3. A little background: Roller derby is literally a contact sport on wheels.
In a roller derby competition — called a “bout” — each team fields five players, a designated point scorer (the jammer) and four blockers. A point is earned every time the jammer skates past a blocker of the opposing team, which means that the blocker’s job is the prevent the jammer from passing through.
4. Skaters need to be agile and coordinated, not to mention strong, fast, and fearless.
Yet the sport is super popular among people who are pretty inexperienced athletically. Apple Bomb explains that roller derby started “as a sport for people who never participated in sports before or didn’t have strong team athletic background,” which is actually one of the things that makes it awesome. “People discover athleticism that they didn’t know they had,” she says.
So, how do you go from “never really played a sport” to “killing it at high speed?” Here’s what they had to say about that:
5. 1. Super high-intensity workouts are kind of their thing.
Roller derby bouts are made up of two 30-minute periods and each period consists of jams (or plays) that can last up to two minutes. In order to go hard in every jam you have to train your body to work at a high intensity for short periods of time, says Topless.
That’s why skaters do lots of high-intensity interval training with bodyweight movements like jumping jacks and mountain climbers. Strength is crucial in any contact sport, so kettlebell training is a big part of their workouts, too. To build explosive power, Topless does plyometric exercises like box jumps and burpees. And they practice staying agile with footwork drills like the ones football and soccer players might do.
In addition to all that, many players cross train with running or fitness classes, says Topless.
6. 2. Spending up to 8 hours a week practicing isn’t that uncommon.
The minimum amount of practice required by the Gotham Girls league is 17 hours per month, but because many members play for more than one team in the league, some players practice way more.
Practices include drills on and off skates as well as strength and conditioning workouts, says Topless, who designs the off-skates workouts for the league. In addition to workouts for general fitness skaters practice exercising in unison and counting as they go, which helps them get in the rhythm of moving together and communicating as they would on the track.
7. 3. You have to learn how to take a hit and keep on going.
Since you’re definitely going to get hit, you do have to train to get good at taking impact. Both Apple Bomb and Topless say that their strength, stability, and athleticism help them stay stable and not get knocked over or moved around too much when they get hit.
8. 4. And be prepared to face your fears about being hit basically all the time.
Dealing with the contact part of the sport is also about being mentally tough. Apple Bomb says that even though she’s been playing derby for five years, the impact is always shocking.
“It’s still scary … You know there’s a risk of breaking an ankle or getting hit in the face accidentally,” she says. “You do have to be able to get back up a lot because you will fall and you have to be able to shake that kind of thing off.”
9. 5. You have to be great at communicating and decision-making under pressure.
There’s a ton of real-time decision making that takes place during a bout, and of course it’s all happening while players are skating around the track, fans are shouting, and refs are making calls. But communication is not just about being loud; it’s about staying present, observant, and focused, says Dred.
“We have to communicate about switching from offense to defense, getting our jammer out, or starting to block the other team’s jammer,” says Topless.
10. 6. And generally be able to stay calm and cool when things are otherwise rowdy AF.
“It’s essential to maintain inner calm,” says BackAlley Dred, a longtime meditation practitioner. Even though the quiet calm of meditating and rowdiness of a bout don’t seem like they’d go together, her meditation practice has greatly improved her performance on the track, where it’s crucial to be able to stay focused and present in a noisy, boisterous environment.
“The crowd is cheering, your teammate is talking to you, the ref is making a call you have to hear…It’s essential that the uproar gets tuned out” in order to stay in position and make the right play, she says.
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