A Rollergirl state of mind

Roller Derby* is a physical game, but like most sports, most interesting is what is going on inside a Rollergirl’s mind.

Photo By Joe Schwartz

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.

Fail up and Blog

These are shower thoughts I’ve compiled on reasons I don’t blog:

  • Overwhelming and paralyzing desire to impress you with my totally original and unique thoughts.
  • Fear that I do not have original or unique thoughts.
  • Too many subjects. Too little time to write.
  • Too many thoughts but can’t focus long enough to write more than 140 characters  (or Why I Tweet but not Blog).
  • Don’t want to be judged.
  • I get annoyed when people disagree with me.
  • If I never write, I’ll never fail.

I have paralyzed myself over-thinking writing about my thoughts.

James Altucher’s 33 Unusual Tips to Being a Better Writer kicked me in the butt. His writing is entertaining, simple, insightful and shocking in a fun way, like that cold plunge after soaking at a Russian sauna. His advice has demystified a subject I’ve built up over so many years.  One point especially slayed me with his simplicity –

Don’t be afraid of what people think

13+ years of public education never supported those statements.

I wasn’t taught to fail. My body, thought processes, notions of time and reflexes have been to prevent failure. I am an expert at picking apart all ways others have failed. The idea that one day I’d be doing the same never hit home. Sometimes I do the wrong thing. Sometimes I lose. Sometimes I didn’t try as hard as I could, and I lose. Sometimes I put in  everything I have, and I still lose.

At 32, I have a new mantra. I will lose. I will make mistakes. I will have shitty periods of time that are completely outside of my control. People I love will make mistakes, usually completely unrelated to me, or not. I will work with people I don’t understand, that I really dislike, and they will fail, just like me. All of these things will happen, and there is nothing I can do about it.

Having failed in a few areas over the last couple years, I’m now back on my feet and ready to fail at something new. As the Japanese Proverb goes, Fall seven times, stand up eight. I’m ready to fail at blogging!