Back from another excellent Dodgeball Nation tournament - Dan does an amazing job of putting all of these together. Our team, Worst Case Ontario, finished 7th out of 9 in the round robin and lost in the first round against a very strong Floor Essence team. We played quite well for a bunch of people who had never played together before. I'm finding as I start to play dodgeball at higher levels that it is a lot like basketball or soccer in that it takes awhile to get a group of players to mesh and play well as a team. You need to know how the players around you are going to react in a certain situation so you can best co-ordinate. That only comes with playing together for some time.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how to design and implement a winning dodgeball strategy. Had even more time to think about it after the tournament on a long car ride back home to London. Here are my rules for doing so.
Rule 1: You need a strategy.
Too often I hear "we'll just figure it out when we get on the court." No, you won't. What will happen is that you'll get on the court and look like 6 year olds playing soccer and end up getting slaughtered by teams that have half your ability. Proper execution requires proper planning.
Rule 2: A weak strategy with a strong implementation beats a strong strategy with a weak implementation every time.
I think in dodgeball we spend too much time about having the right strategy. What matters is having a strategy that you can implement, that your team will actually follow. Unless there's a gross mismatch in talent, a team that can implement their strategy will beat a team that can't every time. How many times do you hear someone from the sideline yell COORDINATE or Why is he throwing?!? That is the sign of poor implementation, or not enough buy in to the strategy.
Rule 3: A simple strategy beats a complicated one.
Why? See rule 2. A simple strategy is easier to co-ordinate.
Rule 4: A strategy that involves less communication beats one that requires more.
I'm not suggesting that you stop communicating out there. Communication is vital to any strategy. However, communication tends to break down in the heat of battle. Is there a way to reduce communication? I see a lot of teams take the approach of "we'll talk to each other during the attack and figure out who to hit". This is just asking for trouble, in my view. Better off having a general rule of thumb. Before each game I talk to the players on either side of me and we decide something like "throw at #7 unless he's been eliminated or is holding a ball. Then throw at #12". I've said it so many times, I can eliminate most of those words. I just say "#7 then #12" and my teammates know exactly what I mean. Again, simple is better.
Rule 5: The more you communicate with your teammates, the more you tip off your opponents to your strategy.
This rule from teammate Jesse and it's a good one. Could you imagine in basketball if every time you went up the court, the guy with the ball yelled out "Dwayne, you go out under the net and wait for the rebound. Chris, you go to the foul line. I'm going to pass you the ball in 3 seconds!" You would totally tip off your opponents on what you were trying to do.
You see this all the time in dodgeball, though. People yelling at each who to throw at. I love it when I'm holding a ball and the team announces "throw at #13" (I wear #5). I can then charge up the court, safe in the knowledge that they probably won't throw at me, and get one of them on an aggressive counter-attack.
Telegraphing your plays is dumb. Coordination through simple head nods and short verbal commands like "now" work much, much better.
Rule 6: It is easier to coordinate with fewer players than more.
I don't think there's much point trying to coordinate all 6 players at once. It is exponentially more difficult to coordinate people as your numbers rise. Instead of coordinating all 6 players, our team coordinates 2 teams of 3 - one on the left, one on the right. I'm not going to suggest that this is necessarily the optimal choice; maybe having 3 teams of 2 would work better. But smaller groups work better than larger ones.
Rule 7: It is easier to coordinate with players the more you've played with them.
There is more to this than "teams that have played together a lot will do better". You will also play better if you are used to playing with the 2 players beside you. It's like the difference in hockey between playing on the same team as someone and playing on the same line as someone.
This season I have played beside my teammate Patrick 95% of the time and it's paid great dividends. I know how Patrick is going to react in a given situation and he knows how I'll react. We have a much easier time of coordinating our attacks because of it. You build chemistry with players the longer you play beside them.
Rule 8: It is easier to implement strategy if you play a consistent position.
I usually hear a lot of objections to players playing consistent positions in dodgeball. People say, "Mike, that's not possible, you have to consider substitutions. The same 4 guys won't be on at the same time."
It is possible with a little creativity. Suppose you're playing co-ed and you have 4 spots for guys in any given game. On our co-ed team, our female players play at C and D and the guys play the other 4 spots.
What I do is assign 4 guys to be starters at A, B, E and F respectively. If there are 5 guys on the team, the 5th guy is a utility guy who rotates through the four positions (sits game 1, plays A game 2, plays B game 3, etc.). If there are 6 guys on the team, then 2 guys sit game 1. In game 2, they play A and B respectively and in game 3 they play F and E (I usually have the same guy play on the outside). Having 6 male players works really well, because you get used to having the same person as your 'partner' at all times. In the case with 5 guys, you have one person as your partner 3/4 of the time and the utility guy as your partner 1/4 of the time.
If you have 7 guys on your team then, well, you have too many guys on your team.
Anyhow, playing a consistent position makes it much easier to coordinate and much easier to know what you're supposed to do at any given point in time. It is more difficult for the person who rotates through (particularly in a 5-guy rotation, where one lucky fellow plays every position), but in any situation where you have more people than spots, it's going to involve people playing in less familiar places. This just minimizes that.
Rule 9: The more you use a strategy, the better you are at implementing it.
Seems obvious, right? But too often we give up on strategies too early because they don't 'work' right away. So we switch from strategy to strategy to strategy with little success, trying to find the right 'fit'. You need to be willing to stick with a strategy even if you don't have immediate success with it. Implementation takes time.
Those are my 9 rules on how to design and implement dodgeball strategy. I am sure I will add more as I think of them. Any you would like to add?