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.