Find Your Edge with LeBrawn Maimes

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with LeBrawn Maimes, aka Torrie Higgins, for a truly inspirational interview. In this interview we talk about her profession as a sports psychologist and how that intertwines with her love of roller derby. LeBrawn shares her story of how an injury challenged her to use the skill set of her profession in order to recover in time for the WFTDA Playoffs. She has been a skater and a coach for three and a half years, most recently skating with the Rat City All-Stars of Seattle, WA. LeBrawn is the owner of The Edge: Sport and Performance Psychology Consulting.


LeBrawn Maimes' Fun Facts:

 

Likes: Cheeseburgers. Her dog, Eleanor Puddles. Jumping on things with her roller skates on. Coloring things with Ophelia Melons.

Dislikes: "Battitudes on the track." And Sand.

Little known derby fact: Only on fresh meat for 2 weeks. "I played in my first bout about 2 weeks after I started practice- it didn’t go well. I didn’t know that the jammer could engage the other jammer anywhere on the track; I learned that lesson the hard way. But it was okay, I learn quickly."

Favorite thing about derby: The athleticism. "Personally, I love how challenging it is. It’s always hard. People really can underestimate how much athleticism it takes and I love that challenge. My other favorite thing is that people who have never been athletes come to roller derby and might discover that part of themselves. I’ve seen people who have never played sports become these incredible athletes. That is so empowering and watching that happen."

Least Favorite thing about derby: When people lose sight of the fact that it’s fun. "At the end of the day it’s all about doing stuff on roller skates."

Spirit Animal: Lil Wayne.


Abombnabull: What does roller derby mean to you?

LeBrawn Maimes: That is tough to answer because roller derby is a huge part of my life. Since moving across the country, [roller derby] has become not just my sport but also my social outlet. And now it is, in large part, my job.

If I had to sum it up roller derby is this wonderful, positive opportunity to me. It’s an opportunity to better other athletes and leagues. It’s an opportunity to better myself as an athlete. It’s my stress release. It’s my opportunity to meet really cool people that I never would have had access to in normal everyday life. 


Bomb: Who’s your Role Model?

LeBrawn: Over the years I’ve met a lot of incredible people in roller derby. I’ve made a habit that whenever I see someone do something really cool that I don’t know how to do, I immediately ask if they can teach me. I have a million role models in roller derby.

Carmen Getsome has been huge to me, guiding me as I start my own business within the roller derby community. As well as being an incredible teammate; she’s a real leader on the track and I love that. She’s also an incredible coach and I’ve definitely learned things from her. I’m very excited to continue working with her and learn more things.

For years I’ve really tried to model the way I am on the track and lead my team like Tracy Akers, Disco, from the Denver Roller Dolls. I love her intensity; she’s a real play maker. She knows how to dictate how things should go in the game, and she brings her team together.

The way Suzy Hotrod harnesses this extreme power and is still incredibly dynamic. She’s athletic with absolutely zero skating background. I think that roller derby is about finding a role model in lots of different people and learning from everybody. 


Bomb: How has your profession as a sports psychologist influenced you on the track?  

LeBrawn: It’s influenced me in a huge way. As a college field hockey and lacrosse athlete I was intense. As a sports psychologist, I maintain my level of intensity but I articulate it in a much more positive way. I have learned to become a better teammate and help everyone around me be more successful. I think that it’s made me a better teammate overall.


Bomb: What is Sports Psychology?

LeBrawn: It’s a pretty diverse field. My job is to help athletes develop mental skills to compliment the physical training that they are undergoing. You can train all day long physically, but if you don’t have the mental skills to compliment those physical skills then you are not going to be as successful. Mental skills such as:

  • Confidence
  • Motivation
  • Attention control
  • Emotion regulation
  • Energy management
  • Mental rehearsal/imagery
  • Readiness
  • Communication
  • Goal setting
  • Coping with injury
  • Time management

I love the saying that you don’t have to be sick to get better. You don’t have to have an issue to benefit from sports psychology. It’s simply about gaining the edge on the competition; whether it is through skills like fine tuning your concentration and focus throughout the game or regulating your energy so that zone of optimal energy the entire game. As well as dealing with other issues like anxiety before bouts, anxiety about jamming or returning from injury. [Injury] is a huge obstacle to overcome because it can be really depressing. If you identify strongly as an athlete, you can feel like you lose your identity. You can feel that you don’t have a role on the team anymore. Then there is the fear of re-injury, coming back and building confidence.

I also work to with coaches to develop more effective communication and feedback styles. A lot of coaches have problems getting people to coming to practice and working hard while they are there. We work on motivating your athletes. I work with all of those things and more.


Bomb: What level of athlete should you be before you consider mental conditioning?

LeBrawn: Even if you haven’t laced up skates yet it can help you. You want to develop positive habits as far as you mental game goes. You don’t want to be hard on yourself and use negative self talk every time that you make a mistake. You want to set yourself up to learn as much as possible and have optimal growth at any level. It doesn’t matter what level of skater you are.


Bomb: Does sports psychology have a place for injury prevention and rehabilitation?

