Mental Game

Sundays training was an interesting one. I had my first exam of my final year yesterday, and it was the one I was most worried about. Partly because it was on Maoist China, and I’m of the firm belief that no one really understands what happened – most of the official records are heavily locked down still, and even then, a lot of them are falsified or just simply not the full story, the people who lived through it barely seem to understand what went down and why, and a lot of the explanations for why things happened comes back to “because Mao wanted it”. And partly because it was our “special subject”; in my university, third year history students have to pick one module that goes super in depth into one topic, looking at primary sources and so on, so I had no idea what would be on it, or if I’d read enough to be able to answer any of the questions. I spent last week revising everything I could, but by Friday my brain was mush and I physically couldn’t read any more (no, really, I couldn’t read words), so I took the weekend off. Saturday, I hopped in a car with a few of my fellow skaters and went to High Wycombe for Big Bucks High Rollers’ B Team tournament ‘Diamonds are Forever’. That was super fun, and so interesting to watch! And Sunday, I went off to training.

My mind definitely wasn’t in it. There was a lot of focus on working on personal skills, rather than in partners or packs, and I think that allowed me to get too far into my own head. I started strong, but as the session went on I felt increasingly worse, and ended up having to take myself out to have a little sob in a corner. Luckily, I have wonderful team mates, who were full of hugs and encouraging words and were generally really comforting. Turns out they were right, I didn’t really have much to worry about and the exam went fine, but I couldn’t get out of my own head at that point in time, and everything I did was just reassuring me that I sucked at everything.

It’s funny what effect your brain can have on your physical performance – the more negative I felt about myself and the upcoming week, the more things went wrong for me. I couldn’t do an underpush (something I’ve always struggled with) and then my crossovers wouldn’t work at all, I couldn’t feel either push. My laterals were getting better, and then all of a sudden I could barely turn. Transitions got slower on my good side, and didn’t even exist on my bad one. That was around the time I burst into tears. It’s odd how, when you feel bad about yourself, your brain finds things to confirm that yep, you definitely suck.

However, now the stress cloud has cleared, I can see the positives. Something clicked Sunday that made my laterals so much better than they had been (I think that something is called weight distribution) and I ticked off positional blocking from my minimums. Which means all I need to get scrimmaging is my 25 laps. 3.25 to go!


I Shouldn’t Play Roller Derby Because… Part 1 – Danger

“I’d like to try roller derby, but it’s so dangerous!”

Our sport has as many safety precautions as your average building site.

Alright, so that’s not true. But there’s a heck of a lot you don’t know about roller derby, because it all goes on behind the scenes. In this post, and any other in the series, I’m going to assume that my audience knows as much about derby as the average person off the street. At most, Hypothetical You has seen a bout once or knows a derby skated. At least, they’ve never even heard of it. In between are the Yous who have watched Whip It, have heard about it from your parents, or asks every derby skater if its anything like Rollerball (no, it’s not). So it might surprise you that safety is a huge thing in roller derby. Skaters train a lot, and new skaters often train for months before they even get near the track to play competitively. The rules that govern the sport are heavily centred on the safety of the skaters – most of the penalties skaters can be given are related to accidental but dangerous actions, and theres limits on where you can hit people and what with to stop people getting hurt. Protective padding, helmets and mouthguards are required and checked by the referees, not only at the start of each game, but even at the end of half time. If your safety gear isn’t up to scratch, you’re not allowed to play.

So first, training. I think a lot of people’s concern of the “danger” of roller derby comes from the thought that they’re just going to be chucked into the type of thing they’ve seen on Whip It or in real bouts and expected to deal with it. In reality, before you even get near competitive derby, you have to pass Minimum Skills Requirements. These are a list of skills set out by WFTDA that new skaters have to be able to do before they are allowed to play, partly in order to keep them safe, and partly so they can keep up with the other skaters. So if you decide to start roller derby, you’ll find yourself starting either what many refer to as a “fresh meat” course – a series of sessions intended to teach you everything you need to know – or a recreational league. Either way, for the first few weeks, you’ll be learning how to skate, fall, turn, stop, and so on. To cut a long story short, your league won’t allow you to start the contact part of this sport until they’re absolutely certain you are comfortable with the non-contact aspects. You’re taught how to fall safely, how to safely take and give hits. You’re taught how to stand properly in order to keep your balance and minimise the risk to yourself and all other skaters if you do fall. You are trained to do everything safely and minimise risk to yourself.

Alongside this, there’s the rules. You may have watched Whip It, and you may have heard many a derby skater complaining that the one legal move in the entire film wasn’t even made on track (Bliss’ hip heck on the girl on the staircase is wonderfully executed with perfect form.) The majority of WFTDA rules are there to make sure gameplay is as safe as possible, and the rest are there to make the game more interesting or clarify loopholes skaters and coaches have worked out along the way. For example, they define legal blocking and target zones – ie, what areas of your body you can hit with and where you can hit other people with it. They look like this

Atlanta Roller Girls’ illustration of legal target and blocking zones – ie. Where I can hit you, and with what part of my body!

