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Scrimmage Survival Guide – Escaping the Spin Cycle
Your first scrimmage day. It’s exciting, or terrifying, or some heady combination of the two. If you’re not so lucky, you’re with a league that allows you to scrimmage when you kind of, sort of, once maybe did all the skills on their testing sheet. If you are really lucky, you’re with a league with a highly structured, multi-step training plan and have already mastered basic skating and contact skills.
Either way, or anywhere in between, when you stagger off the track at the end of the hour, you will feel like you were in a human washing machine, and wonder if and when this game will ever make any kind of sense.
The advice you get sometimes has a tinge of fairy dust. “It starts to make sense after exactly 6 scrimmages.” “It takes solid years. Just hit someone!“ At my second scrimmage I was leading the pack, my 39th was a disaster, and some skaters look lost well into their bouting days.
In your first scrimmages, try concentrating solely on the following things. This will help the game start to make sense, one piece at a time.
Photo: Garden State Rollergirls
Opposing jammer (OJ) location
An experienced player will play offense and defense almost simultaneously, switching back and forth based on her assessment of opposing/friendly jammer position, strength, pack speed, blocker ratios, and a million other factors.
The issue here is that the brainiest skaters turn into a dog chasing a squirrel pretty easily out there because, well, there are a LOT of squirrels on the track. A quick, strategic burst of offense can turn into a pretty pointless ten-second battle when the lizard brain takes over.
Meanwhile, oh, hey, the OJ finished her lap and came burning through your scattered blockers and your jammer STILL isn’t out. Those sorts of passes tend to spawn themselves, and pretty soon the whistle is blowing on a 0-19 jam, and you have 2 skaters in the box because disorder breeds penalties. Whoops.
Unless, of course, your voice cuts through the clutter three seconds into that blossoming clusterfluff. “OJ coming up.” And then 3 seconds later, more urgently, “OJ outside.” Your fellow blockers pull together for defense, the other team is forced onto offense, and your jammer makes it by their distracted, diluted defense, prompting the other jammer to call it at a score of 0-3. Was that a great jam for your team? No. Did you just create a positive 16-point differential in a single jam versus the worst case scenario? Yes. Yes, you did. You were vocal, communicated, and helped your teammates focus.
For those moments where you feel like you are trapped in a human washing machine and nothing makes sense, look for that opposing jammer. If she is being engaged by your teammates, get with them and help. Even taking up space on the track is helpful if it is the right place (i.e., a place the opposing jammer can use to escape).
If she is anywhere else (sneaking up the inside about to pass a blocker who has no idea she is there, at half a lap behind the pack and closing and no one is forming for defense, going to the box, in the box and standing), communicate (loudly) and then take action. You just gave your more experienced teammates information that can help them take that jammer out. Good job.
Photo: Jason Hullinger
When gameplay is unfolding in a way that draws out and potentially splits the pack, the most valuable thing a rookie can do is be that first person in a bridge.
When does this happen? Most often in a power jam, but it can also happen if the other team has strong walls with excellent speed control. In the front of the pack, the person dropping to bridge should always be the person least involved with actively blocking the jammer. Odds are, if there is a rookie blocker out there, the jammer got by her first.
If this is you, be aware. Turn sideways, be dynamic, eyeball that 9 feet, and adjust your positioning as necessary and communicate with your teammates. Tell them when to drop the second bridge, or if the pack is coming up towards them and they suddenly have all the room in the world. When you have a steam train on your back pocket, turning around and thinking aren’t always options.
If that steam train happens to be on YOUR back pocket, first of all, nice job, you got her. Second of all, dig in, control your speed, and listen to your teammates.
This also applies in the back of the pack. When an opposing jammer is hit out and there is an opportunity to draw her back, odds are it isn’t you who laid in the hit. However, even if you were behind her when she left the track, you are eligible to, again, be the first bridge. Skate back those nine feet behind the rest of the pack, communicate, and get ready to actively block with the rest of your team as soon as the jammer re-enters.
By giving your more experienced and skilled teammates the ability to actively block for more of the game, you are positively influencing the game in a significant way, even if you never lay a good hit or even actively block. The more you play, the more the game will start to make sense.
Discount Tina Fey is entering her 4th season of derby and trying to shake a bad case of Cranky Vet Syndrome. The most valuable piece of derby advice she has ever heard is: “If everything sucks and is very bad, just pretend you are a dinosaur for a little while.”