Living in a house with powerlifters and bodybuilders, and going to a ‘sweat on the walls’ gym has opened my eyes about training in the last eight months. Not just training for personal gains, but the way roller derby, as a sport trains itself on the track and off. There have been many conversations breaking down the conventions of training in roller derby, and comparing to the conventions of other sports.
Along with rhetoric, I have seen my own progress jump dramatically since beginning a 5×5 powerlifting scheme. I was able to track a noticeable difference in a new league from January (first practices) to May (home team champs), and for me the proof is in the pudding.
We are a new sport. We’re still trying to figure out how to play the game, much less how to train for it. I’ve noticed some habits and some structure about our training process that is not helping us improve ourselves and will not help the sport as we pass it on to our daughters and sons. I wanted to share some things, quickly, that I have been pondering. I’ll be doing expanded writings and I am restructuring the training book I was writing to reflect these new insights.
I think I’m going to get a lot of finger waving at the end of this article. We, as a community, have not be super stoked to hear that we may need to change things. We certainly don’t like hearing that there are ways outside of our league to look at training, business, or the basics of derby. Trust me. I have seen the wrath of derby girls faced with change. However, here I go again, putting my ‘radical’ ideas out there. Feel free to post at the bottom how much you disagree with everything. 😀
When looking at our history, I believe the protocol of training today is largely based on what the women of 2008-2010 did for their own training. Stick with me on this one: This is when the sport started to boom. Suddenly, women of all ages and skills were coming into a rapidly evolving sport. At this time, the average age of the derby skater was PROBABLY between 28-32 years old.
Many of these women had never played a sport before; their way to train to improve was to simply skate more (and that definitely has to be considered in a training plan when you have no experience on roller skates). Some of us caught on that we needed better fitness in order to compete with the women who already had a few years jump on us. This led many of skaters to begin using that derby buzz word: Cross training.
Most of us didn’t know what cross training really meant, or how to approach off skates training for roller derby. So this misconstrued system of Insanity training, land drills, and long distance running started cropping up as part of our system of preparation for bouts.
This brings up my first point:
We need to stop training for fitness
Most of the derby skaters I meet do their ‘cross training’ in the form of high fitness workouts (CrossFit WoDs 4x a week, P90X, elliptical training, Zumba, hours of yoga). Ok, before you get angry let me explain where I’m coming from:
If you are skating 3 times a week at practice, and then going to the gym and doing 2-4 days a week of high cardio work, you are really just burning muscle (and some fat) and [if you’re eating right] getting cut muscles. To look cut is rad, but does not help your explosive power or your recovery from one burst of power in a jam to the next (and it certainly does not help when you get slammed by that 200# blocker looking to take your legs out). Elliptical training does not help prevent bone injury. P90X won’t help you break a wall.
Training like you’re trying to lose the Freshman Forty is not the way you should train for roller derby to be successful in the long term. Training in a way that is purely fun or aligns with your social conventions does not make you better at any sport. These workouts that we’re talking about should be done as secondary conditioning and accessory work. They should not be your primary source of training off skates.
We need to redefine ‘beauty’ within our sport
Oh yea, roller derby loves say that “every shape is beautiful.” Our at home ‘lose weight’ training mentality shows that we are more generally more concerned with 6 pack abs and long, lean limbs than any of us realize. We are fighting the conventions of beauty, especially those of us over 30; we get easily concerned with the myth of a slowing metabolism and how our younger team mates, or the folks at the pool of ECDX will view us. We are more concerned with society’s vision of beauty than we are with what it means to be strong and at low risk for injury in a contact sport (ie having some cushion and mass).
And it’s not just women. Men are not safe from these social norms of beauty and sex, and I have many friends that end up questioning themselves over it, regardless of their strength or abilities.
