion, practices are intense and can be emotionally and physically draining at times. But they push me to work harder and become a better, stronger, bigger, and faster version of my self with each rep, each drill, and each practice.
Additionally, every blocker I’ve encountered throughout my derby career has inspired me to work harder on footwork, strengthen my drive, and play smarter. Thank you fiercely competitive opponents!
Which MRDA skater and why? Can’t say I’ve ever “derby crushed” on any MRDA skater-gents. I enjoy watching men’s derby though and have played with/against various guys. I think it’s fun and challenges me to adapt and play derby with a slightly different physical and mental approach based on sheer size difference.
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? It changes every trip and I like that. Gives me the chance to bond with more teammates.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? If I have another game that day/weekend, I go for my chocolate almond milk protein shake and something Thai — chicken, rice noodles with some veggies and lots of garlic and ginger.
But if there are no more games to be had, I make it a priority to hunt down a juicy cheeseburger or pizza accompanied by a whiskey beverage, cider, or glass of vino.
What is your favorite city to play derby in? Definitely St. Louis, MO (Ohhh, the irony)! AND my of course, my hometown, Milwaukee, WI!
Who was your first WFTDA derby crush? First WFTDA Derby crush: Rice Rocket- Texas RollerGirls
Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? If I had to pick just one skater, (because my whole team inspires me and pushes me to work harder), I would pick my teammate, Atomic Mel Down! She plays the same position as me, but in another pack, so it’s easy to vibe off of her when we line up against each other at practice. She is strong, feisty and always gives 100%. I’m scared of the Red Dragon!
Which MRDA skater and why? I really have to give credit to my first two coaches, Streak and Powder. They not only pushed me personally as a skater, but they pushed the whole team to realize that our possibilities are limitless.
Also, I will always and forever crush on Percy Control (SLGK), Sugar Boots (YMMRD) and Screecharound (SLGK).
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? Erin Jackson (Baybee), Fancy Schmancy and Jamsterella.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? Olive Garden!
What song pumps you up? Arch Rival plays A LOT of music in locker room prior to a game. I would say GDFR has been the pump me up song of the 2015 season.
What is your favorite city to play derby in? I have found year after year that Milwaukee is a blast.
Who was your first WFTDA derby Crush? Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? Honestly, I have no idea who my first WFTDA derby crush was….I’m currently crushing hard on the Arch Rival All Stars. I have been skating for six years and I have never had to work as hard as I did this season. Our blocking line up is amazing this season which requires me to be focused and give it everything I have at every practice. Knowing that everyone on my team is fully committed to reaching the same goal is inspiring in itself and naturally makes me want to work harder to be the best that I can be for my team.
Who is your favorite MRDA skater and why? Percy Controll of the St. Louis GateKeepers. His dedication and hard work go unmatched. He strives to better himself and others around him on and off the track. He is committed to bringing St. Louis roller derby to a level to which it has never been. Given his role and the success of Arch Rival and the St. Louis GateKeepers in 2015, I would say he has been pretty successful!
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? Arch Rival loves each other! Who my roommates are going to be is always a surprise. We mix up roommates whenever we travel to enhance team bonding. We all end up partying in the same room once skating is done anyway.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? Does beer count? It’s loaded with carbs…
Luna Negra “The Lunacorn” #911; Rat City Rollergirls
What song pumps you up? I cannot pick one! This question makes me crazy!
Alright by Kendrick Lamar
Fragile by Techn9ne, Kendrick Lamar, ¡Mayday! and Kendall Morgan
Ambition, by Wale Featuring Meek Mill and Rick Ross
Flawless, Beyonce and Nicki Minaj
What is your favorite city to play derby in? Seattle. I love this city. I am so grateful that I get to travel to play a sport that I love, but the derby community in Seattle is so great! There is a lot of love and competition. The junior teams here are so competitive. We all work together to push each other and everyone is pretty nice.
Who was your first WFTDA derby crush?/Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? My derby crush is Freight Train, Texas. She skates with such power, grace and determination. It’s beautiful to watch.
Really, I have to say it’s the junior skaters that inspire me to work harder. These kids have moves and drive like I’ve never seen. They work so hard and they don’t hold back. I strive to play and practice like them. They are truly my heart and inspiration. Once they age into adult derby the game will be on a whole new level!
The kids are amazing….They are my derby heroes. Truth. Gal of Frey from Eugene Reservoir Dolls. Afro Jamurai and B. Moye, from Mob City LykkaLive Wire, Threatening Thunder, Elly/DisLykeHer and Lil Fist Fight, from Seattle Derby Brats, also, Mad Taco and Frank the Bunny from I5.
