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Published on January 19th, 2012 | by Hot Quad

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How To Compete When You’re Totally Outclassed

There comes a point in every derby girl’s career where she begins to play derby with and against the very women who taught her how to play derby. It’s a terrifying moment. It seems like such a short time ago that we were being taught to duck walk (back when duck walks were hard) and now the woman who taught you how to duck walk is salivating at the opportunity to run your ass all over the track.

The other day I found myself in a drill at practice acting as the jammer in a one on one blocking drill. I might have gotten around except that the player I was up against took two seconds to stare me straight in the eye and all I could think was, “Wow. You were so amazing at regionals.” In that moment she had me before ever knocking me out and we both knew it.

This can’t continue. I can’t be a fan girl and a competitor. The reality is that when you’re new you’re constantly forced to skate against players whose skills and grasp on the game far exceed your own. I suspect this is sometimes true for more advanced skaters as well. It makes sense then, to develop some mental strategies to help you win even when you’re bound to lose. To help formulate those strategies, I went to “Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence” by Gary Mack with David Casstevens.

Confidence counts. Life requires that you formulate some sort of opinion about yourself, so you might as well decide now that you’re awesome. If your opponents are already faster, stronger and more agile than you then there is no reason to give them the mental advantage as well. If you believe that you are an effective player who can give them a run for their money, you are much more likely to be that player. According to Mind Gym, “simply believing in yourself doesn’t mean you’re always going to win. But believing in yourself can help enable you to put yourself into a position to win.”

Visualize. Spend some time on a regular basis imagining yourself skating. In your “Mind Gym” you’re never tired, you never fall and you can execute every move with absolute perfection. See yourself skating against someone much better than you and beating her off the start, knocking her down or pushing her out of bounds. It’s not an exercise in delusions of grandeur, it’s the mental preparation you
need to win someday. If you can’t see success in your mind’s eye, you’ll never get there. Also, when you do skate against that player and execute your strategy successfully, you don’t want to have to take
two seconds to think, “shit, I can’t believe that worked!”

Just say thank you. Bear in mind that your teammates and league mates really do want their fresh meat to succeed. These women haven’t built you up and taught you all that they know just to knock you down; at least not figuratively. It’s easy to brush off compliments or dismiss them in your own mind for a variety of imagined reasons. Instead, say thank you and assume that if someone said it they meant it.

Surprise them. You don’t actually have to be a better player than your opponent, you just have to be better than they think you’re going to be. One of the only advantages of being new is that no one’s really sure how you’re going to behave in a scrimmage. What your opponents are probably expecting is for you to play it safe. Surprise them, bust a move, see what happens. You know what you’re going to do and they do not. When you do something unexpected you have the added
advantage of their slowed reaction time.

Redefine success. It’s hard to play well when you feel like you’re losing, so pick a skill or strategy you can execute and focus on it. When you do that you have an area where you’re winning, no matter the score. I have one coach who recommends only two things for fresh meat skaters: stay on your feet and don’t let anyone pass you on the left because you’re giving them the easier path (thanks Harm). Whatever it is, own that skill and congratulate yourself for doing it well.

At the Roller Derby World Cup last December, Team Scotland played against Team USA and ended the bout scoring just one point. If you haven’t seen the footage let me assure you, that one point will have you on your feet and in tears. They redefined success, appeared to be having the time of their lives, and went home heroes. You can do the same.

Persistence pays. You will never get better if you quit trying. Mind Gym says, “…the most successful people are those who look at setbacks as opportunities for comebacks.” If you’re the player who falls down the most, you’re also the player who’s the best at bouncing back up. If you’re the player most often picked as the ‘goat’ stuck behind a wall of blockers, eventually you’ll also be the best at
breaking up walls. If people like to hit you, you’ll either learn agility or counter-blocking out of sheer necessity. It’s OK to get discouraged, we all do. Take whatever time you need, find the fire in your heart and just keep skating.

Want to pursue more derbyness? Check out my new blog.

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  • Crystal

    Thank you….I don’t skate but totally applied this to where I am now. Outclassed but not knocked out – you have no idea how mich I needed this at this very moment.

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