roller derby

I Am Not A Natural, Pt. 3

Photo © Mr. McWheely

Photo © Mr. McWheely

This was originally written and posted here on April 1, 2015.

“The game has its ups and downs, but you can never lose focus of your individual goals and you can’t let yourself be beat because of lack of effort.”
— Michael Jordan

In the recipe for being successful and improving, having goals is the ingredient that every single person shares. There are different levels to goals. It’s kind of similar to how some foods you can choose between mild, hot, or extra hot. You can have a goal be, “Have a good time while being safe” and/or a goal like, “Become an all star jammer for Team USA.”

Goals are what keep you focused. You wouldn’t pass boot camp and skate at all, if you were completely without goals. They motivate you and most importantly allow you to measure your progress.

I said it when I wrote about positivity, and I will say it again: you should probably invest in a notebook. It is much easier to keep track of any and all goals when they are written. Written goals will also hold you more accountable and give you a better sense of what you have done, what you need to do, and how long it took to get there (date those accomplishments). It also makes this next step possible.

Break them down! Big, long term goals are scary and daunting. Take your bigger goals and divide them into smaller short-term goals. This way you can see your progress and feel like the bigger goal is within reach.

A small example:

  • Spinning out of hits (semi-effortlessly)
  • Turn around toe stop to inside
  • Turn around toe stop to outside
  • Transition comfortably to inside
  • Transition comfortably to outside
  •  Mohawking
  • Extra stretching daily.

Sometimes you will find more mini goals that apply to your larger goal and should definitely add them in. For my “making charter team roster” goal, I was constantly adding lots of little goals and also some accomplishments I/other people noticed.

In my notebook I also keep my skills assessment results. I am able to look back each time I have taken the assessment and see how I have improved without necessarily realizing it. I feel like I barely scraped by in January of 2013, but by December 2013 things were starting to come together for me.

Outside of your goal notebook, it’s good to set PRACTICE, SCRIMMAGE, and BOUT goals. I wouldn’t try more than three at a time for any of these settings, less if you want. If you have too many you will lose focus and struggle to notice any improvement. Your goals could look like, “jam at least 3 times during scrimmage,” “get lower,” or “controlled positional blocking rather than swooping hits.”

Give yourself time. You will not become a charter team member overnight. You will not be able to jam every other jam without the work it takes to get your endurance there. Remember that everyone is going to meet their goals differently and at different speeds and that is okay. Allow yourself flexibility. Newfound obstacles might appear, but if it’s something you truly want, you will keep pushing forward.

If you have the drive, you can most definitely meet your goals, no matter the size. I will elaborate on that soon.

Posted by Jax in mental game, roller derby

Writing A Practice Agenda That Flows

One of the things that is most exciting about Roller Derby (that also makes all of our lives very complicated) is that most teams/leagues are self-coached. We don’t have professional coaches that we call in (at least not often). We have ourselves – skaters who take on the role of coach. Sometimes, coaches have extensive backgrounds in coaching other sports, personal training or physical therapy. And sometimes coaches are like me, with no background and endless enthusiasm for this sport. This blog is for those coaches.

Photo © Andrew Potter Photo

Photo © Andrew Potter Photo

I ran my first practice for the Ypsilanti Vigilantes August 4th, 2015. I had no prior knowledge to coaching or training and I was terrified. I shadowed their previous trainer for one practice before the hand off was made. At the time, I wished I had shadowed more. Now I know that no matter how many practices you attend, and how many you watch, running one feels like a whole new world.

There is so much to think about when writing and running a practice! Since that day in August I have written and run a practice nearly every Tuesday. I have also led several clinics on roller derby for other leagues in Michigan. It’s safe to say I have found my personal groove when it comes to writing practices.

I pride myself in running a well thought out practice that flows to meet the team’s needs. Here is how I do it:

Warm ups – I personally do not enjoy lengthy or slow warm ups. I feel like not a lot of people take them seriously so their bodies aren’t truly warm. It’s also a big time suck. Warming up your body is important! It prevents injury! So Coaches and Skaters, please, do take it seriously. I recommend setting aside no more than 15 minutes for warm up, and spend it on a dynamic warm up, not static stretching. Tell your skaters to use that time to truly activate their muscles while working on simpler skills to wake up that roller derby brain.

