At the end of the season last year, my brain, body and bank account finally said “Enough!” and I was forced to take some proper time off from roller derby.
I was emotionally, mentally, fiscally and physically exhausted and I wasn’t interested in anything remotely roller derby. Looking back I think I was probably slightly depressed, but I was definitely extremely anxious for many reasons. So when my ankles finally got so bad I could hardly walk, the time had come to throw the towel in.
The next four months flew by – I could focus on working, seeing friends and family, getting my stupid ankles fixed and enjoying not driving millions of hours every week. It was lush. So lush in fact, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go back.
But the World Cup happened and CCR’s season kicked off and I started to feel like I wanted to skate again.
I’ve been back a couple of months now and it feels great. I’m not as rusty as I thought I’d be, my fitness hasn’t completely disappeared and I somehow managed to squeak 27-in-5 out on my first time back on skates… just!
It feels like I’ve woken up from a really good sleep and I am excited to see what we can do for the rest of the season.
So what did I learn from taking four months off?
There Is Life Beyond Roller Derby
Before my time off, I used to feel anxious whenever anyone mentioned retirement. I couldn’t imagine what life without derby would be like, what would you even fill your time with?? It turns out that, shockingly, there is more to life than roller derby. There are friends and family and travel and other sports and gigs and nights out and lie-ins and other hobbies….
Pre-roller derby, I didn’t have any hobbies or many friends so I worried that if I stopped skating, my old, boring life would come back. But thanks to roller derby, I have lots of friends. And they all do fun and interesting things which I can invite myself along to. I can travel all over the country to visit them (when I’m not feeling super socially awkward) and we can even go and watch roller derby together sometimes!
Roller derby defining and fulfilling your entire life can become unhealthy, what would happen to you if you could never play again?
I don’t need roller derby any more, I want it instead but it’s a good feeling to know there is more to life than roller derby.
Exercise Is Fun
Working out for the sake of working out is actually really fun. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy lifting weights just to get better at lifting weights. I even considered training for a powerlifting competition if my ankles/brain said I couldn’t return to roller derby. I got a new strength program from my friend Brooks and worked on my upper body for a change and actually saw some gainz (who knew?!).
Having to crosstrain for roller derby can be a great motivator to get you to the gym, but it also creates a lot of pressure. It can also make working out feel like a chore. And if you don’t absolutely kill your workout, you can feel like a failure. You’re never doing enough, working hard enough, lifting enough… If you’re not doing crossfit every day at 5am, are you even an athlete??
Lifting weights when you aren’t fatigued is so much better… shocking, I know. Not constantly feeling exhausted is actually… really nice! Not feeling guilty for having a rest days is… amazing!
My Team Doesn’t Need Me
That might sound weird but if you come from a small league who never plays with a full roster, you will understand the pressure of being “needed”. If you’re not there, it makes a huge difference. Everyone has more work to do and it might feel like a loss is your fault for not being there.
But at my new, big league, they don’t actually need me. They can fill my spot with a number of people. They can still kick ass and win games without me there. I don’t need to feel guilty for needing time off or being injured because I know they will cope perfectly well without me.
And that is the whole point of a team. We are supposed to be greater than the sum of our parts.
FOMO Isn’t As Bad As You Think
I was dreading the season starting and missing games. I think I missed one or two scrimmages my entire time at my old league and not a single game in 4 years. Pretty sure I’ve only missed one closed door and one open game since I joined my new league. I am not a person who misses games!
You can’t do all of the things all of the time. At some point you need to say no and prioritise something else – family, friends, health, money, whatever. It might suck briefly but it won’t kill you, I promise.
I think when you come to derby at a later age, you constantly feel like your time is running out, that you only have a certain amount of games in you so you absolutely must play ever single game you can. But what if I told you quality is better than quantity? And what if I told you that if you look after your body, rest and take time off when you need it, you can keep playing for many years?
I feared missing out would be too painful, but it really wasn’t. And part of that is because….
I Love Watching My Team Play
My team are really fucking good. Watching them makes me swoon. While I was still skating, I didn’t always notice how skilled our team is and sometimes only focused on the negatives. But watching them practice and play I wondered how I was ever good enough to skate with them.
Was I ever that fast?? Did I ever catch one of our jammers??! How on earth did I make it onto the A team?!!?!
A chance to have some distance from your team can give you a new perspective on them and remind you of why you joined them in the first place.
You Won’t Forget How To Skate
Sure, you might be a bit rusty and unsteady at first, but a couple of months off will not completely erase all of the skill you’ve learned so far. Newer skaters may be affected more but you won’t return to square one. Once you’ve learned something, your brain is quite good at retaining the thing, providing you practiced it many times. The neural pathways might need dusting off a bit but they will still be there!!
Don’t worry about getting left behind if you take some time off, it will take less time than you think to get back to your pre-time-off skill levels and you’ll be able to attack your goals with a renewed vigour!
Listen To Your Body…..And Your Brain!
We’re all told to listen to our body and to stop if we’re injured or something causes pain, and to some degree, we do it. Granted, it might take being unable to walk before we listen but eventually we do.
However, we also need to learn to listen to what our brains are telling us too. I think Prime of Iron Octopus said something along the lines of “If you think you might need a break, you already do” and I now really understand that she’s right.
If your brain more often than not saying, “I don’t want to go to practice. I need some time off. This is too much. I am tiiiiiiirrrreeeed.” then fkn listen to it! It doesn’t mean you’re weak or lazy or not cut out for roller derby.
Brains need a break from game pressure, team dynamics, committees, coaching, goal setting, visualising, planning, blah blah blah… Add all of that noise to your real life – jobs, studying, family, friends – and it isn’t really a surprise that you reach a point when your brain wants to check out.
Off Seasons Are Essential
I was one of those people who thought off-season was a stupid idea, two weeks off over Xmas was enough for me and I probably would have skated through if there was practice. I thought even a week off would be detrimental to my progress and would come back from holidays feeling like I’d totally forgotten how to skate.
But this is unsustainable over the long term.
Maybe when you’re new and need to keep practicing those skills, a real off-season isn’t necessary. But as the level and the intensity that you play at increases, off-seasons are essential.
For all of the reasons above and more, your entire being will benefit from some time off. You won’t forget how to skate, you won’t get left behind and your fitness won’t completely disappear (so long as you do off-skates!).
But you will give your injuries a chance to heal, your body time to repair, your brain time to rest.
Have you ever taken a break from derby? Let me know in the comments!
P.S Come join the Facebook group and get mind, body, derby strong!