Archive for March, 2009


Skating off the Pre-Bout Jitters

   Posted by: Bitches Bruze    in Ego

Note: This blog post was originally published March 11 for a derby sister of mine who skates with the Green Mountain Derby Dames in honor of her first bout. This is the original version, but an edited and improved version will be appearing in the winter edition of Five on Five magazine this year.

I remember well my very first scrimmage. I was with the Albany All Stars about 3 months when we had a practice swap with the Hudson Valley Horrors. I had donned the baggy orange pinny and stood, knees shaking, on the line as the inside blocker. My stomach was in knots and I wondered if my legs would hold as I took my first few toe stop steps after that whistle. By turn three the adrenaline took hold and, honestly, I haven’t again experienced the stage fright of bouting many of my derby sisters experience in their first bout or fifteenth.

Even if you’re “cool as a cucumber” at a bout, a significant percentage of your teammates (and fortunately opponents) are experiencing stage fright. Even experienced skaters experience these symptoms.

  • Sensory Deprivation – inability to see or hear well, and that distracting pivot panty can exacerbate the problem.
  • Lack of Coordination – that booty block that worked so well at practice this week is narrow and stiff legged and forget being able to work that lateral movement.
  • Trembling – weakness in the knees, uneven breathing, excessive sweating which will negatively affect lateral movement, hitting/taking hits, and the look and smell of your uniform and gear.
  • Dry throat and mouth – which reduces the amount of in-pack cross-talk and shouting is out of the question.
  • Sudden tiredness / Need to urinate – I can’t possibly go in this jam, I need to go pee NOW!
  • Distorted sense of time – Is this jam really only lasting 2 minutes?

The Cure
Remember that stage fright is a psychosomatic response. It is your mind that creates this physical response in your body. Take time as part of each practice to work on mental conditioning as you would work on your body’s muscle memory and your team’s strategery. Nothing’s perfect to cure the bout jitters, but here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Bouts are an act of giving. If you have made the roster, it means you have put in the time to take your skills, combine them with your teammates, another team, and the audience to create the final product of roller derby – the bout. There is real power in this thought of giving of yourself because you are a critical component in this event – your presence much more so that whatever your ultimate performance is.
  • Pre-think the after party. If you’ve been to an after party before – either as a skater or as a helper – you know the emotional energy that is there. Take inventory of those emotions – the feeling of well-being you have from having been a part of the bout, the fun you had playing like a kid, the big hits, the great jams, the whiffs – and bring that emotion to the beginning of the game. No one is sad at the after party. Everyone is having fun celebrating a game that all enjoyed.
  • The pressure of performance improves your rate of learning better than a dozen practices. Know that this bout will make you a better skater for the next one.
  • Use the crash zone like an invisible bubble. Inside this bubble is your space and you share it with your teammates, your opponents and your mutual referees and officials. Those people are all happy you are there and are all looking forward to being a part of this with you. Whatever happens outside that bubble doesn’t matter.
  • Everyone in the audience will cheer when you fall or when you take someone else out – whether you do it illegally or not. For whatever reason our nerves never seem to be concerned about us doing absolutely nothing. Remind your nerves that anything you do that makes you stand out, even just for a moment, and even (or especially) if it’s you sprawled on the track, that’s what the audience came for and that’s what makes good derby.
  • Consider your first jam a throw away. In fact, each jam is its own jam and has nothing to do with the jam before (except people stuck in the box). Allow yourself that first jam to get a feel for your wheels on the track, the sense of the skaters around you (yes, smell is one of the senses you should pay attention to as well), the electricity in the room, and the sounds of the whistles. The condition of the track changes from the warm-up time – you have opponents and likely the room is at full throttle. It might be dryer or sweatier or who knows what. Zone in to the bubble and become a part of it while letting it become a part of you.
  • Have a pre-bout ritual. I always keep a talisman just for bouts. In the past I’ve used hula girl guitar picks, but my current talisman is a bullet I wear on a cord around my neck. It goes on last. I also put my “mask” on early – before any of my clothing and gear. Usually I apply it in the car on the trip to the bout and put sun glasses on over it. Have an order for putting on your gear and focus on that order. Take time to have an emotional and sensual inventory as each item goes on – elbow pads, knee pads, makeup, socks, skates, helmet, mouth guard. How do they feel? What practice experience does each one evoke. Focusing on these aspects of yourself as an athlete keep your mind from wandering to the bigger picture of “the terrible unknown.”
  • It will help if your team has a pre-bout ritual too – with a particular way of skating in and cheering together. Relying on a sense of the familiar – your pads, your gear, your team, your space – will help calm your nerves which are mostly worried about what you don’t know.
  • If this is a travel bout, try to make a point to visit a bout there before you compete there. If you cannot, familiarize yourself with the venue through photos and videos the team will likely have on the Web. Have a teammate scout or even have your interleague coordinator get a description of the venue. Where are the changing rooms? What should we expect? What kind of access to water will there be? What kind of surface are we skating on? What kind of wheels do you recommend? Are there environmental factors to consider? Where is the audience? Is it a standard WFTDA track with a full 10’ crash zone?

Whatever you do, remember, this bout is not about you – it’s about your team. You’re there to show the audience about derby and anything you do while on skates meets their expectations. You will find your zone where everything outside the crash zone disappears. After the bout you can try to remember if it was the second, third or tenth jam – and then kick back the beverage of your choice with your opponents and remember just how absolutely, incredibly fun it all was and begin to look forward to the next one.