mental game

Don’t Be A Dick

Roller Derby,

We need to have a talk.

Recently someone asked me why I decided to join this sport. It’s because of the camaraderie I saw within the team that extended to the opposing team. These two teams were talking, dancing, and high fiving each other when they weren’t fiercely competing on the track. That blew my mind. It felt like not only the team was a family, but they were welcoming and loving of their opponents.

Lately, a lot of feelings have been bubbling to the surface and I need to say something.

#CoachBo says Don’t Be A Dick.

“Don’t be a dick” is something I say a lot when I’m teaching a brand new drill or a drill in which one partner needs to dial it down.

Let’s be honest though, we need to apply this phrase to the community as a whole. I am pretty deep into roller derby. I am a coach, a skater, a trainer, and my partner is a referee. I have played, coached, and spectated various levels of roller derby in the past 4 years.

I have experienced uncalled behavior on the track. I have been pushing a wall and had the opposing brace look me in the eyes while repeatedly shouting, “Fuck her up! Fuck her up!”

I have experienced uncalled behavior while coaching. I have had an opposing coach shout about uncalled penalties and when I met their gaze, they screamed, “Yeah, I fucking said it.” You know what I did? I smiled. Then they broke their clipboard in a fit of rage. I am passionate about my team and fair treatment, but I know that type of behavior gets us nowhere.

I have experienced uncalled behavior directed at the team I am coaching. Just this season they have been accused of cheating, stacking the roster, and bringing biased referees. This is a problem on so many levels, the biggest I take issue with is that it is diminishing all of the hard work each athlete has put in to improve their game this season. While I don’t feel I NEED to defend them, I am frustrated with these accusations. I will say that their roster has had minimal turnover since I have begun training them. Not only that, but the only skaters who have been added to the team are newer and have worked their ass off to just make it through try outs and earn a spot on the team. Their hard work and dedication is the reason for their rapid improvements, nothing else.

I have watched my partner experience uncalled behavior as a referee. Name calling, lewd gestures, and lots and lots of shouting. You name it, it’s likely he’s experience some sort of rude behavior.

I’m not a saint, myself. I have shouted penalties at the referees as a coach. I have rolled my eyes at a referee when I disagreed with a call. I’ve even said, “How?!” while sprinting to the box. I have frustratingly repeated a referee call at a skater who is engaging with me while out of play. I once uttered, “What the fuck?” after being thrown off the track due to an intense high block.

I’m not writing this to complain. I am writing this as a call to action.

We have to do better. We have to BE BETTER.

We do this sport for fun. We actually pay out of pocket to do it! We spend countless hours and a good amount of money every month just to participate.

Yes, we are competitive. Yes, this is an aggressive sport. BUT– There is a clear difference between playing aggressive and just being an asshole. This sport is also very much a mental game. I do think there are appropriate ways to get to the opposing team, and inappropriate. I have experienced skaters saying, “We’ve got her. She’s tired. Good.” and well it felt awful, I didn’t feel even close to the way I did while someone barked, “Fuck her up!” at me. Play mind games if you so choose, but don’t be a dick.

Our volunteers are just that… volunteers. Our referees don’t get much from this sport. Sometimes I struggle with how they can possibly find enjoyment in their jobs, but I am so thankful they show up and do the work to keep us safe. There’s no reason to stop in the middle of the track and shout at them. They are (in my experience) very open to questions and feedback. You can definitely ask why you received a penalty after serving it. To your coach OR the referee! I understand in the heat of the moment, or after, that you may disagree with a call… but when has shouting at a referee every gotten you your way? I have yet to see a volunteer retract a call simply because a skater disagreed and had a tantrum about it. We have to be better.

Our Non-Skating Officials don’t even get the enjoyment of skating while they volunteer! They are dedicating their time to make sure the game, scrimmage, or practice runs as smoothly as possible. We shouldn’t be talking down to, arguing with, or mistreating these humans. Make it a habit to thank them. You wouldn’t be able to do this sport if they didn’t show up, and a lot of times it is very hard to find people to fill their role.

Choose to be better. Practice your mental game for the situations that trigger uncalled behavior. Ask your friends to keep you in check. Hold yourself and your team accountable. We are human and we make mistakes. That is fine and everyone in this sport is pretty understanding of that. We are less so understanding of the same mistakes happening again and again which are spreading toxicity. Be better in practice. Be better in scrimmage. Be better in games.

I love you, Roller Derby. I want us to have a long relationship, but it has to be healthy.


Posted by Jax in coaching, mental game, roller derby

Tapping Into Your Best Mental Game

I want to first say every athlete has different needs. Some people need to be alone before a game, some people need to be laughing with their friends, and some need a combination of many things. There is no wrong way to tap into your mental game. Remember that along with your needs you should be respectful of your teammate’s needs. Let them do what they need to do to truly get into the zone before and during a game as well.

This season I have been really working on cleaning up and fine-tuning my mental game. This is an all-too-common struggle in the athlete community. I feel like after some trial and error, I found what works best for me. I want to share with you some tips and tricks I’ve picked up or witnessed along the way:

Before the game, I personally need to get out some of my anxiety through being silly. I recognize my teammates who have their headphones in and are chilling and I do my best to avoid them so not to mess up their zen. I find the people who also thrive in the laughter and share it. This used to be me on the jam line a few years back:

I have moved to doing these shenanigans BEFORE the game now.

During the game I become hyperfocused. Hyperfocus is an intense form of mental concentration or visualization that focuses consciousness on a subject, topic, or task. In some individuals, various subjects or topics may also include daydreams, concepts, fiction, the imagination, and other objects of the mind. You can read more about different versions of hyperfocus here.

