Being Derby Gentle #2: Your Mind

Regular readers of this blog will know that I totes think you could be awesome at Roller Derby. Yes, you. I believe from the bottom of my happy derby heart that there are ways to train smart and hard and use goals and deliberate practice to unlock your Derby Dreams. I’m nerdy about this stuff (and I know a lot of you are too). With commitment and persistence and over time you will do things on track that you thought were beyond you.


I also see us sometimes mentally punishing ourselves for not hitting targets, or for things that are outside of our control. Not just being sad, that something didn’t happen, but berating ourselves for not being ‘good’ enough.

It’s an insidious little habit where we move from a helpful observation to adding an unhelpful judgement about ourselves onto the end of it. Let’s break it down:

  1. Goal: keep hips forwards in scrimmage. (cool. we like specific goals)
  2. Observation: oops, did not keep my hips forwards as much as I needed to. (cool. we like specific observations)
  3. Depressing Self Judgement: because I am crap at Roller Derby. (whoah. nope. not the step three we were looking for).

Look how sad it makes this puppy:

sad puppyGoals and observations are awesome! They give you achievable destinations and feedback to help get you get there. And feedback is, like the oxygen of champions. Yeah – I see you breathing that feedback-rich air champ.

But we have to think about a different step three. Because berating ourselves for not being ‘good’ enough, for not making a team or roster pick, for not nailing that skill exactly on the schedule you planned – doesn’t help. Don’t confuse it with being honest with yourself. Honesty is awesome. But honesty is step 2.

We need to be gentler with our battered derby brains. We always strap a helmet on to keep our brain safe from the outside. It’s time to use some gentle and keep it safe from the inside.

Invest in the dreams and the goals and the deliberate practice. But understand which bits of derby those things can change and which bits they can’t. You can work your behind off, but Bonnie Thunders transfers to your league and snags that remaining roster spot – well, there’s not much you can do about that in the short term. Commit to the things you can control – what you put into training, how you watch footage. Do not berate yourself for the things outside of your control and decide it’s because you are not good enough.

Replace step three with:

3. So I will….

Didn’t keep your hips forward in scrimmage? ‘So I will…’ make that a focus for drills next session and ask my team mate to keep reminding me. Didn’t make that roster spot? ‘So I will….’ ask my Captain for feedback on what I can work on and how best to do it.

Be gentle with yourself. Not being able to do a skill or having a shitty training session doesn’t make you crap at derby, or life. I one hundred percent believe that you can nail that skill, and that next trainig session will be better. And by skipping the bit where you are mean to yourself and moving to the bit where you just pick the next action you are going to take, you can make sad puppy so happy:

happy puppy

I know this is so much easier said than done. Try thinking about your favourite team mate. Now imagine telling them ‘ Oh? You are struggling with apex jumps? Yeah – that’s just because you are a bit crap.’

Eeeek – I just imagined it. It’s HIDEOUS. You would NEVER talk to another skater that way. Not least, because it’s not true. Now imagine what you would actually say ‘Oh? You are struggling with apex jumps? Try spring loading your leg more’.

See the difference? Remember – you are one of your team mates too! Treat yourself with the same respect that you always dole out to the rest of the league. Your deserve it.


Being Derby Gentle #1: Your Body

I want to talk a bit about being gentle. Yes. In Derby.

I know.


Derby is grit and exhaustion and hard wins and heartbreaking losses and hurting muscles and training, training, training. Derby is amazing, dedicated team mates and clear goals and daredevil dreams.

It is. It really is. But I am going to come out of the tough-girl closet (stop laughing everyone who knows me in person) and say: if you want to keep on doing it, then I also think you have to find room to be gentle. To your body, to your mind and to your team mates.

Let’s talk about our bodies first. Skate anti clockwise in squat position for 5-10 hours a week. Throw in some contact. It doesn’t take a physio to see that you need to cross train if you don’t want to end up as the hunch back of notre dame being a physical description instead of your skate name. So we cross train. If you are like me, you do that by lifting, bro, and agressive bouncing (also known as plyometrics). And after a few years of this… I was beginning to look like one of those twisted up dead spiders you find upside down in the shed.

