Category Archives: Mental Game

Adios, Plateau: Training Your Roller Derby Brain

Getting better at roller derby doesn’t always happen as fast as we’d like it to. We struggle with specific skills, we hit plateaus, we don’t make rosters, or we warm the bench more than we’d like. Progress can sometimes be so agonizingly slow that we start to wonder if we’ll ever be any good at this ridiculous sport.

The good news? Yes, you CAN become really good at roller derby! But, it’s going to take more than just showing up for practice and going through the motions.

Commit to your training. No, REALLY commit to it.

You might think, “I’m going to practice, I’m making attendance minimums. That should be plenty, right?” Well, not exactly. If you’re waiting in the draft pool, or wanting to climb up higher on your team’s roster, you’ll need to do more than the minimum to get there. In fact, you’d be wise to do more than the skater next to you.

Your teammates and coaches are there to support you and give you feedback, but all the advice in the world won’t magically make you a better derby player: you have to be ready to take action based on that advice, and to maintain that effort for an extended period of time. We’re talking weeks or months, depending on your goals–if you’ve got your eyes on WFTDA championships or Team USA, you can expect years of tough and consistent training to get there.

So, ask yourself: when you get training advice, are you going to say, “that’s a great idea,” and then keep doing the bare minimum? Or will you actually go to those extra skills practices, or do that off-skates training routine, or study that bout footage?

Get specific and focused with your goals.

Okay, so you’ve decided that you’re 100% amped to put in that extra training time. What are you going to work on? It seems like you need to work on everything, right?

Well, not exactly. Trying to work on all of your skills and strategies can get overwhelming fast, and you probably won’t see particularly fast progress on any of them, because you’re dividing your time and attention between so many different things.

Instead, pick out a small number of things–as in, maybe two or three–that you can focus on. Everyone has different things they’re good at, and others that they struggle with, so identify a specific part of your game that you’re struggling with, and make that your focus. Not sure what to work on? Ask someone you trust who knows derby and has seen you skate: this is where your teammates, coaches, and leaguemates can help you.

Be nice to yourself.

It’s nice to win MVP awards, get praise from your coaches, and hear compliments from other skaters, but there’s one voice that’s more powerful than any external motivation: Your Own. And, if your internal monologue is full of negative self-talk about what a terrible skater you are, then you simply aren’t going to play as well.

Giving some attention to your mental game can make the difference between zipping through that pack, or getting recycled backwards over and over. It may sound corny, but talking to yourself in a positive way actually does help you perform better. It’s science!

Be kind to yourself, and tell yourself that you can do the thing! Then after that? Do it again. After that? Keep doing it, until becomes a habit. Better yet, think about what you need to feel confident, and create a key phrase, action, or routine that helps you tap into that confidence, so it’ll be there when you need it.

Focus on the things you can control, not the things you can’t.

You can’t control everything in roller derby, no matter how much you might want to. Maybe there’s drama between different players or teams or committees, or politics that you get dragged into. Maybe there aren’t any spots open on the team you want to join. Maybe there’s a flashy new transfer who paid their dues at another league, and now they’re getting rostered ahead of you. There are a lot of things that can happen that affect your derby career, and you may not be able to do anything about them. It’s normal to feel frustrated by that.

The thing is, if you spend your energy being upset about things you can’t change, it becomes very easy to start blaming outside forces when you don’t get what you want. And, when everything starts being someone else’s fault, then you have less control, and then you get more frustrated, and it all turns into a vicious circle of crappy feelings, and you still aren’t getting better at derby as quickly as you want to.

And, energy you’re wasting on things you can’t control is energy you aren’t using on the things you CAN change. Maybe you can’t force anyone to put you onto a particular team, but you CAN train hard and improve your skills so they’ll want to draft you. Maybe you don’t get to decide how many jams you play in, but you can fine-tune your mental game and become a positive presence that your team wants to have on a game roster.

You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it. You have the power to take negative energy and channel it into positive results, and that can make all the difference in becoming the derby player you want to be.

By Shaolin Spocker

Shaolin Spocker helps new roller derby skaters figure out where their strengths lie when lining up in a wall | roller derby for beginners

Photo by Regularman

Shaolin Spocker skates with Rose City Rollers, and is going into her fourth season with her incredibly smart-and-pretty home team, the High Rollers. She likes Star Trek and pie (both baking and eating it), and actually knows kung fu, but has received decidedly more high-fives for hitting people in derby than she has anywhere else. You can check out her web design and photography work–both of which she does better and far more often than blogging–at her creative design studio, Upswept Creative.

When Fresh Meat Gets Stale: Four Years of Lessons Learned

I started skating fresh meat in 2012, just before a big rules change. Back then we had minors and the baseball slide was considered a perfectly safe and valid way to fall, and Gumballs were a new and shiny invention: they were absolutely tiny and had domes.

