Mental Toughness and Roller Derby

A few weeks back, I had a really terrible scrimmage night. I was trying new things every jam, but none of them were working, and I felt like I was in the penalty box more than I was on the track. I couldn't shake anything off, couldn't leave any jam behind. Each trip around in the ref lane piled onto the next until I almost burst, snapping at the three different NSOs who told me I was soon to foul out of scrimmage. I couldn't let it go, and every time I took the track again after leaving the sin bin, I came in too hot, guns blazing, something to prove, which inevitably landed me right back where I started for another sit-down.

Everybody knows that everybody has bad days. You know it, but that doesn't always mean you can convince yourself of it in the midst of one, especially if you are prone to anxiety and overthinking like I am. It takes a certain skill set to be able to take a deep breath and evaluate what is making you feel bad in the moment, rather than later after a shower and a beer and some time away. That skill set is often referred to as "mental toughness," or the ability to roll with the punches when your brain gets to kicking its own ass.

Roller derby has taught me how to translate this mental toughness into the way I deal with problems or just all-around shitty days in my everyday life. Mental toughness is something athletes talk about a lot, and not just in roller derby. My team has recently passed around a copy of Mind Gym, a book about inner excellence in athletics. This season, I’ve been trying to figure out what it means to be on the teams that I’m on, and how to find my next steps in my derby career. One of the ways I’ve been trying to do that is by assessing what derby has taught me so far. Roller derby has taught me that you can do anything for two minutes. And then on to the next two minutes. Roller derby has taught me that when that whistle blows, either to start or to end the jam, everything else can (and should) fall away. Roller derby has taught me how to recenter myself in the midst of the chaos, because in gameplay you can't escape for a few quiet breaths alone in the bathroom—unless, of course it is halftime, in which case you should absolutely take advantage of that opportunity. 

One of the final parts of mental toughness that I've picked up through roller derby is the idea of the zen bench. In derby, it's the concept that when you're getting ready to play your next jam, you probably shouldn't watch the game or let yourself get riled up about it. Focus inward, take a deep breath, and plan some small thing that you yourself want to do in the next jam. This is much easier said than done, of course, but roller derby has taught me that it is ok for things to be hard, and for you not to be great at things that are easy to say. Because at the end of the day, mental toughness isn’t about being tough all the time. It’s about the reset. And you can do anything for two minutes, especially if you learn how to reset yourself.

Sonnet Boom is a Bruiser/Brawlternate who would write and roller skate at the same time if it were feasible, but her trainers keep telling her not to.

Posted on June 29, 2016 .