The training wheels are off: Saturday was my first bout, and it was nothing short of wonderful.
I had about a million different expectations for how it would be. I thought that performance anxiety might get the better of me. I thought the weight of knowing that my teammates are counting on me might be too much to handle. Or, maybe knowing they needed me would make me stronger. Maybe I’d end up being amazing on the track. Or awful. Or stunningly mediocre. I could’ve been that key blocker in a defensive wall, or also the person who gets sent to the box over and over. There are so many places your brain can go when you’re faced with an occasion as momentous as your first bout, both glorious and terrifying.
A lot of the things they say about bouting are true, though. These are just a few things my rookie brain meats have latched onto:
- Practice really can beat performance anxiety. I’ve done martial arts, theatre, and music for an audience in the past, and performance anxiety was always, always a thing. No matter how prepared I felt in those times, there was that familiar tightening in my chest every time I stood up to take my turn in the spotlight. At my first wushu tournament, I remember stepping onto the competition floor and promptly checking out–my brain went somewhere else and had no idea what my body had done until the final salute.
The awesome thing about this bout? That anxiety didn’t happen. I didn’t freak out, I was present in each moment I spent on the track, and I knew what to do. My team let me know that they trusted me to do what was needed on the track. All the hours of practice I’d put in, both with my team and before they drafted me, prepared me for the physical movements, and built up the instincts for knowing what to do and when. Knowing that you’re ready for a moment is worth everything, and it’s pretty cool to realize that, hey, maybe you CAN be someone who performs well under pressure.
- The noise isn’t as distracting as you might think. There’s a lot going on during an actual bout, as opposed to a scrimmage. There’s the crowd, of course, and there’s also the DJ playing music, the announcers commentating on the action, mascots whooping and hollering, referees making penalty calls, bench coaches signaling and shouting to be heard above it all. The funny thing is, when you’re actually playing the game, a lot of that noise fades away. I could hear penalties being called, my teammates calling out to me, my bench coaches communicating with us, but the rest didn’t even register, in the moment. One of the announcers talked about me during a jam, but I didn’t notice while I was skating–I didn’t know that’d happened until I watched the bout video this morning. It’s amazing how much the act of focusing on the game drowns out the extraneous stuff.
- It’s pretty thrilling to have fans and skaters giving you hugs and high-fives. It’s thrilling as all-get-out to have your name and number called out by the announcers, and be introduced with your team. And yes, even when you only get to play in two jams, it’s still it’s pure joy skate around the track after a bout, and have amped-up derby fans waiting to high-five you and congratulate you.
- Having fun is the best way to have a first bout. I have to say that, even though we won in points, the place where we really won was having the most fun. I wondered at times if sitting on the bench might get depressing, but my captains had prepared me for the mental dynamic of being a relief player. The mood on the bench was positive, and it was obvious that we were having a good time playing the game, even when we didn’t have the lead. That mood was so infectious that I couldn’t have been sad if I tried.
So, yeah. In the end, we pulled out the win, but even if the points hadn’t come out in our favor, I wouldn’t feel too badly about it. I spent a lot of last week nerding out over old-school kung fu movies, and found a Bruce Lee quote: “Success means doing something sincerely and wholeheartedly.” We absolutely did that. I have no doubt that we’ll do it every time.
I’m looking forward to doing more of that with these awesome ladies. ❤ This season is going to be great!