Roller Derby and Self-Actualization

Hi Everyone! I’m Goggles, the newest member of AMRD. I started around late March of this year and I’ve just been quickly pulled in by everything derby that just sitting here I struggle slightly to think of what I was doing with myself just three short months ago. I’m writing this Monday, June 1st after just bearing witness to AMRD’s first win in Lexington, KY just two days ago. The whole trip was amazing, the team was great, and ROCK and MRDoK were amazing and gracious hosts. These are all topics for another time though, because I want to talk about something I noticed as an observer and aspiring participant; that is how Roller Derby takes people to the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It facilitates self-actualization in bounds. **DISCLAIMER: I’m just some IT guy. I’m not a psychologist, nor have I formally studied psychology, but it is a subject of interest to me. **

For those that are not familiar with the concept, the Hierarchy of Needs is a pretty simple concept. Here is a little illustration:


As you can see, simple but important things like food, water, and shelter are towards the bottom. The stuff we sometimes take for granted even though we tend to need to take care of on a constant basis if we don’t want things to get bad. Above that we have emotional and psychological needs that we work towards fulfilling in our own ways. The top though, the place we’re all trying to get even if we don’t realize it, it’s called “self-actualization”; and roller derby is like a world class Sherpa just taking people to the top.

What is self-actualization? Abraham Maslow, the psychologist that pioneered the whole concept of the hierarchy of needs put it thusly, "What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization...It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming."

However, before we unpack that, let’s look at how derby relates to the rest of the pyramid. Let’s assume everyone has most of the Physiological taken care of. Derby may actually threaten one’s safety of body, health, and many other things like economic stability which would probably fit in here. Derby probably does fill in certain aspects of that for most of us. I don’t know how you couldn’t find friendship in derby. Most can find a sense of family. Intimacy, from the rumors I’ve heard, isn’t totally uncommon. Esteem, all across the board, derby can provide. If you show up and put on skates, there are little bits of progress you’re going to make each practice that are gonna make you feel like King Kong on processed sugar. Also, everyone in derby is going to respect you for it, because that’s just the kind of society this is; and if you can’t respect everyone back, might I suggest seeing a real therapist.

So now we are at the top of the pyramid, sure you may have a few gaps below, but that’s natural. This whole structure of needs is subject to fluctuate, and if you have the whole thing completely filled for more than a week, you’re a rather lucky person(, and I’m just a bit jealous). The top though is self-actualization. It is an acceptance and embrace of who you are right now, and the ability to see the you, you can be on the distant horizon, and know that you will be there some day soon.

How does derby do this? Oh, let me count the ways. Let’s start with derby names. All of us have names that were given to us when we were born, and to be honest, most of them suck. When I joined derby, I knew pretty much immediately that I was going to be Goggles. My first couple of Tuesday endurance practices with the Rec League, I told everyone my birth name because I sure that it was presumptuous to ask to be referred by my skate name so early on. Surely, I had not earned such a right yet. However a few weeks later when I was hanging out with some ARG skaters, one did refer to me as Goggles, and another said that I should have just said so sooner. That really spoke to me. An instance to be identified as you want to be, no matter how green you may be.

Beyond just being referred to by the name you wish, your truest personality is free to excel at roller derby. From the most naturally gregarious to the most reserved, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads, righteous dudes, et. al. are free to be what they want to represent themselves as. I’m considering going rather glam rock, mascara, eyeliner, glitter, the whole nine yards. The derby community gives me no reason to have any reservations on doing so.

So roller derby lets you construct the persona you wish with no questioning, and change it just as easily. Now let’s talk about what happens on skates. This weekend in Lexington, our very own Pitty Party skated in his first bout, and in the second to last jam, this Silent Bob stunt double went out with the jammer panty and he scored. It’s synced up in the video below.

Look at that face when he calls off the jam. He went out there, he put his points on the board, in that moment he is on top of the world with no one above him. Not everyone is going to go out there and do that. If I score in my first game, I doubt I’ll be as cool or collected, I’ll most likely make quite an ass out of myself. However everyone is going to achieve something, because even when I talk to someone after a bout that is being critical of their performance, you can still see the gears turning in the back of their head, where they are working out just what they are and are not capable of, and what they are going to do about it.

Similarly, the MRDoK gentlemen were skating their first ever bout. Looking just at the final score, you may draw certain negative assumptions as to their performance, and you couldn’t be more wrong. Sure, the score was a little lopsided, and they had a few ejections, but when I got to talk to them after the game, all of them were high on electric air.

Once you really see people self-actualizing, you can’t miss it. I talked to one of the guys that got ejected. He told me how he’s used to jamming and not blocking, and he wasn’t sure what he was doing. He one of the subs that MRDoK had brought in, and reading between the lines, he was giving their regulars an opportunity to learn how to jam. Sure he was frustrated, but under it all, he was happy just to get a chance to get out there on skates.

I saw a guy interacting with a child that had his skater name on a banner. I’m not sure of the whole story there but it was beautiful. He was a guy ready to take to the track.

Self-actualization isn’t just about being the thing you think you want to be, some brilliant famous sexy rock-star; it’s about being who you are in that moment, and loving yourself for it. This is a thing that’s actually pretty hard. You could make a case that our collective society actually tries to prevent people from self-actualizing, but roller derby is the opposite. Every game, every tryout, every practice, you can see people lighting up left and right. I watch and everyone I see is glad to play, everyone is glad to achieve, and bizarrely, everyone is glad to fail. Whether you win or lose, move up the ranks, make the team, or told to keep trying for next time, I see people ecstatic to be where they’re at; to have achieved what they have already, and long for the achievements in reach tomorrow, no matter how insignificant or immeasurable.

This is what stood out to me during the magnificent after-party that ROCK had thrown. AMRD had just won their first bout, but that’s not what they were celebrating, or at least not the most prominent item; they were celebrating their own self-actualization and those of others, and looking towards the horizon and seeing the next self they could be.

For me though? Let me tell you something. I haven’t even begun to self-actualize. And when I do self-actualize, you’ll know. Because I’m gonna self-actualize so hard that everybody in Atlanta’s gonna feel it.