A Skate Odyssey 2014 - Tournament Preparation
When I was a rookie tournaments were few and far between and the idea of a European tournament was still a pipe dream. We could only watch champs and some of the loosely screened events in the US. Through the often pixellated feeds and stuttered audio one thing was clear, tournaments were the future of Roller Derby. I loved the skaters tenacity and stamina, the skills, the fans, the personalities. Each tournament brought unrivalled competition, drive and passion.
I dreamt one day I'd be part of a team that would be able to play in those high level games.
That dream came true for me in Belgium at this years a Skate Odyssey hosted by the wonderful Gent Go-Go Rollergirls.
I got to be that skater on the track. I got to be the fan. I got to talk and skate with so many passionate driven women from nations across Europe.
But best of all I stood shoulder to shoulder with some of Birmingham's most talented and driven skaters. As a team. United with one common goal. To play our hearts out and make our mark on Europe.
When we received our invite I had no idea of the journey that lay ahead of us as a league. The personal sacrifices, the blood, sweat, tears, high fives, laughs, injuries, heart ache and celebration that followed was worth every second of our very own SKOD adventure. This article is to give an insight into the personal and team preparation that goes into getting to and participating at an event like this.
Prior to SKOD we met as a squad to discuss our goals and plans for the tournament. It was the first real time we'd collectively set and agreed to work towards a common goal for the squad rather than work personally as individual skaters towards our own goals for the tournament.
This distinctive shake up to our approach opened the doors to lay out a step by step goals list which could be broken down into individual goals and the progress could be recorded properly. As a skater this revolutionalised the way I saw myself and my team mates and how identified my targets and performances. Being able to plan our route to success helped us all grasp a firmer picture of what we can achieve if we put our minds to it. Goal setting is a key part of tournament preparation and I would strongly recommend it to any team.
Behaving like a team:
In keeping with the collective mindset we found this year, it really worked for us staying in the same place together. At Track Queens in Berlin we didn't really have that option with peoples availability so it made meeting up and organising team talks difficult and also left the team with less time to bond. This had a really obvious affect on our performance during that tournament
At SKOD, and indeed the run up to it we tried our best to travel to away games together, eat together, watch footage together and socialise together. Spending more time in each others company more often both on and off the track has forged some great partnerships and bonds within the team and has had a direct affect on our performances on the track.
A team that lives together, eats together, and bonds together plays better together. Where practical this should be something as a league you should prioritise.
The teams main body of prep focused on getting stronger as well as improving our endurance for a long weekend of hard and physical games. I undertook the DSA long distance programme and also took up power lifting to complement the workouts set by DSA.
I’d done some power lifting on and off prior to Christmas more as an experiment with different exercise types and because I am unable to sustain long periods of high impact activity I have to be careful of which programmes I undertake. I found a love for power lifting just a couple of sessions in and I haven’t looked back. The benefits include improved muscle stamina, better focus of mind and body, toned muscles (in particular in my legs) but most noticed of all the improvements were the difference in my core strength and balance. People were finding it ever more difficult to knock me over and get me off the track.
Compared to Track Queens I definitely felt in a better physical position after adopting a more structured training plan.
Make sure you bring essentials too. All your medicines and blister plasters, strapping and supports. Whatever you think you might need, bring it with you. Trying to decipher 'indigestion tablets' in a non English speaking pharmacy is tough. Also a little tip. Bring clean dry underwear and a change of socks in your bag to each game. Even if you end up wearing your kit/shirt still changing into dry underwear is the best feeling ever.
Travel and Accomodation:
As discussed earlier, we all stayed in the same hotel. Most hotels allow you to reserve with a credit card and pay on check out so if you have someone who is able to make a group booking this will really help. We stayed in the Campinille in Gent, it was cheap, good location and really friendly to boot. Do your research though. Sometimes you will be able to find house shares which may work out cheaper/able to host larger numbers of your team.
