Tag Archives: fresh meat

Do The Work: My Path to StrongFirst

14 Nov

Tomorrow I’ll be heading to Bang Fitness in Toronto to participate in a StrongFirst Level 1 Kettlebell certification.


I am beyond excited.  And a little bit (or rather a huge, massive, heaving bit) scared.  I have trained all year for this weekend.  I have followed a meticulous training schedule (thanks Brett Jones!).  I have read theory, watched videos, and attended workshops (thanks Chris Lopez!).  I’ve tried to dial in my diet, and I’ve been progressive and particular about weighting up my bells.  I’ve done countless swings, squats, get-ups, cleans, presses, and snatches.  In short, I’ve tried to do the work necessary to become certified at the end of the weekend.

Here’s the thing – I still might not pass.  I might end the weekend with a bunch of knowledge, and more work to do.

Strongfirst is a very challenging certification.  You need to be able to demonstrate your ability to teach, perform, and persevere.  The lifting standards are detailed.  The workouts are grueling.  The weekend is long, and hard on the body and mind (so I’ve heard).  It’s also incredibly rewarding and, pass or fail, you come home better and stronger than you were.


So, what does this have to do with roller derby?

More than you’d think, actually.

As you know, I train all of our fresh meat.  I also train our league skaters. I have seen a lot of girls try to become derby skaters.  I have seen a lot of them succeed, and I have seen a lot of them quit.

Please note, I’ve not mentioned seeing anyone fail.  Derby is tough on you – both physically and mentally.  Derby takes a lot of commitment, time, and energy.  Derby forces you to be honest about what you can do, and what you have yet to be able to accomplish.

You only fail if you cease to try.

That’s how I’m looking at this certification – either I’m ready to pass, or I still need more work before I’m ready to pass.  I don’t fail.  I don’t suck at everything.  The instructors won’t be wrong and biased and just have it out for me – either I’m ready now or I’m not yet.

Derby is the same way.  I have seen dozens of girls lose their bananas over not being drafted, rostered, or played.  I have seen them call themselves all sorts of names, and beat themselves into the ground.  Over and over again, I’ve seen skaters call themselves failures, and then I’ve seen them spiral into self-doubt and poor play.  I’ve also seen skaters pull themselves up after missing the draft (or roster or line) and come back at it hard.  I’ve seen them attack their challenges like mad dogs and turn those challenges into the skills that they dominate.

Want to guess which strategy makes better derby skaters?

What matters is not always the outcome – we can’t control the outcome most of the time.  What matters is the input.  What matters is doing the work, and being confident that you’ve done the work.  Sometimes you’re just not the right person for the job, sometimes you’re not the one who needs to be on the roster, or the one who makes the team.  But if you did the work, you have nothing to be ashamed of if the output isn’t quite what you wanted.

Don’t get me wrong – if I don’t pass this weekend, I’ll likely be upset and I’ll go through some “what did I do wrong” drama with myself.   Not getting what you want when you feel like you’ve worked hard for it STINKS.   Especially when you feel like you’ve done all you can do.  But if that happens, it will likely be that I just wasn’t ready yet.  And accepting when you’re not yet ready is a pretty important skill to learn.   It’s one I’m still working on.  But I’m thinking of it this way, no matter which way things go – I spent a full year dedicated to a very specific goal.  I worked my tail off, and have already accomplished things I never thought I could when I started.  I met some wonderful people.  If all I focus on is 5 minutes at the end of a 3-day weekend, I’m not giving myself nearly enough credit for all of the amazingness that I’ve already achieved.  If you focus on one roster (or line or whatever), you’re not giving your whole derby journey nearly the weight it deserves.


photo courtesy Joe Mac

So whether in derby, or training for a tough kettlebell certification, or anything you’re excited about – do the work.  Don’t avoid your challenges.  No one ever became a champion by ONLY doing things they were already good at.   Ask for help when you need it.   Do the work with confidence.   Let that confidence show no matter the outcome.


Fresh to Death: Three Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Fresh Meat

7 Mar

TCRG just had its latest Fresh Meat intake on Monday. What a charming and enthusiastic group of girls! They came in all bright-eyed and hopeful for what was the first time on skates for some of them, and they all performed admirably.

Every time we have an intake, I hearken back to the days long, long ago when I was fresh meat, and didn’t know my ass from my elbow – but definitely fell on both of them – and I reflect on the things I wish I’d known.