So… I yoga-ed. Secretly. I used online classes to try and smooth my crunched up muscles and try and talk things out with my hips. And my knees. And my shoulders. At first I tried to push in yoga the same way I do in Derby and for Derby. I was trying to work out how to ‘win’ yoga.

Those who do yoga (or are more balanced human beings) will know that it doesn’t work that way. Bit by bit I began to relax into it. I started picking yin classes. And my body began to unravel. Despite that – I felt a bit guilty about the time I was spending on myself in yoga. It felt indulgent. Maybe I should trade a yoga session for an additional weights workout?

20150724 Yoga Bear

But I pretty soon realised that it was translating into derby. I stood up straighter after a training session and those persistent niggles (hips, back, knees) were fading to an afterthought. It had an epic effect on my helter skelter mind too – but that is for the next post.

This isn’t a blog to tell you to take up yoga. The important thing is finding some gentle, some restorative, for your body in amongst the hard, striking action that is derby. We push so, so hard and to balance that as athletes and as human beings we have to find the gentle too. Because, you know, yin and yang. (Also, that always makes me think of pandas and they are awesome). Maybe your gentle is yoga. Maybe it is swimming, or walking in woods or getting a massage. But by finding out what it is for you and making unapologetic time and space for it – I think your body will thank you by being able to derby for longer.

After a year of online classes I finally made it to my first studio class today. I had been procrastinating. Because in my head yoga classes were for when I retired for derby. When I had more ‘time’. Then I realised that they weren’t mutually exclusive and by creating time for both – they enriched each other.

Namaste. Skate til you puke.

Progress: escaping the derby doldrums of despair

You know what I love about Roller Derby? That progressing is just a sunny stroll through the uplands of life, with the occasional montage of hard work thrown in.

Oh no, wait. I’m LYING.

Sometimes in derby it feels like you are stuck in the miserable bit of a sports move. You know, the bit where you have to sweat and strive and feel like you are going nowhere. But in a sports movie it lasts for approximately seven seconds. In derby, weeks can go by, feeling like you are struggling up the firepit mountain of doom, or even worse, on the aching plains of despair, or the plateau of never.

This is a scientific representation of the Plateau of Never. It's hard to locate on a map

This is a scientific representation of the Pit of Despair. It’s hard to locate on a map.

Sometimes we just feel stuck. Whether you are fresh meat trying to nail a plough stop, or a vet trying to bust out some gnarly edge work. Whether you are trying to make the grade for your first ever bout, or trying to finally bust into that All Star roster – sometimes it just feels like you aren’t making progress.

It can be a single practice, or sometimes this stuff can go on for weeks. Like you sailed into the derby doldrums and then the bermuda triangle stole your hope.

FORTUNATELY  I did some further investigative work on the Pit of Despair Graph. And it turns out that if you extend those axis and zoom out, it actually looks like this:


Derby is always a slog. Or it should be. It’s all about being right outside of the edge of your comfort zone so that the circle of your skills may one day encircle the world. When it’s hard – it’s because you are going up hill.

And when you think you aren’t going up hill: zoom out. Get some perspective. Take a moment to enjoy the view. Think about all you have already achieved. Pretty much all of us have dozens of examples of skills that felt impossible which we went on to master. And if you are brand new – simply turning up to fresh meat is a significant step up the mountain. You have mastered things before. You will master them again. Yes. Even this.

Maybe try chatting to someone. It may be that an extra pair of eyes on (whether it is a skill or a dream for a roster spot) will give you some insight into how to bust out of the pit of despair. Or help keep you accountable for not giving up on that goal. Other people see stuff differently and whether it’s an insightful technical tip, or a motivational quote that turns you into Rocky – a teammie may be able to help.

And finally – don’t forget all of your tools. We’ve got the donkey of deliberate practice, we’ve got the epic application of feedback, we’ve got the skate like no one is watching.

