Roller Derby* is a physical game, but like most sports, most interesting is what is going on inside a Rollergirl’s mind.
Rollergirls must face and overcome fears every time we enter the track. There’s fear of falling, fear of ridicule, fear of failure, fear of losing and fear of real physical harm. We face these fears in front of our loved ones, and sometimes in front of crowds of thousands. When a Rollergirl learns to skate, she must set aside these fears, or risk them coming true.
Skating like a Rollergirl means pushing ourselves beyond our comfort barriers. Our motivation has to come from a place of excitement and an opportunity to learn something new. Instead of focusing on the ways we may fail or lose, we imagine how awesome it will feel to execute that turn-stop or jump that apex. A Rollergirl focuses on where she wants to go, not where she’s afraid. That means never looking at the ground. When rounding the track we look to the next corner, always anticipating our next move.
At the core of a Rollergirl state of mind is knowing we may be knocked over at any moment on the track. A Rollergirl must first become comfortable falling. Our gear is necessary for physical safety, and reminds us we are allowed to fall. As we become comfortable with falling, we take more risks. We learn that every fall is an opportunity to stand up and try again. The Japanese proverb “Fall seven times, stand up eight” is physically true for Rollergirls.
Roller Derby radically changes our appreciation for our bodies. Our focus is on how best to utilize each part, no matter the size or shape. As women we get much of our strength in our hips, thighs and butt. When hitting or being hit, Rollergirls lead from this source of power. Our lower halves weren’t made just for babies – they provide us with stability, strength and confidence. There’s no time to worry about a muffin top when blocking a jammer or scoring a winning point.
Rollergirls are aggressive, despite the fact that as girls we are taught to be nice and likable. There’s an obvious tension here, which may explain the skirts and makeup. A great thing about Roller Derby is we keep aggression on the track, where we give each other permission to do so safely. Whatever happens on the track stays on the track. Still, years of being told to be nice to your friends is difficult to overcome without practice. My Jr Rollergirl step-daughter handles this by imagining her opponents as pieces of bacon, rather than her friends.
Rollergirls practice all of this for hours every week. We practice so our bodies move without thought. We practice so our feelings aren’t hurt when our derby hero knocks us across the track. We practice so we learn to lose gracefully, and win with humility. We practice to anticipate the unexpected. We learn the only things we control are our minds, bodies and how we react to the unexpected around us.
The last time I fell playing roller derby, I didn’t get up right away, and not on my own. It took me a couple years and a hip surgery before I put skates back on. I no longer play competitively, but every week during derby season I strap on my gear and coach the next generation of Rollergirls. The challenges I face as a coach are different than as a player, but that’s for another post.
* Roller Derby is a grassroots, full-contact sport made up of hundreds of leagues around the world. We play by a unified set of rules, with referees and scorekeepers. Skaters don’t get paid to play. We play because we love it. To learn more about roller derby, visit WFTDA and DerbyNewsNetwork. Roller Derby is in your town and you will love it too.
** If you’re in Seattle this weekend and interested in hearing a little more about roller derby, come see me and many other interesting guests speak at Ignite Seattle. Fremont Outdoor Cinemas, 7:30ish.