Crossovers: Work Smarter not Harder

When you first learn the basics of roller derby, crossovers are usually taught how you see in this video: bend your knees and cross one foot over the other. This was okay when we were doing 25 in 5, but even then, I felt like I was working too hard at it.

After some digging on the Internet and talking to other derby players, I realized that I needed to push more with my legs. Gypsy Lucas does a better job of explaining the push with your legs in this video. But I still felt like I was doing something wrong. Even in good physical condition, I felt way too tired after completing 25 in 5. (Hey, remember when that was all we had to do? Oh, nostalgia.)

It wasn’t until I moved to Houston that I realized what I was doing wrong. It turns out that I was fighting my entire body. From my head to my feet, every crossover was a battle between muscle memory and physics.

While working with a speed skate teacher, I was told that my shoulders were too tight and I wasn’t pushing with equal strength in each leg. She taught me to count when I’m crossing over. This ensures I’m using equal strength. If you’ve ever taken music lessons, it’s similar to counting rhythm. When one leg pushes for a 1-2-3 count and the other leg only gets to two, then I obviously need to lengthen the push on the side only reaching two.

I really like this video because it breaks down crossovers and gives a few drill ideas. Of course, the first part of the video talks about inlines, but the basic principles hold true. Watch how low the skaters get. This increases their ability to push, which increases speed.

After building speed, a lot of skaters actually slow themselves down during laps. That’s why you hear vets preach skating the diamond or sevens or whatever name you call it. This keeps your legs moving and prevents you from slowing yourself down by coasting. The other way skaters slow them selves down is by standing up. Stay low during your laps. If you need to raise your upper body to breath, do it in the straightaways and only for a little bit. As soon as you approach the turn, dip back down.

Notice how Jammunition's shoulders are low, her upper body is slightly turned into the curve of the track, and her arms are pumping like a runner's.

Notice how Jammunition’s shoulders are low, her upper body is slightly turned into the curve of the track, and her arms are pumping like a runner’s.

Another thing you want to pay attention to: your shoulders. I was told that I had a tendency to put my shoulders in weird positions, tensing one and leaving the other limp. I learned to keep my shoulders low and in a straight line. If you’ve ever run with tense shoulders you know how sore they feel and how much more exhausted you are after the run. Tense shoulders cause you to exert more energy than necessary.

Speaking of running, when executing crossovers, keep those arms moving. Pump them like you would when running. Leaving your arms limp or tucking them in front of your body causes your body to exert more energy. Remember, we’re working smarter, not harder.

One last thing to keep in mind is lean into of the turn. This is basic physics. If your upper body is leaning away from the turn, it throws off your balance. I always tell new skaters to pretend they are giving the turn a big hug. They have to turn their shoulders towards the curve of the track and hold their arms out in an invisible hug until they build the muscle memory. It may seem silly, but it works.

Perfecting crossovers takes time. I’m still working on it every chance I get. Watch videos, take speed classes if they’re available, get someone to record you doing laps. Build the level of skill in your own league, so you have accountability partners. It all helps.

Here’s to a Healthy, Happy Me

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Each year, I set new goals for myself. While most tend to be fitness related, my approach to this year is a little different. I still want to improve my fitness level in order to be a better Savannah Derby Devil, but mostly I want to be healthy mentally.

In 2014, the hits never stopped coming. Some changes were good (moving back to Savannah, rejoining SDD); some were not so good (relatives dying, being financially strapped). Starting off this year, I decided to do a lot of organizing: organizing my training time, organizing work, organizing time spent with the hubs, organizing my PR work for the team.

It’s a lot to manage, and at times last year, I admit I felt like breaking. But this year is different. This year I will focus on being happy. If something I’m doing isn’t making me happy, that’s a clue to evaluate what’s actually causing me unhappiness and fix it.

So far, things seem to be going well. January has been a relatively stress-free month. The hubs and I are bonding over training and cooking healthy meals together, my boss and coworkers are happy with efforts I’ve put in, and (this one is super important) I’ve organized my league’s PR calendar through the end of the year!!!! That one is such a huge relief. I can honestly say I’m happy right now.

My hope is to blog at least twice a month this year; not as much as in years past, but I really let my busy life kill my blog schedule last year, so this is me now…easing back into it.

