Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Backup Plan

I use the analogy of building a house a lot when talking about strategy with my players. If I give you a hammer and say go build a house, how far will you get constructing the building? Probably, not very far.

So let's give you some more tools.

The same philosophy applies to roller derby (and other sports, I'm sure). Your team is really good at one thing, so well in fact, that thing is the only good tool in your arsenal.

For the sake of argument, your team is good at back walls – You can build a 3- or even 4-wall of impenetrable defense in the back. You let your jammers get through but not the opposing stars. The first two jams your team shuts down their jammer, but yours only scores a point or two.

Opposing team calls a timeout.

You should be worried. Want to know why? In a little more than a minute, your opponents are going to look over at your bench and smile. Maybe even wink at you.

That one thing you're good at is about to get dismantled.

And the house you've been diligently putting together with just a hammer, is going to come tumbling down.

Psychologically speaking, this is heartbreaking. You just spent two jams doing something you all know how to do and take pride in it.

Without a backup plan, you're essentially inviting the Big Bad Wolf over to blow everything down.

The next jam, the opposing team opens up your wall, releasing their jammer while yours is stuck behind everyone.

The opposing star squeaks through everyone. Her jam ref holds up five fingers.

Your jammer panics, which panics the rest of your team.

Opposing star is through again. Five more points.

By the end of the half, you're stuck in a pile of rubble holding a hammer.

You need a backup plan. You want a backup plan.

Halftime is not the occasion to have to solve a major glitch like faulty strategy. It can be, and has effectively been utilized in the past to solve issues, but it's not a guarantee.

You should have that backup plan before you even step on the floor for a bout. You should have been practicing it over and over, so that when something doesn't work, you can quickly switch to plan B.

Having a few tricks in your back pocket is a good way to get yourself out of a jam (pun not intended, but certainly relevant).

But tricks won't win you the game.

You're team's bread and butter is the back wall mentioned above. You're really good at it, but maybe you've been working on something else like a 2-2 formation. 2-2s are common among teams. One pair of blockers manages the front, the other two are in the back. One operates mostly on defense while the other operates mostly on offense.

Practice 2-2 as much as you can. Learn why it works and why it might not. When is it most effective?

Knowing the ins and outs of a particularly strategy will help you recognize certain things on the track. Recognizing a strategy's weak links allows for creativity and development of counter strategies and how to make yours better.

It's hard to create a backup plan on the fly, but good coaches can do it. Such an ability requires experience, flexibility, creativity and control.

Most notably it requires the coach (or captain) to have a high level of communication, and trust from his/her players.

The learning curve at bouts is a giant bell shaped graph. It takes a few bouts to really get the swing of things and absorb what is going on around you.

Once you get past that, be ready to learn a whole lot about derby.

Here's a saw.

Take the time to learn what each "tool" (or strategy) is about. Don't automatically assume the strategy is broken if it doesn't work for you right away.

New strategies take focus and lots of practice. Certain tools will be more effective in certain situations.

Never take a knife to a gun fight.

High level teams have plenty of tools in their arsenal and can switch gears almost mid-jam. Lower level teams can usually do one or two things really well. The gray area between them is filled with experience, learning and practice.