Becoming a Better Derby Player: Learning from your Mistakes

While mistakes are never fun to make, they are an essential part of becoming the best athlete you can be. Using a 10-step approach, you can learn to manage disappointment and turn mistakes into valuable learning opportunities.

1) Put yourself in situations where you will make mistakes

On purpose. Roller derby is a perfect example of a sport where you can’t control most of what is happening; your job is mostly to react to different situations in the appropriate manner. But those situations are impossible to predict, regardless of how well you understand the game and how much you’ve studied the opposing team. You need to step out of your comfort zone, put your skates on and try things you’ve never tried before. Play against better people, pick the toughest person you can find when doing drills in pairs, and challenge yourself everyday so that you will make mistake after mistake.

2) Share your disappointment with people close to you

Your teammates or your friends/family can help you see things in a different light. Where you may see disappointment or even discouragement, someone else will see a valiant effort that promises greater success in the future. Instead of putting your head in the sand and getting all negative Nelly over a mistake you made, share your disappointment and park it. The idea of “parking” your disappointment is particularly important when playing a tournament. If you keep obsessing over a game you lost, chances are that you will start the next game with a negative mindset. The lesson here: when you’re disappointed about something, share it and park it. You will learn from it in steps 5-10.

3) Don’t make excuses

Don’t be “that person.” You know which one I’m talking about: the one who’s always complaining about the referees, the floor, her wheels, her teammates, the weather, and who knows what else. You may not be able to control everything around you, but you can always control the way you react to things. This video should drive the point across:

4) Accept and embrace your mistakes

This is the hardest but most important thing to do. Culturally, we’re taught that mistakes are bad. We learn to feel ashamed when we fail a test at school and in a lot of youth sports leagues, trophies are given to everyone because there is a fear that losing a game would hurt a child’s feelings and discourage them. Some people say that youth sports should only be about participation and use this theory to justify handing out medals to everyone. But teaching a child to handle disappointment and bounce back from it is probably a better lesson than trying to disguise a loss with a participation medal. Then as adults, we’ll feel as if not winning means we didn’t do anything valuable when in fact not winning means you we’ve exposed ourselves to more opportunities to learn and grow than the person or team that did win. So when you make a mistake, don’t be ashamed and don’t feel guilty. You’re on your way to improvement, and that’s something to be proud of.

5) Write about your mistakes

In a notebook or on your computer, describe three situations where you think you made a mistake. It could be a penalty you received during a game, a practice or a drill where you didn’t play well, something you said or did, etc. I like to keep this in a journal in which I track a lot of things every day, from how many hours I slept to what I ate and which supplements I took. The important thing is to write regularly and try to make it habit. You may forget at first, but keep at it.

6) Consider what you could have done differently

After describing your mistakes, describe what you could have done differently. Sure, some things are simply out of your control, but could you have reacted differently? Could you have prepared better? Could you have kept your cool instead of letting your emotions take over? It’s not about being hard on yourself, but accepting the fact that you’re not perfect, and what matters is that you can turn something negative into something positive.

7) Summarize the lessons learned

In a few words, explain the lesson(s) you learned for each mistake you previously described. This should be no longer than one or two sentences, so that it is something you can repeat to yourself when you recognize that a similar situation is about to occur. If it’s a mistake you make often when playing derby, then write that lesson on a piece of tape and stick it inside your helmet. That way, if you start being sucked into a negative cycle during a game or a practice, sit down for a minute, take your helmet off, read what’s inside your helmet, take a deep breath, and get back on the track. Make sure to phrase the lessons in a positive way, such as: “I should keep my cool when I get a penalty,” instead of “I shouldn’t talk back to the refs when I get a penalty.” Your brain will remember the main words of that sentence, so keep it positive.

8) Learn from other people’s mistakes

Watching videos online is a great way to learn from mistakes other people have made. For example, if you’re a jammer, look at everything the jammers could have done better in a particular game. What penalties did they receive? What could they have done to score more points? What could they have done to prevent the opposing jammers from scoring points? Write about each situation and draw from the lessons learned. Thinking about these things is a good start, but writing them down will help commit the lessons to memory.

9) Journal everyday

As an athlete, learning takes place every day, whether you put your skates on or not. Take the time to write at least a few sentences in a journal every night, to reflect on what you could have done better. Maybe you skipped practice because you were tired or got stuck in traffic. Maybe you had a stomach ache because you ate something that didn’t work for you. Maybe you fell asleep too late because you stayed on your computer or watched TV too late, which prevented melatonin from being released and made it harder to fall asleep. These are all small mistakes that you want to make sure you avoid on game day. So even if you can’t skate every day, you can learn something every day.

10) Seek failure

When I was playing hockey on the French national team and kept on losing games, I always told myself that you learn more when you lose than when you win. That’s probably one of the reasons why playing on a team like Gotham actually sounds boring to me. I’d rather have the excitement of learning and improving, than winning year after year. I think that the beauty of sports isn’t winning medals and trophies; it’s the journey it takes to get there. So challenge yourself. Seek opportunities where you are likely to fail. Then learn from your mistakes and become better, every day.

Click here to read this piece in French.

Photo (c) A Boy Named Tsunami, 2012

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