Thursday, June 30, 2011

By the position - An Intro

Every team will have different names and numbers they use when teaching their players the positions in roller derby.

For simplification, I'm just going to use numbers and a general description to the duties of each position. This is not to say how you should run your team and teach people but I'll give us an opportunity to establish shared terms for future By the Position blogs.

At the most teams can field five different players on the track. Some teams make their pivot the No. 1 position, while others make the jammer the No. 1, pivot as No. 2. I'm going to number the positions based on proximity to the pivot line and work my way back. Thus, the player closest to the pivot line will be the No. 1 position.

1 - This player is the last line of defense for your team, and as such she (or he) should maintain a space at the front of pack, or as near to it as possible. The 1 should also hold to the inside of the track as much as possible, to prevent the jammer from taking the A-line gap (the area of the track as close to the inside turn as possible). 

Typically, the Pivot plays in the 1 position, but this is not mandatory. Pivots generally play that position because of their right to establish position on the pivot line before the pack whistle. Any one of your four blockers can be pivot regardless of which numerical position they play.
The No. 1 player probably should prepare to jam if and when necessary if she is the pivot, as the pivot can receive the star pass.

2 - The No. 2 player works directly with the No. 1 player. She may skate directly next to or behind the No. 1 position. The No. 2 serves as the No. 1's right-hand side and eyes, helping her cover twice the track surface without losing the integrity of her A-line defensive position. The No. 2 might also be called upon to assist her team's jammer.

The No. 2 will also work and communicate with her No. 3, but only leaving her position if the No. 1 has firm control of the front-inside.

We sometimes refer the No. 2 as the sacrifice, because the No. 1 will sometimes "throw" or forcifully push the No. 2 into a position to take out the jammer. We certainly have mediocre players at the No. 1 or 2 position, but their willingness to be a sacrifice makes them an asset for a cagey No. 1 player.

Putting newer places in the front two positions can be beneficial, as the duties are relatively simple, but I definitely recommend pairing them with a veteran player in the complementary position, i.e. Veteran No.1, newbie No. 2; or Newbie No.1 with veteran No. 2). This can be the quickest way for a newbie player to learn each position.

3 - Our No. 3s work heavily with the No. 2 and No. 4. 3s look for walls and formations being formed and try to break them up as much as possible. Sometimes the 3s jump up with the 1-2 combination to make a 3-wall in the front. 3s can also help with the offense, by making sure their jammer doesn't get stuck in the pack. She can do this by leading the jammer through a wall by breaking it up and the jammer following through.

It's very important to have a smart and experienced player in the 3 position, as her duties can change depending on whether her team is on offense, defense or both jammers happen to be in the pack. Your 3s should be moderately fast to really quick, agile and be trusted to make decisions on the fly -- All while communicating with the 2 and the 4. With that in mind, the 3 position can be stressful and intimidating for an inexperienced player.

4 - Just as the 1 position is the last line of defense, your 4s are the first line of defense. A good 4 can be the difference between getting your jammer into the pack, keeping their jammer out of the pack and wrecking general havoc in the back of the pack.

The No. 4 position works with the No. 3 in general and also the No. 1 position. Because of the given distance between the 1 and 4 positions, this can be difficult, but incredibly important as they generally control how tight or loose the pack is.

I generally recommend that our No. 4s generally have a lot experience jamming as both require speed, agility and the ability to hit/receive hits.

5 - Possibly the most recognized position on the floor. Jammers serve as the point scorers and primarily serve a wholly offense purpose. While footwork, agility and speed are important, jammers must have a vision for the track to be able to see the holes in the defense -- and have eyes in the back of her head. 

The jammer can also play defense, holding back the other jammer, or jumping into the pack and becoming a fifth blocker (or additional blocker if the pack is short).

Our lines operate under the assumption that the positions need to be filled from the No. 1 spot back since the No. 1 and 2 positions are important defensive positioning. Thusly if a player falls out of her position due to a hit or penalty, the players behind her move up and fill that role. 

