I had a day before the funeral of my fiancé. Reality still hadn't set in, and it was bout day. In fact, it was my first bout against another team. I was mentally unprepared for anything. It was an away bout in some fucked up old high school gym with particle board taped together to make a track. My mind was a maze, nothing made sense anymore. I was still thinking, maybe this is all a dream. I'll go home and there he will be, waiting at the door. I wasn't focused.

My derby sisters asked if I would still play, but I didn't even have to answer. They could see, there was no other place I could go-nowhere to turn but left. My knees shook. I wasn't thinking about the rules, or the game, or the opponent, or the floor; I wasn't thinking at all. I was there to make big hits. And I did. I was terrible. I spent the whole game on the floor and in the box. This is the conversation I wish I could have had with myself before that first bout, and before every bout.

Real gangsta ass bitches don't flex nuts,

cuz real gangsta ass bitches know they got 'em.

That's not an exact quote…but you know how it goes, you try to be intimidating but it's a little transparent. You hype yourself up all day, then inevitably you play like you played in practice. So we can stop with the bush league psyche-out shit. You're not a raging bull, you're a derby player. Working yourself up to be aggressive can actually hurt your performance on bout day if you're not focusing on the important shit first. Take a deep breath and calm the fuck down. You are a warrior- but you're a smart one. Think first, then annihilate.

Be aware-bear. Knowledge is power. Maybe you did research on the other players, maybe you read the rules five times this week, and maybe you talked strategy with the coaches for hours, maybe you got your whole team together and had a conversation about what you can expect from each of your teammates. And maybe you didn't. Either way, take the time between jams to assess the situation.

In the 30 seconds between jams, find out your penalty count. Know who you'll be on the track with, and study the way the current jam is going. Find the weakness of the other team so you can exploit it. Use a failed jam to recalculate what's not working- and what is.

And I know, you have some concerns that you think are really going to matter. But those are just distractions. For example…you think once the jam whistle blows you'll even notice a crowd? I promise, you won't have time to notice them until the final whistle-pinky swear. Also, please quit bitching about the floor. Once the bout starts, you're stuck with the floor and you're stuck with your gear, so man the fuck up. Accept the things you can't change and let that be something that distracts other people, you have work to do. Don't give yourself any excuse to not succeed.

When it's time to take the track run through this check list to really focus your attention.

Where are your buddies? If you're not the pivot, check in with them- what's the plan? Prepare to get close to your friends. You don't necessarily have to line up together, but you should have a path in mind to pack it up before the jammer gets to you.

Check on the opposing blockers. Size them up, and get in a dominant position on the line. Move your body so close that they move. There, now they are reacting to you and not the other way around.

Find your jammer. What are her strengths? Are you worried she'll have trouble in this pack- or is she a loner? Is she a vet or an alternate jammer? Does she take the outside or fight for the inside line?

Then find the opposing jammer and be thorough. What is she wearing? What do her skates look like? What color is the jammer panty? Is she wiley, are you going to need a partner to block her? Is she going to hit her way through? Is she a speed skater or super agile? Then let her know who you're looking at. Wave at her, or point, tell her you're ready for her. Or… is she in the box? That changes things, go back to the top and get on the same page with your team.

You're a driver, you're a winner. Just before the whistle blows, reassure yourself. You have prepared for this moment. You know what to do and you're going to do it. If you go down you'll get up faster, you'll dominate, and you'll stop the jammer. You're team is the best and no one can beat you.

The truth is, bout day is not as scary as you think it's going to be. It seems that way when you don't know what to expect. You should expect nothing short of the most intense practice you have ever had. You should expect that it will all be over before you know it. Expect to be a little nervous, and expect to overcome it. Expect to wait around for hours. Expect that no one will remember your name; they will remember your team and how well you worked together.

Finally, until bout day get yourself to practice. That's where games are won and lost. You have to imagine when you're there that the other team is practicing just as hard as you. So make it hurt. Push yourself harder. And above all else, focus.