Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lost Tactics

There are a few things that have, sadly, disappeared from the game of roller derby.  Without a doubt, the sport is improving as skaters get better by leaps and bounds, coaches discover new strategies, and referees hone their craft harder all the time.

However, I've been watching derby for 5 years now, and there are things I loved to see in the game when I first started that have sadly gone by the wayside.

The Assist

Jammers run out of "juice" during a bout.  Why not help 'em?

By assist here, I specifically mean the whip.  Inside whips, outside whips, hip whips, even the egg-beater.  Ever want to drive a crowd into conniptions?  Use an egg-beater.

Simply, where have whips gone?  Well, all the various leagues I've worked with have been focussed on "defence first" for their blockers.  When there's offensive assistance, it's usually one blocker acting as a screen for the jammer.  This is helpful, no doubt, but it usually works best on the initial pass.  Most jams' initial passes have one team with a 4-wall at the front and the other with a 4-wall at the back, thus a single screen can get a jammer past 2 or 3 blockers.

However, when the play breaks down on the initial pass or frequently on a scoring pass, there's often one friendly blocker and one opposing blocker near the front of the pack.
In this situation, the pink blocker might normally simply block the green pivot to the outside.  Should this block flatten the pivot, then the jammer's home free.  However, should the pink blocker merely surge or screen the pivot to the outside, they may become free to chase the jammer out toward the front.

This is whip time.  Without assistance, the jammer is limited to her own acceleration, which is similar to the pivot.  However, with a whip, that jammer can get much, much higher acceleration and have the pivot beat before she can even start to chase.

I have seen this scenario time and time again in bouts, but the blocker doesn't offer a whip, and the jammer doesn't often take it if offered.  What happens next is the pivot comes forward around the screen and takes the jammer out.  Then she's recycled, etc., etc.

When a jammer comes along, you must whip it.  Whip it good.

The Star Pass

I love the star pass.  It's one of the few opportunities to really take and scramble the plans of an opposing team.  If you watch USARS or MADE derby, which allow the pivot to go and score without passing the star, you'll see that an attacking pivot drives the overall strategy in those rulesets.  However, when I start to talk to teams about the star pass, I always hear the same thing: "But you can't get lead jam status!"

Right, that's true, the star pass isn't right for situations when you consider lead jam status as your #1 priority.  What about those situations where you don't?

  1. Opponents have lead jam
    • Jammer is trapped behind a sturdy wall
  2. In front on a scrum start
  3. On a power jam, with a really knackered jammer
In the first and the third, lead jam is unimportant.  In the first, lead jam's already been conceded.  In the third, the decision's been made to play the power jam to the end, rather than to call it off.  Let's go through them point-by-point.

  1. Lead jam's already been lost.  There's no point in preserving lead jam status, and the jammer's trapped behind a solid wall.  Why not air-lift the jammer out of trouble?  No need to practise the peg assist, just have the pivot slide in front of the wall, then pass the star right over that wall.  Now the pivot-cum-jammer is free to chase the opposing jammer around.

  2. Well, you see the scrum start coming, and your team's stuck at the front.  You've already lost lead jam in this scenario a few times, and so you want to ruin your opponent's positional advantage.  Why not have the pivot line up on the extreme outside, and the jammer right behind her.

    When the jammer whistle goes, the panty can go right over the back wall, and the pivot-cum-jammer is out the front of the pack.  The now ex-jammer is free to help block the opposing jammer.  If the team running the star pass does a great job, the new jammer will have time to come around and score.  If not the jam will be called off, and the team that assumed it had the advantage will be frustrated.  Do this a few times, and they'll be forced to change their tactics.  Congrats, their strategy is fouled.

    Want to be even more clever? There are ways to foul their strategy even more, some involving not even conceding lead jam status.  This I call the option.  The jammer has the option to fake a pass to the pivot and keep the panty, or to pass it off.  As long as the pivot hasn't put it on yet, she can even pass back to the jammer should she get into trouble.

  3. On a power jam, you may want to utilise every second available for scoring, and not call the jam early and "waste" power jam time securing lead jam status for the next jam.  In that case, if the jammer's knackered, it may make sense to simply hand over the panty to the pivot.  Just make sure this is done in the engagement zone but that the panty is on before any opponents are passed.  Otherwise potential points may be missed out on.
If you'd like to read more about the star pass, check out the Team Sealand star pass manual.  This explains the option in even more detail.

I would love to see more teams use these too tactics in bouts.  They would make the sport more exciting to watch, as well as throwing off teams that are too constant in their strategy.  Let's see some clever derby!  Roll on!

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