You’re new! You’ve been floating through life – and by some miracle happened upon the magic of Roller Derby. Flabbergasted by the blinding awesomeness, you went out and bought your first setup and started skating with your local league right away, and isn’t it great?!
But the skating is full of movements that you don’t realize will tax your body in ways you’ve never been taxed before. The pushing will drain your muscles, the gear will wear on your skin, and the swiveling will wreck your joints. Before too long, you’re struggling to get to practice and actually practice. Does that sound familiar? I bet it does because I was this person as well. We all come across a point-in-time when we are so in love with derby that we forget that we are breakable human beings who need other things as well. Take my advice – there are other ways to benefit your derby career that aren’t showing up to practice or even putting on skates.
Mobility and Pre-hab
One of the most neglected areas of our physical training is that of mobility. And don’t worry, I heard your eye roll and “I stretch regularly” all the way through the computer screen – but hear me out. Mobility and Stretching are very different , and my guess is that you only do one regularly.
Stretching is great, but stretching (or flexibility) is the temporary ability of a muscle to give and extend when needed. Kind of like a rubber band. In comparison, mobility focuses on the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion. While you want to stretch your muscles, you especially want to focus on mobility, which doesn’t require skating at all. For all of you “I can’t side surf” people out there – I’m looking at you.
There are some people whose physiology will not be helped as greatly by the same mobility that may unlock a skill for others – but the point still stands that you need to get your range of motion on point.
Another consideration is pre-hab for your body. We have all heard of that person who had to go to physical therapy and rehabilitate their joint/muscle/entire body – but have we talked a lot about pre-hab? These are pre-emptive movements and exercises to prevent serious injuries from happening. Some injuries will happen regardless of how much you do in advance, but those annoying injuries that can take you off-skates for a week-or-two here and there – those can probably be prevented with simple movements.
Dr. Kelly Starrett is a great resource. I will admit that some of his stuff can be a little cringe-worthy, but he does know his physical therapy, physiology, and mobility very well. Yes, he has a full business with programming for mobility called MWOD, however if you’re not in the business of paying a monthly fee, then check out his free stuff on his youtube channel – it’ll get you pretty far believe it or not!
Conemaugh Health Systems also put out a great resource of exercises you can do as a part of pre-hab that can aid in preventing concussion. Yes, the derby-career-ending injury. Check it out below!
If you want something specific, check out Roller Derby Athletics’ prehab playlist on youtube. One of my favorite things to do when I first started was to go onto this playlist and use the movements to work on my stability and my ankles (I have weak ankles, and this/off-skates are the only reasons I didn’t break my ankle this past winter).
Watch Footage using SQWR
I can’t even stress enough how much you should watch footage. I talk a lot about Hebbian Learning in my posts because I believe it’s true – and so does science, honestly. It’s not the only way of learning, but the theory is largely reinforced throughout literature and anecdotal report. So, why am I bringing this up?
Cells that fire together – wire together. Although we focus a lot on our physical bodies doing an action to carry-out game play, a lot of us struggle to make the “why” connection. This is something that only experience can bring – either doing or seeing. Each time we do something, we call it a trial. Our brains require thousands of trials to lock-in a new strategy, technique, or movement. And while our movements might be limited to actual physical experimentation, we can give our brains a workout by watching footage. Watching the footage with purpose that is. I recommend altering a study strategy called SQ3R – we will call it SQWR.
SQ3R is actually a reading comprehension strategy that helps you to gather information from what you read. We will be altering it just a bit because we are watching instead of reading. Either way, get your paper, pencil, and watching devices ready!
Begin by “surveying” the footage. This means that you’ll need to watch it once for fun. Write down any moments that catch your eye, but don’t focus too heavily on any one thing. We do this because we need to get the “ooo, shiny” factor out of the way, and also to create a basic foundation of understanding of what’s going on in the game. Give it a minute (or a day) and go back to what you noted.
After surveying the footage, look at your key points and write down questions. Why did this technique work? What are the body mechanics? I do that all the time – why doesn’t it work for me? Whatever your question is, make it specific in preparation for really hammering out some productivity. Think about hypotheses and feel free to write them down too.
Watch the footage again – but this time, watch with purpose. Isolate just one of your questions and watch the footage for moments when you might get some answers. As you come across possible solutions, write them down with a timestamp for reference.
It’s time to Review. Look back through what you wrote and see if there are any patterns. Did this help? Do you need to watch again? It’s likely that you’ll have to watch a few times and you may even have to try out some of what you watched before you solidify an answer.
The great part of this is that each time you identify a strategy, or technique as you’re watching is another trial for your brain. The more times that you see and connect the answers, the more likely your brain is to recall that information in the future. Bam! It’s like you practiced something 10 times and all you did was turn on YouTube.
I said this to someone earlier today: learn the art of letting yourself heal early-on in your derby career. Take a break. Chill out. Skip a practice (maybe not a lot of practices, but life will go on). The reality is that your body needs time to heal, and your brain needs time to consolidate the information.
Consolidation  is the natural process of letting your brain take everything you saw at a practice or in footage and re-organize it into something that makes sense. We know about physical healing, but letting your brain re-organize is like spring cleaning – it always, always makes things better. Give yourself some time to sort through it all and then come back to it later. This can also be helpful in practice when you feel frustrated with a strategy or movement. Just give it a rest and you might get better.
Also, keep in mind that you will sometimes need to take a break mentally. I know that everyone likes to say “be tough”, but this is not about being tough. It’s about knowing your limits so that you don’t have a breakdown at some point. Take a break; derby will be here when you feel more at peace.
Try these things out. I know they sound like wild ideas and make no sense if all you want to do is strap skates on your feet. But at the end of the day, doing that might take you out for even longer. You can still make progress even if you aren’t skating. That’s a fact.