You got this.

Why we play derby

You know that moment, before a bout starts, when you stop, take in the scene, draw a deep breath and think ‘why the hell am I doing this?’

Wile E. Coyote in heaven's name what am I doing

Yeah. Me too.

So why the hell do we do it? Britain is lovely. We could be in the park feeding the ducks and worrying about whether pike will eat their fluffy duckling children. Or we could be indoors, under a blanket, watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

But no, here I am. Just like I have been tens of times before. Not knowing what is about to happen and sure only that it will require every ounce of me.

Aha! Enquiring minds may have spotted a clue as to why I do this…

It requries every ounce of me. And I don’t know what that outcome will be.

That’s what keeps me coming back. I do it because you can put in absolutely everything you’ve got, and know that your teammates are doing the exact seem thing, and you still might not win. Because there are another fourteen skaters, in different coloured jerseys, doing exactly the same thing. Laying it all out on the track to see who brings it home on game day.

I do it because in those moments, it’s the most raw version of yourself you can be. I do it a little bit to see who I am. Can I keep it together? Can I be who my teammates need me to be? I do it to learn from it. To bring back the beatings and the losses and deconstruct them and understand them and try to do it better next time.

I do it to build moments of marvel. Where the thing you’ve been working on for months comes together and you nail it. And I do it because in a team sport, you can’t do it on your own. You have to work out how to play this precise, brutal and unforgiving sport with total trust and total commitment.

Let’s be honest, it’s all about winning. But there are games when that’s not always about the score. When you came together with a dozen other people and found out who you were. As a team mate. And as a team. And walked away happy with that.

How about you? What are you doing it for?


Roller Derby: we build each other

Wherever you are in derby, be you fearless bambi freshie fueled by enthusiasm or gritty veteran, wise to derby stank and with your eye on the prize of your goals, we got there with some help.

Have a think. There will have been people along the way who made it a bit tougher, sure. Threw out a careless comment when you were feeling vulnerable. But (and my guess is there were more of these) there were so, so many, who helped you cultivate your dream.

That's how I felt as Freshmeat. Ah - I still feel like this.

That’s how I felt as Freshmeat. Ah – I still feel like this.

Start counting them. From your first sessions, where you wibbled and wobbled, but unlike a weeble really did fall down. Someone picked you up, told you ‘good job’ and got you to fall again.

How about the people who give you feedback? Taking the time in the middle of a session to say ‘hey, if you put your weight over your left leg, that plough stop is going to be more powerful’. The Captains and coaches who sit down and think about the exact thing you need to know to open up your game right now. And write it down for you. Often late at night. When they are knackered.

The teamies who know when you need a pick up. Who egg you on when you wear the star. Who find the great thing you did even though you didn’t get out of the pack for two minutes – but also tell you ‘hey, if you turn your body to the side, you are going to be able to drive through that wall’.

We are where we are because of each other. We are all made up of each other. The skills we have are because other skaters taught us. AND…. here it comes…. the thing is, some of the skills other skaters have should be down to you too.

When it comes to your team mates – don’t hold back. They are kind of your competition. But, not really. You are all in this for the team. Everyone wants the strongest team possible. If you make your team mates stronger – you just made your team stronger. (and introduced a little incentive to train harder yourself).

You won’t lose any derby glitter by sharing it. In fact, having studied the science of derby glitter, I can confirm that contrary to predictions, when you share derby glitter, YOU GET MORE DERBY GLITTER BACK. Weird huh? Get your shine on and share it.

And I’m going to say a cheeky thank you (hey – it’s my blog – I’m allowed) to all the skaters who have and are helping me out. My teams are very glittery places indeed. Super Shiny Awesome.

Pretty much every training session

Pretty much every training session

Skate like no one’s watching

Hey, remember that time in training when you saw someone trying really hard to do something they hadn’t mastered yet? And you laughed at them so much, and dismissed them as a skater?

No. Didn’t think so.

