From the day I started derby, strategy has been one of my greatest assets as a skater. That doesn’t mean I’m the best at it, but I’ve made it a regular part of my training. I’ve also always been in charge of producing video for the leagues I’ve been on and since I love strategy, I always instruct my camera operators to capture video in a manner that’s best for future study and training.
I hope to bring some of the analysis I do for my own league here to Queen of the Rink. Odds are if you read derby blogs like this one, you’ve seen my work somewhere. I’ve been quoted on DNN, by MissPrint, and by a lot of blogs for my video. In fact, just last week, Wet Spot posted my video of jam starts from Eastern Regionals on this blog.
Let’s take a look at the very first jam in my video:
I called it “Playing Chicken” and it was the second jam of the Philly / Gotham match up. There was no one in the box and the score was 0 – 0. Yet the top two teams in the East let 37 seconds die to the sound of audience boos before a Philly blocker pulled a “no pack” and the jammers were released.
What the heck is happening here and why would either of these two teams play along with this time burn instead of skating? There’s no need to kill time for anyone in the penalty box. No team has a huge lead and wants to kill the clock to keep it. Both jammers are on the track so we’re not killing a power jam. What gives?
If none of those conditions exist, then we can all readily agree, this play is not about burning time. If it’s not about burning time, then what is it about?
It’s about pack position control.
And at the jam start whistle, Gotham has it. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the pack formation at 0:10 in the video. Start back at the jammer line and notice the Philly jammer is in the center, and 8.5′ in front of her is a pair of Gotham blockers. The Gotham jammer is in the outside quarter of the jammer line with a clear line of sight all the way up to the pivot line (which she will successfully take). 9′ in front of those Gotham blockers is a pair of Philly blockers making a total of 4 blockers (half the possible pack) more than 10′ behind the pivot line.
Moving forward (0:12 on the video) we can see a pair of blockers from each team on the pivot line. Philly’s pivot presumably has her skate on the line and has taken the inside. She’s pulling her hips to keep one Gotham blocker and her own partner behind her but she’s trapped into that inside position unless she skates out of position to get a new position. Gotham’s pivot also has a skate on the line with a clear power stance to land her square in front of the Philly pivot with enough of Philly’s pivot’s shoulder visible to knock the Philly pivot to the inside without a back block if she doesn’t yield. Philly’s other blocker on the line isn’t going to do much to stop the Gotham blocker from coming right up her pivot’s outside and holding a solid front Gotham wall.
Front and back, Gotham has the advantage.
The whistle blows and those two front Gotham blockers jump the pivot line exactly how you’d expect them to and the two Philly blockers jump back – because there’s no way they’re going to play that game with Gotham – they can’t win it. They’ve already lost the front and, in a wise move, they know not to lose the back too.
Now we begin this game of chicken. Since the pack didn’t move, Gotham’s wall up front has nothing to do. They can skate away, but when Philly allows there to be a pack, they might not be a part of it, so they really need to stay within 10′ to keep their rear blockers in play when the jammer whistle blows.
Ten seconds into the jam (0:26) the front Philly blocker wanders over the pivot line while Gotham’s blocker drifts back. With only three blockers over the line, the bulk of the pack is still behind it so we still wait. The Philly blocker makes a move to see if she can pull a direction of play penalty on the Gotham pivot who’s not moving forward, but makes a pretty lame attempt at it.
Thirty seconds into the jam (0:46) one of those rear Gotham blockers makes a move to push a Philly skater out of bounds. This is an effective strategy if followed through. By reducing the number of in play skaters before the pivot line, a blocker strategically waiting there could make it so the pack has cross the line. But Philly’s pivot is within 10′ of that group making the forward group have 4 skaters and the rearward group have 3 skaters and until Philly’s pivot crosses the line, so long as those 3 past the line are in play, we don’t have a jammer start whistle. Even if those three past the line skated off, there’s still four blockers all within 10′ of each other behind the line, so we’re getting nowhere fast with that as well.
Finally, at :37 (0:53 on the video), one of the rear Philly blockers skates backward and clockwise enough to split the pack causing the jammer whistle to blow. This is a wise move on the part of Philly as now two things happen.
- The 4 rear blockers must skate forward in an attempt to reform the pack
- Until the rear blockers are part of the pack, that rear pair of Gotham blockers cannot engage the Philly jammer.
It really doesn’t take long for the pack to reform. The moment Philly’s rear blockers are in play they’ll make those rear Gotham blockers in play as well. It’s the Gotham jammer’s position that has her at the pivot line by :40 (0:56 on the video) and engaging one of the rear Philly blockers in an attempt to take the inside (sorry I cut off the other jammer play).
Philly’s blockers tighten it up at the front of the pack, but Gotham’s pair of rear blockers keep Philly’s jammer tied up. First with one blocker then the other joins in and Philly’s sole offensive blocker is stuck in back with her jammer, unable to be much help.
Gotham’s jammer falls in the rear straightaway (1:06 on the video) and Philly’s jammer breaks free of the rear pair only to find that front wall of two. Gotham’s jammer is up and takes the inside on corner 4, keeps her feet moving, takes an outside assist from her front wall and at 1:00 (1:16 on the video) makes lead with a minute left to score.
Keep in mind, most jams last less than a minute without a delay on the pivot line. All that has happened here the meat of the jam moves a bit later on the clock – nothing more than a 37 second pack-generated time out. I don’t remember what the score was that jam, but I really feel Philly mitigated a potentially dangerous pre-jam formation and Gotham didn’t give up what they had. It was simply a matter of playing for the power of the back of that pack.
Boo if you must, but no one boos at time outs. Why boo when the pack doesn’t move?
The rest of the videos in the YouTube selection all cover jam starts until lead is called. Take the time to figure out the what and why’s of what’s going on and you’ll be on your way to learning and understanding this past year’s strategery!