Thursday, September 6, 2012

Keys to the Game post-mortem

So, before the bout, Dan asked me what my 2 keys for each team were.  Here they are, to refresh your memory:
  • England
    1. Maximise power jam utilisation
    2. Adapt to what works
  • USA
    1. Manage endurance levels
    2. Stick to fundamentals derby
Basically, the Roses were going to be outclassed in a 1-on-1 basis, so they needed to take advantage of what factors swung in their favour.

According to an article I recently read in the New Yorker, 71% of David-Goliath matchups are won by Goliath.  Of course, that's what one would expect.  After all, were the upsets too common, they wouldn't be exciting; were they impossible, sport would be no fun to watch.

However, if David employs unconventional strategies, his win percentage jumps up to over 60%.  This, and page after page of anecdotal evidence in the article, show that simply being a better team is not required to have a winning season.  Instead, a game-play designed to take that advantage away may do the trick.

In derby, that anecdotal evidence comes from the invention of those tactics and plays that are now standard.  The Philly wall, the scrum start, even the knee start were groundbreaking in their time.  Those were, at first, tricks--almost the guerilla warfare of roller derby.  Now, of course, they're standard.

My keys to the game were what an English David needs to beat an American Goliath, and what that Goliath must do to maintain the expected dominance.

Let's break 'em down point-by-point.

  1. The Roses were given 4 power jams, or 5 if you want to break the double-penalty into two separate statistical events.  I do not.  Of these, they averaged 11 points per power jam.

    However, that average is buoyed up by that final power jam, in all the others, England was only able to manage 2 scoring passes at most.  Why was this?

    Well, USA's power jam defence was stifling.  Plain and simple, they played two physical blockers, and two pack controllers to keep the England jammer going at a damn slow pace.

    What could England do?  Well, they could've used "non-traditional tactics" and broken the pack. USA were quite good at not conceding out-of-play penalties, so this would've likely worked.  However, that would've likely been "not very sporting," and not exactly in England's national character. 

    Thus, England were relegated to losing the power jam battle.

  2. Adaptation.  This one the Roses did much better in the first half.  At the beginning, England earned lead jam status only 1 time in the first 5 jams.

    Then, they switched.  What they were doing wasn't working, so they made the tiniest of adjustments.  Between jams 5 and 10, England only conceded lead jam 1 time!  Their adaptation was highly successful, and they stuck with it.

    Difficulty was, Team USA adapted very quickly themselves.  Their 2-wall was quick to escort the red-shirted jammer to either the inside or outside line, leaving most of the track open for the England wall, pushed by the US jammer, to overtake them.  Where the USA had lost control of the bout trying to control laterally, they switched to controlling vertical zones.

    Never again would England gain that upper hand.  

  3. The American skaters had skated in three bouts already that weekend, and this was their fourth.  They had cycled out only two skaters, most of them were racking up the miles on the clock.  [Fun fact: 33 laps = 1 mile]

    However, the first instance of a skater looking tired was in the second half.  V-Diva approached the pack at something quite less than her usual mad dash, and visibly took her breath before engaging the blockers.

    To her credit, there were only about 10 minutes left in the bout. She had earned her fatigue. As well, Team USA's patient jamming style lent itself to masking any other fatigue. There's no doubt the skaters were worn out and slept like rocks, but they had a style of play that lent itself to that concern over endurance.

    Thus, the US skaters showed just what athletes they are, after a full weekend of derby.

  4. Did the Americans stick to fundamentals? Did they ever!

    The scrum start is now a fundamental of derby.  The tourists executed it masterfully and didn't try to do anything fancy with diagonal knee stars or trying to force England out of position.  A few times I saw a blocker take a "bookend" position on the England line.  Before the jam started, she had shifted to a standard defence, bringing back the fundamentals.
    [Green pivot "bookending" the pink wall]

    As well, during those oh-so-important power jams, the US offence stuck with goating an English blocker.  Goating, that's right, the tactic that has otherwise given way to the conga line on the outside edge of the track, was utilised by the best skaters in the world.  Much as I'm an advocate for teams using the tactics that best suit them rather than the ones used by the biggest teams, I hope this becomes a trend.

    [Skate! Skate! Those things are on your feet for a reason! Tactics be damned, no one wanted to take up the game because they wanted to stand still on a track looking like they need a cigarette. Just because it's legal doesn't make it derby. /rant]

    So, stick to fundamentals?  Yeah, they did.  Like the deaf school's basketball team I used to watch, these girls showed the value of basic skills applied together.
So, on my totally unofficial keys, England get a ½ out of 2, and USA get a full 2.  That being said, there can be no doubt that the Roses' walls and pack skills proved their worth against an amazingly skilled team.

Now, I bet y'all expect me to discuss rankings.  Not this time!  Maybe next time...

This weekend, I hope to make it up to Central City to see the double header there.  If you're going, come say "hey" to me!


  1. What a nice suprise to read this and find you were coming to our game on Saturday. Details for anyone that wants to come along are here:!/events/274370612668522/

    1. Well, I'm looking forward to it! I asked about doing stats for the bout, but haven't heard back. Thus, I'll be in the seats for the first time in a long time!