At RollerCon, there was a very short challenge bout with shirtless men: Magic Mike v Chippendales. On social media sites, admittedly, I was part of the sexist storm of commenters. (One, it’s fun. Two, men in our sport is still pretty new. As a derby-obsessed, straight, single woman of not as many years – it’s nice to be able to turn the male gaze away from the sexy derby girls in fishnets and pigtails and put the female gaze on the shirtless men sweating and hitting each other.)
Side note: I was just excited to see an all-male challenge bout. The shirt off thing was just an added bonus.
Leading up to it, I had several men contact me asking if there was any way to adjust their fitness or nutrition to get better abs in the couple weeks leading up to RC. (I had to disappoint them and say, “unless you want to do some drastic changes and not drink before the bout, there’s no magic pill to shed all the fat in a week”) After the bout, I was asked a question by a skater who is arguably one of the top 5 male skaters in the world: “Did I look gross out there? You know, with my shirt off.”
**Mouth Gaping Open**
First of all – do you know who you are? Are you sure? Secondly, yes, you look great! (I was trying NOT to look too much, actually. I know many women who did NOT restrain themselves.) I wanted to yell at him: “You may not have the photoshop-crafted abs of an Ambercrombie ad, but that’s ok. Know why? DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE?” Seriously! That bout was sexy in every way, but mostly because highly skilled men were playing roller derby. They could have been playing in parkas and it would have been an amazing bout (though you’d probably have to burn the parkas afterwards due to all the sweat).
We need to release the ideals of Western beauty and embrace the awesome of each of us. If you’re skinny: fantastic! If you’re not: fantastic! If you’re jacked naturally: great! If you have skinny arms: that’s cool! Now let’s lift some heavy shit, flip some tires, put on our skates, and hit each other without worrying about being judged by our team mates about our body.
I have written about this before. It’s a struggle for me big time. I’m single in a growingly co-ed sport. I also powerlift. I am trying to be highly competitive at roller derby. I had the internal conflict months before RollerCon: do I want to look awesome in my bathing suit, or do I want to be able to get past Tink on the track?
There was a moment where I thought to myself, “Oh wait.. it is hella sexy to be able to get past Tink on the track. So, in theory, if I accomplish THAT, I will look AMAZING in my two piece, because it’ll be ME.” (At least that’s what I keep telling myself)
When I really think about it, beauty conventions vs training modes may be our biggest adversary.
We need to start training for a contact sport
No football player is doing 5000 burpees to prep for the season. No rugby player is only doing yoga to prepare for the pitch. No hockey player is trying to cut to a ridiculous body fat percentage mid-season. Roller derby is a brutal, physical sport. We need our training to reflect that physicality and hardness.
Like any other sport, there are a variety of pieces to the training puzzle. I am not implying that anyone should cut their WoDs, or their yoga, or their P90X completely. To be successful, the incorporation of weight training and conditioning must be included in our system of norms as the primary ‘cross training’ piece, with the other stuff as accessory work. We need to train for strength, not weight loss.
Side note: Many skaters come in, as I had said, with no athletic background. Many come in overweight and out of shape. For many skaters, fat loss does need to be a part of their training consideration. Too much weight in a roller sport means extra strain on knees and hips, and the higher probability of injury. However, let’s not get obsessed with getting from 23% body fat to 19% body fat [like I was].
“The improvement of performance in athletics over the past few years has been phenomenal. For example, twenty years ago the average football lineman weighed 250 pounds and ran a 5.2-second 40-yard dash. This was considered to be nearing the genetic limit for a player. Now running backs that weigh what the lineman used to weigh are running 4.4-second 40-yard dashes! Strength training has made the single, most positive contribution to this type of improvement. Today strength training influences every athletic program in the country, no matter what the sport – male or female. Athletes now find it necessary to lift weights and participate in conditioning programs to better prepare themselves for the competitive rigors of the athletic season.
