Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Coming from behind and good starts

You hear the analogy all the time in other sports. And the equivalent in roller derby holds true.

Every game of hockey starts with a faceoff. Basketball has the tipoff.

A coin flip determines who begins on offense first in football, and in baseball it's whoever is playing at home.

In roller derby getting a good start is two fold. Off the pack whistle your players want to get their position as easily as possible, and sometimes it's a matter of timing.

By the same token, just as tipoffs and faceoffs are important in their respective sports, establishing your position in derby can dictate the entire jam if not the game.

No matter what your team strategy is, you want to reach the end goal with as little obstruction as possible. Sometimes a player must get to their position and hold it. Sometimes he or she may wait before hitting their position.

Philosophically, getting a good start puts your team in a better position to win the game. Looking at sports psychology, it's often easier to win when a team is in a dominate position, i.e. in the lead. Teams who are behind in points have the added hurdle of eating into the deficit, but also putting points on the board -- effectively working twice as hard to get into a leading position.

Would you rather be ahead by 50 points or behind by 50 points. Being ahead is easier, because as long as your team maintains some distance from the opposing score for the rest of the game, you will win. When your behind you have to score those 50 points just to get back to even points.

The opposing team is likely to add to the difficulty because as you're scoring points to eat into the deficit, they are also scoring points, slowing how effective your team can be just to get back to even.

An analogy can be made directly to track play. If your jammer scores five points and the opposing jammer scores none, the jam ends in a 5-0 swing. You've just made a positive point differential. If you score 5 points and the opposing jammer scores 5 points, there is zero point differential and should be looked at as being the same as a 0-0 jam. If a jam goes 2 minutes and ends 15-15, your team has essentially skated two minutes for zero points. 

Let's imagine the game starts. If the first jam ends 0-5 in favor of the opposing team. Your team is now minus 5 points in the whole. Even if you score a 5-0 swing in the second jam, the game is essentially tied after two jams. You've used two different lines, two different jammers (in theory) to make the score 0-0. Start thinking about time, your bench and scoring as commodities.

If you pay $25 dollars for a pair of shoes and I pay $500 for the same pair of shoes, I'm getting the exact same thing but paying more for them.

When you're in a deficit, you "pay more" to get the same thing that you essentially have at the beginning of a game -- a 0-0 tie.

By getting an early lead and maintaining it, your team is in a better position to win. If your in the other seat, you're behind, there are two options available:

1. With lots of time on the clock, your team can incrementally play for small positive point swings to eat into the lead. The downside to this is the longer you play for small point gains, you could essentially be in the lead and doing the same thing. When you're behind, the clock is not your friend. You need to score points while the clock is running down. If you're behind with 55 minutes left in the game, it's more reasonable that you can recover from behing behind. IF there are 5 minutes left in the game, there is a sense of urgency. When you're behind you have to "pay more" whether it's your bench, time, or timeouts to get back to a position that's even.

2. Develop a style in which you're going to optimize the points you can manage to score in a jam. It's easiest to score a positive point when the opposing jammer is in the box. Force a major penalty (or a fourth minor) on the opposing jammer and put your jammer in the position to score maximum points possible. When your behind, sometimes its better to score 15 points in one jam opposed to 5 points in the next three jams depending on how your team plays and how much time is left.

WIth all the work of coming back from a deficit, playing with a lead must be cake, right? Not really.

Again, how you play with a lead depends greatly on your team's overall goal for the bout and where you stand as far as points and clock.

When your team has a lead, it's easier in that your focus becomes different. When you're in a tournament or playing for rankings, the point spread at the end of a game can have a huge impact in placing you in future brackets/rankings. However, if you're not playing for such things, focusing on your team's play is more important.

Remember: Rankings/Tournaments - point spreads are good; otherwise - teamwork and strategy.

This isn't the be all, end all philosophy but it's important to rembember the distinction.  If you learn nothing by playing in a blowout, what was the point of the bout.

When you're in the lead ask yourself these two questions:
1. How much time is left in the game?
2. How big of a point spread do we have?
Subquestion: How many points are the opposing jammers able to score?

With a lead in hand, the clock is your friend. The longer the clock is able to roll down the less time your opponent has to score. If there's a lot of time, then you still need to focus on either scoring as many points as they do. If there's just a little time, you generally just have to keep them from scoring.

Likewise, the point spread adds a layer to playing with a lead. If you're up by 100 points and there are five minutes less, it's not likely that the other team can come back. Read: Not likely. I did not say impossible. It takes a good jammer 10 seconds to complete a lap around the track, 10 seconds equals 4 points (if not 5) X 6 (for one minute) X 5 (for five minutes) = 4 X 6 = 24 X 5 = 100-plus points. A 10 point lead with 30 minutes left in the game will be harder to maintain.

Even going into the last jam, you cannot become complacent in thinking a 20 point lead is safe. CANNOT. I can't stress that enough. One bad jammer penalty and you hand the opposing team 5 points for each scoring pass. 

Being clutch
My last piece of advice is Key to a team being decent to awesome: A close point spread against either a high caliber team or dwindling clock closes the margin of error greatly. Meaning: a few points difference against a good team or small clock means your team's chances of erring or that an error will dramatically affect the outcome is greater. You have less of a margin for error, and the effects of an error are magnified. They're magnified against a high caliber team because the opponents will take advantage of the error. With little time on the clock when your team commits an error, you have less time to correct it. It's a high pressure situation and you have to count on your team doing the best they can in these key situations.

Turning a corner
Are you a team that manages an early lead, only to give it up and end up losing? Are you a team that often falls to an early deficit, only to come back but come up short against another team?

These are both situations that can easily happen to even the best of teams. The important thing is to not give up and keep trying (standard derby advice). The other thing is to practice different situations so that you're team knows what they need to do in key instances.

Try these examples during scrimmages (this helps to have someone keep track of game, jam and break time and also someone to record points:
1. Down but not out: With 30 minutes remaining in the game, you're behind by 50 points. Your team focuses on getting lead jammer and getting positve point swings.

My advice is to practice getting lead jammer and getting a few 4-0 jams back to back, and repeat as often as possible. This may mean that you put in your best jammers in serial jams. Make sure to practice what to do with lead jammer: get points and call it; prevent the other team from scoring points by calling it before her score pass.

2. Down and out but not done: You're team is down by 15 points with only five minutes left on the clock. You want to have one or two big jams with positive point swings. Your goal is to have the point lead when the five minutes runs out, whether it's by getting a lead and holding it or eking out a win at the last second. Practice this with 3, 2, 1 and zero timeouts remaining. Remember that a timeout stops the game clock, but you don't want to call a timeout if you have the lead and the game would end.

My advice: You want your best lineup rested, but definitely your jammers. Jammers should be prepared to skate back-to-back jams if not being able to skate the last five minutes by themselves. Practicing with your timeouts is key because you may need to stop the clock with a timeout. The fewer timeouts you have adds to the amount of pressure on your players to know what to do.

3. Close, go for the cigar: Your in a 0-0 tie with the opposing team and only 2:35 on the game clock.There's enough time on the clock to get at least two full jams in. In two jams, you need to win the game. Once you practice this a few times, practice with just 1 minute on the game clock and you only have one timeout. Your goal is to win, not a tie.

My advice: Earning lead jammer is super important as is playing penalty free. Do not put in a penalty prone jammer in the pack as you risk her sitting in the box. Remember the object is to get points as fast as possible. Playing 0-0 it puts the emphasis on earning points, and less what the score actually is. a 300-300 game going into the last jam is essentially the same as a 0-0 game.

Teams looking to practice holding a lead, can use the same examples above, but they're goal is the opposite, instead of coming from behind, they want to maintain their lead.

They are also less likely to Call a timeout (because they want the clock to keep rolling). Also they want to make sure the score as many points as the team coming from behind, or keep them from scoring. Again this decision of offense or defense (or both) is a team decision and should be clearly communicated.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Web posting and my goal for Regional season

I keep plugging away on possible stories and blogs to post here at fivepointgrandslam.com. Thanks to some new connections, I hope to generate more traffic here. The March stats are phenomenal compared with each month since we began last fall (and we're just half way through March). I hope to continue those efforts.

I have questions sent off to B Train of Wicked and Lulu and Pivot Star, hoping to turn around a story within a couple of weeks. I have a few other ideas floating around, and I'll likely be getting into contact with different leagues. I'm hoping for a few more stories before the busy season and Regionals roll around.

My goals for Regionals:
- To make Eastern and Western regionals this year. I attended the North and South Central regionals and Championals last year and had a blast. I made it to Eastern regionals a few years ago, hosted by Madison, when there were just two regions. Each time I go, I learn more and more. This year I have my own camera and video camera in addition to all the other tech gear I've acquired over the years, so I'm hoping to try out some different things.

- I want to add more photos and videos to the site. Right now, I'm reliant on provided images with photographer permission. This system works just fine, but the dependency on others could potentially backfire and leave me with few pictorial choices. I'd like to add video to fivepointgrandslam.com too, but I'm currently only able to imbed videos -- which also works just fine.

- Currently I shell a blogger template over my domain name, which I do own. It's a fix in a pinch as I have very little web prowess, and the blog format suits my current style. However, I'm working on a website design that utilizes everything I do now, and adds some features that I'm would love to include --  mostly the multimedia.

- With a new website, I also want to include a few widgets for continual scoring updates. Some of my favorite derby websites maintain and update scores from around the U.S. (if not world) and I'd like to be able to include the same amenity. As it stands, I'm scrounging around facebook and twitter to get some of the more obscure stats, and even then I come up short on some scores.

- Take more trips for derby. I'm currently scheduled to hit up Baltimore and Portland for the coastal regional tournaments and I plan on taking time off to go to Denver for 2011 Championals. Whether I make it to the North and South Central regionals this year is yet to be determined. Getting time off from work is hard enough without taking three weekends off in such close proximity. My wishlist of places to visit outside of the previously mentioned: Toronto for Blood & Thunder's World Cup, Europe (somewhere, anywhere) and possibly Australia/New Zealand. I've never done any traveling outside of the U.S., but I would like to travel more.

- I won't be making it to RollerCon this year, so I won't get to hang out with some of the cool people I met last year or get to ref great challenge bouts. I will hopefully be heading to Lincoln, Nebraska, for one of the many WFTDA referee clinics being hosted this year. I'm always looking to improve my ref skills, and while RollerCon helped in a big way, I think a WFTDA clinic would be an awesome boost. I've been skating for three years and it's always a pleasure to meet and work with other refs.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Let's think global

So every once in awhile I stroll through my Blogger stats.
Blogger stats can show you:
- Where people are browsing your blog from
- Which posts are getting the most hits
- What search words people are using to find your site
- Who's linking out to your site.
I've been noticing several different hits outside of the continental U.S., something that intrigues me.
One of those linkouts is from http://aotearoller.co.nz/.
Yeah, the NZ on the end, means it's from New Zealand (Hi, Goregasm! *waves emphatically*)
I want to trade a team T-shirt if you're up for it.
I'm super-stoked.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spring cleaning

Five Point Grand Slam is dedicated to finding true stories in the derby community as well as working on getting various coverage from around the world.

We have some big plans coming up, most notably a feature story in Five on Five magazine hopefully. That particular issue is scheduled for the Fall.

I'm currently working on a couple of other stories -- perhaps for print or web (we're not quite sure yet). I will be talking with some of the people behind derby inspired businesses like Wicked and Pivot Star.

I have plans on talking with several roller derby photographers, and hopefully it will turn into a solid piece.

As Summer begins here in the Iowa farmland, roller derby will be entering its hottest season yet, filled with rivalries and competition as teams from all over compete for local, regional, national and global recognition.

Five Point Grand Slam is currently scheduling trips to Baltimore, Md., and Portland, Ore., for the East and Western regional tournaments respectively. Time will tell if we're able to make a repeat performance at Championals, hosted in Denver this year.

It is also a far-fetched idea that I may try to make it to Toronto for the Blood and Thunder World Cup of roller derby at the end of the year. I've always wanted to go to Toronto, and now I have my passport.

Our first birthday is coming up, and Five Point Grand Slam hopes to celebrate with a bang. I have plans of shedding the Blogger shell for the website in favor of an honest-to-God website (I'm slowly learning web design), and hopefully we can start giving more back to the derby community with better coverage.

If you would like to help contribute, I will gladly take the help. Just leave a comment below, with a way to contact you. We are always looking for writers, photographers and videographers to help keep the site up. Thanks.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Managing Penalties - Part 2

While Part 2 of this multi-part blog (Part 1 can be found here) will primarily discuss jammers, it should be noted that the rules applying for those that wear the star, also apply to blockers and pivots.

The happenstances which will be discussed happen to jammers a lot, and it may be easier to envision these occurrences happening to a jammer.

Where as Part 1 dealt with keeping control and managing your team's penalties both as a player and as bench support staff, Part 2 will focus entirely on the track play and requires the astute attention of your players.

Cutting the pack penalties (and to some degree the Illegal Procedure plays in regards to players exiting the penalty box) are contingent upon the offending player's relative position to and within the pack.

In order to commit a Cut a player must step out of bounds and gain illegal advantage on one or more skaters.

There is no significance on which team member she passes. An offending player will obtain the same penalty whether she cuts and opposing player or one of her own.

The key definition for a Cut penalty is relative position within the pack, which means two things:
1.) The Cutting infraction is NOT  relative to your exit point on the track (unless upon re-entering at that point you've still ceded any and all advantage to the other players).
2.) The Cutting infraction is relative to the pack and only incurs upon an offending player who gains an illegal advantage on in-pack skaters. Thusly, if there is no pack or skaters are not in-play (within 20 feet of the engagement zone, upright and moving, and on the track -- there should not be a Cut penalty called.

