BUILDING YOUR BASICS :: Effective Offense
There’s something magical about a game in which you have to manage both offensive plays and defensive plays at the same time.
You know what makes that game more magical?
Managing them both effectively.
Defense is the default position of most roller derby blockers. That makes sense when you consider that their bodies are a literal point that can be scored if not defended properly.
But the ability to transition seamlessly from defense to offense makes any blocker more lethal.
Effective offense is a delicate dance between power and subtlety. The largest problem that occurs when skaters are new to running offense is that they come hard with the power and forget about the subtlety altogether.
Bringing good offense for your team is more (much, much, much, more) than just blasting a hole through the opposing wall.
The key to subtlety is timing. And there are two sides to the timing coin:
- The Jessie Spano side
- The Bobby Fischer side
Jessie Spano is most well-known for a caffeine pilled induced fit of hollering, “There’s never any time!” Nothing can kill your offense more than letting out your inner Jessie Spano.
However, the truth is that there isn’t a lot of time to play offense on the track. Even a designated offensive blocker needs to be ready to drop back into defense at the drop of a hat (or the pass of a panty). This means that what ever your plan, it needs to be a surgical strike. Quick, lethal, effective, OVER.
Bobby Fischer, a well-known young chess champion, was once thought to have said, “I can see 5 moves ahead.” That kind of foresight takes time to develop, but it also requires you to take a second to tap into.
The best tool in your toolbox as an offensive blocker HAS to be your ability to see the field. Not just what your wall is doing, but what EVERYONE is doing. Not just what the plan for your wall is, but what the plan for EVERYONE is.
Effective offense anticipates what the play is GOING TO BE, not what the play is right now.
A battering ram through the opposing teams wall MIGHT actually be the best option. But it also might not. And it takes a Bobby Fischer to recognize which is which.
Why does timing even matter?
Because you’re not playing offense for shits and giggles. You are playing offense to help out another member of your team. Doing whatever you want all the time is fun, but will likely leave your jammer — or the goat you’re trying to free — frustrated and tired.
Your timing matters because they need to be able to work with you.
Speaking of working together, communication is also key. There’s nothing more frustrating than opening up a beautiful hole only to have your jammer not see it. Or to be nearly out on the outside line and have your own blocker be the force that pushes you out as they sweep the inside line for you. Ugh.
There are varying degrees of communication within your team. Practice all of them:
- KNOW YOUR JAMMER: It’s as simple as it sounds. Know the quirks and tendencies of each one of your jammers like the back of your hand. Jammers that push hard can require different offense than a jammer that jukes all the time. Figure it out for your jammers.
- SAY MY NAME: Don’t literally say MY name, but say words to your jammer. Actual words that make sense about where you are going to be. Better yet, talk to your jammer before you hit the track for the jam so you’re on the same page. Oh, and a little extra note about timing: tell your jammer BEFORE you do the thing not DURING the thing, so they can actually react.
- THE IMPORTANCE OF BODY LANGUAGE: Jammers, this one’s for you. Learn to read your blockers. Know their preferred type of offense and be ready to adjust to take advantage of it.
- PIVOT PRIORITY: Give your pivot priority space next to the jammer when on offense. This allows the tantalizing specter of a star pass to act as a distraction and can facilitate an actual star pass, if needed.
- ARE YOU POINTING AT ME?: Sometimes there’s never any time for verbal signals to your jammer/goat. Hand signals or touches work equally well. Remember, same team — you can totally shove each other around.
Effective offense is targeted. Surgical strike, remember? So any offense that sees a blocker flying through the pack, bouncing from opposing player to opposing player is likely ineffective.
If your team wants to go blocker-on-blocker, full coverage offense: pick an opposing player and make them yours. That player is your responsibility until your jammer is free or you have to reform back for defense. Never let go.
If your team wants to send one up to help your jammer: hit the active blocker. The blocker that is actually impeding the jammer is the biggest issue for your jammer right now. Take out the biggest issue.
The name of the game for an offensive blocker is to be a nuisance. Always.
Keep your hits controlled so you can keep hitting or blocking or getting in the way. Choose your timing so the opposing team never know whether you’ll be coming before the jammer, after the jammer, or at the same time. Look for weaknesses in opposing walls and exploit the shit out of them.
You won’t always be effective with your offense.
Sorry, but it’s true. And the biggest mistake you can make is not recognizing why what you were doing didn’t work. Awareness can come on the track, in the moment. But it also might not hit you until later.
Building awareness is about just that.
Try to simply NOTICE more of what is happening around you. Don’t expect that you’ll be able to react to it right away or even anticipate what happens next. Just SEE it. That has to be the first step.
Effective offense is hard. It can’t be something you only work on when you need it. It has to be a practiced piece of your team’s arsenal. You can’t possibly be 100% effective 100% of the time, but build up the tools in your toolbox and you’ll get better and better.
Of course, when you’ve exhausted every option you have, there’s always this:
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