Just a short time ago, most coaches thought that strength training would cause athletes to become muscle-bound and would be counterproductive to good technique. Now it has been proven that athletic performance depends either directly or indirectly on qualities of muscular strength. We must remember that strength builds the foundation for ALL other athletic qualities. For example, if you do not possess great relative body strength (strength in relation to your body weight), you will never be able to run fast. This is due to the fact that all aspects of proper running technique require high levels of muscular strength. In other words, if you can’t achieve the proper knee drive, arm swing, posture and push-off, you can’t be fast.” (DeFranco)
You call it extreme, I call it “what it feels like 185# on my back”
Let’s be real honest here: Weight training isn’t fun. It’s fun when it’s over. It’s fun when you successfully lock out twice your body weight on deadlift the first time. It is fun when your friends tell you that your arms are awesome (Your derby friends will say this, of course. Your lifter friends will comment about the improvement, but will never imply that you are at the pinnacle of your journey). Not every hockey player likes to lift weights, but they do it because it is necessary for improvement. Every player of every competitive sport lifts weights because it is necessary.
“But Khaos! We’re on roller skates. Look at how successful all the speed skaters are in our game. They don’t lift weights. If we just spend more time on our skates, we’ll be successful.”
“Weight training for speed skaters is not all that different from what you see in other athlete strength programs. The key for skaters is to build up strong legs and core. They also put quite a bit of emphasis on balance.As for the legs, squats of several varieties are important, as are leg extensions and hamstring curls (and so much more). The upper body work is also important and typically includes a tremendous amount of midline work. It is typical to see these athletes utilize some basic strength programming including supersets and dropsets in different capacities and arrangements.” Read the whole article here (it’s got a lot of good training tips in it!!) (Chasey)
Also, can I make a note that the top men’s team in the world, Your Mom, does not spend all THAT much time on their skates? They don’t have to train their skaters how to do crossovers, they can do that on their own time (and I’m talking the none speed skaters too, folks). And Gotham? They have weights in their warehouse so they can make weight training part of the weekly program. The focus is more on the strategy, the training, the understanding of the game than it is on using practice time to go over 360 turns.
We need to properly warm-up and cool down for practice time
A 2 minute dynamic stretch is not enough to get our bodies primed for the hell we put it through on roller skates. We are not teaching our new skaters how properly warm up before activity and subjecting all of us to the probability of injury. On the other side, it is rare that I have been a part of a practice of any league that has a proper cool down.
When I was with Harrisburg Area Roller Derby, we had an amazing volunteer who was dubbed Full Commando. He was our Yogi. At the end of each practice, we would spend 15 minutes doing yoga designed to bring down our heart rate, stretch us out, prep us for bed (Harrisburg practices ended at 11:30p), and prevented future injury. When our sister-in-arms, Stella Stitc’Her broke just above her ankle, she had minimal ligament damage. She told us that the doctor had attributed to the flexibility developed through skating and yoga at the end of practice.
We need to understand that sometimes, less is more
I came from the P90X-obsessed mentality of “If I’m not wasted at the end of my workout than it wasn’t a good workout”. I have come to learn that you can put in excellent work, and an appropriate amount of excellent, hard, teeth-grinding work … and sometimes you feel like you have more to give at the end of the workout. And that’s ok. In theory, everyone should be running a specific program (do what the numbers on the sheet tell you – don’t make it up as you go). Programs are designed for certain things on certain days. Deload weeks in weight training may be boring, but they allow your body to rest so that you can perform stronger the following week.
This also touches on the subject of CrossFit. Those of us who have done work in a CF box may have the thought ingrained that you have to go until failure. True progress does not [always] require that. Look, imam just leave this editorial (written by a certified CrossFit coach) RIGHT HERE about the “keep going” culture created in CF gyms. There should be pain and struggle and a question as to whether you’ll finish your rep, but having been lifting for a while now – that last set of 10 pause squats feels SIGNIFICANTLY different than that last 5 minutes of “Super” Angie.
