Monday, July 25, 2011

Effective communication with the referees

I specify referees in this blog because in the course of a game, Non-Skating Officials and Bench Staff should not be talking with each other. NSOs should only be communicating with themselves (if necessary) the Skating Officials (referees) or perhaps the skaters in specific instances (Penalty Box to Skater: Number of seconds left, Stand and Time).

Neither NSO nor Bench Staff should initiate conversations with the other.

Many times the Bench Staff shouldn't be communicating with the referees unless it's an official review or a quick discussion about points or penalties in the time allowed (30 seconds between jams to a possible Team Timeout).

A Coach or other personnel yelling and screaming at the sidelines sends a definite message to the Head Referee and the other officials: This guy is a douchebag. They won't say it. They may not even talk about it in the ref room. But they're thinking it. Think about the message your sending when you're jumping up and down and screaming at the referees: It's aggressive and demeaning. No one wants to deal with that. By prescribing to the above actions, you're building a wall instantly between the head referee and yourself.

A step down from that is the Coach who occasionally gripes about calls (made or missed). While this person is a pleasant respite from the above, it can still send the same signal if it's excessive.

I generally float between this and the next example, depending on the level of officiating and how my team seems to be performing.

Coaches who utilize their moments to have a quick discussion about points/penalties or use their timeouts effectively to address certain situations are beneficial to their team. A Head Referee is more likely to actively listen to a Coach who calmly steps out the middle says something brief and exits, or one who effectively communicates something that happened to gameplay no matter how complex the events.

The last example, nearly as extreme as the first (and I've NEVER seen these before) was a Coach who simply stands on the sidelines and never communicates to the officials. But this can happen. Perhaps your Coach only runs the lineups, while you have a skating Captain and Co-Captain, but often the Coach watching some of the game and may react accordingly.

Here are a few tips I recommend for communicating with referees:

Utilize your time
The time breaks that occur before a bout generally include (but not limited to) the 30 seconds between jams, a Team Timeout (1 minute), an Official Timeout (30 seconds to 2 minutes), an Official Review/Challenge (30 seconds to 2 minutes or more, Halftime Intermission (15 minutes or so).

Recognizing how much time you have available is crucial with any conversation including an official. Thirty seconds only affords you the opportunity for a quick question-answer: Hey how many points did White Jammer score that last pass? Or Why didn't she earn all four points on that last complete pass? I never saw a hand signal. And can easily be a quick request: "Hey , can you make your hand signals big?" or "Can you please hold up the points for the jammers' entire pass?" Thirty seconds doesn't allow for a lot of time. It's enough to do a quick count of how many Team Timeouts and Official Reviews are available to each team (Don't just keep track of yours, as you want to know if the other team has a timeout available or not.

A Team Timeout gives you a full minute before gameplay resumes. Any Team Timeout does this. So if your opponent calls a Team Timeout and you have a quick question about a call or points awarded, this is the perfect opportunity to ask the Head Referee about it. It won't cause you to lose a timeout, but you are effectively awarded the same benefit. "I get one free minute with the Head Ref, and they lose a timeout? Bonus!"

The main thing to keep in mind here is that the Head Ref may not want you to talk to them unless there is an Official Review/Challenge, but generally this is not the case. If they have the time and you haven't been a belligerent douchebag, they're usually more than accommodating.

If there is an Official Timeout called, it's your right as a Team Captain or Alternate to request to know what the OTO was about. Allow the referees to meet before asking what the OTO is about. Don't jump into the herd immediately as they will likely ask you to return to the bench.

Official Reveiws/Challenges are effective ways to discuss gameplay aspects and why something was called something one way or why points were scored in the manner they were. As a general rule (and I'll cover this in the Pick your moments subsection) I don't use an Official Review if I know the outcome won't drastically change the landscape of the game, which usually involves points or a jammer penalty. In an Official Timeout, the time is usually determined by the Officials, if they're ready to return to gameplay then you may not get much of a break.

Halftime Intermission becomes an effective time to talk with the Head Ref at the beginning. Generally, the Referees return to their room and discuss certain aspects of Officiating and other nuances about the game as it relates to them. If you've been a douchebag, I guarantee, every referee now knows you're a douchebag and your ability to effectively communicate with the referees is drastically devalued.

It's also important to note that you want to inform the Head Referee that you'd like a quick word at Halftime before teams report to the locker room. If you wait until after the locker room it's less likely that message will be relayed to the rest of the Ref Crew.

