Mar 312011

I received one of the most clever requests from a league training manager I’ve ever seen; Holli Lolli of the Mississippi Brawl Stars sent this:

“…I was really hoping to do something special for these girls because most of them have never played in front of a crowd before. They don’t know what it’s like to have the crowd cheering and hundreds of eyes watching them. I’m sure closer to the date, they will start getting jittery and nervous about it. I was hoping your seasoned ladies could write letters of wisdom and motivation to our girls and I would have them read it right before their first bout. I want my girls to know that they aren’t alone feeling nervous and maybe ya’ll could write a story about your first bout and how every thing will be all right afterwards.”

So, here were my thoughts for a fellow derby sister regarding her first time:

Performance anxiety- Let it work for you!

It’s scary. And there’s a hundred things to remember: be aware, stay low, look for the jammer, stay by me, get me out, make a wall, watch your elbows, call it off…

The crowd? You can cross them off your list of worries- you’ll be entirely unaware of them very soon. Besides, you roller skate better than they ever will- so no matter what you do or how you do it, you’re looking great out there. The wonderful thing is that when you’re traveling in circles, you can’t see them at all.

Once the whistle blows the first time for your first jam to start, everything will be a whirlwind. It will be over as quickly as it started. You may feel like you didn’t do anything, or you may feel like you were lost. This will happen many more times in your skating career, so get comfortable with that learning process. Everyone around you is sharing this feeling. If you were isolated on a planet alone with these 9 other people -and you are- would you be lost? No. You are just where you need to be. So go into it with confidence. You are doing this because you are ready. You’ve done it countless times! You’ve been preparing for months. Doing it here, now -it’s really no different at all, relatively speaking. Don’t let the first jam (or even the first four) get into your head. Learn the team you are playing for and the one you are playing against and adjust accordingly.

Focus on your teammates more than you do anyone else and you will do well. Trust each other and stay in touch. Don’t be a rockstar and try to do everything yourself. Talk to your girls. Let them take some chances. You won’t know the jammer’s path, the blockers’ choices, or the outcome of the jam. All of you as a unit is really the only thing you can be sure of, so let that sense of unity be your anchor.

Know this:

  • Your first few bouts are just a necessary learning experience, not the be-all-end-all event of your skating career. So relax and enjoy it, and take away important lessons. Don’t forget to feel the love and passion that brought you to this point.
  • Don’t let your goal just be “to win”.  Anyone can come up with that one. Take the game jam by jam, and don’t put too much stock in the scoreboard. Just make your first bout your best effort. You can worry about points plenty later on.
  • Let minor penalties that you are subjected to literally roll off your back. The other skaters are out there doing their best just like you.  They’re called “minor” penalties for a reason. Don’t let the intense atmosphere affect your judgement and levelheadedness. Besides, if you have time to talk on the track, you probably could have been blocking someone.
  • The above goes for skaters on your own team. They know they missed the jammer. They don’t need your criticism. Discuss what will happen next- not what didn’t happen in the last jam. These are your league-mates; when you scold them for doing their best -whether it resulted in a penalty or not- you hold back their development in the future. As previously stated, “All of you as a unit is really the only thing you can be sure of, so let that sense of unity be your anchor.”
  • Be kind and objective when it comes to officials. Don’t speak to the center of the track. Take your issues to the bench and ask your captain for a time out if necessary. Don’t argue with them. It won’t change anything (at least, not for the better). They are caught up in their own tasks and, like you, are simply doing their best. They are only the messengers.
  • Until you are experienced at bouting -a phenomenon that cannot be emulated by any practice- your sense of time, space, and all things therein are distorted. Be willing to believe that things may not be quite what you thought they were. You are high on derby and some incidence of hallucination has been known to occur.
  • In intraleague derby, everyone wins. Look around you. Be so grateful for the best (AND the worst) of all of these individuals. They are responsible for one of the most relevant events of your life.
  • Be happy for the success of others, smile, and tell everyone thank you. Twice.

On a more technical note:

  • DO make hits- but DON’T hit back. “Venge-hitting” is a waste of your focus. It keeps you busy with a blocker when you should be looking for a jammer. You’ll have a better reason to hit her later -one that will improve your team offense. Be patient.
  • Find out who you are playing with next and make a plan. Being absorbed in the game is hard to resist, but skaters in bout mode become like dogs in a dogfight -they are oblivious to many things around them. Eight times out of ten, they cannot hear all the things you are screaming at them, especially since everyone on the bench together is screaming their own different thing. Save your energy and plot what you will do when it’s your turn to go out there.

In derby as in life, you can’t control what THEY are doing- only what YOU will do next.


  3 Responses to “Opening Night Jitters”

  1. THANKS FOR DOING THIS… we’ve got gals that have never been in front of people… and folks like me who have done many things in front of crowds (musical theater geek)… Our FIRST EVER game is tomorrow… and your truly is singing the National Anthem… I’m stoked and freaked its been about 6 years since I’ve done anything in front of people… I needed this… I’m printing this so we can pas it around tomorrow…


    Babs Havok

  2. Awesome post, and how encouraging is that, for your team leader to focus on your ability and feelings? Now thats true derby love! Our team really enjoyed watching your bout, for most of our girls it was their first time to ever see a bout! And oh boy, we are coming close to getting there, and all of the nervous anticipation is building up! I can’t wait to be benchside bound with butterflies! THANK YOU! ~StaticXecute-Her~

  3. “You are high on derby and some incidence of hallucination has been known to occur.”
    Right on. I wish someone had told me this one in the early days, and I think everyone should read this sentence before every bout. I know refs would be happier.

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