Roller Derby and Burnout

Roller Derby and Burnout Photo by Danforth Johnson

Burnout?! Who gets burned out?! How dare you even speak of such a thing. We love this sport! Rah rah! Roller derby 4 evaaaaa!

But real talk. The burnout struggle is real. It’s very, very real. Burnout often seems like the ultimate four-letter word of all things roller derby. It’s that thing that no one talks about but basically every derby person feels at one point or another. Because derby sometimes feels like this fragile thing that we’re holding up solely with good intentions and all the elbow grease we can collectively muster, it’s almost sacrilege to talk about wanting to take a break. Or needing to take a break. Or anything that alludes to bowing out of the derby world.

My own burnout struggle started later than most. A year or so ago, I was four years into derby and going strong. I found myself skating for a WFTDA-level All Star team, Vice President of my gigantic league, writing for Derby News Network (RIP) and running my league’s Marketing and PR committee. Oh, I also had a more than full-time job and was attempting to have some semblance of a social life. Details.

I had no idea how I had even gotten to this point. I certainly had not started out with any intention of derby defining my existence. But I drank the Kool-Aid early on and figured if I could help my league and this sport continue to grow, I would do whatever I could to do so. I would sacrifice sleep and my personal life and, ultimately, portions of my sanity.

Photo by Jena McShane, McShane Photography .

Chelsea and her team, the Lansing Derby Vixens. Photo by Jena McShane, McShane Photography.

And life was great. Except then I stopped being effective. Maybe not entirely, but I wasn’t giving as much as I wanted to any part of my derby life. I was exhausted at practice. I was easily irritated and often unable to focus. I would come home and begrudgingly answer emails. Or not. Sometimes it would take me a week to respond to derby-related emails. And that wasn’t okay.

I don’t think I fully recognized that I was experiencing the forbidden “burnout” for a while, but eventually I realized I was doing no one any favors by balancing so many responsibilities and doing them all at about 80%. It wasn’t benefiting my league and it certainly wasn’t benefiting myself. I lived like this for several months before I finally made a decision to re-examine things. I was exhausted. And I had to cut something out or I was in danger of rage-quitting in the middle of a Tuesday practice because someone bumped me a little too hard.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, life led me to making the decision to take a break from skating after the 2014 season. My real job became more demanding and I knew I couldn’t effectively train to be the athlete I wanted to be. I also knew I wanted to stay involved in derby (duh) so when I accepted the position of league President for the 2015 season, I turned to the internet for help coping with derby burnout for myself and to spearhead this issue for anyone else in the league.

I don’t think I fully recognized that I was experiencing the forbidden “burnout” for a while, but eventually I realized I was doing no one any favors by balancing so many responsibilities and doing them all at about 80%.

I was sort of surprised to find so few pieces existed. While this is a somewhat taboo topic, we ALL deal with this in one form or another. We should be talking about it more. The articles I found, however, were on point and certainly helped give me some ideas.

Because this issue has been so prevalent in my derby career, I’ve come up with a few tips on how to cope with burnout to make sure you’re getting the most out of your derby career that you can. And that it doesn’t end too soon because you’ve taken on more than you can truly handle.

  • Check in with yourself often.

While it’s really super important to pull your weight on your league and contribute wherever possible, it’s equally important to make sure you’re not taking on too much. If you genuinely don’t have the time or mental capacity to head a committee, don’t agree to do it. You aren’t actually helping anyone in that case and being a derby martyr will only lead to faster burnout. Trust me on that one.

  • Don’t be afraid to take time off.

This doesn’t have to be all dramatic. It doesn’t mean you take a full season off. It doesn’t mean you take a month off (though by all means, consider these things if you are really in a bad burnout place).

It can be as simple as blocking off a weekend. Plan ahead if you can. If you’ve found yourself at a breaking point? Take time off. Remove guilt from yourself. Missing practice once isn’t going to destroy your derby career and giving yourself these mini breaks may prolong your derby happiness and career.

  • Ask for help and do it frequently.

For the love of derby, share the responsibilities. This one took me way too long to learn, but people want to help. And asking for help doesn’t mean admitting failure. It’s showing you want the very best for your league and that you’re a human who cannot possibly do everything.

If you have taken on some sort of project or task and you find that you’re drowning in how to get everything done in time, reach out to your league. Go through whatever channels your league has established and find help with a portion of your task. In extreme circumstances, you may need to pass the entire project to someone else. And you know what? That’s okay, too. Life happens and it’s better your league gets the full attention of someone while you regroup.

Again. Appropriate balancing = longer derby career and greater derby happiness.

  • Say no.

Okay, I know. This is so much easier said than done. If someone comes to you and is like hey, event planning committee, can we puh-lease do this super awesome thing I came up with? It’s not easy to say no. You genuinely want big, great things for your league. But again, no one benefits from an individual, committee, or even a league taking on too much. It’s important to stay balanced and realistic.

I’m a firm believer that leagues that are deliberate with everything they do are the most successful and have the happiest skaters. Part of this is knowing when taking on something new will compromise the solidity of your league. This principle applies to each individual derby person as well as the league as a whole. So find the balance for your league and yourself. And rock the shit out of it.

  • Plan ahead.

Generally, you have some idea what your derby schedule for the season looks like. In the least, you know what your schedule for the month looks like. Or the week. The point is that you can plan for down time for yourself. Set aside a weekend where you know you can take some time for yourself. Go visit non-derby friends. Revisit non-derby hobbies (those do exist). Plan these as often as you can because they will help you stay grounded and balanced. And they will make your derby life happier and will give you time to crave getting back on the track and/or back to your derby role.

And, here are the articles I found that helped me when I was searching for burnout advice. I hope they help you, too.

Say YES to Derby Burnout

Much Ado About Your Inevitable Burnout

Jam Slanders Tips on Dealing with Burnout

The Burnout Beast?

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