I don’t watch the game. As a jammer, I used to watch and try and pick apart the blockers weaknesses to try and come up with a plan of attack. It’s not a bad idea. But in the end, I found out that it didn’t matter. The blockers would be different, the situation would be different, and my skating style is different… All these things can be similar to previous jams, but it’s still going to be different in the end!

I don’t need to watch the game. Our team talks about what is working and what isn’t working. We share our knowledge after good jams and after bad jams. My team is also incredibly lucky in that our bench coach watches like a hawk and can give us pointers on how to be more successful.

For some athletes watching the game can become really stressful. Maybe a jam goes poorly before you take the track. This often leads to riskier behavior with lower awareness the following jam. You may be in the mindset that you HAVE to have an absolutely perfect jam to try and “make up” for something that went poorly. No. You need to do the absolute best you can and not morph into a loose cannon.

So what can you do instead of watch the game? Look at your teammates. Some of our blockers will touch everyone in their line before they take the track. They make deliberate eye contact and discuss what they can do.

Photo © T.I. Stills Photography

Photo © T.I. Stills Photography

You can also try what I specifically do. Look at your skates. Maybe close your eyes. Visualize. Tune out absolutely everything and imagine performing in a great jam. As my captain says before every game, “picture yourself being challenged, but overcoming those obstacles.” Focus on deep breathing. Think about what you can do and how you are going to do it.

Okay—so now that you’re doing all the right things for you… everything should be going perfect, right? NOPE. You will have bad jams. You might even have horrible jams! Maybe you went to the box more than once in a span of a jam or two. You just want to scream and yell– but you can’t. Or at least you shouldn’t. Don’t be that guy. Nobody likes that guy.

First off, don’t yell at your coach. All too often we get riled up when things go wrong and we stand too close to our coach while we word vomit what has upset us. While I am sure they probably care, they have another job to do and it isn’t handling your emotions.

Find a teammate. One teammate. Your safe space on the team. Vent to them (IF it doesn’t mess up their zen bench) once and then let it go. Get it out of your mouth and body and then completely refocus. Don’t go back to that place.

Alternatively, work it out on your own. A lot of times when I am upset about how things are going I need to be alone. I need to breathe and rage for a moment. I will move to the end of the bench, alone, so I’m not letting my bad feelings seep on to my teammates whom I love and care about. Don’t rain on their parade. Drizzle by yourself for a moment and then join your friends in the sunshine.

If you have the mental capacity during the game, be a safe space for others. If I’m in a good brain space, I try to take notice of reactions each of my teammates have. Sometimes they come off the track looking frazzled. I offer myself as an ear or a comforting pat on the leg. Sometimes they are watching the game and getting wound up. I offer myself as a distraction and as a partner in some guided visualization. If you can be there without ruining your zen, it is always appreciated.

Lastly, celebrate your teammates. High five after every jam! If you are watching the game, tell them something good you saw. A lot of the time they might not have even noticed. I can’t tell you how many times I have told a blocker, “that thing you did was AWESOME!” and they look at me confused.

Tap into your best self before, during, and after the game. You and your team will be better for it.

Photo © Derby Pics by Phil

Photo © Derby Pics by Phil

Posted by Jax in mental game, roller derby

Reviewing Personal Footage Without Bumming Yourself Out

Practice footage of yourself is kinda like an oncoming jammer. You can pretend it doesn’t exist, but facing it head on can make you a better athlete.

I’m my own worst critic, and if I don’t pull off what I think I wanted to do in my head, then I won’t be a happy girl. – Amy Winehouse

I recently had a leaguemate ask how to review footage of oneself without getting bummed out focusing on the things they SHOULD HAVE done. We have all been there. On one hand, it is good to know things you should work on! On the other, you also need to be able to use that review as a time to celebrate your victories, no matter how small.

Here are some tips that my leaguemates and I have found to be helpful when reviewing footage of ourselves:

  • The first time you review the footage, try and review it with a close derby friend. You will spend most of that time cheering for each other and pointing out what cool things happened. Your friends will likely find things to celebrate when you are struggling to see them. Enjoy watching the footage without being too critical. Try to laugh when something goes wrong, if you can.
  • Pay attention to the circumstances when things go your way, and also when things don’t go your way. Were you jamming against your league’s charter team? Were you one of two blockers on the track trying to slow the bleeding? Was there some great offense happening for you? Don’t chalk your performance up to these situations completely, but do not let them go unnoticed.
  • Watch the footage in slow motion. One of the most amazing tools on YouTube is being able to watch a video at .5 speed or even .25 speed. You can pick apart what went wrong or what was the cause of your success. This is extremely helpful when looking to break down and recreate a scenario!
  • Take notes! Write down the timestamp of something that went great. Revisit it later to remind yourself that you did something wonderful! Studies have shown it is incredibly important to have a mental highlight reel. If you have footage at your disposal to review, then you can have an actual highlight reel to pull up when you need a boost.

  • GIFs are your best friend! Use or as a learning tool. Cut up clips of yourself, or those who inspire you. This way you can watch one movement again and again and again…
  • Ask for a friend to review footage of you in exchange for reviewing footage of them! It’s SO helpful to have an outsider’s perspective, and even better from someone who has no feelings attached to the event.

In summary, take everything with a grain of salt. Ask for your friends’ help. Take notes. Use all the tools at your disposal. Reviewing footage is something that can really help a skater’s growth, and if you have the opportunity, seize it!

If you do not have footage to review, record drills when you can! Set up your phone and hit record during practice. Ask your friends to record you and offer to return the favor. If you are learning something new or trying to fix a habit, being able to SEE it immediately after DOING it is incredibly useful.

Happy viewing!


This blog can be found cross posted here.

Posted by Jax in mental game, roller derby