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  • How skating just isn’t enough

How skating just isn’t enough

Spoiler alert: this post is going to talk about the side effects of my transfer into London Rollergirls… So if you have an anti-London bias (a topic for another day) zone out now.

So, like a sequel to a movie, here’s a mini introduction again – nearly a year ago I transferred into London Rollergirls because my job and my partner, Giggity, moved there. It wasn’t an unwanted move or transfer – I mean who would complain about skating at the highest level possible in the UK, or living in a city that has something happening everyday?

But the move was a giant change to my life. Coming from lil’ ol’ Lincolnshire – the big green flat marshland, with a small roller derby team, to the mammoth concrete beast that is London with its  highly competitive and huge roller derby team.

What I didn’t realise was just how giant the physical demands would be – leading me to the conclusion that skating just isn’t enough to keep you the top of your game.

roller derby pivot

Photo taken by John Hesse

So yah, yah, yah this is another post about how you and I should probably be doing off skates workouts, but it’s also more than that – it’s actually how you and I should be doing more off skates workouts, more non-training skating, more mental prep, more resting, more eating – because honestly I thought I was doing enough, but I AM SERIOUSLY STILL NOT.

Before I transferred into London Rollergirls I was hitting the gym twice a week – doing some loose strength training and trying to get some plyo movement back into my recovering legs. I was thinking about the mental side of the game (note thinking) and I was stoically sticking to the idea of Monday as my rest day. I knew that my transfer scrim was going to be hard – but I also thought I was working hard enough to be prepared.

It turns out I was doing just enough to transfer in. I passed my transfer scrim, and my probation and in November last year I bouted as Brawl Saint (HIGH FIVE). But quite simply it isn’t enough.

London Rollergirls Brawl Saints

Photo taken by John Hesse

Skating with the London Rollergirls has opened my eyes to how competitiveness is so fluid, and well…  Competitive. Like my good friend and housemate, Trisha Smackanawa, said in her blog post for Fitness Gone Rogue,

When you make the step up to the next level you are starting from behind and sprinting to catch up with everyone, only to find that when you get there you still have to run really damn fast.

Up a mountain.

And the mountain is on fire.

My motivation is to be the best skater I can be. To achieve that just skating really isn’t enough.

So what changes have I made?

Exercise

Well – it’s hard to remember a time when I slept in past 6:30. Since moving to London I’ve seriously upped my time spent in the gym. Where before my gym attendance topped out at twice a week and often done in the evenings, twice is definitely the minimum – with me often hitting the gym everyday (but Monday!) before work. Working out in the morning is something that I NEVER thought I would do – but with roller derby practice two evenings a week, and often mid-week meetings, it was a necessary change. It helps that my gym is round the corner from my work.

Mental prep

I’ve become obsessed with Ted Talks. I blame work for this more than roller derby – but Ted Talks are a great way to find out more information about your mental chemistry and personality ticks. I’ve previously spoken about trying to read to mentally prepare myself for the psychological ups and downs of injury and bouting, but I’ve found Ted Talks to be the most effective way of getting myself to believe I am strong, capable, free from injury, and well-practiced.

In particular I recommend this amazing Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy. It speaks about how our body language shapes who we are, and about faking it until you become it. In particular the power poses referenced in this talk have helped me up my game considerably.

roller derby pivot taking the star

Photo taken by Andy Sainter

Eating

My eating habits have also changed. I really didn’t realise how necessary this was. But after spending an hour and a half at Brawl Saints team training getting my ass kicked, and then scrimmaging against both the amazing Batter C and the dominating Brawling, it’s easy to nearly faint if you’ve not eaten correctly -believe me I’ve nearly done it… Twice!

So now I’m more conscious than ever about what fuel I’m putting in. Because food is exactly that, fuel – so only a croissant for breakfast before training is like putting £2’s worth of supermarket petrol in your car. Cliche alert: you get out what you put in.

This change also coincided with me making a conscious decision to eat less meat, which I think has made changing my eating habits easier. But the search for protein is a constant puzzle (because I don’t like protein shakes).

Relaxing, resting and stretching

Prior to skating with London Rollergirls I can honestly say (aside from my first ever roller derby session) I have never had two-day DOMS caused by roller derby practice alone. Now I’m not surprised if I get this because I’m constantly pushing my body past its comfort zone to try and be more effective, stop quicker, hit harder, be more dominant or faster (and probably because I need more post-training protein).

