Blocking with the Head Part 5: Confidence

(This is part 5 of a series looking at the psychology of roller derby. For an introduction, read part one of the Blocking With The Head series)

Welcome back, derby enthusiasts! And welcome to the fifth instalment of Blocking with the Head. Today I’m going to talk to you about confidence – what it is, what it isn’t, and how you can build yours up for the better.

confidence: the quality of being certain of your abilities or of having trust in people, plans, or the future
(Cambridge Dictionary)

Confidence affects everything we do, in roller derby and in life more generally. When you’re confident, you believe that your efforts will pay off, which in turns makes you exert more effort (which then pays off in results, giving you more confidence…See how it’s the gift that keeps on giving?)

Confidence levels affect our mindset and our physical performance. So why is confidence so tricky?

Over-confidence & hubris

I’ve not met many derby skaters who are guilty of over-confidence. If anything, I feel as though as a community, derby people are largely self-effacing and self-critical. But occasionally, I come across a skater whose confidence has grown to a point where they think they’re untouchable. Maybe they’ve had a string of wins and awards, and they attribute their team’s success to their own personal skill. But even the greatest derby skater cannot carry a whole team. When (and it definitely is a when not an if) that skater gets tripped up by their over-confidence, the crash back down to reality is hard. Remember the old adage, “pride comes before a fall”:


Confidence is a glorious thing, but overconfidence can lead to recklessness and unnecessary risk. Being overconfident (i.e. when your confidence is greater than your actual abilities) can be disastrous, both for yourself and your team (and your relationship with your teammates!). Be confident, but don’t get complacent.

Lacking confidence

When we lack confidence, we don’t believe in our skills and capability. This can make us hesitate, hold-back, and perform below our true abilities. Lacking confidence often results in us not pushing ourselves – we don’t think we’re capable of that apex jump, so we don’t try it (even though we might have managed it in training). We rely on our “comfort zone”, and revert to old “tried and tested” methods even if they don’t always get the best results (hallmarks of a fixed mindset).

Having confidence can create an upward spiral of positive mental attitude, but similarly, lacking confidence can have a knock-on effect that can be hard to break. Lacking confidence can make a skater act overly cautious, and expect to fail. Then, if that skater does fail (however they define “fail”), their confidence takes another knock, and this makes them more likely to think they’ll fail again in future. Lacking confidence creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The confidence “sweet spot”

Having optimal confidence is a bit of a unicorn, but it’s a great place to be. Optimal confidence is a balance between your abilities and your belief in those abilities.

Ways to build your confidence

Take a realistic assessment of your current skill-set

Think about where you’re at right now. What are you good at, what do you struggle with? Review game footage, and talk to your coaches and your teammates to gain insight into your strengths and weaknesses (including skating skills, general fitness, and “derby brain”, i.e. grasp of rules, tactics, awareness and attitude). This is not a punitive exercise: everyone will have things they can work on. This allows you to….

Identify areas for growth, and address them

Use these insights to build a game plan to get better. If there’s something you’re not confident doing, don’t avoid it – you’ll never get more confident that way! A good way to grow your skills (and build your confidence) is to set SMART goals – goals which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-dependent. Set up the targets, and then knock them down, one after another.

Goals, finance |
image (c) Scott Adams,

Celebrate your achievements

Remember when you had just started skating, and how awesome it felt to perfect transitions for the first time? Achievements (big and small) boost our confidence – something that we thought we couldn’t do, we now can, and that’s a big deal. What else might you be able to achieve? Achievement milestones come thick and fast when you’re a freshie, and can be easier to quantify (there’s a clear list of minimum skills to tick off). Once you start bouting, it can be harder to identify things as “achievements”, and many skaters can get sucked into the habit of putting absolute value in two things: winning games, and winning awards. There is so much more to roller derby than winning, and you can identify achievements in progress in many different ways.

I’m going to talk about “losing” in more detail in a future post, but if you’ve recently lost a game, there are a few things you can do. Firstly, have a read through of my post about control, attribution and blame. Next, wait a few days (don’t let the loss be too “raw”) then review the game footage (if it’s available). It can be a good exercise to do this with some of your teammates or coaches – our league often hosts a footage review night on evenings when our usual training venue is unavailable. When reviewing footage, it can be easy to spot instances where you or your teammates went wrong, and whilst this can be useful in identifying areas for growth, try not to turn it into a self-flaggelating or blaming exercise.

Always look out for instances in which you do something good – well-timed offence, building a wall after your opponents thought they’d broken you up, bridging in the nick of time, executing a new strategy from training. If you’re struggling, ask a coach or teammate to help you spot these instances.

Try writing up your roller derby CV, including games you’ve played, occasions you’ve benched or officiated or otherwise helped out with the running of a game. If you have coaching, training, committee or event planning responsibilities, include those too. There is so much more to roller derby than “winning lots of games and awards” – you’re part of a community, and by recognising and celebrating your achievements over the years and months of your involvement in this community, you can bolster your sense of self-efficacy and confidence.

Take time to reflect

Celebrating your achievements is important, but an equally important next step is critical reflection. What did you learn from your last game, or this week’s training session(s)? What went well, what didn’t, what do you need to focus on next? Think about it, talk about it with teammates and coaches, or even keep a reflective journal (or blog. This blog may or may not serve more than one purpose, you know…). By actively reflecting on your development, you can regain a sense of control over your own development, build confidence in your own abilities, and creating SMART goals becomes a breeze.

Fake it ’til you make it

Many people get pre-game nerves (another topic for a fuller exploration in a future instalment). Often nerves are simply a sign of being invested in an activity – the outcome means a lot to you, you care about how well you and your team will perform. Even the most seasoned derby skaters get nervous, but you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell. A presence of nerves doesn’t mean an absence of confidence – you can be confident in your abilities but still get nervous before a game.

So how can you tap into your confidence, if you’ve got the shakes and your brain is whirling with all the things that could or might happen, all the things that could potentially get in the way of you playing to the standard you know you are capable of?

Fake it. Act confident. Re-frame the situation and re-interpret your physical feelings – you’re not nervous, you’re pumped. Use chants, mottos, mantras, create a “derby persona”, pre-game rituals, whatever it takes. Most teams have a team chant nowadays – we’ve got our call and response “Who are we? SRD! What are we? Awesome!”. It serves many purposes, but key here is that it’s a pre-game ritual which gets us focused and psyched up for what’s ahead.

What are the things that help you to feel confident? Maybe it’s a killer boutfit or your signature warpaint? Do you meditate and “get in the zone” before the game? Bash out a set of push-ups? Thump your chest and roar?

Yes, these are all things I’ve done from time to time, and they do make me feel pretty boss. I’ve also made myself a pre-game playlist, which is especially useful for away games, as long drives are otherwise a good opportunity to worry and fret and ruminate.

Take hold of the situation, flip it on its head, and be the beast you know you are!

photo courtesy of Martin Quadling Photography

Bonus round: Roller Derby builds confidence across the board

For many of us, roller derby has highs and lows, but can also teach us about overcoming adversity in a way that builds resilience into our everyday lives. Here’s an awesome short video from Gotham Junior Roller Derby, about the positive impacts roller derby has had on these youngsters’ lives. Enjoy. See you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, please consider buying me a coffee. Your donations, no matter how small, help ensure that I can continue to devote time to producing quality content for everyone to benefit from and enjoy. Thank you ❤

Further Reading


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