Written with help from Hellions Head Ref, Miranda Wrights
A few nights ago at practice, we were discussing the strategy of "poodling" with the fresh meat. "Poodling" is when you take a player (usually a player who will be a jammer soon) with 3 minor penalties, and force them to get their 4th minor (4 minors equals a trip to the penalty box). When penalized at the very beginning of the jam, they go straight to the penalty box. They leave with minors at zero and start jamming with a clean slate. You wouldn't want to send a jammer our to jam if she has three minor penalties. One minor infraction and she's wasting time in the box. Dang!
How do they get their fourth minor? They start the jam out of play—like in front of the pack line or behind the jammer line. Since the only jammers can start behind that line, an astute ref sends the poodling player to the box with her 4th minor when the whistle blows.
However, a clever poodler uses the “Point of No Return”, a special spot on the determined based on the location of the penalty box. 7.3.2 of the WFTDA Rules states "When a skater is sent to the penalty box, she must immediately exit the track and skate to the penalty box in the counter-clockwise direction." Counter-clockwise is “derby direction”. If she has skated past the penalty box, she can’t turn around, skate clockwise, and try to enter the penalty box. She must skate all around the track and legally enter the box.
The Point of No Return is the point just after the last seat in the penalty box—beyond that is considered "past" the penalty box. Since time is of the essence—a blocker wants the shortest distance before this point.
What’s the best strategy? When the penalty box is between the pivot and jammer lines, poodling behind the jammers is the shortest distance to the box.
If the box is at turn three (about a quarter track behind the jammer line) then poodling behind the jammers isn't ideal. The poodler can’t skate clockwise to the to the box, even though it's the shortest distance. Instead they would have to go all the way around the track. Remember, you have to enter the box from a counter-clockwise “derby” direction.
So a strategic player starts as close to the box as possible without getting on the wrong side of the Point of No Return. Time is of the essence when you are sent to the box: your minute in the box does not start until your butt is in the seat!