The training wheels are off: I've now played in my first bout, and it was nothing short of wonderful. I had about a million different expectations for how it would be--there are so many places your brain can go when you're faced with an occasion as momentous as your first bout, both glorious and terrifying. A lot of the things they say about bouting are true, though.
For one, practice really can beat performance anxiety. I've done martial arts, theatre, and music for an audience in the past, and performance anxiety was always alway
a thing. No matter how prepared I felt in those times, I had that familiar tightening in my chest every time I stood up to take my turn in the spotlight.
The awesome thing about this bout? That anxiet didn't happen.
I didn't freak out, I was present in each moment I spent on the track, and I knew what to do. My team let me know that they trusted me to do what was needed, and all the practice time prepared me for the physical movements, and built up the instincts for knowing what to do and when. It was pretty cool to realize that, hey, maybe I CAN be someone who performs well under pressure.
The noise also isn't as distracting as you might think. There's a lot going on during an actual bout, as opposed to a scrimmage. There's the crowd, of course, and there's also the DJ, the announcers commentating, mascots whooping and hollering, referees making penalty calls, bench coaches shouting to be heard above it all. The funny thing is, when you're actually playing the game, a lot of that noise fades away. I could hear the refs, my teammates and my coaches, but the rest didn't even register, in the moment. I saw my friends holding up signs for me before a jam started, but then the whistle blew, and I was all-business. Apparently, there was chanting to go with the signs, but I didn't hear it. One of the announcers called me by name during a jam, but I didn't hear it at the time--I heard it days later, when I watched the bout video footage. It's amazing how much the act of focusing on the game drowns out the extraneous stuff.
And, yeah, it's pretty thrilling to have fans and skaters giving you hugs and high-fives. It's exciting as all-get-out to have your name and number called out by the announcers, and be introduced with your team. And yes, even when you only get to play in two jams, it's still it's pure joy skate around the track after a bout, and have amped-up derby fans waiting to high-five you and congratulate you.
Here's an in-game shot! I'm apparently a camera-avoiding ninja in life and in derby, so there weren't many of me (and also, y'know, because of the whole "played in two jams" thing), but whee! Doing the thing! And WE WON. Handily. SO AWESOME.
RELATED: In the couple of weeks leading up to, and following the bout, I did feel like I'd hit a plateau, which was annoying and frustrating at times. I had a teammate say that she was feeling "so impatient to get better," and I was feeling that, too. I had what became a pretty valuable conversation, though, in the past week or so--at last week's scrimmage, we mixed teams for the second half, just as a fun thing to do after the intensity of the bout. I volunteered to be jammer for one jam, because A) my team has me blocking all the time, and B) it wasn't a for-reals Team Lineup anyway, so why not be jammer just for fun?
I went in, did a pretty excellent job jamming, and made several scoring passes while my blockers held back the other jammer. It was a long and exhausting jam, but it was good. Then, one of my coaches pulled me aside and asked, "in your time on Fresh Meat, how much time did you spend jamming versus blocking?" I guesstimated 40/60, which may have been overly generous--I did a lot of blocking on FM, because I knew I needed more work at it. Then she said, "I just saw you be more dynamic as a jammer than I have ever seen you be as a blocker." And then, she went on to say that, going forward, she wants to play with using me as part of the jammer rotation.
In the wake of that, my brain had two initial responses, which were both pretty ridiculous:
1) Being completely and utterly intimidated by the notion of jamming for this team, when we have so many experienced players and such incredibly good, lightyears-better-than-me jammers.
2) Feeling shitty about my blocking, because it's not as "dynamic" as my jamming. (I think part of this was because I don't think of myself as a particularly good jammer, so if my blocking is less-good than that...?)
I think I'm much over that reaction now, though. Fact is, her comment about my jamming was a pretty huge compliment--the team drafted me intending to use me as a blocker, so my blocking is good already, and I surprised them with even better jamming. And, I now have a plan for working on my confidence among more-experienced blockers, and bringing that jammer dynamism into my blocking. I have this ridiculous mental picture of myself during my best turns at jamming, where I'm all laser-focused and Super-Saiyan, all instincts and physical process, anti-gravity anime hair and Power Level 9000 and all that jazz. Visualization has always been surprisingly hard for me, but maybe that mental picture could help after all--maybe there's a Super-Saiyan Blocker version of me ready to beast out.
And, you know? At first, I was kind of bummed out to get drafted, and then not even be considered for jammer time. I'd made my peace with that before the bout, so I wasn't prepared for this change-up, but I should be happy about it. I get to jam! Take the opportunity and run with it. There's plenty I can do now that I couldn't before, and there's no reason why I can't do this, too.
Scrimmage last night was pretty good, too. I jammed, and I also blocked with more power than I have in quite a while. I think maybe this plateau is ending, and some upward momentum is ready to take over.
So, yeah, as intimidating as it is, more of this might be in my future: UNSTOPPABLE JAMMER RAGEFACE.