Individual Skills – After warm ups, we focus on individual skills. This could be footwork, lateral movements, backwards skating, absorbing impact with a partner, etc. Basically: a skill the team already KNOWS or has tried in the past that you need to sharpen.

New Skills – After individual skills is a good time to introduce a new skill. When you put a new skill at the beginning of practice, this gives the skaters the opportunity to continue working at this skill throughout the rest of practice in other drills. Try not to do more than one, maybe two brand new skills a practice. They can take up a lot of time and there is so much to learn always! Make sure to revisit these skills in future practices so they aren’t lost forever.

Endurance (Optional) – This is a good time to put in some individual endurance. There are SO many options here. Three of my favorites are: ✪ 6 Stride Hell: Skating briskly, sprinting for 6 strides on the whistle to build those explosive muscles. ✪ Get The Fuck Up: Skating laps as quickly as possible, on the whistle skaters lie on their back or their front, whistle blows again and they pop up as fast as possible and return to sprinting. Sometimes you get annihilated on the track, and you should be able to bounce back and return to game play as quickly as possible and this is good simulation. ✪ Jammer Wall Push Ups: Jammers must push a braced wall of 4 blockers a half lap. They are not allowed to escape, only push to build strength. They cannot push in the same seam, they must try different options every few seconds. Blockers should be focused on sitting as low as possible, actively practicing edgework, tight seams, and communication.

Building Blocks – This is the most important part of practice! It should be the bulk of your team’s time at practice. This is group work. It can start as 1 vs. 1 and build to an end at 4 vs. 1. You can mix it up with 4 vs. 1 with 1 friend playing offense. It can be just plain roller derby, it can be practicing new offensive plays, it can be blocker walls spread out across the track with jammers coming in with speed and attacking a seam. It can be anything you want it to be! The most important thing is that skaters are working together to learn and achieve a set goal.

Group Endurance – I love to end on group endurance. It is important to know how your body will perform when you are tired because you are going to get tired during a game. Also, underlying bad habits come out when your body goes into auto-derby mode. This makes it easier to spot skills that need to be fine-tuned at future practice. What do I mean by group endurance? I mean playing roller derby NON-STOP! One option is 2 minute jams (call offs don’t exist!) and anyone who is not participating must be skating endurance laps around the outside. Another option is endless roller derby, where 5 on 5 are playing playing roller derby for an undetermined amount of time. The trainer will switch out skaters at their leisure, but none of the skaters on the track can stop or call off the jam.

Stretch – Now is the time for static stretching, circled up as a team to end practice.

I am sure my practice flow isn’t perfect for every team. Take some time to talk about what is working and what isn’t working for your skaters when teaching new drills. Ask how effective they feel a drill is and if they would like to see it on a regular basis. It’s important to know your team’s goals when you write an agenda and to check in every now and again to see if you are helping them meet their needs and potential.

Or if you really just don’t want to, you can hire me to write one for you.

Posted by Jax in coaching, roller derby

I Am Not A Natural, Pt. 2

 Photo © Bernie Laframboise

Photo © Bernie Laframboise

This was originally written and posted here on March 25, 2015.

Roller derby is just as much a mental sport as it is a physical one. Your attitude can make or break your momentum and progress.

Negative self-talk will slow you down. Comparing yourself to others will cripple you.

These are easy habits to get into. Especially when you are starting. Especially when you are skating practices with people of various skill levels. These habits are something you need to throw in the garbage disposal and annihilate as soon as possible.

Stop telling yourself that you cannot, or you will not.

For the longest time I thought I “would never” learn a skill or ability. Specific to my own skating abilities, transitions and mohawking were my nemesis for what seemed like the longest time. Months after my fellow skaters in boot camp had learned and executed these abilities just fine I was still struggling. I was convinced it just wouldn’t happen for me. I couldn’t and didn’t give up, though. If I wanted to continue to progress I had to set goals and avidly work towards them. I spent my down time at practice trying the skills I was struggling with. I went to open skates. I spent some nights in my driveway practicing. I stretched more. I researched. Eventually at practice it happened. Not once, but many times. Today these are two of my favorite skills and the foundation in my jamming arsenal. If you catch yourself saying that you cannot, correct yourself and if you have to say something… say that you are working on it.