Basically, I can’t elbow you in the ribs (illegal blocking zone to legal target zone) and I can’t hip check you in the back (legal blocking zone to illegal target zone). I certainly can’t punch you in the face or kick you in the shin. And I certainly couldn’t, say, turn around and stick my elbow out so you skate your face straight into it, regardless of what my bench coach told me to do. All three of those last examples would be full on expulsions.
Of course, accidents do happen – you come in too hot to the back of an opposing skater and hit them in the back, or you fall and accidentally kick an opposing skaters legs out from under them, or you try to shoulder check a particularly small skater and accidentally catch them in the face instead. These are all penalty worthy actions. In short – if you do something dangerous accidentally, it’s a penalty (7 penalties and you’re out for the rest of the bout). If you do it purposefully, it’s an expulsion. If you regularly do it, you’ll be suspended for a certain number of games. Smashley Simpson was a total liability and, if she hadn’t already been suspended from bouting, her coach never would have even rostered her because of her attitude.

I don’t think I need to go through safety equipment in any real detail – helmet, mouthguard elbow pads, wrist guards and knee pads are the minimum requirements for derby, even during training. People also wear padded shorts, shin guards, nose protectors and so on, depending on how concerned they are that they might get broken. If your safety equipment is not acceptable, you are not allowed to skate. Even if you’re sat in the penalty box, the only equipment you are allowed to remove is your mouth guard.

I’m not saying injuries don’t happen, or that there isn’t an element of risk to the sport – as I’m typing this, I’ve read that one of my Facebook friends got a spiral fracture during her bout today. I’m just saying that the risk shouldn’t be overstated – everything in roller derby is designed to keep you as safe as physically possible. There’s no more danger than there is in any other full contact sport, but you wouldn’t tell anyone not to take up rugby, or American football, or any other sport because it could be dangerous, would you?

And at the end of the day, everything comes at a risk. I once knew a girl who tripped over uneven paving slabs and broke her collarbone. You could get injured doing anything, so you might as well take the risk and do something awesome.

Derby Diaries Week 13: Leaning, Positional Blocking and Lateral Sweeps

I’ve managed to make… absolutely no posts about roller derby since my first. I’m not certain why – I think I’ve been reluctant to post anything simple, that just said “we did this and then that”, and I’ve been trying to find a way to make it more sophisticated which leads to me writing nothing at all. I’ve realised now that that’s not always possible, and as they say, it’s never too late. So let’s start with week 13, which also, coincidentally, is where things start to get interesting – We’ve started contact!

I missed last week’s session. Actually, that statement isn’t entirely true; I was at the session but, to the relief of the coach, I chose to sit out on skating because I’d had a car accident the day before. I’d turned up believing myself to be fine, strapped on my skates, and promptly found myself horribly unbalanced, weak and shaky. Thankfully, it was a bit of a revision session to allow people to go over any of the basic skills they weren’t entirely comfortable with before we moved on to “proper Derby stuff”, so I didn’t miss too much.

This week I returned feeling pretty much back to my normal self, albeit slightly shaky, but I definitely felt that week I had off. The pace line warm up had my thighs burning after about a minute and I was having a hell of a time recovering from falls, which was frustrating as I’d only recently managed to get my fitness up to a level where I could make it through both of those with minimum pain. Perhaps it was more a psychological issue than physical – I don’t think I could have deconditioned that quickly!  To top it all off, I started the session by sliding half way across the hall on my ribs after another skater decided to leisurely skate across my path in the middle of sprint laps and my attempt at t-stopping to avoid her went horribly wrong. Winded before we even started training! Still, I did manage to avoid her, and there was no real damage done.

We practiced leaning. Lots of leaning. I’m not so good at sticky skating with only one foot, and I told the captain that when I practiced with her, so we ended up practicing that too. I’m still not terribly good at it, especially while leaning on other people – I keep accidentally shifting my weight back to the other foot and losing control of my pushing foot slightly. It started to come together a bit when one of the league ladies explained to us that they often use leaning as a simple way of pushing other players off the track and told us to try that, and we found ourselves doing a lot better. We focused on leaning for a long time, and I can understand why, but it was painful and became a bit dull.

After that we tried positional blocking, and I started to almost fall apart. My back was aching, my knees were constantly shaking, and I felt like I had no control over my legs. We started off stationary and just leaning and moving our hips to where our partner was stepping – I couldn’t lean and keep myself still, for some reason I couldn’t even sidestep at any speed. After doing that for a while we attempted it while moving around the track, and I couldn’t stop falling over constantly. At one point I was close to tears with frustration at myself and probably would have broken down if my blocking buddy hadn’t been so supportive. Definitely going to need a lot of work on that

After a little break, we started to learn lateral sweeps. For some reason I started to get my strength back, and I absolutely loved these. You have to move your leg in front of one your partner’s, ideally in the same motion you’d use to do a lateral cut, and then more or less sit on their leg so you take control of their muscle and their movement, which you can then use to push them off the track. It took a bit of time to get right – there was a lot of gliding smoothly past in front of the other person because you overestimated the space, and accidental tripping because you underestimated and caught your wheels together – but once I got it, I loved it. It’s definitely one of those things that you know you’ve done it right because you can feel it. I’ve got a bit of an issue with my foot positioning, which meant I never managed to push my partner about, but I managed to get her to stop and held her pretty well, which is a start!

And that was all! Everything ached on Monday, including, for some reason, my left arm, and I’m not entirely recovered today. All in all, it was a bit of a wobbly session, but I’m really excited to have started proper contact sessions and I’m really looking forward to next week.


Edit: I almost missed the best part! Having survived the session, I took all my gear off, attempted to stand up, and promptly collapsed in the corner. Had to drive home with what I thought was a broken pinky finger, but just turned out to be horribly swollen. My family questioned my choice in sport and asked how I’m even going to get on while being this clumsy. I said by choosing the right moments.