If I didn’t get enough people riled with that section, let’s see if I can stir the pot with:
We need to restructure our season
And in turn, how our rankings are created. Have you ever encountered any sport where athletes train 11 months out of the year?
Roller derby athletes do not have the benefit of the pre-season/season/post-season/off-season structure that other sports have firmly in place, that determine their intensity and type of training. Derby is forced to ignore the season and mash all of their training, as best as possible, into each week of the year.
Strictly home team players are the only ones that [seem] to get any kind of break from gameplay, but it is the travel team skaters that you want to be fresh. January through June is when most travel teams smush most of their game play into, right?
But now with the new WFTDA rankings, more all-star teams are pushing their seasons later into the fall to be sure they maximize the equation in place currently. Plus, if you do make a divisional tournament, your now have an extra 3 game week of intense play put onto the end of your season [a month or two later]. If you make champs, you again have another intense weekend ahead. If you play on a home team (which most leagues require of their travel teams), then you have extra competitions layered into your already intense season.
Men are running into this too. The MRDA ranking system is still shaking out its bugs, and as of right now the majority of rankings come from the January – June season. However, July and August are the months where you get your final shot to break that Top 8 for champs. There are teams playing tournaments into these months for a shot to increase their rank. Then? They won’t play until October.
From what I understand, USARS has a similar schedule for their championships. Oh, which some flat track teams have been participating in. Add one more piece of your season in. Then there are also the extra tournaments…
The last couple years we have another element to think about: mash-up teams. All-Star mash-up games and tournaments are being placed in the only off season that organizers can find: the winter. This means that players on your top tier are never resting. Their only chance for a recovery period is if they actually injure themselves.
This is a real problem. This is seriously going to hinder our sport from achieving maximum levels of top competition. We are destroying our athletes. This needs to seriously be taken into consideration. We are the only sport I have found where ranking competition can (and does) take place in any month of the year.
Recently, I took a couple weeks off to start to heal up my ankle. I skated a scrimmage here or there, but really nothing major. I was concerned about getting to RollerCon and having no idea what I was doing. They say you lose it a bit as you stay away from the sport. You know what actually happened? 7 out 9 bouts I felt on top of my game like never before. Coincidence? Maybe. Rested? Definitely.
SUBTOPIC: Rest is cool
In general, derby doesn’t like to rest. #NoRest. But recovery in your weekly routine is critical for healing, progress, and injury prevention. Teams that play a 4 game event on Saturday/Sunday and then turn up for practice on Monday BECAUSE IT’S REQUIRED are at a greater risk for injury. Your muscles need to a chance to rebuild after a game. Teams really need to look at their practice schedule and include ‘deload’ time before a game (like not scrimmaging), and recovery time right after a game (like canceling practice or doing a couple days of non-contact, lighter skills, and team work basics).
We need to stop encouraging a culture where unhealthy eating is cool
That’s great that you got cheese fries and a beer after practice. It won’t help you recover. That’s awesome that you’re taunting your friend who is drinking her shake for the first time that you’re eating a burger while they’re trying to limit saturated fat. You’re making her feel bad for a healthy decision just because you don’t want to make it.
Not everyone is going to be into eating like an athlete, and I understand that. But can we please stop this culture of “Doesn’t bending over for a cupcake count as a squat?” No. It doesn’t. It’s fine that you don’t want to be at the peak of your game, but don’t mock others for their athletic nutrition. And if you do mock? Don’t be offended when they lap you during cardio, start getting more play time on the team, or transfer to a better league because the current league has encouraged the bully culture.
The sad thing is that it’s usually our friends making the jokes. They think their being funny. It’s not funny.
One more thing to make me unpopular… our AFTER PARTIES. Can we please talk about not encouraging our athletes to drink copious amounts of alcohol, while providing fried bits of vegetable-like substances, and dinner rolls? Can we talk about an after party that is for the fans, not for the athletes so much? You can try and tell me (and yourself) all you want that beer is a fine post recovery drink, but guess what? It isn’t. Plain. Simple. It doesn’t count. Here’s a short read for you.