Never, never, never give up. — Winston Churchill

It’s hard when you feel like your progress isn’t happening as quickly as it should. It’s hard to watch people learn at different rates. But, it happens and it will continue to happen your entire derby career. It’s not just happening to you though. Everyone has felt this way about people in their lives at some point. Some people can watch a drill once and flawlessly execute it on their first try. Most can’t. Even those people you idolize mess. things. up. Those skaters do struggle and have struggled just like you!

No good will come from comparing yourself to others.

It will not help you accomplish your goals. In fact, it can damage your self worth and your progression. Look to yourself instead. Compare this practice to the last. Compare this month to the previous. Look at how far you’ve come! Remember when you could barely cross over? Remember when you couldn’t pick your leg up during stretches, or else you would fall? Celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how big or small. Did you increase your 27 in 5 time by a few seconds? Great! Did you not fall when one of the hardest hitters on your team tried to knock you down? Heck yeah! Did you ALMOST land an apex jump? Awesome! You tried something a lot of people wouldn’t have the guts to do. (My first attempted apex jump went horribly awry, but NO ONE cared it went wrong except ME. Every time I do happen to land one my league mates cheer and it feels great and I wouldn’t get those amazing feelings if I didn’t try it despite past failures.) Celebrate it all.

My favorite way to stay on the positivity track is to keep a notebook.

When another person compliments you, ACCEPT THE COMPLIMENT (very important), and write it down. Try to keep the exact phrasing if you can remember. You can date it too, if you’d like. I actually kept mine dated so I could see the progress and changes I was making through other’s eyes. When you accomplish something big or small, write it down too. This will serve as proof when you feel like things are too difficult or like you are unaccomplished. Celebrate yourself frequently and all the things you’ve done and will continue to do.

Positivity has such a huge impact that I think a lot of people fail to notice, or don’t notice quickly enough. When you are in a positive mental space, it’s easier to learn and it’s easier to achieve. If you start to feel yourself get frustrated and slip, give yourself a moment, shake it off (if you practice with me, you will see me literally stop during a drill, shake my head, my arms, my legs, take a deep breath, and then try again) and start anew.

If you decide to keep a notebook, you don’t have to use it JUST for compliments. You can use it for goals as well! We can talk more about that next week, friends.

Posted by Jax in 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

I Am Not A Natural, Pt. 1

 Photo © Randy Pace

Photo © Randy Pace

This was originally written and posted here on March 18, 2015.

Athleticism was never really my forte. I ran cross country and track in high school because it was something to do to get me off of the computer. It got my body moving and required minimal teamwork and social interaction. Those were also two sports that I could participate in without pressure. Yeah, I can jog 3.1 miles. Slowly enough that I will not be a deciding factor in my team doing well, too. The only person I had to complete with was my own personal records and myself.

I did NOT join roller derby to become athletic. I joined roller derby for the camaraderie. After watching roller derby just once I felt a sense of, “These are my people. This is where I belong.”

Morphing into an athletic person has been a result of the combined desire, as well as effort, to improve and accomplish goals to further my derby career.

I would like to make a note that everyone I know loves roller derby differently. I happen to love roller derby in an all-consuming matter. This sport and this community have given me so much more than I could have ever imagined. That being said, the recipe I use for improvement probably won’t be the exact recipe that works for you. We will likely use some of the same or similar ingredients, but what we are cooking is a bit different.

So, how does one improve when they feel like they are struggling, not catching on, or just regularly beating themselves up about not seeing instant results? Or maybe you feel like– taking an excerpt from my fresh meat journal– “sometimes it is sink or swim and I feel like I’m sinking rather quickly.”

My personal list of ingredients includes:

  • Positivity
  • Goals
  • Drive
  • Cross Training

Each ingredient is more complicated than just a word. They are all full of many layers; like an onion, lasagna, or ice cream cake… You get my drift (I really like food). So I would like to take time to focus and elaborate on each and every ingredient within its own post.

See you next week to focus on some delicious positivity!

Posted by Jax in mental game, roller derby