I had, after some thought, decided to learn to skate, and to play roller derby, so that January, I went along to practice with my first league. A short couple of months later, I promptly overstretched my left hamstring, to the point it all but tore, and couldn’t walk for three weeks or skate for nearly three months. A couple of months after that, I fell off my toe stops doing a stepping drill, and partially dislocated my right kneecap, on a dodgy kneepad that pushed up and under, compounding the fall. (Get good kneepads kids, you’ve only got one set of knees!)

That September, I moved house, city, and subsequently, leagues. That was the first time I saw my group go on to graduate without me.

4 years, 3 house moves, and 2 league moves later, and I’ve completely perfected the art of waving a cheery, and heartfelt, goodbye to my fresh meat friends as they pass out of the course, pass probation, or become B and A Team skaters whilst I cycle back around to learning to fall and stop safely, again.

It’s disheartening, but it’s also okay, so I’ve put together the following 10 Top Tips to help you get over the pain, and make the grade yourself!

1. It’s OK to Feel Sad/Angry/Conflicted/Absolutely Anything You Like
You can be happy for your friends whilst still being sad for yourself, but it will feel weird. It’s especially hard if your league is like my second league, where you had to pass a pre-minimum skills assessment to see if you could join the rec league and learn to scrim, and only two of you don’t pass. Trying to be pleased for everyone and simultaneously quite wanting to lock yourself in the toilets and cry because you didn’t pass is hard.

I’m a strong believer that you feel what you feel. If you would feel like you’re moping to go home, lock yourself in your room and cry, then maybe it’s best to make yourself go to the pub with everyone, but if you really can’t bear putting on your brave face and going to celebrate? Well, you don’t owe anyone anything, take yourself home, indulge in some self-care, have a bath, eat some chocolate, have a cry. This feeling will pass, I promise.

2. Celebrate What You Can Do
So you haven’t passed a specific skill, maybe (like me) you can’t transition to save your life? (No really, 4 years and learning, please, please tell me the secret!) But, maybe you’re the fastest plough (Editor’s note: Or plow, in ‘merica) stopper in your group–that’s pretty cool! Well done you! Remind yourself constantly that just because you can’t do one thing doesn’t mean you’re not great at other things. Similarly, when you master a skill, or just improve on something, however small, have your own personal cheerleading party in your head. So what if it’s taken you a bit longer than everyone else. You just skated the diamond and didn’t slide out! Go you!

3. Try Not to Compare Yourself to Others
Easier said than done, believe me, I know. Girls I was learning to skate with two years ago are now A-Team captains of other leagues, and here’s me, still a rookie. But on the other hand, in those four years I finished a degree and got married to my wonderful wife, so even if I’d had their skill, it still doesn’t mean I’d be an A-Team captain. I just wouldn’t have had the time to dedicate to my team, and that’s okay.

As a side note, if you do find your brain sliding into comparing yourself to others, try to do it positively, e.g., “What skills do I need to learn to be the next Bonnie Thunders?” as opposed to, “Oh Bonnie is sooooo amazing and I’ll never be that good”. It’s all about how you think about it.

4. Have a Think What Else You Can Do to Learn
It’s not just about skating as much as you can (although that helps!); think about what else you can do. Going to open skates helps, as does skating in your local park. The more time you can spend getting used to your wheels the better! I used to do the hoovering on skates at one point.

For me, learning to ref the game has made the biggest impact. I know the rules far better than I did before, and trying to track the game whilst rolling has improved my on-skates skills.

NSOing is also always going to be helpful. You’ll get a feel for the rules, how long everything takes, and you can watch for strategy at the same time, so long as you keep an eye on the score/time if that’s your job!

Sometimes fresh meat starts getting old! How do you keep going after it seems like everyone moves on without you? | vegetarianPDX

Photo by Alison Ankwell

5. Remember You Can Still Learn Derby Inside Out
Everyone should know how to do basic skate maintainable themselves, but equally every league can benefit from a kit wizard. You might not be the hottest on skates, but learn about durometer or how to mount plates and you will be looked upon as a veritable God[ess], especially if you get really good at it. Familiarising yourself with the anatomy of your skates helps too, and you’ll have the added advantage of being able to save money on replacement kit.

Personally, I’m a massive gear nerd. I think it helps because I know everything I could want to know about how my kit works and how I can use that to my advantage.

6. Challenge Yourself
You’ll hear this time and time again, because it’s true, Never Ever stop challenging yourself. If you’re finding yourself going back to practicing stops and falls safely? Perfect them! You can always learn to stop faster or recover from a fall more quickly. If you can do knee falls, try to just knee tap. Already good at ploughing? Plough faster or on one foot. Even the A-team have to practice these skills sometimes; it’s practice that makes you improve.