Here are three things I wish I’d been told:

From Nike+ Training

Hope Solo, From Nike+ Training

You Need to Train Like An Athlete

I’ll tell you what I told my new freshies on Monday – Derby isn’t the workout. Train outside of derby. Seriously. It will make a world of difference. This is probably the area that I get the most questions about since people know they need to cross-train, but haven’t a clue where to start. I’m a little reticent to give blanket workouts, since everyone has their own set of challenges, imbalances, and patterns. Your best bet is to find a trainer who knows a thing or two about bodies move, talk to them about your goals, and get them to write you a program. Or get a trainer to come up with an off-skates plan for your league. If that’s not the way you roll, no worries, you’ll just need to do a bit more research to find a plan that works for you. Try to get a professional to look at your form periodically though, there are few quicker ways to invite injury than repeating a faulty movement pattern over and over. Also, if something hurts (actually hurts – not is sore from exertion, learn the difference) – STOP DOING IT. Don’t keep plugging through something just because you think you have to be a bad-ass, pain is the body’s way of telling us something is up. What might be perfectly safe for others might not be a good idea for you (like I said, we all have our own challenges). Don’t ignore your body’s signals.

All of that disclaiming aside, here are a few key points to keep in mind when you get started with your cross-training and a basic plan to get you on your way:

In the derby, generally (very generally) our quads (the muscles on the front of your thigh that control extension at the knee, as well as flexion at the hip, along with your hip flexors) get crazy strong and muscular (hello, none of my pants fitting in the thigh anymore). Sometimes the left is slightly stronger (because you balance on it all the time turning left). Strong quads are great, but we need to encourage balance amongst the muscle groups, lest your quads take over everything. I wrote an entire post about training your glutes. Don’t neglect your posterior chain – it’s the most powerful mover in your body and you should give it some love.

When you start skating, oftentimes you find yourself with a host of new aches and pains (and bruises, but we’re not really talking about those), pay attention to them. If your low back is hurting, it could be that you need to work more on your glutes and hamstrings, it could be a lack of core strength, it could be something clinical. Track your pain and see if it gets better or worse as you get stronger. Bring a foam roller with you to practice, and roll out your shiz before (and after) practice – rolling out your calves often helps with shin splints, rolling out your quads often helps with posture.

When you’re training, if one side is stronger, only do as many reps of an exercise as you can do with good form on the weak side. On that note, meet yourself where you’re at. Don’t do exercises just because you think they’re cool, do them because they’ll give you the appropriate training effect. Don’t jump into something advanced before you are ready, there are tons of ways to regress an exercise (inclines, band assistance, lighter or no weights, smaller range of motion, etc.) – make sure you can perform the exercise with perfect form before you progress into a more challenging variation.

You can use a few simple multi-joint exercises – both upper and lower body, save time, and get a great training session. Here’s an easy template you can quickly adapt to a derby off-skates training regime. In any given session, you can include:

Upper Body Push – horizontal: eg.) push-ups, chest presses; vertical: eg.) military presses, push presses

Upper Body Pull – horizontal: eg.) rows – inverted, seated, alternating; vertical: pull-ups, chin-ups, lat pull-downs

Lower Body Squat Pattern – eg.) front squats, back squats, wall squats, goblet squats

Lower Body Deadlift Pattern – eg.) deadlifts, glute bridges, hip thrusts, romanian deadlifts (also kettlebell swings to a certain extent)

Lower Body Unilateral – eg.) split squats, step-ups, lunges, 1-leg RDLs, bulgarian split squats

Core – (I’m a big fan of stabilization here) – prone planks, side planks, woodchops, birddogs, get-ups

Agility and/or Endurance – I’m a big fan of interval training, going hard for brief spurts, recovering, going again. I find it carries over nicely into the energy systems you use in derby, takes less time overall, and is less boring than steady state cardio. Start with a working pace you can maintain and a challenge pace that is actually challenging. Be creative with your cardio. It doesn’t have to be treadmills and bikes – it can be sled pushes, swings, heavy carries, ropes, hill sprints, jumping, dancing – the only limit is your imagination (and your threshold for fatigue).

Pick 4-6 exercises, 3+ sets (depending on what you’re doing and what you want to accomplish), set appropriate rest periods – don’t skip them, have a dynamic warm-up, plan a cooldown, and go to town on your off-skates training!

Again, I restate – make sure you’re moving well, that nothing gives you pain, and that you have a plan. My most favourite advice, from the incomparable Grey Cook, ‘First move well, then move often.’