Ok, this blog ended up being WAY longer than intended, but I needed to start putting these things out to the universe. I feel very strongly about starting this health and strength revolution, and I’m glad to know I do have some other people on my side. For our sport to get to the next level of athleticism, and to be one step closer to professional play, we must take a hard look at our training: How it is structured, why it is structured that way, the culture that supports/negates it, and our behavior to our fellow skaters. We need to put these things on the table within each league so that, one by one, we can revolutionize roller derby for the betterment of the sport and our athletes.
My name is Merry Khaos, I am a member of DNA Coaching and a health and wellness coach with Derbalife. We are currently booking boot camps for the next 15 months. Send me an e-mail at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com to get the ball rolling on having us come to your league. Want to incorporate a “how to train for roller derby” day? Let’s do it! I am also available to help you piece together a nutrition plan and training schedule so you can smash through your goals. Let’s work hard together!
Imagine rushing up to the backs of four very strong, stable skaters at near full speed. Imagine the blur of the yellow tape on the floor, the glare of flashbulbs off of the plexi glass, the noise and the cheers, and the pounding of your heart in your head. And then somehow, you’re backwards and ducking. Suddenly you’re pushing through a hole in the wall you had not seen, but you sensed. With twist and turns and ducks and power you hold your ground and then see daylight. You push. You push like you pushed the prowler, you twist like you did in practice and you move your feet like you have been training for four years.
And then you’re in the air of the arena again, crossing over with fluidity against the draining sap of the sport court that sags when you stop pushing. You’re in the wide open with people looking at you and cheering and unsure who this skater is that they’re just really seeing for the first time. And you think about what just happened, and you don’t view it from a first person perspective, because you don’t feel like you really did it, you just let it happen. Your body did it for you. You let yourself go to the situation and trusted your instincts and let power and intent wash over you and drive you through.
And you were successful. But you don’t quite know how.
That was most of the Championship bout with the Mobtown Mods for me. I remember doing things, kind of. I couldn’t tell you how. I just let my body go on autopilot. The vets had always said that eventually it would happen. You would find your zen and just start doing things. It started in practice that week and continued into the game.
What is the MENTAL GAME?
In every sport there is the talk of “The Mental Game”, but I feel that the term gets thrown around to mean many different things. Your mental game could be how you handle pressure, how you react to new situations, how you trust your feet, how you read a pack, how you release fear and go on autopilot, how you steel yourself after a team mate has gone down with injury. I am going to talk about a few things you can do to increase your mental stability during game play and practice time and what I have done to help better myself internally for roller derby.
Make Practice Time Harder Than Game Time
You play like you practice. We have all heard it, and hopefully digested it and spewed at someone else. If you play like you practice, and you allow yourself to get away with drills at 50% than you are going to play at 50%. If every sprint you are pushing your hardest, and every step of footwork is done with hard, clean precision than you will slowly prepare yourself for the intensity a game demands.
If you find yourself able to go through the motions of the drills easily, you are not pushing yourself. Gotham is not a three-peat champion because every practice they do fancy new drills that you haven’t heard of. They are champions because they do the same drills over and over and over. Not until they are perfect, but until they can’t get it wrong.
The moment that you are bored in a pace line, that you catch yourself thinking “This again?” that is the moment the mental game kicks in. You need to build the mental strength to do that drill, and do it with focused strength and intention. Bring yourself internally in that moment and think about doing the drill in a way you never have: look behind you more often, take note of the wheels the people around you are wearing, learn to sense the people around you and how close or far they are, learn the width of the track while you are bursting harder and stopping faster.
Every moment you can sharpen your mind while in drills will translate to better gameplay at game time.
How will your mind know where it’s going, if you don’t decide where you’re going?
