PRESSURE – TO THRIVE OR FALL?

How to challenge what pressure means to you

People handle pressure in different ways. Some people thrive under pressure while others crumble. I was definitely a crumble case! But that all changed. The pressure hasn’t really changed much, the situations aren’t much different, but something changed, my mentality. It wasn’t about the external pressures any more, but how I internally viewed and processed those. During a mental conditioning session we had as part of our training for the tournament season in 2013, the coach said, “Pressure is something you put on yourself, it’s how you deal with it that counts. See it as a challenge, not as a negative thing, a threat.” My buddy and fellow brawling jammer put these words into a catchy saying which I now repeat to myself often:

Pressure – a challenge to meet, not a threat of defeat.

At first I thought it all sounded sensible and could see the logic, but I still couldn’t apply it to my mentality. This was because I did not truly understand what it meant to my game and my journey. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I had a really tough patch in derby. There was a lot of self doubt and I questioned if I even still enjoyed what I was doing. You may be asking yourself similar questions? You may be beginning to let that self doubt creep in every now and then, don’t worry, we have all been there.

Although there were lots of smaller factors and triggers feeding into the downward spiral, there was a larger underlying problem. PRESSURE.

It took me a long while to see this and to be able to begin to heal from this. But the moral of the story is YOU can come back from this, STRONGER then you have ever been.

Graph to help visualise what I’m trying to articulate, and because, secretly, everyone loves a graph!

Here are some signs and tips from my personal experience:

IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM

You can’t fix a problem unless you know what it is. Try not to focus on the smaller issues, instead try and see the connections and how this fits into the bigger picture.

For me, I had a lot of injuries and a few situations had knocked my confidence, but the problem was that I put far too much pressure on myself. I had made Brawling, and then made the tournament roster. At the start I didn’t put pressure on myself as much, I was the newbie and just happy to be there. But as I had more and more success, I felt as though I had to be at the top of my game straight away, in order to be rostered, get track time and get the best results for my team. When we had a bad game, I took this personally, I put that pressure on myself. I was trying to run before I could even walk, and that’s never a good idea. Once I looked back on this trend and realised what the underlying factor was, I was able to take the next step.

RELIEVING THE PRESSURE

So you may have just been rostered for a team/game, given more track time or you have made coaching committee, maybe made it into main league or passed your minimum skills. You have been working your butt off but now you’ve made it you can breathe a little right? Wrong. Now its a battle for the next challenge. But wait, it’s against all those other awesome skaters who have the same goals. If you don’t do it before them, then it will never happen and your derby journey will be over before it even truly began, right?…. Also wrong.

Yes, the pressure is always there, but that’s a good thing. Sport is competitive and with that comes the pressure. It’s what drives you and helps you grow and challenge yourself. But this pressure is internal. No one else is putting that on you. No one is saying, YOU HAVE TO MAKE THIS ROSTER OR ELSE. That’s all you (unless someone is saying that, then they should go stuff it cos they are being big meanies). So this is where you need to turn that voice into a positive one. Take the fear away, the idea of defeat. It doesn’t exist. It’s just another challenge, something to work towards. A goal. Its an opportunity to learn and develop. There is nothing greater then that!

It’s okay to not be ready yet, it’s okay to take your time and learn and develop. When you are ready, you will get the opportunities you want. You have to trust your leadership and yourself. Concentrate on getting yourself ready, on being the best athlete you can be, let that be your goal, not a specific game/tour/tournament. If you’re not ready… do you really want to play? I know I don’t!

These are the things I began to tell myself. I realised I was trying so hard to already be at the top, I hadn’t stepped back to see how far I had come already and that it was okay to still be learning and developing because no one expected anything else from me at that point, Only I did.

CLEAN THE SLATE

So now you have identified the problem and you have shifted your mentality, how do you put this into practice? Set goals, Small goals to develop your skills and strengthen your weaknesses. Make them fun too, it makes a big difference. See more on goal setting HERE.

Talk to your team and leadership about your learnings and your new goals. Tell them what you are working on so they can see how you are developing. Reach out and see if anyone has similar goals, you can practice with a buddy and keep each other on the right path.

Reflect on your journey and appreciate how far you have come and what you had to overcome, but don’t dwell. The past is the past. To lose is to actually gain. You win and you learn, there is no lose!

