Roller derby is a very physical game, but it is also a game where strategy and mental strength as both a team and individual is critical. When your body is taking a battering, your mind needs to be a beacon of strength and focus.
Roller derby has always been and always will be a team sport, there is no one person who gets the win or the loss, we win together and we lose together. Our league really values the individual growth and blossoming of our skaters, we are big on togetherness and supporting each other both on and off track. The statement “together we are stronger” is unbelievably true, together we have more confidence and inner strength – something which really clicked when I returned to skating post break. For a long time I wasted far too much time battling with myself, not paying attention to the immense amount of support around me and the incredible things that happened when I actually took strength from my teammates.
I had always had a negative, pessimistic outlook which resulted in my mental strength being low. Over the last year during my time with the Harlots, I have been surrounded by people who have both helped and influenced me to be better all around. My mental strength has always been at the forefront of this “to work on” list and in the space of these 12 months I have come on leaps and bounds.
One of the biggest hurdles to your owning your mental strength is believing in yourself. Believing in yourself is sometimes the hardest thing to do, it means letting go. It means accepting yourself for who you are, for how you skate, your strengths and your weaknesses.
Low mental strength can make you feel alone and negative, no matter how hard you try it is incredibly difficult to leave this off the track. It can affect your performance and it can affect your team. In roller derby, we work so incredibly close in reaching the same goals, holding the opposition’s jammer and being offensive to help your jammer. With the games development, both defence and offence is not always possible and the impact on your mental state can really suck. As a blocker, holding the jammer can feel great – but holding the opp. jammer and watching your jammer take a serious beating knowing at that point you can’t help? It really sucks, it can be frustrating when you are working hard to keep the defensive wall and can make you feel like you aren’t doing enough. The same stands for the jammer, being pulverised and recycled in a hurricane of hell, having to fight through those soul crushing blockers to try and make it out the pack – all on your own? It can suck. It can suck for everyone involved. You wish your teammates were there to sweep them all to the side and give you a free pass – but sometimes you are out there on your own. Whether you are jamming or blocking, you will have experienced these feelings at one point or another in your time on track. It is not that your teammates don’t want to help, it is just sometimes they have their hands full or have the opp. jammer priority.
When jamming and in these positions, I know that I can communicate to my team that I could do with a hand – especially in the black hole of recycling! But just because I communicate that, it doesn’t mean that they can come and help me, it does however help with track/skater awareness and challenging yourself. In more recent months, I have used these moments as my own personal challenge. I push and drive, try to play smart to avoid track cuts, keep focusing on going forwards and breaking out regardless of the chaos around me. When blocking and holding the opp. jammer with my wall, seeing our jammer stuck but knowing that if we let up an inch we lose our hold on the opp. jammer frustrated me, I’d check to see if we had a spare blocker to be offensive and get annoyed if not. Now I know and feel secure in the knowledge that everyone is where they should be, I also know that if we have that spare we can communicate to them to go and help our jammer – or if I’m that spare blocker to communicate to my team that I am going to help. These moments have not only challenged me physically, but challenged me mentally. Last year I would have been panicking and worrying about what to do, this year I can focus and ground myself. Why should I worry? What good is it going to do? I finally climbed over the top of my wall and kicked it down when I reached the other side.
I have also increased my mental strength during game play, I focus on the jam at hand, I play because I enjoy it instead of over thinking it, I don’t go for revenge hits, I don’t get upset at bad penalty calls – even on me! I have learnt to accept the moment and then move on. I can’t change it, so why should I let it change me? An article I have found useful has been one written by Patrick Allan on Lifehacker.com in which he discusses emotions and letting go which really hit home for me. I have become stronger by letting go and focusing more on why I am there on track. Three quotes that I feel really hits the mark:
“Mental toughness” is keeping strong in the face of adversity. It’s the ability to keep your focus and determination despite the difficulties you encounter.
Mental strength is like muscle strength—no one has an unlimited supply. So why waste your power on things you can’t control?
Developing mental toughness is a process and it’s not something you can conjure overnight. It takes a lot of patience and a conscious effort to become more resilient.
One of the key things to remember is that you are part of a team. Your mental state can affect others in both positive and negative ways; mental state and team morale often go hand in hand. This isn’t to say you should feel bad if you feel low, but to bear in mind that not only can you affect others around you – you can take some of that strength and positivity from others into your being. When people come back to the bench it is great to say “Hey! Good job out there!” – that skater may not feel like they had a good jam, but those few words of encouragement and support can really help keep your team morale up. Together we are stronger.
So accept yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. Just because it’s a weakness now, doesn’t mean it will be forever – instead of getting upset about it, change it. The hard work and effort really does pay off, since bringing down that Great Wall of Whiner to unlocking my own mental strength – I have felt a weight off my shoulders and I have noticed a difference in not only the way I skate and play, but also the way I am as a person and with my teammates. I am more confident, I make more decisions, I am more open, I still have things to work on – I’m just not letting them bring me down.