Psych Outs in Roller Derby

Posted on April 13, 2012 by


Last month my league bouted against Convict City Rollers. They requested we not have black as the main colour on our helmet panties as their main colour was black.

Later on looking at the photos a team mate commented that our jammers really stood out with our bright coloured jammer panties. I noticed on photos from a bout the week after ours that Convict City played a game and both teams had predominantly black jammer panties.

That’s me with a big purple come-get-me sign on my head (photo by Matt Walker)


The next game – photo by Stormboyphotos


It got me to thinking about non-game play tactics that might be employed in derby. I did some research on psyching out the competition.

One site I came across gave step-by-step instructions on how to psych out an opponent:

Step 1: Be aloof
Focus inward, and act totally disinterested in those jokers on the other team. If you really want to get under their skin, wear a half-smirk, as if you’re amused by the thought of competing against them.

Step 2: Adjust your posture
Stand up straight with your shoulders back, and carry yourself with ease and confidence. Swagger a little. Walk like you’ve got brass cojones, and the world will believe you do.
Maintain eye contact, and be the one to determine when you break it.

Step 3: Have an “episode”
Conjure up some wild and unpredictable mood swings, and get your teammates to help you play up your status as a loose cannon. Give the appearance of being a little mentally unhinged, and your competition will be shaking in their cleats.

Step 4: Bulk up
Get massive, and wear clothing that highlights those 25-inch pythons. The more intimidating you are, the better.

Step 5: Break out the trash talk
Break out your best trash talk. You might be tempted to imitate the greats, but really—it doesn’t have to rhyme. Just tailor your attack to hit your opponents’ major weaknesses, and keep it harsh, simple, and loud.
Don’t make threats. You don’t want to have to put your money where your mouth is.

Step 6: Stage a feat of awesomeness
Crush the competition’s spirit with your excellence. During warm ups, stage a mini-exhibition for the other team, and show off your most impressive skills.

Step 7: Flirt
Unnerve your rivals with a cute wink, or blow a passionate air kiss. Ratchet up the flirtation throughout the game. You’ll either wind up with an utterly confused opponent or a date for the evening.

… what are cleats? In any event, only some of these are helpful in derby. I mean, standing up straight will get you knocked down in a heartbeat so that one’s out the window. Also, I’m not sure about flirting. That one will only work with a homophobic recipient and 99% of derby players are not.

Another site I visited argued against trying so hard.

If you really want to intimidate the competition, and I mean really knock them off their game, then what you need to do is to simply stay focused on yourself and play your own game. Let your opponent see that you are completely unfazed by them.

Years ago I remember interviewing Michelle Akers on the psychology of taking penalty kicks. At the time, Michelle had been one of the super-stars of the US women’s team and a major reason for their winning the 1999 World Cup. She claimed that a lot of keepers try saying and doing all kinds of things in an attempt to psych out or intimidate the kicker. Michelle told me that whenever she faced this kind of keeper, she always felt calmer and more confident because she had a good sense that the goalie was really more distracted and intimidated by her! The keepers that she found the most intimidating and most worrisome were those athletes who didn’t even acknowledge her as she got ready to kick. Instead, they remained focused on themselves and their own pre-performance rituals.

I firmly believe that trying to intimidate or psych out the competition is a great way to knock yourself off centre and make yourself anxious. Engaging in these kinds of behaviours gets you concentrating on the wrong things, i.e. your opponent and thus takes you completely away from your own game. As Akers indicated, there is nothing quite as intimidating as an opponent who totally ignores you and just focuses on herself and her job.

Remember, there is nothing quite as intimidating as facing an opponent who, no matter what you do or say, is totally unaffected by you and therefore, continues to play their own game.

I did some research on what the feeling is on psyching out opponents in the derbyverse. Jesus Feist has been quoted as saying

“I am not a trash talker. I’m a dancer. I intimidate people with my dance moves. It’s true, dude. Dancing is the name of the game. Dancing, derby, eating. That’s my life. Don’t put eating… Just kidding.”

Meanwhile on a derby forum , “Quad Almighty” argued against “Rogzilla”’s comment “Not so in the world of amateur roller derby. Talk shit long enough and loud enough and soon nobody will want to play you. There may be 500 leagues worldwide but that world gets really small really fast when you build up a reputation for consistent douchebaggery”. Quad Almighty said:

Um…seriously? No one talks smack in amateur roller derby? That’s just really not at all true: on the track, off the track, at the afterparty, on DNN, on Facebook, on this board, girls and boys… trash talk happens everywhere in amateur roller derby every day between all kinds of people who are just having fun. People talk smack in every sport in every country around the world, and that includes amateur roller derby, amateur basketball, amateur air hockey and amateur beer pong.

As for people not playing you: Bay Area’s self-imposed nickname is Team Douchebag. Minnesota used to be introduced with the song: “(Don’t Give a Damn About My) Bad Reputation.” Cincy has played Texas, and I tell you what, our girls talk smack and they couldn’t get a word in edge-wise against Texas. There are players on EVERY team who trash talk. I don’t think their schedules are hurting because of it. I think you’re being a little too P.C. in this case. People play who they want to play, not always the people who they think are “nice.”

Geesh! This is derby; people are beating the fucking shit out of each other, but God Forbid you should call someone a Poo-Poo Head!

What’s your take? Is psyching out part of the sport or is it poor sportwomanship? Has anyone ever used any of the techniques listed here on you? Have you used them yourself?

Posted in: LimboLand