Minimum skills are tricky: as well as trying to pass some tough skills, you also very quickly learn a lot more about yourself as a human being. Long before my derby days began, I was a competitive figure skater, so not only was I massively competitive (and still am), I also thought that my years of training would help me breeze through my minimum skills. However, this was far from the journey I ended up on.
Shortly after starting my minimum skills tests, I injured my knee and I was not allowed to skate for three months. As many people will know, it is demoralising and extremely frustrating to watch other people start to pass more skills than you, whether it is due to injury or just to them picking up skills more quickly than you. You feel like you are being left behind, and gradually more and more like a failure. If I am honest, this three month period landed me in a pretty dark place where I felt useless and often like giving up. But it was also during this time that I started to realise that the minimum skills process was teaching me a lot about my approach to setbacks and my reaction to failure.
What did it say about me that I was so concerned that other people were passing more skills than me? And why was I so afraid of being left behind? The answer was a tough one for me to own up to – you see, I had always been quite good at skating skills; however, I was unaware of how much I needed validation of these skills. I started to realise that I had a very fixed mindset, and that this meant that any challenge or setback felt like a massive failure. My need for praise and validation started to reveal to me how insecure I was as a person. When I realised this, I decided to use the minimum skills testing and my injury to change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, and, rather than feel threatened by my fellow rookies, I decided to invest time and effort into helping and supporting my friends as they took the tests. I also learned how to genuinely celebrate their successes without feeling like a failure at the same time.
Interestingly enough, the more I focused on other people the less concerned I felt about my own successes and failures. I learned that we are in this together, that we are a team, and that if I could help someone else be better, we would all be better, whether that meant filming my friends as they worked on skills they were struggling with, bringing oranges to practice or just shouting really loudly as they attempted the dreaded 27 laps in 5 minutes! I also very quickly realised that this was much bigger than just my experience of roller derby, it was the way I should be living my life.
It is really tough to not compare yourself with other people, and if you’re anything like me it is even tougher to not constantly look for validation and acceptance. The real gift I gained from this experience was the realisation that when I learned to wholeheartedly celebrate the successes and achievements of others, I ended up feeling more whole; passing all my skills became an amazing bolt-on rather than the be-all and end-all. We all face different challenges, and we all fail – I have learned that failing is okay, and that it is far more important to focus on using challenges and failures to become better human beings than to succeed at everything. If we are better human beings, then we are better teammates, and in the process we all get better at roller derby!