Combat those Winter Training Blues

15241825_10154115815197688_8001798833077153997_nMany of us are going through training blues right now – maybe it’s your off-season, maybe taking a break over the holidays, or maybe you just can’t stop eating Christmas cookies.  Whatever the reason, I tend to get a bit sad, unmotivated, and frustrated when I’m not working towards a specific fitness goal.  Living in Minnesota, it doesn’t help that it’s super cold outside, the running tracks and sidewalks are covered in snow, and the gym seems so far away.  To help combat the winter training blues, my husband shared this quote with me:

Dealing with the temporary frustration of not making progress is an integral part of the path towards excellence. In fact, it is essential and something that every single elite athlete has had to learn to deal with. If the pursuit of excellence was easy, everyone would do it. In fact, this impatience in dealing with frustration is the primary reason that most people fail to achieve their goals. Unreasonable expectations time-wise, resulting in unnecessary frustration, due to a perceived feeling of failure. Achieving the extraordinary is not a linear process.

The secret is to show up, do the work, and go home.

13235144_10209582253336989_4506913714821465785_oA blue collar work ethic married to indomitable will. It is literally that simple. Nothing interferes. Nothing can sway you from your purpose. Once the decision is made, simply refuse to budge.

Refuse to compromise.

And accept that quality long-term results require quality long-term focus. No emotion. No drama. No beating yourself up over small bumps in the road. Learn to enjoy and appreciate the process. This is especially important because you are going to spend far more time on the actual journey than with those all too brief moments of triumph at the end.

Certainly celebrate the moments of triumph when they occur. More importantly, learn from defeats when they happen. In fact, if you are not encountering defeat on a fairly regular basis, you are not trying hard enough. And absolutely refuse to accept less than your best.

Throw out a timeline. It will take what it takes.

-Christopher Sommer, former men’s gymnastics national team coach, pulled from Tim Ferris’ blog post “How to Develop Mental Toughness

After reading this quote several times, I have regained the motivation to get to the gym, keep working on my fitness, and not let myself fall into a non-training rut.

If you’re traveling over the holidays and you don’t have access to a gym or other fitness equipment, I have compiled some at-home workouts you can do.  All you need is a little space and a little time, and you can break quite a sweat!  So set some goals, make some commitments to working out, and feel good over the holiday break!

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Remember that you can’t train hard 100% of the time.  Your body (and your mind) need to take breaks.  Just don’t let those breaks become hurdles or roadblocks – accept them as part of your path and keep progressing towards your larger goals!


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Let’s All Jump the Apex!

Some jammers (and blockers) jump the apex all of the time.  However, for me (as for many other skaters), it took me years before I could get myself to jump the apex.  It was scary, seemed impossible, and I could never get myself to do it. But now, especially when I know the opportunity is there, apex jumping is great tool to get around all of the blockers without getting hit.

So how did I overcome my fear (and inability) to jump the apex?

Rule #1: COMMIT to the jump.  Once you doubt yourself, it won’t work.  That means you have to approach the pack with speed, even when you feel that strong urge to slow down.  I’ve come to learn that it never really hurts that much when you get hit while in the air, and if you take a big spill, it’s usually pretty fun (see Do You Have to Be Crazy to Play Derby?)

Rule #2: Keep your eyes on the blockers – which way are they looking?  Is an apex jump a good idea?  Although you don’t want to be completely obvious about preparing to jump the apex, blockers won’t be able to stop a good jump even if they know it is coming.  And if the blocker steps out of bounds to block you, she will get a penalty.

HOWEVER – watch out for the opposing brace blocker.  Usually this person is turned around, in the front of her pack.  She has a great visual on you when you jump the apex and can hit you hard the moment you land.  Be prepared!

Rule #3:  Keep an eye on your own blockers.  Which way is my offense likely to hit?  Are my blockers in my way?  The worst situation is when your blockers make a hole for you on the track, but they subsequently push an opposing blocker into you while you apex jump.  Know what your blockers are doing for you!

