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Published on September 4th, 2012 | by Daphne Du Gorier

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The Art of Falling Down by Daphne du Gorier

Something weird has happened to my league.

I fell at practice the other week. I was trying to land a 360, tripped over my wheels and ate track. Awkward, but it happens. I got to my feet quickly, ready to brush it off with a laugh just as two of my leaguemates skated past me.

“Nice one, Daphne,” one of them said.

“Keep it up!”

Getting a metaphorical high-five for falling over? Is it some kind of consolation? “You looked like a moron, but hey, at least you didn’t crack your jaw open!” Talk about not knowing how to take a compliment. I had no idea how to respond, but by the time I was back up on eight wheels they were long gone anyway.

Our training committee seemed to have the same idea. Master a skill and they’ll give you a nod of acknowledgement. Fall down about fifty times trying to crack it and they look ready to award you a gold medal. When confronted about their enabling behaviour, they didn’t pull any punches. “Falling impresses us,” they said. “If you’re not falling, you’re not pushing yourself enough and your improvement will be limited.”

But falling is bad, isn’t it? No one wants to faceplant. It’s embarrassing and you risk injury. Falling is a sign that you’ve messed up. At least, that’s what I’ve always thought.

It seems like maybe I’ve got it wrong.

Our coach (who insists I mention his hair in this article – I don’t know why. It’s not like we ever see it since it’s under his helmet) likes to get us thinking about what really makes a great derby player, or a great athlete of any kind. Sure, attendance is a major factor; natural ability and athletic history also play a part. However, over time, the gap between people that on paper should be skating at a similar level starts to widen. Why? What makes the Suzy Hotrods and the Bonnie Thunders? When everything else is the same, what separates our levels of skill?

The way our coach explains this, is that some people simple get more out of their hours on wheels because how they spend it. Some people coast around the track at practice, as if on a holiday stroll – it’s no surprise when those people don’t improve. Other people use every second of practice and they certainly see results. However, the largest improvement is seen in those who are constantly pushing themselves and work at the edge of what they’re capable of.

And when you push yourself outside your skating comfort zone, two things happen: you fall a lot and you improve.

After understanding this, everything changed in our league and I joined the falling revolution. We started to see that we have to fail at a new skill ninety nine times before we kill it the hundredth time. We get that we have to push ourselves and really struggle if we want to see improvement. And most of all, we now understand that if we want to skate to the very best of our ability, we have to be prepared to eat track, to look stupid, and to fall.

It’s not that we try to fall, and we certainly don’t skate recklessly; there are more than enough injuries in derby without adding more. Instead, we try to know our limits better and appreciate that trying and failing is vital to finally nailing it.

So nowadays when I see someone fall, I don’t throw a quip as a pass them by (I know, I’m awful). I don’t even give them a sympathetic smile or reassure them that no one saw it. I give them a high five and remind myself if they’re falling while I’m just cruising, I’m the one doing something wrong.

Daphne du Gorier has been skating with the Birmingham Blitz Dames in England for two years now. She is a practicing Muslim and has her own blog, where she writes about \derby road trips and baking vegan cupcakes. When she’s not skating or blogging, she’s asking people if they’ve read her latest blog about skating.

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