A Roller Derby Primer

The Roller Derby sensation is sweeping the nation! You may have seen your Hometown Rollers skate before, or you may have recently discovered your local league and may be thinking, "I love watching the big hits and the agile skating, now I want to learn more about the game!"

The Skaters

Our fans in Hometown love their Football. Roller Derby has some basic similarities. In Football, a running back tries to get through a wall of defensive linemen. In Roller Derby these linemen are called Blockers and their jobs are to stop a skater called the Jammer from passing them. Instead of carrying a ball like the running back, the Jammer wears a helmet cover with a Star. Each team fields four Blockers and one Jammer on the track per Jam.

How are the points scored?

The first team's Jammer to get past all of the opposing Blockers earns Lead Jammer status. Each subsequent pass is a scoring pass. For every opponent that a Jammer passes, they earn a point for their team. A Jammer can score up to five points per pass, if their Blockers can contain the opposing Jammer and they lap them. But, if the opposing Jammer also gets through the pack, our Lead Jammer has trick up their sleeve! They can tap their hips to end the Jam early and deny the opposing Jammer the opportunity to score. A Jammer can also make a single hand-off of the Star to their team's Pivot Blocker, identified by having a helmet cover with a solid stripe. If a Pivot legally receives the Star they become the Jammer and can score points on any scoring pass as soon as the star is on their helmet.

What a big hit! Why are they going to the Penalty Box?

There are many types of Penalties in Roller Derby, many defining the legality of Blocking. When a Skater makes a Block, they must use legal parts of their body and must land within legal target zones of their opponent. If a skater makes an Illegal Block which causes their opponent to loose relative position or to go Down or Out-Of-Bounds, they will go to the Penalty Box.

Any forceful contact at all to the head is illegal. Skaters cannot make a direct block to an opponent's back. Skaters may not make a block while stopped or skating clockwise on the track. Any Block to or with the legs below mid-thigh is called a Low Block. Just like in Soccer, any Block using the forearms or hands is illegal. If a skater uses their forearm to impede an opponent, this is also a forearm penalty. Likewise, if a skater grabs or links their hands with a teammate to impede an opponent, this is a penalty called a Multi-Player Block.

Each Penalty served is 30 seconds in duration. A skater who receives seven penalties has fouled out of the game!

Why do the Blockers stop chasing the Jammers and why does the referee keep yelling, "NO PACK!"

All of the Blockers from both teams must skate in a Pack. This is defined as the largest group of skaters within ten feet of each other. The Pack MUST contain skaters from both teams. Without this rule, the skaters would simply chase each other around in a circle. IF two teams of blockers are separated by more than ten feet, the referee in the middle will yell, "NO PACK!" Let us say that the visiting team is in front and is having trouble with a strong Jammer while your Hometown Rollers have the opposing Jammer contained in the rear. If the two teams of blockers separate by more than ten feet, "NO PACK" is called. The Blockers must immediately cease Blocking and reform a Pack or else the closest skaters most able to reform a Pack will go to the penalty box.

"I'm Bridging! I'm Bridging!"

To prevent a No Pack scenario, one of the opposing team's Blockers might stop short before they are ten feet in front of the nearest Hometown Blocker. This is called Bridging. Like a series of stepping stones, each bridging skater can extend the Pack forward (or backwards) by an additional ten feet so that their teammates can continue to engage their opponents. Skaters can continue to Block as long as they are within twenty feet of the foremost Pack skater. But, as soon as those skaters are more than twenty feet outside of this Engagement Zone, the referee calls, "OUT-OF-PLAY," and they must stop Blocking. They must let the Jammer pass and return to the Pack or else they will get an Out-of-Play penalty (the referee will make a chopping motion with their arm).

"Hit them out! Run them Back!"

While your Hometown Rollers' Jammer has been forcing their opponents forward, the Hometown Rollers' Blockers have been containing the opposing Jammer. There is a strategic advantage to blocking an opponent Out-of-Bounds to the inside or outside of the track boundary. A skater who is blocked Out-of-Bounds must return behind the skater who Blocked them out. If this Out-of-Bounds skater returns to the track in front of the skater who Blocked them out, this is a penalty called Cutting The Track (a referee will blow their whistle and cross their forearms into an X.) If this Blocker skates back (clockwise), the Out-of-Bounds opponent will also have to skate clockwise before re-entering the track behind them. Additionally, all of their fellow Blockers can make a bridge clockwise to stretch the Pack back and run the Out-of-Bounds skater back as far as they can go without going Out-of-Play.

Strong walls, smart blocking and agile skates win the game!

To re-cap the game of Roller Derby, your Hometown Rollers' Blockers will form strong walls to contain the opposing Jammer and legally block them Out-of-Bounds. Meanwhile, your Hometown Rollers' Jammer uses their strength and agile skating to get past the opposing skaters to win Lead Jammer. If your Hometown Rollers lose Lead Jammer, and their own Jammer is struggling, their Blockers switch from defense to offense to disrupt and break up the opposing blockers' wall for their Jammer to exploit. If the Hometown Rollers can force a penalty on the opposing Jammer, they earn a Power Jam during which their Jammer can score points unopposed. By earning more Lead Jammers, more Power Jams and committing fewer penalties than their opponents, your Hometown Rollers will win the game!

Notes: This Primer is intentionally gender-neutral. Masculine and feminine pronouns have been intentionally replaced with "they" and "their." The description of the gameplay in this document is based on the Womens Flat Track Derby Association 2017 ruleset. No association between WFTDA and the author is implied. Author gives free permission to reproduce this document in part or in it's entirety, exclusively for not for profit purposes for the exclusive pursuit of promoting any not for profit Roller Derby league or enterprise.