Thursday, June 23, 2011

Slow derby, Countering Slow Derby and Countering the Counter

Slow derby has been heavily discussed since about a year and a half ago, teams like Pikes Peak and Denver started implementing a slower pace to the game.

Prior to that fast packs and big hits dominated a lot of tournament play. Kansas City and Gotham flew around the track during their matchup in the 2007 Texas Shootout finals. Both teams relied heavily on the fast pack to wear out their opponents and actually make it easier for their speed demons to score against slower jammers.

Since the slow play started to become more and more apparent, other teams began including various tricks into their arsenal.

Steel City implements their Steel Curtain, often forcing opposing jammers to take bad back blocking penalties.

Kansas City developed a hybrid style, using both fast and slow packs when needed, creating a solid back wall.

After the 2010 regionals and championals, more and more teams (particularly non-WFTDA teams) realized they could start using the rule set to their advantage.

A good team can maintain pack control against either a slow or fast pack, and the best teams are able to adjust on the fly.

But it’s important to learn how to play both styles, as well as how to play against both styles.

For a team to effectively utilize a slow pack, their walls have to be impenetrable – not an ounce of daylight for an agile jammer to dive through. That impenetrable wall needs to move from side to side as a unit, without creating openings (particularly on the A-line or inside gap).

Teams often run into two problems when trying to use a slow pack: Not moving their feet and not paying attention to the distance to the pack.

Players may not engage another player or players without their feet moving. This becomes an automatic direction of game play penalty. A player must be moving his or her feet (or at least be in motion) to become eligible and legally to hit another player.

Slow packs that deviate far enough from the engagement zone become Out of Play and no longer may engage any player or passively block opposing players. If the slow pack does not have an opposing player with them, they must maintain the 9 feet or less for a legal pack to be defined and thusly a legal environment to engage opposing players.

One effective strategy for a slow pack is called a Slow Roll. If your team has a player in the box that has 20 or less seconds left on her penalty, by not crossing the pivot line, your team can delay the jammer whistles as long as the legally defined pack remains intact and isn’t crossing that line. A delay of a few seconds can mean having an extra blocker on the floor to help in the pack.

This can also be used to help spring a jammer out of the box, but be aware: Jammers may not engage the pack until after the jammer whistle. So even if your time is done in the penalty box the referees may require that you wait till after the jammer whistle to leave or that you return to the track behind the jammer line.

Jumping into the pack before the jammer whistle is considered an automatic major illegal procedure (and now you have at least two trips to the box).

The Slow Roll is also effective because the more time your pack eats off the jam clock, the opposing jammer has less time to actually score points (or at least delay her getting lead jammer status).

During my time at regionals and championals, I would often keep track of when the jam whistle was blown in relation to the jam clock and how quickly the Lead Jammer earned her status and made subsequent scoring passes.

Some of the best jammers took 25 to 30 seconds to even earn lead, which isn’t too much of a stretch. Jammers start from a dead stop and the pack actually gets quite an advantage by moving forward by the time the jammers are allowed to skate forward.

This 25 to 30 seconds also is a loose figure depending on pack situations and other variables. Subsequent passes were often completed in about 15 seconds (most derby players strive for unobstructed 10 second laps around the track).

If a pack Slow Rolls and manages to eat 10 seconds off the jam clock and it takes a jammer 30 seconds to earn lead, your team has effectively knocked 40 seconds off the jam clock in which she can score (assuming your plan is a defensive penalty kill). The opposing jammer now has 1 minute 20 to score as many points as possible (and your jammer is likely to exit the box in another 20 seconds to at least eat into any point swing.

is approximately 5 scoring passes. Without the Slow Roll, you’re essentially giving the opposing jammer an additional scoring pass. It’s not hard to see how the points could easily swing out of your favor without the Slow Roll.

The problem is that teams have developed a counter-strategy against Slow Roll – the Knee Auto-Start. By taking a knee before the pack whistle, a team creates an automatic No Pack situation, almost always resulting in an automatic jammer whistle. The reason teams take the knee before the whistle is so as not to incur Illegal Procedure calls for destroying the pack (or Out of Play calls depending on the situation). Since there is no legal pack definition before the whistle, no one may be called for destroying the pack or Out of Play calls until after the whistle has been blown (and even then, teams are generally given some time to rejoin or reform the pack).

The big lesson here is:
If the whistle has blown, DON’T take a knee.

You want to do it before the pack whistle.

This will give your jammer a quick start and 6 times out of 10 an easy Lead Jammer status. (Rules nerds should note that in a No Pack situation Lead Jammer status is not awarded until the jammer exits all on-the-track blockers. So your jammer must still get around opposing blockers, but …

In No Pack situations the opposing blockers may not engage or passively block the jammer.

The crux of this matter is in the timing. Your blockers do not want to get up so fast that you form a pack, giving the opposing blockers an open season on your jammer; but you don’t want to get up so slow that your pivot or one of your other blockers incurs an Out of Play major. Teams will sometimes test how long they can stay down without getting penalties, but solid refs will usually only allow a few seconds (after all, the impetus is on both teams to reform the pack).

So you want to Slow Roll, but the opposing team has decided to Auto-Start their jammer. Now what?

Two prominent options are:

Get your wall in front as fast as possible, stalling the jammer long enough to coax an opposing jammer blocker to jump up and help her out (and reforming the pack). She can’t earn lead until she gets around everyone and your team won’t (read: shouldn’t) get called for destroying the pack since you are traveling at normal pack speed and in the proper direction. Meanwhile, an opposing player may earn  a penalty for not attempting to reform the pack fast enough.

Or …

Getting your wall in back as fast as possible, take up as much room as possible, and hope the opposing jammer Back Blocks the s#*t out of you. Once her teammates see that she’s in trouble, one of them may get up to try and help her out – which will actually help you hinder her for a little bit longer.

In both scenerios, by even passively blocking you can incur an Out of Play penalty, but by creating a wall the opposing jammer also runs the risk of fouling to get through or around.

If you force the jammer to the box due to penalty, you’ll release your jammer that much sooner.

There is another version (actually several) different ways to Auto-Start the jammer, but I want to see how many people are paying attention. If you know of another way leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.