For your (mental) health

Photo by Five5Six Design

I made the above graphic this summer for the Savannah Derby Devils’ Instagram. It’s part of the Recspo series (a little inspiration for rec leaguers). — Photo by Five5Six Design

In derby, we talk about health a lot. What foods we eat, exercises we use, etc. One thing that doesn’t get mentioned as often is mental health.

Sure, we talk about how derby has given us confidence or made us proud of our bodies, but what happens when derby doesn’t fill the gaps? Like it or not, sometimes derby doesn’t fix everything. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, it can even hurt.

I deal with depression. Derby has done wonders for my mental health, but it’s also put me in some bad spots. It’s taken me years to figure out how to deal with the bad spots. I haven’t figured it all out. There are still bad days, weeks, and sometimes months. But I thought I’d share some things that seem to work.

1. Find an Accountabilibuddy. Find someone on your team who knows what you’re dealing with. Talk to them. Let them know when your struggling. Maybe they’re dealing with something similar, and you both can work through the issues together. Sometimes, having someone to watch out for you and recognize when you aren’t yourself can keep your mental state from degrading more.

2. Get some sleep. The training schedule and all the extra events that you need to participate in for derby can wear you down. All those commitments may be robbing you of sleep. You don’t think as clearly when you’re sleep deprived. That can make your brain play tricks on you. Clearing time to get some quality sleep, even if you think you’ve been sleeping okay, can do so much to get your brain back on track. (Here’s a good article with sleep facts that may surprise you.)

3. Say no. You hear about burnout towards the end of the season. It’s commonplace, but it doesn’t have to happen to you. If you realize you’re overcommitting, learn to say no. This one is hard for me and something I constantly have to remind myself of. Decide what’s really important and what can be handled by someone else. You aren’t Wonder Woman, and even she needs help sometimes, too.

4. Take some time off. The pressure of all the practices, the committees, the organizing can put you in a frenzy. I’m sure there are tons of things you’d like to accomplish before you’re done with derby, but derby isn’t going anywhere. Take a week off. Take a month off. Take a year off. Stepping away from something that has taken over your life can give you a chance to breathe and reevaluate. When you feel more in control, come back. Derby will be waiting for you.

After going all out with Houston Roller Derby, my husband and I had to make a quick decision to move back to Savannah. I immediately hit the ground running. I coach junior derby once a week, I head PR for the Savannah Derby Devils, and I play for the B Team. Couple that with getting used to a new sleep schedule (day-sleeping makes me feel like a vampire) and falling back into the swing of a demanding job, I’m worn out: physically, mentally, and emotionally. I took this past week off from derby because I desperately needed to sleep. The lack of proper sleep was keeping me from giving my all for my team, and frankly, making me a horrible person to be around.

The World Health Organization has released it’s first ever report on suicide prevention. First. Ever. According to WHO, more than 800,000 people successfully commit suicide each year. That number doesn’t even include how many try. Last Wednesday was Suicide Prevention Day. We don’t all get to the point where suicide feels like an option, but dealing with mental health issues sucks. I hope you’ll see this and recognize that you aren’t alone. We play derby as a team. Let’s tackle mental health as a team.

im not ok

Setting yourself up to win

Do-Or-Not-Do-----There-Is-No-TryAs a junior derby coach, my biggest pet peeve is hearing “I’ll try.” You essentially just set yourself up for failure. It signals that you don’t believe you can do what I just asked. Believing you can do something before you physically do it is a tremendous part of derby.

Whenever I hear “I’ll try,” my inner Yoda comes out. “Do or do not. There is not try.” This is the part where my juniors give me weird looks. (Seriously, who doesn’t make their kid watch the original Star Wars films?) After they hear it enough times, though you can see them make the mental switch. They stop trying and start doing. Maybe they don’t do it great, but they realize what they’re capable of, so they know they can keep doing the drill or skill till it’s perfect.

Now this doesn’t mean false confidence. If you aren’t doing something correctly, you still acknowledge the miss. You just don’t concentrate on it. You let that miss identify what specifically needs improvement.

I’ve been reading “Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence.” Almost every successful derby player I know has read this book. Gary Mack’s overall theme is getting you to improve your mental game in order to improve your physical game.