Goal setting should not be arbitrary or hastily done. Take 30 minutes of quiet time. No TV or internet, and turn off Spotify; just you, a notebook, and a pen sitting together. Center yourself and think about what you want to accomplish in a year. Write it down. If it’s one over-arching goal or many goals, write them down. Now look at them and see if you can turn them into SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relative, Time-Specific).
Statement: Be on travel team.
SMART Goal: By June 30, 2015, I will be a starting player on the All Stars.
Once you have your year goal, you can work backwards. Your relative goals don’t have to be a replication of the long term goal. If your goal is to be an all star, what smaller goals can you set for yourself that will make you all star material?
Between now and December 31, I will attend 1 boot camp per month.
Between now and December 31, I will decrease my 30 lap time by 15 seconds.
Between now and December 31, I will increase my squat PR by 75 pounds.
These goals are not “I will be looked at by the all stars”. You cannot control when the all stars will actually begin considering you, however if you make self-improvement goals that make you a desirable skater for the all stars, you’ll be working towards your goal of being one. Let’s break it down further. So you have mid-range goals, so let’s make some shorter term goals.
Possible short term:
In 6 weeks, I will decrease my body fat by 3%
In 6 weeks, I will be able to do a 120 pound front squat.
In 6 weeks, I will be able to hockey stop.
Boom. Just keep making your goals smaller and more precise, and keep working backwards. If you find that you are creating goals that do not relate to the longer term goals, ask yourself why you want to achieve those things. If I just randomly say I want to be able to do 5 pull ups, ask yourself why? How does it relate? Maybe add in another long term goal so that you can see the long term advantage of being able to do those pull ups.
When your training is hard, when you are feeling discouraged, come back to these goals. Read them daily. Put them in a spot where you can be reminded of them. Use post-it notes. Get dry erase markers and write on your mirrors. Remind yourself and you will be motivated forward. Your brain is easily set astray – keep it on track.
Make declarations, set intentions, listen to motivation
I am a firm believer that the energy we put out is the energy we put in. Motivation and mental clarity takes work and maintenance, just like our fitness and nutrition. Our mental game does not only come when we put on our sneakers or skates, our mental game is present in every facet in our life. We believe what we tell ourselves. If you spend your ‘real life’ enveloping yourself in negativity, no amount of positive reinforcement during training will help you overcome a difficult drill or a plateau.
When you wake up, listen to an audiobook of personal development, or go onto YouTube and find a motivational video to watch and listen to. (Ted Talks has a lot of good stuff too.) Listen to it, without distraction. Absorb it. Take those first minutes of the day for yourself and for your mind.
Then, write your intention and declaration for the day. Make them strong and clear so that you and the Universe know what it is you are going to achieve that day.
Examples of intentions:
I intend to meet 1 person today who I can help.
I intend to complete my full training circuit without taking extra water breaks.
I intend to run for 45 minutes.
Examples of declarations:
I am worth a healthy life.
My past does not define me.
I am greater than my bank account
Words of negativity are not my truth. I do not have to bend to meet them.
I deserve happiness and strength.
Audiobooks full of Personal Development and Declarations: Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T Harv Eker
The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks
Energy Bus by Jon Gordon
Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan
Start. Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, Do Work that Matters by Jon Acuff
Fish! The Book by Stephen Lundin
“Fear is excitement, without the breath.”
We hear it all the time, but why do we hear it? There is the obviously the direct physical advantage to having more oxygen in our body as we’re trying to complete a task. There are multiple mental aspects as well that are often not thought about.
For example, did you know that your brain uses about 20% of your oxygen intake when you are at rest? So if that much is used while you’re sitting doing nothing, can you imagine how important it is to keep your brain running while it’s sending out electrical signals to every muscle and nerve in your body while keeping your mind sharp for physical reaction and strategic thinking? If you are not breathing, you are depriving your muscles of strength AND you are depriving your muscles of strong neurological signals that they need to work powerfully.
