So it’s been a while since I’ve written a post, but I have what I fancy to be a pretty solid reason. I’ve been putting off writing posts about derby strategy because, quite frankly, I consider myself relatively new and therefore green in the area of knowing what the hell is happening on the track. I’m referred to as a vet only because some more people recently assessed and therefore have taken over my title of newbie. However, for the sake of making myself reflect, research and learn, I’m going to forge ahead and give derby strategy my best shot. So excuse my bumbling around while I lay out my best understanding of kick-ass power jam strategy.
If you know enough about roller derby to know what a power jam is, then you rock my pants right off. For those of you who don’t know, it’s when one of the point scoring players in roller derby, called a jammer, gets a penalty and is sent to the penalty box (or bench, whatever), leaving the opposing jammer to score points.
Historically penalties have been a minute long, which is long enough that power jams could make or break games. Recently, though, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association reduced the penalty time amount to thirty seconds in an effort to reduce the impact that power jams have on the game. Regardless of the reduced penalty time, though, a good team will pee their pants in excitement when they get a power jam, and then take full advantage of it. Taking advantage of a power jam means understanding power jam strategy both personally and as a team.
The strategy of a power jam is highly contingent on the dynamics of the individual teams. A good strategy will take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the blockers and jammers. Weak jammers might need more help from their blockers, strong jammers might prefer no help from their blockers, a strong blocker might be a pro at distracting the other team and so on. It’s up to the team and captains to assess and discuss strengths and weaknesses and formulate an appropriate default strategy based on that. It’s my goal to discuss and outline different strategies and approaches to power jams, based on different scenarios.
Regardless of the strengths of your team, though, there are some things that are constant. The team with the jammer on the track in a power jam wants the pack to go as slow as possible. This minimizes the time it takes for the jammer to get around the track, making it easier for her to score more points in the power jam. Conversely, the defense wants to go faster, maximizing the amount of time it takes for the jammer to lap them, thus tiring her out and making it harder to accrue more points.
Our roller derby league had a strategy based largely on the strength of the jammer. When we found ourselves in an offensive power jam, our blockers lined up on the outside of the track, slowing down the pack and leaving the track clear for the jammer to put pressure on the opposing wall. The jammer would push the blockers forward while we were stationary, forcing them to bridge out until eventually they were out of play.
When Kiki Urhaz from Denver came, she taught us a different strategy for power jams. Instead of lining up on the outside of the track, we lined up in two lines of two behind the defensive wall. This makes it harder for the defense to see the upcoming jammer. When the jammer is going to hit the wall, one blocker goes and hits the wall at the same time, to either distract and confuse the wall, or to make a hole for the jammer to get through. She emphasized a ‘hit it and quit it’ approach, which is exactly what it sounds like. You pick out the girl whose only redeeming quality is her snatch, sex her and run for your life.
Kidding. That strategy is only applicable to the after party (if vaginas are your thing). During a derby bout it just means that we make our offensive hit quick and get out of the way quicker, and you get to yell ‘hit it and quit it’ at people like you’re at a frat party. So hit it, being ever careful of the ref’s penchant for calling back blocks (because god knows it’s never our fault), and get back to formation.
An alternative default strategy that has a heavier focus on the ability of the offensive blockers is getting a goat. Some derby leagues have different names for it, my personal favorite being ‘getting a heifer’. In a sport full of big assed women, my self-deprecating humor can only imagine the heavy hits and bitterness caused by calling out ‘I GOT A HEIFER!’. Getting back to point, though, the concept is to essentially capture an opposing blocker via an L formation in order to have the majority of the players and control pack speed. This strategy keeps the opposing defensive blockers from going quickly around the track, making it easier for the jammer to lap them quickly. However, if this is your default strategy, expect one of the better defensive blockers to try and break your formation to get their blocker out. This strategy also makes it harder to help your jammer through the remaining blockers, and relies heavily on the ability of your blockers to get and keep a heifer.
A further addendum to the fallback of this strategy is ending up going too fast around the track. If the opposing blockers are fast, and your team is trying to get a heifer, what could end up happening is that you chase the blockers around the track and your jammer tires herself out trying to catch up. If your teams’s default strategy is to get a heifer, it’s important to recognize this situation when it happens, and to stop it by slowing down. The opposing blockers will be forced to slow down or get a destruction of pack penalty.
Another strategy that is a more complex version of getting a heifer involves skilled blockers who can whip it harder and more realistically than Ellen Paige. When the defense is skating quickly and you’re having hard time catching one of them, slow down and line up, the blocker with the best whip in front. When the referees call no pack and the opposing team has to slow down, have the first blocker whip the second blocker up to try and cordon off a heifer. With any luck the defensive formation will be broken up enough during pack reformation that getting a goat will be significantly easier. Then the rest of the offensive blockers come to help form the L-wall to keep that blocker.
These are only some of the basic strategies that are more well known in the world of roller derby. If you fancy yourself a Van Gogh of roller derby strategy, then talk to your team about taking a day to explore other strategies, maybe on a practice day with lower turnout. Recently I came to a practice where my team was doing this, and they came up a novel idea for power jams called ‘doing the elevator’. I thought they were talking about terribly amazing dance moves like the sprinkler at first, but eventually I figured out that what they were talking about was strategy. It involves two blockers in front of the opposing wall, on the inside and outside, and two blockers behind the opposing wall, in the middle. It sets up a situation where your jammer pushes the two middle blockers through the pack while the front outside blocker hold the others back, creating a gap for her to jump through. It runs the huge risk of your blockers being pushed being called on a back block, though, which may not be worth it if the bout is close in points. But if you’re losing and just can’t keep that other damn jammer back, fuck it. Might as well try.
The key to all of the previous verbage is that everyone on your team has to know what the default strategy is. With everything going on in a roller derby bout, there sure as shit isn’t time to stop and have a pow wow about how to handle those pesky blockers and get your jammer through. Everyone needs to know where they need to be so that as soon as your jammer gets to that halfway point, they’re ready to offensively block it like it’s hawt.
And remember kids, you can always yell at people to remind them what’s going on or if they’re not moving fast enough. Seriously, yelling at people is better than no communication.
As always, if you have any questions, then message, or comment, or whatever other option of wordpress communication there is. I’m always here, procrastinating or otherwise.