15 July 2011

Define the Pack

You can booty block, laterally hit, and transition like a pro. But do you have a clear definition in your mind about exactly where a pack starts and ends, or how to gauge the engagement zone? Many skaters have a vague fuzzy idea of these concepts, but if you want to play your best strategic game, you need to understand this inside and out, and your team does too. Many people are visual learners - so just because they have read the rule book back to front doesn't mean they can translate that information into practical application. This week, spend 10 minutes talking with your team about what the terms mean (and how you want to use them to your advantage!)
Get your team together on the track. If you have 10 foot markers laid down, congratulations - this will make things easy. Otherwise, you will want to come prepared with a ruler/rope/stick/scarf that is 10 feet long to demonstrate. Be sure to bring your rule book, as there will likely be some creative situations that come up.

The Pack - defined by the largest number of blockers, including at least one member from each team, skating in bounds, within 10 feet of one another (as indicated by the 10ft marks on the track). When you are part of the pack, you can make contact legally.

So your pack can be really tight - people sitting on top of one another. Or they can be really long and stretched out, really pushing the limit of the 10 feet between each skater.

Get 8 skaters on the track, and split them into 2 teams. Visually look at the difference between a 10 foot gap on a straight, compared to a 10 foot gap on the corner. Ask the skaters to identify where the pack is if a skater in the middle goes out of play (by falling or leaving the track) - they need to judge if the space between the other skaters keeps everyone in the pack, or if the pack is just one section now. Encourage people to ask about different scenarios - this is the time for anyone who has ever wondered about if they are part of the pack when ..... to find that answer.

The Engagement Zone is a nice buffer around the pack, that you are still able to make contact in. The frontal engagement zone is 20 feet, measured from the frontmost skater in the pack, and the rear engagement zone is 20 feet measured from the rearmost member of the pack. This means if the pack structure changes abruptly (which it does, often), the engagement zone is affected if the foremost or rearmost skater is no longer considered part of the pack, or other skaters in the engagement zone join the front or the back of the pack.

Get 4 of the skaters to remain in a pac (that is, keep less than 10 feet between them) and have the other 4 skaters move between 10 and 20 feet from the foremost or rearmost pack skater. Observe exactly how far you can get from the pack and still sneak in a legal block. See what happens if one of those engagement zone skaters moves a little closer and joins the pack, and what that means for the engagement zone. Get a pack skater to move away from the pack, and observe the effect.

While you are talking about these different examples, your team will start to think strategically. You will see opportunities to change the gameplay by subtly altering the location of your skaters.

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