Get yourself a notepad, set goals on your way to training, write down ‘Power words’ to remind you of things to practice and focus on at training such as fast feet, dig in, power etc. Write down inspiring quotes to read before a game or scrimmage.

And remember, it isn’t a race, all that matters is that you are aiming for the same finish line, it doesn’t matter how quickly you get there, it only matters that you keep moving forward. These are all things I learned the hard way. Hopefully these insights can help you avoid the same pitfalls.

Photo by John Hesse

 

RECOVERING FROM INJURY

Lessons learned by an injured athlete.

The worst thing that can happen to an athlete, is injury. It is the one thing we do everything in our power to avoid, but playing a full contact sport it is sometimes, unavoidable.

So far, non of my injuries have been too serious (such as breaks and concussions etc.), but they have still had a major impact on my performance. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I can hopefully share some of the things I have learned, so that others can try and avoid the same pitfalls I have encountered on my journey so far. Injuries have been something I’ve had to overcome on many occasions, but generally seems to heal just in time for important games. That was until last year at champs, I strained my hip flexor in the warm up to the game, I couldn’t lift my leg without pain and I really let that get to me. I was not mentally tough enough to deal with it, and i didn’t have any alternative jamming styles that would cause less pain while skating. I ended up focusing on my injury, not the game. The rest is history.

If you have skated and not felt 100%, then you will probably understand. You want to play well for your team but every time you step on track you are thinking about your injury, and wondering if you are gonna make it worse, if you will make it through the jam or if you can avoid using the injured body part. You end up with your head out of the game and afterwards, feeling like life is really unfair to deal you that hand….

This is how I felt after champs, it put me in a bad place mentally. I lost confidence and lost focus. It was a downward spiral, one that had me hit rock bottom when I skated in the game for England vs France. I had a bad game, my confidence was already shot and my mental toughness resembled the fragility of an eggshell. This lack of confidence and mental distraction didn’t go unnoticed and I was benched for the Canada vs England game that followed. After I got home from that weekend, I realised that was the point of sink or swim for me. I needed to sort out my mental game and focus. I realised I was not in a good place, it was a downfall triggered by an injury from months before, one I had recovered from physically. I needed to make some changes to my mentality and start my healing there.

I started my recovery by taking the pressure off myself, pressure that was self inflicted. I was rushing to be at the top of my game rather then appreciating how far I had come in a short while or seeing it as an opportunity to gradually grow. This realisation meant I gave myself the time to improve, rather then kicking myself for not being there already or for making mistakes. I spent a lot of time training new skills, and just trying to become the best skater I could be (this process will never stop for me, I can always learn new things). I wanted to let everything else fall into place when I was good and ready, rather then scrambling to be there in a hurry. This really helped and before I knew it I felt stronger then ever and was enjoying skating more then ever before.

The rest of the season went pretty well for me, until 12 days before our playoffs tournament in Evansville, I sprained my ankle at training, twisted it. One of those twists where your foot stays and everything else doesn’t, I sprained the anterior talofibular ligament on my right ankle. In that moment, I thought I was out for playoffs. Everyday I hoped for it to vastly improve, but everyday, it just felt the same. I even encountered days that teased me where it started to feel great, but the following day it had become worse again. I was hoping, and willing it to heal, but my body wasn’t playing ball. I didn’t skate, I went to the gym once or twice for an easy session, I just rested, rested and rested some more.

     PHYSIO/KINESIO TAPE TO SUPPORT MY SPRAINED ANKLE AND SOFT TISSUE DAMAGE THROUGH MY PLAYOFF GAMES!

We flew out on the Wednesday and by Friday I was hopeful. I put my skates on in the morning to test the floor, it felt pretty weak and sore. I didn’t want to do too much as I hadn’t had it taped by our lovely physio (Juke Boxx’s mum, Susie) so I couldn’t know for sure until our game warm up. I had a lot of support from my team and managers. They didn’t write me off, they were trusting me to let them know if it was too sore to skate or affecting my mental game. Their support gave me a lot of confidence and made me more determined to not let it affect me. I had it strapped, and was overjoyed by the result. I COULD SKATE! Almost pain free! I felt discomfort in certain positions, it wasn’t 100%, but it felt good enough to do what needed to be done and for me that was the best thing ever! The challenge now was to NOT think about my injury, not question whether it would hurt in certain positions and to not hesitate.

