Mental Toughness Minimum Skills: Habits

The WFTDA Minimum Skills are designed to help make you a safe and knowledgeable skater, ready to take on the game of roller derby. You learn how to fall, how to stop, how to go and how to hit. You get fitter, stronger and more stable and you learn the rules.

But I believe the Minimum Skills are missing a vital element that will make the life of new skaters much better.

Enter: The Mental Toughness Minimum Skills.

These Mental Mins are the very basic mental toughness skills I believe a skater needs to master. With them, you’ll become a more confident and successful skater with have the tools to tackle any challenge  head on.

Mental Toughness Minimum Skill No. 1: Creating Habits

What Are Habits?

The dictionary defines a habit as “something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it. A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”

We are basically the sum of our habits; almost every aspect of our lives is influenced by the habits we do or don’t have. If you’re happy, successful, fit, healthy or not is a result of your habits.

Habits are subtle and powerful and often go unnoticed until we try to break them. We create habits as a way of being more efficient with our mental energy. Some habits are fragile and require maintenance and other habits are so engrained that you could almost do it in your sleep.

Willpower Sucks

Willpower is a finite resource and it’s one that burns out very quickly. The same goes for self-control, motivation, inspiration and resolutions. Willpower requires a lot of mental energy and when you’ve already spent a day making decisions, resisting temptation and motivating yourself to work, your willpower tank will be on empty.

So what happens when you’re running on willpower fumes and you have to decide whether or not to go to the gym or practice? 9 times out of 10, willpower will lose and you’ll sit and watch Netflix instead.

Habits, on the other hand, are easy. They require very little mental energy, you don’t have to make a decision and weigh up the options. You just do it. Before you’re even thinking about it, you’ve done it.

The Power Of Daily Habits

Habits can be good or bad – exercising daily/smoking –  but the most powerful habits are the ones you do most often. In fact, the most powerful habits are the ones you do every day.

Daily habits are the most ingrained, the neural pathways have been well trodden, and any interruption to your daily habit can leave you feeling weird – like not getting your morning coffee, ugh!

They are also the most difficult habits to break (if they’re bad) and can have the biggest cumulative impact on your life – twice-daily teeth brushing literally means you’ll live longer and healthier!

What Have Habits Got To Do With Mental Toughness?

You have goals, right? Like making the A team, becoming a high-rotation jammer, passing your minimum skills or finally achieving 27-in-5.

Goals are one of the cornerstones of mental toughness – goals keep you on track and focused when the going gets tough, they help you to see your progress when it feels like you’ve plateaued and can help you reframe failures such as losing a game or failing your min skills.

Well, habits are the things you do to take you towards you goals.

In order to achieve your goal, you have to consistently be working towards it – doing CrossFit once will not suddenly make you as fit as Loren Mutch! You need to be doing something regularly so that you keep improving. Over time, the cumulative effect will be that you get better/faster/stronger.

But as you already know, you cannot rely on motivation and willpower to get this done. There will be too many times that the decision to practice or workout will be too much hard work and something else will win. You need to create a habit instead. (Before the sitting on the sofa becomes the habit!)

Getting out of a bed on a Sunday morning to go skating is hard if you have to think about it. Going to the gym after work is hard if you think about it. Making sure you do your mobility and re-hab work is hard if you have to think about it.

If you can make [thing that you need to do to achieve your goal] a habit – automatic, part of your life, no decisions needed – you will be far more likely to do it. If you can make that thing a daily habit, even better!

Habit Examples:

  • Foam rolling, stretching and mobility work every day
  • Strength training three times a week
  • Skating footwork practice at home every weekend
  • Bodyweight workout every morning before work
  • Planks and core work every evening
  • Making it to three practices a week

Decide what things are more likely to help you achieve your goals – ask your coaches if you have no idea –  and start turning them into habits so you can make almost-painless daily progress towards your goals.

Tips For Creating Habits

  • Schedule [habit you need to do] into your diary: If you haven’t planned that habit into your life, you won’t do it. Your day will fill up with everything else and you’ll use the excuse “I didn’t have time”. But you did have time, instead you did housework or spent an hour on Facebook or got sucked into a Stranger Things binge…. So put. it. in. your. diary!
  • Make starting or doing the habit as easy as possible: We tend to put barriers up which prevent us from doing new habits, so try and think of all the ways you can remove them. That may mean putting your gym kit by the side of your bed, preparing your food and skate kit for the next day so you don’t have to come home after work, hiding all the unhealthy food and put the healthy stuff at eye level in your fridge…
  • Only focus on the habit and not the goal: At the start, it’s more important to create the habit and make it stick that it is to focus on progress. The process is the goal right now and each time you do it, it’s an achievement. Once the habit sticks, then you can start focusing on your real goal – lifting Xkg, skating X laps etc.
  • Start small, really small: If you’re planning on working out intensely every day for an hour, your willpower will be completely drained by day two. Instead, plan to do X for just a small amount of time every day – 30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes, 5 minutes. Any amount of time that doesn’t fill you with complete dread and that you know you will actually do. Usually once you’ve started, you’ll get into the flow and want to continue. But if not, you’ll at least have made sure you are still creating the habit.
  • Track, record, write it down: A great way of creating a habit is to track it. Get a calendar, diary or print off one of these handy habit trackers and mark every day you do the habit. If you’re going for a daily habit, the pain of having a blank square is highly motivating. And once you’ve got half a month of unbroken squares, that pain doubles!


Further reading on creating Habits

Better Than Before – Gretchen Rubin

The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

3 Simple Ways to Make Exercise a Habit

The 5 Triggers That Make New Habits Stick

How to Build a New Habit: This is Your Strategy Guide

Overcoming Our Biggest Obstacle to Creating Habits

How to Get Back on Track with Motivation & Habits


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