Saturday, August 4, 2012

Building your strategies

Alternative names: --
Objective: To create customized strategies and counter-strategies for your own team; to practice thinking strategically about roller derby
Typical length of drill: 2 hours
Materials needed: Your team, a secretary to take detailed notes and send them all out to team members in a timely fashion
Skill level required: A basic understanding of the game and rules
Description: There comes a time in every team's life (perhaps as often as every season) when the whole team needs to sit down and think about /  discuss / develop / improve / edit / write down their strategies.  We do this so that we are all on the same page, so that everyone in the team knows what to do in every situation (or so we hope).  Learning new moves is great, practicing different moves is great, but without a plan of execution, these are basically just that: moves.  Not strategies.  A strategy (as explained by Wikipedia) "is a plan of action designed to achieve a specific goal.  Strategy is all about gaining (or being prepared to gain) a position of advantage over adversaries or best exploiting emerging possibilities.  As there is always an element of uncertainty about future, strategy is more about a set of options ("strategic choices") than a fixed plan."

So how do we begin to put our moves to good use, to create plans of action and sets of options?  How do we ensure that all of our teammates know that in situation A the team will execute strategy B, and in situation X the team will execute strategy Y?  We have to start from the hypothetical situation, think of the goal we must achieve in that situation, and devise a strategy for achieving that goal.  For example:

Situation: We're up 50+ points, there is 15 minutes or less remaining in the game
Goal: Don't give the opposing team an opportunity to score by playing for time
Strategy: [insert strategy here] 

To help my team work out strategies, I created a questionnaire of sorts.  We thoroughly analyzed all the different potential scenarios on the questionnaire, thought in depth about what we needed to do to maximize our chances of gaining an advantage in those scenarios, and then created a plan of action using the moves we had learned and practiced at our training sessions.  From this we got our strategy hand-book.  The hand-book was a living document that got updated as strategies developed and rules changed, but it was a really important tool for the team because it helped us with our teamwork and unity -- we all knew what we were expected to do in what scenario.

So without further ado, to help you out with your own strategy hand-book, here is the questionnaire that we used:

What do we do when:
  • We are losing in the first half? Losing in the second half? Losing at the end of the game?
  • We are winning in the first half? Winning in the second half? Winning at the end of the game?
  • We are outnumbered at the beginning of a jam?  In the middle of a jam?  At the end of a jam?
  • We outnumber the opposing team at the beginning of a jam?  In the middle of a jam?  At the end of a jam?
  • We have lead jammer?
  • We don't have lead jammer?
  • Our jammer is in the box?
  • Their jammer is in the box?

When do we:
  • Play offense?
  • Play defense?
  • Force the jammer whistle? Do a knee start?
  • Play for time? Start the game slow?

As you answer these questions in your group, also keep in mind counter-strategies: What do we do when THEY do a knee start?  When THEY play for time?  Cover all your bases.

Additional notes: When we did these strategy sessions we basically all sat down in a teammate's living room and went through each question in meticulous detail.  We did not watch anything as we were drawing from what we already knew from bouting and scrimmaging a lot.  The sessions would take a long time but we felt confident with our plans after we finished.  Because roller derby is still developing, and at a fast rate, any and all written plays and strategies must be living documents; what has worked this season may not work the same next season.  Even though we like what we have now does not mean that we're going to use it in the game after next.  The sport can change quickly so all of your strategies and plays must be adaptable. Not to mention, other teams' strategies change quickly so you must change yours so as to know how to react in a new situation. Know that some times you gotta "kill the baby" -- the strategy you so loved last season and spent hours perfecting might be totally obsolete (or even illegal) this season.  Throughout the season my team would work on the strategies we had written down, improve upon them, edit them, but since we already had that initial written document from our first session the improvements were simpler as we could just work on them during our on-skates practice time.  I also have to say that I think working on the strategies as a group can be more useful than having a strategy hand-book just given to you by your captains/coaches to study.  Being part of the process of breaking down the situation and building up the plan can really help a person execute the strategy well and at the right time.

The questionnaire in this posting is also a living document -- if you feel that something should be changed / removed / added, just drop a line in the comments below!

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