Rule #4:  Apex jumps are great, but not always the best option.  If you know you can get through the blockers, it is sometimes better to stay on the track and fight through instead of attempting (and failing) an apex jump.

Besides knowing WHEN to attempt an apex jump, many jammers (and blockers) are still unsure HOW to jump the apex.  Here are a few physical tips:


(1) Lift your RIGHT leg first and launch off of your LEFT leg. This gives the blockers slightly less hip to hit, and gives you a slightly better chance of landing the jump.

(2) Lift your knees!!! Imagine you are leaping over something super tall, not just gingerly frolicking across the corner of the track.

(3) Launch yourself off of your toe stops.  They are a great platform to get a little extra momentum.


Once you’ve got the physical action down, you just have to practice it!

AND – in case you weren’t aware – you don’t need to LAND an apex jump to get the points, you just need to get one skate in bounds in front of the opposing blockers BEFORE you totally wipe out.

Q&A from WFTDA:

Q: In order to score points while airborne, does a Jammer need to “stick” the landing?

A: In order to score points while airborne, the Jammer must establish contact feet-first and in-bounds at the moment of landing. A Jammer satisfies this requirement if any part of her foot or skate is the first point of contact upon landing, with no part of her body touching out of bounds at the point of initial contact with the track. Thus, if any part of her foot/skate has touched in-bounds at the moment of initial contact upon landing, she has immediately satisfied this requirement. Anything that happens after this point (falling, stepping out of bounds, etc.) is irrelevant to scoring, but will be taken into account for other rules purposes (such as cutting the track, low blocking, etc.).


Jammer is completely in-bounds and ceases contact with the track as part of an apex jump. The first part of her body to contact the floor is her right foot, which makes contact in-bounds. Her left foot then lands out of bounds. This jammer will be eligible to receive points for all opposing skaters passed while airborne, but will also be eligible for a cut track should she re-enter play in front of opposing skaters passed while airborne.

Even when I attempt an apex jump and fail, I hardly ever regret it.  It definitely takes guts, but it’s not as difficult as it seems.  So muster up the courage, and give it a try!

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The Upside of Feeling Down: Dealing with Disappointment in Roller Derby

In roller derby, many situations can yield disappointment.  A few (of many) examples include:

-You don’t pass your minimum skills requirements the first time
-You don’t get drafted to a team
-You don’t get rostered for a team
-You get rostered, but then you don’t play during the bout
-You go out for 1-2 jams and play horribly, so you don’t play again
-You foul out of a bout and have to watch from the sidelines

And this list can go on and on…

So what causes this feeling of disappointment?

psychologyUnfortunately, the more disappointment someone feels, the more they come to expect that the future will yield more disappointments.  However, despite all of the disappointments you face in roller derby, you’re still expected to show up for practice and skate hard. At practice, you are also constantly reminded of your disappointment by seeing other skaters who have achieved what you wanted to achieve.   So how do you keep skating, despite encountering all of these disappointments?

It is imperative to first realize that disappointment is not all bad.  Feeling disappointed helps you revise your views of the world and others.  Why are you so disappointed?  What were you hoping to achieve that you didn’t?  Answering these questions help you realize what is important to you, and help you learn a little bit more about yourself.

Also, the only way to get better is by failing.  Sometimes this failure can come as a disappointment, but it is a sign that you’re trying to grow and improve.  So just as all derby players should embrace their mistakes as a sign of learning, we should embrace our disappointments as a desire to want to learn more.

However, despite the positive aspects of disappointment, you still might harbor feelings of anger, sadness, and resentment.

To help combat these feelings, there are several ways you can deal with disappointment:

(1) Try to respond to the disappointment without emotion.  Of course, everyone feels the emotional reactions to disappointment, but acknowledge those feelings and then try to move on.  If you need to, use disappointment as a building block for mental toughness.  Don’t just get angry and quit – build resolve and strive to work harder.

(2) Since feelings of disappointment can lead you to discover new future goals, write down these goals and the steps to reach them.  Make sure your goals are realistic and based on your own performance, not the performance of others.  Reflect on these goals often, so you don’t lose sight of what you are working towards.