I went into our first game feeling completely prepared, i didn’t fear my injury, I decided to play this game as a warrior, not a victim. I knew that it was okay to be injured and let my team know. I also knew that if it tweaked mid jam, we have great pivots who could take the star and get us through the jam. I knew that all I had to do was focus on the game, and to ignore my ankle up to the point of pain. Once i had a system in my head, an eventuality for each scenarios, it gave me the confidence to just get on with it.

When I felt discomfort, I just adjusted what I was doing in an instance and pushed the thought straight out my head. From training a variety of skills I was able to use different skating styles that would hurt less but were still effective. And I didn’t beat myself up about it. I approached this injury differently to any other in my past and it worked for me. I realised that when you recover from an injury, it’s both a physical and mental recovery. If you can reprogram your thoughts, you are halfway there.

After playoffs, I spent a further 2 weeks resting, and then 3 weeks rebuilding the strength in my ankle. At champs, it didn’t even pop into my head and by the World Cup, it was almost like I forgot I was ever injured. But even smaller injuries can cause you to drop your head and not skate your best game. By my 7th game at the World Cup, England vs USA (the final), I had a lot of little annoying injuries. Dead legs, pulled hip flexor, bruises and then a skater fell on my calf that completely seized it up for the last 2 games. I felt physically wrecked but on the track, I remembered what I had learned from my sprained ankle, I put those thoughts out of my head and focused on the game. I stopped giving myself a hard time. It worked!

I’m not saying you should ever skate injured, as you run a risk of making it worse. But sometimes even after you are healed, your confidence dwindles and you think about that injury, it can be detrimental to your game. So if you can take anything away from this, it’s to trust your body, focus your mind on the game (being positive is key, push out those negative thoughts that pop into your head) and to not be so hard on yourself. It’s okay to be injured and not be at the top of your game, it’s expected, but 9/10 times, it’s probably your head and not your body holding you back. Train new skills so that you can be successful in a style that doesn’t depend too much on your injured body part. And finally, talk to your team (managers/coaches included) keep them in the loop, be honest with them and yourself about your injury. They are there to support you.

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PROGRESSION – IT’S IN YOUR HANDS

How to take responsibility of your own progression.

In roller derby, and many other sports, it is easy to become dependent on those around you to help you progress as an athlete. When something doesn’t go right or you start to plateau, it’s easy to shift the responsibility of why this is happening. Generally this is not intentional, and you probably don’t even realise you’re doing it. I know I have been guilty of it too.

“We don’t get to ever practice that skill at training”, “we never work on endurance at training” or

“No one is giving me feedback, so I don’t know what I should be doing to improve…” These are some of the phrases I have heard over my time playing sports, as well as venting some of my own frustrations at my lack of progression over the years. But now, I only have one question in response to these. “So, what are YOU gonna do about it?”

That’s right. This is in your hands. It is your progression. Your coaches are trying to please everyone and sometimes that’s going to leave some people unhappy and their needs unfulfilled. The team may have a vision they are working towards that is different from what you need to work on as an individual. This is where you need to take control of your progression. You need to identify what you need to do to improve and make sure that it happens.

I used to get frustrated that I wasn’t feeling pushed, or wasn’t improving the areas I wanted to improve. The more I thought about it, the more I questioned, why would anyone else care about my progression as much as I do?! They are all here trying to improve and progress too, and are focussed on that. Obviously your team and your coach want you to progress and succeed, but your team have to focus on themselves too and your coach on everyone at the same time. It’s unfair to shift that responsibility onto them, and it won’t help you to do so either. Understanding this is only the first step. Here are a few suggestions of where to go from here:

TAKE YOUR TRAINING INTO YOUR OWN HANDS

I don’t mean turn up to training and appoint yourself the coach. I mean go to training with a list of the skills you want to work on. Practice them at any opportunity you get. This could be warm up or during drills that will allow for these skills to be incorporated as well as scrimmage too. Find an area and go outdoor skating, or a local roller rink/skate night where you can go and repeat the skill over and over again. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I spend at least 2-3 hours a week outside of training working on my skating skills. Not because I am told to do this, but because I know it’s necessary in order to improve. If you have friends that also want to improve similar skills, this is great for motivation and for general fun! Everything is better when you share it with someone else.

GET FIT FOR DERBY, DON’T USE DERBY TO GET YOU FIT.

