Coaches Corner ColumbiaQuadSquad.ABoyNamedTsunami

Published on May 24th, 2013 | by DerbyLife


“Natural” Athletes

By Truckstop, Columbia QuadSquad

You say “I’m just not an athlete like CakeyCakeFace,” or “Of course ForkySpoonSpoon can do that move, she’s awesome.” I say…. Nothing.

I’ve overheard so many rollergirls professing their ineptitude over the years. Mostly, people seem to discount themselves because they honestly don’t believe they can do the things that maybe others—their “derby idols”—can do, but this is just simply not often the case.

I’ve been playing team sports since I was a kid; I was marginally good at slow pitch softball in grade school (having caught only one ball with my face), a failed attempt at a C team basketball player in middle school, and a decent chubby soccer player in high school (trying out for varsity but only ever managing to make JV). In short, I played all the team sports I was allowed to play as a girl, and I played them with the defeating complacency that I would not be the kind of athlete that some of my teammates were, yet I persisted. Why? Well, because it was tons of fun, and because I am one of those people who craves a healthy dose of camaraderie with her competition. Welcome to team sports.

In college I found rugby. Oh man, rugby. To understand it, you really need to go find yourself a rugger. Neither the game or the bond can be described in an article (much like our beloved derby!) The saying about understanding rugby—“It’s like trying to explain sex to a virgin”—is pretty accurate. What did I learn in rugby? That I could be a badass. Hitting? Check. I’d been waiting to play a legitimate contact sport my whole life. Camaraderie? Why yes, you can go out drinking with your mates after practice, go for it! Competition? Well, let’s just say it was out there… I played against some really great teams that beat the snot out of me. As far as my team, I’ll just say we liked to drink about as much as we liked to practice and leave it there.

Ahhh, Derby. Derby, derby, derby. Boy am I glad I found derby! It was a big hairy wookie that first introduced me to the thought that I might be suited for derby (thanks Dell!), and it took me exactly 2 seconds into the first bout I ever saw to get hooked. I hadn’t skated since Just Say No in middle school, but I was pretty sure I could swing it with my recent job history of rugby.

In 2007, roller derby bouts in South Carolina was pretty sparse, so starting with an incredible foundation of skating, skating, and more skating was pretty much a given. My team practiced once, then twice a week, but we were thirsty for more. The river walk, local rinks, and (once we got brazen enough) the tall car garages downtown became my team’s regular stomping grounds. We spent whole practices for the better part of a year skating laps around our track, standing on one foot, and other things new skaters now get “bored” with. Everyone wants to “get out there!” “Scrimmage!” and “be a rollergirl!” and man, do I feel you. (Derby PSA—try to avoid venting to a veteran skater that you’re tired of the basics. If they’re any good, they’ve been there too, and probably go back there often)

My first and only skate coach, to date, was a bit of an ass. He told me and my teammates that we couldn’t play roller derby because we couldn’t skate (a brutal revelation to many of us). He said lots of things, actually, and generally he prefaced everything with “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” We couldn’t skate, we couldn’t cross over, we weren’t working hard enough, we didn’t want it enough. Some girls didn’t like this approach. I loved it. I felt like I’d been waiting my whole life for a coach to beat me up and still expect something out of me. Of course, he needed all of us to succeed. There were only a handful of us, and we wanted to play our first bout just as soon as possible! But that didn’t stop my coach from being the most brutally honest coach I’d ever had. We lost girls that way, but we also gained a lot of heart and balls. I can’t speak for my male derby counterparts, but the balls I’ve seen some ladies grow in roller derby have been astounding.

I’ve been playing roller derby for six years now. I love it. Like many of my derby peers, I’ve allowed it to steer many of my life desires and decisions. But what keeps me here—the reason I’m still pushing it—is because I’m not done growing in this sport. I feel I still have more to both learn and give, and I don’t want to be done just yet. Do I see things out there other athletes can do I think I could never do? Sure! But that doesn’t stop me from working on the skills I know I need to build up to those feats. Everything is a building process. No athlete comes by all of their skill simply by being “born that way.” I can certainly buy that some of us have more or less athletic talent—this is the first sport I’ve ever felt somewhat “good” at, and I like to think it has a lot to do with the mixed bag of athletic endeavors I’ve sought after in the past—but I don’t believe anyone who continues to push themselves in this sport is failing at roller derby. Not even a little.