You Need to Eat Like An Athlete

(Hopefully) Gone are the days where your pre-bout meal was a slice of pizza and a large Coke. Poor nutrition all week will manifest in your derby performance, so it’s important to eat well. General sound guidelines (and I mean general – I am not a doctor or nutritionist, just someone who tries to eat well and help skaters to do the same):

Eat whole foods as often as you can, local or organic when you can swing it.

Eat lean proteins, veggies, and healthy fats (oils, nuts, seeds) with each meal.

Save your starchy carbs for post-exercise meals.

There are a raft of additional tools that you can use to help you dial in your nutrition, and to make sure that you are getting the energy you need to support your sport. I use (and love) Precision Nutrition – full disclosure: I’m a certified PN coach, so I’m a tad biased. If you struggle with this sort of thing, or are curious about nutrition – talk to someone! There’s so much nutritional information out there, some of which is helpful and some of which is bunk – instead of trying to sort through all of it, find a professional out there who can give you some tools.


The Trainers Critique You Because They Love You

I mention this because I am one of those trainers. I’ve had newly graduated meat tell me they thought I was picking on them. I’ve had girls break down because they think they’re never going to master a skill. I’ve had girls harbour negative feelings about trainers LONG after they joined the league. It’s a tough position – you are learning something new and challenging. The trainers are there to help you, not belittle you. We do, however, have to tell you when you are doing something that might be dangerous, and give you tips on how to refine your skills. If we’re giving you lots of feedback, it’s because we believe in you. If we’re only giving you negative feedback, it’s because there are more girls than trainers, and that’s all we have time to give. Know that when the trainers get together afterwards, we all talk about the great things you did and how far you are coming too. If you have an issue with the way a trainer critiques – talk to them. Let them know how to teach you best. We’re all in this to get better and bad-asser, so let’s help each other do it in the least emotionally-fraught way possible.

Finally, a couple of extra tips that make a difference in your Meat Experience:

Derby Takes Time to Change

Whenever you join a new organization, it’s easy to see the flaws. You have a fresh set of eyes, and you can see where people are dropping the ball, where there’s room for improvement, and where you can help out. I highly recommend only publicizing that last one. When new skaters come in with energy and the desire to pitch in wherever they can, managers love it. When new skaters come in with a laundry list of changes that should be made, we don’t love it quite so much. Have your great ideas, document them, and start work on a committee that interests you. Once you know a little bit about how the committee operates, and how the head of the committee likes to manage, pitch your idea – and say that you’ll do the work to implement it. This saves a lot of undue stress. We all want our leagues to be the best possible machine they can be – just sometimes the gears grind slowly, and you have to apply the grease gently.

Don’t Forget About the Things That Were Important Before Derby

Before you join derby, presumably you have friends, maybe a life partner, pets, a family, hobbies, a job. Don’t forget that these things exist just because you have a shiny new thing that you do. Derby will take up A LOT of your time if you let it, so have a plan to keep some balance. Make dates with your friends, family, and life partner and keep them. Try to keep things in your conversational reservoir that are not derby-related. People will want to hear about what you’re doing in derby – it’s a pretty cool thing to do – but don’t forget to ask about them and what they’re doing, they might be doing cool stuff as well.

Finally, The most important part of joining a roller derby league is finding your own way.

I can give you lots of helpful tips and tricks, but you need to learn who you are and where you fit into derby. There are lots of people ready and willing to help you along the way, just ask them. Vets aren’t as scary and insular as you think. They’re like bears – just as scared of you as you are of them. Most of us join derby because we’re social misfits to begin with – take the first step and introduce yourself to people you think you’d like to get to know. Come into derby with open ears, a willing spirit, and a determined heart and it’ll be no time before you find where you belong.

Perfectly Aged Meat

8 Nov

It’s been a challenging, interesting, whirlwind season for my league.  We faced many, many retirements, injuries, and leaves, all the while taking in our largest batch of fresh meat yet.  We lost some founding skaters, and hopefully, have found some of the skaters that will drive our future.

A whole bunch of TCRG fresh meat have recently graduated into full league skaters and we are now gearing up for the draft.  We have such an amazing bunch of girls coming up in this intake that this year’s draft may actually be a fight to the death (Stacie Jones, Fox Smoulder, you better be ready).  It’s an exciting time for all of the teams.

