Minimum Skills: Stop Freaking Out

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Courtesy Sean Hale Photography. @seanhaleyeah

Ah minimum skills.

The Freshies on my league have their mins testing on Monday. Watching them get ready reminded me of how I felt as I went through the same motions only a few months ago. 

Yep. My freshie testing was November 19, 2015. My first testing was sometime in June of 2015, I can’t remember the exact date because I didn’t pass. 

I say that for a reason. I didn’t pass the first time I tested. Did I die? Was my life over? Was I finished with derby? Nope. 

Some skaters expressed how life changing derby is; I’ve expressed the same. Some folks who participated in team sports in their youth also expressed how hard derby was compared to whatever discipline they were into before. I can’t really speak about team sports as derby is the first team sport I’m in, but I can speak about sports in general and the disciplines I was into. My biggest one was skiing, and guess what? My biggest disappointment happened when I didn’t pass one of the skill tests, because I couldn’t turn while keeping my feet perfectly parallel. 

I must have been twelve years old. Until then I had always passed everything on the first try. So imagine my little heart broken to pieces when told I had failed! I cried behind my goggles and they fogged up. I was so angry at myself. How could I be such a failure? 

My life wasn’t over though.

I didn’t quit skiing after that unfortunate episode. I eventually managed to ski with my feet parallel, and I looked very good. My coach told me I should start doing competitions. Ah, I just wanted to have fun so I said “thanks, no thanks”, and I kept on skiing and enjoying myself without further testing. 

This was the first of many fails I would deal with in my life, but that one was important because it didn’t involve school, relationships, or work. It involved sports. What did I learn from that experience? I failed, but I didn’t give up. I did what I had to do to succeed. Timelines didn’t matter. I just knew I’d pass if I wanted to pass and worked hard at it. 

Fast-forward twenty years later. I’m 32, and have decided to start roller derby. I already tell myself I’m too old for this. Why should I break an ankle? I’ve hurt myself in the past, playing sports, and also just living life, and injuries suck! I do Insanity workouts! I’m fit and strong. Derby is just a whim, right? Yeah, I’ll just learn to skate and then I’ll give it up. I’m not into competitions anyway. Too stressful. Yeah, at 32 years old, I have enough stress in my life as it is. I’ll just take it easy. 

What no one told me is that derby was more, much more than just skating in circles. I realized that very quickly. I fell madly in love with the sport, and suddenly, being 32 and having stress in my life didn’t matter anymore. I wanted this. I wanted this so bad. 

I started FM in April 2015. The first testing happened in June 2015. By then, I could barely transition. My balance was okayish. My crossovers needed work, lots of work (see my amazing crossovers below). My jumps looked sad. I achieved 23 laps in 5 minutes.

The day of testing, I went in that evening with the biggest and brightest fire in my heart. I told myself I’d give it my all, and if I passed, I passed. If I didn’t, I’d try again. 

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Courtesy Sean Hale Photography. @seanhaleyeah

I pushed so hard I thought I’d break. I really believed I had a chance. Then the results came the next day. I hadn’t graduated. 

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little sad. My derby sisters I had started with had moved on to the next level, and I was stuck in a corner. Very quickly though, I shushed the negative voice. I had started barely three months prior. I couldn’t skate three months prior. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t do anything. Well I could roll and pray. That I could do. 

I remembered how I felt after failing that ski testing. I remembered how hard I worked and how much I kept pushing. I remembered passing. Feeling strong on my skis. Going fast down the slope, knowing I could stop. I could be in control, safely. 

That’s what the mins are all about. SAFETY. Veteran skaters want to make sure you’re not a danger to others, and yourself. It has nothing to do with pride, self-worth, and how badass you think you are. It has nothing to do with “if only” and “but”. It has nothing to do with your intelligence or your understanding of strategy. STOP FREAKING OUT. The more experienced skaters want to see if you’re in control of your skates, if you can change direction, if you can stop, if you can balance on either foot and navigate the track as safely as possible if someone falls in front of you. 

Because let me tell you, once you’re cleared for contact and can scrimmage, there’s other stuff to worry about. I watched a video of one of our scrimmages yesterday, and despite me thinking I looked like a lost giraffe the entire time, I also noticed I fell small, I recovered quickly, I stopped when needed, I avoided downed skaters, and I could keep up with the pack.

I’m not a pro. I have barely one year under my belt. I’m insanely grateful for having failed my first mins though. If I hadn’t worked on the basics over and over, I couldn’t be on the track with 9 other people, two of them going at crazy speed and slamming into the wall like they want them dead. Okay, it is maybe exaggerated. Jammers don’t want blockers dead. They just want to skate through, meanwhile blockers want to prevent them from doing just that. 

There is a purpose to the mins, and if veteran skaters think you’re not ready yet, don’t take it personally. It’s not a competition. Everyone does it on their own time. It’s as simple as that. Just skate, give it your all, and keep moving on. 

Last words of advice: shush that negative Nancy voice, and keep showing up to practice.

You got this. 

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