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.