Let’s also think about heart rate and breathing and the brain. “Fear is excitement, without the breath” (Robert Heller); when we are scared, we try and starve the fear by holding our breath. Think about when a hit was coming for you, and you weren’t confident enough to dodge it. Think about your first time wearing the jammer panty. Think about if you have ever been in a car accident or ridden a roller coaster.
When we hold our breath all we do is increase the fear. When we are afraid, part of our brain shuts down and stores memories independently – which might be fine if you’re in a car accident, but if you’re in the middle of a jam, you need to be in control. When we breathe, and stop starving our brain of oxygen, the fear turns to excitement. It is a complex chemical process within the brain where we understand that we are not in danger, despite a feeling that we should be. I can’t say it nearly as eloquently as Shirah Vollmer.
Breathing also has a direct effect on our heart rate. (An increased heart rate, which can be effected by the lack of breath, can also cause fear within the body, ps) When we breathe steady, our heart rate comes down. Our heart can keep up with the athletic needs of our body and we can perform more optimally. Breathing has been a source of centering and focus for thousands of years, so why turn our back on the practice now? When it gets hard, when you get tired, breathe.
When I jam, for example, I will count my strides after I break from the pack. I will also have made conscious efforts in every training session to breathe in and out distinctly (whether I’m skating, running, or pushing a sled). It helps me to focus on the task at hand while my body is getting the oxygen it needs.
Moral of all this: KEEP BREATHING!!
Practice and scrimmage and practice and scrimmage
We play a sport that is unlike anything in this world. We must play offense and defense at the same time. We take away the stability of our feet and play on wheels instead. Everything about all of the techniques we use are unnatural to our body and must be trained.
Which means that you cannot ever stop practicing.
The mental clarity that you see in the top athletes does not come from luck or talent, but repetition of the game. Earlier I mentioned that drills will get boring. They should get to a point where you can do them without getting them wrong. When you get to that point, make them faster, stronger, harder, sharper.
Push your limits at scrimmage. Play different positions and with different packs whenever possible. I also believe that getting out of your comfort zone in scrimmage can strengthen your mental game. I have spent many years playing in mash up games and in challenge bouts. When I was a lower level, it made me more aware of my surroundings and listen better to the leaders on the floor so I could complete the strategies. I had to think on my feet. My mental awareness and reaction improved because I did not know where these people were going to skate to or do next. I may have been able to hop into a scrimmage with Madhouse Mexi and know where she was going to block, but in a pack with Battery Operated, I had no idea.
So you learn. Now that I’m at a higher level, the mix up scrimmages help me make quicker decisions and communicate more effectively. I am able to play with higher level skaters in a way I never have before, because I understand what they are going to do, despite never having played with them before. At Northeast Derby Con, I had a wonderful jam with Richard Gaudet of Mass Maelstrom. I knew his style of skating because I’ve seen him, but we were able to communicate non-verbally in order to hold the jammer behind me while he guided me from the front. Using my legs and small steps to maintain position, and Gaudet’s guidance and stability, we were able to effectively hold the opposition while we communicated to our other two to play offense for our jammer. (PS when she finally did get around us, we were able to recycle to the front and come back together almost instantly. It was pretty awesome.)
Without having been in scrimmage after scrimmage over the years, I would not have been able to react in such a clean, direct way. The mentioning of Gaudet brings up a good point. Move out of your comfort zone! If you’ve never played co-ed before, why haven’t you? What tools could you learn from playing with different body types? Have you ever played on a bank track? MADE or USARS rule set? Go do something new.
By taking yourself out of your comfort zone in scrimmage, you are putting pressure on yourself that you don’t feel with your home league. Repetition of pressure in a scrimmage situation will help your brain function under conditions of increased endorphin levels and less oxygen (which will be very helpful training if you ever find yourself with the star in the last jam of the game with only 20 points separating you and the opposing team in the Championship bout).
