For most of us, roller derby is hard. It takes years of training, countless hours away from our families and friends, and extreme mental and physical exertion. It is such an incredibly competitive team sport, and the success of the game lies heavily on every skater’s shoulders. Because of this, many skaters employ coping mechanisms to avoid anxiety and deal with the competitive pressure. While most coping strategies are healthy, some strategies, such as self-handicapping, are less than ideal.
Essentially, self-handicapping is just like it sounds: “a proactive attempt to protect an individual’s self-worth through the deliberate creation of obstacles, real or imaginary, which, although they hinder or impede the individual’s successful performance, provide a convincing alibi in the face of a possible poor performance” (Arkin & Baumgardner, 1985).
For athletes, there are two different types of self-handicapping:
1. Claimed Self-handicapping: Making a list of excuses either out loud or to yourself about why your performance might be hindered.
2. Behavioral Self-handicapping: Actually engaging in behaviors that could hinder your performance.
Claimed self-handicapping is something even I have used. Usually it involves just telling others of some external reason why your performance might not be as great that day. Athletes will say things like, “Man, I’m so tired today – I barely got any sleep last night!” or “My knee has really been bothering me. I hope I can still play through the pain.” While sometimes these are true statements (and in roller derby, a lot of athletes do play through immense pain), athletes can exaggerate or use these statements as a blaming tool in case things don’t go well: “It wasn’t my normal performance – everyone knew I was tired, so that is to blame.”
Behavioral self-handicapping is a much more involved and intentional version of self-handicapping. Athletes will physically do things to themselves that they can then blame on a poor performance. Imagine the days leading up to a big bout. The pressure of performing well has been too much and you decide you’ll go out with friends the night before the bout. Maybe a little dancing? A little wine? Eh, you aren’t too worried about it. This way, if you have a sub-par performance, you can blame it on being slightly hungover, maybe a little tired, and all danced-out.
Having low self esteem or low confidence can lead to using self-handicapping as a coping mechanism. If you are not confident in your abilities, you may protect yourself by creating external reasons for failure. Self-handicapping is therefore not all bad – it does allow the athlete to maintain a positive outlook on performance in the midst of a bad bout. Athletes can more easily brush off losses to external issues instead of their own game play, which will help maintain confidence and self esteem. However, it is best to overcome self-handicapping instead of using it as a crutch.
So how do you stop self-handicapping?
-Be sure to set reasonable goals for yourself. We all know that roller derby is not always about winning or losing, and sometimes we have bad bouts. Reasonable goals should be attainable, non-outcome based goals (goals based on your performance, not on the outcome of the bout).
-Start implementing a routine to control anxiety and stay ready for the bout. If you need more help with this, see my other post :).
-Use positive self-talk. It is amazing how much impact positive self-talk can have on overall confidence and self-esteem. Be nice to yourself! Even the shortest phrases (e.g. I am awesome! I love roller derby! I can do this!) are enough to help.
So think back to how you cope with the competitive pressure of playing roller derby. Do you feel as though your methods involve self-handicapping? Roller derby is hard enough without giving ourselves more obstacles! Although it might hard to change your behaviors and thoughts right away, it is a great first step to just acknowledge the existence of self-handicapping.