Monday, April 25, 2011

All about timing - Managing the game clock

The Quad-City Rollers (the league I coach) took on a relatively new team, Midwest Derby Divas, based out of Morrison, Ill. It was the Divas first game and they managed to stay tight and keep the point spread from getting unmanageable (between 20-40 points). If it hadn't been a few key mistakes, the score would have been much closer than the 150-108 final showed.

Setting up for the win
The time remaining on a clock plays a vital role in how a team manages the game. And it's pretty simple:
1.) If you are behind, you want as much clock as you can to pick up crucial point swings.
2.) If you're ahead, you want the clock to keep running and slow the other teams ability to score.
3.) In tied or incredibly close games (zero to 15 points), managing the clock becomes more crucial the more that time ticks down because you essentially must accomplish both 1 and 2.

One mistake yanks the momentum out of your hands.

I also coach my skaters to try and get as much of a point swing as possible. If we score 4 points and they score zero, then that's a 4-0 point swing for us. If we score 4 and they score 4, there is no point swing (a 0-0 wash) and we didn't gain any advantage. However, if they score 4 and we manage a few points (1 or 2) we are able to manage a smaller point swing for our opponents 4 to 1-or-2. Point swings are important whether you are ahead or behind, because it allows you to build a buffer between you and the other team, or it allows you to cut into their lead.

I talk a lot about managing the clock because it falls under one of my key coaching points: We want to focus on the things we can control (getting lead jammer, scoring points, clock control, etc.) and not worry about the things not in our control (ref calls, our jammer in the box, etc.)

A team can control the clock with timeouts, official reviews, timely injury stoppages (not something I condone, but injury stoppages do stop the clock). Players can also manage time with slow starts (crawling across the pivot line), auto starts (taking a new before the pivot whistle), and pack control (limiting time opposing jammer can score while maximizing the time your jammer can score).

I only recommend taking a timeout in the first half if your team absolutely needs a break or if the opposing team is just stomping your players in subsequent jams. Controlling the clock in the second half becomes much easier if you have all three timeouts available to you. If you need a break in the first half and you have something to review, I recommend using your official review as opposed to a timeout because a team is allowed one OR each half.

When you are ahead, let the break clock roll down to five seconds before you call a time out (but make sure you have a line of sight to a ref or the head ref). If you are behind, call a time out as soon as the jam is done (unless the other team or the officials call a timeout (you may have to let some break clock run off so that you give them a chance to do so).

If you are behind: You want game clock
If you are behind: You do not want the other team to have game clock

Since the game clock continues to run even during the 30 second breaks, it plays a vital role in any team's ability to survive.

Another aspect that is sometimes overlooked is the jammer start whistle.

Even if the game clock has stopped because of a review, timeout or stoppage, it will restart upon the pack whistle being blown. However, the jammers are not allowed to skate until after the rearmost pack skater crosses the pivot line.

By blowing the pack whistle, the officials start the 2 minute jam clock and the game clock. A team can eat up both clocks by slow rolling the start or blocking an opposing skater from crossing the pivot line. The slow roll is effective to eat up clock, but also minimize how much time a jammer has to score. One benefit of the slow roll is that since all the clocks restart, penalty time also begins to tick off. The slow roll can give a team a chance to released a penalized player back into play. An auto start (taking a knee before the pack whistle) optimizes how much time your jammer has to score points.

A teaching moment
Toward the end of the game I wanted to call a timeout, but wasn't sure how many timeouts the opposing team had. We had one left and the clock was nearing the last two minutes of the game. If I called the timeout, and even if the jam went the full two minutes, the other team would have an opportunity to call a timeout if they had one.

I bit the bullet and called the timeout at the five second warning. Making sure our girls new the game plan. I laid out the groundwork and got the best girls on the track. I also warned them that they could have to skate a second jam if the opposing team did indeed call a timeout. I also prepped my bench and line bench coach that we could indeed skate another jam. 

(If there is any clock left, your team should always be ready to skate another jam, because anything can happen. You should always be prepared, because the one time you aren't ready you will have to skate again.)

Luck (or skill) would be on our side. The Rollers managed to force a major penalty on the Diva jammer, and Sugar N. Slice skated a power jam picking up several five-point scoring passes before the opposing jammer re-entered the pack. With less than 30 seconds left in the game we called jam off. With about six seconds and change left, the opposing team did call a timeout. I turned and looked at one of my skaters, and simply said, "See." 

We were ready, and they had to scramble to see who would skate and work out their game plan within the next minute. Whereas, we knew the game plan two minutes ago, prepared to skate a last jam, and could use their 1-minute timeout to go over some finer points.

I coached our jammer, The Taco, to get lead and call it as soon as possible, otherwise keep scoring to dent a possible point swing for the Divas. Taco and Diva jammer, Krystallica, raced through the pack as game time ended (the jam continuing to its natural conclusion). Taco would escape the pack first and earn the lead jammer designation on Turn 3, calling the jam off as she turned Turn 4 and the game was over.

Those last two jams were huge for our team because we controlled key aspects of the game. 

Those two jams were set up by lots of little things like managing the clock. Without clock control, the game could have been completely different.