Watch footage, talk shop
To be the best at the game you must understand the game on a deep, psychological level. To understand the game, you must watch the game and discuss the game. Not just what motions skaters use, but you must talk out the strategies and the theory of roller derby. Watching footage is not just useful to understand and train for your opponents, but it gives your mind a visual solution to problems when they come up on the track.
Roller derby is a series of “ah ha” moments, no one can argue that. I have overcome many “What the hell?” moments by simply accessing memory banks of game footage I had watched previously. I knew the solution that Rose City had used, so I was able to attempt the same maneuver, or predict the next motion of the jammer because I had already seen someone else do it.
Watching the bouts and then taking the time to digest and visualize yourself completing the motions successfully and definitively will give your brain a baseline of what to do and when to do it. We do the things we tell our brains we can do or have done. If you take the time to do visualization exercises of making the apex jump, completing a Pegassist, stopping on a dime; your brain will believe that you have already done them, and when the situation comes up in game play, the fear will disappear. Your brain will access the file that says that you have done this before, and will present that option to your muscles.
Creating those ‘card files’ in your brain of different solutions for strategic problems is critical in the development of your mental game. Instead of panicking because you don’t know what to do in the situation, your brain will calmly instruct you on your options. It is easy to see what skaters have not watched game footage when their jammer is knocked out of bounds and drawn backwards. Skater who have seen this done before will move forwards, in the hope to suck in the jammers coming backwards, to put them on a negative pass. Jammers will pace themselves and watch the hips of the person who knocked them out of bounds, so that they can enter legally, but as far away from the approaching wolves as possible.
Skaters who have not watched footage will either come right back onto the track, to promptly get a cut track penalty, or they will stare at their bench with that “What now?” look on their face.
Don’t lie. We’ve all seen that pack of blockers that has no idea what to do in this situation because they’ve never seen it done before. Well. You’ve seen it if you watch footage or go to live derby.
We all fall into patterns, including our coaches. Our brain needs a little bit of variety to stay sharp. When we are in a familiar situation for learning over and over again, our neurons have a tendency to get a bit burnt out, so to keep it fresh – never turn down the opportunity to learn from someone new. Coaching variety not only offers new drills, but also new explanations of old skills. A new explanation could finally help make something ‘click’ internally so that you can complete a physical skill. When teaching plow stops, specifically, I always tell new skaters who are having trouble with the skill to ask EVERYONE how to do it. You never know who you are going to learn from.
If your league is (sadly) not open to the idea of various coaches, or having a guest coach come in now and again, you must seek out new learning opportunities on your own. Boot camps are becoming very popular across the globe. They are a great chance to get a lot of information from a new source, and have access to new insights and teaching styles. The newness of it will keep your brain focused on the drill, even if you’ve done the drill before or you are advanced at the skill it is teaching.
Going to training events like Northeast Derby Con, RollerCon, and Beat Me Halfway are great opportunities to learn from a smattering of coaches in a short amount of time. It is a great way to learn, and for many they serve as a reboot. They refresh the brain with new and interesting techniques to apply to the drills and skills and coaching that is going on at their league that they may previously have been mentally fatigued by.
Also, it again trains the body and mind to function and perform together in new and difficult circumstances. You’re being watched by those who you may admire. You’re on a floor you are not used to. You are working with people you are unfamiliar with. The situation demands a mental focus and clarity that will benefit you in the comforts of your home rink.
The mental game is a complexity that we must not forget in our journey through training. Even in this blog, I barely touched on how to create new focus in cross training, motivation to complete the tasks you set up for yourself, or how to tackle the depression and disappointment that comes along with injury, naysayers, or plateaus. Continue your journey and continue your personal development. Continue to breathe and continue to challenge yourself to make everything come together in little pieces. Never stop learning. Never stop practicing. Namaste.