Even though….Lil Fist Fight is my kid, she hits me really hard. She doesn’t hold back on me. I try to steal her moves, but I can’t do them. We talk trash to each other quite a bit. She challenges me every day to be the best. I am biase and don’t tell her, but she is my favorite skater.
Who is your favorite MRDA skater and why?
Quadzilla challenges me every day. His skill is amazing. He is so quick and light on his feet, yet strong. I just watch in amazement.
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? My roommates are Astrid Suchy-Dicey AKA Belle Tolls and Sintripetal Force. All that happens is overanalyzing everything, eating, reading, sleeping, laughing and perhaps a prebout/postbout freak out or two. It’s fun.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? Patron, ice cream, and a steak or hamburger in that order. Don’t tell the kids.
Mary Lou Wretched #79; Kansas City Roller Warriors
What song pumps you up? I have a couple of songs I have liked to play on repeat before bouts. Wolf Like Me by TV on the Radio does its job of turning me into a little beast. And Boys Wanna Be Her by Peaches is my jam. Plus, Tech N9ne just released a new KCMO Anthem thanks to the Royals and I’m pretty sure that’s going to be what gets our blood pumping this weekend.
What is your favorite city to play derby in? Chicago! That’s partially because of the company (the Chicago Outfit is the girlfriend league to KCRW) and partially because as an Illinois girl, I’m in love with that city. That’s followed closely by San Francisco, but only because I didn’t actually get to play in San Francisco (I was a rookie when KCRW played there) yet I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being in that amazing city.
Who was your first WFTDA derby crush?/Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? I love that you ask about my first WFTDA derby crush because I’m actually writing about her right now in a memoir I’m working on. It was Knoxville’s Goblynn, who I met during my first-ever travel bout in 2010. Her face was painted and their fans were telling us it was because she was some kind of public investigator and she needed it for protection. So whether it was true or not, I found her backstory fascinating. She also was an incredibly fast jammer and a sweetheart off the track. It was obvious the city of Knoxville adored her. I was so starry-eyed over her.
And today, my own teammate Bruz-Her inspires me to work harder. Despite just earning MVP for our Cleveland tournament, she is incredibly modest about her skills. She just makes me want to be a better teammate and skater in general.
Which MRDA skater and why? Bled Zeppelin from the Gatekeepers! I used to skate with his wife before we both transferred to our current leagues, so I know first-hand that he started from scratch to get to where he is today. That guy can stop on a dime and has so much agility it’s insane. And to see how much he and Kayla inspire each other honestly just makes me gaga over both of them. They both make me realize how far you can get with hard work.
I’d also like to mention Bat Wing from the Gatekeepers, who was a very dear friend of mine. During the short time I had him in my life, he gave me an immense amount of encouragement and inspiration. I’ll have him in my heart—and on my helmet—during Champs.
When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? My roomies are Mayhem Myers, Baby Buster, and Bruz-Her. I feel jammer-on-blocker snuggling brings us closer as a team.
What is your preferred post-bout meal? I dine on the still-beating hearts of my vanquished foes! Unless I’m home, and then post-bout I like to grab a veggie pizza from my favorite place in Lawrence, Kansas: Pizza Shuttle.
_______________________________________________________________________ Sassy Long Legs #3; Sacred City Sacrificers
What song pumps you up? My team prefers to dance to warm up before games so it’s usually some booty shaking hip hop. Recently we have liked Hood Go Crazy by Tech N9ne What is your favorite city to play derby in? LA! It’s not too far from Sacramento and we usually combine it with a trip to Disneyland. Who was your first WFTDA derby crush? Bay Area Derby Girls’ Murderyn Monroe. She effectively plays offense while playing defense and is a true force to be reckoned with on the track. Which WFTDA skater inspires you to work harder? Stephanie Mainey from London Rollergirls. Her training style is so effective and motivational. Which MRDA skater and why? Thorsome of Tasmanian Mens Roller Derby. I had the chance to play with him the past 2 RollerCons and I think he is underrated. His height, track awareness, and agility make him effective on the track. When you travel with the team, who are your roommates? Xerox and Neill N Weep. We spend much of the time being silly and singing random songs much to the dismay of our teammates What is your preferred post-bout meal? Making sure I am not hungry before a game allows me to focus on my mental game leading into a bout. A filling burrito for breakfast does the trick and then I don’t eat until after the bout.