Most of us have been there. It feels like you aren’t improving, like your skills are stagnating or even regressing. It seems like everyone is moving forward while your skates remain stuck in the mud. You feel nostalgic for the passion you had right when you started roller derby, but don’t know how to revive it. You can’t shake that creeping feeling of burnout. It makes you wonder if the sport has finally lost its magic or you’ve reached your personal peak. The answer is NO — derby is still magical and there’s always more you can do! Try one or more of these tips to help you battle the burnout.


Push through it

Usually when I get into a plateau period, I just push through it. I have a few alcoholics in my family, which has exposed me to some AA slogans I think are appropriate here — “Keep coming back” and “Fake it til you make it.” I continue going to practice even when I’m not feeling it with the faith that at some point I’ll have a breakthrough, start to get excited about derby again and begin to excel. Derby, as with life, has its natural peaks and valleys. I haven’t tried this tactic yet, but my friend who holds a black belt in Aikido participates in something called kangeiko each winter, committing with her dojo compatriots to practicing daily for as many hours as possible during a 10-day period.  I think focusing on an overarching and ambitious goal like attending every single practice in a month, for example, could be a good method for pushing through and defocusing on incremental progress, while deepening your connection to the practice. You forget that you practice with yourself every single day and many of your improvements will be so gradual you can’t perceive them yourself.


List your goals

Literally. Write them down somewhere. Make sure some of them are short-term attainable goals. For example, winning MVP blocker for the season is a good goal, but that is a long-term pursuit. Learning a power slide or improving your jumps or effectively backwards blocking are things you can work on at your next practice. I always have a list going so when I don’t know what to work on, I can refer to that. For example: I want to learn to do hockey stops and power slides better on my “bad” side. I want to do a 360 jump with ease. I want to work on my fakes and improve my jammer strategy. I also want to backwards block better. During any practice downtime, I pick one, and I can feel a little progress each time. This progress keeps me hungry.


Pick a theme for practice

I try to remember to during the coach-led drills to focus on some opportunity for overall improvement, such as: getting my stance lower, shortening my recovery time or increasing my communication. Pick one at the beginning of practice and make that your personal “theme” for the day, and carry that through drills and scrimmage. I know a lot of girls could inject a lot more “rawr” and “hustle” into their games — choosing to be aggressive or go all out in every single drill are good daily themes. These kind of tricks keep me excited and interested, even if we are doing drills that are easy for me or if I come to practice in robot skater mode.


Start cross-training

I started running up and down these stairs as part of my cross-training regimen, which helped give me a physical and mental boost for derby last season.

I started running up and down these stairs as part of my cross-training regimen, which helped give me a physical and mental boost for derby last season.

If you play derby for awhile, you’ll get to the point where you realize you want and need to train outside of practice to get to the next level. When you start, derby may BE your fitness routine, but pretty soon you’ll want to start working out to fuel your derby habit and it can really give your playing a boost. I started running and doing boot camp classes. I really wanted to get stronger in my core and upper body since there is so much leg and booty focus in derby. Some of my teammates do CrossFit or yoga, and the options are endless depending on your interests. Doing something else with your body will give you a new perspective on derby and help you feel less bored and more motivated. And it will improve your overall fitness!


Focus on fun

It sounds so simple and obvious, but sometimes we get so dang serious about derby, we forget to get lost in the moment and have fun. Give yourself permission to focus ONLY on fun for a few weeks, and forget about measuring your progress as a skater. A lot of us derby players, particularly we women, are high achievers with really stringent expectations of ourselves in life, and that translates right into derby. Instead of experiencing the joy of playing, we get caught up in criticizing ourselves, which doesn’t help improve our game. Bonnie D. Stroir calls it “kicking the puppy.” Don’t kick the puppy! Focus on fun and the skill logjam will naturally start to loosen up.


Scale back on league duties

Many of us who are passionate about what happens on the track tend to be leaders in the administrative parts of our leagues. We take on a lot of committee work and so on because we care about the health of our organizations, sometimes at the expense of our own mental health. I’ve seen many derbyists’ skating suffer because of it. If you’re not able to enjoy the central part of you’re league’s enterprise — SKATING AND PLAYING DERBY — you are doing too much. If you’re constantly missing practice because of committee work or skip because you feel you need a break from derby after staying up all night designing bout programs after someone else dropped the ball AGAIN, you probably need to grant yourself permission to do a little less and let others step up. Reducing some obligations (and stress!) will hopefully give your performance on the track a jumpstart.


Take a break

Many times on this blog I have counseled readers NOT to take a break. However, sometimes a legitimate need to step away from derby arises, and jarring yourself out of a rut could qualify. What I counsel against is what my friend affectionately calls a “leave of anger.” Don’t take a break because you are butthurt about not making a roster and intend to “teach a lesson” to your coaches or teammates. That is a leave of anger and will only hurt you. I would also caution against taking a break if you haven’t been playing derby for very long – your freshly acquired skills will disappear much more quickly than a grizzled veteran’s will and, before you know it, you’ll be starting from scratch again. If you’ve only been playing for a year, you probably aren’t yet seasoned enough to determine whether you legitimately need a significant break, so keep skating. However, if you’ve been playing for a few years and have a chronic case of the burnouts, a chance to focus on other things in life might be just what you need to push past that plateau. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and a few weeks or months off may shift your perspective, give your skills time to integrate and renew your passion for derby.


[I wrote this piece after a reader contacted Call the Jam seeking advice on how to get past a plateau. If there’s anything you’d like to see discussed on this blog, contact me here.]