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!

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Back on Track!

(No pun intended. Seriously!)

I’ve been through a tough time since new year as the stress of my last year of university finally caught up with me. My dissertation was due in February and I was massively behind, and that, combined with trying to keep up with my seminars, coursework and the internship I’d applied for back in winter when things weren’t so hectic, left me in a less-than-stable frame of mind. Anxiety is one hell of a bitch. I haven’t stopped skating, and it was, to be honest, the one thing that helped me release (or, at least, ignore for a day) all the concerns I had. I’m coming out the other side of it now (though, with my exams approaching, I’m finding my motivation lacking and my emotions becoming more erratic once again) but I’ve been feeling like I’ve slipped in a lot of areas of life. It’s times like this I’m especially glad to have an amazing supportive boyfriend, who has been the one definite constant in my life for more than six years now, but in all other areas, like academically and in fitness, I feel like I’ve taken a few steps back, and any attempt to move forward again is an uphill battle.

To some extent, it feels like a battle I’m winning, and I’m feeling kind of back on track. It’s hard, my body is constantly exhausted and I have to try and push through that to get anything done, but I feel like I’m doing it, just slowly. Even in derby I felt like I’d almost hit a wall, perhaps because we’ve focused on minimum skills for quite a while, but last week I felt like I was pushing myself and getting something out of it. I’m hoping this is a turn to better times.

So I’m hoping to pick up where I left off from here on. Where did we leave off? We were starting minimum skills testing, I think – I’ve past most of the pre 2013 minimums with the exception of my laps and positional blocking, and my rules test. I’m missing positional blocking because our coaches didn’t see me when they were ticking us off during the drill, and didn’t realise they’d missed me until we’d moved on. I got 41/50 on my rules test, and we need 43 at least. I was mostly tripped up by the wording more than not knowing the answer, and I think I’ll get that next time we try it. So that just leaves my laps. On my last attempt, I managed 21.75, which is a whole lap and a quarter faster than my previous (20.5) I’m getting there. I find my whole body starts to break down when I’m doing laps – my lungs stop working properly and from then out my limbs stop responding so much. I’ll get it. Hopefully soon. I want to get back to blocking and drills and hopefully actual proper scrimmages. That’s exciting!

I’ve also hurt my knee. Doctors tell me it’s a strain, but I’m not convinced in the slightest, and it’s bugging me because, as much as I try to ignore it, it is really holding me back.

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.

Skills Testing and Kiddy-Training!

I haven’t written a post about Bootcamp, because I am now finding it hard to put my thoughts and feelings into words. I’ll say a few short words about it now – it was an amazing experience. Harder than anything I’ve ever done before, being in the recreational league for Kent Roller Girls, we’re not overly used to doing drill after drill after drill, and the skills we were practicing were almost all completely new and almost all above our current skill level, so it was a real challenge. One that I wasn’t certain I’d overcome even in the last hour, but one I am glad I did. Two hours in, I was ready to give up, and I mean on everything. The Bootcamp, the sport, any attempt of exercise I’d ever make. I think that was a combination of physical exhaustion, lack of sugar, actual tired exhaustion (it was 2pm and I’d been up from 3:30, so almost twelve hours by that point) and being slaughtered during two hours of positional blocking, potentially my worst skill. My team picked me up, I filled myself full of sports drink and healthy sugars, and went back for wall and pack drills, and I loved every minute of it. It turns out every one of our league members at this Bootcamp went through the exact same thing I did. Physically and emotionally exhausting (we all admitted to having a bit of a sob Sunday night) but absolutely worth it.