When the vacated player returns to the pack, she will fill the open position left by a relieving player first. If the No. 2 position is sent to the box, the No. 3 position moves into the 2 slot, the No. 4 moves into the 3 slot -- Leaving the No. 4 spot open (unless the jammer decides to fill the defensive position). With the original No. 2 player returns to the pack, she'll first assume the duties of the No. 4, eventually moving forward relieving each position as she comes to it and assuming the duties assigned to that skater, until she reaches her original No. 2 position.

Your team may ask that you do the opposite -- that the rear positions are more important -- at which point you should oblige them. Each team will have a different protocol in certain situations, but it is each player's responsibility to know the positions and what is to be asked of them during game play.

You can see why it's important for everyone to play each position, because during a jam or game, anything can and will happen.

I encourage most of our veteran pivots to learn all five positions as much as possible, because at any given moment she may have to fill in a weak or vacated position. This could mean falling back to fill in as a No. 3 or No. 4, or in the event of a star pass, becoming the jammer.

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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Running set plays and executing

Running set plays or sets occur on lots of other sports, but the idea mostly comes from basketball, that Western Hemisphere pastime in which coaches call timeout and draw up the play to win the game.

Derby is slightly different. While our sport does draw on a rich history dating back to the Depression era, most of the sport draws its inspiration from the 70s-style bank track where body slamming and elbows to the face won over strategy.

But, since the sports rebirth in the early-2000s, teams and leagues have been making strong headway to legitimize the sport, and thus the introduction of sets.

When I first started, spectators would ask me if we had plays or not. At the time my answer was "no," but only because we hadn't developed as strong as a team yet and trying to get 25-30 players to follow a "play" was nearly impossible. As we improved we started to incorporating different set plays and it started to improve our game.

We worked as a team and recognized the benefits of having goals. From here we can continue to evolve.

This summer we're working on a specific goal to incorporate a new style largely credited to Pitchit Davis, who with some help is credited with helping several teams break the wall to become great.

With any system of sets, I have a few rules of thumb:
1. Don't introduce more sets than your players have the ability to learn. This generally means more than one. The larger the group of players the less likely everyone is going to understand. Keep it simple. Multiple moving parts makes it harder to learn. Learn it, then move on.
2. Practice, practice, practice. It's incredibly hard to introduce a set in the middle of the game. But it does happen. Use practice time to run sets over and over again. Start out playing against imaginary opponents, then move to using players being dumb or playing stupid (simply skating bodies on the track) and finally graduate to full practice.
3. Don't give up on a set just because people don't understand it. Walk them through it. Explain it. Tell your players why it works and why it doesn't. Players will never develop trust in you if you constantly throw away your ideas.
4. In scrimmage and bout situations, if your team fails executing a set. Try to break it down for them when they're done. You're the coach or captain: You should know exactly what happened. Draw it out for them. This may mean not having an eye on the game for a jam, but it can be crucial for your team to know where they went wrong.
5. Likewise, if they execute a set properly reward/praise them immediately. And once they come off the track from that jam. And again on the bench. AND again at the after-party. (Oh, we're not done.) When you have practice again, praise her again. Positive reward/praise builds confidence and ability than negative or none at all.

(My formula is: Immediate positive praise > positive praise > constructive criticism > nothing  > negative comments.)

Never (ever) criticize a player in front of everyone unless you immediately follow it with a solution, or if you want to make sure everyone understands the whole situation. 

Never be: "WHY DIDN"T YOU CALL THE JAM WHEN I TOLD YOU TO?!" when you can be: "Hey, Why didn't you call the jam?" Then give you're skater time to reply. If she didn't see you, then you need to make sure she's watching for you. If she thought she could score points, then explain to her why it was/wasn't a good idea.

I never get upset if a player chooses to make up her own mind. However, I will ask her the reasoning in her choice and we'll talk about it.

"Well, just execute him!"
Executing a set play in a bout provides one of the best highs a coach can get. Watching it all come together in one moment culminates hours and hours of practice.

In high pressure situations, sets can give your team the edge it needs to accomplish its one goal.

During a bout, don't run a set trying to put your five newest players in the game. If we've learned anything about roller derby it's no matter how many times you practice it when you're in a bout, you're going to forget it.

Make sure everyone on your bench understands the set, but most importantly make sure your next line has it down pat. Get verbal and visual confirmation that they understand. If someone isn't comfortable running the play, get someone it the line that is.

Don't get mad at the players if it simply doesn't work. A coach who takes out self-frustration on their players won't be a coach for long.

On the fly
Just like executing a set play, being able to draw one up on the fly (meaning in-game situations) uplifts you when it happens.

Drawing up plays during a game is one of the few times when everything hinges on your coaching ability. You're at the center of attention and your team is relying on you to formulate a plan.

A situation came up when we were playing a team from Des Moines several months back. Our front wall  was dominating the top of the pack for the first half, and we maintained control and the point spread. In the second half, our opponents got wise and instead of trying to break up the front wall, just established a back wall that allowed them to control from behind us. We had very little ability to get behind them to help our jammers through.

I called a timeout, regrouped my skaters and drew up a plan that would help us break their back wall, while maintaining the integrity of our front wall.

It didn't work. That time. The game ended and we lost by 40 points or so. But I didn't let it discourage me.

We took that play to practice and worked on it and worked on it.

Not long after we played Des Moines, both our A team and B team traveled up to Dubuque, Iowa, to play the Eastern Iowa Outlaws. Our B team had established a solid front wall, and just as Des Moines did, EIO learned to just build a wall behind us.

Our front wall hit turn 3, with our jammer hot behind the pack, getting ready to engage the back (and EIO's back wall). I yelled for our play and on turn 4 we executed perfectly, the outside player turned in toward the inside track catching their mid-wall player squarely in the chest with a shoulder block and taking her out of the play opening up a giant hole for our jammer to slide through.

It was like delivering birth to a roller derby baby. We continue to practice these plays over and over so that in the heat of the battle we can execute them (the plays, not the baby).

Being able to draw up plays on the fly takes one of two things (if not both): Imagination or experience.

Being creative can help a lot in drawing up new plays. Chances are someone has already drawn up similar halfway around the country, but you have to be aware of what you're players are capable. Knowing what will work, what should work and what won't work can give you an edge in drawing up plays.

Experience can play just as big of a role. Seen a situation happen years ago? How did that coach resolve the issue. Having the knowledge that you know the play work doesn't always translate to your skaters knowing how to execute. But having the confidence that the play works, is nice. Many basketball coaches have the benefit of growing up in a system in which coaching and plays are heavily involved.

Ever watch the LA Lakers and the commentators are talking about Phil Jackson's Triangle Offense. Well, Jackson was an assistant coach for Tex Winter, who used it. But Winter got it from Sam Barry, who began to formulate the ground work back in the 1940s (guestimate).

We don't quite have the same equivalent in roller derby, but we do have other teams learning at an alarming rate. It's important to watch as much derby as you can, and to break down other plays so that you can learn from them.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Web stats - May 2011

May 2011 turned out to be a big month for those of us at (well, OK, just me). At 317 hits, May has been the second biggest month since the blog started back in September 2010 (behind November 2010 at 379 hits), and thusly the biggest month for the year 2011, with an average of 193 hits per month.In the short start had in 2010, the site averaged 185 hits a month. As you can see, the site is growing. Even if slowly.

May's outstanding production came via some help. posted a link to the site that has helped drive some overseas web traffic our way (Thanks, Goregasm!). Live Derby Girls borrowed a quote from our "What's in a name?" article and linked out to the blog, which featured skaters playing under their real name.

In the meantime, I'm hoping to get another article up soon. I'm still waiting on some responses back, and if all else fails, I may have to just run with what I have.
I've been going back and cleaning up some of the blogs. I'm starting to add Tags at the end of the article. This is to ensure the Googles help those browsing the web find us.

I'm also looking for any and all help I can get. If you're interested in writing or adding photos/video, please contact me at trippcrouse (at) gmail (dot) com. (Hopefully I'll get an email account up specifically for

Here's the breakdown per month:
September 2010: 50
October 2010: 190
November 2010: 379
December 2010: 121
January 2011: 98
February 2011: 182
March 2011: 222
April 2011: 146 
May 2011: 317 

Ranking months per hits
379: Nov. 2010
317: May 2011
222: March 2011
190: Oct. 2010
182: Feb. 2011
146: April 2011
121: Dec. 2010
098: Jan. 2011
050: Sept. 2010