7. Ask For Help
Maybe there’s one skill that you’re really struggling with. I’ve found asking politely will always get you some tips. Especially if you’re at an open skate and someone isn’t too busy, they can show you how. Or why not swap skills with someone? Maybe you can jump and hop really well whilst they’re way better at transitioning. Show each other your skills and tips. Bonus: you’ll get the combined warm and fuzzy glow of helping someone, and the ego boost of being good at something!

8. Remember Everything Happens For a Reason
Have you ever felt nervous doing a drill for the first time? Or a bit frustrated trying to master a skill? Now imagine those feelings trying to play a game above your level, or indeed playing for the first time at all. Although it might not feel like it at the time, the people passing or failing you in assessments DO have your best interests at heart, not just theirs. Not only is there a possibility of you getting hurt if you’re trying to do something you’re not ready for, but there’s always a danger that you might take someone down with you.

9. Socialise
Just because the girl you started fresh meat with is now skating on a different team to you, doesn’t mean you can’t still hang out together. Socialising is a big part of the sport. Squirrelling yourself away from the fun is just a way to make yourself stop enjoying and start resenting derby. At least, that’s what I’ve found. You don’t have to go to the pub every week, or after every game, but try and go along when it’s fun.

10. Just keep trying!
You can only keep practicing, and trying. And who knows, maybe along the way you’ll learn something you might not otherwise have known. I still live in hope that I might one day pass my minimum skills, and on that day I shall be very proud of myself. And I’m quite sure that, one day, you will too.


Sometimes fresh meat gets a little stale. Tips for beginning skaters who end up beginning over and over | vegetarianPDXby Misha Anker, aka Juke Special

Misha Anker/Juke Special is a trainee ref for the London Roller Girls Rec League. She has been skating since 2012 and is sure she’ll master transitions any day now. She lives in London with her wife and two cats.



Mind Over Matter: On Learning Crossovers

The first time I did a speed trial was about a week after I started skating last winter, back in Chicago. It was at a skate clinic with the Windy City Rollers and while a coach urged me on, I made 20 laps in five minutes. Disappointed, I watched much more skilled skaters around me lap me again and again. Afterward a kind, more seasoned skater told me not to worry.

“You held your own,” she said. “Once you master crossovers, you’ll be faster than me.”

Once I master what now? I thought to myself. While I smiled and thanked her, back then I didn’t know what she was talking about. But later, when our coach first showed our team of newbies what crossovers could do, my mind was blown. I wanted to pull off this killer move that looked awesome and gave your wheels some wings, but it looked impossible.

I was able to wrap my brain around putting one skate in front of the other, but I was still unable to convince myself to pick up that opposite foot and plant it next to the crossing one and push. It just really takes a lot to trick yourself into believing crossing your feet while moving in roller skates is a good thing to do. I practiced other moves with my new teammates but crossovers were still a big hang-up for me.

Lucky for me, there was Steve.

Steve taught a speed skating class several times a week at Orbit Skate Center, a rink then near my old office. I’d known about this class for a long time, and on one fateful Monday last winter I packed my skates and my gear and took them with me to work.

I showed up to the rink a little early. I carted my rolling suitcase containing my skates and parked myself at a cafeteria table. As a birthday party full of kids cleared out, a guy came up to me and asked if I was there for the speed class. I said I was, and we introduced ourselves. Steve was 32 and said he’d been skating since he was 9 — not speed skating the whole time, but he’s been coaching people in it for more than 10 years.

When I walked onto the rink in gym shoes, I was one of four adults: Me, Steve, a woman maybe a few years older than me, and a man older than Steve. The rest were a handful of children. I felt a little disappointed, because the last time I’d skated at Orbit, I’d struggled to dodge kids and felt anxious about knocking into them. I shrugged it off. We ran some laps, did some stretches, and then laced up.

Immediately it became clear to me that those kids all skated much faster than me, by far. And they were all doing crossovers, without a second thought to how terrifying each one was to me as an observer.

We did some drills as a group, and Steve simultaneously took it easy on me while also improving my form and giving me instruction with each attempt. He was a good teacher and could see that I was starting out in roller derby and that I didn’t quite have the hang of crossovers yet.

After class, he offered to stay to help me and one of the kids, one-on-one. He had me skate on one foot for as long as I could while he did a drill with the boy, and after the boy left, he asked me if I wanted to give crossovers a try. It was past 10 p.m. by then and I had a 30-minute drive home, but the answer was still yes, of course.

We made a lap, and when I still faltered, he took a new approach. He had me stand mid-rink, on a foot-tall green, painted line that stretched from end to end of the floor. He had me walk sideways along the line, putting my right foot across the left, over and over. My feet got used to the motion after a sideways pass across the rink like that, and then we skated another lap.