So on to this week! Our league have decided that we’re training in levels – first to pass the old minimum skills, so we can full contact scrimmage, and then the 2013 minimums in a tryout to get on to the team. I’m pretty confident with my 2009 minimums, I think I’ve got almost everything down, except for my laps. I’m currently on 20.5, which is by no means a bad level to be at, but it is irritating me that I haven’t managed to improve since my last attempt. There were a lot of different factors – a lot more people on track, and I have a cold which is playing havoc with my asthma. I also didn’t seem to warm up enough before we started and my legs were still stiff before we’d even started our laps. After, I felt like I could go again and perhaps even done better, my legs felt stronger and my chest clearer. I’m possibly going to have to warm up a bit more vigorously in the future! Luckily, we’re doing it every week until everyone that could get it does, so I get plenty of opportunities to go again and hopefully with that much experience my stamina and strength will have no choice but to improve. My other skills went totally fine – this week, we went over stride, sticky skating, one foot glide squat and coast, stops and lateral cuts, and I think I passed all of them. Hopefully I’ll carry on like this and the one thing I’ll really have to work on will be my laps!

Today (Monday 17th February) was the first day of half term, so we took my niece and two nephews to Herne Bay to an open skate session. I mentioned in an earlier post that my niece received roller skates for her birthday and was meant to go to a disco with her friends, but they ran out of rental skates for the friends, so this was to make up for it. They all absolutely loved it, and my two nephews now want their own skates – I’ve got my own miniature junior league! My niece is a good skater bit for some reason lacks the confidence to come away from the side/skate without clinging on to me. She’s also developed a bad habit of using her toestop to push. On every single push. So I spent the majority of the two and a half hours we spent there teaching her not to do that, and to push outwards instead. It helps that I have always stood with my feet turned out, and that this has always amused my family so they drew attention to it, so I can tell her “stand like auntie Frances and push off one foot.” She could do it just fine, but kept forgetting; eventually, I made her stop every time she put her toe stop down and start going again, “this time, properly!” And she did, eventually, learn. She’s odd in that she kept coming up with justifications for herself – ” I need to put my toe down to move” (after she’d already pushed off without it a dozen times) and “I need you with me to start off” (after she’d skated half a dozen laps without me anywhere near her) – and I kept telling her that no, she didn’t need either of those things, she was just fine on her own. I fixed the toestop business for now, though I feel like it’ll still be a problem next time we go out, and I got her to spend the majority of her time not holding on to the side or to me, which is progress.

My eldest nephew is also an interesting case. He has Aspergers, and that, along with the medication he’s on makes it really hard to know how he’s feeling. Not today though, he was laughing as he went around, which was wonderful to see. One aspect of his Aspergers is that he doesn’t pick up verbal instructions so well, and learns more from observing. When we were about to start, he asked me how to do it. I told him firstly to keep his knees bent, as you are more balanced and, if you do fall, you’re closer to the floor, and secondly to push his feet out to the side. He did neither, but was making a good go at it, so I decided to leave him to it for a while. When I returned to him about fifteen minutes later, he said to me “I’ve found something useful out. If you bend your knees, its way easier to balance. And it’s safer because you don’t fall so far!” I had a bit of a chuckle, because I’d already told him this, but encouraged him, “yeah mate, absolutely!” Later, I found out that he’d informed my mum he’d worked out that if he pushed his feet out, it’s easier to move. He’s a super quick learner, by the end of the session he was moving at a decent speed and staying away from the sides, he just had to come to it on his own terms!

My other nephew made loads of progress, too. I knew from experience that he doesn’t want and will not accept help, so I left him to it, occasionally checking in in him and skating with him. He fell a lot, and always got back up like nothing had even happened, and I think that’s just how he learns – not afraid to throw himself in head first! Once he’d found his feet again, he spent most of the session attempting to skate as fast as he could in the middle of the derby track lines on the sports floor. As you may guess, that resulted in a lot of tumbles, and he proudly showed off the bruises on his knees at the end of the day.

I learnt a lot about kids that day. The best part came after we’d dropped them home- my eldest nephew started looking through and liking all my Instagram photos related to derby, commenting one my friend had put up of Bootcamp that he loves rollerskating and that his Auntie Frances (me) can skate really well. It was really touching, and if you’ve ever known a kid with Aspergers, you’ll understand just how significant it was to see him show so much enthusiasm.