(3) Consult with teammates and coaches to help overcome disappointment. It is OK to feel disappointment – this is what makes you continue to get better.  However, you don’t want to hold onto any resentment towards your coaches or your teammates.  Sharing your feelings of disappointment with others provides insight to how you’re feeling and can help identify specific areas where you can improve your play.

(4) Try to dwell on the positives, not the negatives.  Even though you might not have achieved what you wanted, what DID you achieve?  Have you improved your basic skills?  Did you master a certain strategy?  How has your relationship with roller derby improved?  Did you bond with a teammate over the experience?

Disappointment in roller derby is tough.  We’ve all felt it at one point. But feeling that disappointment is part of being out on the track! It is an important learning experience, helping you not only deal with emotionally challenging experiences, but also providing feedback about how you can improve your play.  However, our shared experiences should be something that makes us feel more camaraderie towards each other, not something that makes us feel more alone.  If you’re a skater who knows a teammate is going through a tough time, reach out to them as well!  Even a few words of empathy or support can be motivation to keep trying.

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Junior Roller Derby. Think of the Children!

If you are currently an athlete, you probably have both good and bad memories from participation in youth sports. For some people, good experiences in youth sports are why they continue to love sports throughout their lives. Similarly, a bad youth sport experience can lead to dropping out of sports (or physical activity altogether). Because of the huge impact youth sports can have on future sport and physical activity endeavors, we must be careful how we interact with children on youth sports leagues such as junior roller derby.

Twin Cities Junior Roller Derby

Twin Cities Junior Roller Derby

Junior roller derby has become increasingly more popular in the last couple of years.   There are over 70 teams that compete in the Junior Roller Derby Association. The mission statement of the JRDA is “…to nurture bold self-confidence in youth by developing teamwork and athletic ability while treasuring individuality within a culture of integration, encouragement, and service to others.

Junior roller derby coaches should, of course, know this mission statement and be aware of how their actions support the goals of junior derby. At the most basic level, coaches should be nice and supportive of all junior derby athletes. However, research shows that just being nice is not always enough. Youth coaches should also emphasize that mastering physical skills is more important than winning or losing. It is also important for coaches to implement one-on-one interactions with junior derby skaters, which helps the skaters realize that coaches see them as people, and not just athletes. Coaches should also help junior skaters develop mental skills, such as using positive self-talk. Integrating these concepts into junior derby coaching behavior can help increase sport enjoyment, future participation in sports, and positive life skill development.

Just this year, the International Journal of Sports Policy and Politics also published a list of recommended youth sport policies that integrates what they call the 3P’s: performance, participation, and personal development. While some of these are not entirely relevant to junior roller derby, it is important for anyone involved in youth sports to keep these recommendations in mind:

(1) Regulate length of season to 3 or 4 months, with a maximum of 6 months.
(2) Limit lengthy travel to organized competitions.
(3) Introduce ‘grass-roots’ sport programs that focus on trying different sports.
(4) Do not implement a selection process of more ‘talented’ children until the specialization years.
(5) Provide healthy competitive opportunities, but do not overemphasize winning and long-term outcomes such as championships.
(6) Discourage early specialization in one sport.
(7) Allow children to play all positions in a given sport.
(8) Promote deliberate play within and beyond organized sport.
(9) Design play and practice activities that focus on fun and short-term rewards.
(10) Understand children’s needs and do not ‘over coach’.

North East Roller Derby Youth (NERDY) with a few MNRG skaters lurking in the background

North East Roller Derby Youth (NERDY) with a few MNRG skaters lurking in the background…

Although junior roller derby needs to include variety, fun, and a de-emphasis on winning, this does NOT mean that junior derby shouldn’t be competitive. The competitiveness just needs to come from building intrinsic motivation to work hard and play your best, as opposed to simply beating the other team. Coping with loss is also essential to youth development in sports – it helps athletes become more resilient, continue to work hard, and focus on the important aspects of being an athlete.