This could be to address your concern about illegal blocks, asking for bigger hand signals or other things that will help the flow of gameplay. Safety and gameplay are a Head Referees (and by default his/her crew) biggest responsibilities, so if you need to hit those points, now is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Pick your moments
The original examples of Bench Personnel highlights some of the wrong and right Coaching personalities and these can often affect when you can and can't communicate with the Referees and how effective those communications will be effective.

Knowing how much time you need to convey your point is crucial. Is it quick and to the point or at best a short Q&A, then 30 seconds – I don't need a timeout. Is it a complex series of actions and penalties that prevented your jammer from scoring points, then maybe an Official Review is necessary.

There's no real tried and true system that will work for everyone, just getting the experience in those situations. If you're the aggressive jumper/screamer dude, you'll want to be extremely frugal with your moments and know that they count (not be dismissed and forgotten in the next jam).

If you're the quiet coach, you'll likely have more opportunity to talk with the refs in short quick bursts but if you begin to affect the Head Referee's ability to do his/her job, then you're going to be sent back to your bench.

Sometimes, you're team just needs a break and you don't want to burn a timeout at the end of the first half. Feel free to use your Official Review on a play that happened in the last jam.

You do not want to discuss a play that happened three jams ago, and you certainly don't want to address made or missed calls at this point. But it can be something about a review of points or something. The end of the first half is the perfect time for a quick Official Review if you need it before the second half, but you don't want to make something up on the fly because you could accidently burn a timeout if the Head Ref deems your call unreviewable.

Adjust your attitude
If you feel like you're in one of the above groups of Coaches/Bench Personnel and you often find that you're not able to effectively communicate with the referees, it might be a perfect opportunity to move down a step and see if that fixes the problem. Analyze your actions and word choices during a game. Does it merit being called (borderline) abusive? Let's tone down some of that behavior. No one wants a lobotomized Coach, but stepping back from that personality will do wonders for your team.

Are you screaming at the referees? Bring it down a notch and just use your outside voice. Make yourself be heard, but not spitting in a referees face. If your upset at a call when you call a Timeout/Official Review, as the Head Ref if you can collect yourself before jumping into the details. We're all passionate about the sport, but we don't want to turn that passion into a weapon against ourselves. A Head Ref will generally understand if you need a quick moment to breathe and calm down.

Changing your body language can have a distinct impact on whether the Head Referee is actively listening. Arms crossed and bending forward in their face is not how anyone likes to be addressed. Allow the head referee to come to you, stopping where they are most comfortable. Put your arms behind your back, unless you're reading off notes. If the venue is loud, you may have to use your outside voice, but use a prompt like "Okay" or "So" to judge quickly whether you may have to adjust your speaking volume. If you are softspoken and it's a loud venue, when you say "So" and the referee moves forward to hear better that is not your cue to start yelling, but maybe to speak up a little bit or move forward yourself. Finding a comfortable middle ground is important for both of you because you want to be heard and you want to hear also.

Be clear, distinct and to the point
Remember what I said about Referees wanting to keep a flow to gameplay? Yeah, well they don't want to hear long essays about what you did over your summer vacation, so get to the point. If it's incredibly complicated have something that you can jot notes down about key events so that you can reference them, but keep the bar graphs and the pie charts at home.

Learning to boil down your language to be understandable and clear is important. If the Head Referee is relaying information back to the crew, you want to make it easy to remember lest it gets lost in translation. Remember playing the game of Telephone when you were a kid: I tell you something, you tell someone else, they tell someone until it gets to the end and the message is completely different than when it started? You want to prevent that as much as possible.

It's really nice when the entire herd comes over to listen to you, but if you have some criticism about a particular referee's call, it may not be prudent to include everyone on that conversation. As a whole Zebras don't like if you criticize someone else in the Herd, but if it's having a drastic effect on gameplay maybe it should be addressed … to the Head Referee only.

Understand the rules
When you call for an official review, you want to make sure something happened that contradicts something in the rules. You don't' want to say "She passed all those players and was awarded points, but she shouldn't have earned them." Nothing about that statement says anyone did anything wrong, unless "she" is referring to a blocker. Instead say "White Jammer passed two players while she was Out of Bounds, re-entered the track in front of those players, exited the pack and was awarded four points in error." You need to learn the rules and be able to articulate those words in a manner a Referee will understand your complaint. You don't have to know the rules word for word, but you should have an understanding of them enough to convey your case.