At the end of October, we had a double-header: Our new girls “The Tri-City Kitties”  v. Niagara Roller Girls’ Fresh Meat “The Niagara Puppies” and our WFTDA charter team, Thunder v. Queen City Roller Girls Lake-Effect Furies.

(photo courtesy of Joe Mac)

Both bouts were awesome.  You could just feel the excitement coming off the new girls as they lined up for their first bout.  It was infectious and the game was a pleasure to watch.  After a super close first half, the Kitties held Niagara scoreless for all of the second, managing to rack up a decent score, with a 85-15 final.  As a head of training for TCRG, it made my heart swell to see how great the Kitties did.  We had lost some key trainers over the season, and it was reassuring to know that our girls were still in good hands.

(photo courtesy of Joe Mac)

Thunder’s bout with the Furies was a rematch of a rematch.  Thunder won their first meeting in July of 2010 with a score of 72-51, lost a 179-153 heart-breaker almost exactly a year prior in October 2011, and came in with something to prove.  After losing some longtime Thunder vets, I think that Thunder wanted to prove, mostly to themselves, that they could come together and play the strongest game they had – win or lose.  They did just that and won, in a tooth-and-nail, blood-and-sweat 179-163 nail-biter.

After that, we had a mixed scrimmage season closer, which (I think) ended the season off right.  All of our home teams were so depleted that all coming together and playing a super-fun Team Frat Burger v. Team Retro Rocket Comics game was just what we needed.  There was much heckling, much silliness, and very much derby love.  (side note: Team Meat totally creamed Team Nerd) 

(photo courtesy of Joe Mac)

It’s been a while since I’ve felt the league this unified, everyone working hard towards the same goal, the excitement of the newer skaters not grating on the jaded veterans, but rather fueling them to fall back in love with whatever it is that keeps us all doing what we do.

It can be tough to restructure, to have a re-growth sort of year.  And that’s what I think we’re heading into.  Here a few different strategies for dealing with change:

1) Freak Out.  Resist Change.

Isolate the new skaters, make them feel awkward.  Hope they quit, so things go sort of back to how they were before.  Don’t talk to or partner with anyone new at practice.  Make sure that no one ever sits in your spot in the changeroom.  Make sure that everyone knows how pissed off you are about the changes that are happening.

2) Embrace Change.  All the Change.  Make Change Your New Everything.

Re-vote the Board, re-vote your captains, re-vote your team names, your by-laws and your practice structure.  Change it all.  Only ever work with skaters you don’t know.  Change your derby name.  And don’t get overwhelmed, because change is great and things will turn out awesome.  Outside of derby, this is when you decide to go from never training and eating whatever to Working Out Every Day, Only Eating Whole Foods, Sleeping 8 Hours A Night, and Drinking Gallons Of Water All The Time.  Sound familiar? (not saying those are bad or that you can’t do them all at once, but maybe small, sustainable changes are more realistic)

3) Be a Little Scared of the Change.  Deal With It.  Make Changes That Need to Happen.  Keep the Things That Are Working the Same.

Generally, it’s best pick this one (though sometimes we all find ourselves veering towards the other two).  Work with the new girls – be patient.  They haven’t been playing for years, they will make mistakes.  Try to build them up, rather than break them down – make them feel like they made a good choice coming to (and staying with) your league.  Integrate the new girls into roles that suit them and draw on their strengths.  Deal with your feelings about the changes – Do you need a break?  Do you need to mentor someone?  Do you need to focus on yourself?  Do you need to reach out to your team? Be honest about where you are at with derby and check in with yourself as things evolve.   Make the changes that you need to make to keep yourself in love with derby.

When I started playing, I thought derby would be my salvation.  And in some ways, it has been.  It’s given me a new body, a new outlook on health and fitness, and a new career.  It’s given me a whole host of new friends, and four years of great times.

It’s also been the source of sleepless nights, arguments, hysterical crying before practice, an overfull inbox, various injuries, and neglected non-derby friends.

It wasn’t until my third season that I let myself off the hook for derby stuff.  I had to make hard choices – leaving Thunder – so that I wouldn’t just pack up and quit entirely.  I had to look myself in the face and ask what I wanted from derby and what I was willing and able to give.  And I am SO GLAD that I did.

Being honest with myself kept me sane, and kept me playing.  In the face of lots of change – that’s your best option: Be honest.  Know what you can handle and what you can’t.  Get on with it.