So if you have a child involved with junior derby (or you help coach/volunteer with junior derby), make sure you are aware of your interactions with the athletes. Are you helping them love physical activity? Do they think positively of themselves, their peers, and their coaches? Are their experiences going to make them continue to be athletes in the future?  For young athletes, even the smallest interactions can have a lasting impact.  Every time you encounter a junior derby player, make sure your interaction is a positive one.

White, R.L. and Bennie, A. (2015) Resilience in Youth Sport: A Qualitative Investigation of Gymnastics Coach and Athlete Perceptions. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 10(2-3):379-393

Erickson, K. and Côté, J. (2016) A Season-Long Examination of the Intervention Tone of Coach-Athlete Interactions and Athlete Development in Youth Sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 22:264-272.

Côté, J. and Hancock, D.J. (2016) Evidence-Based Policies for Youth Sport Programmes. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 8(1):51-65.

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Roller Derby – I Don’t Thank You Enough

This year, as I head to Champs with MNRG, I am thankful for my teammates, my coaches, and everyone else who has pushed me to improve.

As a roller derby competitor, I am constantly striving to achieve my next goal, reach the next level, and overcome my next challenge.  I try to avoid being stagnant or plateauing in my abilities.  As most skaters know, there is SO MUCH to learn and master in roller derby that it is almost impossible to feel like you know it all.  Even when you think you’re at the top of your derby game, the strategy changes or skaters come up with new amazing moves.  The game is ever-evolving, so your training is always evolving as well.  This also means that competition is always changing, and teams experience both successes and failures.

Every time I lose a big bout or feel like I didn’t perform well, I try to put the situation into perspective.  I am so fortunate for the chances I get to play, and whether I win or lose, I should attempt to enjoy every moment of it.  No matter what level of derby you are playing, you get to be a part of a competitive sports experience.  You get to cheer with your teammates when you’re victorious and share the sadness of your losses.  I believe this is the reason why we play roller derby – not for fame or recognition, but for team cohesion.  We push each other to be better, we support each other when things get hard, and we continue to grow together as a team.

No matter what team you play for, I hope you can experience pride in what you and your team has accomplished.  This does not mean winning, losing, or ranking points – it means enjoying your practices, making friends, and striving to constantly improve.

As for me – I am on a kick-ass home team that gets to compete in front of thousands of fans each month; I get to skate with the amazing MNRG All-Stars at WFTDA Champs in just a few short weeks; and I have created wonderful relationships with so many derby people over the years. No matter the outcome of a bout, I will remember that I’m pretty damn happy with where I am.  Hopefully this is a feeling that every derby player can experience.

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Read Between the (Stats) Lines

A lot of skaters get very hung up on the stats from a particular bout.  They pore over the spreadsheets, looking at every possible angle, checking out their PPJ, lead jammer percentage, points for/against, etc. And in case you were curious about looking at your own (or someone else’s) stats from playoffs and other recent bouts, you can find them here:  If you aren’t sure what you’re reading, you can also find a great stats explanation on this blog post.

Although stats are neat and seeing charts/graphs is super cool (to some people), it is important to remember that derby is unbelievably complex and can’t possibly be wrapped up in a nice little stats box.

I have skated with several jammers that get stuck on points.  If they don’t score more points than their teammate, they see that as negative.  I tend to focus more on my own Total +/- (how many points I scored vs how many points were scored against me).  I might have scored 50 points during the game, but if I went to the box 5 times and had 70 points scored against me, then I was not a very effective jammer. Conversely, if I score 30 points during a game but only have 5 points scored against me, my overall Total +/- will be much higher, and my impact on the overall outcome of the game is more positive.

However, all points aside – one part of being an effective jammer is being able to leave the track better for your next jammer than it was for you.  It’s kind of like cleaning up after yourself – you always want the next person in your space to be happy.  For roller derby, this usually means having more of your blockers on the track (and less of the opposing blockers on the track) at the start of the jam.

