Mental Toughness

Image via Quotefancy

When I first started boot camp, I got really frustrated with everything that I did wrong and beat myself up mentally. This continued until I passed my skills test and practiced with the vets for a few months. 

Something switched. 

Whether I was participating in a drill or scrimmaging, my mind was completely clear anytime I was on the track. My mind was no longer racing with thoughts of how much I sucked and how far I had to go, nor was I comparing myself to others. I focused on the drill at hand with all of my might. Focus is a very soothing feeling that allows me to remain calm at all times. The only things I might think are to remind myself to “keep pushing” and that “I can do this.” This newly obtained mental clarity and focus allows me to have full awareness of where everyone is on the track, focus on where my body is and how it’s moving, and see holes that I either need to fill or bust through. 

As soon as I step off the track for a water break, I catch myself wandering to destructive thoughts. I am quickly able to reel these thoughts in and think of positive things I did and constructively think about what skills I want to work on next. I refuse to beat myself up over imperfections. When I step back on the track, these thoughts are gone and I am able to focus on the game again. This has carried over to my off-skates training and even to my daily life as a graduate student. Most of the time I am able to have mental focus on the task at hand. When I take breaks, I allow my brain to wonder, but always bring it back to positive thoughts. 

However, I’d like to note that there are times when my brain is mean and I am unable to refocus on my own. At these times, I lean on my leaguemates and they are able to help me feel better again. 

Tips for mental clarity/focus/positivity on and off the track:

  1. Drill: focus on the task at hand. For example, if it’s a bracing drill you may want to focus on your communication and staying low. 
  2. Scrimmage: pick one skill and focus on that. For example, your goal may be to communicate the whole jam. Note that communicating is the easiest way to stay focused on the game. You are forced to be aware of where the jammer is, where your friends are, and where the other team is. You are focused on what needs to happen next such as bracing, recycling, etc. 
  3. Off-track (sidelines/bench): think about what you did well during that jam or drill, and tell at least one friend what they did well at too! This allows you to practice your mental awareness and focus on the positives to stop kicking the puppy*. 

When you don’t nail a drill or don’t do as well as you hoped to in a game, think about what you did well and what you can do to improve that skill. Then practice, work hard, you will get it! Like derby skills, having a good mental game takes practice. Be kind to yourself. Also, encourage others to be kind to themselves. When you notice someone is kicking their puppy, tell them something good they did and that this is just practice. 

*Kicking the puppy is a common phrase in derby culture that was first described by Bonnie D. Stroir in the podcast titled “The Puppy Talk.” Your self-esteem is like a puppy. If your response to a puppy’s bad behavior is to be mean and kick it, then the puppy will likely be very timid and not listen to you. Just like a puppy, if you treat yourself poorly you will feel bad, be discouraged to try that skill again, and will make yourself feel worse by more negative self talk (negative feedback loop). If you treat yourself well with encouragement and positive-reinforcement, your self-esteem will grow and you will grow as a skater (positive feedback loop). 

Erlenmeyer Smash is a 31-year-old grad student who loves to lift heavy things and cuddle her Chihuahua.

Posted on March 2, 2016 .