Fitness is another area that you need to take hold of. Once you have skated for a while, you get to a base level of fitness in which skating offers, but there is so many tactics and skills that need training for within roller derby, it would be a complete waste of time to use those training sessions as a way to improve your cardio and endurance. You need to work on this outside of training! Join a gym or fitness class, go for long outdoor skates where you include high intensity interval training, lift heavy weights, do home fitness videos such as insanity or T25, to name a few. Even one session a week will be better than none and you will soon feel the difference the more you do outside of roller derby training. The main thing is to have a plan or structure to your training. Talks to people that already do fitness training outside of skating. Rogue Runner of London Rollergirls is a personal trainer by trade, and sells roller derby specific training plans at a very reasonable price. There are also a lot of resources online in how to structure training plans and what exercises to include. It is up to you to start this research and take the next step towards becoming a machine (or just being able to skate a 2 minute jam without dying).

DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP

As for knowing where you need to improve, If you don’t feel you are getting the feedback you require, ask for it. Talk to your coaches and peers. Ask them to watch you and feedback. Like I said before, everyone has their own focus and may even want feedback themselves. I’m sure they would be more than happy to help you. This is really useful to be able to set goals for yourself as external eyes are great at picking up on things you can’t see. Another great method is to film yourself at training, or during your skills practice. Ask your teammate to record you (phone/GoPro) while you skate in a drill or a jam during scrimmage. This is really handy to analyse your strengths and weaknesses.

Once you take your progression into your own hands, there are no limits, apart from the limits you impose on yourself. So stop standing in your own way, get on it, get out there and be AWESOME!

Featured photo by: Paul Delooze http://www.rollerderbyphotography.co.uk

It’s all about goals

How setting goals can help you improve.

Having a goal, big or small is the most important aspect of development. You need to have something to work towards in order to motivate yourself and to achieve success. It is something that has helped me through the toughest times and kept me on track (unintentional pun).

WHAT IS A GOAL?

A definition of a goal is the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.

There are many other definitions too, mostly including a ball, but we don’t have balls in roller derby (which you have probably had to tell people 100 times) so we will ignore those ones!

There are different types of goals. The ones we are going to talk about are short-term goals, Long-term goals and S.M.A.R.T goals. Each type is hugely important in roller derby, and in developing as an individual skater. You can make goals for yourself, your team and your league and together you can experience successes.

I go to training, free skate and bouts with individual goals. Every single session I have something I want to achieve. This means I am giving myself a chance to always experience some form of success every time I strap my skates on. This has really made a difference for me.

For example, I will go to scrimmage with my short-term (little goals). This may be something along the lines of “today I will stay shallow (not take the outside or inside lanes to get through)” or “I will focus on trying to juke” or even, “I want to do a spin during a jam”.

The reason these little goals are so great, is because they are achievable, so even if you have a really tough session where you never even make an initial pass or score a point. You can go home feeling proud and happy that at least you achieved your goal, you did your spin or your juking was really improving etc.

WHAT IS A SHORT-TERM GOAL?

Short-term goals expect completion in a short time-frame. This time-frame is determined by the bigger picture. So if the larger goal is set to be achieved in 10 years, then a short-term goal may be a month or even a year. Dependant on the context, the time-frame of a short-term goal varies. It could be a minute, hour, day, month or year.

Short-term goals at roller derby could be improving a skill at practice or free skate, improving a strategy, working better with a team mate, learning a new skill, scoring a certain amount of points, avoiding a certain amount of penalties. The list is endless. These are the goals that you should create for every time you put on your skates, in order to keep you motivated and directed. For me, taking goals to free skate and having things I always want to work on has made a huge difference for me.

WHAT IS A LONG-TERM GOAL?

A long-term goal is something you want to achieve in the future. It usually requires time and planning in order to accomplish this. Again, the time-frame is dictated by the context.

Your long-term goal may be to beat a certain team. This would require time put into training and planning your training. You may have lots of short-term goals to help to achieve this long-term goal, such as improving fitness, improving teamwork, strategies and learning new skills. Or your goal may be even bigger than that? You may want to one day play in the WFDTA Championships, which may be a 5 year plan of strategic planning and improvements. Either way, what is important, is having a goal to work towards. Keeping your heads up, your hearts strong and never stop moving towards it.