So I started doing yoga on the regs. After every gym session I do 15 to 20 minutes of yoga, and on my rest days (which are Mondays AND Saturdays usually) I try to fit in a longer yoga session. My flexibilty has increased, which I’m advised by Fitness Gone Rogue, can only mean good things!

Feedback and maaaawwww skating

Feedback, free skate, feedback, free skate, feedback, free skate.

LRG has a great system of ownership on skaters to seek feedback, and a buddy system that supports this. Every couple of months since starting I’ve sought feedback on where I can improve to be what my team needs. The feedback is always different and always attainable – and often, actually not that far from my own self-assessment.

Having this feedback in my mind at practice and focusing on it where possible at free skate times really makes a difference to how you feel about your own skating and progress, as well as actually improving your performance. Some feedback is easier to work on than others, such as improving backwards skating versus not being a do-it-all player. BUT it’s a giant change to go from feeling offended and a little upset when somebody points out your flaws or “areas of growth” to thinking “great, I’m going to nail that – thanks for your time”

So yeah – the biggest learning curve I’ve had from my transfer to London Rollergirls, is how enough is never enough! But I think that’s what makes roller derby fun!

Learning and growing and growing and learning – Lil Cherry Kick’er

Pre-Game, Post-Injury Nerves

This month it is two years since I injured my knee and had an operation to repair my meniscus ligament.

It’s odd because part of me processes it as if it was yesterday. I remember exactly how I felt, sometimes so strongly that I can cry, and I remember exactly what I was thinking at the time.

But there’s also a part of my that recognises it was two years ago, and that during the last two years so much has changed. Then it feels like a lifetime ago.

London Roller Girls

Photograph Courtesy of Zero G

Oxford Roller Derby Game

Photo courtesy of Peter Worth

Pre-game, post-injury nerves

Photo courtesy of Peter Worth

One of the instances, when my injury feels like it was just a blink of an eye ago, is right before a game of roller derby. I had hoped that transferring to a new league would solve the anxiety, due to the change of routine and surroundings. Unfortunately, this last weekend proved that this was not true – well not entirely anyways.

There are two things I think that contribute to my pre-game, post-injury anxiety. The first is this weird thought that I cannot trust my left knee. When I injured my knee, I was told that sports would be particularly hard to return to and I would likely need a second operation. I had to relearn how to walk, run and go upstairs. At 22 I found this particularly traumatic and had counselling to try and process the effects my injury was having on my independence.

Since then I’ve returned to completely normal activity. My left knee very very rarely feels any differently to my right knee, and when it does it’s because I’ve rolled over the scar tissue in my knee (which feels like a grain of sand in the joint). But in the back of my mind I have a niggle that it was once injured and it once let me down.

This is a result of the second contributor to my pre-game, post-injury anxiety, which is that I returned from a knee niggle to normality before I seriously injured my knee.

I originally injured my knee in the April against Bristol Roller Derby, missed a couple of games including SKOD (sob) and then returned to normality (still some pain, but relatively pain-free) for a couple of months, before finally injuring my knee properly against the Seaside Siren Roller Girls in November.

The injury in November was the result of rolling over track tape while transitioning.

This has left me with a doubt on my knee and a weird lack of trust in my own left leg.

The thing is that as soon as the first whistle goes for a game I forget about all this and focus on the game ahead. I also don’t think it has a great effect on my game. But in the lead up to a game… WOW I am nervous.

Knowing this, I am working hard to try and eradicate this element of my pre-game. I don’t want to feel like I can’t trust my left knee. I also don’t want my mind to play tricks on me before a roller derby game, making me question my strength.

Pre-game, post-injury nerves

I have previously read Mind Gym but I struggled to take exercises from it. A friend recommended The Mental Edge, so I’ve started reading that. I’m personally finding this book much better than the Mind Gym. But having only started a week before my weekend away with the Brawl Saints I really wasn’t practiced enough to implement what I’d been learning.

As a result, I went into the Newcastle game nervous and twinged my knee in the second to last jam of the game. Thankfully, it feels absolutely fine now, and I skated the next day against Middlesborough without any twinges.

For me, it just reaffirmed how important strengthening my mental game is, as I am 100% sure any future knee niggles will be purely the result of my own overthinking rather than any physical limitations.

So I’m going to focus on this during my off season. I’m going to strengthen my body but also apply a new focus to strengthening my mind, in an aim to get rid of my pre-game, post-injury nerves.