Because when you see people working hard on skills or tactics they are trying to master, I am going to bet you are all like:

respectSo how come we hold ourselves back? You know that when you see someone else trying that you are impressed by their efforts. But when it comes to pushing ourselves, there seems to be little voice that says ‘people will laugh’ ‘people will judge’ ‘I’m not good enough’ ‘I’m just going to stick with that thing I know’.

Damn. What are we going to do about that. Well, lets try and understand what’s going on. Yoohoo, science, hey, science. We need your help. What you got for me? What’s that science?¬†lassie2


Oho. Well played science. You want us to consider the idea of ‘loss aversion’, first described by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman (and chums). Nice. I see where you are going with this.

So the idea is that we hate losing something more than we value gaining something. That you would be more upset by the loss of a hundred quid, than you would by winning a hundred quid.

What’s that got to do with not pushing yourself in derby? Well, hold on to your hesitant hats, here we go: there comes a point where you feel like you are established in derby. Maybe you made the B Team. Maybe you kick ass as a blocker. Maybe you are famed for your whirling jammer style.

At that point you don’t want to give up that sense of who you are as a skater – you don’t want to lose your ‘status’. I think we get worried that by reaching for that next level we turn ourselves back into the stumbling tumbling skaters we were when we started. When you perceive you’ve lost status, it gets processed in the same bit of your brain that deals with physical pain. That sense of losing your status literally hurts your head.

Remember what it was like when you were fresh meat and you didn’t have anything to lose? Literally, at that point it was all gain. That’s where we need to get back to. We need to catch ourselves in that act of subconsciously avoiding ‘loss’ and dare to go out there and gain.

Yes. You are battling your primal brain. But you are good at battling your primal brain. You put wheels on your feets and collide with your friends. Your brain really wants you to not do that, but you overcame it.

Reach for the gain. Don’t let what you think you have stop you from becoming what you could be on track. Now go work on those hockey stops. No one’s laughing.

Let’s cause some offence

Over the last year, I’ve caught myself thinking sad bunny thoughts about offence, and being bummed out by my relative success levels. I used to love offence. I mean, hit the people who are trying to hit your people! is a pretty straightforward instinct to jump on board with. But I’ve felt myself hesitating.

During the off season I spent some* time watching derby and in particular, who was doing good offence, and how they were doing it. What I learned surprised me. (Raises a single eyebrow to indicate intriguing insights).

So, you know all of those awesome offence players? THEY DON’T SUCCEED EVERYTIME! I know right? The thing is, the bits we remember are always the bits they do perfectly, where skills, luck and geometry combine to provide the perfect assist for their jammer. But for every awesome take down they do, there are like six attempts that don’t quite work. And one or two that did work, but were messy.

It reminded me of this quote:

blog michael jordan

And then I realised that my expectations of what I could achieve through offence were out of whack. In my head I thought I should be a shining patronus of effective offence, scattering blockers before me like defeated dementors:

Blog Harry Potter

But, actually, that’s not what offence is like. It’s more of a numbers game. Not everything you try will come off. In fact, most of it won’t. Even when you are good at it. The trick is to keep trying, and to reset quickly and urgently and have another bash. And another. And another.

I’ve also ditched the idea that with a single sweep you should be able to free your jammer from the Prison of Azkhaban wall that they were battling. It’s just not how it works anymore. What you are actually trying to do is give your jammer another roll of the dice, switch things up and see if shaking up the defence formation gives them a new chance to do something cool and jammy. You don’t need to come in like some avenging angel, you need to work with your jammer to outsmart the defence for long enough for her feet to take her to safety. And repeat.

So don’t hesitate, get out there and start doing offence! After all, you need to try a bunch of times for it to work. Get cracking!

*when I say I watched some derby… well, I got my missus an xbox for Christmas because, well this year there was Rollercon and then WET and then the World Cup…. but our tv was super old, so she bought another TV. Yeah… one that goes on the internet… so now the ‘hey, sorry about all the derby present’ has resulted in me shouting ‘OMG roller derby happens on the BIG TELLY now’. The original message may have been slightly lost…