A lot of the problems we run into as players are because we have defeated ourselves. We tell ourselves we can’t do something so many times that we believe we will never actually succeed. I can’t skate sideways. I can’t clear a path for the jammer. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

Instead of thinking of all the times you’ve messed up before, you need to think about when things went right. FiFi Nomenon talks about it in her post Roller Derby Visualization. You let that memory of the perfect moment put you in a positive mental state, and that will lead you to improvement.

Roller derby doesn’t do easy. It does awesome. If you get your mind right, you’re capable of being even better than you thought.

Is derby the new soccer?

Recently, one of my news anchors (did I mention I’m a news producer) and I were watching a story about the World Cup craze in the US. The reporter was wearing a jersey and kicking around a soccer ball. We both groaned and rolled our eyes because as a soccer fan and a derby fan, we’ve seen that sort of stand up too often. No one does that with any other sport. But aside from the hokey bit, the reporter did a story that we in the derby community have been begging for: monetary impact.

A little over a year ago, Hard Dash wrote a fantastic post about journalists missing the $50 million dollar story about derby. She talks about how much money skaters spend on themselves a year and how much fans will spend on the sport. The issue was, and still is, making it apparent to journalists and companies that derby means money.

According to an article from the Savannah Morning News (that I may have “borrowed” from the break room at work), the Sunday draw against Portugal was the “most-watched soccer game in American history with 24.7 million TV viewers.” Compare that to the 14.9 million who tuned into the World Series game of Boston vs. St. Louis last year. Pretty darn impressive, and advertisers are ready to cash in on that popularity.

So why is soccer (or football as everyone else calls it) finally seeing that breakthrough in American media coverage? It’s the kids.

Soccer enjoyed a brief popularity in the US during the 70s thanks to Brazilian superstar Pelé. Since then, the sport has seen  gradual rises and falls in popularity. But now that children who grew up playing soccer are hitting the 18-24 demographic, American companies are seeing dollar signs. They know those kids-turned-adults are watching the World Cup, and they have money to burn on all things soccer.

I’d like to think that derby doesn’t have to wait for our junior players to grow up before we start seeing that kind of coverage. It does help opening the door to more and more people to get involved in this awesome sport. The more we encourage junior derby, men’s derby, and co-ed derby the less of a “mysterious” sport it will be to those who have never played.

Oh, and one more thing.

I believe that we will win.

I believe that we will win.

 

 

Go ahead and jump

“Okay, kids. Today we’re going to learn about jumping.” *Groans and eye rolls from everyone*

Very rarely, when I introduce jumping into a practice, am I met with excited cheers (except for junior derby skaters who’ve done it before). We get so married to keeping all eight wheels firmly on the ground that, unless you’re a jammer, you can easily neglect jump training. But jumping is important to every player on the track. Aside from the obvious benefit of it helping you avoid a downed skater, it also makes you a more agile player.

I found this video breaking down how to properly jump by lifting both legs.

A lot of skaters will initially try to jump from one foot to the other like they’re trying to jump a puddle. Unless you’ve been doing a lot of leg strength training, you won’t get enough height or distance to clear anything. Concentrate on jumps lifting both legs first. If you find it difficult to bring both knees to your chest, you need to start working on your core.  Booty Quake has a great workout to help you get started.

Once that gets easier, you can start training to jump from one foot to the other. Kamikaze Kitten has a great video showing how to use one leg to get more height.  You really want to concentrate on getting height rather than distance. If you’re going fast enough before the jump, the distance will take care of itself.

(I used this video as a guide for my juniors recently because it’s hard to see the importance of the leg swing in real time.)

insidehop from Kamikaze Kitten on Vimeo.

Jumping will help you avoid hits, get around walls, and score points. Even if you never really jump during a game, your balance will be better to avoid falls or recover more quickly when you do.

jump

 

Five ways we cheat our teams

We’d all like to think we’re always a good teammate, but you’re human. You are going to screw things up at some point. By nature, we try to reason our way out of feeling bad about it. All of us have done it, including me. Think of this as a friendly reminder that, instead of denying it, accept it, and vow to do better.

1. Miss practice… a lot.

You had to work, traffic was a mess, your kid/significant other/dog/cat/parakeet is sick, you’re too tired. Life is crazy for trainingeveryone. You are no exception. But don’t let all these excuses pile up. If you notice you are only making it to three or fewer practices a month, you need to reevaluate your priorities.

Maybe you need to take a break from derby to take care of things in your life. That’s fine. Derby will be there when you are ready to come back. You’re team will learn to go on in your absence. (If you’re missing because you’re tired all the time, check out this link for reasons you may be more tired than usual.)

