Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The science of the lineup

Anyone who has acted as Lineup Manager, Bench Manager, or Bench Coach knows that who you send in can be a big issue.  Things get very hectic very quickly, and 30 seconds can seem like not enough time to get things sorted.

However, there is another sport that has substitutions just as free as roller derby, and a similar time limit.  I'm talking, of course, of American Football.  In the NFL and college, teams have 40 seconds between plays, and in high school it's 25 seconds.  That means 25 seconds to shift who your 11 players are, and get ready for the start of the play.  Sound hectic?

It's not!  Most football teams have a core group who, bar injury, are on every single play.  Thus, substitutions are just to fine tune running backs, wide receivers, etc.

So, how can we make it so that derby lineups work as smoothly as football ones?  There are a few options:

The Classic
This is where you write out a chart, jam-by-jam, and send that group in each time.  You set the lineup for jam 3, as written on the chart, on the next-jam bench as soon as jam 2 gets underway.  Problem is, by the 5th or 6th jam, penalties will likely start to foul the chart.

This is why the lineup manager is usually stressed right here.  Drew up a nice plan, plan didn't work.  Oh, hello stress, where ya been?

As this system leads to guaranteed stress, unless your team commits 0 penalties, it is flawed.

Alphabet System
This is where you rate your skaters with A, B, C, and D.  The goal is to have D skaters on as rarely as possible, and as high a value as possible every jam.  Thus, if there are 2 As, 2 Bs, 1 C, 2 Ds and 2 Jammers on the bench, the next lineup would just be the As and Bs.

This system is really low stress, as it's remarkably easy to determine the next lineup.  There are a few major limitations, though, including endurance and flexibility.

The skaters ranked as As will skate every other jam.  This means that they will be worked much harder than the Cs and Ds.  They will undoubtedly experience fatigue, and eventually this will reduce their ability to the point of those Cs and Ds who have been waiting on the bench.  And, if endurance isn't an issue in a given bout, that means you're not skating hard enough.  If you're not being pushed to the limit, then you're not playing difficult enough bouts.

What about jammers who are also good at blocking?  I mean the true double threats.  They're likely ranked as As for blocking, which means that if the system is applied rigorously then they won't have enough time to recover after jamming.  To use this system with double threats takes a high degree of planning ahead.  It's a potential source of stress.

Hockey System
Ice hockey also has free substitution, and they do it by "lines."  A line is a full rotation, similar to a lineup in derby, who practice and work together.  I attempted to use it in derby, to some success, but it will take some more development before it's done.  Here's the setup:

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So, each line has 2 jammers, and 6 total skaters.  Thus, each skater stays with her line.  If a skater goes to the box, she'll join the opposite line for the remainder of the jam when she exits.  Then she'll sit on the bench to rest or stay on the track so that she'll return to skating with her line.

The unassigned skaters are available to take over in cases of injury, or fatigue, or if a bit more reshuffling is necessary due to penalties, etc. to keep the lines together.  Otherwise, this makes the lineup manager's job much easier.  Instead of 9 skaters to choose from, there are only 6.  "Salt's on the track?  Alright who from Pepa's sitting the next one out?"

Other Options
If you're a team that uses the star pass frequently, or plays USARS/MADE derby, it might make sense to have jammer-pivot pairings as unbreakable combinations.  The rest of the lineup is filled in around them.  This is similar to the NFL system of having a core group and making the adjustments around them.

Or, you could put blockers in pairs, and build the rest of the lineup around those pairings.  Any coach knows some skaters work better together with specific other skaters.  This might be a good anchor for a lineup.

Both of those can be incorporated into the systems above, or could be a system of their own.

Be clever!  If you like what I've written, but only like 70%, then riff on it!  Figure out what works for YOU, not what works for some big team that do well in WFTDA.  They're not you.  Roll on!

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