I will say however it is quite impressive when a Coach or Captain knows the rules front and backwards and can say "Section 6.11 of the rules specifically defines cutting as …. And Section says the Jammer is ineligible for points by committing penalties on opposing players and not repassing them legally. defines the new scoring pass, thus she's ineligible to repass those players. By cutting the two players she should have been assessed a major track cut, not awarded those points, and directed off the track. Instead she was allowed to continue the jam and was awarded those points and any subsequent points in error."

It sounds like a lot, but it's imperative that if you're going to be a Coach or Captain (or Alternate Captain), you'd better know the rules.

Learn officiating key words
I learned a lot at a recent WFTDA referee clinic in Lincoln, Nebraska, but the biggest gleam of knowledge came through the course of the entire bout. While it was geared toward referee language, and boiling down terms and descriptions into a standardized language, I learned that to talk with referees as a Coach, utilizing that language can greatly enhance the effectiveness of my communication with refs.

Learning the standardized language improves clarification of what we're saying to each other.

Gameplay, Impact Spectrum, Inititator/Inititate and Counterblock are all terms that referees use. Did I see a non-call and think it might have warranted a minor or a major? "Hey I saw White Blocker #32 Back Block Black Blocker #12, but there wasn't a call? Was it deemed as No Impact?"

A ref who responds "Yes, I saw it -- It had No Impact on the opposing skater or Gameplay, so I did not call it," will generally get a thumbs up in my book. A ref who says "I did not see it" probably won't win my favor the next time he/she misses a call.

Understanding the Impact Spectrum can help you communicate to a Head Referee, and it goes something like: No Impact (incidental, didn't affect opposing player), Minor (affected opposing skater, but she didn't not lose relative position), Major (affected Gameplay/Player lost relative position), Expulsion (Egregious, reckless, negligent.ect.).

By that same token, learning the referee hand signals is important. As you're discussing a complex action in an Official Review using Hand Signals to convey penalties or other actions will accentuate your point, plus demonstrate the level of knowledge you have about the rules to the offiicials..

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

D3's Cosmo Disco retires

Lacy "Cosmo Disco" Brunnette of the Des Moines Derby Dames announced her retirement, and the team announced her decision on july 18. 

It's always a sad time when skaters decide to hang up their skates, but they always have their reasons. Disco was a hell of a skater, and hopefully she keeps derby close to her heart as she moves on.

You can find her fashion blog, here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

By the Position – Pivot/No. 1

Welcome to the first in hopefully a series of five blogs in which we'll break down the five different positions a team may field during a jam. Since each team has different language and names for the position we will try to make our breakdowns as basic as possible.
Today's blog will focus on the No. 1 position, or the general pivot position. 
The No. 1 generally holds the front-inside position.
"We just call it Pivot," says Erica "Hoosier Mama" Jones of Windy City Rollers. "Pretty much the last line of defense — Keeping that front on lock down to prevent the exit of the opposing jammer." 
The players wearing the pivot cover (striped helmet cover) have first right to the pivot line, a clearly marked line that extends from the inside track boundary to the outside boundary. Pivots are the only players who may line up on the pivot line, although neither is required to do so. If any pivot lines up on the pivot line, all other non-pivot skaters (this includes friendly and opposing players) must line up behind her hips.
Again, the pivot is not required to line up at the front of the pack, nor do the rules specify that the pivot must stay at the top of the pack. Some pivots will fall back into the pack, or hang out on the outside of the pack. 

