Friday, September 14, 2012

Do NOT Break This Chain

Now, I'm not talking about a ridiculous chain letter here, and I know that you are all relieved and delighted to know that I am not insisting that you HAVE to send this out to 75 people before noon tomorrow or your mother-in-law's cat will die.

You can thank me later.

I'm talking about team sports, and the mental game that accompanies individuals who play team sports.  And how a mental game can go awry and lead the player into a cult of despair without her realizing she has been drinking the Kool Aid.      

You'll have to hang with me.  This is going to be a long, convoluted, rabbits-in-rabbits-out-squirrel post.  I've barely started, and I know I am going to be all over the place.  Never a particularly good sign.

So, let's start with this fact: Derby has become an incredibly large, important area of my life in a fairly short time.  I've played for less than two years.  I've just finished my first season on a team, but I already cannot imagine not being a part of derby culture long after I hang up my skates.  My league's redraft for next season was this past Sunday, and while the new teams are all settled, the rosters have not been revealed.  I'll find out if I'm a Muerta, Mafia, Hooligan, Trauma Queen, or Nightmare on Saturday night at our first ever DERBY PROM.  So. Very. Exciting.  Like everyone, I have a preference scale for who I would like to play for, but, in all honesty, I just really want to play.  And I want to be played.  I want to be the best player I can be for whatever team I made.  It's the politically correct answer (although I am strongly against the whole notion of political correctness and the shell game of "quantitative easing" and the overuse of the word "vet" by politicians, political commentators, and other people who want to sound culturally relevant, but that is a post for another day.)   

The redraft is where all this mental game wrestling match all started for me.  And it starts way, way back in April. 

There was an announcement that there would be an expansion to five teams (it's wonderful that our league is growing, but with growth come those pesky growing pains), and, thus, a redraft was essential to spread out the talent.  And a blue funk settled on many of us.  Myself included. We didn't mean to succomb to the blue funk, but we were sad, probably all for slighty different reasons that stemmed from one change.  Although I was sad that the wonderful group of women known as the Original Muertas Locas was going to be busted up, what I was really fretting over was that I would have to be picked all over again.  And it was possible that I wouldn't be picked at all because there were all these new girls coming in the doors week after week.  And they are good skaters.  Plus, there are only so many spots.  When the spots are filled, they are filled.

Meanwhile, my team experienced a couple of bad losses, and I didn't perform the way I wanted to in those bouts.  I didn't get played as much.  In fact, sometimes, five or six jams would pass, and I would not be played.  I took that to mean that my coach, captain, and bench manager thought that I would muck things up if they put me in.  So, I played a couple of games where I skated four jams.  I tried to enjoy those four jams and the good things I did in them. But the truth is, it was terribly discouraging.  I began wondering how I had ever made the team in the first place. And if I had never really earned my spot but was given my spot because someone liked me.

I added all these things together and started thinking that I must be the weakest link on my team.  

Which of these is the weakest link?  All of them, and none of them.  It depends where the swing is in its arc.

And then, in July, more was revealed.  We would have to retest in order to redraft.  Additional skills would be included.  We would have to pass the test in order to be eligible for the redraft.  I couldn't do some of the additional skills, and I was nursing an injury to my knee and ankle that I had incurred while practicing one of those skills I did not yet possess.  But I wasn't so hurt that I wasn't skating.  Hurt enough that working on a turn-around toe stop to the outside was not feasible.  And the funk suffocated me.

As the healing of my knee and ankle progressed, I was able to begin working on the skills I had never had and the skills I hadn't used in over a year.  However, I felt incapable of passing this new, improved test in the time period given.  I *may* have had a little sobbing breakdown to Annie Orphan Maker at practice one night.  And then she may have told me to get a hold of myself.  I'm sure she wanted to slap me for a minute, but, instead, she grabbed the training director and the two of them talked me off the ledge.

Let me tell you.  Anyone who says there is no crying in roller derby hasn't really looked around much.  There's LOTS of crying in derby, but most of it happens in the bathroom, the locker room, the parking lot or behind the front desk counter.  Although I would personally know nothing about the front desk counter....  Ahem...  Just know that if derby causes you to lose tears, you are not alone.  You are in good, if secretive, company.

