The more I skate derby and hang out with derby people I’m learning that it’s not about not falling down. At first, not falling was my main goal. I needed to keep my balance and stay on my feet. The first few times I fell, it surprised me and I felt a little embarrassed. Falling felt like failing. "Oh no, I can't do this."
But then I noticed that during practice, experienced skaters tend to fall more than novice skaters. They do riskier things, take more chances. They might take a turn too fast or a jump too high. Amid the claps from their teammates, they hop back up and keep going. Sunday at practice an experienced skater fell during a timed lap. She got up and still made time.
The first skill you learn is the proper way to fall forward onto your knees, not backwards on your tailbone or head. If you start to fall, you go down on one knee or two and get back up without your hands touching the ground. Since the first skill we learn is the right way to fall it’s like derby is teaching you:
You WILL fall down.
But you don’t need to be afraid of falling because we’re teaching you how.
Practice it. Get really good at it. In fact, it’s a level one testable skill. You have to learn how to fall and stop before you can move on to anything else.
Damn. Twenty-year-old Emily could have really used those two skills. Here’s the proper way to fall down. Here’s the proper way to stop. Without hurting yourself or anyone else. When you’re falling, it’s instinctive to grab onto the person next to you. You can’t do that in derby or you’ll drag other people down with you. You try to fall small, tucking your head and your arms so people don't trip over you or skate over your fingers. Then you get back up and keep skating while your teammates clap and check on you if it was an ugly fall. People like to say, "If you're not falling, you're not trying hard enough."
It feels like this entire sport is just one huge metaphor for life.
We did a pack drill. I had people literally pushing on my hips for me to go faster, faster than I could have on my own. At one point, I held onto someone else’s hips and tried to practice fast crossovers through the turns. Teammates literally, physically pushing me to skate faster, to try harder. If that isn’t everything, I don’t know what is.
The experienced skaters need the new folks to get better, to pass skills tests so we can do contact drills. The team is hoping to do a scrimmage in a few months but in order to do that, more people need to level up so they have enough bouting players. The other skaters have a vested interest in me getting better. They need us, and we need them to push us past the point of being afraid of falling.
I also fell during the timed lap. Unlike the experienced skater, I didn’t make time. I fell because I was taking the turn faster than I ever had before. I wouldn’t have taken the turn that fast if I hadn’t had people pushing me earlier in practice and cheering me on. I fell the right way, got back up, and finished the lap.
First, you have to learn how to fall and how to stop.
Then, you can practice transitions, jumps, and contact drills. Then you can skate in a bout.
First you have to learn how to fall and how to stop.
And stop being afraid of falling.