Pivots sometimes are likened to the pace cars in a jam.
"Pivot also acts as the person who controls the pack and its speed," says Jones, who's skated with WCR since 2006. "The pivot can work with the back blocker as a great communicator since she can keep her head turned and see all that is happening or is going to happen and relay it to her team. She has room up there for more movement which gives her a few more seconds to take a look around at what's occurring."
Knowing when to speed the pack up versus slowing it down can be intimidating for a newer skater. The position is generally reserved for more experienced skaters who understand her team's focus and all the avenues of gameplay occurring on the fly.
"It gets difficult in the front when most of the action is occurring in the back," Jones says.
"The pivot really has to make smart plays so she doesn't take herself too far out of position and leave the front wide open for the opposing to team to take over, Sometimes as a pivot you can feel a bit useless while you're 'waiting' for that opposing jammer to get near you. You definitely have to make smart moves in order to keep your pack under control. It can be more of a thinker position."
But the position isn't without its benefits.
"I like having more room for movement in the front of the pack," Jones says. "Mid-pack and back pack tend to get a little tight." 
"While in the front I have the opportunity to cover more track and get to where I need/want to be quicker," she says. "I like the feeling of making that one move that helps your jammer bust out of the front of that pack and get lead or hit the track for another scoring pass. Usually by the time that opposing jammer gets to you her speed has been impeded by your players and all the chaos in the pack so you don't have to scramble as much to stop her, slow her down, etc."
A team's pivot is also the only player who may receive a "star pass" from her jammer. The star pass is when the jammer physically hands the star cover to the pivot, who then puts the star cover over the top of her pivot cover. Often considered the "Hail, Mary" of roller derby, a jammer may decide to pass the star because she's tired, she is in penalty trouble, or the pivot may be in a better position to score points. 
Only the jammer may hand the cover to the pivot. The star may not be thrown. If the star is dropped, only the pivot or the jammer may pick it up. The opposing team may block a star pass as long as it uses legal blocking techniques.
Jones has some advice for any skater looking to work on her Pivot abilities.

Work on your lateral moves! The more you move forward the less room you are giving yourself to work with at the front.  Pushing/chasing too far out will defeat any plays your team has made towards that opposing jammer and/or pack. Try to avoid going after useless blocks on opposing blockers. Make your moves/blocks count because if you miss or slip up there usually isn't anyone in front of you to pick up your slack. You tend to be your jammers best friend so work on your timing. You're like the gate keeper in a sense haha. Realize that you may not be the one making those awesome huge knock down take out hits all the time."

Other Pivots to watch:
Sk8r-Kinney-Cincinnati Roller Girls

Dolly Rocket - Charm City Roller Girls

Sassy - Oly Rollers

Mobi-wan Kenobi - Rose City Rollers

Shenita Stretcher - Philly Roller Girls

Read the rest of the series:

By the position – An intro

By the position – Pivot/No. 1

By the position – No. 2

By the position – No. 3

By the position – No. 4

By the position – Jammer/No. 5

Skate Log Forum — Pivot Tips

Gotham Girls Roller Derby — What does a pivot do?

Bright Hub — What does the Pivot do?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

WFTDA No Minors Beta Testing

The Women's Flat Track Derby Association in April announced the league would be testing a new beta rule set in which minors were eliminated from the game.

As both a coach and referee, I wanted to reserve judgment until I had an opportunity to watch a test bout. Thank god for DVDs.

I just got my package of East Coast Extravaganza 2011 DVDs from Blaze Streaming Media Blazing Media Promotions.

I finished watching the WCR-MTL bout last night, which was under the standard rule set.

Upon starting the WCR-Charm bout, I realized it was under the Beta Test rules with no minors and it's definitely interesting.

The obvious impact is minor elbows, back blocks, etc., that have low impact to gameplay aren't called.

This gives jammers a lot more freedom to skate without worrying about picking up her fourth minor. The jammer rotations remain set, unless a short rotation needs a rest.

The second major impact is what constitutes a cutting penalty.

Under the standard rule set if a skater passes two or more skaters, or the fore-most blocker, (regardless of color) the offending player will be assessed a major penalty and directed to the box.

Only cutting one player, regardless of team, will earn a skater a minor penalty.

Under the No Minors Beta Test, a player may pass one friendly player while skating out of bounds without being assessed a penalty. However passing two players of any color, or one player of the opposing team, will result in a major penalty.

In the WCR-Charm bout, jammers are constantly forced to recycle to the back of the pack, to keep from taking a major penalty.

As a coach, it would be nice to not have to worry about minor penalties. I'm usually the point person for checking minors and deciding whether to draw an intentional fourth minor or bench a player because of minors.

From a ref's perspective, not having the extra whiteboard and personnel in the center would free up lots of space in the middle. Also WFTDA rules are generally designed to promote the safety of the sport. Misconduct, Blocking to the Head and Direction of Gameplay are all rules designed to keep skaters safe.

If WFTDA was to remove minors from the rules then it would allow the higher-level teams would be allowed to play without worrying about picking up penalties that minimally affect gameplay.