It doesn't really matter if other people tell you that you are a good player and teammate if you aren't getting played much and if you are unable to hear what they are saying because the inner voices are screaming far louder.  Or if you are getting picked last for scrimmage week after week.  Or if you are getting yelled at by other players--players you respect and admire. 

If you are me, you might have a revelation that you are stuck in the seemingly unending cycle of a confidence crisis, but not know what to do to get off the ride that is making you vomit.

Please, for the love of all things derby, do not follow my lead on this one.  You don't want to establish residence in this place.  It sucks.  You feel like a pariah, people start treating you like a leper, and BINGO, ipso facto kalamazoo, you find yourself outside the gates of the city with torn clothing and unkempt hair shouting "Unclean!" at every skater who rolls past.  (If that reference is totally lost on you, have a look-see at Leviticus.).   

Now, I realize that for the bulk of you, not getting played, getting picked last, and being yelled at by other players would be a motivator to do better so that you might be able to avoid those things in the future.  I don't work that way. 

If you tell me or let on that you think I suck, I'll show just how bad I can suck.  Set me up for a bad scrimmage, I will most definitely have a spectacularly bad scrimmage.  I will go down in flames.  People will be talking about the lightshow three counties over.  I will exceed your expectations for ruling as the Queen of Suckdom.

At the same time, I know that there are things in Derbyland where I'm not half bad.  Actually, I'm GOOD (dare I say it) at bowling one of my teammates into the opposing jammer.  I knocked down the most feared jammer in our league (although she is now skating in Arizona :) ) in this manner, and instead of popping up and getting back in the game, she sat on the floor and yelled "What was that?" at me and the ball of teammate I threw at her and got madder and madder. It was a spectacular spectacle to behold.  You should have been there.  Or someone should have had a video camera.

And I knew I had other successes where I hit opposing jammers or blocked them well or made a hole for my jammer, but it seemed that whenever I had one of those successes that no derby person who mattered ever saw it happen.  They were tending to an injured player or not in the building that night. 

It seemed I just couldn't catch a break.  And I was in desperate need of a break.

The retest was quickly approaching, and I was working to increase my skills.  I was still concerned that I wouldn't pass. My test anxiety was in full effect.

After a particularly humiliating practice, Mr. Incredible stepped in and reminded me that my original goal had been to make a team and play one season of roller derby.  He also reminded me that I had not had one single doubt that I could do it when ShelbiTron Prime skated up and recruited me at InterSkate.  And that I had acomplished my goal and surpassed it by making a team, being a co-captain, and being appointed the mentor of our new skaters program.  And BTW, he reminded me that I was on the team who won the league championship. (Cue "We Are the Champions" here.)

He was right. 

So, I started thinking about my perspective and how it had gotten skewed.  I knew I needed to do something to stop the madness.  I decided that I was focusing on the wrong things.

I had been asking myself these questions:

"What if I am the weakest link on my team? What if I get picked last in the redraft because no one wants me on their team? What if I don't pass the test? What if I don't get picked at all?  What if I get a spot because people feel sorry for me?  What if I haven't performed well enough to be here at all?"

Le garbage.

I needed to reframe my situation and ask myself new questions.

What is a revelant question in this situation?

How 'bout...

Do I want to be part of the chain?

And that answer is so easy to answer.

Yes.  I want to be part of the chain. 

Every chain has links of differering strengths, and someone will be the weakest link in any given moment.  That is completely irrelevant in my new question.  What is relevant is that each link is a part of the chain.

A couple of Wednesday nights ago I did something incredibly difficult for me. Something I had been dreading and fretting over.

I took my league re-test. 

I passed. Honestly, I barely squeaked by on a few of the components.  It was not my best performance and certainly not a good indicator of what I can do on the track.

More than one of the coaches and trainers commented that it wasn't my best day, and it wasn't. I had far too much anxiety about my ability to pass particular skills and be eligible for the re-draft for it to be my best day.  It was probably one of my very worst days in roller derby.

I'm thankful that I have some good friends inside derby and outside derby who helped me improve and cheered me on. And reminded me that I am far more than a derby girl.  I'm fabulous.

And I took out the remaining mental garbage the following week.  Thanks in part to this note.  That I will keep.  You never know how one encouraging word might change someone's whole outlook.

This note *may* have caused crying on the bench.  Which is really not a secretive place.  
  
I choose to be a part of the chain.

And with that answer, I put on new clothes, pull my hair into a ponytail, and step back on the track with a clearer mind.