Maybe you’re skipping because your coach or trainer is going over skills you already know. Wake up call! You aren’t that good. If you think the skill is easy, find ways to make it harder for yourself.

The most successful teams are successful because their players show up to practice. “But, Eenie, I don’t skate for London or Gotham or Texas. I skate for [insert league name here].” Doesn’t matter. You can’t expect your team to improve if you and others keep finding excuses not to show up. Every time you miss a practice, someone has to take time away from the next practice to tell or show you what you missed.

If improving and winning isn’t motivation enough, check out this link.

2. Give up.

You showed up to practice. Awesome! But now you’re bored, you lack motivation, or the drill is too hard. You give up. If your team can’t count on you to give it your all during practice, how can they possibly count on you to give it your all during a game?

During off skates or endurance drills for the Psych Ward Sirens, it wasn’t uncommon to hear someone yell out “last jam.” It meant start thinking about what you’re doing as skating the last jam of a game. Two minutes left to win a game and every second, every decision counts. Start visualizing every burpee as another point scored. Start thinking of every lap around the track as a grand slam.

Statistically, you will skate better at practice than at a game, so if you are giving up at practice, you will give up sooner during a bout. Get your mind right before it means risking a win. (The exceptions here are physical pain or dizziness. Those are legitimate reasons to pull off or ease up. Please don’t die on the track.)

3. Avoid cross training.

Souxsie Skoolyard wants you to cross-train. Don't disappoint her.

Souxsie Skoolyard wants you to cross-train. Don’t disappoint her.

Part of the reason I started playing derby was because it didn’t involve running. Now I can’t imagine playing derby without doing some running and other kinds of workouts in my own time.

Why should you cross train? To perform better for your team. It isn’t necessarily to lose weight, though that does happen a little. Running helps build endurance and certain types of running will help prevent injury (check out Booty Quake’s video on building happy knees), core workouts help you recover from falls quickly and keep you from getting knocked over as easily, and plyometrics will help you be more agile on the track.

If you take the initiative to cross-train, the results will be noticeable to your teammates.

4. Don’t research.

Do you have a teammate who knows a lot about rules, techniques, or skate maintenance? Do you know how she learned all of that? She researched it. She took time out of her day to look up how to do something. She reads up on the new rule set before it goes into effect. She wonders how to get better at a certain skills, so she looks up videos on YouTube. This is something you should be doing, too. If you have a question, look it up. Don’t rely on that one person to always know the answer.

When I started playing derby, my team had to figure out how to do knee falls based off of written instructions and pictures. There were no how-to blogs or vlogs back then. You just tried stuff and, if it didn’t hurt too much, you accepted that as the way you were supposed to do it. There are so many resources available now. Use them.

Some of the places I go for derby knowledge:

You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Loose Wheel

Kamikaze Kitten’s Facebook Page

Roller Derby Junkies

Cobra Kai Derby Coach

Little Anecdote

5. Don’t volunteer.

Volunteer to promote your team in parades while wearing really pink shirts.

Volunteer to promote your team in parades while wearing really pink shirts.

This is something that happens to every team. Absolutely every team. It always feels like five people are doing the work for the entire league. In some cases, that’s because they are control freaks who don’t know how to delegate. In other cases, it’s because those are the only five people willing to volunteer.

All the excuses listed in point number one get used here as well. Look, I get it. You have a life outside of derby. But last I checked, derby leagues were still volunteer-driven organizations. Do you like having money to travel for away games? Do you like having people show up to bouts? Do you like for those bouts to run smoothly? Then volunteer.

I have teammates who think they have terrible voices for radio, but they still volunteer for the radio interviews because they want people to show up to the game. I know players who are terrified of talking to strangers, but will hassle businesses into being sponsors because they don’t want to use their own money for that plane ticket to ECDX. We’d all like to show up to the bout venue right before we play, and then leave immediately after, but the track doesn’t set up and tear down itself. Be cool. Volunteer.

Aside from volunteering being good for the team, did you know it’s also good for your heart? Yep. There was a study and everything.

As my former teammate, Singapore Rogue, would say, this has been #realtalk. I’ve been hearing a lot of grumbling lately in the derby community about some of these things, so it’s nice to have a refresher… even for myself.