I crossed my right foot over my left and stepped into it all the way, just like I had on the line — only I was moving in a circle, fast. The move made me go faster. I lifted my arms in celebration, and nearly fell over. I crossed over again and again, skating faster than I could quite handle and feeling invincible. I high-fived Steve.

They told us at practice that crossovers are basically mind over matter. Once you get over the mental hurdle of how insane it is, you can reap the physical rewards and go hella fast.

Sure, they seem scary at first, but dang, are they worth it.

By Meryl Williams

Meryl Williams is a Chicago journalist who now lives in Portland. Sign up for her awesome TinyLetter, where you can learn more about her upcoming memoir on skating.


Taking Roller Derby Feedback Like a Pro

Roller derby is such a chaotic and humbling experience for people. First of all, you’re being judged on how well you physically move around a small, oval track while you have eight wheels strapped to your feet. Now add the fact that people are slamming into your body repeatedly, either on your team or against your team. Roller derby feedback can feel like someone’s slamming you all over again.

Roller derby can make you feel less than graceful, less than effective, and just plain vulnerable. Nobody likes to be vulnerable, especially when we’re feeling awkward. Heap on top of that sensation of someone giving you feedback. Yes, feedback is a criticism, and many people instinctively dislike being “judged”. But think of roller derby feedback from your coaches as a preemptive judgement that keeps you from dealing with the harsher and more final judgement of a referee!

Even vets can feel uncomfortable being on the receiving end of feedback, but you can start your derby career off on the right foot by learning how to take feedback without getting angry, defensive, and frustrated.

Listen. Listen listen listen listen. The number one complaint I hear from vets is that people don’t give much feedback to them. People seem to be more willing to give newbies feedback, so when someone says something to you, listen! You may not want to hear feedback at that moment; high frustration levels tend to make us want to shut our ears off. Don’t just hear the feedback, listen to it.

Take a moment to digest the feedback. The biggest mistake I see derby players make is immediately rejecting the feedback they receive. It’s not easy to take feedback when your adrenaline is pumping, or you’ve just fallen, or have just committed a foul. I see this scenario happening over and over on the track with newer skaters. The skater has incorrectly completed a drill, and the coach tries to correct the action by giving feedback. The skater immediately says “I know!” and skates away in a huff.

Look, I get it. Getting feedback right when you’re feeling the most vulnerable is terrible, but look at it from a coach’s perspective. They see the incorrect behavior and they want to correct it right away. It makes sense intellectually, but when you add embarrassment to the equation, sometimes our first instinct is to reject it. This is why you should take the time to digest it. Take a deep breath and and let it sit in your brain without your judgement getting in the way.

Don’t discount feedback, even when you’re not sure what to do with it right away. This is close to digesting feedback, but sometimes someone is going to give you feedback that you just can’t wrap your head around–that’s when you need to file it away and think about it later. I remember when I was jamming against a veteran skater, and she looked at me and said “never hesitate.” My first response to her feedback was to say “okay” but in my head I was thinking “Whatever! You’re amazing and I suck at this and I’m scared as hell to jam!” It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I really could internalize what she was saying to me; playing derby is all about not hesitating. It’s about being familiar enough with your game and your skills to do what you need to do instantly.

Now I tell that to every newbie I work with, and I’m sure they have the same internal reaction.Sometimes you’re not going to be able to use the feedback you receive, but keep it in your head and it might come in handy later.

Take it with a grain of salt. Some people have an unconscious bias when they give feedback. I’m a six foot tall skater, and every short trainer I ever had was hypercritical of my stance, skating style and general appearance as a skater in general.We all have a point of view, and it clouds how and what we give feedback about. I listened to my shorter trainers, and I still concentrate on getting lower, but there is no way that I can get as physically low as someone who is five feet tall and still be able to skate without my knees being in my face. Take in all feedback but sift out what doesn’t work for you. Remember, the feedback may not work NOW, but file it away and see if it will work for you later.

Be proactive in seeking feedback. If you don’t always understand or appreciate the feedback you’re getting, ask people for specific correction. Approach your coach or a veteran skater you trust and ask them if they will watch for something specific you’re trying to do.I used to have a horrible time going from forward skating to backwards skating, so I asked for certain people to watch me perform my transitions and show me how they did them. It was very educational, because everyone had different tips! It took all of those tips just to get my transitions down, and I’m grateful to each person who took the time to show me how they turn, over and over. Asking for feedback and help is a win-win situation; most people are flattered to be asked for their opinions, plus, you get directed and tailor-made feedback for your skating style. Perfect!


Will you always handle feedback perfectly if you follow these suggestions? Nope. You’re human, and the people giving you feedback are human. Your feelings will be hurt once in awhile, either by something someone says, or HOW they say it. It’s okay to have hurt feelings once in awhile. What’s not okay is becoming someone who people don’t want to help with their feedback.

By Elektra Q-Tion

Elektra Q-Tion blogs at You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Loose Wheel.