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Published on October 14th, 2011 | by The Rev


Coaches Corner: The Zen Of Roller Derby

There comes a point in a person’s derby career where they feel they plateau, or that they are not progressing or have hit the wall. Then there is the flip side of that. The point where we reach deep into ourselves and we find a true relationship with what we do and love and ultimately we find zen in one form or another in derby.

I set myself out to find not only my own moments of zen because as a coach/player/ref/writer I have had a very busy derby career. I haven’t met zen in all of the aspects of derby yet but it’s a work in progress so I felt I would share some moments of zen with you from myself and some people who I really dig.

As a coach, my moment came at the end of a game. Wench was lined up on the jam line. There were 2 seconds left on the clock. We were up by 5 points. The other team had taken a time out with 2 seconds left. This next jam meant the game. I made eye contact with Wench, nodded and knew what was going to happen.


It felt like an eternity for the refs to call “No pack.”

“NO PACK!” The blockers stood up as I saw the jammers shift on the line.


I knew by watching exactly what Wench was going to do. She shifted left, then right, dropping her shoulder a tiny bit as she wormed through the blockers in pink.


That 5 seconds lasted what felt like a day. Everything was in slow motion. Our blockers were shifting on the line, holding back the pink jammer as Wench snuck up the inside line and was free. She called it by the time she hit the pivot line with zero seconds on the clock. We won. By 5 points.

In her own words, Iron Wench describes it as this,

”Anyone who’s played derby with me knows that I like to be prepared on the line. It’s a ref timeout, they’re chatting away, everyone is dicking around and there I am on my toestops in starting position at the jammer line. This is me, zen. Blocking out the outside world, the crowd, the refs, the other team and even at times my own coach, is how I maintain a calm demeanour on the track. On especially stressful jams, (2nd period, 2 seconds on the period clock, tie game) I’ll tap into instinct/survival mode – “Just go forward” is a favorite mantra.”

Zen is that feeling that overcomes you in derby where you can see whats going to happen before you even do it. Sometimes that moment comes just by looking at your teammates and giving the slightest gesture and having them acknowledge it.

Demanda Riot of B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls, one of my favorite skaters in the entire world writes,

“It’s this moment that happens where you see everything on the track, and you see 2 movements ahead of what will happen. It’s like seeing intent. You know what you will do, what your team mates will do and what the opposing team will do. It’s a flow, like water.

I’ve had this moment a couple times in practice with my team. But only once during at WFTDA sanctioned bout. It was this season at the Golden Bowl vs. Texas. Hit / Juke / Recover. Counter Block / Clear / Clear / Juke / Control Pack Speed. It was sorta amazing series like these.

Meh. I still don’t remember how I referred to it when talking to my co-captain. She knew what I was talking about, that’s all that really matters. The thing is, it doesn’t feel like it’s only happening to ME when it does happen. It’s not singular like that. It’s like feeling the MOST a part of a team ever.”

Sometimes zen isn’t achieved. It is a way of being. It is also a state of mind. Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.

“Sun is warm, grass is green.”

Dr. Spankenstein, President of the MRDA, writes in,

“My zen moment came amidst the frustration and disbelief having been delivered our first loss. We were mostly gathered at the far end of the rink. The second period of the Charm City Championship bout had begun and the crowd had started getting worked up. Watching PVRD’s guys looking totally forlorn or upset – it came to me. I knew what needed to happen.

I stepped forward and congratulated the guys in red from Massachusetts for making the trek all the way down to Baltimore. I explained that it was our first of many bouts, and a positive representation for men’s derby. We needed to keep our heads up and be proud despite our loss. We would go home, train harder, learn more, and be ready next time we competed.

At the time it just seemed like the right thing to do. It alleviated some of the stress we were all feeling and gave us a positive next step. It was something to focus on besides our frustration. That moment would end up defining me as a skater and would continue to drive me, PVRD’s men’s team, and what would become the Men’s Roller Derby Association.”

Sometimes zen is something tangible. Something we can feel with our hands and feet. Then there are times when it overcomes us like a wave. Sometimes its like a warm blanket. Sometimes we can’t describe it with words but know in our hearts and minds what happened and why it happened.

The first time I met Bonnie D.Stroir, I knew that somewhere in the galaxy we were destined to meet. Since first meeting her in 2007 in a parking garage in 120 degree heat she has become one of those people in my life where I feel that sense of universal wellness when I’m around her.

She writes, “I feel like every time my team was “in the zone” it was because each one of us was completely immersed in the moment and nobody was lost in any thought other than exactly what was happening right at that exact moment with all of us.

It feels like a psychic connection. Time slows down, your senses are heightened, and you’re completely tuned in to highest potential.”

So how do we achieve this zen like state? Some choose meditation or breathing exercises. Myself, I do yoga when I get the chance. But trying to explain zen is like trying to explain the universe to an ant.

If you understand, things are just as they are… If you do not understand, things are just as they are…

Editor’s note: If you’re interested in zen, meditation or awareness, a great blog/ podcast that was created in the same collaborative, community powered style of DNN and DerbyLife is Buddhist Geeks.

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