I was recently visiting a friend with a very cute cat. At one point in the evening, I was petting the cat when he suddenly started biting and clawing me. Instead of getting angry or pushing the cat away (which is probably what most non-cat lovers would do), I just stayed there and dealt with the pain until the cat finally released its claws. The claws and teeth were painful – but it was a pain I was willing to risk so I could feel that soft fur.
Just like in roller derby, most people understand the risks they are taking when they skate onto the track. You are putting yourself in a dangerous and possibly painful situation, but you know it will be worth it.
For me, I don’t understand why everyone wouldn’t want to try roller derby at some point in their lives. I love the challenge, the teamwork, the ability to hit others and fight for your ground on the track. So when I tell people they should give roller derby a try, I am surprised how many people say, “No way!” almost immediately. People who don’t like cats are probably not willing to put up with being clawed merely to pet one, and many people probably have no desire to choose a painful sport like roller derby. And realistically, the people that DON’T play roller derby are probably a little more sane than most of us.
Athletes, especially ones that endure pain during competition, have a very different attitude towards pain than others. Research has shown that most athletes are able to tolerate more pain and stay cognitively sharp even when they are in a painful situation. Last week, I mentioned dissociating yourself from your pain in order to get through a hard workout. However, the opposite of dissociation – association – is being able to concentrate on what you are doing and ignore everything else, including pain.
You’re on the track – lined up with your fellow blockers. The start whistle is about to blow and you know you need to hold back the opposing jammer no matter what. Right as the whistle blows, you dig in and the jammer hits you HARD. You feel the pain for just a second, but you quickly push it out of your mind to concentrate on digging, keeping your strong brace, and tracking the jammer across the track.
This scenario is extremely common in derby – in fact, something similar to this probably happens every jam. So roller derby players have learned to adapt and react to pain in a way that most people would not tolerate.
*NOTE: Pain is not the same as injury pain. If you are injured, you should take care of your body!*
An interesting article in the Association for Applied Sport Psychology notes two ways athletes interpret pain. I think most (if not all) derby players relate more with #2:
#1: You interpret your pain as threatening: You focus on the pain rather than concentrate on your sport, and pain interferes with your performance.
#2: You interpret the pain as an ally: The pain is a necessary and a natural part of the sport. It is a sign of working hard and it does not interfere with your performance.
So in contact sports like roller derby, you must be able to accept that pain is part of the sport. Don’t be surprised if you get knocked off your feet by a blocker! Just shake it off and get back on the track. “When pain shows up, be willing to feel it fully as part of your experience.” (O’Connor, 2016).
And if you’re crazy like me, the harder you get hit, the more fun it becomes.