Published on October 22nd, 2014 | by Em Dash0
Photo: Sean Hale aka Hale Yeah
Beating the Fear of Falling
One of the first things a new skater must confront is a fear of falling and getting hurt. Some lucky skaters are fearless by nature, and others have already overcome their natural human fear by playing other aggressive sports. But what about everyone else?
Your body and brain have a very understandable desire to protect themselves from injury. So the first thing you’ll need to do is show yourself that falling doesn’t mean getting injured—even if it might hurt a bit.
Step one in that process is to make sure you have good pads. It’s not enough to resurrect the terrible Walmart pads you used that summer you learned to rollerblade at age 12. Those won’t cut it in a sport that’s as physical and high-impact as roller derby.
Get a good set of kneepads that are meant for roller derby or vert skateboarding and make sure they fit well and don’t shift around when you move. They’ll stretch a bit over time, so too tight is better than too loose. If your kneepads move around or are a bit too big, or you just want more padding between your knees and the track, consider getting a set of knee gaskets also. There are different types of gaskets, but they’re usually a tight neoprene sheath with some form of gel or padding around the kneecap. They have made a world of difference to me over my seven seasons playing derby.
Once you’re well-protected, you should practice falling properly. This will make it less likely that you’ll injure yourself in a fall, and make you feel more in control. Most fresh meat programs spend a lot of time teaching new skaters how to fall properly before getting into contact or advanced skills.
If you’re learning on your own, the first step would be mastering the “controlled lowering” or touching one knee to the floor in a controlled way, then getting back up and continuing on your way. You can practice it in sneakers first. Take a step forward, then gently touch your knee to the ground until you’re balanced on one foot and one knee. Hold that position for a second, then stand up without using your hands. Keeping your core tight by squeezing your abs will make it easier to stand back up. Doing this will help create the move in your muscle memory as well as strengthening your legs and core so it will be easier when you try it on skates. You can wear kneepads or gaskets for this if you want.
After you feel comfortable with that, try it on skates while stopped. It will be more challenging to stay balanced and keep from rolling, but keeping your core tight will help. When you’re doing that like a pro, try doing it from a rolling start.
Make sure you’re sliding and tapping your knee gently, not slamming your knee down on the track—you’ve only got two of those!
Having good pads and learning how to fall safely are two of the most critical ways of preventing injury in roller derby. If you can tell your brain that, you’re well on your way to becoming the fierce, fearless skater that you want to be!
Once you feel good about knee falls, you should to practice falling again and again until it doesn’t phase you.
There are a few other things to think about if you’re still feeling nervous about falling. Thinking about how you’re going to get back up is an advanced move that can help take the fear out of falling. If you’re already planning your next move, your brain won’t have time to freak out or dwell on the fear.
I also find that adrenaline can make me more fearless. Try skating a few hard laps or listening to an awesome pump-up song as you put your pads on.
Finally, work on overcoming the fear with a positive phrase or mantra. If you dwell on your fear, it might end up getting bigger and more unmanageable. If you tell yourself instead that you can fall and everything will be fine enough times, you’ll start to believe it.
What are your favorite tricks for getting over the fear of falling?
This is an excerpt from Em Dash’s upcoming book, Derby Life: Stories, Advice & Wisdom from the Roller Derby World, live on Kickstarter through October 24th.
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