For example – Jammer 1 continually goes out onto the track with a full pack of hard blockers.  The jammer fights for 1 minute, finally getting out right after the other jammer gets lead.  During this fight, they send 2 opposing blockers to the box – one for a multiplayer and one for a low block.  Although Jammer 1 might not score any points this jam, the next jam might start with a 4-2 blocker advantage for their team.  Their fellow jammer can then get lead and score points before calling it off.   If this pattern happens again and again (Jammer 1 is great at forcing penalties on the blockers), Jammer 1 may end up with barely any points, while Jammer 2 has scored quite a few. After the bout, Jammer 2 may be praised for scoring so many points, while Jammer1 may feel like she did not perform as well as she should have.

Basic stats like points scored during a jam cannot reflect everything that happens during a game.  Sometimes, you come away feeling like you did not play well, even when you look good on paper.  And sometimes, you played the game of your life but the stats don’t reflect this at all.

Although I love numbers and stats are a great tool, it is important to remember that derby is so much more than a spreadsheet of numbers. So go out and play your best, and don’t let your stats weigh you down.

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I’m going to take a week hiatus from blog posts because…


All I can think about is roller derby playoffs.

 Watch live here!
Be back 9/29!




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Looking Ahead: How Are You Preparing For Next Season?

I literally can’t even think of anything but playoffs.  I’ve been focusing so much on being mentally and physically prepared (as well as trying to maintain some semblance of being present at work) that I have not taken the time to write a blog post this week.

But here are some of my recent roller derby thoughts…

1) No matter your level of play, if you aren’t watching playoff footage, you should be.  And not just the top-ranked teams.  I have been so enthralled by watching the level of ability from every team at playoffs.  And there’s no reason not to watch the footage, because the archives are free!

2) Take time right now to reflect on why YOU play derby.  Many teams are starting up their local seasons again and many teams are done with travel season play.  Why do you keep playing?  What do you love about derby?  Do you have regrets from last season that you hope to overcome this season? How are you going to make it a great year?

3) Think about your fitness goals.  Since there isn’t much of an “off season” for many derby players, map out your fitness plan for the next 6-12 months.  Are you going to start strength training hard?  Do you want to add more plyos to your routine?  Plan now so you don’t let it slip between the cracks.

4) Take this time to check out new safety equipment.  Are your knee pads getting a little old? How long have you had your helmet?  Buying new skate gear might be more fun than buying safety gear, but if you get injured just because you were too lazy to get new wrist guards, you might hate yourself a little bit.

5) Speaking of buying new skate gear – there are all kinds of awesome new skates, plates, and wheels on the market!  If you’ve been thinking about investing in something new, post-playoff season is a great time to check out these items.

6) Reconnect with people in your league.  Many of us have either been apart or way too busy to communicate over the summer.  If there are people in your league that you haven’t talked to for a while, reach out to them!  I think every league would be happier if even a few people opened new lines of communication each year.

Enough of my rambling. I’ve got to go “work” (and by “work” I mean watch more roller derby footage…).

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It’s All in Your Head: Reaching Beyond Fatigue

When I was in middle school, I decided to run cross country.  I wasn’t very good, but I was very competitive.  I have a clear memory of one particular race, where we had to go up this huge hill – not once, but twice (!!) during the race.  It was awful.  Towards the finish, I really wanted to beat someone that was just ahead of me, but my legs had never felt so tired.  I just kept telling myself to move my legs faster.  In that moment, I remember looking down at my body and feeling like it wasn’t my own.  I couldn’t feel my legs moving or my arms pumping, I could only hear the words in my head telling my legs to keep going.

I don’t even remember if I beat the girl I was chasing down.  I have no idea what my time was or what place I got during that race (although it probably wasn’t good).  All I remember is suddenly realizing how much more I could push my body than I ever thought I could.  That feeling helped me excel in athletics in both high school and college.  I now know that even if my brain says I am tired, my body knows I still have something left.

Many researchers think that bodily fatigue during physical exertion stems from an emotion, and not actually from your muscles.  It is a defense mechanism for your body so you do not harm yourself by overexertion.  Your brain tells you that your body is tired (perceived fatigue), but you actually have energy left to expend.