A lot of people took the euro tunnel and drove over to Gent as its within easy reach of Calais and by far the cheapest option if you carpool. It also helped getting to and from the venue as we could all travel together and arrive at the same time. When you’re looking into travel options for Europe or indeed any tournament abroad always hunt out the best and cheapest routes and remember to check what items you need in your car. It is a legal requirement in France to carry breathalyzers in your vehicle. Different countries have different rules but you can check here: http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/overseas/compulsory_equipment.html
Often if you don’t drive you will also have to factor in costs of public transport and taxis too should your hotel be a little out of the way. Research into local public transport travel cards and discounted tourist tickets for rail and bus. These often work out a lot better than taking a taxi everywhere.
We all had an idea it would be good weather in Gent so we needed to prep our bodies early on. Drinking plenty of water during the week prior to the tournament and ensuring we stayed on top of our fluid levels during the games was key. It’s been said I’m possibly the sweatiest female skater in Birmingham so in particular for me I had to ensure my electrolytes were topped up and I was replacing the fluid I was losing during our games. I often invest in a few sachets of electrolyte powders from our local sports supplement shop (GNC). I find them better than Lucozade or other sports drinks as I can dissolve them in my 2l water bottle.
If you don’t hydrate properly you will notice the effects pretty quickly. It’s also really important to top up your fluids pre and post game too. I suffer with mega headaches if I don’t hydrate properly after a hard game. There is such a thing of drinking too much water though so be sensible!
I was on a budget this tournament and didn’t want to end up living on cheap and grotty fast food. Especially with all the long days and high intensity derby we would be playing. Packing healthy wasn’t as hard as I first thought and worked out really cheap. I packed items that could be prepared with minimal fuss like cous cous, tinned mackerel, low fat soup in sachets (not the powdered stuff – liquid sachets you add to water), pitta breads and some fruit as well as big bags of mixed nuts and granola bars. Stock up on breakfast at the hotel too especially if there is a buffet style option. Make sandwiches for lunch and collect fruit and other goodies to take with you to the event. Eat little and often and try not to eat a large meal to close to game time. Home comforts like tea bags are great to take along too. In America and often on the continent its hard to get fresh milk so its either UHT or half and half… I always take some powdered skimmed milk for my tea and also to put in my protein shakes too.
We as a team had spent the last 6 months developing our mental spirit and focus as well as our bout day routines. Traditionally we’d been quite an individual group of skaters, choosing to prepare by ourselves in our own routines. We never really had a structured group mental warm up or focus as such.
We have been privileged enough to have access to a doctor in sports psychology who is one of our skaters partners. Between them they have shaken up the whole team dynamic and have helped us shape our game preparations and our individual goal progress as well as offering valuable advice on managing your performance in high pressure situations during games. They have both worked closely with our coaching staff as well to help them understand the team better and how to extract the very best from our skaters mentally.
I also personally read a lot of sports psychology literature prior to SKOD. There are plenty of good books on the subject out there all cover useful techniques such as visualisation, arousal levels, attitude and management of emotions in high pressure situations. I’d highly recommend Mind Gym by Gary Mack
Tournaments are what you make of them. They are full of long days, they are physically and mentally demanding, and they are often emotional roller coasters that we pay a lot of money to be a part of.
I think most importantly at tournaments it’s really important to remember why you skate and what you enjoy about skating. For some skaters it’s the striving towards the Hydra, for some its playing in single bouts over a year with their intra league teams or mixed scrims, for some it’s competing in Europe at the highest level.
For me it’s a combination of things but one thing is definite. I skate to be the best skater I can be. The best team mate I can be, the team mate that helps my jammer through or is part of a well-executed play and to be part of a team that plays their hearts out for the 14 other skaters on the squad and for the fans of the sport.
It’s really easy to get wrapped up and anxious/stressed about the finer things of tournaments. So you haven’t got any blister plasters, you’re tired, you had a crappy jam in the last game, your phones dead because you forgot to charge it at the hotel, whatever…
Do yourself a favour. Take just ten minutes of your time at a tournament to have a look around you, experience the passion of the fans, the skaters, the officials. Soak up the stalls, talk to someone you’ve never met before about the team their supporting, buy some host league merch, catch up with an old friend and realise what each and every skater past present and future around the world has contributed to this amazing sport and the event you are participating in. Take those awesome feelings and take them onto the flat track. Play your heart out for your team and yourself. Keep eyes on your goals. Wear your shirt with pride and have an utterly amazing time.