Speaking to rookies from other leagues, my impression is that different leagues like to approach ‘fresh meat’ training differently. Some go for scrimmaging right off the bat while others, like my league, opt for a period of building up skate skills before any contact stuff. For us, this meant a few months of drills on everything minimum-skills-related – crossovers, transitions, stops, falls – easing into contact stuff with one-on-one hits and positional blocking, followed by some wall drills. Then, a few weeks ago, we stepped it up a gear with a bit of scrimmaging (practice game play).
Now, here it maybe becomes pertinent to mention that we’ve had a lot of drop out from our rookie cohort (as tends to happen) and, as we started with a small-but-perfectly formed group anyway, now don’t have enough people to simulate a game. Since scrimmaging is so important to learning the game (I mean… duh) some of our B team have been coming along to the rookie practice to help us with numbers. Our B team are awesome – as well as being super friendly and welcoming, they are bloody good. I’m super inspired every time I watch them play. But scrimmaging with them, having never done it before… yeah, kind of terrifying. All kinds.
After that first session, I felt like a fraud. All this talk of wanting to play roller derby, wishing away the weeks of practising skate skills, dying to get to the ‘real stuff’ – and I couldn’t handle a bit of friendly scrimmaging with our own B team players! After weeks and weeks plugging away at getting better, I felt like I couldn’t remember a thing we’d been taught. Nothing could have prepared me for how fast scrimmaging would be; how many things would be happening at once, how much of shock it would be to play with much more experienced skaters. I felt like crying for the first time since I started back in March. In the moment, I was so confused by everything that was going on that I couldn’t worry about the things I’d buggered up. But lying in bed that night, trying to fall asleep, I had plenty of time to dwell on my mistakes in cringe-inducing, slow-motion detail. And I wondered more than once – am I even cut out for this?
Welcome to the ‘what the fuck is going on’ stage!
You’ll be here a while.
So, it turns out I’m not a special snowflake for feeling like this. Listening to people who know better than me (always a good idea!) made me realise that it’s perfectly normal to feel a bit overwhelmed as a freshie (er, understatement). As much of an idiot as a might feel for not being able to keep up with the B team, nobody else is expecting me to be able to match them yet. What they do expect is for me to show up, put in the effort, not whine, and get used to the fact I’m going to be playing with skaters that are more experienced than me for a long time to come. On the train home with a fellow rookie after that first session, we had a heartening realisation: this is the worst we’ll ever be. Every time we come to practice (and fall down, and pick ourselves up) we get that little bit better. Even if it’s only the tiniest bit, we’re moving forwards. We’re doing things now we didn’t have a clue how to do 6 months ago – and 6 months from now we’ll be able to do even more. Onwards and upwards.
Since that first try at scrimmaging, no other times have been quite so scary. In fact, last Friday I even caught myself having fun. Who’d have thunk it! I’m still super early in my journey with roller derby, but one lesson I feel like I can pass on to others is this: sometimes, you just have to keep showing up. For a few weeks there, my usual excitement about going to weekly practice was replaced by a mild sense of dread and feeling like I wasn’t good enough. But each week I went back and, soon enough, I started looking forward to practice again. No quick fix, no magic trick. Just showing up and trying.
As well as just sticking at it, and listening to advice from our coaches, a few blog posts have really helped me get in a more positive mindset about being a beginner at roller derby. I reckon these should be required reading for anyone new to the sport:
Have you hit the ‘what the fuck is going on’ stage? How did you deal with it?
Photo credit: Darkday, Flickr CC