We have to face a lot of changes in our lives.  Let’s face it honestly, with courage and determination.  I have a feeling that’s how TCRG is going to head into our 2013 season, and I couldn’t be prouder or more excited to be a part of it.

TCRG ♥ (photo courtesy of Joe Mac)

Maxing Out Your WFTDA Minimums

13 Aug

photo courtesy of Joe Mac

There’s one week left before our new fresh meat test their minimums.  We have a great group of girls this time around – super motivated, keen, and really encouraging of each other.  The training committee and I are excited to get these girls scrimmaging, and integrating them into regular league practice.

But first, they must pass the dreaded WFTDA minimums test.

I’ve been on the training committee for a few years now, and I’ve administered many, many minimums tests.  Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter if you are the star jammer of the charter team, or the freshest of fresh meat, everyone gets nervous before they get tested.  Even those who are 100% certain they’re going to pass.  Everyone gets nervous.

Think back to your driving test.  You were pretty sure you could drive, right?  But when that Ministry of Transportation employee sat down beside you and busted out their clipboard, you panicked.  You doubted what you knew, and began to second-guess yourself and your abilities.  It took me three tests to get my G licence (a full licence in Canada).  I had been driving for ten years, had a totally clean record, not even a speeding ticket.  Even so, I freaked out.  I drove fine, but I cried the whole way through.  I don’t test well – I don’t like to know that I’m being judged, it undermines my confidence and makes me feel all icky.  Lots of us are like that.  And when it comes to minimums testing, it’s just like a driving test – if you don’t pass, you don’t get to do this thing that means a lot to you.  So there’s pressure.  And panic.  And general badness.

As I said, I’ve given a whole lot of tests.  Here are my tips for rocking your WFTDA minimums:


Make sure that you’re comfortable with all of the skills you’re required to do for the test.  If you’re not comfortable, practice.  Instead of chatting at the start of practice, grab someone and work on your skills with them.  Push each other to be better and more confident.  Work on skates.  Skate outside.  Work off skates.  Work on your balance – you have no idea how many people struggle with the one foot glide. Maintain various postures on and off skates so that your body knows them cold, and nothing will feel too new or too challenging on test day.

Focus on Form

On test day, your testers are looking for safety, not perfection.  If you don’t do something the same as the girl next to you, don’t freak out – as long as you’re safe, and you do what’s written in the test, there’s room for personal style.  Perform each skill in the way that you’ve been taught, coupled with what you’ve found works best for your body.  You’ll know what that is because of all the practice you’ve been doing, right?  There are particular markers that each tester looks for, but the A Number One thing is safety.  You don’t need to be a rock star.  Your goal, especially in the partnered skills, is for both you and your partner to succeed.  Also, if you do fall or miss, you will almost always get more than one chance at a skill.  Keep that in mind, dust yourself off, and nail it the next time.

Don’t Over Think It.

This is by far the biggest and most important piece of advice.  You know how to skate.  If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have made it this far in the fresh meat program to begin with.  I always tell my girls to find their rhythm.  When testing laps, find your stride, count it out if you want, sing a song with a hard beat in your head, recite a monotone play-by-play of what is going on around you.  Skate to a rhythm, and then if something crazy happens (you get cut off by another skater, you lose your footing, whatever), you can jump right back in because you have a solid head space that you’re occupying.  The biggest obstacle for most girls, whether testing the first time or the fiftieth, is their own mind.  Keep a clear head, stay positive, and have fun.

Here’s another thing: Sometimes skaters don’t pass.  It sucks.   It sucks for the skater, and, trust me, it sucks for the trainer.  If you don’t pass, allow yourself to be frustrated, allow yourself to sad, allow yourself whatever emotion you feel.  We all invest tons in derby, both physically and emotionally.  Not passing your minimums is a crappy situation.

BUT, and this is important, it’s not a permanent situation.

We trainers want you to pass.  We want you to be safe, skilled, and ready to mix it up with the big girls.  You are the future of roller derby, and it is our job to make sure that you come in prepared.  We love it when you take a missed test as an opportunity to develop lightning focus on the skills that need work, fix them, and come back to dominate your next try.  Usually, if you miss something on the test, your tester will explain to you exactly why.  If they don’t, ask.  And then ask them to help you get that skill up to a pass.  If they can’t help you personally, they’ll at least be able to point you in the right direction.

Tests are stressful, there’s no getting around it.  But practice your skills, be comfortable in your skin and your stride, and keep a positive head space and you’ll be awesome.

Good luck freshies!