It begins with The Mental Edge and these self-confidence tips delivered straight to your inbox by Mark Tyrell, and after some other resources it results in a more mentally resilient Flo feeling more excited than nervous before a game!

If you have any tips on the mental side of roller derby please let me know! I’d be really interested to hear them. You can comment below or email me at tonimay@averageadventures.org.

Roller Derby Newbie Tips

Welcome to roller derby! You’ve just joined an incredible community and an awesome sport. Isn’t roller skating fun? Aren’t those feelings of nerves and excitement thrilling? And the leg ache the next day infectious?

I look back at my newbie days with nostalgia. Here are some roller derby newbie tips I’d give to myself if I was a newbie again. Maybe they’ll help somebody else?

Everybody is new. Be new together

The likelihood is that you’ve joined a league that runs a fresh meat programme and dedicates time to coach their newbies in a set session. This is fabulous! You’re learning from other people’s experience and dedication in a safe group of other complete roller derby newbies. Safety first, both in terms of skating and learning!

But sometimes it’s hard to allow yourself just to be new. Embrace the foolery and share it with those around you.

When you rock up to your first couple of sessions, everybody will be feeling nervous, foolish and unconfident. Ditch the stiff upper lip. Relax!
One. You’ll learn
Two. You’ll make those around you feel less foolish, and this can only result in a more relaxed session and the potential to make friends.

That last bit, in particular, is key; it’s likely those who join the roller derby journey at the same time as you will end up being your teammates.

Gear is good, but it doesn’t show commitment

Progress relies on practice firstly. It’s easy to jump ahead in roller derby.

Using your league’s spare kit (if that’s a service offered) can be a real incentive to purchase your own roller skates or protective pads. I remember the smells of my old league’s spare kit, despite it being washed before our fresh meat group started. Sometimes it’s just engrained.

But make sure you’re committed to the sport first of all. Roller derby gear can be expensive and having your own kit after three practices doesn’t really show commitment. Especially if those three practices were spaced out over two months!

Take the time to see if the sport is right for you. Turn up. Try new things. Borrow skates to see what’s right for you. Buying new skates will not magically make you brilliant, or make your coach think ‘wow this person’s committed’, but practice will.

And when you do buy new skates make sure you try some on first. Visit your local roller derby shop and find out what skates are right for you.

Embrace feedback – all kinds

This one is the hardest. Or can be!

I mean when you’re trying to do something new do you want feedback from somebody telling you how to do it better? We’re hard programmed in adult life to feel shy, embarrassed or defensive when people start feedback to us, especially when you haven’t asked for it.

Feedback is invaluable and how you respond to it can make or break your progress. If you find yourself constantly justifying yourself to your coaches, maybe look at whether these justifications are valid. Listen to what your coach was saying exactly and try it the way they’re advising. Embrace the challenge of using feedback.

Coaches are invested in making you good. They want you to be their teammate. They want you to invest in the league. They want you to succeed under their coaching.

Take away the emotion. Reflect on what you’re told and what’s the harm in adjusting?

 Roller Derby Newbie Tips

Roller Derby Blog

Be a fan of the sport

This is a gigantic tip I would give anybody, even veterans who have plateaued. Be a fan of the sport you play!

Skating is amazing. One of the most fun things to do. Hitting people is pretty fun too. The strategy is incredibly challenging in a fun way.

But are you a fan of the sport? It makes a big difference.

Ask teammates what their favourite games are (here are some of mine) and where you can watch them.

Watching the game and being invested in the game come from being a fan. The amount of things I’ve learned from watching footage. A number of skills I didn’t even know I needed from being a fan of the sport is astronomical. Being a fan makes me invested in roller derby even on the hardest days.

So learn your Suzy Thunders and your Kid Rock (get it?)

Look after yourself

Being motivated by your team or competition to make a team or pass skills is fantastic. It can make you train harder, turn up to practice regularly, become a fan. But don’t forget to look after yourself.

I didn’t, and I got injured. I pushed myself. I didn’t stretch. I didn’t exercise correctly, and I didn’t allow myself a rest day and I got injured. Horror stories aside. Seriously take some time for yourself, stretch, eat enough and exercise for roller derby. Don’t do roller derby as exercise – not if you really want to play it well.

And rest days are not cheat days. They’re super important too.

Follow my Instagram for pictures of my roller derby adventures or follow me on Twitter to read about my experience transferring to London Rollergirls, and constantly fan girling.