Roller derby is a fast-paced, full-contact sport that takes place entirely on quad roller skates. It is primarily played by women, although there are an increasing number of men’s teams throughout the country.
THE VERY BASICS:
A roller derby bout consists of two 30-minute periods. Each period is divided into rounds, called “jams,” that can last up to two minutes.
Players skate counter-clockwise in a “pack.” The pack is defined as the largest group of skaters from each team who are skating within 10 feet of one another.
One skater on each team scores points by lapping the opposing players. The catch? Those opposing players are all trying to knock her down!
The “Jammer” wears the star helmet cover (also known as helmet panties) and is the only player who can scores points for her team.
Four “Blockers” work together both to prevent the opposing team’s jammer from passing and to help their own jammer.
The “Pivot” is a type of blocker who wears the striped helmet cover and is the leader of her team for that jam. In a pinch, or strategically, she can become the jammer if needed, only by having the “star” passed to her directly by the jammer.
STARTING A JAM:
At the beginning of each jam, the blockers jostle for position in front of a starting line (called the jam line) while the jammers do the same behind the jam line. At the whistle, both jammers begin to fight their way through the pack. No points are scored during this initial pass. Once a jammer has made it through the pack, she circles around for a scoring pass.
During a scoring pass, a jammer earns a point for every opposing player she passes legally, as measured by the hips (she can’t just stick a skate in front of someone!).
ENDING A JAM:
The first jammer to make it through the pack on that initial pass earns the status of “lead jammer.” The lead jammer has the power to strategically end a jam at any time by tapping her hips, or she can let it run for the full 2 minutes to wear her opponents down. A ref will point at the lead jammer so you can always see who it is. The end of a jam is signaled by four short whistle blasts.
Skaters can use their hips, booty, shoulders, and torso to block or hit an opposing player. Blocking or pushing an opponent’s back is illegal. How-
ever, if that opponent doesn’t fall or lose relative position, a penalty will not be called. This means you will see a lot of jostling and bumping that is mostly legal! Blocking with the elbows, hands, feet, and head are all illegal. Skaters can push, pull, and shove their own teammates however they please.
Penalties are 30 seconds long and start the second the skater is seated in the box. The opposing jammer automatically scores on players who are in the box. Ouch!
There can never be 2 jammers in the box at the same time. If a jammer is in the box and the opposing jammer incurs a penalty, that first jammer will be released and the second will only serve as much time as the first did.
Skaters who rack up 7 penalties will be tossed from the game!
STRATEGIES & TACTICS
While watching roller derby as a new fan, a few questions may come to mind. Here’s a couple of frequently asked questions that will help you understand the game.
“Hey, that was a great jam, why did she call it off?”
Smart Jamming! The lead jammer knows it is not always best to keep trying to score points, but to think about the point differential. Better to call it off early than to risk the other jammer catching up!
“Why did that blocker “give up” on the jammer out in front?”
Smart Blocking! The jammer was likely 20 feet ahead of the pack. Blockers may not engage a jammer 20 feet ahead of or behind the pack. The width of this space is called the Engagement Zone, and any players engaged outside of this area will receive a Blocking Out-of-Play penalty.
“Why are the skaters stringing out behind the pack?”
They are forming a bridge. You’ll notice that they are trying to all stay within 10 feet of one another so they’re still part of the pack. This most often happens when a blocker hits a jammer out of bounds. The jammer cannot enter in front of anyone she was originally behind, so sneaky blockers will skate backwards as far as possible while their teammates build a bridge to connect them to the rest of the pack.
“Why are all of our blockers ganging up on one of the opposing blockers?”
The trapped opponent is called a “goat” and the blockers are using her to control the location and speed of the pack. If they slow the pack enough, the opponents chasing the jammer will be out of play!
“I keep hearing the players on the bench yell “Wall UP!” – what does that mean?”
The wall is a solid line or group of skaters and is the fundamental defensive building block of derby. When the opposing jammer approaches the pack, it’s time for your blockers to wall up!
“What’s a power jam?”
When a jammer is in the box, it’s the other team’s “power jam.” They can focus all their energy on scoring points. Woohoo!
For more information, check out some of the resources below: