Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wearing pads kills your survival instinct

- I sprained my neck...
- Again? How?
- Was standing and I just fell. Again. Is it bad?
To get a full view of the situation, let's mention that this is a derbygirl conversation, i.e. that the context includes rollerskates and pads (incl. helmet).

It is common knowledge that MEANINGLESS FALLS ARE THE MOST INSIDIOUS. You are more likely to hurt yourself real bad in falling from an idle standstill, simply because you are not ready nor is your body. You are relaxed, not aware of the danger lurking 'round the corner. It bursts out for no reason, you get frightened because you are not expecting it, and you lose balance without being able to stabilize. Follows an unmastered fall, with your body either very tense because of the fright, or very relaxed because your brain didn't even have the time to warn it. In both ways it can lead to a complete disaster.

Some would say that you should just work out a bit more and you would be toned enough to support the shock. Yet, it is not about muscles, it is about awareness. And if not about awareness --you can't be prepared and anticipate 24/7-- it is about reactivity and SURVIVAL INSTINCT, which is not something big muscles can offer you.

If you were to be thrown out of the fifth floor window, would you rather be Catwoman or Rocky?
See, bigger is not always better!


You can't avoid the falling, because as the saying goes "sh*t happens".
But you can (partly) master it, to avoid the BAD falling.

The fall is your enemy. You should KNOW YOUR ENEMY to neutralize it and take the bad off of it. Analyse it:
  • What is a fall? It is a loss of balance which you failed to stabilize.
  • Why does it hurt? Because of the impact and your body's position.

Statistics say that one person out of five is unbalanced. If there
are four people around you and they seem normal to you...
That's not good. -- JC Van Damme
In order to do so you should either 1) see it coming (not an option here) or 2) be reactive enough to handle the situation halfway, or at least MINIMIZE THE IMPACT. The most important thing is your survival, hence getting the less hurt as possible.

First (physical) piece of advice to minimize the impact: GET LOW.
Obvious but not easy as it tends to go against the primary instinct triggered by fright: stiffening. It requires a bit of practice. Crouching down lowers your center of gravity, which makes the loss of balance easier to control. Moreover, if you fail at taking control back, you will be closer to the ground which should (let's say it all together) minimize the impact. The idea is: IF YOU CAN'T CONTROL IT, OVERTAKE IT. Reach the ground deliberately before it forces you to it.
Crouching down also has the advantage of gathering all your limbs together, avoiding one getting stuck in an unlucky position.

Note: Any low position will do, adopt the most natural for you. Find the most comfortable position as close to the ground as possible. Anything except knee falls, small falls and so on... Don't answer to a fall by a fall, see next paragraph.


As a good derby girl, you never venture on wheels without your full gear on (including your mouthguard). I do agree that in the context of derby, on a track with so much contact and passion, protective gear is necessary (although it took me a while to accept it). But apart from that specific situation, you should lighten a bit.

Why? It is a very safe and responsible attitude, though.

OVERPROTECTION has negative effects... especially on your suvival instinct.
You are loaded with pads from head to toe so that your mind thinks that you are safe. It relays the information to your body who simply DEACTIVATES THE SURVIVAL INSTINCT. Why bother? The pads will do the job!
You should do the job yourself, the pads are the emergency optional device in case you fail. They should take over where the body reaches its limits. They are no substitute and you shouldn't rely on them.

Outside of derby, I skate naked.
(I also shower naked but this is another story.)

I would strongly advise you to avoid excessive pad wearing, although I'm aware that it is very subjective. You should estimate what the most important is and make choices.
Some would say that a helmet is essential, in a way they are right as the head is the most important part to be protected. If I had to choose one, I would go for wristguards because in practice hands are more tactile and are more likely to reach the ground first, according to my experience and my skating.

Skating without a safety net will develop your focus and sharpen your sense of survival, of priorities.


I have to make an appropriate digression here. Roller derby has a unique way to highlight falling, which goes against the tide of all the other disciplines of skating. The differences of viewpoints towards the concept of falling gives food for thought. This is not a criticism, just a statement.
Derby: "falling is the first answer to your problem"
Other: "falling is the last answer to your problem"

Again, as stated above, falling is part of the game in derby and should still be learned as a basic as it is today. But it shouldn't be at the expense of balance mastering. In roller derby, you learn to fall before learning to skate. Elsewhere, you learn to control your loss of balance to avoid the fall at all costs.

Why do players do a double knee fall to brake when reaching the box, when they get a penalty?! 
That simple example proves that, in most derbygirls' minds, falling is the first/easiest/safest answer to most situations. I call it plain excessive misuse.

The compulsory wearing of the full protective gear by insurances, while on skates on the derby area, imposes that vision of safety and necessity.

Let's remind that the obligation of WEARING pads does not imply the obligation of (mis)USING them.

UPDATE 13-10-17
Thinking it over, in 15 years of intensive practice (incl. aggressive, freestyle, freeskate, rhythm dancing and now derby too) the ONLY time I really got hurt very badly, with destroyed knee ligament which took me 12 months to fully recover, was WITH FULL PROTECTIVE GEAR ON at a derby game (thank god it was under the spotlights not at some random practice). Why? Because while falling (when I fall everything goes slow motion and I have time to have a conversation with myself -- awareness) I said to myself that I HAD KNEE PADS ON and that I WAS GOING TO USE THEM falling on my knees (I don't know how you can possibly think that falling on a joint will preserve it, short or long term) instead of doing my little falling routine.
I HAD THE CHOICE. I tried to fit in that 'safety-gear-is-the-key' state of mind that you are taught in derby, despite my outdoors background, but the 'skate-naked' philosophy works far better for me.
The real danger is the OTHER. Following that logics, I do comply to wear pads in derby, not because falling is dangerous but because the outside element and the timing into a contextual situation can be dangerous.



  1. Good post, though I don't totally agree :-)
    (Oh, 'enemy' has one n, mais votre Anglais est plus bon de ma Français)

    1. Thank you, enemy-one n, got it!!
      * "plus bon que mon français" and you're perfect ;)

  2. You are right. But outdoors I wear wrist guards.

    1. Me too, wristguards are my first option when I don't feel 100% safe. I'm not saying 'don't wear padding at all' but 'prioritize and choose according to your level, your skating, your activity, etc)

  3. An interesting article, Being "Old School" I tend to agree with you, especially with the minimum requirement as wrist guards. Thinking back to my teens it was most scraped hand injuries and then to Rollercon Last Vegas Street skate last year, also hand injury (I forgot my wrist guards)..

    In the old days, we learnt to roll, this rapidly took off speed and almost no injury, maybe a graze. I tend to do this also on the derby track, saturday night was a pure example of this.. where I rolled a couple of times. No injuries.. and it looked funny as hell.. so I laughed, while brushing myself off and heading back to the bench.

    I do a lot of outside street and path skates and generally wear some protective gear if it is a new unknown track, though once I know the track, I drop back to just wrist guards.

    I think after 3 years of Derby training, I have also been taught instead of rolling to land on my knees, this has stressed my left knee on one occasion and has become a niggling injury.. I'd love to see some real research on this viewpoint of yours.