Many of the best athletes have the ability to push their bodies past the point of perceived fatigue. Although you can’t force your body to suddenly beat records or do incredible feats, you are capable of pushing yourself much more than you think you can.  However, this fatigue is there for a reason – you should never continually overexert yourself or it will undoubtedly lead to injury.

As a jammer, I frequently feel this fatigue.  On the last 20 seconds of a 2-minute power jam, I am usually ready to be done.  I have to fight that voice in my head that says things like, “You’re too tired,” or “Just stop fighting.”  Once you start to believe that voice while on the track, you are done for.  And it does happen to me – I get disheartened, tired, and beat up during some jams.  But every time I fall, I tell myself to get up fast.  Every time I get hit out, I yell at my legs to get me back on the track.  Every time I feel stuck against a wall of blockers, I ignore the voice telling me to quit, and I make myself push harder.

It took an extremely painful and meaningless cross country race for me to learn the limits of my body.  But since then, I have learned to fight my own mind when it tells me I’m tired.  So the next time you are on the track and you find your brain saying, “I can’t,” instead tell yourself, “I most definitely can.”

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Roller Derby Training: Make Yoga Work For You

As roller derby players, our bodies endure quite a bit of hard love. Not only do we skate hard, but we also hit each other hard. Between practice, cardio, plyometrics, and strength training, sometimes I feel like my body needs something a little different. That’s when I turn to yoga.

More and more research has shown the benefits of yoga on athletic performance.  These benefits are not only due to the physical aspects of yoga, but also the mental aspects. Backed by research at the National Institute of Health, practicing yoga has been found to reduce stress, decrease insomnia, and relieve anxiety/depression in addition to improving general fitness, strength and flexibility.

If research isn’t enough for you, there are also many professional athletes that use yoga as part of their sports training, such as Blake Griffin, Tom Brady, Shaquille O’Neal, and Lebron James.

Although I am aware of the health benefits of yoga, I find it hard to take classes regularly and I don’t have the patience to sit in a dark room with gentle music for over an hour while someone tells me how to breathe correctly. I am a busy person, and yoga doesn’t always fit into my routine.

However, I have been taking small steps towards figuring out ways to integrate yoga in my life: I wake up 10 minutes early and do a quick flow in the morning; I work on poses while reading or watching television; I do 15 minutes of yoga before or after going for a run, or before leaving for derby practice.

I already work out a lot and I’m not looking to add another fitness routine, but incorporating yoga, even in small doses, helps me relieve muscle tension, increase my flexibility, and keep me mentally focused.

Now that I’ve talked about all of the benefits athletes can get from yoga… let’s address all of the things athletes should AVOID in their yoga practice. There are tons of types of yoga, and tons of variation in yoga classes and teachers. So although there are benefits to yoga, people also regularly get injured by doing too much or pushing themselves too far. So when you’re starting to do yoga, here are some crucial tips:

Check out Flat Mat Yoga if you need inspiration for how to get started.

-Don’t jump into doing yoga without being instructed in proper form, just like you wouldn’t go to the gym and try power cleans without instruction. There are simple poses and movements that you may be able to do on your own, but even taking one class to learn the proper alignment and get feedback from a teacher is very beneficial.

-If something hurts during a pose, you should stop the pose. Don’t “push past” the pain.

-If the pose requires any sort of neck/head balancing or support (any inversion that involves putting weight on your head), don’t do it unless you’ve been trained properly and extensively. The same goes with back bends or anything involving intense bending in the lower back (even bridge pose).

-Be careful with anything involving your knees or twisting, because this can aggravate existing injuries or weaken joints.

Essentially…yoga can be helpful, but it can also cause more harm than good if you aren’t sure what you’re doing. Seek guidance from an experienced yoga instructor for proper alignment and muscle activation during poses. There are lots of yoga instructor certification courses, so it might be best to ask your teacher about their level of experience before seeking their advice. If you’re in a yoga class and they tell you to get in a position that you don’t feel comfortable doing (such as headstand), you shouldn’t do it.

As a derby player, I don’t have to put my body into crazy poses to get the benefits of yoga – I am pretty content with forward fold, downward dog, and child’s pose.  So find what works for you, and give it a try!

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