WHAT IS A S.M.A.R.T. GOAL?

S.M.A.R.T is an acronym to remind you of the important elements in setting an achievable goal. All goals should follow this structure no matter how big or small.

Specific – choose a specific area for improvement, being too general can make something seem unachievable. Equally, being too specific can make you get hung up on the tiny details. (Derby example – “I want to learn to juke in two motions using a fake step then a sprint in the opposite direction” as opposed to “I want to learn to juke”)

Measurable – make sure you are able to quantify your outcomes so that you can track progress. You can ask yourself questions such as how much, how many or how will I know I have achieved it? (Derby example – I want to achieve 5 jukes successfully)

Achievable – make sure you don’t make the goal unrealistic. Think about what it will take to achieve this goal and if that is something you are or will be capable of considering all other factors. You wouldn’t set a goal to achieve 5 jukes in one session if you can’t even stand up on your skates yet. Equally, don’t make it too easy.

Relevant – Choose a goal that matters, will help you towards your bigger goals and achieve the successes that matter to you. Ask yourself if this is the right time to set this goal, if it seems worthwhile or if it is in line with your long-term goals. (Derby example – an irrelevant goal would be setting a goal to do a forward somersault on skates when you would never be able to use this in a roller derby situation)

Time-bound – set a deadline or time limit for your goal. Don’t leave a goal open ended as day to day events and thoughts will take over or seem more urgent. Choose when you want to achieve it and stick to it. Be realistic with your time setting too, to keep it relevant and achievable. (Derby example – Complete 5 jukes by the end of this session, an unrealistic time may be by the end of a single jam [too short – unachievable] or by the end of the year [too long – not relevant]).

So where do you go from here? Make a list. Right now! That’s your first goal. Write down what you want to achieve next time you are at training. Give yourself between 1 and 3 goals to start with. If you achieve them, expand on them or create new goals. Do this EVERYTIME. Soon you will see how quickly you progress once you are always experiencing success. No matter how big or small!

Never say never

How to be at the top of your game.

4 years ago, I couldn’t have even imagined what my life would look like today. I would have never pictured I would be skating for London Brawling the 3rd best team in the world (current rankings), skate for Team England and live in an amazing city, full of great people and brilliant friends. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to play my sport at the highest level and constantly feel inspired by those around me.

This is because, when I started roller derby in 2010, my biggest goal was to learn to cross over, skate backwards, do a transition or complete my 25 laps (now 27) in 5 minutes. That’s what mattered to me, the small achievable goals. It’s the small goals that you set, that are the most important. They are the ones that will someday make you the best skater you can be.

Starting out as fresh meat is exciting but difficult. You end up looking at skaters that can do all the things you can’t, and making it look so easy. It’s easy to let this dishearten you and to feel like you will never be ‘that’ good. But instead of putting that pressure on yourself and comparing yourself to others, you have to see it as a challenge, not a threat! A key point to understand is that everyone is different, everyone learns in different ways, at different rates, come from different sporting backgrounds and have different strengths and weaknesses. This is why you can’t compare yourself to others whilst learning, there are too many variables. Remember, it isn’t a race, all that matters is that you are aiming for the same finish line, it doesn’t matter how quickly you get there, it only matters that you keep moving forward.

Image of when I first started playing roller derby 2010 (left) and image from WFTDA Playoffs 2013 at Fort Wayne (right)

The best thing to do is set your own goals, and work at achieving those. Everyone has to start somewhere. You see skaters, doing apex jumps and spinning around an opponent as if they could do it in their sleep. But you didn’t see how that skater got there. The hours of practice, the hundreds of falls and failures, the blood, sweat and sometimes tears. You just see the polished move, executed so perfectly. This is why you can NEVER SAY NEVER. These skaters were probably looking at other skaters when they first started roller derby and wishing that one day they would be as great.

Believe you can and youre halfway there.” – Theodore Roosevelt

You have to have some self-belief, motivation and a hunger to learn. If you have those, you will hit the ground running! Take any opportunity you can to learn. If you have 15 minutes at the start of the session while everyone else is kitting up, use it to practice a new skill or perfect an existing one. And remember, never hope for it more than you work for it.

Featured photo by: Paul Delooze http://www.rollerderbyphotography.co.uk

Article image (2013 playoffs): Sean Murphy http://girlsofderby.com