Roller Derby over 40: The Seasoned Athlete

For the greater part of a decade, I taught a beginner level roller derby skills class with the LA Derby Dolls. On the first day of each new session, I’d have everyone circle up and I’d ask them three questions:

What’s your name?

How did you find out about us?

What is your skating background (if any)?

I asked these questions, especially the third one, so that everyone would hear each other’s similar stories about not having worn roller skates since their third grade birthday parties, and hopefully not feel so alone in this new and foreign experience upon which they were embarking. Although I never asked about age, inevitably, I’d get a handful of people in every session who would mention that they were a little bit…older. And that usually added to their apprehension. I, on the other hand, would always be super excited to see anyone over 40 putting on a pair of skates for the first time since their third grade birthday party, for I knew a little secret: playing a sport is one of the best things someone over 40 can do.

As a retired roller derby skater (who played through my 40th birthday), current obstacle racing athlete and the creator and host of a podcast where I interview competitive athletes from a variety of sports who are all over 40, I feel like I have learned a thing or two about how and why participating in competitive sports can be awesome for who are a bit more…seasoned. Participating in sports in general can help build confidence, which translates to various other areas in your life. It can help keep you in good health as you get older. And can ensure you retain your mobility into your golden years. Ultimately, living an active and athletic lifestyle can help you feel (and look) far younger than your actual age.

So can all of this also apply to a high-impact, full-contact sport like roller derby? In short, YES! That said, there are some considerations to keep in mind to help make sure that your time spent giving and taking hits on roller skates builds you up (mentally and physically) rather than breaks you down (literally and figuratively).

UTILISE YOUR MATURITY

Roller derby has this funny way of taking over people’s lives when they first start. There’s something about this new shiny thing that allows you to meet amazing, like-minded people, gain confidence, and essentially become a complete badass that often prompts people to become a tad obsessed. But at times, going all-in on one thing like roller derby can result in other areas of your life ending up getting neglected. Family, non-derby friends (what’s that?), and work life can all suffer if you’re not careful about the amount of time and dedication we put into the sport.

This is where the maturity that we gain with age comes into play.

By the time we reach our forties and beyond, we tend to have some pretty set-in-stone priorities and responsibilities. And it becomes less about how our lives will fit around roller derby and more about how roller derby fits into our lives. It becomes easier to say no to the occasional derby event or extra practice. And it makes it easier to (gasp!) voluntarily sit out of a bout.

If you can utilize your maturity to create a healthy relationship with roller derby from the get-go, you are more likely to have a long and enjoyable experience in the sport for years to come, even if you start in your forties or later!

TRAIN SMARTER NOT HARDER

When you first start skating, it may be tempting to go all-in on skating and derby practices. But as you get older, it becomes especially important to make a strategic training plan that includes cross training and, yes, rest. It’s not to say that you can’t maintain an intense training schedule as an older athlete. Many older athletes train upwards of five to six days a week. But most can’t just go right to that frequency – instead they must build up their strength, conditioning and endurance to be able to maintain that type of schedule. Ultimately, the most successful athletes (of any age) are mindful about their training. And this especially comes into play as we get older.

It helps to write down a training schedule that includes your practices and cross training. And most definitely factor in cross training. Pay particular attention to strength and flexibility training. Include some unloading days or even weeks after particularly tough bouts or tournaments. But above all – PLAN. Don’t fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to your training.

FOCUS ON RECOVERY

Okay, friends, I saved the most important one for last. Want a long and fruitful roller derby career in your forties and beyond? Make recovery a non-negotiable priority. What does this mean? It means showing up at practice 10-15 minutes early to do an off-skates dynamic warm-up (if your team isn’t doing that already). A dynamic warm-up can include movements like squats, walking lunges, lateral lunges, inchworm plank walks, leg swings – anything that gets your body loose and moving in ways that you will use it in the sport.

Recovery also means staying after practice 10-15 minutes to get a good, long static stretch in. As we get older, our muscles and joints tend to get pretty stiff and they lose their general mobility. But if you take care to warm-up and cool-down properly at each practice, you can help your body continue to move well both on and off-skates.

Recovery means taking those rest days, whether you take a full day off or participate in a lower-intensity active recovery activity like walking, hiking or yoga.

And when you do start to get those aches and pains (or even before you do), recovery includes bodywork like massage, acupuncture or other soft tissue work. As if anyone needed an excuse to get a massage. But as an older athlete, it’s especially important to regularly schedule that time to keep everything moving well and feeling good.

If you make recovery a priority, you have a greater likelihood to be able to skate injury-free and at a high level for years to come. So just book that massage, already!

If you make a concerted effort to take care of your mind and body on the regular, you can prove to yourself and everyone around you that age isn’t just a number…it can be an asset. Now go forth and kick some butt, Seasoned Skaters. Show those young whippersnappers a thing or two!

Robin Legat, aka Suzy Snakeyes, is a retired roller derby athlete who skated with the LA Derby Dolls from 2003-2014, and was the founder and original captain of the Tough Cookies –  the team that would provide the inspiration for the Hurl Scouts in the movie Whip It.  She competes in obstacle racing (what she calls her “retirement sport”), and is working on landing a podium spot in her 40-49 age group. When not competing, Robin is a Fitness Trainer and Spartan Coach. She is also the creator and host of the Seasoned Athlete Podcast, which features interviews with competitive athletes from a wide range of sports who are all over age 40. You can listen to the Seasoned Athlete Podcast by visiting the Episodes page http://seasonedathlete.me , and you can learn more about Robin here http://robinlegat.com .

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