Mental Toughness Tip: Be Your Own Cheerleader!

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Mental Toughness Tip: Be Your Own Cheerleader!
By Em Dash
Photo by Jim Dier

It’s easy to get down on yourself when you’re struggling to jam through a pack, or when your wall falls apart and the opposing jammer is lapping the pack again and again. But falling prey to negative thoughts only makes your job harder! Thinking “I suck!” is like jamming against an extra blocker on the track.

Being mentally strong is one of the most important skills in roller derby—just as important as how well you skate! Fortunately, just like you can work out your muscles and refine your skills with drills, you can work out your brain as well.

If you tell yourself you can’t do something, you will probably turn out to be right. But if you tell yourself you can do it, you’ll be much more inclined to try, and to give it 110%.

So how can you flip the script and be more positive and mentally tough?

1: Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend.
If your teammate had a bad jam, you’d never tell her “You really blew it” when she came back to the bench, would you? So why would you say that to yourself? Try to be as kind to yourself as you are to your teammates—and know that just as you aren’t judging them, they aren’t judging you either.

2: Create a mantra.
Figure out traits you’d need to succeed in roller derby then tell yourself you have them already. Repeat that to yourself often enough and you’ll start to believe it. My first roller derby mantra was “I’m fast, agile, and fearless.” Thinking that didn’t make me faster, but it did make me a lot more fearless, and gave me the confidence I needed to jam against Suzy Hotrod in my first bout.

3: Use the speed lap to reset.
When I’m jamming, I try to focus on my strides and my form during my speed lap, think about my breathing, and let go of whatever it was that happened in the previous pass. You can also do this as a blocker, finding your teammates, rebuilding your wall, and preparing for what comes next.

4: Acknowledge mistakes, forgive them, and learn from them.
I’m not suggesting that you ignore mistakes. Being able to identify when you’ve done something wrong or could have performed better is part of learning. The problem arises when you make yourself feel bad emotionally for making a mistake in the first place. Instead, try to think about what you did, what would have been better, and try to identify ways you can improve in the future.

5: Leave it on the track.
Whatever happened in the last jam has already happened. Beating yourself up about a bad jam traps you in the past and takes your focus away from the next jam, which you can affect. Between jams, take ten deep breaths, repeat your mantra, and think about what you’re going to do the next time you take the track.

These things might not come naturally at first, but just like with anything else, if you practice them, over time they will become second nature.

Em Dash has been skating for Gotham Girls Roller Derby for nine years, including four seasons with the WFTDA-champion Gotham All Stars. She has co-captained Manhattan Mayhem and the Wall $treet Traitors, and is a Gotham coach. She is the author of Derby Life: A Crash Course in the Incredible Sport of Roller Derby, and the founder and editor-in-chief of She has also written for Derby News Network, fiveonfive magazine, and Derby Central. You can find her on Facebook or Twitter.

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