TL;DR - I unexpectedly made the jammer rotation and learnt more than how to jam.
In the past year a lot has changed for Wiltshire Roller Derby. This has meant changes in the branding and a lot of changes for skaters. This has meant a lot of changes for me, and more challenges than I had ever expected.
I very much started off my time as a skater desperately wanting to jam. I’m not sturdy, and I’ve never been able to take a hit. But I’m not bad at not getting hit and I’m alright at running away. Jamming made perfect sense to me.
Unfortunately, as many of you will have probably found in your own skating careers, this wasn’t meant to be. When I joined the team we had a full jammer rotation and little resources or time to train up new ones. Besides, we needed blockers. Frustrated, I got my head down and I blocked. I got ‘okay’ at it. I might not be able to take a hit but I can move quite quickly and track a jammer when I need to. I grew to enjoy blocking, I became switched on to the game. I at least knew what I was meant to be doing, even if I wasn’t doing it. I was assigned a wall, I liked the people in my wall. All was well.
Then something changed. Injury, retirement, changes in circumstances all meant one thing - we needed jammers. So with barely any experience and zero jammer specific training under my belt I was passed the star.
The game had changed since the few times I had acted as relief jammer in the past. The walls had got better...but I hadn’t. Couple this with a fatigue condition and you don’t get a recipe for success.
My first game officially on the jam rotation was our first British Champs game of the season. I went in feeling awful, under-prepared and generally not like I would do a good job. I didn’t have a jammer brain on.
I survived. I scored some points. But I didn’t feel good on track except when I went on as a blocker. Every time I came off track after jamming I was full of negativity and self-doubt. It was not good.
The next game was at home. I hadn’t let go of how I’d felt at the game before, and again, wasn’t switched on. I can remember speaking to our bench and saying, “I don’t want to do this and I don’t want to be here”. The team’s game plan had changed and I would not be blocking. My only value was my jamming ability and it felt like ability was what I lacked.
I only scored 5 points in the whole game. Why did they even bother skating me?
We had a bit of time between that game and our next. It gave me time to clear my head. I did not want to ever feel like I did after those last 2 games.
I went to scrims and focused on my jamming. I tried to only jam at training. I started thinking about how I was skating, what I needed to work on. I started setting myself specific goals. I started to think about how my actions off the track impacted my team - it only takes one bad apple.
I went into the next game with a different attitude. And things changed.
On my first jam, I got lead without even touching an opposing blocker. I kept my head up and scored well. I didn’t complain between jams. I stayed positive.
It was a close game. Really close. There was one jam left and an official review was called. I was sent to the box, giving a power jam start to the opposition. I had to get out of the box and score or we could lose.
If this had happened in the first two games of the season, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have lost. Now don’t get me wrong, I was not happy. But I hadn’t spent the past hour telling myself that I was the worst skater on track.
We won the game (just). And admittedly, I felt awful. "I never want to skate again" definitely passed my lips. I had a headache, I felt emotional. I found out 3 days later that I had concussion from a shoulder to the face in that final jam.
Once the fog had cleared, something had shifted. I could get on track and jam without feeling that every point I didn’t score meant I was a failure. Roller Derby is a team sport, nothing lies solely on one person’s head.
Our final champs game I went in positive. (Perhaps I exaggerate, it was 30+ degree heat and “I can’t do this” definitely crossed my mind). But I went in knowing I could be a jammer. I did things that scared me, things I didn’t know I could do. And I scored points.
I got hurt in the first half but carried on (not advisable, listen to your body folks). My mental game got me through.
I had a good game. Not a great game, but a good game. We won, but even if we hadn’t, I don’t think I would have blamed myself. I even won MVP?!
In the past year a lot has changed for Wiltshire Roller Derby, and a lot has changed for me. I’ve learnt the importance of self-belief and that, even as a jammer, you’re never on your own.
I don’t know if I’ll be going into next season as a jammer or a blocker but I know that either way, I’m going to be okay.
In a similar position? Things to take away from this:
A jammer does not make a team. A team makes a jammer. You are not on your own.
Attitude is everything, if you go in expecting to fail, you will. Keep your head up.
Speak to your bench staff about what YOU need. It’s their job to learn what helps you perform well.
The words that come out of your mouth affect everyone that hears them. Don’t be a negative nelly.
TALK TO YOUR OTHER JAMMERS! If you’re not getting through and they are, ask what’s working, what’s not working. You don’t have to figure it all out by yourself!
And remember… You don’t have to be good right away. You didn’t just wake up one day able to block, and you won’t just wake up one day able to jam. It takes time, hard work and dedication.