Roller derby is an aggressive sport.
Aggression is defined as a forceful action or procedure (as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master.
Many people think of aggression as something bad, violent, rageful. They picture Hulk, smashing everything in his path, ruining lives and making little kids cry.
While roller derby requires aggression on the track – there’s no “sorry” in roller derby – this doesn’t mean you’re allowed to be an asshole. There are ways to make opposing players’ game a living hell while not making stupid mistakes and be sent to the box, penalizing your team in the process.
Hitting right is hard. The more I watch and play derby, the more I think of it like a game of chess. The speed of the game forces me to act quick but the strategy behind each move actually requires me to take my time. Calculated hits are the most effective, and they’re performed with the perfect dose of aggression.
How do I become aggressive?
Remember the good old days when asked to hit another skater for the first time?
“Come on, hit me! I can take it!” the vet said to me with a big smile.
I was a shaky mess. I rolled slowly, and prepared myself for contact. I aimed at the hips. When the time came to actually touch her, I stumbled. My stance was shaky, and my balance wobbly. I had no power and no momentum. Deep down, I was looking hard for a reason to get mad at her enough I wanted to hit her. I barely brushed her with my hips and didn’t feel powerful at all.
While I struggled, the vets were really excited to hit us freshies. They didn’t look mad at all when they hit us. They actually were smiling, and looked very relaxed. We stood like chicken awaiting slaughter, and they came at us hard. One hit sent me flying. Woah, so that was what it felt like to be hit on the track… So we thought. Later the vets said they had hit us at 25 percent.
What must it have felt like to be hit at 100 percent!?!
Fast forward to scrimmage. Hits aren’t tempered anymore, and I’m feeling the full effect of being smashed into like a pinata on Cinco de Mayo. Woah. I never thought my body could withstand hits like that, and not immediately shatter like a porcelain doll.
As I learn to hit hard and effectively, I realize that aggression comes with commitment. Hesitation will kill me. I commit to hit a blocker and I don’t stop until I’m done hitting her. I focus all my energy and power toward that hit.
Aggression also comes with repetition. Muscle memory is my best friend. I have to hip check doors and walls to understand how low my body has to go and how my hips move to hit hard and legally. I work with my body to perfect the move. I try to go as fast and as hard as I can every time.
Aggression comes with control. I won’t be effective if I’m scattered. Like a car racer trying to pass an opponent, I must know myself, including what I can and can’t do. Throwing myself without any control will result in penalties, injuries, and possibly, an expulsion from the game.
Aggression comes with confidence. I know exactly how my body is going to move as I’m preparing to hit. I keep my stance low and use my hips to achieve the biggest hit in a legal target zone. I don’t give into fear.
The best way to find and nurture your aggression is to channel that angry energy and work on your skills. Learn to hit in a legal target zone! No one like headbutts and back blocks. A vet skater once said that aggression comes after you’re fed up with being hit all the time. This part is true. I noticed it myself, I really don’t like to be hit without hitting back as hard as I can. This took time though. I learned to brace myself at the beginning, and I took hard hits in weird places that left me breathless for a few seconds.
When the body is strong, and the mind focused, aggression is like this fire that burns bright and bold on the track. You affirm your dominance over your opposing players, and provide the best weapon for your team. Once the game is over, you hug and congratulate everyone.
Hitting people is also pretty awesome. So what are you waiting for?
If you want to read more on aggression, Treble Maker wrote a great post on the subject, available here.