The Importance of Developing Mental Toughness to Survive and Thrive in Roller Derby

by: Kozmic Krusher

Mental toughness in roller derby has been described as “the ability to persevere through difficult situations, block out what’s not important, and stay focused, calm, and in control when under pressure. Your mental toughness (or lack thereof) directly affects how you perform. If you don’t have your shit under control, you won’t – CAN’T – play your best” (4eyes coaching).

I have been training/learning roller derby since August 2015, and I made the team at the end of February 2016. When I started, I was very out of shape, so having mental toughness was needed to persevere until I got in better shape. I have not played sports quite like roller derby; I’ve been involved in swimming, track and field, softball, and soccer but not in many years – I used to speed-skate too, but never really knew how to stop without toe stops.

In my day job, I hire people to work one-on-one with clients with intellectual developmental disabilities. My job is difficult and involves dealing with families, clients, staff, the state, and a lot of rules and regulations. I operate best under enormous stress and pressure, because it is the norm at work. I thought I was prepared to have enormous mental toughness, but I was wrong. I’ve learned that roller derby girls need to train themselves to have a lot of mental toughness to survive and achieve success at the sport. Some people might be naturally good at this, but many of us need to realize that derby is not only about physical strength and ability, but largely about mental strength and holding yourself together under extreme pressure.

I’m usually good at staying calm during chaotic moments, but roller derby has tested my ability to do this. Roller derby involves so many different factors all going on at the same time. It’s important to focus on training, strength, willpower, endurance, determination, competition, and learning to be excited instead of nervous at practice or game time.

It also involves the ability to be hyper aware and super focused. I’m having to train my mind to enjoy the thrill and joy of the game instead of focusing on my mistakes immediately afterward. We fail our way to success, and it is through those failures that we learn to succeed. Look at failures as stepping stones for future achievement. Growing pains are painful because growing is hard. The reward is improvement. We all want that, don’t we?

Yes, I need to learn from my mistakes, but if I focus on them in scrimmage or in a game, I’m not focusing on the next play. And since derby is a very fast-paced sport, you have to remain focused on the game while it’s happening; that’s why it is largely a mental game and not only about physical ability. And it’s why we need to train our minds to develop more mental toughness.

“Mental Toughness,” an article by Scarlene Frisky Sour has great suggestions on developing mental toughness. Turn your fear into a motivator (goal), something you have to learn and master. Don’t be your own worst enemy by defeating yourself mentally. Look for your destination, not the obstacle in the way. As a jammer, instead of looking at the wall you want to burst through, look through the wall at your destination.