And although it’s by no means the end of discussion for mental health tactics to make it through your derby career, this will hopefully get you through to the end of this practice. And maybe even the next. And so on.
I Got to Practice… Now What?:
- Chat it Up
Are any of you familiar with DBT therapy? In DBT, there’s a whole bunch of different coping skills and one of those skills is called “act opposite”.
Even if you don’t feel like talking much, gear up by someone who is and try to focus on their conversation. Ask yourself to say “hi” to someone or ask yourself to strike up a conversation with someone to help move your mind away from what you’re struggling with and into something different (that’s a skill called “distraction”).
- Just Observe
A quick trick I use to move myself out of my head is by doing something I call un-selfing. That involves moving focus away from me and my ego, and towards things around me.
Take a few minutes before gearing up, or after you’ve geared up but before practice starts (if you have time) to just sit with your experience in a non-judgmental way.
During this time, practice non-attachment by recognizing and identifying emotions as they occur, but choosing, actively, to do nothing with them except sit with them.
Observe what others are doing around you. Don’t make an effort to describe it or place judgements. Just be present. A good exercise for this, pre- or post- practice/ game, is just sitting in a chair and observing that action.
Remember: This is a really challenging skill to master. Just give yourself 20-30 seconds of this at first, if you need to, and don’t get upset with yourself if you don’t feel like you’re in a good space to do this. I like to practice this regularly, even on my good days.
- Focus on Breathing
Between drills, or when you start to notice your mind wandering away from practice, focus on your breath.
I like to breathe in for 5 seconds, hold my breath for 5 seconds, and then breathe out for 5 seconds. This can be a helpful way to get re-centered and refocused.
- Positive Self-Talk.
Imagine removing yourself from your body, and then think of yourself as your teammate.
What encouraging things would you tell your teammate self?
Inundate yourself with those words and phrases, even if it feels hard, cheesy or unhelpful. Trust me on this – it will get easier and more natural with time.
- Ask Questions.
Get involved, and stay present in practice by asking questions of trainers, coaches, or teammates.
Even when it feels really hard to. Even when they feel like “stupid” questions.
Sometimes just the process of thinking about the task at hand in a thoughtful way (like trying to think of questions to ask) helps us stay present.
- Set Goals (or reiterate your goals)
If you set goals as a way to help get yourself to practice, check in with yourself about these.
Maybe tell them to a teammate. Ask a teammate what their goals are for practice. If you didn’t do that earlier, thinking of a few goals for yourself can help you get out of your head and more focused on the task at hand.
I like to aim for concrete and measurable goals like “complete 6 successful left footed hockey stops”.
- Ask for support
Pull a teammate, trainer, or coach aside before, during, or after practice and let them know you would like some support. Ask them if they can offer that, in whatever ways work for you.
Sometimes, for me, that just means being able to look over to a teammate and have them give me a nod or a smile. Sometimes that looks like asking to go to the restroom, to give myself a second to regroup. Pick something that works for you.
Getting ourselves out of tough mental spots is a challenge in and of itself, let alone trying to focus on practice and be present while we’re there.
So try for this kind of practice: Practice being gentle with yourself. Practice being your own best cheerleader.
Remember that baby steps are still steps. Remember that not being able to do something doesn’t define you as a person or a skater and it doesn’t define your potential or worth. Remember that managing mental health looks different for everyone.
Mental health is a complex issue. This list series is only intended for specific uses – when you want to go to practice and want to try to get yourself there but are struggling with it. There will still be times when it is best and/or most safe for you to skip practice.
Remember at core that it’s crucial to take care of yourself (and that that can mean a myriad of things). Rest when you need to. Eat well and stay hydrated. And of course, skate hard and have fun whenever you can.