I do think the minors help keep lower-level players safe, holding skaters to a high accountability for things that could escalate into grosser penalties.

The Beta Test isn't necessarily a guarantee WFTDA will remove minors from the rule set. Instead, these games give the organization a greater awareness of the play level and impact certain rules and sub-rules have on the game.

They could as easily Beta Test a clockwise-skating rules set.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Answering a question or two about no pack situations

Question: Can you engage the jammer in a no pack situation?
Answer: In No Pack situations blockers may not actively or passively engage a Jammer ... Or other blockers. This includes, but not limited to, hitting, booty blocking or merely standing in her way -- These are all penalties in no pack situations. Likewise, jammers may not engage blockers in a No Pack situation, as they are considered out of play -- jammers are still subject to penalties for an action to an Out of Play player. A Jammer can however engage the other jammer as long as both players remain In Play (on the track, upright).

Question: Who's responsible for reforming the pack in a No Pack situation?
Answer: The onus is on both teams to try and reform the pack, however only one person is required to attempt to reform the pack. If neither team tries to reform the pack in a No Pack situation, a penalty will be assessed to each team. If one team attempts to reform the pack, and the other team attempts to evade or keep the pack destroyed, then the offending team will be assessed the penalty. 

Question: What happens if the pack is destroyed by game play?
Answer: Destruction of the pack is generally considered a willful act. If the pack is destroyed via a block sending someone out of bounds or or down, referees shouldn't call a destroying the pack penalty. Destruction of the pack generally comes from one team willfully speeding faster than the natural pace of the pack or breaking excessively to slow down as the other half continues forward.

Question: Who gets the penalty for destroying the pack?
Answer: The referees usually assess a destroying the pack penalty to (in this order): The offending player who acts to destroy the pack, the player who orders the destruction of the pack, the pivot, the captain/alternate or the closest player to the referee.

B Train and Wicked

I finished up my hybrid interview with B Train of Wicked Skatewear yesterday. The interview is kind of a hodging and podging of e-mail Q&A and phone conversation. 

Lucky for me I got some great audio, so I'm hoping I can upload a clip here (if not somewhere else).

It'll accompany a piece I'm working on about derby entrepreneurs (spelling, holy jeeze the French have hard words) that may or may not hit print in the near future. I haven't officially pitched it yet, and had just planned on posting it as a blog.

Plus, the conversation with B sparked a reminder about an idea I had several months ago. I need to write down an outline and put it together.

My piece on transgender skaters made it into Five on Five, so if you're a subscriber or someone interested in trans policies throughout North America, it might be worth it for you to pick. I was lucky enough to speak to a couple of women about their lives and roller derby. And hopefully I'll get a chance to talk to them again down the road.

The Five on Five piece is my first magazine clip, which is pretty exciting. I mostly get to write the occasional newspaper preview story about bands coming into the Quad-Cities and my annual Oscar preview. When Five on Five accepted and published my article, I was thrilled.

So here's to more articles ... and blogs.

I'll try and get an audio clip or a quote blurb here on soon. In the meantime, I'm waiting on responses from four different skaters in regards to my By the Position series I'm planning. So far, no luck. But I'm holding out hope.

I had wanted to write it after I got some responses back from the skaters, rather than just my pontificating on the subject alone. I guess time will tell.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Overcoming the Dark Side of Roller Derby

This can be found at Live Derby Girls:

It's one of the most thoughtful, positively motivating blogs even in the face of derby's grimmer moments (posted back in February, but I recommend reading the writer's other contributions).

It can be really hard when someone who you thought was your friend would rather stab you in the back.

Or when you lost all motivation to go to practice.

Or you've forgotten why you've gotten into the sport in the first place.

Thanks, TrACDC for sharing your story.

Response - By the position

Cruel Whip made a great statement about the ability for skaters not to get locked into just one position on the track.

So important that teams understand the can’t rigidly hang on to the position they’ve been assigned when their teammates fall out for penalties, injuries or what have you. Pack structure may be rigidly defined, but the skaters filling those positions should be dynamic.
I couldn't have said it better myself. Thanks to Cruel Whip (as always for the Tumblr shout-out, and for Chasey DC for reposting it on her Fast & Frightening Tumblr. 

I'm currently working on posts for the individual positions, so if you know someone who is an awesome player in her position let me know. I'm hoping to post about the No. 1 position within the week.