That's not to say that in the heat of the moment the referees are not entirely sure of the pack structure, and possibly give a skater a penalty. It will happen, as pack restructuring is happening faster and faster as the strategies evolve, but also the higher levels of players are able to reform a pack on a dime.

Legal passes
Legal passes won't concern a blocker, but jammers live and die by legal passes. 

I should also point out that even if you wouldn't earn a  penalty for passing someone who is out of play while you're out of bounds, it is still not considered a legal pass. 

Legal passes on the first lap of the pack determine lead jammer status, as a player who incurs an illegal pass (or a non-legal pass -- which there is a difference) will not earn lead jammer unless she cedes advantage and tries to repass legally.

Legal passes on the second lap and subsequent laps are relative to individual points. Illegal passes or a non-legal pass, which is defined as the No Pass, No Penalty hand signal, are not scored, however any illegal passes will be reported as penalties.

This becomes the tricky part. On the first pass, it's in a jammer and her team's best interest to earn Lead Jammer and to maintain Lead Jammer status as long as possible. You are more likely to see a jammer cede an illegal pass or a No Pass, No Penalty in order to repass legally so that she may earn Lead Jammer status. On subsequent passes, that same jammer my happily take a No Pass, No Penalty -- forfeiting the point -- to not lose position within the pack particularly if the opposing jammer is close by.

Leave the cannoli, take the gun
That little play on a famous movie quote is intentional. In this instance the cannoli is the point you forfeit so you don't lose position in the pack.

In Part 1 I talked about watching your's and the opposing player's feet when you travel out of bounds. As long as you don't gain advantage on other players in doing so, once your opponent steps out she becomes out-of-play and you can step back on the track without incurring a Cut penalty.

By waiting for your opponent to move forward or to actively re-enter legally, a skater may lose valuable pack position, dropping back two, three or more spots - which can be crucial in key games. 

You see many high-level skaters (I'm looking at you, Suzy Hotrod!) make that kind of decision in a matter of milli-seconds.

Sometimes those one or two points can be the big difference in close games, but in less crucial situations, it is almost always beneficial to forfeit the one point and get back in as soon as possible.

Where's the pack?!
You can usually here me along the benches yelling "Call the pack!." I'll do this reffing, too. "Call the pack!" should be a staple in any referee's vocabulary. Defining the pack is key for so many other penalties, and sometimes in the heat of the moment you don't want to look away to see where the pack is located (Like if you're jam reffing). "Call the pack!" is a cue for someone to either say "Pack is here" or "No pack."

I'm a bigger fan of "Pack is here," "Pack is up," "Pack is back," "No pack" or "All in." (Thank you, Pork Chop!) These cues give you a much better idea of where the pack is without taking your eyes off gameplay.

As a coach I'm not usually one to scream that someone is out of play (OK, I lied). Recently, I've tried to get in the habit of yelling "Call the pack" because the pack definition determines Out Of Play and Cutting penalties. It asks a lot of the referees, but from the standpoints of being a referee, (pseduo) player and a coach, I recognize that 90 percent of roller derby game play relies on pack definition.

A good player will have an eye on the pack definition (and a really good player will use that to her advantage).

By passing a player (while you yourself are Out of Bounds) who is not considered in play because he or she is outside the engagement zone will not earn you a penalty, and will in face be a No Pass, No Penalty.  

Here's an example from Uproar on the Lakeshore, the WFTDA 2010 championships: http://vimeo.com/16595182

At 0:44 during the Gotham-Texas footage. Belle Star, the Texas blocker in white, manages to force Gotham jammer Suzy Hotrod out of bounds. Suzy keeps an eye on Belle, watching for one of her feet to come out of bounds. Instead, Belle loses her balance and falls, becoming Out of Play, at which point Suzy jumps back on the the track.

Jammers passing players who are Out of Play to the rear of the pack should attempt to do so legally to earn a legal pass or a point for each said player. By earning points on the rear-most opposing blocker, the jammer also earns points for players in the box. This may be the one example where it is a bad idea for a jammer to forfeit the point for pack position. If the opposing blocker(s) is out of play, she should be able to pass them without much effort. (If I'm the opposing players who just got passed, I hustle to the pack to re-engage the jammer again.

Jammers at the top of the pack, stuck behind an Out of Play opposing blocker, can pass her out of bounds without incurring a Cut penalty, but must be sure that in doing so that that player remains out of play. Cutting the foremost blocker will result in a major. It is highly recommend that passing an Out of Play blocker by skating out of bounds should be the last option, after all other options are extinguished.

The same standard holds true when there is a No Pack situation defined. A player should not incur cutting penalties when there is a No Pack situation, since Cutting requires gaining advantage on in-play skaters.