IF SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME two years ago that this year I would be skating in a sponsored challenge game against the likes of Scald Eagle and Brawn Swanson or taking off-skates classes such as ‘Existentialism in Roller Derby’; let alone skating in my first ever British Championships tournament, I would have laughed so hard that I wouldn’t have been able to stand up on my skates. However, since that is exactly what I have done this year, I wanted to reflect and share some of the problems I’ve encountered as a little fish in a big pond.
When I started minimum skills training, I had no idea what I was about to get myself into! In the beginning I definitely revelled in the idea of being a tough roller derby girl, I dutifully watched Whip It and got excited about being able to wear hotpants with fishnets to skate whilst hitting people. I wanted to look fabulous and be a badass skater, but in reality I just fell on my butt and struggled to find leggings that would stay up whilst trying to complete the dreaded twenty-seven in five. I slowly realized that there was a lot more to skating than just being able to stand up and that like the majority of things in life, you have to actively train to get better.
Fresh-meat no more, I started to take part in scrims and learned how to be a part of a sports team; sports teams, I believe, are a fantastic group of friends and I believe your team can ultimately influence how you experience roller derby. However, the one thing I had not considered when I started skating was that as much as roller derby is a team sport, you have to be successful as an individual skater in order to add to the team’s success. This came about a few months after passing my minimum skills, I’d been taking part in regular scrimmage for a while and attended all training sessions available to me, but I still felt that I wasn’t improving the same way as when I first started. My teammates were extremely encouraging and the coaches were supportive but I still wasn’t ‘getting’ it. I was able to follow the drills set during advanced sessions and was comfortable assisting in offense plays during games. I felt that I must have been improving if I was able to keep up with the experienced skaters in my league and I felt confident in my ability; that is until I played a high level game that was not with my home team and for the first time I was goated! For me there was nothing more frustrating than being stuck behind a wall not being able to escape, knowing that you haven’t got the skill set to tackle this – hell I didn’t even know what being goated meant until it was explained whilst off track! It happened more than once during that game and it.was.awful! Being without my usual teammates there to help me, made me realize that as an individual I lacked the required skills to hold my own space within the higher levels of roller derby. If I wanted to play – I had to do something about it.
And I did.
I started looking for any extra training sessions I could go to outside of my team, I booked myself on to boot camps with all-star skaters, I watched countless hours of roller derby footage and started to do the washing-up whilst in a side surf stance! I was desperate to find something that would give me the oomph to become the skater I envisioned. I took notes, tried to be book smart with skating because that was what I had always done to learn new things, but it didn’t work and I felt awful again. The worse I felt the less I skated and the less I skated, well I’m sure you get the idea.
Alongside the problems on track, I was struggling with being able to get to training as I had recently moved, and wasn’t making attendance in order to play games. I made the heart wrenching decision to go unaffiliated and I didn’t expect to need to make a decision this early on in roller derby and felt incredibly guilty. I was worried that my team would think I was being selfish and that I would offend those who had worked so hard to help me pass my minimum skills to reach bout level. A part of me felt like I was giving up; but ultimately it was this feeling that spurred me on and pushed me get to where I am now.
No longer with a team, I discovered what skills needed work and how much I had been relying on other people to pick up my slack during gameplay. I worked on one foot plows and toe stop pops, I recorded myself training and watched back critically. I skated long, sketchy valley lanes trying to up my endurance. I annoyed my partner (and the neighbors) with skating in the house; most importantly I didn’t stop smiling and I fell in love with skating all over again. I stopped doubting my ability and discovered that it is not just in our day to day life that we have to take time for ourselves to regroup and discover what we really love and what we need more time to work on. I felt that through this process I was able to re-join a team and be confident in myself and happy being an individual that is part of a bigger unit. So if you are reading this thinking that this sounds familiar or that you wish you could take some time for yourself, give yourself some time to think about you.
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