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:
Cheeseburgers. Her dog, Eleanor Puddles. Jumping on things with her roller skates
on. Coloring things with Ophelia Melons.
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
does roller derby mean to you?
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
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
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?
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
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:
- Attention control
- Emotion regulation
- Energy management
- Mental rehearsal/imagery
- 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?
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?
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
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?
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?
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?
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
Bomb: How can people utilize
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.