Derby as Therapy

By Roll N RawkHer

I was sitting across from a patient listening to her talk about how “boring” her life is, how hard it is to make friends and how self-conscious she feels all the time because of her height and body size and the first response that comes to mind is “You need derby.”  Unfortunately I was unable to offer this suggestion due to conflict of interest but it reminded me of when I was sitting on the other side of room with my own therapist trying to explain how the relatoinships and camraderie in derby is not like other hobbies, that it just is not the same as playing on a recreational softball team or joining a book club.  As a psychcologist I think a lot about what makes people change in both positive and negative ways and I started thinking about the therapeutic value of derby.  Now this is not a universal experience among all skaters but many SFV skaters have talked about postive ways derby has changed their lives.  They’ve adopted healthier eating habits, become more physically active, became more assertive at work and in their relationships, and improved their body image.  In fact, I think one of the most valuable and unique aspects of derby is not only the acceptance but the utility of any and every body size.  I can’t think of any other sport where it is can be an advantage to be small, big, short, tall, pear-shaped, lanky, whatever you are, it gives you an advantage in some aspect of the game.  In derby there is encouagement to be healthy, to build physical stamina, strength, and agility but little focus on conforming to any particular physique.  Accepting someone as they are while encouraging them to make positive changes is an approach used in several psychotherapies. 
Making a change involves taking a risk, doing something differently, and tolerating discomfort.  Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, said:  “A person with a Why can bear any How.”  Becoming a better derby player gives us the Why.  We may have known that some of our lifestyle choices were harmful but they had value and served a function in some way – relationships may be unsatisfying but at least we weren’t alone, junk food may be bad for us but it tastes good, spending time alone was depressing but it allowed us to avoid the social anxiety and fear of rejection, prioritizing everyone else’s needs left us feeling depleted and resentful but it was what we were used to.  People tend to stay stuck in detrimental behaviors because they don’t have anything to replace them with.  But when we find something that fills that space, we start to see things with a different perspective and we realize that we feel play better when we take better care of ourselves, physically and mentally. 
Plus, hip-checking someone and making them fly off the track is a pretty good stress-reliever. 

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