“You know how I feel about that Roller Derby.” This is my Nana, very time we talk. I don’t even have to bring up the topic; she scolds me every time. I live and play roller derby in Nova Scotia, while all of my family lives in Ontario. Nana has never seen a game, so her experience says that we go around throwing elbows and clotheslining each other. She worries about me every time I put my skates on. I am one of the smallest girls in our league so just about everyone I skate against (or with) is bigger than me. Roller derby is indeed a rough and tough sport. If you have ever seen a game or even a practice, you know that it is fast paced and hard hitting. So much can happen in the blink of an eye–it’s not so much if you are going to get hit, it’s when. That’s why I want to talk about injuries, or more specifically I want to talk about injury prevention.
As a veteran skater I have seen a number of people go down during games and practices, myself included. No one wants to be the one who has to watch from the sidelines because they are unable to skate. We teach ourselves to be resilient, to get back up after falling down, to take the hard hits and keep skating. A very important part of injury prevention is learning about how to listen to our bodies. There are times when we should push through the pain, and there are times where we need to stop and let our bodies catch up. Remember that you are not letting your team down if you need to sit out of a jam or at practice. Let your coach or trainer know if something feels off. Personally, I am so charged full of adrenaline when I play that I don’t always notice when I’m past the point where I should have stopped. There have been many moments when my coaches bench me, because they know that otherwise, I will end up sitting on the sidelines regretting a preventable injury.
In my experience, injuries happen more often to inexperienced skaters. There are a number of reasons for this. The first reason is obvious: newer skaters take some time getting used to their skates, and they may not have full control on the track. It takes a few years to really feel comfortable enough on your skates to be able to handle all the hits and quick changes that get thrown at you. In order to keep our skaters safer, we have a minimum skills requirements that they must pass before they can play. Even after you pass the minimum skills, most leagues require at least another month of practice before you will be eligible to be drafted to a team. The second common reason why newbie skaters are more prone to injury has a lot to do with muscle development. This is where injury prevention comes in.
For a lot of people just getting into the sport, the physical side can be very intense. It is very important to do some sort of cross-training outside of practice to make sure that your body is in good shape. Derby works a large amount of muscles but not all of them, and not evenly. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to go out and buy a gym membership. There are a number of amazing resources available now for derby-related at-home training. Strengthening your muscles helps to make sure that your body will be strong, flexible, and able to handle a lot more. Training outside of derby also speeds up skill development when learning to skate or working on some new tricks. Cross training is important for skaters of all levels!
Our bodies are capable of amazing things, but we need to take care of them. Make sure that you warm up your muscles before practices or bouts. There is nothing worse than trying to push yourself really hard on cold muscles, because you are more likely to end up pulling or stretching something that shouldn’t be stretched. Take the time to show up early at practice to make sure you are ready. It is just as important to cool down after practice and give your body a good and proper stretch. I see too many skaters gear down after practice and just hop in the car to head home. They are usually filled with good intentions, maybe planning to stretch when they get home, but by then it is already too late. I really notice when I don’t take the time to cool down because for the next few days I am so incredibly stiff. When you do not take the time for self-care after practice, you are opening your body up for the possibility of injury. Pamper yourself. Take a hot bath with some epsom salts, convince your partner/friend/team mate to give you a massage, and most importantly, make self-care a top priority.
A great source for at-home training videos is http://www.rollerderbyathletics.com. They have some fantastic information about building muscles, derby “pre-hab” (strengthening those more vulnerable muscles and reducing pain) as well as post practice stretching.
No matter if you are just getting into skating, or are playing at a competitive level of derby, you need to take care of your body. If you cross train, take the extra time for warm-ups and cool-downs, and listen to your body, then your derby career will last as long as you want it to.