Everyone knows that to be a good roller derby jammer, you have to train your body. Speed, agility, explosive power, balance – these skills are key to staying on your feet and scoring points for your team.
But do you ever train your brain? Two minutes on the track can collapse into two seconds in your mind because of the speed, hitting and general chaos on the track, and just the thought of it all can really psych you out before you even get to the jammer line.
Here are a couple of brain drills you can do before the whistle blows to help you snap on that star with a smile on your face and a fire in your soul, and hopefully avoid some of the fear and intimidation.
If you know you’re going to be doing some jamming at practice or in a bout, take five extra minutes after you’ve warmed up to do some focused visualization.
Find a quiet place and talk yourself through the perfect jam: lining up, seeing your pal/honey in the crowd, getting through the pack first, taking control, getting all of the help you need from your blockers, avoiding hits, speeding around once you’re out of the pack, getting all of the points you need, calling it off.
Make sure to use all of your senses, too – smell the arena, hear the music, feel your feet in your skates. Write yourself a script and print it out ahead of time if you have to. Studies have shown that “visual rehearsal actually triggers neural firings in the muscles and creates a mental blueprint that can ultimately facilitate future performance,” which is just a fancy way of saying that if you think it, those thoughts can literally affect your body.
Derby Drill: Lining Up To Win!
The way that you get ready on the jammer line can affect two things: how the other jammer feels, and how you feel. Here are some things to try next time you’re lining up on the jammer line:
- Try not to pick a favourite spot on the line. The other team will catch on and be able to plan their moves way in advance. (And don’t stand next to the inside line. You might as well gift wrap yourself to get hit out!)
- Look confident. Stand tall or get low – whatever you think looks the most badass. Even if you’re nervous on the inside, pose like someone who knows they’re going to win this jam. Another study shows that standing in a “power pose” can actually increase your testosterone and decrease you cortisol levels, the hormones associated with power and stress.
- Get into the other jammer’s space a little. Get close but don’t touch them, stand in front of them, skate in front of them, make eye contact. Look like you are going to hit them when the whistle blows, even if you won’t. Not only does it have the potential to intimidate the other jammer, it will focus your nervous energy outward instead of directing it inward and making you freeze up.
- Get a bit crazy! Don’t act like a jerk or anything, but do some things to pump yourself up and throw off the other team. Do some pushups, chant to yourself, flex your muscles and yell “OOOH YEAHHH” like Macho Man Randy Savage. Might as well have fun and get some positive adrenaline flowing instead of the anticipoops.
Okay, now go practice these tactics in a scrimmage scenario! Pick teams, then have everyone sit on their benches. Before the jam starts, pick a passive jammer and an intimidating jammer. Start the clock for 30 seconds and blow the whistle. Have everyone line up, and have the intimidating jammer practice their tactics. What do you do at 30 seconds? At the 5 second warning? Start the jam as usual (with both jammers now playing at full strength). You can play out the whole jam or just do a lap and start again. Make sure to chat after the “jam” ends. How did it affect the intimidating jammer? The passive jammer? The blockers? Did it affect the outcome of the jam?
These tips and drills can help train a jammer’s brain, but blockers can use all of this too! What does “the perfect jam” look like from a blocker’s point of view? What can blockers do in the pack to pump themselves up and keep the other team guessing?
If you’re only training your glutes, hamstrings and quads, you’re only getting half of the picture. If you want to get a jump on the competition, you’ve got to work that big, powerful muscle inside your skull, too.
Later Skaters! Luludemon #44