LeBrawn: Absolutely. As far as rehabilitation goes, it can really be an incredibly frustrating process. Using different psychological skills can get you through that process, and not just get you through it but get you through it successfully.

Stay invested in the rehabilitation process by setting goals consistently and measuring them to keep on track. I tell a lot of athletes to notice the new skills that people are learning. A large part of learning those skills is something an injured athlete can do. Go home and use imagery and mental rehearsal to actually go through those skills. There is a ton of research out there that shows that if [an injured athlete] does that then they are way ahead of the game when they come back. So when they can get their skates back on, they can get back to playing at a higher level quickly.

As far as injury prevention goes, people are frightened of getting hurt. A fear of injury or a fear of re-injury can be a very dangerous thing. There is a lot of muscle tension that predisposes you to getting hurt so that fear of injury actually puts you at risk. That’s something to work on.


Bomb: A lot of folks have been on the road to recovery. Would you mind sharing your personal experience with injury?

LeBrawn: Being at this point in my career, it was a pretty interesting experience. It challenged me to really practice what I preach in the biggest way possible. I tore both of my PCLs in college and I did not deal with [the injury and rehabilitation] as well as breaking my leg.

The week I came to Seattle I tried out for Rat Lab. The following Saturday was the All-Star tryouts, where I made [the All Star Program]. So, I was an All-Star only and during that period of time the Socket Wenches, [a Rat City home team that LeBrawn now coaches], asked me to skate with them at Spokarnage. We lost our second game and went into the losers’ bracket, which meant we had to play approximately a million games. We ended up winning the rest of our games but that meant playing something like five games in a day and a half. It was way too many. I didn’t listen to my body as far as fatigue went and I just kept playing. I took a hit, it wasn’t anything special, I just went down weird and I snapped my fibula. I instantly knew.

That was really disappointing because I have been waiting three and a half years to play at this level. I’ve been dying to play on a top-20 team. I made it and I broke my leg right at the start of the season. I decided that even as new skater- especially as a new skater I needed to be as much as of a teammate as I could be while I was injured. I wanted a place on this team. Even though it was sometimes emotionally challenging to come to practice every single day, I came. I helped out any way that I could. I love coaching jammers and I started off just casually mentioning my observations to our coach, Ho Chi Dan. He quickly started encouraging me to come and to speak with our jammers on a regular basis. So as a product of coming and trying to find a role on the team, I did. I carved a place for myself on the team even though I couldn’t skate at all.

I took it upon myself to try to be a positive person at practice. If I saw someone do something great then I would cheer for them and be like, “The thing you just did was really awesome!” except specific. “Oh man, Rumble, that offense that you created on the inside line was amazing. It created a huge lane for the jammer” or “BK, way to stay patient and sit on the jammer and not take the bait. You really allowed the rest of the pack to catch up and recycle” Through that I was able to bond with my teammates. It wasn’t easy; I wanted to skate. But I think that really set me up for my return, which made it a lot easier.

The rehabilitation process I definitely had to remind myself of all the things that I tell athletes, as far as managing my frustrations. Setting goals and understanding that it’s not a linear trajectory when you are hurt often, you’ll make some gains and then you will take a couple steps backwards. It’s so frustrating when you feel like you are making progress then all of a sudden. One day, I would be able to transition and be able to juke with my left leg. Then the next day I wouldn’t be able to put weight on my inside edge or get onto my toe stops for a week. It was constant give and take.

I had to talk myself through that with positive self-talk and really frame my goals “these things are going to happen so what am I going to do? If I get my skates on at practice and I can’t get on my toe stops, what am I going to do that’s positive? Okay, I’ll take my skates off and then immediately go work with the jammers and then I’m going to do an off skates routine.“ [I focused on] getting stronger in a way that I could do while managing my pain properly and that also allowed me to connect with my teammates. It helped me accept hardships at rehab.

There are definitely days that it was emotionally very difficult. The skills that I’ve built up, and the fact that I teach them to other people, definitely got me through with my mental game on track.  I think that was the key to coming back. The fact that I was able to play at Play Offs this year… It was a dream come true.


LeBrawn Maimes celebrating with Rat City at Play-Offs during the game against Gotham.



Bomb: What has your professional career path been? How did you begin in sports psychology and how did you come to find roller derby as a place for your profession?

LeBrawn: I was an avid soccer player growing up; I played soccer from the womb basically. I loved the US women’s national Soccer team; they are my role models from a young age. They talked a lot about a sports psychologist that [the team] worked with and that is how I found out that [sports psychology] was even a thing. And I don’t know, I just really latched on to it. I thought that it was the most interesting sounding job. Honestly, that has been my goal forever.

I did my undergraduate degree in psychology and then went to grad school at University of Florida for the Sports Psychology program. My whole life has been sports, so in graduate school I thought that it would be awesome to not have my life dictated by a sport. After a year I realized that I hated it and wanted sports again. I tried running, lifting, and just being really active. Then randomly at a grad school cocktail party, this girl that I had never met before who was a clinical psychology grad student was like, “You look really athletic, have you heard of roller derby?”

