Bench Manager or Bench Coach; whichever term you prefer – those people who stand in the corners squinting at the track and occasionally waving obscurely. Ever wondered what they really do? Or why? Fancied trying it but been unsure where to start? This article is (hopefully) for you!
Before we start, there is probably no such thing in the derby-verse as the standard BM role – some teams have a permanent bench team, some conscript an available person near the time and some use non-rostered team skaters. The advice contained below is based on a combination of my current experience benching Bristol A‘s, and previous experience benching Bristol B‘s; you may find it more or less applicable to your situation, especially if you are helping with mixed teams.
So what’s the role?
To give it its simplest definition: a BM is there to support their team in playing roller derby. While the team’s line up manager is focused on getting skaters ready for the next jam, the BM is focused on the jam in play, helping the team make the best strategic calls for this and future jams. One looks out, one looks in, managing opposite and integral parts of the game machinery.
Too fluffy a description? Here’s how I view my game-day responsibilities as a BM at Bristol:
• Maintaining a calm, focused bench environment
• Manage overall game strategy according to the game state
• Call jam strategy
• Feedback track observations
• Discuss officiating queries with Head Ref
• Call timeouts and request official reviews
(Remember ORs and TOs are under control of Captains and Alternates only; a BM is not by default the alternate.)
I recommend reading Cat’s excellent article on LUMing; everything there is applicable to the job of a BM so there’s no need for me to be less articulate in explaining grounding and maintaining a calm bench. Go read.
What are the prereqs?
If you’re reading that list and thinking ‘do I have the skills to BM?’ – yes, you probably do! You’re reading a roller derby blog so let’s assume you have one area nailed – a solid grasp of the rulesets. If you don’t, all the resources you need to fix that are available online.
My other prerequisite – know your team. Know the strategy, know the style of play and know how you will win. If you want to get the most out of being a BM I’d encourage you to be part of the team, not an auxiliary who appears on game day. Everyone will benefit.
Managing the game
The most visible element of a BM’s job is advising your jammer on when to call off the jam. Make sure everyone is on the same page with the signals before the game to avoid much, much, confusion. Stick with clear hand signals – yelling to players may work in a practice scrim or closed game, but it’s unreliable with a decently noisy crowd and acoustically diabolical sports hall.
Managing the game is all about control; if your team loses lead jammer status you cannot dictate the pace of the game. This doesn’t mean you can’t play strategically without lead: your team should always have a plan and what you achieve without lead can be more crucial than when you have lead.
There’s a lot of information available at any one point in the game. If you’re thinking your jam strategy extends as far as calling off the jam when the opposing jammer gets out, you’re thinking too small. So what else is there?
• Jam clock
• Game clock
• Penalty box
Decisions you make when your team has lead have an opportunity cost. On the fly you need to determine what is critical for your game strategy – remember you should be taking the long-term view beyond the jam at hand. What is most important at that moment? Your players on the track, their players off the track, four points, more points? Make the call.
Use those 30 seconds between jams to feedback useful intel to your team. You should be looking for habits on jam start line, and weaknesses and strengths on both sides which your lineups can fix or exploit appropriately.
Use your official reviews
You have one per half, and you get it back if the call is made or overturned in your favour. Use them, but remember this too has an opportunity cost. Lose the OR and you’re without this tool for the remainder of the half. Weigh up the gain from winning the OR versus not having one available – naturally the further into the half you are the easier it is to use.
Having a rough set of guidelines on when you will and won’t use OR is recommended. We’ve all come off the track wanting a call or lack of call reviewed, and likely been frustrated when our bench team don’t act on it – but they’ve likely acted with good reason. Having everyone on the same page about what an OR will be used for helps maintain a great bench environment as it’s much easier to let minor irritations go.
Calling an OR isn’t often necessary. For issues on point allocation, minor clarifications and general officiating points you can often speak with the HR between jams, but you need to clarify this at the pre-game refs meeting. Respect the fact that they have a lot to do between jams and may not have time to speak with you – if it can’t be said in a sentence, consider using a timeout.
Have an exit plan
Not all game time is equal. The final ten minutes of any game deserve special attention; in this short span games can be won and lost. As always, have a plan on how you will manage the game end. This will vary depending on a few factors: score, timeouts left, game goals and which team is having the better run of jams. Fundamentally there’re only three options:
• Extend the game
• Use your timeouts to stop the clock, buying your team extra jams
• Remember you can use your official review as a timeout
• Close the game
• Run the clock down as much as possible
• Avoid using timeouts and official reviews
• Let the game end naturally
• Play each jam to normal team strategy
• Good choice when your team has control of the game and can extend their lead
I won’t pretend that at times being in the corner isn’t frustrating – sometimes you’ll wish you could strap skates on to cover the inside line yourself – but benching a team is a hugely rewarding, challenging and fnu experience. It will provide you with a very different view of the game, and can enhance your own play and tactical awareness. You just have to dive in.
– Shi No Kamo