The first derby bout I ever saw was the Carolina Rollergirls at Dorton Arena. From that moment on, my “dream” was to play the Carolina Rollergirls at Dorton Arena. It was that lofty, never-think-I-will-but-it’s-cool-to-dream kind of dream. Then, whaddayaknowit!? that dream came true. I still get all misty and shit when I think about it. But you know what’s neat? By the time we played that bout, our team had laid plans for new dreams to be realized. In the span since I played Carolina, I have also been fortunate enough to play against the talented Atlanta Rollergirls, the Charm City Rollergirls, and all-time favorite Philly Rollergirls (with bonus Teflon Donna action figure!). In short, I have amazed my own expectations.

Stop selling yourself short. Cut out that self-deprecation too. Putting yourself down, or elevating other athletes to god-like status is going to do nothing for your personal growth… as an athlete or as a person. No two of us are going to get the same thing out of derby, but hopefully all of us can take away something we can be proud of. To do that, all we need to do is stop whining about what we can’t do yet, and start focusing on what’s possible.

Me? I need to get off my non-practice day butt and go running. I’ve been reading plenty about how I could be in better shape (hell, there are a zillion wonderful people speaking the praises of cross training and eating better), but alas I’ve been selling myself short. Didn’t I just say to stop doing that?

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  • scarlettpencilpoint

    YES! Last week dur

  • ryanknott

    The flaw in the logic of you can’t tell a person who can’t sing that they don’t sound like Whitney Houston because you’re not trying hard enough is that it makes the assumption that to be a great singer, you have to sound like Whitney Houston.

    There are a lot of great singers out there who don’t sound like her. Hell, even SHE didn’t sound like her before she worked her ass off to get that voice and control.

    Some would say that Tom Waits is a great singer, but he sure as hell doesn’t sound like her.

    The same can be said for derby. To be a star player, you don’t have to be exactly like Bonnie Thunders. You don’t have to be exactly like Atomatrix. You just have to be the best YOU you can be. Work hard and find your niche.

    Yes, there are some people born with athletic bodies, but to truly be a star, you have to work your ass off. That natural advantage is much smaller than most people think and it only takes you so far.

    If you think Bonnie Thunders got to where she is on natural talent alone, I suggest you ask her what her training regimen is. She’s great because she works hard, not because she’s just “good.”

    I’ve been coaching derby for nearly four years now and I can tell you without fear of contradiction that the skaters who achieve the most success are the ones who put the most into it. The ones who don’t are the ones who constantly look to others and assume they can’t succeed like that. I’ve seen so much wasted potential it actually makes me nauseous.

    And it’s not just about skating. What training are you doing off skates? What’s your diet like? Do you smoke? Do you drink? Other substances?

    All of those things matter. And they’re all things YOU can change to affect your success.

    As cliche as it sounds, you get out of it what you put into it.

  • princev4liant

    The voice is a muscle and can be worked out just as easily as the rest of them- with a qualified vocal coach people can learn to sing just like we learn to skate. A bad singer can become a good singer. Maybe not exactly like Whitney Houston, but she’s also not the only person who has ever made a living in music.

    I agree that if you’re trying your hardest you shouldn’t beat yourself up, but you shouldn’t limit yourself with preconceptions about genetics either. I might not ever see the Olympics but that has nothing to do whether I kick ass against the top players on my team someday.

    Or let’s put it this way:

    If I try really hard and I am not as good as those players, and I think, “It must be their innate skills” I will stop looking for ways to improve myself, because I can’t change my genetics.

    If I try really hard and I am not as good as those players, and I don’t attribute it to natural born talent, I might think, “What creative way can I train so that I am as good as them? Where are my weaknesses? What can those amazing players tell me about my weak areas? How can I compensate for them? Where can I grow? Where can I make myself more valuable as a player to the team?”

    More questions come up in the second scenario, which opens the door for more answers. I agree that these questions shouldn’t bring you down, or make you feel bad about yourself, but if you stop asking them you won’t grow as a player.

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