I was like, “I saw that movie Whip It! So uh, kind of?” And she immediately (and now I know how roller derby people are) started gushing about how amazing of a sport it was and how fun all the girls are. She suggested that I should come to practice that weekend. I did. I was there for five minutes before I thought, “Yup, I’m going to do this.” They scrounged up a bunch of gear for me; I just had to buy a mouth guard. That was it, that week I started playing and two-weeks later I started bouting.

Because of my sports background they wanted me to serve on the training committee almost immediately. My skills an athlete and as a sports psychologist immediately came into play as far as motivating people and giving constructive feedback. These are skills that not everyone has and my sports psychology helped create an athletic, positive team culture.


Bomb: You are a relatively new entrepreneur, do you find that roller derby provides an avenue for entrepreneurship that may have been previously unavailable to you?

LeBrawn: Absolutely! I think that it has given me a real insider’s perspective on are some of these pervasive issues in the sport. I have the skill set to help tackle and overcome some of these [issues].

When you add the term “psychologist” people become a little weary. I think people are a lot more interested in what I have to say because I don’t just have a professional degree. I am a roller derby athlete and I understand these issues because I’ve been through them.

As far as getting my name out there, roller derby definitely makes that possible. The visibility really matters so being part of Rat City helps. I think that if I were with my small league still it would be much more challenging to get this business off the ground. Pairing up with people, like Carmen Getsome, who have successfully gone down this road before is huge as well.


Bomb: How does your business fit in with the culture of roller derby?

LeBrawn: I think this sport is becoming more athletic, they see themselves as athletes. So they want to know how to better themselves. It’s not just about the boutfits and face paint and stuff. While some of that is definitely still there and that’s cool, I think that [skaters] still want to be the best athletes that they can be when they are out on the track. That is about improving yourself.


Bomb: Can you be a prepared athlete and still have a lot of fun?

LeBrawn: Yeah, absolutely. They are not mutually exclusive in any way, shape nor form. I think that a mentally prepared athlete arguably is having more fun anyway. They are confident in their preparation so [a game] is the time to put that on display and not this super stressful event.


Bomb: What are some of the challenges and benefits of having a service rather than a product?

LeBrawn: I think one challenge is that I offer highly customized services. I can’t make one thing that will work for everybody. What I do involves listening to people, seeing what their experience is, and figuring out what is going to help them with their situation. It’s different every single time. I think that I would be doing a disservice to people otherwise.

We’ve established that roller derby athletes are extremely diverse and one size isn’t going to fit all for mental conditioning. There’s a lot of tools out there as far as imagery, positive self-talk, energy regulation [etc.] and it’s my job to figure out which tools are going to work best. It’s definitely an interesting, challenging, work intensive job.


Bomb: How do you balance professional life and the personal life, keeping them separate as a teammate, a coach, and a professional?

LeBrawn: Sometimes I have to tread a little lightly when I am giving suggestions. I don’t want it to come from a place of, “I’m a sports psychologist so I know what you should do.” If someone hasn’t solicited my services I don’t think that I should be pushing them on them. However, as a teammate I think that I have something that could make another teammate more successful then I want to offer that up. So there is a fine line that where my training has informed me why I am giving this advice but I don’t want that to be readily apparent to the person that I am giving it to. I just keep it casual. Instead of, “I see that you are using a lot of negative self talk right now and that is going to be really detrimental to your performance…” I’d say something more along the lines of, “Dude, you’re being pretty hard on yourself, you’re got this.” Ultimately, the message is going to be the same, but it is more casual and coming from a peer. I think that I should be really careful if they haven’t asked for my help, or especially my professional services, then I shouldn’t push it on them.


Bomb: Do you have any advice for those who might want to take a similar path? How do you balance the challenges of owning a business and playing competitively?

LeBrawn: I don’t think I’m in the position to give advice yet. I am still trying to negotiate [the balance] and I love it. What works for me is remaining focused on how rewarding this is. I think it’s worth it. I think I’m helping people. I love the challenge. So while the hours might be long and there may not be any kind of life balance right now, I still am still feeling fulfilled.


Bomb: How can people utilize your services?

LeBrawn: Contact me at The Edge. I am planning my 2015 schedule now and I do have openings. I am excited that more teams are starting to contact me. Distance is not an issue. Not only will I travel to do team seminars and boot camps, but if you are out of area and do want an individual consultation I do those as well.


Bomb: In a year from now, if we were sitting here again, what would you be most proud of?

LeBrawn: I will have a more sustainable business. More than anything else, seeing athletes that I’ve helped out on the track being more successful. If I can further the sport of roller derby in anyway or help make athletes better than they were the day before then that is the best.

About The Author

DOB: 3/23/1990
Bio:

Abombnabull skates with Rat City Rollergirls out of Seattle, WA. She strapped on skates for the first time in December of 2011 and has been learning what it takes to be an athlete ever since. She enjoys footage review, weight training, and eating everything in sight. Fascinated by all things roller derby, Abombnabull has trained as a banked track referee and NSO, NSO'd for flat track, and studied coaching strategies.


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