Friday, September 7, 2012

Learning from Losing

Photo by Patrick Bloom.

I don’t think I can say this enough: I hate losing.

I am trying to teach myself to find success in small victories. August 25th we played the Mid Iowa Rollers, which has been an emotional match up for me in the past, and I didn’t cry, I didn’t give up, and I didn’t get mad. There were moments that my brain started to drift, but I recognized those destructive feelings and chose not to react to them. Yes, it sucked that were down by up to 100 points, it sucked that we were heavy on penalties, and it sucked that we had a hard time in the first half, but there is no value in should/would/could of statements. 

We did have some pretty great defense of our own, holding their jammers for long periods of time, and stopping the point hemorrhaging. Towards the end I had a 20 point jam, with their jammer on the track, due to the wonderful blocking of my teammates. It helped the crowd get excited and kept us pumped. It wasn’t enough to win the bout, but we did cut their lead in half. That felt good.

I have been playing roller derby for nearly four years and every week I am learning something new about myself or the game. When we first started, we played a wide range of competitors, trying to find our feet and our skill level. We were pretty decent as a newer team, so there were a few blowouts in our favor that we marked down as wins and made us feel good. It's easy to get 20 point jams in lopsided competition, and it's easier to play controlled defense against fresh jammers. Of course, playing against any team is going to give us some feedback of how we play together, and let us try new things, but it's not going to push us as hard to improve and find our weaknesses. 

The first time we played a version of the Minnesota Rollergirl All-Stars, and I reference this bout often, I instantly got frustrated and upset. It was HARD and my instinct was to hide. Looking back I realize I just had not gone up against that caliber of blocking yet and I hadn't developed my mental game well enough to deal with it. I despised losing, and anytime we struggled I would instantly go into panic mode, which would affect my jamming, which would piss me off, which would send me spiraling into a sloppy mess. 
In the star, lots of eyes are on you. Especially when you fall. It sucks and is embarrassing, but all you can do is get back up.  Photo by KORfan.
 About 90% of the time we are on skates, we are practicing or scrimmaging against ourselves. The other small percent of the time we are competing and testing ourselves against others. This is the best kind of feedback, and reflecting on a losing bout in a bad way is never going to help me improve. Instead I am thinking of situations that were hard, and trying to figure out what I can do different next time. I’m picturing the moments that our pack didn’t stop the jammer, and looking for ways to work together better. I have to admit that I did learn a lot from playing the Mid Iowa Rollers, and they exceeded my expectations. Part of me is mad and frustrated that this time they were better, but I am choosing to let that go and figure out how we can win next time.

A few weeks ago I realized with all my preaching about the mental game, I wasn’t taking my own advice. I know I fail at listening to my own words a lot, but I really thought I was on the ball with this one. Yes, I had gotten better about not getting upset, but I hadn’t purged myself of ALL negative thoughts. I pride myself on not talking back to the refs or challenging penalties, but I didn’t realize my knee-jerk reaction to make snide comments when I returned to the bench. I didn’t feel bad about them because they were never directed to anyone, just said aloud. “Well THAT was a directional block…” It's not good for anyone to hear garbage on the bench, but it's even more important not to hear it come out of the mouth of their Alternate Captain.

I had a moment this last bout that I was about to say something negative as I sat down and I quickly covered my mouth. Tyna looked at me concerned and asked if I was going to puke, but I explained that I was just holding back word vomit. I recognized my negative thought, let it go, and quickly forgot about it. Just that moment of recognition, and changing my behavior before it happened, made me a much better skater. I didn’t hide behind the bench, despite not scoring a single point in the first half, and ended up the highest scorer on our team for the night with 39 points in the second half. That felt good.
I am nothing without my blockers. Photo by KORfan.
Letting go of those bad moments, clinging to the good ones, and maintaining a bit of hope can do a lot to turn your game around. Usually when I look at the scoreboard it's a matter of, "can we still win this??" I had to keep pausing and telling myself to stop caring. It's not a carelessness like giving up, but more of a re-focusing of energy. Instead of worrying about how the jammer just went to the box and what was on the scoreboard, I would look at what I could do next. I tried to take in each jam as they came, letting them go once they were over, and moving on to the next. I felt that I succeeded in this mental strategy and can work on it more as we go into another hard bout.

Human beings are highly emotional creatures, but we also come with the ability to choose. I think in this technological age, we’re all getting used to instant gratification, but we have to remember that most change comes from self-discipline, patience, and hard work. I’m not going to become a better jammer by willing it, and I’m definitely not going to improve by saturating my brain with negative thoughts. It’s my life, I have to choose to work towards the way I want to live it. 

"Fear, anger, and sorrow are all parts of life. You can't make them go away by wishing it. Emotions pass like clouds in the sky. Meanwhile, you always have the power to choose how you will respond. You may feel afraid, but you don't have to behave fearfully. Emotions are not destiny." Dan Millman Body Mind Mastery: Training for Sport and Life

1 comment:

  1. Good lessons for more than just derby. We can't control how we feel, but we can control how we react and respond.

    Good post!